Sunday, April 29

The Sunday Quote

''Our openions do not really blossom into fruition untill we have expressed them to someone else.''
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Mark Twain (1835 - 1910) Ouoted from Mark Twain and I

More Rubbish


Listners to BBC Radio 4's Any Questions yesterday would not have gained the impression from the panellists, dealing with the question of fortnightly only refuse collection, that the issue was anything other than a tussle between central and local government.
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Between the patronising Patricia Hewitt, Health Secretary, Hazel Blears and the braying of the Lib-Dim MP, Susan Kramer, the decision was either local or dictated by central diktat.
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Not once did any of the pannellists mention the very large elephant lumbering unremarked around around the room. That elephant is the European Union - in the form of the EU framework waste directive.
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It thus takes Booker, today, to write that, in all the acres of newsprint devoted in recent days to the chaos engulfing our rubbish disposal system, one crucial ingredient has been almost entirely lacking. This is, he tells us, a proper explanation not only of why we have got into this mess but why it is soon going to cost us billions of pounds, including huge fines to Brussels, which alone, on official figures, will soon total more than £1 billion.

Saturday, April 28

Fellow Blogers


Click the link here to read about opression of Blogers in ,

Friday, April 27

The End of Week Quote

Alcock and Balls

Norwich city council's press office is being run by a dynamic new duo: former Eastern Daily Press reporter Lynette Alcock and ex-Norwich Evening News hac Richard Balls.

Sadly for connoisseurs of school boy humour {which includes the editor of this blog}, Ms Alcock known hitherto buy her maiden name, has told colleagues that she will be in future using her married name, Day, in future.


Extracted from Private Eye no 1182 -April 2007

'Wot' no protests from Woman's Rights Groups ?

A detainee (left) charged with "inappropriate dress" leaves the courtive operation rounding up women who are not veiled in a "summer campaign against immodesty".
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Iranian Police have mounded a massive operation rounding up women who are not veiled in a "summer campaign against immodesty".
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The behaviour of the police has been such that even conservative Iranians including prominent politicians like Ayatollah Seyyed Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi have protested (though the latter simply thought the methods were counterproductive).
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A total of 150,000 women were arrested in the first four days and all but a handful have signed an admission of guilt and a formal apology. 13 will stand trial and if tried could and probably will be) be flogged. An unspecified number have been given ''psychological counselling.''
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Unsurprisingly, Iranian ministers have been jumping up and down and praising both the idea and the Police operation as right and proper. 203 members of the Males (Iranian parliament) have signed a letter to General Ismail Ahmadi Moghaddam, which praised the police and blamed the United States, Britain and Israel for inciting Iranian women to defy what they see as the Islamic dress code.
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Many courageous Iranian blogers have been running the story in English, with citizen journalists taking and posting photographs and videos.
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Amazingly in the UK press there has, so far at least, not been a critical comment from women's pressure groups.

Thursday, April 26

MP's Priority


The photograph above of the House of Commons today is taken during the Debate ''Defence of the UK''.

For sure it the debate was held on Thursday afternoon, which is always difficult for MPs who have onerous constituency commitments (and local elections to fight). But it cannot help but send a message to the world at large (and indeed our over stretched troops in Afghanistan and Iraq) about the priority afforded to defence issues by our elected representatives.

Huff and Puff

Well now, a recent study carried out by Professor John Whitelegg of the University of York has revealed that the European Union is responsible for producing 20,000 tons of carbon dioxide a year, which is the equivalent to the greenhouse gases produced by 13,000 round-trip flights from London to New York.

The extra tons of CO2 is produced as a result of the transportation of MEPs and numerous support staff and officials from the EU Parliament building in Brussels to the duplicate building in Strasburg which is used for only twelve four-day sessions a year and stands empty for the rest of the time (barring security staff and cleaners).

So, while the MEPs huff and puff, be they ever so green or various shades of green, about ever more environmental regulation they might like to first consider putting their own parliamentary houses in order.

Monday, April 23

St George's Day

It is somehow very English to have a national day, marked by a saint's day which celebrates a man who may or may not have existed – and probably did not (and if he did was certainly not English and never visited the country) – which we then largely ignore.
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As to our "identity", searching for a definition is rather like hunting for that fabled crock of gold at the end of a rainbow. As you get close to it, it disappears. Bit like the legend of St. George really. Perhaps he is the right patron saint for us, after all.

Sunday, April 22

The Speed of Regulation


Or is it the regulation of speed ?



Two motorcycle stories last week from the national daily's highlights who governs Britain and indeed crass stupidity.

Macer Hall in the Daily Express reveals that our Euromasters are now insisting that learner motorcyclists must take a part of their exam to qualify as licence holders at 32 mph (in the interests of safety of course).

Since the exercise will involve driving above the 30 mph limit for urban roads the Driving Standards Agency is having to establish a new network of purpose built test centres at a national cost of £60 million. Another £537,000 will also be needed for “equipment, training and site set-up costs”.

The new driving test rules for motorcyclists are due to be introduced next year in line with a Directive from the European Transport Commissioner’s office in Brussels. The rules clearly stipulate that motorcyclists must demonstrate a safe emergency stop at 50km per hour (32mph) – and this means the test can no longer be legally carry out on British roads in urban areas because of the 30mph limit.

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Jeff Stone, of the British Motorcyclist Federation commenting in the Express, said: “There is no evidence at all that this will make motorcycling safer. I’m sure it will be completely ignored in the rest of Europe. The French will just shrug and carry on conducting tests in supermarket car parks.” Well ok, every little ignoring of EU regulations helps.
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Once motorcyclists have passed their tests having paid an expected increased fee(to pay for the new test centres) of £1,000 (up from £400) they can expect to experience the problem encountered by
The Daily Telegraph reader M.Tof Frodsham who wrote to the paper:
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I took delivery of a new Yamaha Bulldog motorcycle from my local dealer in Chester. Later that day I was riding the motorcycle in the dark and noticed that I couldn't see how quickly I was going because the speedo is calibrated in kilometres per hour. The dial has miles per hour marked in small figures but they aren't illuminated. Riding at night is a bit hit and miss in terms of my speed. I have contacted the dealer, who, in turn, has contacted Yamaha UK. It responded that recent legislation changes mean they are not obliged to fit a mph clock. If I really want one, I'll have to find an extra £150. Being unaware of one's speed in the dark is a major safety issue, surely?

We are not aware of any recent changes and the
Department for Transport seems pretty clear on the standards required.

Have we (or they) missed something?

All this unneeded EU regulation is becoming both expensive and very confusing.

A Britishpersons Home


A pamphlet Has been published today by the Centre for Policy Studies entitled Crossing the Threshold: 266 ways in which the state can enter your home.
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The author, Harry Snook, a barrister, has identified the recent explosion in the powers given to officials, with or without a warrant, to make a mockery of that old boast that "an Englishman's (persons) home is his castle", by invading our homes andbusinesses. In the 1970s, 31 such powers were created, 62 in the 1980s, 67 in the 1990s.
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These "entry powers" range from the right of Ofcom to search your home for an unlicensed television set, to those of social services to check whether it is being used for unlicensed "early years child-minding". In almost every case fines of up to £5,000 can be imposed for "obstructing" officials, and more such powers are introduced every year. (One of the most alarming examples is the draconian powers given to bailiffs under the Tribunals, Courts & Enforcement Bill now going through Parliament.)
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Useful though this pamphlet may be, its message will hardly come as a surprise. It highlights one aspect of a familiar feature of our time, reported here for many years. This is the unprecedented increase in the powers of the state over its citizens, giving officials ever more right to behave high-handedly and arbitrarily towards the public, which many have been only too quick to exercise.But this is one aspect of a wider revolution, whereby the powers of government, at every level, have shifted from elected politicians to anonymous armies of officialdom, who not only enforce the law but make it in the first place.
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From Brussels, down through Whitehall, to our town halls (not to mention the proliferating government agencies), we are ruled by officials answerable, in effect, to no one but themselves and the shadowy system they serve.
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One has only to look at any branch of government to see the extraordinary power and privilege our officials have won for themselves. A dozen years ago, the salary of our prime minister was £84,000. Today, in many local authorities, scores of officials earn more than that, with heads of department routinely drawing £120,000 or more a year.
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At the other end of the system, where so many of our laws originate, how many people know that over 80 per cent of the laws that emerge from the EU are hardly seen by an elected politician? Not only are they negotiated and drafted by civilservants, it is also the officials who, through the Committee of Permanent Representatives, pass them into law. The idea that these directives and regulations are somehow debated by the Council of Ministers is just a convenient fiction, preserved, like much of the work of Parliament itself, to give the illusion that we still live in what can be called a democracy.
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It is hardly surprising that the ranks of officialdom should continually be awarding themselves new powers to enter our homes, to check on and "license" almost everything we do - because no one has power any longer to control them. Such is the grim reality to which this CPS pamphlet bears yet further, but alas impotent, witness.

The Westminster Soap Opera


Last week the government completed review of Britain’s foreign policy, a 38-page document outlining the UK's role in the World in the post '9/11' era.
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As the Prime Minister outlined at a press confrence in Downing Street the document addresses the UK’s strategic alliances, the challenge of radical Islam, and the nation’s willingness to use military power to meet this and other threats. All very key and important matters.
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If BBC political editor Nick Robinson read the report, he kept that knowledge discretely to himself. His question, the first of the news conference, managed to dismiss Blair’s remarks with the subtlety of a brick hurled at a Harrod’s display case: “What is your advice this morning for David Miliband?” (Miliband, the much overrated Environment Secretary, was rumored to be considering a challenge to Gordon Brown for Labour leadership when Blair resigns )
Blair shot back: “You wouldn’t like to ask something on foreign policy, would you?” Not a chance.
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Clearly the publicly funded public service broadcaster would rather focus on the material fit for a Westminster soap opera rather than vital issues of State.

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The Sunday Quote

''Here are my principles if you do not like them I have some different ones''

Groucho Marcs (1890-1977)

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Specialy dicated to dedicated to all former Trade Union leaders turned business leaders

The Cost of VAT Fraud


Flagged up in a Karachi based newspaper, with the somewhat pedestrian name of The News is a very British story. The piece retails the latest attempts by the EU to curb the rising flood of VAT fraud, which is costing EU member states billions.

This issue consistently is also covered here
here, but its is only sporadically dealt with in the national UK newspapers and rarely in British blogs. Yet, given the sums involved, and the way the issue so graphically illustrates fundamental flaws in a core EU system, you would have thought that it would get a lot more attention than it does.

However, thanks to the miracle of the internet, we can still keep abreast of what is happening, even if we have to take a virtual trip to Karachi to do so – which is definitely
worth the trouble.

Thursday, April 19

The Failure of a System

The number of deadly toys found on sale in Britain doubled last year. This is because of the increasing volume of Chinese imports.
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This has brought an influx of games and gifts, manufactured in China, with the potential to poison, suffocate or choke. So bad has the situation become that trusted brands and principle retailers such as Argos, have been forced to withdraw products deemed to put children at serious risk.
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Why is this the case ? Well, back in 1988, the EU promulgated the Toy Safety Directive, tied in with the now familiar CE marking system, the system in its entirety requiring toys to be subjected to stringent testing at the point of production, following which the CE label is attacked.The crucial part of the system is that, provided the product bears the magic symbol, it cannot be inspected at the port of entry into the EU, and must be permitted entry on the basis of the paperwork, without further checks. By such means did the EU Commission "sell" the system to third country producers, arguing that it would "bring about cost savings".
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Simply, all the producers must do is ensure that the product meets EU standards - assessed by a process of self-certification, with no independent checks. Then the CE mark can be affixed and importing member states "may not prohibit, restrict or impede the placing in the market or putting into service of the product." Thus, claims the commission, "CE marking can be regarded as the products trade passport for Europe."Indeed, that is what it has become - at the price of emasculating domestic controls over the safety of imported toys.
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In the absence of physical checks at the port of entry, any non complaince with EU safety standards has to be picked up by Trading Standards Officers, but only on the basis of consumer complaints. By then, it is often too late – the damage has already, often sadly, been done.
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So what we have is therefore, the failure of a system, which now puts British children at risk. So, even when the EU fouls up, it goes unnoticed, simply because the media has no real idea how the EU system of government actually works.

The End of Week Quote

A very bad picture from Open Europe's web site
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Today's quote is from Neil O'Brien of Open Europe. Extracted from a full comment on Tony Blair's announcement that there will not be a referendum on the revised European Constitution:

''This is a disgraceful attempt to wriggle out of the promise of a referendum. Tony Blair knows that the overwhelming majority of people would vote against giving away more powers to EU officials, so now he is going to take away our right to a vote.''

Well that is actually a somewhat inadequate comment since more powers are given away to EU officials all the time and many of those officials, whether Mr O’Brien recognizes this or not, are our own civil servants, quango and regional government officials (with the shameful support of our nations business organisations)The only way of solving this conundrum is by beginning negotiations for exiting the EU (not trying to reform it) and then remodelling our own system of Government.

The difficulty is that the deception of how we are in actuality governed is so effective that one most of Her Majesty's subjects have become apathetic as to by whom and how they are governed.

Tuesday, April 17

A Fine Day in Westminster


There can be no doubt about it – the abduction of 15 British Sailors and Royal Marines was a major humiliation for our Country.
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What had the makings of a disaster were the early indications that the Royal Navy was going to set its face against examining its own failures, as a precursor to putting them right. Instead of setting up a formal Board of Inquiry – the minimum necessary to put this in train – it opted for the softer, amorphous "lessons learned" inquiry, which was never going to come up with anything but the most anodyne conclusions.
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It says something of the political system in this country that this ploy was seen for precisely what it was, and multiple voices were raised in protest.What gave rise to the utmost gloom, however, was the "cash for stories" debacle. Right from the very start, it had the potential to drown out the growing clamour for a thorough inquiry on the substantive issue, of why the boarding party from HMS Cornwall had been so easily captured.It was entirely predictable that the media would be distracted by the soap opera – its venality comes as no surprise. But, while we feared that the opposition parties might also climb aboard this bandwagon in the hope of extracting party political advantage, this was not a foregone conclusion.
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A Conservative Party of old – the Party of Margaret Thatcher - would have looked first to the national interest, and put country before party. It was that very guiding instinct which made it so great and so powerful, the natural party of government.
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But this is the New Conservative Party, led by David Cameron, a party which he says eschews Punch and Judy politics – and then indulges in them at the first and every opportunity. This is the party that could not see (or did not care) that the Royal Navy was in crisis – and that its fate affected the prestige and the security of our very nation.It saw in the media-induced clamour attending the "cash for stories" an opportunity for political point-scoring, stoking it up by demanding the resignation of the defence secretary.
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Building up what they imagined to be a "perfect storm" in the media over the weekend – but one actually lacking depth, breadth or intensity – these New Conservatives plotted their strategy, in the expectation of walking away from Parliament yesterday with a political scalp hanging from their belts.It was never going to be – the idea of such an easy victory existed only in their foetid minds, trapped in the Westminster "bubble", long divorced from anything even approaching reality.
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Their play collapsed before it had even started, on sight of an advance copy of the secretary's statement. The inquiries proposed were better than we expected and more than we dared hope.
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The choice of Lt. General Rob Fulton for chairman of the operations inquiry was inspired – rumoured to be the personal choice of the Chief of the General Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup, a man who has grown in stature throughout this affair. Unlike the Iranians, Fulton – a former Commandant General of the Royal Marines and once Deputy Chief of Staff – does not take prisoners. Nor would you utter the word "whitewash" to his face. He is one of the few men with the seniority, experience and credibility to conduct such an inquiry, yet totally beyond the reach of the First Sea Lord, Admiral Sir Jonathon Band.
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The commitment by Browne to deliver the report, unexpurgated, to the House of Commons Defence Committee was precisely the right thing to do, a clear signal that he accepted that it is Parliament to which he is ultimately accountable.
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Such subtleties have been lost on the media and, it seems, are totally beyond the comprehension of the former family doctor turned politician, Dr Liam Fox, the Conservative Politician who would be defence secretary. Even now, they do not realise quite how completely they have been outflanked by a man they would so sneeringly dismiss as the provincial Scottish solicitor Des Browne once was. In a world dominated by spin, we should at least be grateful that, for once, the system worked.
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From the tatters of the reputation of a ship of the line, HMS Cornwall, we may yet see something good come. The world is still far from being right. There is much pain and tragedy, even today dominating the news, there is much to do, with no certainty at all of success. Yesterday, at least, in one tiny corner of the world, all be it the Westminster Village, it was a good day.

Sunday, April 15

An Other Way


A weekend ramble from the Editor's keyboard.


Large companies like large ocean going tankers can only react slowly. Often the crew of a huge vessel can spot difficulties and dangers ahead but by virtue of the laws of physics changing direction is a slow an deliberate process.

Large companies and in particular 'high street' banks suffer from lack of flexibility due to their huge corporate size. The lack of flexibility often peculates down (or is it up) the corporate ladder often resulting in small but important local reactions becoming impossible or at best too slow.

For many years I have written and spoken about the diametrical difficulties of the relationship between bank managers and small business owners. The former is a corporate animal with institutional considerations and pressures, the latter needs a sharp sense of opportunism and a love of risk taking and adventure in order to survive let alone succeeded. Naturally the twain would not meet but both very much need each other to be successful particularly in the fast moving ever changing modern business world.

Each party (I was going to type side but why be belligerent) ventures 'blue sky thinking' style techniques to 'build bridges' - where to I have never understood but no matter. Most ideas are little more than rehashed ideas from ten years previously re-dressed in the latest fashionable management speak.

Expensive brand awareness TV advertising may have positive effects on the personal customer but in the business world most of the 60 second productions are a standard joke in the fine bars and restaurants that once were banking halls of distinction.

Frequently I have commented to the Federation of Small Businesses that their accepting of corporate bribes from banks dressed up as sponsorship deals is neither a long term solution, nor a short term desirable option, to the banking gulf between entrepreneurs and bankers. The answer is actually, I feel, quite simple, it lies in the banks providing a first class banking services, devoid of gimmicks, which is suitable to the modern world of business and very much in keeping with the needs of Britain's expanding army of small businesses..

In modern Britain Banks and Bankers must be absolutely flexible to satisfy the needs over three million demanding business people. Additionally businesses, particularly small ones need to understand how banks operate and the corporate pressures that international economics places upon the banking world. However, the need for a fresh approach from high street banks in keeping with the US banking model is needed now more than ever, but that is an issue for an other day. Which rest assured this blog will return to next month.

Anyway last Friday , a sunny warm evening, I visited (or to be accurate tried to visit) a branch of the NatWest. As I wrote in somewhat focused mood later that evening in an email to a senior Manager:

'' I am only a middle aged person on crunches trying to pay money into an account but I do think that closing your Branch three/four minutes early and experiencing from your staff what my late headmaster often called dumb insolence is clearly finding a very effective way to lose and not gain future business. The lack of flexibility was just what Nat West do not need to demonstrate.''

For good measure I sent the bank an invoice for £35 pounds due as a result of '' unauthorised closing of the branch''.

As I hobbled back to the car park with a paying in book now very firmly grasped in my hand I had at least the satisfaction of knowing what my gripe would be in my next 'irregular' column in The Journal.

NatWest's reaction to my complaint was by any standards impressive and to be perfectly honest it pleasantly surprised me. A telephone call the following morning from a charming yet authoritive female corporate manager accepting they had got it badly wrong stunned me to temporary silence (that has happened once before but it took an anaesthetic to do the job). Well NatWest's security cameras could only but confirm events. The credit of £35 pounds on the account as I had requested was given without argument also a delivery to my home of two bottles of a fine white wine with a compliments slip signed by the early closing branch manager inscribed:

'Please accept my sincere apologies for your inconvenience. Kind Regards.''

Well done NatWest that was a very effective way of showing that huge corporate banks have feelings, a conscience and are staffed by humans not robotic clones and above all can spot hazards (including complaining middle aged bank watching bloggers on crutches) and react with haste accordingly.

My only problem now is what am I going to moan about in my next column in The Journal ? No doubt something to do with not taking care of communications will inspire my currently dormant creative skills.


For now, cheers to NatWest.
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It's the Officials We Should Blame

By Dr Richard North
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In 1994, Christopher Booker and I wrote a book called "The Mad Officials", sadly out of print now – although copies are still available. In it, we did a virtual tour of Great Britain, telling stories of mad regulations and the even madder officials who enforced them (and sometimes invented them).
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One of our themes, to which we have returned many times is how this country in many ways is no longer run by the politicians we elected to do the job, but by a growing band of those "mad officials", who were both unaccountable and unresponsive to the normal strictures of a democratic society. They were, so often, a law unto themselves.
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Very much later, I had cause to meet a Minister to complain, on behalf of the trade group I represented, about a regulatory "reign of terror" which was effectively destroying an industry. She was flanked by civil servants and, as I spelled out the tale of woe, giving more and more examples of the damage that was being caused by "her" officials, my narrative was punctuated by her exclamations as she turned to civil servants, demanding: "Why wasn't I told that?" I saw then a sense of shock, outrage even, from a person who – shorn of ministerial rank and trappings – was a genuine, caring individual, deeply concerned about what she had been told.
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Nothing happened of course and, for me, the meeting simply reaffirmed that which I knew already - so well portrayed in 'Yes Minister' - the essential powerlessness of ministers in the administration of their departments.
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I recall, recently, telling the tale of my meeting another minister, this one a senior cabinet minister who, standing in his grand office, overlooking Horse Guards, likened his position with that of a signalman in an old-fashioned signal box, lined with all the gleaming brass levers. "I have all these levers," he lamented, "the levers of power". Turning to me he then said, rather sadly, "the trouble is that they are not connected to anything.
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To the frustration and anger of many of our readers and at odds with almost all the media and other commentators, we are refusing to dump all the blame for the Iran hostages debacle – not even the "cash for stories" issue – on the secretary of state for defence, especially on the basis of media speculation and largely anonymous sources.
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Having learned the hard way the limits of power, I am not inclined to take the easy way out, especially in the context of the Ministry of Defence, where the military hierarchy and their bureaucrats have an extraordinary degree of autonomy. In many areas, they are beyond the reach of the Secretary of State - any Secretary of State.
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As before, we have pointed this out and people nod wisely, as if they understood. But, at the first opportunity, they join in the hue and cry for the sacking of a minister, heedless of the possibility that, perhaps, he had little power to control events for which he is being held responsible. This is the cult of personality gone mad.
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Thus we see the momentum build, with selective leaks to the media from an organisation which would make a colander look positively seaworthy, to be grabbed uncritically by all and sundry.
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Such is the na├»vety that people, who tell us gravely that they never believe anything they are told in the newspapers, lap up the often unsubstantiated detail, treating it as gospel. Anything offered which runs contrary to the narrative, of course, is dismissed as "spin" – as if it was only politicians who indulged in the practice.However, sacking the secretary of state is the easy option. Furthermore, it is undoubtedly the one preferred by the guilty officials, many of them in uniform, who could then rest easy as blood lust will have been sated.
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Rather, we want to see an inquiry (or inquiries) starting at the bottom of the food chain and working steadily upwards, covering all the issues which, by now, have been almost completely marginalised by the soap opera. Rarely has such a torrent of extraneous detail obscured such a vital issue as the operational efficiency of the Royal Navy, the actual reasons why the Cornwall's boarding team were left so vulnerable barely mentioned in passing.
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We do not want the "closure" that a high profile resignation would bring. We want a process which will identify all those responsible for the operational failures, who would otherwise hide behind the smokescreen of a ministerial resignation.

The Result of the 4.30


So there we have it 'Ideal Talk' - our tip for the Grand National yesterday - did what it aparantly does best by unseating its Jockey. The 19 fence proved a bit too much for our recomended nag. The horse got over but the rider did not. Well no one can say they were not warned !

The good news is that the Editor as well as investing in Ideal Talk also invested in the winner 'Silver Birch', thus the trip to the Bookies proved a tad profitable.

Perhaps this blog should stict to Political comment and predicions !

The Sunday Quote


“Human behavior flows from three main sources: desire, emotion, and knowledge

Plato (c 428 BC - 348 BC) Ancient Greek Philosopher

Saturday, April 14

A Very British Race

From the Editor's Newspaper:


It is only for very British clasic horse races that this blog offers a tip. We have yet to be succesful but there is, as always, hope.
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Today's offering is made on behalf of my Brother Colin (an eductional specialist) who yesterday followed in his big brother's bad example and suffered a heart attack. He is recovering well in Royal Sussex University County Hospital.
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Our tip is ''Ideal Talk'' - An interesting option; fourth in the Scootish National in 2006 but has a nasty habit of perfering to run without a jockey. In the last two runs the 18-1 chance has unseated the rider.
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Left: A Race Hourse similar to one that will win The Grand National today.
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Disclaimer: The Editor takes no resposability for any losses incured by any reader daft ennough to place any money on the above mentioned horse in todays clasic race. Past performance is not a refelection of future failure.

No Bickering Here

A “Squaddie” from 5 Platoon, 2nd Battalion, “The Rifles” Battle Group, Basra.
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The soldier, photographed above is unnamed and unrewarded by the media – he is still in action and will be actively engaged in operations for some time
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He, unlike his Navy contemporary, Arthur Batchelor – who blubbed because the nasty Iranians took away his Ipod - we would like to think is the representative face of the British military.The soldier pictured had recently taken part in a vicious gunfight in Basra, and the strain shows on his face. Not for him is there mummy and auntie to hold his hands or newspaper to offer him 'life changing amounts of money' for his story.
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A report by by Thomas Harding of The Daily Telegraph, based in part on MoD reports deseves a full reading. What also brings the account to life is the superb report by Michael Yon who is entirely open in his admiration for the skill and professionalism of the soldiers engaged in the action. There would be no better way of returning the compliment than going to his site as well and reading the graphic narrative in full.
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At a different level, Yon also conveys the constant indirect fire harassment of the soldiers at their base in the Basra Palace complex, something about which Dr Richard North has written about many times.
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Another issue is the absence of helicopter support (although fixed wing surveillance would have been just as useful), which again we have written on a few times. Clearly, neither of these issues have been resolved and, if there was to be criticism of the MoD, it is there that the attack should lie. Better that than the unremitting scattergun approach that relies on the constant, tedious repetition of the sacred mantras "overstretch" and "underfunding".
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For instance, in terms of airborne surveillance – the lack of which Yon points out - whatever happened to the Britten Norman Defenders which were purchased for Basra and would be admirable for the purpose? Despite extensive enquiries, no one to whom I have spoken - who has been to Basra recently - has seen them.
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The more immediate issue, however, is the damage to the reputation of Britain and the Armed Forces, arising from the abduction of the "frightened fifteen" and their subsequent behaviour. It becomes imperative that the issues surrounding that incident should be given the most thorough examination. This time, there should also be a clear commitment to addressing the defects revealed, at all levels.
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From extensive investigations this blog is convinced that the heart of the problem lies with serious operational failures on the part of serving, senior naval officers, going to the very top of the Royal Navy.
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For the rest, we are seeing a media frenzy who are trivialising a serious issues. Buoyed by self-serving politicians, they are striving to extract political embarrassment, for no other reason than to promote their own interests. However much they may wrap themselves in Union Jacks, or parade the coffins of dead servicemen, they are not acting in the national interest and they are no friends of the military.
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On Monday, we will see the Secretary of State for Defence, The Rt Hon. Des Browne, stand up in Parliament and give account of himself and his actions. He is not a brilliant Parliamentary performer by any means but, despite the air of sleaze and corruption that surrounds this present administration, we believe he is an honourable man, trying to do his best in an extremely difficult situation.
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The Defence Secetary should be given a hearing and if, as we confidently expect, there are announced on Monday one or more inquiries (and not soppy lessons learned opertunities) they should be allowed to conduct their work and deliver their reports, so that urgent remedial action can be put in place. Then will be the time to dissect the detail and apportion blame, where it is due.That is the imperative. That we owe to the unnamed solider, pictured at the top of this post, him and the many brave, dedicated service personnel, who deserve a better deal than they are getting from the media and opposition politicians.
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With the reputations of HM Armed Forces and the nation at stake – on which lives depend - this is no time for partisan sniping or self-serving bickering.

The Iranian Hostage Saga

By Dr Richard North
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As the Iran hostages saga progresses, the very worst of British politics is coming to the surface. It has descended into a party political squabble, with the main Conservative opposition party trying to extract sectional advantage, largely ignoring the serious operational issues in favour of trying to pin as much blame as possible on the political head of the Armed Forces.
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However, it remains the case that, at the heart of this issue were serious operational failings, the responsibility for which must reside with Royal Navy commanders. And, at the heart of these lie failures in command and control, with the man in the frame being Commodore Nick Lambert, commander of Coalition Task Force 158.
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Failure though, is rarely one-dimensional and, behind most headline events (such as the abduction of the personnel from HMS Cornwall) lie a complex chain of interlinked events and circumstances – some apparently unrelated to the proximate cause - which, collectively, gave rise to that event. In my studies of complex failures elsewhere, I came to call this the "event cascade", a term I have not seen used in other studies.
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Looking first at a few of the issues, questions have been raised about the Lynx helicopter – and the fact that only one was boarded when a Type 22 frigate can carry two - about the apparent communications difficulties between HMS Cornwall and the boarding party and, right up front, why Commodore Lambert seems to have taken his eye off the ball.
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Oddly enough, all those disparate issues may be linked, and in an unexpected way – resting with the single fact that HMS Cornwall, in addition to being an active part of the Coalition Task Force, was also providing the "command platform" for Lambert as task force commander. It had, therefore, a dual role.
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Now batch III Type 22 frigates – of which HMS Cornwall is an example - are equipped to carry out flagship duties, being fitted with "excellent command and control and communication facilities".However, there are flagship duties and flagship duties. Commanding a multinational task force, which is itself part of a larger multinational maritime effort, is in the upper end of the spectrum of capability requirements. In addition to the major communication load, there is a substantial staff needed to fulfil the range of duties – the US Navy had 50 of their own staff, plus the liaison officers, etc. – which may well have imposed an excessive burden on a mere frigate, which was also tasked with operational duties.
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Certainly, when it came to providing the command function – in the absence of a capital ship (such as an aircraft carrier) in the northern Gulf, the United States Navy chartered a capacious sea-going barge called Ocean 6 (pictured). This was designated as an "Afloat Forward Staging Base" and features all the information and coordination capabilities of a coalition warship's Combat Information Centre. It also had berthing areas to house expeditionary forces, a galley to rival many warships and even a helicopter landing pad.
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Additionally, says the US Navy (link above), "the barge will meet the quality of life goals of the Navy by providing Sailors and Marines serving arduous security assignments on the oil platforms in the NAG, wireless internet, flat screen televisions and crew lounges."When it came to the British take-over of command on 7 March, however, the functions were moved to HMS Cornwall. As best, accommodation must have been cramped and facilities fully stretched. This may explain why a second helicopter was not carried – much of the hanger space would have been devoted to dealing with the overspill from the command function. It could also explain why the helicopter was pulled back from the "overwatch" for the boarding team – it was needed for task force duties.
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The question must arise, therefore, as to whether HMS Cornwall was suitable for such an exacting task – in addition to carrying out her operational duties. And this may put a different perspective on the apparent failures of Commodore Lambert. Was he - and his staff - simply being asked to do too much with inadequate facilities?If this is an issue, it would bring a new and highly political dimension to the Iran hostages drama. It might suggest that the Labour government, anxious for the prestige that command of the Coalition Task Force would bring, allowed (or even required) the Royal Navy to take on the role, without providing the necessary facilities – glory on the cheap once again, some might say. On the other hand, did the Admiralty take on more than it could chew, without informing its political masters of the possible consequences?

Friday, April 13

The Fiday Quote


''Every country’s, every nation’s view of itself is illogical; every country’s dealings with other countries exhibits quirks and incomprehensible peculiarities. But it often appears that France is the least logical and most quirky of all the European states in its self-perception and its foreign policy.Some of it is straightforward enough. It is not Britain that has experienced difficulties in finding a role after losing an empire so much as France.
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The end of its empire was prolonged and agonizing ................... '' read Dr Helen Szamuely (link >)

Wednesday, April 11

Australian Troops Join Hunt


Putting European nations to shame which, with the exception of Poland and the UK have refused to provide any more troops for combat in Afghanistan, Australia has stepped up to the plate with an announcement from prime minister, John Howard, that Australian troop numbers are to be doubled, bringing the total to about 1,000.
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The troops will be sent to the volatile Oruzgan province in the south of the country, their task to enhance the area's security and disrupt Taliban command and supply routes. Interestingly, according to another report, the force includes 300 special forces troops, returning for a second tour, and Australia will also send air force radar crews to Kandahar, plus extra logistics and intelligence officers. It will also extend the deployment of a team providing protection and security.
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Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston, the Australian Defence Force Commander, said the special forces would hunt Taliban commanders. "Essentially their operations will be targeted on the Taliban, disrupting Taliban operations and going after the Taliban leadership," he said.
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In his press conference at which the announcement was made, Howard aimed a none too subtle dig at his European allies, "We're not losing the war, but we will not win it without renewed and increased effort," then expressing a wish that some European countries would place fewer caveats on their troops' deployment. His pleas are likely to go unheeded.

Monday, April 9

Apeasement Does Not Pay


By Dr Helen Szamuely
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One wonders which part of "appeasement does not pay" is so hard for so many people to understand.
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A small round-up of recent news is interesting. First off the Sunday Telegraph, which I do not read but to which I was directed by Charles Johnson of Little Green Footballs. The title of the article is clear enough: "Buoyant Tehran warns of further kidnappings". No, really? How frightfully unexpected
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However, a British Government official familiar with the negotiations said that while the abductions had provided Ahmadinejad with a platform from which to humiliate the West, such behaviour would have undermined Iran's ambitions for its nuclear programme. Countries which might otherwise have supported Iran would now be questioning whether a regime that took hostages could be trusted with sensitive nuclear technology.
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Oh good. We are so delighted. Mind you, it is not quite what the news is on Al-Jazeera, which says:
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Iran has begun producing nuclear fuel on "an industrial scale", the president announced during a speech to mark the first anniversary of the country's enrichment of uranium.
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Well, I guess Ahmadinejad may be lying or exaggerating. That is not impossible. Nor is it impossible that all other statements on the subject are lies and exaggerations as well:
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Ahmadinejad's speech confirmed an announcement by the head of the country's atomic energy organisation, who alo said that Iran had started mass-producing the centrifuges needed for the enrichment of uranium.
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"Today, with the start of mass-producing centrifuges and the start of uranium enrichment on an industrial phase, another step was taken for the flourishing of the Islamic republic," Gholam Reza Aghazadeh said.
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Ali Larijani, Iran's chief nuclear negotiator, told reporters that 3,000 centrifuges were being used to enrich uranium at the facility.
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At the very least, however, the British civil servants who have made the United Kingdon what it is, should be a little careful with their boastful pronouncements.
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Another item from Al-Jazeera, confirms what we have already suspected. Daniele Mastrogiacomo's Afghan translator has been murdered by his kidnappers because President Karzai has put a stop to any further exchanges with Taliban prisoners.No news yet on the two French aid workers, their three Afghani staff or the five Afghani health officials.
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Meanwhile, Iran has released more videos of the "frightened fifteen", which purport to show that they were having a very jolly time, indeed. Of course, it is never possible to tell what goes on behind the camera, the pictures do sound staged and it is a natural British instinct to make the best of any situation, but, surely, here is another reason why there should be a Board of Inquiry held:
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The sailors and marines say that those earlier videos were propaganda produced through psychological pressure but the Iranian government says nothing of the kind but the press conference is propaganda. Let the truth be established in such a way that the world can see it.
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Meanwhile, all we know is that the BBC has decided not to commission a play about Johanson Beharry VC and his heroism because, it seems, that it might just be a tad too positive and might antagonize members of the audience who oppose the war in Iraq.
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My guess is that it is not those nice middle-class audience in Islington or wherever that they are afraid of but one cannot be sure, of course. May one point out that in a country that is finding it difficult to define its national identity, where there are serious problems with some members of various ethnic minority communities a play about one such young man fighting courageously, doing his duty and much beyond it, and receiving the highest honour available, might just be a useful tool. Especially, if it is then followed by a programme about the Empire and Commonwealth soldiers of all Britain's twentieth century wars.

Sunday, April 8

The Sunday Quote


''Duty is the great business of a sea officer; all private considerations must give way to it, however painful it may be. ''

Vice-Admiral Viscount (Horatio) Nelson KB 1758 -1805


One wonders what the hero of Trafalgar would have made of the events in the past few days. Did every person do their duty as expected ?

Saturday, April 7

Imperial Isolation


The kindest thing one can say of the press conference organised by the MoD yesterday afternoon, to show off the released Iranian hostages, is that it should never have happened.
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We agree 100 per cent with the view of Max Hastings in the Daily Mail and Dr Richard North of the prize winning blog site eureferendum (see link below).
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The only evidence of hope is contained in the middle of the prepaired statement of Lieutenant Felix Carmen RN: ''The next few nights were spent in stone cells, approximately 8 feet by 6 feet sleeping on piles of blankets. All of us were kept in isolation''.
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The horror of our service people in a metric stone cell would have been more than the nation could ever recover from. There is ( just) still hope.
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Link to Dr North's piece:

Friday, April 6

The End of Week Quote

This weeks quote is extracted from a House of Lords form that lists all the European Printed Papers that have become available in the period of time that elapsed from the previous form.
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''C6-0061/07 Proposal for a Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council amending Directive 98/70/EC as regards the specification of petrol, diesel and gas-oil and introducing a mechanism to monitor and the introduction of a mechanism and reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the use of road transport fuels and amending Council Directive 1999/32/EC, as regards the specification of fuel used by inland waterway vessels and repealing Directive 93/12/EEC.''
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Yes we know it makes no sense at all but we have copied it as it is written and can only surmise that whoever was putting together this document became catatonic with boredom. Indeed.

Loss of Face


The news of the release of the 15 service people by the Iranians is good news for their personal safety but the incident is a complete disaster for British prestige. The only winner is Iran's hurdling president, Nahmound Ahmadinejad who clearly organised the kidnappings and then made a present of returning our serves men back to ''the British people'' showing what a nice chap he is!
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From the details now available it is clear that from the beginning of the kidnapping incident the handling of events by all concerned on the British side has given a PR victory to the Iranian government and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in particular.
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One aspect is particularly concerning being the apparent overwillingness of the captured 15 servicemen to give statements to the media. Captured servicemen in the past have said in forced statements '' we have been asked to apolgise for...'' rather that the to keen to please statements backed up with smiles and waves given by the Royal Marines and Saliors. It is not only British dignaty that suffered during the past fourteen days but also the dignity of two junior officers and their charge of 12 men and one woman.
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We learn from the BBC's Radio 4 World Tonight programme that, contrary to expectations, there is going to be no formal Board of Inquiry into the events surrounding the Iranian hostage incident. This is from Paul Adams, the BBC's defence correspondent, who reports that the Navy is instead to carry out a wide-ranging "lessons learned process".
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There was a time when following incidents like this the media would call for the resignation of ministers and senior Officers in the Armed Services. However and sadly in today's world the matter has become a ''happy fluffy bunny story''.
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Meanwile rejoicing in Basra after a roadside bomb killed four British service personnel and their interpreter, and seriously injured another soldier. Two of the dead were women, from the Intelligence Corps and the Royal Army Medical Corps. The two male soldiers were from the Royal Army Medical Corps and 2nd Battalion The Duke of Lancaster's Regiment. Pictures of the scene (above) show locals cheering and rejoicing, parading with a soldier's helmet and fragments of the Warrior, in Hayaniya, a slum area on the northwestern outskirts of Basra - known as a stronghold of local (Iranian-backed) Shia militias.
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According to a more detailed report in The Times the personnel died when a convoy of armoured vehicles was attacked by two devices last night. The patrol then came under attack from small-arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades.Witnesses tell of the British patrol having repulsed an earlier ambush by five insurgents in a different district of the city, wounding one of the attackers. During the second ambush, British forces returned fire while trying to evacuate the wounded. Photographs of the scene showed a large crater in the road that was at least a three feet deep and several yards wide. Iraqi children (and adults) were taking away pieces of burned wreckage. The Times (and others) also report than, after the attack, a British patrol was seen storming an Iraqi checkpoint close to the scene of and disarming the police there.
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This now brings to six the number of British soldiers killed in Basra since Sunday, making it, as the paper observes, one of the deadliest weeks of the Iraq war for UK forces. No commentators are making any link between the bomb incident and the Royal Navy hostages, but the loss of face embodied in the humiliating capture of the British personnel and their subsequent behaviour can only have emboldened attackers, who could see for themselves the weakness of British forces.
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Appeasement brings its own penalties and, in the greater scheme of things, no one can argue that the events of the last 14 days have in any way improved the prestige of British forces, where winning the respect of the local populace is a vital precursor to dealing successfully with an insurgency.

Wednesday, April 4

British Hostages

Update news and comment on the 15 British Military hostages click >

The Start of the Falklands War


By Dr. Richard North
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It was pictures such as these that determined that there should be a task force. There was a palpable sense of outrage as we saw the Royal Marines of Naval Party 8901 surrendering outside Government House in Port Stanley. These were Royal Marines and there was no way that mere foreigners were going to treat them in that way. Nothing less than national pride was at stake.
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Now, 25 years to the day, when the Argentineans were rash enough to invade the Falkland Islands, our Royal Marines are in peril again. Worse still, they are being humiliated again, paraded in front of television – this time the detachment leader Royal Marine Captain Chris Air.
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The Iranian Arabic-speaking television station Al-Alam shows Captain Air speaking in front of a chart of the Gulf waters, purporting to show that the British boarding party on 23 March was abducted in Iranian waters. Another officer, Lieutenant Felix Carman, was also forced to make an admission that the party strayed into Iranian waters.
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Back in 1982, under Thatcher at the height of her powers, there was no question about public support for military action. Today, after four years of haemorrhaging lives in Iraq under a very different prime minister, now serving out the fag-end of his term, there is no appetite for similar action. In fact, the public - to say nothing of the British blogosphere - seems to be struggling even to take an interest in such matters. We are a sadder, diminished nation as a result.

Sunday, April 1

Ever Larger Barriers

The European Union has launched yet an other attack on Europe's and thus the UK's army of expanding and very productive self-employed and small businesses. The EU Commission has produced an innocent looking Green Paper - all in the interest of ''harmonisation and integration.'' But innocent it is not.

In response The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) has called on the European Commission to reconsider its proposals contained in the Green Paper on EU Labour law. A call that gives further evidence (as if it were needed) that the EU is the actual government of the UK.
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The FSB is concerned that the Green Paper seeks to create a 'one size fits all' approach to labour markets across the EU, which would further reduce flexibility in the UK labour market and put future small businesses and employment growth under threat. There is, as one would expect, very little in the document to protect the right to be self-employed. The true reason for that is eurocrats do not like the self employed is that they are far too difficult to monitor.

Although the European Union Commission's Green Paper accepts that there is a need to reduce administration burdens for small businesses, the FSB is now calling for action ''after many years of undelivered promises''. Well indeed, unfulfilled promises are very much in keeping with the EU culture that would only be a surprise to those that do not know the EU very well.
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Many workers prefer the traditional informality, flexibility and convenience of working for small businesses. The increasing corporate approach to employment with its over bearing 'HR' departments, a corporate culture is increasingly considered to be less than desirable, particularly with the younger and better educated work force. Twelve million people work for small businesses in the UK alone; a trend that is increasing.
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As the FSB stresses, since the 1980s 80% of big businesses in the US started as small businesses, whilst in the EU 80% of big businesses are the result of mergers. This demonstrates the failure of the EU at nurturing the self employed and small businesses to become bigger. Over 50% of jobs in the EU are created by less than 5% of hi-tech SMEs Small Medium Enterprises) and 99.8% of businesses are SMEs – therefore the current set-up of the social dialogue with trade unions talking to big business at the exclusion of all other sectors is indeed bad for the European economy and bodes ill for job creation in the UK.
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The greater point of this issue being that a '' one size fits all '' policy of the European Union is totally in keeping with the founding principle of European 'integration'. It is the price we are all expected to pay. It is we are told in Orwellian language ''good for us''.

Those, especially the Policy People, in the FSB, who do not understand that present day eurocrats are driving steadily towards the founding principles of the EU 'project' cannot therefore by definition understand how the mechanics of the EU are in practice working. The Green Paper is a part of that process and is in any significant respect - despite protests by eurolovies to the contrary - non negotiable in any meaningful aspect.

Thus, to lobby the EU in order to effect change may well appear impressive to the ill-informed but will in reality have no meaningful effect on the increasingly over controlled and over regulated wealth creators so very vital to our Economy.
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There is only one answer to the problem of the erection of larger barriers to the growth of businesses as that stalwart defender of British entrepreneurial life Lord Tebbit of Chelmsford confirmed last week when the Noble Lord joined the Better Off Out Campaign (BOO). So there, yet again we have it, we say BOO to the FSB.
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A Very British Anorak


The popular website www.anorak.co.uk. has emailed us seeking permision to use some of our postings on their site and establish a link. We are indeed flattered and delighted to reciprocate.
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This blog will also shortly be linked to the website of the North of England daily newspaper 'The Journal'; where the editor has an irregular column.
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We shall establish permanent links on the sidebar to both websites shortly.

Defra and Other Failings

Defra's utterly crass handling of the single farm payments subsidy scheme is the lead issue today in Christopher Bookers column in The Sunday Telegraph. There is much more, including a commentary of the Iranian hostage situation which asks some key questions.