28 April, 2013

Italy has a government

Two months after the general election, Italy's new government will be sworn in today. It will be headed by Enrico Letta, 46 (it seems that even President Napolitano decided his first choice, Giuliano Amato, 75, was too old).

The average age of the government will be 53, which is very low by Italian standards, and of the 21 ministries seven will be held by women, which is very high. The new Integration Minister is a female doctor born in the Congo, whilst the Minster for Equal Opportunities and Sport will be a German born Olympic Gold Medal canoeist.

In my piece for The Commentator on Thursday I shall be analysing the prospects for this administration, given that it contains no one from the Lega Nord, Nicki Vendola's Left, Ecology Freedom party and no one from Beppe Grillo' 5 Star Movement.

27 April, 2013


The drums of war are beating over Syria again. For my taste the British and French are a little too keen, seemingly looking for an excuse to intervene, whereas the Americans seem to be looking for an excuse not to.

But there is evidence that chemical weapons have been used, although this is only evidence and of course there is no proof as to who fired them. The rebels might easily have discovered a weapons stash on their advance northwards.

If the evidence does come in, however, Obama is in some difficulty. The war would not be popular in America, and yet he has said that the use of chemical weapons would be a game changer. American Presidents must not use words lightly and must not back down from a threat.

There are however some good reasons why this should not escalate.

1. This is the patch of Saudi Arabia and Qatar, the two richest and most powerful states in the Middle-east. They have been giving the rebels support, military as well as logistical, and it is their war. They have plenty of money and plenty of sophisticated American made weaponry.

2. Assad's regime is being backed militarily by Russia and diplomatically by China. Saudi and Qatari involvement would be an internal Middle-eastern war. European and American involvement might mean it spreading.

3. A no-fly zone has been suggested and this sounds cozy - American planes simply policing the skies (all 27 countries in Europe together wouldn't be able to put together a no-fly zone). But it would involve at the outset a massive attack to take out anti-aircraft installations and planes: that is to say American British and French aircraft bombing people and things on the ground. Killing Syrians and any Russian advisers.

4. The Russians have a naval base at Tartus, opposite Cyprus there. It is rumoured that Bashar-al- Assad is living on one of their ships. Are we to hope the Russian Mediterranean Fleet doesn't have ship-to-air missiles?

5. Lastly, we don't really know who the rebels are and what we do know isn't good. The group which has fought the fiercest and made the most ground, Jabhat al-Nusrah, is associated with al-Qaeda. A no fly zone would benefit them just as much, if not more, as the secular fighters in the Free Syrian Army.

I have said it before and I'll say it again, this is a good one to keep out of. Let's give as much support to Saudi and Qatar as we can, and tell them to get on with it.

25 April, 2013

Welcome break

Fans, such as myself, of Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons have been feeling deprived, like addicts of Coronation Street being told it will only be showing a few times a year.

MPs are off again today for some more hols, returning when Parliament starts the new session on 8th May with the Queen's Speech. Then two weeks later on 22nd May they shut up shop again for a little Whitsun holiday, returning on 3rd June. But 19th July sees the start of their six week summer holidays. Then they come back for two weeks in September and before you know it there is a three week autumn break.

This year parliament will have sat for around 150 days.

Now, oddly enough, I don't mind this. Parliament is being prorogued early because there are not enough bills to debate, which is the most extraordinary good news. If MPs are to work longer I should rather Parliament were simply a talking shop, without them passing more legislation, of which we already have more than enough, to inconvenience the average citizen.

If they are not going to talk more I would recommend that the number of days they serve in Parliament be reduced even further, to reduce the damage to our civil liberties.

23 April, 2013


Richie Havens has died at the young age of 72. Havens famously opened the Woodstock Festival in 1969 and because the other acts were late, played for hours. He had a strange technique of suddenly strumming in double time - difficult to copy and it made him unique.

St George

St George's Day today, which as usual in England will be celebrated quietly: the important thing is never to let the other members of the United Kingdom think there is any kind of English individuality or patrimony.

It is a mystery as to why St George is patron of so many places: Georgia, England, Egypt, Bulgaria, Greece, Serbia, Ukraine and countless cities. Perhaps it is the string of legends associated with his name, although they are unlikely to be true. It is thought that he was a Greek soldier executed by the Emperor Diocletian for professing his faith in the early 4th Century.

Cry God for Harry, England and St George!

On and on....

The BBC's traditional inability to let a story drop has been amplified in the last week. Yesterday they appeared to think it 'news' that a man responsible for setting off a bomb in a public place, robbing a store and hijacking a car has been charged with a criminal offence ('our top story').

Incidentally Dzokhar Tsamaev has been charged with having a weapon of mass destruction, a term I thought referred to muclear bombs and chemical weapons. If we went to war in Iraq because Saddam Hussein had a couple of pressure cookers filled with ball bearings I think we should be told.

22 April, 2013

In with the old, out with the new

An unhealthy stitch-up between opposing forces of left and right has led to 87 year old President Napolitano agreeing to a second term, the first Italian President to do so. If he serves out his full term he will be 94.

Napolitano will be sworn in today and will present his plans for the future as soon as he has had his cocoa. Having beaten 80 year old Marini, 82 year old Rodotà and Romano Prodi who would be 80 at the end of his mandate the rumour is that he will appoint an interim, unelected government led by sprightly, youthful Giuliano Amato, who will celebrate his 75th birthday next month.

Really, this isn't looking good for Italy: an unelected gerontocracy.

19 April, 2013

Italy's President

I am covering the Italian Presidential race in my articles and occasional blogs for the Commentator,
which is recommended reading.

In short, there can be no new elections unless there is a new President, since Napolitano cannot diossolve Parliament within 6 months of the end of his own mandate, which ends in four weeks. Voting began on Thursday 18th and Bersani, who has a majority in the lower house, proposed a trade unionist and moderate left winger Franco Marini, 80 (that's not a misprint, he's 80 years old). This was apparently in a stitch up with Berlusconi and people were wondering what Silvio was getting in return for this (immunity from prosecution, anybody?). Smelling a huge ratto a large part of the Partito Democratico, which had proposed Marini, didn't vote for him. So he didn't win.

Now Bersani has proposed Romano Prodi, known as The Mortadella because he comes from
Bologna, who has been Prime Minister twice, and been President of the European Commission. Prodi is the arch enemy of Berlusconi and having been a big smell in the EU isn't popular with Beppe Grillo either.

It doesn't seem possible for Prodi to win, but there again it didn't seem possible for Marini to lose. This is Italy.

The photo shows the tremendous Alessandra Mussolini, who herself got as many votes as Prodi in the last round of voting, making a protest in the chamber. The back of her T-shirt says 'The Devil wears Prodi'. Outside the Parliament building there were demonstrators chopping up bits of mortadella.

Splendid stuff.

18 April, 2013

Troppo bello

Three men from the UAE have been removed from a cultural festival in Saudi Arabia and deported on the grounds that they were so good looking the local girls wouldn't be able to resist them (don't try, girls!).

As it happens, many people are wondering why I have not been deported from Italy. Perhaps the Italians are just more tolerant.

17 April, 2013

The Funeral

Lady Thatcher's funeral is today. I shan't watch it; I can remember Churchill's funeral in 1965 and that of the Queen Mother: the hushed voice of the BBC announcer, the pauses and the repetition not just repetition but again and again and again with the same clichés...first woman Prime Minister.. served longer than anyone in memory..divisive figure. Yuk. I missed out on Lady Diana's because I simply found myself unable to share the grief or even to understand it.

In truth I find all funerals, particularly big ones, a little pagan, as if the death were more important than the life. This may have been true of Lady Diana but most certainly is not true of Lady Thatcher.

And her 'life' was some time ago, between 1975 when she became leader of the Tory Party and 1990 when she lost the job. Between 38 years ago and 23 years ago, fifteen hectic years which changed Britain and the world, in my view greatly for the better, but I am happy to hear the opposite argument.

This today, by contrast, is just an old lady having died, as they do.

There has been a certain amount of idiot discussion as to whether we need Lady Thatcher now. I am a great fan of hers, but of course we don't. We have a set of problems which are quite different to the ones she faced and which have to be solved, not just with diffferent soluitions, but in a different style. Her legacy, the lesson she has taught all politicians, is surely this: never assume the status quo to be a good thing. Examine it dispassionately and if it needs to be changed, change it.

16 April, 2013

He doesn't like us

President Obama has not only refused to attend the funeral of Lady Thatcher, he has refused even to send an envoy*. He will have been told that this is an important occasion for Britain, America's ally, and that the Queen is attending, but he clearly wants to send an open snub.

Obama doesn't like us. I hope we bear this in mind in our future dealings with the USA.

*that is to say someone senior from his administration; George Schulz and Dick Cheney are going.

15 April, 2013

The Ding Dong ding dong

In the end 'Ding Dong! The Witch is dead!' only reached the No.2 spot, failing to dislodge last week's leader Need U (100%) by Duke Dumont and A*M*E.

So, that was exciting, wasn't it?

13 April, 2013

Childish amusement

Tomorrow, Sunday 14th, the BBC will as usual play the nation's top selling tunes and one of these, perhaps the No.1 will be 'Ding Dong, the Witch is dead!' from the musical The Wizard of Oz.

This has been re-released under the auspices of some left-wingers to celebrate the death of Mrs Thatcher. Many of the people behind it were not born or not politically conscious during Mrs Thatcher's period in power, which ended more than 22 years ago.

The BBC have in the past banned records, including fairly recently one by the Sex Pistols, but they should not ban this, in my view. The whole world knows how this single got to the top and, really, the reputation of one of Britain's great Prime Ministers can stand it. Quite easily.

10 April, 2013


Seriously, though, the Football Association has been pompously considering whether Lady Thatcher deserved a minute's silence before the matches.

I'm not sure the Lady's views on football have been recorded but one likes to think that her legacy will survive without the enforced mock respect of racist chavs watching a game played by Nancy-boys.

I yield to no one

Following the death of Lady Thatcher the detector modules for my occasional series 'I yield to no one' have been working overtime.

Current front runner is Geri Halliwell, a former Spice Girl, who wrote 'Thinking of our first lady of girl power, Margaret Thatcher, a grocer's daughter who taught me anything is possible.'

Geri, I yield to no one in my admiration for you as a....er....whatever it is you are now, but your views on reforming Prime Ministers really aren't necessary, nor is it appropriate to link them to your own publicity.

Worse, after a wave of Twitter abuse to the effect that being even vacuously supportive of Lady Thatcher is not cool in these circles, she deleted the message, apologising.

To paraphrase President Chirac, Ms Halliwell has missed a golden opportunity to remain silent.

08 April, 2013

Children and animals

Nothing much seems to go right for François Hollande, the French President. And as any actor will tell you, if they start off laughing it just gets worse.

On a visit to Mali to receive the thanks of a grateful populace for bravely seeing off the Taliban, Hollande was awarded a camel (again, listen to the actors: never work with children or animals). During the award speech the Malian politician was drowned out by the screeching of the camel, and it showed no more respect for François, although he was heard to say 'I will use it as a means of transport as often as possible'. His idea apparently was to transfer the creature to a French zoo, but the EU regulations proved to be too heavy (and the idea of the rather pompous looking Hollande riding round on a camel in a zoo, well, it's not quite what his image makers might have wanted).

So he decided to park the camel with a local family, but not before there were complaints that the beast had been stolen after the French bombed the owner's village. François promptly boarded the presidential plane and fled the country.

But now the awful news has emerged: Jean-Yves Le Drian, the French Defence Minister has confirmed that the camel, presumably inducted into the French military, has been killed and eaten in a stew.

Perhaps they could send him a bit of the stew.

Margaret Thatcher

There will be a number of obituaries, far more knowledgeable than I could write, of Margaret
Thatcher, who has died aged 87. I wanted to make a couple of observations on how she affected my life and that of so many others.

I had been a young Conservative and rejoiced when Ted Heath came to power in 1970. I was studying economics at school and what he seemed to espouse was the new economics, the new politics. By 1972 he had abandoned it. When he petulantly went to the country in 1974 on the principle 'Who governs Britain?' my feeling like that of many others was 'Not you, mate, obviously'. 1974 was the first time I voted and, knowing that I could not support Labour, voted Liberal, the only time I have done so. 

Margaret Thatcher had been, I think, education minister in the dying years of the Heath Government and my abiding memory was of a friend at Oxford who collected idiot headlines: 'Margaret Thatcher in Food Tins Scandal Probe' he showed us: she had admitted stocking up with tins of stuff in case there was a general strike, and this somehow, the obvious intuition of any housewife, was deemed to be a sin. People believed that if she had some of the food tins, others would have less, not that more tins would be brought on to the supermarket shelves. That was how we lived in the 1970s.

When Mrs Thatcher was elected leader of the Conservative Party in 1975 many people, myself included, thought the Tories had either had a fit of madness or that they had elected an interim leader before a proper one emerged,. In fact it was the opposite. In the late 70s I was something fairly minor in the Young Conservatives and working for a Swiss Bank. The Swiss, who like most people internationally had thought that Britain was a basket case, were terribly impressed by Margaret Thatcher. She even took her (short) holidays in Switzerland. Word came down from on high that I was to be given as much time of as I needed to campaign for her. And I did.

For an impressionable observer of politics the Wilson-Callaghan administration was Britain's low point. Wilson resigned amidst a cloud of speculation that he had been having an affair with his secretary, that he had made his friends life peers (including the secretary), that he had been in the pay of Moscow (he had been a director of a company, Montagu L Meyer, which banked with my employers, which regularly sent him to Russia), and that the country was in such a state that a coup d'état was being planned, led by the Duke of Edinburgh. Callaghan, who assumed the reins of power without an election, was if anything even worse. He was so weak that it seemed that every time someone criticised him he appointed a Royal Commission to sweep the matter under the carpet. Britain went begging for money to the IMF.

Mrs Thatcher forced a vote of no confidence in the Callaghan administration and won. And once she had sailed into Downing Street the world was staggered at the stuff she was coming up with. For the first time since Churchill we had a Prime Minister who seemed to believe in things and put them into practice. Sir Keith Joseph, her main economics spokesman, was saying all the things I believed in about monetarism, responsible fiscal policy ad so on which we take for granted today (at least we take the verbiage for granted). Geoffrey Howe, the chancellor, was like Geoffrey Boycott, England's solid opening batsman, quietly seeing off the new ball.

When the Falklands came along everybody, simply everybody assumed that this was another nail in Britain's coffin. Mrs Thatcher found the right man, a retired admiral, who thought we could do it, and assembled the task force. I would stop off at a pub on the way home from work and found the place packed, the customers urging on, not their football team but their country. Houses bore the Union Jack, people talked about nothing else. The country was united in a way it hadn't been since the war, before I was born. And Britain was a winner for the first time in my lifetime. It had the confidence to become a world leader, which it did with Mrs Thatcher's alliance with Ronald Reagan to resolve the Cold War. Thatcher and Reagan seemed to stand strong together and I felt a part of the bringing down of the Berlin Wall. The long decline which perhaps began in 1914, was over.

Years later I was on a shoot, in Padua of all places, and was introduced to an old farmer. 'Giuseppe here was a big fan of Signora Thatcher'. I replied that for us she had been the only one in British political life with coglioni (balls). ''Si', he replied, 'ma lei ne aveva quattro' (but she had four).

06 April, 2013

We're here to help

The banner was at L'Aquila last night for a torchlight parade. It reads 'It's sad to read in the eyes of  Mummy and Daddy the certainty that "Tonight as well I shan't be going home"'. Today, 6th April, is the fourth anniversary of the earthquake in L'Aquila which virtually destroyed the town.

L'Aquila has yet to be rebuilt. Why? Yes there are fiddles, yes there is mafia activity, but the real reason, says Chief Engineer Gianfranco Ruggeri is:

5 Special Laws
21 Directives of the Comisario
25 Acts on the Structure of Emergency Management
51 Technical Structure Acts
62 Regulations of the Civil Protection service
73 ordinances from the Prime Minister's office
152 decrees of the Commissariat Delegate
720 ordinances from the Comune.

There may be more that he has forgotten, he said.  1,109 laws which are preventing reconstruction of people's homes.

'If it rained money the way it rains regulations, L'Aquila would be filthy rich and the streets would be full of bulldozers, lorries and cement trucks'

04 April, 2013

Italy today

See my report in the Commentator on the Italian elections here

03 April, 2013

Just deserts

A footballer - they're certainly in the news - called Carlos Tevez, who plays for Manchester City, has been convicted of driving a car while banned and without insurance. Mr Tevez is Argentinian and apparently here under an assumed name: he was born Carlos Martinez. For my part I'd have deported him, which would at least have pleased half of Manchester, but he was given 250 hours community service and a fine of...wait for it...£1,000. Martinez apparently earns £200,000 a week.

I know the idea is that the law should be equal to everyone, but it would be fairer if punishment were equal in its effect: this represents, assuming he does a 40 hour week, 12 minutes' work, the equivalent of  a fine of around £1.20 to someone on the minimum wage. More to the point, if someone on the minimum wage were fined £1,000 it would be the equivalent for Mr Martinez-Tevez of £830,000.

They do this in Switzerland - last year someone was fined £230,000 for speeding - and I think we should do it here.

02 April, 2013

Leftie illiberals

What is a fascist? There seems to be no proper definition of the term. The Oxford English Dictionary declares it squarely to be a member of Mussolini's party formed in 1919, which ruled Italy between 1922 and 1943. It was set up to fight communism.

The matter has come to a head, rather, because of a football manager called Paolo di Canio who has
Paolo di Canio
been appointed manager of Sunderland. The absurd David Miliband resigned in disgust as a director of the club saying the he - di Canio - is a fascist. Of course Miliband's resignation might have been expected by the club since he is going off to live in America.

One of the accusations against di Canio is that he made a Roman Salute to the Lazio fans (Lazio is the district around Rome); another is that he has a fascist tattoo although, as someone on the BBC said, he doesn't wear it on his sleeve.

I have been too busy these last 13 years to read di Canio's autobiography published in 2000. Apparently it reveals him as a sensitive and intelligent man. He likes some aspects of Mussolini but dislikes his 'vile traits' (this is in fact how I think of David Miliband). So, presumably the export of Jews to concentration camps could be described as vile; is it something to do with the trains running on time? Punctual trains and the elimination of communism seem to be admirable political goals depending, of course, on how you go about them.

Dr Lawrence Britt, a leftie political scientist, has identified 14 characteristics of fascism although most of them, such as nationalism, disdain for human rights and symbolically powerful military could apply to any communist state, particularly China and North Korea.

So would there be all this fuss if Mr di Canio had declared himself a communist? Communism has killed many, many times the number of innocent people that fascism has and is certainly a worse system to live under. But there wouldn't have been any trouble, would there?

This is a piece of nonsense got up by the left to disguise their own illiberalism.

01 April, 2013

Urbi et Orbi

Today in my message to the world I urge the unfaithful to spend the day in contemplation of the leaders we have promoted to high office. We have awoken on the Feast of All Fools to find that the Fools hold the levers of power.

In America Obama has taken temporary leave of his senses job to consider how many millions of people he could kill in Korea. A family member has assumed the pink rabbit ears of office. Health provision will now be known as Bocare and will be open to all species.

Angela Merkel has gone swimming in a thermal bath in Ischia, however she is arrested by an EU
official who removed 60% of the water from the pool in a bail-out.

UK: In a now desperate attempt to ensure he loses the next general election Mr Cameron subjects the
 nation to Sharia Law and embarks on the formal ceremony to hand the Falkland Islands over to Cyprus

Italy, already having a comedian as head of a political party, decides the next president must be
someone really serious.

To save on manpower, the EU sends its Foreign Representative, Baroness Ashton, to invade Syria on
her own