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Showing posts from May, 2009

Primarily a Franco-American Affair?

I notice that the Government of the French Republic has described the commemoration of the 65 th anniversary of the Normandy landings as " primarily a Franco-American affair" . Once again it shows President Sarkozy in a pretty bad light. Of the 156,000 troops landed on Omaha, Utah, (American) Juno, Gold and Sword (British and Dominion, primarily Canadian) beaches 73,000 were American and 83,115 were under British command, including a contingent of 900 Free French under the command of General Leclerc . D-day itself was not, noticeably , a primarily Franco-American affair. The largest military contingent was from Britain and the Commonwealth. The Queen is not merely Head of State of the United Kingdom, but also of Queen of Canada, Australia and New Zealand amongst others- and Head of the Commonwealth. All of which nations participated in the Normandy landings and the liberation of France. My Great-uncle Claude was a short man. It was just as well, because when he jumped out

European Union: facing a choice

In the face of the ongoing attempt by the Daily Telegraph to portray MPs in the worst light possible no matter what their actual sins, it has been easy to forget that there is an important election campaign now taking place. I have had the option of voting in the European elections here in Estonia or where I am still registered to vote, in the UK. I have had to think hard about where I should vote. I am friendly with several of the leading political figures in this country and know several of the candidates for the European Parliament personally. In many ways I am closer to the Estonian version of Liberalism than the version of the party of which I am a member- the British Liberal Democrats. By voting in the UK, I could also be undermining my claim of Estonian residence in the eyes of the British tax authorities- and in the face of the Blitzkrieg unleashed by Alastair Darling in the last budget, that is not an insignificant consideration. Furthermore, the European elections usually ge

The shrill and the stupid

As the Daily Telegraph continues to take its expenses scoop into the territory of flogging a dead horse, I can hardly be alone in being very disturbed by the visceral and irrational nature of much of the commentary in the blogosphere on this issue. Almost literally, many bloggers have become part of a hanging mob. The level of hatred and vituperation against politics and politicians has reached a level of shrillness that is frankly sickening. The kind of angry, mostly male, blogger who can literally call for politicians to be strung up- and to mean it- is becoming part of a vile and anti democratic stench that this whole sorry affair has created. This kind of irrational, emotive drivel is what feeds Fascism. I am very glad indeed that I am not in the UK at the moment, the atmosphere must be thoroughly poisonous. Frankly I have been sad and disappointed by what has been going on in Parliament, but the point is now to think rationally about reform and reconstruction. Continuing to tear d

Scott Rennie: A kind of victory

Perhaps to my surprise the Church of Scotland has indeed upheld the appointment of Rev Scott Rennie as the Minister of Queen's Cross Aberdeen. It is a vindication of Scott and the dignified way he has conducted himself. The next steps, I suppose, are to allow the decision of the Kirk to sink in and to prove to those who think that the decision is wrong, that Rev. Rennie can work to heal the damage that this unfortunate affair has created. I know that Scott will try hard to work to bridge the gap, in as far as he is able to do so. I hope that those who have disagreed with his appointment can now accept that much goodwill will be needed to avoid further damage to the reputation of the Kirk. However I do add my congratulations to Scott and his loyal congregation after what must have been a very trying time.

Nick Clegg's three victories

Joanna Lumley in tears, celebrating the humane decision to allow the Gurkas who fight for our country to stay here, if they wish to do so. Mr. Speaker Martin resigning- the first Speaker in 300 years to be forced from office. Lord Rennard, under fire for his Lord's finances, deciding to leave his job as chief executive of the Liberal Democrats. What an amazing week for Nick Clegg!

John Stuart Mill... of his own free will

May 20th is JS Mill's birthday. he was born in 1806, only seven month after Trafalgar and died in 1873. A brilliant child, he is said to have spoken ancient Greek at the age of three. Certainly he received an extremely intense education, piloted by his philosopher father James Mill, assisted by his friends, including the utilitarian philosopher Jeremy Bentham- whose embalmed body you may see if you visit University College, London. Perhaps not surprisingly after such a hothouse education, JS Mill had a nervous breakdown in his early twenties, but he later went on to become one of the most complete Liberal philosophers of his day. His ideas on free will and liberty now form the backbone of modern day Liberal political philosophy- which is why, notably, a first edition of his book "On Liberty" is used as the badge of office of the Liberal Democrat Party President. That charming stalwart of Liberalism, the late Professor Conrad, Earl Russell also had a direct connection with

A British Constitutional Convention

By common consent there is now a great deal of unfinished business in the government arrangements of the United Kingdom. The reform of the House of Lords is but partial, and it remains as undemocratic as ever. The roles of the national parliament and assemblies in Scotland , Wales and Northern Ireland remain undefined and nebulous; the constitutional position of England unclear. The powers and role of the executive are concentrated and unaccountable under the Royal prerogative . The established churches retain idiosyncratic rights that have more to do with the sixteenth century than the twenty-first, including the right to 26 bishops being members of parliament through the House of Lords . Those of us who have become students of our arcane and unwritten constitution hold many obscure writers, from Bagehot to Erskine May to be the acme of constitutional interpretation. We have been told that the unwritten nature of of constitution is a strength. However the earthquakes that have st

A New Speaker

After the fiasco of yesterday's scenes in the House of Commons, it now seems more likely than not that Mr. Speaker Martin will announce his departure from office this afternoon after he has met with the leaders of the political parties at Westminster. Clearly there will need to be some scrutiny of the terms of his departure. It is imperative that Mr. Martin steps down without delay. Were he to attempt to continue in office until the general election, then this would now clearly be unacceptable. There is the possibility of his stepping down and remaining in the House, or the alternative, to step down and retire from the House of Commons at the same time. Although I imagine the SNP would prefer a by-election (notwithstanding the rather murky dealings of their own leader in the expenses scandal), in fact there is nothing to force Mr Martin to leave the House, and that is a question for him alone. The next question is what to do next. Clearly both Nick Clegg and David Cameron have had

Why Mr. Speaker Martin should resign, and what happens if he does not

Parliament is a shambles. The release of the astonishing litany of expenses claims has hurt all parties. In the end though the people who it should hurt the most are those who have tried to stop the release of these expenses. A core of politicians led by the Liberal Democrats have always believed in transparency and accountability for what is being spent. The Lib Dems have generally released their expenses as a matter of routine. Thus, although there are a few claims that are questionable, they are a dramatically smaller matter than the outrageous claims made by the moat cleaning Conservatives or the double counting Labourites. Then there is David McLean MP. He, you may recall ,was the MP that led the amendment to the "Freedom of Information" Act that exempted MPs from several of its provisions. McLean was opposed by the Liberal Democrats, but supported by the majority on both the Conservative and Labour front benches. Worst of all it was supported by the Speaker himself. As

A bevy of Blogs

I have always been fond of the collective nouns used in English: A flock of sheep, a herd of cattle, a pack of hounds, a troop of monkeys, A flange of baboons, A pride of lions, a pod of dolphins, a shoal of fish, a school of porpoises. Then there are the rather lovely bird names: a congregation of plovers, a colony of penguins, an ostentation of peacocks, an exaltation of larks, a murder of crows, a parliament of owls... Ah yes, Parliament. What -I wonder- would be the collective nouns for those involved in this current sorry saga? A snoop of journalists? A hypocrite of columnists? A claimant of lords? A transit of MEPs? A drone of newsreaders? A take of MPs? A bastard of politicians? A Blah of Bloggers?

Constitutional reform: we told you so

As the revelations of stupidity, cupidity and greed continue to drip out from the purloined records in the possession of the Daily Telegraph , the chorus for change has grown ever louder. As political leaders denounce "the system", the response from the wider market may not be precisely what they anticipate. They are of course right, "the system" has created a class of MPs in safe seats who are ultimately unaccountable. This may have created the culture that has allowed such absurd expenses claims, but in many ways the expenses scandal is just the tip of a wider and far more serious crisis; a crisis of our constitution. The constitution of the UK rests upon an electoral system where one can either vote for a party label or make a judgement on the personal qualities of an individual, but very rarely both. If you live in Scunthorpe and are a Labour supporter, you may be deeply unhappy to find that voting Labour involves voting for Eliott Morley, who is one of those

Oh really?

OK , now the dead tree press, aka "The Daily Telegraph" has published the expenses of all the parties. Labour- Yueeeeech , Tories.. clean moat, Sir? Lib Dem- nice to see you look after your daughter, Mr. George. Now, will the Journalists on the Telegraph please publish their expenses. Oooooh Noooo - we work for a private company... "Power without responsibility, the prerogative of the harlot through the ages".

So what CAN we be proud of now?

I don't like the evisceration of Parliament by cynical and irresponsible journalists like Ben Brogan. I am sceptical of and afraid of the desperation of those who stole information to fuel a Parliamentary story that is surely a bonfire of the vanities, but may also be, conceivably, the bonfire of our democracy. In the face of the "shaming of our Parliament" I am struggling to feel positive about my country. As I leave the UK once more, and as the plane taxies out to the runway, I am trying to think of the ten things that I love about Britain. Funnily enough the first thing I think of is that our airlines are very good. It doesn't matter whether it is British Airways, Virgin or BMI, you know when you get on a British plane you are most likely going to have a good flight. Even our low cost airline, Easyjet, is massively better than its Irish competition. Then there is the beautiful landscape: the soft rolling hills of the south, the bleak Pennines of the North in Englan

Scott Rennie: A Minister at bay

I have known the Rev. Scott Rennie for several years. In addition to being an active Minister of the Church of Scotland he has also been an active member of the Liberal Democrats. Over that time he has had to face up to the fact that he is homosexual. I put it in those terms, because Scott comes from a very conservative religious background that refused to countenance that there was any validity in gay relationships. As Stephen Fry rather eloquently put it, the crisis of being gay is the exclusion because of love, and Scott felt very thoroughly excluded. Scott Rennie now faces further exclusion. A large number of C of S Ministers have raised a petition protesting his appointment as a Minister in Aberdeen. This appointment was made by the Presbytery of Queens Cross (yes, I know...) in the full knowledge that Scott is in a gay relationship. In that sense it is not a matter for the rest of the church. However I can not be alone in finding the Rev. Rennie's stance rather admirable a

The fall of Labour: Breaking the Mould 30 years on

In November 1979, Roy Jenkins, then still a Labour grandee, was scheduled to give the Dimbleby Lecture. He called it "Home Thoughts from Abroad", since he was still serving as the President of the European Commission at the time. Yet his message had an immediate impact at home. Thirty years later his words are still relevant: "...You also make sure that the state knows its place, not only in relation to the economy, but in relation to the citizen. You are in favour of the right of dissent and the liberty of private conduct. You are against unnecessary centralisation and bureaucracy. You want to devolve decision-making wherever you sensibly can. You want parents in the school system, patients in the health service, residents in the neighbourhood, customers in both nationalised and private industry, to have as much say as possible. You want the nation to be self-confident and outward-looking, rather than insular, xenophobic and suspicious. You want the class system to fade