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Showing posts from September, 2007

A Certain destiny

As the despotic regime in Burma continues to attempt to crush the drive for freedom with bloodshed, the dignity and bravery of the long oppressed Burmese continues to shine through. I continue to believe that the junta should be isolated and that all practical measures to promote the cause of Burmese freedom should be undertaken. The fact that the Chinese government seems to be calling for restraint , is perhaps mildly optimistic. The fact that Russia is supporting the tyrants should be noted and is contemptible. An Op-Ed piece in The Times by Ben Macintyre caught my eye. I think it is worth quoting the last two paragraphs: "Two sets of beliefs are colliding today in Burma today. On one side the monks, devotees to an ancient creed, demanding democratic freedom and modern economic reform, and on the other a vicious modern military machine, adhering to a medieval code of prophecies, astral omens and superstitious symbolism. You do not have to be clairvoyant to be able to predict w

Bonkers Boris waits to strike again

I was at a wedding a few years back when a very nice Conservative Lady came in (a little late) and sat down next to me and with an air of triumph declared that : “I am late because we Conservatives have been selecting our candidate for Mayor of London. Its great news: its going to be Jeffrey Archer !!" My jaw hit the floor. I really did not know whether to congratulate her, as she clearly expected , or to commiserate her on the inevitable doom to follow. Boris Johnson may not be a crook (although of course his ex-mate Darius Guppy is)- but who needs another Archer-style “character”? I am with those who think that the Tories will rue the day- whether it is that Boris gets found in bed with a giraffe or some other more outre offence against sense and decency, I suspect that he will come to grief somewhere. As regular readers will know, Ken Livingstone has always struck me as a pretty sleazy kind of politician, with a far bigger ego than his "cheeky chappy" TV persona woul

Georgia on my mind

I managed to catch the second half of the Georgia against Namibia match in the Rugby World Cup. I have been pretty disappointed so far with the coverage of the RWC. Partly this is a function of the very patchy coverage by ITV, but mostly it is due to the very poor performance of the Home nations. However there has been an incredible timidity too. I was shocked and very angry to see Scotland turning out what was essentially a B team to face the All Blacks at Murrayfield. Unsurprisingly Scotland were totally blanked- even on home ground. This is hardly the kind of display that will encourage the required increase in support for the game in Scotland. While the players may still feel proud to be playing in the (mostly) blue jersey, the cynics of the SRU refused to give the paying public the kind of contest that demonstrates the power and the passion of the game. By contrast several up and coming teams have played with a commitment and pride that puts the Home nations to shame. The first

Rogue polls and Vogue Pols

The endless merry-go-round of opinion polls is not something I ever get too thrilled about- leaving it to the more anorak-y commentators on . In particular the gyrations of YouGov do not give me much confidence as to their methodology. The latest YouGov showing Gordon Brown 11% ahead of the Tories, with the Lib Dems, despite a good conference, losing 3% strikes me as more than usually strange. Yet, in the vague atmosphere of election fever, such a strong lead is creating a media frenzy. For what it is worth, I am not convinced that an election over half term (October 25th) or even in early November is a particularly likely option. Rather, it seems to me that stoking the election speculation achieves two goals: one it leaves the Conservatives on the back foot, and secondly since the lead story in the media is all about a potential election, it eliminates some more difficult questions on things like Northern Rock, which only the most informed journalists even underst

The Saffron Revolution

The Burmese junta is one of the nastiest governments on the world. Down there with Mugabe and King Jong Il it has conducted the impoverishment and oppression of an ancient and dignified culture. From having been the wealthiest country in Asia upon gaining independence in 1948, the dictatorship that seized power in 1962 has pursued a catastrophic economic mismanagement of the country. For example, replacing all the kyat notes divisible by ten with notes only divisible by nine- a more"auspicious" number, then moving the capital from Rangoon to an isolated clearing in the jungle called Naypyidaw . In 1988 the Burmese people rebelled, and chose Aung San Suu Kyi as their leader in free elections. However the kooks in the regime are also utterly ruthless, and massacres of thousands took place before the revolution was stilled and the cruel, corrupt and rapacious tyranny was resumed. Now, once again, the Burmese are openly struggling for their rights and defying the junta. Rumours

Its blog-tastic

I notice that Iain Dale, as part of the tease for his latest "collaboratively" written book, " Iain Dale's Guide to Political Blogging 2007 " [that's enough plugs- Ed] has marked out this blog for particular praise: "If I were to pick out one Lib Dem blogger who had the potential to make the big time it’s James Oates from Cicero’s Songs . He’s a consistently brilliant writer, who provides insight with every blogpost. If he posted more often and updated his blog design he would be in the top three next year. As a Conservative I probably read more Lib Dem blogs than most others. I find them consistently more entertaining than Labour blogs, as their authors tend to inject their own personalities into their blogs in a way that Labour bloggers tend not to. It’s clear that LibDem have harnessed the blogosphere well, and their influence is likely to grow over the next twelve months. I’m not sure what it says about their leader that his blog is rated 100 out of

Gordon Brown: the seeds of his own downfall

As the reverberations from the Northern Rock debacle continue to echo, and as the evidence grows for a major fallout from the growing US Dollar crisis- one major casualty emerges: the credibility of the independence of the British Central Bank. The first act of Brown as Chancellor was to grant the Bank of England independence. one of the first acts of Brown as Prime Minister is to demonstrate that the Bank is in fact not independent at all. The political fallout of Northern Rock placed the Governor, Mervyn King under some pressure to resign, but even more pressure to change his policy of limiting support to lenders who get into trouble. The Governor's long held view is that to provide generous credit terms to banks that get into trouble would eliminate moral hazard and therefore encourage banks to take even greater risks. More importantly still, the wash of extra money would add to inflationary pressures in the economy. None of this seems to have counted with the UK Treasury- they

The Blind leading the Blind

The media frenzy on the (fairly remote) possibility of a snap election in the UK has continued, despite some pretty clear non-denial denials . After a while this begins to make the media look somewhat over-excitable and also pretty dumb. It is hard to respect journalists who keep coming out with unsubstantiated rumour and treating it as fact. I saw a good deal of it last week at the Liberal Democrat conference in Brighton. The conference was cheerful and good natured, with well mannered and informed debates. There supposed splits between Economic and Social Liberals were not evident to me- indeed I have rarely seen the party so united. Nevertheless, the only story that the media wanted to talk about was Ming Campbell's age- "Isn't he past it, not up to the job" were a couple of the most polite comments I heard from journalists. Frankly this outrageous ageism simply reflects ignorance of a terrifying degree. Firstly Ming gave a damn good speech- thoughtful and passion

Ming Campbell's answer to Triangulation

I see that in this morning's Independent Michael Brown makes the case for an alliance between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats . I find it hard to feel warm and cuddly about such an alliance, but that is not because I have any great ideological hang ups about working with Conservatives. The problem is that, were cross party coalitions required in the future, I find that the Conservatives have more in common with Labour. It is Labour who have proposed most of the key planks of the surveillance state, which the Conservatives have supported. It is Labour who proposed the Iraq war, the Conservatives who supported it. It is Labour who try to impose unworkable but supposedly draconian legislation on immigration, the Conservatives who have supported it. In fact the Conservatives have supported Labour on several of their key mistakes. The Liberal Democrats have been a far more effective opposition to Labour than the Conservatives, simply because the supposed left and the suppose

Brighton Belle

I spent some of the weekend at Brighton to hook up with old friends at the Lib Dem Conference- and the atmosphere is positive. I hope to return this evening, but I am extremely busy, so my plans perforce must remain flexible. I have been shortlisted in Aberdeen, so I will also need to be at the other end of the country for most of next week (but only after attending the England-Estonia match at Wembley). It is always good to to meet old friends from across the country, and I am also profoundly encouraged by the increasing sense of purpose in the party. Nick Clegg's profile in today's Indy was also a really interesting and effective exposition of Liberalism. Despite the iffy press so far, I think this is set to be a good conference.

The Economic (& Political) Conseqences of the Crunch

As regular readers of this blog will know, I, like many Liberal Democrats, have been warning about the extreme imbalances in the global economy for some time. Vince Cable first talked about the problems more than two years ago. It does not give me much satisfaction to say "We told you so". The old fashioned run on the Northern Rock is not supposed to be happening- the Bank is reported as solvent and has the support of the full faith and credit of the Bank of England. Nevertheless with every hour that passes the depositor base is draining away and when only the loan assets are left the Northern Rock will simply have to be sold. This was the fifth largest mortgage lender in the UK market and in the course of a week it has ceased to exist as a business. The shareholders who in February owned shares worth £12 each may end up being lucky to get more than £2, and there is the possibility that they will end up with nothing. The crisis in US sub-prime has claimed its first British vi

The Nasty Parties

Since David Cameron became leader of the Conservative Party he has made plain his desire that the British Tories should leave the European People's Party (EPP) in the European Parliament. Although virtually every other right wing party in the EU is a member, Cameron and some of the more anti European elements amongst the Conservatives have considered that the EPP is dangerously socialistic and pro European. Apart from the European Parliament of the European Union there is another Parliamentary Assembly in Europe: that of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe . The Council of Europe is a rather worthy organisation that was set up independently of the European Union by the Treaty of London in 1949 in order to promote the values of human rights and democracy. It is open to all those countries that accept the rule of law and the principles of Human Rights. Unfortunately it now embraces such countries as Russia whose actions in recent years have shown a remarkable contemp


Once again in Tallinn, finally completing the paperwork of a transaction that we executed a few weeks ago to fund a reverse takeover of a Polish company listed on the Warsaw stock exchange. Coincidentally, a party of British Liberal Democrats is visiting Estonia, and since the party of Parliamentarians is being led by my Uncle, I am able to tag along to a couple of the meetings. Some of the members of the group visited Tallinn four years ago on a similar mission. They are, inevitably, astonished to notice the dramatic changes, not least in the Tallinn skyline, that have taken place since then. As with the last trip, the delegation meets the All-Party British Group in the Estonian Parliament. Several heavyweights, including former Prime Minister Mart Laar, come to join the exchange of views. As before I am struck by the fact that the debates between the different factions are over issues that are encompassed with the UK Lib Dems. Both Mart Laar, a nominal Conservative, and Sven Mikser -

19th century Rail

As the high speed rail link is finally tested between Paris and London , it is certainly progress to report that the journey time between the two capitals is now set to be 2 hours and 15 minutes. Unfortunately, it is rather depressing to report that the average speeds into London on other railway lines are now slower than they were in 1910! I am sure that the Victorian engineers that had such vision to create the network in the first place would be astonished to find that it takes five minutes longer to get from Richmond to Waterloo, for example, than it did 100 years ago.. Mind you, across the UK, we seem to be missing the vision to create an effective and efficient transport system. Partly this is put down to cost. The price of land and other inputs makes investing in infrastructure a far more expensive proposition per mile of track than it is in France, for example. On the other hand the UK is half the area of France, so any high speed track is likely to be more densely used. Nevert

Electric Cars- getting much closer

Electric Cars have generally had two problems: poor range and long recharge times. Unless you can recharge in not much more time than it takes to fill a petrol tank, then the popularity of the electric technology is not likely to be more than a niche segment. However, in today's Telegraph there comes news of two significant breakthroughs. If the reality of the technology is anything like this then there is the possibility, very soon, of fast, long range, rapid rechargeable, even sexy, new electric cars. Given the price of the new Audi Supercar is about the same as this electric sports car, this could actually become a popular product. Maybe the Lib Dems might be bang on when saying that petrol technology should be phased out by 2050. With the right technology and the right car, we might see the introduction of charging points at service stations within 5-10 years. Or were those conspiracy theorists about big oil suppressing electric cars in the 1960s not in fact paranoid nutters a

The price of EU withdrawal: be careful what you wish for

There is a substantial minority in the UK that would like to see the country withdraw from the European Union. Not reform, not regroup, but leave, period. They base this argument upon they idea that the EU is the enemy of Liberal economics and increasingly is restricting and not enhancing the cause of freedom in Europe. Nevertheless, over the course of the past 20 years, the cause of Liberal economics has won many victories inside the European Union. From the Single European Act, which proved to be a breakthrough in the creation of a genuinely common market, to the expansion of the Union to include the Liberal economies of the east, to the erosion of the old statist consensus in trade, competition and agriculture, much as certainly been achieved to create a dramatically more liberal economy amongst the states of the EU. For the anti-Europeans, though this does not go far enough- "too little, too late"- seems to be a fairly constant refrain. I see too major risks about the exi

Market Power

As the forecast credit crunch continues, it is interesting to note the themes coming out of the Jackson Hole Fed conclave. While Central bankers like Axel Weber of the Bundesbank spoke of the reaction of the markets being "a classic bank run"- in fact the fear persists that under the crisis of liquidity there is a more fundamental real economic crisis. As my friend David Hale notes, there is in fact a "crisis of information"- and in uncertain times, the fear is becoming all too real and filling the information gap with horrible imaginings. After the Great Crash of 1929, I believe that it was Alistair Cooke who first observed that the Everest in the markets achieved in 1929 was "a mountain of credit resting upon a molehill of actual money". Unfortunately, the asset bubble in US sub-prime mortgages rested upon an income stream that was too small to sustain the inflated valuations. Ultimately it became a giant game of pass the parcel- and the meltdown has u