Skip to main content


Showing posts from April, 2009

Gordon Brown: Kim Campbell's a coming o-ho, o-ho

The woman on the right is the former Prime Minister of Canada, Avril Phaedra Douglas "Kim" Campbell. The man on the left is the current Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, James Gordon Brown. Both succeeded extremely successful and charismatic leaders, Tony Blair and Brian Mulroney respectively. Both were committed student politicians and pioneers in their respective Universities. Both had strong roots in their local politics- BC and Scotland respectively and both took with them some of the attitudes of their local politics to their respective national capitals which made them unpopular in the country at large. Both struggled to cope with the constitutional mess that their predecessors had created: the failure of the Meech Lake accord for Campbell, the incomplete transformation of the UK into a Federation for Brown. Both had a tin ear for what the country was asking of them and both faced economic crises. despite leading the most successful political machines of their

Living in E-stonia

Quite a few people become a bit dismissive when I tell them I now live in Tallinn. For some reason the British in particular are particularly contemptuous. Some actually say that it is as though I am living in Trumpton or some other charming but ultimately pointless and irrelevant place, Ruritania perhaps. They seem to say that whatever pretensions Estonia may have, "its not a real place". Then I point out a few home truths: Estonia spends less than a fifth on health care per capita compared to the United Kingdom, but on virtually every measure it has better health care. Estonia has complete freedom of information, with cabinet meetings broadcast through a web cam and all the paperwork of ministries a public document accessible on the Internet- no ignored "freedom of information" requests in Tallinn. Free WiFi is practically universal- a point one takes for granted until asked for €10 to access the Internet in Copenhagen Airport. Now Estonia is already moving o

What do you do....?

Now here is a job that would be hard to explain to someone at a party ... I...I...I...erm... I rub cream onto...erm... rat's... erm...well... erm Erm...I..erm... stimulate... erm.. well.. rat's... erm... well... er.. to arouse... erm... Look I give rats hard-ons. Now leave me alone.

UK Defence Cuts: Either/Or

As the scale of the economic crisis for Britain sinks in, it is becoming ever clearer that there is no area of public or private expenditure that can escape scrutiny. No area, in fact, unless you are Harriet Harman where you instead try to create massive new costs by imposing a legal duty to implement the intellectually incoherent nonsense of Labour's Diversity Police. Meanwhile back on the real world, there is growing recognition that the Ministry of Defence has not escaped the decline into wasteful incoherence that has characterised the rest of government. The natural tendency of military bureaucrats to exceed even their civilian colleagues in the gold plating of projects has not been resisted by the incompetent Labour ministers, but now the time has come where some very painful decisions are going to be needed. British Military expenditure rose sharply as the country found itself brought into the American campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan. Even as the mission in Iraq has been di

Wycombe Wonders!

For those that do not know that I stood for the UK Parliament in High Wycombe in 2005, please excuse my absolute delight at this local election result: Totteridge Ward Steve Guy (Liberal Democrat) 733 Tim Hewish (Conservative) 408 Ian Bates (Labour) 214 Spoilt Papers 3 Turnout 31% Liberal Democrat gain from Labour. Hearty congratulations to Ian Morton, Chairman Wendy, the team and Councillor Steve Guy! Update: My "Aunty Rosemary" took the Aboyne and Upper Deeside from the Conservatives on Aberdeenshire Council. In Inverness we gained just short of 60% of the vote and there were big wins in Redbridge and Waverley too. It really was a very good night for the Liberal Democrats.

Reading the Last Rites for New Labour

In a way it is tempting to discount the significance of the British Budget. The fantasy economic forecasts and unconvincing explanations that were offered yesterday are just not going to be relevant. Deep in our bones we know that the situation is not a shallow recession followed by an early recovery. The collapse of the financial system has taken away entirely a significant percentage of UK wealth creating capacity. Everything afterwards is set to be slower and smaller. Perhaps it is appropriate that the rather sepulchral figure of Alistair Darling should have read the last rites over the coffin of new Labour- there is no doubt now that the Labour Party has comprehensively fallen into a massive trap. Abandoning any pretence to support middle class aspiration by imposing an absurd 50% marginal rate will not raise the money the Chancellor has said it will. It will, however, mark the beginning of an exodus of investment capital from London. The various funds that congregate in Mayfair an

The Tipping Point

Ah Budget Day! What tradition, what *significance*. The journalistic references to the historic budgets of years past, while all the time most people are simply working out the immediate financial impact of what ever complex fiddles the Chancellor is prepared to impose upon us. The polices that are simply robbing Peter to pay Paul while trying, of course, to prevent Peter from noticing too much. Yet this year there is a certain ennui , a certain fatigue. The calculated posturings of the rather downbeat Chancellor will be met by the equally choreographed outrage of the Conservatives, as they struggle to work out just what on earth the Labour government have actually done. In the end, this is probably the last real Labour budget- and I expect that when Mr. Darling sits down that this will probably be the single saving grace for most of us. Yet actually I think that the 2009 budget may indeed end up being something of a mile stone. The Liberal Democrat pre-budget briefings are usually abo


There are many kinds of blog. There are the twee, the trite and the trivial, the big the bold and bombastic. There is now a vast ocean of blogs in the blogosphere. Yet, like so many other things, there is emerging a pareto distribution of inequality in the blogosphere. There are the powerhouse industrial blogs, like Political Betting and there are the cottage industry blogs, into which category this blog increasingly falls. There are those that can regularly get a thousand comments a day and whose readership is rather larger than such magazines as the New Statesmen, and those where readership is virtually nil. The difference is often simply one of frequency of posting rather than always the quality of the posts. Those that post consistently and frequently gradually obtain larger readership. This is a blog in the middle of a very long tail of popularity. I certainly notice on this blog that a couple of posts a day boosts my readership significantly. Yet I rarely have the time or frankl


After a couple of hours de -spamming the blog instead of writing it, I have switched on comment moderation for a while. I hope normal unmoderated service can be resumed as and when Chinese people stop trying to sell us things...

Muss es sein?

Of all the great souls who have passed before us the one, I think, that moves me the most is Beethoven. I am inspired by literature and art, but music expresses even more to me. The majesty of his Ninth Symphony alone expresses a joy and freedom that takes us beyond our own confines and out into the Universe. His sombre sonatas express the ultimate inescapability of our human fate. Yet always when I listen to this music of a genius I am filled with compassion for the Beethoven the man. The pain of his disease which robbed him of his greatest gift- his hearing. The mystery of his greatest love, his " Immortal Beloved ". We have a copy of three of his love letters, the last runs so: " thoughts go out to you, my Immortal Beloved, now and then joyfully, then sadly, waiting to learn whether or not fate will hear us - I can live only wholly with you or not at all - Yes, I am resolved to wander so long away from you until I can fly to your arms and say that I am really at h

Its the Economy stupid...

The Conservatives are living in hope and in fear. They hope that the tide of incompetence and sleaze that previously engulfed the Major government will similarly engulf Gordon Brown. They hope that the more personable image of David Cameron will allow him to do what his three predecessors, William Hague, Iain Duncan Smith and Michael Howard, could not and lead the Tories to victory. Yet still, the Conservatives fear that their hoped for victory could still be taken away from them. The opinion polls are quite volatile, and given the vagaries of our electoral system, it could still be that the Conservatives get comfortably the largest number of votes and yet not be the largest party in the House of Commons. The Tories need a substantial lead, simply to break-even. Since the Tories still support the first-past-the-post system it is -frankly- their problem and they get no sympathy from me for their predicament. The problem is that the run of polls is such that the Conservatives could be ab

No Witter on Twitter

Over the past couple of weeks I have been invited several times to join up to Twitter. Politicians, bloggers and celebrities seem to be clamouring for me to take their Twitter feed. Many millions have done so, in order to get messages in 140 characters or less -so-called "Tweets"- from Stephen Fry or anyone else who wants to tell you about their world in a simple Tweet. Indeed these Tweets, which can be published to blogs as well as other formats such as mobile phones have become something of a craze. Certainly the messages, usually beginning with the @ sign have become popular with such large scale bloggers as Iain Dale amongst others. Iain, like Stephen Fry of course has a real personal enthusiasm for new technology- sometimes even when it doesn't work. It is now rumoured that Google will buy Twitter , making yet another generation of California nerds into multi-millionaires. Personally I just can't see the point of Twittering. Just because communication has become

The East-West Border

The East-West border is always wandering, sometimes eastward, sometimes west, and we do not know exactly where it is just now: in Gaugamela, in the Urals, or maybe in ourselves, so that one ear, one eye, one nostril, one hand, one foot, one lung and one testicle or one ovary is on the one, another on the other side. Only the heart only the heart is always on one side: if we are looking northward, in the West; if we are looking southward, in the East; and the mouth doesn't know on behalf of which or both it has to speak. Jaan Kaplinski (Sam Hamill and Rita Tamm, Translators©2006 Copper Canyon Press)

NATO Jamboree

The sixtieth anniversary of the signing of the NATO treaty in Washington in 1949 is now upon us. The organisation designed, in the words of Lord Ismay, its first Secretary General, to "keep the Americans in, the Russians out and the Germans down" has been a considerable success. To mark the occasion, the two states that fought three wars within sixty years, France and Germany, are co-hosting the anniversary summit and inevitably the contrast between the last sixty years of general peace and the previous sixty years of horrific bloodshed will be a great part of the symbolism of the meeting. However, there are two items of substantive business on the agenda and yet they too will be occasions of great rejoicing. On Monday the flags of two new member states will be raised outside NATO headquarters in Brussels after the formal ratification and acceptance of Albania and Croatia as NATO member states. I have worked closely with the government in Albania and have visited the count

For those in peril...

After the amazing rescue from a helicopter crash in the North Sea, not three weeks ago, now there is grimmer news. Another Puma has gone down, about 35 miles of Crimond. This time I don't think we can hope for survivors. When accidents like this happen it is a harsh reminder of just how dangerous life on the North Sea rigs can be. Yet, the fact is that there is not 100% safety- and there can not be. Maybe anything worth doing carries a risk. I am often mildly astonished at how matter-of-fact the North Sea workers are about taking on the risks that they do, yet in the end I suppose that the risks of death are only mildly higher compared to life as a whole, which itself does have a 100% fatality rate. I had a friend who came off Piper Alpha two days before the explosion that wrecked the rig and killed 167 men. Even though he had special leave- he was getting married- he remained unemotional about his escape, while lamenting the deaths of his friends. As he said, another friend had be


Living in a foreign capital can often throw up faintly bizarre juxtapositions, things with familiar names may turn out to be something quite different from what you might have expected, whereas something that at first blush seems quite alien is actually very familiar. The Finnish language, for example is quite close to Estonian, but it is spelt quite differently. Often I see signs in Finnish which look totally incomprehensible, but by saying them out loud you suddenly recognise a familiar Estonian word and realise that you can, after all understand what is written. Something slightly similar happened to me the other day, walking past the Matkamaja- the travellers house- in the Town Hall square in Tallinn's old town. I saw a sign saying "Keili". Initially it was a word that seemed to bear no relationship to any word that I knew. On reading further I realised that it was a kind of dance evening. It took a further minute- and the presence of the "Soti", Scottish- f