Tuesday, January 31, 2012

It gets more bizarre

Gradually, the text of today's the Hansard is being put online . One of the latest offerings of interest is this:
Mark Reckless (Rochester and Strood) (Con): Will the Prime Minister explain what it is that he has vetoed?

The Prime Minister: I have vetoed Britain's involvement in a treaty. As a result, it is not an EU treaty. We had in front of this House the Maastricht EU treaty and the Lisbon EU treaty; we had Amsterdam and we had Nice. All of those were treaties that Britain was involved in as a member of the EU, and they were EU treaties with the full force of the law. This is not like that; this is outside the European Union. It is an arrangement that has been reached by 25 other countries and we are not involved. As a result, we have safeguarded Britain's interests, which could have been put at risk by a new EU treaty.
The answer is gibberish. Consider, though, that the current intergovernmental treaty is effectively identical to the treaty that would have been produced as an amendment to the Lisbon Treaty, had not Cameron given the "colleagues" the opportunity to go outside the EU framework. It would thus be interesting to learn how, and in what respects, Britain's interests have been safeguarded by this version, when they would not have been by an EU version.

Mary Ellen Synon reckons The Boy fudged it just to make sure he was not faced with an EU referendum. Cameron's "courage" was Cameron dodging a bullet, she says. "Which is to say, a quick manoeuvre to his own political benefit". It was not so much Britain's interests that he was safeguarding, as his own.

And we get a flavour of that in this exchange:
Mr Wayne David (Caerphilly) (Lab): Will the Prime Minister explain the difference between a veto and an opt-out?

The Prime Minister: There is a very important difference. Let us consider what happened with Maastricht, for instance. There was a European Union treaty to which Britain was a full signatory. We opted out of certain parts of it, but we were still subject to a huge amount of additional EU law. That is why there were so many agonised debates in the House about whether it was a good thing or a bad thing. The same can be said of all EU treaties. The difference in this case is that there is no EU treaty. We are not going to put something in front of the House, and nothing will be voted on, so it will not affect the UK.
One gets a clear sense of relief from Cameron that the treaty does not go in front of the House, and "nothing will be voted on". That gets him off the hook, even if he is now impaled on another one.



Confirming our suspicions that Myrtle has been kidnapped, we now find that his impersonator is writing in The Guardian. That settles it beyond doubt.

Do we start a campaign for real Hannan?


Global warming is bad?

Hotter summers could lead to between 580-5900 deaths above the average per year by the 2050s, says the Defra Climate Risk Assessment. But it also says that milder winters could lead to 3,900-24,000 fewer premature deaths by the 2050s, significantly more than those forecast to die as a result of hot weather.

Do we really want a government policy dedicated to increasing the price of energy when we are expecting this?


Misleading the House

When I checked the business for the day on the parliamentary website, there was no reference to a statement on the European Council meeting. With a number of newspaper sites also reporting that there would be a statement "tomorrow", I have misled myself and others into thinking the statement would be tomorrow. However, the statement was today, at just after 3.30pm, and is now up on the No 10 site.

True to form, we are told by The Boy that, "I went to the Council last December prepared to agree a treaty of all 27 countries but only if there were proper safeguards for Britain". He then tells us, to the raucous cheers of the MPs: "But I did not get those safeguards. So I vetoed the Treaty".

Then we get:
As a result Eurozone countries and others are now making separate arrangements outside the EU treaties for strengthening budgetary discipline, including ensuring there are much tougher rules on deficits. So at this Council 25 EU Member States agreed a new Treaty outside of the EU. Britain and the Czech Republic have not signed up. And we will not be taking part.
So, as we saw last night, The Boy is directly claiming to have "vetoed the Treaty".

There is no equivocation or qualification here but, in order for him to have "vetoed the Treaty", there must have been a treaty to veto. Further, as we know, a veto can only be exercised within the context of an IGC. A European Council acts by simple majority.

We know, however, that there was no IGC convened, and as the government's own spokesman tells us, "There was … no text of a Treaty which was vetoed; it was rather the process of amending the European Union Treaties to this end which was vetoed".

By any measure, The Boy is misleading the House, even without taking into account the spokesman's error, whereby a process cannot be vetoed. Have we got to the final stage in the deterioration of Parliament, where a man purporting to be a prime minister can make things up as he goes along?


Shaping up

It is not only the Tory europlastics who are going to be after The Boy. According to The Guardian , the Baby Miliband is going to have a go as well, with claims that the country has been "sold down the river".

Miliband is a bit late noticing that - it happened decades ago. But the pincer movement "could be uncomfortable for the prime minister", says the paper, although I somehow doubt it. There will be the usual low-grade huff 'n' puff, but all we will get out of it will be some well-rehearsed soundbites.

Miliband is already saying of The Boy, " … it's a phantom veto and, frankly, he's completely mishandled these negotiations." He accuses Cameron of "publicity-seeking opportunism", which is a bit rich coming from that quarter, and probably easily slapped down.

However, for those interested in low-grade entertainment, and can't deal with X-factor, this is shaping up to be an interesting bit of drama.


Après moi la révolte?

Despite the hubris (or because of it?), The Boy is facing a gathering of the clans over his U-turn. "Right wing Tory MPs", we are told, "were due to meet in Westminster to plot how to make clear their unhappiness ahead of a statement by Mr Cameron in the Commons tomorrow".

So it is tomorrow that The Boy will attend upon The House to give his account of the proceedings in Brussels, and it is then – presumably – that we will see the fruits of the Tory "revolt". In fact, though, nothing much will happen. The Tory europlastics are far too compromised and, insofar as they are still blathering about the famous (non-) veto, they lost the plot before the game had even started.

We are now in the land of make-believe: a pretend rebellion over a pretend veto, with a pretend media keeping the score, the result of which will be completely irrelevant as the "colleagues" continue to run rings round The Boy. And that is the only constant here ... the "colleagues" set out to get their treaty. They got it. End of. At a European level, the rest is histrionics.

However, there is another reality here. "Cast-Iron" Cameron has been seen yet again to mess up over "Europe". The popular perception is that he promised a referendum on Lisbon and then resiled. He "vetoed" a treaty and then lets it get through. For his next trick?

I wonder if The Boy is aware of the phrase "three strikes and you're out"? He ain't doing so well is the lad - his credibility is shot to pieces.


We know he's not that stupid

We don't have a great deal of time for Myrtle, but we know that he is not this stupid. The only thing we can surmise is that he has been kidnapped, with the villain taking over his blog and impersonating him.

The Hannan I knew had brains enough to know that were was no veto, and that the answer to the current mess is not an in/out referendum.

One assumes that the kidnapper(s) must be linked in some way to People's Pledge, as this is the outfit that is being promoted, one that is wasting good money on something we are unlikely to get and which, if we did, we would probably not win.

But what do we make of this man, a man who is now maintaining that he did veto the EU treaty? "We vetoed an EU treaty in December," he says. "Nothing changes the fact that we were confronted by an EU treaty and we vetoed that treaty", he says. "There isn't a Brussels EU treaty, it doesn't exist, I vetoed it", he adds, then re-emphasising the point in response to a BBC questioner: "There isn't an EU treaty because I vetoed it".

The man is even now contradicting his own spokesman. The Smethurst said: "There was … no text of a Treaty which was vetoed; it was rather the process of amending the European Union Treaties to this end which was vetoed".

Yet the media – during the press conference - didn't challenge these amazing assertions. Some of the questions following The Boy's statement were even about bankers' bonuses. That is the media for you, the Fourth Estate, guardians of democracy, swooning all over the man. Truly pathetic. But then, there's no swoon like a media swoon, writes Peter Hitchens.


Monday, January 30, 2012

The future

A propos this, read this. Via Autonomous Mind, who gave me the tip about Gene Sharp, Witterings from Witney shows us what we must do.


Reality bites back

These deaths are just the headline cases. How many more die from that silent killer, hypothermia, without anyone recording the event as such? When the differential mortality figures come in, what will be the seasonal excess?

But even with just the headline mortality, the point is made that cold kills. Defra and its greenie friend may make the case for increased deaths due to global warming. They, however, are talking about potential risks, conditional on warming that is no longer happening. We are talking about the reality.


False alarms

There is a certain amount of hyperventilation on the blogosphere, accompanied by a significant number of e-mails in my inboxes, drawing my attention to strikes and unrest in Italy (and especially Sicily), with suggestions that we could be looking at the start of a revolution.

However, before drawing too many conclusions from current events, it is always a good idea to look at the recent past - as in the second of the "cuts" above: that is Italy in December 2007.

The point is that industrial unrest is a standard background feature of Italian politics – it is easier to record the periods when there were not major strikes in that benighted country. That does not in any way indicate that great political changes are afoot.

In fact, what is missing here is any sense of a political movement. We are not in the 1920s and 30s, when the epic battles between Socialism, Communism and Fascism were being played out. There are few "street" issues, currently, that have any profound political significance. Largely, we are seeing the projection of self interest and self-protection (such as protecting pension rights),

But, as we wrote in December, it is unlikely now that we are going to see the archetypal revolution, and especially not one preceded by waves of strikes and industrial unrest. The world has moved on and we do things differently now – in Europe, at any rate.

The future is probably going to be this, or something very similar. In many respects, this is already happening. By contrast, the wave of street demonstrations and strikes we are seeing at the moment is just political fluff – false alarms.


The Boy retreats

Bruno Waterfield says that Britain has officially dropped its opposition to the use of EU institutions to administer and enforce a eurozone fiscal pact. The Tory europlastics will be cross, their leader now stripped of his eurosceptic mask. That effectively snuffs out even the Tory version of the "veto". It is a deceased veto, dead without even being born.

This is confirmed by the AFP agency, which seems to be inventing even newer non-vetoes, Cameron, not for the use of. Britain "will not veto the use of European Union institutions by the other 26 members of the bloc as they push forward a new fiscal pact which excludes London", it says.

Apparently, though, it is citing Willie Hague, who is saying that Britain has "real legal concerns" about the use of the ECJ under the new treaty arrangements, but "would reserve its position for now". He told BBC radio: "If the use of the EU institutions at any point threatens Britain's fundamental rights under the EU treaties or damages our vital interests such as the single market then we would have to take action about that, including legal action."

Translated, that definitely means that Cameron is to take no action.

Nick Wood in the Daily Mail seems to be up to speed on this: "Backsliding" will be a word not far from the lips of Eurosceptic MPs as they anxiously scrutinise David Cameron's foray into the Brussels bearpit today, he writes, adding such gems as: "Dave is in danger of being outmanoeuvred by a European ruling class …", and: "Dave's Brussels triumph looks more threadbare by the day …".

"Once again", concludes Wood, "we are muddling through in the EU slipstream". And so it will always be, as long as we have a europhile masquerading as our prime minister. Yet they are still calling him "Teflon Cameron" over at Tory Boy Blog, although they acknowledge that "backsliding on the veto, would provide the conditions for a major revolt".

Well, it looks as if "Teflon" has met his Brillo pad. However, Duncan Smith is still being quoted as saying: "I absolutely trust the prime minister on this, I know where he stands".

And don't we all?

"Senior Conservative backbencher" Bernard Jenkin thus has the measure of the man. According to the Evening Standard, he says: "This is a retreat. What is the difference between refusing to sign the treaty of 27 and then allowing the hijacking of the EU institutions with a treaty of 17 plus?"

Are the Tories revolting?


What happened?

Booker is not the only one to notice that Obama has gone shy about "climate change". Maxwell T. Boykoff in The Washington Post has picked it up as well, calling it a "dangerous shift" in the rhetoric. Asking "what happened" to the terms "climate change" and "global warming", Boykoff observes that they have nearly disappeared from the political vocabulary,

A recent study at Brown University looked specifically at the Obama administration's language and calls for "clean energy" and "energy independence" now occupied the terrain. Graciela Kincaid, a co-author of the study, wrote: "The phrases 'climate change' and 'global warming' have become all but taboo on Capitol Hill. These terms are stunningly absent from the political arena".

This somewhat ties in with a report from Reuters last week, which noted that the United Nations "earth summit" scheduled for June in Rio is also abandoning "climate change" in favour of setting goals for "sustainable development".

This rather confirms the inherent flexibility in the green objectives, with "climate change" being but one issue in the UN's ambitious "Agenda 21" programme. This, in fact, stems from the Bruntland Report in 1987, which talks of "interlocking crises", which enables activists to switch from one heading to another, which still pursuing the same overall game plan.

Changing the rhetoric, therefore, gives the Greens tactical flexibility and a degree of resilience, enabling them to reflect the public mood and political realities – more so in the US. There, it would seem, if "climate change" is encountering resistance, the people can be sold "energy independence". But the underlying agenda remains the same.

In the UK, though, there seems to be less flexibility. Even while the Mail on Sunday, the same edition is covering the British administrations "first national risk assessment of climate change", warning us that – quite literally – some of us are going to die (5,900 every year – it would seem).

Given that the UK has been more committed than the US to tackling climate change, and for longer, it maybe will take longer to change the rhetoric. Already, though, we see multiple job adverts for "sustainability officers" (and variations), more so than climate change vacancies.

However, the purists are not happy. Rebranding is all very well but Boykoff complains that calling climate change by another name creates limits of its own. "The way we talk about the problem affects how we deal with it", he says. "And though some new wording may deflect political heat, it can't alter the fact that, 'climate change' or not, the climate is changing".

Perhaps, though, rebranding is not necessary. After all, global cooling is also "climate change", even if one suspects that our response to cooling might be a tad different from how we deal with the proclaimed but non-existent warming.


On the ball

The man who doesn't know what a veto is, is employed by the Failygraph, it seems, to keep watch "on Gordon Brown and the Labour government". It is always good to know that our MSM journalists are on the ball.


Fiddling around

One really should not take any pleasure in other peoples' misfortune, but it is virtually impossible not to smile at the idea that the "colleagues'" informal European Council tonight might be disrupted by strikes in Brussels.

The news of possible disruption comes via The Guardian, the Associated Press and the Evening Standard, and others. They are telling us that public transport will be halted and flights disrupted, and even the Eurostar Brussels service is to be suspended for the day.

No doubt most of the "colleagues" will be able to avail themselves of military flights if need be, and the federal police are well practised in shepherding high-speed convoys of limousines down the motorway into the European quarter. If need be, the heads of state can be flown into Charleroi under military control, and brought closer to town by helicopter.

The problem, if there is one, will be for the media and all the thousands of hangers-on who attend upon European Council meetings. But even if the disruption is minimal, the irony will not be lost – the strikes are in protest against the austerity packages which the "colleagues" have adopted as one of their main weapons in their attempts to salvage the euro.

Even then, the main focus of this salvage operation – Greece – is not formally on the agenda. That means that the audacious suggestion, proposed by the German economics minister, that the Greek puppet government should relinquish control of its budget policy, will not be discussed in plenary sessions. You can bet though that the sharp reaction from Greece, in rejecting the idea, will trigger plenty of discussion in les couloirs.

The main agenda item, according to the invitation letter, is a continuation of "efforts to ensure financial stability and fiscal consolidation", which means that draft treaty will almost certainly be discussed.

But there will be one person there who perhaps would be happy if the unions did their worst, and prevented the meeting from happening. This is David Cameron who yesterday was cast as being ready to withdraw his opposition to the use of the EU institutions to administer and enforce aspects of the new treaty.

Now, however, despite the Financial Times maintaining that Cameron remains in a conciliatory mood, we are being told that work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith has "insisted" that Britain would continue to block the use of EU institutions for these purposes. This rather puts The Boy on the spot. Either he must anger the "colleagues", or upset the Tory Party rank and file who are desperate to hang onto the illusion that their leader is a eurosceptic.

On the other hand, with the rare intervention of Charles Kennedy, the Lib-dims are getting uppity. Kennedy, bolstered by The Clegg, wants The Boy "to take an active and confident role at the heart of the European Union". He must "never again isolate Britain as he did at last month's summit when he wielded the British veto".

Given these conflicting demands, it would be rather convenient for The Boy if strikes did stop play, even if that is rather unlikely. More likely the meeting will take place and we will get another glorious fudge – in public at least – which takes us no further forward. In the meantime, someone needs to teach Duncan Smith some history. He is going round telling people that "lack of democratic freedoms is what caused the Second World War", which is not exactly how I saw it.

That is in the context of Duncan Smith warning against the EU "fiddling around" with democracy, in its plans for Greece. But there should be no concern on this account. The very last thing the "colleagues" will be fiddling about with is democracy. That departed a long time ago.


Sunday, January 29, 2012

David and his amazing technicolour veto

After several attempts, a reader has finally extracted from the government on "full details of the Treaty which was vetoed by the Prime Minister at the European Council meeting on 9 December 2011".

The Keeper of the Answers is Roger Smethurst, Head of Knowledge and Information Management at the Cabinet Office, a deity who must enjoy the cocktail circuit where, one presumes, lesser mortals fall to their knees in awe, stunned that such a Grand Personage should exist.

Howsoever, the Mighty Smethurst tells us that the European Council (not a "summit", you will note) was considering a suggestion made at the meeting to amend the European Union Treaties to create reinforced fiscal and economic rules for the members of the Eurozone.

This, of course, we knew, but The Smethurst is just setting the scene. The Mighty One goes on to tell us that the Prime Minister (in capitals) "would not agree to this process without certain safeguards for Britain", and that "these safeguards were not agreed by others".

And now comes not The Knowledge but The Holy Spin. Since all Member States have to agree to any changes to the European Union Treaties, intones The Mighty Smethurst, "this amounted to a veto". As a result, we are told, Eurozone countries and others "are now making separate arrangements for coordinating their budgets through a separate Treaty".

Thus we are dutifully informed by The Smethurst that: "There was therefore no text of a Treaty which was vetoed; it was rather the process of amending the European Union Treaties to this end which was vetoed".

In response, one might say that "dishonest" is perhaps the mildest epithet we could use, but it sounds more restrained and sober than dismissing The Mighty Smethurst as a liar. But that he is, as the treaty itself (which he calls in aid) makes him out to be. Smethurst actually refers to the Treaty of the European Union, Article 48, the relevant part of which states:
The Government of any Member State, the European Parliament or the Commission may submit to the Council proposals for the amendment of the Treaties … If the European Council, after consulting the European Parliament and the Commission, adopts by a simple majority a decision in favour of examining the proposed amendments, the President of the European Council shall convene a Convention composed of representatives of the national Parliaments, of the Heads of State or Government of the Member States, of the European Parliament and of the Commission … [or] a conference of representatives of the governments of the Member States.
Thus, the process of amending a Treaty is the convening of a "Convention" or an Intergovernmental Conference (IGC), with the decision made in each case by a simple majority vote of the European Council. In other words, there is no veto on the process of amending a treaty … the process is determined by majority vote. It was not amenable to a veto and Cameron could not therefore have vetoed it.

Thus, never perhaps in history have we seen a press corps so completely and utterly mislead itself, showing its profound lack of knowledge of EU procedures, and its complete inability to learn.

But, as we see from Your Freedom and Ours and Witterings from Witney, the process of self-delusion continues, its latest contributor being Iain Martin in the Sunday Failygraph. There, oblivious to the reality, he asks: "Is David Cameron about to water down his famous EU veto?", a fatuous question but one which confronts an interesting development.

To appreciate this fully, we must step back to the night of 8/9 December, when The Boy was confronted with his dilemma, and having told the "colleagues" that he was minded to block any treaty revisions (which he could do once the treaty had been drafted, but hadn't been then), they decided to do what they had always intended to do in the first place – to go for a veto-proof "International Treaty".

This, however, still left The Boy with something of a card to play in what was a very weak hand – a block on the use of the EU institutions to administer and enforce aspects of the new treaty, something that the blathering Tory Boy Blog was terribly keen for him to do, otherwise, in their terms, the "veto" was pointless.

That brings us back to Iain Martin, who perceives that The Boy is to remove his objections to the use of the institutions. This is no great discovery as it was flagged up in The Guardian last Friday, amounting in this paper's terms to a major U-turn.

The effect, to the dismay of The Tory Boys is to make the "non-veto" even nonner than before, but since The Boy had such a weak hand – even despite the intervention of The Mighty Smethurst - there was perhaps little else he could do.

Sadly for him, as the "colleagues" run rings round him, all that is left to The Boy is to dream of his amazing technicolour veto, the veto that never was. And even in the minds of his most enthusiastic fans, it is also ceasing to be.

It was fun while it lasted.


I couldn't resist it

The Mail may be hyperventilating, but it is always such fun rubbing Viner's nose in it. And for all that, even in Finland, where they are more used to such things, cold is a dangerous beast. But now there is no more warming, and snow is getting more common, we'd better get used to that idea.


The black hole in Obama's speech

Booker does something that I cannot bear to do – he listens to the BBC World Service, and hence picked up the live broadcast of Obama's state of the union address last week.

I usually like to add something to Booker's column when I review it, but I'm always cautious about US politics, as I have no feeling for the nuances or the depth of knowledge that one needs to make sensible comments. His piece, therefore, stands for you to enjoy, untarnished by North input.

It is worth adding though, that the retreat from global warming in the US – exemplified by Obama's silence on the issue – is to a certain extent paralleled in the UK. But, since the UK started earlier and went further – and has the EU incubus to deal with – it will be much longer before we start seeing clear signs of retreat over here.

If Obama can manage to distance himself from the warmists, though, then Cameron should be able to do so, as indeed he is accused of doing. At the very least, it looks as if we are not going to have to suffer any more pics of him hugging huskies.

But even I might be prevailed upon to contribute to a fund to send The Boy to Norway to hug a polar bear. Could we do that? Yes we can!


Saturday, January 28, 2012


The invisible elephant in the room now strikes the Financial Times with a bizarre report (above) telling us that the UK is to appoint a food ambassador with a mandate to dismantle trade barriers and help British companies take their sausages, biscuits and cereals to Asia and beyond.

"Many SMEs have either been frightened off by the thought of exports, or have never thought of it at all", says agriculture minister Jim Paice, who is fronting a farming, food and drink exports "action plan" put together by Defra and UK Trade & Investment.

The latter bit is OK, but a mandate to dismantle trade barriers? As members of the European Union, we are part of a customs union. We have ceded the power to determine trade conditions (barriers, etc) to the commission in Brussels. Unilaterally, we cannot dismantle trade barriers, or reach agreements with other countries on trade issues.

Thus, when we actually get to the action plan, we find in the foreword, signed by Jim Paice, Lord Green of Hurstpierpoint and Paul Grimwood, the following deathly prose:
Our ambition is to see greater access to overseas markets for British products; businesses viewing exporting as a key route to growth; more SMEs selling to overseas customers; and the sector as a whole focussing more energy on the high-growth emerging markets. We will achieve this by lobbying energetically for the removal of trade barriers; ensuring businesses, particularly SMEs, have access to the right information and support; simplifying food exporting paperwork; and showcasing the exceptional quality of British farming, food and drink.
Despite that, the authors of the "action plan" are a tad confused. They go on to state that the plan "will drive export growth in the farming, food and drink sector by … opening markets and removing trade barriers", even as they then declare that, "Government and industry will work together to achieve this by lobbying for the removal of trade barriers that restrict access to new markets".

In other words, the "ambassador" doesn't have a mandate to dismantle trade barriers. All we can expect is "energetic" lobbying. And who do we have to lobby? Why, the EU of course.

Sadly, though, the action plan does not make this clear until we leave the executive summary and go to page 12 (of 27), when we learn that, "the Government is committed to promoting trade liberalisation through comprehensive multilateral and bilateral free trade agreements, and addressing specific market obstacles – working closely with the European Commission for both".

But how strange it is that the europhile Financial Times can't cope with the idea that lobbying is all that is left to us, and thus develops a case of euro-blindness, giving our man from Defra powers we as a nation no longer have. Not once do we see a reference to the EU in its report.

And thus once again we find those we are most enthusiastic about the EU are also those who seem most keen to deny its effects.


The latest "green" fiasco

The Daily Mail is reporting on problems with fitting "smart" meters in domestic and commercial premises. The nub, however, seems to be that electricity companies are jumping the gun and fitting their own versions of the technology, without waiting for a standardised design, the specification for which will not be announced until March.

It seems that lack of inter-operability between meter types means that rival companies can only use their own technology and not others, requiring in some cases the meters to be replaced when electricity suppliers are changed.

This false start, however, does not affect the government timetable, which is still determined to have 30million electricity meters and 23 million gas meters replaced by the 2019, at a cost of £11.7 billion to energy customers, recovered through their bills.

But, with there being an estimated four million "non-compliant" meters fitted by 2014, it seems that the energy companies themselves are needlessly racking up costs, and adding delay, and these will all have to be replaced.

Whether the project will ever get completed, though, is anyone's guess. Consumer groups are still warning that these devices will allow suppliers to cut off energy remotely so, by the time this current mess and the implications of having a smart meter percolate down, consumer resistance may stiffen.

In the US, we are already seeing organised opposition, with a UK branch also opening up and fronting claims that the radiation from smart meters is carcinogenic. All we need is for the green groups to come out against these meters, and the farce will be truly complete. But of they don't, the hackers may finish the job.


Ditching his principles

When you have the head of the UK branch of the WWF complaining to The Guardian about The Boy's lack of leadership on environmental issues, things have come to a pretty pass.

It was the WWF which helped set up the Boy's photo-opportunity in Norway, where we was seen cuddling a husky as "part of his bid to rebrand the Conservative Party as eco-friendly". And now that same organisation must be feeling rather left out as, one after another, the green schemes are dropped.

What is particularly interesting here though is that, of all his voter-friendly initiatives, his husky stunt was probably the most genuine. Insofar as he believes in anything, The Boy actually believes in greenery, and he was not (at the time) taking WWF for a ride.

As times change, though, The Boy changes. He is in office and wants to stay there, enjoying its fruits. And if that means ditching the very few principles he has ever held, then that is evidently a small price to pay. If I was Cameron's grandmother, I'd be very afraid.


He says, she says

In a new book reviewed by the Great Sage Con Coughlin, we have Sandy Gall, the former ITN presenter, give an account of the views of the current CDS, Gen Sir David Richards, on the campaign in Afghanistan.

With the appearance of being disarmingly frank, Richards seemingly takes to task John Reid, defence secretary at the time, for his view that "we would be perfectly happy to leave in three years' time without firing one shot because our mission is to protect the reconstruction", despite "intelligence assessments conducted in southern Afghanistan concluded that they would receive a hostile reception".

We appreciate that we are looking at a review of the book and not the book itself, and Con Coughlin is far from reliable on this matter, but it looks as if there is an attempt here to pin the blame on the political establishment – which is fair enough – and exonerate the military, which is not.

The brass, as we know, was just as gung ho for Afghanistan as the politicos, especially Gen Dannatt, who saw it as potentially a more fluid conventional war, which his troops were capable of fighting and which – unlike Iraq – they were capable of winning (as long as he was able to buy the FRES utility vehicle).

However, Richards would be unwise to give the military a completely clean bill of health, so we get (via Coughlin and Sandy Gall), a sort of admission of failure, with the assertion that "Sir David says that the British military establishment was ill-prepared for the deployment of forces, despite its leading role in the overthrow of the Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein three years previously".

It is this phrasing that made me fall off my stool, and then to attack the keyboard despite not (yet) having read the book itself (which was published on 19 January). Even if Richards then concedes that the military establishment was "ill-prepared" and with a "rather amateurish approach to high-level military operations verging on the complacent", that does not even begin to describe the level and degree of failure.

First of all, it is not really appropriate to make comparisons between the operation to overthrow Saddam Hussein (i.e., the invasion of Iraq) and the operation in Afghanistan. A better (although not entirely adequate) comparison would have been with the subsequent occupation of southern Iraq, both campaigns being counter-insurgency operations.

Given that that British occupation of  Iraq had been an egregious failure – and one which the Army still has difficulty recognising – one has to take it almost as a done deal that the Army would fail in Afghanistan.

I will stop there, returning to the subject when I have read the book, other than to observe that, once again, we again seem to be in "he says – she says" territory, where the current idea of writing history is to gather a collection of interviews of leading players and stitch them together to make a narrative.

However, while entertaining on occasions, and giving some insight into the minds of those involved, oral history is one of the least reliable resources available to the historian, and especially when it comes from senior military officers and politicians, who will be seeking to cover their backs and put a spin on their involvement.

This is where Jack Fairweather's book went wrong. Everything the leading players say must be taken with a pinch of salt. To have any value, it must be cross-checked with the evidence – and the documentation, where available – and be consistent with the actual events.

Nevertheless, in an age where "human interest" dictates the approach to news gathering, and "feelings" count more than facts, evidence-based history is deeply unfashionable. These days, your book must be well-populated with people sharing the innermost thoughts or you are not a "proper" historian.

It is also much easier to produce "stream of consciousness" narratives – especially when this is the stock-in-trade of the average journalist (which is why also the material gets good reviews from follow journalists, all pissing in the same pot).

However, maybe when I get the book, I will be pleasantly surprised, and have to eat my words. But before this, we shall have to wait upon the pleasure of the great lord Amazon to deliver.


Friday, January 27, 2012

A point of principle

The parents of a newborn baby left with horrific injuries and fractures all over her body walked free from court yesterday, despite admitting child cruelty charges.

This because the judge asserts the father and his partner "were let down by the social services, who have a duty to provide for you". Judge Ticehurst also ordered an investigation into the case, stating that there had been a "grave failure" by social services at North Somerset Council.

Now this raises intriguing point of principle. Cast as the regulatory authorities in this case, North Somerset social workers fail in their duty and thereby fail to prevent a crime, whereupon the criminals are spared the full penalty for their crimes. This is bizarre, not least because - one would have thought - the duty was to provide for the child first, not the parents.

But there are broader issues here. If one applies this same argument to the PIP breast implants, Jean-Claude Mas goes free because the regulators failed to detect that he was using substandard silicon.

This surely has to be wrong. Crimes must be punished. The point must be that, if the regulators' neglect enabled or exacerbated the crime, then the responsibility is shared. The issue has then to be that the regulators are also penalised - not that the criminals are let off.

Following this judge's logic, we see car thieves being let off because the police were not around to prevent their larceny, or because the car owners had not fitted stronger locks.

Nevertheless, the judge has made it easier to argue that regulatory authorities do have some responsibility for crimes committed on their watch, when there was the capability and the duty to prevent them. Can we now see that point of principle applied to PIP?


Game over

If anyone had any residual belief that there was anything salvageable from our current system of government, forget it! The children have taken over and all we are left with is the wreckage.

This illustrates my fears about the state of British government and our leaving the EU. On current evidence, we have - as pointed out previously - lost the ability to govern ourselves, in which case a fully independent UK in the hands of these clowns would be a disaster.

That is not to say that we should not leave the EU – far from it. But it does say that merely campaigning to leave is not enough. Additionally, we have to have plans to rebuild our government and put the grown-ups back in charge.


No more law

Reuters is reporting on a survey commissioned by the EU on shale gas, which concludes that no additional EU law is needed to regulate the exploration phase - although changes might be needed to protect the environment once the development phase is entered.

This is a highly significant development, as the Greenies have been hoping that the EU would step in and regulate shale gate out of existence, amounting to an effective ban. But energy commissioner Guenther Oettinger says that energy mix is the prerogative of member states and only they can decide on implementing a ban.

One suspects that the commission is unwilling to take on Poland, which is in the advance guard when it comes to shale gas exploration, and it will also be conscious of the political implications (and advantages) of reducing dependency on Russian gas.

I will take a look at this 104-page survey report, and write again in detail, if needed.


No more than a rounding error

I had a long talk with Autonomous Mind the other day about the state of the political blogosphere in the UK.

Unfortunately, we were forced to conclude that the independent sector (as opposed to the clogosphere, comprising the efforts of the MSM, plus sundry politicians and interest groups) had not taken off in the manner of the US blogs and was still struggling to get its voice heard.

Now, confronted with this on the Daily Mail website, we see the size of the task before us, as even the best of us is no more than a rounding error, compared with that hit rate.

Nevertheless, I am not particularly depressed. For me, blogging is also a research tool which I apply to other fields of activity, while the forum has developed into a community of its own which has a value which transcends mere numbers.

Then, of course, much of the Mail traffic is drawn to its "sleb" coverage which, as presented, is very little more than soft porn. And it says something of the power of the internet (and the human condition) that porn is the most popular sector. Thus, feeding that obsession gets easy hits.

Then we have the sport coverage - and the tittle tattle, the usual diet of trash which provides the mainstay of MSM coverage. In terms of the ground covered by the independent blogosphere, the Mail figures will only be a fraction of its gross figures. We are not as far apart as the gross figures would indicate.

Nevertheless, AM and I did agree that there is something in the British character – a leaden, conformist tendency – which makes readers reluctant to turn to the blogs.

From my own personal perspective, I am a professional writer and researcher. The material that goes on this blog is of the same quality, but of much greater depth and breath, than my occasional pieces in the MSM. Yet, while my MSM pieces will benefit from the brand-name platforms and attract hundreds of thousands of hits, the same pieces on the blog will attract only thousands.

Similarly, a significant number of Booker column stories are based on posts published on this blog, yet even when Booker specifically draws attention to that, such as in the Concordia piece, we see no discernible increase in our hit rate. People will read it on the Sunday Telegraph site, but not on the blog.

Thus, I conclude that my relatively modest hit rate is neither my fault nor, in some respects, my problem. I can do no more than write as best I can, on a wide range of topics, with the best and most careful research I can manage. On top of that, the blog is professionally designed, is well presented and its graphics and picture selection are a cut above the rest. I really can do no more.

To that extent, as regards the wider audience, I am casting pearls before swine. People do not read blogs because they don't want to read blogs - that is nothing to do with what we are and what we produce. They want to stay in their comfort zones, with the information pre-packaged and served up to them in bite-sized chunks, free from any "disturb" factor. That is their fault, not mine and it is not within my power to change it.

Unfortunately, that consigns us, in volume terms, to be being no more than a rounding error, in comparison with the bigger MSM sites (the second biggest being the New York Times). Fortunately, though, when it comes to making changes, it is not the meek, but the "rounding errors" who shall inherit the earth.

Are we thus downhearted? Not in the least bit.


Round and round in circles

The Boy commits to making new regulations, if needed, to improve ship safety. But, oh woops! He hasn’t implemented the last lot yet, and his EU masters are getting rather cross.

And we also getting done in the ECJ. The EU commission is taking Britain (and Ireland) to the court because, it says, inadequate gas infrastructure is limiting competition. "The maximum interconnection capacity is not offered in the UK and Ireland as the pipeline connecting Northern Ireland and Ireland is not open to the market" the commission said.

This, strangely, is part of the Single Market, about which The Boy is so keen. If we had a halfway decent opposition, it could have rather a lot of fun at the Boy's expense.


Thursday, January 26, 2012

Going up

You know, I really dislike self-publicists. There is something not quite British about them. But I'm so tickled by getting number two slot, that I couldn't resist the temptation, especially as the hero of my book - "J B Priestley" – (if he can be called that) turned down a peerage.

Strangely, Ministry of Defeat is also doing moderately well, so I'm a happy bunny – although I promise I won't let that last. At least I'll never have the problem of deciding whether to turn down an honour.


Madness begins at home

The man masquerading as our prime minister is in Davos, telling the "colleagues" that "Europe" must "stop throttling growth with excessive bureaucracy".

It this the same man who supports the Single Market, and its burgeoning regulations which support the CE marking? Is this the same man who, when questioned about the Costa Concordia, responded with a pledge to produce more regulations, if needed?

Indeed, is this the same man who is rolling out a massive amount of climate change legislation, and the same man who supports Basel III and the EU's programme of turning it into law?

And if it is the same man, what precisely is the "excessive bureaucracy" that he would like stopped? Does he not realise that, when it comes to "madness", this begins at home?


Number four!

The Many, Not the Few is (briefly) number four on the Amazon best-selling list, for books about the Battle of Britain – not bad for a book that is not yet published! They've still got the cover wrong, though, and it's 435 pages, not 256 as advertised.

I am "reliably" informed by my publishers that the book will absolutely, definitely, without hesitation or deviation, be published on 17 February. I have actually received my first ration of author's copies, and – just from a production point of view – it looks an extremely handsome volume.

Advance orders are taken on Amazon and there is some talk of a major newspaper serialising the book. That would be nice, but I'm not holding my breath.


What they would prefer us not to know

At the time, in January last year, we did it here, herehere, here, here and here, pointing out that the Queensland floods were largely a man-made disaster. We were joined by Booker on 15 January, one of the very few MSM journalists who pursued this issue.

Needless to say, the Queensland state Premier Anna Bligh was talking of "exceptional events", and the BBC happily chirped about the "freak of nature" – an attempt to reinforce the subliminal message that nothing could have been done, while the rest if the British MSM sat on its hands and said nothing of the involvement of the dam management and the dire effect of the green agenda.

But now, there seems to be a concerted attempt to cover up the role of the management of the Wivenhoe Dam. The top-level Commission of Inquiry is charged with "overlooking" crucial documents about the management of dam in the days before the inundation of Brisbane.

These documents, leaked by The Australian last year, indicate that on the crucial weekend of 8-9 January last year the dam's managers were operating under a low-level release strategy rather than a more urgent strategy to prevent flooding, contradicting evidence given to the inquiry.

The cover-up looked even more sinister it was revealed that a top civil servant was seconded to a senior new job advising premier Anna Bligh on the floods inquiry after he had provided the documents to the inquiry that suggested flood engineers were using the wrong strategy to operate Wivenhoe Dam.

However, new evidence how now emerged - an exchange of e-mails between two of Queensland's most senior water officials seems to confirm that the wrong strategy was being used to manage Wivenhoe Dam, and that water officials have been lying to the inquiry.

Some commentators now believe that the inquiry will be a whitewash, and are pinning their faith on a class action, which seeks damages on the basis of corporate and government negligence, even though the inquiry has been recalled to hear the new evidence.

But, while the Australian media is running with this issue, the British media is, of course, silent. Despite the broader implications, which would be of some considerable interest to British readers, the media would rather us not know how badly the Greens screwed up.


They cannot have it both ways

Jean-Claude Mas, 72, founder of Poly Implant Prothese (PIP), has been arrested at the home of his partner in Six-Fours in the Var, south of France. He was taken into police custody just before 7am this morning. The house was being searched by investigators. A deputy chief executive was also arrested at his home.

So we have the likelihood of criminal charges being preferred against this (French) man, for the sale of substandard goods, purporting to conform with the highest of EU standards, under the aegis of the French government.

Since the products carried the CE marking, attesting that they had been produced in conformity with EU standards, underwritten by the French and British governments, in what way should the clinics which fitted them now be liable for replacing them?

Further, since the UK complied with EU law in this instance, and accepted the provenance of the CE marking – as it is obliged to do – in what way should the British taxpayer be liable for remedying for what, on the face of it, is a series of criminal acts, and a regulatory failure?

And herein lies an important point of principle. If the regulators, in whole or part, dictate the means by which a product should be considered marketable, and then underwrite a marking scheme that attests to quality and safety, with that comes responsibility when things go wrong.

They cannot have it both ways – dictating and monitoring standards, requiring a compulsory marking which attests to conformity, then walking away when their system fails. With power comes responsibility.


Necessity being

In my brief tenure as an advisor on transport to a shadow cabinet minister, I argued strongly that we should not only be looking at transport provision, but at demand reduction.

Specifically, I argued, many people could work from home, if not all the time, than for a few days a week or month. If we could get on average the office population of central London working one day a week without travelling to work, we would get a 20 percent reduction in transport demand for that cohort – a prize worth having.

Needless to say, no one listens - until now, when necessity becomes the mother of invention. During the Ghastly Games and the Paralympics, staff across Whitehall and the public sector will be ordered not to commute to work for up to seven weeks to prevent London's public transport network from becoming over-congested.

A series of unprecedented "planning exercises" have been scheduled to "check [whether] officials can work from home". From 6-9 February, thousands of civil servants have been told to work from home under "Operation Stepchange". They will be asked to check that teleconferencing facilities are operational and that remote computer networks work.

And of course they can do it … just as I have been doing for the last 30 years. But it takes something like a potential gridlock to make it happen on a larger scale. The good thing is that we might get a legacy from the Games that might be worth having.


Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Re-writing history

What happened in the past really doesn't matter if people have short memories and you can re-write the narrative according to how you would wish things to have been, rather than as they actually were.

It is no surprise that Winston Smith, Orwell's hero in 1984, was charged with re-writing the London Times, to ensure the "facts" matched the prevailing narrative. Personally, I don't think it was an accident that he was named Winston, after the great wartime leader – a man who was also not ill-disposed to re-writing his own part in history. But that is another story.

However, one of the more egregious examples of a history re-write (apart from Churchill's Second World War) is the story of the origins of the European Union but, having thus distorted the early history, the "colleagues" clearly think that this is a process that should continue.

So we have The Guardian teaming up with five leading European newspapers in France, Germany, Italy, Spain and Poland "to explore the benefits and drawbacks of the European project".

Under the (highly original) brand of "Europa", in a series of articles over two days, journalists from the EU's six biggest countries "will delve into the biggest crisis in the European Union's history and seek answers to two critical questions: what is the EU for? And where does it go from here?"

Completely in tune with this searching objective, you might think, we then see a story in today's, written by Raul Limon of El Pais, extolling the outfit building the A-400M transport as "a very European success story" (above).

One is tempted to ask that, if the A-400M is a "success story", then what on earth is a failure? But the claim, to be precise, is of a "European success story" which, like the euro, is a very different kind of success. Clearly, the definition of a "European success" is not the same as the ordinary, common and garden variety.

This is perhaps just as well for, as The Guardian well knows, the A-400M is years late, massively over-budget and has failed to meet its design specifications. The construction of the A-400M also raises very serious questions as to whether the use of advanced composites, of which it is built, is at all suitable for military transport aircraft and the rugged conditions they must endure.

By any normal measure, therefore, the aircraft – and its production company, which should have crashed and burned but is only being kept alive for political reasons - is an abysmal failure.

But, as long as you can then re-write history in the manner of Winston – Smith or Churchill - and reclassify failure as a "success", that is all that matters. Better still, it is a "very European success", and everything is now right with the world. Nobody will ever remember otherwise, or be given a chance to argue the toss ... not in The Guardian at least.


Which comes first?

Angela Merkel, according to Reuters, has rejected as "unfounded" stereotypes about a domineering, dogmatic Germany whose economic strength hinders growth in the rest of Europe, saying such clichés did not help the cause of European integration.

So what is she really worried about – the "unfounded" stereotypes, or that they did not help the cause of European integration?


The beat goes on

Today's agenda, the politico-media establishment has decided, is the Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, hence The Boy toddling off to that French city to make an inconsequential and carefully guarded speech on the subject, about which we are supposed to throb with excitement.

Somewhere, the idea of "sovereignty" will get mentioned – if not by The Boy, then certainly by some hacks, but even as they expostulate, that very thing drains away from the entity loosely described as the British nation.

No one, however, can ever complain that is passage was not recorded, but in the most obscure and secret form, in such a manner that it almost certainly never sees the light of day – the "Written Ministerial Statement".

Two such of interest were promulgated yesterday, the first one from the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr Jeremy Browne): and The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mike Penning).

This was "to update the House on the Government's response to the sinking of the Costa Concordia cruise liner, which hit rocks off the Italian island of Giglio overnight on Friday 13 January" – not that it will do so as so few MPs will read it – but the key passage is below, which the point of greatest interest emphasised:
At this time, the cause of the accident remains unknown. We must wait for the results of the investigation by the Italian authorities before deciding whether any action is required to ensure the safety of other vessels. Should the conclusions of the investigation suggest a need for revisions on any aspect of cruise ship design or operation, then the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) will be the forum for agreeing improvements. The development of passenger ship regulations is an iterative process based on practical experience. By applying the lessons from previous incidents the cruise industry generally enjoys an excellent safety record.
Compare and contrast this with what The Boy was saying, now exactly a week ago during PMQs, viz: "if changes need to be made … of course we will make them".

What he actually meant to say, as we now see, is that the British parochial council will go toddling along to the Albert Embankment in London, where the IMO houses its secretariat, to get its instructions.

In due course, i.e., after interminable meetings, the 170 member states (and the EU, which will also be represented) will come to a conclusion (sort of). This then will be adopted by the EU, either in the form of a regulation or (more likely) a directive, which our parochial council will turn into British law.

So much for making changes, which neatly brings us to the second statement of interest, this one on: "PIP Breast Implants and Regulation of Cosmetic Interventions". Here, we are reminded by the secretary of state for health (Mr Andrew Lansley) of his oral statement to the House of 11 January 2012.

Then, he described the immediate action which the Government were taking to address the concerns of women who have received breast implants made by the company Poly Implant Prothèse (PIP), saying that:
… in the light of these events, we needed both to review the lessons that could be learnt, and to consider the wider issues of ensuring the safety of people who are considering cosmetic surgery and similar treatments. I therefore announced two reviews, one to be led by my noble Friend the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Earl Howe) which will look at what happened in the United Kingdom in relation to PIP implants; and the second, to be led by the NHS Medical Director, Sir Bruce Keogh, to look at the wider issues of clinical safety and regulation.

One will notice immediately, the complete absence of nay mention of the "elephant in the room" but now, in the written statement that so few will see, it comes out to graze. The review to be carried out by Earl Howe, we are now told, will report by the end of March 2012 and the terms of reference are set out thus:
In the context of current EC directives on the regulation of medical devices and the information generally available at the time on the risks associated with breast implants to review …
Then we find that the review will advise the secretary of state "on what lessons can be learned for application should similar circumstances arise in the future, and on implications for UK input to the ongoing review of the European Medical Devices Directives".

As regards the review to be carried out by Sir Bruce Keogh, this will take into account "the Government's Better Regulation framework and the concurrent review by the EU of current arrangements for the regulation of medical devices".

The purpose, as one might expect, is to "make recommendations to Ministers, including interim recommendations if appropriate, and to inform the UK contribution to the EU review".

That, as "revealed" by written ministerial statements, is how modern government works. On the one hand, a foreign shipping disaster is to be referred to an international committee and, eventually, the EU will reach down and make more laws, which we will adopt without question.

On the other hand, with a domestic medical "disaster", the great and the good are summoned to carry out reviews, the effect of which is "to inform the UK contribution to the EU review". When it has finished its own review, the EU will then reach down and make more laws, which we will adopt without question.

Interestingly, had we by now left the EU, we would still be talking to the IMO, but would be adopting its recommendations directly, instead of via the EU. As regards the breast implants, were we to have joined EFTA and via that the EEA, we would still be waiting for an EU review and adopting any regulations that came from it. Nothing much would have changed.

The key thing, though, seems to be that, as long as the politico-media establishment doesn't actually know (or care) how modern government works, it can go on pretending that The Boy and his ministers are still in charge and, until we give away the Falklands, that the sun never sets on the British Empire.