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Showing posts from February, 2011

Narrow interests and Universal values

Times are tough in the world. The banking collapse has brought serious problems in the global flows of money, while the huge growth in Asia has put serious pressure on the price of commodities and energy, especially oil. Global food prices have been rising sharply as the result of several extreme weather events. Indeed this spike in food prices has clearly been a factor in the North African Arab revolt. Even still it is a bit disappointing seeing the English Language press being so down-beat about the events in Libya. Instead of being inspired by the determination of the Libyan people to rid themselves of their vile dictator, there are endless articles about the "terror" of the expats and the fact that the oil price has been rising as a result. Frankly a short term oil spike is a price well worth paying in order to get the Libyan people free from their bondage, and anyway, foreigners do not seem to have been the target of either side. It is not the expats who have been target

Musings about Britain from Continental Europe

Another small hiatus from blogging, the result of a fairly intensive travel schedule. This week, it was five different European countries, and as I write I am in the Swiss commercial capital of Z├╝rich. It has been some time since I was last here, but I note the renewed infrastructure investment: the spiffy new trams and the general air of prosperity that seems to be the birthright of the Swiss. Alas that can not be said of London. From touchdown at the grubby and disorganized terminal 3 at Heathrow, until departure via the cramped London City airport, the sense is one of half measures and false economies. As I took the DLR out to City Airport I met by chance and old University friend who now works on Crossrail. Crossrail is a long overdue cross-London rail link. Yet he reports the considerable difficulties that this critical project is still facing. The money will run out before a quarter of the project is underway. Yet this rail link, which has been talked about for more than sixty ye

The point of an ethical foreign policy

After the fall of the regimes of Tunisia and Egypt and the protests across the Arab world, the Jasmine revolution now seems set to claim the scalp of the brutal and absurd Libyan leader, Gaddafi. What a joy it might have been to know that British hostility to this evil and tyrannical figure had been unrelenting. After all, we have suffered much at his hands: support for terrorist attacks against us, including vigorous funding of the IRA. Whatever the actual truth of the Lockerbie bomb, the fact remains that a Scottish court convicted a Libyan state official of the crime. Gaddafi has long been an enemy of the UK. So why did Tony Blair cut a deal with this monster? American critics suggest that pressure from BP persuaded the former Labour PM that a deal would be much in the interests of the British economy. As the UK prepares to evacuate its citizens from Libya, many working for BP, such a deal seems a lot less useful than it seemed at the time. As the long banned Green-Black-Red flag no

As safe as the Bank of England?

There has been much crowing amongst the Anti-Euro brigade in the UK over the past year. The structural problems of the single currency were said to be terminal, and there was much self-congratulation that the UK had managed to avoid such troubles by maintaining the independence of the Pound. Now, however, the swagger has gone out of the Euro sceptics. The reason is not hard to find: British economic performance and monetary management on almost any conceivable measure has turned out far worse than our real comparable states in Europe. For all the gloating over the travails of Greece, Ireland or Iberia, the fact is that Germany, France and even Italy have weathered the economic down turn far better than the UK. In Britain our inflation rate is peaking above 4%, and the direction of travel would be the same, even without the increase in VAT. Meanwhile unemployment is also rising strongly. Despite the recovery on manufacturing, the evaporation of large parts of the British banking system

Labour shame over Lockerbie

At the time of the release of Ali Abdelbaset Al-Magrahi, there was considerable anger. Those who believed in the verdict of the court were outraged. others, like myself, were angry because the release ensured that evidence that might have been used in his appeal of his conviction would not be presented in open court. As a result, the conviction of one man acting alone- which seems at best implausible- will now continue to stand. However, at the time I was prepared to defend the British government, since the release on compassionate grounds had both the force of the legal system as well as a certain natural justice. Now, we have discovered that the Labour government did everything in its political power to ensure the release- going so far as to coach Al-Magrahi's supporters- including the odious Gaddafi- as to how to pitch their legal campaign. Almost every assurance that was given by the Labour Ministers of the day was totally dishonest. It is frankly despicable. A contemptuous re

A political reform for Estonia

There has been some discussion on over the past few days about the differences between the political culture of the Nordic countries and that of the UK. Contributors were highlighting the higher levels of education in the region versus the vituperation that is the norm in the British political discourse. It is customary at this point to make some kind of self critical comment about the destructiveness of the highly personal and adversarial politics in the UK. However I don't entirely feel that this is justified. The fact is that the high seriousness of the debate in, for example, Estonia can be rather wearisome. Only at election results time do politicians seem to let their hair down- and the sight of bottles of strong drink on the election programs is a sign that some home truths may be spoken. There are honourable exceptions, politicians who cultivate a slightly controversial or jokey image, but in general politics is a ponderous, serious, even cumbersome

Doing the right thing in Somaliland

I was pleased to see that Andrew Mitchell- the UK International Development Secretary- has increased the aid that the UK will be giving to Somaliland . As I have noted in previous blogs, Somaliland deserves success in its quest for international recognition, and I believe that the UK should be leading the way so that its former colony can at last take its place as a fully recognised member of the international community. As the impact of Piracy in neighbouring Puntland increases , it is more important than ever that the UK gives its support to the government in Hergeisa- and the visit by Andrew Mitchell is an extremely positive sign. Somaliland is a force for stability amid the wreckage of the former Somalia, and as the situation continues to be so unstable across the horn of Africa, giving both practical and -just as important- moral support to the freely elected government of Somaliland is a most welcome step. As an old colleague of Andrew's from my days at Lazard, I am pleased

City State

Estonia is often described as a "City State". It is not really true, after all -territorially- the country is quite large, about the size of Belgium or Denmark. Yet given that half of the 1.3 million population lives in Harju County- the area in and around the capital, Tallinn- it is clear that the country is quite urban and quite concentrated. Yet, away from Tallinn, there are only four cities over 70,000 people, so the rest is small towns, villages, farms and forests. Yet what we mean by a City is now being challenged by the staggering urbanisation taking place in China. There is now a proposal to link four or five already quite large cities around the Pearl River delta in Guangdong Province into a huge "mega-city" of nearly 50 million people . As in so many things, China is emerging as a pioneer. Urbanisation has been identified as something that provides net benefits to city dwellers, yet I for one can help feeling a little nervous about what this headlong dash

A short lesson for (mostly) Labour politicians

I don' think it is too cynical to say that many, if not most, politicians sometimes misrepresent themselves. They try to deny things which they know may be true and they try to make their ideas or policies sound like more than they are. Spin and hype are the stock-in-trade of the political huckster. So far, so unsurprising. Recently, however, it has become clear that many politicians are not merely twisting the facts, they are actually totally ignorant of the facts. Over the past few weeks I have heard politicians suggest that the deficit and the the national debt are the same thing- the suggestion was that a fall in the deficit also leads to a fall in debt is a pretty fundamental error (of course a fall in the deficit only reduces the speed at which the debt is still rising). I have heard politicians saying that the deficit was 150 million (err... that should be roughly 150 billion ) and that this represented 6% of GDP. Since the GDP of the UK is roughly a trillion that is untrue