30 June, 2014


It seems - and correct me if I have got this wrong - that in the World Cup Holland beat Mexico by a single goal from a penalty at the end of the match.

The penalty was given because the referee thought that a Dutch player, Arwen Robben, was tripped. Mr Robben has since admitted that he 'dived' - that is to say threw himself on the ground pretending to have been tripped.

Mr Robben did not admit this at the time. He did not retire from the rest of the tournament in shame, and the Dutch team manager did not dismiss him. The penalty goal was not disallowed. The Dutch have not offered a replay. The football governing body will take no action.

So Mr Robben cheated, and felt so confident that nothing would happen to him that he even admitted it.

What a strange game football is, and what a strange world we live in. Bring back Luis Suarez, who at least bites his opponents openly and without subterfuge.

28 June, 2014


At he time of the recent European lunch summit, as European leaders were queueing up to attack David Cameron, one said his proposal for the Heads of Government to decide the President of the European Commission was advocating a grubby backroom deal.

As a matter of fact on this, at least, Cameron was right. The Lisbon Treaty (bet he wishes he'd kept to his cast iron promise to hold a referendum, eh?) says that the Heads of Government will decide 'taking into account the results of the election'. Any idiot can see that the election showed an enormous rise in anti-EU voting, so they should have taken that into account.

But while we are on the subject of grubby deals, that is the way Europe operates and one of the best reasons Britain should have nothing to do with it.

Take Matteo Renzi. He at first cosied up to Cameron and said no, he thought a woman should have the job. He then went to Angela Merkel and said he would support Juncker if he achieved flexibility on Italy's debt. Renzi came away from the conference victorious. Here is what Mrs. Merkel said about it: 'flexibility on the fiscal pact does not mean member states get to rewrite the rules.' Only one of these can be right.

François Hollande, who achieved nothing at the summit, announced that he had been speaking for 'the concept of Europe'.

What the others couldn't understand about Cameron is that they expected him to ask (privately, nothing to be said to the press) for some little concession, say, on agriculture. They were astonished when he simply spoke his mind.

People who attack Cameron for not making friends and building coalitions should have been honest about this. The European way is to discover which way the wind is blowing, give in but obtain some minor concession. It is not the British way.

I presume Cameron now realises that there is no hope of reforming the EU. For him it will not be a question of recommending withdrawal: it will be a question of changing a word here, obtaining a trivial concession there and then pulling the wool over the eyes of the British Electorate. Betcha!

Witch Hunt

It seems that the Police's witch hunt of celebrities has turned to the late actor Leonard Rossiter, famous for Reginald Perrin.

Er....Hello? He's dead.

That means natural justice cannot be served here because he is unavailable to answer the charges and defend himself.

Why not drop it, eh?


Everything you need to know about Jean-Claude Juncker

First, the pronunciation: as everyone outside America knows, the first part is not pronounced Gene, but Zhon. Good. The more luxuriance and pursing of the lips, the more it sounds as if you don't approve of foreign names, even for foreigners.

It's the second part that seems to get people, particularly the BBC. They are giving us the anglicised Claud, whereas the approach ought to be coherent, Gene-Claud or Zhon-Clode.

Juncker, more commonly Junker, is an old Northern European honorific for landed gentry.

So J-C's name is roughly the same as J.C.Squire, the 20th century essayist and poet, who was a bit of a boozer.

J-C has been getting a bit of a rough time in the British Press recently. For myself I think Europe is safer in the hands of a man who likes a drop to drink, and I confess I couldn't come up with stuff like 'Europe is a modern, dynamic economy' without a couple of sharpeners after breakfast.

J-C is a fairly common stereotype on the mainland: cutting through all the debate about centralisation, they mistrust the nation state and feel that putting everyone together under the benign governance of people too important to be merely elected is the optimal political system. Of course J-C would be one of these Lords. Of course.

This view, and it is important to recognise that it is widespread, stems in part from World War II and in part from a recognition that the direction of travel (towards a united Europe) would be interrupted if the electorate got grumpy (as now).

Whatever its merits or demerits it is clear that this is not our system.

So rejecting Zhon-Clode was merely picking a fight. Merkel and the rest knew that they could, if necessary, pick someone else with the exact same mindset.

What this episode has shown is that the fundamental point, that Europe should be run by an unelected élite, and that national power should be kept to a minimum, is something they are not going to back down on.

Our choice is simple.

20 June, 2014

England expects

It turns out, and I have this on good authority, that England could stay in the World Cup under certain circumstances, which include Italy winning their next two matches.

Italy's hugely talented forward, Mario Balotelli, says that he can arrange this in return for a kiss from the Queen.

Balotelli does not detail the nature of the kiss, whether a peck on the cheek (Mwah! - ciao Mario) or something altogether more intimate, but surely now, as so often in the past, is the time for Her Majesty to put her country first.

19 June, 2014

Dulce et decorum

The Uruguayan football team, which England is due to meet on our next exciting attempt to return home, has complained that its poor performance against Costa Rica was caused by the Brazilian customs authorities' seizure of its stock of dulce de leche, the milky snack so popular in that part of the world.

The England camp will be hoping the supplies have not been released, confident in the knowledge that if the Brazilian hosts were to impound stocks of British food, our team's performance would likely improve.

The way to make dulce de leche is to put a tin of condensed milk into boiling water for three hours. When you get it out and open it, there will be the caramelised brown gloop these Uruguayans love.

Now, don't blame me if you burn yourself getting the tin out of the water, or if it explodes while boiling, or a stream of hot caramel spurts into your eye as you wield the tin opener. I am still in a body harness from my last kitchen accident.

Still, what would cooking be without a bit of risk?

18 June, 2014

An attack on freedom

In 1961, with the passing of the Suicide Act, it became no longer illegal to kill yourself.

Obviously, if you had succeeded, you would be judged by a higher court, but until then if you botched your attempt at doing yourself in you could be prosecuted.

Naturally you might even now be in breach of some by-law, like jumping off Beachy Head, but in broad terms I am allowed to buy a carving knife (if over 18) and slit my throat, hold a shotgun to my head (if I have a licence for the weapon) and pull the trigger, or jump off the roof of my house.

But I am not allowed to kill myself by going through the windscreen of my car (through not wearing a safety belt) or throwing myself off a motorbike without a helmet.

Why? Don't tell me it is because the NHS has to pay money to treat me if I fail: we don't make it illegal to live in a town (more likely to suffer from respiratory disease), or climb a mountain (risk of falling off) or to be a promiscuous homosexual (more likely to get AIDS). The NHS is an insurance scheme: if you are a cautious healthy individual you pay the same income tax as a heavy drinker or smoker. Why do we single out drivers and bikers?

The fine imposed by this supposedly Conservative vindictive nanny government for not wearing a crash helmet is £2,000. Some MP ought to have the balls to propose the abolition of these 'crimes'.

16 June, 2014


While we are on the subject of Mr. Cameron, it now appears that despite promising to do something about migration to the UK from poorer EU countries, he is going to support the application for membership of - and therefore unfettered immigration from - Albania.

The average wage in Albania is £300 a month, a third of the British minimum wage.

Magna Carta

David Cameron, laughably in my view, has said he wants children to learn about Magna Carta. They will learn that amongst its principles were to outlaw the arbitrary arrest of any British subject and the law of habeas corpus where a subject cannot be imprisoned without charge.

They will find in later life that Cameron was happy with the European Arrest Warrant, where a country - Romania for example - can order the arrest of a British subject for something which is not a crime in the UK. The British police have to arrest the suspect and send him to Romania where he will find there is no habeas corpus and they don't even have trial by jury.

This is only one example of Cameron's hypocrisy. It is not that he is deliberately trying to deceive us to pursue what he believes in, it's that he doesn't believe in anything.

I hope everyone remembers this at the next election.

Iraq - what to do

If you're not a Muslim, ask yourself this: which is better, Shia or Sunni?

The distinction between the two arose from a dispute as to who should succeed the prophet Muhammed after his Death in 632.

In Syria and Iraq, before Western intervention, there existed the strange state of affairs that Syria was a predominantly Sunni country with Shiite rulers (the Assad family) whilst Iraq was a predominantly Shia country with Sunni rulers (Saddam family). I have written before that a great deal of unpleasantness could have been avoided if they had simply swapped leaders.

But no, the West intervened and Iraq elected Mr Al Maliki who was going to be an inclusive figure for all Iraqis but turned out, as son as the troops left, to be simply pro Shia.

So the Sunnis rebelled and some of them crossed over from Syria where they had been fighting Assad.

And now some of our half-witted politicians, and the pseudo-statesman Tony Blair, are bleating that we should intervene. And this is where the question at the start of this post becomes important: on which side? Should we intervene in favour of the Shias, allied with Bashar al-Assad, Russia and Iran, or on the Sunni side alongside the ISIS militants, who were chucked out of Al Qaeda for being too brutal?

The answer is that this being a purely sectarian war we shouldn't intervene at all, but let them get on with it. Tony Blair says that we will suffer terrorism in the future, but we suffered a lot when we intervened in Iraq, because those Islamists who are looking to resurrect the Caliphate felt we had invaded their country. We are not going to get more terrorism by not taking sides.

They will not create a united Muslim caliphate in the middle east because they can't stand each other. Long may it continue.

09 June, 2014


One of the happier tales surrounding the 70th anniversary of D-Day is that when Luxembourg was liberated the cheering people were astonished to see climbing out of the leading tank their own heir to the throne Crown Prince Jean. On escaping to Britain after the Nazi invasion he joined up and as a lieutenant in the Irish Guards had fought his way up from Normandy. He eventually became Colonel in Chief of the regiment.

Bethink you of that, Mr Juncker.

07 June, 2014

Our Shirl

Just check the date before you read this, from a speech by the Education Secretary. It is 2014.

'How can it be right that more than a fifth of children left primary school without having reached a basic level of literacy and numeracy?'

As the men were racing up the Normandy beaches seventy years ago, Parliament passed the 1944 Education Act, supposed to stop this. Seventy years ago. Now we are told we can sort it in another generation.

So, where are the apologies? What about from you, Shirley Williams, educated at elite St. Paul's Girls' School who moved house in order to get her daughter into elite Godolphin & Latymer, but who pushed through Comprehensive Schools and banned grammar schools?

Just a little apology for two generations of children whom we have failed due to your madness and hypocrisy?

06 June, 2014


Speaking of driving, do you wonder what it's like in Google's new driverless car?

Two people sitting side by side talking, perhaps caressing, neither with hands on the steering wheel, while the car careers along?

Come to Italy and see.

Il telefono

I rarely criticise Italy, in part because I like it here and in part because I am a guest, but I have to mention one of the worst characteristics of Italians, worse than their crazy, corrupt political system or their inability to drive cars. It is their attitude to the telephone.

Last night a delivery van came up our drive and the driver got out and hammered on the window. When I opened the front door he was on the telephone. I asked what he wanted and he held up a hand for me to be silent.

I tried again and then shouted that either he could talk to me or the telephone but he carried on. As I was closing the door he said 'Hold on, Giorgio, I've got a problem with a foreigner'. He was carrying a courier's delivery instructions so I snatched them from him and shouted directions (he was still on the 'phone).

In Italy, the person you are talking to on the 'phone is more important than the one you are talking to face to face. I was once in a meeting with some minor government official - I had made an appointment - and his 'phone rang so often (he answered it each time) that I was beginning to forget why I had come. So I 'phoned him.

He was a bit confused hearing my voice so I said we'd leave the line open so we weren't disturbed any more. He looked at me incredulously but it worked.

05 June, 2014

Super Mario?

The European Central Bank's decision to adopt negative interest rates is not the first time this has
happened. In Switzerland in the 1980s it was fairly common in order to stop upward pressure on the Swiss Franc, and it is worth noting that it didn't help much. The markets decided Swiss Francs were the place to be and suffered the cost.

What ECB Governor Mario Draghi has done will have a short term effect of pushing the euro down, but it may be too little and it is quite likely to be too late.

Here is how it would work.

1. A bank, let's say French, keeps money on deposit at the ECB because it is safe there: safer than depositing it with another French bank and a lot safer than lending it to a French company.

2. It either keeps the money at the ECB, wearing the cost, or draws it out.

3. It decides whether to shrink its balance sheet, that is to say repay the corresponding creditor, or lend it to someone else. The other French banks are in the same position, as are most European banks, so it seeks out a company to lend to.

4. The company borrows for a new project, which it is cautious about because Europe is already depressed.

5. It slowly invests and takes on workers.

6. The workers, once they have been employed for a bit, feel confident and spend more.

7. That extra spending generates more investment and the eurozone recovers.

Apart from the fact that in those seven steps a lot can go wrong, it is easily seen that it takes time. The economist's rule of thumb is 6-9 months before industrial activity picks up and a further 6-9 months before prices improve.

Has Draghi left this too late?

03 June, 2014

El Rey

Despite a lot of sniping in the media, I believe Juan Carlos will be remembered fondly by history. He could have allowed military dictatorship to continue in Spain but stuck to his line and ushered the country into the modern era.

Handing over now, however, is something of a hospital pass. Felipe must deal with calls for a Republic and with Catalan (and other) attempts at secession, at a time the people are still suffering from austerity.

Good luck to him.

Crazy prices

The European Commission has warned that house price inflation will damage the UK economy.

They may be right - a broken clock is right twice a day - but it does seem impertinent that people who have made such a mess of the Eurozone economy (the ECB is about to take Emergency measures to avoid the spiral to deflation) should lecture us. The unfortunate folk in Europe would like a bit of house price inflation.

The facts, in case anybody is interested, are that if you bought a house in 2007 it is just now - this month - getting back to the level you paid for it. I don't call that crazy.

Source: Nationwide.co.uk

01 June, 2014

Bad exchange

'No soldier is left behind' intones President Obama as he buys the freedom of an American soldier with the release of Taliban prisoners from Guantanamo Bay.

Laudable, but the fact remains that America has paid, and every terrorist in the world now knows it will pay again. Every potential hostage in extremist areas must be trembling.

The fact also remains that the President can release prisoners, surely making the separation of Executive and Justice a laughing matter.

I congratulate the freed American sergeant and his family, but this is by no means good news.

The devil you know

Most people don't follow the rarified bits of European politics, feeling, correctly in my view, that it will go on in the direction chosen by unelected politicians, whatever the voters might think.

But if you have a modest concern about how your life is being managed by other people, consider this. The European Parliament is the institution which is put forward as being democratic, even though its little rules mean that anyone who is against the whole business is never allowed to speak for more than one minute (sometimes two). The Parliament decided that it wanted a bit of influence over the Head of the Commission, so it introduced the concept of favourites being recommended by the bogus political groupings. These are called Spitzencandidaten, and I hope you have noticed that the language for important things has changed from French to German, whilst everyone actually speaks English to each other.

Anyway, the two Spitzencandidaten put up by the main parties were Martin Schulz, currently leader of the Parliament and a leftish integrationist, and Jean-Claude Juncker, former Luxembourger Prime Minister and a rightish integrationist. No one, it appears, likes Schulz (Berlusconi once said he would be suitable in a film about Nazi Germany as a concentration camp guard) and Mrs Merkel favours Juncker.

To appreciate this you have to try to get into the mindset of these people. They believe in the 'European Project' absolutely and to the exclusion of all else. That is to say they believe that the nation state is an outdated institution and that government, to protect the Union against silliness by the electorate, should be by the people who know how to do it.

Cameron appears on the surface to be cutting up rough. He has said that Juncker is such a federalist that his appointment as Commission President could cause the bringing forward of the British Referendum and an early exit from the EU.

Two other pieces of information I should give you: one is that the Parliament reserved the right itself to elect the Commission President. The other is that Tony Blair said in an interview that he would like to 'help' Europe and is next week making a speech in Germany on how he would like to see Europe in the future. In William Hague's terms he is 'on manoeuvres'.

Is Cameron trying to push Blair into the job? Personally I view the possibility with horror: at least we know what Juncker is about; Blair might believe one thing or another or nothing and still say something different.

Better the devil you know....