Thursday, July 31, 2014

Two steps forward, one step back

Readers will have noticed from the title that I am a little more optimistic than that "great thinker" and vicious political squabbler, V. I. Lenin was in 1904 when he dipped his pen into vitriol and wrote his famous attack on his colleagues in the Russian Social-Democratic Party, One Step Forward, Two Steps Back.

Needless to say, Lenin was never so vehement in his attacks on the Tsarist government or the right-wing parties, once these developed in Russia, as he was when fighting for power and supremacy in his own party.

This is not, however, a posting about Lenin or the Bolsheviks, so everyone can relax, assuming they have got this far.

My sorrowful and, to some extent, angry complaint is about our own so-called Eurosceptic movement, which is, despite many things, both in British and in European politics, being in our favour, in a parlous state.

For once, I am going to keep off the subject of UKIP (mostly) and its spectacular ability to set the debate back by a couple of decades just as we were beginning to make headway with more people than ever before saying that they did not think leaving the EU would be a catastrophe for any part of the country or its economy. At which point, along came UKIP and produced its latest version of "Euroscepticism" as a protectionist, statist and, yes, I am sorry to say xenophobic idea. (I hope nobody bothers to tell me that UKIP's policy is controlled immigration as they have neither explained what they mean by that nor bothered to voice it in their election pamphlets in May.)

After that extensive throat clearing let me get on to the main theme of this posting, which was brought to my mind by a conversation I had with an intelligent, politically astute and well-meaning friend who entered the Eurosceptic political scene considerably later than I did for reasons of age. Said friend explained to me that she (doesn't narrow it very much) had not yet reached the position of being a withdrawalist from the EU despite having worked with people who are for the last few years. First, she wanted to explore all the possibilities of reform and other long-term plans.

I did not groan but pointed out soberly that I have learnt very clearly in the years I have been involved that the idea of an adequate reform of the EU in the direction we (and, supposedly, the Conservative Party) would like to see it is moonshine while long-term planning is pointless as long as we remain part of the European project.

Ah yes, came the reply but we have to arrive at that conclusion in our own way not simply rely on what people tell us. My response continued to be sober and firm: the country cannot afford to wait while each new generation goes through the process of learning from its mistakes of expecting some kind of a reform and being disappointed over and over again.

The conversation moved on to other subjects but it stayed with me. That is really the problem: for some reason the notion that people should learn from previous mistakes and build on previous achievements is not popular with Eurosceptics who, like particularly inept teachers in primary schools (and I have seen a few), assume that everyone must re-invent the wheel over and over again. Then they (and the parents of the children unlucky enough to be in those schools) wonder why there is no progress.

Actually, I am wrong. The teachers do not care about lack of progress but, more importantly from our point of view, the constantly new generation of Eurosceptics who keep re-inventing the wheel and insist that it is right and proper that they should do so, believe that each time there is progress being made. Unfortunately that progress is only to the same point we had reached before or just a little bit beyond it instead of the sort of large steps forward that we ought to be making by this time and in this particular atmosphere.

Given that the new generation of wheel re-inventers are those who populate the various Eurosceptic organizations and, above all, the well funded campaigns for a referendum, which, let me repeat for the umpteenth time, we shall lose unless we move forward in our arguments a little faster, my unhappy summary stands: two steps forward, one step back. That's true for the time being but it may all get worse.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

News from the House of Lords

On July 22 both Houses heard a Statement about the so-called Trojan Horse scandal in Birmingham, a story that has been covered more or less adequately in the media and, therefore, needs no repetition from me. It is worth reading the Statement, though, because it sets out some of the facts in order and with cogency as well as giving some idea of what the government and the local authorities (these are schools that are or have been for most of their existence, part of the state education structure, inadequate in many ways but rarely so scandalous) intend to do.

I think we can discard the usual bleating about better training of governors, here produced in the first place by Baroness Jones of Whitchurch. Does she really think that it is lack of training that caused people to institute a system whereby any head teacher who opposed a noxious ideology was eased out of position? Was it lack of training that turned Birmingham councillors into pusillanimous collaborators? I think not.

The following contributions are of some interest, too, and probably worth reading but they do not convey anything of great value, except for Lord Rooker's perfectly sensible suggestion that Birmingham should really be turned into three local boroughs instead of one, though how that would have solved the twin problem of the determined promoters of an intolerant ideology and of pusillanimous collaborators is not clear.

We then get to Baroness Hussein-Ece, a new name to me, possibly explained by the fact, that she is one of the enormous cohort of peers nominated by this government that has been even better at packing the Upper House with people who are unlikely to stray off  message than the previous one. Her career in the purely administrative and minority rights related parts of the public sector, does not inspire one with great confidence. And, indeed, her comments are exactly what one would expect:
My Lords, I, too, thank my noble friend for the Statement. It is a relief that this applies to a very small number of schools, however important it is, and to note that there are serious problems of governance. It is important to underline that there is no evidence, as we saw in the lurid headlines, of a “plot” or of violent extremism.

We know that there is a difference between religious conservatism and extremism. That has not really come out in a lot of the narrative from these schools. It has been quite damaging. Can the Minister comment on that? Does he agree with me that when we talk about values, we need a shared level of standards, values and accountability for all schools, be they faith schools, free schools, academies or private schools? Would he also agree that we need to refrain from the generalisation that we have seen that stigmatises whole communities and faiths. This has been very damaging and will make it more difficult for moderate people in Muslim and other communities who want to get engaged in public life to become school governors and councillors, and to play a full role in British civic society.
Naturally, one has to agree that whole communities and faiths should not be stigmatized and that Muslim moderates should engage in public life and to make their moderate ideas very clear, indeed. Some, undoubtedly, do though the noble Lady seems to have been less than active on that score. But it is time for more members of that community to engage and to make their voices heard. Historically, the silent majority achieved very little against a vocal and ill-intentioned minority. We then come to Lord Pearson of Rannoch, a great favourite of this blog, as readers will have realized and he has tried to widen the question:
My Lords, do the Government agree that this scandal, like Muslim segregation and Islamist violence more generally, is a problem that arises from within Islam and can be cured only from within Islam? Given all that is happening in Africa as well, why do the Government go on intoning that Islam is a religion of peace?
There are two issues here: one is the obvious one, raised above that it is the "silent majority" of Muslims that needs to speak out "from within Islam"; the other is the ridiculous insistence on that moniker, "religion of peace". No other religion is described consistently as such, in the teeth of all evidence. As we look round the world, we have to say that while the vast majority of Muslims are not violent and are not terrorists, most (though not all) of the violence and terrorism comes from people who use their adherence to Islam as the reason for it. Indeed, the few Muslims who do speak out against that trend say so, themselves.

Sadly, the Minister, Lord Nash, (and here) found it impossible to depart from the script that his minions had prepared for him:
I think that what has happened in Birmingham is unacceptable to all the communities there, including most of the Muslim parents and teachers. I do not recognise the noble Lord’s analysis of the religion of Islam, which I see as a religion of peace. I do think that there are issues in relation to developing counter-narratives to extremism, but I do not think that there is time to go into that here.
What is missing from this account is the unseemly row that broke out in the House when Lord Pearson put his question. (Well, what do you expect will happen when even the Upper House, the last bastion of this country's constitutional edifice that is more or less standing, is packed to the extent it has been?) There were demands that the Minister should simply ignore the comment as it was so seditious and more than sotto voce suggestions that the noble Lord was obviously mad. So, in a way, it is to Lord Nash's credit that he preferred to give a measured though unilluminating response and did not, unlike the councillors of the good city of Birmingham, succumb to the hysteria.

Of the subsequent discussion [I am afraid people have to scroll down to read all contributions but it is not a long debate] Lord Bew's comment and question about the teachers, criticized in Peter Clarke's report is the most interesting one.

Press Association picked up the story on the same day and cobbled together a reasonable article, which was published by the Daily Mail on line. The Guardian, as so often, managed to muddy the issue in this piece.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Much noise about victims but very limited sympathy

Yesterday's Prom concert was Bach's St John Passion, a very fine work and a very fine performance, though I have to admit to listening to it on the radio. In the interval there was a discussion with a couple of the performers about the work and about the Gospel on which it was based. In the course of that discussion there was talk about the fact that of the four Gospels, St John's is the one that makes the Jews as a whole the guilty party. This was not the main point of the discussion but it is worth noting that, in many ways, the Mediaeval anti-Semitism grew out of that extraordinarily beautiful work, the Gospel according to St John.

We have moved on from there and over the ages anti-Semitism has changed shape and turned up in many forms. I do not think it is particularly controversial to point out that its most recent manifestation is not connected with the Christian Church or the more traditional right-wing groups: it is now almost entirely on the Left and is "justified" by horror at Israel's actions against the Palestinians who are clearly everybody's favourite victims in one way or another.

The day saw yet more anti-Israeli demonstrations, including one that brought the centre of London to a halt, though, it fell far short of the projected march of a million.

As ever we saw and heard a mixture of slogans and chants. Many carried the usual mass-produced Socialist Workers' Party posters that called for an end to the siege of Gaza. Clearly these people had not considered the possibility that if Hamas stopped spending the money it gathers from the world in the form of huge international aid on rockets that are fired into Israel day after day or tunnels through which they try to smuggle terrorists into that country, the "siege" might be lifted.

Nor do they consider that, possibly, if Hamas abandoned parts of its Charter, acknowledged Israel's right to exist, stopped using the Palestinians in Gaza as gun and propaganda fodder but started negotiating, concentrating on economic development (by which I don't mean luxurious existence for the Hamas leaders), there might be some change in the situation.

In fact, there would be some change if Hamas agreed to the various cease-fire proposals. We did have a few hours of it earlier today but Hamas has, apparently, not agreed to its extension and so fighting will resume.

Well, one cannot expect people who turn out to demonstrate for the currently most fashionable cause to do much thinking.

The other slogans, as ever, were a curious mixture: on the one hand, Israel was compared to Nazi Germany (the comparison, regardless of what one thinks about events in Gaza, is not in the slightest valid but is likely to be particularly hurtful to Jews), on the other there were, as usual, threats or promises to finish what Hitler started (an unlikely scenario). In a number of cities, Paris being one, there were attacks on Jewish premises and businesses. As in the past, what may have started as support for the people of Gaza has gone well beyond criticism of a particular country's policy and has morphed into anti-Semitism. There really is no other way of describing what is happening in this picture, taken in Paris yesterday.

This description on Breitbart gives a fair account of what was going on.
The activists were keen to avoid discussing the thorny issue of the Hamas rocket attacks on Israel. Instead they chanted things like: "1,2,3,4, Occupation No More" and "5,6,7,8 Israel is the terrorist state." Then they went on to a familiar classic: "from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free"; a reference to wiping out the State of Israel, and relates to the land between the Mediterranean Sea and the River Jordan - better known as the Jewish state.
In the meantime, the Middle East is, indeed, burning and far worse things are happening in other countries. The media has more or less given up on events in Syria but the activities of ISIS in Iraq still merit some mention though not exactly any great horror. One wonders whether the feminist organizations that, for some reason, have ranged themselves against the only Middle Eastern country where women have equal rights think about the news that
Islamic State (Isis), the al-Qaida offshoot that seized large swathes of northern Iraq last month, has warned women in the city of Mosul to wear full-face veils or risk severe punishment.

The Sunni insurgents, who have declared a caliphate in parts of Iraq and Syria and have threatened to march on Baghdad, also listed guidelines on how veils and clothes should be worn, part of a campaign to violently impose their radical brand of Islam.
Mosul, let us not forget is the place where one of the world's oldest Christian communities is being destroyed through murder, rapine and what might be called religious cleansing. We hear little from the world about it.

We hear little about the fact that in Libya there is now a full scale civil war going on and the United States has evacuated its embassy (a wise precaution, given certain events in that not too distant past).

We hear little about the daily figures of dead, wounded and displaced in a number of Middle Eastern countries. If Israel is not involved, the media and the loud-mouthed "supporters of the Palestinians" don't want to know. Muslims who try to raise the issue of the far greater number of victims in other countries on various sites, get barracked.

In fact, those "supporters" do not want to know that even UNWRA, an organization that exists, against all the supposed rules on which the UN and its off-shoots are based, to aid and abet the Palestinians and their leaders, are saying that it might well have been Hamas rockets that hit the UN school in Gaza, killing several children and wounding more.

Neither they nor organizations that are supposed to be fighting for children's rights are interested in the story that Hamas used children to build the network of tunnels (though not terror tunnels as the author of the piece explains in the comments section) during which 160 of them were killed.

The conclusion one has to draw from all this is that not only do these people not care about other problems and other violence in the Middle East, they do not even care all that much about the Palestinians, unless they are under Israeli attack. Here is an excellent piece by Cranmer, written on Thursday but nothing much has changed since then.
Curiously, there is no mention of Assad's persecution of Palestinian communities or the fact that he has "starved and murdered" thousands of them.

No mention of the Palestinians in Iraq who are subject to "discrimination, sectarian violence and ruthless killing by the Iraqi government".

No mention of the mass expulsion of Palestinians by Arab Muslim countries, like Saudi Arabia, Libya and Kuwait, of which Yasser Arafat declared that "what Kuwait did to the Palestinian people is worse than what has been done by Israel to Palestinians in the occupied territories".

Israel has killed some 700 Palestinians in its latest offensive in Gaza. Every death is a tragedy, especially those of children. Some of the pictures coming out of the war zone are brutal, distressing and heartbreaking. God weeps at the suffering. If He has meaning and purpose in the pain, it is lost to the world's baffled intellects.

But it is a curious that Israel should be constantly singled out for special treatment.
After all, the Palestinians have suffered far greater atrocities at the hands of their Arab brothers and co-religionists. Hundreds of thousands have been displaced; tens of thousands terrorised, persecuted and ethnically cleansed; and many hundreds summarily slaughtered.
It is, indeed, curious. One is driven to the conclusion that what motivates all these "activists" of whatever nationality is not so much sympathy for the Palestinians, which is obviously very limited, as something very different: a much older and much uglier emotion.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

A modest proposal to businessmen with eyes on Russia and Ukraine

To be accurate, what I intend to write is not even a proposal, more of a suggestion, brought about by my continuing astonishment at the naiveté or stupidity or hopefulness beyond experience of businessmen who still think that they can go into Russia or Ukraine (until recently), buy property, set up a business or open a branch of existing one and get away with it, perhaps to make profits. How many cases of people being bullied, cheated, robbed, reduced to a nervous break-down and having their Russian employees murdered must we witness before people abandon all hope?

Now, don't get me wrong: I do not consider those businessmen to be motivated by charitable impulses. Not only do I not think that they are, I do not think that they should be and I would not trust them if they were, NGOs and large charities not being among my favourite organizations. 

Nor do I think those Western businessmen are particularly honest or honourable themselves and I came across a number of people who saw a chance in the collapse of the Soviet Union for a quick buck or a thousand in the chaos that was around them. But, surely, they have realized by now that the state and its minions in those countries, Vlad and his Chekists as well as Yanukovich and his "family" until recently are more corrupt, more brazen, less scrupulous and can command more power of different kinds than any Western business. 

Curiously enough, the problem of bullying, violent expropriation and nullification or subversion of contracts is greater in Russia and Ukraine than in the Caucasian and Central Asian republics not because these are not corrupt or oppressive but because, as the evidence seems to show, their officials, once bought, stay bought. Not so with the "European" parts of the former Soviet Union (excluding the Baltic states, always an anomaly) who have always been rather contemptuous of their Caucasian and Central Asian brothers and comrades. Perhaps, they should rethink that attitude. 

These thoughts were passing through my head as I was reading Oliver Bullough's recent report, published by Legatum Institute and Institute of Modern Russia, entitled Looting Ukraine: How East and West Teamed up to Steal a Country

I shall write in greater detail about the report, its somewhat emotional title and the presentation of it I went to. In this posting I want to concentrate on one tiny example Mr Bullough cites. Discussing how corruption worked under then President Yanukovich he explains that towards the end "property rights became so loose, and rule of law so weak, that state officials and insiders began, simply, to seize businesses", giving Yanukovich a hefty share of the profits. 

A certain British businessman, here named Bernard Carr, lost an office building to "competitors" who gained access to the land registry. This is his account:
It's basically about who pays the police more. The problem was that the police were being paid by both sides. We were paying the police and so was he. So we went to court and tried to buy our way through the court. The lawyers said if we paid 6,000 euros we would win, but you can't guarantee the other guy won't pay 7,000 euros. And you don't get a refund if you lose, which we did ... I have lost count of the number of times I've been told that if I pay someone a couple of grand a problem would go away, but then not have it go away.
I do not expect anyone to feel particularly sorry for Mr "Carr" or be sympathetic to his plight. It did, however, led me to that suggestion. It is that every businessman who thinks that he can do business in Russia and Ukraine and all he has to do is shell out a few appropriate bribes ought to have the following two lines inscribed on the wall of his office and, perhaps, as a screen-saver on his laptop:

That if once you have paid him the Danegeld,    
You never get rid of the Dane.

Monday, July 21, 2014

This time even the BBC noticed

There is a reasonable argument that this time round Hamas has overplayed its hand. Not that we don't see the usual fanatical and usually quite ignorant anti-Israeli comments but, as this piece on Bloomberg points out, the voices that usually pressurize that country have been mooted somewhat. It also places the blame for this round of fighting firmly on the Hamas leadership, who have stirred up Israeli reprisals without endangering themselves very much. Well, perhaps, the day will come when the Palestinians will finally realize who their real enemy is and go after the leaders.

It seems that Hamas is being blamed by the Fatah leader, Mahmoud Abbas, as well. Then there is this curious clip that indicates a certain dissatisfaction with Hamas on the part of Arab states and, above all, leaders. The speaker is the Egyptian journalist, Abdel Bari Atwan. More on the Egyptian media here. There have been other similar pronouncements and a certain lack of enthusiasm for Hamas and its fight.

That has not prevented a number of very violent demonstrations in the West, which degenerated into torchings and riots (a picture from Paris but there are many more) and were accompanied by vicious anti-Semitic and Judaeophobic slogans that invoked positively Hitler and the Holocaust, expressing the wish that it will now be completed by Islamists. (One can't help laughing at the thought of these losers, for what else have the Palestinians been all this time, completing what Hitler did not manage but the intentions and slogans are nasty enough.)

Naturally enough, we have seen many pictures of dead Palestinian children, something that we are used to though some of us have been asking questions about those pictures for some time. Remember Green Helmet Guy? Similar stories were uncovered by other bloggers but these were left severely alone by the MSM though little by little some acknowledged the word Pallywood. Come to think of it, remember the whole saga of Mohammed Al-Dura?

So what of the various pictures of the children and the "innocent civilians" of Gaza? Well, something odd has been happening. As the Blaze points out, no less than the BBC found that a number of them have been recycled from previous wars in Gaza, from Iraq and from another war of which we hear next to nothing from these angry twitters and Facebook posters, and that is the far more ferocious one in Syria.

Here is the BBC's report on the subject. If these people have lost the BBC they are in a bad state.

So let me end this posting with a picture of a singularly unfortunate lady who seems to have been wounded in Syria and in Gaza in precisely the same way, in the company of the same old lady. Some people have no luck. (Ignore the comment on the green strip, which is superfluous in my opinion.)

Why am I not surprised?

Guido Fawkes reports a quote from the recently dismissed former Secretary for the Environment, Owen Paterson:
I received more death threats in a few months at Defra than I ever did as secretary of state for Northern Ireland.
Not only I can well believe it, Mr Paterson having to contend with DEFRA as well as the Greenie mafia, who are completely unhinged (this does not apply to all people who are concerned with the environment just the soi-disant Green activists), I am not even surprised.

It reminded me of a comment made by one of Mr Paterson's predecessors, though he had a junior role at DEFRA, being at that time already in the House of Lords, made when I was working on a Committee that was looking into the meat industry and how it had been affected by EU and domestic regulations (badly).

The ex-Minister (by this stage) said that, despite his long career in politics, he had not really believed any conspiracy theories until he took on DEFRA, who, in his opinion, was a conspiracy all by itself.


Before the witching hour strikes I must recall two important events that happened on July 20, one tragic and one very exciting.

Seventy years ago, July 20, 1944 saw the unsuccessful attempt put together by a number of German officers, led by Claus von Stauffenberg to assassinate Hitler and bring the war to an end through negotiations. Whether that would have worked is questionable. Stalin wanted a complete defeat and the Westeren Allies tended to agree with his ideas. But, perhaps, it would have done.

The plot failed and most of the conspirators paid a horrible price. They are now heroes in Germany, which is right and proper and von Stauffenberg's son, Franz-Ludwig Gustav Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg, has shown himself to be very sound on the subject of Communists and on some aspects of Germany's membership of the European Union. He, of course, can say that sort of thing.

Forty-five years ago, July 20, 1969 saw the landing Apollo 11 on the moon and a few hours later the first steps taken on it by Neil Armstrong. It was one of those events that all of us around and sentient at the time can remember in detail. And no, I don't want to hear from the conspiracy mongers.

Well, dash it all, I missed the witching hour, after all.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Probably too early for analysis

Why have I not commented on the shooting down (I think we can be certain about that) of the Malaysian airliner MH17? Have I missed the news or something? Well, no, I have not missed the news and have been following it to the best of my ability. It's just that I don't think there is much to say until we have a little more evidence. We do have some, of course, and that tells us that the likelihood is that it was shot down by Russian troops in eastern Ukraine who have been masquerading more or less successfully as separatists. That is the likelihood but there is no certainty.

This intercepted conversation points to some separatist group using Russian arms, stupidly given to them, to shoot down what they thought was a military aircraft, then going slightly wonky when they had to report their sheer idiocy to the superior Russian officer. It is fair to say that the phone call was released by the Ukrainian government yesterday and, so far as I can establish, has not been verified independently.

The separatists have now announced that they will allow investigator to visit the site of the crash, which is a remarkably generous action on their part. (Yes, I am being sarcastic.)

So, in the meantime, there is the constant BBC and Radio Free Europe update, some cautious analysis summarized on Reuters and the streaming coverage on the Wall Street Journal. There are other live reports in the British media as well (and not just the BBC) so somewhere among all that we can all find information as it become available. You can also follow the news on various Kremlin controlled sources such as Russia Today, which has just lost its London correspondent because of her unhappiness in the way the story was covered. What on earth had she been doing until now?

Thursday, July 17, 2014


I have just read a collection of essays by Adam Michnik, a man I admire enormously: an historian, a dissident who was imprisoned in Poland, a thinker and somebody who, after the fall of Communism, decided not to fall into the trap of becoming a politician but took on the editorship of Gazeta Wyborcza, though he is now a less than active Editor-in-Chief.

Before I get attacked (something that has not happened for a little while about which I am a little peeved) for talking about politics being a trap, let me point out that in my opinion politics is essential and, sadly, politicians are needed but experience tells one that intellectuals, particularly "public" intellectuals make rotten politicians and tend to incline towards personal authoritarianism.

His latest collection is called The Trouble with History and, having been published first in the Gazeta Wyborcza, has now been translated into English. To some extent it is disappointing: the political essays are of great interest but the historic ones, which seem to be an obsessive analysis of Stendhal and his disgust with post-revolutionary and post-Napoleonic France made me recall how often I have thought of Central European intellectuals as having a somewhat hysterical way of writing and dishevelled way of thinking.

Nevertheless, I do think that book contributes a good deal to our understanding of East European history in the last few decades and gives one food for thought on the subject of democracy and historic attitudes. As such I do recommend it to people. I should also like to know what Polish reaction was to the essays when they were first published. I can see that a few things Michnic writes may not have gone down particularly well with some of his readers.

Unusually I read the Foreword by James Davison Hunter and John M. Owen IV as well and was very glad I had done. Here are a couple of paragraphs from it that might interest people who do not think that democracy consists of elections and nothing else or that elections somehow create democracy.
... contemporary democratic politics can never be understood as only about the interests and actions of political economy or power alone. The moral and ethical dimension of modern democratic politics is intrinsic: not only impossible to disentangle from the actual actions and procedures of the state, but foundational to any government that calls itself democratic. Freedom, tolerance, hope, and respect for human dignity are not secondary, then but primary. As we witness among democratic revolutionaries everywhere, they matter absolutely. Such ideals have made it possible to endure not only the indignities and suffering impsoed by oppressive powers but also, often enough, the world's indifference to their struggle.

The conditions that make for vibrant democracies are fragile; all the more so in populations divided by wealth, race, ethnicity, religion, language, and tribe. Whatever else might be entailed, they require some minimal understandings of justice that are shared and binding across all differences. This is the foundation of any legitimacy a regime can hope for. But those understandings also have to be credibly and consistently approximated within its political institutions and practices. Without those shared commitments and credible enactments, constitutions will become hollow speech acts, emptied of authority and, in the end, a "parchment barrier" to tyranny. Democracy may retain certain formality, but the authority that underwrites it loses its humanizing constraints, leaving a political machinery capable of the crudest expressions of domination on behalf of some factional interests against others.
These are thoughts to be discussed as are some of Adam Michnic's subsequent ones, to which I shall return in other postings.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

A few words about the reshuffle

There is no intention here of writing about the reshuffle, the last big one, we assume, before next year's General Election, at length. At least, not at this stage since a good many of those promoted remain unknown quantities as I said in my interview with the BBC Russian Service yesterday.

As it happens, I have no objections to women politicians being promoted and find it a little surprising that a number of people who firmly assert that people should be promoted entirely on merit then equally firmly dismiss the idea of any woman being so promoted. Suddenly their thinking is all about gender and the fact that no woman could possibly deserve a higher position. This train of thought is very prevalent among eurosceptics; they call it being anti political correctness and I call it being stupid, stubborn and scared.

Some of this misogyny by whatever name you care to call it was caused by the inept way in which the PR was handled. A reshuffle was coming and there were the usual discussions as to who might fall victim to it and who might benefit by it. Some of the speculations turned out to be correct, some not so much. But in addition to the usual speculations there were many stories, inspired, we must assume, by the whizz-kids around the PM, that women will be promoted and the Cabinet will now be full of women. A good many women were, indeed, promoted though not all the predicted ones and some men. The Cabinet now has some women members but the majority remains male and very few of either sex has so far shown that much ability. What a weapon was handed to the misogynists who now assert at length that those who were promoted were so because of their sexual organs not because of their ability. I note, however, that they do not mention any male politicians who have been unfairly kept on the back benches.

Moving on to individuals, I have to admit to an unsurprising to readers of this blog lack of interest in William Hague's fate. From the day he was appointed Shadow Foreign Secretary I thought he was inadequate to the role and the stories circulating about him treating one of the great offices of state as a part-time job did not endear him to me. His statements tended to be rather foolish and superficial, showing no understanding of Britain's position in the world or of the EU and its impositions. Come to think of it, I recall that he showed a complete lack of understanding about the differences between the relationship Britain might have with China and with India. To him they were two developing countries we have to be close to, in order to balance out our "unhealthy" dependence on the US.

Not only is Hague retiring from front-line politics, he intends to leave Parliament altogether next year, preferring to concentrate on his career as, possibly, writer and, definitely, speaker. So much for the great predictions, the first of which was by Margaret Thatcher who, famously, mused about the 16-year old William Hague that he might be the new William Pitt.

His successor, Philip Hammond, hitherto Secretary for Defence is known as a man who once said that he would vote for Britain's exit from the EU if powers were not brought back to Westminster but has also expressed the hope that we should still be there in five years' time. Still, he is known as the most senior eurosceptic in the government now and his successor Michael Fallon is also making noises about this being a eurosceptic government.

So obsessed is our media about the newly promoted female contingent that they do not seem to be able to dig particularly deeply into this nonsensical myth that is being promoted. The Boss, of course, is there, tearing Fallon and the media apart. Matthew Elliott, on the other hand, thinks that the reshuffled Cabinet is good news for eurosceptics (I asked him for his definition but have not had a reply) and shows Cameron responding to the lessons of the European election. So far as I can see there was only one lesson: the majority of this country has no interest in voting for MEPs and does not care who get their snouts into the trough.

I have few opinions about some of the other discarded Ministers and join all those who think Ken Clarke's departure was long overdue. Sadly, I do not think he will disappear from our ken (pun intended) but will be seen and heard frequently on the BBC and other media outlets, proffering his opinions and judgements.

There are two departures (one only partial) that I do have views on and those are of Michael Gove and Owen Paterson, both, incidentally, stronger eurosceptics than any of the present incumbents. Gove has moved on to becoming Chief Whip, which can be described as "a brave decision Prime Minister". I am looking forward to his handling of the various colleagues who had briefed against him as he battled the teachers' unions and the educational establishment.

Paterson, who is one of the few leading politicians (make that very few) who actually understands the European Union and our membership of it, is now on the backbenches. That might not be a bad thing as it will give him the opportunity to speak out more openly than he could even as a rebellious member of the Cabinet.

So much for the silver lining. Now for the clouds: both the Ministers were shunted off in response to a determined campaign by the teachers' unions in one case and the Greenies in the other. This does not reflect well on the Prime Minister and his preparedness to stand by his colleagues if they try to implement policies that are slightly more radical and less acceptable to the soft left establishment than usual. (To be fair, he left Iain Duncan Smith in his place but that might be simply because he does not think Duncan Smith is ever going to implement anything.)

Indeed, there is much rejoicing in Greenie and educational establishment circles. Some of the attacks on Gove and the rejoicing at his departure were so illiterate that I was almost tempted to ask whether the writers were teachers. (This, incidentally, is worth reading on what Nicky Morgan, Michael Gove's successor, should grapple with.)

I noticed on another thread that Elizabeth Truss, the new Secretary for the Environment, whose credentials on this particular subject are not strong enough to feel that she can fight DEFRA and the EU (but then who can? even Owen Paterson found it almost impossible), is already being lambasted by the Greenies for having worked for Shell. Either there is more to the lady than I realized or the Greenies have tasted blood (if I am allowed to use that expression) and are determined to destroy every successive Secretary of State.

Nicky Morgan, too, has fallen foul of the luvvies. Michael Rosen, who has figured on this blog as a figure of fun before, is said to have tweeted his disgust with her because she voted against same sex marriage in Parliament. Whether I agree with Ms Morgan or not, that news and Mr Rosen's disgust made me feel a little better about her: she clearly has some opinions and has not been too afraid to make them clear.

Readers may have noticed that I am producing a carefully argued posting here and not a rant. That is because I do not think this is the worst reshuffle in 25 years or a particularly good one either. It does not, pace Matthew Elliott, do anything much for the eurosceptic wing of the party or the eurosceptic part of the electorate.

My friend, John O'Sullivan, thinks most of it is bad though he quite likes Michael Fallon taking over defence and will benefit UKIP. He may well be right on most points but not that. John keeps hoping UKIP will benefit from something and show its mettle at last - a vain hope in my opinion.

So that leaves the man who is going to Brussels: Lord Hill of Oareford. There had been many suggestions of various MPs who would be "definitely" sent to Brussels but I do not see anything wrong with a member of the House of Lords becoming a Commissioner. No, he is not an elected politician but how does that affect his suitability for the job of a Commissioner? On the whole, his career in the couloirs of politics might give him a better understanding of how to manipulate that of Brussels. Why would a failed though formerly elected politician do any better or be of greater benefit to this country? Was Neil Kinnock better or Leon Brittan?

Had I paid more attention to ConHome I would have realized a couple of weeks ago which way the wind was blowing. On June 26, Lord Hill denied that he would ever be Commissioner, or that his name was even being considered. Now Mark Wallace sums up the pros and cons of the appointment, complains a little about the fact that Lord Hill is not known outside his own circle and, generally, treats the position as if it were an ordinary ministerial one.

I have seen other complaints about Lord Hill being unknown. Was the very well known Neil Kinnock a better choice, I asked, getting no reply. If it is true that he did not want the job then that is something in his favour but what, if anything, he can achieve remains a matter of dispute. After all, if the negotiations for Brexit should begin they will not be conducted by the Commissioner but by the government.

Intriguingly, Martin Schulz, the President of the European Parliament, and a man who is often the unconscious source of hilarity, has announced that MEPs might vote against Lord Hill's appointment because of his "radical anti-European views". Where do these people get their information?

As Steven Swinford says:
His comments surprised Westminster, where Lord Hill is not renowned for his outspoken views but instead praised as a discreet, diplomatic behind-the-scenes fixer.
In fact, completely appropriate to the organization he is being sent to. Plus he looks like somebody out of a Le Carré novel. That'll show them.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Another non-reply from HMG

Tiresome, aren't they, those minions who ensure that Ministers do not reply to questions. Almost as tiresome as those members of the House of Lords and, again, minions who complain that too much money is spent on answering questions. Well, maybe but if you answered in the first place, there would be no repetition and no extra money spent.

Anyway, Lord Stoddart of Swindon (for it is he again) asked the following question:
To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the Written Answer by Baroness Warsi on 17 June (WA 37), which third countries envisage joining the European Union; and what assessment they have made of the impact of further European Union enlargement, particularly on the financing of the European Union and migration.
Seems reasonable. After all, we ought to know whatever we may think on the subject.

Sadly, Baroness Warsi's minions do not agree. It is, of course, possible that they do not know the answer themselves.
Six countries currently have been awarded Candidate Status by the European Union (EU). Of these, Montenegro, Serbia and Turkey are currently in accession negotiations. Iceland has suspended its accession negotiations. Macedonia is a candidate country but has not yet opened accession negotiations. Last month, the European Council endorsed the decision to grant Candidate Status to Albania. Two further countries are recognised as potential candidates. These are Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Kosovo.

The current governments of Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine have all publicly expressed an interest in joining the EU.

The accession process is a lengthy one, involving detailed negotiation of 35 Chapters of the EU Acquis, with candidate countries required to adapt their administrative and institutional infrastructures and bring their national legislation into line with EU legislation in these areas. Financing of the EU and migration will be addressed at several stages in this process, notably in EU Common Positions and related impact assessments by the European Commission on Chapter 2 (Free Movement of Workers), Chapter 24 (Justice, Freedom and Security) and 33 (Financial and Budgetary Provisions). We welcome the emphasis that EU Enlargement Commissioner, Stefan Fule, has placed upon economic governance in the enlargement process, which should increase economic convergence between accession countries and the EU and reduce migratory pressures.

The UK has not produced national impact assessments on EU enlargement in addition to the European Commission’s own impact assessments. As part of the Government’s review of the balance of competences with the European Union, however, reports are due to be published on enlargement and free movement of persons.
It is also true that the next stage of enlargement, if it ever happens, is so far away that not many people are worried about it. No doubt, some eurosceptics are hoping that Vlad will send his troops (assuming he can drum up enough, which seems questionable) to invade all these countries thus solving our problems.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

So Mr Hunt, when did you last go to the British Museum?

Yesterday's Evening Standard carried an article by Tristram Hunt MP, Shadow Secretary for Education, everybody's favourite left-wing historian and all-round pontificator on matters educational and cultural. He was apparently replying to the Director of the British Museum, Neil McGregor, who has indicated that the famous domed room might be turned into a permanent exhibition gallery.

Do not do this, says Mr Hunt, do not destroy this great institution, where such people as Karl Marx read and studied (not necessarily a recommendation), especially as libraries are closing down all round the country.

Setting aside the argument about local libraries, many of whom spend more money on computer outlets than on books, the article seems to be a little out of date as is the one in the Independent. It is quite true that when, after the British Library's move to St Pancras, the Reading Room re-opened in its refurbished form, it retained the old desks arranged in spokes and the shelves, which housed a large collection of books that could be consulted.

For some years now, however, the room, domed as it is, has been occupied by various large exhibitions, such as the one about Pompeii and Herculaneum. The desks and bookshelves that Mr Hunt and other commentators are talking about have not been there for all this time. (Though Allan Massie seems to be aware of this fact.) The reason the subject has now come up again is because the British Museum has acquired a large new exhibition space where the Viking ship and artefacts were displayed (a dull exhibition, in my opinion) and other blockbusters will be as well. The Reading Room is no longer needed for those special exhibitions and some thought needs to be given as to what is to be done with it.

It can be restored to its original design and turned into a kind of a library though that will not be a substitute for local libraries which might have closed down or might simply have forgotten that libraries should be about books. But one thing is certain: it is not and has not been for some time a library or a reading room.

So Mr Hunt, Shadow Secretary of State for Education and all-purpose pontificator, when did you last visit the British Museum?

Friday, July 4, 2014

July 4, 1776

Rebels they may have been but they could write.

When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bonds which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security. --