Monday, July 31, 2006

Fair Votes

A little back of the envelope calculation reveals the value of a vote for each party.

Labour 356 MPs 9,562,122 total votes cast. 6,637,024 for winning candidates- 69% success rate for a Labour vote.
Conservative 198 MPs 8,772,598 total votes cast 4,471,171 for winning candidates- 50.96% success rate for a Conservative vote
Liberal Democrats 62 MPs 5,981,874 total votes cast, 1,284,238 for winning candidates- 21.4% success rate for a Lib Dem vote
Scottish National Party 6 MPs 412,267 total votes cast, 82,470 for winning candidates- 20% success rate for an SNP vote
Plaid Cymru 3 MPs 174,838 total votes cast, 40,905 for winning candidates- 23% success rate for a PC vote.

The fact is that 53% of the voters do not get the MP that they voted for. No wonder that voting is out of style, when you see how much a simple choice can be distorted.

It is time for fair votes!

Political Skills

Watching "Yo Blair" speaking from Murdoch's jam feast did make me slightly nauseous.

Why should an Australian naturalized American presume to dictate to British politicians?

Murdoch only has power is as much as British politicians let him have such power. However, for their own reasons, British politicians have been prepared to make deals with the devil. Personally, it underlines one of the major problems of the party political system in this country. All parties, but especially Labour and the Conservatives, are coalitions of different groups. Labour, as a broad church, has encompassed Christian Democrats (e.g. Frank Field), Social Democrats (e.g. Robin Cook), traditional socialists (Tony Benn) and sometimes Communists (e.g. Scargill). The Conservatives have included Political Liberals (Malcolm Rifkind), Christian Democrats (Chris Patten), Economic Liberals (Michael Gove), Traditional Conservatives (Patrick Cormack), and Le Pen-style nationalists (Norman Tebbit) too. In other words political parties exist as uneasy coalitions. The leaderships of both parties resist establishing ideological positions for their parties, since they know that this will create internal dissent. This is why policies are usually thin on the ground- political parties exist as pragmatic compromises in order to achieve power. The result is that they are highly susceptible to pressure from lobbyists- including Murdoch.

The Liberal Democrats are also a compromise but less of one and not necessarily between Liberals and Social Democrats- many members of the SDP were liberal, whiles several old liberals were more like Christian socialists. However, over the course of the past few years the internal debate in our party has become much clearer and more ideological.

Our opponents argue that our more ideological stance is the result of not having taken national power in recent decades. However, with many of our activists and senior members, this is no longer true- and participation in the Scottish Executive and cabinet level in major local authorities has often led to greater ideological sharpness rather than a relapse to pragmatism. This has helped the party enact policies based upon its core principles- especially in the field of green issues, where councils led by the Lib Dems have created innovative and effective solutions.

To a certain extent it is fair to say that the Liberal Democrats tend to have greater ideological clarity, because joining the party was a statement of approval of its ideas, rather than a determination to seek power. However, as the party has advanced in support, we have managed to retain our ideological clarity- and as such debates as the Orange Book have shown, if anything, the debate is getting more focused. This makes us more resistant to lobbying pressure- we have sacrificed much on the way and usually been ridiculed by our political opponents, so it does not make sense to compromise so near to our goals.

Hearing Kenneth Clarke the other day describing his early legal career reminded my that we probably have too many lawyers in politics: he said that he could not remember the details of any of the arguments of his early cases. He had faught them passionately, tailoring his arguments to the body of law, but that after the case was over, it was like cramming for an exam, and he let the knowledge go. This, of course is how many lawyers run their politics too- passing legislation, but then forgetting the body of the case. This is part of the side effect of the pragmatism that is a necessary feature of leading a political party in this country. Ironically enough, the one time that Ken Clarke established a political principle- that we should engage more with Europe- it was so unpopular within his own party, that it cost him his leadership ambitions.

There is a different , and to my mind more honest way to conduct British politics. The electorate can make an open choice between candidates, including candidates of the same party.- this will make far more obvious the pragmatic nature of the party collations, but it will sharpen the role of ideas- and therefore make British politics more resistant to the lobbying of third parties, like Rupert Murdoch.

I hope never again to see a serving Prime Minister, a public servant paid out of my taxes, groveling to Murdoch and his minions.

Friday, July 28, 2006


Amidst the continuing noise in the Middle East, economic news has been a lower priority. However, the collapse of the Doha round of negotiations on tariff cuts is a potentially very serious development. The failure to tackle the need for free trade is creating more unstable conditions in the global economy. This is a political issue, but is also a moral issue.

Poverty in Africa could be ameliorated far more rapidly if there was freer trade allowed for African goods. The large tariff barriers of the US and the EU have distorted the global markets for most agricultural goods. Whole markets in cotton, for example are rigged by large subsidy payments in the USA, while Europe insists on subsidies for sugar beet production that undermine the far more efficient cane sugar producers of the West Indies. Since it is uneconomic to invest in production, the West Indian producers have grown more open to other sources of money- like narcotics transportation. Thus, our failure to take free trade seriously poses a threat to our own way of life.

I hope that the collapse of the Doha round may be temporary, but I fear that it may not be. The fact is that global free trade is easier to negotiate during a period of prosperity. As I see the continued increase in commodity and energy prices, and the limits to growth that the inefficient financial system is creating in China, it now seems likely that new instability is emerging in the global economy.

The huge asset price inflation of the past few years now seems set to create a generally more inflationary climate. This makes it quite likely that interest rates will continue to track up, and finally shut down the growth engine of long term cheap credit. The implications of this- a plunge in house prices, for example- could be part of a global economic downturn.

I am pretty gloomy about the current outlook- normal credit ratios have been long since abandoned and I see a significant risk to the financial system as leveraged instruments need to be unwound. The risk in the financial system no longer lies entirely with banks, and a correction may find unexpected holders of complicated financial structures, which they may not even understand.

As I say, the long term boom in the global economy has rested on this greater liquidity and on the fact that China was presumed to have a limitless capacity to manufacture. Neither of these calculations may prove to be correct and while India may be able to take up some of the Chinese slack in the medium term, the short term looks more ominous. Neither do I forget that the Chinese Communist government is an unstable tyranny. Tien-an-men in 1989 may prove in hindsight to have been the precursor to a general revolt against the CPC.

The Middle East is a tinderbox, with the massive miscalculation of the US intervention in Iraq, now threatening the stability of the entire region. Iran continues to seek to provoke Israel into a more dangerous confrontation though its allies in Hezbollah. A wider war in the Middle East is now distinctly on the cards. In any event energy prices seem set to continue to remain close to record levels- reducing the power of the West still further.

I have terrible forebodings- the risks in the system are now increasing on a daily basis.

In retrospect the failure of the Doha round may have a more than totemic significance.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

The case FOR an immigration amnesty

When politicians start to talk about immigration, they never seem to get further than the op-ed page of the Daily Mail - this is a mildly xenophobic world where millions of criminals are, apparently, poised to enter the UK and destroy its way of life.

This is obviously wrong, and the kind of simplistic thinking that it represents confuses the real issues. There are two aspects to immigration to the UK. Although the dim-witted tabloid press tends to group the two groups: refugees and market migrants under one pejorative label, "asylum seekers".

Actually genuine asylum seekers may not be refused entry to the UK at all. These are people who have fled persecution, war or famine. The United Nations Charter, of which Britain is not merely a signatory but a co-author, sets out a duty for receiving countries to protect refugees. Neither is Britain a particularly popular destination for refugees, who are more interested in getting away from persecution. Many other states take much larger numbers and proportions of refugees.

The second group of people are not refugees or asylum seekers, they are market migrants, or some say "economic migrants". Any open economy at any one time has many migrants working within it. In fact relatively open labour markets make for a far more efficient economy. Over the Years French onion sellers, Italian ice cream sellers or American soldiers have made their home in Britain- and in Scotland ice cream making is usually synonymous with an Italian name.

After the Second World War the recovering British economy turned to its Empire to fill the skills gaps that were opening up. Thus in the fifties West Indian bus conductors became quite common. However, as the ties of Empire weakened and the British economy suffered a sharp reverse in the 1970s such immigration died down, with the notable except of East African Asians, who were driven to the UK as refugees by such tyrants as Idi Amin.

In the passed decade there have been two large groups: refugees from such countries as Iraq, Somalia and Yugoslavia and increasing economic migration from Central Europe. Smaller numbers have come from Africa, especially Morocco, which are ambiguous, but mostly illegal.

After the expansion of the European Union, larger numbers of central Europeans came to the UK. There was a lot of work here, the pay was better than at home, and many of them spoke English anyway. The interesting phenomenon was that most of these market migrants, once it became legal to travel, did not settle. Typically they have tended to spend shorter periods in the UK- a few months- before they return to their home country. The Daily Mail typically looks at the number of entries, but not the number of corresponding exits, when it declares that the country is being "overrun".

So what is the problem with immigration? Typically the anti-immigration campaigners argue that there is a finite amount of space/resources in the UK and that "there is no room in such a small country". However, this is a fundamental misunderstanding of economics. These migrants are mostly highly economically active- they work hard and pay taxes, and very rarely claim social benefits, since if they lose their job, they tend to return home. Shortages of teachers have been filled by New Zealanders, shortages of houses have been filled by Polish construction workers. (Before we talk about the concreting over of the South East of England, we should remember that only 8% of the land surface of the UK is built on- a far smaller percentage than such countries as the Netherlands or Belgium. I do not advocate indiscriminate construction, but it would only take a very gentle relaxation of the planning laws to accommodate anyone- but of course that might lead to a reduction in house prices...)

Immigration has been a massively significant factor in boosting the British economy. Arguably it has been the decisive difference between the economic performance of the UK and France. Whereas previously East African Asians were a leading immigrant entrepreneur group, now we see the emergence of Polish or Czech Entrepreneurs or Lithuanian investment bankers. Of course since 2004, most of the Central European economic migrants have been here quite legally.

What about those economic migrants who are in the UK without papers and thus illegally? They too often work extremely hard; indeed as the tragedy of the Chinese cocklers in Morecambe Bay showed, they are exploited. There is demand for their labour, but because they can not register in the labour market, they can only work in the most menial cash-in-hand kind of jobs. Ironically enough, given the hard line attitude of the Daily Mail and Migration Watch crowd, they could not leave the UK legally, even if they wanted to. Without the stamps, they would be interviewed by immigration officers, deported and then forbidden to enter the UK again. These, by the way, are people who may have been in the UK for years.

I was in Albania last month- a country which has been denuded of its economically active population. Germany and Italy, as well as the UK, have taken virtually the entire population aged between 20 and 40. In Moldova, the position is even worse- over 25% of the population now lives overseas. They can not come home, even if they want to, because they can not travel legally. By failing to give an amnesty to the Moldovans and the Albanians, they can not get papers and can not travel. In other words, given the large number of people who are already here, it seems likely that our failure to grant an amnesty to citizens of these two European nations is actually keeping their migrants in the UK more permanently. As the freer movement for such countries as Poland has shown, you might get more people coming, but they usually come for shorter periods, so they do not lose touch with their home country and do not settle.

As a market Liberal I look with healthy scepticism at immigration controls anyway. If there is demand for labour we should not ignore it and pretend that the native pool of labour can provide, but rather we should presume that such labour is required and find ways of not merely allowing it, but attracting the best brains and most entrepreneurial minds to work in our country- after all it was a major factor in the success of the USA over the past two hundred years. Assuming immigration is bad is just plain wrong. We do not have to open our doors to the "poor oppressed masses", but we should not pretend that we can do without any of them.

At present, we do not have a rational immigration policy. The increased border controls (by the way a significant inconvenience now to a frequent traveller like myself) cost a lot more money, but seem to me to be irrelevant.

The most sensible option (and the most humane) is to legitimize those who are here. Then we can work out a system of green cards that will allow the British economy to take advantage of the brightest, the best and the most hard working people that we can find. Imposing general controls or mass deportation will not get rid of people the Daily Mail does not like, even though they are precisely the kind of gesture politics that can be most appealing to those of a more populist and cynical turn of mind.

PS- As I turn to the London paper I see that the British Office of National Statistics reports that 4.5 million British citizens live abroad with over 800,000 in China alone. Always worth remembering that the traffic is hardly a one way flow.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

"Speak for England Arthur"

In 1940, as the confidence debate on Chamberlain's government reached a climax, Arthur Greenwood rose to speak. Afraid that he would not condemn the failures of the government and deliver the coup de grace, from across the floor of the House a cry rang out:

"Speak for England, Arthur!"

Though the Middle East crisis is a less immediate crisis than the fall of France, the way that the British government has reacted is no less a failure. Our failure to condemn the actions of Israel makes us moral cowards.

The craven response of the Blair government to American pressure to stay silent is not good enough. As for David Cameron, his shallow, callow politics are revealed more clearly every day.

Only Ming Campbell emerged from this with any credit. His support of international law was shining. He truly represented the best of our country. A point that I think the electorate is now noticing.

Monday, July 24, 2006

We are Europe

The UK has always has a very detached view of its position in Europe. We say we are going "to Europe" instead of going to the continent. For much of our history our foreign policy was based on a splendid isolation where we were content to play off the various continental powers against each other. Meanwhile we busied ourselves with creating a global empire everywhere except in Europe. With this history, it is not surprising that we view any attempt by European powers to ally amongst themselves in order to grow stronger with something very close to fear. The threats to Britain came from Europe, while our English speaking allies against such threats were even more than comrades, they were blood relatives.

However, Britain, in the words of Dean Acheson, "Lost an Empire and did not find a role".

Now it is time for us to put forward a vision of our country's place in the world. Our alliance with the USA is not making our country any safer. Indeed our craven vision of it has dragged our country into an unnecessary war- about the worst thing that any government can do.

Despite the sacrifices that we have made, Britain is taken for granted by the USA and by the wider world- and being Mr. Bush's poodle has made us much weaker.

It is time for a fundamental reappraisal of the British role in the world. We must not weaken our security by damaging NATO, but we should feel free to establish a more independent line. Britain is not in alliance with Israel, and we should feel free to criticize their attacks on Lebanon as an injustice to the Lebanese people and a danger to Israel itself. We should condemn utterly Camp X-Ray at Gunaatanamo Bay- a scandalous crime. We should take issue with the role of China in Asia, especially Tibet, and in particular we should speak out against their appalling record on human rights. We should support the Central European democracies when the Russians make economic attacks against them.

However, the elephant in the living room is Europe.

As I write this from the old town of Tallinn, I am very conscious of the generally positive view that officials here have of the UK, but the constant refrain is that the British role in the EU is disorganised and disruptive. Britain's rulers continue to regard the European Union as a temporary irrelevance which will probably collapse anyway. This is intellectually lazy to the point of actual stupidity. The European Union is not and can not be simply a free trade area, as if this this is separate from the political dimension. Any level of cooperation will require political institutions, and for more than fifty years this is what the EU and its precedessor groups provided. The most important single position for British foreign policy must now be to make up our minds about what role we should take in the European Union. The fact that the most Conservatives genuinely believe that we would be "better off out" is a logical position, but not one that I can share. We a culturally and economically a European state. Our most important interests lie in Europe and not in Asia or America. However much they may want to make it so, the Conservatives can not anchor the UK off Nantucket. Whatever we do, we must accept that we will always have a very close relationship with the other European powers, and the Union that they have created.

In fact for much of the last twenty years much of the intellectual energy behind the key European reforms- not least the single European market- has come from British ideas. Imagine how much stronger we might have been if we had actually positively engaged with the EU, instead of being so negative. The time has come to put forward a positive agenda to take this Union of which we form part into a more open future.

Yo Blair!

Although watching Galloway and the Hizbollah fascists that he supports does significantly raise my blood pressure, am I alone in thinking that the British government have been "a bit crap" on the Middle East?

The utterly craven relationship between Blair and Bush that was revealed in their open mic session last week makes my blood boil too. Yo Bush - the worst President since Warren G Harding and Yo Blair- an unprincipled failure.

It is simply not good enough- Israel are in the wrong: punishing the innocent as vengeance against the guilty can not work. The UK, as a critical friend of Israel, has a duty to speak out. However as the "Yo Blair stuff" showed- the UK is regarded by everyone, the USA included, as a poodle.

The totally spineless way that this government has reacted to the Middle East crisis is not acceptable. For sure, with the history that Britain has in the region, we should be slow to make any comment. However the only reason that we do not criticise Israel now is because Blair is psychologically dependent on this tenth rate American President.

Yo Blair- "You have sat too long here for any good you have been doing. Depart, I say, and let us have done with you. In the name of God, GO!"

Thursday, July 20, 2006

July 20th

As the sun sets on a beautiful day in Tallinn and the crowds begin to leave the Raekoja Plats, I reflect on another trip to the Estonian capital. I shall be spending the weekend at the Viljandi Folk festival in the South of the country, so I will get a good blast of fresh Baltic air on the shores of Lake Viljandi.

July 20th- the anniversary of the first moon landing in 1969. I still retain a fascination with the Apollo Programme- so many extraordinary things were achieved and yet at the end the enormous sunk costs were ignored and nearly 40 years later we have still not returned, even to lunar orbit. The pristine Moon, with the footprints of the Astronauts in the dust of the Sea of Tranquility, remains an enigma. The reaction of each of the astronauts to their extraordinary voyage has been dealt with in several books, which I never tire of reading.

Today is also the anniversary of the attempted assassination of Adolf Hitler by Count Claus Schenk von Stauffenberg- a noble man who met a terrible death. Let us remember that Germans too were brave opponents of the monstrous Nazi ideology, and I shall raise a glass to the White Rose and those brave enough to stand up against tyranny- a tyranny that in Tallinn seems all too recent.

Perma-tanned hypocrites

OK- so Tommy Sheridan is now legally toast. He has effectively admitted that he DID visit swingers clubs, so his libel action will fold.

Why take such legal action, when you know you are on such a difficult wicket? How arrogant do you have to be?

Galloway is much the same, and we all know about the allegations against him.

Pretty sure that most of them are true.

These perma-tanned lefties, reeking of hypocrisy, still believe that they can get away with it.

Glad to see that Sheridan won't. Look forward to Galloway getting nailed... One day.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Peace, Retrenchment, Reform

Much discussion in the blogosphere about political identities. In particular much discussion about party political identities. In a world where politicians become followers of opinion, rather than opinion formers, it becomes inevitable that there is much pressure to conform and thus create identikit policies. The problem with this Uberpragmatism is that it effectively undermines ideological coherence. As for the origins of this huge social change- we can point to the increasingly individual way that people are choosing to live their lives. The group ethos of the industrial society has been undermined by our increasing ability to use technology to create tailored solutions for individual choices. As we create ever greater choice in television, diet or leisure, then we should expect to see ever greater individuality in politics too. Certainly the first casualty of the end of the industrial society was the intellectual death of Socialism. The fall of the Soviet system- that non plus ultra of group society- reminded us that "class" could no longer be used as a meaningful signifier. Fukayama's "End of History", could equally have been titled: "The end of Class struggle".

So in hindsight we can look back at the1970s, which seemed to prefigure the triumph of Communism- with the Soviets gaining in South East Asia Africa and the Middle east- as the point where the Soviet system reached Paul Kennedy's "imperial overstretch". The West, faced with the economic meltdown of the twin oil shocks, was forced to reinvent itself- smaller companies, more rapid product cycles and above all, a more individual response to customers. Thus, the emergence of a post industrial "service sector". As information technology has evolved, the ability to process information about customers has grown exponentially. The result has been that political parties in common with the rest of society, knowing far more about their potential supporters, are trying to offer tailored solutions.

It won't work though. It looks false, because it is false.

The increasing individuality of personal choices makes politics far more complicated, yet political leaders have been afraid to engage in debate on key issues, because there are few clear messages that can be given. The mass ideologies at least had the advantage of clarity.

Yet I remain an ideologue. Liberalism is not a universal ideology as Socialism was.Neither is Liberalism a prescriptive ideology, as Conservatism remains- and yes, Social Conservatives do believe in quite strong limits to freedoms. In particular Liberalism recognizes the limits to the freedom of action of political leaders- these are both practical, because the state is now too complicated to master, and moral, since it is to be desired that personal freedom should not be abridged.

As a result, it proposes to reduce the activity of the state to a manageable level. This was what the nineteenth century Liberal Party used to call "Retrenchment". The 2005 manifesto of the Liberal Democrats contained more proposals to abolish laws and regulations than any other political party. Now we propose to restrict the state by reducing its call upon taxation. We continue to be socially Liberal: No ID cards and reducing discrimination against groups. We continue to believe that War was the worst option in Iraq. We remain political Liberals: changing the structure of administration and government to bring greater accountability. This is what the Liberals used to call "Reform".

Peace, Retrenchment, Reform- and always with the rights of individuals at the heart of our ideas. These key principles are what make modern Liberalism such a potent force. I believe that they will only grow, as the directionless Conservatives and the intellectually pointless Labour party fails to understand the nature of our post modern society.

As I write this from the post-Soviet City of Tallinn, I feel more confident than ever that the ideas of Liberalism have much practical validity- as I have said before, Estonia is the poster child of a modern Liberal Society. Liberalism Works .

Uberpragmatism has already failed under Blair- and would fail under Cameron.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Its broke, but don't fix it.... that way

You might have though that the Conservative transport spokesman, Chris Grayling might not have wanted to "mention the rope in the house of the hanged man"; but no, he is determined to create a Conservative policy about railways. However, even he now accepts- apparently- that the Tories made a massive blunder in the way that they privatized the railway system of the UK. A dignified silence on their biggest balls-up might have been considered polite, but no, the Conservatives are determined to make good their error and should they ever return to power, then they will "fix the problem".

My God, you can tell that these guys have NEVER run a business.

Part of the problem was the enormous disruption and misallocation of management time that was devoted to adjusting to the private sector. So there had really better be a much better solution if we are going to have to go through all the disruption of installing another totally new system. The Tories are not really offering this- they are pretty much only offering the disruption. Merging franchises, extending them, and transferring all or part of the rail infrastructure to the operating companies may all be parts of a future change, but this is a change that should be brought about by the market, and not by government fiat. By all means allow the operating companies to buy assets, but this should be an organic and long term process.

In any event I am not convinced that extended franchises are a good idea at the present, but maybe after the next round, things might be reviewed.

And if all this sounds timid, consider this: investors like clear rules. At the moment we have system that the market understands. It is not the best way to do things, and setting out to do it now, we would not do it this way; but what the Tories propose is to totally change the capital structure and the funding needs of the operating companies. This would be highly disruptive, and it is by no means clear that it would be an improvement on what we see now.

So- my advice would be "leave well enough alone" and do not mistake activity for achievement.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Fanning the Flames

Despair in Lebanon, anger in Israel, violence everywhere.

I hold no brief for the anti-Israel lobby, but it is hard to believe that the destruction of roads, power stations and airport terminals in Lebanon is anything other than wanton violence designed to inflict the maximum damage to the lives of the civilian population of that country.

It is also hard to believe that it is anything other than self defeating. An impoverished fearful Lebanon has a lot less to lose than a prosperous and stable country would.

Israel is sowing the wind and will reap the whirlwind. The dreadful missile attacks on Haifa will be matched again and again.

"Those that have the perception must make the allowances" Israel must now show restraint- or take the consequences.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

The eighties coming back?

Serious trouble in the Middle East as Israel gets bogged down in Lebanon.

A lame duck President in Washington is unable to assert his will following allegations of unconstitutional activity.

In Britain an unpopular government faces a string of by-election losses.

And Sir Clive Sinclair brings out a dangerous and unlikely form of transport.

How much 2006 seems to have in common with 1985!

Monday, July 10, 2006

Sky news drivel

Just came back to my (very comfortable) hotel and switched on the news.

SKY News.

Oh my GOD it is "The Day Today"!

For those that don't remember, "The Day Today" was a parody news programme hosted by Chris Morris. It launched the demented sports reporter Alan Partridge onto an unwilling world.

However, although extremely funny, it had a dark side- the smarmy reporters, the hectoring interviews with a clearly amoral agenda.

That is what I have just seen on Sky. A reporter with an agenda. The issue was the sentencing of the peadophile. Whether it is "too lenient" is not something an unbiased reporter can necessarily have an opinion on. The hectoring of the Attorney General was outrageous.

Television media- or at least Murdoch's Sky- can not be regarded as a reliable source of news when you see reporters approaching the story with a such a clear bias.

Also, is it me? But the pompous music and cliched presenters set my teeth on edge. Instead of a parody, The Day Today looks like a prediction.

No wonder more and more people are turning to the net and to blogs for real information.


I am traveling again, hence sparse blogging.

In fact I am in a blazing hot Tallinn, with the jollity of high summer and the white nights adding a certain positive spin on an otherwise fairly heavy round of meetings.

I keep in touch with the British news and see that the increasingly erratic David Cameron has now embarked on a "hug a hoodie" campaign. As he gets hip with the kids: "they're just misunderstood" I reflect on the contrast with the leaders of Estonia that I have been meeting with this trip.

Here I have been debating first principles of policy with political and business leadership. The tinsel of British politics is missing, but my goodness what substance. The politicians here are happy to think about complex and detailed policy areas. No Estonian politician, not even the most populist, would come up with such a disconnected political narrative as Cameron. Dominated by the agenda of PR and the media, Cameron has lost sight of what politics is for.

Meanwhile Ming Campbell faces a test of leadership. His front bench is coming up with radical policy ideas of real substance, but can he get his party activists to support his more Liberal agenda? If he can, then he will be showing leadership. This is the difference between hype and achievement.

That difference is something that the high-flying Estonians understand very well indeed.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Those two impostors

There does seem to have been a lot of loose emotion flying around this week. The sports arenas, particularly, seem to have become cry fests: the anguish of Andy Murray in his straight sets defeat, the tears of David Beckham as be bade farewell to the captaincy of the England football team and the less forgivable defiant truculence of Rooney, whose immaturity does not allow him to take responsibility for his own actions.

We seem to have become much more "in touch" with our feelings- anger, pride, rage and sadness. Psychologists might say that this is a good thing.

I wonder.

Unbridled enthusiasm seems to lead to limitless grief when great hopes are not fulfilled.

I find myself think more and more of Kipling-

"If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;"

Strangely enough these words are rather prominent at Wimbledon- pity that they are so generally ignored.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

The Tories abandon the Union

The evidence grows that the Conservatives have never met a principle that they could not abandon.

After the simple weirdness of Cameron's "Bill of Rights" -which even Ken Clarke thought was pretty much contrary to every principle in our legal system- we now have the brilliant idea of making Scottish MPs second class members of the the House of Commons.

After years of unyielding support for "The Union", which nearly drove Scots into the arms of the SNP, the Tories now have the idea that the only constitutional reform that is needed is to stop Scottish MP's voting on "English" matters.

Dangerous nonsense!

Liberals and Liberal Democrats always supported home rule for Scotland and Wales on the basis that the result would be a Federal Britain. Only Federalism answers the so-called West Lothian question. What is now needed is a full constitutional settlement- which means restoring the lost powers of local government and making the current Scottish and Welsh systems self sustaining.

If England chooses a Parliament of its own or chooses regional assemblies, or makes the existing Counties more powerful (after all many of them are larger than several member states of the EU) then that is a matter for them.

What they can NOT do is to minimize or exclude Scottish or Welsh members from the only body that unites us: The national Parliament in Westminster.

As Liberals we have always liked Home Rule enough to want to give it all round. Now it is essential for the survival of the United Kingdom - and the unprincipled opportunism of Cameron's Conservatives is very dangerous.

For as long as the House of Commons has the legal right to abolish the Scottish and Welsh Parliaments, then Members from those countries must retain the right to be full members of the House of Commons.

No tears

No, I am not that upset by the defeat in Gelsenkirchen. Three sports matches took place in white today. Andy Murray played his socks off and won in straight sets. France, in white, against all the odds, beat Brazil. (Allez France!!!).

Ah yes, then there was England.

Rooney - a totally deserved red card- what he should get is an equally deserved tarring and feathering for bringing the game into disrepute.

So all the stuff about English heroics comes into context- none would have been necessary if Rooney was not such a third rate embarrassment to the game.

Which makes me observe a few home truths: through the whole tournament, England never rose above the mediocre. All that money, all that hype- still, they could not beat Portugal.

You know why?


Those guys are the best paid guys in Britain. Surrounded by adulation and money, they lost the plot years ago. The vile spectacle of all their hangers-on drinking themselves to oblivion at vast expense was the epitome of ignorant decadence. The Wags were creatures of the sleazy press, from which they knew they could make thousands.

I am actually glad that this circus has come off the road. Actually, though it was Ericsson- a greedy, immoral nothing, who should get the worst condemnation. It shames any follower of English football that this corrupt cipher was taken seriously for so long- I think "Big Tel" looks almost honest by comparison.

Anyway- I cheered on France today, I was vocal for Murray. Well, for the other match- "the rest is silence"- hope Gordon Brown chokes himself though- I, for one, won't hide my dislike of the over paid third raters...