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Showing posts from November, 2006

A note of reality

The relationship between Britain and the US has come under the spotlight again.

As the "Yo Blair!" incident showed, the oafish Bush administration has taken Britain for granted for some time. The fact that this is now openly acknowledged in Foggy Bottom will not solve the problem.

When the inevitable change of personnel happens in Downing Street next year, we can only hope that a more sober appraisal of British interests will follow. Yet another extradition of British citizens under the one-sided US extradition treaty reminds us that there are major aspects of British American relations that need to be changed- urgently.

Refusenik

Blogs and other internet sites should be covered by a voluntary code of practice similar to that for newspapers in the UK, a conference has been told by Alastair Campbell.

Shan't sign any such Authoritarian drivel.

THIS IS A FREE COUNTRY, YOU JERK!!!

I can, and will, say what I damn well like.

Next New Labour assault on Freedom?

How not to fix homelessness

Cicero stirred late this morning- he had been making a speech out of town and did not return until just before two in the morning.

Through the numbing dirge of the Today Programme that came on to awake me, I suddenly sat up bolt upright in bed and issued Latinate curses.

Ken Loach, the director of the television drama "Cathy Come Home" was being interviewed concerning the latest Shelter Report that has just been released that suggests that one in seven children are homeless or living in sub-standard accommodation.

Shelter was established after Ken Loach's film publicized the issue.

Homelessness is likely to become a growing problem, as the cost of housing, relative to earnings, continues to rise. Shelter is raising an issue of significant concern.

What made me sit upright was the comment that housing shortages are caused by the free market. Furthermore, Loach explicitly said that the problem was that the economy was no longer being planned. He suggested that British industry …

The New Political Divide

The Conservatives snub to the CBI is a nice line in biting the hand that feeds you.

Now, these days, the CBI conference is less a conference of the Captains of Industry and more of a conflab of their PR people. However the message that Cameron is sending out to the wider world is interesting: the Conservatives have more important things to do than to think about the problems of business.

The problem is that that the problems of business are actually more important than the rantings of Polly Toynbee or the inner turmoil of Hoodies. British business is being undermined by regulation and high taxation. Jobs are moving away from the UK as a result, with Burberry only the latest high profile manufacturing departure to Asia.

The interference of the state is crtically damaging. Apparently Blair will say that he will cut business regulation by 25% when he actually comes to the CBI today. While there is more joy in Heaven at a repentant sinner, the fact is that the PM has already demonstrated tha…

The Pro Business Party?

I see that the CBI- the Confederation of British Industry- is a little irritated with the Conservative leader, David Cameron for canceling at short notice his address to their conference.

I am sure that they will be even more pleased to see that the Conservatives new pro-business policy includes considering a 35 hour week- a policy that seems to have added €100 billion to the French national debt since it was introduced.

Perhaps next year they should invite Sir Menzies Campbell. The Liberal Democrat leader now clearly leads the country's most pro-business party. After all the Liberal Democrats manifesto in 2005 called for deregulation, including sunset clauses, and a simpler tax regime including lower taxes on small business.

At a time when Labour are drowning the British economy with burdensome regulation and increased taxes, I am sure the fact that the Conservatives' promise more of the same will be noted.

In fact I see that UKIP have gained some support from the Conservatives i…

Post Modern Stalinism

As the reverberations of the death of Alexander Litvinenko continue, several interesting facts come to light.

Firstly, the killers who planted the Polonium 210 have left finger prints all over the crime scene. Not physically, but in the Polonium 210 itself. As we know, it is an extremely rare isotope. Not only that but the precise composition of the poison will identify the reactor that it came from.

That reactor will be Russian- it may well be the GRU reactor at the "Aquarium". It is a direct smoking gun.

Access to the poison will be very limited, and under the control of the Russian security service.

Smuggling the poison into the United Kingdom would be difficult and although there are various ways that it could have come, however there is a good chance that it simply came through the diplomatic bag.

The evidence that Russian security agents were involved is overwhelming- the Polonium could not have come from anywhere else.

The question for Britain now is what to do next?

The mur…

Spectre at the Feast

I had intended not to write about Russia for a little while. This is especially since I am in the Baltic states this week, and it is difficult to be objective about a Russia when here it seems very big, very bellicose and very close.

However the death of Alexander Litvinenko may end up being the catalyst for a turning point in the perception of the West about what is happening in Russia. The British authorities are, rightly, trying to ensure that the investigation into Mr. Litvinenko's "unexplained death" will be as fair as possible.

Quite likely, the British government does not want to find any connection between the Kremlin and a callous murder of a British citizen in London. Since proving such a connection in a court of law is likely to be extremely difficult, publicly the British government will maintain the polite fiction that this crime is an unpleasant distraction to good Anglo-Russian relations.

Spies, especially double agents, are not popular with anyone on either …

Friends and Allies

I flew into a dark and damp Tallinn this morning- the snow has not arrived, although the Christmas market has arrived in the Old Town Square.

I quite like the Baltic winters; although dark, they are cosy and candles and hoogvein help to lighten up the season.

Tallinn is busy- the roads are clogged, where once it would have taken 10 minutes to run in from the Airport, now it takes nearly a half hour. The Airport itself is cramped- the result of yet another expansion programme (it does not seem so long ago that the gleaming new terminal opened, now it is already too small). All of these changes are, perhaps, a function of the fact that Estonia is set to overtake Portugal in PPP GDP per capita by the end of next year. Convergence is happening so fast that it is fair to say that it looks more like overtaking.

Another reason for all the congestion is the visit of President Bush. He will arrive in Tallinn on Monday. Already the security is tight, although the fact that the President's chil…

Polly-morphous Politics

I am getting very confused about the British Conservative Party- although not, I suspect as confused as the party members themselves must be.

Apparently the Conservatives should ditch Churchill and listen to Polly Toynbee, according to one of David Cameron's advisors, Greg Clark.

Polly Toynbee is so consistently wrong in her analyses that it is almost comical to think that anybody, still less her political opponents, should take her seriously.

Yet, there is a kind of mad logic in the idea. The Conservative manifesto in the 2005 general election was a collection of policies that were often mutually contradictory. The spending commitments did not match with commitments in taxation or borrowing. Quite literally, the Tory manifesto did not add up. The party did not have the courage to present to the electorate what politicians usually call "tough choices". So perhaps we should not be surprised to find them so "elastic" in their other ideas about policy.

The post-Labour…

The Cretin troll is back at The Independent

I see that The Independent is making known its considered view of the poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko.

Pity that they can not check the most basic facts. President Yuschenko of Ukraine was not poisoned by Thallium, but by Dioxin, as the most cursory check would have shown.

It is hard to take the Indy seriously as a newspaper of record when it can not even get the most basic facts right.

Whodunit?

An attempt has been made to kill Alexander Litvinenko One of Boris Berezovsky's allies in London. This piece from The Times gives a flavour of the man.

I occasionally meet refugees from the regime in Russia who have come out of the looking glass world of the secret services. Oleg Gordievsky, a highly successful agent- for the British, or Vasili Mitrohkin who brought much of the KGB archive into the public domain. I think Westerners often find the cloak and dagger brutality of the Soviet state very difficult to believe.

It is always a salutary experience reading the books of Viktor Suvorov , especially Aquarium, his personal history as a GRU- Soviet military intelligence- officer. The murderous brutality of the machine is made entirely plain. It is interesting to see how short people's memories are- the mysterious and very convenient death of Stephen Curtis of Bank Menatep in a helicopter accident seems to have been long forgotten.

Modern Russia is led by a former KGB officer. We …

The legacy of Margaret Thatcher

The recently announced death of Milton Friedman put me in a reflective mood. In particular I was thinking about what the lessons of Thatcherism are for today's generation of political leaders.

Margaret Thatcher, nominally influenced by Friedman and indeed to some degree Friedrich von Hayek, was yet not an acolyte of these thinkers. Up until the 1982 Falklands conflict her government was pragmatic on many issues- encumbered said her allies with the need to accommodate the Heathite "wets". After the victory in the South Atlantic and subsequently in the 1983 election, her administration changed substantially. She became more abrasive and combative. 1984 saw the miners strike- and arguably the defeat of Arthur Scargill's brand on Kremlin supported Marxist unionism was both the end of the 1970's and the beginning of the end of the ideological struggles of the cold war.

Privatisation and the City big bang, with hindsight, may be seen as her lasting contribution, yet by t…

Better off in!

I see that the more rabid conservative bloggers are advertising a meeting of the Bruges Group over the weekend that intends to discuss policies for "a post EU" Britain.

You might expect to see such immaturity on the amusing Guido Fawkes blog- but I was moderately surprised to see the same event given equal coverage on Iain Dale's blog.

Iain is the Queen Mother of political blogging, especially since he became a Tory "A" Lister- "They can't answer back you know". Although he was on a hiding to nothing trying to unseat Norman Lamb in North Norfolk, there are many people who would certainly like to see him inside the House of Commons. Personally, I enjoy many of his initiatives as a blogger.

Nevertheless the fact that the majority of British Conservatives can no longer have a sensible debate about the costs and benefits of membership of the European Union and have taken the maximalist position of complete withdrawal just reminds me why the party should …

What the Queen's Speech could have said

"My lords and members of the House of Commons, my government will pursue policies aimed at making fundamental changes to the system and conduct of government in the United Kingdom, reducing the power of the state and decentralising political decision making to the lowest appropriate level. It will seek to reduce the regulatory burden on citizens and on business and will promote personal freedom as its highest cause.

The dangerous culture of secrecy concerning government decisions at the highest level has eroded public trust in the very institutions of British democracy, accordingly a new bill enshrining a presumption that government information be published under all circumstances unless certain, limited operational military information is involved will be introduced as soon as practical. At the same time a bill to establish a right to private privacy will be published.

Democracy rests on the engagement of the citizen with their institutions, the unfair electoral system has weakene…

Like Trees in November

Finally the Autumn has come to London- the leaves have started to turn.

It seems a very late start to the season- with Christmas now only five weeks away. However the dark and the cold is now upon us in earnest. Autumn always seems a melancholy season- Keats "Ode to Autumn" or Yeats "Wild Swans at Coole" seem the most appropriate backdrop.

I like watching the changing seasons- but although it is pleasant to see the turning trees in Hyde Park, I find the pleasures of an autumn in London diminished compared to the hills of the north. There Autumn is not only visual- you feel more exposed to the winds and chill and the season seems wilder and more embracing.

It is twenty years since I was a student in Canada. There the colours of Autumn were all the more intense- as though nature was more aware of the deep cold to come. The squirrels, black ones- grew fat as they prepared to hibernate (unlike the reds and greys in Scotland).

As mellow fruitfulness gives way to winter chil…

...much to be modest about

Sorry to be a cracked record, but I see that Mayor Ken Livingstone is claiming that his trip to Cuba and Venezuela was a very modest one.

It cost £36,000! (€54,000 or just under $70,000 for our international readers) for a trip that did not even bring about its stated aim of the dubious deal with mad cap dictator Hugo Chavez.

Next time Mr. Livingstone wishes to take a break in the axis of evil and its allies, I wonder if he might not try North Korea- on a one way ticket, please.

Axis of Mediaeval

How much more crow is George W Bush supposed to eat?

In 2003 the administration set out an agenda postulating that there were a series of "bad guys"- Iraq, Iran, North Korea, Syria, Libya and Cuba- that the global community would have to isolate and overthrow, the so-called "axis of evil".

In 2006, after the catastrophic failure to cope with the consequences of overthrowing Saddam Hussein, the Administration is now proposing to put the fate of Iraq, and by remove, US foreign policy into the hands of the Iranian and Syrian regimes.

Syria is led by the hereditary dictator for life, Bashar al-Assad. Baby Assad is an interesting personality- a trained doctor with a specialism in ophthalmology, he studied at the University of London, where he met his wife, Asma, who was born and brought up in the UK. He never expected to inherit power from his wily father Hafez, but the death of his elder brother, Basil, put him in harms way. Initially Bashar was thought of as a liberal, …

Tradition and Memory

On Sunday I went to attend the remembrance day service in Ely Cathedral. It was a wonderful reminder of my own school days and the continuation of traditions. The wonderful cathedral rises like an ocean liner above the bleak and rather wintry fens. It may be me, but I have never felt warm in the Fenlands.

The Cathedral was completely full, so I stood at the back with a few other late-comers. The banners of the British Legion, Sea Cadets, Scouts, Guides, Cubs and Brownies were marched in, with a military band playing cheerful airs- although the pealing of the church bells-as is proper- were muffled. The national anthem was played- though noticeably few seemed to know the second verse- and I have always liked the "May she protect our laws" bit. Although there were not enough orders of service to go around, I found myself remembering the hymns unbidden. I suppose they were so familiar- particularly the Crimmond setting of Psalm 23.

The two minutes silence- well, given the number …

Democracy Tables

An interesting idea has been to pool the results of surveys of different aspects of democracy- transparency, press freedom, corruption etc. to create a table ranking the level of democracy in different states.

Some very interesting results: Finland is number one, Myanmar (Burma) is bottom.

Inside the European Union Greece does not even make it into the first division and Italy only just makes it. Perhaps even more worryingly - Bulgaria is also in the second division, whereas Romania ranks in the third division even below Serbia.

Something must NOT be done

After the passage through the House of Commons of the largest bill in British political history, our legislators seem shell-shocked.

This is only the latest Companies Act to be addressed by Parliament in recent years. We have also had several Criminal Justice Acts too.

The problem is that too many MPs do not see that regulation can be done implicitly through the interpretation of principle and existing Acts of Parliament and are determined to create explicit and micro-detailed Acts of Parliament- "some thing must be done about...".

This is very dangerous and removes much flexibility and, in the case of the new Companies Act may hamper the competitiveness of many British companies, especially small businesses that now have to comply with a mountain of detailed regulation.

Some may see Nick Clegg's call for a Great Repeal Act as a bit gimmicky- I for one welcome it, and I notice that the general reception has been very positive.

Perhaps the tide is turning- I certainly hope so,…

In Flanders Fields

In Britain and the Commonwealth the symbol of war remembrance is the Red Poppy. However I see that a Christian Group, Ekklesia suggests that we should actually wear the pacifist white poppy to avoid glorification of war that the Red Poppy might represent.

I have no quarrel with those who choose to wear white poppies, but I find it hard to equate John Macrae's poem with the glorification of war. I attended University on John Macrae's home town of Guelph, Ontario- yes Macrae was a Canadian- so perhaps I feel a bit closer to the poem.

I still think the message that the poem sends is a message of humanity amidst the slaughter and the death. I leave it for you to judge for yourselves:

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place;
and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead.
Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our…

Laughable Ken Livingstone

Interesting that Livingstone, who apparently can not tell democratic America from dictatorial Cuba, found that Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez is as mercurial with his "friends" as he is with everyone else.

As a tax payer, I rather think that Mr. Livingstone should repay the cost of these trips.

Anyone who wants Britain to be more like Cuba under Castro or Venezuela under Chavez is either deluded, stupid or evil.

Perhaps Livingstone will stand "indefatigably" with George Galloway in the Dunce's corner of British politics -reserved for those who kow-tow to the enemies of our country.

50-50 Nation

As the last few results come in from the United States mid-term elections, there are plenty of people who are poring over the entrails to divine what changes these results may portend.

The expected gains for the Democrats in the House of Representatives leave the Speakership in the hands of Rep. Nancy Pelosi- a rather polarising figure, to say the least. Meanwhile, as I write, control of the Senate rests in the hands of Montana and Virginia, and by margins that are extremely tight. The Republicans need only hold on to one in order for their control over the Upper House of Congress to be preserved.

The extraordinarily small margin- less than twenty thousand votes for the two states, after nearly 80 million votes have been cast, should give some of the more enthusiastic Democrat boosters some pause for thought.

Despite the litany of corruption, pork barrel politics, the disaster of Iraq, the incompetence of the Republican administration, it is hard to hide the fact that US politics remains…

The Problem of Party Politics

Cicero has put his name forward to be a Liberal Democrat candidate for Westminster twice. The first was in the Home Counties, where there was little history of success at national level, although within the last few years the Liberal Democrats had had minority control over the local district council.

The second time has been closer to home in Scotland, where there are several local Liberal Democrat MPs, MSPs and effective control over the local authorities.

In both cases party membership was surprisingly low, but there were activists and members determined to make some progress. The particular surprise for me was that the Scottish constituency party was not much larger that in the Home Counties. Being selected the first time was a slightly hit-and-miss affair. For complicated reasons the constituency was almost the last to select a candidate before the 2005 General Election was declared. Therefore there was little expectation that the party could do well in that constituency. That I had…

Transparency

Every year Transparency International release their index of corruption perceptions.

For a student of freedom this index is a very interesting read- it reminds you that governments can be thieves as well as enablers, and that there is no such thing as a perfect government. It also reminds us that the more corrupt a society, the poorer it tends to be.

The tragic list, this year is headed by Haiti- little raised in misery since the time that Graham Greene wrote about it in "The Comedians".

From the Central European perspective is the marked improvement of Latvia and Lithuania- the Baltic bloc is now clearly a cut above the rest of Central and Eastern Europe. However Bulgaria too has improved sharply- overtaking Poland.

As for the UK, its fall reflects the steady decay of good government under our hobbled constitution.

The day of reckoning

I find it suspicious that the announcement of Saddam Hussein's death sentence comes a day before the US mid term elections.

It reminds me a little of the President's infamous "Mission Accomplished" speech from the deck of USS Abraham Lincoln- it is meaningless to the actual situation on the ground in Iraq.

I do not believe in the right of the state to take life. That includes even the vilest tyrant- which Saddam certainly was. If Hess or Speer were not executed (and if Stalin and Mao and their henchmen) for their crimes, then I see the execution of Saddam as arbitrary and therefore invalid under law as well as morality.

The fact that the announcement was made with the timing so co-incident on the US mid terms suggests even more that the sentence was given as a political gesture to suit the occupiers of Iraq.

What concerns me is that, given the rigged American democracy, this gesture might even work. Although the Democrats seem able to punish the Republicans in the House …

New Liberalism

Over the past few months there has been an attempt by the British Conservative Party to paint themselves as somehow more of a "Liberal" Party.

David Cameron has referred to himself several times as a "Liberal Conservative". Many Conservatives have pointed to aspects of Thatcherism (even!) as Liberal in inspiration. The ideas of deregulation and limiting the role of the state do have some Liberal flavour, its true.

Yet the fact that Cameron can suggest anything of the kind reveals the essential flaw in the arguement. Even if the Conservatives once, briefly, embraced aspects of economic Liberalism, they never even understood, still less embraced the political philosophy of Liberalism.

The reason why Margaret Thatcher is, in fact, one of the least Liberal governments in Twentieth century British history is the astonishing increase in the power of the centralized state that she presided over. This poisonous legacy has continued under Blair- the "Imperial Treasury&quo…