Thursday, July 29, 2010

Labour will pay the price for playing politics with reform

Three months ago the British Labour Party supported a change in the UK electoral system.

It did so for a very good reason: the current electoral system does not give the result that people vote for, which is a pretty serious problem if you believe in Democracy.

Now Jack Straw tells us that his party no longer supports changing the electoral system, and will vote against the legislation to offer a referendum to the British people on adopting a (slightly) better system.

Well, Jack Straw used to be a Stalinist, so I guess we shouldn't be too surprised that he opposes a more democratic system, but there are many other Labour supporters who believe that their party should be in favour of political reform.

This piece by Martin Kettle in the The Guardian shows genuine bafflement as to what Labour is doing. His last words: "one is bound to ask whether Labour is any longer a Party of reform at all", are a rather plaintive cry from the heart.

Yet, after the 13 year soap opera of the vanities which were the "Blair-Brown-Mandelson" years and which included many other examples of unprincipled opportunism I am almost surprised that he can even think that they were a "Party of Reform" in the first place.

By opposing electoral reform, Labour merely underlines why they are unfit for office. The voters who genuinely believe in radical, reforming politics will get no more joy from Labour in opposition than they had from Labour in government. They should understand that the Liberal Democrats have been sincere all along in our talk of changing the root of British Politics- including a more civilised discourse- not just electoral reform. This placed us in a difficult position after the 2010 election, when only a coalition headed by David Cameron was viable. However, to his great credit, the Prime Minister has also (so far) dealt with the Liberal Democrats in an honest and open way.

The contrast between the honesty and sincerity of the Liberal Democrat-Conservative coalition and the naked and unprincipled opportunism and hypocritical double dealing of the opposition Labour Party is quite spectacular.

I think that many- even on Labour's own side- will find this betrayal a step too far. Labour self evidently serves no purpose except to seek unprincipled power for itself: it has become an ideological vacuum, and I expect that it will eventually pay a bitter price for this shameless hypocrisy.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Bob Menendez: Union City Fools

Senator Bob Menendez has come a long way from the Union City, N.J. Board of Education where he began his political career. A fine practitioner of the black arts of Democrat machine politics, he has proven adept at finding populist band wagons to jump on. One was to co-legislate (with the then Senator Hilary Rodham Clinton) a ban on the sale of port and harbour businesses to foreign "governments". This was a response to the partially state owned Dubai World bidding for P&O in 2006. P&O was eventually sold, but minus its US assets, and that now means that DP World does not operate in the US- despite being one of the largest and most respected port operators in the world.

It was an anti business, populist band wagon, and Senator Menendez found it extremely congenial.

Now, in the aftermath of the horrific oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the former Mayor of Union City, N.J. is strutting his stuff on the international stage. He has found another populist whipping boy, in the shape of the Anglo-American oil giant BP, which he still thinks is called British Petroleum (sic). He has stated publicly that there is a direct link between pressure from BP and the release by the Scottish Justice Authorities of Ali Abdelbaset Al-Megrahi, the man convicted in a special court- indeed the only man convicted- of the Lockerbie bomb atrocity.

Despite firm and repeated denials by British Ministers and officials in the Scottish government, not to mention BP itself, that any such link exists, and good circumstantial evidence to support these denials, this is apparently not good enough for Sen. Menendez. He has issued requests to all and sundry to appear in Washington DC before a Senate committee that he chairs in order to respond to allegations that they have already categorically denied.

In the face of repeated refusals to attend his Kangeroo court, he has expressed himself "disappointed", and thinks it "pretty outrageous" that they will not appear. He suggests that a company "on thin ice with the American people" might want to co-operate with his efforts to understand the release of a "terrorist who murdered 189 Americans". He does not point out that 31 British people were also killed- 11 of them on the ground- and 60 others from 19 other countries also died. After all, those other nationalities will not be voting for Bob Menendez, will they?

What is outrageous is that this Tammany Hall machine pol is attempting to make such crude political capital out of the vile and disgusting crime that was committed in the skies and on the ground in Lockerbie on 21st December 1988.

I saw the aftermath, and I will never forget it.

Sen. Menendez just finds it a convenient populist political bandwagon.

There are several questions about what happened in the lead up to the atrocity, but Sen. Menendez is not proposing to address any of them. He simply intends to try to make BP- already on the ropes- the scapegoat for further unpopularity, and by doing so to raise his own profile.

For what it is worth, I will leave the last thoughts to Jim Swire, whose daughter Flora was on board the Clipper Maid of the Seas, and who has been a tireless campaigner to reveal much of what has been hidden about the crime that- remember- only one single individual has ever been convicted of, and that conviction only coming in extremely controversial circumstances.

"Are we not interested that the man who has been freed... might, in fact, not be the man who was involved in causing the tragedy?"

That seems to me over-ridingly a more important question than the question of the minutiae of why he was freed."

I think the knowledge of the wider conspiracy, which has never been made public, that led to the pitiable and shocking sights in Dumfrieshire, includes many individuals in Washington itself. So if Sen. Menendez actually wants to understand the truth about the Lockerbie bomb he should perhaps be talking to people in Langley and Foggy Bottom. Perhaps, after he has done that, he may extend a more courteous invitation to a wider number of witnesses. Then, just maybe, people from Britain might indeed be interested in testifying, even in Washington DC, about the terrible and tragic crime that took place on British territory and which killed 31 British People amongst those 270 tragic deaths.

Over to You, Senator.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Estonia enters the Euro- and the UK doesn't

This is an Estonian Euro coin.

It does not exist yet, but on January 1st 2011, when Estonia will enter the Euro zone, it will join the designs of the other 16 members that circulate across the Euro area.

Many- especially in the UK- are astonished that any country would want to join the Euro zone- so successful have right-wing Euro sceptics have been in persuading British public opinion that the single currency is a catastrophe that will either lead to an undemocratic European super state or- more likely- will break apart as the contradictions inherent in such a large currency zone finally reassert themselves.

The reality, as Estonia's entry into the zone may begin to show, is perhaps rather different from the anti-Euro polemic masquerading as objective analysis that is pretty universal in the British media. The fact is that, despite the tensions and problems within the Euro system, the benefits of currency stability have been far greater than any possible benefits from the much praised "flexibility" of Sterling: i.e. the continuing policy of attempting to devalue Sterling in order to try to maintain a competitive advantage against other trade partners.

Despite a near 30% devaluation of the Pound against the Euro, the United Kingdom has yet to see the implied benefits from that policy. Indeed in the second quarter of 2010 the nascent recovery of the UK manufacturing sector seemed already to be stalling, as export levels fell well below expectations. So, even though British goods are selling at a roughly 30% discount to where they were a couple of years ago, the fact is that the British economy has barely managed to make any progress at all.

Worse numbers seem set to come, as the Bank of England chief economist suggests that growth will continue to stagnate. Indeed a nasty cocktail of lower growth and increased unemployment as the result of necessary government spending cuts is being joined by the continued curse of the British economy since the 1970s: stubbornly high inflation. This so-called triple whammy merely underlines the fact that the UK still faces serious structural problems, which it has continued to put off addressing.

The fact is that, despite the problems caused for Greece by false accounting, the position of the UK government debt mountain is still worse than in Athens. Furthermore, the Greek government is now seriously addressing the problems that they face, and at this point they appear to be winning the political battle at home and are facing down the radical opponents of the government's austerity programme. The UK too is addressing its problems, but the fact is that with inflation remaining stubbornly high, the UK continues to see its competitiveness eroded still further.

The ability to devalue has simply allowed Britain to put off the kind of structural reforms that Germany has been enacting successfully over the past decade. Too much intrusive regulation and micro management by the last Labour government has had dramatically bad effects on the whole UK economy. Entrepreneurship in the UK has continued to decline- new businesses are being created in Asia and meanwhile old established British brand names from MG to Cadbury are no longer under British control. The UK controls an ever diminishing amount of intellectual property- and yet it also no longer has the industrial capacity to manufacture for any one else.

The UK is simply not educating itself fast enough or well enough to be able to face the competitive threat from both Asia and indeed its European partners, neither is the business environment so attractive as to gain new overseas investors in the way that helped to transform the country in the 1980s. All that devaluation has allowed us is a breathing space- yet we are still failing to take advantage of this brief window in order to make the structural changes to the Labour market and the business environment that can actually provide a more sustainable economic future for the country.

Meanwhile Estonia has transformed itself from the totally closed Soviet system into one of the most open economies, not just in Europe, but in the world. Its competitive advantage of highly sophisticated technology and simple regulation is creating a situation where the country will overtake several of its European partners in per capita GDP over the course of the next five years. and possibly even the UK itself within the next ten years.

Estonia is a genuinely flexible market- and the UK is not. Estonia, with relatively low levels of total debt and extremely low levels of government debt- less than 9% of GDP- is not carrying the burden of unfunded pension liabilities that is crippling the UK.

The coalition government has started well: they have admitted the scale of the problem and have set out a credible road map to reduce the deficit. This is necessary, but not sufficient. It is critical that a credible programme of restructuring is put into place- not just a programme of austerity or cuts- depending upon your political brand- but a complete remodelling of the state that permanently shrinks the crippling burdens of debt and pension liabilities.

The failure of Labour to even acknowledge the disastrous mistakes they have made in office should render them disqualified from office, preferably forever. Now it is up to the Coalition to make the case for the the kinds of sacrifices that will ultimately create a more sustainable and more prosperous country.

By that time, Estonia will probably have redesigned their Euro coins several times.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Do US-UK relations need a "reset" too?

The Obama administration has sometimes taken a direct approach to enacting its policies: the determination to ram through its domestic health care policies irrespective of the lack of political consensus has shown that the cautious and academic persona of the president also has a ruthless side. He has under certain circumstances been prepared to cut the Gordian knot and go straight to the point. In other areas the President has been far more circumspect. In much foreign policy, he has devolved the spotlight- if not the ultimate power- to his globetrotting Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton, this week attending the donors conference in Afghanistan. Yet even in foreign policy, the administration has also demonstrated substantial ruthlessness. However such ruthlessness has been deployed at the expense of America's allies no less than towards its foes.

The abandonment of the missile defence agreements with Poland and the Czech Republic, which the US had asked from those governments in the teeth of substantial local opposition and which cost them substantial political support was only the first of several moves to "reposition" US foreign policy. A new beginning in relations with Russia- the so-called reset- also made America's closest allies deeply uncomfortable. Indeed it allowed a German-Russian rapprochement that deeply disturbed much of the Eastern European NATO allies, and- truth to tell- the British and the French as well. Questions are being asked as to whether, despite the huge sacrifices in blood and treasure that core NATO allies have been making in Iraq and Afghanistan, the US commitment to defend NATO member states against Russian aggression would actually hold good. The alliance has in certain quarters begun to seem a little one sided. The US expects NATO members to do its bidding in Afghanistan, but will not speak up against blatantly aggressive Russian policy positions with regard to Central and Eastern Europe.

Privately, the UK too has great concerns. The reset in US-Russian relations came at a time when Anglo-Russian relations were still in the deep freeze following the murder of British Citizen Alexander Litvinenko in broad daylight on the streets of Her Majesty's capital. However it is not just in the wider strategic sphere that relations between Washington and London have become strained.

To say that Mr Obama has not been as warm as his predecessors towards the special relationship is something of an understatement. He never mentions it at all- despite the fact that the British contingent is the second largest in Afghanistan and larger than all the other European groups combined. Almost his first act was to return the bust of Winston Churchill that had been lent to the Oval office and which had remained their throughout the Bush Administration. That this was done publicly was clearly a snub. Worse was to come. The State department was quoted as saying "There's nothing special about Britain. You are just the same as the other 190 countries in the world. You should not expect special treatment". Over the issue of the Falkland Islands, Washington has declared a public neutrality: "we take no position on the sovereignty claims of either party". This is particularly inflammatory given the current delicate state of both Argentine democracy and its economy. 255 British soldiers were killed liberating the Islands after the aggression of Argentina- but as we now begin to note, British sacrifices of blood and treasure are not much respected by this administration.

The latest strain is over the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Although BP has the legal responsibility for the crisis, they themselves were not directly responsible for the accident but the company that was, Transocean, which is American, has been able to escape any opprobrium. Transocean has been able to pay its dividend, while BP, formed after the merger of British Petroleum and Amoco, has not. 40% of the shareholders are in the UK and the company is the largest tax payer to the British treasury. The loss of Billions of Pounds of tax revenue has cause further economic problems at a time when the UK government is already struggling to balance the books.

Then there is the issue of Lockerbie. I came through Lockerbie three days after the disaster, and I will never forget it. The awful silence. The scattering of what looked like tiny pieces of paper across the fields around the town. The pity of it was deeply upsetting. You would think that in the face of the unspeakable, that politicians would at least respect the dead- most of whom were American and British. However the controversial release of Al Magrahi has caused some of the more populist American politicians to suggest that a deal was struck by BP in order to ensure his early release. Leaving aside the issue that many of the victims families, particularly in the UK, do not believe that the verdict in the trial reflects the truth about the affair, it is particularly galling to hear suggestions in Washington that the decision to release makes the British somehow complicit in the appalling tragedy. Frankly such a suggestion- which I have now heard several times- is absolutely monstrous. I would like to take these people and leave them on the hills where the bodies were found and then they can tell us just how complicit Britain has been in such a vile crime.

So as Mr. Cameron heads to Washington, it is clear that there is much work to do. I suspect that Mr. Obama does not personally like the UK or its Imperialist history as it relates to his Kenyan father. However, foreign policy is all about interests. Mr. Obama will need to tread carefully if the strains in the US-UK relationship do not become something more serious. Mr. Cameron comes as a secure leader at the beginning of his term of office, so the kind of snubs that were offered to Gordon Brown on his visit, would be highly unwise. Mr. Cameron in turn will need all of his much vaunted charm in order to restore the goodwill between the two countries.

American-British ties are at something of a cross roads. It would be slightly ironic if Mr. Cameron finds the doors slammed in his face. It would, for example, make the idea of renewing Trident a whole lot more problematic, since the SSBN missile system can not be operated without US facilities and support. It would make British participation in Afghanistan even more controversial. It would open the door for greater security co-operation with the French, something which Defence Secretary Liam Fox, for one, would find distinctly uncomfortable.

The most widely quoted maxim on British Foreign Policy belongs to Palmerston: "Therefore I say that it is a narrow policy to suppose that this country or that is to be marked out as the eternal ally or perpetual enemy of England. We have no eternal allies, and we have no perpetual enemies. Our interests are eternal and perpetual, and those interests it is our duty to follow".

With an administration in Washington that has been at best indifferent to those interests and at times has seemed to be actively hostile, Mr. Cameron will need to keep a very cool head and to tread warily. He may return with the Special Relationship reforged- I certainly hope so. However the UK can not allow its vital interests to be ignored or ridden over roughshod. If the Obama administration is not open to renewing the ties that have bound our two countries since the Second World War, then British interests may need to be protected through a wider network, including a deeper relationship with the European NATO allies, the wider English speaking world, including India and Africa, and a new engagement with the emerging powers of Asia.

That would be a shame, but it may also be reflective of a wider reality of American decline and over the long term could be all but inevitable.

Monday, July 19, 2010

So, what is wrong with Hungary?

The coming week is likely to be a highly turbulent one in the European markets, following the withdrawal of an IMF mission to Hungary. The failure of the mission means that implied IMF and wider international support for Hungary will not be put into place. Essentially it means that the supra-national bodies do not believe that the Hungarian government has the policies or even the will to tackle the widening deficits and increasing debt burden that it faces.

It is a pretty serious slap on the wrist for Hungary.

However it is not just an expression of no confidence in the new government of Viktor Orban. It also reflects the fact that Hungarian politics generally has become increasingly disconnected from economic reality over the course of the last decade. Famously the previous Hungarian Prime Minister, Ferenc Gyurcsany, admitted that his Socialist government had lied completely about the economic position of the country, however such candour was not refreshing: it only underlined the profound moral corruption of the leaders of the political system.

The battles over economic policy continue to be framed by the personal clashes between the incoming Prime Minister, Viktor Orban; the governor of the Central Bank, Andras Simor; his predecessor, Gyorgy Suranyi; and yet another previous governor of the Hungarian National Bank, and former Minister of Finance, Zsigmond Jarai. The policy disputes, both public and private, in Hungary need to be understood within the context of these shifting personal animosities. Meanwhile public confidence in the political system as a whole has been seriously eroded. Allegations of personal corruption swirl around key figures: and the long serving Mayor of Budapest, the Liberal Gabor Demszky, now seems set to face a dramatic defeat in the local elections as these allegations relate to him. The Socialist party is loathed by the right wing, the Liberal SZDSZ seems on the brink of oblivion, while the formerly Liberal FIDESZ has now moved sharply to the right.

Indeed extreme right politics has been the only thing to prosper in the country of late. The Movement for a better Hungary, usually known simply as the Movement- Jobbik- which has been accused of anti-Semitism- is now the third largest political party after the governing FIDESZ and the opposition Socialists. When I first travelled to Hungary in the early 1990s people would have a car sticker of the map of Hungary on the back of their Trabants. The Trabants, amazingly, are still there, but the stickers have changed to show the map of Hungary before 1918: a Hungary that includes virtually all of Croatia and Slovakia and nearly a third of Romania. as well as parts of Austria, Ukraine, Serbia and Slovenia. Nor is this increasingly nationalist irredentism limited to the passions of car stickers. The slogan adopted in the 1920s, opposing the harsh territorial settlement imposed on Hungary after the First World War: "Nem, Nem, Soha" - "No, No, Never" is not just a subject for graffiti, but an active topic of conversation in the salons and dining tables of Budapest.

Thus the Orban government has proposed giving Hungarian passports to all Hungarian speakers- a move which in Slovakia looks like a direct threat to incorporate the southern third of the country into Hungary. Relations between Bratislava and Budapest are increasingly fractious as allegations of Hungarian or Slovak chauvinism have filled the air. Orban talks of being the Prime Minister of 15 million Hungarian speakers- not just the 10 million Hungarian citizens. Hungary now has increasingly bad relationships with all its neighbours, which is not a particularly helpful position when one considers the state of the Hungarian economy.

Ah yes, the Hungarian economy... the elephant in the living room.

The Communist regime in Hungary - while still maintaining the usual panoply of Communist terror, was still- compared to its neighbours- by far the "happiest barracks in the camp". However the regime of Janos Kadar was only able to buy off its opponents by using huge levels of government debt in order to increase living standards. The result was that the Hungarians entered the democratic era with an unsustainably high level of public debt. Despite repeated attempts, most notably with the so-called Bokros plan of 1994, the Hungarians have not been able to create a balance sheet which they can afford. In the 1990s, that mattered less, because the country was able to attract by far the most direct investment into the Central European region. However as Warsaw has caught up and overtaken Budapest as the regional centre, it has become clear that Hungary needs to undergo swinging changes in order to attract investment capital. Once Budapest Airport was the most developed in the region: now it is cramped and appallingly inefficient- particularly compared to the brand new terminals on offer in other regional hubs, such as Riga, Prague or Warsaw. Hungary has been coasting, but now the chickens have come home to roost.

Hungary has high levels of debt, dysfunctional and increasingly extreme politics, a small and fractious technocratic elite which is out of touch with the increasingly ugly mood on the streets. The infrastructure of the country- aside from a good quality network of motorways- is visibly in need of substantial investment. Corruption and incompetence flourishes, particularly in local government, but in large areas of Hungarian society, bribe taking has become a necessary part of the economic or even social process.

The incoming government has offered warm words about tackling the growing crisis, but the fact is that Viktor Orban has form as a highly divisive leader, more interested in the politics of Hungarian nationalism than the practical problems of the failing economy. The failure of the IMF mission is simply the latest economic misstep that FIDESZ has made while in office. There is little confidence that FIDESZ has the skills or even the will to take on the hugely unpopular task of reducing the size of the Hungarian national balance sheet to a level that is sustainable over the long term. The opposition MSZP has a similar track record of failure- while the third party- Jobbik- would leave Hungary completely isolated internationally, and possibly facing sanctions if their more extreme nationalist- even fascist- policies are enacted.

Under the circumstances, the failure of the IMF mission looks, with hindsight, to have been doomed from the start. The Hungarian political system is so dysfunctional that it seems impossible to create a political consensus that would enact genuine reform. Any political party that opted for real reform policies could end up like the King's Party in Bulgaria: a party of Kamikaze reformers determined to do the right thing, but ultimately knowing that this would lead to political oblivion, irrespective of the need for change. I see no such brave souls amongst the time serving and occasionally corrupt placemen who form the bulk of the Hungarian political class. The failure of the IMF mission is not a disaster- yet. However it is likely to mark another melancholy milestone in the gradual descent of Hungary into a deep economic and political crisis.

It may take a new generation before Hungarian politics can be reformed in order to tackle the deep seated economic problems of the Hungarian state. Until such a generation emerges, the country faces a hard journey between the Scylla of economic meltdown and the Charybdis of political extremism.

It is not just the coming week of turmoil in the markets as traders reprice Hungary and watch for regional contamination that will be difficult.

The next years and even decades ahead will also be extremely difficult for the country, unless and until its leaders can learn to be straight with the Hungarian people and enact the painful but essential economic medicine that is required to move the country forward.

PS: Someone needs to tell the Daily Mail that Hungary is not in the Euro zone: it has a free floating currency, like the UK. Such a basic slip is typical of the abysmally low quality of reporting by journalists who are not only biased and ignorant but incompetent. If your blood pressure can stand it I can recommend the Tabloid Watch site. There you can see in all its glory the low quality and generally nasty journalism that these crooked and cancerous people continue to try to sell to us.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The delusions of Peter Mandelson

Listening again to the Today Programme, I am amazed at the almost delusional way that Peter Mandelson thinks about himself. Evan Harris can barely believe his ears as the "dark Lord" repeats his absurd mantra that the Labour government was not harmed by the obsessive rivalry between Gordon Brown and Tony Blair, and his own role within that episode of psychosis that we now remember as the Labour government was a positive one.

A friend who had a senior job in BBC News and Current Affairs through most of the past fifteen years once described Mandelson to me as "simply evil". Listening to the silky voice dribbling out its self serving lies, it is quite hard not to agree with him.

It is quite astonishing to think that Gordon Brown- who even his own side believed had a serious personality disorder- ever made it to become Prime Minister. It is even more staggering to think that Mandelson could not have had his chicanery and charlatanism exposed more completely while he was still in office. As Mr. Blair takes yet more money in order to make his retirement more comfortable, then surely public contempt for the trinity of New Labour must begin to rise.

Brown, Blair, Mandelson.

Names than should live in political infamy for the unprincipled shallowness of their ideology and the moral degradation that they brought into British Politics.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Truth about New Labour

The way the Labour Party tells it, they are simply preparing to return to office.

In the Labour Playbook, the Coalition is a minor aberration, and the compromises that it contains will eventually lead to the British electorate to abandon it and gratefully return to the embrace of New Labour.

Or Newest Labour.
Or Post-New Labour.

The self indulgent scribbles of Peter Mandelson that have been published (in great haste) over the past few days not only spike the guns of Tony Blair- whose own confessions of a justified sinner are due out in the next few weeks- they also reveal quite plainly the depths of the nightmare that we have just escaped.

Essentially the Labour Party mortgaged the future in order to fund its own clients. The first estimates of the true state of the balance sheet of the UK after the years of New Labour make for appalling reading. In addition to the near one thousand million Pound cost of the bank bail out, there is the one thousand two hundred million Pound cost of state pensions: mostly unfunded. Then there is the three hundred billion Pounds of unfunded PPP and PFI projects. Thus the total debt of the UK is not the widely quoted One thousand million Pound figure at all. It is in fact somewhere above three thousand eight hundred million Pounds. This is nearly four times the total GDP of the UK, which is roughly one thousand million Pounds.

Thank you Peter Mandelson and Good Riddance.

The self indulgent re-re announcements and political spin, together with light character assassination of which the "Dark Lord" was the foremost exponent was not a "third way" of politics, it was a get now-pay later politics of short term greed and selfishness which has left the UK in debt to its own great-great grandchildren.

Meanwhile the greenery-yallery of New Labour's incestuous bitchfest- sorry I mean the Labour Leadership campaign- reveals an intellectual bankruptcy that is almost total and almost totally unsurprising. After all the brace of Millibands, and the rest of these Labour hacks that we are invited to consider- God help us- as potential Prime Ministers look like clodhopping sock puppets compared to the overweening and posturing vanity of the precious Lord Mandelson. The contemptible repudiation of the need for constitutional reform by Andy Burnham simply underlines the opportunism and vacuity of all of these "heirs to Blair".

Now we can read the memoirs of Peter Mandelson and realise that all our worst fears for the shallowness and stupidity of the Labour Party were as nothing compared to the grim reality.

Never Again.

Never Again, should these pygmies be permitted to misrule our country.

Condemned out of their own mouths. Condemned by their own actions. Guilty before the bar of international law and of public opinion. One can only hope that as the British people truly understand the scale of the con-trick with which New Labour has stolen the inheritance of the next three generations, and as they also understand the facile lies and unprincipled greed with which the millionaire Mandelson lined his own nest as the result of his position as a nominal public servant: then the justified rage of the British people will fall upon the travesty which is the modern Labour Party.

Personally I think that charges could be brought against some of the ring leaders, and for the sake of real political reform I think it could even be necessary to do so, if only "pour encourager les autres".

Friday, July 09, 2010

Summertime and the blogging ain't easy

In both London and in Tallinn the good summer weather is making bloggers - including this one- rather lazy. Iain Dale is taking a 10 day break, and activity across the blogosphere is declining in the summer heat.

In part this reflects the simple exhaustion after the election campaign and the long phony war that preceded it. It also reflects, I think, a new evolution in the way blogs are being written. The advent of Twitter has reduced a blog to a tweet, and the significant amount of work that a blog involves is also causing even long standing and well known bloggers to reappraise what they do.

This blog is no different.

I have always set out to write about subjects to which I have some particular insight. I try to write in more detail- time permitting- than I see in the mainstream press. Unfortunately the side effect is that the blog is pretty wordy- and combined with poor editing- it is clear that I do not hit the kind of audience that the mega-blogs like Political Betting or Iain Dale can do. Nevertheless the readership of this blog has been steadily growing, and until I took a rest a few weeks ago, I was getting record readership.

Part of the hiatus of blogging has been the result of my own doubts about the role of the Liberal Democrats in the new political world of the coalition. I feared- indeed still fear- that the leadership of the party was in danger of selling the tradition of Liberalism far too cheaply and that instead of a more Liberal political system, what may emerge over the next two years is a Conservativism that is revived without the necessary Liberalism that the UK still needs to rediscover.

The result of the general election was a double edged sword for the Liberal Democrats, and there is no use pretending that the challenges that we face as a political party will be anything except pretty testing. The need to enact political reform is critical, not just to the future of the country, but also to the survival of the Liberal Democrats as an independent political force.

The party will certainly pay a price for entering the coalition- but that price may be worth paying if the result is that the constitution can be improved and the role of the state can be both reduced and yet made more efficient. Certainly the crisis that New Labour left us with should remind us that the misguided instincts of Socialism wedded to unprincipled pragmatism leads to nothing but economic and political disaster. Labour needs to be finished as a political force, yet my fear is that the alliance the Liberal Democrats have forged with the Conservatives may allow the zombie ideology of warmed-over Socialism to continue as a political force for another generation.

So, as the pleasant summer heat continues, Liberal Democrats are spending their time considering the future and the best way to promote the key principles that Liberalism represents. Blogging may remain sparse, but the debate that is going on quietly inside the party is absolutely critical. The Party conference in September will see uncomfortable questions being asked. Although the party is pretty united, there is now a real sense that we will need to work harder than ever to convince the voters of the value of Liberal principles.

That is a debate where this blog intends to take an active role- so after the long hiatus, I can now return to the fight.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Poland chooses more wisely

After six European countries in 10 days, I return to the white nights of Tallinn ready to face a large pile of work. However, I must now catch up with the writing of this blog which has been much neglected of late.

I spent about a week in Hungary, spending time with several American friends, then a quick trip to Estonia's southern neighbours: Latvia and Lithuania and then a trip to Warsaw. While in Warsaw I witnessed with friends (and several relatives of the new President) the election of Bronislaw Komerowski as the fourth President of the Polish III Republic.

The second round of the election was a straight choice between Komerowski and the twin brother of the late President, killed in the Smolensk air disaster, Lech Kaczynski. Jaroslaw "Jarek" Kaczynski has previously served as Prime Minister, when his brother first became President. Jarek Kaczynski is- to say the least- a controversial figure. A profound Social Conservative, he is close to the most reactionary figures in the Catholic church, several of whom chose to denounce -the no less Catholic- Mr. Komerowski from the pulpit. Mr. Kaczynski's follows included some of the most backwoods elements of Polish Society who seem determined to offend their opponents for the slightest deviation from their perceived true path of Nationalist, Catholic Conservative and defensive Polish identity.

Mr Komerowski, on the other hand, as a member of the ruling Civic Platform, is far closer to the true spirit of the Solidarity movement which opposed Communism in the 1980s- indeed he was imprisoned under Communism twice. However his vision for Poland is far more open and much more tolerant- unlike either of the Kaczynski brothers, he has spoken approvingly of secular policies, such as greater freedom for homosexuals, for example. Almost all of the leaders of the Solidarity Movement, including Lech Walesa and Tadeusz Mazowiecki have supported Mr. Komerowski's campaign.

Had Mr. Kaczynski been elected there would have been a return the the hostilities of the Kulturkampf that was taking place between the late President Kaczynski and the government of the centrist Civic Platform under Prime Minister Donald Tusk. Indeed Jarek Kaczynski might have been even more divisive than his relatively calmer brother.

This is not to say that the Tusk government may now rest on its laurels.

The vote for Mr. Kaczynski- no doubt influenced by sympathy for him after the death of his brother- was nonetheless still impressive. Despite the occasionally almost paranoid tone of the two brothers in the last few years in both domestic and international policy, which seemed set to mark the certain defeat of President Lech Kaczynksi in the scheduled election in October, the margin of victory for the Civic Platform was very narrow. Mr. Kaczynski seemed revivified in the campaign, and some subtle changes of tone helped prevent the dramatic defeat that once seemed likely for him and his party.

Nevertheless, despite the economic success of the Tusk government, the battles of the Kulturkampf remain as shrill as ever. The power of Polonia Semper Fidelis remains strong, together with the almost unchallenged role of the church. Any attempt to challenge the deeply conservative elements in the Roman Catholic church must be handled carefully: despite the full throated opposition that several Conservative priests have voiced, the government continues to give their views and exaggerated respect.

In one year's time, the Parliamentary elections will be held, and the backwoodsmen will be back in that campaign as strong as ever. It is time for the Prime Minister to push forward a more radical economic policy, which he may now do without the sniping of a President Kaczynski.

As one of Mr. Komerowski's relatives said at the election night party: Poland usually does do the right thing, but generally only when all the other alternatives have been exhausted.