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Showing posts from January, 2012


Stripping Fred Goodwin of his knighthood may be popular- it is also deeply wrong. At a time when convicted criminals, such as Jeffery Archer, can still be called Lord Archer and still have access to the privileges of the peerage, to strip a man convicted of no crime, because what he may (or may not) have done is unpopular looks like the worse kind of witch hunt- it is giving in to the baying of the mob. Many tabloid newspaper editors and journalists have been knighted or have received other honours- how come there has been no such outcry against them? Tabloids were not guilty of misjudgement, but as we now know, of crimes- presumably once the Leveson inquiry is over we will strip all the journalists of their awards- as Johan Hari has been stripped of the Orwell prize (and now, belatedly his job). I think John Prescott is a lecherous incompetent- I think we should strip him of his peerage- indeed he should never have received it. In fact I think anyone on the Labour benches should

Another critical week

As Monday looms ahead, there is now the real probability that Greece could default this week.  No one knows what happens in that event: the policy makers and many market practitioners now think they can cope- but the reality is that no one knows. I think we are about to find out whether Mrs. Merkel's policy of masterly inactivity will actually work. I don't think it has, and I suspect that the impending Greek default could well lead to the failure of Hungary and Bulgaria. This feels like the calm before the storm.

Could France vote for Marine Le Pen?

France remains one of the cornerstones of the European Union. A founding member of the organisation, it has been French philosophy that has shaped the ideology of the bloc and French systems and vocabulary of administration- "conseil", "stage"- that dictate the implementation of policy. The EU, primarily conceived as a way of eroding the hostility of enemies, in practice has become a way for France to project its power and influence over the whole bloc. The latest alliance- of President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor, Angela Merkel at first sight looks like only the latest in a long series of Paris-Berlin (or Bonn) arrangements that have come to constitute the "Franco-German motor" of the EU. Yet the signs are there, for all who can read them, that all is not well. The attempts to rationalise and reform the European Union that have been underway for over a decade culminated in the EU Constitution: a document primarily crafted be a former Frenc

Why Labour could still be doomed

Too often we forget that the British Labour movement is built upon a Socialist foundation. Although Blair and Brown sought to create a new, pragmatic version of Socialism, as Harold Wilson tried to do before them, the reality remains that the deepest instincts of the Labour Party remain collectivist and tribal. Since the fall of the Brown government in 2010, the party has struggled to address the root causes of the financial crisis- which are as much about the follies of the state as about the follies of the bankers. Until this week, the leadership of Labour rejected the idea that the only way to recovery was through austerity, preferring instead to assert that a return to growth required continuing high levels of government expenditure. Even now the slight shift in the Labour attack on the coalition still leaves Labour on the side of fiscal incontinence.  Yet even this pretty minor shift has been greeted with rage by the Unions , which remain the core of the Labour Movement and

Remaking British politics

Many of my Scottish nationalist friends attack the so-called "Unionist" opposition to separatism because it seems so negative. "Overcome your fears" they say "and embrace a positive and constructive agenda for a separate Scotland". Yet for me, it is separatism that is negative and narrow. The SNP thesis is that the Union has failed and can not be repaired. In my view there is very much a positive message in the idea of preserving the common state. The political union that was created in 1707 was a platform that not only created the worlds most successful global economy for a period of two centuries, it also created a political and cultural powerhouse that spread the our ideas of a liberal parliamentary system across the planet and disseminated our language even in places that did not come under the influence of the Crown.  It was an expansive and dynamic time, and the Scots took full measure in it. Indeed part of the problems of the common state, as so

The Tories have done enough damage to the UK: time they shut up

Alex Salmond may be a very successful politician. He may be an astute leader. He is also, however, wrong. Despite the recent failures of administration by London, Salmond's vision of Scotland is one that reduces Scotland's vision and diminishes its opportunities. The policy of the Scottish National Party is to separate Scotland from the rest of the United Kingdom. In this way, the SNP contends,  the Scottish people can achieve more prosperity and have a louder global voice than Scotland has as a full part of the United Kingdom. It is a view routed in the world that has emerged over the past twenty years- a world of fragmenting states and diminished great power rivalries. Put in that context, the SNP suggests that the break-up of the British Empire should now be followed by the break up of the British State. This thesis is based on the false idea that Scotland was an unwilling junior partner in an essentially imperialist enterprise. The implication is that Scotland was, like

Estonian "orientation"

Edward Lucas has highlighted an interesting article on the ERR website by a former RFE correspondent, Ahto Lobjakas . The basic thesis is that Estonia has, as it did in the 1930s reoriented its foreign policy away from Britain and towards Germany. Then, as now, such a reorientation is a function of new trade and economic patterns. In the 1930s, Germany overtook the UK as Estonia's biggest trading partner, and over the past few years, the creation of the Euro as increased the significance of Germany to Estonia equally dramatically. To my mind, though there is more to it than a shuffling of priorities in Estonia's government district, Toompea. Estonia has spent most of the time since independence was restored seeking to comply with the complicated rule book that sets out the terms of membership of both the EU and NATO. Once those goals were achieved, the next task was to comply with membership of the Euro. Once that was achieved, membership of the OECD and so on. Yet the fact i

Josef Skvorecky

It is with a heavy heart that for the second time in three weeks I have to report the death of a giant of Czech literature. Although less well known than his contemporaries, Milan Kundera and Vaclav Havel, Josef Skvorecky was as good a writer as Kundera- and in a broader idiom- and as humane a political figure as Havel. Forced to defect to Canada after the Soviet invasion to crush the Prague Spring, Skvorecky became a publisher who popularized his fellow Czechs in the West, while still writing warm and wise novels of his own. His semi-autobiographical novels, the Cowards , the Tank Batallion and the Engineer of Human Souls are often laugh out loud funny, in the tradition of Jaroslav Hasek's Good Solider Svejk , while at the same time carrying serious and wise points. The last is certainly the equal of Kundera's The Unbearable Lightness of Being .   It is hard to select a favourite, but for me, Skvorecky's obsessive interest in the genre of detective stories created

Some more self indulgence

At the risk of being accused of self indulgence, here is another attempt at saying something in a more compressed kind of way, normal service will be resumed shortly: Coming back to bed I understood in my confusion that I want and I don’t want. I see, I thought (but I didn’t see). You told me once, before you left, that I was… you paused… clumsy I wondered if it was true and what you meant. The full moon shines through the window, A dusty ball of dirt, inert- yet it glows with a memory of you It does not show hope or fear, or love, or distraction, though I think it does The banal face of a rock I nightly screened my grief upon So clumsy am I. Yet I would have soared with the Apollo craft. Made a small step upon the face of Tranquility Our world of wonder, joyful under the jewel of Earth Oh no, that could never be (you said), too… clumsy. So I am marooned on the lunar surface of my pillow. There is no movement on the lunar surface now Your hair

The Saxon Shore

The Saxon Shore The Saxon shore: the shingle clad beach shouts the sounds of the Sea. Here Cedd the sinner, storm tossed, lost, came to build on the stones of Othona. The Light lasting as Kings and Caearls made Saxon swirls To break Roman rigidity in a fresh imagination. So Cedd brought the spark to shelter in St. Peter’s name here, on the sibilant shore. The word, illuminated in vellum volumes Preached to the marsh dwellers by the Blackwater where the curlew calls. Cuthbert, Cedd, Chad chanting the rituals of the hours and the days. English then being born in the dark age, flaming into light The vibrant vitality of intertwined imagery: riotous and rich. As Barbarians slowly learning a language for the light, So we struggle to find a name for our days and ways. As the Saints we seek but do not find, the certainties we can save Our age is uncertainty, yet still we fill the gaps with fantastical monsters Dancing in the spaces where the truth is not w

Closing the straits of Hormuz

In the Cold War, there were a series of existential nightmares that kept policy planners awake at nights. One of them was the cutting of the vital oil supply lines from the Persian Gulf to the West. Today, the Iranian regime has threatened to cut the straits of Hormuz , if the United States tries to returns its carrier to its base in Bahrain. Iran has also tested a missile that could sink a carrier in the precise same place. Iran has also, rather mysteriously, shot down a US unmanned drone . The best technology to do that is in Russia. Russia, the logical conclusion must be, has supplied technology to Iran in order to do this. Closing the Hormuz straits would certainly increase the price of oil- which might save the increasingly unstable Putin regime. When one therefore thinks "cui bono?", the answer must be that Moscow and Tehran have several things in common. "Some damn thing in the Balkans" was the policy nightmare a hundred years ago. Now, it is the cutting

Casting the Runes

Predicting the future is not something Human beings can do with any great accuracy, so the acres of newsprint devoted to imagining the year ahead before it happens are largely wasted effort. I do not intend to make any predictions, but I can see a few interesting "what-ifs" on the horizon. There are some definite dates that we can play with: we know that France and Russia will face elections. At this point, the French candidates include the incumbent Nicholas Sarkozy, his great right wing rival, Dominique de Villepin, the Socialist Francois Hollande, and Marine Le Pen of the Ultra-right Front National . While many are prepared to make a bet as to whether or not M. Sarkozy can make it back, I think the story of the election may end up being the showing of the Ultra-rightist Le Pen. Polls are showing that her support exceeds that of her father at a similar stage before he humiliated the Socialist Lionel Jospin and forced a run-off with the now convicted fraudster Jacques Chir