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House of Lords 1808

Yesterday I was reminded that behind the ongoing scandals of (in ascending order) Prescott’s excruciating behaviour with his female underlings, Patricia Hewitless’s floundering in the morass of the NHS and, by far the worst, Charles Clarke’s inability to work out where various rather unpleasant villains who should have been deported might be or why that should matter, there is still the outstanding and ever more entertaining saga of loans for peerages.

I must confess, I paid little attention to that, as the notion of paying in one form or another for titles, knighthoods, baronetcies and other suchlike baubles, is hardly new. The only thing that surprised me was the word “loans”? Goodness me, I thought, Lloyd George wouldn’t have put up with that, nor would numerous Victorian politicians, Hanoverian princelings and politicians or, for that matter, the Stuarts or the Tudors.

It was money on the table (and not necessarily for the party) or no handle to the name. Think of James VI of Scotland and I of England establishing a completely new title, the baronet, having already extracted large sums of money for peerages, and asking for £1,500 for each. That was some money in those days.

Or think of the “beerages” of Victorian England. (It is best not to enquire too closely into the origins of most of our ducal families or into the cash and politics of the eighteenth century.)

Then there is Lloyd George. The Marconi scandal of 1912 may have degenerated into a nasty anti-semitic campaign on the part of the Chesterton brothers but a parliamentary committee found that Rufus Isaacs, the Attorney-General and Lloyd George had both benefited from insider dealing in the Marconi company. The same committee decided that there was no evidence of corruption. Rufus Isaacs became a Baron in 1914, rising subsequently in the ranks of the peerage. This could have been a reward for his undoubtedly loyal service to the government as a lawyer or it could have been for other reasons.

In the end it was Lloyd George overreaching himself in the Maundy Gregory scandal that brought about the legislation, which specifically forbade the selling of titles for cash to the party. Until 1925 it was a legal and acceptable form of fund-raising. Hence, presumably, the need to take out loans.

The point is that the reward of a title for help to the party, whether financial or organizational, has never been considered wrong. It has become a scandal partly because Blair’s government is seen as sleaze-ridden and partly because our journalists make up by lip-pursing for their reluctance to pursue bigger news.

After all, we have parties and we do not want them financed by the state. So, the money must come from individuals and what precisely is wrong with those individuals getting some sort of a reward in the fullness of time? Why should gongs and titles go to people because they do their jobs well, whether it is dinner ladies getting MBEs (not that I mind) or civil sevants rising through the honours list?

Do we still have honours for something called “services to export”? We certainly did for a long time. What is “sevices to export” but making lots of money by selling goods abroad? Excellent idea, of course, but why does it need a special commendation?

One also has to remember that loans to the Labour Party is only part of the story. There is the saga, still unravelled but eagerly pursued by our wonderful Metropolitan Police Service, fresh from their spectacular achievement of solving 18 per cent of the ever-rising crimes in London, of peerages being offered to those who have contributed to the City Academies.

As Charles Moore pointed out a week ago, this is an excellent scheme, even though it has not produced the miracles expected by those who have no idea just how terrible some of the schools in this country are.

Of course, City Academies are not the whole solution or even half of it. We need a radical reform of the educational system but we are not going to get one. Blair’s much trumpeted reforms never amounted to much and were, in any case, diluted to pander to the nastiness and hatred for ordinary people that most of his backbenchers show.

The Boy-King in his days of Prince-in-Waiting explained quite clearly that he did not think people wanted choice and, really, the best thing they could do is accept that the Conservative leadership knows what’s good for them.

In the circumstances, the concept of private funding going into some schools, is the best we can hope for. I do not find it at all reassuring that these funders “will have no control” over the Academies. That means control will remain completely with the educational bureaucracy that has over the years destroyed a decent(ish) system and continues in its aim to make Britain the least educated country in the world.

So why should these people not be given peerages? They are contributing to a Labour project but then Labour is in power. They are also contributing, possibly successfully, to the community far more than those endless local government officials who are being given all sorts of gongs and titles.

It is not only journalists and those influenced by them who are jumping up and down. It is also MPs. Now, I find it rather touching that rich people are prepared to pay large sums of money either into the political machine or, preferably, into City Academies and ask nothing in return but a title and the membership of the House of Lords. Who knows? Some of them might have turned out to be useful participants in the work of that establishment.

In actual fact, most of Blair’s enormous number of peers have found that being active in the Lords involves a great deal of badly remunerated work. Peers do not get paid and are given expenses only if they turn up in the Chamber. The work they do on Committees is done for free; the preparation they put into speeches is done for free; and any research they need they have to pay for.

How different from our elected legislators who get a sizeable salary, enormous expenses for staff, travel and second home (no wonder they don’t mind pushing up taxes on second homes – they will have theirs paid for by the very same taxpayer), heavily subsidized food and drink in the House, not to mention many lunches, dinners and entertainments by journalists, businessmen, people who need favours. And there is, of course, the tantalizing and usually fulfilled prospect of directorships and seats on boards of quangos.

Ministers have even higher salaries, cars with chauffeurs and, often, grace and favour homes, where they can carry on to their hearts’ content.

Mutatis mutandis, the same is true for local councillors: a high rate of expenses, lots of travel and various jollies and freebies.

Professor Bernard Lewis, the great expert on Islam and the Ottoman Empire, explains in one of his books (I am quoting from memory as I do not have the volume to hand) the difference between corruption in the West and the Middle East.

It exists in both but with some exceptions politicians in the West make their money first and then buy their way into politics; in the Middle East it is the other way round. One becomes a politician in order to make money.

Morally, both are reprehensible, Professor Lewis says, but from the point of view of the body politic, the Western way is preferable in that it makes politics itself less corrupt, less oppressive and more transparent.

It would seem that those who give money in order to receive peerages are in that category, whereas the elected legislators of this country have taken on a more Middle Eastern attitude while managing to retain an astonishing ability to moralize.

COMMENT THREAD

It is not possible even to begin summarising the torrent of ZaNuLab's hostile press this morning. One response from a correspondent, though, tells us, "I think we're all weary with talking while everything collapses around us... People want action but there's no leader."

Peter Hitchen in the Mail on Sunday gives us his recipe, with the panel to his column illustrated. Contrary to the leader in his own paper – which wants us to vote Conservative (we would if there was a Conservative Party to vote for) - he wants us to turn out on Thursday and mark our ballot papers "none of the above".

That's all very well, but spoiled votes are not even recorded, so that is largely a futile gesture.

The futility of that gesture, though, it is matched only by the process of casting a vote. As Booker points out in his column, the loathsome Johnny "three shags" (and counting)Prescott has so emasculated the political process with his "code of conduct" and “standards board” that elected councils are no longer able to function as representatives of the people who are foolhardy enough to vote for them.

For some "public servants", however, times are good, witnessed by the Mail on Sunday which records Plod Blair enjoying the extraordinary fortune of living rent-free in a £1 million penthouse bought with taxpayers’ money. This is the man who regards a 16.6 percent crime detection rate as a good news story. Rushing to the polls here, of course, will make all the difference.

But, what comes over, even through the "noise" on the ZaNuLabour creeps is just how useless the Boy King really is. He should be storming the ramparts, yet is struggling to creep a few points ahead in the polls. Both YouGov in The Sunday Times and BPIX in the Mail on Sunday put the Tories at 35 percent, compared with Labour's 32 percent, a staggeringly poor result considering how unpopular Blair's government has become.

Even if these numbers are taken at face value – ignoring the inaccuracies in methodology - and applied to a general election, Labour would still take the majority of seats in Parliament.

While comparisons are being made with the last days of the decaying Major government, The Business sums it up, saying that the Labour government has one big advantage. By the mid-1990s, it says, "the Labour opposition was demonstrably ready for power; a decade later David Cameron's Tories can barely claim to be a functioning opposition."

Mr Blair's "Black Wednesday" (all the scandals came together on 26 April) was the Cameron Tories first major test; they flunked it. Shadow Home Office minister David Davis did a decent job of holding Mr Clarke to account, but Mr Cameron’s performance at Prime Minister's Question Time on Wednesday, when he had Mr Blair on the ropes, was limp-wristed; most other senior Tories have been missing in action. The media is still doing the Tories' job for them in holding Labour to account.
But what is fascinating about the polls is the rise of the minority parties, standing at approximately 15 percent. This includes a significant tranche of BNP support, but again, the Tory response is less than sure-footed. According to Melissa Kite in the Sunday Telegraph, Eric Pickles – formerly the detested Bradford Council leader, now Conservative deputy chairman and local government spokesman – declares:

We are not differentiating between the candidates who stand for the BNP and the people who vote for them. We believe it is a shameful act to vote for the BNP, no matter how badly you feel you have been let down by Labour. These people are motivated by race and it is not an acceptable use of a protest vote to vote for the BNP.
This is as bad as branding UKIP members as "fruitcakes", if not worse. The arrogance of telling voters that their choice of a legitimate political party is "not an acceptable use of a protest vote" almost takes your breath away.

On the other hand, what else have the Tories to offer? Good opposition, says The Sunday Times, means "putting the government on the rack". Labour, it says, "was merciless in making life even more uncomfortable for the Tories a decade ago. Mr Cameron’s Conservatives need to do the same."

But, even as it fails to do precisely that, a commentator, Jack Stone, says on the Conservative Home site, "if you don't like the way the Conservative Party is heading than my advice is simple. Sod Off!!!".

That, amongst a certain faction of the Boy King's acolytes, seems to be the central message to the "non-believers", and is one of the most powerful strains amongst the "noises off". Despite the utter dereliction of ZaNuLabour, an awful lot of people are going to take his advice.

COMMENT THREAD

You have to sympathise with the EU groupies. When it comes to grabbing the headlines, how can they possibly compete with Johnny "two shags" and the NuLab cock-up show?

At least, though, Trevor Kavanagh of the Sun – in his new blog - is warning us not to drop our vigilance, telling us that "the EU is quietly trying to revive the discredited Constitution by the back door."

I think we might have mentioned that once or twice, but it doesn't hurt to have Kavanagh pitching in on the side of the angels, even if he is unlikely to understand the nuances of the process – or even care less.

Nor do we even mind if he tells his readers to "try logging on to Open Europe's excellent website which keeps an eye on every new twist in the saga of an ever-deeper European Union." The more hands to the pumps, the better.

However, Open Europe's contribution amounts to reading the Financial Times which, this week, reported that "EU leaders are planning to extend the 'period of reflection'" on the EU Constitution after failing to agree on how to revive the text. Kavanagh thus cites Open Europe citing the Financial Times citing Ursula Plassnik, Foreign Minister of Austria, who says (or said): "This issue cannot be settled satisfactorily and conclusively for all 25 member states at the present time."

"Formal talks on reviving the Constitution," continues the FT, "might start after French elections in the summer of 2007, continuing into 2008 when the EU starts a review of its budget."

"You have been warned!" crows the vigilant Kavanagh.

Actually, we seem to have been saying, as early as last May – after the French "no" vote – that there could be no serious attempt to reintroduce the EU constitution until after the French presidential elections in 2007, and we have said it several times since.

Moreover, the very fact that this has now been acknowledged by the EU élites represents something of a set of setback for them. As the IHT reported, plans were afoot to try to revive the constitution at the European Council in June, under the aegis of the Austrian presidency.

Thus idea, though, has been abandoned, as has any hope of the increasingly Eurosceptic Finland taking on the issue when it takes up the presidency in the second half of this year. That leaves Germany in the New Year but, by then France will be in the throes of the its presidential campaign and it will be impossible to get any commitments from what will almost certainly an outgoing Chirac.

Then should the socialists steal the crown from Sarkozy – which is looking increasingly possible – so split is the Left on the EU constitution that it would hardly want to re-open old wounds at the outset of its reign. The chances are, therefore, that inconvenient European issues will be put on the back-burner.

That leaves José Manuel Barroso, the EU president who is expected to tell his gifted team that the EU is probably going to have to wait for serious talks until 2008, having conceded that, "The debate in recent months has shown that Europe is not yet ready for a constitutional solution."

All that is left to Barroso is to offer a "three step plan" which will be unveiled on 10 May – the day after "Europe Day" – almost certainly to a completely indifferent world.

Step one, we are told, is "a push for a concrete policy driven agenda and progress on key proposals, such as an EU energy policy or Europe's push for economic growth." Sounds a bit like Lisbon revisited… again. If yawns were euros, the EU would be rolling in money.

Step two is next year's 50th anniversary of the EU's founding 1957 Treaty of Rome. This will be a "convenient and auspicious moment to reassess the EU," say officials. More navel-gazing, it seems.

As to the third step, is the start of the discussion on financing, midway through 2007 to 2013 budgets, and Barroso is suggesting that this might be the time for a new treaty. But there again, it might not. If a week is a long time in politics, two years is an eternity.

By the time 2008 arrives, the whole of the political landscape of Europe could have undergone huge change, making the situation highly unpredictable and any plans extremely tentative. Thus, the big problem for the commission, as we see it, is trying to keep interest going, when the future looks so uncertain.

Our problem will be to keep European Union issues on the national agenda, when there are so many politicians only too keen to exploit the hiatus by letting the debate fade into obscurity. You have been warned.

COMMENT THREAD

Vaclav Klaus, Czech President and more or less the only East European politician with real vision and radical ideas, has been trying to explain the facts of EU life to Americans. While, as ever, he sounds a little too pessimistic, to a great extent one can sympathize with him. My colleague and I have also tried, at various times, to explain the truth about this benighted institution to well-meaning Americans.

Klaus may have better luck. He was speaking at the University of Chicago and said, among other things:
“I am afraid that the Americans do not see the EU's accelerating drive towards a social-democratic, more social than democratic, European superstate. That they do not see the EU's protectionism, the EU's legal and regulatory burdens on business, the EU's irrational 'competition policy', the EU's pensions and health care crisis, and the costs of the European single currency.”
Actually, I think he is wrong on that. Many Americans can see all those details. Unfortunately, their solution is similar to that propounded by various politicians and organizations on this side of the Pond: reform the EU.

What is much more difficult to explain is that it is the very fact of the push for integration that is the problem. There is, I have tried to write on American blogs, no such thing as Europe. There can be no European solutions because there are no European problems. The problems exist differently in different countries and the concept of “Europe” is actively preventing those countries from dealing with them.

Klaus’s summary of the difficulties can scarecely be bettered:
“To fight for peace - when war does not threaten - is, however, a wrong excuse for building institutions which tend to restrain freedom, democracy and democratic accountability, not to speak about economic efficiency.”
Don’t know about anybody else, but I intend to use that sentence in future debates and discussions.

COMMENT THREAD

A robust discussion is developing on our forum on the merits or otherwise of not voting at Thursday's council elections.

Adding fuel to the debate is this morning's leader in The Daily Telegraph. It suggests, in the context of the various crisis affecting the government that, "Labour's shenanigans damage all the parties", arguing that the party’s response reinforces voters' perception that Labour ministers are out of touch, in it for themselves, corrupted by office.

The remedy, we are reminded, is in the polls on Thursday, when a number of us will be voting. "So will we use our ballots to punish this tired, smug regime?" asks The Telegraph. "Up to a point," is its answer. "It is true that Labour is falling in the opinion polls; but the party is, to some extent, dragging the entire political class with it."

Thus, it opines, most voters do not mutter, "bloody Labour", but "bloody politicians". A "fascinating YouGov survey" in The Telegraph asked voters which party they would like to have running their council. No party attracted even one voter in five.

The point, of course, is re-made by the paper, which reminds us – as indeed we have done – that local elections determine next to nothing, because councillors have lost power to Whitehall and to local quangos. It is a pity though, that the paper did not also add "Brussels" which determines major (in cost terms) policy issues like waste disposal.

However, the paper's conclusion is sound. "Logically enough," it says, "voters treat the poll as a way to register their contempt for all the mainstream parties, either by voting for a fringe organisation such as the BNP or the Lib Dems or - more usually - by staying at home. We can't really blame them; but it says nothing good about the state of Britain."

In terms of staying at home, the Telegraph thus provides the rationale. By doing so – in the context that going out to vote does not and cannot change anything – we say "nothing good about the state of Britain". That, in itself, is a political statement.

Other will argue that the "least worst" option should be exercised. But that is highly unsatisfactory, and self-defeating. In that the elections will be treated as a proxy opinion poll, there is no advantage in voting for the natural choice – the Conservative Party - which has a leader with whom I do not agree, do not accept and, of whom I have nothing but the most profound contempt. How in all honesty can I vote for a party led by this man?

The issue is brought to a head by the recent members' panel survey by Conservative Home which finds that 68 percent of members wanted a commitment to returning responsibility for fishing and aid policies to member states "definitely" to be included in the next Tory manifesto, with another 19 percent saying "maybe". This compares with a mere seven percent who said "probably not" and a minuscule four percent who said "definitely not".

The survey result, says the editorial, "reveals a big appetite within the Tory grassroots for practical measures to address the continuing loss of British sovereignty to the EU."

In my own remarks, I add that "fishing" effectively represents the "litmus test" on the EU. The CFP is unreformable, to which effect Michael Howard personally authorised the publication of (a much ignored) opposition green paper on fishing policy, written by Owen Paterson when he was fisheries shadow minister.

That set out a measured alternative to the CFP, on which the Conservative policy of seeking repatriation of the CFP was endorsed - having already been agreed by two of Howard's predecessors, Hague and IDS.

Since the accession of the Boy King, however, we have had no commitment that the repatriation policy is to be continued and there is every indication that it will not. The "green paper" has been buried and the current spokesmen talk vaguely of "reform" - which isn't even on the table at EU level.

It is "small" issues like this, I suggest, that engender much of the suspicion of the Boy King - who does not even have the guts to confront the fishermen (and the nation) outright, and tell them he is considering (if he has not already done so) pulling out of previous Conservative commitments, leaving us in limbo while one of his "reviews" looks at the issue.

Why should the issue be reviewed, when it was subject to one of the most fundamental technical reviews possible by Paterson and his team, the basics of which can hardly have changed since the review was carried out?

Yet, without a firm commitment from the Boy King on fishing, the fact of the matter is that Conservative Party policy is going backwards on the EU, regressing to a more Europhile stance which - as the survey suggests - is contrary to the wishes of its members and supporters. I thus conclude, "Why should we support a man who is prepared, so arbitrarily, to ignore those wishes?"

That remains the issue. In the final analysis, if we are ever to make any breakthrough in redefining our relationship with the EU, then it is going to be achieved via a Conservative government. And if its leader is not even prepared to put the issue on the table – or even entertain discussion on it – then we are nowhere. In my view, therefore, abstinence is the only option.

COMMENT THREAD

The anonymous Mr KittleOne of the constant refrains of that lower order of being known as the "Europhile" is that Britain is not sufficiently "European" in its outlook.

No longer is that the case, it would seem. Courtesy of The Times this morning, we learn that the senior immigration inspector in charge of the unit responsible for deporting foreign criminals – which has so spectacularly failed to deliver the goods - was promoted to a new post as the crisis worsened last autumn.

This is Alan Kittle, who was running the criminal casework team, the special division of the Immigration and Nationality Directorate (IND) that dealt with foreign nationals in British jails.

For failures to be rewarded is a well-known characteristic of the European Union, not least when the Santer commission was forced to resign in 1999. Barring Edith Cresson, not one of the commissioners was sanctioned, while Jacques Santer was given a cushy job as an MEP and our own Neil Kinnock was promoted to the position of commission vice-president in charge of cleaning up fraud.

Similarly, with the Eurostat fraud in 2003, described as "a vast enterprise of looting", not one of the officials identified was ever disciplined and several were later promoted.

The anonymous Mr Kittle – for whom there seems not to be a published photograph - therefore follows in the honourable tradition of European administration, of which the Europhiles can be justly proud.

COMMENT THREAD

Giovanni FavaThe European Parliament, described for some reason, by an Associated Press writer as “EU lawmakers” and “legislators” (which just goes to show that journalists are lazy everywhere) has been trying to find out the truth about the CIA prisons and clandestine flights that allegedly took terror suspects away to be tortured in various unsavoury places (that the EU is normally very friendly with).

To be quite precise, the committee has made up its mind some time ago and is now looking for corroboration rather than evidence. They have run into some trouble.

The committee has been unable to point to any evidence for those prisons, but they are still looking and intend to travel to various countries were supposed to have been situated. The story of the prisons is supposed to the one leaked by Mary McCarthy to Dana Priest of the Washington Post, for which the latter won the Pulitzer Prize.

In the meantime the would-be legislators have released a preliminary report, to which neither the American nor the EU authorities have reacted. The document was written by Giovanni Fava, an Italian socialist MEP.

Its gist was that
“…data gathered from air safety regulators showed that the CIA had flown 1,000 undeclared flights over Europe since 2001, sometimes stopping on the Continent to transport terrorism suspects kidnapped inside the European Union to countries using torture.”
On the one hand the report accuses the CIA of violating the Chicago Treaty
“that requires airlines to declare routes and stopovers for planes with police missions”.
On the other hand Signor Fava acknowledged
“that in some cases it was very unlikely that the European authorities had been unaware of suspects being arrested on their territory”.
The CIA is not denying special renditions, which began, as we now know, under President Clinton:
“The CIA declined to comment on the specifics of the report, but an agency spokesman in Washington defended the practice of renditions. "Renditions are an anti-terror tool that the United States has used for years, consistent with its laws and treaty obligations," said Paul Gimigliano. "The CIA does not condone or tolerate torture, transport individuals to other countries for the purpose of torture, or knowingly receive intelligence obtained by torture."”
The Dutch Green MEP and human rights activist, Kathalijne Buitenweg whom we have quoted before, has once again come up trumps:
“Condoleezza Rice says rendition programs save lives, and we don't accept this.”
Why not, one wonders.
“In Europe, we will seize cocaine if we find it on a plane, but we are turning a blind eye to the transport of human beings to be tortured, and this is unacceptable.”
What a lot of unacceptance. I wonder what the lady would find acceptable? More terrorist attacks? People murdered as Theo van Gogh was? Politicians being permanently guarded, as some of Ms Buitenweg’s colleagues are in the Netherlands, because of threats by Islamists? I don’t believe we have heard Ms Buitenweg’s comments on Ayaan Hirsi Ali and what she has had to put up with.

Still, the answer is there, if you look for it:
“Legislators said the lack of a cohesive EU-wide terrorism policy was undermining counterterrorism cooperation in Europe and allowing abuses.”
No, the International Herald Tribune does not know the truth about the Toy Parliament either. Legislators, indeed.

Still, the proposal is interesting. There is, for example, no suggestion that, apart from the possible odd mistake, the people, supposedly taken away by the CIA were not terrorists or, at least, would-be terrorists.

The logic is that by not having an EU-wide terrorism policy, the Americans have been allowed to pursue their own, with the help of individual governments and, one must assume, security forces. Therefore, we must have that cohesive policy in order to stop the American war on terror.

COMMENT THREAD

It is not really within our remit to comment on the scandalous paper by John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt on the Jewish conspiracy behind American foreign policy. A shortened version was published in the London Review of Books, one of those publications the taxpayer subsidizes through a generous, annual Arts Council grant.

Other and better qualified people have discussed the paper and the so-called theory behind it, pointing out the many factual errors and complete non sequiturs. Curiously enough the paper was criticized even by Noam Chomsky. It has, however, been defended by the usual panoply of left-wing talking heads as well as various political anti-semites and, hilariously, the white supremacist KKK man, David Duke. The authors are very embarrassed by this.

However, it behoves us to point to the disgraceful cover of yesterday’s “special” addition to the Independent (there is one every day, I understand) in which Robert Fisk, the man, who thinks that Starbucks is part of a Zionist plot, discusses with all solemnity this theory.

Harry’s Place, doesn’t just analyze but also reproduces other similar illustrations from history, placing the Indy in true perspective.

COMMENT THREAD

double-click to enlargeJust when the NuLab experiment is folding, with the distinct air of fin de siècle, was the time when we needed a powerful, credible opposition, with a leader who was totally on top of his brief.

Instead, we have the Boy King – or should we now call him the "Fraud King"? Nailing his colours to the environ-mental mast was always a high-risk strategy, on an issue that takes on quasi-religious tones. To appeal to the "true believers" was always going to require an element of personal commitment, if the "greener than thou" agenda was going to stick.

But the crumbling at the edges was already apparent when the Fraud King chose to fly to Norway for a communion with the "wrong kind of glacier", via an eco-friendly dog sleigh. Instead of a scheduled flight, he chose the luxury and convenience of a ten-seater business jet, dumping 50 tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

As if that wasn't enough, then there was the debacle of his choice of a gas-guzzling Lexus, carefully hidden behind a hanger as the Boy posed with "cleaner greener" Noddy cars.

But, throughout this, there has been the iconic routine of the Boy peddling to work on his eco-friendly bicycle, demonstrating his personal commitment to improving the environment. Now this has turned out to be a charade – with his gas-guzzling, chauffeur-driven Lexus following on behind, carrying a clean shirt, a pair of shoes and a briefcase. "Eco-chic” has turned to "bull-chic".

This cannot compare with the cavortings of Johnny "two-shags" Prescott, the serial incompetence of Charles Clarke, or the stunning ineptitude of Patricia Hewitt, but it nevertheless fatally weakens the credibility of the Boy on the ground of his own choosing. It was an entirely unforced error that will rebound with an electorate which dislikes hypocrisy in its politicians.

Above all, its shows that the Fraud King cannot be trusted. If his "flagship policy" is a charade – all spin and no substance – what price any of his other policies? In opting for cheap gestures, he has further diminished the standing of politicians, and added to the general contempt which the breed attracts.

Whenever the Boy now raises his "green" agenda in public, he will be the object of amused derision – fatal to the reputation of any wannabe serious politician. He is dead meat. And that put the anti-EU agenda further down the line than it has been in living memory.

COMMENT THREAD

And behind him is the carYesterday, the "cleaner, greener" Boy King was in Bury, near Manchester, campaigning for the local elections next week.

While he was there, he took the opportunity to extol the virtues of public transport, telling us that, "Transport is an issue that affects us all - whether it's getting our children to school, trying to get to work, or simply getting around during the day," adding that "I want us to help people who live in our cities get around quickly and easily.”

While the Tory Toff was quite happy to be photographed alongside such plebeian transport, however, he had far grander ideas about how to "get around quickly and easily." According to BBC's Newsnight, he had flown up from London for the photo-call in a somewhat less than "cleaner and greener" helicopter.

Also, according to the same source, the Daily Mirror reports today that while the "cleaner greener" Boy King makes a very public show of cycling to the House of Commons from his home in Notting Hill each morning, his chauffeur-driven car follows behind with all his papers, his shoes and a clean shirt.

As one of our readers remarks, "He's totally bogus."

COMMENT THREAD

I think that, if I was the Brussels correspondent for any UK media outlet, I'd be thinking about looking for a new job - so lacklustre is the agenda over the water, compared with the British political scene that is just beginning to get interesting.

The Times, however, is trying its best. Of late, it has beaten the BBC by a full day to the EU parliament story and, as far as I can see, it is the only major newspaper to have run the story about the EU demanding prison sentences for counterfeiting - the practice of copying branded goods and passing them off as the real thing.

Even then, the story has been floating around for a few days, having been flagged up by the Financial Times and Reuters on Tuesday.

But, at least, The Times ran it yesterday, telling us that Brussels had "announced the first EU-wide criminal sanction ... requiring every member country to imprison organised counterfeiters for four years and fine them up to €300,000 (£209,000)."

Having a least reported the story, though, it is a pity the paper then got the details almost completely wrong, demonstrating once again the slender grip the MSM really have when it comes to reporting EU matters.

By "Brussels", of course, The Times means the EU commission and, as our readers know, the commission is not in a position to "require" members to pass laws. Strictly, and in effect, this is a proposal, which must be approved by the member states through the Council of Ministers – and also by the EU parliament.

The substantive issue, though, relates to an EU Court of Justice ruling last September, which we reported on in detail and about which The Times made a great fuss, then also getting it wrong.

Continuing its errors in the current piece, it tells us that, "If the legislation is approved, it will mark the first time that a criminal law has been introduced in Britain that has not come from the Houses of Parliament and that Parliament will have no power to block." While the latter is true (in that Parliament will not be able to block it), pedantically, criminal law in the UK does not usually come from Parliament but from the government (the executive).

The greater error, though, is to claim that this is the first time a criminal law has been so introduced. That is emphatically not the case. Most of the EU law imposed on us comes under the criminal code and the Treaties require that criminal sanctions be imposed. By this means, throughout our membership, thousands of new criminal offences have been created, over which Parliament has had no control.

What is different, therefore, is that the commission is explicitly proposing that the member states impose a custodial sentence, setting the level of at least four years - instead of leaving it to member states to decide which penalty to apply.

That does not mean, though – as The Times implies – that this is a minimum sentence. Four years has to be the minimum maximum, if you get my drift. The actual sentences in particular cases will still be decided by the national courts. The intended effect of the proposal is harmonisation - simply to make sure that the member states standardise their penalties, to prevent criminal from taking advantage of lower penalties in different member states in what is very often a cross-border crime.

What makes the whole thing puzzling, though, is that the commission introduced exactly this proposal on 12 July last – the story is over nine months old.

I guess it has been relaunched following the September ECJ judgement because the legal position then was a little uncertain. And, while The Times – and others – got excited about the idea of the EU setting criminal penalties, it has always been the case, since we joined, that if you contravened EU law, you could go to jail.

COMMENT THREAD

Plod Blair, one of this blog’s favourite cartoon characters, has told the Metropolitan Police Authority (MPA) that his annual report is “largely a good news story”. One wonders whether he is on the same planet as the rest of us?

Here are the figures that, according to him constitute that “good news story”:

  • Total notifiable offences are down 3.1%
  • BCS comparator crime is down 0.9%

  • Residential burglary is up 1.7%
  • Robbery has increased by 16.1%
  • Motor vehicle crime has increased by 1.2%
  • Gun enabled crime has increased by 4.2%
  • Trident gun crime has increased from 201 offences to 266 offences.
  • Homicides are down from 195 to 175 (despite the fact that there
    were 13 homicides in July attributed to the terrorist attacks)
  • Road fatalities are three up on last year at 145 (April-Nov 2005 vs. April-Nov 2004)
  • Violent Crime is up by 0.4%
  • Domestic Violence has fell this year by 3.6%
  • Racist crime has fallen by 11.7%
  • Homophobic crime is down by 52 offences, or 3.9%

  • I expect most of our readers will notice something rather interesting about those figures. Here is the full story on One London.

    COMMENT THREAD

    Rarely, since spin doctor Jo Moore decided that 9/11 was a "good day to bury bad news" has there been such a good opportunity to slide an unwelcome story out into the public domain in the certain knowledge that it would be virtually ignored by the media.

    Definitely in that category is the decision by Blair’s government yesterday that it would not attempt to block the bid by the Russian state-owned Gazprom to take over Centrica, the owner of British Gas.

    Mind you, when it comes to understanding the issues, the Telegraph business comment seems completely to have lost the plot.

    Britain cannot say 'nyet' to embrace of Russian bear, it declares, arguing that the government deserves credit for the consistency of its position. "Our outrage at France's protectionism would look pretty hollow", it says. "if we were to change the rules simply because we didn't like the cut of Gazprom's jib."

    But, as we pointed out in our previous post, the situation is a little different. Gazprom is effectively an arm of the Russian state and its policy is determined not by commercial considerations but is dedicated to furthering Russian foreign policy objectives.

    Thus, courtesy of Tony Blair, we look forward to having a vital supply industry controlled through a proxy by a foreign state, the interests of which are demonstrably not the same as those of the UK. And all that is happening without any serious comment from the media. Yesterday was a good day to bury bad news.

    COMMENT THREAD

    No 'proof' that justifies the sanctions?

    As Claudia Rossett, who did not get a Pulitzer Prize, pursues another story about the UN – the disappearance of its enormously valuable stamp collection - we can report that the Security Council actually voted John Bolton’s proposed resolution about Darfur through.

    Twelve members of the fifteen-strong Council voted for sanctions against four named Sudanese, who are being accused of genocide. The member nations are being instructed to freezing their assets and blocking their entry. Whether anyone will comply with it remains to be seen but, just possibly, Mr Bolton’s much derided tactics can achieve something.

    The four men are:

    “Maj. Gen. Gaffar Mohamed Elhassan, a Sudanese Air Force officer accused of helping the government-backed janjaweed militias commit atrocities; Sheik Musa Hilal, chief of an Arab tribe and a janjaweed leader; Adam Yacub Shant, a commander of Sudanese Liberation Army forces that broke a cease-fire to attack government troops; and Gabril Abdul Kareem Badri, the commander of another rebel force, which kidnapped and threatened African Union troops.”

    Three countries abstained: Russia and China who are still maintaining that this is unnecessary and counter-productive interference in the peace negotiations, still going on till the end of this week in Abuja, and Quatar, who has not seen any “proof” that justified the sanctions.

    COMMENT THREAD

    According to AFP, via DefenseNews, Sweden's foreign ministry and military officials have announced that Sweden has withdrawn from European military exercises due to be held next month in Italy because of Israel's participation.

    These are the "Spring Flag" air exercises due to take part in Sardinia from 8 – 25 May and were to were to consist of nine countries, Belgium, Britain, France, Germany, Israel, Italy, Netherlands, Norway and Sweden, who were all to train together for future peacekeeping operations.

    "The F17 air base in Blekinge, in southern Sweden, was due to represent the Scandinavian country in the exercises but we received orders from military headquarters to pull out," F17 spokesman Kent Loewing told AFP.

    The argument, to put it mildly, is a little muddled. Foreign ministry spokesperson Nina Ersman explained that Sweden did not want to take part in the exercise because Israel was and the reason for that is that, "Israel is not currently conducting any peacekeeping operations." What does the silly woman think Israel is doing in its own backyard?

    Another ministry spokesperson, Christian Carlsson blundered on: "Our analysis of the situation for the time-being is that an Israeli participation in this kind of peacekeeping effort is unlikely given the political situation in the Middle East."

    So, um, what are we talking about? Peacekeeping operations in the Middle East or somewhere else? How many is Sweden taking part in at the moment? In any case, even if Israel is not conducting peacekeeping operations, what's to stop these countries from training together, in case future occasions arise?

    More to the point though, the Sweden has not always been so, er.. sqeamish. As early as 1952, four years after the foundation of Israel, the Swedish government sold her 25 surplus F-51D Mustang fighters, in defiance of a Western-sponsored arms embargo.

    Furthermore, Sweden has been quite happy to avail itself of Israeli military technology. Between 1995 and 2001, Israel was third biggest arms exporter to Sweden, selling military equipment to the value of about 330 million Swedish crowns.

    This included, in 1996, 120mm ammunition for tanks and, in 1997, ground penetrating radar. As late as 2004, the two countries were co-operating on the development of an explosives detection system.

    Altogether, one might think, this paragon of Nordic virtue is being just a little bit precious.

    This is a joint post, co-written with Helen.

    COMMENT THREAD

    For a while we thought that we should not bother to write about the sacked CIA officer Mary McCarthy who is alleged to have leaked classified information to friendly journalists, in particular Pulitzer Prize winner Dana Priest of the Washington Post. This was, we thought, a matter of private grief and we should not intrude on it.

    However, certain aspects of the story do impinge on our various themes and, indeed, follow on from subjects we have written about before.

    In the first place, there is the Pulitzer Prize itself, though this is a minor issue. As we have pointed out before, the New York Times and the Washington Post figured heavily in its lists. Yet the one journalist who has done astonishing work to bring some illumination to a murky subject, the UN’s oil-for-food scandal, Claudia Rossett was not even among the finalists.

    As the New York Post puts it

    “Instead, the Pulitzer Prize committee has lately preferred the work of reporters who endeavor effectively to undermine the U.S. government's antiterrorism efforts.

    Dana Priest of The Washington Post won the "Beat Reporting" award "for her persistent, painstaking reports on secret 'black site' prisons and other controversial features of the government's counterterrorism campaign." Her report led the E.U. to demand that these European nations cease assisting the United States.

    James Risen and Eric Lichtblau of The New York Times won the "National Reporting" award "for their carefully sourced stories on secret domestic eavesdropping that stirred a national debate on the boundary line between fighting terrorism and protecting civil liberty." (Ever since, federal officials have reported a dropoff in the terrorist calls they were monitoring.)

    Long gone are the days when journalists paid respect to the notion of national security. Now, journalism's most prestigious awards seem to encourage the opposite: undermining national security for the sake of individual self-aggrandizement.

    Maybe it's a greater honor that Rosett didn't receive a Pulitzer.”

    That is probably right but there are a few other issues here. An important one is that Dana Priest’s “persistent, painstaking reporting” seems to be based on leaked information given to her in cosy conversations with at least one CIA agent and very little else.

    Ms Priest herself is saying nothing, though, presumably she may be subpoenaed at some point, possibly not to reveal that there may have been others in the CIA ready to chatter to her in pursuance of their political agenda. The agenda that they are not supposed to have.

    The Mary McCarthy story is unfolding with new aspects being revealed almost every hour and I do not propose to go into it. Here is a good summary of it all but there are many others.

    She has, incidentally, made a statement through her lawyer that denied being the source of the Priest story. It seems she might be interviewed later on today on TV.

    There has already been an unseemly scrabble on the left to defend what, by any country’s laws, is a crime – revelation of classified information by an intelligence officer - and, naturally, comparisons with the Plame case. Apart from the fact that nothing secret was revealed in that affair, if it turns out that the President authorized certain information, that is not a leak. The President, elected by the people to that position, is the ultimate arbiter of what is and what is not classified information.

    As today’s Wall Street Journal points out, the McCarthy case is part of the continuing and disgraceful saga of the CIA warring with the elected administration of the United States. They call it an insurgency and that is the right description.

    “Leaving partisanship aside, this ought to be deeply troubling to anyone who cares about democratic government. The CIA leakers are arrogating to themselves the right to subvert the policy of a twice-elected Administration. Paul Pillar, another former CIA analyst well known for opposing Mr. Bush while he was at Langley, appears to think this is as it should be. He recently wrote in Foreign Affairs that the intelligence community should be treated like the Federal Reserve and have independent political status. In other words, the intelligence community should be a sort of clerisy accountable to no one.”

    This is something we know about – unelected officials and bureaucrats trying to become part of the political game. One of the most egregious examples in this country was the gaggle of Chief Constables lobbying MPs over the 90 day detention clause.

    Add to that the spectacle of former generals (none too successful, some of them) calling for the resignation of the Secretary for Defence, appointed by the elected President, according to the constitutional rules of the United States and you begin to get a picture of an attempt by Democrat appointees (for such they are) trying to turn the American government into something that might resemble the managerial governance developing on this side of the Pond.

    One of the oddest parts of the McCarthy story is that she was working in a very special part of the CIA most recently (after her spectacular career that may have contributed to the inefficiency of the agency had stymied after 2000), which investigated alleged misdemeanours by agents. In other words, if she were really so worried about certain events and developments, she was in a particularly good position to do something about it legitimately. Instead, she seems to have chosen an illegitimate course of action and, one cannot help feeling, that the reasons for that were purely political.

    (Ms McCarthy and her husband are strong Democrat supporters and have contributed reasonable sums to the party and, specifically, to the Kerry campaign. That is their right but it is not her right to let her politics affect her loyalty to the elected administration, which should be taken for granted.)

    There is another aspect to the story that affects us. Dana Priest’s “revelations” have put a severe strain on relations between the United States and its supposed European allies. In fact, they were carefully published to coincide Secretary of State Rice’s visit to Europe.

    Since then there have been all sorts of stories about the supposed CIA camps and about alleged terrorists being “rendered” from various European airports. If these stories were true then there can be no question that the European governments and European intelligence officials would have known about it all.

    But are they true? This is the question we must ask ourselves. (It doesn’t really matter to the Pulitzer Prize judges, as they have awarded that prize wrongfully so often, one more will hardly matter.)

    According to this Associated Press report,

    “Investigations into reports that US agents shipped prisoners through European airports to secret detention centers have produced no evidence of illegal CIA activities, the European Union's antiterrorism coordinator said yesterday.

    The investigations also have not turned up any proof of secret renditions of terror suspects on EU territory, Gijs de Vries told a European Parliament committee investigating the allegations.”

    Now this may or may not be correct and there are dark mutterings of absence of evidence not being evidence of absence. But the truth is that at some point absence of evidence does become evidence of absence or judicial systems have to collapse or mutate into something closer to the Soviet one.

    The MEPs on the committee are casting doubt on Mr de Vries’s evidence.

    “De Vries came under sharp criticism from the EU parliamentarians for refusing to consider earlier testimonies from a German and a Canadian who described to the committee how they were kidnapped and imprisoned by foreign agents, and from a former British ambassador to Uzbekistan who alleged that British intelligence services used information obtained under torture.

    ''There is so much circumstantial evidence, you can't close your eyes from the fact that this is probably happening," Dutch deputy and civil liberties activist Kathalijne Buitenweg said.”

    Probably happening is not, I fear, quite good enough. How would the civil liberties activist like it if individuals, whose fate she was interested in were imprisoned on "probable" evidence?

    If the German and the Canadian (surely they are merely German or Canadian citizens) have some direct evidence then that should outweigh Mr de Vries’s references to “all kinds of allegations, impressions”. The same applies to that British ambassador. Does he or does he not have evidence or is he merely playing the same game the CIA is: undermining the elected government?

    Let us say, the jury is out on that one but if evidence does not appear soon, we shall have to accept that Dana Priest’s story was not altogether accurate. There is a theory that this was a sting engineered by the CIA bosses to find out who was doing the leaking. Possibly, though that sounds a little too complicated.

    The Pulitzer Prize will stay with Ms Priest and Ms McCarthy will be elevated to the status of a secular heroine and all on the basis of what? Dubious information, subversion of the state and attempted arrogation of power from the elected administration.

    COMMENT THREAD

    With Johnny "two shags" Prescott being dobbed in for having an affair with his secretary, you would have to have a heart of stone not to giggle inanely at the misfortune that has befallen his former boss, ex-leader of the Labour Party Neil Kinnock.

    The "Welsh windbag" has been up in court today in Abergavenny, south Wales, to be banned from driving for six months after admitting two speeding offences which brought over the limit on the "totting-up" procedure.

    What makes this all the more delicious is that Kinnock is an ex-European transport commissioner, and the man took the opportunity to underline the hypocrisy of his own stance by declaring to reporters after the case, that "speeding is a killer and I have campaigned all my life against speeding," adding, "If you break the speed limit you can expect to be punished."

    At the hearing, he was also fined £800 with £43 costs, which should not trouble him much on his £75,000 commissioner’s pension. Asked how he would cope with being banned from driving, he answered: "I'll manage, with difficulty, but I'll manage".

    Here, one must have a little sympathy. Forking out for a chauffeur might be a little more costly - although I am sure Glenys can help out from her MEP’s salary. But you have to question Neil's timing. At 64, had he managed to hold off the prosecution until next year, he would have qualified for a free bus pass, which would have saved him a bob or two.

    COMMENT THREAD

    Philip Davies MP - believes we are 'better off out'The current furore over the release of more than 1,000 foreign offenders, who should have been considered for deportation, more than adequately illustrates how domestic politics will always completely submerge EU issues.

    One wonders, incidentally, whether the home secretary, Charles Clarke, is aware that it is national "real nappy week", given that he is probably in urgent need of considerable quantities of the product at this time.

    The problem for this Blog, however, is that while national events (in this case rightly) take centre stage, other developments – some of considerable long term-importance – are consigned to the margins.

    Such is the bald pronouncement yesterday by the Boy King, reported today in The Daily Telegraph that Eurosceptic MPs are not welcome in his team.

    According to the Telegraph report, Cameron "threw down the gauntlet to Eurosceptic Tory MPs" by declaring that anyone who advocated withdrawal from the European Union would not serve on his front bench.

    This came on the eve of the launch by Philip Davies, the Conservative MP for Shipley, of his "Better Off Out" campaign to which he has invited nearly 50 of his party colleagues and two Labour MPs. But, as Tory Diary suggests, many of those MPs who might have been tempted to attend to might be discovering last minute diary clashes.

    What the Boy King's intervention effectively means is that critical discussion of EU issues are now effectively banned within the Conservative parliamentary party, other than by "no hopers" who have no ambitions for office or who have already been passed over. In one fell swoop, discussion of the EU has been consigned to the margins.

    However, long after the furore over the incompetence of the Home Office has died down, and Clarke has either been forced to resign – or not – the EU will continue to exert its baleful effect on the body politic, and our national life. But the Boy King has now ensured that it will be discussed even less that it is at the moment.

    Talking this over with a UKIP spokesman this morning, he expressed some satisfaction at the development. The Boy King had, effectively, declared his support for the EU, which served as a wake-up call for those who believed the Boy might harbour Eurosceptic tendencies. It would also, he felt, drive more Tory activists into the UKIP camp.

    Thus, while the Boy is making hay with the current crisis, behind the scenes, he has dealt another blow to political process, declaring a whole tranche of public policy "off limits". In its way, that is as damaging, if less spectacular, than releasing convicted criminals onto the streets.

    COMMENT THREAD

    The EU parliament in StrasbourgHowever loathsome it was going to the EU parliament in Strasbourg, staying in the city was a different experience altogether. The City authorities were always very accommodating and we always found ourselves very welcome, especially in the fine bars and restaurants.

    The Times, however, has come up with a report that suggests that the City’s enthusiasm for the parliament was not entirely altruistic. In fact, it seems, it has been ripping off the parliament for the last 25 years, to the tune of some £105m.

    The scam arises through a secret deal where the City has inflated the rent for two of the parliament's buildings - the Winston Churchill and the Salvador de Madriaga - by between 10 per and 40 per cent since 1979, and then overcharged on the sale of the main building (pictured) which was originally purchased by the City authorities and then sold on to the parliament for a price tag of €450 million.

    Outraged MEPs have refused to sign off the parliament's budget and have begun an investigation into how much had been overpaid and whether there was fraud involved. There is, according to The Times, an intense row brewing, with MEPs accusing its officials of knowing about the overpayments but doing nothing.

    Further resentment is brewing as the City has refused to co-operate with the investigation, denying access to its internal budget documents, which would show how much money it made from the parliament and where it went. In response, the parliament has frozen the €10.5 million annual rent payment and there are suggestions that the police will be called in.

    Somehow, though, one gets the feeling that this will go nowhere. Palms will be greased and the issue will slide out of the public domain, unresolved, with the taxpayers of the member states picking up the tab. But then, this is the EU and such is its addiction to fraud and waste (unlike ZaNu Labour of course) that a mere £105 million can easily be forgotten.

    COMMENT THREAD

    "We need to escape from the heart of darkness in Brussels and stop licking the EU's boots." So says Timo Soini, Finland's most outspoken EU sceptic, and former presidential candidate, leader of the populist rural party named True Finns.

    Soini recently considered protesting at plans by his government to ratify the European Union's moribund constitution by drop-kicking it down the stairs of Parliament or immersing the 300-page document in a pile of fish. In the end he decided against any such display, on the grounds that it would be too "un-Finnish".

    Such delights are brought to us by today’s International Herald Tribune which records that Soini's campaign against the EU has gained him a growing following. In the presidential elections in January, he surprised the political establishment by winning nearly 3.4 percent of the vote - coming in fifth among eight candidates, including the sitting prime minister and president.

    His popularity appears to reflect an intensifying backlash against the EU in Finland, the only Nordic country using the euro. "The days when Finns thought the EU could do no wrong are over," said Alexander Stubb, an MEP and one of Finland's most ardent EU proponents.

    This is backed by a poll by the Finnish research institute, Eva, which found that the percentage of Finns favouring the EU fell to 33 percent in January 2005, a drop of 11 points from the previous January. Two-thirds of the respondents said the costs of the EU outweighed its benefits.

    Another poll, by Eurobarometer, indicated that 51 percent of Finns had negative feelings about the EU, with the difficulty of understanding what the bloc actually does cited among the greatest problems.

    Thus, says the IHT, with Finland poised to take over the presidency in July, such scepticism comes at an awkward time. Finland will have the task of reinvigorating the Union during a period of doubt about its expansion and growing economic nationalism on the Continent. This, it says – with a degree of understatement - could prove difficult.

    The paper cites "political observers" who say the increasingly frosty attitude toward the EU in Finland is noteworthy because the geographically isolated country is not part of NATO and has traditionally viewed the EU as a vital link to the West and guarantor of its security. "Finland always wants to be the best pupil in the EU class," said Mikko Majander, a Finnish historian. "But Finns are beginning to ask themselves: Why should we go to such efforts, when big countries can't seem to bother?"

    Nevertheless, Soini, believes the EU's further expansion has an attractive side: It will make the bloc so unmanageable that it will self-destruct, he says. "It may be good if the EU gets so big that it can no longer function - it will be like a rat with its hypothalamus removed, who keeps eating until it explodes," he adds.

    Railing at the Finnish political establishment, he describes it as "blindly pro-European", hence the government's push to ratify the EU's draft constitution in the parliament, even though two of the EU's founding countries had rejected it. "It is like wanting to display a dead elephant at the zoo," he says.

    He compares Finland's relationship with the EU to its appeasement of the Soviet Union during the Cold War. "Everyone knew that the communist dictatorship was a harmful system, yet we talked about it bringing peace and prosperity," he said. "Now we use this same double-speak when talking about the EU."

    But, we are told, even the pro-European camp in Finland is starting to lose patience. Heidi Hautala, a pro-European parliamentary leader of the Finnish Green party, says support for the EU in Finland is declining because perceptions of the EU have caught up with the reality after expectations were raised too high.

    Hautala, who spent eight years in the EU parliament, says that the EU also has lost Finnish confidence by squandering taxpayers' money and passing bizarre and unnecessary legislation. A committed environmentalist, she says that she is nevertheless bemused by EU proposals calling for observers on EU fishing vessels to monitor the accidental killing of porpoises.

    And she says Finns are still reeling over EU proposals a few years ago to ban tar, which has been used for protecting boats and roofs in Finland for centuries.

    And so does the Great Empire decline… brought down by a ban on tar – and perhaps lead in organ pipes. It’s often the little things that do for you in the end.

    COMMENT THREAD

    Yes, we probably have used that title before as well. But one does feel some sympathy for the groundhogs.

    What brought this on? The news from the UK office of the European Parliament that tomorrow’s
    “main debate is on the management of the EU budget in 2004 (it is the end of the so-called annual 'discharge' procedure whereby MEPs have to decide whether to sign off the accounts for that year)”.
    Whoop-de-do! Attentive readers, who still find the saga of the European budget of interest, may remember that for the 11th year in a row the Court of Auditors has refused to sign it off, on the grounds that it could not assert that an adequate proportion of it is “free of irregularities”.

    So, does that mean that the European Parliament, that voice of the European people, that guardian of democratic righteousness, that stern overseer of the unelected Commission will also balk at signing the budget off? Don’t be silly.
    “The European Parliament's rapporteur (spokesman), Dutch Liberal MEP Jan Mulder, argues that the European Commission should not have to pay the price when the problem lies primarily in the Member States themselves. He has said: "Refusing the discharge to the Commission is a nuclear weapon and would mean that the Commission would have to resign...This Commission is cooperating well with the European Parliament to improve the EU's financial management, whereas the Council is resisting."”
    Well, of course, it is true that the irregularities are created by the Commission and various member states jointly but to say that we must sign a clearly faulty budget off because the alternative will mean the Commission resigning is a somewhat curious assertion. It seems (shock, horror!) that the so-called democratic part of the EU is more concerned with saving the face of the undemocratic Commission than in guarding the people’s money. And I bet you didn’t know that.

    The problem lies with the whole concept of the EU budget and it is once again a matter of no accountability. The Commission creates a budget, based on various “lines” of income and expenditure that are hard to understand. In any case, the budget is not presented to the European Parliament or to the real, national ones. There are no debates and the signing off happens (or not) a year or so after the budget has been spent.

    The funds and projects the budget encompasses have no rigour or accountability. And we all know from Marta Andreasen about the abysmal standard of accounting used by the Commission.

    Then, year after year the Court of Auditors refuses to sign the budget off and year after year, the Commission, backed by its acolyte the Toy Parliament, promises to reform its methods and blames the member states for any problems.

    I say, groundhogs of the world unite!

    COMMENT THREAD

    My car's greener than your car!So, Rachel Sylvester thinks – if one may be so bold as to use that word – that the Boy King is "a true-blue Tory". "He is, in fact," opines the fair lady, "the most traditional Tory leader since Alec Douglas-Home."

    One really wonders whether the lady fully understands the implications of her comparison, though. Having become leader of the Conservative Party in October 1963, Douglas-Home then went on to lose the general election the following year, after a mere 362 days as prime minister.

    The Boy King might, however, take heart from Douglas-Home's most memorable quote. He declared: "There are two problems in my life. The political ones are insoluble and the economic ones are incomprehensible".

    Not that the Boy King would ever trouble himself with anything as tedious as real politics or even economics, being more master of the "photo-opportunity" than anything substantial.

    It was quite amusing to read in the Spy column, therefore, of how the Boy's communion with glaciers so very nearly came unstuck, and would have done so but for the craven behaviour of a media photographer.

    According to Spy, the Boy's contented expression, as he hacked across a Norwegian icefield flanked by huskies, belied a deeper unease. Apparently, during his ride on the sled, one of the husky dogs had to do its business. One of the other dogs trotted over and kicked it up into the air, splattering it all over Boy. He implored the cameraman not to film until he had scrubbed it all off. Unfortunately, the cameraman complied, leaving the event unrecorded for prosperity.

    Nevertheless, Spy got a nice punch-line out of it, suggesting that this was more a case of "vote blue, go brown".

    Despite this, the Boy continues to live dangerously, yesterday offering himself as a model, test driving Noddy cars on Dunsfold airfield in a bid to further his "green" credentials.

    What makes the whole thing a charade is that the Boy's newly-leased £38,000 Lexus saloon - which can manage 155 mph from its 3.5 litre V6 engine - was hidden behind one of the hangars, out of sight of the less than enterprising photographers.

    This is enough, it seems, to convince voters that the Boy seems "genuinely to care about the environment more than most politicians". That much comes out of a Populus poll for the BBC television programme The Daily Politics, undertaken on April 19 and 20, cited by Peter Riddell in today’s Times.

    This showed that the Boy's credentials were believed by a narrow 47 to 41 percent margin, although Riddell thinks it will take more than huskies and cleaner cars to get voters on-side. By a two-to-one margin (62 to 31 percent) they also think the Boy is probably only talking about the environment "because he thinks it will make people more positive about the Conservative Party, not because he really cares about it".

    The question Riddell poses is whether enough voters care about the environment sufficiently to turn the tide. Recent poll evidence would indicate that they do not.

    Never mind. Little Rachel tells us that the Boy believes that his role is to take his party back to its moderate, election-winning roots – no doubt using Douglas-Home as a role model. It's a funny thing though… it was the distinctly un-moderate Thatcher who did rather better.

    COMMENT THREAD

    An RPG-29 - Russian-made tank killerFor a country with an avowed free-market policy that has Electricité de France supplying power to No. 10, allowing the Russian state-owned Gazprom to make a bid for Centrica, the owner of British Gas, seems a natural extension of that policy.

    However, as energy analyst David Montagu-Smith told Channel Four News, the Russians are looking to use the security of gas supply as a major tool in getting to the top table and staying there.

    Despite Gazprom being described as "an arm of Russian domestic and foreign policy", Montagu-Smith believes European governments should resist the urge to block the company’s expansion plans, amid concerns that, if its merger aspirations are thwarted, it could sour the wider relationship between Russia and the EU.

    EU member states – but not Britain – is heavily reliant on Russian gas supplies so it looks as if the UK is thus being called upon to allow a Russian take-over of our premier gas distributor, simply to look after the colleagues' interests.

    But there is a more pressing reason why we should not do deals with the Russians. Not only is the state armaments manufacturer supplying hi-tech anti-aircraft missiles to Iran, which could potentially alter the balance of power in the Middle East – to the detriment of the British national interest – we now learn that it is supplying a powerful anti-tank weapon to Hizbollah and through them to terrorist groups in Iraq.

    Known as the RPG-29, this weapon has two warheads and is capable of penetrating the thickest of armour as well as defeating protective devices devised to deal with the earlier, more primitive RPG-7s.

    Although primarily a threat to US forces, there is every possibility that it could also be used against British troops, who have no effective defence measures against the weapon. So potent is it that the US military has refused to allow the newly formed Iraqi Army to buy them, fearing they will fall into the wrong hands.

    Yet, the very same state that wishes to buy up our gas company, and wants to be seen as a "responsible trading partner", is equipping terrorists with deadly weapons that could well result in Union Jack-draped coffins finding their way back to our shores.

    Our government should tell the Russians, "thank you, but no thanks", and let the EU colleagues go hang.

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    As Al-Qaeda (or so it would appear) strikes in Egypt, blowing up hotels packed because of the holiday season, killing and maiming Egyptians and foreigners alike and trying to deprive those who survive of their livelihood, it might be a good idea to have a look at the latest Osama bin Laden offering. These seem to get more and more rum as time goes on.

    Curiously enough, the bearded wonder (referred to by sundry MSM outlets as a Saudi dissident) did not mention that his band of merry brothers was about to bomb an Egyptian town. Must have slipped his mind.

    Instead he enlarged on the subject of how he was going to fight Westerners because they were clearly waging a war on Islam. (Not half as much as some parts of Islam wage on other parts.)

    Equally curiously, he did not mention Iraq much. Now, this is very odd, as has been pointed out by numerous bloggers. After all, bin Laden announced some time ago that Al-Qaeda was diverting most of its resources to the great battle in Iraq. Whatever happened to that? Could it be that they are actually losing? Perish the thought.

    So what was it that has been really annoying the new caveman? It seems he is particularly angry because the West is refusing to support the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority. By not supporting, he really means, as they all do, handing over large sums of money that can be used (when not stolen) to arm lots more “jihadists”. But surely, by not paying for our own destruction, we in the West are beginning to show a certain amount of nous. Bin Laden ought to respect that.

    Mind you, as not giving money to Hamas is one of the main reason why bin Laden is threatening further attacks on westerners (especially those who might possibly be in Dahab), then the British should be safe, after Jack Straw’s comments.

    Hamas leadership appears unimpressed by bin Laden’s statements. Perhaps, they recall the fact that until well after 9/11 Palestine was not even mentioned by Al-Qaeda. Nowadays, it seems that bin Laden gets his reaction in to the latest news as soon as he can get it down from those mountain caves.

    Hamas is not the only area of grievance. Darfur is another. When I first read that I thought he was complaining about the fact that the West was allowing the humanitarian disaster to continue. A little unfair, I thought, as it was Arab Muslims murdering African Muslims but still, as we have written on this blog a few times, it is a disgrace that the UN, which has arrogated to itself the role of the primary source of international law and humanitarian goodness, has done nothing to stop the genocide.

    Possibly, I mused, bin Laden is displaying some anger at the Russian and the Chinese who have prevented even the slightest effort to punish the perpetrators of the many crimes.

    But I was wrong. Osama bin Laden was threatening all sorts of dire punishments on Westerners for the “Zionist-inspired” possibility of the UN actually sending in some troops to help bring the massacres to an end.

    That is, at least, what is being discussed in a rather desultory way in the UN headquarters in New York and up with this the bearded wonder will not put. Or so he says. How dare the West even try to stop the legitimate activity of one group of Muslims when they are murdering and mutilating another group? All part of the war being waged on Islam.

    Meanwhile, a big rally is being planned in Washington DC for April 30 to call attention to the situation in Darfur. No wonder bin Laden is mad with the West.

    COMMENT THREAD

    Last Friday the Danish Prime Minister, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, made a speech at the Copenhagen University, which was billed as “A Europe of Results”. As readers of this blog know, we are admirers of the Danish Prime Minister for his firm stand on such issues as freedom of speech and the war against terrorism. We were delighted when he won another election last year. But really – a Europe of results! Sigh.

    While he talked a bit about the need to go forward in a more sensible way than that dictated by the Constitution, he seems to have concentrated on the problem of the next wave of enlargement.
    “We need to consider EU's ability to absorb new members much more critically. This relates to EU's ability to make decisions, create common policies and popular support for the EU project.”
    One is not quite sure whether the implication there is that it is the new members that lack popular support for the project or the old ones. What this apparently sensible analysis does not take into account is the need for the European Union to keep expanding in order to survive. There are never any alternative ways of dealing with neighbouring countries. And, of course, there are ever fewer neighbouring countries to deal with.

    Mr Rasmussen has come up with a solution of a kind for the remaining states (mostly in the Balkans) that are hoping to get into the EU. At least their leaders want the countries to get in.
    “Rasmussen suggested that prospective countries such as Albania, Bosnia, the Ukraine and Belarus could join the common economic market and achieve a degree of political influence.”
    He then outlined what he called his vision:
    “I envision us moving toward a more pan-European economic area. An area with free trade and economic cooperation between the EU and its neighbouring countries.”
    That being so, why cannot the EU in general become “an area with free trade and economic co-operation” and, while we are at it, expand that to include some other countries in the world as well.

    The speech was clearly aimed at the very many Danes that are having serious doubts about the whole project. As Søren Espersen, Danish People’s Party’s foreign affairs spokesman said:
    “This sounds extremely exciting, and it sounds as if the prime minister is headed in a direction where the EU will be more edible for Danes.” [I expect the word he was looking for was palatable.]
    There is a slight problem with this vision. In the past countries were told that they would not be able to have political influence unless they joined and accepted the entire acquis communautaire. Will there not be a certain amount of resentment if that situation changes for some?

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