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Showing posts from February, 2009

Reforming Britain's secret state

In 1854 the Northcote-Trevelyan report essentially set out the model of Her Majesty's home civil service that is still used today. In good Victorian style, there there was to be a clear distinction and strict hierarchy between those who set policy, administrative staff, and those who merely conducted routine, "mechanical" tasks. The administrative staff worked directly with ministers, who were accountable to Parliament, but the civil servants of the administrative class were not accountable to ministers, but to the Civil Service Commission. These were professional staff, who were unchanging even as ministers, governments and even political parties came and went. As a result it was agreed that these senior civil servants would conduct their business in secret, so as not to prejudice incoming governments against individuals who necessarily had would closely with their predecessors often developing policies that were directly contrary to the policies of the incoming administ

The death of a child

The news of the death of David and Samantha Cameron's son Ivan aged only six is extremely sad. This tragic news reminds us that whatever political differences may exist in a democracy, we are united by common humanity. My deepest sympathies go to the Conservative leader and his family. What terrible symmetry it is that Gordon and Sarah Brown have also lost a child.

What if David Cameron took the biggest risk of all?

Iain Dale holds a unique position in the Conservative blogosphere. He is not a "my-party-right-or-wrong" die hard, and yet neither does he embrace the futile posturing of the anti-Cameroons that form the bulk of Conservative Home postings. His politics are, I sense, to a great degree truly the "Liberal-Conservative" ideology that David Cameron positions himself as holding, and even though we may question the sincerity of Cameron, I certainly do see Iain as a fairly liberal figure within his party. As such, he quite often takes it upon himself to "love bomb" the Liberal Democrats, seeking to consolidate Conservative support from that quarter. The latest love bomb is a piece he calls "What if Nick Clegg took the biggest risk of all?" and it is a none too subtle insinuation that since the Liberal Democrats are really "just a pressure group", then grown up Liberals would surely prefer to support the Conservatives. Indeed Iain makes no bone

Happy Birthday Estonia

February 24 th 1918 was the day that the Estonian Maapaev declared the independence of the Estonian Republic. Throughout the period of independence between 1918 and 1940 the day was celebrated with certain traditions. While every day the flag of the Republic was raised at sunrise from the Pikk Hermann tower of Tallinn castle, and the national anthem played, on the " Eesti Vabariigi aastapaev " - the anniversary of the Estonian Republic- there were special celebrations. Speeches were made and during the day a great parade and an evening ball hosted by the President. After the occupation, first by the Soviets, then by the Nazis, then by the Soviets once more, all traces of the identity of the Estonian Republic were systematically rooted out. Only the hated hammer and sickle flag flew from Pikk Hermann. Even wearing clothes containing the national colours of blue, black and white could have you arrested and sent to Siberia for life. The national anthem was banned. Altho

Ashcroft: the sky is dark with chickens coming home to roost

In May 2008 I blogged about the power of money in British politics , and how it has reshaped the forms and methods of political parties, especially the Conservatives. The point of the post was to highlight the sinister role of Michael Ashcroft as a major source of finance to the Conservatives. The news that the electoral commission has launched an investigation into the donations offered by the Belizean billionaire rather underlines my point at the end of that first post: that the Conservatives may rue the day that they entered into such a close relationship with such a controversial figure. More widely, it underlines the increasing urgency for a major reform of the House of Lords. Michael Ashcroft refuses to confirm whether he is a resident in the UK or Belize- and he has even served as ambassador for the tiny country to the United Nations. After several very large donations to the Conservatives, he was nominated for a peerage. It is hard to avoid the idea that essentially this man, w

Looking for "Plan B" in the Baltics

The latest economic news out of eastern Europe is not just bad in itself. It underlines that the epicentre of the financial crisis has shifted from America very firmly to this side of the Atlantic. Rapid devaluations of all the free floating currencies in Eastern Europe, irrespective of the policies or the circumstances that apply in any given country suggests a collapse of confidence that borders on the irrational. Meanwhile, the other European free floating currencies, such as the Swedish Krona or Sterling have also devalued. This leaves the countries that have fixed their currencies to the Euro zone, but have not yet adopted the single currency itself, looking very vulnerable. Bulgaria, Estonia and Lithuania are all tied to the single currency through a system called a currency board, which means that none of the national currencies, respectively the Lev, Kroon and Litas are issued without a corresponding collateral of Euros in the reserves of the Central Bank. In theory, therefore

Defend to the Death...

"I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it" Voltaire The exclusion from the UK of Geert Wilders , a Dutch MP who has some rather trenchantly hostile views about Islam was simply craven. I don't necessarily believe what he says, and I certainly disagree with the manner in which he expresses himself. However I do believe that free speech should be kept free, no matter what. Perhaps even more offensive do I find these American nutters from the Westboro' Baptist Church, who mostly seem to be related to each other. They are childish and ridiculous controversialists. Their latest immature stunt is to picket some play in Britain, because it might not regard homosexuals as sub-humans with a one-way ticket to Hell. Apparently these nutters picketing a school are somehow less prejudicial to public order than a private seminar inside the British Parliament Building hosted by several Members of the House of Lords. Now following on from the

The strange death of Labour England

The credit crisis is continuing to descend into a prolonged depression. Ireland now faces a crisis that is so severe that it is now facing the real possibility that it cannot finance its own debts without major assistance from the rest of the European Union. Meanwhile in the UK, the nearly 40% devaluation of Sterling may cushion some of the blow, but the implosion of such a huge part of the financial sector in an economy dominated by financial services has clearly been a body blow to the future prosperity of Britain. In the face of the escalating collapse, the previous slogans of Gordon Brown: "An end to boom and bust", "prudence with a purpose" and so on are now revealed as empty air. Despite the initial burst of activity, the current government response has also been revealed as equally threadbare. Despite every attempt, the Labour government is still sinking deep into the mire. The return of Peter Mandelson with his trailing miasma of sleezy and unprincipled poli

Strange lookalike

Is it just me, or has Tony Blair turned into the late Derek Jarman? Strange indeed....