Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The abolition of "defeat"


Another landmark in the British defeat in southern Iraq was reached today when Major General Andy Salmon, of the Royal Marines, formally handed command in Basra to his US Army counterpart Major General Michael Oates.

With that, the Royal Marine flag was lowered for the last time at Basra Air Station, when the flag of the US 10th Mountain Division was raised to replace the Marines’ colours.

The symbolism of this has been entirely lost on the commentators, but it was elements of the 10th Mountain Division which assisted the Iraqi Army in the recovery of al Amarah last June, in operation Promise of Peace after it had been abandoned by the British Army in August 2006, thus leaving the Mahdi Army free rein to turn the city into the bomb-making centre for the rest of the Shi'a insurgency.

Despite this senior British generals are celebrating the "enormous success" of UK troops in Iraq, having coined yet another term for "retreat". Such is the language of propaganda that the earlier retreats from al Amarah and then central Basra became "tactical moves" while the retreat from Basra Palace became a "repositioning". But the spin doctors have excelled themselves today, describing the current humiliating hand-over to the Americans, as a "Change in coalition command structure in southern Iraq".

If only Lt-Gen Percival had been so agile with terminology in February 1942, he would perhaps have gained his knighthood instead of ignominy, and gone on to greater things.

Certainly, the Orwellian decay of the language does not allow for the use of the words "surrender" or "defeat". We have achieved a glorious "change in coalition command structure" and now our troops can be "repositioned" elsewhere, where they can repeat the process all over again. Now that the word "defeat” has been abolished, there can be no stopping them.

COMMENT THREAD

Can't resist this

The good news is that I am working on setting up a parallel blog that will deal with all the subjects that are only tenuously related to the main themes of EUReferendum. When that happens all my postings here will be EU related. How lucky can you be!

In the meantime, I have to diverge from the main theme from time to time. Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit has, for some time, been using the words "the country is in the very best of hands" as a kind of refrain. I was going to plagiarize it for the postings about our own bunch of bozos, whether in London or Brussels. Luckily we have just been reminded both by Instapundit and Powerline that we are all plagiarizing or quoting the late great Johnny Mercer from a less well known musical "Li'l Abner".
The Treasury says the national debt is climbing to the sky
And government expenditures have never been so high.
It makes a feller get a gleam of pride within his eye,
to see how our economy expands,
The country's in the very best of hands...
Enjoy.

Biter bit

Defence questions yesterday brought up a rash of questions on the A400M, but first in the offing was a question on the "air bridge" – the RAF shuttle service between the UK and the operational theatres. That brought an intervention from Conservative shadow defence secretary which had him walking into a bear trap, eyes wide closed.

Launching into the attack, the egregious Fox demanded that defence secretary John Hutton admit that the main reason for the constant delays experienced in the service was "simply that the TriStars we are using are clapped out, with only 44 percent of the fleet fit for purpose".

Actually, that is not the problem. In terms of airframe hours – by which aircraft age is measured – the TriStars are relatively youthful machines. But we shall let that pass as this was but a launch pad for Fox's substantive attack. Directing all his guns at Hutton, he thus charged:

The future strategic tanker aircraft, which is the replacement aircraft for both troop transport and the re-fuelling tanker, was supposed to be in service in 2007 initially: we are now told that it will be at least 2011. On top of the Nimrod delay of 92 months, the Astute submarine delay of 47 months and the Type 45 destroyer delay of 42 months, is not defence procurement another fine mess Labour has got us into?
Hutton – no fool he, with something of a reputation as a military historian – evidently knew his recent defence history better than the shadow secretary. "No," he said, "and the hon. Gentleman should be very careful citing those examples, because those were all contracts let by the former Government. They were not let on proper terms, and that is especially true for the Astute contract - and he should know that."

Unabashed – or perhaps not hearing the answer – Fox launched his next salvo, demanding: "Is not the prevarication that we have seen exactly what we are now seeing with the A400M military transport fiasco? If that project is cancelled, and we are the last to pull out, we may be at the end of the queue to buy the necessary alternative capabilities - losers yet again."

The last point is well made. If we leave it too late, then indeed we are at risk of being at the end of the queue, as other buyers – in a worse state than us – rush to sign up with Lockheed for replacements, leaving the RAF stranded with its ageing fleet of C-130Ks.

Hutton tells us that the MoD will make a decision on the A400M in July, but you can bet that, behind the scenes, frantic negotiations are taking place to overcome what Fox calls the "A400M military transport fiasco".

Here again, though, Fox's triumphalism might be a tad misplaced. Although the A400M was ordered on the Labour watch, the project gestation stretches back into the mists of time – placing its genesis very firmly with the previous Conservative administration. In fact, after years of the very "prevarication" of which Fox complains, where the then government had been blowing hot and cold for some many years, on 16 December 1994 the UK rejoined what was then known as the Future Large Aircraft project.

This was announced by the then defence secretary Malcolm Rifkind, lodging the UK firmly in the programme. Thus, when Tony Blair in May 2000 finally agreed to order 25 A400Ms, he was merely setting the seal on a process initiated by the Conservatives those six years earlier.

Hutton could perhaps have reminded Fox of this, but – presumably – chose not to. But the fact remains that neither Labour nor the Conservatives have clean hands on this project and, if it had not been John Major's enthusiasm for remaining at "the heart of Europe", we probably would not be in this current mess which even has the New York Times scratching its head in amazement.

COMMENT THREAD

Mother Europe is watching you

It was always going to be the case that once they had the technology, we were all going to be placed under constant surveillance. And the nightmare is coming closer to reality.

According to The Guardian, our puppet government is backing an EU project to install a "communication box" in new cars to track the whereabouts of drivers anywhere in Europe.

Needless to say, the scheme, known as the Cooperative Vehicle-Infrastructure Systems is being sold on its 'elf 'n' safety benefits, with the kindly EU officials telling us that it will significantly reduce road accidents, congestion and carbon emissions.

However, as The Guardian points out, ministers are aware that the system could be seen as a "spy in the cab" and "may be regarded as draconian". Thus, the focus on the "more benign technology" is being used to "enable potential adverse public reaction to be better managed".

But behind the benign exterior is the true agenda – the system paves the way for national road tolling and, since the system is planned to send positional data to government control centres, it can be used for speed enforcement and other law enforcement purposes.

Not stated by the paper, but evident in the EU documentation, is the other agenda. The system is to rely on the EU's Galileo satellite positioning system, providing an income stream for this vanity project which would otherwise be totally uneconomic.

By introducing a compulsory tracking system, fitted to every car, the EU will be able to recoup enough fees from member states to pay for the project.

Our puppet government is currently denying that the system will be made compulsory, but the scheme developers envisage that it will be made mandatory "for safety reasons". The rest will follow, as night follows day and, once in place, every time you climb into a car, your movements will be tracked – and the bills will follow.

Currently, it is anticipated that the system could be introduced from 2012 onwards, which makes our only safeguard the probability that Galileo will not be up and running by then. But when it does eventually fly, it will take on an extra symbolism – the surveillance state will have finally arrived with a vengeance.

Mother Europe will be watching you.

COMMENT THREAD

Dear me

There is a rather confused story about of the party hosted by genial Tory Party Chairman Eric Pickles (who bears an uncanny resemblance to Peter Simple's character, 25-stone Alderman Foodbotham) getting a tad out of hand.

Two guests started an altercation, the police intervened, the officer was struck and CS gas was used on the two altercators, one of whom has been arrested.

CS gas seems a little excessive for what was clearly a drunken brawl of the kind the police elsewhere have to deal with routinely, as is all this talk about breaching security. The two men involved may not have had passes but they were clearly guests of the aforementioned Alderman Foodbotham Chairman Pickles.

The BBC thinks that the person arrested may have been a journalist. Letting journalists into the House of Commons may well constitute breach of security. The Speaker should look into it.

I understand Tim Montgomerie of ConHome was there at the party. He will most probably blog about it tomorrow.

UPDATE: Well, I was half-right. Tim mentions the party and its unusual conclusion but most of the posting is about the Mini-Messiah, a.k.a. Daniel Hannan MEP and the need to provide him with prime speaking slot during the Conference. Depends whether the Conservative leadership want to destroy Mr Hannan's credibility. If they do, they should certainly give him that prime slot.

COMMENT THREAD

Lord Dykes and Lord Malloch-Brown show their ability to debate

One of the most extraordinary aspects of the europhiliac case is that, apparently, it is watertight. There can be no rational arguments against Britain's membership of the European Union or, indeed, further integration of said body.

Yet, as soon as there is a debate, all we get is vicious personal abuse. Take Lord Dykes, for instance. (Well, OK, I'll take Lord Dykes.) For some reason the man, whose career prior to his entry to the Upper House has been unimpressive, to put it mildly, felt a great urge to intervene in the short debate that followed Lord Pearson of Rannoch’s Starred Question yesterday afternoon.

It was not a particularly complicated question. Lord Malloch-Brown, former SecGen Annan’s bag carrier, should have coped with it.
To ask Her Majesty's Government what is their response to the analysis in The Great European Rip-off, published by the TaxPayers' Alliance, which maintains that United Kingdom membership of the European Union incurs an equivalent cost for each United Kingdom citizen of £2,000 per annum.
Sadly, this seemed too difficult for his lordship and he blathered about the benefits far outweighing the costs, which is, presumably, why HMG has never dared to do a cost/benefit analysis.
The figure of £2,000 cited by the TaxPayers’ Alliance seems to be largely based on estimates of the costs to the UK economy of regulation at the EU level, but that is not even half the story. Single market regulation has opened markets across Europe, and 3.5 million British jobs are linked to exports to the EU—and the benefits go still wider. The security of UK citizens is enhanced by co-operation with EU partners on terrorism, illegal migration and organised crime.
Yawn and double yawn. Those single market regulations may or may not have opened markets across Europe but they also apply to the vast majority of British business who do not trade with other European countries. And that market could have been opened by mere trade agreements.

As for those jobs – oh dear, could anyone with a spark of intelligence really use that argument any more? No, Lord Malloch-Brown, the jobs will not disappear if we are out of the EU because we shall go on trading with other EU countries, if that is what we want to do or we shall trade with other countries, which might be more advantageous. Duh!

And I sincerely hope that we co-operate with non-EU countries on terrorism, illegal migration and organised crime, not that the EU structures, which is what that body is interested in, have been particularly useful on, say, illegal migration.

After a bit of toing and froing about whether those figures by the Taxpayers' Alliance are exaggerated or not (and it is hard to tell as HMG will not produce a study of its own) we get Lord Dykes's notable contribution:
My Lords, does the Minister agree that he does not need to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Pearson? He should be sympathetic because, having wrecked the Conservative Party, Stuart Wheeler is now moving his money to the UKIP. But it does not need it anyway because all the UKIP MEPs charge maximum expenses on a regular basis in Strasbourg and Brussels, which adds up to about £400,000 per Member.

I turn to the TaxPayers' Alliance. Does not its innocent-sounding title hide a rather sinister truth? Five years old now, it was formed by three or four dotty, extreme right-wing Conservatives who make the neo-cons in America look very moderate—Minford, Minogue and all the rest of them—and is now advocating deep hatred on a day-by-day basis; as Polly Toynbee said in the Guardian on 9 February, "insidious poison". Will the Minister treat this report with the contempt it deserves?
Well, if Polly Toynbee, that great sage of political thought, has said so, we may as well all pack up. I had better remove my copies of Plato's, Hobbes's, Locke's John Stuart Mill's, Edmund Burke's and assorted others' works and start collecting la Toynbee's efforts. What more can one need in life?

Setting aside the fact that Lord Dykes, in common with most British politicians and journalists has not the faintest idea of who the neo-cons are (they are not simply more conservative than the others) let us look at the rest of that spectacularly nasty outburst.

"Minford, Minogue and all the rest of them", presumably, refers to the highly regarded economist Professor Patrick Minford and the leading political philosopher (sans blague), Professor Kenneth Minogue. Remind me again, what has Lord Dykes achieved in his life?

One wonders why producing information about the amount of taxpayers' money that is wasted and mis-spent by our bloated officialdom is to be described as "advocating deep hatred on a day-by-day basis". This tells you something very interesting about the mentality of Lord Dykes, Polly Toynbee and the rest of that gang.

COMMENT THREAD

Monday, March 30, 2009

Crash and burn …

Now admitting the obvious, Thomas Enders, chief executive of EADS has conceded that the ill-fated Airbus A400M project may have to be scrapped. "The aircraft can't be built under the current conditions," he has told Der Spiegel. "It is better to put an end to the horror than have horror without end."

This is brought to us courtesy of The Daily Telegraph tucked into a down-page piece in the business section, which in itself is remarkable. In any grown-up newspaper, such a story – with its massive political and strategic implications should be front-page news.

But, after a diet of corporate bullshit from Airbus – which rivals even the "spin" from the height of the Blair era - we are finally getting to the crunch. Airbus has acknowledged that its A400M military transport venture has degenerated into a disaster. The aircraft is over-weight, its turbo-prop engines built by Rolls-Royce and France's Snecma are under-powered and there have been serious glitches in the software from MTU Aero Engines.

That is what we know about, but there have also been rumours of serious problems with the navigation software. There have also been huge problems with production integration, with component mismatches between the different satellite manufacturing centres, and a lack of design co-ordination. In other words, there are not the normal "teething troubles" that you get with any new aeroplane. They are systemic problems which strike at the heart of this doomed project.

The final admission of defeat, when it comes, will cost EADS dear. An outright cancellation will mean that it will have to repay €5.7bn in advance fees to its customers, plus as yet unspecified non-delivery penalties.

Political ramification go even further. The A400M was always a political project, aimed at giving the putative European Army its own independent airlift capability, securing political and operational independence from the United States. To that effect, the euroweenies set up in 2001 their European Airlift Co-ordination Cell as an embryonic EU air force.

The eventual aim was to pool the transport fleets around the common airframe of the A400M, in what was intended to be the "European Air Transport Fleet". A formal 12-nation agreement, in the form of a declaration of intent, was signed in November 2008.

Without the A400M, the "colleagues" will have to go cap-in-hand to the US for new airframes. Those will be subject to US law which imposes restrictions on their deployment and access to technology. The great dream is about to crash and burn.

For the UK, however, this creates more immediate problems, as the lack of the A400M will create enormous stresses on an already over-burdened RAF. The Lord Pearson and Lord Moonie are already on the case, with a sheepish government telling us that, "we are considering our options with partner nations and the company."

It had better consider its options pretty damn quick, or all we will be able to do is despatch colour photographs of A400Ms – which are the only thing EADS has yet been able to supply. A little bird tells us that the Taleban may be less than impressed, as indeed will we at the crumbling of yet another vainglorious European project.

UPDATE: Reuters is now reporting that the MoD is considering a new order for C-17s. "We are naturally concerned by delays to the A400M programme and ... the MoD is considering various contingency plans including procuring additional assets for example C-17," an MoD spokesman says.

COMMENT THREAD

The greatest lie ever told


I had planned to do this earlier yesterday, but had software problems that needed fixing. I could, of course, have used the laptop – if I had one. But that got nicked last week in yet another burglary we have had to suffer. At least we are not alone. Victim support told me they have never been so busy. Since the recession started, burglaries have increased massively.

Anyhow, the theme is the Booker column and the climate change scam, in particular the myth of rising sea levels which we now discover is "the greatest lie ever told".

Booker's source is Swedish geologist and physicist Nils-Axel Mörner, formerly chairman of the INQUA International Commission on Sea Level Change. His uncompromising verdict, who for 35 years has been using every known scientific method to study sea levels all over the globe, is that all this talk about the sea rising is nothing but a colossal scare story.

"The sea is not rising," he says. "It hasn't risen in 50 years." If there is any rise this century it will "not be more than 10cm (four inches), with an uncertainty of plus or minus 10cm".

What is especially fascinating is that, when running the International Commission on Sea Level Change, Mörner launched a special project on the Maldives, whose leaders have for 20 years been calling for vast sums of international aid to stave off disaster.

Six times he and his expert team visited the islands, to confirm that the sea has not risen for half a century. Before announcing his findings, he offered to show the inhabitants a film explaining why they had nothing to worry about. The government refused to let it be shown.

It helps here to realised that the government at the time – and until very recently – was a dictatorship run by a very unsavoury character called Maumoon Gayyoom. He had been relying on a steady flow of international aid to prop up a bankrupt administration, and had interesting ways of administering the funding.

Although the government is now elected, with the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) now in power, the island remains troubled, and it is only through the continued flow of aid that it is making ends meet.

Now enter the EU which has promised a substantial aid programme, with €10 million on offer plus assistance in attracting World Bank loans and further largesse from the UN Development Programme.

But it soon becomes clear that the money has strings attached, aid being conditional on the island espousing "the cause". Thus we find that the Maldives "believes that global environmental issues, such as global warming and rising sea levels, require global solutions, and seeks genuine commitment and positive action from the international community to protect environmentally vulnerable States."

As long as the government remains a "believer", the EU has promised it will the Maldives "to strengthen its voice in international fora on climate change and in its bilateral campaigns to seek the support of powerful organisations and nations that can help it fight for survival."

At national level, the EU is also offering to support the government "in its established policy to develop safer and more sustainable islands for the population."

Upon the myth of rising sea levels, therefore, does the Maldives government depend for its international status and to keep the gravy train rolling. There is no way of can afford not to go along with the EU and lend its "voice" in international for a on climate change.

Booker, in his column, notes that, if one thing more than any other is used to justify proposals that the world must spend tens of trillions of dollars on combating global warming, it is the belief that we face a disastrous rise in sea levels.

To that effect, the climate hysterics have recruited the government of the Maldives, and indeed the leaders of Tuvalu – another of the supposedly threatened Pacific islands - where the sea has if anything dropped in recent decades. By lining their pockets with gold has the "international community" kept the island leaders "on-side" willing to promote the myth which sustains the whole scam.

Thus survives "the greatest lie ever told", built, as Booker tells us, on "deliberate ignorance" and rigged computer models – and bribes to compliant governments which thus have a vested interest in seeing the scare prosper.

And they call this science!

COMMENT THREAD

Sunday, March 29, 2009

A few thoughts on the Wheeler saga

The Conservative Party has every right to eject him. Well, it has every right to eject anyone, really and, generally speaking, funding another party and calling on voters to support it even in the less than important European election, is not tolerated by a political party. I have no problems with that.

The boss has already written about Mr Wheeler's action, opinions and various reactions to it. Let me just add that both of us know well that Mr Wheeler's eurosceptic views are strongly held and of long standing. He is not a johnny-come-lately or a publicity hound as he is being accused by bloggers and journalists who ought to recall the old adage about stones and glass houses.

Mr Wheeler has expressed a great deal of anger about the deleterious effect of the EU's (and, as a consequence, Britain's) policies have had on economic and political developments in some of the world's poorest countries, all of whom are run by bloodthirsty kleptocrats whom, one way or another, the EU supports while making it as hard as possible for those countries to trade with us.

So he is, indeed, a man of principle who puts his money where his mouth is.

The most extraordinary reactions came from people on ConHome forum, Iain Dale's forum and various others who solemnly castigated all those who support UKIP or intend to vote for it as "splitting eurosceptic votes" and making it easier for the integrationist and socialist Labour and Lib-Dim parties to gain seats in the Toy Parliament.

I can only surmise that these people and they include candidates for the said Toy Parliament, have not the first idea how the EU is constituted and what its various institutions do. Neither do they have any clear knowledge of the Conservative Party's record in office as far as the EEC/EC/EU is concerned. Have they heard of the Maastricht Treaty, I wonder?

If I am wrong and the people who call for supporting "the only mainstream eurosceptic party" (I kid you not) do know all that I have listed in the previous paragraph then they are being more than economical with the actualité.

Either way, it is time to reverse that call. We need to call on all eurosceptics and all those who are in any way dissatisfied with Britain's membership of the EU or of the way that benighted institution has developed not to split the eurosceptic vote: DO NOT vote for the Conservatives. DO NOT waste your vote on another europhiliac party, however pleasant some of the MEPs might be.

Where one goes from there, I care not, since it does not really matter who sits in the Toy Parliament. Personally I could never vote for a corporatist, old-fashioned bunch of socialists like the BNP or for old-fashioned Marxists like NO2EU. I do not consider Libertas (or whatever it will end up calling itself) or Jury Team worthy of any electoral consideration and have made that quite clear in previous postings (here and here).

I guess that leaves UKIP despite past problems. I shall rise above those.

COMMENT THREAD

Another glorious victory?

A new post is up on Defence of the Realm.

COMMENT THREAD

This is why we should shoot them

In the middle of a recession, when people are fighting to survive, we get this. Tumbrels would be better, but either way these parasites must be slaughtered.

COMMENT THREAD

The loneliness of the long-distance MP

Another MP expenses scandal is about to break, according to The Sunday Telegraph.

Meanwhile the Mail on Sunday (along with the Press Association) regales us with tales of how second home expenses have always been regarded by MPs as part of their salaries.

This, it appears, stems from a putative pay revolt by backbench Tories in the 1980s, when a mechanism was devised which enabled MPs to be paid more without a headline increase in their basic salaries.

It is left to veteran Labour left-winger Harry Cohen to reveal that then Conservative minister John Moore had told MPs "Go out boys and spend it" when he introduced a big uprating of the allowance. "That is exactly what John Moore said on behalf of Mrs Thatcher to her Tory MPs," says Cohen. "That makes it part of my salary," he adds. "It really is part of my salary in all but name. That is what it exists for."

This really should come as no surprise. In commerce, the "bundling" of pay and "perks" as part of an overall remuneration package is quite common, so much so that the basic salary often bears little relationship to the actual income received. That the government should have resorted to such a strategy – given the hypocrisy of the average voter about MPs' pay – makes complete sense.

What does not make sense is the hysterical (or opportunistic) suggestion by Tory Boy Blog that MPs pay and allowances should be cut. There is a lack of clear (or any) thinking on this issue.

The real point is – or should be – not about pay (and allowances) per se but about performance. If the MPs provided value for money then no one could possibly grudge them their remuneration. At the heart of the resentment at "fatcat" MPs, therefore, is the impression that MPs do not deliver – that most of them are a waste of space.

Putting the MPs' role in perspective, they are responsible for scrutinising and controlling a billion-pound enterprise – known as HM Government – and ensuring that the money is well and properly spent. They are also responsible for vetting and then agreeing legislation which, if improperly framed or unnecessary (as most is) costs us all individually and collectively many more billions.

If MPs performed their tasks anything like adequately, therefore, they could save us billions, in addition to safeguarding our rights and freedom. If they could put up a balance sheet to that effect, then they could easily justify their own costs, and who could possibly disagree with them being well rewarded.

But it is not only the billions that should be their target. The millions also count – not least because collectively those millions add up to billions.

In that context, Booker in his column today raises the issue of the Pinzgauer Vector, which we tackled last week, making the point that the purchase could have been stopped by the Defence Committee, had it been on the ball.

In all, the MoD bought 189 of these dangerous vehicles at a cost of near on £100 million. To that one must add the costs of compensation to those killed and injured as a result of its deployment, which amounts to many more millions. On just this single project, therefore, the Defence Committee could have saved many times their collective costs – to say nothing of the lives saved - and completely justified their existence.

If you multiply that episode across the board, and look at the many other wasteful projects that the government had introduced, then it is not at all hard to make the case that billions could already have been chopped from the budget.

Some will argue, nonetheless, that this is beyond the power of MPs – including many MPs. But what they fail to understand is quite how powerful MPs actually are, if they chose to use their powers. That they are effectively powerless and a trampled over by government is entirely because they, collectively, choose not to exercise their powers.

But such is the dedication of these diligent MPs that, when on Thursday last, the Commons held a full-scale defence debate, only 13 of them actually turned up (pictured above). On this basis, the MPs collectively have only themselves to blame for public hostility.

COMMENT THREAD

A man of principle

One of the comments on Tory Boy Blog that particularly struck a chord was one we ourselves have reflected. Simply, it said: "One of the (many) things that really annoys me about politicians is when they start telling me what I think, and what I am concerned about …".

That indeed is the issue with Cameron who, in the interests of party image, has determined that discussion of the European Union is "off limits" and that we must instead buy into his cuddly "social agenda" in order to win him the election.

What people like Cameron simply do not understand is that there are people out in the real world with principles – and a greater grasp than he will ever have of what is important in this life. And on the basis of principles before party, they – which includes this blog – can never wholly support the Tory line as long as it remains equivocal on the issue of the European Union.

It is thus good to see the The News of the World report that Stuart Wheeler, the "Tories' top donor" has donated £100,000 to UKIP and said that he will be voting for them in the June euro elections.

He has told the News of the World that Brussels is a bigger threat to Britain than the economic crisis and he is fed up with leader Cameron's decision to ignore it. Thus he notes that, "The Conservatives … just wish no one would talk about the EU so that they can win the general election in peace." He has also authored a piece in The Sunday Times where he reports that he was told that Cameron had had got 70 Conservative MPs together last week and told them the EU issue did not matter. If that is Cameron's attitude, then he does not "matter".

Nevertheless, we would rather that Wheeler had not supported UKIP, although the message it sends is so powerful that, on balance, it was justified even if it does strengthen a corrupt and dysfunctional party. But, given a choice between corrupt and dysfunctional parties, the one that wants to leave the EU is preferable.

An added bonus of Wheeler's intervention is that it has Iain Dale spitting with fury, fulminating that Wheeler has committed "an act of gross disloyalty", urging that he should now be expelled from the Tory party.

That tells you exactly where Dale is coming from – an ertzatz eurosceptic if ever there was one who, without a single principle in his body, is ready-made for the Cameroon fluff. He seems to annoy someone else as well, for slightly different reasons.

However, Dale's outburst is reflected in some of the other comments on the Tory Boy Blog, an indication that there are Tories out there who still don't get the message: opposition to the European Union is not a passing fad, but a matter of the deepest-held principle. It is not something that can be "parked" merely for electoral convenience.

Stuart Wheeler, as a man of principle, has sent that message. It is one that the hard-core "party above principles" Tories do not want to hear, but it is one that they ignore at their peril.

COMMENT THREAD

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Dangerously parochial

Unsurprisingly, Gordon Brown has "lauded" Obama's strategy on Afghanistan and Pakistan. Speaking in Santiago, Chile, he also used the opportunity to take a sideswipe at other NATO countries, complaining that they should help shoulder the burden of the conflict.

That less than enthusiastic participation of many of our Nato "partners" has already been picked up by one of the few British blogs that takes an interest in foreign affairs, but this is the exception.

Although the US blogosphere has given the Obama strategy a considerable amount, the British blogsophere seems to have been largely silent, despite the considerable implications for British policy, and the longer-term consequences.

Despite its pretensions to be at the leading edge of political comment, therefore, we have an interesting situation where the dead tree media have made the running, while the self-appointed commentariat have opted out of the hard stuff.

Thus, in addition to the analytical piece in The Daily Telegraph, we have The Times on the case, and more analysis in both The Guardian and the Independent.

Any which way you cut it, this event is news and, by any measure, it is highly contentious. In terms of public policy, the fate of British troops, the escalating costs and the effects on our broader foreign policy, there are issues here which are the meat and drinks of politics, crying out for debate. Yet the blogosphere, happy to take on the most trivial of issues, has no opinion on such matters of substance.

This is all the more puzzling when, as The Independent reports, the UK is "seeking to define its role in a rapidly shifting political and military landscape" of Afghanistan. The narrative thus runs that Brigadier James Cowan is spearheading a trial run, through exercises in Kenya, seeking broadly to position British forces as the conduit for winning hearts and minds.

The idea is to move the emphasis away from concentrating on fighting "towards winning the consent of the population, hastening reconstruction and laying the groundwork for reconciliation." The focus is on avoiding collateral damage and participating in shuras and loya jirgas – modelled on meetings with local people in Iraq and Afghanistan – and engagement in development projects, building schools and hospitals.

There is much talk about winning the consent of the people with development projects, but also a recognition that, with the violence sweeping through Helmand, development projects were being stymied. This handicap became particularly acute during the long summer of bitter fighting in 2006.

On the one hand, military commanders were demanding that reconstruction projects should take place on the ground to show the Pashtun population that they would have some compensation for their land being turned into a battleground. On the other, the Department for International Development was adamant that this was simply too dangerous in the middle of a war.

Nothing in the article tells us that this problem has been resolved, nor any recognition that, if reconstruction is too dangerous for civilian agencies, then – as we have observed, the Army must take over the responsibility. But then, neither is there any recognition of the key priorities, in particular the crucial role of developing the infrastructure.

The importance of this has just been reinforced in the
recent update to the US Army field manual on "stability operations" which states, in admirably concise prose, it notes:

Military tasks executed to support the economic sector are critical to sustainable economic development. The economic viability of a state is among the first elements of society to exhibit stress and ultimately fracture as conflict, disaster, and internal strife overwhelms the government. Signs of economic stress include rapid increases in inflation, uncontrolled escalation of public debt, and a general decline in the state’s ability to provide for the well-being of the people. Economic problems are inextricably tied to governance and security concerns. As one institution begins to fail, others are likely to follow.
Infrastructure development, it then goes on to say, "complements and reinforces efforts to stabilize the economy. It focuses on the society’s physical aspects that enable the state’s economic viability." And, of that, "transportation" is one of the main items listed for priority attention.

It says something of the Americans that not only is such a manual in existence but it is in the public domain, but it is freely available for purchase on Amazon. If our anally-retentive military ever get round to publishing anything as comprehensive, you can guarantee that it will be a limited circulation classified document.

But, with such openness, and a blogging community which seems to be able to lift its eyes above its own navel, we even see interesting posts reviewing the contents.

The fear is that the claustrophobic parochialism of the British political blogosphere represents a deeper malaise in society – or at least in the political claque.

The lack of interest in issues of such importance is a sign of intellectual impoverishment which bodes no good for the political health of the nation. More dangerously, a political class which cedes debate on such issues to narrow sectoral specialists is one which also, eventually, cedes power to them. In parochialism lies danger.

COMMENT THREAD

I was deliberating ....

... whom I loathe more, the G20 circus or the moronic and potentially violent protesters who are out there demonstrating "for jobs, justice and climate" (I kid you not), having arrived in London from all over the country and overseas. Undoubtedly, their preferred methods of transport were the environmentally acceptable bicycle, horse'n'buggy and rowing boat.

Then I came to the conclusion that I did not have to make any choices - they are two sides of the same coin, two aspects of the system we need to destroy if we are to get anywhere with economic and social development, the only way there can be jobs and justice all over the world. The climate can take care of itself though the Archbishop of Canterbury thinks God will not help the world if we continue to allow global warming or climate change. I am not sure that the Weirdy-Beardy has quite understood certain aspects of the Bible. In particular, he may have to re-read the Easter story and meditate on its meaning.

Not only are these two monstrous groups responsible for shutting London down and for wasting quite frivolously enormous amounts of taxpayers' money at a time when people are losing their jobs and businesses are closing down or thinking of it, but they share the same set of attitudes - one side could not exist without the other and the rest of us are outside their particular theorem.

Neither side knows much about economics, nor shows any willingness to learn; neither side believes in freedom and entrepreneurship, which is the inevitable outcome of being stubbornly ignorant; both sides believe in the power of empty rhetoric over actual wealth creation.

Above all, both sides believe, in the teeth of all historic evidence, that the answer to the problems that are facing the world, created to a great extent by the very people who are either discussing them or marching about them (charities, NGOs, aid-workers and general lay-abouts), lies in greater government or transnational control and regulation with as little accountability as possible.

Jonah Goldberg in his seminal book "Liberal Fascism", which has irritated the left in America and has been, predictably, ignored here, points to a similar phenomenon in the United States of the sixties. Chapters 5 and 6 are called respectively: "The 1960s: Fascism Takes to the Streets" and "From Kennedy's Myth to Johnson's Dream: Liberal Fascism and the Cult of the State".

Of course, Goldberg writes about the classical theory and some practice of fascism not the throw-away terminology used by both left and right, europhiliac and eurosceptic. I cannot recommend the book highly enough to those who really want to learn.

COMMENT THREAD

"The situation is increasingly perilous"



So said Obama , launching his new AF/PAK strategy. This includes an extra $5 billion in direct aid for Pakistan in what is billed as a "stronger, smarter" strategy.

Additionally, a further 4,000 troops are to be deployed, on top of the 17,000 already promised. These "top-ups" are to focus on training Afghan security forces, with a target of bringing the strength of the Afghan National Army to 134,000 by 2011. In the same period, police expansion to 82,000 is also planned.

The Obama strategy has invoked reports British Forces could also be reinforced, with suggestions that up to 1,700 more troops could be sent.

This in turn has provoked a rare response from Cameron on matters military, his view being that sending more troops would only be worthwhile if they were able to deal with problems "on the ground" such as tackling corruption and drugs.

"More troops," he says, "could be part of the answer but in our view they should only be sent if they are sent with the right equipment, with the right number of helicopters and the right civilian back-up and support so we deal with the other problems in Afghanistan like corruption and drugs. It is no good just pouring in the troops if you do not deal with the other problems on the ground."

However, this anticipation may be ill-founded. Quoting "Whitehall sources", Thomas Harding of The Daily Telegraph suggests that the maximum "uplift" could only be as many as 300. It could even be less, and that conditional on the Army being able to make a case for more troops.

Harding takes a more sanguine view of the utility of adding to the existing forces, noting that the solution in Helmand is not just numbers on the ground but "how to use them appropriately rather than in the belief that there will be a magic cure by throwing in more men." Foremost, he adds, we need the logistics in place to support the troops but in addition "we have to adjust our tactics accordingly." He continues:

Having more foreigners could just as easily work against us if the local population do see any benefits.

Firstly we really have to commit to a significant road building programme. This will allow farmed goods swift access to markets before they rot and make non-opium products more popular. When that happens the Taliban will attack the roads which will mean they will come to us and we will regain the initiative.

In tandem we also need to deploy the well-honed Rhodesian Fireforce counter-insurgency tactic using very small numbers of troops agile enough to swiftly interdict the enemy.
It is no good, he concludes, going in and "smashing" a Taliban stronghold one week only to leave and abandon the remaining population to insurgent retribution. The military needs to spell out clearly what its strategy is in Helmand, now more than ever because the doubts over its direction are growing.

The reference to the Rhodesian Fireforce counter-insurgency tactics is well founded, from which the British could learn a considerable amount. And the lessons were spelled out by the Rand organisation in a remarkable report, published in 1991. The report includes such gems as this:

We concluded that low-tech and improvisational solutions can be effective in LICs (Low Intensity Conflicts) and that, moreover, LICs need not entail huge expenditures. The Rhodesians, for example, made innovative and inexpensive modification to ordinary military and commercial vehicles that dramatically reduced the deaths and injuries suffered by passengers travelling in vehicles that struck land mines (e.g., filling tyres with water and air to dissipate the explosive force). Such modifications had the additional benefit of instilling confidence in the troops and enabled the security forces to retain control over the countryside by defeating the guerrillas' attempts to force the army into a "garrison mentality" by making road travel dangerous (if not impossible).
Also, confronting the US attitude to counter-insurgency, also prevalent in British forces, it noted:

Army planners … have paid scant attention to the essentially low-tech requirements of LICs, assuming as a matter of course that by preparing for the largest (even though it may be the least likely) contingency, a range of responses could be sized downwards to fit any lesser contingencies.
This wholly flawed idea was addressed fully, making it clear – as we have constantly averred – that such conflicts cannot be treated simply as a scaled-down big war, using the same equipment. And, as for the other myth, that the forces are underfunded, the report notes:

The Rhodesian security forces functioned under severe financial constraints that limited their access to late-model, sophisticated "high-tech" weapons and to large quantities of material. The Rhodesians’ ability to overcome those constraints by embracing innovative strategies and tactics, including novel techniques in road security, tracking and reconnaissance, small unit tactics, special operations, and intelligence gathering, suggests that the successful prosecution of counterinsurgency need not entail huge expenditure.
Those who complain of "overstretch" could also do well to note that this was the most recent example of a successful counter-insurgency and that:

The tactical achievements were all the more impressive given that the balance of government forces to insurgents was roughly 1:1 – a ratio far below the 10:1 balance normally cited as necessary for the effective prosecution of a counterinsurgency.
This is where Harding is pointing – and he is not alone. The constant politically-inspired complaints on the problems facing our forces are wide of the mark. Having never having clearly defined its own strategic aims, the Army also has not delivered a new counter-insurgency doctrine, while is current operations seem ponderous and ill-suited to dealing with a highly mobile and adaptive enemy.

Until the Army can demonstrate that it is itself adapting to the conditions in Afghanistan and adopting tactics (and equipment) which will enable it to prevail, then any decision to withhold further troops is probably well-founded. As it stands, even those we have in theatre could be doing more harm than good. Lacking the numbers and the cash, the Rhodesians found they had to fight smarter. We need to do the same.

COMMENT THREAD

Friday, March 27, 2009

The clackity claque

It says something of the political claque that the issue of the moment is Eric Pickles' performance on the BBC's "Question Time" programme yesterday – on the vexed issue of MPs' expenses in general and the second homes allowance in particular.

Not having watched the programme – not last night or ever – we can only take it on trust that last night was "something of a train wreck" but it also says something of the political classes that they do not seem to be able to "park" this issue and move on to more important things. Why they cannot go for this elegantly simple solution is beyond me.

It comes to something, however, when Tory Boy Blog is writing earnestly that, "It's vital that the Conservative Chairman and the wider Tory Party understand the level of public anger towards the political class." It is probably not a first, but to see this blog referring to a "political class" is quite significant, especially in terms of public anger.

Something of the same sentiment comes from Daniel Hannan, explaining why his speech on YouTube has gone "viral", now recording (at the time of writing) 1,167,339 views. "I think it has to do with pent-up frustration," he writes. “People feel ignored, ripped off, lied to, taken for granted…".

Hannan also suggests that the episode has served to show "how utterly and irretrievably the internet has changed politics." Repeating the point he made on his blog, he notes that in 24 hours, 380,000 people had watched a video before a word appeared on the BBC or in any newspaper. The days when political journalists got to decide what was news are over.

Actually, even with the view level of just over a million, Hannan might be overstating the case. That is about the daily level of readership for The Daily Telegraph and about a third of the readership of The Daily Mail.

It is also less than the hit rate that we achieved for our Qana reports in 2006, about which the British blogosphere was noticeably silent – and the media even more so. Thus, if the internet has changed politics "utterly and irretrievably", it did so some time ago – only Mr Hannan did not notice.

But if there is a revolution going on, it is not in the claque that regards itself as part of the British political blogosphere. It is to be found in the more focused political blogs such as Watts up with that and our own Defence of the Realm, which has far more influence than the hit rate would suggest.

What one would like to believe is that the "Hannan effect" is a reflection of the frustration shared by many people at the superficial treatment of political issues by the politicians and their fellow travellers.

For instance, while Mr Pickles' travails may have been the news of the moment for ToryDiary, the issue of the moment on the US blogs is Obama's long-awaited new strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The strategy, we are told, involves not just military intervention, with more than 20,000 US military reinforcements to Afghanistan and extra training for Afghan security forces, but billions of dollars of direct aid to Pakistan, and even the creation of "opportunity zones" in border regions.

This strategy is of vital concern to the UK and there is, even in narrow domestic terms a political edge to it with the recent intervention by Liam Fox in the debate. That, though, is of no interest to the clackety claque, to whom the soap opera is far more important than real life – or death.

Having just completed the arduous process of writing the book on Iraq, with the design concept for the front cover (pictured) reaching me today, that project now seems to me a lot more real than the petty preoccupations of the claque.

Yet, on this issue, the dreary focus of the mob is still on the "legality" of the war, more of a subject for historians than politicians. The real issue, with a live war going on in Afghanistan, is what do we need to do to stop the failures of the Iraqi campaign being repeated. Such issues, as we observe, are stuff of real politics. When the politicians wake up and start dealing with these, then perhaps they will get as much attention as Mr Hannan's YouTube.

COMMENT THREAD

Grrrrrrrrrrrrr!!!!!

Yesterday evening I happened to be in Trafalgar Square and saw that the fountains had been dismantled and everything that could be covered had been. An anti-G20 demo is expected this Saturday and all sorts of rich white middle class kids will turn up, having flown in from various parts of the Western world to protest against globalization or whatever takes their fancy.

People who work in the City or Canary Wharf (effectively, an extension of the City) have been told that it might be better if they do not come in next Wednesday and Thursday as the self-same spoilt rich kids who do not work anywhere are threatening to demonstrate and police presence is going to be very heavy.

People who live near the ExCeL monstrosity, which will be hosting the G20, already have to produce two different kinds of ID in order to get home. Even in the days when Notting Hill became a besieged fortress for the carnival one ID was sufficient.

Goody-goody. London is under siege, the police is concentrating entirely on the forthcoming problems, the West End and the City are becoming no-go areas at a time when business is already quite slack, not to mention the fact that billions are being spent one way or another on this jolly little get-together.

The purpose of it is what, precisely? Politicians of twenty countries with assorted hangers on and their own thugs will descend on London and mouth stupid platitudes for a couple of days. Nobody thinks they will do any good because they are not the people who can solve the problem – one and all, they are part of the problem.

Of course, there is a strong possibility of them coming up with suggestions that will make matters worse and set back the global economy for many years. You never know: the situation might get so bad that those rich white middle class kids will not be able to fly around from one anti-globalization pro-greenie protest to another.

I am assuming that there will be questions in both Houses of Parliament as to how much the whole jamboree has cost us at a time, let me remind everyone, when people are losing jobs and businesses are closing down, not least because Mr Brown (like President Obama) is mortgaging this country, spending like a drunken sailor money he does not have.

Why, precisely, cannot they talk by video? Or go viral, like our own mini-Messiah? And talking of Mr Hannan, which everybody seems to be doing, I am a little puzzled at the assumption that Mr Cameron aka the Boy-King of the Conservative Party must be furious about the speech. Au contraire, I imagine he is rather pleased. This speech will be a marvellous weapon in the battle for the eurosceptic votes, come the European election campaign.

COMMENT THREAD

Real politics goes on

Politics is entering a "silly" mode where what little rationality there ever was flies out of the window. And as we get closer each day to the general election, it will get worse as tribalism dominates the political process and point scoring becomes the sole preoccupation of the political classes.

It is thus difficult to focus on the fact that the business of government goes on, with hard decisions having to be made, some of which will have long-term consequences – and massive spending implications.

One of those areas is, of course, Afghanistan, the escalating costs of which are beginning seriously to alarm the Treasury, more so when today we read that the Army is ready to send another 2,000 troops to theatre, if it gets the political go-ahead, bringing the total number to 10,000. That is significantly more than we had in Iraq.

The news comes on the back of an expected announcement by Obama that he will commit 17,000 troops to an Afghani "surge" amid fears that US public support for the war is eroding to the extent that within the short period of a year the campaign may become politically unsustainable. Thus, we are to expect a major policy statement some time today, which will also encompass the Pakistani issue.

Views in the US are beginning to coalesce on party political lines, the differences in strategy turning into a Democratic-Republican political issue that could feature strongly in the mid-term Congressional elections in November next year.

With that, we can expect some interesting debates on strategy in the US, with a taste of things to come emerging from the current review commissioned by Obama. One official engaged in the review said: "Sending more troops is not the answer. You can send as many as you like, but unless you focus on other things it will not work."

This is an extremely sensible comment and we hope to see it developed, although that is unlikely to happen – in public at least – this side of the Atlantic. For sure, there is a closely argued and at times heated debate going on here but, as so often, it is being conducted behind closed doors.

Such is the venality and superficiality of our political classes and their claque of fellow-travellers that there is little point in opening up the debate. They have so little to offer that they are unlikely to contribute anything worthwhile.

An example of that comes in an article by Liam Fox, where he sets out his "criteria" which must be met "before any more of Britain's over-stretched forces are sent to fight in Afghanistan."

Having just come back from Afghanistan, Fox is suffering from an acute attack of "I was there-itis", blithely quoting a "very senior military officer" as one of the sources of his somewhat less than profound wisdom. So superficial are Liam's offerings, and so peppered with clichés, that it is quite obvious that he is not in the loop. The only fear in this respect is that this man might, some day, become secretary of state for defence.

It is not that what he does say is not sensible in its own right, but the ideas he has imbibed are of the "motherhood and apple pie" variety. This is not where the debate is at – which is concerned with how a desirable outcome can be achieved, bearing in mind that current Army tactics are demonstrably wrong and equally demonstrably failing.

For a taste of what passes for media debate, we can turn to Con Coughlin in hyperbolic mood. He condemns Gordon Brown's "shabby leadership" which he says "betrays our vital mission in Afghanistan".

To win wars, opines Coughlin, you need strong and commanding leadership. Whether it comes from a wily political operator such as David Lloyd George or an inspiring orator such as Winston Churchill, a military campaign requires decisive and effective political direction if it is to achieve success. And, in Coughlin's book, so far as Britain's involvement in Afghanistan is concerned, Gordon Brown's anonymity is fast becoming a national liability.

The man's main complaint seems to be that it is difficult to remember the last time Mr Brown said anything of significance pertaining to the "British military's valiant effort to restore order to southern Afghanistan."

Valiant the military effort might be, but only in the sense of a heroic failure. And there Coughlin, like Fox, misses the point. We know what needs to be done but what is not known, or agreed, is how to do it. Those issues are being thrashed out and, perhaps, with a new CGS in the offing, we might get a change in direction.

Now is not the time for inspirational leadership if, on current form, it would simply be the modern-day equivalent of charging the Light Brigade into the mouths of the guns. Now is the time for cool appraisal and intellectual endeavour. The political rhetoric we can do without.

The same applies in many other areas, and if we had an adult discourse in this country, some of the issues across a wide range of activities would benefit from open discussion. But with political classes in their current febrile mood, it is perhaps best to divorce them from the real business of government. The claque can be left to play their games while the grown-ups behind the scenes get on with real politics.

COMMENT THREAD

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Lessons to learn

One of the most deadly phrases we hear in modern administration is the mantra "lessons that must be learned".

This we are hearing yet again, this time in respect of the failed Icelandic banks. It turns out that seven English local authorities breached official guidance and their own treasury management protocols in continuing to invest in Iceland after the banks' credit ratings had been downgraded below acceptable levels.

One authority failed to open an email warning of the ratings change, another was using out of date information, while a third exceeded its own limit for deposits in a single bank. Another authority, Havering, invested £2m in an Icelandic bank on 1 October - only 20 minutes before it was told the bank's credit-rating had been downgraded.

In all, according to the BBC, a total of £32.8 million was deposited between the downgrading of the banks' rating to "adequate" on September 30 last year and the collapse of the Glitnir and Landsbanki banks on October 7.

All this information comes from the Audit Commission which says that the Icelandic banking collapse had exposed the "variable" standards of treasury management in local authorities. Treasury managers could and should have been aware that there were risks associated with making investments and that, in particular, there were risks associated with investing in some institutions.

This is the same Commission, incidentally, that invested £10 million in Iceland. As you can imagine, it is insisting that this did not compromise its ability to analyse what went wrong. "We found that most local authorities heeded the warning signs about Icelandic banks," says chief executive Steve Bundred. "But some did not, and a number were negligent. Our report shows that there are lessons that must be learned by everyone."

There is a very simple point to make here. Could we please have public authorities learn their lessons, before disaster strikes, rather than afterwards? Or is that too much to ask?

COMMENT THREAD

Not good

Ralph Peters in the New York Post lists the major mistakes the Obama Administration has committed since January 21, when he became President (and stepped down from his position as Messiah).

It makes disconcerting reading. Some of it is less serious than the rest. What the Castro brothers (assuming they are both alive) say is not really all that important except for the fact that "maltreatment" of Cuba has been a left-wing cry for many years. Though, oddly enough, not much is said about the maltreatment of Cuban dissidents by the Cuban government and police.

Russia is, indeed, preening again, but it is not clear how much of that is talk. Medvedev has, indeed, announced massive expenditure on rearmament but this is supposed to have been going on for years and not a whole lot has been achieved - the Russian military does not seem to be any better armed than it was before President Prime Minister Putin's time.

On the other hand, effectively telling the Russians that they can do anything they like in the old Soviet sphere is not particularly intelligent. With Georgia once again in turmoil, President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton may well find themselves with a serious problem in the Caucasus. With Russia's economy deteriorating and protests in the country mounting, a little war that could ignite nationalist feelings could appear to be just the ticket to the Russian leadership. Of course, little wars have a habit of turning into big ones and recent Russian history ought to be a warning. Let's face it, the Obama Administration is not going to be.

As for our allies, Obama apparently needs them less than Bush did. O treated Britain's prime minister like the deputy Paraguayan veterinary inspector, and he blindsided the leaders of the Czech Republic, Poland, Mexico and Canada on issues ranging from missile defense to trade. But he'd like them to take the Gitmo terrorists off our hands, please.
Well, that's OK. They won't take the Gitmo terrorists, being readier to scream abuse at the Americans than do anything themselves.

Interestingly, that list does not even mention Secretary of State Clinton's appalling speech in the European Parliament that ought to have warned our own eurosceptic Obama supporters but apparently did not.

The Western alliance is in the very best of hands.

COMMENT THREAD

The devalued Prime Minister …

… of a devalued government

So said the man, to very great applause from his own side, as he rounded on a man who had brought the UK to the brink of ruin. But this was not Daniel Hannan speaking. It was John Smith, in September 1992, savaging John Major after his abrupt withdrawal from the ERM. Before his peroration, Smith had told Major:

Britain had been relegated to the second division of Europe because the Government had for years followed policies which had thrown the economy into a deep and damaging recession. Then, faced with a crisis, the Government's chaotic mismanagement and sheer incompetence had forced it to abandon all it stood for in a matter of a few hours.
The same debate saw a "similarly aggressive performance", from shadow chancellor Gordon Brown. He said the party that had run a general election campaign on the slogan "You can't trust Labour" had shown itself to be completely unworthy of trust. "They may hold office for five years," said Brown, "but after five months they have lost all authority to govern. They have failed the country and they will never be trusted again."

Warming to his theme, Brown said there would always be a "credibility premium" to be paid either in interest rates or elsewhere as long as Mr Major was Prime Minister and Mr Lamont was his Chancellor. Winding up the debate, he then predicted the removal vans would soon be arriving at the chancellor's residence.

That much of the prediction was right, but it was nearly five years before the removal vans arrived at No. 10 to cart away the possessions of the "devalued Prime Minister". But, while 17 years later, we have another "devalued Prime Minister", and this one only has a year left before he faces election. But then, history never repeats itself … even if Mr Hannan, with delicious irony, repeats the lines of a Labour leader back at a Labour leader.

But, even if he used another man's words to do it, Hannan's speech has been an extraordinary event. He thus has a point when he observes that political reporters no longer get to decide what's news. The days when a minister gave briefings to a dozen lobby correspondents and thereby dictated the next day's headlines, are over, he says. Now, a thousand bloggers decide for themselves what is interesting.

With 2,990 entries on the web and 316,779 521,123 660,691 YouTube "hits", against 18 on Google News, we could just be seeing a turning point.

COMMENT THREAD

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

From a distant planet …

The point, very much tongue-in-cheek, about Hannan was that the EU parliament is a black hole when it comes to media coverage. What should have got some considerable attention in the media was almost totally ignored by a class of political hacks that is irredeemably parochial in outlook.

Meanwhile, my co-editor goes to the Czech Republic and the government falls. Now that she is back in the country, she is hoping to repeat the effect here, with a piece later today on the glorious affair where, as England Expects reports, EU presidency functions now fall to Vaclav Klaus. The "colleagues" are spitting with fury and are almost at a state where they are contemplating issuing black armbands.

Considering now that the constitutional Lisbon treaty ratification is now deep-sixed until at least the autumn, it was extraordinarily naff of Gordon to go sucking up to the "colleagues" in Strasbourg – the few who turned up to listen to him. He is "proud" that the treaty was ratified in the puppet parliament in Westminster by such a large majority.

What excited The Guardian though was that he flew out in a chartered BA Boeing 747, noting that his trip is likely to be remembered as one of the world's least environmentally friendly flights.

This is the same newspaper, incidentally, which is headlining a piece citing our climate change minister Ed Miliband, who is telling us that opposition to wind farms should become as socially unacceptable as failing to wear a seatbelt.

These people are seriously on a different planet. One almost feels inspired to plunge a sharp instrument into their bellies, such utter contempt does this invoke. The man is utterly barking mad – he should not be allowed to breathe, much less speak in public. Yet Irwin Stelzer thinks the man has a "formidable intellect". Sheesh, as my co-editor would say.

Iain Martin in The Daily Telegraph is certainly considering wielding the knife – albeit only metaphorically – on the ranks of MPs, asking whether we need so many. But he does at least make the right noises, noting that the exponential growth in the number of domestic elected representatives has coincided with their loss of power to the EU; we have more politicians, at a higher cost, with less usefully to do.

He misses the point – as you would expect – that even with the EU, there are many things the MPs could usefully be doing, but do not. Too many are a waste of space, and would be even if we had a return to full legislative powers after ditching the EU. But, Martin adds, the political class is embarrassed about the publicity around its allowances and keen to make it go away. Poor little darlings. I wonder if they realise how keen we are to make some of them go away … permanently.

One gets the feeling that Heffer takes that view of a certain member of the political class, observing of our favourite politician that he "doesn't even seem to know where the lifeboats are." Deliciously, he also observes that "his environmental obsessions are now bypassed by economic reality".

Actually, it is not just the "environmental obsessions". The main obsession of the political classes is the … political classes, and there is a whole world outside Westminster which is foreign territory to them … a distant planet of which they know nothing. Briefly, Mr Hannan was on that planet yesterday, which is why he was ignored by the chatterati ... even if his YouTube "views" are now up to 27,000 79,000 260,143 316,779.

The words of Ian King, in The Times, therefore, are of some interest. He labels of goodly section of our political classes as "a confederacy of hypocrites".

This is in respect of the trashing of Sir Fred Goodwin’s house and car. But they are much more than hypocrites. Locked in their Westminster bubble, they have lost touch with reality, and cannot even begin to imagine what the denizens of that "distant planet" think of them. This makes them very stupid hypocrites. And that will be their downfall.

COMMENT THREAD

Amateur's night out

STYLE STATEMENT FOR CASUAL VISITORS (occasioned by reader feedback): Gushing with praise is not British. Frankly, it's embarrassing. We deliver it differently. Like this:




So Daniel Hannan made a speech in the EU parliament. This one cannot avoid knowing as the inbox is full of laudatory comments and links to his You-Tube video (5,712 views), plus his blog.

As to his media coverage, there are eight links on Google News which include Gordon Brown and himself. One is his own blog and one is a BBC report that does not mention the speech. Then there are EU parliament press releases in two languages and four other foreign language reports. Google Gordon Brown, though, and you get 30,662. I make that a win to Gordon by 1 to 3,800.

That is the reality of the EU parliament. In my time, I wrote dozens of speeches for my mepps, maybe hundreds. Some were bloody good, some also-ran and some downright boring. My finest hour was a storming speech on the reform of the comitology procedures, which even got some compliments from hard europhile Tories. There's glory for you. As regards the media though, it didn't matter what was said. It was always ignored.

In the end, there became only one measure of a "good" speech. You were allocated a time – could be 90 seconds, perhaps two minutes or, if you were really "lucky" you got three minutes. The game was to write a speech which came in to the second. You had to judge your mepp's speaking rate, write accordingly and train him hard. If he didn't perform and came in over or under time, you lost points - more penalties for being "chicken" and running short.

I pulled it off once, to the very second, with the delicious victory made all the more sweet by being witnessed by Matthew Engel of The Guardian, who recorded my delight in his piece. Those were the days!

As for Hannan – he over-ran by a whole 14 seconds on his three minute slot. His problem was that the speech ran to 533 words. He should have trimmed it to 450 and cut his cadence to 150 words per minute. Content wasn't too bad, though, and a nice payoff line – but hey! Fourteen seconds is fourteen seconds! Amateur's night out!

COMMENT THREAD

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

A very simple answer

There is a very simple answer to the long-running soap-opera over MPs' pay and expenses. Stop paying them salaries and expenses – and pensions. Instead, treat them like the adults that some claim to be.

Pay each an annual "constituency fee" and let them decide how to spend it, whether on themselves, staff, offices or whatever. Require them to publish annual, audited accounts on their websites and a summary on their electoral addresses if they stand for re-election. Let the voters then decide whether their MPs are value for money.

The "fee" would be equivalent to the combined total of pay and expenses, currently in the order of £200,000 a year. If they decide to pay themselves the whole amount to themselves in salary, fine. Let them answer to the voters – and the media. But also include a "recall" provision whereby, say, ten thousand voters in any constituency can demand a re-election at any time, to oust someone who is abusing the system.

Then, get rid of all the "privilege" committees, pay reviews, etc., and focus on what MPs actually do for their money. That is where the emphasis should lie.

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All because the EU wants to be loved

There are some people, no doubt, who are looking enviously at Hungary, where its highly unpopular prime minister has resigned. He follows in the wake of the Lithuanian government, which was voted out last autumn, and Latvia's, which fell last month.

Iceland also has a new prime minister and it looks as if the Czech Republic could also be in trouble – to say nothing Greece, where the government is hanging on by its fingertips.

Given such a clear example, many would wish that Gordon Brown would follow suit and fall on his sword, unlikely though that is. He looks certain to hang on until the election next year.

Before that, of course, we have the euro elections in June, which is getting the EU parliament – if no one else – excited. It has just appointed the Berlin-based ad agency Lutz Meyer to manage a €28m advertising account in an attempt to convince people to vote. The EU parliament is worried that in the last euros, in 2004, the turnout was 48 percent, 18 percentage points lower than in the first parliamentary elections in 1979.

It really is rather ironic that we should have a German ad agency spending our money in an attempt to get us to vote for an EU construct that more than 50 percent of the nation does not want – and which attracts widespread hostility.

The bigger irony is the report of a private Labour poll, aired by the News of the World and picked up by Open Europe, which suggests that the BNP could win seven seats this June. That rather explains why Labour politicians were panicking about the BNP last month.

The party that should be panicking, however, is UKIP. The likelihood is that it will suffer most, but there is no room for complacency in the Tories, as they too could find themselves losing votes. But the EU has something to worry about as well. If its ad campaign is successful, one possibility is that the BNP vote could increase.

With Brown then hanging on for another year, this gives the BNP a firm base to build a general election campaign. It is not likely to pick up a Westminster seat, but a firm vote could damage Tory chances. Those with longer memories will recall the "UKIP effect" in the 2005 election, where the combination of UKIP, Veritas and BNP cost the Tories upwards of 30 seats.

It is not totally beyond the realms of possibility, therefore, that the EU could be spending its money in a way that eventually deprives the Tories of office and enables Brown to buck the trend. If European governments keep falling, his could end up the only one to remain in office past 2010. And all because the EU wants to be loved.

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