Skip to main content

Posts

Showing posts from 2012

Campaigning Support for Gay marriage

In the past few weeks an Internet meme has emerged concerning gay marriage. It started with a college humor video suggesting that gay guys would marry straight guys girlfriends'. It was a winsome piece of humour, playing to the idea that certain gay stereotypes would be very attractive to women, and that therefore straight guys should support gay marriage in order to eliminate the competition. Then a bunch of gay women thought that lesbians could follow up on this and came up with a whole load of reasons why straight women should support gay marriage. There was a pretty dramatic response, which the girls also responded to themselves with great good humour.

Meanwhile straight men also decided that they could support gay marriage, although disparaging the idea that gay men would want to marry their girlfriends... since they did not even want to do that themselves. Gently they too took the rip out of some of the stereotypes, this time straight stereotypes. On the other hand the straig…

Can the Tories survive another decade?

The British Conservative Party is an extremely successful electoral machine. Over the nearly 170 years since it was founded in 1834, it has been in government more than half the time. It is currently the most powerful political party in the UK, holding the largest single bloc of seats in the House of Commons, the largest number of Peers as well as being the largest single British Party in the European Parliament (holding 25 of the 72 British seats) and being a dominant force in local government too, with over 9,000 councillors. In the face of such a record it may seem absurd to even question the future of such a political success story.

Yet the fact is that the Tories are facing a mounting series of challenges which could certainly lead to electoral defeat and potentially political irrelevance within a pretty short period. 

To me, the fundamental problem remains the unresolved merger of economically liberal ideas, which in the Conservative Party, are usually deemed "right-wing"…

Goodbye Europe? No, Goodbye Britain

In 26 European Union countries, (and one acceding country, Croatia) today is something of a celebration, albeit a muted one, given the circumstances of continued economic hardship- the European Union will formally receive recognition as the winner of the 2012 Nobel Peace Prize. In one other European Union member state it is the occasion of ridicule and disbelief. Admittedly the contemptible British press prefers to hypocritically attack an Australian radio programme for an unfortunate prank that went badly wrong, so probably remarkably few people in the UK may be aware of the special recognition that the EU is getting, unless they encounter some sneering comment on page 17.

Across the British political spectrum, the European Union has become a bogeyman for all of the ills that afflict the dis-United Kingdom. "Brussels bureaucrats"- although there are actually fairly few of them- are the first in line in the British political blame game. Britain is allowed to opt out of more t…

Deeply saddened

A dedicated nurse. An Australian spoof. A British tabloid security scare. A world-wide "scandal". 

A suicide.

Two kids are motherless, but don't worry the press had nothing to do with it. They did not doorstop her, or harass her in any way, so that is all right.

But hey, its OK the British press can regulate itself.

In other news. The Leveson inquiry finds that there is a systematic anti European Union (read = paid for) bias in several British newspapers.

In other news, there is now an opinion poll that suggests that the majority in the UK would vote to leave the EU.

In other news, the Conservatives now tend to support withdrawal from the EU.

In other news, the cost of withdrawal is never discussed, because doing so is deemed by the tabloid press as being "pro-EU propaganda"

Don't worry. Its OK. the UK press hardly ever kills anyone. They hardly ever make mistakes.

Making the same mistake twice

As I read through the Sunday news, I am struck with a sense of fatigue. The responses to the Leveson Report might have come straight from an episode of Yes, Minister. The self-serving posturing of the corporate press merely confirms all we feared most: they have a profit-driven agenda which is little or nothing to do with the national interest and which they will ruthlessly defend. The switch from open contempt of David Cameron to mild adulation, merely because the Prime Minister has essentially rejected the core recommendation of the report- that new arrangements should be underpinned by statute- reveals the Press at its cowardly, bullying, lick-spittle worst.

As it happens I am disappointed in Leveson. I think the report failed to address the rapidly changing nature of the media- the increasing diversity of media channels and the rise of citizen-journalism- and this is a critical failing. However the hysterical vituperation that has been delivered by the press, defending indefensible…

Leveson... the Weasel Press speaks out

The past couple of weeks has seen a concerted defence of the British media by, er... well the British media. Articles such as "Don't Make us North Korean", "We must defend a free press" and so on have been a spectacular case of special pleading. So many people who cross the boundary between politics and journalism, from Boris Johnson to Paul Goodman, have been rushing to tell us why any regulation amounts to the end of the free press as we have known it.  

Well frankly Bul***it.
The fact is that the Press has been ignoring its own (self) regulators for years and- it is now blindingly obvious- have been routinely breaking the law of the land with impunity. As more charges are brought against News International, is it not a scandal that the same management, in the shape of Rupert Murdoch and his family, remains in control of the largest private media business in the UK? Is it not outrageous that the Express refuses even the toothless sanctions of the self regulator…

Radek Sikorski stirs up indifference amongst his Tory friends

The Polish foreign minister, Radek Sikorski usually gets a good press in the UK. His fluent English and his academic intelligence help him stand out as an individual, while Poland is one of the few countries of Central/Eastern Europe where the British have a clear and generally positive view of what kind of country it is. It also helps a lot that Mr. Sikorski, as a graduate of Oxford University, has a big network of friends in Britain- including his former Bullingdon Club confrere, Boris Johnson. Mr. Sikorski's wife is the American historian and winner of the Pulitzer Prize for her magisterial book Gulag , Anne Applebaum, and she is also a regular visitor to Britain.

Yet despite his close connections with the UK, and his former British citizenship, which he only renounced on becoming Polish Defence Minister in 2006, it is clear that Sikorski is hardly an uncritical friend of the UK. Indeed the Anti-EU faction in the UK would argue that he was hardly a friend at all, as he seeks to …

An Estonian anti-party revolt could lead to a new democratic system

I am a Liberal in more or less all meanings of the word. I am also a profound supporter of Estonia, the country where I have made my home over the past four years. My relationship with Estonia dates back decades, to when I was still in high school in 1979 and first got involved with the fight for freedom in Eastern and Central Europe, which was also the same year that I joined the Liberal Party.

One of the many great things about Estonia is that, since independence was recovered in 1991, it has been dominated by liberal ideas in both economics and politics. Indeed the the liberal Reform party has been and remains the most popular political party, while the opposition Centre Party is also a member of Liberal International, albeit that it represents a populist Liberal strand that I have less sympathy with. In fact one can find liberals in all of the Estonian political parties and there is no doubt that Liberalism is deeply woven into the political tapestry of Estonia.

Yet even the most no…

Sick Charter

The problem with the latest corrosive scandal to engulf yet another UK institution is that... well it's all so predictable. People, or organisations for that matter, that believe themselves untouchable quite often end up doing fairly unspeakable things. Although I didn't know Jimmy Savile from a hole in the ground, it does rather seem as though he believed he was untouchable, and lets face it he is dead and was given something of a hero's send-off- so in life he surely was untouchable. Those who have come out to complain about his behaviour since he died do seem to have the smack of truth about them and of course those "in the know" now say that they knew all along that there was something untoward about him. 
So far so tragically sordid.
What the BBC has done about "Savile" as we must now call him (certainly not "Sir Jimmy", although that is the style he knew until the day he died) has revealed the very culture that allowed this seemingly rathe…

The EU Budget... a Labour betrayal that will be remembered

Brits are told every year- especially by the anti-EU press- that the EU fails to pass its own audit test. It turns out that this is not strictly true. Each year mistakes and errors are found, but, it turns out that these are most often in the 80% of the EU budget that is administered by the national governments. In fact, the EU budget turns out to be in a far more orderly position than the "failure of the EU court of auditors to approve the budget" implies

David Cameron intends to reduce- if possible- the total EU budget, and this, in the context of the large austerity that national governments are being forced to impose sounds wholly reasonable. However, Mr. Cameron, together with the other EU leaders, has been asking EU agencies to do a lot more in connection with the crisis that the EU faces. Several of the Eurozone governments are also asking the EU to do more- and it can not do this without increases in the budget. Thus, the challenge to reduce or even simply freeze th…

Internet Freedom may make Estonia the first e-democracy

Living in the country with the freest Internet in the world opens up some interesting and surprising lines of discussion. Now that nearly 25% of the population choose to vote online, there are some very interesting implications that are coming out. 

Firstly there are the short term implications of more e-voting. The fact of being able to vote, even if you live overseas, keeps the Estonian diaspora far more in touch with home. In the recent Lithuanian election, for example, where online voting does not happen, the nearly a million people who live overseas from Lithuania had to make a significant effort to register and to vote- the result was that of the 74,000 Lithuanian citizens estimated to be living in the UK, for example, less than 9,000 actually voted. Had more voted from overseas, it is quite likely that the Conservative-Liberal government would have been returned to office rather than the currently deadlocked situation based on the controversial Labour Party-Social-Democrat-Paksa…

Romney, Obama and the next four years

The American Constitution is a practical document, not holy writ as so many Americans might have you believe. It has its fair share of holes- as was most recently shown in 2000 when despite a popular victory of over a million votes, Vice President Al Gore was defeated by George W Bush in highly controversial circumstances. However in its practical way is sets a regular round of elections, with the election date being the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November.

The 2012 election is thus due on Tuesday 6th November. It is an election in many states for the Senate, and in all states for the House of Representatives, on the ballot are innumerable state offices, from to sheriff to comptroller, to district attorney. Of course this is a leap year, and as a result the top of the ballot is reserved for the election of the President and Vice President of the United States- the two most senior officials of the Republic.

OK, so its an important election, and it is also a close one... if y…

What can they mean?

I see the Scottish Daily Record has a story about the drastic fall-off in support for Scottish independence since the start of the year. What is interesting is the rather convoluted mention in the piece of "the same bar that Salmond plucked his independence poem from" and "bar room doggerel".

OK Daily Record, out with it: shouldn't you actually publish a story about the gathering rumours about Alex Salmond's drinking instead of merely leaving sly hints?

I have no love for the portly first Minister, but if he is an alcoholic then he needs help and not a conspiracy of silence.


The impunity of the BBC

In a way the bombshell that has hit the BBC in the past 24 hours over the raft of allegations about the sexual conduct of Jimmy Savile- and the apparent long-term cover-up- is entirely appropriate. Yet to my mind the storm that has broken is also slightly mis-aimed. It is rather like Al Capone being convicted of tax evasion, rather than the much grosser crimes that he undoubtedly also committed. The fact is that the BBC has an ever longer charge sheet of misconduct, and the cover up of what seems, to say the least, the creepy, probably criminal, antics of one of its stars is actually a bit beside the point.

Although I believe Rupert Murdoch to be a criminal who should himself now be in gaol, his constant criticism of the Corporation was not entirely self-serving. The fact is that from the gold plated hypocrisy of its expense accounts culture to the naked bias of its news programmes, the BBC has moved a long way from the trusted, Reithian ethos that prevailed even up to a couple of deca…

On a street corner in Minsk

I am not sure where I finally lost it with Minsk. It  could have been on the corner of Lenin and Karl Marx streets or maybe walking down Kirov or Sverdlov street or any one of a dozen or so streets named after the brutal thugs who followed the gangster Lenin and his depraved Soviet creed. The Soviet demonology was of course missing its chief demon and near anagram of Satan- Stalin- but still the streets of Minsk proclaimed Soviet power unvarnished with hyphens or humanity. The Soviet era flag, the Militia, and the KGB all survive in "Europe's last dictatorship". 

Yet the visit to Belarus had begun with good humour. Black humour admittedly: "Welcome to Belarus where the local time is 1983". 

We were here to meet friends and celebrate the wedding of an attractive young couple, and whatever my misgivings about the reputation or the Belarusian state and its eccentric leader, Alexander Lukashenka, they were assuaged by the knowledge that I would be there for only four…

Radical Liberals

The slight bounce in the polls for the Liberal Democrats after the Brighton conference, now up to 15% support, may well be part of the froth of the conference season. On the other hand, support at that level has often been the norm for the party at this stage in many previous Parliaments. So those pundits gleefully hoping for the demise of the party seem set to be disappointed. Certainly the atmosphere in Brighton was more of a party on the way back than one on the way down.

In fact I see a renewed commitment to Liberal ideas and a more genuine debate as to what the priorities amongst Liberal values should be. For myself, as this blog makes pretty clear, I am mistrustful of both big government and big business. In that sense I harken back to the classical Liberal tradition which respects entrepreneurship and which believes in the older Liberal virtues that, in short, we exist "to build a Liberal Society in which every citizen shall possess liberty, property and security and none s…

Dead Parrots strike back

The conventional wisdom in the British media is that the Liberal Democrats are doomed to a huge defeat in 2015. The only question that exercises such commentators as Polly Toynbee is how large the Labour victory will be and how long they will be in power.

For sure, as Sir Mervyn King foresaw during the general election, in conversation with my friend David Hale, any government that took office in 2010 was going to face exceptional challenges. The economic situation when the coalition was formed was the worst in over 60 years. On top of this came the challenges of forming and running a new political structure, namely the coalition itself. Well, as we now know, "mistakes were made". The learning curve was pretty steep, and the Lib Dems have paid an exceptional price in support for being behind that curve. 

Yet the Brighton conference may well mark an inflexion point both for the members of the Liberal Democrats and indeed their voters. The political environment could have hardly…

Brighton Rock

A party conference is a remarkably artificial affair, even for Old Lags like me. The business of the hall is somewhat tangential to the real business of conference which is to refresh old friendships and get to as many fringe meetings as possible. For the more frivolous, the determination seems to include finding as many free meals and drinks as possible, but to be honest the attraction of acidic white wine- even free acidic white wine- pales. Chateau de Battrieacide creates heartburn and headache in equal measure, so I strictly ration myself.

Brighton as a conference venue is quite attractive these days- more modern hotels, albeit spectacularly overpriced ones, now function within a brief walk of the conference centre than ever before, and Brighton has emerged as a convenient and compact conference venue, with much to attract the average attendee.

That elusive thing "atmosphere" is what long time attendees tend to focus on, and this year I detect two undercurrents. The first …

How the Lib Dems might beat Spotty Youths and the Nasty Party after all

The problem with Ed Miliband, indeed all of those who came into politics without doing anything else first, is that he still carries the air of the delayed adolescent. 

Basically Ed Miliband looks like a spotty youth in a cheap suit. So no shock to see that the latest polls do not have him carrying it off as party leader.

Meanwhile the Tories seem determined to prove beyond all doubt that they are still the "nasty party". While not quite as foolish as Mitt Romney, you know that sometime, somewhere probably all the Tory front bench have agreed with the Romney idea that the poor are basically just a bunch of freeloaders.

The blind panic among Conservatives now they are under the cosh contrasts rather badly against the grim determination, and discipline among the Liberal Democrats who have been facing repeated setbacks in the past two years. The Lib Dems have been largely written off as a political force, but the party, despite taking large losses at every level, has remained unit…

Suppose the UK leaves the EU by default?

Over the last week the global financial crisis, as it affects Europe, has changed direction. Several of the critical uncertainties that were dogging the Euro have now been resolved. The German constitutional court has ruled that German participation in the current rescue plan is legal, and that future plans are a matter for votes in Bundestag. The Dutch electorate have sung solidly behind pro-EU parties, and the European Central Bank has begun to deploy substantial firepower directly in the markets.

The countries that have advocated greater Eurozone integration seem to be winning the argument, and the focus of debate has moved on towards how and not whether a new European Federation can be constructed.

Many on the right in the UK are determinedly contemptuous of these increasingly dramatic developments. As at the Messina Conference, where the founding members of the EEC sent Ministers, while the UK sent a junior civil servant, the UK has- by default- taken a decision not to be involved …