31 March, 2010

Trial by Jury

It seems that for the first time since the Star Chamber in the 17th century, four people have been convicted in a criminal trial in England without a jury.

I was concerned when the law was changed to permit this and am even more concerned now. There are stories of the men having tried to corrupt several juries, but I think we should make certain that the police did all they could to prevent this. I cannot for the life of me see why 12 people cannot be protected and their identities concealed.

Trial by jury, begun by Magna Carta in 1215 is our protection against arbitrary prosecution by the state. We as citizens would be making a grave error if we allowed this right to be chipped away on some spurious grounds of expediency.

I suspect that this case was merely a matter of money - the cost of protecting the jury - and that is wrong. This principle is more important than money.

Fag end

Today marks twenty-five years since my last cigarette.

The last time I dreamed I was smoking was a couple of months ago and the last time I thought how nice it would be to have a cigarette was a couple of minutes ago.

Environmental Overload

News of Earth Hour, a campaign by the World Wildlife Fund for us to turn all our electrical appliances off at 8.30 pm last Saturday, did not reach me until it was too late - to turn everything on.

'A night to remember!' said the WWF website. I should certainly think it was if you were on a dialysis machine. The self-righteousness of these campaigns really makes me ill.

In Canada Mr Barry Penner, the Environment Minister of British Columbia, one of those preachy types who had been pushing participation in this worthless event, lit candles round his house, in the process setting his cat, Ranger, on fire.

As the cat lit up the darkened night sky of British Columbia, the Penner family's carbon footprint went through the ceiling.

Fortunately most people weren't so dimwitted. The province's electricity load reduced by only 1%, the lowest in the three years they have participated.

French buzz

France, in a bid to halt the tide of English words entering the language, has organised a competition for French sounding equivalents of modern words. For example buzz, the word which covers a rumour going round the internet, will be called ‘le ramdam’ (not really French, ramdam is the noise you hear in Arab countries during Ramadan when the sun has gone down and they can eat and drink).

A committee will then recommend the words for official usage and civil servants will have to use them.

Many years ago a law was passed in France limiting the usage of English words. As is common practice the law was named after the man who introduced it, Jacques Toubon. It was popularly known as ‘la loi Allgood’.

30 March, 2010

Soccer madness

From last Sunday's 'Observer'

The government is to unveil radical proposals that would give football fans first option to buy their clubs when they were put up for sale and require clubs to hand over a stake of up to 25% to supporters' groups.

The ideas, due to be included in the Labour manifesto with a promise of action in the first year of a new government, are designed to give fans a far greater say in how their football clubs are run and overhaul the way the game is governed.

What kind of insane world do we live in, when the Government is prepared to interfere with the laws of private property for a game?

Granted you would have to be plain daft to own shares in a football club (Gordon Brown owns shares in Raith Rovers) but if you did they plan to force you to sell them to someone else. They will do this by increasing the number of bureaucrats, regulators, czars and unnecessary quangos just at a time when we ought to be culling them.

If Mr Cameron fails to give the Government a good kicking over this he ought to be in a different job.

Berlusca redux

The only predictable thing about Silvio Berlusconi is his unpredictability. Against all expectations, including mine, he has gained in the recent elections, taking several regions off the centre left.

Doing particularly well was the Northern League and this will have increased Mr Bossi's influence within the Government. In the past he has not been a comfortable bedfellow, bringing down Mr Berlusconi's first government.

The centre left are nowhere. They need a figurehead with more appeal than the veteran Mr Bersani.

Berlusconi now should have no worries. He has a couple of years to build and leave his legacy, which should be solvent government.

27 March, 2010

Clock change smoke hazard

From the ummissable ThameNews.Net (Thame is a town in Oxfordshire)

'With the clocks going forward one hour this weekend, 27/03/10, Oxfordshire County Council’s Fire and Rescue Service is reminding people of the need to regularly maintain their smoke alarms.'

What I am reminded of by the state sponsored time change is the need to take some useless bureaucrat and beat him with a firehose until he admits that not one millisecond of daylight will be 'saved' by pretending it is a different time from what it is.

If you don't want to get up earlier on Sunday, don't. If you don't see any connection between changing the clocks and having your smoke alarm serviced, don't do that either.

26 March, 2010

Taxing the rich

Speaking of the Evening Standard, their excellent political columnist and blogger Paul Waugh has come up with a fascinating revelation. Tucked away in the budget details is the news that the players' prize money for the Football World Cup, when it is held in Britain, will be tax free if it is won by a foreign team.

We are told that previous bids to host the World Cup failed because the players would be taxed. This appears to be an acceptance that low taxes are an incentive to the rich. I wonder what we can make of that.

The Indy

The Independent Newspaper has been sold, it is reported. For £1.

The Independent started out in 1986. Then, Mrs Thatcher was a towering figure whom many felt needed to be challenged. Of the broadsheets, the Financial Times was thought to be right wing, the Telegraph was thought to be Mrs Thatcher and the Conservatives' in-house journal and the Guardian was thought to be putting people off by being too left wing. It was believed there was room for a largely middle of the road, but independent, voice.

Much has changed since then. The FT came out for Kinnock in 1987, the Telegraph moved to the left after 1997 and the Guardian got more readable. The Independent was squeezed. There had all along been a slight left wing bias and this became more pronounced. It lost readership numbers dramatically; it is thought full price sales may be as little as 100,000, whereas more than 500,000 are needed to make money.

Some say the new owner, Alexandr Lebedev, will make it a free paper, as he has the Evening Standard. The other broadsheets are dreading this because at the moment they are supplying huge amounts of content online free of charge and were hoping to move to a part subscription service.

I wish the Independent well, although I cannot say I have ever really liked it. It will be worth keeping an eye on in the next few months.

Italian Elections

Italy will be voting in 13 of its 20 regions on Sunday. Due to an administrative cock-up (the chap concerned went off for lunch) Berlusconi’s PdL party failed to lodge its candidate list in time in Lazio, the region which contains Rome.

The Prime Minister has been involved in the usual scandals – the long-running corruption trial which involved David Mills, his trying to get the critical Annozero programme off the airwaves (it will be broadcast by Murdoch), his criticising the lack of attractiveness of his opponents. But despite the fact that he is easily the dominant political figure of our times, this will not really be an election about Berlusconi. He has an approval rate of 44%, which Gordon Brown would give up the support of the Unite Union for, and will lose a bit in the polls, without being under any serious threat.

There are two figures to watch. Umberto Bossi, the thuggish head of the Northern League (which wants to separate from the poorer and more corrupt South), will probably improve its ratings and therefore demand more seats in the cabinet; and Gianfranco Fini, former head of the AN party who is ready to split away from Berlusconi, or challenge him, when the time is right. But it isn’t now.

The Left are still nowhere to be seen.

Spending Cuts

The Chancellor, Mr Darling, has 'admitted' that expenditure cuts will be more savage than those made by Mrs Thatcher. Cue lefty outrage.

The actual figures are below, on the left Gross Domestic Producct, on the right public spending £bn

1979 199 85.2
1980 233 103.9
1981 256 116.1
1982 281 128.0
1983 307 132.7
1984 330 140.5
1985 362 150.9
1986 389 158.6
1987 429 164.6
1988 478 173.6
1989 525 179.9
1990 570 200.9

As you can see, public spending rose inexorably, year after year, under Mrs Tatcher's leadership.

The question I wuld like answered is why the BBC, a supposedly unbiased organisation, is promulgating this nonsense.

25 March, 2010

EU: hypocrisy and corruption

Greece spends a higher proportion of its National Income on defence than any other European country. So you might think that, in times of peace and when they are almost bankrupt, they might reduce it. You might also think that France and Germany, who are pressing for the Greeks to make sacrifices in order to get their budget under control, would be pressing them to reduce military spending.

Not so.

Reuters reports that Germany is hoping to sell Greece a €300 million submarine, while France wants to sell 6 frigates for €3.4 billion, 15 helicopters for €400m and an unnamed number of Rafale fighters at €100m a pop.

An adviser to Mr Papandreou said "No one is saying 'Buy our warships or we won't bail you out', but the clear implication is that they will be more supportive if we do what they want on the armaments front"

Today is the 53rd anniversary of the founding of the European Economic Community (EEC) and I expect the Greeks, like us, are wishing they had never gone near it.

Lady Day

Today is the Feast of the Annunciation, known as Lady Day and not to be confused with Ladies Day (a race meeting), Mothers' Day, Mothering Sunday, or International Women's Day. Dear me.

It used to be a Quarter Day, for the payment of rents, which I always thought must have taken some of the gloss off the proceedings.

It is also the anniversary of William Wilberforce's first vctory in his long battle to abolish slavery. The Slave Trade was abolished on this day in 1807 althuogh slavery itself remained legal for another quarter of a century.

24 March, 2010

UK Elections: 4 The Deficit

Listening to the commentary on the budget, particularly on the BBC, there appears to be some confusion with the terms 'deficit' and 'borrowing'.

I am astounded that the Conservative Party allows the Government to get away with this.

Just to be clear, the deficit is the amount by which the government overspends each year. Each £1 of deficit amounts to an increase in borrowings of £1.

So when the Government says it will halve the deficit by 2014 it means that the amount of debt, which some day we have to pay off, will not be halved, but will still be going up. In 2014 the debt will still be increasing, but at a lower rate. Still going up, not down.

We need a surplus, remember that? a surplus to reduce the debt.

The debt must be reduced, and nothing else will do. Not a reduction of the deficit, a surplus, for several years.

This is no different from a family paying off its credit cards, which is happening all over Britain.

Ordinary people have understood it. The Government and the BBC have not.

Drink and be sad

My 2008 harvest having failed and the 2009 not ready I have just bought 5 litres (6.6 bottles) of good, strong, smooth red wine for a little over 6 euros. I could have got plonk for much less.

In Britain the tax alone on this would be more than 11 euros (£9.81), with £1.25 per bottle and the VAT of 17.5%. Before buying the wine.

And they tell the populace that alcohol is too cheap for them to be trusted.

Jamie Oliver

I am a great fan of Jamie Oliver. He has a pleasing blokishness in a profession which tends towards personality and adulation, and I admire what he has done to help the losers in our society get a profession and do something, despite the efforts of the education and welfare systems to keep them in their place.

But in America he has surely gone too far. Telling the people of the fattest town in the fattest state that they are..er.. fat amounts to evangelism and is not pretty. Don't burst into tears, Jamie, come back and lecture us.

We like it.

UK Elections (3): The budget

The BBC’s headline ‘Darling pushes broadband for all’ partly summed up the last budget of a man who won’t be kept on even in the unlikely event of his party winning. Trivial and interfering.

For me, however, the headline missed the point. Today’s budget, unable to be an election giveaway (but nevertheless still profligate given its lack of savings) was more than anything else a statement of the man’s political beliefs. The Labour Party and Mr. Darling are, it would appear, about to go into the election avowing the importance of government involvement in our everyday lives. He will tell the banks how to run their business; he believes he can run a seed capital investment fund; he feels that tinkering with the tax system will yield benefits (the big winners, as with all budgets since 1997, are Butterfills Tax Guide, who will be producing another thick volume of irrelevant detail). He wants broadband and bank accounts for all and thinks it is the Government's job to provide them. It is the economics of the 1950s and it must, must be thrown out by the electorate.

Cameron built up his anger and kept it at boiling point for perhaps 20 minutes. It was a good enough speech (not the time when you expect a great one) and did enough.

The real budget will be in June, after the election, when we will hear what is in store for us. It will be grim.

23 March, 2010

Rt.Hon. crook

There is a petition to HM The Queen to dismiss Stephen Byers from the Privy Council. You can sign it here.

British Airways

Some old Tory card stood up at Prime Minister's Questions a while back and asked 'Why are there always so many strikes at the fag end of a Labour Government?' Sir Bufton has a point: there is a new militancy in the air, union athletes training up for the big meeting, the change of government.

We have forgotten what strikes are like. In the seventies you felt that nothing worked, that there was nothing you could rely on. It was shame as much as annoyance that you felt. Here is Jeremy Clarkson's take on the BA strike, from the Times

I like Virgin. And I flew Singapore Airlines recently, which was out of this world. But there is nothing quite so joyous as leaving the hustle and bustle of a superheated Third World hellhole and being greeted on the big BA jumbo by a homosexual with a cold flannel and a refreshing glass of champagne. Take that away from us and we may as well all be Belgian.

Agreed. And I have to say that if I were unfortunate enough to be in a plane which crashed into the sea it is British Airways cabin crew I would like looking after me. They exude competence. In my experience they are the best.

They are also the best paid. So I can't quite see what the strike is about and, frankly, I am bored with trying. There are, when all is said and done, other airlines.

I don't want this on the news every ten minutes, thuggish union reps and that weaselly little man with the Irish accent. Can we have corrupt politicians, dying whales, rising sea levels, whatever, instead?


The news that three former cabinet ministers have been using their political influence and contacts to line their pockets will, I am afraid, come as little surprise to most people. The media are having difficulty whipping up public reaction; we plod wearily along muttering 'more of the same'. Perhaps we shoud abandon our puritan conscience and be more like the Italians, thinking 'nice work if you can get it'. But the British are not like that.

In my view MPs should be paid sufficiently well that they don't need to do this sort of thing (there will always be one or two bad apples but not the almost industrial levels of graft we have at the moment). Of course the public is unlikely to tolerate a pay rise until the stables are cleaned out and we appear still to be some way away from that. It may be with so many new faces after the election some confidence returns but I rather doubt it.

If I were an 18 year old voting for the first time I would feel there was nobody to express my concerns. And this is very bad for our democracy.

One of the odd things is how Mr Byers, the main offender, was stupid enough to fall for this. The name of the lobbying company was Anderson Perry, an inversion of Perry Anderson, Marxist authour of the laugh-a-page 'Lineages of the Absolutist State', which Byers will have read. Then to sit in front of a complete stranger and describe himself as 'like a cab for hire' defies belief. It is beyond Mr Cameron's 'it shows they have been in power for too long'. Such a dunderhead shouldn't have been in power at all. His defence appears to be that it's OK, he was lying. Great. Trying to obtain a pecuniary advantage by deception, but not sleazy.

Mr Brown was foolish to say he was satisfied nothing untoward had occurred. If, as Mr Byers said, he has done this for other clients, it follows that some government minister has been suborned.

Of course there must be a full investigation.

This has not been a good fortnight for Mr Brown. The public is confronted with sleazy socialists asking for £5,000 a day, there is an unpopular budget coming up tomorrow, and to cap it all Samantha Cameron is pregnant, a vote winner if ever I saw one.

20 March, 2010

Maybe Spring

OK, a little bit of vernality


Today, by the way, is the vernal equinox.

Not very vernal here.

Cometh the hour...

Silvio Berlusconi has called for direct elections for the office of President. Currently the President is elected by Parliament.

I don’t know if he has anyone in mind...

Sanity in Luton

The awful self-publicist Esther Rantzen, who will be standing as an independent candidate in the Luton South constituency at the general election, writes in the Daily Mail that there is a conspiracy afoot to make her lose.

If this is true it is the first good news of the pre-election period.

The conspirators have apparently chosen the cunning wheeze of putting up a candidate against her, which is...er... the traditional way of trying to make another candidate lose.

The last time I saw Esther Rantzen she was in a television advert for one of those ambulance chasing solicitors. She must be desperate to get back in the public eye but it is an insult to the electorate of Luton South that she should use them to further her ambitions in this way. Elections to parliament are serious matters, not a springboard for the trivial and self-obsessed to improve their public recognition.

In the constituency there will be a full panoply of candidates from Labour, Conservative, Liberal, UKIP, Green and I urge the voters to choose any one of these to ensure this ghastly pseudo rights campaigner is roundly defeated.

19 March, 2010


The newspapers are full of the sad story of two teenagers who died after taking mephedrone, also known as meow meow. They had mixed it with alcohol and other drugs.

The knee jerk reaction is to ban it, and the Sun, of course, speaks out boldly.

Mephedrone is legal, but not for human consumption. It is available on the internet, as plant food.

A part of the problem here is our dependency on the state. Many people have assumed that if it is legal it must be harmless: they have abrogated their normal decision making to the government apparat. Yet I once heard that someone had died drinking Worcestershire Sauce. It is legal to buy a kitchen knife but you will die if you stab it in your throat; legal to use the railway but you will die if you fall under a train.

If mephedrone is banned, something else will take its place. And that might be considerably more dangerous.

This is not a problem which will go away just by passing laws.

Italy or Greece?

I have said in previous posts that the problem with the euro is not what happens to Greece in this particlar crisis, it’s what happens in the next one and the one after that. The issue is competitiveness, and how other economies are doing relative to the largest, and most efficient, Germany. Because if the Olive belt countries don’t improve competitiveness to near German levels their exports will decline and they will not be able to service their debts and pay their welfare.

In an interesting article in the FT Mike Dicks wonders if Italy, rather than Greece, isn’t the problem, and gives us the numbers.

In 1995 Italy benefited from cheap labour. Labour costs per unit of output were only 60% of Germany’s. Now they are 30% higher (Greece’s are only 17% higher). So it is not surprising that since the formation of the euro (ie since the weaker countries have been unable to devalue) Germany’s exports have increased by 70% whereas Italy’s increased by only 20% until the crisis and won’t get back to those levels until 2013.

In other words, the problem is getting worse; and something has to give.

17 March, 2010

St Patrick's Day

Happy St Patrick's Day


I may be mistaken but there seems something not quite right about the kidnap and release of Sahil Saeed, the 5 year old British boy taken from his grandmother’s house in Pakistan and found yesterday. Various details make it seem not quite straighforward.

And on news of his release suddenly up pops the Foreign Secretary, David Milliband, with a statement designed to show that if anything good had happened he was behind it.

Despite the deep worry of his parents and the outrage of a kidnap, it would be a very bad thing if any ransom had been paid. I don’t mean just by the British Government – it would be quite easy to get a third party to pay a ransom and reimburse them quietly. It would be a bad thing because it would teach other potential kidnappers everywhere that it was a trade worth carrying on.

In addition there remains in captivity in Somalia the British couple Paul and Rachel Chandler, for whom we have not paid a ransom. Over and above the wrongness of rewarding crime, there would be something deeply shocking if ransom were paid for one and not the other, for whatever reason, as we near an election.

16 March, 2010

Jersey nonsense

The States of Jersey, the island's mini-parliament, have deliberated and voted in a strange new law. It is that children, not adults, should have to wear cycle helmets.

I suspected this nonsense would start somewhere. It will have two results. Firstly, parents will realise that the island's government doesn't trust them to bring up their children. They will take offence. Second, the forces of law and order will find themselves arresting five year olds. Since the little creatures are legally unable to distinguish right from wrong the rozzers will have to let them go.

The people of Jersey might wish to ask themselves why they have idiots running the place. The first thing a lawmaker should have to learn, even if it has to be knocked physically into his head, is that there is a difference between recognising something as a good idea and making people criminals if they don't do it. The second thing is that boys will be boys.

15 March, 2010

Greeks bearing debts

I am indebted to the Adam Smith Institute for news of this astonishing investment opportunity. An account has been opened at the Bank of Greece to which you can contribute, and it will be used to help repay Greek Government debt.

It is entitled 'Solidarity Account for Repayment of Public Debt' and the details are as follows:

IBAN: GR 04 010 0024 0000000026132462 SWIFT/BIC: BNGRGRAA.

I understand there is no limit to the amount you are entitled to contribute.

14 March, 2010

UK Elections (2): hung parliaments

While on the subject of the LibDems I think a word has to be said about the possibility of a hung parliament. Many of the opinion polls seem to suggest this as a serious possibility, with the LibDems holding the balance of power, although my own belief is that the Conservatives will win an outright majority, as long as Mr Cameron looks as if he wants to win it (which is not how he has behaved all this year).

There is an instinctive opposition to a hung parliament in Britain but there seems to be an increasing number of voices to the effect that it wouldn’t be such a bad thing at all. Not least among these is the distinguished economist Samuel Brittan, who has observed that many European governments have coalitions and the two which don’t, Greece and the UK, are in the worst economic shape.

The case against hung parliaments, pacts and coalitions is not an economic but a democratic one. You vote for one party because it is promising X but promising not to change Y. They need another party to form a government, and that party agrees to lend its support as long as your party drops its passion for X and goes some way towards supporting change to Y. You might have thought that British politicians are a sufficiently principled lot that they wouldn’t agree to such betrayal of the electorate just to cling to power. You might have thought that.

So in the end the voters get a package that nobody voted for. And this, I have to say, is nothing other than a betrayal of democracy. It happens with hung parliaments and it happens more often than not with proportional representation. Secret, dirty little deals done after you have voted.

Let’s hope we never see it again.

UK Elections (1)

The Liberal Democrats are having their Spring Conference at the moment and their leader, Nick Clegg, addressed them this morning. He had almost lost his voice, which was unfortunate, but his speech seemed in any case lacklustre. A well written speech telegraphs the punchline to the audience, who are on their feet by the time the final words are delivered. Clegg seemed to deliver his big points in an artificially big voice and there was a half second's wait before the applause began. The whole thing seemed belaboured, insufficiently genuine.

I did not see the speech of John 'Vince' Cable, who is the party's darling. Many people seem to love him. For me, the writing doesn't go all the way through.

The LibDems currently have 62 MPs and in my opnion this number will not increase. They are the principal protest vote party. When the election result is assured people have the luxury of voting for them to make sure the two main parties don't feel too comfortable. When the result is squeezed, and the last time was 1992, the vote polarises. Secondly, there are now at least two more serious protests, UKIP and the Greens, and in several constituencies the BNP or the Nationalists. Paradoxically, as the LibDems get closer to holding the balance of power their vote declines.

What they need to do is get away from the idea of being somewhere between the two main parties. They need something of their own (their two main policies of better education and lower taxes for the poorest, whilst sensible, don't really cut it). In my view they should go towards being liberal, as they were a century ago: free trade, less inteference in people's lives, civil liberties.

30 years ago Mrs Thatcher cut this ground from under them. Now they could reclaim it.

But they won't. When all is said and done, they are a party of protest for the left. When the Tories are on form, and we don't yet know if they are, the LibDems can be annihilated.

Drink and be merry

I suppose it had to happen. The Government is frantically unveiling a series of eye-catching initiatives, designed, I suppose, to draw our attention away from its dismal economic record and its manifest failure to support our troops.

And guess what it’s going to do? Yes, I’m sure you guessed correctly. It is going to lower the drink driving limit from 80mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood, down to 50mg. That is approximately one glass of wine.

It’s an easy one for the politicians, this. They will wheel out the odd grieving mother whose child has been killed by a drunk, and vilify anyone who criticises the idea. Of course the political class get free taxis and live in London. In the countryside, where you need a car, it will herald a new reign of terror.

And it’s an odd law. Firstly, you cannot know whether you are breaking it (you can’t own one of those Lionometer machines). Secondly, the purpose of the law, to punish dangerous driving, is not met by the detail of the law: you might be a better driver after a bottle of wine than another person is stone cold sober. And lastly, you have to incriminate yourself, by blowing into the machine, against every precept of natural justice.

This law was brought in by Barbara Castle, a socialist busybody who couldn’t drive, and is now being made more draconian by a socialist Prime Minister who can’t drive either. Thanks.

10 March, 2010

It's Here!!!

YES. Be still my beating heart. Gordon Brown (not the chancellor) has announced that the budget will be on March 24th and it is therefore almost certain that the election will be on 6th May.

Will Cameron continue the rabbit in the headlights act he has put on this year? Or will he suddenly look like a Prime Minister? Will Gordon Brown suddenly regain the trust of the electorate, even though it looks like they will be reduced to starvation point by early May?

I shall be commenting during the course of the election campaign to save you having to read the newspapers

Vive la différence

News from France (and everyone is saying it with no denials so I suppose it must be la verité) that the First Lady, Carla Bruni, is separated from her husband and living in the apartment of a singer, Benjamin Biolay, while her husband has sought the condolences of ecology minister and karate champion, Chantal Jouanno, rather seems to emphasise the difference between them and us, the grenouilles and the rosbifs.

One had supposed that the French were above these things, leaping happily from bed to chaise longue, laughing at the small minded Puritanism of the British, but this appears to be being taken seriously by the press.

One issue is the actual position of the president. He is the Head of State, and therefore comparable to our Monarch. One can quite imagine a senior member of the Royal Family behaving like this (no need to imagine it, really) but Sarkozy is also an elected politician. It would be hard to imagine Sarah Brown going off to live with the winner of the X Factor, or Gordon shacking up with Teresa Jowell in retaliation.

Perhaps one problem is that Sarkozy appointed Chantal Jouanno, as he did Rachida Dati, with whom he has also been linked. It seems rather to throw their credentials into question. In fact Sarkozy may well be the most powerful man on the planet. He has nothing like the checks and balances hedging him round that Obama has, and yet whilst wielding the sort of power of an African dictator he is doing it in one of the richest economies in the world, and a nuclear power to boot. There’s food for thought.

In the meantime Sarko, who is having a tough time in the opinion polls, is confronted with the possibility that his opponent at the next election will be Dominique Strauss Kahn, the head of the IMF and a leading light in the Socialist party. Terrified at the thought that DSK might arrive in a blaze of glory to the rescue of Greece and therefore the euro, Sarko tried to organise a bail out of Papandreou’s struggling economy. The Germans weren’t having it and plan B, which is a Euro-IMF which, tee-hee, DSK wouldn’t be part of, now looks to require a new treaty, which Britain would veto, given the tears the last one caused.

Personally I can think of little worse than the statist lefty DSK running a European country but it seems a possibility if Sarko can’t keep his act together and his trousers on.

06 March, 2010

The Armenian Question

What we know about this – and it isn’t everything, I suppose – is that during the First World War, when Russia and the Ottoman Empire were on opposing sides, Armenians from the Caucasus joined the Russian side and tried to incite Turkish Armenians into open revolt, or treason. In 1915 the Government, and it was Ottoman rather than Turkish, ordered the expulsion of all Armenians to Syria. It is said that 300,000 Armenians died on the way; some say 1million.

Now, in America, nearly 100 years later, the House Foreign Affairs committee has voted to approve a resolution describing this as genocide. In 2007 a similar resolution came before it but the Bush administration persuaded them not to bring it to a vote.

Now without doubt, even by the standards of a century ago and in the middle of a war which would determine the dismantling of the Ottoman Empire, this was evil; an atrocity, perhaps. The technical feature which would make it genocide appears to be whether the Ottomans wanted to destroy or severely damage a particular race (just wanting them to live somewhere more in keeping with their political views would not constitute genocide). From what I learn it is debatable. The question is: should it be debated? The regime guilty of this no longer exists.

Oddly enough, the matter cropped up during the long run-in to the American Presidential Election. What Obama said was that the only way to eliminate genocide is to recognise it in each case. Sounds good.

I don’t suppose, however, we shall be recognising as genocide the systematic hounding, corralling and elimination of the various indigenous American people by white settlers in North America, nor, for example, the bombing of civilian populations during the second world war (the Armenian expulsion was also in wartime). And that is before we examine what has been going on in China and its neighbours these 60 years. On grounds of hypocrisy alone it might have been better to remain silent.

But there is more than just the hypocrisy. Turkey is a member of NATO and a key element in any negotiations with Iran, with the troubled Caucasus region, and with Syria. On a diplomatic level this looks like utter folly, and despite Obama’s high minded words, will not eliminate genocide. It will just make a few people feel better.

Obama seems likely to be labelled as worse at diplomacy than George Bush. There's a legacy.

Iceland's vote

Today the voters of Iceland give their judgment on a deal reached with the governments of the UK and the Netherlands concerning the collapse of the Icelandic banks and the shortfall made up to depositors. In a sense it is a damp squib, partly because we know the good Icelanders will vote it down, and partly because their government is trying to reach a different deal, which presumably will have to be voted on as well. Those of a nervous disposition should take note that the EU crops up in this story so you can’t take anything democratic for granted.

So, Alistair Darling baled out the depositors (actually it wasn’t Alistair Darling it was the UK taxpayers) and wants the money from the Icelanders. Of course Iceland hasn’t any money. What would normally happen in these circumstances is that the Icelandic Central Bank would simply lodge certificates of deposit (IOUs) at the Bank of England. But they didn’t. They didn’t feel they owed the money. But Mr Darling went ahead and baled out the Icesave depositors anyway.

I should mention that some of the Icesave depositors were in Labour marginal seats and some were Labour councils. You see, Icesave paid a better rate of interest than other banks (because it was a lousy credit risk).

This is where the EU raises its ugly head. Iceland of course is not in the EU, although its ruling party would like it to be. In terms of groupings Iceland is a part of the European Economic Area and the EEA had a different set of rules for compensation of depositors when the bank goes belly up. Whereas the EU’s rules were for 100% compensation, the rules applying to Iceland were for less, and varying according to the depositor. So Iceland felt certain that whilst it owed some money, it was considerably less than what Darling (we) paid out. But they were smartly told that if they wanted to join the EU they would have to abide by its rules – Britain and the Netherlands could veto the application.

I have sent several questions to HM Treasury asking for details of this, and have not, of course, received a reply. I am quite certain that the British Government felt for political reasons that it had to stump up 100% compensation, paid out without knowing they would be reimbursed and then bullied the Icelanders into repaying more than the amount they were legally on the hook for. In other words the people of Iceland are being bullied to buy votes for the Labour Party, compensating depositors who were only in it for the money.

To me this has a very unhealthy smell to it. I hope the Icelanders vote this down, if only because it might help the story get out. And we know nothing of what is being renegotiated now. Will it include telling them they are a shoo-in for the EU? Has Mrs Merkel given it the nod? I must say my proposal a couple of months ago that they pay it off in cod looks increasingly attractive to both sides: if they join the EU they'll have to join the Common Fisheries Policy and lose their cod stocks anyway, as we did. Or has that been negotiated away as well?

04 March, 2010

Global warming news

From the BBC:

A number of ships, including ferries with thousands of passengers on board, have become stuck in ice in the Baltic Sea, officials say.

The vessels are grounded in the waters between Stockholm and the Aland Islands, Radio Sweden reports.

Many of the vessels are not likely to be freed for hours, Swedish maritime authorities were quoted as saying by the AFP news agency.

It is reportedly the worst Baltic freeze for 15 years.

Well well. What I am saying is not that this disproves the idea of man made global warming, it is that it gives rise to doubts, and that the burden of proof is now with them.

Encomium for the troublemakers

There is an interesting aspect to the departure this week of two of UK politics’ best known names. First, Michael Foot, who has died aged 96, was one of the great orators of his day. If you read one of his speeches it seems dull, repetitive and, of course, wrong. It was his delivery, the throaty voice raised almost to screaming point, which was able to render the most mundane of lines ‘the composite motion to Conference to amend Clause 26 (a)’ seem like Henry V’s speech at Agincourt. Foot will probably be remembered for his donkey jacket but should be for his rabble rousing and his work on Jonathan Swift.

Ian Paisley, who has announced his retirement from politics, achieved the rank of First Minister of Northern Ireland but he, too, will be remembered for his rabble rousing. My favourite incident was when Pope John Paul II visited the European Parliament to much touchy feely smiling and waving and adulation. Paisley, who was also a Euro MP (he often claimed to have received more votes than any other politician in Britain) stood up when it was his turn and said ‘I denounce you as the Antichrist’, almost certainly the first and last time the old boy had been spoken to in those terms.

What links these two engaging political figures is that they may be the last. It is clichéd to write ‘we shall never see his like again’ but we may well not if we adopt the proposal for changing the voting system to the Alternative Vote. Under this system, to be elected you have to get a lot of second and third preferences and thus appeal to (or not go against) a wide spectrum of opinion. Those who are elected will be dull, middle of the roaders who don’t rock the boat. It’s a grim prospect.

03 March, 2010

Rude about Rumpy and Belgium

I suppose I must take some small responsibility for this in that I recruited Nigel Farage to what was then the Anti-Federalist League (which changed its name to UKIP in 1993).

He is actually quite good company and serious, but in a speech in the European Parliament welcoming the visit of the President of the EU, he described Belgium as 'pretty much a non-country' and the President as having 'the charisma of a damp rag and the appearance of a low grade bank clerk'.

I wasn't going to report on this since it wasn't one of Nigel's best speeches but I now read he is to be fined nearly €3,000 for being horrid. As he himself says 'Free speech is expensive in Brussels'.

It is a shame Rumpy didn't go to the defamation courts. We could then have heard the fair comment defence as to whether he did indeed have the charisma of a damp rag and the Public Interest Defence, as to whether we should be entitled to know that the President of 500 million people has the appearance of a low grade bank clerk.

But Belgium? Belgium? You can be fined for being rude about Belgium?

I should like to go on record as stating that Belgium is an unnecessary country and that it would be better for it and for Europe if part were reattached to France and the other part to the Netherlands. Its political system has collapsed, with no governemnt being formed after the last election, and it has an inordinately high incidence of paedophilia.

It seems that the recent fatal train crash was caused by one official not understanding the language spoken by another, in a country about as wide as the M4.

I think that Farage was wrong, though, not to mention that the chips are good.

Sarah's Law

I am getting a little concerned that in our anxiety to be seen to be doing anything to stop child molestation we are inching away from the sort of fair and just society that those children would want to grow up in.

Sarah’s Law, named after Sarah Payne, who was killed by a convicted paedophile, is a diluted copy of Megan’s Law in the US (where they publish the whereabouts of people convicted of paedophilia). It has been on trial in 4 areas of the country for 18 months. It is reported that 585 enquiries were made to the police in Cleveland, Warwickshire, Cambridgeshire and Hampshire. Of those, 315 were investigated by police and 21 turned out to relate to people who are on the sex offenders' register for offences against children. A further 11 related to people with criminal convictions for other offences, such as violence. The law is now to be extended - 'rolled out' is the term they use - to the rest of the country.

We need to have a careful look at this. Here is what the Government website says:

‘The disclosure pilot is intended to test the effectiveness of giving parents, carers and guardians a more formal way of requesting information about people who are involved in their family life – specifically if they are concerned that a person is a child sexual offender.

If police checks show that someone has a record for offences that may put a child at risk, the authorities will consider sharing this information with the child’s parent, carer or guardian.’

The first thing is ‘people who are on the sex offenders' register for offences against children’. Now, you can be on the sex offenders’ register for other things than offences against children. Many people have been persuaded to go on it: sad people who spend a little too much time looking through the fence at the school playground are taken away by police and threatened that they might be prosecuted (even though there would be no chance of a prosecution being allowed, much less successful) unless they agree to go on the register; people who have viewed photographs of children on their computers (Pete Townsend, the guitarist, is one) but would never commit an offence against a child. One person is on the sex offender’s register for smacking an unruly child in a supermarket. Are these people to be investigated and their names given to parents?

Suppose you committed a robbery with violence. You would presumably come under Sarah’s Law under ‘for offences that may put a child at risk,’ – indeed one such case cropped up in the trial period – even though you have never committed violence against a child and never would.

What do you do then, if you have served your time and will never err again, or have seen some dirty photos, or you have simply smacked your child? You could be hounded from neighborhood to neighborhood, never being allowed to settle as your record – extending far past the Statute of Limitations – follows you.

Now it may well be that the authorities will act sensibly and refuse most requests, keeping their investigations and the release of personal data to those who have genuine, regular access to children and are genuinely likely to put them at risk. But nothing in the hysteria we have already seen would give one confidence about this. Parliament should keep a close watch on how this is proceeding and if necessary issue restrictions on its operation.

02 March, 2010

BBC: crocodile tears

BBC6 Music (count them: 1,2,3,4,5,6) and its Asian Network are facing closure, the comfortably remunerated Mark Thomson, Director General, has said, to howls of complaint.

There is one question we should ask, and indeed the BBC should ask itself, when considering its involvement in a programme or channel. ‘Could this be done equally well by the private sector?’

In the case of these two, it is said that BBC6 is giving airtime to bands which aren’t heard elsewhere. The reason for this is that the massive financial clout of the BBC is starving potential small stations from the airwaves. It’s like nationalising the Post Office and saying ‘see? No one else delivers letters’.

There may be enough Asians in Britain to justify the occasional programme, but there are not enough for a ‘network’ outside the Asian section of the World Service.

Apart from the World Service and the website (which they are also cutting), the BBC needs two or three platforms: Radio 4, BBC1 TV and maybe Radio 3 to do arts. For the rest, it should be a commissioner of public service programmes.

Politicians rightly hate to be seen to be dictating to the BBC but the upshot of this is that we have given it the right to tax the people of the UK and create a vast, bureaucratic, self serving Leviathan. Again at this last Olympics we sent more BBC staff than athletes. I am told it only needs a hopeful in the Women’s Slalom to come from, say, Henley-in-Arden and BBC Radio Henley-in-Arden has to send its representative with recording staff to do the interviews.

It has got to stop. I suspect the only reason they are making these minuscule cuts now is that they don’t want to be put under scrutiny after the election. The sooner they are the better.

The horrors to come

It is 70 days to the final date for a general election in the UK, and 100 days until the Football World Cup.

All I'm saying is, have a think about your holiday plans