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Showing posts from July, 2010

Labour will pay the price for playing politics with reform

Three months ago the British Labour Party supported a change in the UK electoral system. It did so for a very good reason: the current electoral system does not give the result that people vote for, which is a pretty serious problem if you believe in Democracy. Now Jack Straw tells us that his party no longer supports changing the electoral system, and will vote against the legislation to offer a referendum to the British people on adopting a (slightly) better system. Well, Jack Straw used to be a Stalinist, so I guess we shouldn't be too surprised that he opposes a more democratic system, but there are many other Labour supporters who believe that their party should be in favour of political reform. This piece by Martin Kettle in the The Guardian shows genuine bafflement as to what Labour is doing. His last words: "one is bound to ask whether Labour is any longer a Party of reform at all", are a rather plaintive cry from the heart. Yet, after the 13 year soap opera of t

Bob Menendez: Union City Fools

Senator Bob Menendez has come a long way from the Union City, N.J. Board of Education where he began his political career. A fine practitioner of the black arts of Democrat machine politics, he has proven adept at finding populist band wagons to jump on. One was to co-legislate (with the then Senator Hilary Rodham Clinton) a ban on the sale of port and harbour businesses to foreign "governments". This was a response to the partially state owned Dubai World bidding for P&O in 2006. P&O was eventually sold, but minus its US assets, and that now means that DP World does not operate in the US- despite being one of the largest and most respected port operators in the world. It was an anti business, populist band wagon, and Senator Menendez found it extremely congenial. Now, in the aftermath of the horrific oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the former Mayor of Union City, N.J. is strutting his stuff on the international stage. He has found another populist whipping boy,

Estonia enters the Euro- and the UK doesn't

This is an Estonian Euro coin. It does not exist yet, but on January 1st 2011, when Estonia will enter the Euro zone, it will join the designs of the other 16 members that circulate across the Euro area. Many- especially in the UK- are astonished that any country would want to join the Euro zone- so successful have right-wing Euro sceptics have been in persuading British public opinion that the single currency is a catastrophe that will either lead to an undemocratic European super state or- more likely- will break apart as the contradictions inherent in such a large currency zone finally reassert themselves. The reality, as Estonia's entry into the zone may begin to show, is perhaps rather different from the anti-Euro polemic masquerading as objective analysis that is pretty universal in the British media. The fact is that, despite the tensions and problems within the Euro system, the benefits of currency stability have been far greater than any possible benefits from the much pr

Do US-UK relations need a "reset" too?

The Obama administration has sometimes taken a direct approach to enacting its policies: the determination to ram through its domestic health care policies irrespective of the lack of political consensus has shown that the cautious and academic persona of the president also has a ruthless side. He has under certain circumstances been prepared to cut the Gordian knot and go straight to the point. In other areas the President has been far more circumspect. In much foreign policy, he has devolved the spotlight- if not the ultimate power- to his globetrotting Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton, this week attending the donors conference in Afghanistan. Yet even in foreign policy, the administration has also demonstrated substantial ruthlessness. However such ruthlessness has been deployed at the expense of America's allies no less than towards its foes. The abandonment of the missile defence agreements with Poland and the Czech Republic, which the US had asked from those governments

So, what is wrong with Hungary?

The coming week is likely to be a highly turbulent one in the European markets, following the withdrawal of an IMF mission to Hungary. The failure of the mission means that implied IMF and wider international support for Hungary will not be put into place. Essentially it means that the supra-national bodies do not believe that the Hungarian government has the policies or even the will to tackle the widening deficits and increasing debt burden that it faces. It is a pretty serious slap on the wrist for Hungary. However it is not just an expression of no confidence in the new government of Viktor Orban . It also reflects the fact that Hungarian politics generally has become increasingly disconnected from economic reality over the course of the last decade. Famously the previous Hungarian Prime Minister, Ferenc Gyurcsany , admitted that his Socialist government had lied completely about the economic position of the country , however such candour was not refreshing: it only underlined

The delusions of Peter Mandelson

Listening again to the Today Programme , I am amazed at the almost delusional way that Peter Mandelson thinks about himself. Evan Harris can barely believe his ears as the "dark Lord" repeats his absurd mantra that the Labour government was not harmed by the obsessive rivalry between Gordon Brown and Tony Blair, and his own role within that episode of psychosis that we now remember as the Labour government was a positive one. A friend who had a senior job in BBC News and Current Affairs through most of the past fifteen years once described Mandelson to me as "simply evil". Listening to the silky voice dribbling out its self serving lies, it is quite hard not to agree with him. It is quite astonishing to think that Gordon Brown- who even his own side believed had a serious personality disorder- ever made it to become Prime Minister. It is even more staggering to think that Mandelson could not have had his chicanery and charlatanism exposed more completely while he wa

The Truth about New Labour

The way the Labour Party tells it, they are simply preparing to return to office. In the Labour Playbook, the Coalition is a minor aberration, and the compromises that it contains will eventually lead to the British electorate to abandon it and gratefully return to the embrace of New Labour. Or Newest Labour. Or Post-New Labour. The self indulgent scribbles of Peter Mandelson that have been published (in great haste) over the past few days not only spike the guns of Tony Blair- whose own confessions of a justified sinner are due out in the next few weeks- they also reveal quite plainly the depths of the nightmare that we have just escaped. Essentially the Labour Party mortgaged the future in order to fund its own clients. The first estimates of the true state of the balance sheet of the UK after the years of New Labour make for appalling reading. In addition to the near one thousand million Pound cost of the bank bail out, there is the one thousand two hundred million Pound cost of s

Summertime and the blogging ain't easy

In both London and in Tallinn the good summer weather is making bloggers - including this one- rather lazy. Iain Dale is taking a 10 day break, and activity across the blogosphere is declining in the summer heat. In part this reflects the simple exhaustion after the election campaign and the long phony war that preceded it. It also reflects, I think, a new evolution in the way blogs are being written. The advent of Twitter has reduced a blog to a tweet, and the significant amount of work that a blog involves is also causing even long standing and well known bloggers to reappraise what they do. This blog is no different. I have always set out to write about subjects to which I have some particular insight. I try to write in more detail- time permitting- than I see in the mainstream press. Unfortunately the side effect is that the blog is pretty wordy- and combined with poor editing- it is clear that I do not hit the kind of audience that the mega-blogs like Political Betting or Iain D

Poland chooses more wisely

After six European countries in 10 days, I return to the white nights of Tallinn ready to face a large pile of work. However, I must now catch up with the writing of this blog which has been much neglected of late. I spent about a week in Hungary, spending time with several American friends, then a quick trip to Estonia's southern neighbours: Latvia and Lithuania and then a trip to Warsaw. While in Warsaw I witnessed with friends (and several relatives of the new President) the election of Bronislaw Komerowski as the fourth President of the Polish III Republic. The second round of the election was a straight choice between Komerowski and the twin brother of the late President, killed in the Smolensk air disaster, Lech Kaczynski. Jaroslaw "Jarek" Kaczynski has previously served as Prime Minister, when his brother first became President. Jarek Kaczynski is- to say the least- a controversial figure. A profound Social Conservative, he is close to the most reactionary figure