Friday, December 24, 2010
Thursday, December 23, 2010
After my comments yesterday about the determined attack on the Liberal Democrats coming from the right just as much as from the left, the scale of the moral rot at the Daily Telegraph becomes a little more shocking every day.
After the theft of confidential information which exploded the MPs expenses scandal- which was illegal, but where prosecution was not undertaken, because the story was deemed to be in the public interest- the Telegraph got two of its associates to pose as constituents in order to gain private comments from Vince Cable about the coalition.
It now appears that the newspaper then tried to suppress the most incendiary comments- about Rupert Murdoch- because the views that Dr. Cable was expressing were in the commercial interests of the Barclay brothers- the secretive tax exile proprietors of... the Daily Telegraph.
OK, so Robert Peston then leaked the real story, but it seems pretty clear that the Telegraph should be facing some very real questions about their own journalistic ethics. The Independent explains the whole story here.
If journalists are going to use underhand methods to gain a story, they are already sailing close to the wind. The Telegraph has- it seems now- quite clearly crossed a line. The Press Council should now be taking a look at this- the Telegraph has thrown quite enough mud gained in highly questionable ways over the last year- it is time that they were called to account.
Wednesday, December 22, 2010
The Daily Telegraph, as a right wing Conservative newspaper, has shown no loyalty to the coalition. Their columnists, from Simon Heffer, to the increasingly foam flecked Ambrose Evans Pritchard preach a gospel of right wing cant that is definitely at odds with the more forgiving ethos of Coalition politics.
The fact is that as much as in the Labour Party, there are many Conservatives who are bitterly opposed to the idea of political partnership- so it is no surprise that the Telegraph launched a sting against Vince Cable. He fell into the trap- foolishly- and has paid the severe political price of public humiliation. However the question is cui bono?
As the opinion polls show a slight but widening lead for the YES vote in the AV referendum next year, I fear that there will be ever further dirty tricks played against the liberal Democrats in order to derail the process and even destroy the coalition itself. Unless the Lib Dems can get PR for a newly elected Lords and at least AV for the Commons, then the coalition will not be worth it and the huge political bravery that Nick Clegg has demonstrated will come to naught.
The Parliamentary party will need to demonstrate greater political maturity than Vince Cable did last week.
We should be in no doubt that our party is in the firing line, not just from the dinosaurs of the Marxist Left but also from the hard faced men of the Tory right. This is a very rough political game indeed, and it is critical at the highest level that discipline is maintained. The greatest prizes are still within our grasp. If we get there, we can make good the Liberal vision for our country. If we fail, our party will be eclipsed, as so many -on the right as well as the left- wish it to be. After the bruising baptism of fire endured by Liberal Democrats over the past three months, this Christmas is an opportunity to recuperate and steady ourselves for a battle in 2011 that will be even tougher than it was in 2010.
Tuesday, December 21, 2010
It is something of a disappointment to note that the proposed HS-2 rail link will now not be linked to Heathrow. Any such link is now set to be delayed until the 2030s. So London will have a substantially weaker transport system than Paris for several decades into the future. A weaker infrastructure reduces competitiveness, and as we are seeing this week cutting corners - for example on snow cleaning equipment- eventually ends up costing far more money than it saves.
Yet that has been the British way now for several decades.
"Make do and mend" might have been a good slogan for the Second World War, it is not good enough in a world where China is building, in a single year, more highway than Britain has done in 30 years. Yet the root of the apparently necessary cost cutting on physical infrastructure remains the astonishing damage that Labour inflicted on the British social infrastructure. The imposition of absurd health and safety legislation combined with the diktat of an over mighty state has dramatically reduced the capacity of Society to handle crisis. Once upon a time voluntary associations like the WRVS could be relied upon to store blankets and tea urns- that staple of British togetherness- to use on occasions where, for example, large numbers of motorists got trapped in the snow.
It was precisely these organisations- WRVS, St Johns Ambulance, and so on- that provided respite in emergencies that were most damaged by Labour's arrogant view that the "State knows best". Now the flexibility is gone - and despite David Cameron's ambitions to resurrect these groups through "The Big Society", I am sceptical that these groups can be restored once they are lost.
The social infrastructure has been eroded by wider trends- the need for couples to have both incomes in order to afford a home, the increasing pressure of an affluent society where the most expensive thing is time. The increasing abuse that such volunteers face in places like hospitals where a Saturday night turns emergency rooms into a drunken parody of a field station on the Somme. All of this is driving people even further away from volunteering. The problem is that in a typically British way the country has botched its reforms. The cost of turning volunteers into professionals is beyond us, but the volunteers have now gone. The result is a poorer and nastier society.
Meanwhile even the most basic and necessary improvements to our physical infrastructure are delayed by a Stalinist planning procedure that nevertheless gives every barrack room lawyer their say. Big projects are delayed by endless wrangling that does not alter the final decision much- but does delay it by years or even decades. The abdication of the authority of politicians to the bureaucratic planning process is a prime example of political cowardice and a major failure of leadership.
So amid an increasingly failing social infrastructure- where the discourse is shrill and often ignorant as people take their cue from the no-nothing press- the frustration of working with decayed and under-invested physical infrastructure only adds to the sense of baffled anger that seems the prime characteristic of the UK today.
I fear the hopes of the Prime Minister of repairing the Social infrastructure through rebuilding the "Big Society" are doomed. It is very easy to turn an aquarium into fish soup, it is very difficult to reverse the process. The price of all this is that our physical infrastructure may end up going the same way.
Monday, December 20, 2010
It may be that the riots of last week are encouraging the British Trade Unions into making a major miscalculation. Len McCluskey, the leader of the largest Union, Unite, writes in the Guardian today suggesting that the Unions should be getting ready to "do battle" with the Coalition government. He praises the "magnificent Students"- in short he falls into just about every elephant trap that the Coalition would wish him to.
Since 1979, Unions have been a declining and often unpopular force in Britain. Anyone who can remember the 1970s, remembers the endless industrial strife, largely led, we have since discovered, by Communist sympathisers who were even KGB agents, and occasionally directly funded by the Kremlin too. The fall of the wall may have put paid to outside meddling in British industry, but did not get rid of the muscular egos of the far left.
That McCluskey is spouting rubbish is obvious even to his own side- the Guardian editorial is a nice line in pained contempt. I will not therefore make too much of what this maverick has to say. However I would point out the insular and hostile political tribalism of the Unite leader is actually fairly common on the Labour benches too. Indeed the hostility to the Liberal Democrats shown by Labour has been frankly appalling. The hatred and vituperation poured on Nick Clegg's head has been extremely unedifying. Ed Miliband too has been quick to judge and condemn- in a way that is going to make it ever more difficult for the Liberal Democrats to ever work with Labour for a very long period into the future.
As I feared, Labour, by failing to embrace the new politics of cooperation, is retreating to a laager of class war and the old and failed nostrums of the 1960s and 1970s. It is a massive mistake to believe that the actions of a few hooligans presages a major radicalisation of politics- as McCluskey clearly hopes that it does. The vast majority hold the ringleaders of the riots in pretty strong contempt- and identifying with them will mark the Labour leadership out as losers. If Mr. Miliband, elected as leader by Union votes, can not put clear water between himself and these Union hotheads, then his political strategy will lead to disaster. Miliband junior is running out of time - if he can not define himself more clearly and more quickly, then he will be defined as the puppet of the these dinosaurs.
It was inevitable that the dictator would overstep the mark. He might- maybe- have even won the election without cheating, but that is not the Lukashenka way. Instead, just to make sure, he stuffed ballot boxes, and faked the election result.
Yesterday, in the the frozen December temperature of the longest night, tens of thousands came to the centre of M'iensk to protest. They received the customary response: heavily armed riot police.
Probably Lukashenka will get away with it, after all when Korea looks on the brink of real conflict, what is yet another stolen election in "the last dictatorship in Europe"? Yet the regime. with its Soviet flag and its KGB looks increasingly like a relic from another era.
One day the white-red-white flag will fly again, but what will Belarus have to suffer until it happens?
Only God, or possibly Oleksander Lukashenka himself, can forecast that with any accuracy.
Sunday, December 19, 2010
What, on God's green Earth, has got into the British press?
Essentially the news is that Winter is cold and that... oh dear people will have to change their travel plans. Admittedly that is mostly to do with the inadequate preparation by BAA and some slightly questionable decisions by BA.
Does it really deserve this Olympic level whinge?
Britain is becoming a spectacularly miserable place. The whinge factor in the press is about the same as your typical 6 year old- and it adds nothing and achieves nothing. The same nonsense as the Daily Mail's "No to Berlin Time", or "save the Queen's Head on Stamps".
It is not that big a deal. It really isn't.
And snow, even the metres of the stuff here in Tallinn, is actually... quite beautiful.
It is stupid when the system can not cope with winter, which despite the RECORD LOW temperatures, does actually come every year. However the melodrama in the media is frankly rather pathetic.
Grow up, you silly sods, and get a life: go sledging or drink mulled wine or, just accept that these things happen and never mind. Don't turn winter into yet another excuse for yet another miserable witch hunt.
It is not the winter that is horrible, it is the relentlessly negative and nasty, ignorant, arrogant, no nothings who absurdly call themselves reporters these days that are pointless, negative and faintly ludicrous. Since most of you got your jobs through family pulling of strings after you left your fee paying schools, then the least you can do is smile about it .. at least once in while.
Wednesday, December 15, 2010
Iain Dale has been the Queen Mum of blogging: despite being occasionally acid, even his political foes like him personally and his blog has been innovative and interesting. Although it has been clear that he was losing interest in the blog- far fewer articles in recent weeks- it is still a slight shock to see the end of one of the most popular British political blogs.
Yet in many ways blogs are becoming quite old hat, and the days of a one man political blog, like this one, may be coming to an end. Writing this blog takes time, and it can be a struggle find inspiration and to avoid being repetitious. Yet all the time blog readers are demanding more content, not just more articles but now increasingly video and audio podcast content. I have not had time to learn the skills that would move this blog from being a series of articles into that more developed blogging scene.
I have been content to treat this blog as a bit like a newspaper column, but it seems that the demand is now that blogs become more like a newspaper- and considering the effort and time that this requires, I think that this can not be done on the free economic model that it has run on up until now. The advent of the paywall is providing a new model for the mass news media to use the technology, and to compete in a way they have not done until now. I suspect that after the qualified success of The Times paywall, most of the print media will move to that model over the course of the next year- more and better content, but you pay for it. Meanwhile the number of blogs peaked early last year and has been declining since, and the number of readers may now also be declining- although the readership of this one continues to grow.
So what next for this blog? well, I shall keep it up for a bit, though I expect by the end of 2011, I will either have stopped writing altogether or will have merged this blog with another or will simply write a column on a much bigger blog, like Lib Dem Voice- provided that I have a certain freedom to cover a broad range of topics, in the same way that a newspaper columnist does.
In the interim, I shall continue to bang the drum for the things that I believe in: Hayekian Liberalism, in fact most kinds of Liberalism, the need to oppose tyrannical states, especially the Mafia State in Moscow, the political problems of the UK and occasional general whimsical musings.
I will try to remain reasonably civilised, and will try to avoid the invective that many blogs have used.
Since readership has been growing, and I hope to reach a few readership milestones in the next couple of months it seems fair to continue for a while- after that, we will see.
Monday, December 13, 2010
Harriet Harman is a fairly typical British Labour politician. She comes from a wealthy, even aristocratic, background and was sent to St. Pauls Girls School- a private school- before studying politics at York University and joining a pressure group. She married a Labour activist- Jack Dromey- who she met on the picket line at Grunwick, but has maintained her feminist credentials in small things, such as retaining her maiden name, but betraying her Socialist credentials in large things: by sending her children to grant maintained and grammar schools, while publicly opposing the access to these institutions by others. So far, so unsurprisingly hypocritical.
As a minister she was reliably wrong on most issues: she supported keeping MPs expenses secret, she supported the Iraq war, she believes that undemocratic quotas are the best way to promote women and sexual minorities- as though they should be treated in the same way. All of this nonsense has been promoted with a straight face as a "fairness agenda". She has had her brushes with the law- speeding, and has been associated with questionable financial dealings concerning her bid for the Labour Deputy Leadership. Her husband's stewardship of Labour Party finances as Party Treasurer has also been attacked.
So far, so mediocre and slightly sleazy.
So what is it about this rather foolish, rather arrogant and rather mediocre politician that annoys so very many people in the UK?
Over the past few weeks we have seen here being abusive and disrespectful of other political figures: calling Danny Alexander a "Ginger Rodent" is not exactly the kind of right-on PC that she demands from other people. We have also seen her demonstrating the sense of entitlement and arrogance that should ultimately eliminate Labour as a political force.
By praising foreign people on benefits who send a proportion of their income back to their home countries to support their families as "heroes", she demonstrates a total ignorance of the justified anger of the British people towards a bloated welfare state that can not support this abuse. Benefits are paid by the taxpayer to provide minimum support for the needy in this country. The British tax payer already supports those in need overseas through the international development aid budget. If we are supporting the "third world" through our benefit system too, then sooner or later the system will collapse. Now, don't get me wrong here, I am perfectly happy for people in the UK to support their families overseas- with money they have earned themselves. However it is profoundly unreasonable to expect the British tax payer to be asked to do the same thing. Labour, however, would not allow foreigners who came to the UK irregularly, to work: they insisted that they should take benefits and not join the workforce.
Only a politician who has no understanding about how money is earned and wealth is created could say something so foolish. As usual, in her invincible ignorance and determined arrogance Harriet Harman shows that her view of the state is that it is a giant Santa Claus that can give every good child, and quite a few of the bad ones, a lot of sweeties whether they deserve them or not, or even whether they need them or not.
It is precisely this view of the state that has eroded British competitiveness and undermined fairness. She is not against discrimination at all- in fact she insists on it, provided it suits her social and political agenda. Her shallow vision of feminism was condemned by Erin Pizzey as a "staggering attack on men and their role in modern life".
Relevant Information: this self-regarding, poisonous, mediocrity is the Deputy Leader of the Labour Party.
Friday, December 10, 2010
The scenes on London last night were a parody of a carnival. The Lords of Misrule who hijacked the student protest and turned it into a riot have totally destroyed the student cause. Attacking the Cenotaph- a particularly low thing to do- setting Parliament Square, and the Trafalgar Square Christmas tree, ablaze, and then attacking the heir to the Throne and his wife in their car.
We all know that there are a few hundred anarchists and leftists in the UK who would turn the country into a Pol Pot style murder state if they could, and sure enough these nutters were out in force on the streets of London last night.
However the collateral damage to the student cause is probably terminal. Whatever the rights and wrongs of the tuition fees issue, the students had their cause hijacked by thugs. The poor taste of attacking the statue of Churchill and desecrating the Cenotaph alienates the overwhelming majority in the UK who regard these symbols not as some "Imperialist Relic" but as a living reminder of the price of freedom. The violence on the streets was criminal and those who committed these crimes will now have to face the music.
Yet there is further collateral damage.
If the Liberal Democrats were divided on the issue of student fees, the Labour Party is divided on the issue of the riots themselves. After his message of approval for the last riot, Ed Miliband is now in a very difficult position. Essentially he has failed to condemn the violence of the first demo. Indeed several Labour MPs have now not only failed to condemn the second- more serious- riot, they have sent messages of support.
The trouble is that Miliband is tempted to try to squeeze more political juice from this particular lemon. He thinks reminding the Liberal Democrats and the British people about Lib Dem division on the fees issue plays to his advantage. Yet he can not play politics on this: Labour must condemn outright and completely the violence of last night. Any failure to do so lines them up with the criminals responsible for last nights outrages.
We will soon see if he falls into the trap. If he does, he will condemn his leadership to a lingering death.
Wednesday, December 08, 2010
As the result of diplomatic pressure, we are told, the Ambassadors of perhaps 50 countries will not attend the award ceremony to give the Nobel peace prize to Liu Xiaobao.
The Chinese are claiming something of a success.
It is all rather disappointing, it means that China lines up with some of the very nastiest regimes on the planet.
China has refused to let any close relative collect the prize, so for the first time since 1935, when the Nazis prevented Carl von Ossietzky from receiving the prize, the ceremony will not, in fact see the prize actually awarded.
That is, in itself a pretty terrible state of affairs. What is even more bitter is the fact that the ideas that Liu Xiabao has been imprisoned for: democracy and pluralism, are actively discussed at the highest level in China- as we know from the recently published memoirs of the late Zhao Ziyang.
The Chinese government is lying to its own people when it says that there is little international support for Mr. Liu. It is lying to itself when it claims that it doesn't matter.
Unless China moves in a more democratic and open direction, it risks all the economic progress that has been made in the last thirty years. It is time that China modernised its politics to match its dynamic economy. Mr Liu recognises this, as do many people inside the Chinese Communist Party itself.
Yet, by making a martyr of a Democrat, the outgoing generation of Chinese leaders is leaving a poisonous legacy to its successors and risks undermining the very legitimacy of the People's Republic.
Tuesday, December 07, 2010
Life isn't fair is probably one of the earliest lessons we learn in life. Things don't always work out the way we want or indeed deserve. Yet one of the touchstones for Democracy is that the brightest should at least get a chance to compete with the merely privileged. If there can not be equality of outcome, then at least there should be equality of opportunity.
What happens though, when it becomes increasingly obvious that no matter what your skills, there is and will never be even the pretence of fairness? In the UK now there is a crisis of education, but it is not the crisis that a bunch of articulate, self interested University students would have you believe. The crisis rests in the fact that unless you go to a fee paying, private school- which the English, perversely, call public schools- then your chances of social and economic success are a fraction of the small minority that has attended such schools. In some areas of the media and in the law the proportion of ex-public school educated employees is approaching 90%. Indeed in journalism, it is remarkable the degree to which they are concentrated not merely in certain schools, but even in certain families. This is a very narrow "elite" indeed.
The fact is that the chances of entering certain professions depends on choices that were made not by you, but by your parents. Of course if your parents did not have the money to educate you at the right school, the chances are so low of entering a senior position in law that it is essentially pointless: your chances are less than a tenth of those who were privileged.
What is worse is that the trend is getting worse.
Whereas in the sixties and seventies the Grammar schools were turning out a new generation of leaders, the rise of the comprehensive returned the public school system to the levers of power. Indeed, the political elite is firmly in the hands of the public schools. The days of the "grammar school boy" have clearly gone. now we are accustomed to think of Grammar schools as elitist, but in the 1960s there was considerable bitterness about the way that the public schools lorded it over the state educated even then.
This trend is dangerous.
If it becomes clear to the brightest that they can not hope to achieve their ambitions, then they will come to oppose the society that denies them the opportunity to do so. Social cohesion depends on fairness.
I do not propose to tear down the public school edifice, but it seems to me that access to such schools must be opened up to the very brightest, while at the same time the rest of primary and secondary education needs acquire the access and power that the existing public schools already have. De facto we have selection by wealth- or rather house price- for the best state schools. The time has come to allow wider selection by educational potential. A greater diversity in secondary education can help local schools offer the opportunities that are still- shamefully- the unique purview of the rich.
It is only fair.
Monday, December 06, 2010
The general Election of 2010 gave no party what it wanted, All the parties lost, and that was clearly the message that the electorate deliberately sent to the political class. For the Liberal Democrats, the loss was doubly painful, since the party seemed to be at the point of making a breakthrough that could have changed British politics. In the end, the Liberal Democrats made no progress, despite the widely held view that the party and its leader, Nick Clegg, had fought the best campaign. Indeed several losses- and very near misses- were extremely painful. In that sense, the offer of a coalition that came from David Cameron was made to a party that was somewhat demoralised and very disappointed.
Now the media, from Paxman down, can barely utter the word "Coalition" without a sneer. The naked hostility of the left that has been turned on the Liberal Democrats has been a shock. However, we are told, "welcome to politics as normal in the big league". Except it is not politics as normal: the intimidation and violence shown to the Liberal Democrats by the thugs of the extreme left is not politics as normal. It is a national disgrace. No party should be forced to cancel its meetings because of the threats of the left. No party should have to increase security on its M.P.s homes, because they are being attacked by leftist criminals. Verbal abuse on the street is one thing, but dog shit through letter boxes and vandalism is quite another.
So clearly our Parliamentary Party feels physically threatened. It is also true that most of them have great doubts about supporting the Coalition policy on tuition fees. Nevertheless, the fact is that the battle amongst the students will have to wait for the new generation of students who will be at college at the next election. The Leftists and the hypocritical leadership of the NUS are a lost cause for the Liberal Democrats: it now makes no sense to equivocate with them: the party must now rally round and support the policy.
However this is not without a quid-pro-quo from the Conservatives.
The time has now come for the constitutional policies of the Coalition, including PR for the House of Lords and Local Authorities to be embraced fully by the Conservatives. Whatever equivocation many Conservatives feel about the prospect of electoral reform in the Commons, they have definitely signed up for it for the Lords. More to the point, those Tories, like John Major who support the idea of continuing the coalition, must now realise that the acid test will be the referendum on Commons reform next year. If a large number of Tories come out to support the "Yes" vote, then the coalition will become a lost less uncomfortable for the Liberal Democrats.
At the moment the Leftist narrative of "Tory Bastards and unprincipled and weak Lib Dems" is becoming conventional wisdom, even as the very concept of policy in the Labour Party evaporates in a mist of Milband opportunism. It is time for the Lib Dems to accept that the student battle is lost, but that there are and will be more important battles to fight- especially on the constitution. Abstaining on the student fees vote does look weak, and we shouldn't do it.
The party must hold its nerve: the biggest prize of all, real reform of our state, remains within our grasp and we should not be jolted by the thugs and criminals who are our most bitter enemies.
The Coalition is the only game in town: we have to make it work for the benefit of as many Liberal Democrat ideas as we can. We can not get all we wanted, but then we lost the election. We can however make more progress over the next year than over the last 70 years.
It is time to swallow hard, stay united, and keep our eye on the real prize. Despite the thugs, we should remember: we have a responsibility to the country, to our ideas and to our party, and that the thug must not prevail in British Politics.
Friday, December 03, 2010
The two men at the top are Mr. Vladimir Putin, leader of the Kleptocratic Russian Federation and Mr. Sepp Blatta a one time Swiss Bureaucrat who has destroyed the reputation of FIFA.
The second picture is Blatta Orientalis, the Eastern Cockroach.
I wonder if you can tell them all apart.
The day after WikLeaks confirms the fact that Russia is so corrupt that it is impossible to separate the State from Organized Crime, the FIFA executive awards the criminal state the right to hold the World Cup in 2018. At the same time it gives the right to hold the 2022 Cup to Qatar- a state which has temperatures of over 50 degrees Celsius in the Summer months, when the tournament is played.
Frankly It seems to me that of all the great countries that could have held the tournament: Spain/Portugal or England in 2018, the US or Australia in 2022, the elderly bureaucrats of FIFA have chosen the worst options.
Why did they do this?
Frankly- they followed the money. Whether or not the individual voters were personally corrupt- and we know that at least some of them were- the process certainly is corrupt.
FIFA shamelessly followed the money.
Frankly, having taken the money, they should now take the consequences.
Choosing Qatar is daft, choosing Russia is sinister. A lot of questions will now be asked, and frankly they should be.
Humiliation for England - even after throwing Prince William into the fray- may have been expected after the poor press that FIFA received in the UK, but that does not mean that FIFA can now expect things to settle down, indeed the scale of the English humiliation might unleash something of shit storm for Sepp Blatter. After all he has had corruption rumours swirling around him for years. After two exceptionally stupid decisions (well three, if you count bringing forward the 2022 decision), he should not be surprised if he comes under a whole lot more scrutiny.
He may yet find he has a case to answer.
Thursday, December 02, 2010
The problem for Ed Miliband, after the car crash interview he did on the BBC Today programme last week, is that he is beginning to get a reputation of being an unlucky politician.
The cock-up of a tweet from his spokeswoman: " ''Hypocrisy of Cameron pimping himself out in Zurich..." is precisely the kind of silly unforced error that lucky politicians do not succumb to.
Of course, if in a few minutes, England were to win then Cameron looks like a very lucky politician indeed, while Miliband looks, well, like a loser.
UPDATE: well. I suppose, predictably, England did not get the World Cup, but even that may be lucky, if the FIFA corruption scandal gains any further traction. After all awarding the world cup host nation status to a genuine Kleptocracy does kind of give the game away.