28 December, 2012

We'd like to hear less of..

As we come to the end of the old year we begin to think about what we are looking for in the next. And what we are not looking for. Here are five people I'd like to hear less of in 2013

Hugh Grant. A B-movie heartthrob, his mobile 'phone was hacked by the News of the World because he was either too stupid or too lazy to change the access code for the message service. From this self-inflicted trouble he has worked tirelessly to have newspapers regulated: to destroy the free press which is so important to our democracy.

Pippa Middleton. It was never going to be a good idea for the little sister to try to achieve fame or fortune on the back of her sibling marrying well. And for such a reason. The Japanese word bakkushan means a woman who looks better from the back than from the front. She should have stuck at that.

Anyone called Kardashian. What are they famous for?

Brian May. Unable to rest with simply being a multi-millionaire rockstar, May has reinvented himself as an expert on animals, world fauna's answer to Bono. Let's hope it stops.

Alexander 'Boris' Johnston. Wordy self-publicist who wants to be leader of the Conservative Party and Prime Minister. In my view he will never achieve either job. He is poor at detail and too lazy to see anything through. He is openly, even boastfully, a philanderer, and has paid a famous journalist to have an abortion. The public will begin to see that you can't trust the promises of a man who thinks himself too important to obey his marriage vows and who is prepared to humiliate his wife for his public image.

RIP Fontella

Fontella Bass from 1965. She has died aged 72


24 December, 2012

Happy Christmas

A very happy Christmas to everyone.

In hospital over Christmas are three towering figures of the '80s and 90s, Margaret Thatcher (87), Nelson Mandela (94) and George H Bush (88). I wish them all well, but it makes me feel old.

23 December, 2012

Fox hunting

'Jail Fox Hunters for five years!', screams the chief executive of the RSPCA, Gavin Grant.

I remember once being at one of those upper middle class dinner parties in a village with a double-barrelled name, like a West Indian fast bowler: Tarrant Gunville or Kingston Deverill or some such. Attending was a crusty old soldier, a Major General, I think, who had been appointed head of the RSPCA. On my asking, he explained to a hushed table that he thought they shouldn't hunt foxes.

The other guests were astounded. We had all contributed to, or helped, the RSPCA over the years, regarding it as a sort of country thing. It seemed a betrayal. For myself I have no taste for hunting but, like most people who live in the country, regard foxes as pests and don't much care what happens to them.

I think it clear that the RSPCA's hysteria about this is quasi political and that it is in breach of its charter and its obligations under the Charities Act.

Having said that, rightly or wrongly, fox hunting is illegal. Fox hunting is not a basic right like democracy or freedom to worship, for which a Robin Hood style campaign of disobedience is permissible, it is simply a pastime which our elected representatives have decided is wrong. Those who indulge in it are breaking the law, and whilst five years seems on the harsh side, they must accept the consequences of doing so.

Monti speaks; so do I

Mario Monti, the now-resigned unelected Prime Minister of Italy, has said that he does not care to involve himself in the forthcoming elections, but he would, however, be prepared to act as Prime Minister.

Pretty decent of him. Oddly enough, I am the same. This business of putting yourself in front of the proletariat, with them sometimes, incredibly, disagreeing, really holds no attraction. Far better to let the weasels get on with all the sordid baby kissing, speeches (to the proletariat! As if they could understand!) and votes and so on, while just doing the senior management thing.

I would be prepared to sacrifice myself in this way for my own nation, or, as an expert, sort out America, Syria or Italy, indeed; anywhere where the kudos, salary and wine cellar met my expectations.

Monti could expect to come third or fourth in the Italian elections whereas I would have come first, which is why there is no need to go through all this grubby popular vote business.

Vote Appoint Tim Now!

Your health service

Former Chancellor of the Exchequer Nigel Lawson once said that the National Health Service was the nearest thing the British had to a religion. I sometimes think the British have condemned themselves to living in the past: either reliving the glories of the Second World War or the nationalisation programme of the 1945 government.

Some people liked the production but I was horrified at the Olympic opening ceremony doing a celebration of the NHS, in front of bemused foreigners many of whom had far better systems.

We read today that the Alexandra Hospital in Redditch has apologised to 38 families for mistreatment of their relatives. One person died of starvation while being treated in the hospital. Redditch is not in remote Scotland or the poor North East but in relatively wealthy Worcestershire.

If you find this astonishing in 21st century Britain, look at the figures from the Office of National Statistics:

In 2011, 43 people starved to death and 287 were recorded as being malnourished when they died in hospital. 558 people died in a state of severe hydration in state-run hospitals. 78 hospital patients were killed by bedsores and 21,696 patients were suffering from septicaemia when they died; this usually occurs from infected wounds. In a hospital.

It really is about time we recognised that the system we have doesn't work. But in the face of all the evidence the British believe it is the best in the world. We used to believe this about the police and are only now being disabused of this. With both institutions we have taken our eye off the ball. We could use a few politicians with enough honesty to tell us the truth.

21 December, 2012

Not all good

Well, the French village of Bugarach has survived, but then again so has Brussels.

Nothing in this world, apocalypse or no apocalypse, is perfect.

20 December, 2012

Italy update

Mario Monti will decide - or rather announce - this weekend what he is going to do about the forthcoming elections.

It seems quite clear that he is not going to do anything so grubby as put himself up for election by the people: European Man (EM) isn't too big on this democracy fad. Even if he did, the party list system which operates in Italy means you can't vote to exclude a particular candidate - if you vote for a party, they decide who to allocate your vote to. To involve yourself in politics without even being prepared to go through this corrupt little system, to my mind rather defines a man.

Monti will lend his name to a centrist grouping led by Pier Ferdinando Casini and Luca Cordero di Montezemolo.

So what will happen? At the moment the polls show the Left, or at least centre-left, led by Pier Luigi Bersani, to be on nearly 30% of the vote, which by Italian terms would mean a clear majority (you get a bonus of seats free, just for winning). Beppe Grillo, the populist comedian (how I long to use these words about a British politician!) is on 15%, but wait! Look at Silvio! In a couple of weeks Berlusconi has put on 3%, and seems to be heading to 20% and more.

The last election gave

Centre right coalition     47%
Centre left coalition       38%
Centre                               6%

but it seems clear that with Monti and Montezemolo, Chairman of Ferrari, together with Casini, the son-in-law of the rich and powerful Francesco Caltagirone, owner of Il Messaggero newspaper, the centre will do well next time.
 
But who would a Monti-led centre take its votes from? Is Bersani at the leftish end of his party and thus the extreme left would be for him no matter what? If he makes soothing noises to the centre will the Left stick to their guns and offer a coalition, rather than supporting him directly? Will the Silvio bandwagon regain its former momentum? Will Beppe Grillo collapse?

There are now 8 weeks between now and the election. It looks to be interesting

End of the beginning?

Well, it's tomorrow. The end of the world, I mean.

Of course it is easy to laugh at this, particularly since if you are wrong, there will be nobody to say 'I told you so'. Except those people in that French mountain village whom the ancient Mayans unerringly picked out for saving.

In case you are worried, the Independent newspaper publishes a critique of the doomsayers' understanding of the calendar. You may think you want to read it, but I'll just give you a taste: '21st December, 2012 is a 'round date', at least in the Long Count. We refer to it as 13.0.0.0.0. ie it is the 13 Bak'tun period ending (an amount of 13 times 144,000 days comes to pass) since the 'era day', the creation of the current world in classic Maya mythology.

The conclusion is that whilst it is the end of something, it is not the end of the world.

It's probably best just to pour yourself a stiff drink.

17 December, 2012

The happy couple

It is said that Metternich, hearing of Talleyrand's death, said 'I wonder what he meant by that', and political observers will be saying the same of Silvio Berlusconi, who has found time during his election campaigning to announce his engagement to Francesca Pascale, nearly 50 years his junior.

Francesca was a showgirl appearing on local TV stations. She was a regular on TeleCapri's programme Telecafone (trans. 'Oaf or Lout-TV') where she sang, amongst other things, 'Se abbassi la mutanda si alza l'auditel' ('if you drop your knickers the ratings go up': it's probably by Puccini).

Silvio, however, is still married, not having finalised the divorce with Veronica Lario.

This should put a couple more euros on the bill.

15 December, 2012

Gun control

The whole world has seen the news from Connecticut,  where schoolchildren and their teachers have been gunned down.

The perpetrator's mother was a teacher. He apparently used her guns to commit the massacre. A teacher's guns.

There will be the usual calls for gun control and they will have the usual result. Opponents of control will say that is not guns which kill people, but people who kill people.

They ignore the problem. I could easily have a gun. In fact the landlord of a London pub once offered to sell me one of his. But I don't, so every time I feel homicidal, and I probably shall with the BBC's forthcoming programme on Europe, I can't just reach for a firearm. There is no culture in Britain or most other countries (outside Switzerland) of ordinary people owning guns (violent criminals, yes: police and soldiers, yes: the rest of us, no).

To stop these outrages, even to limit them, the culture in America would have to change: guns would have to become a rarity, an oddity. That change would take a generation. I am not saying it is impossible, but it is very, very unlikely.

Act of succession

Charles Moore asks this question in the Telegraph:

'Will the heir to the throne be allowed to have a gay marriage? If he is male, will his husband be King, too? If, by surrogacy, their union is blessed with a child, will that child, though of the blood royal, be excluded from the succession? If so, how, in the name of equality, can that be right?'

This blog believes that if  a homosexual couple wants to call its union 'marriage', there is no harm done in allowing it. Although most of the running in this has not been made by homosexual lobby groups but by politicians wanting to seem worthy.

It seems they have a bit more thinking to do.

13 December, 2012

Press Regulation

Anyone who agreed with Lord Leveson that the press should be regulated by an organisation led by a government appointee must surely change their mind following two reports in the Daily Telegraph.

The first is about the investigation into Sergeant Danny Nightingale covered here. At first the Ministry of Defence threatened to issue a D Notice, even though it was obvious that there was no issue of national security at stake. The MoD were holding Nightingale incommunicado, and told the Telegraph that he didn't want his name released. This proved to be an outright lie. Nightingale was desperate to defend himself against the conviction and wanted to get it into the public domain. The MoD knew that this was an unsafe conviction and tried to muzzle the preses so as not to look bad.

Secondly, the Telegraph made inquiries as to the honesty of the expenses claimed by the culture secretary Maria Miller. Ms Miller's aide told the reporter that Miller had regular meetings on the Leveson report 'I'm just going to flag that up' and suggested the reporter get approval from high up in his own paper. The Telegraph has also been threatened by the Prime Minister's Director of Communications Craig Oliver, also saying that Ms Miller was involved in the press regulation discussions - hint.

Mr Cameron was right to say that the press should not be regulated by any arm of government. Now he knows he can't even trust himself. Congratulations to the Telegraph on not allowing itself to be bullied out of two stories, both in the public interest.

12 December, 2012

Leadership

This from the FT's Guy Dinmore in Rome:

'The German government has warned Silvio Berlusconi not to target Berlin in the run up to elections..'

'Guido Westerwelle, foreign minister, said the government would not interfere in Italy's elections'

Notice here the word 'warned' and the gracious tone with which Germany says it will not interfere with the functioning of another democratic nation. Pretty decent of it, don't you think?

To continue, Angela Merkel said 'I support what the government of Mario Monti has done in introducing reforms....so the Italian people will no doubt make their choice to ensure Italy continues on the right track'.

The current administration in Germany doesn't do leadership very well. They made a mess of their relations with Greece and have made themselves unpopular in several other countries. It is entirely their own fault if they become the butt of the electoral campaign in Italy and it is quite understandable if the Italian electorate were to resent her replacement of an elected leader with her own man. Monti has become increasingly unpopular here.

The sort of statement quoted above just makes things worse. Now, if Monti stands in the election, many will see him as the puppet of Angela Merkel.

Sometimes in politics, the best thing to do is remain silent.

A great day

The date is 12/12/12 or, if you are an American, who puts the day and month the other way round, 12/12/12. This amazing Coincidental Date Thing (CDT) happens....er....every so often.

The Guardian reports one Don Goodman, president of the Dozenal Society of America, saying the world would be better off with a duodecimal, or dozenal if you are American and can't spell that, system. Unfortunately the twit didn't realise that the British were there long before him with 12 shillings to the pound and twelve inches to the foot.

In the Mayan Calendar there are nine days to go until the end of the world, so convinced Mayans like myself will not be wasting money on Christmas presents.

And today, on 12/12/12, at 12 noon, the Pope will be sending his first tweet. Unfortunately, his native language being German, the entire 140 characters are taken up with a single word, meaning 'Peace in zer vurld, dummkopfs, or zair vill be trouble'.

11 December, 2012

Signs of the times

From the UK census:

In the decade to 2011 the immigrant population in Britain rose by 2.9m, roughly 5% of the population just in those ten years.

Only 59% declared themselves as Christians. 25% say they have no religion. 5% say they are Muslims.  More than 176,000 said they were Jedi Knights.

Less than half of Londoners describe themselves as 'white British'.

In 4% of households no one speaks English as their main language.

I am not saying (at the moment) that there is anything wrong with this. But I do think we are nervous about discussing it and it clearly needs to be discussed.

Let's start with the BBC.

The fourth man

Missing....eradicated?
Where was he? Had he been slipped a tablet and left in bed, like the embarrassing uncle at a wedding? Was it more permanent: had a pillow been put over his head while he slept, like a pope whose frailties were too obvious? Or had his invitation been....er....lost in the post?

At the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony held in Norway they were all there: Merkel and Hollande, of course, beaming puffily. And the presidents: Barroso, president of the European Commission; van Rompuy, President of the European Council and Schultz, President of the European Parliament but wait! Where was Christofias, communist president of plucky little bankrupt Southern Cyprus, who is President of the Council of the European Union (as opposed to the European Council, do try to keep up)?

Searching the websites of the various bodies it seems he has been written out of history until someone more suitable comes along. Unfortunately the next ones are Ireland, Lithuania and Greece, so it's a body we shan't be hearing much from.

10 December, 2012

Drugs

A House of Commons Committee has spent a year looking at our drugs policy and recommended a Royal Commission to look at whether drugs, or some drugs, should be decriminalised. A Government minister has replied quickly, but to the effect that nothing is going to be done about it. They are nervous of the newspapers shouting 'drugs free-for-all', 'narcotics nightmare' and so on.

I made my views clear here: I am fed up with the State telling me what to do for my own good. It is many years since I had a proscribed drug but when I did it was my own decision; my body belongs to me, not the State. I see no reason why I should be allowed alcohol and cigarettes but not marijuana.

I am pleased to see the MPs are going to Portugal to see how things are going there. I favour the system of treatment rather than punishment, despite having some doubts about forcing people into treatment.

I hope this debate is kept alive.

The next episode

The soap opera which is the run-up to the Italian election continues with another action packed episode.

Silvio Berlusconi claims to have been besieged with people begging him to save Italy and, like the patriot he is, he will answer the call. He will stand at the election which, as his supposed successor Angelino Alfano says, rather renders the proposed primary for party leader irrelevant.

Interestingly, Silvio has announced his return to the political scene by ordering his members in the senate not to support Monti's government in the most recent vote of no confidence. Monti has survived but says he will resign after the budget is voted through.

Berlusconi has been making noises against the austerity measures, saying that a nation cannot live by the confidence of the markets alone.

Where Berlusconi's actions are interesting is as regards what happens to the budget. You might expect anti-austerity Berlusconi to try to vote it down, but the law on elections is that there must be one within, if I remember correctly, 70 days of the government resigning. If Silvio disposes of Monti quickly it would mean he could be voted in before the 'Ruby' trial where he is accused of sleeping with an underage prostitute.

What will the outcome be? The centre is pressing Monti to stand at the elections but, as discussed before in these pages, the well nurtured European Man doesn't really like kow-towing to the peasantry. And the signs at the moment are that he wouldn't win (something he would treat with incredulity). The Left's Bersani, fresh from his triumph in the primary, seems likely to get 30%. Berlusconi on present figures, even with the help of the Northern League, would not reach this figure. Monti would be third, able to form a coalition with either major party, but it isn't really his style.

My guess is that Monti won't stand and the centre will try to find a new leader (I have previously suggested Luca Cordero di Montezemolo, Chairman of Ferrari, but he has ruled out standing as well).

What would Bersani be like? We don't know. There seem to be two Bersanis: the man of the Left, former communist, and the Bersani we saw in Prodi's government, who brought in liberalising measures to the workplace (although you still can't get a haircut on a Monday).

But there is plenty of running to go.

06 December, 2012

Bed blocking

A new royal heir: jumping the gun a bit, I know, but it hasn't stopped the Daily Mail slyly suggesting that Prince Charles might like to step aside. The Daily Mail doesn't like Prince Charles, but the chaps who drew up the Act of Settlement were careful to exclude any newspaper from deciding who the next monarch should be, so Charles it is.

There is a problem, though. Her Majesty is 86, and if, deo volente, she should live to 95, Charles would ascend the throne in 2021 at the age of  73, when his son, William, would be 39. Were Charles to live to 95, William would come to the throne in 2043 aged 61, at which time his heir, born next year, would be 30. Should William live to 95, his heir would come to the throne aged 64.

The Queen would have reigned for 69 years, Charles for 22, William for 34 and the heir 31. This is what is known is bed blocking, and with the greatest respect I think the Queen should have hung up her orb after 50 years. She certainly should when the child is born, and we should have a general cut-off limit of 85, so the monarch isn't several generations out of touch. 75 would be better.

Dave Brubeck RIP

The one that isn't Take 5


05 December, 2012

The Fall of the West

George Osborne, Britain's Chancellor of the Exchequer, will today give his autumn statement. He will tinker, there will be a slight change from current expenditure (welfare) to capital expenditure (roads and railways) but that will be all. His message will be the same as from pretty well all finance ministers in the West: growth will be less than forecast; we just can't seem to get the economy moving.

What some people are beginning to say is that we are looking at it in the wrong way.

This is, roughly, how the economy goes: we have our ups (booms) and our downs (busts) and we can all of us over a certain age remember several of them. A bust always, with varying speed, becomes a boom, and vice versa. The important points to pay attention to are where we are on the cycle - is it about to turn up or down? - and how steep or flat the cycle is - are the booms and busts short-lived.

Now, I am simplifying here, but there have been two theories of economic management since the 1920s. The earlier, Classical or Monetarist idea was that when we got to the top of the cycle there would be lots of money around chasing less decent investment opportunities, sometimes bad ones, known as malinvestment, the effectiveness of the economy would decline and we would head down the road to bust. (We can see this, with hindsight, from 2007/8 until the present). As we got to the bottom, labour would become cheaper, assets would become cheaper, and the investment opportunities better with less money chasing them so we would claw our way back to the top. This is, roughly, what I believe, but it has its imperfections, mainly that we are dealing with humans here.

John Maynard Keynes was one of the first to understand that there were imperfections, such as trade unions refusing to reduce real wages during the bust but he and his followers believed that this could be corrected by the guiding hand of government. Action to press down on the economy at the peak, action to boost government expenditure at the bottom.

So at the moment I am saying that being at the bottom of the cycle we should keep the minimum wage low so that people can work for less if they want to, and that we should remove regulations which stop business expanding (especially Europe); whereas a Keynesian is saying the government must spend more to keep things moving. I repeat, this is a simplification.

What some people are saying is we are now not just at a particular point in the cycle, but that we are on a different graph, that we have formed such a peculiar economic model in the West that things are working differently and that in particular we can never generate enough growth to drag us up the ski-slope to another boom. They are saying that Western-driven investment into emerging economies has formed high growth models before those countries have got into the heavy welfare habits we have adopted.

When George Osborne first promulgated his plan for economic recovery I was critical, saying that government should not just trim but get out of whole areas of economic activity. The new economics, if that is what it is, is this in spades. We should be looking at an economy where government expenditure is not 40-50% of GDP (France's is 56%) but 20-30%. It is why I have always been fairly bullish of America, despite the disastrous economic management there. At least, perhaps until Obama, they hadn't got on to this debilitating treadmill of welfare.

I know, it is a part of what we call civilisation. But it may have to change.

03 December, 2012

Told you!

You read it here

The oldies are back

Primaries are a new thing for Italy, where political leaders, as in last century's British Conservative party, have tended to emerge rather than go through some electoral process. Now in Italy they are all the rage, and kicking off the proceedings for next spring's general election is the Left. I say the Left rather than the Partito Democratico because it is traditional in this land of small parties and proportional representation that anyone who feels himself important enough sets up his own political grouping or party, which might well ally itself with the mainstream. You haven't a clue as to the name of their party until election day.

The race got down to a run-off between veteran Pier Luigi Bersani, 61 and the newcomer Mayor of Florence Matteo Renzi, 37. Bersani won easily, 61% - 39%. Personally I think the last thing Italy needs is these members of the old guard: the population is crying out for something new, hence the popularity of comedian Beppe Grillo.

And the worst thing is that, according to the Corriere della Sera, Bersani's win will encourage Silvio Berlusconi, 76, to stand again. His party, the PdL, has not yet had its primary because he has been dithering on whether to put his name forward. Otherwise, its leader would be Angelino Alfano, 42. The upshot is that there will be more pressure on Monti, no spring chicken himself who will be 70 at the time of the next election, to stand.

Really, the Italian voter deserves better than this, to drop the contest between a 37 year old and a 42 year old in favour of a couple of ancients, a 63 year old comedian holding the balance of power and people yearning for a septuagenarian who doesn't much like the democratic process.

28 November, 2012

Booze and the rich boy

You'd have thought David Cameron would have gone out of his way to shrug off the 'Little Rich Boy' tag, yet he seems to relish it, if reports about minimum alcohol pricing are to be believed.

The papers say that there will be a minimum price of 45p per unit, which would push the price of a bottle of vodka to £12. It would sell for around £6-7 in the civilised world.

This will do nothing to prevent 'binge drinking'. It is more likely to encourage it, as well as other crimes. Alcohol is already far too expensive in Britain; people are drinking less than they did ten years ago. Britain's alcohol consumption is lower than that of France, Germany or Spain. In the EU the UK already has the second highest duty on wine, the third highest on beer and the fourth highest on spirits. Yet the government slavishly follows the anti-alcohol lobby.

Alcohol duty is a regressive tax, affecting everybody regardless of earnings. This will be seen as the Little Rich Boy's attack on the poor.

If he's got any sense Cameron will drop it like a hot coal.

You read it here....

I should tell you that several Italian papers believe that the Duchess of Cambridge is pregnant and will announce it at the beginning of December.

Of course they believe a lot of other stuff about the Royal Family, much of which is nonsense, but there it is.

The EM and you

The strange figure of Mario Monti, Prime Minister of Italy, has entered the debate on Britain's place in Europe. I say strange because much of Europe (not all) has been democratised for quite some time now and it is indeed odd, while the EU professes democracy to would-be members and to the rest of the world, to see an unelected figure in charge of a major country. He has been in power for more than a year now, without any popular mandate.

Indeed, Monti has held posts of considerable power (in the European Commission) for some time now without ever having been elected to anything. While Leonardo and Goethe have been referred to as 'renaissance man', Monti is that more modern creation 'Europe Man' (EM).

And he walks, he speaks.

Monti is confident in his EM status. He doesn't tiptoe round the continent saying 'Look, I know I've never been elected, but....'. He regards himself in the same light as Cameron or Merkel or poor Hollande. And his intervention tells us a lot, not just about the man himself, but about the debate.

Here's what he said, in an interview with Italian TV (translated):

  I am convinced that a compromise with the British has to be sought and, above all, it is necessary that, one day – and I spoke about this with David Cameron last week – the British ask their electorate not, ‘Do you agree with this further change that other [EU] countries want to make’, but ask the fundamental question, ‘Do you want [your country] to remain in the EU?’ I’m sure that, at that point, faced with such an important set of choices - banking interests, financial interests, industrial interests - they [British voters] would immediately say, ‘Yes, please’."

Where it's interesting is, in part, the tone. Monti, the unelected EM, does not hold open the prospect of membership coexistent with disagreement on the European ideal. He doesn't think the move towards ever loser union can or should change (despite what is going on around him). It can, of course, if the people (remember them, Mario?) want it to but he, like the rest of the crazed Europhiles, can't see that.

David Cameron, by contrast, is aiming for something quite different. He wants what we might call an 'à la carte' Europe, where Britain, for example, chooses to opt in to the single market but out of the Working Time Directive or the European Arrest Warrant. But the European Caste, the EMs, will see that if Britain can do this, others would demand to do it as well. Belgium might leave the proposed European Army; Sweden might decide it no longer wants to belong to the Agricultural Policy. The whole edifice, which is based on the elite EMs deciding what is good for you and everyone going along with it, would crumble.

Cameron hopes that a set of core countries, perhaps the original six, might opt for everything whilst an outer core might opt for half of it and a fringe (Turkey?) might just adopt one or two things.

A brief chat with a EM (Monti was in London last week) should have told Cameron that it isn't going to be possible. It's going to be 'In' or 'Out'.

This blog favours 'Out'.

27 November, 2012

Mark Carney

The new Governor of the Bank of England is a surprise, if only because he had firmly ruled himself out of the running.

There are a few things against him: he is ex-Goldman Sachs, he is only 47, his wife is a barking mad eco-warrior (the papers seem to hold this against him but I don't think it's fair: anyone could find themselves married to a loopy British woman who is likely to occupy St Paul's Cathedral). Oh, and he is Canadian. I can't think of one other major economy with a non-indigenous central bank governor.

Everything else about Carney is good, however. He understands banks (he will be in charge of regulating them) and he understands sovereign risk. This is a major coup for Chancellor George Osborne who must be very persuasive.

We must hope Carney doesn't share Mervyn King's penchant for printing money.

Jimi

Jimi Hendrix was born on this day in 1942. He would have been 70 today but instead died aged 27.



26 November, 2012

Keep a'hold of nurse

Last week, Alexander 'Boris' Johnson, the Mayor of London, was arguing for a referendum on Britain's remaining in the EU. Today, he is all over the papers saying he didn't think leaving was necessarily such a good idea. The amazing thing is why anyone is interested in his opinion at all.

This blog's view, which has been consistent, is that Britain would be better off democratically and economically if it left the EU. I do not think, however that a referendum is the right method of achieving this. The most important person in  referendum is the one who frames the question and that would be the present government, led by Europhile David Cameron and Euro-loonie Nick Clegg.

And the Europhiles and Euro-loonies would campaign that we needed just a few changes, which they could achieve, and the safest thing to do would be to remain in their newly crafted EU. Better the devil you know than the devil you don't.

'Always keep a'hold of nurse, for fear of finding something worse.'

One of the things they will say, and this is Johnson's point, is that we need the trade with Europe and that could be damaged if we left the 'single market'. On the contrary: Britain desperately needs to rebalamce its economy away from dependence on Europe. Europe is the old world, plunging into recession and unlikely to return to growth for years, if ever. The new world, in South America, Africa and the Far East, will be the engine of growth in the future.

The 'Single Market' - it's not called a free market because it isn't one - is dragging us down with its excessive regulation and protectionist policies. Several studies have shown that the regulation costs us more than the rather limited benefits.

And the likes of Johnson and Cameron like to imply - with no evidence - that we wouldn't be able to sell our goods to Europe if we left. But everyone else does: Switzerland, North Africa, everyone.

No, we don't need Europe, it is an incubus, and we don't need a referendum to get out. We need a government which with sober consideration works out that we would be better off trading with the whole world, being able to make our own free trade agreements without protectionist France and Italy stopping us, and for that government to support our exit and campaign, if referendum there must be, for a vote to leave.

There is no need to take Johnson seriously, but Cameron must be made to realise his euorphilia is condemning us to years of stagnation and unemployment.

24 November, 2012

Today in Rome

From La Nazione

The schools are on strike

9am the Flc-Cgil union will demonstrate in the Piazza Farnese

10am Cobas, the rank and file Trotskyite union movement marches from Piazza della Repubblica to piazza SS.Apostoli, complaining about politically influenced education cuts.

10am as well, the students, university and high school, march from Pyramide in the south, meeting with Cobas at the Colosseum to march on parliament. This is an unauthorised march along a route not agreed, and there is likely to be violence as the riot police try to defend parliament.

10-2pm a sit in by professors an temporary teaching staff outside the Ministry of Education

4pm-8pm Casapound Italia marches from piazza Mazzini to the Ponte Milvio protesting 'against the government of bankers and in defence of  the social state, to say no to privatisation, speculation, ending of care for workers, loss of national sovereignty'.

Many thousands of people will join the demonstrations, with many buses arriving from all over the country, even though there are other demonstrations in Florence and elsewhere.

There is a continuing investigation of claims that last week civil servants fired tear gas canisters at protesters from the upper floors of the Ministry of Justice.

So, Monti's doing OK, isn't he?

21 November, 2012

Greece is the word

Any idea what this badge is? I'll tell you: it's the badge of the Military of the European Union. Just to explain, each of the 27 countries has its own military, then the EU sets up this extra body which can't command or control or order into battle any of the individual forces which are, naturally, under the control of their respective governments.
 
I mention this in the spirit of helping to identify budget savings: the world and the EU would be exactly the same if it were disposed of.
 
And the military is what I want to discuss. Here is a list of countries with the largest military expenditure per capita in the EU
 
UK €698
France €605
Greece €421
Germany €410
Italy €358
Spain €242
 
Notice an odd man out there? Can someone please explain why bankrupt Greece has the third highest military expenditure per head in the EU? It has more combat aircraft, 303, than any other country (the UK has 284); it has 375,000 military personnel; it has twice as many submarines as Germany, and more frigates than France or Britain.
 
How can they afford it?
 
Oh.

Women Bishops (2)

Well, I was wrong, and the measure didn't pass, by a very narrow margin. Arrogance, I fear, is the cause: arrogance of those who scented victory and offered nothing to their opponents.

I mentioned in my post yesterday that 'there has to be some get out for the genuine doubters' and it seems this was inadequate. They just didn't try hard enough to accommodate within the Church those who disagreed with the majority.

Zoe Ham of the Church Society (a woman, nota bene: there are many women oppose to women bishops) said that inadequate provision had been made for the minority who could not accept a woman bishop. These number about 900 parishes out of 13,000 and they wanted a guarantee of episcopal oversight they could accept.

Unless there can be some changes at short notice, the matter cannot be discussed again for five years. This means five years of wrangling, disappointment and failure to discuss anything else.

Poor old Church of England.

The EU

The European Union is plodding, slowly but inexorably, towards a budget impasse: it now seems almost certain that nothing can be resolved in respect of expenditure for 2014-2020.

This has been portrayed in the media, including the British media, as recalcitrant, unclubbable Britain up to its old tricks and threatening a veto.

In fact the following countries have threatened to veto the result or hinted that they might use their veto:


Austria (wants a rebate and no cuts to agriculture)

Denmark (wants a rebate)

France (wants to maintain agricultural subsidies)

Italy (wants its net contribution cut)

Netherlands (no increases above inflation)

Poland (wants more subsidies)

Romania (no cuts to farm subsidies)

Spain (no loss of subsidies or cohesion funds)

Sweden (wants agricultural subsidies reduced)

.... and, of course, the UK.


Many of these are mutually exclusive (say, the positions of France and Sweden).

Not quite the happy band of brothers we are led to believe.

20 November, 2012

Women Bishops

The Church of England Synod debates today whether there should be women bishops. The new Archbishop has put his support behind the idea, despite the fact that he is an evangelical, a grouping which tends not to favour women bishops. It is the first test of his mettle, before he has even taken office.

Logic says that if a woman can be a priest (approved nearly 20 years ago) she can be a bishop. The problem is that there is a sizeable minority which believes a woman can't be a priest. This is less than it was, because some have gone over to Rome, but it is large and vocal. This minority says that since a bishop can appoint priests there would be male priests whom they didn't recognise, because they were appointed by a bishop they didn't recognise. If women bishops are allowed this could get murkier: each priest would have to carry his genealogy of appointment around with him. There has to be some get out for the genuine doubters, but it can't last forever.

The Synod is divided into three houses: the professional ones, the House of Bishops and the House of Clergy, are solidly in favour. The vote would need a two thirds majority, however, in the House of Laity, which is less so.

For myself I had doubts about whether a woman can become a priest, but believe the game was lost 20 years ago. The Church of England needs to approve this and move on to more important topics, like spreading Christianity and holding the Anglican Communion together.

I wish Archbishop elect Welby luck. I think they'll pass it, though.

France downgrade

All the talk among European financial folk at the moment is of France. The Economist last week had its cover picture of baguettes tied with the Tricolour made to look like a primitive bomb; Wolfgang Munchau of the Financial Times by contrast yesterday listed France as one of the things he is not worried about in Europe, suggesting that the mood of French-bashing was politically motivated. Now this morning we learn that Moody's, like Standard and Poors earlier in the year, has taken away France's AAA credit rating.

The stakes are high. France is the second biggest economy in the eurozone. Even at this early stage the effects of its downgrade will be felt: when the rescue funds are leveraged - that is to say when they start to borrow against the guarantees of the constituent members, it is now only Germany, along with tiny Finland, Luxembourg and the Netherlands, which have the top rating; some lenders will not accept the collateral of a downgraded guarantor. So there may be less money to rescue the likes of Spain and Italy, should they need it.

Moodys observes that the chance of a rescue doesn't really apply to France. If Italy and Spain have to be rescued there will be no money left to help France, and if course it is in any case too big. Against that, it is tacit acceptance that France would not go under before Spain and Italy and neither of them has (yet) applied for help.

On the other side of the argument, there is a growing rift between the IMF and the Eurozone. Christine Lagarde started making impatient noises a year ago, hinting that the IMF had been set up to help poor nations, not rich currency blocs. Now she is openly stating that the creditor nations should take a haircut on their Greek debt. Der Spiegel shows how susceptible the various nations are to this. With a 60% haircut on Greek debt, for example, France would lose €55 billion, whereas the UK would lose only €2 billion. If it were Portugal as well, France loses €82 billion (UK €13 billion) and if we chuck Spain into the pot France, losing over €200 billion, would be insolvent.

But in my opinion blanket bad-mouthing is wrong. Yes, France has tied its lot too closely to the fate of the Eurozone, but that is what they all did pre-crisis. Yes, France has a problem of competitiveness, but Hollande has belatedly introduced tax breaks for small businesses, and it may well be that he is seeing the light.

France needs to watch it, and Germany needs to watch France, but it is a long way from disaster.

19 November, 2012

Killers

According to the Independent, Britain has lost 44 million birds in the last four decades.

What it doesn't mention is that the cat population has doubled in this time.

Cats are a pest and need to be culled, like badgers.

Prisoners' votes

Parliament is still, I read, tying itself in knots over the subject of prisoners voting. Prisoners have never, so far as I know, been allowed to vote in Britain, but a ruling of the European Court of Human Rights has said that they must be allowed to.

As so often, I find myself completely at odds with Mr. Cameron here. He declares himself to be outraged at the prospect of prisoners voting, but never seems to explain exactly why. It isn't a part of their sentence: the judge doesn't say '5 years in prison and no voting for you' nor is there some sort of custodial sentence with a vote '5 years but in view of there being no previous convictions you can vote.'

People are being arrested right now for saying things on Twitter the State doesn't like, on the grounds that it is likely to incite hatred. If we take away their vote they can't fight their persecution: upset the government and we'll prevent you from voting another one in. This smacks of the banana republic.

And one other thing. Aren't we supposed to be rehabilitating these people? A frightening percentage of crimes are committed by people who have just got out of prison. I should have thought an excellent way for them to get involved with society, to feel a part of it and not an outsider, would be to vote.

What does outrage me is that the decision on whether prisoners vote or not  should be made by unelected foreigners. At least we have been told that we could go against the ruling but we would be fined £100 million.

Mr Cameron doesn't seem in the least bit worried about this part. He appointed an Attorney General, Dominic Grieve, knowing him to be a great supporter of the human rights lobby, and he has no plans to withdraw from this.

If we could leave the whole thing and make our own laws it would be worth £100 million. But they would only find us 'guilty' of some other opinion they don't like and fine us for that.

We have to leave this nonsense behind and allow parliament and the judicial system to make our laws. Only when Cameron gets rid of Mr Grieve will you know that he is interested in the rights of ordinary people. And just think, when some immigrant commits terrorist acts in Britain we'd be able to send him home.

15 November, 2012

Vote to stop lunacy

The polls are open today in the UK (not London) to elect Police and Crime Commissioners. This means that, for the first time ever, the public can choose their policing policy.

It is said that very few people will vote, and I think this a great shame. One of the reasons for voting, and an excellent reason for having these elected officials, is about to become apparent.

Every year about 350-400 people are killed on our roads in circumstances where one or more drivers were over the drink driving limit. Given the number of journeys made each year by more than 30 million cars on the road, it is an astonishingly low figure. It is low compared to similar countries. And yet drink driving is an obsession with the British Police. This is for two reasons. One is that the anti-drinking lobby are well connected and have the ear of police forces, and another is its 100% success rate: the police only know about a drink-drive offence if they have detected the alcohol in someone's bloodstream so by definition they have got their man, a 100% detection and conviction rate (barring those 350 who are dead).

At Christmas they go completely mad. The latest figures I have are for 2010-11, but each year is the same or worse. In the month from 1st December to 1st January they stopped and tested 169,838 people - more than 200 an hour - and achieved just  6,613 convictions, which number includes sober people who were outraged by police officiousness and refused to give a test. That is to say more than 163,000 perfectly sober, law abiding citizens were interrupted while going about their lawful private business by these crazed policemen. More than 96% of the people they stopped were perfectly innocent and should not have been stopped. It would have been a disgrace in pre-1990s East Germany and certainly is in supposedly free democratic Britain.

A police and crime commissioner could put a stop to this. Particularly in country areas where there is no public transport and the roads have little traffic on them, it is a crime which ranks fairly low down the list. Burglaries and muggings would have been lower if the police force hadn't been occupied in this useless, politically motivated pastime.

So vote.

12 November, 2012

The BBC

The Political Editor, Nick Robinson, has said this isn't the worst ever crisis for the BBC. It is hard to share his optimism.

Here is the story so far. Jimmy Savile, who died last year, is found to be a serial paedophile. He worked for the BBC for decades and committed some of his illegal acts on BBC premises with children invited on to BBC shows. Newsnight, BBC News' investigative arm, was going to produce, towards the end of last year, a programme detailing accusations against Savile but it was pulled and instead tribute programmes were broadcast. This revelation was succeeded by scores of celebrities saying that everyone knew Savile was a paedophile.

Subsequently, the BBC went into a frenzy of paedophile revelations, and all but accused, although not in name, Lord McAlpine, a former Treasurer of the Conservative Party from the Thatcher years. The internet did the rest, in particular with 'tweets' from the Guardian columnist and leftie environmentalist George Monbiot and the Speaker's wife, Sally Bercow. It seems that the 'investigative' journalists only showed the accuser a photo of McAlpine after the programme went out and he said no, that wasn't the man.

The Director General of the BBC said that the programme should not have gone out (a penetrating analysis, weakened only by the fact that he was Editor in Chief) and resigned on Saturday night. He was given a year's salary on top of his substantial pension as a thank you from the taxpayer.

This morning we learn that Helen Boaden, the Head of News and her deputy Steve Mitchell have 'stepped aside'. This is an interesting term for language students like myself. To 'step up' is commonly used for 'to take responsibility' (not much sign of that anywhere); to 'step down' is to dismiss oneself but to step aside? We shall see. It sounds like avoiding a bullet.

Finally the Chairman of the BBC Trust, Lord Patten, has said that the BBC needs root and branch reform.

Well, he's probably right, but in what way? Entwhistle, who was taken on by Patten, seemed extraordinarily unimpressive. His performance in front of a Commons Committee was terrible. He seemed to duck responsibility, passing the buck to juniors. Interestingly his predecessor, during a previous crisis, had said he was on holiday. In the real world above about £75,000 a year you don't get holidays as such, you are on call 24/7 and have to come back in a crisis. And you have to take responsibility for your patch. Again, in this second fiasco Entwhistle seemed to think it was an excuse that he didn't know anything about it. Patten said he knew about it but didn't tell Entwhistle because to do so would be 'absurd'. It was only in his resignation statement that Entwhistle seemed to grasp that if you are in charge you take responsibility. Patten still doesn't grasp that.

There is more about the BBC culture that needs to be thrashed out. I am quite certain that one of the defining causes of this disaster has been that McAlpine was a senior Conservative in the Thatcher years. The BBC's leftie culture demonises Mrs Thatcher, and, I believe, wouldn't feel it so necessary to investigate carefully: such a person would be obviously guilty and they would have reported this with glee. The BBC has other biases, in particular in favour of the European Union and, interestingly, Patten and McAlpine have hated each other for years over just this subject. The organisation doesn't think much of the monarchy and failed to produce decent reporting of the diamond jubilee because it just didn't think that sort of thing was too relevant. Unfortunately it is to the large majority of the population.

It must be clear to even the most blinkered BBC fan that there is a serious problem and that Patten isn't the man to sort it out. He is a comforting duvet of a man, warm and fitting round any shape that's in the bed. He has worked for the Tories, he has worked for Tony Blair, he has worked in Europe; he is at home in the guilt evading soft left arrogance of the Corporation and for this reason must step aside (preferably in a downward direction).

The BBC is too large, particularly for the management it has had so far, and seems to be accountable only to itself. We should sell off more than half of it and put someone decent in charge of what's left.

11 November, 2012

Remembering

Remembrance Day (Veterans' Day in the USA, Armistice Day in much of Europe) and it hardly ever seems to be on a Sunday (although it was, in fact, in 2007).

Today we remember the soldiers who have died in our wars, of which there have been too many.

And today we learn the plight of Sergeant Danny Nightingale.

Nightingale has spent 17 years in the Army, of which 11 have been in the Special Forces. He has partial loss of memory following a brain injury.

While serving in Afghanistan Sgt. Nightingale was given a pistol by Afghan Forces whom he had trained as a counter-terrorist unit. The pistol, still in its box, was found at his home. A Court Martial, which could have given him a suspended sentence, had him imprisoned for 18 months.

Nightingale's former Commanding Officer has said that the sentence needs to be overturned immediately.

He is right.

10 November, 2012

A star reborn

A welcome return to politics for the absolutely tremendous Ilona Staller, known as Cicciolina.

A well known porn star, she entered parliament in 1987 and at the onset of the Gulf War offered to sleep with Saddam Hussein in return for peace. She subsequently made the same offer to Osama bin Laden. She regularly spoke in parliament with one breast bared, declaring 'My breasts have never done anyone any harm, whereas bin Laden's war has caused thousands of victims.'

The beginning of a new era of cynicism about the Italian political class was marked by public realisation that she was due a pension of €39,000 p.a. for her short time in parliament. 'I earned it', she said.

Cicciolina's new party is called DNA (Democrazia, Natura, Amore). She will fight against 'Auto Blu', the governmental cars given to thousands of the political caste, a project dear to this blog, and other privileges to the ruling caste, and in favour of an overhaul of the justice system and social security for everyone.

Wonderful.

09 November, 2012

A breath of fresh air

Congratulations to my old pal Justin Welby who has been nominated Archbishop of Canterbury. We knew each other well in the 1980s, when he was Treasurer of an oil company and I was his bank manager (or one of them).

The information you will glean from the press is that he is an old Etonian, inexperienced, in favour of women bishops and against homosexual marriage.

I suppose we must expect that public figures are pigeonholed like this, but I think it a shame. Strangely enough, although I could reel off quite a few facts about the new primate, I never knew he was an old Etonian. People imagine businessmen talk about their schooldays all the time whereas they are of course completely irrelevant. As to inexperience, he is 56, born within a few months of me, which makes him ten years older than the Prime Minister.

I wasn't surprised when Justin threw it all up to study for the priesthood; he is capable of profound thought and able to be decisive. He was an enthusiastic member of an evangelical congregation.

What the public and the establishment will learn about this man is first, of course, that he understands business. We shall no longer suffer the 'all business is wrong, all capitalists are horrid' drivel which came out of Lambeth Palace under Rowan Williams. However, as those grilled by the House of Lords Select Committee on the LIBOR scam found, he is capable of directing a torrent of informed criticism. I don't think he would support the 'Occupy' movement which camped on the steps of St Paul's Cathedral, because it was unfocused. He is however just what they need: someone articulate and influential who understands the case against banks and the governments who regulate them, and isn't scared to put his views across.

Welby is a good debater and negotiator for the simple but rare reason that he takes a lot of trouble to understand where the other side is coming from. He will need this skill as schism raises its head in the Anglican communion.

I think it is an imaginative and perspicacious appointment and I wish him all the best.

07 November, 2012

It's Obama

In the end, Obama won easily. So easily, in fact, that you wonder whether the voices saying it was neck and neck were just trying to make it exciting.

Obama ran a good campaign, Romney ran a bad one. Presumably the world will now hear no more from Willard 'Mitt' Romney except on the celebrity golf circuit. This blog will shed no tears for him.

Obama now has three years to make history look kindly on him (not four, because positioning for the new election will start well in advance of the end of his term).

And it's not going to be easy: the Republicans control the House whilst the Democrats control the Senate and so there will be a fair bit of bickering to get anything through. In particular the 'fiscal cliff' looms. This is a series of measures which come into force on 1st January, 7 weeks away, which will take some $680 billion out of the economy in tax increases and spending cuts. It needs to be done but would be easier to swallow if spread over a longer period, and Obama will need to impose himself on the negotiations, over a Republican party still smarting from defeat.

But Obama mustn't take his eye off the austerity ball: America is mired in debt and if nothing is done it will default some time in the early part of this century, something which would have appalling consequences for the entire world.

It's the biggest job in the world, but not the best.

Nadine Dorries

The Conservative MP Nadine Dorries has decided to be a performer, if that is the right word, in a reality TV programme called 'I'm a celebrity get me out of here'. I have not seen the programme but it is, apparently, a humiliating experience.

Ms Dorries has been suspended from the Conservative Party. I should mention, perhaps, that she is something of a thorn in Mr Cameron's side: she believes that because of him she will lose her seat at the next election. She doesn't agree with the coalition and thinks Mr Cameron should be more of a man, two sentiments with which this blog concurs.

I am slightly curious as to why she has had the party whip withdrawn. Presumably Mr Cameron is not going to suspend every MP who takes time off and earns a bit of money outside parliament - he'd hardly have anyone left. I think her idea was a lapse in judgment but should she be punished for that by a man who has been sending intimate text messages to Rebekah Brooks, Murdoch's henchperson? Andrew Mitchell had to resign as Chief Whip for telling a policeman that he was a pleb who didn't know his place, but he wasn't suspended from his party.

It seems to me that Cameron hasn't really got a grip on things and acts against people who criticise him in a manner one can only describe as bitchy. It is the sign of a weak man.

06 November, 2012

Alexander and the living wage

Addle-pated
Every so often you hear a politician talking absolute nonsense and you dismiss it: twerps will be twerps, and these people make their living from associating themselves with new concepts before a national media with an increasingly short attention span. At times, however, the daft concept picks up news coverage and you are astonished to find it attaining some credence. At such times people of sense have to step in and fight, before it becomes accepted nationally.

That is how it is now for The Living Wage. Did you know there is a Living Wage Foundation (I shall try to find out who is funding this) and that this week, 4th - 11th November has been designated (by them) The Living Wage Week?

Years ago, in the early days of the Blair administration, they produced a National Minimum Wage, which is currently £6.19 per hour, or  £247.60 for a 40 hour week, around £12,500 a year depending on how much holiday you get. You may not think it very much and, when times are booming, it isn't. Now, however, there is plenty of unemployment and people feel able to temper their demands to get some income. That is how capitalism works: you have to price yourself into the market.

But right now, if person A can pay £5 an hour for a job and person B is prepared to do it for £5, they can't. It's illegal. A doesn't get his business working and B remains unemployed. Yes, I know it isn't much, but 2 million people in Germany (not Albania, Germany) are working for less than €5 an hour (£4). In China and the Far East they work for a lot, lot less. We have to compete.

The Living Wage takes this to a new level of idiocy. It is calculated not by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, not by the Treasury, not even by the Social Services, but by the Department of Social Policy at Loughborough University (Loughborough is a small town in Leicestershire, central England, and is said to be the most difficult town name for a foreigner to pronounce). It is supposed to be the level at which people can lead a decent life, although we are not entitled to know what that implies.

Now Ed Milliband, leader of the Labour Party, we can forgive for espousing this nonsense. He is, after all, one of the people mentioned in the first paragraph who has to associate himself with concepts, it being too far from a general election to deal with actual policies. But on to the scene strides the burly figure of Alexander (Boris) Johnson, who doesn't need to espouse outrageous causes, because he is already elected, but does so because he, like Milliband, is trying to distinguish himself from the governing party (whilst belonging to it).

Just to make things clear, Alex and Ed are not proposing an increase of 20% in the minimum wage (the Living Wage has been set at £7.45, more in London, by Loof-Baroof Uni) because this new thing would not be compulsory. Companies can, and will, simply refuse to pay it. They are saying that companies should pay it, and of course they are willing to do a bit of strong arming. If you want government contracts, they say, you and your subcontractors should undertake to pay this new, arbitrary, Loofy minimum.

So, incredibly, the addle-pated, dewy eyed Mayor of London, claiming to be a Conservative, never having run a business in his life, is proposing, in these times of excess borrowing, that the taxpayers of Britain should pay 20% more for labour, making each piece of government business, such as the Health Service, more expensive. Not just more expensive than is necessary, because the minimum wage is almost certainly more than is necessary in a recession, but more than we do now: more expense, more debt, more recession, more unemployment.

It beggars belief. Johnson must be denounced as an ignorant, self promoting dunderhead who will say anything, whatever the cost to ordinary people, and however contrary to common sense, to get himself in the news.

We would be mad to let him anywhere near high office.

The last day

Friends of mine, during Superstorm Sandy as it is known, were stuck on the 25th floor of their apartment block in New York. There was no power so the lift didn't work, and whilst they could have slid down the balconies, getting back up would have been a bit of a schlep. So they were stuck, probably the worst nightmare for a claustrophobe. But wait: was that the worst nightmare? Supposing the lifts hadn't worked but the Television had, and they were stuck at home constrained to watch the election campaign, unable to run away?

Today is the vote and whilst apparently Mitt Romney is carrying on with the campaign it is, essentially, over. It was slow to get going and when it had started it appeared to be largely negative. One paper suggested that $3bn had been spent in the last couple of days, just on disparaging each other.

In another respect it was a success, though. Americans were left with a clear choice of two different ways forward, something we in Britain or the rest of Europe hardly ever get, the main parties being largely fungible. If, as the polls suggest, Americans have chosen the Obama way, I think they will have made a mistake. We shall see. At least, as I say, they will have had a choice.

People were unhappy with Obama, largely, I think, because he was unable to live up to over-inflated expectations. The election was for the Republicans to lose, and if they have lost it was down to their choice of candidate, and the reluctant way in which they selected him (even with a bad candidate, if he has the whole partly solidly behind him he will start off with some momentum).

Perhaps Paul Ryan, Romney's running mate, who seemed sensible, will stand for the Republicans next time. I don't know what the Democrats will do. Shooting stars don't come along that often.

04 November, 2012

New Leader

It is often forgotten that more than 10% of the population of Egypt - some 9 million people - is Christian. The large majority of these are Copts, descended from ancient Egyptians, with their own language, written in Greek script.

The Copts have chosen a new leader - the Coptic Pope - following the death of Pope Shenouda III, who was the first Coptic Pope to visit Rome. Bishop Tawadros has been chosen to replace him.

The method of selection is interesting. Three names are placed in a bowl and one is picked by a blindfolded child. This bypasses the horse trading and politicking in the selection of the Roman Catholic Pope and would be an excellent idea if you could persuade a child to go blindfolded into a room full of cardinals.

02 November, 2012

This blog endorses.....

Four days to go until the US Presidential Election and this blog endorses its candidate.

Talk, certainly in Europe and probably in America too, is of the Republican and Democrat candidates, and I can only say I am not happy about either of them. I suppose Americans know what they are doing when they select their candidates, but, as so often, they seem unsatisfactory, peculiar even.

Obama puts me off because of his preachy attitude. He is unfortunate in having been talked up as some sort of Messiah, a position from which he could only let the people down. But he and his aides are responsible for that talk and let them down he has. Obama is fiercely anti-British and has an attitude to debt which can only be called cavalier. It is my belief that if America can show the world that it is putting some restraint on its fiscal incontinence it will probably remain the leader of the free world. If it doesn't, it probably will not. If you think this, Obama is not your man.

Some sign of sense occurred with Mitt Romney's choice of running mate, Paul Ryan, who is a well known fiscal conservative. However the Vice President never has any power or influence and I don't suppose Ryan will be any different. Romney himself looks highly dodgy. The son of privilege, he can hardly speak for lower and middle America. His foreign policy statements betray the sort of attitude which brought us Iraq and Afghanistan and before that Vietnam. And I don't like the idea of his being a Mormon. There is something unsavoury about Mormons, rather like Freemasons or Scientologists. Perhaps because of their strange beliefs they stick together and you would get the feeling the country was being run by a shady cabal who believed Christ was born on the planet Zorg.

Not liking either main candidate I looked at the others. There is one woman candidate, but she is a Green, and likely to be friendly with Al Gore. There is a Constitution candidate and a Justice candidate, both of whom are likely to be mad, so I think the only one out of the six I could vote for is Gary Johnson, the Libertarian candidate.

Johnson won't win, of course, but I like the Corinthian spirit of standing against the big parties, having done it myself.

Everyone tells me Obama will win, but I think it's bad news either way for America.

30 October, 2012

Loss of an old friend

Those of us who have grown up on Penguin books will feel some disquiet at the news that the publisher is to lose its independence, and that the German publishing giant Bertelsmann will merge it with Random House.

Penguin House is a nice name.

But I prefer Random Penguin.

Job vacancy: new leader

Beppe Grillo
The election results in Sicily will, I think, mark some sort of turning point. The Left coalition have won the presidency but the largest party is Beppe Grillo's 5 Star Movement.

Grillo means cricket - the insect - in Italian, but can also mean caprice: avere grilli per la testa means to have a head full of crazy ideas. It is bizarrely appropriate. Grillo says correctly that the party leadership is useless and that it is corrupt (also correct.) But he is not suggesting new policies, he is against everything.

A good example is the story going round that the elections have been put back a week so that new MPs if voted out can get their pensions (they need to serve exactly 5 years). Whether true or not, everyone believes this of the political caste.

Grillo is doing well in the polls because that is how the Italians are feeling: they are fed up with the venality of public life, which they could tolerate when times were good but now they see they are paying for it.

It does not seem likely to me that this discontent is going to change under the present lot, left or right. Italy has six months to find a credible, strong leader who can explain to the people what is going on and help them through it. It isn't Grillo: he is the catalyst.

The markets are watching.

29 October, 2012

Aiding and abetting

The interesting case of the Greek memory stick is raising its head again.

Several years ago, probably three, an employee of HSBC, the banking giant formerly known as Honkers and Shankers, put the names and account details of a large number of Greek residents on a memory stick and sent it to the IMF. The assumption is that the account holders were salting away money illegally.

Christine Lagarde, head of the IMF, came across the stick and gave it to the Greek finance minister Papakonstantinou, who put it in the drawer of his desk. His successor, Venizelos, reportedly found the stick and was told what it was. He did nothing about it, and nor did his successor, nor his successor, nor the present one Stourmaras (as you can imagine job security in this post is pretty minimal).

So a journalist got hold of the memory stick and published the details in a magazine called Hot Doc, and the Greek authorities immediately arrested....the journalist.

His name is Kostas Vaxevanis and he is still being held. None of the names on the list have been investigated, despite, or perhaps because, of the fact that among them are senior politicians and businessmen.

Things are getting worse and worse for the ordinary people of Greece (and by the way the same goes for Portugal) but the government never tries to pursue the evaded taxes of the rich and influential, such is the endemic level of corruption.

It must be obvious, even to the most Euro-mad German, that there is no point putting the money of their own, honest, taxpayers to shore up this corrupt system. After a while it becomes aiding and abetting the crime.

28 October, 2012

Not gone yet

In my last post I said that the post Berlusconi era begins in 2013. It does not, as some newspapers seemed to think, begin immediately.

To remind us, the great man announced that he felt obbligato to remain in politics (for the sake of his country, natch) and that in the coming weeks he and his colleagues would be discussing whether to let the Monti government remain in power or whether to call early elections.

I don't think they will call early elections but Berlusconi, as ever, is following the public mood which does not regard Monti in a good light: they are saying 'we've had the pain, where's the gain?' The latest public protest specifically refers to itself as an anti-Monti march.

Berlusconi's still there, and he's still leader of the largest party and he wants people to remember that.

27 October, 2012

The clown goes down

JAILED! screamed the Daily Mail, a headline it has since amended. For Silvio Berlusconi is not in prison, and is not likely to be.

The former Prime Minister was sentenced in a tax evasion case, involving over-declaration of the price of film rights purchased for his Italian TV stations. The sentence was four years but it was immediately reduced to one. The Italian system is that you have two appeals and you have to lose the final one within six years before the sentence is enforceable. That six years expires next year. Perhaps he should, but he won't go to jail.

The verdict is significant, though. It is said that Silvio expected it to go against him and this is one of the reasons he declined to put himself forward as leader of his PdL party at the next election (that, and the fact he is growing less popular as people notice that Monti is achieving reforms which Silvio didn't even try to get through). It leaves Alfano as the front runner to lead the party, but he hasn't achieved much in the way of popularity.

Nor, though, has the left achieved popularity. Bersani is seen as part of the old crowd but rather than bowing out gracefully he is fighting tooth and nail against his challenger for the leadership, Matteo Renzi, the 37 year old Mayor of Florence.

The lack of charisma (something Berlusconi had in spades) and petty squabbling have left the field wide open for the two jokers in the pack. One of these is Monti himself. If the parties cannot form a government he may be appointed, with their approval, for a further short term in office. Otherwise, the Constitution says, for him to be  Prime Minister after next spring he would have to present himself for election. Like all eurocrats he is uncomfortable with democracy and everything it implies (losing your job if you are no good) and says he won't.

The other joker is Beppe Grillo, of the 5-star movement (it started life under the name Vaffanculo, which means fuck off). He is attracting increasing support all over the country, the archetypal 'none of the above' candidate.

The post-Berlusconi era begins in April next year. At present the likely scenario is an uneasy coalition of some of the three parties plus or minus Monti. And the markets won't like that. There is a risk - not a certainty but a palpable risk - that Silvio might have brought the whole house down with him. 

23 October, 2012

The madness of the unelected

It is not often that this blog comes out in defence of David Cameron and his government but he is quite right in opposing vigorously the proposed long term budget settlement wanted by the eurocrats (these, remember, are people who don't have to go to an electorate to explain themselves).

The EU's demands are that the budget should increase by €7bn in each of the next two years, increasing Britain's bill by €1.7bn. By the end of the decade Britain's bill would, under the proposals of the unelected, be €11.5bn.

These people are divorced from reality. It is not just Britain, but Greece, Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Spain: all will have to pay more. The difference is that they can reasonably expect the Germans to lend it to them.

As countries are having to make cutbacks - Greece is currently cutting disabled allowances - only someone living in a bubble of secure job, high pay and high pension could propose more spent on the bureaucracy. It is quite, quite mad and Cameron is right to oppose it.

Lock'em up

The Deputy Head of Italy's Civil Protection Agency and six other scientists have been found guilty of manslaughter. It seems they were sent to l'Aquila to investigate residents' worries after a series of tremors in the area. Their report, while leaving open the possibility that these tremors were the prelude to an earthquake, apparently said it was unlikely.

300 people died when the quake finally struck around a week later.

Scientists all over the world have expressed their horror at the convictions.

However, I am rather in favour of locking these people up. Other suggestions are the cabal of busybodies who invented passive smoking without the least scientific analysis, driving a further nail into the coffin of the British Pub; and the global warming loonies, who have made us cover our countryside with unsightly windmills and photovoltaic cells and caused families to pay large extra sums on their energy bills to subsidise the freeloaders who make them. All this despite the fact that there has been no global warming since 1998.

'This is the death of service provided by professors and professionals to the State', said the current head of Italy's Committee on Major Risks, and I sometimes think that would be a good idea, too.

PS Luciano Maiani, whom I quoted above, has resigned in protest at the convictions. Italy needs more men of principle, rather than the venal time-servers who characterise public life here, and this blog salutes him.

21 October, 2012

The Glorious 21st

Whenever there has been discussion of another Bank Holiday in the UK (scarcely appropriate right now, I fear, on economic grounds) I have always favoured 21st October.

I believe Britain should celebrate its national heroes and the interesting thing is, apart from being Geoffrey Boycott's birthday, it is also the anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar.

19 October, 2012

The name of Erasmus

Daniel Cohn Bendit has proposed an Erasmus system for politicians.

Erasmus, named after the 16th century renaissance teacher, is a system by which European students can do a part of their studies in another European country. It is quite a good thing.

What Cohn-Bendit wants is that elected politicians in Europe should go to an equivalent level in another country, so our parliament would have a few Hungarian fascists, our local councils some Italian communists with big expense accounts.

But who will take Danny? An ageing soixante-huitard, known as Danny the Red, after the unrest in France in 1968 he set up a revolutionary communist group in Frankfurt and then made his way, inevitably, to the European Parliament, scum rising, as it does, to the top. He is a Green, of course.

In 2003 prosecutors in Frankfurt asked the European Parliament to lift Cohn Bendit's immunity so he could be investigated for terrorism offences, but they refused, such a treasure is he.

He has confessed to paedophile acts, from his days as a teacher. But they didn't lift his immunity for that, either.

I'm not completely sure the great catholic humanist would have wanted his name associated with the idea.

No, I think it would be better if Danny the Red stayed in Brussels, as a testament to the madness of Europe.

18 October, 2012

Just get away

The concert pianist Fazil Say has been indicted by a court in Istanbul for insulting the values of Muslims.

Mr. Say had reportedly put on his twitter account: 'I am not sure if you have also realised it, but if there's a louse, a non-entity, a lowlife, a thief or a fool, it's always an Islamist.'

It was foolish. Turkey is struggling with its identity, as it was in 1923 when Ataturk took over, as between an Islamic state and a modern western power. Prime Minister Erdogan appears to be struggling to establish a position and must occasionally turn a blind eye to the sort of religious intolerance we in Britain saw in the 17th century.

There has been a small demonstration in Istanbul with one banner saying 'leave the artists alone'. I don't agree: artists, and Roman Polanski, the paedophile rapist, springs to mind, must undergo the same strictures of the law as anyone else.

The answer for Mr. Say is to come to Western Europe, where his talents will be recognised and where he can say more or less what he likes. Actually, not Britain, where several people have been arrested for putting on Facebook things which others found insulting. Britain is no longer a country of free speech.

Italy, perhaps, or Denmark. A pianist of his quality would be welcome.

Saviour of our lungs

Mr. Dalli, the Maltese European Commissioner who has resigned, seems to have lost his job due to snus (I think I've spelt that right).

Snus is a tobacco product very popular in Scandinavia. It is sometimes referred to as wet snuff, and the idea is that you put a wodge of it under your upper lip and leave it there for a long time (I don't suppose there's much else to do in the Scndinavian winter). It is the reason so few people smoke cigarettes in these northern regions, although I must say I can't see much benefit in giving up one tobacco product to get hooked on another. An increasing number of people in America are buying snus, because it doesn't require a lot of spitting in the way chewing tobacco does, which is inconvenient if you have a public role like, say, Mitt Romney.

Anyhow, snus is banned in the European Union, because they know what's best for you, even though cigarettes aren't, and Sweden made it a condition of its entry into the EU that snus would remain legal there. In fact snus doesn't give you lung cancer because none of it goes into your lungs. Sweden has one of the lowest incidences of lung cancer in the world.

Naturally snus manufacturers want to expand their market and there is some suggestion that Mr Dalli might have encouraged a businessman to approach manufacturers with the offer of supporting a liberalisation.

Given the fact that such a move might lower lung cancer rates one wonders what is wrong, but unfortunately it looks as if Dalli, who might otherwise have been the saviour of Europe's lungs, may have had other motives.

17 October, 2012

It's all OK!

YES! It's summit time for Europe! Hungry Responsible leaders will gather together on Thursday 18th  for another decisive....er....lunch. This time it's in Luxembourg.

To summarise what's going on:

François Hollande of France is impatient: he wants a quick implementation of the decisions of the last summit (he's new to this game) which broadly means telling the Germans to hurry up and guarantee everybody's debt. You never know when a country, say, to the West of Germany, might need it.

The Germans, meanwhile, want some controls over how their money would be spent, but François reckons that can wait for a couple of years.

Oh and François is fed up with Britain. In fact it's probably all our fault.

President Rumpy produced a plan which involved structural financial development and, c'mon guess, the Germans guaranteeing everyone's debts. I think it took 20 minutes for the German Government to dismiss it as nonsense, but it might have been less.

Mariano Rajoy of Spain has come up with an ingenious idea: that the ECB should give it a massive overdraft which, of course, it wouldn't use, no, in return for no conditions. No brainer.

Greece has not stopped being Greece: it has made almost no effort to collect the taxes of the rich and well connected, deciding to raise taxes and cut entitlements for poor people. The economy is in free fall, they need 2 years to implement the last conditions (not the present set) and will run out of money to pay staff and keep the lights on in about a month.

The European Commissioner for consumer policy, a Maltese called Dalli, has resigned, having been found out by the anti-fraud agency. He will have to be replaced by another Maltese, until we run out of them.

So, it's all going to be OK.