30 June, 2013

The Brussels files

News that the USA has been spying on the European Union has caused widespread concern. Not here: this blog believes the USA has every right to spy on its enemies, and there is no doubt which category the EU is in. It's just that it isn't worth the effort.

Fortunately we have been able to obtain a transcript of some of the intercepted proceedings:

A secret room in Brussels

Jean-Pierre Dampierre (FR): under rien circonstances can the detested Anglo-Sassons be allowed to destroy the European social model

Humphrey Eurobloke (UK): we're Anglo Saxons

Dampierre: France is in solidarity with its European brothers but you have only yourselves to blame

Ent van der Plonke (Netherlands): isn't the social model making our people poorer? Isn't it true we can't afford it?

Gianbattista Bastardo (Italy): Il social cohesion, bravissimo!

Splot Splot (Romania): can we have just a little guarantee for our banking system?

Split Split (Slovenia): and perhaps some more social funds

Heinrich Turdfelde (Ruler): Nein nein! We believe in compromise here in Europe. We will keep the social model and you will all starve!

Fighting breaks out, and the Commission issues an Emergency statement promising to surpass North Korea in economic efficiency by 2025.

Really, the Americans needn't have bothered. 


Events in Cairo seem particularly worrying. I think it is a long way from some commentators' suggestions of looming civil war, but the violence seems to have no end in sight at the moment.

What should one think? I don't much like the look of the Muslim Brotherhood and its crony Mr Morsi, who last year issued a declaration preventing anyone from challenging his decrees, if you please. I don't like the regression into Islamism and the loss of women's rights that entails.

At the same time one has to take a step back and remember that Mr Morsi was elected, and only a year ago. Without a doubt, in my mind, the Egyptians have made a mistake and elected the wrong man, but we have plenty of examples of that in the mature democracies (My God, don't we?). Morsi would seem to have more legitimacy than, say David Cameron's coalition, which did not present itself to the electorate and for which no one voted.

Another good example of a Middle Eastern problem we should keep out of (before Cameron and Hollande decide we should invade).

28 June, 2013


Most people of my age remember the Moors murders in the 1960s. Five children were kidnapped, sexually assaulted and killed by Ian Brady and Myra Hindley. It was all the more shocking then because no one had ever heard of this sort of thing. Perhaps we're now used to it.

Hindley died ten years ago, and it is said that they opened champagne at the Home Office where they had received regular appeals for her release, having to refuse on grounds of society's revulsion at the crime (any Home Secretary releasing her would have been hounded out of his job).

Ian Brady was declared insane in 1985 and is being held in a mental institution. He is on hunger strike (some evidence denies this) and being fed through a tube. He says he is not insane and wants to be transferred to a normal prison where, it is reported, he believes he would be able to kill himself.

I don't know if Brady is insane. There are some crimes so awful one would have thought you would have had to be insane to commit them and this is surely up for consideration on that ground. They made tape recordings of the tortured children and a chap I knew had spoken to a barrister who had heard the tapes, who said it would haunt him for the rest of his life.

Brady has never disclosed the whereabouts of Keith Bennet's body, although he has confessed to the crime. It is believed he is withholding the information in order to manipulate the proceedings.

The deal I would make is that if he discloses information leading to the recovery of Keith's remains, for which the family have been waiting for half a century, he should be transferred to an ordinary prison and, yes allowed to die of that is what he wants. No remains, no transfer, and until then I believe we have a duty to keep him alive.


The news broke a couple of days ago that 21 British and Irish had been given suspended sentences in Albufeira, southern Portugal, for conducting or witnessing illegal gambling.

The event took place in The Yorkshire Pub, and it was claimed that the gambling was a bingo game, being played for biscuits. There was a report on the matter on the Today programme on BBC Radio, with the guffawing presenters clearly taking the side of the Brits and Irish.

I thought it very silly of 'Today' (I think it was Sarah Montague and Evan Davis, but I may be maligning them).

What had happened was this: Portugal is in very severe economic difficulty and its people are suffering. There is a foreign pub and people, speaking English, playing a foreign game which is illegal. All forms of games of chance in a public place are illegal in Portugal without a licence, which is not much different to Britain, where you also need a licence for singing. The police were not to know, and we still don't know, whether the biscuits won were quietly exchanged for money later on, like chips in a casino.

One of the landlady's complaints was that she had to wait in the police station until the interpreter arrived. She had lived and worked in Portugal for nine years without having the common politeness to learn the Language.

This was a piece of common, ignorant barbarism by mulish, rude people who, as guests in a country, make no effort either to integrate or even understand the feelings of their hosts. It is, alas, all too common here in Italy. As far as I'm concerned they're lucky the sentences were suspended.

25 June, 2013

Mark Harper

It is reported that Mark Harper, the Conservative Immigration Minister, has broken a foot while dancing on a table in Soho.

He says his wife was with him, but she did not break any bones because she is a better dancer.

This blog will be keeping an eye on Mr. Harper, who may well turn out to be the only interesting person in the entire government.


In most cases containing the words 'shocking revelations' this blog is on the side of a free press and of openness. I found it important recently, for example, that the world should know the extent to which Britain and America spy on their own citizens, and important to know that the clever British have managed to bug the fibre optic network and even listen to the conversations of international leaders who have come for a conference.

What we do about it is another matter, but it is important to know.

This does not mean that Mr Snowden, for example, should be exonerated. We cannot have a blanket amnesty for anyone who betrays his country; I suppose even Klaus Fuchs' betrayal of our nuclear secrets to Russia could have been described as 'in the public interest'.

No, Mr Snowden must, if arrested by the US, be dealt with by the law. This blog salutes him, however, as being someone prepared to risk his life - or at least life imprisonment - for what he believes in.

One aspect of the story I particularly liked was that it was leaked that Snowden would be on a particular flight from Moscow to Cuba. The world's press booked tickets on the same flight only to find he wasn't on it. As it took off the tannoy announced there would be no alcohol served on the flight.

Just imagine: dozens of journalists on expenses on a long haul flight with no booze. Someone must have a sense of humour.   

24 June, 2013

Silvio's woes

Last week Silvio Berlusconi failed to have struck out a conviction relating to his Mediaset empire which involved a four year conviction for him and a five year ban from public office.

He is appealing a one year sentence for publishing an illegally obtained wiretap and is about to be tried for buying a senator (sic).

Today the Ruby case pronounced a sentence of 7 years' imprisonment (the prosecution had only asked for 6) and a lifetime ban from holding public office.

Another day at the office for Silvio.

Follow the Berlusconi story in more depth in my articles for the excellent Commentator internet magazine.

The NHS 2

Further to my previous post on the NHS, here is a good example of what is wrong.

The Guardian's headline screams 'Doctors vote no confidence in Hunt' (Jeremy Hunt, you will remember, is the Health Secretary. This blog had no confidence in him here.)

When you first read this you think it is awful for the Government. The Doctors, who know things, like how to cure a cold (oh, sorry, no they don't) or what to do about your cancer (send you to a specialist) must surely be right in their judgment.

But no, I'm afraid this is completely irrelevant. Mr Hunt is not answerable to the doctors, nor even to the patients, but to the general public (ie not just people who are ill, but people who might be ill in the future but are nevertheless paying for it all). It is not hard to conceive of a circumstance where the interests of the doctors and the public are at odds with one another (continuation of the NHS in its present form is an obvious example) and so it would serve the interests of the public if Hunt were behaving in such a fashion that the doctors had no confidence in him whatsoever.

Let's drop the politicians from all this and get down to who is doing things, good and bad. There's some good. But plenty of bad.

21 June, 2013


I have often written about the disaster that is our National Health Service. I should stress that the problem is not a technical or funding issue but a structural one.

The latest symptom to confront us is that the Care and Quality Commission, the body established to oversee standards in the NHS and to publish any lapses in those standards, has itself been concealing information, covering up a case where several infants died unexpectedly in a hospital the CQC had approved.

Here is one example of where it needs to change: accountability. When questions are asked about what is going on up pops the Health Secretary, a politician. There should be clear managerial lines, visible, and the sole task of the Health Secretary, other than approving the budget, should be to hire and fire those managers. Instead the Health Service has become a political football, the politician expressing shock that things could be like that, but nobody questioning the managers.

And I've said it before and I'll say it again, the public gets what it deserves. Promulgating the nonsense that it is the best in the world just perpetuates the system under which these disasters happen. And the next time you hear someone say 'our NHS' they need to be vilified, publicly and noisily. It is not ours; we pay for it, of course, but it is an organisation run chiefly for the benefit of its employees.

We need to close it down and start again.

20 June, 2013

Who are you?

Boris Johnson
Apparently at the recent G8 summit President Obama three times referred to the UK Chancellor of the Exchequer as Jeffrrey (Jeffrey Osborne is a soul singer).

Serves the little blighter right: his name is Gideon, not George, which is instantly recognisable and if he hadn't tried this new one I'm sure the President would have remembered.

The same goes for Robert Johnson, mayor of London

James Gandolfini

Naturally one sympathises with his loved ones on James Gandolfini's death, but we are getting all
kinds of quasi-obituary tosh about him being a great actor.

We bought the DVD of the Sopranos and I listened to him mumbling his way through his lines for about ten minutes. I altered the volume and the tone but for all I could grasp it could have been in Suahili without subtitles.

Perhaps it was good, but I threw it away.

Expect the best

Apparently the Meteorological Office is forecasting years of wet summers for Britain.

Time to invest in the new shades and the Factor 50.

17 June, 2013

On we go

In Istanbul it is said that the Government has put chemical agents in the water cannon.

Perhaps Mr Cameron is going to arm the rebel Turks as well.

16 June, 2013

Txts Dn Gd 4 Rd sfty

Incredible, but usage of the text message in Italy has declined, by 4%, for the first time ever. Italians send nearly 100 billion texts a year, around four texts per person per day. Apparently they are using message apps on smartphones.

Or perhaps they are doing less driving.

Drop the military

Most countries have a national day, when they became independent or the new constitution was
signed or whatever. Britain of course doesn't; the nearest thing we have is the celebration of the Queen's official birthday which took place yesterday (her real birthday was in April).

With it goes the trooping of the colour, soldiers dressed in camp uniforms marching up and down, riding horses and setting off antique cannons.

And I just want to ask: why?

Why do we have to have soldiers at every bloody event - royal weddings, funerals God knows what? Is the military the only thing we have to celebrate? We lost the last two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Is there nothing else from centuries of culture and industry that is good, that we can be proud of? Why are all the royal family in the military, and not doing useful things in industry or commerce? In the picture even Princess Anne is in uniform (the only one who thinks the same way as me is Andrew who looks like a Swiss hotel manager*).

Let the national celebrations centre on art, music, literature, industry. Let's show the rest of the world that we are not just a military force which conquered most of them but a civilised, modern nation. And let's stop living in the past.

*Nothing wrong with that, of course

A moderate

The election of Hassan Rouhani as President of Iran will be treated by many as good news; he is described as a moderate.

But what does 'moderate' mean, in a country run by raving nutcases? The only people allowed to stand in the election were those approved by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who was quite happy with former President Ahmadinejad's statement that they intended to wipe Israel off the map, which would cause a nuclear holocaust.

And Khamenei is going to be there for a bit. He is a sprightly 74, younger than Berlusconi and a lot younger than our own Queen.

Rouhani may be what we would call a moderate, he may be what Khamenei would call a moderate (no nerve gas to be used in Israel, just a nuclear warhead or two) or he may be playing the long game. The West must treat him according to his deeds: if he says that whilst disagreeing with Israel he has no plans to destroy it and allows full inspection of the nuclear facilities, we should withdraw our sanctions. Until then the Iranian semi-democracy must be taught that aggression does not pay.

PS It is being said that he doctored his CV, and that rather than going to Glasgow University he went to the Polytechnic. Let's hope he is a little more accurate about his country's nuclear capability.

12 June, 2013


The Greeks have closed down their public broadcaster ERT because it is too expensive. Oh.

They say it is 'a unique example of extravagant spending and lack of transparency'. OH.

The Greeks pay £43 per head for ERT. Oh?

The Government says that a new broadcaster will emerge, dramatically slimmed down. Ohhhh?

Number of resignations at the BBC after it blew £100m on a useless computer project: 0. Oh.

It all sounds like an attractive idea, doesn't it? A new slimmed down BBC would have its newsgathering operations intact, but have only 1 TV station and 2 radio stations, for which, apart from news, it would commission programmes.

What isn't right about Greece is that it is going off air completely, albeit, they say, for a while. ERT wasn't terribly independent or terribly good but losing the state broadcaster has democratic implications. The Troika, of the IMF, EU and European Commission should immediately move to deny that this was anything to do with them (assuming it was nothing to do with them). Otherwise they will get the blame in Greece.

10 June, 2013


David Cameron, the Prime Minister, is reported to have said in a speech that Britain's membership of the EU is in our national interest.

Now, he is entitled to his view, although I, like the majority of the British people, don't share it, but where he is a complete bloody idiot is that he is supposed to be negotiating a new set of arrangements with Europe. They know from this and other pronouncements that he is in favour of the costly undemocratic shambles and are therefore unlikely to concede any points to him: unless he can say 'We will leave if we don't achieve the following' they will just roll him over.

Imagine his speech as we move towards the referendum in 2017, with his reasonable tones: 'Through difficult negotiation, standing up firmly for Britain's interests, I have managed to obtain an opt-out for Britain from the Length of Courgettes Directive, 1982, and I do think this is a good basis on which to go to the British people and say "Let us go forward together with our European partners...." '

What worries me is that some people might fall for it.

The Chookie Enbra

The Duke of Edinburgh, this blog's favourite royal, is in hospital today for his 92nd birthday.

We wish him well.

09 June, 2013

Europe again

Latest news:

Bad debts at Italy's banks are 22% worse than last year.

President Hollande says the euro crisis is over.

Well, that's all right then.

08 June, 2013

Bad taste crime

The first I heard about the ghastly murder of Drummer Lee Rigby, a couple of weeks ago, was that a man wearing a 'Help for Heroes' T-shirt had been beheaded in an attack in Woolwich.

At that moment Deyka Ayan Hassan, a 21 year old student, tweeted that 'to be honest, if you wear a Help for Heroes T-shirt you deserve to be beheaded'.

Now, the best that can be said of Ms Hassan's remark is that it was in dramatically poor taste. She received, understandably, a barrage of complaints, some, less understandably, threats of violence. She complained to the police and was herself arrested. In passing I would mention that also in today's papers is the story of a father turning in his son's drug dealer to police and being arrested for kidnapping the aggrieved pusher. The best thing with the British police is to have nothing to do with them whatsoever.

Anyway, Deyka Hassan has now been convicted and sentenced. Note that the magistrates did not dispute the timing - that she did not know that it was a soldier - and she was not accused of or charged with inciting violence.

Ms Hassan was convicted of 'sending a malicious electronic message'. Can you be malicious to someone who is dead? Did you know that this was a crime? Is bad taste a crime? Or rank bloody stupidity (how many could we catch with that one)? Can I call the British Foreign Secretary a dangerous fool to his face but not send him an email to that effect?

I think we need to have a look at this.

Ninety plus

In hospital in their respective countries are Prince Philip, 91 and Nelson Mandela, 94.

Seems you just can't trust these nonagenarian public figures to look after themselves.


The Tory MP Nadine Dorries is being investigated by the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner for
appearing on a TV programme called 'I'm a celebrity, get me out of here'. She was earlier banned temporarily by her party.

Here is my analysis of the rights and wrongs of the matter:

Silly woman, silly programme, silly treatment by her party, silly investigation.

The Standards commissioner could suspend her from parliament, which would mean the people of mid-Bedfordshire were without representation, hardly a plus.

Let's just call her Silly.

05 June, 2013


The news from Syria continues to be grim. Government troops aided, some say led, by Lebanese Hezbollah fighters, have retaken Qusair. France says that there is unassailable evidence that the Syrian Government has used nerve gas, but the UN delegation say that both sides have used chemical weapons. Both sides.

The protagonists are now: the Assad regime, Lebanon, Iran and Russia on one side; assorted rebels, al-Qaeda, Saudi Arabia and Qatar on the other. It is said that the Gaza terrorist group, Hamas, is supporting the rebels, largely on sectarian (Sunni) grounds, even though they get their armaments from (Shia) Iran.

It's a hell of a mess.

At Prime Minister's Questions David Cameron was at pains to point out that there has as yet been no decision taken to arm the rebel groups. Let's hope this is a bit of back-tracking from his trigger happy Foreign Secretary, who seems determined to get us involved in a war which really is none of our business.

Even handed

Congratulations to Francesco de Salazar, who in last week's local elections in Rome stood in the Second Municipality for the Centre Right and in the Twelfth Municipality for the Centre Left.

He won both seats.

You might think that a political system which is capable of producing such an outcome (it is not illegal) had a means of resolving it, but no. De Salazar could have carried on, collecting two salaries, but admitting what he called 'an error committed in good faith', he has resigned both.

De Salazar's statement suggests that he candidated himself accidentally for one of the parties. Alas, we shall never know which.