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Showing posts from February, 2007

"The line is busy..."

At the moment it seems that hardly a day goes by without more rules, more bans, less freedom. Today new legislation comes in that will increase the punishments for using a hand held mobile telephone while driving. We know that using a phone while driving drastically compromises a driver's concentration and dramatically increases the chances of an accident- indeed the chances are roughly comparable with the accident rate of drink driving. The trouble is that this is also true for hands free phone use too- which stays legal, for now. Meanwhile in fact pedestrians suffer the same impairment of concentration, so presumably the same problems. Perhaps they might step into the road and get hurt? Shouldn't we prevent harm and ban mobile phone use unless people are in fact not mobile, but stationary? After all that is the logic of the legislation. It is an absurd logic. If the risks of mobile phone use are so high, then their use should be restricted unless the vehicle is stationary, b

More Bl@@dy rules!

Oh No! David Cameron announces that he intends to spend some vast amount of money "to improve border security". The trouble is that every time John Reid or another one of these clowns starts making some meaningless grandstanding gesture it delays me another five minutes at the Airport when I come back into my own country. On Saturday after a six hour delay in Copenhagen- an ice storm, and no, don't ask me why I was coming back from Tallinn via Copenhagen- I had to wait for over half an hour just to show my passport at the European channel. I would like to congratulate the Home Secretary on his competence - but I can't. Both Cameron and Reid are in the business of gestures. Personally I would like to make a fairly strong two fingered gesture at them both.

Liberals and Anti-Liberals

British politics is changing. Traditional party politics is in long term decline. Politicians have promised too much and delivered too little. Partly, this is because it is simply not possible for the political process to deliver the kind of outcomes that politicians and their voters expect. Disillusion and apathy are the order of the day- and political pragmatism has declined into the pursuit of power above any other interest. Many politicians will say- "of course it must be power above all else, otherwise how could we actually make any difference at all". The problem, though, is that power is concentrated in the hands of so few and is so jealously guarded that by the time that anyone gets close to the top they have forgotten what they wanted to change in the first place. This concentration of power- economic as well as political- has reduced the power of the individual to impotence. Huge administrative bureaucracies, in almost every field, have acquired enormous powers to c


Once again I return to Tallinn- clear and cold. I am here to receive the Order of the Cross of Terra Mariana- the senior order of the Estonian Republic. I attended the ceremony this afternoon, with around two hundred other recipients of various decorations: from the Metropolitan of the Estonian Orthodox church to a little girl who had made a real contribution to her community. As we await the President of the Estonian Republic there is for several moments a total silence. It is a typically Estonian moment and I reflect how rarely a crowd ever falls completely still. President Ilves' speech is slightly defensive, reflecting the fact that the list is much shorter this year and many who had thought that they were due, did not get recognised. As my turn comes I greet the President with thanks and take the award. I am proud and touched, but somehow sad. I thought of the many Estonians who I first met in the early 1980s who never lived to see the free republic restored. In particular I t

Revealing State Secrets

Lech Walesa may be in many ways a flawed man- certainly his strangled syntax in Polish contributed to his demise as President- however he has never lacked courage. He climbed the fence of the Lenin Shipyard in Gdansk in 1980 and led the strike that brought free trade unions to Communist Poland and ultimately created the conditions for freedom across Central Europe. Walesa was arrested during the crackdown that led to martial law in 1981 and spent a year in gaol. He was and is a genuine hero for a lot of people across the world. Yet the current regime has criticised Walesa for permitting some members of the former regime's security services to keep their jobs- no wonder he called his successor "a blockhead" . The twins have not taken kindly to this- under a law they themselves passed not long ago, "defaming" the President of the Republic carries a five year prison sentence. I don't think that these idiots would actually put Walesa on trial. If they did, they

Liam Fox is a blundering Oaf

The Daily Telegraph puts forward an assertive position against Russian President Vladimir Putin in today's Op-Ed page. However it is a bit much to see praise lavished upon the oafish and blundering Liam Fox. The Tory Defence Spokesman may speak out against the right target- the bullying crassness of the Putinists. However his inaccurate and boorish criticism of our new NATO allies in central Europe has alienated many potentially key allies in the battle against the new brutalism in the Kremlin. While I am happy to agree with the Telegraph that "once you start paying the Danegeld, you never get rid of the Dane"- Fox is a blunderer who should be removed from his position before he does any more damage.

Vultures gathering

Vulture funds are those who invest in difficult situations, such as following a credit default and then squeeze a higher return through a variety of different legal methods. Usually the defaulted credit is a bankrupt company. However as the Telegraph reports this morning, a Vulture Fund: Donegal International, registered in the British Virgin Islands, has managed to put the squeeze on a deeply impoverished Southern African state: Zambia. After paying $2 million to the original creditor (in this case, Romania) to gain control over the $15 million credit, Donegal has used a loophole in the agreement to write off Third World Debt to buy a government debt which can be written off by the borrower, and convert it into a private sector debt, which may not. Accordingly Donegal has sued in court for repayment of the full amount plus interest- $28 million. No, perhaps surprisingly I don't believe that this trade should be banned- that's Capitalism, baby- I would now act rapidly to close

"And Conservatism"

Oh dear. David Cameron on the radio this morning: We believe in freedom AND compelling fathers to stay with families. Freedom And Compulsion? That has got to be pretty dangerous, given the number of men who are violent and abusive. Not to mention the not insignificant number of mothers and kids who don't know who the father is... Muddle headed thinking like this does not bode well.

"So you're a Conservative really..aren't you?

From Time to time recently I have been invited onto Iain Dale's show on the Conservative blogging TV channel 18 Doughty St . Even though the show is late, I have usually come from work, so I am in my business suit, and yes, I am dressed like an investment banker- well guilty as charged. I think that this may have lulled my Conservative hosts into believing that I am "really" a Conservative. However I joined the old Liberal Party as a teenager, and I have maintained my belief in Liberalism as an ideological approach to politics all my adult life. Cameron's version of the Conservative Party seems to comprise a lot of nice public school chaps who are very keen on helping the disadvantaged- "those less fortunate than ourselves". These "Compassionate Conservatives" drip with concern for their fellow citizens. Last night one of the panel was exactly such an example of a "Compassionate Conservative"- he works in the voluntary sector in the inner

What is the Unicef wellbeing index really measuring?

UNICEF have published a list of industrialised countries ranked by the " well being" of their children - and the UK is at the bottom. Cue breast beating, ashes and sack cloth. Cue a government minister saying that the statistics are out of date (the "we don't wet the bed anymore" defence). Cue left wing academic claiming that social inequality and the "dog eat dog society" is the root cause of our children's misery. Oh, am I being a bit cynical? Well these kind of reports do seem to have become rather ritualised, and I don't really know what they do except tell us what we know already: our social problems hit kids the hardest. Given that every government claims to be putting the welfare of our children first, it is a pretty miserable outcome to see that our kids get drunk more, use drugs more, have more teenage pregnancies, less family life, are poorer and have lower self esteem than the other 19 industrialised countries. On the other hand is

The point of blogging

It is now nearly two years since I started blogging, firstly as a General Election candidate, and then after the election on this site. The initial purpose was to share experiences about the campaign, which were by and large both positive and fun. When I began to blog here, I initially took a pretty broad remit, to talk about things that interested me from a broadly Liberal perspective. I wrote about books and authors that interested me, about places and in particular about Central and Eastern Europe and about British politics. Since I have a senior role in an investment bank, working in Central and Eastern Europe, I have preferred to write anonymously, although many, if not most, in the blogosphere know who I am. Indeed I have twice been invited onto Iain Dale's 18 Doughty Street programme, so away from my professional life, I am not too worried about being "outed". Over time, although I rarely have time to blog every day, I have come to concentrate more on political and

Did he inhale or Blow?

I am now back, briefly, after charging about the Baltic over the past week, with only intermittant access to Blogger- why do so many public access connections seem to think Blogger is a hot porn site? Wierd huh? The issue of the moment is, apparently not the distinct possiblity of another catastrophic disaster by George W Bush, but rather the boyish antics of Cameron of the Remove. Of course it is no big deal if he smoked the odd spliff at Eton- or anywhere else. However, given that this biography was written from a largely friendly perspective, why do I feel that there is a lot more to this non-story? At least 80% of us go "so Cameron smoked a spliff or few, so what?" However the issue may not be what he did at school, but what he may have done more recently. Media and lobbying types have been known to set up a few lines of Colombian marching powder. Did Mr. Cameron use something stronger than Cannabis, and a lot more recently? Barack Obama admitted "a bit of blow&

Winter chill

As I have come north from Lithuania, the weather has grown more wintry. Riga, yesterday was down to about minus 10, and catching the early flight up to Tallinn this morning has brought me to even chillier climbs: it is currently minus 19. I will not make smug comments about the chaos that a little snow and temperatures of about zero have brought to London. It just irritates me that when winter comes to Southern England, their disorganization makes the tiny problem into a crisis. It is the first time that I have done all three Baltic Capitals in a single week for some years. It is interesting seeing the relative progress. Despite Labour shortages which, in Vilnius, mean that there are very few taxis, the overall picture is extremely positive. The construction boom in Vilnius is particularly impressive. Meanwhile Riga has become a bustling hub for the whole region with plenty of flights across Europe, and now beyond, offered by airBaltic, the SAS owned dynamic little airline. Ryanair are

Lithuania in the cold

I am back in Vilnius, meeting with a broad selection of the great and good in Lithuanian finance. In the rather damp thaw- about +1 degree- I consider what makes Lithuania rather different from the other two Baltic Countries. Culturally Catholic, as opposed to Protestant, it has been far successful in preserving hierarchies through the various political upheavals of the past two decades. In that sense the Lithuanians feel more similar to Poles and other Central Europeans- the generation in its fifties still has control: in Estonia, and to a lesser extent in Latvia the ruling generation is on average in its late thirties. The Hierarchy can be seen in all forms of life- in education, politics and in business. Perhaps this is why I somehow get a sense of anti-climax here. The City of Vilnius has changed much- but not as much as Riga or Tallinn. The economy has done well- but not as well as Estonia or Latvia. Talking to my friends, I sense a growing frustration with the political class- th

Asian flu

As the slaughter of a mind blowingly large number of Turkeys proceeds apace in East Suffolk, the prospect of Avian flu in the UK has finally come. Avian flu, though, is not the only dangerous threat emerging from Asia. The economic numbers from China make for some sobering reading. At the moment we are accustoming to viewing China as a great success story- a huge advance has been made across the country in terms of economic prosperity since the reforms of Deng-Xh ouping ended the bloody debacle of Maoism. A gigantic shift in production has moved the industrial production of whole sectors into China. As a result, China has been able to acquire significant reserves. Yet, the Emperor has no clothes. The key to much of the recent growth in China has been the state banking system. Though the free market has extended across much of the country, it has not advanced enough in the Chinese banking system. credit controls are lax, to say the least and with limited bankruptcy procedures there

Off target

OK- lets not get too worked up- so the British Police are sniffing around the cash for honours allegations. So The British Prime Minister has been questioned twice. So several close associates and members of his staff have been arrested, and subsequently released without charge. So the circumstantial evidence points quite strongly to honours having been offered in exchange for cash support of various New Labour causes. So too circumstances seem to show that several people have given contradictory accounts to the Police, to the point that the arrests have been more on conspiracy to pervert the cause of justice- i.e. a cover-up- rather than the original allegations themselves. A little ironic no? This is the government that made the most disastrous foreign policy decision in 50 years and is now caught in the Iraq imbroglio to the cost of thousands of dead and injured and billions of dollars and no idea what to do next. This is the government that wasted two pounds for every three it allo