Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Tuesday Night Blog Murders: The Mystery of Raymond West

This was Curt Evans's idea. He is really Curtis J. Evans (not the theologian, at least I don't think so), author of a number of books about writers of the Golden Age of Detective Stories, Masters of the "Humdrum" Mystery, Clues and Corpses: the detective fiction and mystery criticism of Todd Downing,  The Spectrum of English Murder and editor of Mysteries Unlocked: essays in honor of Douglas G. Greene to which I proudly contributed. He also runs one of the most interesting blogs dedicated to detective and mystery literature. (In parenthesis let me note that, though there are many wonderful blogs on that theme, I do intend to set up one of my own very soon.)

Why don't we or, at least, some of us, suggested Curt, write a series of blogs about Agatha Christie (this being her 125th anniversary year) on Tuesdays and call it the Tuesday Night Blogs (some of us cannot resist adding the word "Murders" to it). Any Christie afficionado will recognize the reference. The Tuesday Night Club, a short story published in The Royal Magazine in December 1927 saw the first appearance of Miss Jane Marple and signalled a tentative new departure for Agatha Christie.

Six people assemble in Miss Marple's drawing room: the hostess, her nephew, the modernist writer and poet Raymond West, the elderly local clergyman Dr Pender, the local solicitor Mr Petherick, Sir Henry Clithering, the retired Commissioner of Scotland Yard and the artist Joyce Lemprière who is also, we must assume, of the more modernist persuasion. As a result of a rather pretentious comment by Raymond West they decide to tell stories of unsolved crimes and try to come up with solutions. In fact, a certain amount of cheating goes on because the solution is known to several of the people who tell the tales but at first the crimes do appear to by rather mysterious. At first, Miss Marple is allowed to be part of the "club" on sufferance - a spinster who has lived all her life in a village, what would she know about real life or crime? Her comments about life and crime being just as real in a village as anywhere else are dismissed kindly but condescendingly, particularly by her nephew.

It is not much of a spoiler even to people who have not read these delightful stories to say that with everyone, including Sir Henry and, especially, Raymond West baffled, Miss Marple (as illustrated above) solves every single problem by using her knowledge of human nature. By the end of the series nobody can argue that village life is boring or uneventful. As Raymond West says "The cosmopolitan world seems a mild and peaceful place compared with St Mary Mead." Unfortunately, he later forgets this revelation or so it seems. The other thing we find out is that at the end of the sixth story Raymond proposes to Joyce just as Miss Marple had always known he would.

The stories were published monthly till May 1928 and a second series about Miss Marple solving crimes in a circle of dinner guests that brought back Sir Henry Clithering and introduced Arthur and Dolly Bantry, was published in The Storyteller between December 1929 and May 1930. Those six tales seem to be told in one sitting after dinner at the Bantrys while the Club was supposed to have met every Tuesday for six weeks.

The twelve stories were collected in book form in 1932 when a thirteenth one was added, Death by Drowning, in which Miss Marple solves a crime as soon as it happens, ahead of the police but we do not really see how she does it. By then, however, she had appeared in Murder at the Vicarage, published in October 1930 and a much loved (even by her creator) new detective had come into existence.

There are several questions one can ask about the Tuesday Club mysteries. Do those people really meet every Tuesday evening for six weeks at Miss Marple's small house? Can her circumstances really allow her that kind of hospitality or is it discreetly supplemented by gifts from, say, Fortnum and Mason by Raymond West or Sir Henry Clithering? Does Raymond West stay with her all those six weeks? Where do Joyce Lemprière and Sir Henry stay? If the latter with the Bantrys as he does the following year, why are they never invited? Does Dr Pender retire soon afterwards and a younger vicar, Leonard Clements, in whose study Colones Protheroe is shot, succeed him? Can someone as naive and incompetent as Sir Henry Clithering really become Commissioner of Scotland Yard?

The biggest mystery of all surrounds Raymond West. Let us see what we know of him. He is a terrifyingly intellectual and high-brow novelist and poet whose books are all about very unpleasant people doing rather strange things. He marries the artist Joyce Lemprière who, for some reason, becomes Joan in Sleeping Murder and At Bertram's Hotel. In the latter she is described by Miss Marple as Joan West, the artist. We know that Miss Marple is not given to senile forgetfulness so there must be a reason for this strange change in names but we never find out what. Did Raymond West marry two women artists, divorcing one? Would Miss Marple not refer to it in some roundabout fashion? Whose are the two (at least) sons mentioned in 4.50 from Paddington? It is, of course, possible that Joyce Lemprière works in two different genres and prefers to use one name in painting and another one in, say, book illustrations.

Raymond West appears in Murder at the Vicarage, when he comes to stay with his aunt, obviously unmarried, and pronounces on the stagnant life of the village only to be corrected gently by her: stagnant ponds, she explains, are full of life. He and his wife appear in Sleeping Murder, when Gwenda Reed stays with them at the same time as Miss Marple does and screams with terror during a production of The Duchess of Malfi. Her husband Giles is, apparently, some kind of a cousin of theirs,  which would make him Miss Marple's relative as well though she, surprisingly, pays little attention to that. On the other hand, Raymond clearly knows nothing about some other niece of Miss Marple's called Mabel about whom she tells her Tuesday night story.

In Sleeping Murder Raymond West refers to his aunt as "the original Victorian dug-out" and makes his usual condescending remarks about her knowing so little of life and spending her whole life in a village. His wife reminds him that St Mary Mead did have a rather exciting murder and Miss Marple had done rather well over that. Well yes, admits the nephew, she is good at puzzles. In other words, the Wests do know about Miss Marple's various adventures though they go on pretending that she has a very dull life.

Even their younger son, David, who works for British Rail (something of a rebel, by the sound of it) makes silly jokes about parochial scandals when his great-aunt asks him about trains that leave Paddington at a certain time.

We know that Raymond West is very fond of his aunt and often suggests treats like the latest incomprehensible Russian play as well as sending her his books. She gently refuses the treats or most of them and pretends to read his books. He suspects that she does nothing of the kind and assumes that is because her eyes are not as good as they once were. That, as it happens, is completely untrue. She remains a very sharp-eyed lady with nothing much wrong with her physically apart from rheumatism and the occasional cold that can go into bronchitis.

On a more practical basis the Wests help with money, either regularly after the Second World War when people on small set income become rather impoverished, as we know from They Do It With Mirrors or through gifts and treats such as a trip to the Caribbean after a bad bout of illness or a week at Bertram's Hotel. Both, as we know, turn into criminal investigations at which Miss Marple excels. Given that the Wests also inhabit a big house in Chelsea and have a reasonably high life style, one has to wonder where the money is coming from.

Miss Marple refers to her nephew in various other novels and stories, proudly telling everyone how successful he is and even quoting his joke about her having a mind like a Victorian sink, which would indicate that he realizes something about her activities. In fact, he and "Joan" discuss this in At Bertram's Hotel when they decide to treat her because she never leaves the village (which is patently untrue). Of course, there was her Caribbean trip and it is rather a pity, says "Joan" that she became mixed up with that murder to which Raymond replies that it is the sort of thing that tends to happen to her. Or, in other words, he knows quite well what sort of a life his aunt leads in between gardening and attending amateur performances of plays at St Mary Mead.

He makes another interesting comment in At Bertram's Hotel; his last book did very well so he is happy to pay for a treat for his aunt. Why exactly does he feel the need to spend his hard-earned money on his aunt every time and how well did that book do? The truth is that no matter how successful Raymond West's modernistic, miserable and undoubtedly boring books might be they cannot pay for his life style and all those treats for his aunt as well as the more substantial help in the years after the war, not even if his wife's income from her paintings are added to the household budget.

On the other hand, let us look at some dates. At Bertram's Hotel was published in 1965 so the events described in it must have happened in 1964, the year in which A Caribbean Mystery, Aunt Jane's murder investigation on her holiday, was published. That was immensely successful. All Miss Marple's adventures were. Could there be a connection between those two events?

One assumes that Raymond West must have done his bit during World War II and being a writer he would have been recruited into the Ministry of Information where he was told to produce literature for the masses that kept them happy. Clearly his own novels would do nothing of the kind so he reverted to something he had done some years before and wrote up one of his aunt's investigations in Gossington Hall (the Bantrys' home), St Mary Mead and the nearby seaside resort Danemouth and published in 1942. In 1930 he had come to an agreement with another author (or maybe several) and published Murder at the Vicarage under the nom de plume Agatha Christie. In 1942 he revived that and put that name to The Body in the Library. Actually, he nearly came a cropper on that as another well known writer, Ariadne Oliver, had already written a novel under that name but the publishers sorted the matter out with some help from the Ministry of Information, who were anxious to see Raymond West's book in print.

Thereafter, it all became a good deal easier. At present it is not clear what Raymond West's relationship was with the other Agatha Christie or, for that matter, Ariadne Oliver but it is surely obvious that he made his money by writing up his aunt's various investigations while pretending, ever less credibly, to dismiss her as a Victorian relic who knows nothing about life. He is unlikely to have fooled her. Being an honourable man, Raymond West felt that he must repay his debt through various gifts, treats and, when necessary, outright financial assistance. Miss Marple accepted it all (though not the Russian plays and the West novels) with a gentle smile. No doubt, when she inherited a large sum of money from Mr Rafiel at the end of Nemesis she, too, repaid by planning a few very special treats for the whole family.

Does this explain the strange name change of Raymond's wife? I think it does. If Joyce Lemprière was known as a modernist artist she would not want the critics and buyers to think that she also did illustrations to detective stories. What better way to get round that problem but to use her second Christian name, Joan, and her married name West?

Saturday, September 26, 2015

And that is why we need Passion For Freedom

Passion For Freedom is not an organization many people know about it, which is a pity. This is what they say their aim is:
What we do:

Create space for artists and writers who discuss subjects omitted in politically correct circles.

Invite people to open and uninhibited discussion. Nothing is more important than critically informed debate. It’s how society has advanced through the ages. Gather like-minded people creating a network of actively engaged citizens who hold high the value of individual’s freedom.
On the whole, I rather dislike the phrase "politically correct". It is meaningless and is used all too often on the right (roughly speaking) in the same way as the word "fascist" is used on the left: to silence arguments that cannot be answered.

In any case, a good many of the causes Passion For Freedom espouses: support for bloggers and journalists like Raif Badawi or opposition to the invasion of Crimea and eastern Ukraine by Russia are widely described and reported. Other causes, such as the fate of women in Islamic societies tends to be mumbled over by many people, particularly though not exclusively on the left but are still discussed. Nevertheless, we all need to support people who are fighting for freedom in conditions that are considerably less favourable than those in this country.

As this blog maintains: За Вашу и Нашу Свободу - For Your Freedom and Ours.

Passion For Freedom is holding its annual (we hope that is still true) London Art Festival at the Art Galleries and I went to the special VIP evening yesterday. (No, I don't know either why I was considered to be a VIP but I had a good time met several friends and chatted to some interesting people. So, I am not complaining.)

I am sorry to say that I do not agree with Douglas Murray's ecstatic review of the exhibition. Most of the art was anything but stunning, though I am delighted that people can produce the art that means so much to them about issues that mean so much to them. But if you want to see a wonderful painting that tells us all we really want to know about lack of freedom and having to create in code, look at this late work by Kaziemir Malevich. Back in the Soviet Union he was arrested twice for espionage and "encouraged" to paint in the more acceptable figurative way. (As a matter of fact, he might have gone back to figurative painting, in any case, as abstraction and suprematism could go only so far.) This is his 1932 work, Harvesting.

That truly is stunning and courageous beyond what most of us, certainly in this country, ever have to display.

Anyway, back to Passion For Freedom, who cannot help that Malevich died a good many decades ago, of cancer and rather prematurely, but at least not in the Gulag or an execution chamber.

On the other hand, the situation is not quite as rosy as we would like it to be. Apparently, one work of art was not there because Mall Galleries and Westminster Police because it was deemed to be "too inflammatory". Well, yes, I guess, works about freedom can be somewhat inflammatory. Oddly enough, there could have been nothing controversial about the point being made in Mimsy's tableaux that were removed as they showed - goodness me - that peaceful citizens are at risk from that murderous organization called ISIL or ISIS, whichever you prefer.

This is what the Guardian wrote:
Isis Threaten Sylvania is a series of seven satirical light box tableaux featuring the children’s toys Sylvanian Families. It was removed from the Passion for Freedom exhibition at the Mall galleries after police raised concerns about the “potentially inflammatory content” of the work, informing the organisers that, if they went ahead with their plans to display it, they would have to pay £36,000 for security for the six-day show.

In Isis Threaten Sylvania, rabbits, mice and hedgehogs go about their daily life, sunning themselves on a beach, drinking at a beer festival or simply watching television, while the menacing figures of armed jihadis lurk in the background. “Far away, in the land of Sylvania, rabbits, foxes, hedgehogs, mice and all woodland animals have overcome their differences to live in harmonious peace and tranquility. Until Now,” reads the catalogue note. “MICE-IS, a fundamentalist Islamic terror group, are threatening to dominate Sylvania, and annihilate every species that does not submit to their hardline version of sharia law.”

The decision to remove the work from Passion for Freedom came after the Mall Galleries consulted the police, who raised “a number of serious concerns regarding the potentially inflammatory content of Mimsy’s work”. The gallery cited a clause in the exhibition contract which allowed it the right to request removal of an artwork.
Ironic, is it not, that the Mall Galleries put this up on its website in connection with the exhibition:
The annual PASSION FOR FREEDOM Art Festival is a rare collection of international works of "courageous artists" who have answered three pivotal questions:

What is freedom?

How easy is it to lose it?

How hard is it to get it back?
The gallery is now in an excellent position to answer question two and possibly even three.

The Telegraph, I am glad to say, also covered the story and has even given readers the chance to vote on the issue. I hope readers of this blog will do so and vote the "right" way. Remember: Your Freedom and Ours.

In the meantime, here are two of the tableaux that have been banned from the Passion For Freedom exhibition:

Truly controversial. I feel more than a little embarrassed by this story.

Friday, September 25, 2015

A few points that might interest people

A few days ago I quoted from Oleg Khlevniuk's recent biography of Stalin and I propose to do so again. I am going to avoid the description of the real horrors: the collectivization and subsequent famine or examples of Soviet "justice" first introduced by Stalin and some of his colleagues and henchmen during the Civil War (he and Voroshilov were highly unsuccessful commanders and strategists but rather good at torturing and murdering their opponents) and repeated subsequently until they reached their apogee during the first great purge in the thirties and the second purge (less well known) in the later forties early fifties.

What I want to concentrate on is the period when times were better. Some years ago a friend told me about reading Solzhenitsyn's One Day In The Life Of Ivan Denisovich soon after it came out in English and being horrified by the ending. Some of my readers might remember how it ends. After a day of quite unspeakable horror for anyone who had not gone through those camps, Ivan Denisovich, the canny peasant, goes through the events and enumerates various small successes, sighing contentedly that it had been a good day. That? A good day? Well, all things are relative.

So let us look at the very end of Khlevniuk's book when he describes the situation in the Soviet Union not long before the dictator's death, in the "relatively prosperous year of 1952" not during the famine of 1931 -1933 or that of 1946 1947.
Most people lived primarily on grains and potatoes. Budgetary studies conducted on the eve of Stalin's death, during the relatively prosperous year of 1952, established the following daily nutritional intake in worker and peasant families: the average Soviet citizen consumed approximately 500 grams of flour products (primarily bread), a small amount of cereals, 400 - 600 grams of potatoes, and approximately 200 - 400 grams of milk and milk products.

These items accounted for the bulk of the typical diet. Anything else, especially meat, was a special occasion. The figure for per capita consumption of meant and meat products averaged 40 - 70 grams per day and 15 - 20 grams of fat (animal or plant oils, margarine or fatback). A few teaspoons of sugar and a bit of fish completed the picture. Average citizens could permit themselves an average of one egg every six days. These rations are approximately equal to the dietary norm for prison camps.
Let us not forget that these figures were compiled and published by the Central Statistical Directorate and were probably on the generous side. The reality was probably worse, especially for the peasants.

How very different from the descriptions of the long and, in their own way, painful suppers that Stalin held for his henchmen in the Kremlin or one of his dachas. Somewhat different from the lives of the various privileged sections of Soviet society, the bonzy, who could shop in special shops where many other goods were available, both home-grown and imported and whose salaries together with the special konverty (envelopes with extra bonuses that remained a secret between the organization and the recipient) amounted to a great deal more than the pay most people received.

Of the good listed above, the more luxurious ones, such as meat or sausage were not available outside the big cities and people from all over the country had to travel to them in order to buy a few things to feed their families with.

Those were the good years. What of the vozhd, the leader himself? We have had, as I mentioned above, many accounts of the sort of feeding that went on around his table, even during the hungry years of the war and the famine immediately after, never mind the relatively good years after that.

Here is an account of the sort of budget that went on the immediate Main Guard Directorate under its leader of many years, Nikolai Vlasik. (He, too, was demoted in 1951 and arrested in 1952 but released in 1956.) Some of the accounts, especially of Stalin's last days, come from him.
Under Vlasik, the Main Guard Directorate became a powerful and influential government agency. In early 1952 it comprised 14,300 people and had an enormous budget of 672 million rubles. Vlasik's directorate was responsible not only for protection, but also for the maintenance of the apartments and dachas of top-level Soviet leaders, keeping Central Committee members supplied with consumer goods, handling the transportation and lodging of foreign guests, and overseeing the construction of new government buildings. In 1951 approximately 80 million rubles of the directorate's budget went toward maintaining the dachas and apartments of the fourteen highest-ranking Soviet leaders (including expenses for protection and servants). Staling was, of course, the most expensive of the fourteen. A total of 26.3 million rubles were spent on his apartment and dacha in 1951. This sum probably did not include such expenses as automobile transport.

Serving in the Guard Directorate was both prestigious and lucrative. In 1951 the average compensation for members of Stalin's security team (including uniforms, housing, etc.) was 5,300 rubles per month, at a time when the average monthly wage throughout the Soviet Union was 660 rubles and the average per capita income for collective farm workers was approximately 90 rubles per month. In addition to material benefits, Vlasik's relationship with the leader gave him significant political influence, leading to his increasing involvement - with Stalin's encouragement - in the political intrigues that roiled round the vozhd (leader). Having a powerful patron and sense of impunity was intoxicating. Vlasik drank and enjoyed a promiscuous love life, and so did his subordinates.
There was, of course, a down side: if the vozhd so desired you could be arrested with all that entailed. Earlier a number of the personal security guards were executed or chose to commit suicide as an easier way out.

By and large it was Stalin's colleagues who trembled with fear and tried to protect themselves at all costs. Towards the end of Stalin's life, as the second purge raged, Vyacheslav Molotov and Georgy Malenkov had been demoted and were waiting for worse. Molotov's wife had been arrested during the second purge, largely because she was Jewish, and not only did her husband not dare to speak up for her but he he agreed to divorce her on Stalin's orders. She was released after the dictator's death and, as far as I know, the two re-married.

Stalin's invitations to come sup with him and watch a film or just "have a bit of fun" were never refused though guests tended to wonder whether they would be returning home after the party or going somewhere quite different. And those were the "good years".

Friday, September 18, 2015

Where does the money go?

The House of Lords is again under attack and I intend to spend some time and several postings defending it though not defending the Prime Minister's extraordinary decisions for the appointment of new peers.

First of all, some good news for people who like the idea of hereditary peers in the House and have some idea of history: we now have a Duke of Wellington in Parliament as the latest holder of that title has just been elected by Conservative Peers to the House of Lords.

It would have been nice to report that it was a "damn close run thing" as the Duke is supposed to have said or "It has been a damned nice thing — the nearest run thing you ever saw in your life" as he actually said to Thomas Creevey but this blog has to record that the 9th Duke won hands down.
A total of 48 other hereditary Conservative peers voted in the election under the alternative vote system and, after four transfers of votes, the Duke ended up with 21 votes, beating the Marquess of Abergavenny and the Earl of Harrowby, who picked up six votes each.

Before the vote, the 70-year-old peer said: “I have aspired to serve in the Lords since I first became interested in politics. I stood for the House of Commons in 1974 and was elected to the European parliament in 1979 for two terms.

“Since then I have been chairman of a life insurance company, a luxury goods company and a fund management company. I have been a commissioner of English Heritage and am currently chairman of the Council of King’s College, London.”
What was that about wanting politicians who have experience outside politics?

Moving on to related matters. Tuesday saw a long debate in the House of Lords about future developments and reforms. I intend to write more about that debate, which I have not finished reading yet. Right now, I want to turn my attention to Lord Pearson's Motion to Resolve on which he spoke twice: once during the debate itself and once after it.

As I shall say in future postings I did not agree with everything the noble lord said in his main speech though I do not disagree with his fight for more UKIP peers, given the fact that the Prime Minister decided to give a peerage to a number of Lib-Dim politicians whose great achievement was to lose their seats in the May General Election. I also found his comments at the end of the debate interesting and useful for anyone who wishes to become involved in the discussion:
My Lords, I shall be extremely brief. The noble Earl, Lord Caithness, chided me for not including the Scottish National Party in my Motion and remarks. The reason for that omission is that, regrettably, it does not want any seats here, let alone the 35 which its performance at the last general election would give it under the Liberal Democrat coalition policy.

One other important suggestion has been brought home to me during this lengthy but creative debate. We should not concentrate so much on the total size of your Lordships’ House as on average daily attendance. The Library tells me that, as of last week, actual membership was 775, but our average daily attendance is only 483. Yet, before most of the hereditary Peers left us in 1999, we numbered some 1,325 Peers, but the average daily attendance was only some 446, so it is not much more today. Of course, it is daily attendance that costs taxpayers money. Peers who do not attend do not get the daily allowance. If the public understood that better it might do something for our suffering reputation.

That said, I am most grateful to all noble Lords who have supported me. Ever an optimist, I hope that the Prime Minister will take note of our debate. I beg to ask leave to withdraw my Motion.
Will the Prime Minister pay attention to that and any future debates? Who can tell?

The figures and the fact that Peers get paid expenses for daily attendance only are worth noting, however.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Something to ponder over

We now have a Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer who not only expressed great sympathy and admiration for the IRA, on which he was called out by Nigel Dodds, DUP MP for Belfast North yesterday after the slightly idiotic attempt by the new Leader of the Opposition to turn PMQs into a phone-in, but he has expressed the view that he loathes capitalism and spends his time fomenting opposition to it and planning to destroy it.

So, I think it is time to look at a description of what that entails. But, first, Mr Dodds [you have to scroll down to read the different contributions]:
The plaques at the entrance door to this Chamber in memory of Airey Neave, Robert Bradford, Ian Gow and Sir Anthony Berry—serving Members of this House who were murdered by terrorists as they stood up for democracy and the British way of life—are a reminder of the savagery and brutality of terrorism, as are the gravestones and the headstones in Northern Ireland and right across this land. The Opposition Leader has appointed a shadow Chancellor who believes that terrorists should be honoured for their bravery. Will the Prime Minister join all of us, from all parts of this House, in denouncing that sentiment and standing with us on behalf of the innocent victims and for the bravery of our armed forces who stood against the terrorists?
Honourable Members and the Prime Minister, I am glad to say, did join him but as I did not watch PMQs I do not know whether the Labour Front Bench did. Still, as they say, never forget.

On to that hatred of capitalism. I happen to be reading a recent biography of Stalin (yes, yes, I know, a masochist of the first order) by Oleg Khlevniuk, translated by Nora Seligman Favora and published earlier this year by Yale University Press.

In his introductory chapter, Khlevniuk writes:
Underpinning Stalin's worldview was an extreme anti-capitalism. His hostility towards this system was unequivocal, and he rejected even the limited concessions that Lenin made in instituting the New Economic Plan (NEP). Stalin grudgingly allowed a few capitalist economic vehicles within the Soviet system, such as money, limited market relations, and personal properly.

After millions had died during the famine of 1932 - 1933, he agreed to allow peasants limited freedom to produce and sell outside the collective and state farm system. But to the end he believed that the concessions that had been forced on him by hard circumstances would soon be reversed and the socialist economy would be transformed into a money-free powerhouse where people would work as ordered by the state and receive in exchange the natural goods that the state decided they needed.
That, ladies and gentlemen, readers of this blog is what a man who is vehemently anti-capitalist really believes and wants to achieve.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

One of the many reasons why I dislike and distrust plebiscites

A referendum may sound better but plebiscite is the term I prefer and I dislike and distrust them. I accept that we are going to have one on our membership of the EU and shall do my best to help our side win it. But I am not sanguine.

How can you distrust the people, I hear you say at the back. Easy, just look at history even if you don't trust Shakespeare's famous descriptions of how easy it is to sway a crowd. Or, if you don't like history, look at the present and see how easy it is to sway what is laughingly known as public opinion by a well placed picture or a media campaign. In addition, if we have plebiscites with any frequency on all subjects, easily comprehensible or not, easily reducible to a yay or nay vote or not, an ever fewer people will bother to turn out to vote. Instead of legislation or political decisions being made by people we have delegated power to, they will be made by a small group of people who have nothing else to do with their lives besides voting and whose views are not necessarily underpinned by any knowledge.

Those are general views and I am prepared to argue them in another posting, and another, and another, until my readers accept that I am right. Which is one of the many reasons I dislike and distrust plebiscites: the ease with which they can be called again and again in the name of so-called democracy but really to ensure that the "correct" answer is given.

We know that the EU and its minions indulge in that habit; we also know that a number of politicians who did not do as well as they think they should have done under a first past the post system want to set aside the result of the fairly recent referendum on the subject in which the people of this country decisively voted for that system.

Now we have renewed calls for another Scottish Independence referendum although it was only last year that the people of Scotland voted conclusively in favour of staying in the Union. To argue that the vote has been negated by the SNP's achievements in the General Election in May is to use what was once called jesuitical methods. The SNP did not campaign on the question of independence or even on that of a second referendum. And as this blog points out:
In fact, the SNP vote, at 1,454,436 was lower than the Yes vote in the referendum, 1,617,989, let alone the No vote at 2,001,926. The turn-out, at 71.1 per cent was higher than UK average at 66.1 per cent but considerably lower than the referendum turn-out at 84.59 per cent. It is, in the opinion of this blog, hard to prove that the overwhelming SNP success on May 7 was really a vote for Scottish independence, which was roundly rejected in the referendum.
Nevertheless, there are ever more calls from that party for a second independence referendum, each call using some spurious reason but we all know what this is all about: the SNP failed to get what they wanted and are yearning to have another go. And another, and another, and another, until the people of Scotland, exhausted and impoverished by the endless campaigns, will vote the way they are told by Ms Sturgeon and her cohorts.

According to City AM we now have Alistair Darling, one of the leaders of the No campaign, making similar noises though he obviously thinks that the offer of yet another referendum "if the Scottish people want it" will take the wind out of Ms Sturgeon's sails.

Do the Scottish people want it? There is no evidence for it unless you consider the votes in the General Election to be that, which is a tad dishonest.
The former chancellor’s comments come two days after Sturgeon said the SNP’s manifesto for next year’s Scottish Parliament election will include possible timescales and triggers for a second vote.

However, opponents have criticised her for reneging on her pledge to honour the “once-in-a-generation” vote.

Scotland’s only Conservative MP, David Mundell, who is the Scottish secretary, said yesterday that a second vote would be at least 15 years in the future.

Yet, in a separate interview with the Telegraph Darling claimed that Sturgeon did not want a referendum any time soon as she knows she would lose.

The First Minister of Scotland is only raising the possibility of a second referendum now to appease SNP members and “let them down lightly”, he added. “There’s no high principle here. It’s base political calculation.”
Base political calculation? Oh surely not. Still, as long as one can keep that issue at the forefront we need not look too closely at the SNP's lamentable record of government in Scotland.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Somewhat ironic

Every year around this time the European Parliament announces its nominees for the Sakharov Prize, so-called because of the great scientist and human rights activist Andrei Sakharov. On their own account
The prize is awarded every year to honour exceptional individuals who combat intolerance, fanaticism and oppression.The nominations will be formally presented on Monday 28 September during a joint meeting of the foreign affairs and development committees and the human rights subcommittee. The winner will be announced in October.
Who was nominated this year? Mostly the names cannot be faulted though, clearly, we know more about some of them than about others.

From the Middle East we have Raif Badawi, a blogger who is in prison in Saudi Arabia, still under threat of inhumane punishment though the flogging after the first portion has been postponed time after time. As a blogger in a country where I can write what I want without worrying about the police breaking down my door at dawn I feel particularly for my colleagues in less fortunate circumstances.

From the Horn of Africa we have Edna Adan Ismail, a Somali activist for the abolition of female genital mutilation and a former government minister. While I am not particularly interested in former or present government ministers in that part of the world, I do find activists for the abolition of female genital mutilation in a country where its prevalence is extremely high and where it is dangerous to speak up against it worthy of support and highly admirable.

I know less about Venezuela but find it not unreasonable to have Political prisoners in Venezuale as as well as the democratic opposition in Venezuela embodied by the Mesa de la Unidad Democrática among the nominees.

So we come to two nominees about whom I know a great deal and who can be said to represent many other people, murdered or imprisoned in Russia or kidnapped from Ukraine and the Baltic States; Boris Nemtsov, the former Leader of the Russian opposition, murdered in full view of the Kremlin and Nadiya Savchenko, Ukrainian military pilot and a member of the Verkhovna Rada and of Ukraine’s delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, who was captured on 18 June 2014 and illegally transferred to Russia.

So we come to the West where the nominees are of a lesser calibre and face slightly lower levels of danger: Antoine Deltour, a former Price Waterhouse Coopers auditor who revealed secret tax rulings with multinational companies in Luxembourg to journalists and a man who seems to be on the side of the taxman; and Stéphanie Gibaud who uncovered tax evasion and money laundering by UBS AG, also apparently more interested in the rights of the tax collector than anything else.

And finally, the nomination that made me laugh, the one that has made nonsense of the whole effort: Edward Snowden, the man whose love of liberty is so high that he has decided to live in Russia, the country two of whose victims have been nominated to represent, as I said above, many others.

My own prediction that this year the prize will go to Boris Nemtsov, who is dead and is, therefore, uncontroversial. As it happens, his daughter Zhanna, a journalist, has been hounded out of Russia because of the statements she made about her father's murder, can accept it in his name. That is what I suspect will happen. But one can never tell. It could go to Edward Snowden, which will be highly entertaining.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Thankfully it is over

By this morning I was in such a catatonic state that all I could hope for was that 11.30 with the announcement of the Labour leader would come soon. It came in due course and the Labour party proved to be more docile than the electorate at large and voted the way the media had told it to do. Tom and Jerry are now the Deputy Leader and Leader of Her Majesty's Opposition.

The turn-out was 76.3 per cent, which makes one wonder about the 23.7 per cent who, though members of the Labour Party, do not care who their leader might be in a highly polarizing election. Of those who did turn out Jeremy Corbyn won 59.5 per cent of the vote, which makes one wonder about the Labour Party in general.

As I have pointed out before, Corbyn was until a few months ago a little known left-wing backbencher who appeared a great deal on RT (Russia Today as was) and on various rallies, usually together with terrorists, extreme Islamicists, anti-Semites and, sometimes Holocaust deniers. Very few people had heard of him. The amusing idea of nominating him for the leadership election in order to have a more interesting debate has badly misfired and there are, I suspect, a few MPs now in hiding from their furious colleagues. But, you cannot get away from the fact that the majority of the Labour Party members as well as the unions wanted this out of date socialist.

So what are his policies? As a matter of fact, he has none or none that anyone has managed to discern. Making fiery speeches about inequality (not in itself a bad thing, as he knows full well, earning as he does a great deal more than average, what with various expenses and so on) is not quite the same as having policies.

I am glad to say a friend of mine who lives in a very different country and, therefore, possibly finds this all a bit more interesting, unearthed Corbyn's "policy on the EU" and asked me "what will Corbyn really try to do re the EU". Anyway, here is the policy, as quoted from a statement Corbyn released to the Guardian on July 28:
Labour should set out its own clear position to influence negotiations, working with our European allies to set out a reform agenda to benefit ordinary Europeans across the continent. We cannot be content with the state of the EU as it stands. But that does not mean walking away, but staying to fight for a better Europe.
As a left-wing journalist of my acquaintance said about another comment of Corbyn's, what a lot of waffly woo. At least, he is not so far in favour of Brexit. I rather dread that as Corbyn's support would lose us a good many votes. So far so good. Now, what about any other policy? Speaking at a rally, organized by the Stop the War Coalition, and saying that refugees are welcome here does not count as a policy or even as a political idea. Try again, Jeremy.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Things are speeding up

The EU Referendum Bill has made its way through the House of Commons and has had its First Reading in the House of Lords. This is a formality merely but  the Second Reading is scheduled for October 13, immediately after Parliament's return in the wake of those tedious party conferences.

Too little, too late

During what appears to have been a stormy session in the European Parliament, addressed at length with a very large number of cliches but not inspiration by Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the EU Commission, the Greens came up with what EUObserver calls a "practical solution".
Green MEP Philippe Lamberts came up with a practical solution, proposing that the EP's Strasbourg building be given to migrants while sessions are held in Brussels instead.

The EP's Strasbourg building is empty for the vast majority of the year and despite calls from MEPs to stop the travelling circus to France, plenaries are still held there once a month.
Too little, too late. This blog came up with a similar but far more extensive idea a little while ago:
However, there is a way in which the Eurocracy can be very useful. It so happens that both in Brussels and in Strabourg there are "European Quarters" with large buildings with many rooms and excellent facilities. Every year very large sums are allocated to the running of those Quarters and the paying of those who work in them from Commissioners and Members of the Toy Parliament down. No need to build new processing centres, no need to allocate new funds - take over the European Quarters, evict those who work there now, turn them into those centres and use the money allocated for their running to sort out the refugee (or migrant) crisis. If we also add this year's salaries of all those who work there we shall have a more than adequate sum to house and feed people temporarily while we sort out who they are, where they will go to and what they might want to do there.
Until Herr Juncker or any member of the Toy Parliament proposes such a solution and starts putting it into place, I refuse to believe in their good intentions being anything but hot air and a desire to turn the crisis into another tool for strengthening central EU control over the member states.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

European solidarity at work (and play)

It is wonderful to watch European solidarity at work and play. Here are two headings that were waiting for me in my in-box this morning: Hollande attacks Slovakia, Hungary over refugee crisis and Verhofstadt slams Tusk for 'not doing his job'. It was all him or them, miss. Not me.

We shall see a great deal more of this as time goes on, the number of migrants (or refugees, depending on which pictures you see) grows, the money runs out and the good will of host countries (all host countries) begins to fray.

Monday, September 7, 2015

A new global strategy is coming our way

Every now and then I take a look at what is going on with that misbegotten idea the common foreign and security policy. The one thing we can say for certain about the events of the last few weeks is that the policy has not been much in evidence and the "beneficent crisis" that the EU was hoping to use for its own purposes has turned out to be the exact opposite, throwing up the serious divisions between various countries. In fact, I am hearing complaints about the effect the migrant crisis might have on the European Union and further integration.

Regardless of all that, I am happy to say, there will be a new EU global strategy on common foreign policy, security policy drawn up by June 2016. I cannot help quoting the old saying: "we should live so long". The language of the following quote is a little odd but it comes from a Bulgarian news site and I assume that, like most Slavonic languages, Bulgarian does not have any definite or indefinite articles:
Common foreign policy and security policy will have to be more strategic and appropriate for the increasing extremism and radicalization threats.

The fight against terrorism and hybrid threats calls for a common EU response in close cooperation with NATO, the UN, the OSCE, the Council of Europe, and the African Union (AU) as well as dialogue with main international partners, the participants in the event believe.

The trend of differentiation of the southern and eastern dimension was reaffirmed in the sphere of the European neighbourhood policy, according to Ms Grozdanova [Chairperson of the Foreign Policy Committee].

The need of European neighbourhood policy being more closely tied to other instruments, among which are migration and border management, was pointed out.
You get the drift: another global strategy after many discussions and meetings, paid for by the taxpayer and paid for handsomely, after which nothing much will happen except a few more disasters that we cannot deal with. I think my idea of taking over the EU buildings and using them for migrant processing centres is a much better one.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

A truly modest proposal

So far this blog has kept out of all discussion about the migrant/refugee crisis, largely because I can see more problems than solutions, no matter which way one turns. I see no point in discussing the international rules and regulations that govern such matters as migration, freedom of movement or settlement. The many thousands of people who are coming across (and, as a matter of fact, "swarm" is not such a bad word to describe what is happening) the Mediterranean and Aegean are unlikely to know those rules or care about them. What they want to do is get away from their own country, whatever it might be and for whatever reason, and to get to the West where, they are convinced, life will be much better and easier. How they envisage that life is unclear.

I have no solutions. Nor do any of the people who shout their opinions on the subject considerably more loudly than I have done. I imagine we all agree that the people traffickers who collect the money, shove as many people into leaky boats and inadequate lorries should be stopped. Some of them have been arrested in Hungary and I hope that those arrests will lead to a rolling up of the network or, at least, most of it. The argument that this deals with the symptoms not the causes is pointless - we cannot deal with the causes, which lie in the countries whence these people are fleeing and taking in refugees will deal only with the symptoms.

Some politicians and even more analysts or just commentators say that this is Europe's shame, which is a silly attitude as it is the shame of those countries where people do not seem to be able to survive. And, of course, since many of the refugees are from the Middle East, the shame of the other, richer Arab countries who are not offering any help. To be fair, not many refugees or migrants are trying to get into those rich Arab countries. I wonder why not.

The same commentators decry popular and political attitudes, which, they say, are hardening against the migrants (or refugees). Well, maybe. Or maybe not. I have noted some fairly sentimental attitudes as well as the more hostile ones. The truth remains that all the attitudes seem to be based on the latest pictures and that is, in my opinion, what will happen if foreign policy is ever decided entirely on the basis of popular opinion, perhaps through constant referendums. The latest picture will be the basis of policy.

Thus the horrible picture that appeared in the Independent today of the Syrian child drowned in Turkey when the boat he was in capsized excited furious comments about European leaders ignoring the plight of these unfortunates. Anyone who raised a different opinion (not I but others) on some of the threads was shouted down.

Yesterday, on the other hand, there were other pictures from Budapest where thousands of migrants (or refugees) simply took over the largest railway station, Keleti and the square outside it and proceeded to bring the city to a halt by their refusal to move and their chanting.

Clearly these pictures will excite very different attitudes.

If it comes to that, nobody seems to have any clear idea of where most of the refugees (or migrants) are coming from. Syria, probably; Libya, also probably; Turkey, maybe; other Balkan countries, more than likely. Where else? Describing them as people from the Middle East, Africa and Asia tells us nothing. That is a very large area and not every part of it is going through the sort of chaos Syria is at the moment. Could all the people be victims or have some of them been involved in what reduced those countries to dysfunctional entities? And why are they still coming despite the fact that almost all have access to mobiles and social networks and can, therefore, see that there is the odd problem or two in various parts of Europe where they arrive.

Nobody, so far as I can tell, has anything remotely resembling an answer to any of those questions. The most sensible suggestions I have seen revolve round the need to establish some kind of an organized processing centre or several centres where we can find out who the many people are, where do they come from, are they really in need of refuge and are any of them on the "not wanted" lists already? Beyond that, it might be a good idea to find out exactly what it is they intend to do when they get to the various destinations as there is a limit to what even Western Europe can provide in housing and welfare. And beyond that, we need to make it quite clear that any refugee (or migrant) who comes here will need to obey the law. No calls for sharia courts, no forced marriages and so on.

How can all this be sorted out? Where can we build adequate facilities for processing centres and who will pay for it? Here is my modest suggestion:

The EU's top brass  seems very anxious to show that they care deeply and they are continually instructing the member states to take however many refugees (or migrants) the EU tells them to take. They are, also, as it happens, hoping to use this crisis as a beneficial one and to strengthen their own control over the member states but that does not seem to be working out.

However, there is a way in which the Eurocracy can be very useful. It so happens that both in Brussels and in Strabourg there are "European Quarters" with large buildings with many rooms and excellent facilities. Every year very large sums are allocated to the running of those Quarters and the paying of those who work in them from Commissioners and Members of the Toy Parliament down. No need to build new processing centres, no need to allocate new funds - take over the European Quarters, evict those who work there now, turn them into those centres and use the money allocated for their running to sort out the refugee (or migrant) crisis. If we also add this year's salaries of all those who work there we shall have a more than adequate sum to house and feed people temporarily while we sort out who they are, where they will go to and what they might want to do there.

Who should run these centres? Well, obviously not the Eurocrats or the national politicians. Perhaps, NATO would take it on for the time being.