Friday, March 31, 2006


D'you know what I would like to see? Well, I would like to see the Tories drop all references to 'public investment' and start calling it 'Your tax pounds' - and call the Brownian Motion on it every time he spews forth on 'public investment'.

Good ideas for a better Britain

Thursday, March 30, 2006

envy etc

Well I think I speak for all of us when I say how envious we are of the Reptile and his various kith and kin spending this week skiing.

Still, let us not linger on that lest depression set in and the Black Dog return to sit at our feet like a faithful pet.

Let us instead cast our mind to the question of the Israeli elections.

It says something for the stature of the man that months into his coma, the vehicle that Ariel Sharon's Kadima vehicle did so well. Surely the best hope for peace that troubled country lies in a reasoned but firm policy that sees some concession and a clear statement that no more can be expected.

Then the PA can settle down and divert their considerable energies to some nation building - building their own institutions and repairing their wrecked people - supported by their Arab neighbours oil wealth in rebuilding, re-educating and reforming a state that has never before existed. Afterall the territory they will then hold will be richer and more fertile than that enjoyed by the nascent Israel in 1947, and they have done OK.

Ain't gonna happen, is it.


Back, very briefly, to say that there was a four feet fall of powder yesterday and I have discovered that there is no better feeling in the world, almost, than that of fresh snow fountaining over your thighs as you hit a turn.

Good to see the blog in safe hands anyway - incidentally, the easiest way of including links in blogger is to go through the 'compose' feature and highlight the section of text you want to link from, then click the little paperclip/world icon on the dashboard. The little picture of a picture is, unsurprisingly, the way to insert pictures.

Must dash - slopes await.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006


Sad to see that Caspar Weinberger has cashed in his chips. He was an excellent Sec Def for the Sainted Ronald Reagan, a first class speaker and a very decent bloke - I met him a couple of times at Oxford.

He was with doubt one of the boys and the best of eggs.

Prescott vs Hague

Vintage stuff at PMQs today I thought. Splendid fun! A thought though - everyone laughs so hard at Hague's (cracking) jokes, but does that disguise the very real issues of electoral disingenuity and governmental drift?

Still - they were both good. Prescott's best moment I thought was when he lost the answer to the worthy (dull) question on post office accounts and had to ad lib a bit. Hague's best moment? Pretty much all of them. Still wouldn't win an election though, bless him.

I know for whom the Soup Kitchen tolls

Mr Heffer has drawn my attention to the fact that the Fabian's have just released a pamphlet. Bully for them and I hope it stays nice for them, I head you cry. But wait - this pamphlet is bolstered, supported and generally drooled over by both Balls (he of the neo-endogenous growth theorem) and Miliband (some young turk who we are all meant to be impressed by). Critically the Brownian motion regards these 2 as being his blue (red?)-eyed boys and we can therefore regard its import with some trepidation as being by way of a kite. And yes, you have guessed it - they want an upper tax of 50% on 'the rich'.

Angels and Ministers of Grace preserve us! Where do these people get off - I already pay for hospitals, schools, roads, 'universities', subsidised transport, outreach groups, emotional-intelligence assessment officers, legions of useless public sector workers and Goodness alone knows what else none of which I or derive any value fromand which has pushed my tax levels to a level higher than during the Second World War (for Crying out Loud). If you listen over the noise of the leftist comentariat lecturing me on my social obligation to fund the shiftless and lazy through inefficient wasteful central spending you can hear the sound of pips squeaking.

Disaster and devastation stare us in the eyeball. Mr Cameron - I know that you are treading carefully so as not to scare the horses and that to make change we must first get into power, but please send us a sign that you understand! In the meantime I am going to work harder - although we are still someway off Tax Freedom day, when the money earned stays with you rather than feeding the rapacious Gordon of Downing Street and his foul minions who are legion. And, typically, rather smelly.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Marked card

Andy Card is resigning as Chief of Staff - he has had a tough few years. First time for years that a President has had the same CoS for such a long time. Bush is a man who likes the same faces and is loyal to old friends - he'll miss Card.

Moral authority

All things are mutable sang the poet. So it would seem - and the most mutable thing of all is a sense of what is right.

Take a nasty habit, associate it with a religious or ethnic or political minority and shout like hell if anyone implies that it is still a nasty habit - and BINGO before you can say "institutional racism" Western values run for the hills and we all mutter weasel words and start out-reaching like a deranged octopus.

Enough! Let us make a stand and say that there are some things that are not on, whatever your hue or faith:

- it is not on to ban freedom of religious worship, however much oil, sand, camels or caves you may have. If you are so sure you are right, then it shouldn't matter that they are wrong;

- it is not on to make a show of yourself by running round like mad things because people have drawn or written something you don't like. Grow up and do what we all do and write to The Times about it;

- it is not on to lock people up for saying silly things. Just point out that they are asses and ask them to go away;

- it is most definitely not on to go around trying to blow things or people up. Even if you are from Crawley.

We need to get some of our cultural confidence back - we are quite entitled to say "Sorry Chaps. Not how it works round here"

A Four Letter Man

Amongst the establishment of fools, rogues, scoundrels and liars who at present form the governing class of Her Britannic Majesty's realm, there are naturally a large number of four letter men - and I was pondering on one of them: Ken Livingstone.

The latest outburst of this egotistical bully is to condemn the US Ambassador for his approach to paying the congestion charge (his approach being not to), calling him a "chiselling little crook".

When taken on top of his repeated anti-semitic diatribes, his tendency towards violence and the undoubted nastiness of his character shown throughout his filthy climb to 'power' at the GLC one has to ask how it ever was that people voted for him for Mayor? Is this the sort of man that London needs to represent her?

It all contrasts very unfavourably with the real Mayor - the Lord Mayor. Somewhat more restrained in franchise and manner, here is a fellow who spends no tax payers money, makes no fuss, holds an excellent annual show and is an invaluable drum-upper of business.

Livingstone: a foul man whose usefulness is outlived. Away with him.

Les Francais ne get it pas

It is every honest Englishmans duty to loathe the French, one of those instances where duty is joy, but the stuff going on over the channel boggles the mind.

Do these students really believe that the current modus operandi can stand? Don't they understand that the French social contract is destroying the French economy and doing hideous damage to the very fabric of society? Don't they realise how modest the proposals are? What is wrong with these people? WAKE UP people - the welfare dream is over, it is back to reality.

There is a message here for the UK as well...

Monday, March 27, 2006

Gentlemen, you may now not smoke

Smoking bans are one of those things where the FA heart rebels against his head (lungs? Ed).

Y'see on the one hand I believe that the Gummint should back off and get out of people's lives at every possible opportunity. Therefore smoking should be left to the individual and the market to control. Thus speaks the heart.

The head however rather likes drinking in Ireland where there is a long standing - and v popular - smoking ban. Here it must be said that one can go out for a beer or 10 and not come home reeking of smoke, without a rheumy wheeze or sore eye, and sans a tickly cough. Hurrah says the head.

Jolly difficult. My policy to date has been to protest my libertarian ideals whilst secretly enjoying the tyranny of the majority. Who says you can't have your cake and eat it?

PS - I am told, though I can't say I noticed, that the smell in Irish pubs did get worse when the veneer of tobacco smoke was removed. Blame that on the Guiness.

Cry havoc and let slip the dog of war

Just in passing, as it were, I notice that La Beckett is the weapon of choice being deployed by the Labour Party (brought to you in association with Capita) in their attempt to turn fire on Tory funding.

Regardless of the rights and wrongs of the case - what an awful woman La Beckett is. Some commentators have referred to her as horse faced. I disagree - horses are very beautiful creatures. Also had Best Mate, for example, been i/c DEFRA he would have made a far better fist (or hoof) of it, been far less shrill and seen off the frantically ghastly antis.

A bas la Beckett - who will rid us of this venomous beast.

Long term planning

Listening to the Today programme this morning I was interested to hear that Tony has finally come round to believe in Lords reform. Nothing to do with the whole Loans, Lords, Levy, scandal thingy. Honest. Been planning it for ages. Detailed thoughts drawn up. More clarity and sense brought to constitutional reform. Long term plan for a better Britain. Worked for Lord Chancellor the other year. Who needs a constitution anyway...

New Labour - live and don't learn that's their motto

A stand in signs in

Morning all. Floreat Aula here, acting as caretaker and blog-sitter whilst the estimable Reptile hurtles down the slopes of Austria. Comments will start shortly, though I fear I haven't mastered linking things or having pictures everywhere, still we will just have to muddle through won't we.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

One last thing...

Writing these hurried postings on an airport computer, I noticed that my esteemed colleague the Devil's Kitchen has clearly so offended right-minded people everywhere that he is blocked as an undesirable influence. Belated display of taste and sensibility or further indications of official fascism? I leave it to you to decide...

A Hiatus

I'm off to the slopes, but fear not. For those tragic committed few for whom a day without Reptile is a day without sunlight I have arranged for a blogger-sitter to take over for the week. Hopefully he'll be able to continue the fine standard of rambling and outrage that make this blog what it is.

Play nicely now.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Shabina Begum

Unquestionably the right decision from the Lords with relation to Shabina Begum. Press reaction has ranged from the idiosyncratic Boris to the staggeringly non-committal Jenny Colgan. As always in such matters, for a more thorough appraisal, Scott is indispensable.

One thing slightly irritated me about the coverage of the affair. The school was consitently presented as having 'refused to allow Begum to wear the jilbab'. Nonsense. Begum refused to wear school uniform. There were, rather alarmingly, local schools that do allow the jilbab, which must make sports day amusing, and the action by Begum and her Hizb-ut-Tahir brother was designed to bully the school into going back on its uniform policy.

The danger, obviously, was that this could spark a 'clothier than thou' row in school, with girls, or more probably their fathers or brother, competing to pile on the layers of modesty. Well, thanks to the Lords this has been averted, as well as setting a precedent that the mere fact of religious feeling is not enough to allow contravention of reasonable rules on matters like dress.

Had this gone the other way, the wider application could have been extremely alarming - because the principle would have been that rules need not apply to those of religious belief. What the hell the Court of Appeal though they were playing at beggars belief, unless it was just buck-passing on a truly dhimmi scale.

UPDATE: See also the P-G for a better analysis of the ruling itself.

Brownian Politics

I said I would deal with the budget, but to be fair that last post was a post on Brown's economic policy, and since there was virtually nothing of any economic note whatsoever in the budget, it would seem more appropriate to deal with such of it as seems important here.

It was quite clearly a budget aimed squarely at David Cameron, presumably with the intention of squashing him ("like a bug d'you hear? Like a bug!"). All those little, irrelevant policies on miniature wind turbines, the 'hilarious' joke about flip-flops, the mention of Black Wednesday, without of course mentioning that the Labour Party had advocated entry into the ERM earlier and at a higher rate against the Deutschmark.

Yet Cameron's line of attack, duplicated by Osborne, looks effective. The line is that Brown is an unsympathetic, obnoxious sociopath, without a shred of humanity; without an iota of humility. The attack is effective because it rings true. Cameron said in an interview with the Sunday Times

“With Blair at question time,” he says on the train, “there’s a sort of jokiness between us… With Brown, he gives his opponent no quarter at all. It is literally: you are evil, you are dead, I will kill you, I will stamp you into the ground until my boot is banging up and down on your face. There is no way you can get into a reasonable conversation with him.”

This is a line of attack that can work - Brown seems physically incapable of smiling. Even when genuinely happy it looks like an awful leering rictus. His one style of speaking is the bible-thumping harangue of a blood-and-guts preacher. Even his gnawed and mangled fingernails tell the story of a man of frightening anger. I'm not even going to repeat the story told me by someone who was in Brown's former office about the state that his personal lavatory was in. I'll leave it at saying that the phrase 'fermented bile' was used.

Brown's line against Cameron therefore is predictable - to portray him as a child among men, dismiss him as a pampered irrelevance. But this is fraught with danger. It will, if carefully handled, allow Cameron to use it as evidence of Brown's brutality and arrogance.

Declaring an interest (as if the title of the blog weren't enough), the propsect of Brown as Prime Minister is enough to mae me want to run away and hide. That ghastly, over-bearing Scottish voice pummelling away every day, the same continual enlargening of the state: God it fills the soul with despair just to contemplate it.

Brownian economics

Very properly rebuked for my lethargy and tardiness, it is now time to address the 10th consecutive Brownian budget. Despite the slaverings of Polly, and I advert you to a range of opinions on the reasons for this, ranging from Tim's free verse approach, to the Devil's Kitchen's rather more, er, direct approach, it is becoming ever more clear that, as an economist, Gordon Brown has been driving the British economy further down a potentially disastrous route.

Essentially, having inherited a strong economic platorm and cemented that by his one truly sensible policy, that of granting independence to the Bank of England, Brown has progressively increased the burden of taxation and regulation on the productive sector of the economy, while simultaneously cloaking the stultifying impact of these measures by bloating the public sector with great gouts of money, both tax-payers and borrowed. Whereas every previous new Labour admininistration (1924,1929,1945,1965 and 1974) inherited an economy that, if it was not actually in recession, was at least parlous, Brown was able to take over a functioning and relatively lightly managed economy.

This, and this alone, explains his reputation for economic competence. Whereas previous Labour chancellors, when they ratcheted up public spending and raised taxes and borrowing to compensate were promptly faced with economic collapse, Brown had a comfortably soft cushion of controlled finance to fall back on. That has now gone. In everything that Brown has done at the Treasury, the dead hand of socialist intervention can be seen. In matters economic he has been completely unable to let well alone - compulsively tampering with every aspect of the market, re-jigging the tax laws so often that Tolley's Tax Code has nearly doubled in length since his reign began.

Churchill's Conservatives ran in 1951 under the slogan 'Set the People Free.' It's looking ever more appropriate in todays climate.

Thursday, March 23, 2006


How nice, I thought, Norman Kember has been released. How extremely considerate of the kidnappers to let him go. Unusual though, must have been a very good reason. My thoughts were running along these lines in a desultory manner when I suddenly spotted the small print, not that you'll spot it in this article.

You can catch it better here. Kember was freed by military action by the SAS. Freed, not released. British and American Special Forces, at risk of their lives, assaulted the house where they were being held and, without firing a shot, secured the release of Kember and his two fellow kidnapees.

So scour this reaction from the head of the mission that sent Kember to Iraq. Spot the thanks to God, the pious regret that there are some Iraqis in prison but there is no mention of gratitude to the men that put their own lives at risk to save this man who seems to despise everything they stand for. Now that is Christian charity.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Re-invigorating lame ducks

It's too late for Tony, whose administration gives of a discernible whiff of decay and death, but is it too late for George Bush? Fred Barnes offers a programme of administrative and government reform that would certainly shake up the beltway and make the Bush presidency a story of possibilities rather than missed opportunity.

Barnes proposes replacing Rumsfeld with Cheney, Cheney with Rice and Rice with Lieberman. I'm not well up enough on American politics to know how often a Secretary of State comes from a different party to the President, but I'm guessing it's not often. But it would be a shrewd move by the President - Lieberman is coming to look liike a coalition of one within a Democrat Party that is in danger of sacrificing permanently any claim to a responsible foreign policy. By detaching him Bush would make the Dems more extreme and deprive them of a centrist figure. It would also be a demonstration of the Democrats political re-alignment of the last 6 years - a figure who ran as V-P candidate no longer feels at home in his own party.

Creating a narrative has become the most important element of Government press publicity. Blairism created its own momentum, and was then carried along for years on the back of a narrative of modernity and vigour that has only now turned. Cameron has devoted much of his effort to creating a narrative of drive,youth and transformation - and has succeeded up to a point.

If Bush is to re-invigorate a flagging second term,such a grand gesture might well be needed. The appointment of Rice would act as a public anointment of a successor - an important step, but one that might obviate the possibility of a damaginglydivisive primary season for 2008. The danger of inaction is to give off an atmosphere of inertia - and provide the American press with the easiest storyof all - that of a lame duck President.

Party funding

I noted a while back that Blair had created more peers than any PM since Lloyd George. It's not all that surprising that both men were accused, with overwhelming circumstantial evidence, of effectively selling peerages in return for party donations. PG Wodehouse noted the scandal in the 1920s, Bingo Little noting that his guvnor had 'paid the deuce of a sum' for his peerage, with even knighthoods costing a thousand quid.

Lloyd George was, in private, candid about this, commenting that selling peerages was quite the cleanest way of funding political parties, its problem being that it was so difficult to defend. The argument is, basically, that if rich people want to spend a million pounds on acquiring a title then why not let them? Both parties can nominate people for advancement to the peerage, so there is no question of abuse of government power, and now that hereditary peers have mainly vanished from the House of Lords, the risk of granting dynastic political power has also gone.

In other words, the scandal that Blair is selling peerages is a belated one to say the least. The system has continued unabated for well over a hundred years, in every party and at every level of honour. Far more important a scandal is what else Labour appears to be selling. Looking back to the beginnings of this administration, the Ecclestone affair gave a clear warning of the Government's character. In return for a donation of £1 million, Government policy on advertising cigarettes was changed.

This is the true nature of the scandal. On the list of donors appears Rod Aldridge, CEO of Capita who make most of their money fulfilling Government contracts. Paul Drayson, another donor, is now not only a minister in the Lords, but also won for his company a series of contracts to manufacture vaccines. What is pernicious is not the sale of honours, but the sale of policy.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Six Nations Roundup - no 5

And it's all over. The final round of matches followed a course that has been set over the tournament: France did enough to win without making the heart beat faster, Italy were solid and impressive but unable to finish their good work, Scotland were muscular and determined, Wales were unconvincing (though miles better than before), Ireland were opportunistic and excellent at finishing, and England were strong up front, unimaginative everywhere else and really rather unlucky.

It's been a fun tournament, though not notable for any particularly good quality rugby. Italy have been most impressive, despite not actually winning anything, England, by some margin, least impressive. To finish fourth twice in a row is unforgivable when a team has as much talent as England do. To show such lamentable skills in the field is even worse. France were worthy winners, not least because she made fewer mistakes than anyone else. If the team had turned up at Murrayfield this would have been a Grand Slam in the bag. As for the future, there was nothing on display from anyone that would have made New Zealand worry - look to see the Webb Ellis trophy go back down under next year.

Picking a scab

On the Guardian's new blog-lite, Comment is free, there's a rather unusual post, by Linda Grant, in which she fails altogether to froth at the mouth, rant about the evil Jews or even attemptto blame them for the problems of the Middle East. Instead she remarks in a slightyl detached way about how the truisms of European thought on Israel seem ridiculously simplistic and unhelpful when you're actually there. It is, above all, the veiled anti-semitism that she highlights which I was referring to in my last post.

So, a new approach from the Guardian or merely a break in prgramming? The second comment to the post starts "I visited South Africa during its apartheid phase..." Normal service resumed then.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Americans are from Mars...

My interview for my prestigious and rapidly decling alma mater was enlivened by two features. The first was a remarkably pretty fellow interviewee with whom I went drinking the night before my interview; the second was the sight of my future senior tutor (a very well-regarded Russianist) kicking his legs as he sat on his sofa.

The fact that I got through my interview is largely due to the fact that my hangover reduced my natural tendency to elaborate loquacity (which some of you may have noticed). However, the fact that I had just finished reading Linda Colley's book Britons: Forging the Nation helped too. It's a good book, incidentally, focusing to a large extent on the way the British define themselves in oppsition to the French.

In the Guardian, however, she has gone off one again about Americans and America under the subtle banner of "The star-spangled fantasyland of the fake and the home of the bogus."

Her main point seems to be that American politicians are so primitive and backward that they seek security in macho military posturing. This is backed up by the observation that Brokeback Mountain did better at the Baftas than at the Oscars. Res Ipsa Loquitor as we lawyers like to say.

What a contrast we see in Britain! Here Blair and Cameron are positively feminine in their appearance. Cameron even pats his wife's bump! Moreover, "Blair and he do not need to strut upon battleships, however much they might enjoy doing so" not least of course, because the only battleship Britain still has is HMS Belfast and that's not very struttable these days.

My beef with Ms Colley on this is that, using the same old tired jokes (Cheney and Bush are draft-dodgers, Bush on the USS Enterprise was 'in drag' and so on) she states that the US is both more advanced in the field of female emancipation and overly reliant on masculine posturing. It seems that the whole article is little more than an excuse to let off a stream of invective and innuendo. This is an article full of both sound and fury, signifying nothing. What that makes Ms Colley, I think we all know.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Delicate subject, eggshell posting

I have to say, until I started reading a lot of blogs, the Middle East always seemed to me to be slightly distant. I had opinions on it and everything - name your subject: I have opinions - but it really wasn't central to me. But, in the little community of bloggers that I read, Israel always looms large. As a result, of course, I've tried to get a bit more educated about the area in general and the Israel/Palestine conflict in particular.

One thing I've discovered is, and this will be no surprise to anyone, that it is remarkably difficult to find history and especially reporting, that isn't slightly one-sided at best, grotesquely slanted at worst. Within the UK press this slant has tended - for reasons of historic British pro-Arabism? - towards the Palestinian side. However, within the corner of the blogosphere (ghastly word) that I now inhabit and have long haunted, exactly the opposite is true.

My natural inclination is that, as the only functioning democracy in a notoriously dictatorial region, Israel should be extended the benefit of any available doubt, and that much opposition to Israel has its roots in unsavoury soil. On further examination, I will hazard a stronger opinion. That anyone who routinely uses the word 'Zionist' in a derogatory sense does so in an article with which I will disagree.

Israel, in short, now seems to act as an ideal weathervane of opinion. Ask only for someone's opinion on Israel, and their wider views are reflected. I don't know why it should be - but I do know that one of the few things that unites those with whom I identify is the right of Israel to exist, and one of the things that typifies those with whom I disagree is their denial of that right.

Unusually I'm putting a disclaimer on this post. The Middle East is emphatically not an area of expertise. I'm not making any sweeping historical/political points here, merely highlighting something that I feel.

Descent into lunacy

Not mine, as it happens, though it was a near run thing. Today the Guardian goes further into a cul de sac of stupidity, myopia and breathless hyperbole more usually located in a student union paper (Oxford Student anyone?) than in a national daily (although the Independent runs it close).

Martin Jacques is frightened - with good reason. He has discovered "the most serious threat to democracy in Western Europe since the Second World War." Now, you might be thinking, this must be terrifying - after all if it's more serious than the Red Army camped in Germany aiming nuclear missiles at Paris and London it must be pretty damn serious. Um, Iranian nukes? No, far less worrying. Islamism and terrorism? Come on, this is the Guardian. Give up? OK, this terrifying scourge is none other it's too awful, Silvio Berlusconi.

Berlusconi, "the most dangerous political phenomenon in Europe" is not just worse than the Commies, he is in fact "the devil" and Tony Blair has damaged the world by his friendship with this satanic mastermind. And what, I hear you cry, is the evidence for this hellish monstrosity? Steady yourself, for both Blair and Berlusconi are characterised by "an indiscriminate worship of business and moneymaking, a belief in the power of the media, and a contempt for the left."

Well, if they didn't have a contempt for the left before reading this article, I bet they do now.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Getting it...

Scott, over at the Daily Ablution, has scattered his righteous disdain and (occasionally) anger fairly equally over the Guardian and the Independent. Over here, and at many other blogs, the Indy gets off remarkably lightly. There is a simple reason for this: apathy and idleness. While the Guardian has practically all its content easily accessible online the Indy hides most of its behind a subscription wall. As a result, no linking is possible which makes posts much less effective. Also I'm far too stingy to fork out each day for a paper purely for the purpose of poking holes in its reportage and poking fun at its reporters.

But the Indy is missing a trick. The Guardian now has a global reach far beyond its print circulation through its website. Wider dissemination of opinions is what newspapers are about; it's really what they are for. For the Independent to forgo this seems perverse.

Feint left, hit right

A lot of the oppositon to Cameron, especially within the Tory party but also within the community at large, is that he is a bit too like Blair - too smooth, too smarmy, too vacant. My post below, highlighting the fact that the main thing that Cameron has brought to the party so far is his personal charm and 'newness' is an obvious parallel to the younger Blair.

But is this necessarily a bad thing? An examination of the achievements of the Labour Party under Blair, without focusing on the fact that he has won three consecutive elections, reveals the fact that tax has risen considerably in order to pay for greatly increased public spending. Fox hunting has been abolished pour epater les bourgeois and the privatised railways have been taken into a partially state-rub body regardless of the wishes of the legal owners.

All these policies are straight out of the old Labour handbook. Yet the primary resonance of Blairism is (apart from a wrinkled nostril at the stench of hypocrisy and the whiff of corruption) a somehow centrist party. Look at all the political surveys by Chris Lightfoot and the like. While Thatcher, Howard and the rest are portrayed as miles off in some right-wing hinterland, Blair squats right over the centrepoint. So, how has he managed simultaneously to follow policies that are largely left wing without sacrificing his image as a centrist? The answer is largely to do with his powers of presentation - the dreaded spin.

It is this that should give Conservatives some grounds for hope in the ascent of Cameron. Despite the sometimes painfully trendy nature of some of the mood music emanating from CCO (or whatever it's called now) a brief look at the men at the centre of the party reveals Hague, Osborne and Gove - none of them soggy and some of them positively dry. The reason is that mood music is important. If you want your policies to be followed and supported they first have to be heard. Where Blair has fallen down is that he has followed presentation as an end in itself. He has also never had the honest support of his party. If Cameron can avoid these pitfalls then the political future may be less Butskellite than many seem to think.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Who said this?

We have had our moments, in Spain and isolated constituencies in the UK.

Presumably those constituencies include Regents Park and Kensington North (Edgware Road) and Holborn and St Pancras (Kings Cross).

A clear and clarion call for the success of terrorism in Spain and London? Well, if it is it's being made by Gary Younge, the Guardian's answer to Mullah Omar - hey he's got a one-eyed view of the world too.

Tax in Africa

Another piece today by Alex Cobham states that the best way to set up an African welfare state is to re-organise rules on tax avoidance and tax evasion. He correctly states that such a system could not be organised within the aid system, but proceeds to commit all sorts of inconsistencies, irrelevancies and non-sequitors in an article that would be remarkable were it not for the fact that the Guardian always does this.

My research shows that a conservative estimate of the revenues foregone by poorer countries due to tax avoidance and tax evasion is $385bn (£221bn) each year.

Colour me sceptical on this. Not only is there deliberate elision between legal avoidance and illegal evasion, but there is no indication of what research this is. If he's relying on official Government statistics, well good luck. My experience of the developing world is limited to Africa, but there are simply no figures to provide this sort of information. It's hard to find a budget in most countries, certainly one more recent than five years ago, and as for quantifying tax avoidance? It's pretty hard to do that here, given that there isn't really a definition for it.

The inability of tax systems in rich countries to keep track of the income of high net-wealth individuals and the profits of multinational companies means that both of these groups are able to shift their tax liabilities to low-tax or no-tax jurisdictions.

Hurrah! The sweet, sweet smell of liberty! What Cobham means by high net-wealth individuals is presumably just people who can afford to pay an accountant to minimse liability. As long as tax rates are high enough to make such a move worthwhile, people will do it. The trick is to make tax rates simple and low, making such measures uneconomic.

They avoid paying their share of state spending in rich countries...

Given that most of these individuals will have used private education, private healthcare and private transport, I'm struggling to see how they're on the mooch.

For developing countries, what is important is the availability of tax-relevant information collected by rich countries and secretive tax havens jurisdictions that serve them.

The point about most tax havens is that they do not ask for, or acquire much of this information. This is because the definition of a tax haven is one that does not believe that governments have many rights over citizens. Why should they keep registers? What is it to do with them? Now, you can object to such small-state mentality, but it's best not to deny its existence.

It also means stripping tax havens of their ability to provide shelter for tax evaders - starting with the UK's own Crown Dependencies.

Over which the Government of the United Kingdom has no jurisdiction AS WE HAVE SEEN.

The rest of the article goes on to say that the structure of VAT style taxes in Africa have been regressive and encouraged black markets. But the real problem with African taxation is that the entire system is rotten from the top down. All direct taxation is administered by corrupt officials, collected by corrupt collectors and enforced by a corrupt judiciary. Doing business in the Third World is bloody difficult because of this.

The solutions proposed by Cobham entail, effectively, a good degree of harmonisation of global tax rules, including the abolition of tax havens. But the only way to do this would be by a new global Empire, devoted to enforcing its ideas on taxation and welfare. Since tax havens rely on their financial service sector for their existence the only way to change them would be by force.

Empire in the service of Free Trade was, in some ways, creditable. Empire in the service of statist harmonisation? I seem to remember something of the sort, though I don't know if this is what Cobhan had in mind.

The fall of the house of Ussher

The MP for Burnley, one Kitty Ussher (whose name provides ample excuse for the excruciating pun above) writes a rather bewildering piece in the Guardian today, where she seems to be defending Tessa Jowell from financial irregularity on the grounds that Ussher's husband looks after the children except on Sundays when he watches football.

There are Private Eye columns by Polly Filler that have a more obvious causal relationship than this. For the benefit of Ms Ussher and other confused Members of Parliament, there is no real correlation between childcare and money laundering (except in the sense of the little sods dropping your wallet in the loo). That you and your husband agree on childcare does not make it unexceptional that Tessa Jowell has a relationship with her husband that is so peculiar that financial decisions that have the potential to bankrupt and/or make homeless both Jowell and husband are apprently nodded through without any discussion whatsoever.

Regardless of the fact that I find it very hard to understand quite what it is that she is supposed to have done wrong, the fact that the Daily Mail in particular has attacked her with ridiculous and patronising headlines like "How much more is she able to take?" is reason enough to leap to her defence, and many of our new women MPs spontaneously decided to do so. Would they have written that about a man? I think not.

This is the Daily Mail. Not notably reticent in attacking Blunkett, Mandelson, Hughes and so on. The primary linking feature is not gender but politics. Also, "many of our new women MPs spontaneously decided to do so"? Like the spontaneous demonstrations of support for Robert Mugabe?

Monday, March 13, 2006

100 days of Cameron

Well, despite an unfortunate period of lassitude brought on by too much wine and not enough sleep, it is time for this blog to have a look at the reaction to DC's first hundred days. To be honest, some of the coverage has been a bit peculiar. Mike Smithson comments that, even though Cameron has given the Tories a 5% bounce in the polls, transforming a solid Tory 32/3% poll to a solid 37/8% poll, this is nothing like enough for the Tories even to become the largest party in the Commons, let alone form a majority.

Over at the Guardian, they are even less impressed, hopefully predicting that, at the first sign of a setback, all progress thus far will be rejected as Tories bolt back to immigration and Europe - those perennial vote-winners. 'There's a long way to go yet' is the recurring theme. Well of course there bloody is. 100 days is really not a very long time in the sheme of things. What is important is the shift in narrative. Cameron has managed, more through his personal style than anything concrete, to make the Conservatives look new and fresh, rather than a throwback to the Major years.

This, by itself, is an important achievement. To have the Conservatives as a good news story is a radical change. Remember the local elections under Duncan Smith? The result was actually quite good for the Tories, but because the narrative was of a failing party in permanent crisis that part got ignored. In the May elections the narrative will be of a party on the front foot, and, unless the results are catastrophic, this will be the story the press want to publish.

There is a wide perception that the media create public atmosphere. I don't necessarily agree. Often they re-affirm and re-inforce pre-existing feeling. When the Press get it wrong it is obvious - the attempt to Diana-ify Jill Dando for example. It has been said that the best way to get a dog (especially for some reason an Airedale terrier) to obey you is to wait until he is doing something, and then tell him to do it. That's a better explanation of the media effect than any other.

Six Nations Roundup 4

From bad to worse. Italy continued to impress in Cardiff. Even though they're probably going to finish bottom of the table, there is no doubt that Italy are the most improved side in the Championship. It was a solid performance, even if the try was fortuitous. If it hadn't been given, the winger would probably have shot himself in the showers - to run over the dead-line ball in hand is the stuff of nightmares. Wales were pretty dire in the second half, after a first half that was remarkable for its lack of finish. From Grand Slam to Wooden Spoon in a season? Could only be Wales.

Scotland came to Lansdowne Road with a bit of confidence and a lot of momentum. They left with both greatly reduced. Put simply they are not good enough to threaten to break through a strong defensive line. If you're going to put in consistent victories, you have to score tries and Scotland don't look like doing it. Ireland put in a solid, if unspectacular performance, though at the line-out they were simply immense, stealing 8 Scottish throws. If they can repeat this at Twickenham, a third consecutive victory looks likely.

England were simply awful against France from the first dropped kick to the last intercepted pass. It was a performance that left the spectator stunned: how could this have happened to the World Champions? Basic skills, sorely lacking against Scotland, were here virtually inverted. England need to work on skills like passing, running, kicking out of hand - and that just isn't good enough. France managed to rack up a cricket score without really breaking sweat - it wasn't possible to tell whether this is a world cup winning side from this fixture, mainly because a good college side looked as though they would have beaten England.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Lies, damn lies and so on

There are some things that really get up my nose. Michael Portillo in todays Sunday Times casually remarking that "Roe v Wade legalised abortion in America," when, in the same paper, Andrew Sullivan accurately states that what it did was designate "abortion as a constitutional right." Mary Riddell saying that someone believes the BNP are a bit too socialist for their liking as if that must make him a raving fascist, when the BNP stands for protectionism and re-distribution as acentral part of their philosophy.

But what really gets to me is the casual abuse of statistics. The first one that's been in the news recently is the 'fight against child poverty.' Labour have missed a target to reduce this by the proverbial country mile. That looks awful - a million children raised in poverty - until you look at what it means - an income of less than 60% of the average. By any historical measurement there is no poverty in Britain. The benefit system alone has raised income levels to a point unrecognisable a hundred, or even fifty years ago. Looking at poverty as a proportion of average income just guarantees its continued survival. This is, of course, the entire point. What is the Labour Party for if not to fight the iniquities of poverty? If you get rid of poverty what else is there to do? But the inherently ridiculous nature of the argument is obvious - if Bill Gates, the Aga Khan and Richard Branson live on an island together, is Branson really living in poverty because his wealth is proportionally less than the others?

The other one that has really irritated me - perhaps more so because it is still trotted out as clear proof of the iniquity of white Zimbabwean farmers - was that the whites owned 70% of the best farmland. The way this one was worked out was beautiful in its simplicity. How do you calculate the 'best' land? By looking at agricultural yields of course! Therefore, since white-owned commercial farms had higher yields, they must be on more fertile land. Obvious really. So when the farms were re-possessed what happened? Well, yields went down as investment decreased and the land gradually became less good. So, the removal of a farm from a white farmer actually increased the proportion of the best land in the hands of the remaining farmers. If I hear this argument once more, I really might blow a gasket.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006


Alice Thomson, not usually one to say much of note, does cause an eyebrow to raise today.

According to a close friend, it is ludicrous to speculate over what Miss Jowell talked about at the breakfast table - she was never there. She had already done a session in the gym and gone to her first business meeting, leaving her husband to play golf and talk to his Italian friends.

Now, Mills is an international tax lawyer. While his career may have dipped recently, it was as a result of advice he gave to the richest man in Italy on the tax structuring of his financial empire. A note to Ms Thomson may be in order here. Just because you do not understand something does not mean that it is easy to do. Sheesh.

Debate on Abortion: Impossibility of

At least as long as the terms of the debate are charcterised by misunderstandings and sloppy thinking. The Guardian today provides a classic example of the problem. Tim has already pointed out the basic problem, which is that the position is continually portrayed as being that Roe v Wade legalised abortion. It didn't. It made abortion a constitutional right, and therefore not subject to State law-making. Abortion until then had been subject to conflicting laws across the States, as of course had many other things (including the death penalty).

If Roe v Wade is repealed by the Supreme Court, abortion will again be an issue determined by State legislatures across the country, unless Congress passes a constutional amendment specifically granting abortion protection.

Is the US public ready for an absolute ban on abortion? Is the supreme court prepared to reverse 30 years of legal precedence? Governor Rounds apparently thinks so.

Well, if the public doesn't like the idea of an absolute ban on abortion then it can vote for parties that oppose it. That's rather the point of democracy. South Dakota currently has only one abortion clinic as it is. The decision has obviously been made that there is more support in the state for a ban than there is for the continued legal status of abortion. That may well be a misjudgement, but it doesn't seem wholly unreasonable to say that it should be the people of South Dakota that should make that call.

The problem for pro-abortionists is that Roe v Wade is a jurisprudential monstrosity. Does the US constitution, written in the 1780s, provide a specific protection for abortion? Obviously it does not. Does it provide for the right to privacy, from which the right to abortion flows? It does not. Does it cover this topic at all? Yes, by saying that those matters not specifically reserved to the Federal power are reserved to the States and to the people. The Constitution, on a literal reading, is crystal clear on this point. To come to a different answer one needs to follow the 'living document' approach beloved of the Democrat Party.

But the difficulty with this is that the Constitution then means only what the Supreme Court decide. This is not, or was not supposed to be, their constitutional function. Their role is to interpret the Constitution, not write it. This is an argument that needs to be understood before the rights and wrongs of abortion itself are even discussed. That it is continually ignored or misunderstood simply puts another obstacle in the path of rational debate.

Put your money in a TESSA

Jesus, why doesn't she just resign already? This story is going to run and run, and every time a new allegation is made the only comebacks will be "I didn't know!" or "But everyone does that." The new one, (via Iain and Guido) is that shares in Old Monk, which she categorically denied that her husband owned, were in fact owned by an off-shore company of which Mills was the sole beneficial owner.

It's a definite untruth. The shares were owned, legally, by her husband, and she denied specifically that this was the case. The defence will obviously be that she didn't know, but is this good enough.

Jowell is effectively acting as a director of the United Kingdom (run with me here) and as such is in a position of trust, what we in the business call a fiduciary position. There are a whole series of laws and rules on this, and they include the duty to disclose any potential conflict of interests arising from the director's spouse. The defence of lack of knowledge is not absolute. There are five distinct categories of knowledge (this is why law school is so dull). The key one here is that a director can be assumed to have had knowledge of a conflict, if he bloody well ought to have known. Jowell is either so dishonest that she is happy to ignore the law, or so incompetent that she isn't aware of the law in the first place. Or, as the Devil's Kitchen demonstrates is so often the case with this Government, both.

Incidentally the picture is of the Capuin monastery in Rome, Old Monks, you see? Oh forget it.

A terrible dilemma...

In contrast with Stephen Pollard, who has been inundated with hate mail after revealing that he cannot bear to look at or hear Rachel Weisz, I have a slightly different problem.

It would probably be fair to say that Ms Weisz is, to me, something of an idee fixe. I even watched The Mummy Returns on the strength of her appearance in it. It's worse. I watched it twice. Rachel Weisz can make a film watchable purely by virtue of being in it.

But I cannot, will not and never will be able to watch The Constant Gardener. I had to stop reading it because it annoyed me so much and when I saw the trailer, where the inexpressible evil of 'corporations' was revealed by the fact that they, er, are based in large buildings (the UN, I believe, is operated out of a 2 up, 2 down semi in Romford) I realised that even Rachel couldn't make up for the dangerous impact the film would have on my blood pressure (in fact, thinking about it, she'd have made it worse).

There is at present an advert on the Tube for a two-dimensional, predictable thriller. The tagline screams "Are you frightened by Big Corporations? Then this book is for you!" Are more sensible line would be "Are you frightened by Big Corporations? Then grow the fuck up and get a sense of perspective you tiresome whinging little Guardianista. Bastard."

Paging Dr Mander...

Well, the first move has been made in what looks like a pretty tight election year in the States. Tom DeLay ("The Hammer") has won the primary in Texas. DeLay's real fight is with the Democrats challenger, but the real problem is with the American electoral system. Texas is gerrymandered to hell, as we can see by the district map (the yellow bits are GOP 'marginals'). These peculiar shapes (19 is my favourite) have been carved out of the Texas map by the Republican re-districting. And if you think this looks bad, it's worth remembering that until this redistricting, the Democrats, with about 35% of the vote, held the majority of seats in the Texas legislature.

It's a graphic example of what happens when party politics determines constituencies. Texas is by no means the worst example either - try looking at Californian districts - but it is fairly representative. I think only Iowa (or some other fly-over) has done the decent thing and gone for apolitical boundaries that don't look like a cracker-puzzle.

And yet, the British model doesn't look too good either. The Isle of Wight is twice as big as David Blunkett's Sheffield seat; Tory constituencies average 10,000 more voters than Labour ones; Scotland is still grotesquely over-represented even without factoring in the Scottish Parliament. The current boundary redesign is marginal at best, and already five years out of date before its inception.

A radical solution is called for. There are far too many MPs as it is. The chamber only seats some 450, when there are 650 MPs. So, simple, just axe 200 seats (mainly in the sparsely populated north of the country and in the deserted inner-cities) and have 450 MPS. Unfortunately the words Turkeys and Christmas spring to mind.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Retreat into senility

Roy Hattersley, once considered the country's best choice as Chancellor of the Exchequer, reveals the benefits of a 40 year political career.

Were I still a member of parliament, I would vote for the second reading of the education bill. At least, I think I would; if Estelle Morris advised against, I would be inclined to follow her lead.

There you have it. A man who relies for his opinions on a woman so mind-bogglingly incompetent that she stood out even in this Labour Administration. This man is considered a sage of the Labour Party. The sad part is that this is probably true.

Gary Younge - deliberately misleading?

In Gary Younge's piece in the Guardian today he manages to make some points that are misleading, some that are untrue and some that merely miss the point. Par for the course for a Guardian columnist I know, but what bothers me is whether he knows he's being misleading (to put it charitably) or not.

In other words Mr Summers's problem was not that he blundered, but that he was brave. Quite what is brave about suggesting women are not as clever as men, supporting the US army or hounding out a black academic is not clear.

As Tim has pointed out, what Summers said was that men have a greater degree of differentiationin intellect than women - leading to more geniuses and more imbeciles. You can draw your own conclusion as to where Younge fits in on this scale. As for "supporting the US army," what Summers did was campaign to allow the army to put recruiting posters on campus - arguing that a ban was unconstitutional. Given the fanatical level of anti-military feeling among the senior common rooms of America, such a position can be argued to be at least independent, if not actually brave. Finally, looking at Cornell West. The Economist noted that the issue was not Summers's hounding of West, it was that the system of unchallengeable tenure had led to a position where celebrity professors were doing no teaching - fobbing classes off on graduate students. In compensation Harvard gave out a staggering number of honours - 95% of students compared to Yales 50%. That West stormed off when told he should actually do some teaching says more about West than it does about Summers.

A couple of years ago a British journalist won a major award for columns supporting the Iraq war on the grounds that to do so was "brave". Whether the award was deserved is irrelevant; the judges' adjective is the issue. What, after all, is "brave" about supporting the policies of both your government and the sole global superpower against a country that posed no threat?

A couple of points on this. Firstly, the definition of brave here is that the article was written in a climate where liberal opinion was unanimously opposed to the war. To stick your neck out against the prevailing consenssu is, well brave. If a Guardian columnist had, in 1989, written an article asserting that the Pol Tax was both necessary and the fairest available form of financing local government he would have been supporting Government policy. But it would also have been brave since it went against the prejudices and beliefs of his colleagues.

Next point. No threat? At all? A country that had consistently displayed violence internally and regionally? With demonstrable links to terrorism both secular and Islamic? That everyone accepted wanted to have biological and chemical weapons, even if opinion is divided as to whether they had them and where they went. That had previously sought to acquire nuclear weapons? No threat at all? Poor helpless little Iraq, bless it.

Barely had the ink dried on sermons extolling western civilisation last month than scenes of colonial barbarism involving British troops beating Iraqis filled our screens.

The troops, having been attacked with grenades and mortar rounds, located the attackers and, instead of shooting them, as they would have had every right to do under international law (as well as the law of common-sense) instead gave them a kicking and sent them on their way. Barbarism? Younge needs to gain a sense of perspective.

How many women, blacks, working-class people or Muslims get to speak, let alone be heard?

What does this mean? As Tim notes, of that list, it's only working class people that don't have regular columns in the Guardian. Is Younge really saying that these don't get a chance to speak? To whom? Where? It's nonsense. The whole bloody article is complete and total rubbish. To manhandle his argument into any sort of shape, Younge has had to squeeze the facts into convenient shapes, even when, by doing so, he either misrepresents them or totally makes them up. In this sense Gary Younge is the David Irving of journalism.

More on Jowell

On the Today program this morning, the Jowell affair burbled on, without much in the way of new information, but plenty of comment. Michael Heseltine was asked about it and said that, unlike the Labour Party did in opposition, he wasn't about to rule on private behaviour. Glenda Jackson, on the other hand, said that Jowell should go, and even said that she was 'laundering great washes of money' (isn't this libel?).

Margaret Beckett then came on and, in a spirited defence of Jowell, said that there was no proof that anything illegal had happened, and that therefore all of the attention was from the press trying to damage the Government. To those of us with tediously long political memories, this was reminiscent of John Major - 'who decides who should be a minister - the Prime Minister or the editor of the Daily Mail?' - and we all know the answer to that.

But in any case, is this really the standard of behaviour that Ministers of the Crown have to uphold? Don't do anything that is clearly against the law? That it? Looking back to those dark days of the mid-90s when getting on for a score of Tory minsters resigned - how many had done anything illegal? As far as I recall, it was mainly sex - which even this Government haven't managed to ban. In this Government, on the other hand, every scandal since Cook has been about money.

I was reminded this weekend of the ban on advertising smoking, with its Formula 1 exception. Who was the minister who made the ruling that Formula 1 should be exempted? One Tessa Jowell. And can you name the lawyer brought in to advise the Formula 1 team on the best way to obtain this exemption? David Mills. That smell is getting stronger.

Self-loathing, wilful blindness

Further to Douglas Murray's points made below, an interesting mismatch is in evidence on Google News between the number of stories on Guantanamo Bay, where 500 terrorist suspects are being held in conditions scrutinised by the Red Cross, and other prison systems.

The laogai in China, for example, holds an estimated 4-6 million prisoners, including those held for their religious beliefs, Catholic, Protestant and Falun Gong. There are rumours of organ harvesting from executed prisoners, the death penalty is about to be imposed for robbery, and the inmates are involved in forced labour producing everything from coal and steel to plastic sandals and toys.

Cuba's prison system is notoriously brutal and, despite Castro's mendacious claim to hold only criminals, it is full of political prisoners, arrested for such crimes as "dishonouring patriotic symbols." Inspection by the Red Cross have not been allowed for the last 15 years.

In Zimbabwe, Chikurubi prison has long been a by-word for brutality and repression. The number of prisoners incarcerated at any one time is hard to specify, but conditions are appalling, 25 men squeezed into cells measuring 9m by 4m. Some prisoners are being held for confessions extracted under torture for apartheid era spying - three of these are Philip Conjwayo, Kevin Woods and Mike Smith, imprisoned since 1988.

On any scale, these three examples (and there are others as bad around the world) are infinitely worse than Guantanamo. Although America dominates the world, one might expect something approaching parity of treatment where human rights - that universal panacea - applies.

So, Google News on Guantanamo Bay, 9,430 hits. On the laogai, 6 hits. On cuban prisons, 2 - but only one story. On Chikurubi, 8 hits, 6 of them from Zimbabwe.

Obviously, American stories receive greater coverage, but it is sickeningly hypocritical for bien pensant opinion to castigate Guantanamo Bay as the 'gulag of our time' when abuses that are infinitely worse on every conceivable level pass calmly and smugly beneath the media radar.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

War War or Jaw Jaw?

Douglas Murray has made an interesting and thought-provoking speech on neo-conservatism and the current cultural war being waged. The basis of his argument is a familiar one - that the enemy, aggressive and expansionist Islam, is being militarily defeated at every level. Whenever the forces of the West and Islam meet in open battle, the result is a rout. The defeats the West has suffered, the Lancet, Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, are self-inflicted with the harshest blows coming from internal anti-war voices. In other words, the most dangerous enemy is the enemy within, since this has the power to transform victory into defeat. For an example of this, Murray cites the Tet Offensive in Vietnam, now widely recognised as having destroyed the Viet Cong, but at the time considered as a military defeat by anti-war protestors at home.

Murray's ire is especially directed at those in the West who state that there is no difference between the opposing forces. This cultural relativism weakens the West at home, and strengthens hostile forces at home and abroad. So what do we do? As Murray states, identifying the problem is not enough, solutions must also be sought. Murray's are as follows:

1. All immigration to Europe from Muslim countries must cease. Immigrants currently in Europe should be 'persuaded' to return to their countries of origin.
2. Immigrants who 'take part in, plot or condone' violence against the West should be deported to their country of origin (or, if necessary their grandparents').
3. Europe should be 'absolutist' in the defence of European culture, supporting it without compromise
4. The war abroad should be extended to Iran, Syria and any other regime that supports terrorism

"In a tape-recording played at his recent trial in Milan, Rabei Osman Sayed Ahmed was heard, amid his celebrations of the murder of Nicholas Berg, to say:

Rome, we are entering Rome, Rome, if God wishes we are entering, even entering Rome… Rome, Rome, we are opening Rome with those from Holland. Rome, Rome, if God wishes, Rome is opening. It will be. It will be.

There is, I suggest, only one answer to that – which is to say: Not an inch:

The gates of Rome will not open an inch. You will not get Rome, you will not get London, you will not get The Hague or any other city that is ours. On this there is no room to give, no compromise, no discussion to be had.

Only when we make it clear where we stand will our enemies - and those who have come to Europe who are our friends – know where they stand too."

Breaking news...

Tessa Jowell has announced her separation from her husband David Mills. The minister said that this was entirely proper and she had never realised that she was married to the lawyer in the first place. "Our personal lives are entirely separate - how could I have known we were married. I have done nothing wrong, unless you count being a serial money-launderer." Ms Jowell said yesterday.

In other news, a large number of mammals of the genus rattus rattus were spotted deserting a ship in Southampton Dock. The ship appeared to be listing to port. Asked for his views a bearded man wearing sandals commented "Greater love hath no man than this, that he lays down his friends for his life."

Thursday, March 02, 2006


So the markets were wrong then. That's what happens when everyone is fishing from the same pool. As for the Lib Dems, what sort of question has Ming Campell as the answer? He's like the Malcolm Rifkind of the Liberal Democrat Party: plausible, polished, patrician and ponderous. He's been elected as a 'safe pair of hands', and compared to Hughes or Huhne that's exactly what he is. But just picture how Nick Clegg must be feeling - a man who was virtually unknown even in the Parliamentary party ran Campbell surprisingly close, how much better could Clegg have done?


Well, I've put it off for a while, but eventually it had to come. A post on Europe. Feel free to leave now if you want. There are few subjects of more importance to British life, political, economic and day-to-day, and none that are more ineffably tedious. It's hard to maintain the white-hot indignancy needed to rebut the inanities and indignities that churn out of Brussells in the face of its extraordinary dullness.

Hard, but not impossible. Richard and Helen at EU Referendum manage it pretty well. But, and I'm not trying to be nasty here, there's more than a touch of the obsessive on display. John Major's comment about the Eurosceptic Richard Body ("When I see Richard Body I can hear the sound of white coats flapping") touched a sensitive spot. People who can drag themselves through the poorly-written, poorly-translated poorly-conceived mess that passes for European legislation are either slightly peculiar to begin with or else are driven so by the experience.

Just as it has been observed that we are doomed to be ruled by the people who can stay awake longest in public meetings, Europe seems to have decided that the best way to get its legislation out is to make it narcoleptic in effect. This being so, we should be as grateful as possible for those who read the damn stuff for keeping the rest of us up with the current European machinations.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Whitewash or laundry?

The saga of Tessa Jowell's finances continues to amaze, amuse or perturb depending on one's point of view. It is beginning to look as though David Mills is deeply implicated in bribery/perverting justice charges in Italy, indeed it's rumoured he's preparing to cut a deal with the magistrates out there.

The weight of the charge is that Mills remortgaged the family house in Kentish Town, and paid the whole mortgage off very promptly indeed. This is a classic method of laundering dodgy money - so classic that it is specifically warned against in the solicitors' code of professional conduct. Jowell's defence so far has been that she knew nothing of the process. Poor little woman, can't expect her to keep up with the difficult financial things. Leave that to her husband. Except that, since Barclays Bank v O'Brian it has been practice for a bank to insist that the partner, usually wife, of the mortgagor has received independent legal advice over the potential effects of the mortgage.

Either Jowell ignored this - which is unlikely - or she took the advice. But to claim that she was never informed opens up Mills' solicitors (and the bank's) to a charge of professional misconduct. The defence is also reminiscent of the Blairs's over the flats in Bristol - that one partner in a marriage took an enormously important financial decision that affected the finances of both without even informing the other. This doesn't pass the smell test. From looking like a storm in a teacup, this affair is starting to give off a whiff of corruption.

Incidentally, since buying their house for cash in 1979, it has been mortgaged and remortgaged 5 times. On one occasion their mortgage was repaid within a month. Something of a laundromat methinks.

UPDATE: Incidentally the Devil's Kitchen has a post on this, as pithily expressed as might be expected