Thursday, June 30, 2011

Life copies art

... as yesterday's satire becomes today's news.

Moutie Abrahams, 42, who flew in on a packed BA flight from Cape Town, said: "We came here two months ago and we stood in queues for a really long time. Today it was much quicker. "In South Africa our strikes are more efficient. You would still be standing there."

The airfield was operating normally, with nine out of 10 flights arriving and departing on time.


Another charade

"The notion of Cameron being a strategic genius who will throw off his cloak of Europhilia and reveal his inner democratic nationalist is laughable given the catalogue of pro EU actions to date. So it seems the ignorance is all pervasive and the effort to make us buy into it is being reinforced at every opportunity. The gullible constituency where this idea is being swallowed is obvious to all who look – the British media".

That is quality writing from Autonomous Mind, commenting on the latest report in The Daily Mail which parades the EU's so-called "power grab", the one that even seems to have the loss-making Guardian slightly troubled.

The Mail has "David Cameron" facing pressure to veto the latest "ludicrous" cash demand from Brussels after it announced plans to slap three new taxes on Britain, after the EU Commission – so we are told - "revealed budget demands which would cost UK taxpayers £10 billion".

However, we are not talking about the "budget" here, even if a commission official triumphantly parades it as "a trillion euro budget". It is in fact the EU's Multiannual Financial Framework for 2014 – 2020, the manoeuvring for which got underway yesterday when Barroso slime announced the commission proposals at a press conference, telling us that "the European Union works everyday to help realise the aspirations of our 500 million

The hubris of these people knows no end, but you would not get any sense of this from the Mail, which now no longer attempts to educate its readers. Instead, like the parochial British media always does, it pins a Union Jack on its report, and couches it in domestic terms, the ultimate insult to its readers, whom it believes are not interested in EU stories unless there is a direct British dimension.

This is a charade that is going to run and run but, in the end, Cameron will do a deal. He has faith in the EU and will, therefore, deliver another sell-out. So the wheel will go round and round. It is not going to stop until we decide to stop it.


Corporate clever

One thing we can say about this is that, at least, it was his own money. But it also says that the corporates are not good at judging moods and trends - and not for the first time. They just have more money to throw about, and occasionally strike lucky.

It should also remembered, though, that this is the same Murdoch empire which is running the Times paywall experiment ... and probably with the same level of success. Had it been a runaway money-spinner, my guess is that we would never have heard the last of it.

As it is, we hear cautious claims, but get no figures. It cannot have been that successful, otherwise The Failygraph would have leapt in and converted its 31 million audience into a cash cow. But at least one now gets a feel as to how that particular corporate turned a profit. It is concentrating on its web presence, sacrificing quality in the pursuit of volume. This is a tempting model, but as the Murdoch corporation shows, it can also generate huge losses in the longer term.

Lots of money buys a loud voice, though - and there are plenty of people drawn to the snake oil seller with the biggest megaphone. That is often confused with success, especially as the discordance can so easily drown out the quality blogosphere.

Much as the corporates would like to see it disappear, though, there is a corner which seems to be quietly prospering, living off its voluntary donations. One wonders how long the corporates would survive with perhaps the only model around that keeps its creators honest.


A question

The biggest strike for five years, we are told, will cause huge disruption to schools, courts, travel and much else. It will be the most serious industrial challenge to Dave's coalition since it was formed. Hundreds of thousands of teachers, lecturers, civil servants and other workers will walk out for 24 hours in protest at plans to change their pensions, cut jobs and freeze pay.

The question is this: why is it that the people with their hands out for our money can be so easily induced to take collective action when their income stream is threatened, yet we the PBI who have to pay the bills are reluctant to mobilise (or are incapable of so doing)?

Only to an extent is this a rhetorical question. We know that the reason why there will be marches and demonstrations today is because the unions, with the huge staffs and volunteers, will be out organising – and will be funding the activities. There are no equivalent organisations which serve the taxpayer.

There is, of course, the Taxpayers' Alliance, but I've come to see that as an Uncle Tom organisation – like Open Europe. Basically, it is a front organisation, set up as a covert Tory operation to add weight to the fight against Labour, and now pulling its punches in case it embarrasses its paymasters.

Arguably, the politicians represent our interests, but they have long since ceased to do that. They look after their own interests, which are not ours. We, the people are therefore, effectively unrepresented.

But the more I think about this, the more it seems forever to have been the case. We get much rhetoric from our own side about the Magna Carta, but that was not negotiated by the people, for the people, in the manner of the American constitution. It was the Barons – the rich and powerful – looking after their own interests.

Basically – and taking a hugely simplistic view – we emerged from feudalism into a capitalist society, which in many respects was vile.

This was the sort of society which, during the war, compensated ship owners for the loss of their vessels when they were torpedoed by U-Boats, but stopped the pay of the sailors who manned the ships, the moment the water lapped over their boots. If they were lucky to survive, and clamber into a lifeboat, those sailors waited for rescue in their own time, without pay or compensation.

It was during the Second World War that the yearning for a better, fairer society drove the emergence of socialism as a powerful political force in the UK. This seemed to offer the needed corrective. But, after the 1945 landslide election, instead of socialism, we got unionism.

Union power effectively destroyed the vision of a New Jerusalem that had sustained political activists during the war. And so out of control did it get that it needed Thatcher to rein in the Union Barons – which she did in the early 80s.

However, there was no real ideology behind Thatcher – the concept of "Thatcherism" was devised by her enemies, and emerged as a political idea, ex post facto. Thus, in neutralising the unions, and in her drive for privatisation and her attempts at "liberalising" the civil service, she merely opened the way for the current dominance of the corporate, strengthening a trend that was already established.

In our progression as a society, therefore, the British have journeyed from feudalism, through capitalism and then unionism, as the dominant powers, to arrive at corporatism – where we are now. All Thatcher really achieved was to force institutions to re-invent themselves as corporates, shorn of political and humanitarian ideology.

At each stage of this historical journey, we the people, have been left out. The powers that be have given us democracy as a sop, but as the sage once said, if our vote actually meant anything, they would soon put a stop to it. Democracy is not an "ism" – it does not define an ideology. It simply offers us the pretence of being able to choose our masters, without giving us any real means of controlling them.

Thus, the question stands. Tomorrow, public sectors marches, representing corporate interests – watched over by the corporates that form our government. Why is it that we, the people, the ones who are always left out, are not also on the march - and in greater numbers?


Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Voting for oblivion

To absolutely no one's surprise, the Greek parliament has voted for the austerity package necessary to qualify for the latest round of the EU/IMF bale-out. The vote was 155 for the package, and 138 votes against.

One member of Papandreou's ruling socialist party voted "no" - offset by and MP from the conservative opposition, who voted "yes" - whence the speaker informed members that the socialist had been expelled from the party.

By this means, the political classes have looked after their own interests, and condemned their country to a lingering death. We now wait to see how the people react. So far, the violence looks pretty uncoordinated and the police seem to be coping with it. They do not seem to have been seriously challenged - although very serious amounts of tear gas are being used (14:10 hrs BST).

A fire broke out outside the Finance Ministry as clashes between protesters and police forces continued. A black cloud could be seen coming from the ministry's ground floor entrance. Police reported that protester set on fire the Post Office inside the building. Clashes were becoming increasingly violent and hundreds of people were throwing stones at the police.

Sundry acts of vandalism could be seen, with street furniture being damaged, traffic lights wrecked, and glass partitions smashed. Crowd and police seemed to be playing cat-and-mouse. Gratuitous violence was evident on the part of the police, with individuals caught by the police given beatings. Tear gas seemed to be a weapon of first resort, as the skirmishing continued.

As the evening drew near, small fires were constantly being lit, with a number of refuse skips set on fire. Clearly, this was not a low-carbon riot. Some attempts were being made to break into commercial buildings adjoining the square, in what was often unpoliced space. And yes, paving slabs were being smashed up to provide missiles to hurl at the police. The police themselves were not inhibited in throwing them back into the crowd.

But as darkness fell, the crowds had not taken the place completely apart. and the police were never even close to losing control. But there is always next time. As Zerohedge points out, there is not even one person alive who believes that within a year the third bailout of the insolvent Greek country (with even more stringent austerity measures) won't be on the table.


Asleep on the job

Millions of pounds of British aid money, the Daily Mail tells us, is funding coal-fired power stations in developing countries – even though their use is being scaled back in this country. It continues:
The level of spending on fossil-fuel plants by the World Bank, which receives billions from Britain, is "unacceptable" at a time when tough climate change measures are being rolled out at home, a "powerful committee" of MPs has declared. The bank is backing projects such as a 4,800megawatt coal-fired station in South Africa that is almost five times the size of those in the UK.
We are also told that the World Bank is supporting Indian plans to build nine new power plants, a project which environmentalists have condemned as one of the biggest new sources of carbon emissions on earth. In most cases, we learn, the projects do little to increase access to energy for the very poorest.

Well, what a wonderful thing it is that these people are really on the ball. We did the Indian story in December 2009 and the South African story the following April.

Between the media and the political establishment, there is nothing to choose when it comes to their level of ignorance. They come in years late, feeding off each other, ending up with half the story. They cost us a fortune and then draw the wrong conclusions – usually when it is too late to do anything about it.

If these people had their wits about them (a joke, I know), they would have been on to this issue when it was happening. Now, it is just idle prattle.


Trapped in the bubble

Benedict Brogan writes in his clog, under the title: "David Cameron and his party are on a collision course over Europe".

However, one can only look pityingly upon his effluvia, which contains such gems as: "Conservative MPs rejoice in a leadership team of Mr Cameron, George Osborne and William Hague that is unequivocally sceptical about the EU".

But it cannot be that Brogan is that stupid. If this represented stupidity, the man would be unsafe to let out on his own. What we are dealing with is the bubble effect. Within the putrid environs of the Westminster bubble, inhabited by Brogan and his likes, such a statement looks eminently rational.

The problem with the bubble, though – as we have sometimes observed – is that it imparts on the denizens a sense of rectitude and invincibility. Thus, while by far the majority of Brogan's commenters disagree with him, and many profoundly so, this will not have the slightest impact.

Brogan thus starts off with the premise that he is right. Anyone who disagrees with him – and especially if they are outside the bubble – must, by definition, be wrong. Then the argument become circular. Everyone outside the bubble is "wrong". And all these "wrong" people disagreeing with him simply reinforce his sense of rectitude.

This, once again, reinforces the view that you cannot argue rationally with these people - or at all. The only thing you can do is drag them outside the bubble and deprogramme them. In older times, they were dragged out and killed, but we don't do things that way any more.


Why only a "little"?

In The Irish Times Vincent Browne writes under the title: "Ireland left to count the true cost of euro dream".

For Ireland, he says, the crisis has not been just transformative of the society brought about by the Celtic Tiger, it has also been transformative of our relations with the EU. Initially, we were the supplicants, pleading for favours via the Common Agriculture Policy, structural funds, regional policy. Then the model students, obedient and so appreciative.

Now, one of the problem children, truculent and resentful. And perhaps a little sceptical of a venture that is inherently contemptuous of "ordinary" citizens of the union, exclusionary and instilled with an ethos we should never have signed up to.

The question which springs to mind here is why the reference is to Ireland being "a little sceptical". What does it take to make the country a lot sceptical?


They still can't get it right

The Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg is not an EU institution. The judges are not EU judges. They come under the Council of Europe ... which is why the court is in Strasbourg, rather than in Luxembourg, as with the ECJ.

What will it take for these dimwits to get it right?


Doing the honest thing

A splendidly indignant Peter Hitchens is fulminating about "Dave" doing the talking (telling the military to shut up and do the fighting), while the war dead from Afghanistan are to be sneaked out of the back gate of RAF Brize Norton when it takes over from Lyneham (a few weeks from now) as the arrival point for the fallen.

They will then be routed down side roads to avoid nearby Carterton – a town almost exactly the same size as Wootton Bassett – and make their way to the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford along A-roads and bypasses. There'll be a small guard of honour near the hospital entrance (there already is) but somehow or other the cortege won't go down any High Streets, thus avoiding what has become a media circus.

All of this, however, has to be viewed in the context of the complete and utter failure of the Afghanistan campaign, typified by the experience of the Kajaki power project, as narrated by the BBC's Mark Urban on yesterday's Newsnight, and repeated today in a BBC documentary.

He refers to a series of the heroic adventures, starting in 2007 and culminating in August 2008 with thousands of British troops taking part in an operation to escort a 200-ton turbine to the Kajaki Dam on the Helmand River, 100 miles north-west of Kandahar City.

The aim was to improve the hydro-electric scheme there, adding a turbine to the two already installed. This was part of a project that has so far cost more than £29 million, and was (and still is) regarded as an essential part of the hearts and minds campaign in the region.

But, three years after so much blood and treasure has been expended (albeit with the bulk of the cash being shelled out by the Americans), the third turbine lies unassembled – the parts littered about the weed-strewn site, exactly where they were left by the British military.

What makes this so desperately sad is that even the slightest knowledge of the history of the area would confirm that the project was never going to achieve its desired aim, even if it had been technically successful.

Not least of the problems was – as Booker recorded in September 2009 - that the power lines and sub-stations which feed the electricity to several towns were controlled by the Taliban, who charged money to customers for allowing the juice to reach them.

So obvious, in fact, were the defects of the scheme that a year before, in September 2008, The Guardian, while acknowledging the "brilliant courage and ingenuity" of the British, dismissed it as a "glorious but dangerous folly".

The Kajaki, it said, has been a 90-metre-high, rock-filled demonstration of foreign good intentions for decades but has never delivered the promised benefits to Afghanistan - a political showpiece and always has been since it was built (but not fully completed) in the 1950s by the US to compete with Soviet projects elsewhere in the country.

Such was the delusional attachment to the scheme, however, that this brought a pained rebuttal from then defence secretary Des Browne. The project was not merely a symbol, he declared. "If it were only that, we would never have sent our people on such a risky mission".

Thus, sense and analytical judgement had been submerged in tales of derring-do, marking the self-declared "successful mission". Typical of the period, we got Lieutenant Colonel Rufus McNeil, Comanding Officer 13 Air Assault Regiment, Royal Logistic Corps, declaring of those that had run the hazardous convoy, "Every one of the soldiers did fantastically well."

Well, indeed they did, but it was still a complete waste of time, money, effort – and lives. By December 2009, The Guardian was back on the case with a report headed: "Taliban stalls key hydroelectric turbine project in Afghanistan". The strap read: "Convoy diverted British troops from front but generator may never be used".

The enormous hydroelectric turbine dragged at huge cost by British troops through Taliban heartlands last year, said the paper, may never be installed because NATO has been unable to secure a 30-mile stretch of road leading to an isolated dam in northern Helmand.

To install the turbine needed, amongst other things, 900 tons of cement for new foundations, but security had deteriorated to such an extent that British troops were having to be resupplied by air drop and helicopters. Even the BBC reported the problems.

Now, with additional US troops in the region – but for a short time only – USAid, which is managing the project, remains convinced that the project is worthwhile. US aid officials are now claiming that turbine could be installed in 24 to 30 months.

This is so much moonshine. No more now than in 2003 when then current project was first mooted, is this a feasible project. It remains, as always, a testament to the vain, unrealisable hopes of the coalition forces that they can bring peace and stability to Afghanistan.

Returning to Hitchens and his indignation, one recalls an episode during the London Blitz in 1940, when a cash-strapped council in the East End, finding rather fewer houses on its patch requiring collections, redeployed some of its dustcarts – cleaned out and painted a tasteful black – as hearses to collect the war dead.

Given the quite obvious disdain in which Dave holds the military, and the utter futility of the war in Afghanistan, where lives are being thrown away for absolutely no purpose – to say nothing of our hard-earned cash – he might consider following the example of the East End council.

Thus, for as long as Dave and his cronies continue to throw away lives for no purpose, he might as well do the honest thing and hire in a dustcart, instead of wasting money on expensive hearses that the public now will not be seeing. The symbolism would be entirely appropriate and serve merely to underline what our masters are doing with our money and soldiers' lives out in Afghanistan.


Tuesday, June 28, 2011

And plan B is?

Call me Dave said he was going to repeal the Human Rights Act. That was one of his many lies ... but now he has to deal with this.

So, what's your plan B, Dave?


Sun shines ... Greeks strike

It is getting as predictable as that, with the first day of a 48-hour general strike in progress – the fourth this year - and crowds converging on Syntagma Square, where parliament will vote on sweeping spending cuts.

"We don't want your money Europe," Iamando, 36, told the agency, AFP, on the square with police already out in force at 6 pm "Leave us alone - please, please, please," she cried.

Initially, as pictured, the inevitable march past parliament looked pretty orderly, with the situation well-contained by the police. Later reports though have riot police firing tear gas at youths hurling rocks near the finance ministry – the scene of earlier disruption.

We are also told that hooded youths ripped up paving stones and set trash bins on fire in central Athens as police gave chase and fired tear gas and stun (sic) grenades.

Meanwhile, it seems that the French are cobbling together a rollover deal – giving Greece a 30-year repayment holiday, enough perhaps to be able to park the crisis, or perhaps not. There is much talk of "voluntary" participation" by the banks, which seems about a voluntary as someone jumping out of a window when their house is on fire.

Within all this, though, there seems to be a change in tone, which may or may not be significant (below).

Protesters of a communist party-backed union, PAME, are hanging banners in English and Greek reading: "The peoples have the power and never surrender. Organize counterattack" in front of the Parthenon temple on the Acropolis. This rhetoric is more strident than we have seen before – albeit that reporting is poor and that is most certainly distorting perceptions.

Zerohedge, however, has live streaming (and here),where copious and frequent use of tear gas could be seen, while the blog itself notes a "far more violent tone".

Whether this is a last hurrah, while the "colleagues" do deals in les couloirs, is anybody's guess. But, for the moment, we can confidently report that Syntagma Square is not the place for you if you are after a quiet picnic.


Losing the will to live

Well, I watched the 13th Century Fox announcement in the Commons yesterday, and the whole of the subsequent debate. Then I read the 82-page report. But you can only take so much punishment before you lose the will to live, so I decided to sleep on it before writing it up.

Having further cogitated, I've come to the conclusion that I'm none the wiser for the travail. More seriously, it is well-evident that Lord Levene, his Defence Reform Steering Group, and thus 13th Century Fox, are not much wiser either.

Yes we agree that there are too many generals, and the number must be cut. But that's low-hanging fruit. We observed as much in November 2009 so it would hardly take a high-powered committee and 18 months to work that one out.

And yes, there appear to be some obvious and necessary reforms amongst the 53 separate recommendations. But even if it was acting purely by chance, you would expect that. And, of course, there is plenty of right-on guff, with the Group telling us that we need to create single, coherent Defence Infrastructure and Defence Business Services organisations, to ensure enabling services are delivered efficiently, effectively and professionally.

The trouble is that the moment you see words such as "coherent" and phrases such as: "to ensure enabling services are delivered efficiently, effectively and professionally", you know they're up to no good.

What one was looking for, though, was some sense that the Group really understood the problems they were looking at, and thus knew where to start the remediation. And here, centre stage is procurement, so that one looked especially for the views on this troubled issue.

What was needed was a clear statement that the failures here stem largely from the inability of ministers and senior military staff to define roles, to match equipment to the roles, then to devise acquisition plans and stick to them.

On this, the Group starts well enough, referring to the Bernard Gray review, where it was noted that successive attempts at reform have concentrated on acquisition delivery, rather than – as suggested – seeing procurement as a symptom rather than a cause of the problems in the Department’s decision making.

We go with that, but what are the problems? And here the whole damn thing falls apart. The Group is not into problem solving, but "lessons learned". Thus, they identify "conditions for success in transformations", producing a Janet & John list that comes straight out of the Common Purpose manual on how to bullshit the public.

Thus we get these headings: leadership: vision; engagement; communication; effective people; implementation; resourced; innovation (which "visibly encourages original and radical thinking, and leverages both independent expertise and internal knowledge"); honesty: "the programmes tone inspires confidence, enthusiasm and a 'sense of opportunity' while being realistic about cuts and challenges"; and benefits.

I will not trouble you further with this, for fear of making you physically sick, but that is a measure of the beast. Exactly as Gray complained, these people are going for "delivery", without seeing the problems as symptoms of a broader malaise.

What one did not find, therefore, were any recommendations of lasting value. This report is about shuffling the deck chairs on the Titanic more efficiently, and getting more value from the band. The only merciful thing is that it is only 82 pages long, as opposed to the 296 pages that Gray delivered.

That, I suspect, will be the Group's only lasting achievement – reducing the amount of waste printed matter that goes in the bins.


Back again

Governments across the single currency bloc are pushing the banks, pension funds and insurance firms that hold Greek sovereign debt to play a role in a second rescue package for the heavily indebted euro zone nation. Josef Ackermann cautioned against any steps that could spread the crisis to other vulnerable countries in the 12-year old currency bloc.

"If it is Greece alone, that's already big. But if other countries are drawn in through contagion, it could be bigger than Lehman," the Deutsche Bank chief said at a Reuters banking event on Monday.

The Swiss banker, who is also chairman of the Institute of International Finance, an international bank lobbying group set up to deal with international debt crisis, cautioned politicians against rushing a deal with the private sector.

But how does all that rate against this where leading economist Stefan Homburg tells Der Spiegel that ANY EU bank involvement in sovereign bailout – voluntary or otherwise – would be illegal?

(EU) Banks cannot participate (even) voluntarily. An executive board is committed to its company’s welfare, and not the public interest. If it waives outstanding debts at the expense of its own company, this is a breach of trust and punishable by law ...

Never mind, though, the British are rushing to help, as per the headline above. But then that was October 1940, after the Italians had invaded Greece. Chamberlain had given a guarantee on 13 April 1939. We were back again in December 1944, staving off a civil war.

And now ... we're back again, pouring extra billions into propping up the Greek economy "by the back door" through a massively increased contribution to the International Monetary Fund. The irony is, of course, that we're having to borrow the money to do it ... just like 1940 and 1944.


Monday, June 27, 2011

This is why

... we cannot work with the old order. By hook or by crook, we are going to have to get rid of them ... all of them:
The leader of Edinburgh council sparked fury yesterday when she dismissed the capital's tram fiasco as a "small glitch". LibDim council chief Jenny Dawe played down the soaring cost of the project despite admitting it would hit services in the city.
Speaking on the BBC's Politics Show, she said: "I don't think Edinburgh is a laughing stock. I think we'll get through this, we'll get a tram. In the run of things, this will be a small glitch on the way there."

Did I not write yesterday of "Scottish Practices", defined as "wholesale looting of the public purse on grandiose schemes, enriching contractors, consultants and officials, without care or remorse"? Well, there's your example.

Another one from the same stable is the M-74 extension, which opens tomorrow. With a price tag of £692 million - or £2,000 an inch - it is Scotland's most expensive road. Yet the Scottish Government has trumpeted the £445m construction contract - which excluded the cost of decontamination and land purchasing - as being completed early and under budget.

In fact, it should have been finished three years ago, and when initially given the green light in 2001 was estimated to cost £245m.

You cannot deal with this by rational argument – these people are not rational. And a political system that allows this cannot be salvaged. The decay has gone too far. We have to start again.


MoD "bloated and dysfunctional"

MoD is bureaucratic, bloated and indecisive, warns report ... The "bloated and dysfunctional" Ministry of Defence leaves ministers "in the dark" about key decisions, an official review will say today.

I'm aware of it, and I'm really shocked! But I'm not going to play the MSM game of rushing to publish until I've seen the speech and then read the report. Already we are gathering more clutter than enough, much of it singularly ill-informed, so it doesn't help to add to it.


Blown it!

It starts off so well. The Guardian editorial tells us that, "Discussions of the Greek debacle commonly assume that it's a disaster made in Greece that now requires the rest of the Europe to step in and sort it out".

"Wrong", it then says. "This is a crisis of the eurozone, in which Athens is not a leading actor but merely a stage set. The catastrophe that has been unfolding in Greece over the past year is merely the starkest incidence of long-running flaws within the eurozone".

The meltdown goes wider, says that paper, "as a glance at Dublin, Lisbon or even Madrid will confirm: it is the inevitable product of the design faults of European monetary union". But then we are told: "Unless those flaws are fixed, the single currency will remain under existential threat". It's blown it!

The "flaws" cannot be fixed – they are inherent to the project – an integral part of it. Unless you are going to get political union on a Bismarkian scale, monetary union ain't going to work. And the longer the "colleagues" take before they recognise that simple fact, the worse it is going to get.


A measure of the divide

It is too early to comment properly on the death of Christopher Shale, and it will be until we know how he died. If it was a heart attack, as has been claimed, then at 56, it is far too young an age to go – and one can only have sympathy for those around him. It is too late for the man himself.

However, what one can do is look at the statements made by Shale before he died, now summarised here, in the panel. This is the leaked Conservative Party strategy memo, which appeared in the Mail on Sunday.

The late Mr Shale said of the constituency party that it was "not always an appealing proposition", adding: "Over the years we have come across as graceless, voracious, crass, always on the take". Shale had argued that the local party needed to change to boost membership, and said that Cameron's own association had gained only 22 new members in the past year.

Now compare with the sayings of the increasingly bizarre Tim Montgomerie, who trills in the Sunday Failygraph that "the Class of 2010 is reshaping the Tory party for the better" and the new intake of MPs "are pushing David Cameron towards a more robust, more appealing Conservatism".

This is the view from within the bubble, opposing the many of us outside who are convinced that Cameron is not, has never been and will never be a Conservative. So compare Montgomerie's "robust, more appealing Conservatism" with "graceless, voracious, crass, always on the take" and you get the measure of the divide.

"We must behave differently – try to see ourselves as others see us", said Shale – although, as Montgomerie demonstrates, it is virtually impossible to do that from inside the bubble – even more so if you don't even begin to try. But, at least someone has said some truths about Tories. Shale did us all a service. RIP.


Sunday, June 26, 2011

Has to be good

Anyone who can write this and then conclude with this:
In the meantime, I thank God for sending us Charles Moore; and I curse her for sending us Nigel Farage.
... has to be worth a read.

Talking to a cabinet minister just before Christmas, he writes, I was horrified at the urbane cynicism with which he observed, "The British don't like the EU, but they're never going to march about it".

Now, this may be true. Another thing that is true is that I tend to use the words "idiot" and "fool", rather a lot. I might even be in danger of over-using them. But nevertheless, this cabinet minister is a fool (mind you, most are).

The British may not march against the EU ... but they most certainly will be marching over the consequences of our membership of the EU. None of us know when ... but there is a certain historic inevitability about it. I hope he keeps his armoured limousine close by.


Scottish practices

So, what are we to do with the news that the cost of the Edinburgh tram system is now going top £1 billion, by the time it is complete – if it ever is – more than double the starting estimate?

Originally, it was intended to run for twelve miles from Edinburgh Airport to Newhaven via central Edinburgh, including a stretch on Princes Street. The 23 stops on the route were to be served by a fleet of 27 low-floor trams. Now there is doubt that it will do even that.

However, even a truncated scheme will cost £773 million - £273 million more than the budget for the entire project - and the limited service then offered would not be viable. It would need a subsidy of some £4m a year: there is no prospect that the short route would ever make a profit. And scrapping the whole scheme entirely would still end up costing £750 million.

But the Scots are wearily familiar with this sort of thing. Another recent project was the M74 extension which began with an estimated cost of £245 million in 2001 and a completion date of 2008. The final cost, including land, came to £692 million, and the extension is finally due to open this week.

Such is the surreal nature of the project though, that the opening is accompanied by farcical ministerial assertions that it had come in "£15m to £20m under budget" and that it was opening "eight months early".

But behind the current disaster is a story little known outside Scotland, centering on the establishment in 2002 of a new body by Edinburgh Council, called TIE Ltd (Transport Initiatives Edinburgh), which was supposed to manage the project.

In 2009, the organisation acquired a new chief executive, Richard Jeffrey, who was to manage the project through the construction phase until operation. On 19 May, however, the media conveyed his abrupt announcement that he was leaving on 8 June, just as the news emerged that the City's main Princess was going to be closed for ten months while repeat roadworks were carried out - the street already having been closed in 2009 (pictured below) after an earlier contractural disaster.

This is the third chief executive to have departed. Yet, despite his lamentable performance, Jeffrey is expected to walk away with a year's salary, said to be £155,000, plus other benefits, leaving the Herald Scotland to complain that 72 percent of the construction work remains to be done, while only 38 percent of the budget is left. This confirms, it says, "that cheques have been written out in a wanton and cavalier fashion".

In the interim, TIE has spent £20m on hiring "consultants" to advise them on how to overspend. As well as pocketing huge fees, these people scooped massive bonuses, rent payments and expenses. Creating TIE also meant using a budget that was supposed to be for transport infrastructure is funding an elaborate tier of senior managers and directors.

Amongst the beneficiaries of the consultancy bonanza has been an umbrella outfit called InfraCo which, in addition to high level fees, shared a £140,000 bonus pot for their work. Overall, TIE has paid nearly £250,000 in bonuses to seven consultants for their advice on contractual and other issues.

These included Matthew Crosse, TIE's "project director" who received £370,000 in consultancy fees from 2007 and 2009 paid to his firm, Strategic Lines. Part of that was a £30,550 bonus for his work in negotiating "competitive contracts". Alastair Richards, whose job was to work on the design of the trams, got a £25,000 bonus.

Geoff Gilbert was the commercial director working on the InfraCo negotiations and another key contract. His firm, GGA, took home £230,000 in fees, of which £23,500 was bonuses. David Powell, a project manager on the same contract, was paid £124,124 through firm Linkplan Ltd for the tasks he carried out. £11,200 of that was a bonus.

But the biggest bonus of all went to the lawyer who advised the trams body on InfraCo. Andrew Fitchie, a partner at Edinburgh law firm DLA Piper, got a £50,000 bonus for work on the contract. DLA Piper received over £2 million for legal work for TIE.

Needless to say, the advisers' bonus bonanza was not restricted to the InfraCo contract. Jim McEwan, TIE's "business improvement director", was a consultant who worked primarily on the utility side of the project. His firm, RacReb Consulting Ltd, got £405,000 of taxpayers' money in fees between 2007 and 2010, of which £90,000 was bonuses.

Bob Dawson, head of procurement design, advised TIE on utility diversion. His consultancy, Acumetic, was paid £158,000, including an £18,500 performance-related bonus.

The fiasco has been watched from afar by Subrosa, who has branded the whole scheme a white elephant after TIE's chairman stepped down with immediate effect last November declaring parts of the project "hell on wheels".

Amongst other things, the TIE has become noted for outrageous junketing. April 2007 had seen £1,032 blown on a staff quiz night at a top class Edinburgh hotel and a year later bosses spent £880 on a staff party at another venue. Another £800 was spent in August 2008 on a "team event" in a bar, while £3,102 was found for a "board strategy day" in North Berwick.

In February last year, TIE used £1,630 of its budget for an "executive team away-day" at the Edinburgh International Climbing Arena and two months later it spent £2,648 on another one at the same location. It must have been very popular because three weeks later they were there again at a cost to the taxpayer of £4,017.

Richard Jeffrey, still then chief executive, said of the events: "As regards our team at Edinburgh Trams, they are the lifeblood of the organisation and investing in them means investing in the right people to manage what is a complex and difficult project".  God help us if he had invested in the "wrong" people.

And on top of all that, £29,549 was spent on foreign business trips by staff. Senior employees had travelled overseas on 29 occasions since 2007, unfortunately buying return tickets. Additionally, £68,000 was spent on membership of professional organisations since 2006.

We really know how to waste money, concludes Subrosa after another egregious failure came to light, cementing in the term "Scottish practices" to add to the Spanish (and Greek) variety.

The term can be used to describe wholesale looting of the public purse on grandiose schemes, enriching contractors, consultants and officials, without care or remorse. There seems to be awful lot of these practices around – and we haven't even started on the English practices.

For all their prattle, is there any politician in the land – or group of politicians - either side of the border, capable of stopping them? If not, what are politicians for?


Look in the mirror?

Having given over her top slot to rumours about whether Pippa Middleton was wearing knickers at the Royal Wedding, columnist Carole Malone in The News of the World then lambasts Cameron over the circus issue.

We're fighting two wars we can't afford and we've got a Euro debt crisis that could see off the single currency yet Downing Street is busying itself issuing threats against an MP who wants to ban wild animals in circuses, she opines.

"Hell's teeth! Hasn't our Prime Minister got more pressing matters to attend to than trying to stop circus animals (just 39 are left in Britain) seeing out their days at some nice sanctuary in Devon", she then declares – demonstrating a staggering lack of self-awareness. She should really have been looking in a mirror when she wrote that.

Catherine Bennett, in The Observer, however, doesn't stoop to knickers, but makes a similar point: "if you're going to rebel, find a better cause". Yes, the welfare of circus animals is a concern, she says, but not more important, say, than elderly people in care homes.

Cue Booker, although not about care homes – we did them ages ago, and may well return to the subject – but about the "stolen children" saga. The media's reluctance to get involved on this issue is in stark contrast to the amount of space devoted to the fate of 39 animals, knickers, slebs and sundry other trivia which swamp their output.

Then, some stories don't even find their way into the Booker column, such as the bizarre fate of Steve Headley, an ex-policeman, who had lived happily for nine years with his partner and her two children.

Unfortunately for them, last summer, they had attended a "naturist" holiday camp in Norfolk, as they have done before, where Headley briefly helped a friend of his 10-year old stepdaughter by rubbing sun-tan oil into her shoulders. Although this was in full view of 20 other children and adults, including the camp's child protection officer, one camper reported the incident to the police.

Headley was arrested, held in a police cell for 24 hours, then released without charge because the police found he had done nothing wrong. When the family returned to Staffordshire, though, they were visited by social workers, who informed Headley's partner that her children would be taken into care unless she signed a document agreeing that he immediately left the family home and had no further contact with her children.

Terrified, she signed and Headley left the house. Because he had nowhere else to go, he decided that, until the matter was resolved, he would live in his car. Thus began a nightmarish cat and mouse game.

Although no legal proceedings were initiated, the social workers continually intervened in the family's life. The mother was sent for four "assessments", Headley for three. The children were interviewed at school, in full view of staff and other pupils.

The social workers – who clearly believe that any connection with "naturism" is unnatural - came up with ever more absurd insinuations, These included a photograph of Father Christmas with his hands on the shoulders of two young girls, whom they claimed was Headley, It was in fact a school photograph taken at a school Christmas party. The bearded figure was someone else entirely.

Repeatedly the social workers have told his partner that they were discussing taking her children into care, but they have still initiated no legal proceedings. Although he continued to live in his car for a year, Booker last week advised him that the document signed by his partner had no legal force, which astonished them. He was therefore fully entitled to return home. On Thursday the family, reunited for the first time in a year, enjoyed a celebratory dinner.

Recently, Cranmer did a story about another unhappy father, deprived of contact with his son – but these are not stories in which the media are interested, or will even allow in their pages. In fact, as we see with Cameron lauding the single mums and attacking "absent fathers", neither the politicians nor the media are even on the same planet. All we get from them is the likes of this insensitive Spectator cartoon (above), which completely miscasts a growing tragedy.

Slowly the disgust of people is growing, as awareness spreads that the political classes have lost the plot. The hits on this and other independent blogs attest to that dissatisfaction with the MSM and its political friends. Numbers are everything in this game and even if there are too few of us yet to make an army, we are increasing in strength. And Pippa Middleton's knickers are helping us on our way.


The EUterus

It's a name for the new Council building in Brussels, the one which was used as a headquarters by the occupying Nazi forces during WWII and now performs a similar role for our new masters. Cranmer explains the idea, calling it the "womb of the cult of death".


Ignoring the elephant

The circus elephant in the room is still at large as the media continue to chew over the bones. Claiming ownership of the campaign to ban the use of wild animals in circuses is The Sunday Express which directs its ire at Cameron for the failure of the government to implement a ban.

It cites a Friday statement which said he was "minded" to outlaw using wild animals but the Department for Food and Rural Affairs, which instead wants a licensing regime, still insists there are "unavoidable legal difficulties" surrounding a possible legal challenge by circus bosses in the European courts. And that's as good as it gets.

Yesterday, The Independent (devoting its front page to the story - pictured) had much the same thing, also reporting Cameron as insisting that he was "minded" to outlaw circuses from keeping wild animals.

According to this newspaper though, Cameron says it is "not right" to still have lions, tigers and elephants performing in the big top. "We are minded to have a ban, but need to clear some obstacles," he told a press conference at an EU "summit" in Brussels.

Nevertheless, says The Independent, "despite Mr Cameron's conciliatory language on implementing a ban – and the promise by Agriculture minister James Paice to 'respect the will of the House' – there were signs last night the Government was prevaricating".

We are then told that the Department for the Environment is understood to be still arguing there are "legal problems" in implementing an outright ban and to be standing by its alternative proposal for a tough licensing regime for circuses.

Now, as our readers are very well aware, these "legal problems" are a matter of EU law, with the government convinced that to implement a ban would be contrary to EU law.

It really cannot be the case that the writer of The Independent piece was unaware of this – at least, one hopes so – in which case the refusal to identify the EU as the cause of the problem is more than a little interesting. This Europhile newspaper has been leading the fray in the media for the adoption of the ban, and it must be acutely embarrassing that its darling EU is blocking the way.

But this inability to report the elephant is not unique to the Europhiles. Even the self-proclaimed sceptic Daily Express was reporting yesterday that "Ministers were against introducing a ban next year, fearing it would attract lawsuits from circus owners and workers".

This paper thus did not mention the EU in its story, taking exactly the same line as the idiot Andrew Pierce in The Daily Mail, which told its readers, "Ministers opposed a ban because of fears that it would leave the Government open to lawsuits from circus owners and workers".

Exactly the same formula was seen in The Scotsman though. It seems that copy-and paste journalism is rampant – as always.

But it is not only the media which is ignoring the EU circus elephant. The RSPCA on its website is demanding action, with David Bowles, director of communications, saying: "Parliament has spoken, and government should listen". Any attempt to delay or avoid a complete ban would be wrong-headed and simply not acceptable, he says, with not a single mention of the EU.

Part of this, undoubtedly, is the insistence on trivialising politics, reducing it to the level of a low-grade soap opera, as does this piece in The Mail on Sunday.

The media and political classes have become so debauched that all they can think and write about is "self". The actual issues are of such little interest that they cannot be bothered to research them properly, much less report them accurately.

That said, I take some flak on the forum for attacking Pritchard - a potential ally. My view, though, it MPs wrote themselves out of the script a long time ago, Pritchard along with the rest, who is at heart just a vain egocentric like the rest - incapable of listening or learning, still denying EU involvement.

Demonstrated with the utmost clarity by this affair is the very simple premise – if we are going to force any changes to the way this country is governed, we are going to have to do it ourselves. We cannot rely on parliament or the media.


The penny drops

Actually, it seems to be dropping, according to Booker, but at last there does seem to be some recognition that Greece's problems with the euro is by far the most serious crisis that the great European "project" has ever faced.

Unlike me, Booker watches the idiots' lantern occasionally, and observes that, as their sad, bewildered faces show whenever they appear on our screens, the EU's leaders have nowhere to turn. The "colleagues" cannot afford to allow Greece to fall out of their beloved euro, which might trigger an international currency crisis, the consequences of which no one can calculate.

On the other hand, they cannot afford to continue pouring tens of billions of euros, which will never be repaid, into a basket-case economy. They – and we – are impaled on an impossible hook.

One of the few sources of pleasure in this mess has been to witness the discomfiture of our own homegrown euro-zealots who, a decade or more ago, were obsessively urging Britain to join the lemmings as they set off for that ultimately inevitable cliff, says Booker, then offering a narrative about the BBC's Today programme.

But that is very small compensation when you see what HMG is up to, according to The Observer. Despite the Boy claiming "victory" in getting Germany to agree that the European Financial Stabilisation Mechanism will not be used, thus limiting UK contributions to the bailout to its IMF contributions, it seems other dirty dealing is afoot.

The treasury, we are told, is urging British banks to take a hit, cooperating in a "soft" restructuring of Greek bond debt, rescheduling something like £2.5 billion of debt, taking below market interest rates. That may or may not work, but both Moody's and Fitch have indicated that any soft restructuring will still be regarded as a default.

Either way, therefore, the British taxpayer is going to be screwed - although Tim Worstall isn't too worried about the Bond "haircut", given that the City gave out £8 billion in bonuses last year.

Nevertheless, as Booker reminds us in his column, we in Britain are approaching a financial abyss almost as great as that into which Greece has been falling. Last week, the deficit on our Government's annual spending widened yet again, to £143 billion, which means that we are having to borrow nearly £3 billion a week. That equates to £5,700 a year for every household.

The BBC continues to prattle on about those terrible "cuts", as various groups of public sector workers plan the widest series of strikes we have seen since the 1970s. But when did you last hear the BBC tell us that our overall public spending is rising, not falling? When did the Today programme tell us that by the end of the year, our national debt will have soared to £1 trillion, having doubled in six years?

When did it mention that, despite all those closed libraries and care centres, the Government is still having to borrow the equivalent of £100 a week for every household in the land, to pay, inter alia, for the 1,600 employees of the NHS who earn more than the Prime Minister? And that's not even mentioning the 46 BBC executives who enjoy similar perks, including the £834,000 a year we pay the director-general himself.

Forget poor old bankrupt Greece, says Booker. Here in Britain, too, we ain't seen nothing yet. And I'm not entirely sure that penny has dropped.


Saturday, June 25, 2011

Nice and easy does it

If you want an example of cheap and easy journalism, the above is a good example - all generalities, but naming no names. If you really want to hurt them, though, and force through change, you have to name names, as we did in April 2005, going after Barroso and Spiros Latsis, and their little scam.

Booker and I did a lot of work on this and, for once, UKIP did some good work. As the story unfolded, it was very clear that the Latsis empire was involved in a massive network of bribery and corruption, including the EU commission and much, much more.

And what happened? The piece that Booker did in The Sunday Telegraph got pulled, and this was forced on us by a nervous newspaper management. The EU parliament stuff that we were able to report eventually was sunk by gutless MEPs and with the rest of the MSM also diving for cover, we got nowhere.

The Mail story is right in principle. Greece is being dragged down by a huge amount of corruption – but the problem starts with billionaire robber barons who are stealing on an industrial scale, with the help of a nexus of international partners, in which the EU and Barroso are central players.

So doing nice, soft, easy stories is going to achieve precisely nothing – but just what you expect from the entertainment industry.


Matured stupidity

Very early in my career, I made an interesting discovery. Stupid old women were not stupid because they were old. They started off their lives as stupid young women, only people (especially males) tended to be more forgiving. And when she was young, this one, currently pontificating about the "Freedom Flotilla", must have been very stupid indeed, to judge by this:
Why am I going on the Freedom Flotilla II to Gaza? I ask myself this, even though the answer is: what else would I do? I am in my 67th year, having lived already a long and fruitful life, one with which I am content. It seems to me that during this period of eldering it is good to reap the harvest of one's understanding of what is important, and to share this, especially with the young. How are they to learn, otherwise?

Our boat, The Audacity of Hope, will be carrying letters to the people of Gaza. Letters expressing solidarity and love. That is all its cargo will consist of. If the Israeli military attacks us, it will be as if they attacked the mailman. This should go down hilariously in the annals of history. But if they insist on attacking us, wounding us, even murdering us, as they did some of the activists in the last flotilla, Freedom Flotilla I, what is to be done?
The antidote is here, as banned by HuffPuff.


The Austrian defence

Continuing on, to produce my third piece reviewing the great circus elephant debacle, it occurred to me that, if I was writing a sequel or an update to The Great Deception (which Booker and I are thinking about for the tenth anniversary of its publication, in 2015), Pritchard's debate would probably be marked down as a good illustration of how far parliament had declined under the baleful influence of the European Union.

But what I would need to do, and have not done yet, is show how clearly it demonstrates that decline. For that, we need to look at some of the speeches in the parliamentary debate, starting with Mark Pritchard, and including the input of the minister, Jim Paice, and some others.

Before we go there, though, one has to appreciate that there is considerable history here. In a campaign inspired by PETA, the RSPCA and other "animal rights" groups – supported by the greens and lefties - there has been pressure to bring in a ban on the use of circus animals for some years, the more recent attempts directed at the previous administration and now this one.

Faced with the pressure, the response of the Cleggerons has actually been fairly direct but inept, with Jim Paice, for DEFRA, claiming that EU law prevented an outright ban. In the first of two efforts prior to last week's debate, on 12 May 2011, he had stated:
There have been recent press reports that the Austrian Government have been taken to court for their attempt to ban wild animals in circuses, so our Government can hardly recommend something that might not be legal. I can assure him, however, that the proposals we will bring forward shortly will be tough enough to ensure that animal welfare in circuses is properly protected.
Responding to Gavin Shukerm the Labour member for Luton South, and a co-signatory of Pritchard's motion, he then declared: "Whether we like it or not, this court case is going on in Europe and therefore the British Government could not bring forward a proposal ... that might well prove shortly to be unlawful".

That had the greenies and the animal rights activists scurrying away to do their homework, whence they found that the Austrian claim was not strictly true. Thus, on 19 May 2011 Mary Creagh, Labour member for Wakefield came back to the hapless Paice, who "clarified" the issue, telling the House:
... we now understand that the initiation of court proceedings against the Austrian Government has been delayed, although a case is in preparation and proceedings are expected to commence shortly ... This does not, however, affect our policy ... The very strong legal advice that we have received, which is consistent with the case being prepared against Austria, is that a total ban on wild animals in circuses might well be seen as disproportionate action under the European Union services directive and under our own Human Rights Act 1998. We believe that to have pursued a ban in the light of that legal advice would have been irresponsible.
So was set the scene for last week's debate, and when it came to Pritchard's turn to stand up and make his case, he thus decided to reject the argument that a ban on circus wild animals was prohibited by EU law. Referring to what was coming to be called the "Austrian defence", he went on to observe that:
It is not uncommon to hear of Governments sheltering behind courts in Brussels or Strasbourg, but to hear from Ministers in my own Front-Bench team say that this Government are now sheltering behind a domestic court in Vienna is a completely new innovation.
In full sarcasm mode, he then pursued his own arguments, claiming that the reality was that the Government's Austrian defence was a red herring, given that the European Commission had clearly stated that a ban is a matter for member states alone. It is an issue that English courts decide, Pritchard said, proclaiming:
Surely that is something to celebrate in this age of judicial creep from Europe, and also something to exercise and implement. A ban can be introduced in an English court - without waiting for other European capitals to decide and without interference from Europe, which makes a refreshing change.
Pritchard, the supposed Tory, was then strongly supported by the ghastly Green, Caroline Lucas, who picked up the point about member state involvement, and informed the House that "the European Commission here in London recently wrote a letter to the Captive Animals Protection Society stating plainly, yet again, that the EU considered that the welfare of animals … 'is a matter best left to the judgement of Member States'".

Now things are getting really interesting, because that is indeed the view of the EU commission. But the Ghastly Green does not mention the European Ombudsman. This is left, initially to Jim Fitzpatrick, Labour MP for Poplar and Limehouse, who completely muddies that water by claiming:
The European Circus Association challenged the Austrian ban at the European Commission in 2006, and it lost. It invoked the European ombudsman and it lost. The ombudsman asked the Commission to evaluate whether the Austrian ban on wild animals in circuses was proportionate. The Commission's final opinion of September 2009, as laid out in the documents available in the Library pack for today’s debate, set out why it did not believe there were grounds for an accusation of maladministration and also set out its view on the proportionality of the Austrian ban. It ruled that this was a matter for member states to decide.
It turns out that the Ombudsman's ruling is absolutely crucial. The Commission has bottled out of infringement proceedings against the Austrian ban, quite obviously because it does not want to confront the animal rights lobby. In the Ombudsman's view, therefore:
... the Commission's statement that "animal welfare questions are better left to Member States" seemed tantamount to an abdication by the Commission from its role as guardian of the Treaties in all matters concerning animal welfare and not merely to those pertaining to the present case. As such, it failed to provide a correct, clear and understandable reasoning for the exercise of the Commission's discretionary powers to close the case. The Ombudsman found that in so doing the Commission had committed an act of maladministration.
This is all nicely set out in a press release, where the Ombudsman concluded in a deliciously robust fashion:
As the Guardian of the Treaty, the Commission is obliged to supervise the correct application of EU law in the Member States. After his investigation, the Ombudsman concluded that the Commission had abdicated its role as Guardian of the Treaty. According to him, it should have determined whether the complete ban imposed by the Austrian law constituted a proportionate restriction of the right of free movement. If it were to conclude that this is not the case, the Commission should either continue infringement proceedings or provide the complainant with a valid reason for closing the case.
It is then left for Paice to reiterate the Government's case, and this time he refers to the Ombudsman, making "a damning criticism of maladministration against the Commission, based on the view that it had abdicated its responsibility to maintain the treaties by not interfering in the rights of member states".

Bizarrely, we now have a situation that you could not in your wildest dreams make up. Let me summarise. We have the British Parliament which wants to ban the use of wild animals in circuses, supported by the EU commission, who says this is a case for member states, then opposed by the member state in the form of HMG, which says to instigate a ban would be unlawful – under EU law – supported in part by the Ombudsman, who criticises the commission, in effect, for not interfering in the rights of member states.

All Paice can do is tell the House that it is ultimately the courts that interpret legislation. Our lawyers have to advise us, he says, not about what the commission's view is, but how they believe a court might interpret the legislation. By "a court", of course, he means the European Court of Justice.

The minister then informs the House that a case has been laid by Circus Krone against the Austrian Government in that country's constitutional court. We know not the outcome, he says, but the fact that that case has been laid supports the legal advice that a wholesale ban may well be counter to section 16 of the EU services directive, and that any subsequent legal challenge would have the same consequences that I have described – i.e., declaring it unlawful.

With that, we shall leave nearly the penultimate word to Caroline Lucas's soulmate, Zac Goldsmith, who told the House he was going to back Pritchard's motion. I hope that colleagues will do the same, he said, if not for the wild animals themselves then "simply to send a message to the public that Parliament exists, and exists for a purpose".

And indeed a message was sent – to the effect that British Parliament, in all its pomp, splendour and might, cannot even ban the use of 39 wild animals in circuses (the number in the UK at the moment), because the British government says it is against EU law, even though the EU commission says it isn't. And the British government, is right ... in law.

But all this was so unnecessary. Had Pritchard any brains at all, he would have known, without all this carry on, the bit that Ministers were struggling to avoid admitting. Animal welfare is an occupied field. As long as we are in the EU, we have no power to legislate. The power has been given to Brussels.

So, to paraphrase Goldsmith, we now know that Parliament exists. But for what purpose, we have yet to discover.