Monday, December 30, 2013

An anniversary

Saddam Hussein was executed after a long and open trial on January December 30, 2006. This is not a particularly important anniversary but people seem to be talking about it so I thought I'd link to the pieces we wrote at the time on EUReferendum. This is the Boss, writing on the day, this is one of mine a couple of days later and another one just over a week later. I still think we were right.

An odd take on Ukrainian events

The Ukrainian situation at present is both complex and somewhat opaque, the latter meaning that it is not clear where any of it is going. The general opinion seems to be that Putin has won against the EU and the West in general though that requires some qualification.

In the first place, it is not entirely clear what an EU would have consisted of. Presumably, the initialling of the trade and closer co-operation agreement, which would have given very little to either side. Contrary to what many people seem to believe, membership of the EU was not and is not on offer.

Secondly, winning "hearts and minds" by a combination of a huge bribe that the EU could not possibly top and blackmail over energy supplies works in the short term but trouble is not simply brewing, it is there already. Those demonstrators in Kiyiv may not know exactly what they want or how they are going to achieve what they might think they want but they do know what they don't want and that is closer relations with Russia. The fact that there is a very large minority in Ukraine that makes up almost half the population who do want closer relations with Russia and are suspicious of the EU makes that country an unreliable ally for all, including Russia.

Thirdly, Ukraine is largely dysfunctional and the EU already has dysfunctional members. No more are needed. The problems need to be sorted out by the Ukrainians themselves with possible help from the West but that help would be limited. Of course, moving more definitely into Russia's orbit means that the country will remain dysfunctional but signing that agreement with the EU would not have made any difference from that point of view.

In other words, the whole situation is a mess and Putin's victory is Pyrrhic at best. Indeed, some people might say that it is time he started paying attention to what is going on in his own country, especially after the horrific double explosions of Volgograd that follow on a number of other explosions and terrorist acts throughout the year. (Whoever is responsible for what happened yesterday and today, they were still terrorist acts.)

Having said all that, I do find it slightly odd that a school of thought is developing that calls all this something of a diplomatic success for the EU. Andrew Rettman outlines the sequence of events, which ended in Yanukovich and the EU mutually discarding and reviling each other but, curiously, he also says:
The EU this year lost a battle for Ukraine, but nobody is laughing at its soft power any more.
More like sneering, I'd say. The one thing we can say for certain: neither in Ukraine nor anywhere else has EU soft power achieved anything in the last year (or any other year). That Ukrainians do not want to be in the orbit of President Putin's dysfunctional, lawless and bullying country is not much of an achievement for the EU as nothing very much seems to come out of that.

Meanwhile, Leonid Bershidsky speculates on the Bloomberg site as to why President Putin has been so laggardly in his response to the terrorist outrages in Volgograd when other heads of state and government managed to make statements of condolence and condemnation almost immediately. One imagines that when his statement is made it will be tough and full of nasty language. Also, if past experience is to go by, any suspects will be killed by the security services before they can get anywhere near a trial.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Bah humbug!

Time for me to spread my usual Christmas gloom and misery. Let us start with that iconic Christmas book, Charles Dickens's magnificently well written and utterly ridiculous A Christmas Carol. Gosh, it's a silly book despite the language and the characters (well, one character). Why oh why, I ask every year, does Bob Cratchitt not either change his job (not an indentured slave) or stop having children. In fact, one wonders how on earth he and the missis manage to have children that often. They are not likely to have a great deal of privacy. As for Tiny Tim, don't even start me on him. Little horror. But it is still worth reading if just for the description of the blind beggars' dogs pulling their masters away from Scrooge as he trudges down the street before his highly ridiculous reform. Presumably the dogs will be all over him after it.

And now on to the other iconic Christmas offering, also an astonishingly good and astonishingly silly work of art, the film It's A Wonderful Life. Here is the ending, which shows that George Bailey's rather frustrated and circumscribed life was ALL WORTH IT and also that the people who got money out of him for ... ahem ... sub-prime mortgages were actually not that badly off. I have to admit to still liking the film. It has an excellent cast with James Stewart at the head (who could ask for anything more?) and is a little more complex than its sacchariney reputation has it.

Normal service will resume after the holidays.

Merry Christmas to one and all.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Pussy Riot members released

Three months before they were due out Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Mariya Alyokhina were released. They immediately announced that this was all a farce and that they would continue to fight for other prisoners. Then they made themselves coffee, lit cigarettes and got on the phone. Way to go girls!

Friday, December 20, 2013

Khodorkovsky in Berlin

Well, I was wrong but I was also right. I said that the hastily issued amnesty will not extend to Mikhail Khodorkovsky and it did not. Nevertheless, the man has suddenly been snatched from his Siberian labour camp and brought out to Berlin, released on the say-so of Tsar Vlad the Impaler. So I was wrong on that: I did not think he would be released and wondered whether Putin would be mad enough to have a third case against his arch-enemy.

Although the BBC's website led with the story of two completely unknown people who used to work for a celebrity cook not being found guilty of whatever they were accused of, most of the rest of the media led with the astonishing story of President Putin announcing on Thursday that he was thinking of pardoning Mikhail Khodorkovsky just because he has spent ten years in prisons and labour camps (he was due out next August, incidentally) and the man's appearance outside prison and then in Berlin on Friday. a mediaeval monarch could not have done better. So I say and so it shall be.

Mind  you, we have been here before with the dear departed (more or less) Soviet Union. Remember the sudden exchange of Vladimir Bukovsky for the Chilean communist Luis Corvalán even though the Soviet Union had "no political prisoners"? Or when Alexander Solzhenitsyn was suddenly bundled out of the USSR? Now it is Khodorkovsky's turn and the rumours and speculations are rife. Nobody knows what the deal is but most people (especially if they are Russians who have lived in the comfortable West all this time) has opinions.

An interesting article on Echo Moskvy [in Russian but can be translated] analyzes the ten-year long (actually a trifle longer) battle or chess game between the two and speculates as to what might have prompted this latest move and what might happen next. At least, the author freely acknowledges that he has no idea but he doubts whether Putin has really won this time any more than he has done in the past. After all, the net result of Khodorkovsky's imprisonment on trumped up charges was that the world was endlessly discussing his fate, Putin was questioned at every international press conference, the subject was raised by various foreign politicians. The man just would not go away and as he was not killed in the first few months it all became very difficult.

For ten years Khodorkovsky held out and now he asked to be released because his mother is being treated for cancer and he wants to be with her. His own statement affirmed that he was not acknowledging his guilt. Putin may have shown himself to be more powerful but Khodorkovsky has once again grabbed the moral high ground.

Western media outlets like Der Spiegel have been speculating that the very limited amnesty and this latest move are part of Putin's belated effort to make the Sochi Olympics in February an international success rather than something of an embarrassment with Western leaders staying away, if not in droves, then in respectable numbers. Will this work? After all, those leaders are getting worked up about the treatment of LGBT Russians not the general state of human rights, which is deplorable, to put it mildly. How will Russians react if various leaders stay away from Sochi? Will they feel humiliated and blame Vlad for it or will they be angry because self-righteous Westerners dare to lecture them? Clearly, the Prez is not taking any chances.

Reuters also speculated about Sochi but added
It also appeared to show that Putin is feeling confident in his control of the country after facing down street protests when he was re-elected last year.
Again, maybe. Certainly Khodorkovsky immediately raised the subject of others who have been unjustly imprisoned, particularly those involved in his case. Platon Lebedev, his co-defendant, is still in a labour camp.

There are numerous other stories out there but all tread the same paths, raise the same points and speculate along the same lines.

What will Khodorkovsky do now? Meet his family and rest, one assumes. And then? Will he lie low for a while, giving a few interviews and then staying quiet? Hard to believe. Will he become a kind of modern day Alexander Herzen? That is possible. After all, as has been pointed out, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the successful businessman, the putative reformer of Russian business and political practices, trod a well known Russian path: while in Siberian labour camps he became a symbol of resistance and a man of conscience.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Youth plans have not been submitted

Readers of this blog will know that I do not think the EU is either like Nazi Germany or like the Soviet Union. Anyone who looks at the three political systems seriously knows that those parallels are not just unilluminating, they are nonsensical. But they do come from the same matrix of ideas and there are times when one wonders whether any lessons have been learnt at all from failures in history.

Take this headline, for instance: EU summit to warn youth guarantee laggards. Let's not bother with the obvious point that what is starting today is not a Summit but a Council as it has now been more or less officially decided that every Presidency will have two Summits.

Let us look at the gist of the article in EurActiv:
EU countries that have not yet submitted their national plans to introduce so-called Youth Guarantee schemes will be requested to do so without delay at an EU summit, which opens in Brussels today (19 December).

Internal European Commission documents seen by EurActiv reveal that a majority of countries have not sent any plans and risk losing the funding for the initiative, aimed at tackling youth unemployment.

The draft conclusions of the summit, obtained by EurActiv, call on member states that have not yet submitted their Youth Guarantee Implementation plans to do so without delay.

Under the Youth Guarantee, young people without a job will be guaranteed an offer of employment, training or further education within four months of finishing school or becoming unemployed (see background).

A €6 billion pot in the EU budget for 2014-2020 has been set aside to tackle youth employment in regions with high levels of unemployment.
We have national plans, youth guarantee schemes, the Commission handing out money to member states who have submitted the best (or not so good plans). A proposed disaster of statist socialism, in other words, though that still does not make the EU anything like the Soviet Union.

According to the Commission, the cost of not acting under the Youth Guarantee will in fact be much higher. The European Foundation for Living and Working Conditions (Eurofound) has estimated the current economic loss of having 7.5 million young people out of work or education or training at over €150 billion for the EU every year (1.2% of EU GDP) in terms of benefits paid out and lost output.

According to a Commission paper obtained by EurActiv, only 11 out of the 28 members have submitted national plans. The Czech Republic and Hungary have submitted a final draft, while France, Croatia, Italy, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Poland, Portugal, Romania and Slovakia have submitted a first draft.

The document shows that Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Germany, Denmark, Estonia, Greece, Spain, Finland, Ireland, Latvia, Malta, the Netherlands, Sweden, Slovenia and UK have not submitted their national plans within the required deadline.

However, Austria, Finland, Germany, Denmark and the Netherlands appear to be a special case. Austria and Finland have an excellent track record in combating youth unemployment and their experience is a source of inspiration for the EU, while Germany, the Netherlands and Denmark lead in averting youth unemployment, studies say.

But it may appear as a paradox that Greece, a country under bailout programmes,and Spain, with the highest rates of youth unemployment, and Bulgaria, the poorest country in the EU, have not made the necessary steps to receive EU funding to tackle youth unemployment.

Reportedly, the implementation of the Youth Guarantee is more complex than it appears at first sight. For many member countries, its implementation will require structural reforms. For example, public employment services must be able to ensure young people receive appropriate advice on job, education and training opportunities most relevant to their own situation.

Another area requiring structural reforms concerns vocational education and training systems, where member countries must ensure that they give young people the skills that employers are looking for. In this respect, trade unions, employers' organisations, educational establishments and public authorities have a role to play and prove their maturity.
I do not suppose it has occurred to any of the people in Brussels that by taking money out of the economy of the various countries in order to operate these schemes (and that means paying the people who operate them as well as handing out money) they are actually making it less possible for young and not so young people to get jobs? No, I don't suppose it has. If a job is guaranteed then somehow it will materialize and central funding will be provided out of the taxes gathered. Certainly, it is useful to remember one particular saying from the old Soviet Union: "They pretend to pay us and we pretend to work".

Alas, given the thought processes of our own politicians, I do not think that this sort of nonsense would necessarily stop if we were out of the noxious European Union.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The row over gender segregation in British universities

Read that title and marvel that we can even have such a row. Can you really believe it that some universities and their unions allow gender segregation in meetings and, indeed, demand it when certain speakers appear? Could anyone imagine having a discussion about segregation by race?

As the grand-daughter of a woman who went to university in 1914 to study medicine (yes, she did become a doctor and a very good one, too), I feel very strongly on the subject and ought to have written about it before. (Not sure where the last few weeks went but blogging has been sparse with little else to show for it.)

For the moment I am going to take what might look a lazy way out and publish somebody else's thoughts on the subject. Tehmina Kazi (full disclosure: she is a friend and has agreed to my publishing her piece) is the Director of British Muslims for Secular Democracy. Here is her summary of the arguments:

Aspects of the gender segregation debate that have annoyed and perplexed me

1. Denial that gender segregation even exists in universities.

2. Downplaying of the discrimination and shoddy treatment faced by women who have experienced it, which goes back many years.

3. Those who are unable to see why it is problematic for a public body like Universities UK to prioritise the whims of external speakers over university public sector equality duties, and THE SPIRIT of equalities law.

4. No-one has given me a GOOD reason as to WHY gender segregation it is practiced in the first place, in either civic or theological terms. "Because we've done it for years..." does NOT count.

5. When I ask how gay, lesbian, transsexual and intersex people can fit into gender segregated environments, many people seem to assume they can sit where they like - and are able to exercise this in reality. This completely ignores the power dynamics at play here... Who could forget the case of trans Muslim convert Lucy Vallender, whose local mosque told her she was not allowed to pray alongside women? As Kate Maltby wrote for the Spectator: "Basing your very seating arrangements on the belief that ‘male’ and ‘female’ are the fundamental categories of human existence is deeply discriminatory to transgender or intersex students – these fenced-off areas offend by their very presence, even if mixed seating areas are also available." Further, how many of these mixed seating areas are, in practice, for married couples only?

5. Women who turn around and say, "But I've never had a problem with being segregated." Fair enough, but where is the empathy for people who HAVE suffered as a result?

6. The endless comparisons with toilets. Since when did the privacy issues of taking a dump compare to those of engaging one's brain and listening to a speaker as part of an audience?

7. The endless comparisons with single-sex educational establishments, which people actively CHOOSE to attend. Even if the choice was made for them by their parents, you'd think they would be able to enjoy such freedom of choice themselves at the age of 18, SHOULD they decide to attend university. What people effectively have NO choice over is attending a public event at a MIXED university - either as a guest or student - where the arrangements inhibit them from sitting or entering alongside the opposite gender.

(As for the single-sex colleges at Cambridge University, they were originally set up to help redress the gender imbalance in higher education. As I understand it, at least one of the Cambridge colleges in question intends to become co-educational when the proportion of women at Cambridge reaches 50%).

8. The automatic willingness to believe opportunists who have SMEARED activists who peacefully protested against segregation at the UCL event in March 2013 (which triggered the Universities UK guidance in the first place). One of these activists is a good friend who has gone through quite substantial hardship to raise money for orphans in a MUSLIM-MAJORITY country, no less.

9. Confusion over the distinction between discretionary segregation (where people randomly sit where they wish, perhaps in same-sex clusters) and organised segregation (which is either enforced by the event organisers, or requested by the student societies in question).

10. Complaints that the issue is receiving disproportionate public attention NOW. Where were these complainants when women's rights activists were raising these issues within the community for YEARS? Keeping schtum and not upsetting the apple cart, yes?

11. Complaints that those who raise this issue MUST have an Islamophobic agenda, when many of them are actually Muslims whose concerns have been brushed aside for years. (As an aside, many of these same Muslim activists have ALSO done a lot to challenge GENUINE anti-Muslim sentiment).

12. Assumptions that those who campaign against gender segregation in university events MUST also automatically oppose it in congregational prayers. This is not about acts of worship, as Equality and Human Rights Commission Chief Executive Mark Hammond made clear: “Universities can also provide facilities for religious meetings and associations based on faith, as in the rest of society. Equality law permits gender segregation in premises that are permanently or temporarily being used for the purposes of an organised religion where its doctrines require it. However, in an academic meeting or in a lecture open to the public it is not, in the Commission's view, permissible to segregate by gender."

Some of these points I find more important than others but all of them are worth thinking about. I suspect I shall be returning to the subject in future blogs. 

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Is Albania coming in?

Well not for a long long time if the Dutch Parliament has anything to do with it.
The Dutch parliament has voted against a government proposal to grant Albania the status of EU candidate, preventing EU leaders from rubberstamping the proposal during a summit in Brussels on 19-20 December.

The Dutch parliament adopted yesterday (12 December) a decision which obliges the government of Prime Minister Mark Rutte to reject the European Commission proposal to give Albania EU candidate status.

The development is likely to inflict a heavy blow to the accession hopes of the Western Balkan nation, which according to the Commission has delivered on EU requirements and so should be granted the status of candidate country.
It would seem that the Dutch Parliament is also unhappy with Romania and Bulgaria becoming part of Schengen though the Commission (that has, on numerous occasions, withheld funds from those two countries because of widespread corruption) thinks that they have now fulfilled the necessary criteria.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The highly effective Cathy Ashton

Cathy Ashton (Baroness Ashton) is the High Panjandrum of EU foreign policy and, as such, spends a great deal of money on her staff and on jetting round the world talking to people and settling issues according to her and her minions.

Since the nearest issue to be settled is in Ukraine, off she went there.
The European Commission released a statement regarding the topic in Brussels on Sunday.

"He [Barroso] recalled the need to respect and to exert maximum restraint. He announced that the High Representative/Vice-President, Catherine Ashton, would travel to Kiеv this week to support a way out of the political crisis," the statement said.
Jolly good. Alas, things worked out slightly differently. Yesterday the Ukrainian police moved against the camping protesters in Kiyiv and clashes broke out, the police taking the central square just hours after the High Panjandrum arrived in the city.

As EUObserver puts it: Ukraine police attack protesters under Ashton's nose.

According to the BBC's latest report both the police and the protesters have pulled back from their previous positions and the Interior Minister Vitali Zakharchenko has promised no use of force and called on everyone to calm down. More people are pouring into the city to lend support and solidarity to those already there but  it seems unlikely that President Yanukovich will do a U-turn on his previous U-turn. And if he does? What will happen if other demonstrators come out demanding that he stick to his agreement with Russia? Will Cathy Ashton make another trip to produce a political solution?

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Slightly odd that this has not happened before

The demonstrators in Kiyiv have pulled down a statue of Lenin (maybe THE statue of Lenin). A little strange it was still there.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

CAP Reform - a guest blog

Richard Munday, the author of this piece, is a farmer and a man who has written about the EU, farming and gun ownership in various countries. He actually prefers to be known as a "reactionary peasant" but I am not convinced that is a term that can be applied to anyone in England after the fourteenth century. He has kindly allowed me to post this piece on my blog. All comments are welcome. 

CAP Reform 
Richard Munday

The EU’s titanic Common Agricultural Policy is currently being reformed. Like the repainting of the Forth Bridge, there is nothing novel about this; the chief interest of the current proposals for the general public is the shift to what are appealingly called "greening" measures. Henceforward, for instance, almost all arable farms above smallholding size are to be obliged to grow three crops: on the face of it an attractive and laudable rebuff to monoculture; but one which will come at a price.

The price for this crop diversification will be paid chiefly by that most endangered of all rural species, the small farmer. Already marginalized by the technological developments that have changed the big 60 horsepower tractor of fifty years ago into the 600 horsepower one of today, and the subvention structures that have favoured ever larger landholdings, the chances are that the surviving small farmer now relies on contractors using equipment he can no longer afford but with which he can no longer compete. If he now has to grow three crops on an area as small as 75 acres (30 hectares in newspeak), at what price will the contractor be bothered to bring in his huge equipment to cultivate each one separately? Chances are again that the small farm will disappear, its fields aggregated with larger landholdings where the economies of scale present no problems to growing multiple crops.

Changes of economic scale have of course destroyed or transformed many industries: should the fate of the family farm specially concern the wider public? Or indeed the fate of UK farming as a whole, given that since 1870 it has been cheaper to import American wheat and Argentinian beef than to grow it at home, and that thanks to our global economy supermarkets can supply year-round strawberries (in looks, even if not in taste)? For the past century British agriculture has been in a terminal condition from which it has only ever been artificially resuscitated. When the German submarine threat to our food supplies in 1917 brought Britain to within three months of defeat, the dereliction of late Victorian farming was rued and remedied, but not for long: agricultural support was withdrawn again after the war, and a quarter of the now close to valueless land in the country had changed hands by 1922. Many fields lay derelict until the U-Boats once again came to the British farmers’ rescue in the Second World War, and the life of the country hung, in Churchill'’s famous fear, on the Battle of the Atlantic.

Agricultural subvention today is a last legacy of wartime experience, but WWII is long ago and memories are short. Even in the days of the notorious EU "grain mountains" of the 1980s, Britain’s food reserves stood at barely three weeks; today we have only what exists in the supply chain: some ten days’ supply. We live "nine meals from anarchy" (in Lord Cameron’s phrase), and less than a fortnight from starvation. There is nothing very special about that: through most of human history starvation has been such a common cause of death that the two words are often linguistically cognate.

Perhaps, like our recent brave strategic assumption that we can leave a gap of years between scrapping our last aircraft carrier and building a new one, we can assume that we will not face a food crisis for the forseeable future. But whereas even a generation ago Britain could feed 80% of a stable population with home-grown produce, we are now down to under 60% of our need, and our population is growing. Technologically, moreover, we are much more vulnerable than we were in WWI or WWII: the monster agricultural machinery of today can be halted by the failure of a microchip, and the old simple machines of the family farm have mostly been scrapped or exported to the Third World. The dying breed that is the British farmer now has an average age of 59: where are his successors? While we have the luxury of making decisions about the Common Agricultural Policy, it behoves us to consider these issues.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

They are prepared (maybe)

EurActiv reports reactions from the various parliamentary groups to the possible threat of eurosceptic parties in next year's elections. Needless to say, those parties are described as populist, which is clearly a very bad thing, also far-right, which is so hard to define that they do not even bother.

First off, here are the socialists:
Countering euroscepticism will be a central topic of the European socialist party’s campaign, according to Massimo D'Alema, the president of the the left-wing foundation FEPS, who worries about the surge of populist and extreme parties at next year's European election.

Speaking to EurActiv, the president of the Foundation for European Policy Studies (FEPS) says that “the only way to counter such euroscepticism isn’t to defend Europe as it now exists."

“The socialist slogan of this campaign should be: ‘we want to change Europe’. We are not defending the current form of the EU,” he adds.

D’Alema is a former prime minister of Italy, who led two successive governments from 1998 to 2000. He now leads the foundation of the socialist political family on the European level, FEPS, which is involved in drafting the text that will serve as European common manifesto for the socialists' campaign.

“We cannot ignore what the eurosceptics are saying,” he says. “We must take it into account. But the problem is how to answer to their arguments; how to offer an answer – including technical solutions. This is our duty as traditional political parties. Populists don’t offer such answers.”
A winner that: let's make the EU more socialist, less viable economically and give more power to the bureaucracy at the centre, then all those nasty populists will just turn into a little hoop and roll away.

The EPP, the supposedly Centre-Right grouping is concerned but sees no reason to panic:
These worries are shared by the centre-right European People's party (EPP). At a recent event in the European Parliament, the deputy director of the European Peoples Party's political foundation the Centre for European Studies, Roland Freudenstein, addressed these alarmist calls, stressing that “there is reason to worry" but "no reason to panic".

“Populists are problem seekers, not problem solvers. This means we should not shy away from addressing the topics they address,” he said. “The worse reaction would be to cry out: ‘Help, the Barbarians are at the gate; we have to team up’.”
Presumably, the knowledge that turn-out for European elections falls every five years gives these worried but not panicky people heart: they will get back to the trough as most people will not be bothered to vote for anybody.

We shall have to wait till February and March of next year to see what the various manifestos say. Meanwhile, there is a slight tinge of worry among some:
There is a risk that the upcoming campaign becomes a battle of pro-EU politicians versus anti-EU politicians. “This will benefit the Eurosceptics, and not the pro-Europe camp,” argues Paul Taggart, who studies Eurosceptic parties from across Europe at the University of Essex.

It also distorts a debate on policy, Taggart says: “A normal [political] debate would be to have a range of different opinions. If politicians discuss the welfare state, you don’t hear a debate on whether you should have one or not; you hear a variety of positions.”
When I read comments like that with the clear lack of understanding of how the whole principle of the EU differs from simple policy making I take heart. These people cannot win an IN/OUT referendum. Then I remember that there are many on that side who are smarter than this denizen of the University of Essex. Also I look at our side and read their comments. Then I despair.

Former Soviet republics between a rock and a hard place

One of the many subjects I have not written about is the supreme indifference with which the EU seems to have accepted Ukraine being bullied to stay in Russia's orbit, though Ukrainians themselves seem distinctly unhappy at the thought of being nothing but Putin's vassals. I shall try to pick that story up as there is quite a lot there.

Now we have two other countries who might or might not sign trade agreements with the EU. One is Georgia that was badly let down by NATO five years ago when France and Germany with other satellites refused to contemplate a Membership Action Plan for that country, in order not to upset Russia, helped to unleash that war.

Five years on and with a new government, the country seems as defiant as ever. There has been some thawing in the relationship with the big bully over the border.
In a sign that ties could finally be improving, Russia this year lifted bans on imports of Georgian wine, mineral water and fruit that were imposed in 2006.

Even so, tensions remain high after the August 2008 war over two Moscow-backed breakaway regions. Diplomatic relations, severed after the war, have not been restored and Russia still controls the two separatist-minded regions.
I wish we would import Georgian wine in slightly larger quantities but I don't suppose the EU's wine producers will like that.

New Prime Minister Irakly Garibashvili is insisting that Georgia is not Ukraine and it jolly well will initial a new trade and association accord in Vilnius tomorrow, with a final signature to follow next year.

Ukraine, as we know will not be there and will not be initialling anything. Moldova insists that it will be following Georgia's example though Russia's proxies, the Moldovan Communist has been staging demonstrations against the accord and the party's leader, who looks remarkably like an old-fashioned Soviet apparatchik, has been demanding that Moldova join the Russian customs union instead.
The Russian Foreign Ministry stepped up pressure on former Soviet republics hoping to move closer to Europe on Tuesday by warning that they would face "years of economic turmoil", including higher unemployment and lower living standards.
Moldova's living standards are already very low but the threat is not an idle one. The EU is not going to raise those living standards and economic benefits, if any, from the closer association agreement will be slow in coming. Russia can make life difficult for both countries, which will not benefit her either but will show everyone who is boss. One to watch with some dismay.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Slavery in Britain

On another discussion thread somebody pointed out that slavery is illegal in the UK and has been for some time. True enough. On the off-chance that somebody who reads this blog may be in touch with the Home Secretary, here are the facts:

Slavery in Britain has been illegal since Lord Mansfield's decision in the Somersett case in 1772. Slave trade in the British Empire has been illegal since 1807. Slavery in the British Empire has been illegal since 1833. We need another Bill about as much as we need Theresa May.

Maybe that last sentence is a little tactless.

A Modern Slavery Bill?

Whenever the words new and Bill and Theresa and May come into one sentence I start feeling unwell. If I had a revolver I would reach for it and if I had a bullet proof vest I would put it on.

As it happens, I do not have to write about her proposed Modern Slavery Bill that is going to be, assuming it gets through Parliament, an absolute horror, as Tim Worstall has posted an excellent piece on the Adam Smith Institute blog.

Here is the introductory paragraph, which made me laugh out loud at first but only at first:
I know that I shouldn't giggle over such things but the revelation that the three "slaves" recently found were in fact the remnants of a Maoist commune well known to social services (indeed, housed by the local council) does provide a certain amusement as we see various leftish types suddenly running away from the story. However, now onto something a great deal more important. Theresa May and various campaigners are going to use this to try and pass an extremely bad law about modern slavery. And it's worth our all complaining very loudly about this now, as the bill is being drawn up, not later when it is too late.
It is quite extraordinary that the media is still referring to the case of the brainwashed extreme Maoists (is there any other kind?) as "slaves". Certainly, Communism in all its forms created millions of slaves. These women were not that and the use of this case for general legislation is preposterous but sadly credible. Read Tim Worstall' piece. Well worth it.

Germany will have a new government ... perhaps

The news is that Angela Merkel has managed to come to some sort of an agreement with the SPD and will, all being well, be able to form a new Grand Coalition government (worked so well last time, did it not) by Christmas.

All members of the SPD will be balloted on whether they agree and that may yet derail the process, though, as ever, it is hard to imagine them not wanting to be one of the governing party. There is cautious rejoicing in the EU institutions and its minions as there are high hopes that further integrationist measures will be pushed through once Chancellor Merkel can start paying attention to anything other than negotiating with her opponents.

As EUObserver reports, the new Coalition document does not propose any changes in the eurozone but wants more powers for the European External Action Service (EEAS):
The new coalition government wants to strengthen the post of the High Representative for foreign and security policy, currently held by Catherine Ashton. With her mandate coming to an end next year, Germany wants to improve the way her diplomatic service (EEAS) reacts to and seeks to prevent crises.

EU ambassadors abroad should focus more on "functional" rather than "representative" tasks. Foreign policy, trade and development aid should also be "better linked" and decided in closer cooperation between the EU commission and the EEAS.

"We are in favour of further linking civilian and military instruments of the EU and improving military capacities for crisis prevention and conflict resolution," the draft reads.
This is unlikely to happen though various structural changes will be pushed through so governments and foreign ministries will be finding that ever more of the so-called diplomacy is done at the EU level to a purpose nobody has yet worked out. Just what are those common interests? Do we know? For instance, the Grand Coalition document wants a special link with Russia. Yes, the country that has just bullied Ukraine into refusing a trade and association agreement with the EU. Would that really be in the interests of European countries such as the Baltic States, Poland or Finland?
The Eastern Partnership - a policy initiative for the six countries on EU's eastern fringe - Ukraine, Moldova, Belarus, Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan - only has one paragraph in the Germam coalition agreement saying that association, free trade agreements and visa facilitation deals are the "best instruments" for them.

It combines calls for modernising the Russian state with a push for EU visa freedom for Russian businessmen, scientists, civil society activists and students.

The new German government wants to push for "more coherence" in EU's policy towards Russia. With Poland involved in a special three-way dialogue with Germany and Russia, the Grand Coalition pledges to "take into account the interests of our common neighbours" when dealing with Russia.

In this context, they count on Russia to make some headway in solving the frozen conflicts in the eastern neighbourhood, "expecting progress" in particular the splinter region of Transnistria where Russian troops are massed on the Moldova-Ukrainian border.
One can certainly count on President Putin in these matters. Indeed, one can count on large squadrons of pigs to take off within the hour.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Before the day is out

As soon as there is time to cogitate I shall write about the various anniversaries of yesterday but before today (November 23) is out, let us remember the death of Alexander Litvinenko exactly seven years ago. Justice has not yet been done.

More about Holodomor

When I sent my friend Olga Kerziouk, Curator of Ukrainian Studies at the British Library, a link to my posting on Holodomor, she sent me one in response. Her own blog on the subject appeared yesterday on the BL's very fine European studies blog and is very well worth reading. She talks about the many books and studies that are available about the subject (if only the other parts of the former Soviet Union were so diligent about studying the horrors of Collectivization), so there really is NO excuse for ignorance. And yet it agrees.

I am particularly impressed by Olga's last sentence:
Light a candle tomorrow on Holodomor Memorial Day to the memory of millions of people who died from the starvation on Europe’s most fertile black soil.
It never recovered fully. The bread basket of Europe became a complete basket case.

For those who really want to feel traumatized, here is an opera about the Holodomor by Virko Baley, who worked on it for 30 years, which was premiered in Las Vegas this year.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Holodomor symphony

Less than a year ago I wrote in a blog:
When people tell you, as they do with monotonous regularity that unlike the Fascists and the Nazis the Communists meant well and wanted to build a fair and just society though everything kept going wrong, remind them of the men, women and children deliberately starved to death in the name of that ideology. Millions of them, murdered pitilessly. We must never forget.
There have, sadly, been more discussions of this kind in my life and, probably, in the lives of some of my readers but, I am glad to say that the terrible crimes of the Communism, particularly crimes against peasants are getting to be better known. (Just to remind people, I also posted about that here, here and here (China rather than the Soviet Union). At various times (too numerous to link to) I have referred to the horrors of collectivization. I imagine some of my readers might be getting rather tired of the subject. Bear with me, please.

A friend forwarded a link to a very interesting article in World Affairs about Stephan Maria Karl, "a young Austrian composer who is currently writing a symphony about the Holodomor, the famine-genocide of 1932–1933 that took the lives of some 3 to 4 million Ukrainians". The interview with Herr Karl is fascinating. He feels that his compatriots and, indeed, people in other countries need to know more about the Holodomor and the horrors of that deliberately created famine to destroy the peasantry, to punish those who refused to accept Communist ruling and to hurt as much as possible the Ukrainian people.
For a historically conscious person who believes in justice, the international community’s ignorance about the Holodomor is as disgraceful as the inadequate coming to terms with other, all too tragically numerous, genocides: Congo, 1886–1908; Armenia, 1915; Soviet Union, 1917–1989; Algeria, 1954–1962; China, 1958–1969; Cambodia, 1975–1979; Ethiopia, 1975–1978; Rwanda, 1994; and Darfur, 2008. And that’s not counting the many hitherto unacknowledged genocides committed by the colonial powers.

The international community’s understanding of the Holodomor might be promoted if Ukraine were to exert permanent pressure on it (as does Poland with respect to the Katyn massacre) and to develop an adequate coming to terms with the issue at home. Ukraine could then serve as a model for Russia and the international community.

It’s been my experience, however, that surprisingly many Ukrainians avoid an intensive confrontation with the Holodomor, be it out of annoyance with history and politics, be it out of fear of the truth and the pain that comes with it, be it out of more quotidian concerns. As a result, the Holodomor elicits fruitless controversies both between Russians and Ukrainians and between Ukrainians themselves. Needless to say, these controversies divert attention from the essential fact that millions of innocents died.
In the circumstances, it is a little unfortunate that Herr Karl himself fudges things a little. Holodomor was a terrible crime of mass murder but so was the rest of Stalin's policy of collectivization that included forcible confiscation of all grain and thus the creation of artificial famine across the Soviet Union: Russia including Siberia suffered, as did Georgia, Kazkhstan, Central Asia and, in 1940, the Baltic States.

Here are a few facts:
Due to high government production quotas, peasants received, as a rule, less for their labor than they did before collectivization, and some refused to work. Merle Fainsod estimated that, in 1952, collective farm earnings were only one fourth of the cash income from private plots on Soviet collective farms. In many cases, the immediate effect of collectivization was to reduce output and cut the number of livestock in half. The subsequent recovery of the agricultural production was also impeded by the losses suffered by the Soviet Union during World War II and the severe drought of 1946. However the largest loss of livestock was caused by collectivization for all animals except pigs.[38] The numbers of cows in the USSR fell from 33.2 million in 1928 to 27.8 million in 1941 and to 24.6 million in 1950. The number of pigs fell from 27.7 million in 1928 to 27.5 million in 1941 and then to 22.2 million in 1950. The number of sheep fell from 114.6 million in 1928 to 91.6 million in 1941 and to 93.6 million in 1950. The number of horses fell from 36.1 million in 1928 to 21.0 million in 1941 and to 12.7 million in 1950. Only by the late 1950s did Soviet farm animal stocks begin to approach 1928 levels.

Despite the initial plans, collectivization, accompanied by the bad harvest of 1932–1933, did not live up to expectations. Between 1929 and 1932 there was a massive fall in agricultural production resulting in famine in the countryside. Stalin and the CPSU blamed the prosperous peasants, referred to as 'kulaks' (Russian: fist), who were organizing resistance to collectivization. Allegedly, many kulaks had been hoarding grain in order to speculate on higher prices, thereby sabotaging grain collection. Stalin resolved to eliminate them as a class.

The Soviet government responded to these acts by cutting off food rations to peasants and areas where there was opposition to collectivization, especially in Ukraine. Many peasant families were forcibly resettled in Siberia and Kazakhstan into exile settlements, and most of them died on the way. Estimates suggest that about a million so-called 'kulak' families, or perhaps some 5 million people, were sent to forced labor camps.

On August 7, 1932, the Decree about the Protection of Socialist Property proclaimed that the punishment for theft of kolkhoz or cooperative property was the death sentence, which "under extenuating circumstances" could be replaced by at least ten years of incarceration. With what some called the Law of Spikelets ("Закон о колосках"), peasants (including children) who hand-collected or gleaned grain in the collective fields after the harvest were arrested for damaging the state grain production. Martin Amis writes in Koba the Dread that 125,000 sentences were passed for this particular offense in the bad harvest period from August 1932 to December 1933.

The deaths from starvation or disease directly caused by collectivization have been estimated as between 4 and 10 million. According to official Soviet figures, some 24 million peasants disappeared from rural areas but only 12.6 million moved to state jobs. The implication is that the total death toll (both direct and indirect) for Stalin's collectivization program was on the order of 12 million people.
I am rather looking forward to hearing Herr Karl's symphony when it is written, particularly as it will be, according to him, a synthesis of tonal and atonal structures "in a dramatically meaningful whole". But we must not forget that Holodomor was part of the great crime of collectivization that was then repeated by Mao and others.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

An international alliance of eurosceptic parties?

The Financial Times is somewhat sniffy about the proposed electoral pact between Geert Wilders' Dutch Party for Freedom (PVV) and Marine Le Pen's National Front (FN) but that is to be expected. In fact, it is rather sniffy about the parties themselves, not bothering to differentiate much between them and calling them extreme right-wing and all anti-EU parties "nationalistic and xenophobic". Why is it, asks one rhetorically, that all parties, regardless of other political ideas, who prefer their countries to be independent and self-governing as well as have more accountable governments, are described as extremist while those who campaign for greater European integration (not a very popular idea across the member states of the EU) as moderates?

Anyway, back to the electoral pact.
Marine Le Pen and Geert Wilders, two of Europe’s best-known far-right leaders, vowed to fight side by side in a coalition of nationalist parties in next year’s European Parliament elections to bring down the “monster in Brussels”.

The anti-EU alliance between the French National Front party (FN) and the Dutch Party for Freedom (PVV) will seek to attract other eurosceptic groups as they try to capitalise on the economic misery and high unemployment plaguing the continent.
Pretty bad, eh? Fancy trying to capitalize on the fact that certain political decisions have made the economic situation across Europe considerably worse than it would have been otherwise. Shockingly bad behaviour.

The two party leaders intend to campaign together next year in the European elections and to form a group with, they hope, other parties in the European Parliament, thus shifting somewhat the debate or what passes for debate in that institution. Among parties that they hope will join them is our very own UKIP but the Dear Leader has remained aloof, claiming with justification that certain past political pronouncements by the FN and its then leader, Papa Le Pen are incompatible with UKIP's stance. Indeed, it would be an excellent idea if the FN would distance itself from those anti-Semitic and Holocaust-denying comments. Mr Wilders has also spoken of Belgium's Vlaams Belang and Italy's Lega Norda as possible allies.
Other anti-EU parties that could consider joining forces in next year’s European polls include the Danish People’s party, Finland’s The Finns, Austria’s Freedom party, Germany’s Alternative für Deutschland and Italy’s Five Star Movement.

However, eurosceptics have often had divergent views, ranging from ending the EU to quitting the euro or simply forming a looser union. The divisions have often outstripped points in common. For example, Alternative für Deutschland and the Five Star Movement, led by comedian-turned-politician Beppe Grillo, would find it difficult to form an alliance with a neo-fascist party like the FN.

Nevertheless, analysts said the FN-PVV alliance had potential because the two leaders agree on several issues, including reducing EU powers, imposing tougher immigration laws and reinstating border controls. The two remain divided on gay rights, openness to Islam and some socioeconomic matters.
Covered by the BBC and the Washington Post that is a little less biased than our own media, perhaps because it is all so far away for them and they cannot  imagine the EU ever breaking up. 

Monday, November 11, 2013

Iceland and the Anglosphere

My friend Hjörtur J. Guðmundsson (well, I think he is my friend but as he came to London and discussed the Anglosphere without bothering to let me know I may have to re-think that) has sent me a link to a piece he wrote on ConHome, which is just as well because I rarely read it, not being that interested in the Conservative Party's internal squabbles.

This piece, however, is of great interest and importance as the  subject under discussion is whether Iceland can be or ought to be part of the Anglosphere. My own view is that countries of Europe that sent little ships out into the wide blue yonder without knowing where that was are a separate breed from those who concentrated on their immediate land borders and that is one reason they cannot really survive for very long in one union. There are three exceptions to this: one is France, which did both but, ultimately, decided that those land borders were more important, perhaps because of such events as the Seven Years War; the second one is Spain that did send ships out but somehow managed to lose intellectual momentum; and Hungary, which did not send ships out but sent people absolutely everywhere from Central Asia to the New World. Mind you, (Hungary also had the Golden Bull in 1224, which lays down almost exactly the same agreements as did the Magna Carta nine years previously and Budapest had the first underground line on the Continent, following London's example.)

Iceland is obviously on the "little ships" side of the divide. This is what Hjörtur J. Guðmundsson has to say:
In a British area of influence

So where does Iceland stand regarding all this? Well, first of all although English is not the native tongue in Iceland most Icelanders nevertheless speak the language, and many have mastered it very well. Iceland was also never a part of the British Empire, but rather the Danish Kingdom until gaining independence in 1944 (although in the early 19th century it was floated that the country be transferred to lie under British rule). Nevertheless, Iceland was for centuries in a British area of influence.

British influence in Iceland culminated during the First World War, as the war resulted in looser political and economic ties with Denmark. That continued in the inter-war period with a growing British interest in Iceland which eventually led to the occupation by British military forces in May 1940 after the outbreak of the Second World War. A year later, the United States agreed to replace the British and defend Iceland, since the United Kingdom needed its forces elsewhere in the war effort.

Politically more to the right

The United States continued to have troops stationed in Iceland during the Cold War until 2006, when they were finally evacuated entirely from the country. As a result of all this Iceland has become both very Americanized and Anglicized. That also goes for Icelandic politics which are generally more in line with those of the Anglosphere than on continental Europe, including the other Nordic countries. The emphasis is generally more to the right and more economic liberal.

The conservative Independence Party, the dominant party in Icelandic politics for decades, is for example more in line with its sister party the British Conservatives, in its policies than the Danish Conservative Party or the German Christian Democratic Union. The dominating political parties in the other Nordic countries have, however, traditionally been social democratic parties. The Left in Icelandic politics has also tended to be closer to the centre when it comes to its policies.

Individualist national character

Furthermore, the national character of Icelanders has tended to be very individualist, and therefore much in line with the Anglo-Saxon tradition – which in turn has probably contributed to the historically strong position of the Independence Party. This individualism may very well derive at least partly from the fact that Icelanders are islanders, which they of course have in common with the British. There is something which has been referred to as the island mentality.

Finally, and solely as an interesting historical point, the roots of Icelanders happen to be traceable largely to the British Isles – mainly to Celts in Scotland and Ireland. According to an ongoing research based on Iceland’s present population by the company deCODE genetics and the University of Oxford, 20 per cent of male settlers of Iceland more than 1000 years ago had ancestral lines which could be traced to the British Isles and 63 percent of the female settlers. The rest was of Nordic origin.

His conclusion is that while Iceland probably cannot be a full member of the Anglosphere, "there is a good basis for closer co-operation between Iceland and the Anglosphere countries in the future – for example regarding trade, security and defence". Sounds very reasonable to me. Now all we need is for the Conservative Party and its denizens to recognize the importance of the Anglosphere and to understand that it is the obvious way forward.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Shock: the CBI is wrong again

Because I find everything to do with the EU and, especially, the discussions conducted on various sites and threads unutterably tedious I tend to fall behind in my coverage of it. So, yes, I know this is yesterday's news but I think I have something to add.

Monday's Evening Standard had one or two articles that I sort of read. Doesn't  happen every day. Except for Fay Maschler's articles on most Wednesdays, Brian Sewell's on many Thursdays or the film reviews on all Fridays, I tend to flip through that paper, maybe do the word games and take it home to line the cat litter tray. That sort of attitude in readers does not inspire the advertisers and, unsurprisingly, the Standard works hard to overcome it.

The front page was full of dire warnings from Thames Water about how we should use less water or pay more for it. I noticed that there was no mention of the amount of water that is lost because Thames Water's ability to keep the pipes in reasonable condition is negligible. The Standard's editorial chipped in, saying, ha-ha-ha, how unfortunate it was that the rain started as soon as the newspaper with that story came out but, really, we live in a fairly dry climate that is getting drier all the time. No figures were given, of course, and to nobody's surprise there followed about 12 hours of steady rain with interruptions of downpour.

Nobody knows how this happens but everybody has noticed that whenever there are comments or predictions about heat, drought or just a drier climate, the skies open and people gloomily start thinking about arks. The whole thing is as hard to explain as it is to answer the obvious question as to what is the outcome of the Standard's worthy but endless campaigns.

Do more children leave primary schools being able to read and write? Has (relative) poverty been abolished in London? Are gangs a things of the past? Who can tell? Since most of these campaigns approach the same problems from different angles, the suspicion remains that apart from a few isolated cases of success (and one cheers for them, of course) they get absolutely nowhere. In which case, we ought to know what happens to the very large sums raised by the newspaper.

Enough of these digressions. The other article that caught my eye was by John Cridland, Director-General of the CBI, whose pronouncement ahead of that organization's conference, much touted everywhere, was that the UK has to stay in the EU but that the EU must reform. I could find no mention of airborne pigs.

It is quite extraordinary that the arguments organizations like the CBI trotted out to prove that Britain had  to join the euro and which have been proved to be absolute nonsense are now trotted out to prove that Britain has to stay in the EU. Why are we even listening to these people? By no stretch of the imagination can the CBI be said to represent British business in its majority, let alone its entirety.

At this point I think I should remind my readers of the posting about that doughty fighter against the CBI and its economical attitude to the truth, Brigadier Anthony Cowgill.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Sounds somewhat familiar

Jonah Goldberg, one of the best and most entertaining right-wing journalists, writers and pundits on the other side of the Pond, author of the excellent Liberal Fascism sends out a regular newsletter to which anyone who is interested in cheerful conservatism should subscribe.

The one that hit my in-box on November 1 had this inter alia:
I was going to dedicate this entire “news”letter to gloating over the glorious, nay magisterial, fustercluck that is Obamacare. But a few factors transpired against me. No, none of those factors include the sanctimonious finger-wagging trollery we hear so much from liberals these days that it is somehow wrong to root for the failure of a law that deserves to fail.

Frankly, I don’t quite get the charge. Conservatives said the law wouldn’t work and will be bad for the country. We’ve been pretty consistent on this point (See: 40-odd House votes to repeal, 8 bajillion conservative op-eds, magazine articles, radio diatribes, tea-party protests, the 2010 midterms, etc). And now that it is going into effect and isn’t working and is proving bad for the country, we’re supposed to suddenly act as if this is terrible news? Or, as some argue, this is the moment for Republicans to work with Democrats to make this horrible law more bipartisan.
This sounds very familiar though about another fustercluck and that is the single currency and, indeed, the whole project of Economic and Monetary Union.

At the time we eurosceptics said over and over again not that they will not introduce this ridiculous idea (that was the line many self-deceiving Conservatives took) but that it will be introduced and it will be a disaster. There are thousands of words out there as well as many recordings of radio and TV appearances by this blogger and many others arguing themselves hoarse on the subject.

Well, what do you know? We have turned out to be right. And what happens? Sorrowfully, we are told by all those who were completely wrong that it is not nice of us to gloat; indeed, it is not nice of us even to say "told you so". Instead, we must all pull together to make this ... ahem ... fustrecluck work. For all our sakes.

Well, sorry. It was a bad idea then and it remains a bad idea. As, of course, is our participation in the whole European project.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

That Brexit Prize

The shortlist has been announced by the IEA and I am delighted to note that the Boss, who has done more work on the subject than anyone else is on it. Go Team EUReferendum though I am not, personally, a great fan of crowd-sourcing: it leads to a great deal of self-satisfaction and mutual back-slapping.

The other name I am very pleased to see on the list is that of James Bennett, who has been described by no less a person than Andrew Roberts as the "godfather of Anglospherism". Jim (another friend), I know, submitted a paper that saw the UK's future in the Anglosphere, an idea I strongly support, as readers of this blog (both of them) might recall.

My submission? Well, it went in at the last minute, having been written in the last couple of hours. So, no, it did not deserve to be shortlisted, whatever the other submissions on that list might be like. There is, however, an advantage to that: I am not constrained by the rules any more and shall be able to post my submission on this blog later on. That is, assuming I can find it in my folders.

In the meantime, one or two curious aspects can be noted and I have already discussed them with the Boss, when I called to congratulate him. There were only 149 submissions and only 100 of them, conveniently, from the UK. Does this mean that there really is so very little interest in the subject in this country? Or that too many people have accepted the ridiculous notion that all we need is a referendum and all our problems will be solved? If so, the work of the various referendum campaigns has been done. Or does the problem lie in the lack of publicity? We, in the echo chamber of euroscepticism knew all about the Brexit Prize but did anybody else pay attention, despite several media outlets mentioning it at the time?

So far as I can make it out the publication of the shortlist has been noted in CityAM and nowhere else, not even in the outlets that had publicized the launch in July.

Another curious fact is that instead of the promised twenty only seventeen were shortlisted. Is it really possible that the panel could not find another three entries of a similar calibre?

Monday, October 28, 2013

An apology

I am aware that the gap in the postings has been wider than ever and the reason for that is purely technical. I was having very serious problems with unwanted advertising that swamped websites and, in particular, Blogger whenever I wanted to use it. The problems have been solved (D. V.) and I shall re-start blogging in a very short time, possibly hours. I'd like to think that I have spent the intervening period in cogitating about the nature and purpose of this blog.

Monday, October 21, 2013

San Marino is not coming in

The tiny city state of San Marino is not coming into the EU and is not even going to negotiate. Its referendum on whether to apply for membership had such a poor turn-out (20 per cent) that by the state's constitution the result is invalid. That is a remarkably low turn-out but the problem has arisen before and was ignored in the past. San Marino is clearly more of a stickler for constitutional niceties than other countries.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

More on Brigadier Cowgill

Though my last posting was largely a dissection of the noble Lord Leach and his pretensions, so avidly backed by the Evening Standard, to being the leader of the more intellectual branch of the eurosceptic movement, it also referred briefly to the man who has been described as the unsung hero of it, Brigadier Anthony Cowgill MBE.

All of us who knew Tony Cowgill, his indefatigable work, his determined stubbornness to get the at the truth and to overcome the "gobbledegook" presented by the EU and its various supporters and, above all, his unfailing charm and courtesy miss him a great deal. The cause misses him.

His work on the EU started in 1992 when he had reached an age at which most people would consider retiring and taking things easy. Not Tony. He and his son Andrew laboured mightily to produce annotated versions of the various treaties, whether the government wanted us to read the text and understand it or not (mostly not). I am very proud to say that in the days when texts were not available on the internet but only in hard copy I was instrumental on several occasions in getting those pages to Tony and his son Andrew as soon as possible from the Parliamentary offices.

Discussing Tony Cowgill with a friend yesterday I was reminded of his role in creating a business organization that opposed Britain's entry into the euro. This is what said friend, a journalist (hint: he has a regular column in the Sunday Telegraph) wrote:
The Brigadier had been after the CBI for some time over its bogus polls trying to show that "business" was generally in favour of the EU, although when you looked at the small print the polls showed very serious and growing dissatisfaction with the workings of the single market, over-regulation etc. Then they trumpeted that the biggest yet poll was to be carried out by Bob Worcester and MORI with special reference to Britain joining the euro. Tony had one of his fatherly talks with Worcester and pointed out that it would do his professional standing no good if he gave his name and prestige to a much-publicised poll that would, on the CBI's track record, be presented as no more than a shameless propaganda exercise. Shortly afterwards, Worcester told Tony that he had withdrawn from his arrangement with the CBI (as was publicised by certain malicious journalists at the time, well one of them at least), and the much-vaunted poll was never carried out.

At the same time, Tony had ensured that his reporting on the CBI's chicanery with its polls was passed on to various key CBI members, including Stanley Kalms (now Lord Kalms)and also a regional branch which made a big stink about what head office was up to. The result of all this was that a number of concerned senior members, including Kalms and Leach set up Business for Sterling, which did play a significant part in showing that there was great unhappiness about the euro in big business circles but the groundwork had been laid by the great scare over Goldsmith's Referendum Party - which prodded all three main parties into pledging before the 1997 election that Britain should only be allowed to join if this was put to a referendum first.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how it all began. It is up to us to ensure that the Brigadier's name lives on and his achievements are not forgotten.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Lord Leach in the Evening Standard

The Evening Standard has a thoroughly sycophantic whole-page interview with Rodney Leach, the chairman of that perestroika organization, Open Europe. Readers of this blog will know that I have some problems with Open Europe, not least the fact that they keep trying to explain how wonderful the EU would be if we could just reform it or change our status in it with nary an idea as to how this astonishing development could be achieved.

The interview starts with the following words:
His campaigns might have ensured that Britain said non to the euro and nein to the European constitution, but Lord Leach of Fairford isn’t saying no to European Union membership this time around.
To begin with saying non to the euro and nein to the European constitution (that, too, was more of a French project than a German one) was never the same as saying no to European Union membership. This is shoddy journalism but what can we expect from the Standard?

In any case, the word "might" here is not used as a supposition or, in other words, the assumption is that Rodney Leach's campaign did ensure that Britain said ......  Oh really? I was under the impression that it was a combination of Sir James Goldsmith's Referendum Party and Gordon Brown's petulant but useful desire to stymie Tony Blair that ensured Britain's non-participation in the euro. It is true that Mr Leach's (as he then was) organization, Business for Sterling, helped to strengthen the already existing public dislike for the euro and he did manage to persuade some business leaders that staying out of what was clearly an economic disaster would be a good idea. However, as I once pointed out to one of Mr Leach's minions, it would have been then and would be now courteous and graceful to acknowledge the work done among business leaders to counter the CBI propaganda by the British Management Data Foundation and its founder, Brigadier Anthony Cowgill long before any Leach organization was even thought of.

As to saying nein to the European constitution, that is an even more doubtful proposition, as the Constitution for Europe was resurrected in the shape of the Lisbon Treaty and has been transmogrified into the Consolidated Treaties, published by the selfsame BMDF. Last I checked, the United Kingdom was still legally obliged to implement all its provisions.

The rest of the interview merely points out how incredibly sensible and influential Lord Leach is and how people are bound to listen to him, particularly as he wants to make sure that the EU's various directives and regulations are changed in order to save the City of London. Once again, we hear very little as to how that might be achieved but no doubt the bright boys and girls of Open Europe will explain it all to us in detail. I am not holding my breath.

Do read the article; it won't take long. But whether you do or you don't there is one thing that we must all remember: Open Europe together with a number of other supposedly eurosceptic organizations will use all its resources (and they are not to be sniffed at) to support the IN campaign, should there be a referendum on the subject.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Not just French Senators

As this blog pointed out, certain election monitors, namely a few French Senators were falling over themselves to announce to the world that the recent election in Azerbaijan was free, fair and in keeping with the best democratic traditions despite a few minor problems like results being published before anything even happened.

It seems that the Senators in question are not alone. The same opinion was voiced by the representatives of two Toy Parliamentary Institutions, the European Parliament and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) of which Azerbaijan is a member and which we, according to some, must not leave under any circumstances.
The OSCE Parliamentary Assembly and the OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) condemned the election, citing the lack of a level playing field, limitations on fundamental freedoms, intimidation of voters and candidates, a restrictive media environment and “significant problems ... throughout all stages of the election day processes.”

At the same time, the European Parliament (EP) and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (Pace) praised the election and said they observed a "free, fair and transparent" process around election day.
What could be the reason for this, asks Holly Ruthrauff of EUObserver.
Like other autocrats in the region and beyond, Azerbaijan's President, Ilham Aliyev, seeks a veneer of international legitimacy and calls in pseudo election observers who assess the election positively, regardless of its integrity.

Such observers may be motivated by various interests, political or economic, or even, reportedly, by gifts of Azerbaijan’s famous caviar.

This phenomenon has unfortunately become a typical part of elections in the region, as well as globally. The trend of internationals overlooking a blatantly undemocratic election to cast legitimacy on the incumbent winner is only accentuated in an oil-rich state like Azerbaijan.
But surely, she pleads, the EP and PACE are not fake election observers but real organizations devoted to the idea of democracy, freedom and transparency.
They regularly send delegations of elected parliamentarians to observe elections and have committed themselves to do so in a credible manner.

Both are signatories of the UN Declaration of Principles for International Election Observers, a document signed by 45 international observer groups expressly to avoid such situations.

The declaration requires observer groups to conduct comprehensive observation, taking into account the entire election process and placing election day into this context.

Indeed, it was the long-term findings of the ODIHR that the EP and Pace disavowed by issuing a separate statement, contrary to established practice.
So what caused this behaviour? Alas, we get no explanations merely hand-wringing. Dare I suggest that the words oil and caviare might be part of that explanation, at least as a starting point?

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The new Norwegian government

Erna Solberg, the new Prime Minister of Norway has formed her government, giving two key portfolios, finance and oil, to the smaller partner, the Progressive Party. Siv Jensen is the new Finance Minister. (This is what I wrote about her some years ago and this more recently.)
The new government, promising to lower taxes, reduce the economy's reliance on the vast oil sector, invest heavily in infrastructure and curtail immigration, now has just a few weeks to revise the outgoing government's 2014 budget to reflect its own policies.
This will be a minority government but that is not so unusual in Nordic countries (used to happen here as well)and, in any case, "the Conservatives have enlisted the formal outside backing of the Liberals and the Christian Democrats to ensure stability". And no, before you ask, the question of EU membership is not on the agenda.

Friday, October 11, 2013

European values victorious?

Over and over we have been told that the purpose of the European project is to consolidate and spread European values which are, for the purposes of this argument, democracy, liberalism, freedom of just about everything (unless the EU says otherwise) and suchlike extremely admirable concepts. Of course, European history shows quite clearly that other values come to the fore quite frequently but those are the ones the European project wants defeated and destroyed. To put it as succinctly as possible, the European project intends to use European values to defeat European history.

How is that project working out? Not so well in Greece, where the twists and turns of the Golden Dawn saga merit a posting all of its own. Not so well in some other countries, according to latest reports.

EurActiv informs us that the far-right Front National is doing rather well in the opinion polls in France.
France's far-right National Front could top European Parliament elections next May, pulling ahead of the two big mainstream parties for the first time in a nationwide vote, a poll showed on Wednesday.

Some 24% of those surveyed by for the Nouvel Observateur magazine said they would back the anti-immigrant party, compared with 22% for the centre-right UMP and 19% for the governing Socialist Party.
The party has acquired a respectable look under the leadership of Marine Le Pen and
knocked out left-wing rivals and pulled far ahead of the UMP in the first round of a local election in southern France this week.

The party's next major political test will be municipal elections in March, in which Le Pen says she wants the party to build up a strong local base by winning control of hundreds of seats in local councils.

A strong showing in that ballot could set the party up for further gains in the European Parliament elections, where Eurosceptic and nationalistic parties often do well.
That, of course, is the problem. The European project expects European values to transcend boundaries and eventually overwhelm the electorate across Europe particularly in elections for the European Parliament (a. k. a. Toy Parliament). This seems not to happen and, as the EUObserver points out, things could get worse next May:
Anti-Islam politician Geert Wilders, who PVV party advocates withdrawing from both the euro and the EU, remains a major force in the Netherlands.

It has been polling top in the domestic scene in recent weeks amid frustration with the current government's economic policies and amid rising euroscepticism among the Dutch.

Both Wilders and Le Pen have mooted the possibly teaming up to campaign ahead of the elections.

The eurosceptic, anti-immigration UK Independence Party, came third in local elections in May.

It is currently polling at 11 percent, ahead of the junior governing party, the Liberal Democrats, but is tipped to exceed the 16 percent it claimed in 2009, while party leader Nigel Farage has himself predicted an "earthquake" next year.

The National Front poll is set to heighten fears - already alive in Brussels - that the elections to the European Parliament will result in large gains for extremist parties.
Let us accept that some parties that oppose the cosy political consensus that is the European project will do well in the European elections in May and might do well in various local elections. (In fact, have done relatively well in the case of UKIP.)

Before we start worrying about extremism, though, would it not be a good idea to define it? Is it extremism to point out that the euro was a monumentally stupid idea that has not done any good to anyone and is doing active harm to many? So extreme as to be off the accepted political scale?

Is it unspeakably extreme to oppose the European Union, which is, by its own admission an undemocratic body, ever less popular with the people and whose accounts have never been signed off by its own Court of Auditors?

Is it extreme to say as does Geert Wilders that there should be a moratorium on the immigration of people who not only do not share but actively oppose and try to destroy the accepted liberal (and supposedly European) values of the Netherlands?

Do those much-vaunted European values not include opposition to the current establishment?

Thursday, October 10, 2013

So much for those election monitors

To nobody's particular surprised President Aliyev of Azerbaijan has won a spectacular victory and will be entering his third term.
The Central Election Commission (CEC) said that with 92 percent of the vote counted, the incumbent, Ilham Aliyev, won by 85 percent, while the top opposition candidate, Jamil Hasanli, got 5 percent.

"Our model of national and religious tolerance is an example for all other nations … We will continue democratic reforms and the process of building a modern state," Aliyev told national TV.
In this he has the agreement of some of the international observers in Baku.
French senators have congratulated Azerbaijan's President on a sweeping election victory, but they could have done it one day before the vote.

The French politicians, Nathalie Goulet, Mohamed Soilihi and Jean-Claude Peroni - three of dozens of international monitors in the country - were quoted by Azerbaijan state press on Thursday (10 October) as saying Wednesday's poll was free and fair.

"I did not see any difference in the election processes of our countries," France's Soilihi noted.
A slight problem has emerged, which casts doubt on that statement unless there are aspects to the French electoral system we do not know.
The CEC contracted a firm called Happy Baku to create a phone app to publish the outcome.

But when the app became available for download one day ahead of the vote, it already contained a set of results: Aliyev 73 percent and Hasanli 7 percent.

Activists based in Germany, which operate the opposition cable channel Meydan TV, published screen-grabs of the data.

The news quickly acquired the tag "appgate" and reached EU officials in Brussels. It also made headlines on the British state broadcaster, the BBC, on Swedish TV and in the US daily, the Washington Post.

The app equally quickly went offline. The Happy Baku chief also deleted his Facebook page, Twitter account and LinkedIn page.
We have to wait and see how EU officials will react to events in Azerbaijan, given that President Aliyev "is about to decide what percentage of a €40 billion gas pipeline to award to European firms". To be fair, the EU itself does not have electoral mishaps of this kind - it prefers not to elect its political leaders.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Have the Ralph Milibands won?

The  Miliband saga rolls on. Yesterday's Evening Standard carried a heartfelt plea from the Leader of the Opposition and potential Prime Minister, Ed Miliband not to drag the next election into the gutter, that being where it is now thanks to the nasty attacks on him by the Daily Mail and their persistent assertions that Ed's father, Ralph Miliband, was a highly influential left-wing Marxists who had little time for British democracy or, indeed, democracy of any kind, considering that to be a bourgeois construct.

Well, ladies and gentlemen, I give you Ed Miliband the sensitive and honourable politician who sees nothing wrong in having his photograph taken in the company of a young supporter whose t-shirt is ... ahem ... not very nice about a previous Prime Minister. An odd companion to take to the moral high ground, which little Ed seems to want to occupy at the moment.

It is more than possible that non-British readers of this blog do not know what all the fuss is about though British ones may well feel that they have heard more than they ever wanted to about the Miliband family. So here is a brief summary of the whole brouhaha.

Ed Miliband, the Leader of the Opposition and a potential Prime Minister who seems to be reinventing himself as a firebrand socialist is the younger son of the highly influential, extreme left-wing Marxist thinker and writer, Ralph Miliband, who came to Britain as a refugee from the Nazis in his teens. Before we go any further, let me remind everyone that neither being a refugee from the Nazis nor serving in Her Majesty's forces is a guarantee of a person's loyalty to the country or to the political regime of (relative) freedom, democracy and constitutionalism. The history of the second half of the twentieth century bears me out.

The row of the father of the Leader of the Opposition started on Saturday when Geoffrey Levy wrote an article about him and his possible influence on his son, whom the Daily Mail does not like, being on the other side politically speaking. The article was not about the personal life of any Miliband and dealt exclusively with political matters, which, one would think was entirely reasonable when you are writing about a leading politicians and a leading political theorist who happens to be his father. Not so but far from it.

Ed Miliband reacted furiously at the aspersions cast at his father and demanded apologies, withdrawals, resignations, for all I know, sentences in the Gulag. How dare the Daily Mail sink so low as to write the truth about smear his father? This, despite the fact, that, as the Labour supporter and son of Labour MP Dan Hodges has pointed out, little Ed tends to drag his father and his mother into his speeches rather a lot.

What little Ed and in his wake the Labour Party, left-wing journalists and twitterati, even the right-wing commentariat objected to was the Daily Mail expressing the view (and refusing to apologize for it) that Ralph Miliband, to whom this country gave shelter, responded by hating it and every institution in it, particularly those that prove so attractive to refugees. Untrue, sobbed little Ed; untrue shouted his Labour Party chums; untrue shrieked the left-wing commentariat; really not nice muttered the right-wing commentariat. Time was a real socialist would have been proud if he were described as someone who hates his country in the name of international socialism but socialists ain't what they used to be.

Ralph Miliband wrote at length of the need to adopt Marxist ideas; he chastised the Labour Party for not being radical enough; and while he expressed some reservation about Stalin and the Soviet system in general, he supported and advocated the destruction of capitalism and western bourgeois democracy. Does this mean he was not a patriot? One could argue so and argue successfully. One could say as Tim Montgomerie, an impeccably right-wing columnist, does [no link as the Times is behind a pay wall] that wanting to change a country is no proof that you hate it. To which one can reply that surely it depends on how much one wants to change and how deep those changes are intended. In the case of Miliband senior the changes he advocated were wholesale. He did not like anything about this country's political and cultural set-up.

But he served in the Royal Navy during the war, comes the plaintive response. How can anyone who does that be unpatriotic? Quite easily, as it happens. A good many people served in the forces during the war, among them, I dare say a number of the maligned Daily Mail journalists of the day. Many Communists served in the armed forces though usually after June 22, 1941. Before that they and their rag, the Daily Worker, called on members of the armed forces to desert and decried the capitalist war waged on their great leader's buddy, Hitler. Unlike the British Union of Fascists, the CPGB was not made illegal despite clearly expressed treason and their rag not shut down because Churchill did not want to antagonize the unions.

Even after the German invasion of the Soviet Union it was often not patriotism  or love of freedom that motivated the Communists who were serving but a desire to use the situation to forward their own cause, which just happened to be that of the other vile regime of the mid-century, the Soviet Union. Anyone who is interested in the subject could do worse than read Evelyn Waugh's magnificent trilogy Sword of Honour, especially the last novel, Unconditional Surrender (or listen to its dramatization on Radio 4 on Sundays at 3 pm).

Ralph Miliband would have been too young to join the forces before Barbarossa, so we do not know whether he would have done but his subsequent pronouncements show quite conclusively that he was on the enemy's side in the Cold War, as Benedict Brogan points out. His views were well known and something that in the past the left accepted with some pride.

In 2004 the Guardian wrote:
Ralph Miliband died in 1994 as arguably Britain's most charismatic and influential leftwing intellectual. His books about the unequal relationship between business and politicians, and in particular about the tendency of the Labour party, and parties like it, to overcompromise with capitalism have been taught in universities in Britain and far beyond since the 1960s. His teaching is vividly remembered by former students. Outside academia, he also spent countless dogged hours as an activist, trying to establish more genuinely socialist alternatives to the Labour way of doing things. He did not soften with age. "The last conversation I had with Ralph," says a close friend, "he was savage about Blair."
Being savage about Blair is not, I suppose, particularly controversial until one realizes that the savagery is caused by Blair's failure to implement extreme socialist policies and, probably, by his getting rid of that infamous Clause 4. It would appear that Miliband senior's allegiance to the cause predates his service with the Royal Navy:
One boiling afternoon during his first summer in London, he [Ralph Miliband] went to Highgate cemetery, found Karl Marx's grave and, standing with his fist clenched, swore "my own private oath that I would be faithful to the workers' cause". Not that he intended to remain a worker himself: he found clearing bombsites "an arduous business" and felt a distance from his fellow labourers that was partly a matter of nationality but also a matter of aspirations. He wanted to be an intellectual. In 1941, he applied to study politics at the London School of Economics. He was accepted.
The rest of the article gives an interesting and cogent account of Miliband senior's activity in the name of Marxist socialism though it gives no thought to the question of whether he was patriotic or not. Each reader can decide for himself or herself.

All this is straightforward and ought to be the usual coin of political rows and discussions. Yet the whirlwind raised by that article among the commentariat and twitterati has been astonishing and to the Daily Mail gratifying. Day after day they have maintained that they would not apologize (having withdrawn one rather tasteless photograph which was not quite as tasteless as the one of little Ed above) and that they would continue to proclaim the evil legacy of people like Ralph Miliband. If that ensures that his son never becomes Prime Minister, well, the Daily Mail is not going to shed any tears over that.

Yesterday they gave space to Michael Burleigh, a highly respected historian of Nazi Germany and of terrorism. This time round he wrote about Stalin's left-wing apologists who saw nothing terribly wrong with the Gulag or the numbers murdered, tortured and imprisoned as long as it was done in the name of social justice. After describing the horrific camps and their extent as well as some other aspects of the Soviet rule and the terror which was the essential core of it, he adds:
Such a system — whose goal was ‘social justice’ — relied on any number of Western apologists to deny what others had witnessed first-hand.

Many of these were British academics, intellectuals and journalists. Among them were the founders of the London School of Economics, Sidney and Beatrice Webb.

They merely said of Stalin’s terror famine: ‘Strong must have been the faith and resolute the will of the men who, in the interest of what seemed to them the public good, could take so momentous a decision.’

When Stalin decided to purge entire swathes of the Communist party in the mid-1930s — resulting in 600,000 or so people being tortured and shot — Western apologists lined up to excuse actions that had been motivated by his envy, paranoia, hatred and spite. The fact that the vengeance extended to the families and children of the Soviet butcher’s victims, and blighted the lives of others down the generations, was no hindrance to putting a rosy gloss on mass murder.

For Stalin established a few model prisons especially to show visiting Western dupes such as Professor Harold Laski, the mentor of Ralph Miliband at the LSE and chairman of the Labour Party.

Laski, who was seemingly not shocked by prisoners having their teeth smashed out with iron bars, reported back: ‘Basically, I did not observe much of a difference between the general character of a trial in Russia and in this country.’
Ralph Miliband may be tangential to the story but his views fit in well though, to be fair, he occasionally disapproved of his friend Eric Hobsbawm's slavish admiration for Stalin.

So why should there be such a fuss at the Daily Mail's possibly slightly intemperate but not wholly inaccurate and politically understandable attack on the two Milibands (David having left the British political scene)? Ed's slightly ridiculous self-righteousness is understandable, given the mood of present-day politics. Those nasty journalists are attacking is just the sort of plaintive cry one would expect from him with lots of references to smear tactics and gutter journalism. The same goes for the left in general, and the Labour Party in particular. While their own methods of throwing muck at everyone they disagree with and going on at length about David Cameron's education are not perhaps of the highest order, they are quick to take offence when the "extreme right-wing nutcases" point out obvious truths about them.

That still does not explain why the Conservatives are tut-tutting and the right-wing commentariat is calling for smelling salts at the vulgarity of it all. It could be, as Benedict Brogan says, that we have forgotten the Cold War, which ended technically 25 years ago. I think the reason is a little more profound and has something to do with the phenomenon described by Michael Burleigh. The truth is that the Ralph Milibands of this world have won this battle and to reverse that victory we need to fight hard. They have made it unacceptable across the political spectrum to criticize anyone with a left-wing tendency even if that tendency involves supporting some of the worst tyrannies, some of the most savage political systems of world history.

Allow me to remind my readers of something that happened in 2008 when Max Mosley, younger son of Sir Oswald Mosley, the one-time member of practically every political party and the one-time leader of various fascist organizations in Britain. Mr Mosley who was not a politician but a man deeply involved with Formula 1 racing and thus unknown to most of us was caught out in some unsavoury sexual behaviour. If memory serves me right, the girls in question were blackmailed by the late unlamented News of the World newspaper to give them stories about Mr Mosley. When he won his court case on the grounds that his privacy had been invaded, there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth about the dreadfulness of controlling the press when it was merely doing its duty of purveying smut about a little known individual, which was of no public value at all.

The other thing I recall is that there were numerous articles about Mr Mosley's father and mother, all describing at great length and with no reference to the case in question their political activity. That, apparently, was acceptable, yet describing the political activity of the father of the Leader of the Opposition and his possible influence on the son is "beyond the pale".

Would anyone care to dispute my assertion that the Ralph Milibands have won?