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- ► 2011 (1596)
- ► 2010 (1372)
- ► 2009 (1557)
- ► 2008 (1456)
- Banged to rights
- Wrongs and rights
- UNder age
- The real rapid reaction force
- About as useful as anything else
- Then there were nine...
- Layered defences
- The tide retreats
- Action this day
- Shock horror! (Not!)
- Is this the Third Man?
- You mean other countries ignore the ICC?
- The way our government works
- History in the making
- The black hole at the heart of our defence policy
- Return to Eurohistory
- A matter of urgency
- Authors of their own misfortunes
- The difference is taxing
- Did the Left lose its way?
- Delusional, or what?
- Those generals and their "toys"
- Un-wise affairs
- Arrogance or national interest?
- An interesting idea
- Devolution in reverse
- The Saturday "toy"
- Could we have better targeting?
- The Friday "toy"
- More news from the tranzis
- UKIP fine shock
- War is too important to be left to the generals
- Do we take that as a "no"?
- The Thursday "toy"
- Neither one thing nor another
- Some encouraging thoughts
- "Europe" takes second place
- Nine whole months?
- An important turning point
- Blair's Iraq statement
- The alternative Wednesday toy
- Stupid, stupid, stupid…
- We the undersigned…
- Blair "to confirm Iraq timetable"
- Meet the Flintstones
- The perfect definition
- The Tuesday "toy"
- Who cares?
- Mugabe's achievements may be recognized
- Some (relatively) amusing information
- Losing ground fast
- What is to be done?
- Special delivery
- I wish...
- When parents are brainwashed
- The Monday "toy"
- One step closer
- Strange bedfellows
- A tale of two planets
- The real Sunday "toy"
- The alternative week-end toy
- Smoke signals
- Do we want politicians of principle?
- The Saturday "toy"
- The other 2008 presidential election
- Turning into Belgium
- What is it we are fighting for?
- The alternative Friday toy
- The wonders of Europhilia
- The Friday "toy"
- Yet another war?
- A toy to end all toys
- A temporary expedient
- Those dark days may be back again
- A serious alternative Thursday toy
- A window on the world
- William Tell rides again
- Parochial or what?
- European politics just got more interesting
- We really are not that stupid…
- The real Wednesday toy
- The alternative Wednesday toy
- Privatization Polish style
- A small boring detail
- "Lift high the flag of Ghana"
- A cause for shame?
- The Tuesday "toy"
- Ségo’s pact with France
- Oh dear, not again!
- Early warning?
- Do they know something the British population does...
- The Monday "toy"
- A sky black with chickens...
- Opportunity cost
- The big lie or many small lies?
- So what?
- The heart bleeds
- "Shambles" is too mild a word
- There's always somewhere else you can go
- On the road to disaster
- Not a pretty sight
- Failures galore
- I read it in the papers...
- Another "Snatch"
- The minnows march
- This truce is an accord
- A "little bit pregnant"
- Needed: German national identity
- They keep on making encouraging noises
- The Thursday "toy"
- Second time around
- Luftwaffe to the rescue - not
- Good to hear sense from somebody
- Interesting news from North Korea
- We shall deal with it
- A great lady
- Why should it?
- No shame, no honour
- An opportunity?
- A fight over principles in France
- The real enemy
- Media tarts
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- Our fundamentally unserious media
- This has to be copied out
- At least somebody has noticed
- Ignorance on parade
- That's not a piranha
- The alternative Tuesday toy
- A damp squib?
- The root of all evil?
- The Monday "toy"
- Realism 2
- By their friends shall you know them
- Unfit for office
- The Sunday "toy"
- The alternative week-end toy
- A little bit of realism is needed
- The Boy speaks
- And the real Saturday "toy"
- The real big brother
- Raising the game
- Here comes the next truce
- Ahmed Abu Laban dies
- Wouldn't it be nice for this country to be first a...
- The alternative Friday toy
- We already have joined
- The Friday "toy"
- A demonstration of commitment
- The anti-NGO law begins to bite
- Guess who has been nominated for the Peace Prize?
- It just got a bit more complicated
- Go, go, go
- Do they think we are all that stupid?
- That clod Hague
- The Thursday "toy"
- One does wonder about the French
- It always was going to be trouble
- Wheel meet again
- ▼ February (163)
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There can be no hiding place left for MEP Tom Wise, and it looks like he knows it, having been spotted back in the UK, leaving early after being suspended from the UKIP EU parliamentary group today.
Daniel Foggo of The Sunday Times has done for him, gaining an admission from the MEP that he used £6,500 of the money embezzled from his EU secretarial fund to buy a used car. The car was a dark green Peugeot 406 saloon and the W-registration diesel vehicle is still owned by Wise.
The admission contradicts previous UKIP statements that the cash had not benefited Wise personally. These first emerged following an earlier internal inquiry under the former party leader Roger Knapman, who insisted that, "On all the evidence that I have seen, I can say that at no time has Tom Wise personally benefited in any way nor has he ever intended to. His intentions have been honest and honourable throughout."
Even three days ago, Foggo was telling us that Farage was holding the line, insisting that MEP had not benefited from the scam personally. Now, he is suggesting that perhaps his earlier judgement was "generous".
In the context, the use of the word "judgement" might be considered generous especially as Wise, in addition to buying his car from taxpayers' funds, also made other payments from his EU account, including several four-figure sums. The words "cover-up" are being muttered in some quarters. Too many people were prepared to present the man as a fool when, in fact, they knew him to be a thief.
Following on from its launch adverts in October last, the Speakout campaign in back in the fray with a second wave of ads in the national and regional press. The ad copy tells us how:
Without a debate or vote in Parliament our elected MPs have handed control of our borders to the European Union, allowing unlimited immigration into Britain from EU countries.We are then told that "80 percent of you, the people", want a vote on getting your borders back.
So far so good, but a corresponding entry on the website talks of the "Free Movement of People directive" which:
…was subject to no debate in the House of Commons and no vote, but discussed in a secretive, and largely ineffective, group of mostly Labour MPs, called the European Scrutiny Committee. This Directive renders Britain – and all the other 27 once sovereign nation states that now comprise the EU - effectively borderless provinces in a new country called Europe.The actual directive to which Speakout is referring is our old friend, with the snappy title of:
Directive 2004/58/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 29 April 2004 on the right of citizens of the Union and their family members to move and reside freely within the territory of the Member States amending Regulation (EEC) No 1612/68 and repealing Directives 64/221/EEC, 68/360/EEC, 72/194/EEC, 73/148/EEC, 75/34/EEC, 75/35/EEC, 90/364/EEC, 90/365/EEC and 93/96/EEC.But what is a little puzzling is that this is simply a directive which codifies and clarifies the "right of citizens of the Union…". It does not actually confer any rights.
These actually came with the EC/EU treaties and are currently expressed in: Article 14 (7a) ECT: establishing the internal market, which includes the free movement of persons; Article 18 (8a) ECT: Union citizens have the right to move and reside freely within the territory of the Member States; and Article 61 (73i) et seq: new Title IV, "Visas, asylum, immigration and other policies related to free movement of persons".
And, unless I am very much mistaken, all the treaties which currently apply to the UK were in one way or another subject to pretty extensive debate, both in the Houses of Parliament and outside. That is not to say that the debates were by any means satisfactory but the fact of them rather neutralises the point Speakout is trying to make.
This notwithstanding, the campaign got something of a kick when three newspapers, The Sun, The Daily Mail and the Daily Express, all refused to run the add because, they claimed, it was "potentially racist" and possibly "inflammatory". Coming from those three newspapers, says Speakout, "they've got to be having a laugh".
And in that, at least, the campaign has got it right.
Both the story and the punning title come from one of our readers. He knows who he is and we are duly grateful.
The story, as related by AP (I think they must have got this right as there was precious little digging to be done), concerns the head of the UN intellectual property agency, (World Intellectual Property Organization or WIPO) whose understanding of matters intellectual does not extend to being accurate about his age or, as it happens, qualifications.
Kamil Idris joined the agency in 1982, when the job he got required ten years of professional experience, clearly unlikely in the case of somebody in his twenties. But that did not matter as Mr Idris gave his date of birth as 1945, which would have made him 37. He also gave various rather interesting details of his qualifications and experience. None of these seem to have been checked up.
In 1997 he became director-general of the agency, which oversees world copyrights and trademarks.
Last year, however, Mr Idris suddenly noticed the mistake in his age and changed it to a younger one, assuring all and sundry that he was actually born in 1954. The internal auditor found this a little too difficult to stomach.
The audit said that by changing his age to the younger, Idris could "considerably benefit" by further building up U.N. pension credits before eventual retirement.All of which must be a complete coincidence. Needless to say, WIPO is defending the boss, pointing out that he corrected the mistake as soon as he noticed it, which took him well over twenty years but he had other matters on his mind. In any case, this is all about racism.
The audit also says the change could benefit Idris if he leaves soon because it would make him eligible for a severance payment that could be worth several hundred thousand dollars. The previous age would have made him 60 in 2005 and no longer eligible for severance if he left after that point.
The new birth date raises questions of what Mr Idris was actually doing in the years before he joined the UN, something that ought to have been checked at the time of his joining but clearly was not.
According to the new birth year, Idris would have been 13 years old when he claimed to have held his first part-time and full-time posts at the national level in Sudan.Mr Idris appears to be incommunicado and WIPO tells all and sundry that the actual audit cannot be released as it is confidential. Given that we employ these crooks through our taxes (yes, they can sue if they like), I am not convinced confidentiality is quite what is required here.
"Mr. Idris explained that these were temporary jobs that he assumed since his young age, in order to sustain his family and enable him to study," the report says.
He said in his application that, when he was 23, he was deputy director of the legal department in the Sudanese Foreign Ministry from 1977 to 1978. But at the same time, he was studying at Ohio University nearly 7,000 miles away in the United States.
Idris' 1982 application said he obtained a masters degree in international law from Ohio University in 1978. But Jessica Stark, spokeswoman for the university, told the AP Idris attended from Sept 12, 1977, to June 10, 1978, when he received a Master of Arts in African Studies.
Adding to the confusion, the audit said Idris registered at the university with a third birth date - August 26, 1953, a year earlier than the revised date.
The EU commission has announced that is setting up a veterinary expert team that can deployed at short notice to respond to animal disease outbreaks such as bird flu in Europe or elsewhere – the real rapid reaction force.
This was approved by the Standing Veterinary Committee and the commission is now to go ahead and draft a list of team members from across the EU. Experts will be drawn from the fields of laboratory testing, veterinary, virology, wildlife, risk management and other areas to be ready to move within 24 to 36 hours to affected areas.
EU Health Commissioner Markos Kyprianou says recent and past outbreaks of bird flu, swine fever or foot-and-mouth disease in the 27-nation bloc "highlighted the importance of having well-prepared, well-trained personnel available to provide their expertise in dealing with the problem."
Under normal circumstances, we would have been quick to condemn this move as yet another underhand move to promote European integration. But, as experience has so often demonstrated, so utterly dire are British official vets that, by comparison, other EU veterinarians positively shine.
That, perhaps, is the true agenda of Defra – to develop incompetence to such a pinnacle of perfection that EU political integration is seen as a better option.
As our readers will recall, I have always considered the entry of Romania into the European Union fraught with all sorts of possibilities.
Well, here is one. Ananova reports that witches in Romania (where it is a fully recognized profession probably with its own trade unions) have found a new outlet for their charms.
Witch Florica, from Pitesti in southern Romania, said: "It's a new type of spell that we had to work out of course.Perhaps, some of our businessmen and, especially, farmers could benefit from the lady’s efforts.
"You cannot pretend you are a real witch if you cannot help a businessman get the European Union funds he wants.
"For example, only the other day I had a young businessman who came to me with his papers applying for European funds.
"I spread the cards on his documents, said my spells and splashed the papers with some potions. It only cost him about £40 for my charms but when gets the money thanks to my spells he will be happy and I will be happy because he will bring me new customers."
Another thought strikes one: if witches than why not vampires or werewolves? Could they be put to some use in the European Union?
Following the weekend publicity, now, according to a news release from UKIP, MEPs have today decided to suspend Tom Wise (seen here discussing his future with a colleague) from the UK Independence Party group in the European Parliament, "for failure to provide information regarding alleged financial irregularities that are now under investigation by OLAF (the European Anti Fraud Office)".
Party Chairman John Whittaker said, "This decision should in no way be interpreted as prejudicial to the outcome of that enquiry. The decision was taken at a meeting of the MEPs in Brussels," said Dr. Whittaker, "which was the first opportunity we have had to discuss this matter."
From the high in 2004, when 12 UKIP MEPs were returned by the electorates, this now reduces the number holding the whip to nine. And, by next week, there may be more in the frame.
Not entirely unrelated, Guardian is reporting that three of Party's MEPs are on the verge of walking out of the party, prompted by the decision to suspend Wise.
Sources indicate that these MEPs are concerned at the cracks in the previously solid front which had Farage maintaining, of Wise, "We did not believe there had been any intent of fraud."
Despite Whittaker's careful statement, Wise's suspension is de facto recognition that he was fraudulent in the appropriation of his EU expenses. But what concerns the MEPs is that the Party's action implicitly condemns practices which other have also been involved in, weakening any defences they may have in the future.
Whatever the outcome of further investigations, however, UKIP - as my colleague points out - is a very necessary force in British politics. Party officials need to get grip, firmly and decisively, before, like the ten green bottles, there are no MEPs left standing.
On the other hand, there was a variation of that old song, which substituted ten sticks of dynamite standing on the wall. And if one stick of dynamite should accidentally fall, the song went, there'd be no sticks of dynamite and no b****y wall. That may yet be the fate of UKIP.
The Times names two of the MEPs at odds with Farage over the suspension of Wise – Roger Knapman, the former Party leader, and Mike Natrass. The third is believed to be Gerald Batten, UKIP's London MEP.
Following our piece on the protection afforded to our troops from mortar attacks, I was sent a series of photographs taken by a serving soldier, of accommodation in the Shaiba logistics base, just outside Basra.
The top picture shows the basic 12-man tents, and the "protection" of a low, block wall around each tent. No more than three feet high, and not even cement bonded, this was the main "defence" against mortar attack.
The second photograph shows the scene inside one of the tents. When the mortar attack siren goes (after the first bomb has hit, without warning), soldiers on the top bunks are supposed to climb down and hide under the lower bunk. This is what you call "layered defence".
Virtually every day, British bases come under attack and, once our troops retreat to the one base at Basra Air Station, no one is under any illusions about what that will do to the intensity of attacks – they will increase. Of the current situation, one soldier said, "Going to bed was a lottery – you never knew if you would wake up". This is a lottery you do not want to win, but the odds are "improving" all the time.
That is the reality of service in Iraq. The use of the Hesco barriers provides only the illusion of protection as, in their final flight path, mortar bombs descend nearly vertically. All that lies between soldiers and death or disfigurement are thin layers of canvas and the thickness of a mattress.
As we observed earlier, imagine how quickly action would be taken if the Houses of Parliament were being mortared each day and the MPs had to sleep in unprotected tents in Palace Yard.
Yet these self-same MPs - and their staffs - who ritually applaud the bravery of our troops, skulk behind their barriers and armed guards while – with a few honourable exceptions – they permit without comment our soldiers to be exposed to quite unnecessary risks. And the secretary of state hides behind honeyed generalities and vague assurances, while the media sleeps.
This is moral cowardice. It simply is not good enough.
With the withdrawal of 600 British troops from Bosnia – announced by defence secretary Des Browne on Monday – we now learn that the EU force to which they were attached is also to be reduced. EUFOR, as it is known, is gradually to be cut from 6,000 to 2,500 troops, achieving its new level by early June.
The EU took over in December 2004 from a NATO peacekeeping mission and launched an operation called ALTHEA, backing up around 16,000 Nato peacekeepers in Kosovo. The reduced EU force will continue to operate under a UN mandate which was given a yearlong extension by the Security Council in November.
The operation was the first in which EU-badged troops were seen to operate, with even our own Grenadier Guards wearing the hated "ring of stars" (pictured above), although it is interesting to see that two of the lads seem to have lost their badges.
Such was the initial enthusiasm for the EU identity that, in April 2005 a demonstration of EUFOR helicopters, held on Camp Butmir (Sarajevo) saw Italian Army A-109 helicopters also badged with the ring of stars (right). British Lynx helicopters carried no such markings. However, with EUFOR equipped to insert 150 troops in one wave of helicopters, it was at times better equipped than British forces in southern Iraq.
Fortunately though, the British departure will now mean that there are no longer any of our troops bearing EU markings. With that and the despatch of 1400 personnel to the Nato force in Afghanistan, this marks a decisive shift from the EU sphere of influence to the Nato/US domain.
It is one small sign, but it could indicate that the high-water mark of British participation in European defence integration is past. The tide retreats.
Defence questions yielded considerable treasure yesterday, and it keeps coming. One such was interesting enough for the Daily Mail to pick up, heading its piece, "Basra tent troops 'sitting targets' warns MP".
Actually, they have been siting targets for months, if not years, but it is nice to have an additional warning from Labour's Chris Bryant, who recently visited tented accommodation for troops at the Basra Air Station (pictured top left). In Parliament, this is what he asked:
Four weeks ago, four hon. Members were in Basra with British troops as part of the armed forces parliamentary scheme. We saw the tented accommodation at the Shatt al-Arab hotel, which British forces were in until Christmas. It has been heavily bombed, and that is where several British troops have died. We also saw the new accommodation that the troops are now in, in the more secure circumstances inside the Shatt al-Arab hotel, but they will now all be withdrawn from the hotel to the British airbase. Does the Secretary of State worry that British troops will now effectively be a sitting target for insurgents? What is to be done to ensure that we have better ISTAR — intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance — support and that we have more secure accommodation, not just tented accommodation, for British troops?This, of course, is something we have raised many times - and we did not even have to go to Basra at the taxpayers' expense to find out - such as here and here. The issue was also raised last month by Ann Winterton, and she has not been to Basra either. This time, however, The Mail followed it, not that Bryant got anything from the secretary of state that we had not already heard:
Des Browne: All the issues that my hon. Friend identifies are being actively pursued as we speak. The military advice that I have received is that, as we concentrate our forces back into the Basra air stations, it will easier, and we will be better placed, to defend our troops. There are a number of reasons why that is the case. I do not want to go into them in detail. I am constantly torn when it comes to giving details in the House of the steps that we take to protect our troops, because I do not want to undermine their security.From what we can see, all that is being done is limited protection using Hesco barriers as blast containment walls, to limit the casualties in the event of a mortar bomb hitting a tent or building. The second photograph shows a "welfare village" opened only in January at Basra Air Station, and the principle can be seen clearly there. The building itself is unprotected, but the Hesco prevents shrapnel from mortars or rockets spreading.
I make my hon. Friend the same offer that I have made to other hon. Members: if he wants a private briefing in relation to this matter, I would be happy to give it to him. I am not prepared to discuss in public the steps that we are taking, but he can rest assured that all the observations that he makes I have made myself on my visits. My top priority for our troops is their safety. Daily, I am involved with the chiefs of staff and others to make sure that we are doing everything that we can to enhance the troops' protection.
Nowhere do we see the layered measures that would constitute effective protection so, on the face of it, this is very far from "doing everything that we can to enhance the troops' protection".
Browne has been personally warned, in Parliament, three times now, - if one includes Gerald Howarth - so he cannot hide behind his generals and say he did not know. If it were Churchill at the helm, I am sure we would be seeing an "action this day" memorandum. Churchill, Browne clearly is not, but he is going to have to do a great deal more if he is to avoid having blood on his hands.
As the MSM fawns over Al Gore getting the Oscar for the best fiction .... oops ... sorry ... documentary around and the news goes round the world that the former Veep's (no, he did not win that election, no matter what the Hollywood luvvies say on the matter)
20-room home and pool house devoured nearly 221,000 kilowatt-hours in 2006, more than 20 times the national average of 10,656 kilowatt-hours,which is not even being denied by the Gores, we get this shock horror news item in Britain: "Second Warmest Winter Ever Recorded".
Blimey, I thought. Is this for real? Actually, there is no need to get too panicky yet. It seems that the winter of 1868/69 was warmer than this one and those of 1833/34 and 1988/89 the same.
Temperatures averaged 6.5C (43.7F) this winter, from December to February, MeteoGroup UK - the weather division of the Press Association - said.Well, that's quite warm, though not the warmest (and certainly not the driest, despite threats of overwhelming drought). But stay, the article finishes with the following comment:
The Met Office point out that this winter has been the second warmest in the UK as a whole since 1914.I assume the problem lies in different figures including different months.
Instead of a chilly winter, average temperatures hit 5.47C - only the winter of 1988/9 was warmer at 5.82C.
Michael Dukes of MeteoGroup UK said: "This winter's exceptional warmth is made even more remarkable by that fact the preceding autumn was the warmest on record. Indeed, the non-calendar year from 1 March 2006 to the end of February 2007 is the warmest 12 month period England and Wales have experienced since temperature records began in the 1650s. Although not proof of human-induced global warming, these records are yet more evidence in support of a rapidly warming climate."Well, no, this is no proof of human-induced global warming despite Al Gore's mansion and constant use of a private jet. It might be proof of a rapidly warming climate but, actually, it is proof that average temperatures go up and go down. In other words, we still do not know what is really going on with the climate, let alone how it affects the weather.
The "human beings cause global warming and it will destroy the planet" fanatics, just as their predecessors of "the earth is getting colder and it will destroy the planet" variety seem to have reverted to a pre-scientific attitude to the problem of climate and weather. Every change to colder or warmer is seen as catastrophic rather than cyclical or manageable. Will they think the end of the world has come at the next full solar eclipse, I wonder.
Contrary to what one might gather from the media coverage of the French elections there are more than two candidates around. Apart from Ségolène Royal and Nicolas Sarkozy there is, of course, Jean-Marie Le Pen, who launched his campaign two days ago and who is going to be ignored unless and until he scores well in the first round. At least that is what happened last time.
Remember the slogan that brought out voters to put their crosses against Chirac's name? "Vote for the crook not the fascist." Isn't French politics so much more sophisticated than American?
There is, however, another candidate, generally described as the Third Man (making Le Pen the Fourth Man, presumably). François Bayrou, a former teacher and education minister, as well as a farmer, is running from the soi-disant centrist Union pour la Démocratie Française (UDF), created by Valéry Giscard d’Estaing and completely marginalized by Jacques Chirac.
Now M Bayrou is fighting back by attacking both Royal and Sarkozy, left and right, offering the centre ground and claiming “that he will "rassembler" (bring together) the left and the right, posing as the successor to General de Gaulle and Pierre Mendès France”.
Last week’s polls have given him 17 per cent, six points behind Mme Royal. The problem M Bayrou thinks he faces (and he is probably right) is that the main media channels concentrate on the two main candidates, not giving him adequate time and exposure.
When he mentioned TF1 channel by name they responded by proving his point completely. He was invited to answer audience questions but not given the full two hours accorded to the main two candidates. Still, he seems to have performed reasonably well, despite the low audience figures.
(One wonders whether M Bayrou would fight for M Le Pen’s right to have equal time in the media as well.)
So what are these centrist policies? It is a little hard to work out from the usual reports but, fortunately, Nidra Poller, a novelist who lives in Paris and reports at length on various stories that do not seem to find their way into the French MSM, has written an article about M Bayrou and his politics in the Wall Street Journal Europe. Sadly, it appeared in the week-end issue and is available on the net only to subscribers.
Mr Bayrou, who accuses the two front-runners of making extravagant promises they cannot keep, equates the modesty of his own proposals with proof that they will be fulfilled. He promises to reduce government spending, balance the budget, encourage small businesses, reward the industrious, improve conditions in the universities and increase the research budget.As all his promises seem to hinge on more government spending and interference, there seems to be a certain amount of contradiction there.
Applying the same values of reasonable moderation on the international level, Mr Bayrou would trust the EU for defense, the UN for world order, and a Middle Eastern Union, modelled on the EU, for peaceful coexistence in that troubled region.Undoubtedly, the man is a chronicler of the Porcine Aviation Force. Still, as Ms Poller points out, this “emollient”, not to say half-witted, message appeals to people, who are seriously tired of their political establishment. That, after all, is Le Pen’s great attraction: he is an outsider.
The trouble with François Bayrou is that he is not really an outsider even though he has lost to Chirac in the power struggle on the right. He has been in politics for some time (though he is not an enarque but then neither is Sarkozy) rising to the position of Minister for National Education under Edouard Balladour and Alain Juppé.
Perhaps not being as good at politicking as his rivals on the right is something that will appeal to the French electorate.
It is not that Tony Blair has no influence in the White House. He does have influence or did until John Howard became President Bush's best buddy. It is just that he has asked for all the wrong things.
Admittedly he could neither ask for nor accept the proffered free-trade agreement, it not being in his power to sign any international trade agreements. He is, after all, merely the elected Head of this country’s Government. Of no importance, whatsoever.
Blair squandered his extensive political capital in Washington on such matters as that painfully dragged out process of going through the UN before invading Iraq, pointless pleas that the United States sign Kyoto (already rejected by the Senate under Clinton) and join the International Criminal Court (which is against the US Constitution).
To listen to some of the moonbats and, even, relatively sane people, all the problems of the world stem from the United States not signing up to the ICC, whose legitimacy remains dubious despite 104 countries supporting it.
Apparently, not every other country in the world has signed up to it or bothers to obey its instructions. Sudan, for one, and thought it is hard for some people to imagine this, but their human rights record is considerably worse than that of the United States or, indeed, the United Kingdom.
According to Al-Jazeera:
Luis Moreno-Ocamp, the ICC chief prosecutor had said that Ahmed Haroun [an ex-state interior minister] and Ali Muhammad Ali Abd Al-Rahman were suspected of 51 counts of war crimes in Darfur.Opted for? Is that translation accurate?
But Mohammed Ali al-Mardi, Sudan’s justice minister [sic], told The Associated Press on Tuesday: “We are not concerned with, nor do we accept, what the ICC prosecutor has opted for.”
As it happens, Abd al-Rahman, a militia commander, also known as Ali Kushayb is in detention in Khartoum “on suspicion of violating Sudanese laws” in connection with his actions in Darfur. Whatever his sins, he is probably paying for them.
Just to remind our readers, it is estimated that about 200,000 people have been killed and 2.5 million driven from their homes in Darfur since 2003. The numbers of those wounded, tortured, crippled and raped are unknown.
Khartoum says that about 9,000 have died, presumably of old age and pneumonia. The UN has done nothing and the vast amounts of aid pumped into Sudan by the European Union, allegedly to help the people of Darfur, has still not been accounted for.
Front page of The Times today (print edition) is a story headed, "Random breath tests to hit drink-drivers".
Repeated online, it tells us that motorists face random breath testing under government plans to reduce the toll of deaths and serious injuries from drink driving. Ministers, we are told, believe that giving the police the power to stop any driver, regardless of how they are driving, would be a powerful deterrent.
But hang on a moment. In May 2004, when this last came up, we had a robust statement from the Home Office, which insisted that random tests are not an efficient way of catching drink-drivers. Then, it saw no need for them to be introduced. What has changed?
What we do know is that the casualty rate from drink-driving has gone up in recent years, although many commentators put that down to the reduction in routine traffic patrols, as enforcement authorities give vent to their obsession with speed and replace uniformed police with entrapment robots, aka speed cameras. Random testing, therefore, is not the issue – the number of tests, and the need for routine patrolling is.
But, those with longer memories may remember that there is another agenda at work here. Back in May 2004, it was the EU which was demanding random testing. And, while the Home Office was resisting the idea, we wrote:
...and here is the crunch - the president of Tispol, the European Traffic Police Network, said the (EU) commission would attempt to make its recommendation a directive if it is not followed.So, what does our government do? It leaves it a few years and then, out of the blue, it pops up with a proposal that just happens to bring it into line with the commission's demand. Coincidence? I think not.
Says Ad Hellemons, also Dutch Assistant Commissioner of Police, talking to BBC Radio Five Live: "This is the first time the European Commission has made such a recommendation. The vast majority of member states already carry out random breath tests. We can’t understand why governments would want to protect drink-drivers".
"The European Commission has made it clear that they expect this recommendation to be followed. If not they will try to make it a directive". There you have it – you will do as we "recommend", or we will make it compulsory.
But enough time has elapsed, however, for most people to have forgotten the original EU input, so it is seen as a UK initiative and the government can maintain the pretence that it is still in charge. Any EU involvement can be denied.
That is now the way our government works.
How apposite that, when it comes, it arrives not in the main pages of any of the newspapers, where the defence correspondents are well and truly asleep, but in the business section – in this case The Times.
We are talking here of an item headed, "Treasury threatens to cut £35bn of defence projects" and even then, because it is about "business", David Robertson, the business correspondent, misses the huge political and strategic implications.
The thrust of the story is, as advertised on the label, that the Treasury is threatening to cut defence projects worth up to £35 billion in the Government's next spending round, the comprehensive spending review (CSR), which outlines spending for the next five years. And that means that key projects could be cut.
But the dynamite news is that the Army could be the biggest loser. The Treasury, says The Times is thought to be unhappy with Future Rapid Effects System (FRES), which the newspaper describes as "a £14 billion project for up to 3,000 armoured vehicles." It tells us that the Treasury is understood to favour buying a replacement off the shelf, possibly from a US company, rather than have the UK develop its own.
Whether this happens or not, this news tells us what we had already suspected… that the Army is fighting for its life, its "vision" of the future which is intrisically bound up in FRES. It thus goes a long, long way towards explaining why the Army brass has been so reluctant to rock the boat over Iraq and Afghanistan, and demand the new kit needed for these campaigns. One false move and FRES is toast, they must have been telling themselves.
It begins to look, though, as if the sacrifice imposed on the Army is in vain. But, if their vision of FRES is to be junked, then the Defence Committee missed the vibes completely. And, if the Generals do not get their toys, what then? Is the ERRF also toast?
For those of you who have the time, read our FRES thread. While the media and the politicos are so fast asleep you can here the snores from here, there is history in the making.
It is no coincidence that, at Defence Questions yesterday, a line was developed trying further to elucidate where and on what grounds decisions are made concerning the purchase of equipment for our armed forces.
This time it was light assault helicopters, an issue we have been pursuing for some time on this blog and which re-emerged with a vengeance after the use of Apaches in Afghanistan to recover the body of a dead Marine.
It was following that incident that one of the better debates took place on the unofficial Army forum about the provision of "organic" close air support. On balance, it seemed, sentiment was in favour of such a provision, and a number of Parliamentary questions were framed, pursuing the matter.
One of the questions was from Nick Harvey, the Lib-Dem defence spokesman. He asked whether the Secretary of State for Defence had made an assessment of the potential for the use of small light assault helicopters in Afghanistan and other combat zones. This was the reply:
Mr. Ingram: We continually review our helicopter requirements to ensure that we have sufficient helicopter support to meet current and anticipated tasks. While we do not use the term "small light assault helicopters", our helicopters in Afghanistan and other combat zones include those suited to heavy-lift tasks, such as Chinook and Merlin; utility helicopters, such as Lynx, Puma and Sea King; and attack helicopters, such as Apache. No capability gap has been identified for small light assault helicopters.Thus it was yesterday that Peter Bone, the Conservative MP for Wellingborough, asked the Secretary of State who had identified that there was no capability gap? "Was it politicians, the civil service or the armed forces, and on what basis was that judgment made?" His effort elicited this reply:
Des Browne: A judgment would be made only on the basis of advice from the military and on no other grounds at all. I have no expertise to make such an assessment and I would depend entirely on military commanders to make an assessment for me. I have to say that I agree with the hon. Gentleman — I do not believe that there is a shortage of attack helicopters in Afghanistan. Those Apaches that we deployed, despite the fact that many people said that they were a bad purchase in the first place, have turned out to be much more capable than anybody thought they would be.If Browne can be applauded for his candour, he can also be condemned for his naïvity. Firstly, he has confused the concepts of the attack helicopter, with the different "assault" machine, a (usually) armed helicopter that brings troops into battle.
More seriously though – as we know – there has already been the debate within the MoD as to whether some of these machines should be acquired – and the decision was "no". So, Browne has gone to the very organisation that has made a negative decision, for reasons we know why not, and got a negative answer. But, given the aura of negativity within the department, the reasons could well have been ill-founded.
Browne should not have relied on that tiny little clique of officials (some in uniform) to tell him what to do. He should have widened the debate, listened to more voices and, if necessary, commissioned independent studies. He has no business outsourcing policy to his officials. There lies the black hole at the heart of our defence policy.
And the odd thing is that, despite its crucial importance in hampering the war effort, neither the "official" opposition nor the media are even aware of it. As always, the real debate goes on without them.
We all need reminding in the midst of the present political controversy that UKIP has its uses and would be sorely missed if it disappeared (and not just for its entertainment value).
England Expects tells us that it was UKIP that fed the story to the media about the proposed common European history textbook, though it was Graham Brady, the Conservative Europe spokesman who managed to get most of the huffing and puffing in.
Actually, this is not a particularly new idea and, our readers might recall that this blog covered a similar story that emerged from Belgium a couple of years ago. There have been many attempts to create a European history textbook that would avoid all the – how can describe it – difficult passages, which just happen to be the most interesting ones as well.
While both the Sun and the Daily Telegraph blamed Germany for this idea, one imagines the French are not exactly averse to imposing a single European view of the past. But which past would that be?
There is, as the article in the Telegraph points out, a model for this hilarious idea, a Franco-German project, which would not surprise anyone.
The Franco-German Histoire Geschichte was launched last May, with a first edition covering history since the end of the Second World War. The text is taught as part of the higher curriculum in both French and German schools and has the expressed aim of overcoming old enmities.Of course, M de Robien is right in his statement that nothing is set in stone, not even the European Union. On the other hand, given the CAP, the CFP, protectionist trade deals and many millions of euros spent on subsidizing bloodthirsty kleptocrats in position of power, I would question the EU’s record as a good world team player.
Speaking at the launch event, Gilles de Robien, the French education minister, said: "The great lesson of this story is that nothing is set in stone – antagonisms that we believe are inscribed in marble are not eternal."
Much of the first book of Franco-German history is devoted to the creation of the EU. "Through its willingness to co-operate with the Third World, its attachment to multilateralism, its dialogue with other regions, the EU appears as a model on the international scene," says the text.
Ten historians, five from each country, contributed to the book, which is published in both German and French and retails for €25 (£17).
Mind you, one cannot help laughing over the following:
But political differences between Germany and France have surfaced over the role of the United States in Europe. "For France, traditionally the US is considered a great power which is a sort of rival," said Peter Geiss, one of the book's publishers. "That's not possible in Germany. For Germany, the US after 1945 has never been a rival. The reconstruction of Germany is associated with American presence."What on earth is left in the textbook to fill up that 80 per cent? Not, I presume, the two world wars, or not in any detail, the occupation of France or French collaboration, the Franco-Prussian War, the invasion of German states by revolutionary and Napoleonic France or the Thirty Years’ War at the end of which France managed to grab a decentish chunk of territory, such as Alsace and Metz.
How to deal with Communism has been another problem. While the Communist movement was of political importance in France in the 1950s and 1960s, it was associated in Germany with dictatorship, the East German regime and Soviet expansion.
While 80 per cent of the book's content is identical in the two languages, assessments of the US and the history of the Communist German Democratic Republic differ.
Other areas where French and German historians could not agree was on French colonial history and the Christian church.
Personally I cannot wait for the book to be published in Britain.
In our piece yesterday - Those generals and their "toys" - we began to focus more closely on the role of the Army brass (and MoD civil servants) in the procurement of urgent equipment, needed for Iraq and Afghanistan.
What we saw was the blocking effect, where requests for kit never got through the system so that they were never presented to ministers. Because of this, forces in the field simply weren't getting the kit because it had not "officially" been asked for.
Crucial in this process is the role of the so-called "urgent operational requirement", which is the mechanism for by-passing the often slow procurement process and getting equipment where it is needed, fast.
But, to clarify how the system works, once again Lib-Dem MP Mike Hancock has put in another question to the MoD, which was answered on 23 February:
Mr. Hancock: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence under what (a) rules and (b) circumstances senior Army officers may raise urgent operational requirements; and if he will make a statement. And there we have the key qualifier, which makes all the difference: "Subject to endorsement by the chain of command…".
Mr. Ingram: An Urgent Statement of User Requirement can be raised by commanders in theatre during an operation or by commanders in the Permanent Joint Headquarters or Front Line Commands before or during an operation. Subject to endorsement by the chain of command, this is then progressed as an Urgent Operational Requirement.
Revisiting one egregious example of this, we saw on 19 November a report in the Mail on Sunday where Brigadier John Lorimer, who is to take charge of British forces in Afghanistan in the spring, had issued a "shopping list" of requirements, only to be told by "senior MoD officials" that his requests would be denied.
This was flagged up in a graphic (above) alongside a statement from Tony Blair who had promised "Whatever the package the Army wants, we will do", the Mail on Sunday thus arguing, through the words of an anonymous officer, that this "shows how empty Blair's words were."
In fact, as we are beginning to see, things are a lot more complicated than that. Blair's statement was addressed in terms of the "Army". However important Brig. Lorimer might be, he is not the Army and it is through the chain of command that the corporate view of the institution is expressed.
Clearly – at the time – the Army did not support Lorimer's "shopping list", although now - with Des Browne's formal statement on additional troops to Afghanistan today – it seems Lorimer is getting most of what he wants.
However, while this is a particularly visible example of how the system works, many are not and many decisions are being made downstream, which are not necessarily getting to the political level. Thus, it seems, we need to know more about how UOR’s work.
We need, for instance, to know when a UOR formally becomes a UOR. If a theatre commander raises one, does it become a formal, recorded document the moment it is generated? Or can it be "lost" en route or does it only become a UOR when it is approved by the chain of command?
Can a commander who generates a UOR (or what he wishes to be a UOR) be instructed to withdraw it (possibly having been told that raising it was not a career-enhancing move), whence it disappears, unrecorded, from the system?
Are there any records of the numbers of UOR "requests" generated by theatre commanders which have not been approved by the chain of command and thence have not been submitted to ministers for approval?
Then, are there any records kept of the number of formal requests made by lower echelon commanders which have been submitted to theatre commanders for consideration as UORs and, if so, how many of those were subsequently became UORs. Of those, how many were subsequently submitted to Ministers for approval?
And, if records do not exist in any of the key areas, it would be interesting to know whether the secretary of state is thinking of setting up a more "transparent" system which will ensure traceability of documents. Ministers – to say nothing of Parliament – need to be "fully and properly informed" of requests for equipment made at all higher command levels, to ensure that there are no unnecessary (or politically motivated) blockages in the system.
Given the weight of adverse media coverage over the weekend, UKIP has emerged relatively unscathed today, with only The Daily Telegraph making anything of the stories in the Monday press.
However, while some of the focus has been on the machinations of the not very wise Tom Wise and the Bown donations by far the greater long-term threat is an investigation into the ways MEPs have spent their £125,000 annual assistants’ allowance.
Should they have been shown to have broken the rules, the ten UKIP MEPs could be individually liable for repayments, perhaps amounting to £200,000 or more, for each of them. By contrast, the Electoral Commission threat to recover £350,000 from the Party is relatively small beer.
This has not stopped a few die-hard UKIPites complaining that they are being unfairly treated, but on the UKIP Forum, there is also some recognition that the inept leadership is at least in part responsible for the woes the Party is currently experiencing.
That the Party hierarchy is largely the author of its own misfortunes is most evident in the treatment of its payments to Party workers using EU money.
That money is actually ring-fenced fund to pay for staff to assist MEPs in their duties. The sum is relatively high because it is recognised that they have to maintain offices in the EU parliament and in their home countries. Thus, an MEP is quite entitled to employ staff in the home country, to carry out a diverse range of functions.
What an MEP is not allowed to do, however, is spend that money on employing workers whose sole (or main) duties are party political - as has been the case with UKIP.
To an extent, every Party does "stretch" the system but UKIP have been rather blatant in what they have been doing, thus inviting a reaction. If that was their intent, they can hardly be surprised when it comes.
Had the Party been a little more intelligent in how it managed its affairs, it could have achieved the same end, without falling foul of the rules. For instance, there was no need to use the "assistants" fund directly to pay for Party staff.
One alternative would be to levy a large precept on the MEPs' salaries - which they are free to spend as they wish - and then have the individual MEPs hire close relatives (wife or some such) as an assistant, to make up the deficiency, the sums obviously going into the household budgets.
Another option is for the Party to take a substantial percentage of the "assistance" and office expenses funds to pay for head office costs and staff, who rightly can be said to be carrying out group administrative functions which have direct relevance to the MEPs. This is what the Tories do. Monies that would then otherwise be spent on head office functions could be diverted to pay for party workers in the regions.
However, the Party set up a system in 1999 which it knew to be against the rules but, on such a small scale that it felt (probably rightly) that it would not be noticed. With ten MEPs and a higher profile, that was never going to be the case. But instead of rethinking the system - and borrowing ideas from other (more experienced) parties - UKIP persevered with a scheme that was almost bound to cause them grief.
For them then to complain is rather akin to standing up in the middle of an active battlefield and waving your arms around and then protesting that you get shot. In short, UKIP's behaviour has invited what is very close to a self-inflicted injury.
I bet you didn't know that the largest Esso service station in the world is located in one of the smallest countries on earth, in Wasserbillig, Luxembourg - located on the motorway to Germany.
There are eleven multi-product pumps, twenty toilets, shower cubicles and a first aid room. The forecourt covers 2400 square metres and the small supermarket 260, where motorists can find everyday articles and can take a break with a rich assortment of drinks and snacks, from fresh bread rolls to pizzas.
The reason why this is the case is simple – fuel tax is lower in Luxembourg (as is the tobacco tax), so people come flocking for miles around to fill up their tanks and stock up on cheap baccy.
And László Kovács, EU tax commissioner, hates it. Starting with the truck drivers and those with diesel cars, is seeking to close down this "loophole", by upping the minimum duty, currently at €302 per 1,000 to €330 in 2010, €359 in 2012 and €380 in 2014.
This will not affect the UK which has the highest duty at €693 but Luxembourg charges a mere €285, compared with €470 per 1,000 litres in Germany, just across the border.
A study shows Germans are willing to drive two to four extra kilometres for each euro cent differential in diesel price compared with a neighbouring country, which means that a lot of Germans are doing a lot of miles in what is known as "fuel tourism".
However, according to the Financial Times, Charlie McCreevy, the Irish EU internal market commissioner, and Dalia Grybauskaite, the Lithuanian EU budget commissioner, have forced a delay an announcement that was expected this week "to allow further debate". It will be discussed by all 27 commissioners on Wednesday.
To gain approval for the tax change, voting must be unanimous, with all 27 member states in favour. But, in addition to Luxembourg, Poland and the Czech Republic are also concerned about the tax hike: both are popular destinations for truck drivers avoiding higher duties in neighbouring Germany.
"We are not happy," says a spokesman for Jean-Claude Juncker, Luxembourg prime minister, he who so wanted the EU constitution.
Germany, however, would love the EU to have more power on this issue. A study by the European Commission found that fuel tourism cost Germany an estimated €1.9bn a year in lost tax on diesel, on top of which is the lost duty on petrol station sales of cigarettes.
Nevertheless, with so much opposition, László Kovács may be disappointed on Wednesday, proving the opposite of the current Inland Revenue slogan – that taxing can be very taxing indeed.
Nick Cohen, the left-wing journalist who writes for the Observer, the New Statesman and the Evening Standard, among others, thinks the left has really lost its way by supporting the worst, most repressive and most ferociously right-wing ideology around: Islamism.
Then again, he seems to equate liberalism, in the British sense of the word, with leftishness, which is completely wrong. Liberalism is about freedom; left-wing ideology is about control. Perhaps, they did not really lose their way but have ended up in the most logical position. Here is why I think it is so.
"UK doubles naval presence in Persian Gulf" screams the headline on the Telegraph website. The story tells us:
Britain's senior naval officer in the Persian Gulf has revealed that Royal Navy deployments in the region have doubled since October in a build-up that matches the rapid escalation of American maritime firepower.The extra firepower is HMS Cornwall, a type 22 frigate, two mine sweepers, HMS Ramsey and HMS Blythe, and a vessel from the Royal Fleet Auxiliary. And this matches the rapid escalation of American maritime firepower?
As I wrote over a month ago when we covered the story, and the US were putting in two carrier groups (one illustrated above), who do we think we are kidding?
Providing an antidote to the gushing tales of "derring do" that we see so often in the supposedly serious newspapers comes Booker in his column today in The Sunday Telegraph.
Based very much on the recent writings on this blog, Booker picks up the theme of how the MoD brass are so lost in their dreams of future wars, centred around the FRES (Future Rapid Effect System) project, that they have lost touch with the reality of the real wars in the here and now, that they are actually having to fight – and are losing.
Booker recalls how in July 2005 he reported on a hitherto completely unreported debate in Westminster Hall where then junior defence minister Don Touhig blithely announced to the only other MP in the chamber that the cost of FRES had increased from £6 billion to £14 billion, making it the most expensive single procurement project in the Army's history (and our Sunday "toy" - the SEP prototype platform).
That FRES was not reported then – or since – by the media (and especially the specialist defence correspondents) does much to explain why, when it comes to understanding and evaluating the current defence scene, they have lost the plot. Having not covered FRES before, and having not done their homework in the interim, there is a huge gap in their knowledge and understanding.
Furthermore – something we find covering issues on this blog – if you come into the story in the middle, the complexities are such that it is very often too difficult to summarise the issues. So it is with FRES. Correspondents are not even attempting to catch up and are tending to avoid it altogether.
When, as Booker does report, the Defence Select Committee appears to have very little idea of what the system is about (in common, it seems with most of the Army, which is still not able, clearly, to define what it wants), we have a recipe for confusion, if not disaster.
The fact is though that the Army and the MoD both, at just the time when they should have been concentrating on beating the insurgents in Iraq had taken their eye off the ball, instead mooning over plans for their new "toys", the purpose of which as, Lt Gen. Figgures (pictured) openly admitted, was to provide "the medium weight component of the Future Army Structure for the expeditionary force" – none other than the planned European Rapid Reaction Force.
No one who read the oral evidence given to the Select Committee (also linked from here) can come away with anything other than the impression that FRES had become the Army's "Holy Grail" and that it was not interested looking at kit needed to fight the insurgency.
Nothing can be more graphic in this context than Figgure's complaint (pg. 44) that the current equipment available would "enable us to fight as we wish to fight in the next 20 years" – a penetrating insight into the mindset of an organisation that has its own view of how it wants to fight and does not want to let the real world intrude.
But, as Booker wrote, not fully grasping this, the MPs seemed to think that FRES-type vehicles might eventually play the same role as the ragbag of semi-armoured and non-armoured vehicles that the Army is using in Iraq and Afghanistan, to increasingly dismal effect.
Thus, while the MPs were certainly highly critical of the FRES project in general, describing it as "a sorry story of indecision, constantly changing requirements and delay", they failed utterly to realise was that, even if the hyper-sophisticated FRES vehicles ever get built, they would be wholly inappropriate to the kind of low-grade, counter-insurgency wars our troops are currently fighting.
Then writes Booker:
The real tragedy gathering round the Army is that the generals are so taken with the glamour of these expensive and shiny new toys, designed to equip the Army of the future, that they have been reluctant to press for money to be "diverted" (as they fear) to buying the less glamorous sort of equipment needed to fight the campaigns our troops are already engaged in, and in serious danger of losing.This last claim is especially contentious but, if you think about it, no system could exist for long if politicians decided which equipment the armed forces used. It is up to the forces to define the equipment they need, and ask for it. That they are not asking is evidenced in this recent answer to a Parliamentary Question put by Mike Hancock MP:
If there is one thing I have got regrettably wrong in my various reports on defence in the past two years it has been to suggest that the pressure for fitting our Armed Forces to play their part in the ERRF comes from the politicians and not the generals themselves. It seems it is now the backroom generals who are most gung-ho for the shiny toys of the future, often leaving the politicians amazed that they are not more concerned about the needs of our men on the ground. (Last autumn, for instance, when the Defence Secretary, Des Browne, offered the generals more Chinook helicopters for Afghanistan, his offer was turned down.)
Mr. Hancock: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what recent representations he has received from military commanders in Afghanistan on the provision of (a) mine protected vehicles, (b) Chinook helicopters and (c) other equipment; and if he will make a statement. To compound the tragedy, writes Booker, "not only do we seem to be facing defeat in both the theatres where our troops are engaged, as a result of inadequate forces and equipment, but the future of the ERRF itself, with Germany and other countries appearing to lose interest, now seems more uncertain than at any time since Tony Blair signed us up to the project in 1999. Meanwhile, he has to disguise our defeat in Basra as some kind of a 'job done' victory, with similar spin having to be prepared to disguise our losing the war in southern Afghanistan."
Des Browne: Following my announcement on 24 July 2006, Official Report, columns 74-76WS, we have sent two additional CH-47 Chinooks to Afghanistan, making a total of eight, and increased the number of flying hours. This increased capability currently meets the operational commander's requirement and I have received no representations for additional helicopters. I have also received no representations for new mine protected vehicles. All requirements are kept under constant review. We regularly receive and action requests for a wide range of equipment. Some of these we can address through existing resources; other emerging requirements are met through the urgent operational requirement (UOR) process. The UOR process is an effective means of providing new capabilities or pieces of equipment for use in theatre; since the latest campaign started in April 2006, 261 UORs have been approved, of which 108 have already been delivered.
I am not convinced we have yet lost in Afghanistan, but paper from the Washington Institute entitled, "The Calm before the Storm: The British Experience in Southern Iraq" and a shorter paper by Anthony H. Cordesman, entitled "The British Defeat in the South…" make it very clear where we are going in Basra.
Add to this, the piece in the Independent and only the wildest optimist could run away with the impression that our activities in Iraq have been successful.
Time and successive histories will lend perspective to what precisely went wrong but, while fingers will inevitably be pointed to the politicians – and Blair in particular – the generals on the spot and back in London do not come out of it particularly well either. This has not been their finest hour.
It is a long while since we revisited the case of Tom Wise the UKIP MEP (pictured in the EU parliament chamber in Brussels with his friends), who was associated in 2005 with rather unsavoury financial irregularities amounting, effectively, to fraud.
Today, however, he is back in the news, this time in The Sunday Times, in a front-page story written by Daniel Foggo, headed: "UKIP in embezzlement scandal".
Much of the detail is similar to the original investigation into Wise's affairs in 2005, also by Foggo, then working for The Sunday Telegraph. At the time, this revealed that Wise had charged to his EU expenses £36,000 for the services of a research assistant, but had only paid her £6,000. A follow-up article weeks later, claimed that Wise was to pay back a refund of £21,000.
From Foggo now we learn that Wise is officially under investigation by the EU's anti-fraud office, OLAF and that the sum he originally channelled into his own bank account was nearer £40,000
Potentially, writes Foggo, this is the most serious crisis to hit UKIP, more so coming after the action by the Electoral Commission. While that episode is being dismissed as a "clerical error", Wise's actions have the hallmarks of deliberate fraud.
What has been clearly established is that Wise set up a scam to circumvent EU rules preventing MEPs claiming their £125,000 annual staff expenses personally, by requiring them to be paid either directly to the employees or through a third-party "agent". MEPs are not allowed to handle the money themselves.
Wise, who before his election had been a paying agent for his then boss, Geoffrey Titford MEP - and therefore had been very familiar with the rules - pretended that his own bank account was actually that of his researcher, Lindsay Jenkins - who claims on her own website to be an "investigative author and journalist". From November 2004 until October 2005 he funnelled £39,100 of taxpayers' money into his own account with the Cooperative Bank from which he paid Jenkins just £13,555.
Bank statements obtained by Foggo show that the only money coming into the account was from the EU, ostensibly for Jenkins. Wise's method was simple. He supplied the EU payments office with a contract, obtained by The Sunday Times, which included Jenkins's name and details and stipulated that she apparently wanted her money to be paid into her account, entitled "Stags". In fact, this account, the full name of which was "T Wise trading as Stags", was a business account run by the MEP himself.
But the breach of rules did not stop there. Some of the £13,555 paid to her was actually for work done on behalf of other party members, including UKIP leader Nigel Farage, who had agreed to fund the publication of a book written by Jenkins.
Then, during the same timespan, more than £19,000 of the money was steadily paid out from Wise's account to other destinations, some of them apparently credit cards. One disbursement alone, made via a transfer to somebody other than Jenkins, was for £6,500. And it has now been established that Wise also applied for other assistants' salaries to be paid through his bank account before the period involving Jenkins.
Faced with the highly embarrassing situation of one of their own implicated in fraud, back in 2005, the UK Independence Party – which makes a big noise about exposing EU fraud – was given plenty of opportunities to expose the fraudster in its midst, and distance itself from him. Collectively though, the MEPs and senior party officials – with not a little rancour – chose to close ranks, effectively endorsing (or at least, condoning) Wise's action.
Now their neglect is rebounding on them, as Wise is shown to be a serial embezzler, having maintained his position in the Party only through the tolerance of his dishonesty by his colleagues. Collectively, therefore, they are tarnished by his actions, and the name of the Party (such that it is) has been diminished.
However, if this is the case against Wise – with more to follow – Foggo may be wrong if he believes this to be, potentially, the most serious crisis to hit UKIP. Additionally, he reports that the Electoral Commission is going to launch a full review of UKIP's internal systems for dealing with their financial affairs and handling their statutory reporting requirements, noting that UKIP systematically flouts the spirit of EU rules, which forbid party workers from being paid with taxpayers' money. This is the line taken by the Sunday Telegraph in its story, as well as Foggo, both pursuing the story that the Party has been paying its regional organisers by designating them "advisers" and "assistants" to its 10 MEPs. By using this ploy, salaries of up to £40,000 a year have been paid from the MEPs' EU expenses, relying on the further fiction that they do their actual jobs "in their spare time".
Further details are set to be exposed because Denis Brookes, one of the party's former officials, issued industrial tribunal proceedings against Mike Nattrass, the party's MEP for the West Midlands region (pictured). It is understood that Brookes has stated in his claim for unfair dismissal that he was being paid to do one job while actually employed to do another one entirely, so that the party could secure EU funding for him.
If this is established, the party could find itself having to dismantle its entire Party structure and, as damaging, repaying the salaries of the regional organisers, going right back to 1999, when three UKIP MEP were first elected. It was then that the system was first devised of using MEP's personal expenses illegally to pay Party workers, in the expectation that Brussels-based officials would never check on the activities of staff based in the UK.
Given a clear intent to defraud taxpayers funds for Party purposes, carried out by all UKIP's MEPs, not only will they face the prospect of returning millions of pounds, but the possibility of criminal prosecutions as well.
Ironically, the latest local publicity from Wise has been devoted to opposing a new passport office in Luton because he says it would lead to "data rape". Now, it transpires that he and his colleagues have been doing something similar to the taxpayers. "Gang rape" might be a better way of putting it. What's left of the Party they have systematically sought to destroy might certainly agree.
Pamela Meister starts an interesting alphabet on American Thinker with her article, called “A is for Arrogance, B is for Baloney”. I wonder what C might be for? Condescension? Capriciousness?
The starting point of the article is a supremely ridiculous statement by Hillary Clinton, who took time off from bashing Barack Obama to tell the audience in Florida that
When I' m president, I'm going to send a message to the world that America is back - we're not the arrogant power that we 've been acting like for the past six years.My guess is that people don’t know what arrogant is until and unless Hillary Clinton becomes President. Just remember how arrogant she was when she was merely the First Lady. Pamela Meister reminds everyone of the time she said:
I 'm not going to have some reporter pawing through our papers. We are the president .I take it, once Hillary is in the Oval Office, if she gets there, poor old Bill will not be allowed to be part of that rather royal “we”. Is this what the American War of Independence was fought for?
What Hillary is talking about is that old chestnut: Bush ignored everyone but America in his foreign policy decisions. Apart from the fact, that this is not true, as anyone who can recall those endless and fruitless discussions in the UN would agree, as would anyone who can add up the number of allies the United States has in Iraq and Afghanistan, what else is he supposed to do? The task of the President of the United States is to look after that country’s and its people’s interests. He may get it wrong; he may make mistakes; he may get the country into a mess through wrong-headed policies (see Bill Clinton or Jimmy Carter). But he is not supposed to look to other people first.
Pamela Meister refers to another article by Kyle-Anne Shiver, which recounts a conversation with, sadly, a Brit in New York City. Sadly, because one would like to think that such arrogant silliness and ignorance would be exhibited by other Europeans but we must all be realistic about the level of knowledge and understanding in this country.
I got into a bit of a verbal tussle with a Brit this past summer - in New York, of course. He was demanding to know why W didn't pay more heed to the European interests before starting a bloody war that involved the whole bloody world. At first, I could barely believe my ears, but then I simply reminded him that we, the citizens of the United States, pay our President to worry about us first - and everyone else after that. He bolted back that, well, Clinton had cared about them! I just said that perhaps that was one good reason why his party was out and the ones who put America first - and foremost - are IN.One would like to know why the Brit in question thought that European opinion should be sought. Why not African? After all, the people of Africa really have a say in their own governance, do they not? So, they should be consulted about American politics. Or why not Chinese? Or any number of other countries, where governments just happen often in a far more bloody fashion than what has been going on in Iraq?
Then again, it was European interests that President Bush was supposed to have paid attention to. One wonders what those European interests are. Keeping bloodthirsty dictators in power? Perhaps.
Pamela Meister’s own rejoinder is good enough as far as it goes:
Another good rejoinder might have been to ask why Europe didn't pay more heed to American interests before starting two terrible wars that involved the much of the world. Neither World War I nor World War II were picnics, and it certainly would have been nice if someone in charge somewhere had asked what America thought beforehand. But most Americans are realistic. They don' t expect France, Germany, or any other country to play "Mother, may I? " with us when they make their foreign policy decisions. Alliances come and go depending on the needs of the day, but the reality is that it has always been every man for himself, and it always will be.Who on earth are those international interests that the American President is supposed to consult, anyway? The United Nations, a rapacious organization in every sense of the word that is incapable of sorting out its own affairs and is completely unaccountable to anybody?
There is, however, another important issue here, that quite possibly the Brit in question had not grasped. It is one we have written about before. A good deal of the grousing about the United States and its President (particularly Bush) whose powers are so enormous come from sheer frustration, not with American arrogance but with the fact that we no longer have any control over our own governments.
The American people can influence their government at various levels through elections. We cannot.
The whole article reminded me of a conversation I had with a lady who had wandered in to some event at the Institute of Economic Affairs and found herself a little out of things. She harangued me, for some reason I cannot recall, about Bush being the most powerful man in Britain because Blair just agrees to everything he is told.
This is a commonly held and completely erroneous view. Blair has a great deal of influence over Bush. He has not used it wisely or in Britain’s interests. That is all.
I listened to the rant for a while then asked if the lady in question knew who legislated in this country. She was thrown for a moment but went back to the subject of Bush’s power and arrogance. No, no, I insisted, who legislates in this country. Whoever legislates has the real power.
Then I proceeded to explain to her how legislation is done and why it does not matter whom we elect to the House of Commons or who is in government. For some reason the lady lost interest in the conversation and wandered off.
Which European interests should the President of the United States consult? And while we are on the subject, when will the European Union consult the interests of the European people?
As I recall, when William Hague, the Conservative Shadow Foreign Secretary (for people who may well have forgotten this fact) made his last statement about what foreign policy might be like run by him and the Boy-King, he waffled a bit about us not needing the American alliance any more but having to look to Asian countries, such as India and China. What that sounded like was somebody desperately looking at the map of Asia and repeating names of big countries.
An alliance with India is, indeed, a very good idea, as the government of the United States has recognized some time ago. Those two countries, as well as Australia and Canada, are part of the Anglosphere, with many ideas similar (at least in theory) to Britain's.
China, however, is a somewhat different proposition, though I would not expect the Conservative Party spokespersons to recognize this fact. Naturally, we need to have political and trade relations with the country but a close alliance, one, moreover, instead of the close alliance with the United States, does not sound like such a great idea.
Perhaps, Master Hague would like to think about the recent news from that country he would so like to have a close alliance with. It seems the government is desperately worried about young (and, probably, not so young) people becoming addicted to the internet. After all, they might find things out and that would never do.
Steps have, therefore, been taken to cure people of the addiction, as described by Ariana Eunjung Cha in the Washington Post. Among the methods are mild (by whose standards?) electric shocks. Sadly, the WaPo seems to accept China's own boast that it has dealt with alcoholism and drug addiction better than any other country. Since there is no independent source of information about this we should really take it with a very large dose of salt.
Any point in sending this to Master Hague? Somehow I do not think so.