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Showing posts from September, 2009

A State of Independence

As Prime Minister Gordon Brown sits down at the end of the last speech he is likely to make to a Labour Party conference as Prime Minister, it seems fair to consider the legacy of dismal failure that he leaves behind, and how that legacy can be corrected. The supposed sop to Liberal Democrat supporters of a referendum on an AV electoral system is a deeply cynical raspberry from a Labour Party that has had 12 years to change things... and failed to do so. Yet apart from these hackneyed gimmicks, there was nothing. Labour is finished as a force for government for the foreseeable future and it deserves the trouncing that it is about to receive. The big winners of the years of Labour rule have been the entrenched interests in the public sector, whose pensions have been protected and whose budgets have been inflated- regardless of effectiveness. Failure has been rewarded with salaries that match or better anything on offer in the private sector. An intrusive and bullying class of Labour cli

Liberalism resurgent (in Germany)

As I predicted some time ago, the Free Democrats: the German Liberal Party, has seen a dramatic increase in its vote at the Federal elections. It has been dramatic progress, a nearly a third increase in the FDP vote, to give them 15% and the near certainty of forming a coalition with the Conservative CDU / CSU , under the Chancellorship of Angela Merkel . The previous "Grand coalition" of the CDU / CSU with the Social Democrats can now be replaced with a far more radical free market led government. Profound congratulations to Guy Westerwelle and all of the FDP team. The pan European trend of the slow decay of Socialism is, yet again, mirrored in this result from Berlin. Nevertheless it is not the Conservatives that are mere beneficiaries of the swing of the pendulum. The election result confirms the continuing demand for greater political choice. The combined vote of the FDP , the Greens and the Left party is greater than either the SPD or the CDU / CSU . This latest el

Bournemouth absence

Although I had hoped to get down to the Liberal Democrat conference in Bournemouth this year, simple pressure of work has now made that impossible. I must admit to great disappointment. The last conference before the General Election was always likely to show a few fireworks, and indeed the conference has attracted more headlines than any other over the past three years. Some of these headlines show a significant change of course in terms of economic policy. Scepticism about the size of government expenditure has given way to concern and now it is clear that reducing government expenditure will need to be the most urgent priority of the next government. So far it has been the Liberal Democrats that have made the running, and although the Conservatives are now belatedly recognising that cuts will be required they continue to fail to provide even the slightest detail as to what they think should guide their decisions in this area. This political cowardice means that we are expected to ch

Corporate Murder?

Trafigura is one of the leading oil traders in the world. However, like most oil traders it has hardly been immune from controversy. Over the years, several such companies such as Marc Rich & Co. and Glencore have been accused or implicated in various bribery scandals and the accusation that they assisted Saddam Hussein in avoiding UN sanctions through the so-called "topping-off" scandal. So far, so unsurprising. Oil trading is a secretive and incredibly lucrative business, and beneath the shadows, rumours of industrial scale corruption have circulated for years. Most of the leading oil producers: Venezuela, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Kazakhstan and now Equatorial Guinea are hardly models of Jeffersonian democracy. The allegations made against Trafigura are, however, even more vile. Put simply, the allegation is that the company bought partially processed hydrocarbons, highly sulphurous Coker Petrol, and- using an extremely caustic process- they were then able to transf

Famous Belgians

I guess Kim Clijsters must now join the short, but distinguished list of famous Belgians ( I mean real Belgians, unlike Tin Tin and Hercule Poirot). It did remind me of the time Evonne Goolagong won Wimbledon against the odds, and sure enough she was nearly the last mother to win such a major tennis tournament.

A Conservative dose of reality on the EU

Possibly the majority of Conservatives oppose British membership of the European Union. Even more likely is that the majority of Conservative voters do. The anti-EU United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) attracts a great deal of its support from people who have previously voted Tory. The case against the EU is made with wit and venom by Libertarians such as Devils Kitchen every day. Those amongst the Tories who publicly support the EU- like Ken Clarke or Chris Beazley- are roundly abused by their own side. We are told that if the Irish reject the treaty of Lisbon in their referendum next month- possibly even if they accept it- then the British Conservatives will rescind the previous ratification and block its adoption. Err... No they won't. Firstly, Ireland will ratify. Secondly, for David Cameron will not commit such political capital to the cause. It would be pollitically suicidal and he knows it. Mr. Cameron, like Labour, only believes in "what works". While even the

Is Socialism finally falling?

In politics one should never count chickens, yet the American Press, in the shape of the Washington Post and Time magazine is arguing that a powerful pattern seems to be emerging across European politics. They detect nothing less than the eclipse of Socialism as a political force. In Germany, the re-election of Angela Merkel as Bundeskanzelerin seems a foregone conclusion but the Socialist SPD is set to fall to its lowest result in over a generation. The left in Germany, France, Italy are facing eclipse. Even in Sweden, home of the "Social Democratic model", the Social Democrats have after nearly three generations been removed from office. At least the German SPD remains in office, albeit as a junior coalition partner, but they are part of an increasingly rare breed. At the moment Socialists or Social Democrats have a leading or significant place in the Governments of Austria, Hungary, Luxembourg, Portugal, Spain, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia and the UK: Nine states out of

The Democratic Revolution

The Following is an article I wrote for one of Estonia's leading newspapers. It was written in conjunction with a conference on Direct Democracy in Tartu which I spoke at this morning. Estonia is entering a new era in her democratic history. As in so many other areas, Estonia is pioneering the use of technology in its political system. Gradually, the use of e-voting is beginning to take hold and, as ever higher numbers of people cast their votes securely over the Internet, many suggest that it is the key to greater popular participation in the political process. Of course, so far, these e-votes have only been cast in order to elect their political representatives. Now, however, the question is being asked as to whether these systems could now be used more widely, to make political decisions directly. Given the low cost and open access that Estonian voters now have to the Internet, it seems self evidently true that it will soon become very easy to create regular e-referendums; to in

The Price of Jordan

Katie Price is something of a cultural phenomenon. She has distorted her body to turn herself into a brand: "Jordan". Her past as "glamour model" - there is a piece of newspeak for sordid pornographic model- has given her an entry into the basement of celebrity. Since then, she has parlayed her fifteen minutes of fame into a certain ubiquity, and now even the so-called serious press in the UK feels obliged to report her affairs. The latest is the breakdown of her marriage to one-hit wonder himbo, Peter Andre. As the squabbling couple fight their battles on the pages of the newspapers, I feel increasingly repulsed. The incredible immaturity that this hard boiled misfit shows is a truly disgusting example of the coarseness of modern Britain. Though apparently she sees herself as a role model, it is hard to believe that using your children as a weapon against their father is anything but the lowest form of behaviour. After a while I ask myself what it says about our

....when first we utter to deceive

The murky tangle surrounding the release of Abdelbaset Ali Al Magrahi begins, if that is possible, to get even more murky. The Prime Minister changes his views on whether victims of the IRA should sue Libya- an acknowledged paymaster of the murderous terrorist organisation. Once he opposed this, now he supports it. Meanwhile the Home Office has been forced to drop a control order against a Libyan terrorist suspect, since the House of Lords has instructed the Home Office to tell the suspect what he is actually suspected of doing . The Orwellian nature of that last statement is obvious: at present, a suspect may not even know the accusations against him. Even if one accepts that the details of the how the intelligence against the suspect has been gathered could remain confidential, it is a fundamental point of our system, dating back to Magna Carta, that no one shall be punished without facing due process: namely a trial. If the system ceases to admit due process, then it is a very short

Lost an Empire... did not find a role

Harry Truman's last Secretary of State was the extremely talented Dean Acheson , and it was Acheson who has had the last word on the role of Britain in the later part of the twentieth century. "Great Britain" he declared "has lost an Empire, and has yet to find a role". Yet Britain eventually did find a role: the most loyal lieutenant of the Pax Americana. Despite a progressively declining economy, Britain maintained relatively large armed forces and typically integrated their operations with those of the United States. A good example is the fact that the UK does not have full size aircraft carriers, but much smaller vessels that were designed as a forward anti-submarine screen for the North Atlantic- effectively placing them subordinate to the much larger US carriers which could only be placed further back. In the 1960's Britain chose to abandon its separate fighter-bomber programme, the TSR 2 , and missile programme, the Blue Streak , and buy American equi

Lockerbie: Shooting at the wrong target

In 1988, one week after Pan-Am flight 103 crashed into Lockerbie I drove through the town. I was en route to Oban and had no other route. Like everyone else I had been horrified at the television pictures of the pitiful wreck of Sherwood Crescent, with bewildered residents and shocked pets climbing past the mangled remains of houses and the wreckage of the plane. Lockerbie had been long familiar as a way mark on my regular journeys between Scotland and England. From that day onwards though, I could never think of it without a shudder. As I approached the town for the first time after the disaster, the traffic from the south gradually slowed- for the plane had partly come down on the carriage way, with a crater taking a giant bite out of the tarmac. Everywhere, for several miles around the town, there were what seemed to be little pieces of paper scattered in profusion, but which were actually small pieces of the white fuselage skin and other debris. Dumfrieshire seemed to have been vis