Thursday, May 31, 2007

Tell a lie big enough

Russia has cast its dice- A total farrago of lies that suggests that it is the UK that is guilty of the murder of Andrei Litvinenko and not Russia.

Instead of this barrage of nonsense, let us consider the evidence:

The Polonium 210 came from a Russian reactor under the control of the Russian Security services just outside Moscow- we can tell which reactor produced the poison by specific isotopes that were in the mix. From the decay rate we can even tell on what day the Polonium was produced.

The trail of alpha radioactivity released by the Polonium that contaminated the murder site also left the murderer leaving a trail of poison all the places that he had visited. Thus two aeroplanes were contaminated as were a variety of other areas, although all those who came into contact with the Polonium were contaminated, the primary trails were those of Litvinenko himself and his murderer. The trail makes it quite clear that Lugovoi and his Russian security service leg man committed the crime- the evidence is so strong that the UK authorities believe that it can be proved beyond reasonable doubt that Andrei Lugovoi administered the poison.

Andrei Lugovoi is a serving officer of the Russian Security services who did not have routine access to radioactive poisons. The poison was given by a third party- a more senior official of Russian Security.

How high the order goes to commit this murder is a matter of conjecture, but unless Russia's security has been so penetrated as to make it totally useless, there is no question that the Polonium was released at Russian order. It may even be that Vladimir Putin himself sanctioned an act of war against the Queen's Peace in her own capital.

The pathetically unconvincing defence that Andrei Lugovoi has put forward is frankly insulting to the UK.

This murder, the test of a new missile in the past few days, the aggression towards Estonia, the trade dispute with Poland, the spy flights over Scotland, the "investigation" of BP-TNK. Russia is certainly putting its cards upon the table.

Russia is reverting to its old tricks: tell a lie big enough and hope it will be believed. As the Democratic Spark fades across the Russian Federation, the country is going down the same old failed path.

In the meantime- the West has little alternative but to put up its guard against the rogue state that Russia has become.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

A Response to the heirs of Blair

As the Cameroons declare themselves to be the heirs to Tony Blair, I would like to declare once again the key principle of Liberalism, taken from the book that is the badge of office of the President of the Liberal Democrats, On Liberty:

"The only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilised community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, whether physical or moral is not a sufficient warrant. . . .Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign"

John Stuart Mill

So If it really is to be New Labour and Blue Labour then let us shout from the rooftops the errors of their ways! There is an alternative to to patronising public schoolboys. There is an alternative to managerialist nanny staters. There is an alternative to cavalier rejection of our ancient liberties.

The Liberal Democrats are founded on JS Mills principles- it is time to evangelise!

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Emigration, Immigration, Integration

Usually I have a lot of time for the Joseph Rowntree reports, although I am a little nervous about drawing the sweeping conclusions that they have made in today's report about immigration. Although advertised as a survey of 600 individuals, in fact the attrition rate took the continuing survey down to only just over 100 individuals, and I think that the sample size is too small to really judge too much about whether Eastern European immigrants actually intend to stay long term or not. I am not too worried should it be the case that about a quarter do see a longer term future- these are those who are integrating and providing substantial skills. Meanwhile, it is interesting to see that British strawberry farmers are now very nervous that they will not get enough Central and Eastern Europeans to come for the harvest this year.

I am sure that the usual suspects will come out with tirades about immigration- not differentiating those who come to the UK under the free movement of labour guaranteed by our membership of the EU and those who come from elsewhere illegally. Immigration is controlled in this country, but Europe has a big number of people. Nevertheless the emigration from Britain to Spain alone is nearly twice as large as the immigration from CEE to the UK.

The news from Spain over the weekend is that in the local elections in Valencia parties set up by British ex-pats managed to out-poll the two largest national Spanish parties- the Popular Party and the Socialists. I wonder what the British response would be if the same thing happened here?

We hear a lot from Migration watch about immigration- not too much about emigration, and it would be good to place things into a genuine context.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Claim to fame

I have been a fan of the Chase me Ladies I'm in the Cavalry blog for some time:

Puerile - check
Childish- check
Filthy- check
Side Splittingly, Hog whimperingly, cry out loud funny- check check check.

I see in his latest post Harry has outed himself as a Lib Dem voter.

As he lives in High Wycombe, perhaps he voted for me last time, then!

Do you know- however insulting he may be about this- I'm really rather chuffed.

Ignorance is bliss?

Agentmancuso- a thoughtful Scottish Liberal- was kind enough to quote some words from this blog on the Our Scotland forum so I went to have a look.

The theme was "what is the most Fascist country in Europe?" One or two people suggested Russia, Croatia got a dishonourable mention, then a few suggested Estonia. I pointed out some fairly objective truths about the place, it is free and democratic for a start and adheres to various international conventions, including the European Union which really do prohibit states that are not objectively free.

I was therefore rather surprised to find a blizzard of comments in response based on nothing but unsupported assertions. No real evidence was presented, yet each seemed to have a passionate point of view which they clearly felt was as valid as any one Else's. Yet these positions were objectively false.

Absurd premises were made- that the Communist bloc did not practice state censorship, for example- that made me wonder whether we had not simply produced a generation of idiots. Intellectual debate depends on a series of logically constructed arguments, supported by evidence, yet the quality of much of the current political discourse is simply "well that's my opinion and it is just as valid as yours".

That way madness lies. In this looking glass world, black magic is as valid a truth as physics. It is not just the question of moral relativism, it is a question of knowledge versus ignorance and science versus superstition. If we reject the rigorous intellectual method of Western civilisation that insists on proof and provable method then eventually everything about humanity will collapse.

What is even more shocking is the number of people who when faced with that statement will simply shrug. However I can not believe in this essentially decadent passivity. It is incumbent upon political leaders to make their case with the full force of intellectual rigour behind them. Even if they are not explicit when they present their policies, there must be a fundamental intellectual logic.

The damnable thing about Tony Blair- and David Cameron if it comes to it- is that they trade on assertion and not worked out ideas.

- and that is a trivialisation of the political process and extremely dangerous indeed.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Is David Cameron losing the plot?

The funny thing about the Grammargate fiasco amongst British Conservatives is that it shows David Cameron in a consistently bad light.

He must know how resented his Old Etonian background is amongst many opinion formers- not least John Humphries- so stirring the pot on education will always leave some echo of the dreaded class war. The other thing that this is showing up is that Cameron is growing more isolated in his party- it is not just the right wing malcontents this time- even centrist MPs have been showing irritation.

Although this is obviously not the beginning of the end, it probably is the end of the beginning for Cameron. After a breezy first year or two, he must now engage in a war of attrition with quite a few of the Tory die-hards. Cameron has hitherto been a extremely lucky politician- this maladroit blunder is the end of his lucky streak.

In the end OE charm is not enough, and with the plodding policy review process now beginning to show its first fruits, I suspect that there will be sustained trench war on several fronts for the Tory leader over the next year.

Meanwhile, it is Gordon Brown who may inherit a little luck- there is some curiosity as to how or if he can make a big break from Blairism, and for a while at least the pressure could be off Labour while people size up whether a Brown premiership marks a real break or simply a continuation.

The next six months will decide the likely outcome of the next general election. After the slightly farcial Blair farewell gig, British politics might just be getting interesting again.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Freedom of Information

The roll of dishonour: Thos MPs who voted to exempt themselves from the freedom of Information Act:

Of 96 MPs who voted in favour, 21 were Conservative MPs - Peter Atkinson (Hexham), Simon Burns (Chelmsford West), Sir John Butterfill (Bournemouth West), James Duddridge (Rochford & Southend East),Tobias Ellwood (Bournemouth East),Julie Kirkbride (Bromsgrove),Greg Knight (Yorkshire East),Dr Julian Lewis (New Forest East),David Maclean (Penrith & The Border),Bob Neill (Bromley & Chislehurst),Andrew Pelling (Croydon Central),Mark Pritchard (Wrekin),John Randall (Uxbridge),David Ruffley (Bury St Edmunds),David Tredinnick (Bosworth),Ann Widdecombe (Maidstone & The Weald),Lady Ann Winterton (Congleton) and Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield). The Conservative tellers for the Ayes was Tim Boswell (Daventry). All of them should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves.

78 were Labour MPs - Bob Ainsworth (Coventry North East),Graham Allen (Nottingham North),Janet Anderson (Rossendale & Darwen),Adrian Bailey (West Bromwich West),Sir Stuart Bell (Middlesbrough),Clive Betts (Sheffield Attercliffe),Liz Blackman (Erewash),Nick Brown (Newcastle upon Tyne East & Wallsend),Colin Burgon (Elmet),David Cairns (Inverclyde),Alan Campbell (Tynemouth),Ronnie Campbell (Blyth Valley),David Clelland (Tyne Bridge),Harry Cohen (Leyton & Wanstead),Wayne David (Caerphilly),Parmjit Dhanda (Gloucester),Brian Donohoe (Ayrshire Central),Frank Doran (Aberdeen North),Jim Dowd (Lewisham West),Angela Eagle (Wallasey),Maria Eagle (Liverpool Garston),Clive Efford (Eltham), Jim Fitzpatrick (Poplar & Canning Town),Caroline Flint (Don Valley),Michael Foster (Worcester),Mike Hall (Weaver Vale),Tom Harris (Glasgow South),Doug Henderson (Newcastle upon Tyne North),John Heppell (Nottingham East),Keith Hill (Streatham),Huw Irranca-Davies (Ogmore),Kevan Jones (Durham North),Martyn Jones (Clwyd South),Fraser Kemp (Houghton & Washington East),David Lammy (Tottenham),Bob Laxton (Derby North),Tom Levitt (High Peak),Ivan Lewis (Bury South),Tony Lloyd (Manchester Central),Tommy McAvoy (Rutherglen & Hamilton West),Stephen McCabe (Birmingham Hall Green),Ian McCartney (Makerfield),John McFall (Dunbartonshire West),Shona McIsaac (Cleethorpes),Tony McNulty (Harrow East),Khalid Mahmood (Birmingham Perry Barr),David Marshall (Glasgow East),Gillian Merron (Lincoln),Alun Michael (Cardiff South & Penarth),Laura Moffatt (Crawley),Elliot Morley (Scunthorpe),George Mudie (Leeds East),Meg Munn (Sheffield Heeley),Denis Murphy (Wansbeck),James Plaskitt (Warwick & Leamington),Stephen Pound (Ealing North),Ken Purchase (Wolverhampton North East),John Robertson (Glasgow North West),Frank Roy (Motherwell & Wishaw),Joan Ryan (Enfield North),Martin Salter (Reading West),Jonathan Shaw (Chatham & Aylesford),Jimmy Sheridan (Paisley & Renfrewshire North),Sion Simon (Birmingham Erdington),Angela C Smith (Sheffield Hillsborough),Anne Snelgrove (Swindon South),John Spellar (Warley),Ian Stewart (Eccles),Mark Tami (Alyn & Deeside),Dari Taylor (Stockton South),Gareth Thomas (Harrow West),Dr Desmond Turner (Brighton Kemptown),Claire Ward (Watford),Tom Watson (West Bromwich East),Dave Watts (St Helens North),Malcolm Wicks (Croydon North),Phil Woolas (Oldham East & Saddleworth) and David Wright (Telford). The Labour teller for the Aye's was Andrew Dismore (Hendon).

A disgrace, that the House of Lords must reverse.

A blow upon a bruise

My heart sinks as the distressing predictability of the Putin regime shows up yet again.

On November 23rd 2006 Alexander Litvinenko- a Russian defector, but a British Citizen- died in a London hospital. It transpired that he had been poisoned with Polonium 210, with a radioactive signature of Russian origin. Over the course of the past five months the Police investigation has discovered evidence that directly links a Russian intelligence operative, Andrei Lugovoi, to the administration of the poison in a cup of tea served at the Millennium hotel, Grosvenor Square. Today, the Director of Public Prosecutions has decided that the evidence is such that Andrei Lugovoi may be charged with murder and his case sent for trial. As a Russian citizen residing in Moscow, the DPP will request the Russian authorities to extradite the indicted man to face trial.

The initial response of the Russian authorities is to refuse this entirely legitimate request.

Furthermore, on the same day, the Russian Environmental Agency has announced that they have found irregularities in the production sites of BP-TNK, the largest British investment in the Russian Federation. In the past when such declarations have been made, it has begun a process that squeezes out the international partner. In other words, the Russians are now putting the squeeze on BP, as a punishment for a Russian citizen being indicted for the crime of murder.

The breathtakingly crude link points out the fact that Lugovoi may well have been ordered to commit a murder by the Russian government itself. In which case, the regime in Moscow is an accomplice to murder. In the past such an act would amount to a declaration of war against the Queen's Peace and be a casus belli- a cause of war.

However, Russia has now announced that it wishes to solve its trade dispute with the EU, yet meanwhile the Nashi thugs are now picketing the Embassy of the European Union in Moscow, continuing their protest against Estonia.

The European Union and the UK in particular must now demonstrate to Russia that no progress at all is possible on improving trade or on allowing Russian entry into the WTO until they cease this illegal and disgraceful behaviour.

Without a complete change in attitude from the Kremlin, then a return to Cold War confrontation is inevitable. Despite the currently high prices of commodities, which has given Moscow a superficial swagger, in such a confrontation, Russia will be in an extremely weak position. Democratic Societies do not put the squeeze on business for political reasons, but the UK does have many ways to put pressure on Moscow- and Mr. Putin's own retirement plans may need to be changed if he were to face legal proceedings that could curtail his freedom to travel, for example.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Russia's active tense

The utter paranoia of the Russian regime ahead of the Samara summit is quite extraordinary.

It is not Russia that is the victim of politically inspired hygiene checks on its exports.

It is not Russia that has been the victim of a politically inspired shut down on its major oil route.

It is not Russia that has been threatened over the moving of a World War II monument and had riots fomented in its capital by a foreign embassy (although in recent years we may note that they have demolished several monuments and even desecrated graves in order to build new roads).

It is not Russia that is the victim of Cyber-attacks that have crashed many major corporate and government websites.

It is not Russia that has had its Ambassador harried at every turn by thugs.

Russia has prosecuted these activities and not been the victim.

The Germans have kept the Samara summit alive, but if the Russian strategy was to divide and rule in the EU, the sheer brutality of their methods has eliminated any goodwill. The summit will be bad tempered, and without some serious Russian back pedalling, the issue will not be greater Russian partnership with Europe- but what sanctions the bloc will impose.

Europe is very close indeed to deciding that Vladimir Putin is not a man that we can do business with at all.

PS: I was interviewed at the BBC about the Samara summit at the ungodly hour of 5.30 this morning- interesting to see the increasingly firm editorial tone across the UK newspapers, even the weaselly Guardian had the cyber attacks against Estonia on the front page.

Russian blundering is hardening opinion in every quarter.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

The British Response to the Crisis in Tallinn

HMS Illustrious will come alongside at the Port of Tallinn next week.

When will a permanent NATO presence be established in Estonia?

Will the Sea Harriers pay a small visit along the NATO- Russian border?

I do hope so, after all, breaking the windows in Pskov will just match the damage that the Nashi regime did to the Estonian consulate there.

Brownian Motion

What happens if Gordon Brown makes a radical move on electoral reform?

It now looks quite possible that Gordon Brown as Prime Minister will start office in the same way that he began his term as Chancellor- with an unexpected and far reaching radical reform. As Chancellor his first act was to give independence to the Bank of England. Arguably this was the single most important reform that he has made.

Now, there are many hints that he will pass a package of constitutional reforms, including reform of the government of England and electoral reform. Certainly the hint that came from Jack Straw was that additional member voting was being seriously considered.

OK, it is not a strictly proportional system, but it is likely to help the Liberal Democrats in any event since at present they have less than 10% of the seats in the House of Commons despite gaining 23% of the votes.

However a switch to additional member voting also carries significant risks for the Liberal Democrats. Firstly, after the partial nature of Labour's constitutional reforms in Scotland, we should be sceptical of Labour half measures. Secondly, there will be an increasing challenge to the Liberal Democrats, if the electorate believe that major points of our programme have already been enacted by Gordon Brown.

One key theme of this blog is to underline the role of freedom as a basic concept for Liberal policies, this element will become ever more important if Gordon Brown attempts to shoot the Liberal Democrats fox (as he did with independence of the Bank of England) and enact voting reform. The alternative is that the Liberal Democrats programme becomes perceived as irrelevant and instead of a fairer voting system propelling the party forward, in fact we do less well. The lesson of the European elections, and even the proportional elections in Scotland and Wales is that voting reform is not an automatic boost for the party- perhaps that is a lesson that Gordon Brown intends to teach us once again?

Our only come back is to develop a policy platform that is focused and disciplined. A programme which addresses the need for greater accountability and openness in public affairs; greater financial discipline in economic affairs; greater tolerance in social affairs and to work for greater fairness within the international system. In other words it will become even more important to speak more clearly for the Liberal agenda.

Russia's state of denial

The Op-Ed piece in the Daily Telegraph by Boris Berezhovsky today goes straight to the heart of the problem of Putin's Russia: the failure by Putin to acknowledge that the USSR was a criminal state.

The disgusting behaviour of Putin's Nashi thugs towards the British Ambassador in Moscow reflects the fact that Putin not only feels no shame about the crimes of the Soviet era, he is actually proud of them.

The fact that Moscow can continue to launch cyber attacks against Estonia, together with closure of the border and all the other acts of harrassment, simply reflects that Putin's regime is not one that the West can do business with.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Cyber Attacks continue against Estonia

Russia continues to attack Estonia.

The denial of service attacks launched from Russia against Estonian sites are extraordinary. Edward Lucas gives the details here.

This is nothing more than a co-ordinated act of aggression against a NATO and European Union member state.

The West continues to handle this with kid gloves- but for how much longer?

So farewell then...

Watching Blair last night, it is tempting to be charitable. "He will be missed", "He had good intentions", "He had some successes". Indeed several fairly hard nosed commentators have been getting nearly as emotional as Blair himself- a positive chorus of E.J. Thribb-like commentary.
I, however, can not see it that way.
Blair's mistakes have been catastrophic:
"Ethical Foreign Policy"
Mishandling relations with the European Union
Wasting two pounds in every three spent on Health
Running up massive future debts in misconceived PPP deals
Running up massive future debts in misconceived PFI deals
Peter Mandelson as Trade Minister
The Millennium Dome
Freedom of Information Act farce
Jo Moore Affair
Estelle Morris
Failure to recognise that devolution applied to England as well as Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland
Failure to budget properly for Olympic Games
Failure to budget properly for Infrastructure expenditure
School tables
Betrayal of Robin Cook
Alastair Campbell and lies
Centralisation of Power
Building houses in flood plains
David Kelly
David Blunkett
Ken Livingstone- first throwing him out, then letting him back into Labour
Dodgy Dossier
Hutton Whitewash
Abu Graib, Guantanamo Bay and illegal and unconstitutional imprisonment in UK
Lord Levy
Peter Mandelson as EU Commissioner
Cash for Honours
Supercasino fiasco
Iran seizes British Sailors and Marines

Off set?

Not Much.
Perhaps giving independence to the Bank of England (in fact a Lib Dem policy opposed by Labour until 24 hours before they announced it)

There is something curiously unBritish about Blair's emotions. We don't usually go in for being emotional, indeed we are famous for not being emotional.

Blair has been some kind of exotic alien: an English Edinburgh Scotsman with Middle Class French who spent his earliest years in Australia. Perhaps this is why his engagement with foreigners, despite his disastrous foreign policy, has been more consistent than his engagement with domestic affairs.

In any event, we can only give vent to a sigh of relief: Perhaps Gordon Brown will be a Prime Minister who actually cares more about the domestic than the international.

We can only hope so.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Russian History

As Mr. Putin takes another swipe at Estonia for daring to stand up to Russian bullying, I notice that he argues against rewriting history.

Well History certainly is the problem.

After the October revolution, the Bolsheviks began a reign of terror- nobody knows how many people died, but it is in the millions.

An artificial famine was created by the Bolsheviks in Ukraine- no one knows how many died, but it is in the millions.

Stalin launched the Great Terror though the 1930s- no one knows how many died, but it is in the millions.

In 1937 Stalin purged the Red Army and the Party- no one knows how many died.

In 1939 Stalin invaded Poland and arrested anyone connected with the Polish State and Army. Tens of Thousands of Polish Army officers were taken to Katyn and shot.

In 1940 Stalin invaded the Baltic countries and Finland- about a million people were exiled or shot.

In 1941 Hitler attacked Stalin, and the war finally came to the Soviet Union. Tens of Millions were killed.

In 1944, Stalin deported several nations to the deserts of Central Asia. Millions of Chechens, Ingush, Mesekhtian Turks, and Crimean Tatars were dispossessed and killed.

In 1945 the USSR occupied the east of Europe: Poland, Romania, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, Hungary Albania and Eastern Germany. millions were imprisoned, thousands were shot.

In Greece, The Soviets supported a vicious civil war, where thousands were killed. Stalin continued to bully Yugoslavia, even after it had rejected Soviet Style Communism.

In 1953 the Workers of Eastern Germany rose in Revolt. Thousands were killed as the Red Army "pacified" Germany.

In 1956 Polish workers rose in revolt- hundreds died. In October 1956 Hungary rose in revolt- thousands were killed and many fled into exile. Poland was to rebel again in 1970 and in 1978 the election of the Polish Pope led to Solidarity and organised resistance- thousands were imprisoned.

Even after the death of Stalin, millions remained imprisoned in death camps in the Soviet Union or were shot.

In the 1950s Malaysia and Indonesia Soviet inspired insurrections left thousands dead.

The USSR continued to wage proxy wars against the West- and where successful: in China, Cuba, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Angola, Mozambique, Benin, Ethiopia a similar pattern of brutality was repeated.

In 1979 the USSR invaded Afghanistan, occupying the country and sparking a vicious war in which millions were displaced and hundreds of thousands killed.

No one can take away the sacrifice of the Second World War that led to the defeat of the evils of Nazism- and the Estonians continue to treat the Soviet era monument with respect, even though, for many it remains the symbol not of liberation, but of occupation.

What, however, of the blood of the millions killed by the Soviets? The death toll of Soviet Socialism is almost certainly greater than the death toll of National Socialism.

The Soviet tyranny was as vile a regime as has ever existed- and apologists for this monstrous and bloody regime are the moral equals of Nazi apologists.

And, Mr. Putin, we do not forget that either.

UPDATE: The Daily Telegraph leader today is a full supporter of Estonia!

A couple of words about Tony Blair

Legacy: Iraq.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

The need for British Liberalism

Simon Jenkins attack on the Liberal Democrats in The Guardian is a bleat of pain from that section of the British establishment that no longer understands the modern world. Comfortable at home with his knighthood and his directorships, his occasional ventures out into the real world leave him confused and baffled.

For him politics is a binary choice: everyone is either a little Labourite or a little Conservative, and these two should take turns in power. Though the labels change, the perquisites of Sir Simon and the other soi-disant "great and good"will therefore remain unchallenged.

He does not understand that politics has changed- and that the British will no longer accept the cosy cabal of these two. The major trend over the past thirty years has been the consistent growth of the power of Liberalism. This growth has come despite repeated crises: the near disaster of the Thorpe trial, the rise and fall of the SDP, the near death of the merged Social and Liberal Democrats and the crisis of the last two years. Although disappointed by our failure to make more progress last week, the Liberal Democrats are within 1% of their highest vote ever.

There are two reasons why this is so, and why Simon Jenkins absurd critique is simply wrong headed. Firstly Liberalism is a set of clear principles based upon a philosophy of freedom. In many ways it is fair to call the Liberal Democrats the most ideological party- our policies, such as opposition to ID cards, are based upon setting limits to state power. Though we have not been so ideological about economics, increasingly we are developing Liberal ideas on taxation and administration based upon greater transparency, accountability and fiscal limits. We are the heirs to the sceptical intellectual tradition of J.S. Mill, and as such we hold to principle and not the convenient pragmatism that establishment figures like Sir Simon prefer to regard as the root of good governance.

To that end, of course Sir Simon hates the Liberal Democrats: we are revolutionaries.
We are determined to create a modern, liberal society from the rag bag of convention and compromise that big wigs like the former Times editor fails to notice has dragged down our country. He hates us because we believe in principles which do not necessarily give advantage to party, but which are the right thing for our country.

The fact that Simon Jenkins rant was published in the The Guardian- the most consistently anti-Liberal newspaper in the UK- simply reminds us that revolutionaries have few friends amongst the self-appointed philosopher kings of the left, or right.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

I salute your indefatigability..

The news in Tallinn is that "British MPs" have supported the Russian Stance.

I checked- it was only George Galloway.

George Galloway- a reliable friend of tyrants and murderers.

Julie Burchill in drag, without the wit.

I am looking for sponsorship for my "punch-a-c*nt" campaign.

Any takers?

The Eagle and the Small Birds

As the Second World War drew to a close, the representatives of the big three Allied Powers, the UK, USA and USSR, met to discuss the form of world that they wished to see in the aftermath of the conflict. Churchill spoke: "The eagle should permit the small birds to sing and care not whereof they sing."

This vision of respect for small powers was quickly dismissed by Stalin, who intended nothing but a relationship based on force.

Putin has the same realpolitik view of the foreign relations of the Post Communist Russian Federation. He has bullied Georgia and Moldova, when they stand up to Russia- expelling Georgian nationals, and harassing those Russian citizens of Georgian heritage, in a racist display of xenophobia encouraged from the Kremlin. The violence in the North Caucasus has continued- with UN observers even being forced from neighbouring Ingushetia.

However, the latest display of threats against Estonia is a direct challenge to the West.

At the end of the day, although Prime Minister Ansip's government in Tallinn may be criticised for the clumsy handling of the removal of the Soviet War Memorial to the military cemetery, the fact is that Russia deliberately sent Nashi thugs to Tallinn to stir up violence. The Russian government, through dubious meetings between their diplomats and the ringleaders of the violence was clearly giving tacit support to criminal elements. At the same time, they encouraged violence against Estonian diplomats in Moscow, and the violent attacks upon the Estonian Embassy. Likewise, they sanctioned the cyber-attacks against Estonian websites.

These are the actions of a regime that does not care about the rights of a nation that suffered much under Soviet occupation. Estonia lost one third of its population and the despoliation of its economy at the hands of KGB thugs. Estonia has every right to move the controversial statue- but Putin, as the heir to Stalin in the Kremlin, still regards the destruction of the Soviet Prison of nations as "the greatest geopolitical disaster of the twentieth century"- so while most of us regard the collapse of Soviet power as a liberation, in Vladimir Putin's world, it was a disaster.

The abject failure of the West, especially Germany, to condemn the increasingly authoritarian and brutal regime in Moscow is giving many Europeans nightmares. It was a German-Russian understanding in 1939 that undermined the security of Central European and prepared the way for the Second World War. The democratic, Federal Republic of Germany has a duty to speak out in defence of its European Union and NATO ally- the fact that they have not has already been noted in Moscow.

If the small birds are not given freedom to sing, then the democratic ideals of the West will be undermined. The brutal realpolitik of Russia is challenging the West- in Estonia, in Moldova and soon in Kosova, where Russia seems set to veto a comprehensive settlement that will allow independence. Estonia is a test case, and if the West fails, then the outlook for freedom across the world may start to look grim indeed.

So what do the Liberal Democrats do now?

There is no hiding from the fact that Liberal Democrat hopes were not fulfilled in these local elections. Although the vote overall held up, in the places where it mattered, we were comprehensively outplayed- and not just by the Conservatives.

For every gain like Eastbourne, Northampton and Hull, there were painful losses like Bournemouth, Waverley, North Devon, Torbay, South Norfolk, Windsor or Woking. We ended the evening four councils less than we began, and lost 246 councillors.

So, disappointing... and we should give this pause for thought. This is the second year in a row where the Liberal Democrats have failed to make progress. Our vote was broadly static, as it was last year, but this year we saw more losses, as the FPTP system did not give us the rub of the greens. We are clearly being hurt by the Tory recovery, and the Conservatives on the face of it should have much to celebrate. They achieved a higher share of the vote and made around 900 gains, giving them control of 38 more councils. Not surprisingly, the Conservatives are euphoric.

The other parties put the blame for our disappointing result firmly at the door of our leader: Sir. Menzies Campbell. They say that he is "too old" and "too Scottish" and "too old fashioned". I have not agreed with this analysis- to a certain extent I think that our opponents project what they want Ming to be, but the reality has been rather different- he has been collegiate with the Parliamentary party and has significantly improved the administration and the fund raising of the Central Party. Perhaps his biggest weaknesses have been his closeness to the "Mac-ia" that cabal of Glasgow University lawyers like John Smith, Donald Dewar and Derry Irvine, and his willingness to agree that Liberalism is "of the Centre-Left"- when it is not. It is also true that on many occasions he has been a surprisingly indifferent public speaker, and that when this has occurred in the House of Commons, he has been lambasted by other MPs.

The Conservatives are particularly rude about Ming, and openly decry his leadership. However, the message from these elections is perhaps less clear than they hope and we fear. Firstly, on the basis of these results, while the Liberal Democrats could expect a net loss of Parliamentary seats, it would certainly not be the wipeout that the Tories predict: seats like Lewes and Yeovil would be safe, and perhaps some gains like Liverpool Wavertree might offset, losses in the South and South West. So, strangely perhaps. the Lib Dems might suffer a setback, but paradoxically still be a key influence in a hung Parliament- for that is what the primary indication of these results is showing.

Nevertheless, this is not what we should be thinking about. The key is to move the party more firmly towards a coherent ideology- we are not "of the centre left" or indeed centre anything- we stand for greater individual freedom, greater government accountability and fiscal discipline at home and more international co-operation over the most important challenges to our species, not least war, pestilence and famine: all of which are set to increase as we damage the environment beyond the point of no return.

So, I am not panicking over these results: I am more determined than ever. We do have a talented and effective front bench- and they will come more to the fore over the next year. At some point one of them will take over as leader, but unless Ming were unable to lead himself that is a discussion for much later. We have had a setback, but much can still change- and though the Tories are triumphant today, there is a long way to go before they can form a national government. Labour are still in the fight- as we know to our own cost. However a more even match between Labour and the Conservatives may yet provide the Liberal Democrats with a new opportunity, rather than the squeeze that some predict.

Just stepped out...

I have spent the last week away, and inevitably it was a critical week in various affairs that are themes of this blog. I have already blogged a little about the attacks that Russia has been making against Estonia, and I will return to this shortly. Suffice it to say here, that the actions of the Russian Federation are totally unacceptable, but the weakness of the NATO and especially the European Union response opens up the real possibility that both these organisations are now simply a dead letter, with no strength to oppose the burgeoning power of a neo-fascist Russia- a truly terrifying prospect for those who believe in freedom.

Meanwhile I got it wrong over the elections in Scotland- the SNP did better than I expected, and the Liberal Democrats were blind sided. Fantastic candidates like Craig Harrow and Siobhan Mathers did not get elected, while the loyalty and hard work of Nora Radcliffe was drowned in a wall of SNP money, which allowed the detestable Alex Salmond to enter the Scottish Parliament. The United Kingdom is entering new and difficult waters. Naturally the Scottish Liberal Democrats will oppose any attempt to break the Union: we beleive in a federal solution to the constitutional problems created by Labour's asymmetric version of devolution. We oppose the break up of the United Kingdom- and will continue to do so.

So, since the Nats refuse to back down on a disruptive and pointless referendum, the Scottish Liberal Democrats will oppose them. We will join with the other parties to face down the SNP attempt to break the valuable 300-year old Union. In the meantime, the companies that gave millions of Pounds to the SNP: Kwik-Fit and Stagecoach will not be receiving my custom again.

Since South West Trains is a monopoly, it will be hard to bring home to Brian Souter the consequences of his actions, but personally I think a high profile boycott of at least one independentista company might remind the Scottish Oligarchs that their wealth too depends on the continuation of the Union.