30 May, 2009

The crime of Berlusconi

It is becoming increasingly apparent that the British newspapers and broadcast media are getting hysterical about Silvio Berlusconi and that this hysteria stems from having nothing concrete to say.

The first problem is that they assume Berlusconi’s constituency is White Anglo Saxon Protestant. It is not. It is Italians, who think in a rather different way.

For the second half of the twentieth century any reference to Italian politics was that it was a joke. No one could resist mentioning the corruption, or that Italy had had 48 governments since the fall of Mussolini. No one blamed the insane proportional representation system for causing that; it was simply Italian madness. When Berlusconi tried to change it, towards a British-style First Past the Post ballot, they all said he was fiddling the system, cheating.

Now we have had a period of some stability, with only one Prime Minister in six of the last eight years, and they complain he is a dictator.

There was a perfectly absurd claim that Berlusconi controlled the media, without anyone investigating exactly what influence a Prime Minister has on the state channels, which, if people could face watching them, are often openly critical of him. The British government appoints the Director General of the BBC but no one claims Gordon Brown is in control of the media (he wishes!). And it is hard to claim that Berlusconi controls the newspapers and then claim that he might be forced out of office by a campaign run by La Reppublica (the Guardian’s equivalent, but without that organ’s self-righteousness) and followed up by the Corriere della Sera (Independent but less of a rant), La Stampa, l’Osservatore romano and God knows what else.

Berlusconi will not be forced out of office by the Noemi Letizia story: whereas British newspapers would lead with ‘Berlusconi: my shame!’, most Italians think ‘Complimenti! Forza!’. Discussion in my local agricultural wholesalers was whether at 72 he had the energy to satisfy the girl properly, ‘whereas I......’. But ‘good luck to him’ they say.

They say his party contains former fascists, without saying that the opposition contains former communists who accepted money from Russia during the cold war. The President, Giorgio Napolitano, is one of them.

Nor are Berlusconi’s brushes with the law a huge point of interest. Italians have had years of this and believe, not inaccurately, that most individual politicians and most governments since 1948 have been for sale. ‘But how could you bribe Berlu....? He’s the richest man in Italy!’ And everyone knows the judicial system is politicised: prosecuting magistrates and defence attorneys are openly of the left or the right, so if you are attacked by a left wing magistrate you hire a right wing avvocato and vice versa.

I am not saying Berlusconi is innocent of the accusations against him, nor denying that his relationship with an 18 year old (the age of consent is 14 here) has been inappropriate. I am just saying how it plays in Italy. And how it plays is that he has a 75% popularity rating. Remember a British politician who achieved that?

Compare Berlusconi’s open hiring of some big breasted starlet to advertise the ‘Clean Naples’ campaign with the weaselly spinning of Mandelson and Campbell, or Ed Balls’ declaration that the Tories would fire 45,000 teachers, without mentioning that their figures for cuts were taken from Alasdair Darling’s budget. The British people have been fed a diet of lies from cunning plotters behind the scenes, paid with the people's money. If the Italians have got a clown who wears his faults on his sleeve, who is the luckier?

But let me give the outraged lefties a steer. Berlusconi’s crime is to have let this stuff be the story, to act diligently when there was popularity at stake (and his handling of Naples and Alitalia has been little short of brilliant) but not to take the long term decisions necessary. Before long Europe will emerge from recession but to get going again it will need not inflationary stimulus but tax cuts financed by spending cuts. Berlusconi knows that he should cut the size of the State but knows it will be unpopular. He has failed to prepare the political ground for it, while Italy needs 70 billion euros each year to service its debts. A mature statesman (and he wants to be President) would now be seeking cross party agreement on which areas the State could leave, and on freeing up the labour market so that employment will grow without barriers.

Berlusconi’s crime does not stem from his actions. It is his inaction.

26 May, 2009

MP gets it right

I know we hear too much about the parliamentary scandal thing but you should read an excellent article in the Times by Chris Mullin, who would make an excellent Speaker. He understands that this is not just about bathplugs.

25 May, 2009

PR raises its head again

Incredibly Alan Johnson, one of several undeclared candidates to be leader of the Labour Party, has declared Proportional Representation to be the solution to the nation’s ills.

I really had thought this nonsense had been laid to rest. It is only ever raised by people or parties staring defeat in the face. Now we are going to have to put up with months of fallacious drivel as the proponents talk about change (as usual) and ‘fair votes’ (Ha!).

Each time you argue with someone proposing PR they say ‘Ah, but that’s not the system I would have used. Let’s just agree the principle of ‘fair votes’ and we’ll work out the rest later.’

This time, however, Johnson has made a specific proposal: the system wanted by the Jenkins Commission in 1998. You will remember that Tony Blair, not confident of winning a majority, made overtures to the Liberal Democrats who named this as their price and Blair agreed to a commission headed by Lord (Woy) Jenkins, a clarety old windbag who, alone in the country, took himself seriously. Woy’s and now Johnson’s, suggestion was called AV Plus.

Under AV Plus 80% of MPs would be elected on the alternative vote system and 20% on a party list. Let us take the position of the parties at the moment and extrapolate to a general election in a single constituency: Cons 40%, Lab 30% LibDem 20% others 10%. No one would have an outright majority so we proceed to second preferences, Others (such as UKIP and Greens) being eliminated. The likelihood is that both Conservative and Labour voters would put LibDem as their second vote, whereas LibDem voters would put 50/50 Lab and Con. So the LibDem soars into a commanding lead. No wonder they liked it. But the result is that the party that only 20% thought the best to be elected wins.

Now let’s look at the other 20% of MPs. These would be party placemen. And to whom are they accountable? The Party. Not the people.

PR entrenches the party system, institutionalises the cosy corruption which we are trying to get rid of. Remember Helmut Kohl in Germany. He was caught with his hand in the till and his constituents, rightly, threw him out. But he turns up in parliament the following day as one of the Party List. His party had raised two fingers to the electorate and appointed him. Is that what we want? That some odious sleazebag gets to run the country even though his electorate rejected him?

No. PR is exactly what we don’t want.

21 May, 2009


I am not attracted to women who try to look like merchant seamen, and never having wanted to look like one myself I have been critical of the modern passion for tattoos. And they are very painful to remove.

I now read that starlet of the moment Hayden Panettiere (I don't know if that is her real name; the surname means 'baker' and she appears to have been named after an Australian cricketer) wanted a tattoo on her back of 'living without regrets' in Italian in large letters (vivere senza rimpianti). But they spelled it wrong. And now she is stuck with it. Daft cow.

19 May, 2009

The people speak

'the public are scenting blood', I wrote a week ago, 'and demanding it'. Douglas Hogg will stand down at the next election (I don't know if he has done a deal to become Lord Hogg of the Moat) and now the Speaker has said he will go on 21st June, the first to be slung out of office since 1695. As Voltaire observed of the execution of Admiral Byng, it is good to kill a Speaker from time to time, in order to encourage the others.

There's something about popular uprising. It starts off as an unalloyed good thing: 'A bas les aristos' is the popular talk, wrongs are righted and the balance of society gets fairer. But the problem is the public never nows when to stop. Suddenly the leaders of the revolt are perceived as not being tough enough and it's 'à la lanterne' everyone who is suspected of wavering.

I wonder how we will look back on this time: 'Bliss it was in that dawn to be alive, but to be young was very heaven' ? (sorry about the french leitmotiv) Certainly a wrong is being righted and certainly a few of the sinners will be for the chop, but is it going to get silly? 'They're all just in it for themselves, let's get rid of the lot of them', you can hear it in pubs and on radio 'phone-ins.

The first sign of silliness is that Esther Rantzen is thinking of standing. Perhaps we should mark this point as where the nonsense is beginning and leave the overpaid self-publicising old trout to advertising for ambulance chasing solicitors.

13 May, 2009


So. 70% of British people profess themselves to be Christian, and a lot more were brought up as Christians and do not profess any other religion; unlike almost all other western nations we have an established, constitutionalised religion (Christianity) and the BBC have got a new head of religious broadcasting, Aaquil Ahmed, a muslim.

At a time when we are despairing that our politicians are out of touch with the zeitgeist, we really should spare a thought for the BBC, who do zeitgeist-free policy as a regular gig. This organisation is paid for by virtually the entire population, and yet is run by, and for the benefit of, the leftie chattering classes, the sort of people who think it is clever clever to have a muslim head of religious broadcasting in a Christian country, who think it is their job to give religion a bit of a shake-up; people who have no connection whatsoever with the ordinary Briton (and would hate to do so).

Someone needs to give Mark Damazer a sharp kick up the backside and remind him who he is working for. Indeed perhaps I should - his holiday home (these people are never knowingly underpaid) is down the road.

I criticise the BBC a lot, but as I said recently to a friend who works for it, it is because I feel it is partly mine. The people who run it, however, think it is exclusively theirs.

12 May, 2009

Corruption (2)

I must say I thought the MPs' expenses thing would eventually just go away, the public's opinion of their politicians much the same as it always was (low). But this has dragged on for such a long time (one commentator said he was a bit surprised when reminded that it was only Day 5 of the revelations - it felt like Day 27) that the public are scenting blood, and demanding it.

Douglas Hogg, whose father and grandfather were distinguished Tory Lord Chancellors, has claimed for cleaning the moat round his castle, and it just won't do. the public won't have it. Nor is it enough that he repay it: if a burglar gives the goods back he is still a criminal.

Anther has claimed for trimming the grass round his helipad (he claims it isn't really a helipad but that makes his arrogance even worse). These, and other appalling examples, should result in David Cameron withdrawing the whip. They knew that the allowances were for things directly needed for them to function as MPs, and they were taking the mickey. Now they have been caught with their hands in the till and there can only be one outcome.

I don't expect any such action from the Labour Party, but it would be welcome. Bagehot in the Economist reports 'Public paid the Chancellor's stamp duty' is his favourite headline.

Good grief.

11 May, 2009


While the nation shows its inexhaustible appetite for stories about the venality of our politicians we should cast a thought towards areas where it is even worse. This from the excellent Berlaymonster blog.

The EU Joint research centre (no, I've no clue what it does, researching marijuana for all I know) based in the Northern Italian town of Ispra, employs a little over 1,000 people. Of these around a fifth, 230, have claimed injury benefit, and between 1996 and 2002 some 5.7 million euros was handed out.
An audit discovered 46 members of staff collected 35 000 euros on average, 23 more than 50 000, eight claimed more than 80 000 and one or two cashed in almost 300 000 euros from the injury benefit system accorded to those on the European Commission's payroll.

76 of the 230 even had the misfortune to suffer a second accident, increasing their claims.But 42 of them - 42 members of staff out of little over 1000 - declared AT LEAST NINE ACCIDENTS EACH between January 1986 and July 2003.

Details were sent to the Italian police of 14 cases (why not the whole lot we shall never know) but the suspects claimed that they hadn't been informed and so their rights were breached.

The 14 have now been awarded 3,000 euros each in compensation.

Just think about this as you go in to vote.

09 May, 2009

The Royal Mail

It is reported that the Government's plans to sell a minority stake in the Royal Mail may collapse because of the political and union opposition to it.

I think we should have a good look at what is going on in this service. It loses a fortune and seems unable to compete with its European competitors.

Of course governments are largely to blame, keeping it out of modern communications and insisting on a single price for all deliveries, as if it were some inalienable right. People in remote Scottish islands pay more for their cornflakes, their electrical equipment and more for their clothing so why the hell shouldn't they pay more for their letters? But here's a solution.

Old Dear Without A Computer A wants to send a letter to ODWACB. She writes the addressee's name and postcode in big letters at the top of the paper and takes it to the Post Office where it is scanned in and address recognition software, such as is already used, sends the scan to the nearest office to the recipient where it is printed and automatically folded into an envelope. The delivery would now be only a couple of miles, no vans and planes travelling expensively over the country and causing pollution. Most of the unnecessary staff could be laid off and the thing might even turn a profit. Because it costs no more to send a scan from Surrey to Benbecula than to Hampshire they could keep the single price system.

Europe Day

Oooops, nearly forgot. I expect all my readers will be half way through their celebrations already, popping the champagne corks and brushing up their Belgian folk dancing. Today is Europe Day, when we celebrate the EU.

In fact 9th May is the anniversary of the Schuman Declaration in 1950, which gave rise to the European Coal and Steel Community and all the bossy, self-perpetuating elitist apparat that has gone on since.

In fact Schuman received the declaration drafted for him at the railway station as he went off to his country estate and signed it, as he was told to, on his return. It had been written by Jean Monnet, a bureaucrat who had all his life believed in supranational bodies. During the First World War Monnet proposed, in order to facilitate the movement of weaponry across borders, that a supranational body be set up which would tell individual nations what to do, when and how. Naturally the Americans told him to go boil his head, although they seem in favour of it now (that is a body to rule over others, not over them).

It has been clear for many years that we would be better off without all this baggage, better off democratically and financially. It is now clear that even the free trade provisions come hedged around with so much bureaucracy and regulation that we would be better off out of it completely. Furthermore it is clear that the British people think that, too. But our politicians are never going to get rid of a self appointed elite. As the shark said, when he ignored the investment banker who had fallen off his yacht, professional etiquette.

We are therefore stuck in a mire of having to belong to an anti-democratic, impoverishing system, knowing we would be better off out, but without the balls to leave it.

In the absence of Mr Cameron being able to specify from which areas of Europe he would repatriate powers to parliament, we must, regrettably, presume it was just talk. This blog therefore supports UKIP for the European Elections.

Happy Europe Day.

05 May, 2009

Hattie and Gord

I just wonder, with Harriet Harman's statement that she would not contend the leadership, whether there is one thing that has gone unmentioned. If Brown were to resign she, as deputy leader, might try to persuade the palace that she should be permitted to carry on (don't forget that she, unlike Brown, has been elected by her colleagues). She might then try to fight the election as the incumbent.

Does she know something we don't?

04 May, 2009

Mrs Thatcher

I didn't feel I could add much to the 30th anniversary tributes paid to Mrs Thatcher so I'll just say today, 4th May, is the 30th anniversary of the worst hangover I ever had.

03 May, 2009


Patrick Henessy has an excellent appraisal of John Prescott's massacre of the English language for Radio 4 on http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/patrick__hennessy_/blog/2009/05/02/john_prescott_the_bruiser_is_back

including 'I undressed 450 students yesterday with Ed Miliband and Eddie Izzard' although my favourite is when he got off a plane from Tokyo and announced 'It's great to be back on terra cotta'. Now we don't have the embarrassment of him holding a senior office of state he has become a national treasure.

The whisky and the revolver

Those who talk about Gordon Brown being edged out before the next election seem to me to be missing one important point. HM the Queen has to appoint Prime Ministers and I can't see she would have any choice but to say 'No, the Labour Party was alllowed the chance to appoint its own Prime Minister last time (without even an election in the party!) and I cannot allow a small cabal to force another person on the people without facing the electorate. It is not as if the Labour Party was the only choice to form a government - indeed they are miles behind in the polls.'

Even if Gordon were to resign through ill health this same issue has to be faced. HM Queen has a constitutional position and she would effectively be abrogating it if she allowed such an abuse of democracy to occur. If that were to happen there would sarcely be any constitutional relevance to the monarchy.

Poet Laureate

The new Poet Laureate is a Glaswegian lesbian with a daughter by a man she has never lived with. Tony Blair apparently found her too politically risky to get the job 10 years ago.

I have nothing against a colourful private life for a poet (I think we know more than enough about Ted Hughes) but Glaswegian?

Well, nobody reads the poems anyway.

01 May, 2009


The military, political and international relations disaster that has been Britain's combat mission in Iraq has come to an end. Our engagement lasted longer than the Second World War. At the closing ceremony they read out the list of the dead. It took 25 minutes.

Tony Blair realised the potential of the superb British Army to help him along internationally. He committed more troops into more places than anyone since Churchill. Blair is a hero in Sierra Leone. The dead corporals and sergeants are not. It is Blair who makes a fortune from speaking engagements in America, where his actions have often been described as 'brave'.

In future, when British troops are committed abroad a cabinet member and a junior minister should be present when the coffins come back. They should meet the soldiers' families, just to know what it is like when you send troops into battle.

Look at your watch. 25 minutes.