Sunday, November 30, 2008

A kind of a rant ...

... about Damien Green, Mumbai and the terminal frivolity of British politics including the blogosphere over on BrugesGroupBlog. Mind you, as rants go, this one cannot even begin to compare to the ones my colleague has been posting. Hope you will enjoy it, all the same.

Losing the plot

The jewel in the crown of our public administration – so we are told – is a strictly politically neutral civil service, a central tenet of the Northcote-Trevelyan Report of 1854. That embodied four core principles of integrity, honesty, objectivity and impartiality – including political impartiality.

Much has been made of the growing politicisation of the civil service, which was a key topic in 2001 and the debate has continued to this day. Even one of the more notable Tory bloggers has complained recently about the politicisation of the civil service.

We now learn from The Sunday Times, however, that the source of the leaks over which Damian Green has recently been arrested came from a junior civil servant in the Home Office immigration directorate by the name Chris Galley.

Two years ago, it seems, he approached the Tory party looking for a change of career. His CV was promising enough to secure an interview with Damian Green, the shadow immigration minister, but he failed to land a job. Galley thus resumed his civil service career, which included work in the private office of Jacqui Smith, the home secretary.

And, despite the rebuff from the Tories, Galley started systemically to leak documents to Damian Green, which he then used to embarrass the government.

What also emerges is that by no means could all the leaks be judged as being in the national interest, one such being a private letter from Smith to Gordon Brown raising her fears about crime rising in the recession. There was also a list — leaked to The Sunday Times — of more than 50 Labour MPs who opposed the government’s proposals to detain terror suspects for 42 days without charge.

Thus, what we have is a situation where a civil servant has been acting entirely in breach of the core principles of government administration, passing confidential information to a shadow cabinet minister, for entirely partisan party political reasons.

Irrespective of the administration served, this is an entirely intolerable situation and one might have thought that the Conservative Party in particular – supposedly upholding traditional values – would be quick to condemn such a situation.

It is one thing for a civil servant, imbued with a sense of public duty, to be so concerned about an issue which he considers to be of vital public interest that he feels impelled to leak it, regardless of the consequences. It is quite another for a party sympathiser to use his position in the civil service systematically to leak information to his preferred party, for it to be used for party political advantage.

Taking a wider perspective, one notes that Damian Green, before he entered politics, had been a journalist for 14 years, working for BBC Radio 4, ITN, The Times and Channel 4's Business Daily.

In passing the information he had gained from Galley to the media, instead of first airing it in the House, one sees not a parliamentarian at work in the national interest, but a party politician using his journalistic skills to bolster his own standing and the interests of his party.

Yet, amid the howls of outrage from Tory newspapers and bloggers, there is not one whit – that I can detect – of concern about this wholly unacceptable situation. Nor is there a hint of criticism of Damian Green. Yet this man has – or so it appears – not only condoned but encouraged an arrangement which runs roughshod over rules that, in effect, are part of our constitution. He has then used the media rather than parliament to pursue party political advantage by exploiting the information he has gained wholly illegally.

Rather than take a long, hard look at what increasingly looks to have been extremely shabby dealing, however, the Tory tribe has gone into hyperventilation mode, most recently with David Davis, the former Shadow Home Secretary declaring that Green's arrest was "reminiscent of Robert Mugabe's Zimbabwe".

Whatever else, that it is not. There is a case to answer, legal procedures were followed, the police acted entirely within their powers and the arrest was not arbitrary. One commentator remarks that the comparison is "silly", but it is more profound than that. It demonstrates a marked lack of judgement on the part of a senior Tory politician and a complete loss of perspective.

As worrying is Tory groupie Matthew d'Ancona who prattles on about the arrest appearing to be "a monstrous infringement of parliamentary privilege", heedless of the fact that Damian Green, acting in journalistic rather than parliamentary mode, has not invoked and neither can he rely on parliamentary privilege.

It would be a dangerous situation indeed if parliamentary privilege applied to the activities of MPs when they are acting outside the rules of the House, as indeed Green appears to have been, and it is a measure of d'Ancona's limited grasp of the fundamentals that he can – like the rest of his tribe – prattle on so.

Most worrying of all though is the more general public reaction which seems largely supportive of Green, whipped up by the media frenzy which – if viewed dispassionately – looks more like the media supporting one of its own than it does a free media defending democracy, as it claims to be doing.

After all, a constant supply of free stories, produced at public expense, is very much in the media's interest, saving journalists the time and trouble of researching their own. They, however, like the Tory tribe, seem to have lost the plot and are ignoring the more important and disturbing issues, from which Green does not appear to emerge with any credit.


Post-scientific hysteria

The really worrying thing about the man-made global warming cult – as Booker points out in today's column - is that it has become so pervasive that even president-elect Obama was swallowed it whole.

Anyone who starts off a statement on this issue by declaring "the science is beyond dispute and the facts are clear" is demonstrating nothing more or less than their own scientific illiteracy. Yet these were precisely the words used by Obama in a recent policy statement, delivered from the home of the greenies in California.

That the soon-to-be holder of the most powerful office in the world then proposed a policy guaranteed to inflict untold damage on his own country and many others, on the basis of claims so demonstrably fallacious that they amount to a string of self-deluding lies, is a cause of some concern.

In fact, what Obama is saying is terrifying, not least because the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is finally owning up to the true cost of the inane attempt to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions.

In a report to be presented at the December 1-12 conference in Poznan, Poland, it updates its 2007 estimates on the costs, saying that the "investment" had to be ramped up in the coming years, reaching between $200-210 billion annually by 2030.

The problem, says UNFCCC is "higher projected capital costs," especially in the energy sector. Even then, it still has not factored in the potential bill for implementing carbon storage. This technology is still at the pilot stage, so it is not possible to come up with any reliable estimates. The only thing we can guarantee is that it will cost a fortune.

What is possibly worse still is that millions of Americans, knowing that Obama was prone to what Booker calls "post-scientific hysteria", still voted for him, despite the knowledge – available to anyone who cared to ask – that the inevitable consequence is to wreck the richest economy in the world.

This cannot be called folly – that is too mild a word. It is utter, utter madness, and one which infects the most powerful elected official in the world. That is really scary.


The polluted pays

The collapse of the car industry, you would think, would have the greenies dancing with joy at the prospect of fewer of these mobile emitters being produced.

On the other hand, EU governments - which are nominally supportive of the greenie agenda – are having second thoughts about standing idly by while the industry sheds jobs by the hundred thousands. With 12 million jobs at stake and EU-wide sales down 14.5 percent in October, the EU commission has organised a €5 billion support package – mainly in soft loans – to see the industry through the worst.

Of course, such overt assistance would breach EU rules on state aid so the package is being dressed up as a measure to promote "the safety and environmental performance of cars", specifically to help them develop the technology to meet the new EU emission standard.

By 2012, new cars sold in the EU member states must average no more than 120g of C02 per km (I don't know what that is in real money) which means the average will have to be cut by about one third of the current average. And, without funding, the industry has no chance of achieving this target.

This has put the EU in a delicious position of having to confront one set of laws which will have the effect of putting the industry out of business altogether, and another set that prevent member states helping their own industries. So, trapped between a rock and a hard place of its own making, the EU does what is becoming something of a habit – it bends its own rules.

However, according to The Observer, a share of this dollop of €5 billion is not enough for the British government. With the UK industry having nosedived 23 percent in October, the sharpest drop for 17 years, the government is offering €16bn in soft loans – more than the industry has requested. Even at an EU level it is only asking for €40 billion.

The really big problem for the industry though is that lending has virtually dried up and potential customers are finding it increasingly difficult to get car loans from banks and finance companies, which means they will not be buying more cars in a hurry, no matter how "green" they get.

But the irony is that, since the loans – offered via the EIB which is underwritten by the member state taxpayers – even of we do not buy the cars we will end up paying for them anyway. Not for the first time do we see an industry partly on the rocks because of EU law, only then to have to bail it out because compliance is so hideously expensive.

But, when it comes to the greenie mantra, the polluter pays, the EU member states are suffering a collective loss of nerve – with the UK in the lead – which will eventually mean that the polluted pays. All you have to do is change one letter - doncha just love the EU?


Saturday, November 29, 2008

What about the searchlight?

"We already operate in a system where Parliament is effectively neutered, little more than a rubber stamp for legislation that ministers have already decided," writes Lib-Dem leader Nick Clegg in The Daily Telegraph today as he airs his "outrage" over the Damian Green affair.

"Ministers?" one might ask, in the context of upwards of eighty percent of our legislation coming via the European Union, of which Mr Clegg is an enthusiastic supporter. Yet it is our continued membership of that very organisation which, more than anything, has neutered parliament and made it little more than a sideshow.

As one would expect, however, the elephant in the room is not mentioned by Mr Clegg. There is not so much a hint of the existence of the EU – which he entirely supports – and its dire effect on the nature of our parliamentary democracy. The deception is thus complete with all the woes put down to "Labour" which is incorporated into the heading of his piece, telling us: "Damian Green arrest shows how Labour is destroying our political system."

Accordingly, we have Mr Clegg complaining about a Government which was elected with the support of just 22 percent of British voters (as opposed to an EU commission which was "elected" by zero percent), with him writing, "it presides over a culture of Whitehall secrecy and minimal parliamentary scrutiny." Then he complains, "Opposition MPs must table urgent questions to force ministers to address the House on major issues, while ministers merrily leak those same statements to newspaper journalists."

This is so strange as to be utterly bizarre. One problem is that, by and large, opposition MPs don't table questions, urgent or otherwise, on issues that matter. They have chosen instead to play political games - of which PMQs are a classic example - lodging questions that will give them "soundbites" which they can offer to the media as tasty morsels.

For the truth of that statement, look to one small example which we offered in an earlier piece. There, you see a complete absence of interest displayed by the official opposition in what turned out to be a key issue. Time and again, in the blog proper and on the forum, we have highlighted the failures of opposition to use the tools available to them and now we see a member of the opposition actually complaining about the lack of effect of the tools he has ceased to use.

Thus does Clegg assert that, "One of the weapons MPs do still have in their armoury is to play the Government at its own game. By releasing information of our own we can highlight matters of public interest that ministers would rather people didn't know about."

Yes indeed, Mr Clegg, you can "release information" – but through the very mechanisms you decry, do not use and have helped destroy. And so does he further complain, "With parliamentary scrutiny so feeble, the media has become a surrogate debating chamber. And when dealing with an administration legendary for its secrecy, you increasingly have to rely on whistle-blowers to see the full picture."

It is in that specific context, where Mr Clegg and his colleagues have allowed parliamentary scrutiny to become "so feeble" that we must then read Clegg's further offering. "Damian Green's arrest," he writes, "now threatens that ability, especially if MPs can no longer act as he did, without fear of the police knocking on their doors to rifle through their possessions and search their offices. Then yet more scrutiny will be lost."

Put in a nutshell, having ignored the parliamentary process and allowed it to atrophy, Clegg wants to protects the "surrogate debating chamber" that has sprung up to replace it. "We are made no safer by this arrest and the country will not be run any better," he whines. "The door to proper public scrutiny of what the Government does in our name will have been closed a bit further, and the small shaft of light that still shines on the work of ministers will have narrowed even more."

That "small shaft of light" adequately describes what we have left. Yet, the great searchlight of real parliamentary scrutiny lies unused in the corner because the likes of Mr Clegg know too well that it would show up the very flaws in the system that he himself supports. Instead, he blathers on about what amounts to a pocket torch – getting worked up about something that, in truth, really does not matter.

More importantly, it missed the point - perhaps deliberately. What really does matter is that parliament is not doing its job. On that, Mr Clegg is silent. Yet, so limited is the understanding of the hyperventilating chatterati about parliament, and about how parliamentary scrutiny and accountability should work that they have allowed themselves to fall for this fluff, captured as always by the hystérie du jour, following the agenda set by the MSM.

The only question for this blog, I suppose, is why are we surprised?


Rush hour …

… yesterday morning in Jersey. However, the aircraft was diverted to Doncaster on the way back because Leeds/Bradford airport was fog-bound adding many hours to the homeward journey. It's too late and I'm too tired to do I proper post, so I'll pick up the threads later today.

I note, wearily, however, how comprehensively the media (and the chatterati) are missing the point on Damian Green – especially Matthew Parris.

He writes that, "If … the supposed offence amounted to nothing more than embarrassing ministers with information they had been trying to hide," then there arise some serious questions about the position of the Speaker.

"Mr Martin is an MP," Parris goes on to write. "He, above all others in our unwritten constitution, is there to protect the status and interests of Parliament … This is not a small matter. It goes to the heart of parliamentary privilege."

If, on the other hand, Mr Green has, by virtue of his position as an MP and member of the shadow cabinet, been receiving confidential material from a civil servant acting in breach of his/her obligations on confidentiality (potentially a criminal offence) and has then been feeding that information to the media, not least to gain party political advantage, then this is an abuse of parliamentary privilege.

Once again it has to be said that if Mr Green had raised in parliament the issues - information on which he appears so freely to have leaked to the media - then he would not be currently the subject of a criminal investigation.

Methinks we need a little clarity on this issue, and a little less woolly thinking.


Friday, November 28, 2008

Not what you do …

There is much fluttering in the dovecots about the arrest by the Metropolitan Police of Tory MP Damian Green, for the alleged offence of "aiding or procuring misconduct in public office." The arrest, we are told, is connected to the disclosure of several Home Office documents over the last year, which were subsequently leaked to the media.

It has been remarked that MPs have no specific protection from police action if they are involved in criminal activities, whether or not – as some claim – such activities are in the public interest. You can trash a power station in the name of global warming, but it is illegal for an MP (and anybody else) to leak to the press confidential information sent to him by a civil servant who is in breach of his (or her) legal obligations to protect information obtained solely and exclusively by virtue of his (or her) employment.

As to whether this happened in this instance we cannot comment. But it is fair to make the point that the situation is different if on receipt of leaked confidential information, the MP sends it to the "proper authorities". If he then uses the information so gained to "guide" questioning in the House - whether written or oral – and thereby puts that information into the public domain, then he is pretty much watertight, protected by Parliamentary privilege.

The place for opposition to hold the government to account is the House of Commons, not the pages of the press. If the media then publish the proceedings of the House, that is a matter for them and, generally, to be welcomed – that is democracy at work. MPs leaking confidential government information, passed to them illegally by civil servants, is not. In that context, it is not so much what you do, but how you do it.


Window Dressing

We are not unused to government continuing unabated in the face of contradictory evidence. Therefore, we remain unamazed by the government's response to the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee report on "The Economics of Renewable Energy." It was commenting on the plan to generate "15 percent" (actually 32 percent) of the UK's energy from renewable sources to meet EU targets by 2020, stating thus:

The government should shift its investment in renewable energy away from "unreliable" wind power to nuclear and carbon capture and storage to avoid putting the security of the UK's energy supply at risk.
Yet as of Monday we learn that government is to extend its renewable energy support mechanism (subsidy) to 2037.

Clearly, all the experts in the world will not deter politicians. If there's a shop window to dress they will dress it and as ever we will pay, in more ways than we even begin to realise.

Yet, such are the distortions in the debate that even the "voice of sanity" is barking mad. A shift in investment to carbon capture - apart from doubling the costs of new-build coal plants and adding anything up to 60 percent to our coal burn - would be backing totally unproven technology. The best outcome it that it would lead us up a cul de sac. More probably, it would have the effect of reducing the electricity produced from coal by a half or more - and only if the technology could be made to work.

That, though, is modern politics for you. Even the critics can't see the window dressing for what it is.


Thursday, November 27, 2008

They kill people don't they

Reported in The Daily Telegraph online is data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) which show that last winter 25,300 more people died in the winter months than in the summer, an increase of seven per cent on the previous year.

Although most of these are due to circulatory and respiratory diseases and the majority occur among the elderly, the statistics do illustrate a point which global warmists are apt to ignore in pursuit of their obsession – the fact that cold is far more deadly than hot weather.

The Telegraph story highlights concerns that the death toll will be higher this year "as forecasters predict lower temperatures than last year", utility bills have risen and the credit crunch means many households are struggling to make ends meet.

Two issues are not highlighted though. Firstly, for a newspaper that is an enthusiastic cheerleader for the warmist cause, and quick to attribute any weather anomaly to "global warming", it is strangely silent about the causes or otherwise of the significantly colder weather we are experiencing, and the fact – which it acknowledges – that forecasters are predicting even more cold.

Secondly, it is just as silent about the greenie agenda to drive up fuel prices, currently through the climate change levy, the emissions trading scheme and the renewables obligation. Yet, at the very heart of the drive to limit carbon dioxide emissions is the strategy of increasing energy costs, thus reducing "consumer demand".

It does not take rocket science to work out that, if "consumer demand" reduces when the temperatures are low, then this means people are cutting back on heating, which also means that some – the elderly and frail – will die prematurely. That is the inevitable consequence of the greenie policy.

The obvious rejoinder to the alarums about runaway global warming, therefore, is to ask the greenies how many "wrinklies" they want to kill to make their policy work.


A terrifying world

If excessive debt has got us into this mess, and the main thrust of the attack against Mr Brown is his plan to add to the national debt by untold zillions – and then tax us out of existence to pay for it - what, one might ask, is the EU playing at, setting up a EU "recovery plan" which amounts to EU member states borrowing €200 billion more than they have already?

This, we are told by The Times is the EU's brilliant idea "to beat the slump", in which member states are being "encouraged to follow Britain's lead". What is worse, though, is that it appears that EU commission president Barroso actually consulted with Gordon Brown before the Pre-Budget Report, in order to get tips on how to construct this wonderfully miasmic plan.

And so pleased is the Treasury at being the architect not only of the downfall of the UK but the rest of Europe as well that its spokesman was heard happily preening: "This is an opportunity to show how Europe can work together to support our wider economies."

If there is one thing more terrifying than either Mr Brown or the European Union running our economy, it is the prospect of them working together with a co-ordinated "plan". By all accounts, however, it is even worse than that, with Bush – in the final days of his presidency – throwing in his hand with the EU, to engineer a grand stitch-up of the global financial system, the very thing that allowed it to get out of control in the first place.

Thus, while there was a debate on the PBR in the provincial parliament yesterday, with the MPPs twittering away about the VAT cut and sundry other diversions, the real action is elsewhere, with Brown playing with the "big boys" rather than looking to Westminster for his lead.

However, since the majority of MPPs – and especially those on the opposition benches - seem loathe to acknowledge the global dimension of our economic crisis, and insist on viewing it through the prism of national politics, much of what they have to say is a study in irrelevancy. The action truly is elsewhere, out of sight of the media and chatterati trapped in their Westminster bubble, players who still labour under the delusion that what they think or say is of any importance.

Thus, while one of our colleagues over on Purple Scorpion rightly complains about Brown not paying enough attention to local issues, rather than an illustration of his "incompetence" this is more a reflection of where his priorities really lie. This penny-ante stuff is of no interest to him - not when the tranzies beckon and there is a "new world order" in the making.

Sadly, it will all come to grief, but it makes for painful watching. One is almost tempted to dig a hole in the garden and hide in it until this is all over. Instead, I have opted for the more pleasant – if somewhat shorter-lived - expedient of popping over to Jersey for dinner and the odd glass of wine.

The distance and the flight timings means that I will be out of play for the rest of today and, after sleeping off what I hope will be a pleasant excess, I will not be back fully in harness until late Friday evening. I'll take the laptop just in case there is an opportunity to blog, but might instead look to the moonlight over the lighthouse, as so famously illustrated above.


Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Informed comment?

The above is from the Sky website.

The television station is reviewing a book called, "Changing The Dinosaur's Spots - The Battle To Reform UK Defence Acquisition." Written by Bill Kincaid, a retired brigadier who until recently was in charge of operational requirements for the MoD, it claims that the rising UK military death toll in Helmand is partly caused by waste and delay in providing better equipment.

Lives are lost in poorly-protected vehicles like the Snatch Land Rover - over which an SAS commander recently resigned - because money to replace them is squandered elsewhere, says Kincaid, who warns it may take a major defeat on the battlefield before the problem is put right.

Kincaid, of course, is blowing smoke. We have already suffered a "major defeat on the battlefield" – it's called Iraq. Look to the story of al Amarah, about which we hope to publish today. Any which way you cut it, this was a major defeat for the British Army - through no fault of the men on the gound, who performed heroically. The response was simply to "spin" the defeat as a victory – with the media rolling over and buying the line.

But, if you expect any sensible or informed comment from the media, look at the pic posted by Sky and then the caption. That is as good as it gets. The problem is that this sort of superficial, lacklustre coverage typifies the media in general, right across the board. Nothing you read can be relied upon and nothing they say can be trusted. This is the world of "newspeak".


Oh for a grown-up party!

In asking, more or less rhetorically in one of yesterday's posts, whether "we" care, my actual target was myself as much as our many readers. The question is addressed to myself in terms of whether I care, the uncompleted query being whether one really cares which political party makes the running.

In truth, the economy is in such a mess – and made worse by Brown's maladministration – that, in the short term at least – it will make very little difference. We are going to take some pain and the only real choice is where we take that pain.

It is possible to argue that, in the longer term, the Conservatives will be better for the economy, if only because it is virtually impossible to do worse than Mr Brown and his current chancellor. But that is as much a fond hope as anything else. As Bruce Anderson pointed out yesterday, the essential flaw in the Brown package is that it comprises a series of fiscal measures, when the "current ailments are not fiscal; they are monetary".

It was that which led Anderson to conclude that Brown is playing politics - and I agree with the conclusion. Rather than dealing with the economic crisis, he has devised a carefully crafted set of "bribes" focused on a tiny sub-set of the electorate whom, he hopes, will be impressed enough to vote for Labour at the next general election and thus make the different between victory and defeat.

And, as one commentator remarked on the ToryBoy blog, which I have reproduced on our forum:

Whatever people may think about labour's ability to run the country, they are not stupid. They know their electorate and how to play the political game, or they wouldn't be in power. A shrewd player makes use of situations that arise to kill 15 birds with a single stone... and keep the stone.

So maybe this is all a deliberate plan by labour. They can see the country is a mess, and their chances of winning the next election are poor. So, address the crisis with measures designed to look good to your traditional supporters, while simultaneously generating a pile of trouble for whoever next gets into government. Since there is a good chance it may not be labour, they can then crow about the failure of the government in 4 years time ("it was never close to this bad under labour") before storming back in on a massive majority after just 1 missed term.
That more or less sums up what I think, my point being that it doesn't matter what we, what the media or the rest of the chattering classes think. What matters is that electoral sub-set being addressed by Brown, the ignorati as I put it. And, to be brutally frank, none of us really know what they think.

One of the most difficult things to do as an analyst is to assess other peoples' ignorance. There is a tendency to think that because you know something, or that it is blindingly obvious to yourself, that everybody else also knows it, or comes to the same level of understanding.

The crucial thing, of course, is that elections are not won by appealing to the politically aware, and that very small band of people fortunate enough to understand the economic issues involved in our current crisis, and the remedies that are needed.

The coming election will be won by appealing to the ignorati, the economically illiterate and the politically apathetic. Like the ToryBoy commentator, I suspect – but don't know – that Brown (guided as he is currently by Peter Mandelson) has a better understanding of what makes the ignorati tick than we do – and possibly a much better idea that the Tories.

That brings me back to the thesis of "who cares wins?" My problem here is that I take an instinctive and violent dislike to braying back-benchers and the Punch and Judy politics that we see on display in the House of Commons. Equally, I dislike "opposition by soundbite" as much as I do government by soundbite. Therefore, the natural reaction is to say, "a plague on both your houses" and retire from the field.

Add to that, the Anderson diagnosis that we are dealing with a monetary crisis and this feeling is strengthened, as so many of the controls needed to remedy the global and national financial systems lie outside the power (or competence) of our local politicians. To that extent, it really does not matter which party is in office. Neither of them is truly in power, both having sold their souls to the tranzies.

Taking all this in the round, one can conclude that the basic difference is that, while neither Labour nor the Tories can make things much better, Labour has within it the capability to make things a whole lot worse. Therefore, Conservatives have to be the choice, but it is not a wholesale endorsement.

One has to do more than hold one's nose to vote for a party which is in bed with the Friends of the Earth, an organisation which holds values to which I am totally, completely and utterly opposed, with every fibre of my being. Frankly, if it was not for the economic issues, a thousand wild horses could not drag me into a polling booth to vote Conservative.

Expecting rational policies on the environment and related issues, however, seems to be too much to ask but, since Labour policies are no better, it is definitely a matter of Hobson's choice. Either way we get shafted, and I resent being put in a position where I am forced to vote for a party which takes a stance on a core issue (one of many) with which I totally disagree.

Thus, the only thing one can possibly hope for is that, if either or both parties are going to shaft us – the choice being not "whether" but to what degree - then it would be nice if one of them could act like grown-ups instead of squabbling children fighting over a satchel. That alone would almost be enough to get my vote – almost. More likely, the nose peg will have to be employed.

In the meantime, I remain convinced that forensic opposition is the best way of taking down this government, and I am (and have been) working on a piece that will take this philosophy further. That I hope to post sometime tomorrow, but it may take a little longer. With that, at least, I can retain some semblance of personal sanity - possibly the only thing left that they cannot tax.


Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Makes you weep

As it happens, I have never shared the visceral hatred so many people in Britain display towards bankers and other people who make large sums of money, particularly as those people are keeping the British economy going. Without the City this country will be a sorry place.

I might not want to consult businessmen on political matters but when it comes to such things as money and the economy I know whom I would choose, businessmen or politicians. The latter, in my opinion, are like overgrown uncontrolled children who, unable to build an elaborate sandcastle, prefer to kick over the other kid's creation to finding some useful occupation for themselves.

At least two commentators, Thomas Sowell on and Timothy Noah on, think that is precisely what is happening in the United States. Once things are made to go wrong, it is very difficult to put them right as numerous studies about the dire effect Roosevelt's policies had on the depression of the thirties.

As for our own Prime Minister, who has just mortgaged the country for the next fifty years (if we are lucky), I fear that for once I have to agree with Boris Johnson's outburst. This is Gordon, the old socialist, delighting in what he sees as the humbling of people better than himself in that they are more useful to the country.

Mind you, it is not entirely clear to me why Mr Johnson is so surprised at the fact that all that money has been squandered on the public sector since 1997. I thought everyone knew that.

I also disagree with the boss - people are not being fooled by Gordon the Moron's performance and, for once, neither is the media. All the newspapers were lambasting him this morning, no matter what their political outlook might be.

The problem is that, whichever way we turn, the country loses out. ToryBoy blog is correct in its analysis (gosh, I am being generous today but only because anything and anyone is better than malevolent idiot politicians): Brown thinks he is in a win-win situation. Either the public swallows his assurances that he is the saviour and not the destroyer of the British economy and he is re-elected; or he loses the next election and the incoming Conservative government is left with an unholy mess. Sadly, I do not share ToryBoy blog's admiration for the Shadow Chancellor.


Does the sun rise?

Bruno Waterfield has what he calls an "exclusive" in The Daily Telegraph this morning, with the news that France is preparing to "stitch up" Britain by blackmailing the European Union into guaranteeing farm subsidies worth more than £7 billion a year.

In terms of detail, this may indeed be an exclusive, but in general terms this is a headline that could be written any day of the week, 365 days a year. From the very start, the CAP has been a French stitch-up, in the same way that the EU and the EEC before it has always been an instrument for furthering France's national interest - "Europe c'est moi," as de Gaulle might have said.

Thus, when we learn that France, yet again, is to indulge itself at our expense, the only thing of interest is not whether but precisely how it intends to go about it. And, if nothing else, French bureaucrats are so highly inventive at inventing complex mechanisms for milking the community pot that they leave our lot standing.

This will all come out in the wash in 16 days time at the meeting of the Council of our Supreme Government, otherwise known as the European Council, when a classified internal French document will be read into the record. It, according to Bruno, praises the CAP as a "strategic asset" based on principles laid down in the Treaty of Rome over 50 years ago.

This is a classic re-writing of history – much along the lines of the CAP being developed to "make Europe self-sufficient in food". The CAP dates not to the Treaty of Rome but first to the Stresa conference in July 1958 and then to the financial settlement devised by de Gaulle in 1968 and adopted into (then) EEC law in the "forgotten treaty" – the Luxembourg Treaty of 22 April 1970.

It was that treaty, more than anything, which set up the foundations of the CAP as a financial and political instrument, which it always was and always will be. The CAP was never an agricultural policy, in the sense that it was ever devised as a rational tool for the management of our agricultural resources.

But it is indeed a "strategic asset" for the French, and they intend to keep it that way. The rest of us can huff and puff, but the financial support systems built into the CAP are France's "red line" which she will never cross.

It is all very well, therefore, for Jim Paice, the Tory spokesman on agriculture to wax outrageous about this state of affairs, but it is never going to be any different as long as we continue to be members of the EU. Our role when we joined was to pay French farming bills – and buy their produce. As it was then, so is it now. Nothing is going to change until we get out of the EU.

But, since withdrawal from this loathsome construct is not even (yet) on the political agenda, "outrage" is so much fluff. We might just as well get worked up about the sun rising in the morning.


Do we care?

"Gordon Brown borrowed us into this mess, and now he would like to borrow us out of it. We now know what he means by PSBR. It is the Price of Subsidising Brown's Re-election."

That is from Bruce Anderson in The Independent responding to Darling's pre-budget report. And they don't get much more left wing than The Independent. Yet, this paper gives a right-wing commentator house room when he writes, "Brown is not after economic recovery, he's after votes."

The trouble is, Brown may get them. Said Darling in his speech yesterday, "Inflation is forecast to come down sharply, reaching half of one percent by the end of next year." He adds: "Lower commodity prices and lower interest rates, which boost incomes and help business profits, together with the fiscal reaction across the world, will also help."

Add to that the cut in VAT, the increase in pensions, Christmas bonus and pension credit, the increase in child benefits, an increase in the child element of the child tax credit and Darling claims to be helping 15 million people. Taking into account the drop in inflation, those people will be winners and by the time of the 2010 general election they will feel marginally better off.

While others chase the "yoof" vote, as a rule of thumb, pensioners are five times more likely to vote than people of the age 25 and under, giving Brown a tactical advantage, while he passes some of the costs of his bonanza on to people who would not vote for him anyway, or simply will not be voting.

In September last, we suggested that Brown might be a lucky prime minister, just at a time when the bulk of the commentariat was writing him off. By the time his target voters go to the polls, Brown's "luck" may have held out and, despite the prognostications of today, he could pull off an historic fourth term for Labour.

The trouble is that the political commentators are too clever by half. Much of the detail of this pre-budget speech is highly technical and will wash over most people who will neither understand it nor care. And nor have they noticed that Darling, undoubtedly with the approval of Brown, is gradually adding to the burden of "green" taxes.

Most, for instance, will have missed his reference to including aviation in the ETS from 2012 yet that will pull him in possibly £400 million a year and rising, without a single voice in protest from the political classes. Add to that an increasing amount from the energy companies though the existing ETS auctions and, before too long he is looking and extra billion a year flowing into his coffers, going up as the years pass.

Another little twist to the speech is his commitment to extend the renewables obligation for an additional 10 years to 2037. That will guarantee a source of income for wind farms and the like at no cost to the exchequer, but will add significantly to electricity costs as more renewables come on line.

We estimated that this might eventually cost £6 billion a year, but not just yet, allowing Darling to claim, as he is, that he is supporting the green agenda, without people noticing the pain.

Combine that with a Conservative front bench which no longer seems to be able to talk in coherent sentences and relies on an ever-increasing diet of pre-cooked sound-bites and the electoral game seems far from over. The only question is, given all the pain that Darling seems to be storing up for after the election, who would want to be in office after 2010?

But then, we have long since ceased to be able to fathom what politicians think – if indeed they do – and long before that we ceased to care. And that, in the end, may be Brown's most effective ally. The ignorati far outnumber the chatterati.


Monday, November 24, 2008

Inside the bubble

"In tough economic times, the flimsiness of the environmental movement comes to the fore," writes Melissa Clouthier for Pajamasmedia.

Environmentalism, she goes on to write, is the luxury of those without more pressing concerns - like survival. In places like China, where their government worries about feeding 1.3 billion people, environmental concerns take a back seat to human concerns like food, water, and jobs.

She is right, as far as it goes, but it applies only outside the "bubble". What she has not done is factored in the "bubble effect" of unaccountable governments and media, which have completely lost the plot.

Thus, while from inside the bubble the chatterati are tweeting today about the pre-budget report and the prospect of tax-cuts to kick-start the economy, not one of the little darlings picked up the fact that, last week the government introduced a major new tax, which is set to grow and grow and grow.

Outside that bubble, there is barely a person in the country who would willingly accept the impost of new taxes. And if, for example, the chancellor had increased the VAT on electricity, there would have uproar, with the opposition benches in full flow, waxing outrageous about "fuel poverty" and all the rest. But, because the tax is dressed up as "carbon permits", you get barely a squeak from the bubble media and absolute silence from the opposition.

As for that bubble media, the same Daily Telegraph that so earnestly in today's leader tells us that Alistair Darling "must cut tax and spending" is one of the major cheerleaders for the global warming myth that legitimises more taxation, more spending and runs entirely contrary to the ethos expressed in the op-ed by Janet Daly, who argues that it is "the whole state that needs cutting".

An example of the "bubble effect" can be seen in the paper's (online) series on "History's great conspiracy theories". Go to number 29 (pictured above) and you will read:

Global warming is a hoax - Some climate change doubters believe that man-made global warming is a conspiracy designed to soften up the world's population to higher taxation, controls on lifestyle and more authoritarian government. These sceptics cite a fall in global temperatures since last year and a levelling off in the rise in temperature since 1998 as evidence.
Deconstructing this, one sees the "straw man" technique of distorting the argument and (deliberately) confusing the issues. That the political classes are capitalising on the opportunities afforded by global warming (see "carbon permits" passim) is a perfectly valid argument but the paper turns this on its head.

From within the bubble the little darlings are able to define "climate change doubters" as those who quote evidence of "a fall in global temperatures since last year and a levelling off in the rise in temperature since 1998" as opposed to the low-grade crap produced by GISS, reported by Booker, whose piece now ranks as the "most viewed" for the entire year.

The reason this happens, of course, from within their bubble, the media has become completely detached from its readership base in exactly the same way that the political classes have become detached from their electorates. In their protected little bubble, they are still able to afford the luxury of environmentalism, heedless as they are of those irritating but more pressing concerns outside the bubble - like survival.

Only when their survival depends on ours will things change.


An absence of leadership

Right on the button, The Daily Telegraph runs a story headed: "UK at 'real risk' of power shortages, report warns”, telling us that "The UK is at 'real risk' of imminent power shortages as a result of attempts to shift to more environmentally friendly methods of electrictity (sic) production, a report has warned."

That's what I really like about newspapers – the way they keep you informed with the latest, up-to-the-minute news. Only the MSM can do this, with its thousands of gifted staff, its million-pound budgets and its access to expert sources of information.

On the other hand, we discover that we first wrote about this issue 10 October 2004 and really got into our stride on 17 December 2006 when we strongly suggested buying a back-up generator.

We were at it again on 9 January 2006, when we were worried out the likelihood of anything intelligent being done about the problem receding, and then yet again on 28 May 2008, warning of "things to come" when tens of thousands of electricity consumers suffered blackouts.

On 29 May 2008, we were warning of a "national crisis in the making", on 4 June we were calling for an honest debate about energy and on 3 August, we did our most detailed analysis to date and backed it up with other pieces on 17 September and 22 September.

We were back on the case on 26 September , again on 2 October and yet again on 22 October. Then, on 12 November, in the context of the BBC finally doing a small piece about the possibility of power cuts, we noted the tendency of the media, by act and omission, the media, especially the broadcast media, it deciding for us what is and is not "news". Now, after all these years, The Daily Telegraph has suddenly decided that this issue might be news after all.

When the powers cuts do happen, of course, we will not need the media to tell us. Unlike with many events, we will be the first to know. The only pity is that we will not be much point is saying, "I told you so". Most people will not have the power to switch on their computers.

But two points are worth making – again. The first is the complete silence of the Conservative opposition on this issue - in common with the rest of the political classes - something noted by Tony Sharp today. We made a big deal of that on 10 September, just before the party conference. Then we noted that the Centre Right blog had done a piece on energy, and elicited only two comments.

The second is the tendency of the blogosphere to take its agenda from the MSM. Through the miracle of the Blogger and site meter technology, we can see how many other blogs link to our posts – an indicator of how seriously a piece is taken by the chatterati who just love telling each other how wonderful their posts are. In this case, there were no links whatsoever.

Yet, when – as it must – the issue hits the front pages, you can bet the blogs will be crawling all over it, demonstrating yet again their inability to set the agenda.

The first point, though, is the more important. In our little ghetto, we can only do so much. Unless or until there is some genuine political leadership on this issue, it will never really take off. That is the way things work. For the media to get steamed up, there must be a political "edge".

The absence of that leadership speaks volumes for the Conservative Party.


A Tetley footprint?

There is a certain sense in suggesting that, if you are going to reduce your "carbon footprint", then you should have a "defined pathway". That way, at least your know where to put your feet.

Putting their feet in it, it seems, are three quarters of university students (74 percent) who, according to a survey commissioned by the Carbon Trust, would like their university to have the Carbon Trust Standard to prove it has taken action on climate change.

One is mildly surprised that university students have even head of the Carbon Trust, and even more so that they have heard of the Carbon Trust Standard, but we can undoubtedly trust the Carbon Trust to have delivered an accurate and entirely impartial survey.

Thus we must also accept its word that nearly half of all students (47 percent) would like their universities to do more to help them reduce their own personal carbon footprint, helping them with their "defined pathway" towards achieving the UK target of an 80 percent reduction in emissions by 2050.

The most puzzling thing about the survey, however, is the only "defined pathway" most students used to be interested in was the one that led from their bedsits to the nearest pub. Perhaps, in truth, most of the 1,033 full time undergraduates who answered the questionnaire were confusing carbon with Tetleys. If that is the case, there is hope for us yet.


Sunday, November 23, 2008

Waiving the rules

In the wake of last week's report on a "new" Tory policy on fishing, Booker has this week taken a wider look at discarding in his column.

The issues are personalised around a good friend of us both, Mick Mahon, a Newlyn fisherman who has done much to bring to light the criminal madness of the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy. And, after 25 years of living with the lunacy of the policy, Mick has had enough and has decided he will discard no more. Instead, he is "waiving the rules" and landing all the fish he catches. He gives them away to the Fishermens' mission for charity.

This has so bemused the local fisheries inspector, whose officious zeal has made him the most unpopular man in Newlyn, that his only response do far has been to threaten the mission with prosecution for accepting Mick's charitable gifts.

Of course, if every fisherman in the country did likewise, and was prepared to stand up to the tide of regulation that is progressively destroying the industry, then at least we would have a fighting chance. But, over the years, most fishermen - and especially their representatives - have sought accommodations with our provincial government, in the hope that they could continue to make a living.

This strategy has not worked and now it is left to the likes of Mick to make his defiant but ultimately forlorn gesture, his last shout before he retires from a dying industry, destroyed by the combined effects of a treacherous Ted Heath, supine MPPs (Members of the Provincial Parliament) and over-zealous officialdom.

In years to come, there should be a monument in Trafalgar Square to mark the passing of the British fishing industry, and Mick would make a good model for it. But it should also be a monument to mark the passing of our independence. In that the death of that industry is symbolic of our craven subservience to an alien form of government, the monument would serve as well to mark the loss of that independence.

Perhaps though, rather than Mick, the monument should be a statue of an elephant, made of glass, so that busy passers-by can ignore it completely, as indeed so many do the thing it would represent.


Right and wrong

Let us just remind ourselves that, two weeks ago The Sunday Times was endorsing a cut in VAT from 17.5 to 12.5 percent for a period of two years, "an eye-catching five-point cut", as proposed by the Centre for Economics and Business Research.

My response to that was:

VAT is an EU tax, governed by the Sixth VAT Directive. No government can reduce tax rates without the unanimous approval of all 27 member states, acting on a proposal from the EU commission – which it is not obliged to offer. Thus, there is a double-lock. First the commission has to agree to the idea and then the Council must approve it unanimously.
That much is true, insofar as it relates to a five percent cut, but it is wrong in the detail. It applies specifically to the minimum rate of VAT which - as is set out in Recital 29 of Directive 2006/112/EC (Directive 77/388/EEC Recast) – is currently 15 percent. No provincial government can reduce VAT levels for the specified goods and services below the minimum rate.

What I had forgotten was that the UK provincial government (the last Tory administration) had increased its VAT rate above the minimum level to 17.5 percent. My brain had somehow registered (wrongly) that the current UK level was in fact the minimum EU level.

Thus, with most of today's newspapers are forecasting that Brown is proposing to cut VAT levels, it is true that he can bring the rate down from 17.5 to the minimum level of 15 percent, but no further. In its report today, therefore, The Sunday Times has (at last) got it right – partly at least - stating that "under European Union (EU) regulations, Vat cannot be lowered below 15%". Actually, it is a directive, not a regulation, but we will let that pass.

The paper then goes on to say that, "It will be the first time that any government has cut the sales tax," another terminological error – this is a turnover tax, not a sales tax – but we'll let that pass as well. Hell, I'm in a generous mood.

Whether a 2.5 percent cut amounts to "Big reductions in Value Added Tax", as The Sunday Telegraph asserts, is a moot point. It is half the level the Centre for Economics and Business Research thought necessary to give a much-needed economic stimulus.

"Big", or not, The Observer tells us that this is part of Alistair Darling's "high-risk bid to lead Britain out of recession tomorrow," the idea of the VAT cut being to "entice the British people to go on a pre-Christmas spending spree".

To conform with EU law, that is all Darling can do and, for the record, this is somewhat modest. Looking at the recent adverts for laptops, with a view to replacing the aged EU Referendum backup machine, I latched on one for £375. The proposed cut would reduce this to £367, a staggering £8 reduction. I suspect that such a marginal difference will have but a slight effect on purchasing intentions.

That Brown would probably like to do more is hinted at in the Sunday Times piece. It tells us that, tomorrow, he will also say he plans to go to Brussels to appeal for EU-wide action on cutting taxes, looking for a "co-ordinated approach in Europe." At the next meeting of the Council of our supreme government in Brussels next month, he may call on them to "follow his lead" in cutting VAT.

But, beyond the mere 2.5 percent cut, it is unlikely that the EU will go. For that, EU law will have to be changed, and that is nowhere on the agenda.


Greenie screams

Eat your hearts out greenies! Whatever you do, do not attempt to recycle them.

With the collapse of the China market for our rubbish, The Sunday Telegraph is telling us that Hertfordshire county council has withdrawn a scheme that allowed residents to recycle everyday items like yoghurt pots, margarine tubs and other types of plastic packaging. It has now become uneconomical to do so. The items will now go into landfill sites and the council has asked residents to avoid buying products with too much plastic packaging.

This is thought to be the first case of a local authority scrapping a recycling scheme but "industry experts" now fear more could follow suit. Worried that this will put additional strain on the remaining landfill system, the Local Government Association (LGA) is writing to all councils urging them to resist the temptation to divert recyclable rubbish into landfill.

Dozens of councils and their contractors, says The Telegraph are understood to have already started storing waste, although few have publicly admitted it, fearing it could undermine public support for recycling schemes. In Oxfordshire, we are told, plastic bottles and card are piling up in depots.

Then we have Community Waste, in Milton Keynes, which works as a contractor for a number of councils. Its director, Richard Cutts said: "The situation is extremely serious. Few realise just how serious." He adds: "We are continuing to recycle rather than store 2,000 tonnes of waste a week – and that is costing us £70 a tonne. Obviously, we cannot continue to do that forever." Looks as if the man will have to make some Cutts.

But "chickens coming home to roost", hardly begins to describe it. Soon enough we will be getting pictures of thousands of tons of waste material stacked up on disused military airfields, and another greenie myth will have bitten the dust. If they are lucky, the stinking mounds will be covered by snow, while we send them all the greenies off to the Arctic to rescue whales trapped by the ice that was not supposed to be there.


This spells trouble

While we as a nation retreat into our own economic misery, confronting a meltdown that can only be made worse by the collective and continued mismanagement of our leaders, spare a thought for China – not least because what is happening there cannot but help impact on us, in diverse but as yet unknown ways.

According to The Times and other sources, between 130-230 million migrant workers are poised to go back to their rural homes. As the manufacturing economy collapses, they are deserting the cities and returning to their roots, in a huge exodus that is set to dwarf even the scale of the "Down to the Countryside Movement" of Mao's Cultural Revolution.

So massive is this movement of people that the Chinese government is setting up an emergency programme in a bid to stem the tide. It has laid down new ordinances requiring large state-owned enterprises to reduce salaries first before dismissing staff while they and even medium-sized local companies need official approval before they can make redundant more than 50 people.

Provincial governments, it seems, are particularly alarmed at the inflow of displaced – and very often penniless workers back into their districts. Many of the rural areas have not shared in the relative prosperity of the manufacturing boom and what economic dynamism has come their way has resulted from the production of higher-value agricultural products to feed the burgeoning middle classes and the higher-paid factory workers.

With less demand for more profitable products and more mouths to feed, rural areas – already under stress – will find it difficult to adjust. Thus, with no realistic chance of employment in their home towns, both central and provincial governments are worried that jobless returnees might add to the social tensions already affecting many of the provinces, while even the limited unemployment insurance funds face bankruptcy.

In a huge country with vast tracts not covered by the western media and a totalitarian government which has almost complete control over local media, it will be difficult to pick up early signs of any nascent unrest that will most certainly result if the flood of workers is not stemmed.

Already though, we have seen significant signs of unrest, and concerns at the effects of slowing growth. The most recent disturbances (that we know about) have been in Longnan city, in Gansu province, northwest China. There, police used tear gas to quell two days of violent protests by thousands of people who used axes, chains and iron bars to attack police, trashing more than a few police cars, leaving them burnt-out wrecks. Unlike many commentators, therefore, we have been suggesting that China is a nation on the brink.

For the West, the immediate outcome is a fall-off in the availability of cheap consumer goods, which had done much to fuel our economic boom – as well as creating unexpected problems (to some) such as the reduction in demand for our waste products.

But, the great uncertainty is how a China under growing economic stress, with massive social problems and the possibility of political unrest, will deploy the money weapon. With $1.8 trillion in foreign reserves, China acting as a loose cannon on the world money markets could cause havoc to a monetary system which is already teetering.

China may be a country a long way away, of which we know remarkably little, but in the fullness of time we may find its problems visited on our shores in a way we least expect and will definitely not welcome.


Saturday, November 22, 2008

Guilty secret

Instead of slaving away at the blog, I have been working on an idea for a book on the "Snatch" Land Rover. If anyone is interested, the draft of the second chapter is posted here. For a blog post, it is a bit long (8,500 words) but there you go.

Comments and any additional information would be appreciated.


Stunning news

One can hardly contain one's excitement at the news that the parliament in the EU province of Sweden has decided to ratify the constitutional treaty. So epic is the news, in fact, that one had to go and lie down awhile before one could trust one's self to commit the joyous news to this blog.

By the way, global warming is racing away so fast that the leaves will still be on the trees at Christmas, with people sunbathing outside and the polar bears swimming marathons at the North Pole.

So enthusiastic was the Rikstag however, that it seems to have forgotten to tell the world how many of their MPs were in favour of giving yet more of their powers to the EU, but the local TT news agency made up for the deficiency by reporting that it was approved with 243 votes in favour, 39 against and 13 abstaining, while 54 members of parliament were absent.

Despite this very large majority, however, its passage was not a foregone conclusion until the very final vote. There were a couple of motions asking for a referendum, which only needed a third of the votes to win. Nevertheless, they lost.

As a final measure to stop the treaty being ratified, the Left party raised a technical motion to invoke the "minority clause". This is a parliamentary rule that delays a decision by one year, after which time it can be decided by a simple majority. It may only be used for laws that are deemed to have a far reaching effect and only requires a sixth of the votes to pass.

Although this vote was also lost – with 13 MPs abstaining - if ten had approved the motion it would have passed. It says something that one Conservative and one Christian Democrat who abstained had previously sponsored a motion for a referendum. It rather looks like they had been indulging in gesture politics for, when it came to a vote were they really had a chance to win, they backed off.

Out local correspondent notes that other abstainers were MPs from the Social Democrat party. These originally had decided to vote against the treaty but, in the end, none dared confront their party. "Invertebrates", has been suggested as a description, but others favour a somewhat shorter word.

In the end, only the Greens and the Left party voted against the treaty plus one other, a brave man called Sven Bergkvist from the Centre party. He at least was true to himself, belonging to an anti-EMU organisation.

Strangely, or perhaps not, the Swedish press hardly reported on the vote in the parliament either before, during or after the decision. The Swedish political blogs, however, took up the slack and were overwhelmingly negative. That guardian of democracy, the Svenska Dagbladet - a sort of blonde Torygraph - responded in the manner you would expect. It removed all the links to these blogs from its post on the treaty report.

Much of the MSM seems to be having difficulty working out how many countries have now ratified the treaty, including the BBC. It claims that Sweden has become the 24th, citing Ireland, Poland and the Czech Republic as the three outstanding. It seems to have forgotten that the German president is awaiting the outcome of the deliberations of the German constitutional court, and has yet to sign the papers.

According to Polskie Radio president Lech Kaczynski has declared that Poland will not hinder the process of ratification of the Lisbon Treaty by all EU states. "Poland won't be an obstacle in the Lisbon Treaty ratification process. I promised that to President Sarkozy and I will keep my promise," he grovelled said in an interview for Polish Public Television, collecting his cheque on the way out.

The Czech parliament, we are told, is awaiting a ruling of the country's high court, set for 25 November on whether the new treat (sic) is in line with the country's constitution. The more EU-friendly Czech Prime Mirek Topolanek said yesterday that Prague had two choices: ratify the text or become dependent on Moscow. "We criticise a number of EU policies, but it is better to be in it than to stand outside," he has stated.

Of Germany and Ireland, the latter apparently on its way to bankruptcy, in which case the Irish may have other things on their minds, and there is no word from the German constitutional court. It really would be so funny if Germany eventually proved to be the final obstacle but that is no more likely than leaves on the trees at Christmas.


Friday, November 21, 2008

Reality bites again

There is an air of unreality about politics at the moment, which makes it difficult to focus, not least because what goes on in Parliament (and the EU for that matter) seems to have no relationship with what is going on in the real world.

The one thing the politicians do not seem to be able to do, however, is look out of the window, physically or metaphorically. They are trapped in their own little bubble, entirely unable to see what is happening outside.

Looking though my own window this morning, past the denuded trees, bereft of leaves, at a cold, grey sky, one could detect a couple of flurries of snow, while the biting wind on the way to the paper shop told its own story.

That much is confirmed by the media, which is running a spread of stories about the expected "Arctic blast", not least The Independent which is telling us that blizzard conditions and freezing temperatures are predicted to envelope much of Scotland and England.

Several weather warnings are in place and motoring organisations have warned that the snowy conditions could create hazardous driving conditions on the roads. Snow, we are told, was already falling at 10am this morning in parts of eastern Scotland and north east England as the weather front moved in from the Arctic.

What, of course, is missing is any triumphal gloating about "global cooling" – a remarkable omission when the "warmist" tendencies in the media normally on to any unusual weather event to illustrate that we are all going to fry.

But what I am particularly enjoying is the report in the online edition of The Daily Telegraph which tells us that the winter has already arrived and temperatures have plunged below freezing.

Wasn't this the same paper that told us a month ago that, because of global warming, green Christmas was more likely than a white one? It quoted Dr Tim Sparks, a climate change specialist at the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, saying the warmer winter months mean children have little hope of seeing snow on Christmas day. He added: "I would put money on a green Christmas rather than a white Christmas this year."

Interestingly, The Independent is telling us that bookmakers William Hill have reported record betting levels on a white Christmas. They have cuts the odds on snow falling on Christmas Day in London from 8/1 to 6/1 and Glasgow is now as short as 7/2.

William Hill spokesman Rupert Adams says: "We have never had so much money in the book with over a month to go. If it snows we will be paying out millions to our customers."

Looks like Dr Sparks, "climate change specialist", might lose his money.


Agonizing, what?

Judging by Charles Tannock's posting on CentreRight Blog, the Conservative Party has begun its withdrawal from that (second) promise to pull out of the EPP-ED. It is easy to dismiss the subject as being of little real importance in the whole question of Britain's membership of the EU. That would ignore Conservative grass-roots anger that the one and only promise David Cameron had made during his leadership campaign was broken almost immediately and is now on way to being broken the second time. (What he did was to explain after an indecent interval that the withdrawal will be accomplished after the 2009 elections.)

Even those who are fanatical supporters of the Cameroonies can be silenced by the question of "well how can we trust him when he would not fulfil the one promise he made". Mr Tannock was given a severe pasting by all those who commented on his piece.

A follow-up posting by Matthew Sinclair focuses on two responses from Roger Helmer and Dan Hannan. Both oppose Charles Tannock's position but their position will be rather difficult if, after the 2009 elections, the Conservatives will stay in the EPP-ED because they will not be able to form another group of their own and do not want either to sit alone or to join already existing groups. Effectively that is what Mr Tannock is saying.

The problem, as one hears, is that the negotiations with like-minded East European and other politicians tend to bog down for one very good reason: those like-minded politicians do not trust the Conservative Party, and who can blame them. We do not trust it either.

Just to remind our readers, here is a piece I wrote some time ago about the way the Conservative Party betrayed the East European free-market, eurosceptic groups back in 2004.

Most of the East European sceptics realized very early that they stood no chance of getting a no vote in their countries’ referendums on accession. There were many reasons for this: a desire to belong fully to the West; fear of Russia; the impossibility of having any other agreements with West European countries as the EU had decreed that no other relationship was possible; and,not least, the fact that in most of those countries the outright opponents of membership were either very nasty nationalist or unreconstructed communist parties. As it is, most of the referendums had a low turn-out, thus registering a certain lack of enthusiasm for the whole project.

On the other hand, it was felt, the influx of the new countries and new politicians after the European elections of June would mark a new beginning for the whole right-of-centre movement inside the EU, particularly the European Parliament. Plans were laid for a new grouping that would be led by the British Conservatives and would include various parties such as the Czech ODS and the Hungarian FIDESZ as well as a few genuinely conservative West Europeans. The East Europeans talked excitedly of this new grouping and the fact that through it they would be able to work together with the people they perceived as their friends and allies.

In the existing members and among some outside observers, mostly in the United States, there was a feeling that this would be a definitive and important change in the politics of the EU. This was the way those ideas the East Europeans had worked out for themselves in their ten years of independence would enter the political bloodstream of the tired old Union.

Alas for high hopes. Before the European election Michael Howard, the Conservative leader and he who will allegedly lead us into the newly negotiated free trade alliance with the Continental countries, issued his diktat: the Conservative MEPs would go back into the European People's Party and stay in that federalist grouping.

What could the Tory eurosceptics have done? Well, they could have said no. There were about half a dozen of them in leading positions on the lists and many more in slightly lower places. They could not have all been fired. They all, they assure us, fought like tigers, had rows, screaming matches, what have you. But the sad truth is that like little lambkins they all agreed to go back into the federalist EPP.

When the new right-of-centre, eurosceptic politicians from the East European countries appeared in Brussels they were met with a, to them, stunning situation. The British Conservatives, who had been scheduled to lead the new grouping, were not there. They were in the old grouping and a federalist one at that.

The new members accommodated themselves as best they could and dispersed between one or two more or less right-wing groups. The great revolution in EU parliamentary politics never happened. And the East Europeans were betrayed again – by their supposed allies the British Conservative eurosceptics.
Are there any reasons why the situation should be any different next year?