Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Compare and contrast

Two British soldiers were killed in Iraq today and a third was injured after their patrol was attacked. The attack was in Amara, a city in the Maysan province of southern Iraq just north of Basra, where the main British base is located. There were unconfirmed reports that the soldiers died after being hit by a roadside bomb - an attack tactic used regularly by insurgents against coalition troops. A local witness said a car bomb had targeted the patrol.

Now have a look at this.


You know something is a bad idea when ...

…. It is supported by SecGen Kofi Annan (father of Kojo), the U.N. Human Rights Commissioner Louise Arbour and two leading human rights organizations (Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International), as well as former President Jimmy Carter (the all purpose rent-a-quote supporter of all tranzis, dictators and terrorists) and other Nobel Prize winners.

Unsurprisingly, John Bolton, US Ambassador to the UN, is not impressed by the new and watered down proposal to reform the Human Rights Commission. That’s the body, as the Washington Post helpfully reminds us, which was responsible for the Universal Declaration of Human Rights but “has recently been tainted by the frequent election of members with dismal human rights records, such as Sudan and Zimbabwe”. And Cuba, and Libya, which chaired it, and many others.

I should imagine John Bolton has grasped the basic impossibility of working within an organization that sets up a Universal Declaration of Human Rights, then expands to take in scores of member states who do not understand the basic concept.

One of the main points of the proposed reform of the UN was a thorough overhaul of the Human Rights Commission to exclude countries with a poor internal record. Naturally, the idea has stalled.

“Senior U.S. and U.N. officials had sought to prevent countries with poor rights records from joining the new organization by raising the membership standards and requiring a two-thirds vote of the 191-member General Assembly for any nation's admittance. But the proposal met stiff resistance, and the current draft resolution would require members to be elected by an absolute majority -- at least 96 countries.”

So now Annan and the others are pleading with the United States to accept this somewhat inadequate proposal, pointing out that it will do some of the work needed:

“They noted that provisions to subject all council members to scrutiny of their human rights record would discourage countries with poor records from joining. They also said that council members suspected of abusive behavior can be suspended by a vote of two-thirds of the U.N. membership present.”

The notion that the sort of scrutiny the UN gives to its own organizations, let alone member states could discourage “countries with poor records from joining” is purest moonshine. These countries do not think they have poor records as they do not know what the heck everybody is talking about. The average UN inspection would not find a single bottle of hooch in a bootlegger’s hide-out.

And, of course, it would be so easy to get a country suspended by two-thirds of the vote. They may all vote to suspend Israel, if needs be, and America, at a pinch. But Sudan? DR Congo? Cuba? Forget it.

Besides the 47 members of the new commission would be selected by secret ballot on the basis of “geographical distribution”. Mighty few candidates with good human rights record from some parts of that geographical distribution.


JSF in Parliament

Unreported by the MSM – apart from a brief mention on BBC's Yesterday in Parliament – the Joint Strike fighter made an appearance in the House of Commons yesterday, during defence questions.

One supposes that, with the recent revelations in mind about talks with the French on the possible purchase of Rafale aircraft for the Royal Navy (illustrated), Mark Francois, Conservative member for Rayleigh asked the defence minister to make a statement on the JSF, a standard opening which then allows for the real substance in the supplementary.

The response came from Adam Ingram, who predictably told us nothing we did not know already, leaving Francois to home in with a guarded supplementary, asking: "what is the Government's plan B if, for any reason, the joint combat aircraft programme does not proceed?"

Ingram, in the style of "Yes Minister", dead-batted the question, remarking that "the Ministry of Defence has plans A to Z to deal with every eventuality…", and refused to be drawn on what they were, stating laconically that he would not "inform the hon. Gentleman what all the other options", his reason being that he was "sure that others would put that information to good use".

Ah, such is Parliamentary democracy.

A more interesting exchange had come earlier, when Tobias Ellwood, Conservative MP for Bournemouth, East asked the minister what recent discussions his Department has had with the United States about the transfer of military technology. In his supplementary, Ellwood then declared:

We have stood shoulder to shoulder with the Americans not only on the battlefield but in the corridors of diplomacy and on the factory floor. Joint efforts to build a replacement for the Sea Harrier are being challenged by a corner of Capitol Hill. Will the Minister and the Secretary of State do what they can to ensure that the necessary technology is shared? Otherwise, we will have two new aircraft carriers, but no aircraft to put on them.
Ingram did "not accept the hon. Gentleman's conclusion" but did inform us that Reid had raised the matter directly with the US secretary of state for defence in the past two weeks.

Labour MP for Chorley, Lindsay Hoyle, then took up the bowling, noting an article in The Times stating that Lord Drayson – defence procurement minister -had declared technology transfer a priority for the building of the joint strike fighter. Again he got a dead bat for his reward, opening the way for Gerald Howarth, the Conservative procurement shadow (pictured). Said Howarth:

It is true that we agree across the Dispatch Box that a failure by the United States to permit the transfer of technology to enable us to service our own aircraft would amount to an unacceptable loss of British sovereignty. However, do not US suspicions about its technology leaching out to France and elsewhere inevitably increase when Javier Solana states that he wants the European Defence Agency to be responsible for at least 20 percent. of all European military research spending? Ministers cannot have it both ways -protesting in Washington and then sneaking off to Brussels to sign up to technology sharing with our European partners is hardly likely to win friends in Congress.
Ingram's answer was a studied example of "he doth protest too much":

The hon. Gentleman sets a hare running that has no substance whatsoever. His allegation has no foundation. The fact that some senior representative in Europe expresses his point of view does not necessarily mean that it is our point of view.
Just to remind Ingram of the issues about which Congress is concerned, in addition to the UK's enthusiastic participation in the European Defence Agency, there are also the little matters of:

  • Proven leakage of defence technology to China of secret, high-technology US military systems;
  • A joint declaration of a "strategic partnership" between the EU – of which the UK is a member - and China;
  • EU support for lifting the China arms embargo.
  • Partnership between the EU and China on the Galileo satellite navigation system;
  • Close ties between French and Chinese aviation companies;
  • Co-operation deals between French and Russian aviation companies on high-tech military equipment, including the development of UCAVs – with China as the biggest arms customer of Russia;
  • A treaty agreement between the UK and European countries on defence industrial co-operation, including France, with mutual recognition of security clearances;
  • Close French-owned industrial involvement with the MoD, and multiple cooperative defence agreements between France and the UK.
  • Just standing back from the fray, if you were American, would you be entirely happy to hand over to the British top-secret high-tech defence technology, worth billions of dollars, and be absolutely certain that there is no chance of any of the details finding their way to France, other European countries, or China? And if you had some doubts, what would you do in the American position, Mr Ingram?

    Anyhow, it seems that CEO of BAE Systems, Mike Turner, has a way out for Ingram. He is suggesting that the British government should consider a plan to build a naval version of the Eurofighter as a "fallback" in case it can't get greater transfer of weapons technology on the Joint Strike Fighter

    "We do not see any other fallback solution," Turner said. But then he would say that, wouldn't he.


    Nice one Roger

    Sir, it is extraordinary, writes Roger Helmer, MEP, to The Telegraph today, that the Power report seeks to understand public disaffection with politics, yet apparently does not once mention the EU. It calls for politicians to pass more powers to the electorate, he says, but seems unaware that they are in fact passing powers to Brussels. He continues:

    Well over half our new laws in this country come directly from the EU's unaccountable institutions. Voters may feel they have little influence over events in Westminster, but they have almost none over decisions in Brussels. The Conservative Party's investigation into political engagement will be chaired by Ken Clarke. Let's hope he will not make the same elementary omission as the Power report.
    Actually, Roger, if you had read the report before you had written the letter, you would have found there are numerous references to the EU, some of which are quoted in our own report.

    Let's hope you will not make the same elementary omission…


    It's war!

    Have you noticed that the more detached the "colleagues" get from the real thing, the more bellicose becomes their language? Thus we have an excitable little Italian complaining shrilly about the latest underhand dealing from the French – now there's a surprise – declaring that, "This is 1914 all over again."

    The Italian is economy minister, Giulio Tremonti (right), who is incensed by the action of French finance minister Thierry Breton and (unelected) premier Dominique de Villepin, in announcing the merger of energy utilities Suez with Gaz de France, in order to block a take-over by Italy's Enel.

    Granted it has been called "a naked attempt to exclude Italy from the French energy sector", but Tremonti is still a tad over the top when he squeaks in protest: "Nobody wanted war, but war happened. Somebody launches an ultimatum, another responds, and the effect is a waterfall… We still have time to stop this race by the European states to build protective barriers."

    Before he bursts a blood vessel, someone should perhaps take Tremonti to one side and explain was happened in 1914 and how dreadful the years following really were. That might at least help restore some sense of proportion into his febrile brain.

    Anyhow, clearly enjoying this spat is sometime "war correspondent" – aka European business editor – Ambrose Evans-Pritichard who yesterday in the Telegraph gave chapter and verse.

    He cites Berlusconi calling for "retaliatory action" to avenge an act of economic hostility, the man saying, "If they're going to protect their strategic sectors like that, we should do the same back to them."

    In a separate piece, our "war correspondent" takes up his new role with gusto, under the headline: "National guard put on alert", reminding us that, last year French voters put a spectacular stop to Europe's drive for political union by tossing out the EU constitution.

    Now, Ambrose writes, their leaders are finishing the job on the economic front, systematically rolling back the single market in open defiance of the EU institutions and treaty law, playing the rare card of strategic national interest against an EU ally

    The ever-excitable Tremonti takes the view that Europe is drifting into crisis, adding to his torrent of condemnation by pleading for reflection or, he says, "we'll end up like Europe's royal families after the Great War: all pointing fingers at each other saying 'you started it'."

    On the other hand, according to Ambrose, de Villepin is in effect pushing through a step-by-step withdrawal from the EU's economic system, with his finance minister Breton resorting to the "atomic weapon" of a poison pill law enabling French national champions to fight off foreign bids by issuing stock purchase warrants at a discount.

    This action is proving contagious. Tremonti now says his country will have to follow suit and Spain's socialists are "cutting rough" over E.on's €29bn bid for the electricity group Endesa. Not to be left out, the Poles are blocking a takeover of Bank BPH by Italy's Unicredit, despite EU infringement proceedings.

    As our "war correspondent" left the story yesterday, Brussels had been loath to provoke a showdown with Paris, saying it was "too early" to determine whether these French moves are illegal. This makes Brussels something of a helpless spectator as populist governments walked away from EU obligations, raising the question of whether the tide of economic integration has begun receding again as the ancient nation states of Europe revert to type, or whether it is just the season for political bluster.

    Concludes Ambrose, "this month's takeover revolt is taking the union perilously close to snapping point," adding, "Perhaps that is exactly what the French political elite now intends."

    Through the day, however, there were more developments, with Reuters reporting that the commission was skirting the issue of the GDF, Suez merger, sidestepping calls from Italy to challenge France. It was hiding behind the fiction that saying it needed formal notification to intervene.

    Salvaging what pride it could, the commission said it could not step in until it had been notified by one of the companies involved that the deal had a European dimension and would thus trigger an EU probe. "If notification takes place, the commission then examines it most carefully and painstakingly to see whether the rules on competition and free movement of capital have been scrupulously observed," a spokesman said. He was "not aware of any formal letter of objection to the deal from Rome so far."

    Rather unkindly, Reuters recalled that Brussels had been forced to remain a bystander to similar moves by Paris in 2004 when the French government managed drug firm Aventis's merger with Sanofi to fend off Swiss suitor Novartis which never made a formal bid, and here we had, apparently, history repeating itself.

    However, that stance was not to survive as no sooner had the commission crafted one position then it was ready with another. Reuters again was on the spot, this time with the news that the commission had come to the conclusion that the French merger did not appear to violate EU rules on the free movement of capital. That was from Oliver Drewes, spokesman for EU internal market commissioner Charlie McCreevy (pictured right).

    McCreevy might have been happy but his commission colleague, Franco Frattini, certainly was not. Despite holding the justice and security portfolio, he is still a red-blooded Italian with national pride at stake. Adnkronos international had him "vowing" to challenge the French deal, declaring: "I am not fighting for Italy but for Europe, and in this case, what is at risk is the European interest." How noble is that?

    Warming to his theme, the affronted Frattini warned: "Every form of protectionism damages Europe. If we start to accept national protectionism, the situation will only become more complicated … There is an important principle at stake here which European institutions must be vigilant about, and that is the single European market," he stressed.

    Now it was time for Berlusconi to step in again – after all, he has an election to win. According to the AFX agency he has demanded an intervention from the commission. He has despatched the excitable Tremonti to Brussels where he will spend today and tomorrow closeted with EU officials and meet competition commissioner Neelie Kroes together with Charlie McCreevy.

    Whatever is resolved – and who knows what might happen when Italian temperament meets Gallic insouciance – there will be one serious casualty. Last week, France, Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands began talks to set up a single electricity market and prise open national electricity businesses in a first step towards a new common EU energy policy.

    The commission is due to unveil a green paper on energy policy in March, but leaks of the draft document suggest Brussels will be held in check by "a lack of solidarity" among member states. That's one way of putting it. As far as the Italians are concerned, though, it's war!


    Monday, February 27, 2006

    Just as you thought it could not get any more ridiculous

    Thanks again to the excellent Little Green Footballs for calling attention to yet another ridiculous posturing by the SecGen Kofi Annan (father of Kojo). Instead of getting on with the task of reforming the UN (stop sniggering at the back), the egregious Kofi has been addressing – deep breath – the Open Session of the Second Meeting of the High Level Group For the Alliance of Civilizations. As Humpty-Dumpty said, there’s glory for you.

    To make the whole affair even more ludicrous, it was taking place in Doha, Qatar. One assumes he went there just after accepting his $500,000 from Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum of Dubai.

    Well, what did the SecGen say? The Alliance, he explained, had been set up to deal with “the sense of a widening gap and lack of mutual understanding between Islamic and Western societies”. Don’t know where the SecGen learnt his history, but I seem to recall periods (the fifteenth, sixteenth and seventeenth centuries spring to mind) when the gap and lack of mutual understanding was considerably wider. But, I suppose, “widening” is a relative term.

    “At the heart of this crisis is a trend towards extremism in many societies. We should beware of overemphasizing it, because extremism in one group is almost always fed by the perception of extremism in another group. Few people think of themselves as extremists, but many can be pushed towards an extreme point of view, almost without noticing it, when they feel that the behaviour or language of others is extreme.”

    Still, not all is lost. Most people are really pretty sensible and can always come to some arrangement though what the middle road between freedom and slavery might be, the SecGen did not explain.

    “So let us always remember that those who shout loudest, or act in the most provocative ways, are not necessarily typical of the group on whose behalf they claim to speak. I think one can safely say that most non-Muslims in western societies have no desire to offend the Muslim community, and that most Muslims, even when offended, do not believe that violence or destruction is the right way to react.”

    Well, that’s probably true though why, in that case, does the SecGen together with many other western political figures, such as our own Foreign Secretary, the execrable Jack Straw, should spend so much time appeasing the extremists in Islam, remains a mystery.

    Annan has his own explanation of how the whole problem arose. It seems that the Danes have not yet adjusted to having a significant Muslim minority in their country and have been behaving as if the freedom that Europeans have fought for over centuries was still their birthright. Well, no, that is not quite the way the SecGen put it but that is the gist:

    “In truth, the present conflicts and misunderstandings probably have more to do with proximity than with distance. The offensive caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad were first published in a European country which has recently acquired a significant Muslim population, and is not yet sure how to adjust to it. And some of the strongest reactions – perhaps especially the more violent ones – have been seen in Muslim countries where many people feel themselves the victims of excessive Western influence or interference.

    Whether or not those who published the caricatures were deliberately seeking to provoke, there is no doubt that some of the violent reactions have encouraged extremist groups within European societies, whose agenda is to demonize Muslim immigrants, or even expel them.”

    No doubt some of the violent reactions did encourage extremist groups. Most people have an objection to people parading through their cities, demanding beheadings, annihilation, a new Holocaust and other suchlike delightful concepts. They might start thinking that there is something wrong with those who come to live in Europe and abuse the hospitality to that extent.
    They might also think that there is something wrong when members of the Muslim community are not allowed to express free views themselves and the female members are stoned, beaten, raped and murdered if they behave the way we all think it right in the West.

    Sir Trevor Phillips, the chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality, for instance, said on TV this week-end that people in Britain should live under British law. If they wish to live under Shariah law, well, there are plenty of countries where they can do so.

    The same, presumably, would apply to Denmark, Norway, France, Germany and many other countries.

    But I digress. The SecGen disdained such details. His was a lofty view, appropriate to the Alliance of Civilizations that he was discussing:

    “So misperception feeds extremism, and extremism appears to validate misperception. That is the vicious circle we have to break. That, as I see it, is the purpose of the Alliance.

    It is important that we all realize that the problem is not with the faith but with a small group of the faithful – the extremists who tend to abuse and misinterpret the faith to support their cause, whether they derive it from the Koran, the Torah or the Gospel. We must not allow these extreme views to overshadow those of the majority and the mainstream. We must appeal to the majority to speak up and denounce those who disrespect values and principles of solidarity that are present in all great religions.”

    Those of us who have been following events would say that of the three great texts cited above, only one has been used to any extent to abuse and misinterpret the faith and bring about violence recently. Perhaps, the SecGen has information the rest of us do not possess.

    But I am glad he has mentioned the need for all religions and civilizations to understand each other, live peacefully with each other and open their borders to each other. I look forward to the day – surely not far off – when SecGen Kofi Annan opens the first Christian church and Sunday school in Saudi Arabia (or, for that matter, Qatar).


    A picture of England

    Or how I learnt to stop worrying and love the EU…?

    Via Islamophobic blog we learn from the BBC that "extremists" have been blamed after a cartoon featuring the prophet Mohammed with a bomb in his turban was put up in a housing office in Oldham.

    It appeared at the offices of First Choice Homes - which runs the town's council housing - and, or so we are told, "managers acted quickly to remove it and have begun an inquiry." They also reported the matter to the police.

    Oldham Council said the cartoon could be part of an attempt by right-wing extremists to increase tension ahead of council elections in May. I bet it was this.

    Anyhow, you will be pleased to learn that Greater Manchester Police said they were treating the incident "extremely seriously" and were worried the incident could affect "community cohesion".

    A spokesplod said: "Greater Manchester Police treat any incitement of racial hatred extremely seriously and robustly investigate any such incidents that are reported to us. "We will not tolerate any acts of racial discrimination and are committed to working with local communities to tackle any issues that may arise."

    Meanwhile, you will be delighted to learn, the plods have been active elsewhere. A volunteer litter-picker, Keith Jones, 65, of Hawarden, Flintshire, had been leaving bags of collected rubbish by the roadside for the council. He was spotted doing this by a diligent "householder" who duly informed the North Wales plods, whereupon Jones was fined £50 for fly-tipping.

    Not content with this unceasing effort in pursuit of law and order, Leicestershire plods have sent round emails to some of whom they presumed to be solid citizens, alerting the good people to the fact that BNP intends to distribute their Mohammed leaflet in the district. They are asking for information and proof that the leaflet is being delivered. No prizes for guessing what's in what passes for their minds.

    And while we're in the guessing mood… how many of the scumbags who paraded placards through London on 3 February, inciting murder and mayhem, have been arrested or charged by the Metropolitan plods? I'll give you a clue: it's a round number… a very round number.


    Stand by for more alienation

    If all you had to rely on was The Telegraph account of the report of the Power Commission, released today, you might have come away with the impression that the main and substantive recommendation was that "16-year-olds should be allowed to stand for Parliament".

    The Guardian is no better, offering its particular brand of spin, with, "Inquiry proposes radical overhaul of party funding", while The Times is absolutely dire and The Daily Mail turns its report into a rant against New Labour.

    Strangely, The Independent does a halfway decent job, with the headline: "Bleak view of the gulf between people and government", although its report is very brief, starting with: "Democracy faces meltdown in Britain as the public rejects an outdated political system which has centralised more authority than ever in a tiny ruling elite…". This is also the line taken by the BBC website, which also offers a very short report.

    Says the Power Commission website, though, introducing the final report of an inquiry funded by the Joseph Rowntree Trust and chaired by Baroness Helena Kennedy QC:

    After eighteen months of investigation, the final report of Power is a devastating critique of the state of formal democracy in Britain. Many of us actively support campaigns such as Greenpeace or the Countryside Alliance. And millions more take part in charity or community work. But political parties and elections have been a growing turn-off for years. The cause is not apathy. The problem is that we don't feel we have real influence over the decisions made in our name. The need for a solution is urgent. And that solution is radical. Nothing less than a major programme of reform to give power back to the people of Britain...
    The report itself runs to 175 pages and contains much that is common sense. It also offers by way of substantive recommendations, "three shifts in political practice":

  • a rebalancing of power away from the executive and unaccountable bodies towards Parliament and local government;
  • the introduction of greater responsiveness and choice into the electoral and party systems;
  • allowing citizens a much more direct and focused say over political decisions and policies…
  • taking the view that the current disengagement (with party politics) is not a "little local difficulty" but rather the result of a profound contempt for formal politics. There is a popular view that our political institutions and politicians are failing, untrustworthy and disconnected from the people they are supposed to represent.

    Interestingly, the Commission spent £800,000 on finding that out. If they had asked us, we could have told them that for free.

    And, while none of the media go even into that depth, none mention that on which the Inquiry does devote some space, our favourite topic, the European Union. On page 62, it says:

    Supranational bodies and processes of international negotiation such as the European Union have gained extra powers and influence at the expense of nationally and locally elected representatives. The direction and sometimes the detail of wide areas of policy are now heavily influenced by, or determined by, decisions taken by appointed officials working in supranational organisations or by politicians and civil servants in negotiations with their overseas counterparts.

    The result of these shifts has been to make political decision-making more opaque, hidden and complex. It means that the people who take key decisions are more likely to be geographically, socially and politically distant from the people who are affected by their de-cisions. It also means that decision-makers are less directly account-able to those who are affected by their decisions and rarely engaged in dialogue with them. The Power Commissioners saw at first-hand how a lack of real influence over decision-makers has become a primary cause of alienation from formal democracy, and recognise that those processes which have produced greater distance between governed and governors are a source of deep concern.
    Inevitably, the conclusion is more than a little woolly though, the report authors stating:

    One key step in reducing this distance is to expand the capacity of elected power to scrutinise unelected and indirectly elected authority and to initiate change where those authorities refuse to act. In doing this, a basis may be provided for citizens to enter into a new dialogue with the holders of power and hold them to account. The introduction of greater scrutiny of the political firmament will also help citizens to see that power in Britain operates in accordance with the citizens' wishes.
    The authors cannot, it seems, bring themselves to observe make the obvious statement that there is no provision within the EU to "initiate change where those authorities refuse to act" and therefor draw the obvious conclusion that the only way there can be greater accountability is if we leave the EU. This omission is all the more egregious when it cites this evidence taken:

    People will not vote if they feel their vote won't count. For many years turnout in local elections has been poor, because voters realise councillors have little power to affect local decisions. Now the same thing applies to national Parliament. MPs have given so much power to the corrupt Brussels octopus that they no longer can set the laws of the land. 60-70 per cent of laws now come from the Brussels oligarchy. Subconsciously, voters realise MPs have lost control, although Ministers NEVER admit this.
    There is much more where that came from, but therein lies the nub of the issue. And as for the political parties, these – as we all know – are too wrapped up in their own affairs to bother with, or understand people's concerns. Obsesssed with their own concerns, they have become part of the problem rather than the solution.

    Unfortunately, giving sixteen-year-olds the vote, or making them MPs will not remove the sense of alienation (although it might reduce the childishness of some of the debates), and nothing of substance that the Power Commission offers is going to implemented. Stand by for more alienation.


    An exercise in futility?

    After its stunning victory over the tumultuous question of VAT on hairdressers and restaurant meals, France has acquired a taste for blood.

    Thus emboldened, or so the Financial Times tells us, the Gallic Hords are now "mooting the idea" of descending on Brussels to demand a restoration of national sovereignty on VAT.

    Senior French officials have told European journalists that the hairdressers and restauranters raised questions about the EU's role in tax policy. "If we want to cut our value added tax we need unanimous agreement," said one.

    For the moment, however, France is planning to take up the issue with Austria – there's daring for you – intending to argue at a conference at St Pölten in April that the principle of "subsidiarity" should apply to VAT.

    Pity the French! Don’t they know that, under the doctrine of subsidiarity, it is the central authority, not the subordinate entity, that decides when it should apply. And, of course, to change the rules, that central authority – the EU commission – must decide first to table a proposal, which it cannot be made to do.

    It rather looks as if France, therefore, will end up doing its usual flag-waving exercise.


    Sunday, February 26, 2006

    Freedom of speech - 1

    When the long and tortuous negotiations that resulted in the less than spectacular Centre for the Monitoring of Racism, Xenophobia and Anti-Semitism (all of which unaccountably have grown in leaps and bounds according to the Commission under its wise guidance) and the passing of various directives that would prevent any kind of discrimination, there was a strong suggestion that denial of Holocaust should be made a crime across the EU.

    Fortunately, this lunatic idea did not take hold. At the time, I recall suggesting to one peer I have done research for that if there is a debate on the subject, he should suggest a parallel criminalization of denial of Communist crimes. That should fill our gaols up fairly quickly.

    The subject has come up again in a slightly different form. We can all understand why denial of the Holocaust was made a crime in West Germany and Austria in the years after the war. The question is whether after 60 years of democracy that should still be the case.

    David Irving, unfortunately, stretches one’s belief in free speech to the utmost. Anyone can leap to the defence of gallant little Denmark and her courageous journalists. Well, anyone can but far too many people did not. Do we leap to the defence of David Irving?

    While leap may be too strong an expression, I am bound to say that the people who stood on the right side of the War of the Danish Cartoons, have also acknowledged that Mr Irving ought not to be imprisoned for his sayings and writings.

    It really is a great shame about David Irving’s obsessions. He could, as Michael Burleigh made clear in last Wednesday’s Daily Telegraph, have been a good if somewhat eccentric military historian, where his almost unhinged obsession with archival evidence would have been quite useful.

    Let me remind our readers that David Irving was the first historian to say that the Hitler diaries were a forgery. The then Regius Professor of Modern History at Oxford, Hugh Trevor Roper and the luminaries of the Sunday Times were happily taken in. (Some people, such as Hizonner, the Mayor of LondON, still believe them to be genuine.)

    But what works sometimes does not at others. Internal evidence showed Irving that those diaries could not have been written by Hitler; this was supported in his mind by the absence of any archival reference to them. Fair enough. However, there are many occasions when archival material or lack of it is an insufficient guide to what might or might not have happened.

    Irving did not precisely deny the Holocaust but insisted (though, he says he has changed his mind) that the numbers were not as high as 6 million, that there were no gas chambers and that Hitler knew nothing about the Final Solution.

    The numbers one can argue about but adjustments there are not of any importance. The biggest argument is the same one can always use with people who try to deny to mass killing of peasants during collectivization in 1929-32. If they were not killed, what happened to them? What happened to the Jews of Central and Eastern Europe? If it comes to that, what happened to the Roma?

    The evidence for the camps and the gas chambers are plentiful and the notion that this could have gone on without Hitler knowing anything about it argues a complete lack of imagination and logical thinking. So yes, one could call Irving a Holocaust denier in the widest sense.

    He is also a man much given to complaining about Jewish conspiracies (mostly against him) and speaking to pathetic neo-Nazi groups on the Continent.

    The Austrian prosecutor, Michael Klackl said:
    “He's not a historian, he's a falsifier of history. This is about abuse of freedom of speech.”
    Defining abuse of freedom of speech is difficult and likely to land you in messy situations. That this is one can be seen from the gleeful articles and cartoons published in Iranian and Middle Eastern newspapers. So, freedom of speech means insulting the Prophet but not casting doubts on the Holocaust? Very nice. Just the proof needed of the West’s evil intentions.

    Herr Klackl is correct in most of his accusations – David Irving is a dishonest historian who has lied in order to deny some of the most horrible events of the twentieth century. The question is, should this sort of thing be decided in court?

    Not just historians but a number of Jewish organizations have disagreed with the need to send Irivng to prison. It is sufficient, they say, to treat him and his views with disdain. After all, the man has no real credibility and was bankrupted after he had brought a libel case against Deborah Lipstadt and Penguin books. Ms Lipstadt, incidentally, also disagrees with Irving’s imprisonment, maintaining that censorship is wrong and reasoned argument is the best way of defeating such people.

    Others, on the other hand, rejoice. Lord Janner, always the first to make pronouncements on such matters, expressed himself pleased with the conviction:
    “It sends a clear message to the world that we must not tolerate the denial of the mass murders of the Holocaust.”
    Well, I hate to have to disagree with any noble peer, especially such a charming one, who entertains his colleagues with magical tricks, but Lord Janner is talking through his hat. The only message it sends to the world is that we are obsessed with the Holocaust and have lost all understanding of it and of totalitarianism.

    No historical event, however vile, is beyond debate, discussion and, yes, the telling of lies. Lord Janner might like to consider why so many members of his own party have denied the truth of the second attempt at a Holocaust by Stalin in 1951-53.

    Come to think of it, I have not heard the noble lord pronounce on the subject either. Does he not know what happened to Jewish writers, scientists, intellectuals, doctors and so on? Does he not realize that Stalin was making plans to deport the entire Jewish population (those whom he had not succeeded in murdering) of the Soviet Union to Central Asia? Does he not care about the victims?

    Melanie Phillips in one of her more overwrought diary entries on the blog argued that Irving was not simply a man who told lies but a danger to us all, one who incited to violence by posing in a belted mac (á la the Führer, one assumes) with some ghastly little neo-Nazis in Germany.

    In the first place, he was not imprisoned for incitement to violence. In the second place, western democracy is surely strong enough to withstand the stupid posturings of some inadequate individuals. What does Ms Phillips think of people who parade up and down the streets of London in Red Army winter hats with the red star on them? Incitement to violence? Some people might think so.

    What of those many left-wing groups that still proclaim the need for the overthrow of capitalism and the triumph of the working class by violence if necessary? Should they all be arrested?

    Well, of course not. But what of the historians who have been peddling lies about the Soviet Union, denying the horrors of Communism and generally abusing freedom of speech? What of Professor Eric Hobsbawm CH, given that honour by Tony Blair?

    Throughout his long and distinguished career Professor Hobsbawm belonged to the CPGB (as long as there was a CPGB to belong to) and refused to acknowledge the Joseph Stalin was not the nicest possible man around, who occasionally got a little bit angry but what can you expect when you have the welfare of the world at heart.

    Even in recent books Professor Hobsbawm implicitly denied the extent of Stalin’s and Mao’s mass murders, and was all coy about the victims of collectivization imposed by every single Communist tyrant from Uncle Joe to Colonel Mengistu. Far from being disdained, let alone arrested and imprisoned, the good professor is highly feted (Companion of Honour, no less) and his books are required reading by all university students of history.

    All this, despite the fact that every single thing the Austrian judge or the British one in the Irving libel case of 2000 said about that wretched man can be said about Professor Hobsbawm (and numerous other, less eminent historians) with a few adjustments: instead of Nazism, Communism; instead of the Holocaust, the purges and collectivization; instead of mass murder, mass murder.

    The egregious Theresa Villiers MP tried to deal with that issue on Question Time (I did not watch it as I never watch these things but I am told that she found herself out of her depth in no time at all). As Tory Diary on the Consevativehome blog reported:
    “… the Tory MP said that the Holocaust was a uniquely depraved event in human history. She highlighted the fact that six million people had been exterminated in an industrial killing process because of their Judaism, their disability, their ethnicity or their homosexuality.”
    Dear me. So an industrial killing process geared to the extermination of millions because of their class (peasantry, intelligentsia), nationality (Chechen, Tatar, Ingushi), religion (just about everybody) is not particularly depraved?

    In this connection, let me bring up the argument that it is absolutely right for Germany and Austria to keep the legal ban on Holocaust denial because of their history. Especially, it is right for Austria, who took a very long time to take responsibility for its actions.

    As I said above, it was right in 1946. Since then Austria and West Germany have been democracies and have stuck to that. Austria, in particular, has a spectacularly good record in helping refugees from the Soviet Union, Eastern Europe and the Balkans who fled the horrors of … ah yes, it was the wrong system they fled from and so Austrian generosity and helpfulness in 1956, 1968, 1980, 1990s cannot be taken into account.

    As it happens, I agree that Austria had to acknowledge her participation in many of the horrors of the Second World War. On my last visit to Vienna I was extremely pleased to see that on Judenplatz there was a large memorial to the Jews who had been deported from that city.

    The memorial, I believe, went up before the present Mayor of Paris insisted on putting up plaques on various houses that enumerated the number of Jews who had been rounded up in that building and deported.

    The ructions in Poland about Polish involvement in the Final Solution still go on. But the answer to all this is not make denial of Holocaust illegal. All that does is writes the so-far accepted version into stone.

    To be continued ...


    A man we could do without

    The Business has managed a singular achievement today in recruiting an American writer, James Forsyth who, in writing about Jack Straw and his wholly malevolent role in the Iran crisis, seems to display some understanding of British politics.

    The piece, entitled The Straw that won’t break Tehran’s back, argues that, to stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons, the West must convince the authorities in Tehran that it is prepared to use force.

    But, writes Forsyth, one politician keeps getting in the way of this strategy and making it seem that force would never be even an option: Jack Straw, the UK Foreign Secretary, whose words keep reassuring the Iranians that they can do whatever they want.

    The thesis, which suggests that Straw is playing to the anti-war elements in his own party, and his shrinking support in his own constituency, is well argued and convincing, and well worth a read.

    In addition, it is also worth remembering that Straw is a man who, at best, can be described as having very poor judgement, viz his recent visit to Tehran. It was while there that he shook warmly by the hand Esfandiar Rahim Masha'ie (pictured), otherwise known as “the Butcher”, for the cruelty he exhibited in Tonekabon in the 1980s.

    Forsyth suggests that Blair should reshuffle Straw at the earliest opportunity. Until he is removed from the foreign office, it will be impossible to persuade Iran president Ahmadinejad that the West is serious about him acquiring the bomb, thereby making armed intervention more likely.

    That is too kind a fate for Straw, but at least it would be a start. He is truly a man we could do without.


    I knew it… I just knew it!

    In complete vindication of our piece posted on 25 January, when we reported that the UK was getting set to dump the US Joint Strike Fighter, the Financial Mail today leads its front page with "Anglo-US defence deals in jeopardy".

    Britain, reports the Mail, "may consider buying up to 150 French fighter jets for two new-generation aircraft carriers scheduled to go into service with the Royal Navy in 2013".

    Never mind that the in-service date is a tad optimistic, the substance of the Mail piece is that the "unexpected verbal offer" to buy Rafale marine jets "came on 24 January when defence secretary John Reid met his opposite number, Michele Alliot-Marie, for crucial talks in London".

    This is precisely the event which we reported – an event ignored almost completely by the MSM – when the French unexpectedly caved in on the price for using the UK design of the proposed carriers, actually offering more than the asking price.

    We also reported at the time that the deal was completely unexpected by the officials involved in the talks and concluded that "fairy-tale endings like this do not happen in real life." There was, we averred, "a very strong smell of a side-deal which has not been disclosed."

    And now it has come to pass that there was a side-deal, or the makings of one – exactly as we suspected – with Reid agreeing to consider the offer made by Alliot-Marie. Says the Mail, "even agreeing to give the proposal serious consideration could be seen as a major snub to the Americans, whose relations with the French on defence are strained".

    Of course, if the MSM had had its wits about it (stop giggling at the back), it would have put two and two together, not least the otherwise inexplicable manoeuvrings of Tony Blair on the second engine for the JSF, which looked to us like he was struggling to invent an excuse for refusing to buy the aircraft.

    One thing - amongst several – the Mail gets wrong is its claim that the UK will now consider cancelling the JSF contract. As it stands, of course, no production contracts have been signed. Completion on these is scheduled for November of thereabouts. Thus, the UK government is playing its options in a "window of opportunity" between now and then, when it must make a firm commitment to the JSF or withdraw from the project.

    Cited by the Mail as one of the reasons why the UK might wish to pull out is the continuing problems with technology transfer, the Americans being reluctant to release technology to the British for fear that it might end up in the hands of the French and thence be passed to the Russians and the Chinese.

    This is an issue we have rehearsed many times on this blog, most recently here, but if you need any more reasons why the US is entirely justified in its suspicions, The Business provides more evidence of the growing closeness between the Russian and French Aviation industries.

    This must be read in conjunction with our story on 22 August last year when we remarked on the tie-up between EADS and the Russian MiG company, aimed at developing high-performance UCAVs. Knowledge of JSF stealth technology would, of course, be invaluable to the French in progressing this project.

    All together, therefore, the report in today's Mail is of considerable importance and it says something that, although it is given some prominence, it is still confined to the business pages. This points up the utter inability of the MSM to understand the significance of what is going on, an inability which is reflected in political (and especially Conservative) circles and, unforgivably, much of the Eurosceptic community.

    Blinded by current – what might be called "legacy" - commitments, where our armed forces are working in close harmony with the US in the Iraqi and Afghan theatres, they fail to realise that the gradual realignment in defence procurement, detailed in my CPS pamphlet Wrong side of the hill, sets the tone for the future. Blinded by the short-term, commentators are failing to see the longer-term trends.

    That longer-term trend is a closer alignment with European Union member states, and especially with the French, involving the progressive severing of military ties with the United States. The fracture will be brought about by procurement decisions that have yet to take effect but which will have a vital influence on future military and political decisions. All this is happening in front of our noses and yet, as we have remarked so often on this blog, there seems an almost wilful refusal to join up the dots.

    The myopia of the Conservatives is illustated by the comment in the Mail piece from their defence procurement spokesman, Gerald Howarth, who bleats: "This shows the danger of the American refusal to give us the technology. They could drive us into the arms of the French".

    This is a line Howarth has taken consistently, marking his refusing to acknowledge that the US reluctance to share technology with us stems from their observations of our closer defence ties with the French and other European countries, the EU enthusiasm for lifting the Chinese arms embargo, and the risks of technology leakage to the Chinese.

    The JSF, therefore, is very much the litmus test. If the UK does walk away from this aircraft and buy Rafales, then at least what we have been warning about will be out in the open - not that it will make a blind bit a difference to what The Business today calls: "the dim-witted Tories".


    ...while Rome burns

    Not that we think that the intervention of the EU would actually do any good in any number of the burning issues of the day but, even if you take its ambitions of being a world power seriously, you can only stand back in amazement at the amount of fiddling this construct is doing.

    The latest grave and weighty matter that is occupying this "world power", consuming countless hours of expensively-paid bureaucrats' time, is the definition of vodka.

    This, according to Farming Life is the issue of the moment for the Agriculture Council, which has the Polish delegation, supported by the Danish, Estonian, Latvian, Lithuanian, Finnish, Swedish and German delegations, arguing over "the importance of restricting the current definition of vodka" in the commission's current proposal on the definition, description, presentation and labelling of spirit drinks.

    Well, I suppose that if an agreement on the definition of vodka prevents Germany going to war with France – or vice versa – it will all have been worth it but, somehow, it is a little difficult to see the relevance of such a grave and weighty development.


    The fifty-year old speech

    It still stirs up controversy and excites strong feelings. People may no longer faint but they grind their teeth and pummell the floor in frustration. Or they grind their teeth silently and hope that they can just wish it all away. But it will never disappear and the world will never go back to February 24, 1956.

    Fifty years ago, on February 25, 1956, Nikita Khrushchev, the First Secretary of the Soviet Communist Party, mounted the podium to give his report on the final, closed session of the party’s Twentieth Congress. It was, to put it mildly, an unusual report.

    Instead of the expected boasts and admissions of failure (to be blamed on someone else) Khrushchev delivered a four-hour long speech in which he denounced what he first referred to as the cult of personality that had grown up around Stalin. In effect, he denounced Stalin and some of his crimes.

    The speech concentrated on the purge of the party and the destruction of the Communist cadres through “glaring violations of revolutionary legality”. Little was said about the many millions of other victims but there were references to the destruction of the agriculture (and by inference, of the peasantry), to Stalin’s grave mistakes in the Second World War (the full horror of that is still largely unknown in Russia), the deportation of whole nationalities at the end of the war and the paranoia of the doctors’ plot.

    Like a good Soviet apparatchik, Khrushchev made no references to the largely anti-Semitic nature of the second purge, which was gathering momentum as Stalin fortuitously (or, perhaps, not) died. But he did quote Stalin’s instructions on how to extract confessions from the various highly placed medical specialists and their assistants, all of whom had been arrested: “Beat, beat, beat and beat again”. Few survived.

    It is said that the speech produced an unprecedented effect. People fainted in the hall. Supposedly secret, the speech was passed on to some Soviet and East European organizations. It was also smuggled out by one or two of the foreign Communist leaders who had been present. (One, the leader of the Polish party had a heart attack and died.)

    The Poles passed the speech on to the Israelis, who passed it on to other western countries. Very swiftly, the so-called secret speech was known all over the world, though in the Soviet Union its existence was denied till the late eighties when it was finally published.

    As an analysis of the Soviet system or, even, of Stalinism, the speech was inadequate. It concentrated on the crimes committed against the Party, leaving out the other victims. It created the illusion that the whole monstrous system had been created by Stalin and a few of his henchmen, some of them still around and, by a strange coincidence, Khrushchev’s rivals for power.

    There was no reference, for obvious reasons, to Khrushchev’s own involvement in the ferocious Ukrainian purges or the use of slave labour to construct many new parts of Moscow and, above all, the Moscow metro.

    Still, with all its inadequacies, the speech was stunning and its effect felt all over the world. It caused the Sino-Soviet split that followed in 1960. Closer home, it created disturbances in Eastern Europe that culminated in the Hungarian revolution that autumn. Though put down quite ferociously, the after-effects remained. Never bright confident morning again.

    In the Soviet Union there was an attempt to losen the rules. The small measure of artistic freedom that we know about came, in fact, after the second, even mosre shattering, as it gave more details, anti-Stalin speech at the Twenty-Second Congress of 1961.

    People had been gradually released from the gaols and the gulag since Stalin’s death. Now the process was speeded up though it was never a complete one. Other people were arrested. Some of those “illegally repressed” were rehabilitated and they or their families were given certificates to that end. Most, on the other hand, had to wait for several decades.

    There was a half-hearted attempt to investigate the murder of Kirov (known to all to have been done on Stalin’s orders), which had triggered off the Great Terror of the thirties but it came to nothing. It was finally completed and Stalin’s role admitted under Gorbachev.

    The greatest effect of the speech was in the West. There was uproar in all the Communist Parties with hundreds leaving, feeling that they had been cheated and humiliated.

    Others, who had known some or all of the truth, felt cheated that it had now come out and their word would no longer be accepted, their honesty doubted. For years they had denied the horrors of the Soviet system and fought to destroy the good name of anyone who had tried to tell the truth. (These are the people nowadays described as innocent vicitms of McCarthyism.)

    The good times were over – they would have to try that much harder and weasel their way through words that much faster to be believed. Fortunately for them, the Left, after the first shock continued to prefer the Communist explanation for everything.

    An even bigger problem faced the fellow travellers, the people who had mindlessly accepted all assurances, who had used their authority to support what was now acknowledged to be the truth. Some never quite recovered. Others, again after a decent interval, found themselves another foul murdering regime to be a fellow traveller of.

    It took another three decades for the Soviet system to collapse. Communism has not gone yet and the full truth about it has not been told in Russia and several other countries. Even in the West the reluctance to acknowledge the horror of the other totalitarian system is prominent as we cling ever more despairingly to the idea that nothing could have been as bad as Nazism and no crime as vile as the Holocaust.

    Yet the work that was started in a somewhat incomprehensible fashion by Nikita Khrushchev fifty years ago has to be completed or we shall never rid ourselves of the incubus of the twentieth century.

    We have understood and tried to overcome the horrors of Nazism, though there is a sad reluctance to see its human causes; but not until the horrors of Communism are fully understood; not until its widespread influence is acknowledged; not until our leaders and our media stops finding excuses for the heirs of Stalin (as Yevtushenko called them) or, more precisely, the heirs of Lenin; not until then shall we be able to move on.


    Saturday, February 25, 2006

    You're too kind Neelie

    This week, there has been much ado about the threat to close upwards of ten thousand rural post offices, causing much distress to their customers.

    The story was broken by the Daily Mirror on Tuesday, after questions had been raised by "Post Office boss" Adam Crozier about the fate of the annual £150 million subsidy paid by government to keep the post offices open.

    Now, courtesy of The Scotsman, we learn that the munificent European Union has stepped in, earning itself the headline: "EU's £150m lifeline will save rural post offices from closure".

    Casual readers might think that the EU has actually coughed up with some money – not that it is theirs to give anyway – but scrutiny of the story reveals the sad truth. The "EU lifeline" is nothing more than approval given by the EU commission to our own government, so that it can spend our money on the post office subsidy.

    Before British ministers could expend this money on a vital social service, they had to go grovelling to Brussels in order to convince the commission that the subsidy did not amount to "unfair state aid".

    So much for the might of the United Kingdom that it thus depended on Dutch EU commissioner Neelie Kroes, who runs the competition portfolio, to give her gracious permission, which indeed she has, stating, "I am satisfied that the funding is proportionate to POL's public services obligation. I am happy to endorse a measure which will benefit British consumers in rural areas without distorting competition."

    You're too kind Neelie.


    This is news?

    Hold the front page! "BNP to print Muslim cartoon leaflets", reports Reuters, oddly enough datelined Wednesday but only appearing on the Google news site today.

    The story is picked up breathlessly by the BBC website, which repeats verbatim the Reuter's story, citing a "party spokesman" who said they had printed the cartoons to provoke debate. "We published the cartoon not to offend individual Muslims - that's most important - but to make a stand for freedom," he said.

    There is a ritual condemnation from the loathsome Ian McCartney, Labour Party chairman, who condemns the leaflets as "straight out of the Nazi textbook". But then, he would know all about that.

    Anyhow, so much for news. The leaflet appeared on the BNP website on 17 February, a good five days before Reuters picked up the story, and it was reproduced on this blog the same day.

    Nice to see the MSM is on the ball.


    Barking mad?

    Not content with having seriously affected the mental stability of a significant proportion of the population – as is evident, at times, from our own and other EU-related forums – it appears the European Union, having in part been responsible for the problem, is now making a pitch to take an active role in countering "mental ill health" in the "European" population.

    Not by any stretch of the imagination could anyone suggest that this is a core function of the EU – or would even come onto the horizon when we joined what many thought to be a trade club back in 1972 – and there is not one whit of a mandate to address this issue in any of the treaties.

    But never mind, at the fag end of last year – and just publicised in the current edition of the EU sponsored Eurohealth magazine – the European Union, bold as brass, published a "Green Paper" entitled, "Improving the mental health of the population: Towards a strategy on mental health for the European Union".

    Without even blushing, in this document it then calmly lays out "the need for an EU-strategy on mental health", arguing that its intervention would "add value" to member state activities, not least by "creating a framework for exchange and co-operation between member states", "helping to increase the coherence of actions in different policy sectors" and opening up "a platform for involving stakeholders including patient and civil society organisations into building solutions."

    And if that leaden jargon does not send you mad, what will?

    Neverthless, on the basis of this, the EU commission proposes an EU-strategy which, inter alia, will aim to "improve the quality of life of people with mental ill health or disability through social inclusion and the protection of their rights and dignity".

    Given that the EU is struggling mightily to improve the quality of life of people without mental health problems, pace the Lisbon strategy, it is perhaps a tad ambitious of it to attempt to deal with people who might be even less responsive to its blandishments. Its ambition might, however, suggest that the first place the Commission should seek improvements in mental health is in its own ranks.

    Perhaps it is relevant to recall in this instance one of my own – of many - visits to mental institutions (in a professional capacity, of course). In this instance, I was with a group of people carrying out a study, lingering at the tail end of the group as we processed through the hospital.

    In one ward, a patient saw the group and walked smartly up to me, looked me squarely in the eye and pronounced, "You are a c**t!" I remarked later that, with that degree of perspicacity, he was probably the sanest man in the hospital.

    He was certainly saner than these self-seeking EU bureaucrats, whose untrammelled ambition knows absolutely no bounds.


    Friday, February 24, 2006

    One day we shall reform it

    We shall reform the UN one day. Honest we shall. Well, not tomorrow, of course, or the day after or even the year after. In fact, according to Prince Zeid Ra'ad Zeid al-Hussein, the Jordanian Ambassador to the UN, it will take several years. I am not holding my breath even about that.

    His Excellency was speaking about the UN peacekeeping operations. Just to remind our readers: “The 18 peace missions worldwide employ 85,000 staff from over 100 countries, with a budget of nearly $5bn.”

    There has been a certain amount of trouble about many of these, particularly in DR Congo and the Balkans. They had abused their position and, indeed, had abused sexually many of the people they were supposed to protect. Rapes of children and the purchase of sex for food (hardly more than rape) had been reported, though apart from one French officer who admitted his misconduct nobody was punished or even investigated.

    The argument, as I recall, was that most of those troops had gone home and if the UN started dragging them back and investigating them, next time there would be no troops. One begs leave to doubt this, as a large proportion of the peacekeeping troops do the “work” for money, being much better paid than their comrades who stay at home.

    Still, a system of complaints was introduced and, miraculously, some people have taken advantage of this. According to the BBC World Service Website:

    “Jean-Marie Guehenno [head of peacekeeping operations] said the UN had investigated 295 cases under a new reporting system introduced last year.”
    It is not clear from that statement whether all the cases were investigated or not; nor can we tell what the outcome of the investigations was. My assumption is that nobody was punished even if the report proved to be accurate.

    Mr Guehenno made some other interesting comments, none of them particularly hopeful for the unfortunate people in the countries where there are UN peacekeepers:

    “Allegations being lodged against UN peacekeeping personnel remain high and unacceptably so.” [Presumably, only a small proportion of those who have been abused or exploited do actually lodge allegations.]
    He also noted

    “… how hard it is to change a culture of dismissiveness, long developed within ourselves, in our countries and in the mission areas”.
    That is a damning indictment. Even more damning is the comfortable assurance that it will take years to change this culture. As the blog Captain’s Quarters comments:

    “So what's supposed to happen while the UN continues its weak efforts at reform? Do refugees need to literally hide the women and children when blue-helmeted soldiers appear on the scene?”
    Let me add two more comments of my own, both drearily repetitive.

    Firstly, imagine if these statements had been made by the Pentagon or any American commander. Picture the outcry in the media and the salivating details produced by the “outraged” journalists. As it is the UN, well, not much will be written about it.

    Secondly, let us not forget that the organization that has happily lived with this culture of “dismissiveness” and is still unable to bring any kind of control over its peacekeeping troops’ behaviour, claims moral authority as a potential world government and present source of legality.


    Where did we go wrong?

    With the Turkish Army on the process of re-equipping and developing into a formidable modern force, an intriguing report appeared recently in DefenseNews, which harped back to another story on which we reported back in September last.

    The report itself simply confirms that which we reported earlier, that Turkey’s procurement authorities have now formally launched bidding for the local manufacture of new-generation main battle tanks. This is a reversal of the initial gush of Euro-enthusiasm after it had been agreed that Turkey could commence entry negotiations, when there were reports that the Turks would equip their army with surplus German Leopard II tanks.

    The significance of this move is obvious, in that Turkey is hedging its bets on joining the EU, and is maintaining a degree of strategic independence, to the extent that it is permitting only companies based in Turkey and owned more than 50 percent by Turkish entities to bid for the tank programme.

    But if this is significant in Turkish terms, it also points up the stark contrast with the British arms procurement policy and, on the broader front, they way we have treated our defence manufacturing industry.

    While the Turks, who have a limited industrial base and no previous experience in building such highly complex weapons such as main battle tanks, are setting about gearing their industries for the task of indigenous supply, the UK – with a long traditional of industrial excellence and, as the inventor of the tank in the First World War – now feels it necessary to go to Sweden for its new generation of armoured vehicles, which are to form the background of the FRES programme.

    Similarly, while successive governments have felt it necessary to embark on European collaborative schemes in order to equip our front-line fighter squadrons, France – supposedly the most Euro-enthusiastic of all nations – has maintained its own independent aviation industry and is equipping its squadrons with home-built Rafale fighters.

    Amazingly, even Sweden, with a population size of less than greater London, is able to produce its own fighter aircraft – currently the Gripen (illustrated) – perversely in partnership with the British-owned BAE Systems, a company which has not been trusted to produce aircraft for our own forces.

    On the ground, we have a country with an automotive industry that also stretches back to the invention of the horseless carriage. We have a population with good engineering skills and world-class designers, with plenty of spare capacity and good infrastructure, yet our government chose to equip our Army with Austrian-built vehicles rather than allow them to be home-produced, thereby turning its back for the foreseeable future on maintaining a domestic military vehicle industry.

    How is it that the UK, again with a small-arms industry of long antiquity, cannot support even the one factory needed to supply its own armed forces with rifles? For sure, Germany maintains its own manufacturing capability, but how come such industrial giants like Austria and Belgium can maintain world-class industries of their own, despite not having armies worthy of the name?

    Then, when it comes to ammunition and explosives, why do we need to go to France and Germany for our supplies? Why is it not possible for British industry to survive on the orders from the most active and heavily engaged armies in Europe?

    And, as for ships, why is it that France, Italy and Germany have the capability to build their warships and support vessels in-house, and Spain is able not only to supply her own navy but maintain an active export industry – selling to Australia amongst others – yet our shipyards are so run-down that our government needs to consider awarding contracts for our replenishment vessels offshore.

    These are the basics but a country which claims to be a high-tech, advanced nation, also has to go offshore for its missiles, for its mine countermeasures, for its anti-battery radars – despite having invented radar - and, latterly, its helicopters. Never in the history of the UK have we ever been so dependent on offshore suppliers for our weapons than we are at the moment.

    In following the twists and turns of this and preceding UK government’s procurement policies, we have of course, focused on the European dimension, and in so doing have been accused of distortion, and worse. Not a few of our critics have suggested that turning away from European suppliers would simply make us even more dependent on the US, which could be just as bad.

    But what the Turkish decision points up, therefore, is that other factor – the strange destruction of our own defence industries, which has left us dependent on foreign suppliers, which are increasingly of European origin.

    To some extent, we know that the wind-down has been influenced by European policy, not least in shipbuilding, where the UK government has cut back subsidies while other member states have continued theirs, and we know that certain politicians have show more than usual enthusiasm for integrating our defence industries – Michael Heseltine comes to mind.

    And it is on these issues that we intend to focus some of our energies, to develop this theme future posts.


    It ain't all schools 'n' hospitals

    Remarkably, in a Mori poll carried out for The Sun today, "defence/foreign affairs/terrorism” were regarded as the most important issues facing Britain today.

    These issues were offered spontaneously by 34 percent of the respondents questioned and compare with the NHS/Hospitals at 33 percent, race relations/immigration at 30 and education/schools at 25 percent. Crime/law and order comes in at 28 percent. And, for all the leftie breast-beating about Kyoto and global warming, "pollution/environment" scored a mere eight percent.

    Given that the political classes spend most of their time telling us what they think is important, with public services at the top of the agenda – which must have an effect on public sentiment – the prominence of "defence/foreign affairs/terrorism" speaks volumes. It suggests that the likes of Cameron, who puts "environment" at or near the top of his own personal agenda, may be more out of touch than even we believed.

    This might explain why, according to this poll, the Conservatives have slipped back in the popularity stakes to 35 percent, down from 40 percent in January, with Labour remaining static at 38 percent.

    This, however, contrasts with the The Telegraph YouGov poll, which puts the Tories slightly in the lead at 38 percent, compared with Labour's 36 percent.

    Even that, though, is hardly a ringing endorsement of the Boy King and, as The Telegraph says, "Voters think Cameron has a credibility gap". Perhaps if he focused on some grown-up issues – as indeed the public seem to be doing – he might fare better.


    Metric kills

    The UK Metric Association was having a ball yesterday, urging the government convert all road signs to metric in time for the 2012 Olympics. Typically for the genre, it argues that failure to do so risks Britain being seen as a backward nation clinging to an awkward and outmoded measurement system.

    Quite why this "failure" – or, more accurately, refusal – to adopt an arbitrary system of measurement devised during the French Revolution and imposed at the point of a gun by Napoleon should be so devastating is hard to see, especially as the richest economy in the world remains staunchly Imperial.

    Anyhow, The Times suggested that any changeover could be an "Olympic task" as the Department for Transport claims it would cost £750 million to install new signs and £10 million to publicise the change.

    This is disputed by the Metric Association, which believes that it would cost only £80 million, or 0.27 percent of the annual roads budget, if the investment and conversion were spread over five years.

    But their jewel in the crown is the Republic of Ireland, which converted its road signs to metric a year ago, increased its 70mph motorway speed limit to 120km/h, or 75mph. The 60mph limit on single carriageway roads became 80km/h, or 50mph.

    The Metric Association reminds us that, while British transport ministers have tended to argue that a metric changeover would be confusing for older drivers and could result in crashes, this was not the case – they claim – in Ireland.

    To support their case, they called in aid Ann Cody, the "road safety" official who oversaw the change in the Irish Republic. She said that there had not been a single serious incident in the past 12 months, adding: "There were many scare stories before the switch, but the danger never materialised."

    Er… what price then The Irish Times which on 21 December 2005 reported that in a reversal of the long-term trend, road fatalities had gone up dramatically for the second year running.

    And, while Garda figures showed that 2005 was the worst year for fatal road accidents since 2001, when 411 died, what is especially significant is – according to the Irish Examiner - that, despite a reduction in the speed limit, following the conversion to a metric system, the incidence of speeding on regional roads increased dramatically.

    Incredibly, the number of drivers who exceeded the speed limit on rural roads rose to 63 percent in 2005 compared to just 8 percent in 2003 when a new points system was introduced. Average speed in built-up areas was 65km/h, 15km/h over the speed limit.

    Looks to me that the Irish took er… an Irish view of the new signs, taking the new signs at face value – the face of their existing speedometers, calibrated, of course in miles per hour. It seems also that, contrary to what its advocates claim, metric kills.


    Thursday, February 23, 2006

    Frattini has a way with words

    Only IrelandOn-Line and EUObserver reported the interesting news that the EU justice ministers have decided not to go ahead with the plans to harmonize rules to do with defamation in the media.

    Teresa Küchler reports in EUObserver:
    “The proposed law aims to define which national law applies in disputes where individuals or companies from different countries are involved, including non-EU member states. However, ministers meeting in Brussels on Tuesday (21 February) decided to postpone the law after it became clear that unanimous agreement would not be possible.”
    There were many problems with the whole issue, as various journalist organizations pointed out:

    “Media organisations, NGOs and politicians warned of damage to the principle of freedom of speech, arguing that a Swedish newspaper, for instance, could be sentenced according to Syrian or Pakistani law following a law suit on defamation from a citizen in either of these countries.

    Critics also pointed out that an inconvenient practical consequence of the commission proposal would be that media in one country would be obliged to have knowledge of all other countries' media laws - which would be impossible to oversee.”

    Commissar Frattini promised that they would harmonize whatever they can and, as for defamation: it would not be swept under the carpet, just more time was needed.

    There is just one problem with that. According to Reuters India for January 31, the Commission had decided then to “scrap a bid to define common rules on which national legislation should apply in cross-border media defamation cases”. In which case, what were the ministers discussing and what was not going to be swept under the carpet?


    Harris on Cameron

    Over the years of its existence Prospect magazine has published very few pieces that have strayed away from the "consensus" in the media and the political world. One of them is in the March issue.

    Robin Harris, the erstwhile Director of the Conservative Research Department and adviser to Margaret Thatcher, gives his opinion on David Cameron and the direction he is taking the party. It is not a jolly read but I am sure people who visit this blog can take it.

    Apart from anything else, Harris informs us that he gave Cameron his first job in the CRD "after some judicious prodding from a royal equerry".

    Harris thinks that Cameron has not only underestimated the results of his own continuous U-turns but is in danger of misunderstanding Gordon Brown.

    "Cameron, though, is right about one thing. Brown is in many respects "very much a 1980s politician," in some ways temperamentally similar to Thatcher, who dominated that decade. It is significant that Brown has publicly praised her record while the Tories have sought to disavow it.

    Like Thatcher, Brown is immensely able, a workaholic, driven by values inherited from a Protestant upbringing. He believes in duty, work, effort, merit. He is serious about politics and contemptuous of those more interested, like his next-door neighbour, in the trappings of power. He is passionate about improving the lives of those at the bottom of the pile. One should also add that Brown is 100 per cent wrong about how to achieve these noble goals."

    As Harris says,
    "Having abandoned the issues of immigration, crime, Europe and tax as distastefully populist, the Tory manifesto may look a little thin."
    All they will be relying on is Gordon Brown's unpopularity. If they get that wrong, they are in trouble.