Friday, February 29, 2008

More on the mass lobby and the House of Lords

My colleague has already posted on Wednesday's lobbying of MPs, the unfortunate episode of the Green rooftop protest (which will get them absolutely nowhere, I am happy to say) and on Iain Martin’s article with which this blog is broadly in agreement.

I have little to add though I spent a couple of hours there. It was remarkably well attended, given that it was mid-week and whoever came had to take half a day or a day out of their schedule. As a good many people who queued were clearly of working age and equally clearly in employment, that says something. [Both pictures are from the I want a referendum site.]

The posters looked very professional as did the balloons, much as I hate the wretched things. They always burst and there are always children crying. But, let me say it again, fancy dress looks charming on young children and funny on teenagers. It looks stupid and hideous on middle-aged ladies and gentlemen. What will it take for some eurosceptics to realize that dressing up as Britannia or John Bull is counterproductive?

In the short run this will achieve nothing. The House of Commons will not pass a referendum amendment. The obvious purpose of exercise like this is to make the troops feel that they are trying to do something, fighting skirmishes if not major battles. As military commanders always say, it is important to keep the troops’ morale high by activity.

The real battle, as I have said before, will be in the House of Lords and, as it happens, some of us heard a talk about that at the Bruges Group the same evening. It was a somewhat muddled event, which tends to happen when Tory MPs get involved in arrangements. Come to think of it, make that all MPs.

The original plan was to have Bill Cash MP and Richard Younger-Ross MP, Lib-Dim Shadow Minister for Culture, Media and Sport address the multitudes. In fact, Cllr Steve Radford of the real Liberal Party moseyed along just to heckle Mr Younger-Ross. He was sorely disappointed as Mr Y-R announced that he would be late then that he would not come at all because of family matters. The chairman, Barry Legg, wondered whether it had anything to do with the disgraceful events in the House the previous day.

Let me state it for the record: the Deputy Speaker was entirely right and the Lib-Dims behaved abominably. They had already been told that their so-called amendment, really a distraction from the main issue, cannot be tabled as it had nothing to do with the actual debate. If they want to pass a law for an in/out referendum they can do so another time.

Storming petulantly out of the Chamber when your spokesman has been properly chastised from the Speaker’s Chair is infantile behaviour. People who thought it was clever have no respect for or understanding of the parliamentary idea, regardless of who happens to be inhabiting it now. And if you think it was ever different, read some history.

Anyway, back to the Bruges Group. The next thing that happened was Mr Cash pulling out as he was going to bore everyone speak on the Lisbon Treaty in the House. Robert Oulds, the Director, desperately called round and Lord Pearson of Rannoch agreed, very nobly, to step in at the last minute.

I shall write about his speech in a minute. Let me just add that as we were winding up question-time (and some members of the audience need to learn the difference between questions and statements but that’s by the by) Bill Cash MP and John Hayes MP turned up to speak, presumably because the entertainment in the House of Commons had finished.

Their speeches were entirely unmemorable except for the number of times the word “I” came up in them. MPs are incapable of seeing anything except their own performance and that in an overwhelmingly rosy light.

Oh and there was the wonderful episode of Sir Ivan Lawrence QC neatly skewering John Hayes MP, who pompously and long-windedly refused to explain why the Conservative Party thinks it is better for the UK to stay in the European Union than to get out. Presumably, they do not know and cannot think beyond their current mantra.

Lord Pearson’s own talk was of great interest as he outlined what might or might not happen in the House of Lords where there are no guillotines and the debate will carry on for as long as will be agreed.

(Mind you, with Bill Cash announcing that he spoke in the Commons every day of the debate at length and in great detail, I suddenly saw a new and urgent reason for cutting the promised 22 days to just 11.)

The important amendment is, naturally enough, the referendum one and this is still being worked on in the background. It is, for example, essential to work out who should sign that amendment because, as Lord Pearson put it, their lordships do not necessarily read all the material that comes their way but they do look at the signatories of amendments to decide whether these are people they want to follow.

Secondly, a great deal of work will have to be done among the cross-bench peers who, as another eurosceptic member of the Upper House told me, now consist of very many of the great and the good. We all know how the great and the good are likely to behave – in an ovine fashion.

Numbers matter. If there is a three-line whip for Labour and Lib-Dim peers (the latter is now becoming more questionable since it is not clear what if any whip there will be on the subject in the Lower House) then they will have a majority over the Conservatives, particularly as there are likely to be some rebels who will not vote for the amendment.

So a majority of 90 is needed, largely from the cross-benches. Work on that is in progress.

Then we come to the problems of what happens to the amendment, for even if their lordships pass it, that will not be the end of the matter. It will go to the House of Commons, who will, undoubtedly, reject it and there will be the famous ping-ponging between the Houses, with their lordships needing to keep their collected nerve. As this applies to the Conservative whips as well, I am not very sanguine. Really, a larger majority than 90 would be a good idea.

Then, Lord Pearson said, we come to a fork in the road. Suppose the referendum amendment goes through and we have one. As it happens, the first effect will be that ratification of the Constitutional Reform Lisbon Treaty will be held up with unforeseen consequences but he did not discuss that.

Nor did he discuss the possibility that we might lose the referendum. But, suppose, we win it. In Lord Pearson’s opinion, and he has been quite consistent on this for years, we would then be faced with a situation not dissimilar to the mess that followed the Dutch and French referendums.

The government is not going to call a halt to the treaty and the opposition is unlikely to demand it particularly strongly. It is unlikely that we shall simply be given a few opt-outs. Instead, some of the Articles will be pushed through by stealth or, rather, with nobody paying any attention in the general rejoicing, and in a year or so, another IGC will come up with another treaty on which there will most definitely not be a referendum.

Net result would probably be worse for us, though I am not sure he has taken into account the fact that each IGC has been considerably more difficult for the colleagues than the one before it. The idea of another one appals them.

If, on the other hand, the referendum amendment is lost, then, paradoxically, according to his lordship, we shall be better off with the huge discontent that is rolling across the whole of the European Union (and Lord Pearson is against the whole shebang not just Britain’s membership of it) the tensions will increase and it will implode.

That is working on good Leninist principles and I can’t say I disagree with him. While we must all concentrate on the fight for a referendum at the moment, as it focuses people’s attention, it is not, in the opinion of this blog, necessarily the right response. There are too many imponderables and there is the undoubted problems that a no vote will change very little. It is, perhaps, better to show the whole process up for what it is and affirm the cowardice of the europhiliacs who must, somewhere deep down, realize that their cause is unpopular.

The other aspect of Lord Pearson’s presentation was his fight with the BBC. My colleague has already written about it. All I need to add is a link to Global Britain, a website that is more or less under Lord Pearson’s control (at one remove – no-one can accuse his lordship of being computer-literate), which will have the latest report of the Editorial Standards Committee as soon as it is technically possible and already has his letters to that organization.

In the meantime, with the express permission of Lord Pearson, I am putting up his letter to Sir Michael Lyons, Chairman of the BBC Trust Unit, here:
Sir Michael Lyons
BBC Trust Unit
Room 211
35 Marylebone High Street
London W1U 4AA
27th February 2008

BBC and “Europe”

Your Editorial Standards Committee is publishing tomorrow (at last) its decision on Global Britain’s complaint against the Today Programme’s coverage of the EU from September to December 2006. As with previous complaints, that complaint was based on detailed analysis by Minotaur Media Tracking (David Keighley and colleagues).

We have not had time to respond to the ESC’s report in detail, but it is clearly a whitewash. The Committee has adopted without query their independent assessor’s report; I cannot help feeling it is regrettable that they chose someone who was employed by the BBC for 20 years.

Perhaps the most worrying aspect of the ESC’s judgment is its acceptance that programme staff are judge and jury on editorial matters. There is therefore no independent judgment on the real issues underlying the ‘European’ debate, no attempt to find out and expose how the project of European integration is being driven. The ESC does not accept that the BBC, with its uniquely privileged position, should take the lead in this, and make the news agenda, instead of being content to follow the Brussels PR machine. So Mark Mardell, the Europe Editor appointed to provide deeper coverage in the wake of the Wilson Report, appeared only 3 times in the 4 months.

The ESC accepts that nothing much was going on in the period under review, justifying Today’s return to pre-Wilson Report levels of coverage. But much was happening; the whole Constitution was being revived, with its attendant issues of immigration, justice and home affairs, over-regulation, foreign policy, national vetoes and much else. Surely the BBC has a duty to expose these things while they are in the melting pot, not just wait until they emerge in the shape of a Treaty which can only be wholly accepted or rejected by Parliament? There was no substantive discussion of the EU Constitution during the entire survey period, and Today didn’t feature the December 06 Summit at all, except for two brief bulletins.

We have continued to monitor Today since December 2006, and I fear the picture remains the same. It managed to spend 4 times as much time on the Glastonbury festival as it did on the June 2007 EU summit. When it did run a feature on the scandal of the Common Fisheries Policy, it omitted to mention that the policy is imposed by Brussels. And so it goes on.

I will write gain with a detailed rebuttal of the ESC’s report. I hope this will be helpful to you and the Trustees.

Yours sincerely,

Lord Pearson of Rannoch
As they say on the other side of the Pond: enjoy.

The real news from Afghanistan

Published by Russian news site is the news of an unfolding humanitarian disaster in … Afghanistan.

While the world’s media is besotted with the story of 2nd Lt. Harry Wales spending ten weeks in the south of the country (2,391 articles posted on Google News so far), to the north and west, around 1,300 people have died as a result of the freezing weather. Furthermore, this weather continues to cause havoc, with heavy snow and sub-zero temperatures hitting 17 of the country's 34 provinces.

For Afghanistan, as elsewhere, this winter is the coldest in the last 30 years. Temperatures have reached lows of -30 degrees Centigrade (-22 Fahrenheit). Some northern regions have been without food and medical supplies for over two months.

On February 20, the death toll since the cold struck in December had risen to over 1,100 with around 200 dying in the past week and hundreds losing their limbs from severe frostbite. More than half of the casualties have been reported in the western province of Herat, but with so many regions cut off it is hard to get a true picture of the devastation.

Local authorities in some of the most remote provinces say they have received no aid from the government.

There has also been devastation in the livestock industry. The agriculture ministry is reporting that over 316,000 cattle have died. Many farmers have been left with no fodder to feed their animals and are being forced to sell their livestock at rock-bottom prices.

People in Afghanistan's northern provinces, stricken with hunger and cold, have apparently even taken to selling their children to buy food and fuel. At least six cases have been reported in the Baghlan province.

Aid workers have also reported being attacked by starving Afghan mountain dwellers and the pain is by no means over. Local meteorologists are saying that over half of the country would be hit by severe flooding when the snow began melting.

And now, back to London where the BBC continues to take a close interest in weather conditions. It tells us we have had the sunniest February on record with, in many areas, the daffodils coming out early.

Please, somebody, tell me that the media has got its news values right!


North on Euroscepticism

A 15-minute interview here (MP3). Is this a podcast?


Look far back in order to look forward

Got back very late last night from Oxford where I attended a lecture given by Professor Christopher Andrew of the University of Cambridge. These days the two ancient universities have given up their internecine warfare in order to unite against the rest of the world, which all too often does not appreciate them. By this I do not just mean the idiotic demands from the government that they open their doors to more students from “deprived” backgrounds regardless of ability or desire to study but the rest of us, as well, who think that it is time those hallowed establishments examined a little closer what it is they are producing by way of so-called ideas.

However, Professor Andrew, an expert on intelligence and its history, the man who has given us the Mitrokhin Archives, among many other important works, is always good value.

Luckily, the dinner afterwards was under strict Chatham House rule so I am not allowed to write about the usual, yawn-making academic jibes about the stupidity of President Bush and, especially, President Reagan. They really hate Reagan and the country that makes it possible for a man with his background become president simply because he is the best candidate around. They would never acknowledge the man’s intelligence, wide reading as well as his sound instincts. But hey, who cares? The Gipper rules OK.

The talk, however, was extremely good. Professor Andrew was addressing the topic of what early twenty-first century intelligence agencies can learn from the twentieth century. His point was that it is not just the twentieth but all other centuries that they should learn from. One must look far back into the past to see the future. I believe Winston Churchill said something along those lines.

According to the talk this generation of intelligence officers and analysts (as well as politicians but that goes almost without saying) is, possibly, more full of hubris and arrogance than any other. They do not think that it is necessary to study anything that happened more than twenty years before.

As an historian (at least, by training) I am entirely in agreement with that as I was with his jibe at political scientists. I am also entirely in agreement with his several references to Shakespeare. You want to know how authoritarian governments act and behave? Read Shakespeare’s plays. Nothing much has changed since then.

Quite so. The best description of a totalitarian state is in “Macbeth”, in that seemingly dull scene between Macduff and Malcolm at King Edward’s court in England. The account Macduff gives of Scotland under Macbeth (historically entirely inaccurate but who cares) has more than a whiff of the Soviet Union under Stalin. One cannot help wondering about Elizabethan and Jacobean England that had given the playwright such an accurate understanding.

Though the lecture concentrated on the hubris of the early twenty-first century intelligence community, it is clear that he saw the problem as being somewhat older than that. How else can one explain the paucity of material about terrorism and “holy war” in various journals on both sides of the Atlantic in the years and even decades leading up to 9/11?

I may add that there were studies outside the official intelligence field that warned about the growth of Islamic terrorist groups throughout the nineties but, clearly, hubris extends to not wanting to know what anybody outside your own circle says or writes. I have already written about the reluctance to acknowledge that there are many things we know we do not know and the many more things we do not even know that we do not know, to paraphrase Donald Rumsfeld’s brilliant comment. (He did not come up for discussion but I can imagine the sneers among all those academics, who, in their smug superiority got many things as badly wrong as the intelligence analysts did.)
So we have a situation in which all warnings of Soviet subversion, including the stories that Islamic groups were being funded, armed and trained, were largely ignored or placed into the “exaggeration” file. Others tell that warnings from the early nineties that odd things were happening in some of the British mosques were also filed among the exaggerated “unknown unknowns”.

We are fighting an enemy that is adept at many things, including propaganda. The one thing they do not seem to be able to manage is build up a decent state with decent life for the people in it. So if they cannot have it, nobody can and they will try to make sure that will happen.

They are adept at propaganda and subversion because they were taught by the best – the Soviet elite, while people in the West, Britain in particular, sat back and talked grandly about exaggeration, just as now we snigger at the expression “unknown unknowns”.
Looking back into history is always useful though, bearing in mind some comments by those on the eurosceptic fringe, it is useful only if one studies history first rather than grabs at a few unrelated facts and fancies.

I recall an earlier conference on the subject of terrorism and how to deal with it, which was addressed by Deputy Assistant Commissioner Peter Clarke. As befits a senior officer of the Metropolitan Police, he said little that was new or even interesting.

Understandably, he spent a great deal of time explaining why it was so difficult to deal with the terrorist groups and organizations or, even, the groups that might harbour terrorists or give support to same. In the end it boiled down to one thing: they were not like the IRA in structure, attitude or political thinking.

One of Professor Andrew’s themes yesterday was that the need to fight the IRA blinded many analysts and commentators to look at other, possibly more difficult issues. And if anyone pointed them out, as I mention above, they were dismissed as being “unknown unknowns”.

Still, there have been historical precedents for the kind of terrorism that we have had to face in the last ten years, and not all that long ago. I asked DAC Clarke whether he or anyone around him had bothered to have a look at the international and, apparently, nihilistic terrorist groups of either the late nineteenth - early twentieth centuries or, closer to our own time, those of the seventies.

His brusque and impatient “yes, yes, yes but the main issue is that the IRA …..” told me all I needed to know. Nobody in the higher or, for that matter, lower echelons of the counter-terrorism hierarchy had bothered to do so. And if they did, DAC Clarke would have dismissed them as brusquely as he did my question.

As for Shakespeare, I doubt if DAC Clarke even knows how relevant his judgements are to the modern day.

Energy saving day (not)

We would put money on it! You – like us – did not know that Wednesday was "Energy Saving Day".

Charles Clover, in The Daily Telegraph tells us that its organiser has admitted that it was a failure, after the National Grid confirmed that across Britain energy use went up by just over one percent in the day.

In fact, consumption was about 600 megawatt hours across the country, higher than what the National Grid estimated was used on a normal February day.

Matt Prescott, the organiser, who had support from the Esme Fairbairn Foundation, said: "We had problems. There was a change in temperature. If it had been warmer, we would have been happy."

Tough life being a warmist, ain't it.


Reshuffle in the wind?

No, not that seedy lot down in Westminster – as if that mattered. Bruno Waterfield is taking the temperature of our real government in Brussels.

Imagine if there were rumours of changes in our local government in London, with the secretary of state for health and the justice secretary positions in the melting pot. The media would be crawling all over it. Yet, positions of equal (or greater) importance in Brussels are largely ignored – except by Bruno.

The culture of denial – "bias by omission" as Lord Pearson put it – is one of the most insidious phenomena of our time.


Tinkering at the margins

A letter in The Daily Telegraph, signed by a number of MPs from the new (2005) intake, suggests a procedure for sanctioning an MP who "has been found to have behaved improperly."

This is their partial and worthy answer to the continued problem of what they declare is, "diminished trust in politicians". It is one which Conservative Home looks at seriously with, as yet, a small number of comments.

One has to applaud the good intentions of the signatories but, in our own way – which some will no doubt dismiss as "sneering" – we have to say that this is simply another case of tinkering at the margins, without addressing the root cause of the problem.

At the heart of this displacement activity is a basic misunderstanding of the malaise affecting the body politic. It has become fashionable to talk in terms of "trust" in relation to politicians, as if that was somehow important. To us weary cynics, however, trust is an irrelevance. Anyone who invests trust in either politicians or the political process is either hopelessly naïve or needs their brains examined.

No, the heart of the problem is the uselessness of MPs – their irrelevance to the political process. Over term, they have handed down their own powers and responsibilities to that deadly combination of quangos and the European Union, to the extent that, in vast areas of policy, they are simply redundant.

In the nature of things, since they have no real power, they internalise, focusing in part on the few things over which they still have control, while mainly devoting themselves to the theatre of politics rather than the substance. From this stems not a lack of "trust" but a wholehearted contempt for politicians – a word which the signatories of this letter avoid.

It is not that we do not "trust" politicians. Trust is not an issue. We have wholehearted contempt for them as a breed – those useless mouths who preen and posture – and more so for those who line their pockets at our expense. This we wrote about in January and will continue "banging on" until the message gets through.

As always though, diagnosing the disease is one thing – administering the cure is another. In the first instance, the remedy lies in the hands of the MPs themselves. They as a parliament must reassert their own authority and take back the powers they and their predecessors have so freely given away. A good start would be to reject the government's mendacious line on the constitutional Lisbon treaty and turn the ratification over to a popular referendum. They have the power to do this, if they care to exercise it, remembering the old saw – power is not given, it is taken.

Of course, they will not. There are now too many seedy time-servers, rent-seekers and party apparatchiks in the House – those who enjoy and exploit the system for their own personal benefit, no matter how they dress it up.

That is why – despite the good intentions of the class of 2005 – we are going nowhere. The authority of parliament will continue to decline, because the MPs as a body are prepared to let it decline. And, if they do not address this issue, history tells us that, eventually, we will have to do it for them.


Prince Harry in Afghanistan

We've known for weeks - and so have the Taleban... so leave the poor bastard alone. There are far more important things to write about.

A matter of understanding

Picked up by The Independent after it had been doing the rounds in the Continental press is the news that the love affair between Sarkozy and Merkel is going through (another) rocky patch.

Spiegel got to it earlier with a story headed, "Postponed Summit Exposes Franco-German Rift". This has, says the paper, "revived speculation that the German chancellor strongly opposes Sarkozy's desire to form a Mediterranean Union." This then is no mere lover's tiff, but a full-blown rift over policy, or so it seems.

The AFP agency then developed the story, when France and Germany called off a second top-level meeting, this one between finance minister Christine Lagarde and her German counterpart Peer Steinbrueck. This was the first of a planned twice-yearly meeting with the heads of both central banks.

Apparently, the German financial newspaper Handelsblatt took great umbrage, declaring: "The French government no longer finds time for its German partner," wrote. Die Welt, on the other hand, claimed the talks were called off after Merkel had refused to write a joint op-ed piece with Sarkozy about the Mediterranean Union

But, noted AFP, the Mediterranean project is not the only issue over which the two countries disagree. As we know, Paris and Berlin are also at odds on economic issues; namely the role of the European Central Bank and France's deficit.

Also, where there might be serious policy differences, there are reports that personal relations between Sarkozy and Merkel are frosty. This is no continuation of the close relations between those classic Franco-German partnerships of de Gaulle-Adenauer, Giscard-Schmidt, Mitterrand-Kohl or even Chirac-Schroeder.

Thus, by the time The Independent got the story, it was able to report, "Europe's closest friendship falls apart", noting that: "Privately, and not so privately, the talk in both capitals is of a serious rift in the single most important national partnership in Europe." At the heart of the quarrel, says this paper, "is the strained relationship between the two leaders".

In this, the paper – offering one of its ponderous leading articles - sees both "a problem and an opportunity" - for Britain. Both leaders, it says, are vying for the EU leadership and, for Britain, division between the two pillars of the EU offers greater potential sway. "Things are in the melt in a way we have not seen for years."

Concluding that, "those who think the politics of Europe is boring do not understand it properly," this newspaper is perhaps indulging in the perennial Europhile fantasy that the UK can somehow become the honest broker between France and Germany, thus holding the balance of power. That harps back to classic British foreign policy, and has beguiled successive prime ministers, right up to Tony Blair, each of whom thought they could separate France and Germany.

With Blair, it was the idea that he could offer high-level defence co-operation with France, which he did in St Malo in 1998. Nevertheless, hopes were soon when, less than a week later, Chirac and Schröder wrote a joint letter reaffirming the closeness of their alliance. The current Franco-German alliance is far more enduring than the Foreign Office has yet realised.

Nevertheless, with strong expectations of a new Anglo-French defence deal in the offing, it looks on the face of it as if history could repeat itself. According to former European Defence Agency chief, Nick Witney, writing for EU Observer, "Franco-British" defence co-operation could be at a "historic crossroads".

A substantial agenda, writes Witney, set out in a secret report prepared over the past two years, is waiting to be taken forward. Some doubt that Britain will be ready for any new defence initiative with France whilst ratification of the Lisbon Treaty is still under debate in the UK Parliament, he continues, but Sarkozy's overtures to the US and to Nato - soon to be manifested with more French troops for Afghanistan - have made the politics easier.

Ostensibly, Witney adds, both sides have the best of incentives to increase their co-operation - financial necessity:

At the outset of their present defence review, the French admitted that their forward re-equipment plans were unaffordable by over 40 percent. The cash crunch in the UK Ministry of Defence is almost as severe. Pressure of operations is also taking its toll on men and machinery on both sides of the Channel, tightening the financial bind.

Sooner rather than later, both countries will be facing major cuts in their defence capabilities - unless they can find ways to help each other by pooling their efforts and resources.

Witney is confident that a plan to do just that has now been identified. Almost two years ago, the last Blair-Chirac summit set up a small, high-level working group to work on deepening bilateral co-operation. The group, comprising the two relevant deputy defence ministers and two top industry executives, submitted their report last July. It remains under wraps. But it describes the current moment as "an historic cross-roads"; and it contains a long list of practical, concrete proposals for pooling resources and sharing the benefits.

However, 2008 is not 1998 and Gordon Brown is not Blair. Already, we have noted a considerable cooling in the Brown administration towards European defence integration.

Not least, the conflict in Afghanistan - and, to a lesser extent, in Iraq - has driven British defence forces towards closer co-operation with the US, while operational needs have dictated equipment profiles different from those envisaged at St Malo – the latter directed at equipping a rapid reaction force to fight a "future war".

Where the situation might be different this time, though, is if the split between Sarkozy and Merkel continues – even if it is more apparent than real. Then we could then see Sarkozy courting Brown, offering juicy deals in joint procurement or some such (the carrier project comes to mind) – which have the potential to ease the pressure on the UK defence budget.

Tempting these might be, but Brown would be well advised to exercise caution. Any French overtures are unlikely to be genuinely directed at closer ties with the UK. More likely, they will be aimed at invoking jealousies in the Germans, in the manner of a jilted lover flirting with a new swain (what a horrible thought) aimed at prompting a reconciliation.

Nevertheless, as long as operations in Afghanistan continue at high tempo, Brown's options are limited. Despite a French promise of greater involvement in Afghanistan, French and British strategic objectives are so very different that there can be little scope for further defence co-operation.

On that basis, Sarkozy and Merkel are going to have to make up without British intervention, which makes it all the more interesting to see how far they are prepared to let the current spat run. In that sense, The Independent is right: "those who think the politics of Europe is boring do not understand it properly." The only thing is, does that newspaper understand it?


Thursday, February 28, 2008

A good starting point…

One almost has to do a double-take at the latest news from the heart of darkness where our Brussels masters reside. The provincial governments, it seems, have raised a string of objections to the commission's "flagship plan" on fighting climate change – the one that aims to cut 20 percent from EU carbon dioxide emissions by 2020.

Yet, was it not those self-same provincial governments who in March last year who were so keen to push these targets?

Now, rather than enthusiastically embracing the opportunity to save the planet, the most the governments will now concede is that the commission’s proposals are "a good starting point for our debate…". Shriti Vedera, our own junior energy minister, adds, "it is essential that cost-efficiency is at the heart of our discussions."

Not a few have reservations on the emissions trading scheme or national targets for the share of energy produced from renewable sources while, Marco Stradiotto, the Italian secretary of state for energy, is saying: "Energy efficiency was not given enough room in the commission's proposal". He adds there was a risk some industries would move out of the EU as a result of the scheme.

To add to the confusion, the UK government has decided to delay issuing carbon emissions allowances (EUAs) because the commission is still unsure when the carbon trading registry system will start.

This, however is small beer compared with the disarray on how expensive CO2 capture and other "green" technologies should be financed.

The technologies are at the heart of the commission's "Strategic Energy Technology Plan" but EU energy commissioner Andris Piebalgs has told industry representatives that "there is no money" in the EU budget for supporting them.

Although the European Investment Bank in 2007 put €8.2 billion into green technology financing, and Citigroup is expected to invest €50 billion over the next five years, Europe's overall investments and venture capital flows into the sector have been steadily declining since the 1980s. In fact, Europe now spends only one-third of US levels.

Once more, it seems, there is a yawning gap between European rhetoric and action.


Ploughing a lonely furrow

The letters column of The Daily Telegraph has been running a batch of contributions in which readers offer their favourite oxymorons. Looking at a copy of a letter from the "BBC Trust", it occurs that this too should be included in the list.

The BBC letter refers to a decision of the "Editorial Standards Committee of the BBC Trustees" (supposedly) published at 11am today on an adjudication about a complaint of bias in its EU coverage submitted by Lord Pearson of Rannoch.

Eventually, the report will be published here but, since the last entries are for November 2007, you may have to wait some time.

Anyhow, the accompanying letter is signed by Richard Tait, chairman of the committee, and encompasses "one of their most detailed examinations of this area of coverage". Already, it has been condemned as "rather predictably a whitewash."

Says David Keighley, who carried out the original work by Minoatur Media Tracking for Lord Pearson and Global Britain, which led to the complaint: "It confirms in stark relief that the BBC don't have a hope in hell of mounting properly robust coverage of EU affairs, both because they don’t give a damn and because they don’t think the EU itself is important."

The committee itself investigated a very detailed analysis of EU material on the Today programme between September and December 2006, during the build-up to the 2006 European Council meeting.

Among the points made in Lord Pearson's complaint were that the Today programme, despite its claims to bring comprehensive coverage of the news agenda, virtually ignored the meeting with no feature reports or interviews at all and only two very brief bulletin items. This, argued Lord Pearson, was in contravention of the corporation's public service obligations to bring impartial reporting of important events.

This was says Pearson, a vital "summit" (as these events are wrongly called in the media) in that the Finnish prime minister, Matti Taneli Vanhanen, announced that member states agreed that "treaty reform was needed" and the EU "cannot throw out the entire text and start from scratch."

The German chancellor, Angela Merkel vowed to make the revival of the Constitution a key issue in her forthcoming presidency of the EU. The next day, Spain and Luxembourg announced a joint initiative to try to recover the idea of an EU Constitution, announcing that a summit would be held in Madrid in January 2007, incorporating those member states that had already ratified the document.

The meeting also exposed a split between those countries opposed to further EU enlargement, especially regardng Turkey, and those supporting it. Those against further expansion won an important concession, with the approval of a more stringent application process, stronger scrutiny of reforms, and a new test on whether current member states could "absorb" prospective newcomers.

In addition, the meeting confirmed the end of the system of the six-month rotating presidency, first established by the European Economic Community in 1958. It was replaced by a new arrangement in which countries would ‘triple share’ the presidency over a period of one and a half years, starting with Germany, Portugal and Slovenia. The stated aim of this new system was to enable new member states to hold a presidency sooner, and to allow the old member states to ‘pass on their experience’ through the system of co-presidency.

This measure had initially been a provision of the Constitution, and after the decision by French and Dutch voters not to ratify the treaty, many commentators assumed the six month rotating presidency would continue. However, in 2006 the European Council established the eighteen-month programme into its Rules and Procedures, and enabling the ‘triple share’ system to come into effect.

The outcomes reached at the summit, together with the change to the presidency system, although ignored by the BBC, were widely reported across other media outlets. An online search undertaken on the Saturday following the meeting found in excess of 450 individual news articles from across the world focusing on the declarations made on enlargement and the Constitution.

However, the BBC ruling on the complaint completely side-stepped Pearson's claim that the Today programme's lack of coverage amounted to "bias by omission" because the programme's editors tacitly assumed they were unimportant. The ruling made no effort to engage with the hard evidence presented, and instead dismissed the complaint on the sole opinion of European Editor Mark Mardell that the meeting was not important because there was no last-minute break down, name-calling or bitterness.

This amounts to a gross dereliction of duty by the Trustees and underlines that the Corporation – despite swallowing £3.1bn a year in licence fees – has no intention of keeping the British public properly informed about the EU project.

The same report that was the subject of the complaint also noted that during three months and 84 editions of the programme, there were only four programme guests who could be counted as "withdrawalist". Only one of the contributions dealt directly with the withdrawal theme. That, too, was judged to by the Standards Committee to be balanced reporting.

One does admire Pearson's solitary attempts to bring the BBC to book, and the response from the BBC is not at all surprising. The first rule of any bureaucracy – and that is the BBC personified - is that it can never be wrong. And we know this applies to the BBC because it keeps telling us that.


That protest

Iain Martin writes about it in The Daily Telegraph. I could not do better, so I won't even try. I particularly like the bit at the end:

Britain should realise that it cannot afford to be immersed in an out-of-date experiment and opt politely for trade and co-operation instead.

When being a small, adaptable cohesive unit is our historic strength, why choose to be stuck with a dozy, slow-moving and bureaucratic EU? We will require every ounce of national dexterity we possess to prosper in the next half-century.

The Lib Dems and other Euro-fanatics miss this because they are so used to thinking of their position as one that embodies modernity, when the opposite is increasingly the case. That makes this referendum campaign anything but the end. It is just a beginning.
Contrary to myth, the EU was not a construct which emerged out of the wreckage of the Second World War. As our regular readers will know, the intellectual genesis stemmed from the First World War, with the current structure of the EU set out in Arthur Salter's book, The United States of Europe, first published in 1933.

If the ideas behind this are set in 1918, this means that the EU is based on a concept which is now 90 years old – a solution devised for a different world, which has now changed beyond all recognition. Above all else, it is not "modernity". It is a stale, old creed, well past its sell-by date.


Wednesday, February 27, 2008


Perhaps the polite, well behaved EU referendum lobbyists should have spurned their well-ordered queues, ignored their MPs and climbed to the roof of the parliament and unfurled their banners demanding a referendum.

In terms of publicity, they would have gained a great deal more. For a brief period, the "climate change protesters" graced the lead positions on all the national newspaper websites, complete with photographs. Yet you would be hard put to find a single media photograph of the referendum lobby, much less a report of anything like the length given the roof-top demonstrators.

However, to make such comparisons only on the basis of publicity gained would be wrong. After all, the hunt supporters were equally given to high profile demonstrations in parliament but, in the end, they lost their battle to prevent the banning law going through (although whether they have lost their war is a moot point).

But the "grab" from The Times website gives you more than just the news of this incident. Note the reference to the environmental blog, "green central" and the other links to green issues. Does The Times run a blog on EU issues? Don't bother looking – the answer is no.

This is but one indication of how much the "climate" issue has dominated politics and media, and provides a stark contrast to how little time and energy is afforded to EU politics – much less the cause of Euroscepticism.

For sure, rampant environmentalism is a global movement, so comparisons have to be made with caution, but nevertheless some can be made. In fact, there are more parallels than might be thought, not least in the timing and the length of the campaigns.

One obvious parallel is that much of the modern environmental movement stems from the early '70s – much the same time as euroscepticism became a movement, with the 1975 referendum. But, while environmentalism has forged ahead, euroscepticism remains in the doldums, a small minority of hard core activists who are going nowhere.

To carry out a detailed analysis of why one movement has been so wildly successful, while the other has failed, is beyond the scope on this one posting – although we may return to the issue. It is fair to say though that the one thing that environmentalism does have in common with other successful political movements is that it won the "intellectual" argument. "Green" arguments are now the perceived, unchallenged wisdom of the age, whereas climate sceptics are treated with the same scorn and derision as are the eurosceptics.

However, there are also lessons here. Gradually, or so it seems to us, climate scepticism is making inroads into the orthodoxy. The way it is so doing is not by organising mass lobbies of parliament, or by recruiting teams to thrust leaflets through the doors of uncaring householders, but by fighting (and winning) the intellectual arguments.

Here, the internet is proving to be a powerful weapon. An increasing number of disaffected climate scientists and informed observers – denied a hearing in the media – are turning to the blogosphere to make their case. Their output is not written in capitals, with lurid headlines in red lettering, denouncing world conspiracies. Instead, it employs cold, hard science and reason. And, as we averred, these bloggers are beginning to have an impact.

Now, compare and contrast. How many active blogs are there, dedicated to fighting the intellectual case for euroscepticism? Come to think of it, how many think-tanks are there, dedicated to exploring the case for leaving the European Union? Where at all is that intellectual case being argued?

Furthermore, how many self-proclaimed eurosceptics are computer-literate and are actively writing on the internet, pursuing the debate, fighting the intellectual war, building a rock-solid core of date which can fuel the movement? There are some, for sure, but I suspect only a fraction of those who could be involved.

Moreover, when the Lisbon treaty is done and dusted, safely in the bag having been ratified by the 27 member states, how many so-called activists, who came in for the ride while a treaty was being forged, are going to move on to other things, instead of gearing up for the long haul?

How many of us are prepared to build an intellectual case, over the decades that are needed to change public sentiment, rather than just repeating the same, tried old mantras that would be just as familiar to the campaigners of '75 as they are to us over thirty years later?

Therein, lies our challenge. When today's day return tickets to London are tomorrow's waste, the issues will still be there. When the Lisbon treaty is ratified, they will still be there. When the European Union brings out its next treaty – which indeed it will – the issues will still be there.

What we need then, is focus. A comment was expressed on our forum about "warriors" who were only prepared to fight when they were certain of winning, but – if I remember correctly – the great genius of Field Marshall Montgomery, is that he refused to commit his troops to battle until he was certain of winning. Before that, a great deal of intellectual effort went into making that so.

One thing we could do to prepare for the next round – we did it before on other matters – is to get a group of MPs and their Lordships to set up their own, properly structured inquiry on the implications of leaving the EU. Conducted in exactly the same manner as a select committee, it could call evidence from all comers and produce, by way of a report, a vade mecum for the those who are prepared to continue the battle.

Properly done, it could make the case for leaving, point out the pitfalls, and tell us what we need to do to make a successful transition from a vassal state in the thrall of an over-arching supranational government, to a free, independent state once more in control of our own national destiny. Crucially, though, it could also point to what sort of nation that would emerge, and the benefits of striving for freedom.

Failing that, we can all go back to stuffing leaflets through doors and, in ten years or so, when the next EU treaty is ratified, we can all indulge in yet another round of recriminations and heart-searching as to why we failed once more.


You don't say!

We are not privy to arcane details such as the salary paid to the Bank of England deputy governor Rachel Lomax, but it is unlikely to be a modest amount. However, whether or not it is good value, we can faithfully assure readers that they could have got her latest pronouncement free of charge from this blog – and a lot earlier.

According to The Daily Telegraph (business section, of course), the deputy governor is telling us that the "UK faces 'real risk of high inflation'", this from somebody, presumably, with her finger on the (financial) pulse of the nation.

But hey! What were we writing on 13 February?

If politics is about people, delivering on those issues which most affect people, then probably the single most important issue at this time is inflation. Real people – i.e., those outside the Westminster bubble – see the value of the "pound in their pocket" eroding and find it more and more difficult to make ends meet.
And, guess what! The lady deputy governor is warning that, "Britain faces a real risk of high inflation caused by 'a remarkable period of soaring commodity prices' resulting in slower demand". You don't say … you really don't say!

The Telegraph then goes on to say that, "Her cautionary message came as retailers reported an unexpected fall in sales in February and prices rising at their fastest rate in more than a decade."

Unexpected? What planet do these people live on? That retail sales did not fall off in January is not surprising – the stores were dumping unwanted stock at give-away prices (and thus very low margins) and the temptation to buy was too great for some.

But, if reality has yet to penetrate the skulls of the political classes and the journos – real people are now feeling the pinch, being forced to cut back in all sorts of different ways. Thus can Ms Lomax say that the outlook for the UK economy has "changed dramatically" since the credit crunch took hold and that the extent of the impact on the UK was "highly uncertain".

Of course, she dresses it all up in jargon – and that is probably what she is really paid for. She says that the Monetary Policy Committee's central judgment is "that the financial stress will act as a significant drag on demand over the next two years. But there is a high level of uncertainty about this and... the risks, as they affect output, are tilted to the downside."

In other words, chuck, we're going broke!

The lady adds that the rise in commodity prices, such as energy and food costs, had not yet fully fed through into consumer prices and from next month CPI inflation was likely to rise more sharply.

Anyone wanting to know why needs only to look at this blog (try this piece last September) but they can also get an update from the main news section of The Telegraph which tells us that the price of a loaf of bread is set to increase to £1.30.

The proximate cause is, of course, wheat prices on the global wheat market, which "spiralled ever higher this week". Says the paper, "prices in the UK could climb even higher after the global market entered a new phase of turbulence, after Kazakhstan - a leading grower of high-quality wheat - imposed export restrictions."

Also, we are told, "The spiralling cost of wheat has been exacerbated by the increasing number of farmers, especially in the United States, who have stopped growing the cereal in favour of growing maize for the bio-fuel industry." This, to no one's surprise (except political journalists), "has led to a fall in supply with US wheat inventories expected to fall to their lowest level for 60 years."

The trouble is that it is not only direct commodity costs that are increasing. We also learn that water bills rise by double inflation rate. Thus, what applies to ordinary people – who are having to tighten their belts – does not apply elsewhere. But then the water utilities are having to find the money to satisfy the increasing regulatory imposts from Brussels and as long as they have local monopolies, they are free to jack up their prices regardless.

The worst of this all is that, as we wrote recently, this is not impacting as a mainstream political issue. This, though, should not be surprising. In days of yore, when runaway inflation was previously an issue, our local government in London still had some vestiges of control and authority. Now, with its power drained away, there is no point in David Cameron raising the price of bread at PMQs and asking what the government intends to do about it.

Nor is there any point in the MPs at Westminster debating it. There is nothing they can do, so the only effect of any debate would be simply to underline their powerlessness. Best, therefore, to ignore the issue altogether and prattle on about any subject under the sun, except the rock-bottom concerns of the people, hit where it really hurts.

In today's Telegraph, Simon Heffer delivers another of his delicious rants, railing about his favourite subject – corrupt and venal politicians. We wonder though, if he reads our blog, because he concludes that, if politicians have contempt for us, that contempt is mutual. That is precisely the phrasing we used last Friday.

Yet, if we have contempt for them now, as the inflation crisis gathers pace – and more people discover just how powerless the government and MPs have really become - contempt will be the least of it. Once people start really hurting, the ball-game changes.


Thought for the day

"…it is unfair to compare reporters to prostitutes. Prostitutes are professionals who are paid by those who utilize their services. Reporters who present only one side of an issue don't get paid by those who use them."

See Greenie Watch for this and much more.

Screwed by the EU

After candles, the mighty European Union is now turning its attention to cheap Chinese screws – and this is before even the Olympics start.

In the front line is our revered Peter Mandelson, who is acting on behalf of the European Industrial Fasteners Institute (Euro IFI) which filed a complaint last year, alleging – horror of horrors – that Chinese manufacturers were selling screws at 30 - 50 percent below European prices.

Clearly, vulnerable and sensitive EU "citizens" must not be allowed to benefit from cheap screws, although the Chinese say otherwise. Sanctions, they warn, would hurt consumers without helping European producers. Not least, this is because two major Italian businesses – Agrati SpA and the Vescovini Group which, amazingly, are calling for sanctions – produce screws in China.

Anyhow, the wise and diligent EU officials opened their investigation in November into and have yet to report their findings, but the threat of sanctions has got Chinese manufacturers from Jiaxing city in Zhejiang province worried.

The Jiaxing Association of Fasteners Import and Export Companies (where do they get these names from?) represent a quarter of Chinese screw exports. They sell a staggering €149 million-worth a year to Europe, in a trade expected to be worth $1 billion in 2008 to China as a whole.

What particularly grieves the Chinese is that they believe the complainants are not comparing like with like. As we could all readily attest, the EU specialises in strong and expensive screws and no longer produces the low-end screws made in China.

Moreover, far from dumping their products, they claim they charge the same as Taiwanese producers and more than rivals based in Malaysia, Vietnam and India. Add to that the fact that rising steel prices have forced them to increase their own prices by 50 percent, and there is no case to answer.

Despite that, the indications are that the EU is gearing up to impose sanctions on China from August, prompting threats that the issue may be referred to the WTO. In the meantime though, since the WTO usually takes many years to resolve disputes, the Chinese manufacturers will have been screwed by the EU.

It may be some small consolation, but at least they will have something in common with us "EU citizens".


Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The snows of Kilimanjaro

Hilariously – if your sense of humour takes you that way – EU environment commissioner Stavros Dimas has flown off to the United States today, thereby enlarging his carbon footprint considerably, all in an attempt to get the US to, er… reduce its carbon footprint.

Meanwhile, in the wake of Booker – who did it last Sunday - Noel Sheppard of Newsbusters noted that the media was showing a certain reluctance to acknowledge the fact that something rather odd has been happening to the weather this winter.

With a piece headed, "Will Media Ignore Harsh Winter of 2008 to Preserve Global Warming Myth?", Sheppard did note, however, that the Canadian National Post had done a piece on the winter freeze, that one headed, "Forget global warming: Welcome to the new Ice Age".

What struck Lorne Gunter, the National Post correspondent, most forcibly was that snow had returned to the peak of Mount Kilimanjaro – the absence of which in recent times has been another of those iconic symbols that has been exploited by the warmists – second only to their drowning (not) polar bears.

Sheppard himself has great fun with Arctic Sea ice. Remember: "The ice, we were told so hysterically last fall had melted to its 'lowest levels on record?'" he asks us. Well, Gilles Langis, a senior forecaster with the Canadian Ice Service in Ottawa, says the Arctic winter has been so severe the ice has not only recovered, it is actually 4-8 inches thicker in many places than at this time last year.

What is going to be even greater fun though is, with the ice being that much more extensive this winter, and much thicker, the melt back in the summer is going to be less – frustrating the warmists predictions that it was all going to disappear in seven years.

Without any great fanfare, we must also record a piece in last week's Sunday Times which announced that David Cameron is rowing back on his green dogma. It seems that voters are none to happy at the prospect of green taxes and other greenie imposts, and are less than impressed with his windmill on the roof adventure. Nonetheless, it seems the Tories are still locked into "tough new targets", cutting green emissions by 80 percent by 2050.

As a happy antidote, the demise of the great Danish windmill has given rise to great hilarity – video above if you are one of the few who has not seen it – a vision which will, I suspect, become as iconic to the global warming sceptics as was a snow-free Mount Kilimanjaro to the warmists.

Where that leaves poor Mr Dimas, though, is anybody's guess. But, at least, it seems to have stopped snowing in Washington DC.


Lib-Dems walk out

According to Sky News - and a brief report on BBC Radio 4 news - the Lib-Dims have walked out of the Commons.

This was after their foreign affairs spokesman Ed Davey had been ejected from the chamber after repeatedly protesting at the deputy speaker's decision to refuse to accept their amendment on an "in-out" referendum. He was then followed by the rest of his party. Comments on Conservative Home are interesting.


No longer sovereign

Mr Hannan wants us to come down to the parliament in Westminster tomorrow to lobby our MPs for a referendum on the constitutional Lisbon treaty, an event organised by Iwanta referendum.

In his blog, he declares, "It can never be stated too often that, out of 646 MPs, 638 stood on the basis of a manifesto commitment to a referendum. They need to be held to their word. And who better to do the holding than their own constituents?"

He has a point, and to reinforce it, he entitles his post, "Your country needs you", thus emphasising the well-established role of "people power" in a representative democracy.

One problem is that not enough people care enough to make the trip down to London, but the bigger problem is that not enough MPs care enough to make the difference. Particularly, the majority of Labour MPs are not prepared to break free from their tribal loyalties and, as things stand, they form the majority in parliament.

Thus – with or without the lobby - the treaty ratification will go through the Commons and, on current arithmetic, there are insufficient members in the Lords to ensure a majority for a referendum amendment. After, perhaps, a token protest, the treaty will be ratified by the Lords as well.

At best, therefore, tomorrow's lobby will also be a token protest. It will achieve nothing more than to put down a marker that there is a small, if vocal minority who are vociferously opposed to the treaty (and our membership of the EU). But MPs knew that anyway and, frankly, they do not care – or care enough to make it an issue.

The mood of the House is well illustrated by its response to the growing criticism of the Speaker, Michael Martin, who yesterday received the approval of the collected MPs in the chamber, to the horror and disgust of many of those watching the parliamentary TV channel and subsequent news bulletins.

But it was Andrew Gimson, writing in his "Commons sketch" in The Daily Telegraph, who captured something of the malaise which afflicts the somewhat less than honourable members of that institution. He writes:

John Spellar (Lab, Warley) had earlier managed during Home Office questions to speak of "an attempted coup from the press gallery" and pointed out that it is MPs rather than journalists who choose the Speaker.

Mr Spellar is right to suggest that Mr Martin has ferocious critics in the press, some of whom consider it a virtue to argue with an umpire who, in their opinion, is incompetent.

But a far greater danger to the Commons has surely been posed by successive British governments, which have passed very large parts of its power to other bodies, notably in Europe.

Michael Howard (C, Folkestone and Hythe) pointed out at Home Office questions that the European Court of Human Rights, and not Parliament, is about to rule on whose DNA is to be permitted to remain on the United Kingdom's DNA register.

Meg Hillier, the junior Home Office minister, who replied to this question, seemed not to understand it, remarking that DNA is "a fantastic crime-solving tool" which the Government wishes "to sustain". This was a technocrat's reply: what matters is solving crimes, with the question of who makes our laws treated as subsidiary, if not totally irrelevant.

No wonder MPs have fallen into low esteem, when they take such a low view of their own role. The vast majority of them form a great conformist lump of low-grade careerists who will do whatever the executive tells them.

They, not Mr Martin, are the people undermining Parliament. Mr Martin, with his friendly, fuddled smile and his lamentable Air Miles, is the Speaker those conformist MPs deserve.
Sadly, this is all too true. And the most remarkable thing about the Lisbon treaty is that the biggest loser of all is parliament. More than anything, it is parliament that is being marginalised, consigning it to the status of a local council debating chamber which can discuss laws passed down to it by a higher authority, but cannot change them.

The fact of this, though, is that most MPs do not care about that either – or are in denial. Either that or, like Mr Baker, they are ignorant of the very nature of our new form of government, and have neither the will nor the intellect to do anything about it. Others, like Mr Clegg, simply see political opportunity and personal advancement, and are prepared to put these above the interests of our nations.

Despite the dissembling of Europe minister, Jim Murphy – and the bunch of fellow travellers who spout the same nonsense, no better can be seen the demise of parliament than in Article 12 of the new consolidated treaty, with the insertion of a new article which states:

National parliaments shall contribute actively to the good functioning
of the Union.
Under current constitutional doctrine – in theory at least – our Westminster parliament is sovereign in its own house. That much is stated proudly on the parliament web site, as pointed out by Booker and others recently. But, by accepting this mandatory requirement, incorporating as it does, the word shall MPs are accepting de jure that which has been de facto for some time – that parliament is no longer a sovereign body. It has subordinated itself to the treaty.

Refer then to Protocol 2, and in particular Article 6 which states that, "any national parliament … may …". This is the provision which "allows" our parliament to make representations to the EU commission on subsidiarity. It is a power that our parliament already had but, the treaty, in graciously granting such a power, again cements Westminster's position as a subordinate body.

Consider, if you will, that happy occasion when you own your house – the house in which you live. That means you have absolute right of occupancy, and the freedom to dispose of the property as you wish. Imagine then that "the government" decides to pass a law stating that you have permission to occupy the house in which you live.

Good stuff, you might say, except that you no longer own your house – in the sense that ownership necessarily conveys with it the right to occupy the premises. You now occupy it under licence from the government. And the licence that the government has granted, it can also take away. You are no longer "sovereign" in your own house.

Thus it is with parliament. When the majority – as they will – vote to ratify the treaty, they will be wiping out centuries of tradition and abolishing a fundamental tenet of our constitution.

The reckoning will not come tomorrow or immediately. Over term, however, we will see the continuation of the gradual decline in the authority of the parliament as it is consigned more and more to the margins. This will be reflected in the continued decline in election turnouts, as more and more people sense, mostly intuitively, that parliament is no longer relevant.

Even that, though, will not cause most MPs to stop and think. As long as they are members of an exclusive club, with their privileges, salaries, expenses and pensions – all paid-for by the grateful taxpayer - why should they care? In the end, as we have been wont to observe, we are going to have to shoot them.


A taste of things to come

Rhetoric is one thing but – to no one's surprise – economic reality is another. According to Reuters (via The Guardian), both Germany and France are demurring at the potential cost of dealing with global warning.

The governments of both have been lobbying their central government in Brussels, telling the commission that its plans to cut industrial greenhouse gas emissions risk sacrificing European jobs.

Europe should lead by example but must not "change the competitiveness of our economy and our companies" by adopting tougher pollution measures than in other parts of the world," says Herve Novelli, France's junior minister for industry.

Not only that, Luxembourg, Finland, Austria, Hungary, the Czech Republic and other countries have all written to the EU industry commissioner Günter Verheugen, to ask for "swifter decisions" on how the EU plans will affect big energy consumers.

And, in a show of solidarity, Germany's deputy economy minister, Bernd Pfaffenbach seems to be telling anyone who will listen that his country's priority is not "climate change" per se but to press for free carbon dioxide emissions rights for big power consumers.

Meanwhile, Germany is reported to be considering dropping plans to double the amount of biofuels in gasoline after warnings that more than a million cars are not biofuel compatible.

The German automobile association ADAC has warned that up to 1.5 million drivers will be unable to use the ethanol-richer gasoline. This is according to Deutsche Welle which says that the plan to increase biofuels from five to ten percent was based on statistics that estimated 375,000 car owners would be adversely affected.

Environment minister Sigmar Gabriel has been quick to respond, saying that the ten percent blending rate would be dropped if ADAC's statistics are found to be correct.

Then, on the biodiesel front, the situation is descending into farce. Gone are the heady days when German truckers were piling into this "green" fuel, attracted by the price differential (illustrated). Instead, it is now more expensive as the government has raised taxes on the fuel, declaring that it cannot lose the large tax revenue from fossil diesel.

As biodiesel has eight percent less energy content than its fossil equivalent, no-one is buying biodiesel. Says Peter Schrum, president of the German renewable fuels industry association BBK: "The market for biodiesel at petrol stations is dead. The industry is basically producing a small amount for blending."

The journal Petrol World is thus reporting that three German biodiesel production plants were recently sold to the United States and Canada. More are up for sale and Schrum estimates that 30 percent of Germany's biodiesel plants are now up for sale. The country's five million ton biodiesel industry is only producing at about ten percent of capacity.

This drives a cart and horse through the EU's ambition to impose a quota of ten percent biofuels by 2020, a target with the leaders of the EU member states themselves agreed at last year’s March European Council. But, as we reported earlier, once reality begins to intrude, noble sentiments begin to evaporate like the mist on a summer’s day.

For the moment, Germany is trying to mitigate the effects of its tax hike by requiring the compulsory blending of biodiesel with fossil diesel. But a high proportion of the biodiesel used for blending is coming from the United States and is being sold cheaply in Europe with the help of US subsidies.

This we picked up earlier this month, a phenomenon which is having an interesting, if unintended side effect.

German biodiesel is largely made from rapeseed oil and huge volumes of high-protein rapeseed meal, a key animal feed, are produced as a by-product. If oil is not produced for biodiesel then protein feed will not be produced either and the requirement will have to be met by more expensive imports, probably of soymeal (which is in short supply and increasing rapidly in price). Furthermore, because there will be no market for it, large volumes of German rapeseed will have to be sold abroad.

Thus, from the EU's obsession with global warming, we can see all sorts of stresses building up, with resistance from member states to implementation of plans they themselves have agreed in principle. This definitely puts the EU on the line. To maintain any credibility, it will have to trying to force member states to comply with its plans but, as the economic situation gets tighter, this will prove extremely difficult.

We have always felt that global warming could prove the nemesis of the EU and, if these current problems are any guide, we are starting to see the shape of things to come.


Monday, February 25, 2008

How we are governed

For a politician whose party had committed to a referendum on the EU constitution – and is part of the general conspiracy to pretend that the Lisbon treaty is not the EU constitution by any other name – Nick Clegg's latest foray into the debate can only be regarded as malicious.

His call for an "in-out" referendum has to be simply an attempt to divert attention from the Lib Dims' refusal to honour their manifesto commitment on the treaty referendum. But it also provides an alibi at the next general election. He and his merry men can claim they "supported" the idea of a referendum, without making it clear that this was different from what everyone else was asking for.

On the other hand, we also get the Dims running with the hare and the hounds, their transport spokesman Norman Baker, cited in The Daily Express as condemning the EU "requirement" that cars should be fitted with daylight running lights.

"This European Directive," Baker says, "is not only unnecessary, but dangerous, particularly for motorcyclists, who will lose the advantage they presently have as the only vehicles regularly to use lights in daytime." In full "outrage" mode, he adds, "It will also cause confusion for drivers between rear lights and brake lights ... The last thing we need is road safety compromised by barmy directives from Brussels."

The interesting thing about this – apart from the fact that it was covered by The Sunday Telegraph two weeks ago – is that there does not, as yet, seem to be any directive.

Despite the comments of our own provincial transport minister, who states that, "from early 2011 all new types of passenger cars and light vans will have to be fitted with dedicated daytime running lamps in accordance with the relevant European directive", as far as I can ascertain, the EU has yet to decide whether it is going to legislate on this matter. It is considering whether leave fitting daylight running lights to a "voluntary" agreement with car manufacturers, or introduce regulations.

Furthermore, Baker is obviously unaware – as indeed are most people, including some who should know better – that the genesis of this "law" is not the EU but the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE). This, we pointed out those two weeks ago, highlighting also the complexity and the utter lack of transparency of the process by which our laws are now made.

In a further twist to this story, Baker must know that there is absolutely nothing he, as an MP, can do about changing what he condemns as a "barmy" directive. The ironic thing is that, even if we took up the idea that his boss is floating, had an "in-out" referendum and all voted for "out", it would not make a blind bit of difference.

Through an entirely separate treaty structure, in this case the 1949 UN Convention on Road Traffic (as amended), we are obliged to introduce UNECE agreements into our own laws. In this case – and many others – the EU simply acts as the administrative agent which turns the agreement into law, ready for us to implement.

But Baker, like so many, does not have the first idea of how we are governed.