Sunday, June 28


Welcome to Very British
(Political) Subjects
Editor Peter Troy

The Sunday Quote

"I have tried to lift France out of the mud. But she will return to her errors and vomitings. I cannot prevent the French from being French."

Charles de Gaulle - Leader of the Free French 1940 -45 and one time French Prisident.

(Editor - I love it ... I simply could not resist it!)

Saturday, June 27

Armed Forces Day


Max Hasting's in The Daily Mail picks up on General Richards' speech – and much else – using the topical hook of Armed Forces Day which is being celebrated today for the first time.

A very British Review

The odd thing about the American defeat – if such a word can be used – in Vietnam is that it came about through internal problems, not military defeat. The Viet Cong were beaten. The North Vietnamese Army was beaten.
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The bombing of North Vietnam was shockingly effective (although this was not appreciated at the time.) The US effectively won the war. It was defeated by the home front and an astonishingly effective propaganda campaign. Not for the first time, the communists probably didn’t believe their own success.

The odd thing about the British "victory" in Southern Iraq is … well, it was a defeat. Worse, it was a defeat that came about because of flawed political and military decisions, taken not by the men on the spot, but men in Whitehall.

.The scale of the disaster was never understood by the home front – even I didn't know the half of it, and I am as well-informed as any civilian could reasonably hope to be – due to a compliant media and a sheer lack of comprehension. The British government preferred to believe its own "spin" rather than the truth. In doing so, they betrayed the British soldiers who went to war without the right equipment and no clear plan, and the country itself. Charges of treason would not be inappropriate.

That is the conclusion, of this remarkable book. There are actually relatively few British writings on the subject of Iraq, although Sniper One and Eight Lives Down provide some insight into the lives of the soldiers there. It should be noted that Sniper One paints a picture of Basra – and Iraq – that was at variance with the official government-promoted version of events. Ministry of Defeat provides an overall history of the occupation – something that has been sorely lacking – and details, in a very "take no prisoners" attitude, just went wrong in Iraq.

The core of the matter, Dr North writes, is that the British Government refused to recognise that it had a serious problem on its hands. As the militias gained power in Basra, the government preferred to believe that it wasn't a serious issue – little more than a public order issue – and convinced itself that Britain's expertise from Northern Ireland gave it an advantage over the US. That might have been true if the expertise had actually been used (it wasn't) … but in any case, Basra was not Northern Ireland. This little piece of self-delusion cost lives, Mr Blair!

The troops in Ireland had far better intelligence and much higher troop levels. Much has been made of the shortage of American troops after the Fall of Baghdad, but the British had the same problem and, unlike the US, the MOD learned fuck-all from the experience.

If that wasn't bad enough, the equipment procurement process was badly screwed up. When the RAF was being allowed to spend billions on the Eurofighter, the Army had to make do with the Snatch Land Rover – which Northern Ireland experience had shown was badly under-armoured – which caused the deaths of many British soldiers.
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The issue was not that the British Army was under-funded – although soldiers were being underpaid for their role – but that the money was being spent on long-term programs that would not provide useful equipment (if that) in time to be useful.

It is quite typical, as Donald Rumsfield pointed out years ago, that countries go to war with an army that is unprepared for the task. It is rather less typical that a country would go to war, find itself in serious shit … and then continue blithely developing technology that was effectively useless, prepared for the wrong war. Instead of fighting the last war, the UK was looking towards a hypothetical European RRF, one of Tony Blair's pet projects. Billions have been spent – for nothing.

Common sense would tell someone of Blair's intelligence – surely – that a European force wasn't on the cards. When has the EU ever agreed on an enemy?

The British media also comes in for bashing. Not, it should be noted, for the largely American left-wing media army bashing, but for being the dog that didn't bark. The MOD generally tried to spoon-feed propaganda to the British TV, which largely ate it up and came back and begged for more. Early signs of trouble were ignored, or taken out of context, and even when the media did pick up on signs of trouble, they never understood the underlying factors behind the war.
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The media did pick up on problems with the Snatch vehicles, but took the "under-funded military" line rather than realising the truth. Reporters who questioned the Army line, such as Christina Lamb in Afghanistan, found themselves blacklisted.
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The core reason for British "success" in Iraq, Dr North notes, was that the UK never really had control over Basra. The Shia inhabitants of the area, after the events of 1991, preferred to organise themselves rather than trust the coalition. Iran was seen as a better ally by some, a deadly threat by others, but always as a far more significant player than the coalition. Under constant attack, the British forces were slowly withdrawn from the area, conceding control to the militias, who started to loot, rape and slaughter at will. The inglorious end to the story – the retaking of Basra by Iraqi forces with American support in 2008 – was barely a footnote in the British media.
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The contrast between Iraq and the Falklands is staggering. The Falklands were another "come as you are" war, one fought by a far more determined PM for limited goals … and one that Britain came closer to losing than anyone would like to admit. After that war, the lessons were learned and incorporated into new developments. Iraq seems, instead, to be the forgotten war. If that wasn't bad enough, most of the mistakes are already being repeated in Afghanistan.

This is an angry book, written by an angry (and very British) genleman. It isn't pleasant reading for anyone with a British heritage, but it is necessary reading. God help us.
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Ministry of Defeat by Dr Richard North is the first and only forensic examination of the political and military failures by the British during Iraqi Freedom.

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Sunday, June 7

The Sunday Quote

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"What a plan! This vast operation is undoubtedly the most complicated and difficult that has ever taken place."-

UK - Prime Minister Winston Churchill addressing House of Commons, June 6, 1944.

It's War

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It is an interesting reflection of the much talked about current political crisis is that much of the reporting is couched in bellicose terms, borrowing freely from the military vocabulary.
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Thus, resort is being made to a "war", to "battles", "attacks", "campaigns", "coups" and other such terms, including reference to a "wounded" prime minister.
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When it comes to the real war out in Afghanistan, however, the political classes are strangely silent, showing as Booker reports in his column today, almost complete indifference to the plight of our armed forces in that increasingly perilous theatre.
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This picks up on Dr North's observation on Thursday, when at one point in the debate in The House of Commons when only ten MPs were in attendance.
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Tuesday, June 2

The Voters

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There has been a great deal of comment – also some huge "entertainment" – over the details of MPs' expence claims in the UK media. If the allowances are treated as a salary supplement and thus part of the overall remuneration package, the claims take on a wholly different complexion.
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What it comes down to is that MPs, unable or unwilling to make a case to the public – their paymasters – for higher basic salaries, have gone round the back door and awarded themselves a covert pay increase.
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That, in itself, is bad enough, but what is really offensive is that MPs then created a tax-free status which then puts them above all us mere plebs who must give their all to the tax man, on pain of fearsome penalties.
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It is this cavalier arrogance of our political classes is a message that voters will not forget.
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Monday, June 1

Wot No Queen?

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This week the French Government will do what they do best - insult the British.
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Monty addresses D-Day troops, June 1944
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''D-Day'' is regarded by many as one of the most important military operations of all time. The Normandy beaches are famous for the part they played on 6th June 1944, when despite heavy losses, American, British, and Canadian troops broke through Hitler's Atlantic Wall defenses and began the long-awaited invasion of occupied western Europe, leading to the ultimate defeat of Nazi Germany.
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The Normandy Landings were the first operations of the Allied invasion of Normandy, also known as Operation Neptune The landings commenced on June 6, 1944 (D-Day), beginning at 6:30 British Double Summer Time (H-Hour). The D- Day assault was conducted in two phases: an air assault landing of American, British and Canadian airborne troops shortly after midnight, and landings of Allied infantry and armored divisions on the coast of France commencing at 6:30. The land forces were commanded by General (later Field Marshal) Montgomery, arguably one of most brilliant military commanders of the 20 th centuary.

The number of personal involved was enormous. The operation was the largest single-day amphibious invasion ever, with 160,000 troops landing the morning of June 6, 1944. There were 195,700 Allied naval and merchant navy personnel in over 5,000 ships were involved. The landings took place along a 50-mile stretch of the Normandy coast divided into five sectors: Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword. The eviction of the Nazi's from France was a huge operation by mostly British, US and Canadian troops.

Last week sections of the UK media picked up on the the French Government's amazing snub to the Queen by not inviting Her Majesty to the official 65th anniversary celebrations of the D-Day landings on 6th June is an insult to the British and Commonwealth Veterans who will proudly salute their fallen comrades as well as an insult to the memory of 17,566 British and 5,316 Canadian troops who died. in the battles for the liberation of France.

Rather than paying due deference to the surviving veterans of the forces that liberated France. President Sarkozy is making much political capital of the hugely popular US President Obama's attendance, yet French officials have been dismissive of suggestions the the Queen as head of State of the UK and Canada should also be included in the events. Massive media attention is to be given to the French and US Presidents jointly attending the key events. The French snub is particularly disrespectful when one considers that Queen Elizabeth is the only present Head of any State in the world to have served in military uniform during the Second World War and indeed personal met many of the troops prior to the invasion in the summer of 1944.

Britain will not be without representation at the official ceremonies in Normandy next week, the UK Prime Minister, the Junior Defence minister and other British politicians having at the last minute requested invitations from the French when they realized that they would lose out on the publicity opportunities when they were informed that Barak Obama and consequently most of the world's press corps will be attending; every one wants to be seen to be best friends with the most popular politician on Earth. One could be forgiven for thinking that the politicians are more concerned with their image rather than remembrance.

As arrangements stand though there are no plans by the French organizers for Gordon Brown to visit any of the three beaches that were stormed by British and Canadian troops, nor will the Prime Minister attend the final march of the Normandy Veterans Association prior to their disbandment. Shame on him and shame on the French government.

So there we have it, 65 years after the start of the liberation of Western Europe, at a huge cost in human lives, the most long standing and respected Head of State in the western world with direct personal connections with the events that are to be commemorated in Normandy is to be shamefully excluded. This is clearly because it is feared that Her Majesty's presence would upstage the overtly image conscious, self focused French and US Presidents. In that assumption the French Government is correct.
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Sunday, May 31

The Sunday Quote

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'' When in doubt, mumble; when in trouble, delegate; when in charge, ponder.

James Boren Quoted in The Official Rules by Paul Dickson, 1972
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Politics Today

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A Populus poll for The Times published yesterday has the Tories on 30 percent for the euros with UKIP in second place on 19, relegating Labour to third place on 16. The Lib-Dems get 12 percent, the Greens poll 10 and the BNP are on 5 percent (eight percent in the North of England).
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What is interesting about this is that Cameron's speech about needing a "massive, sweeping, radical redistribution of power ... from the EU to Britain ..." seems to have made no difference to UKIP's fortunes. Nor indeed has his apparently unequivocal pledge to give us a referendum on the Lisbon treaty.
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Would be Conservative voters are it would apear abandoning the Conservative Party in favour of UKIP.No doubt this is because the majority of people did not believe that Cameron meant what he said, doubt that was – it appears – entirely justified from comments in The Daily Telegraph on Saturday. In that paper, Andrew Porter interviews Cameron asking him outright whether he will "finally promise to hold a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty, even if it has been ratified elsewhere?" And the reply is the stock Tory answer: we will "not let matters rest, I think everybody understands this, if the treaty is ratified by everyone and the election isn't until 2010 and the Irish vote yes then obviously I won't be content with that."
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Thus, as suspected all along, the apparent promise to hold a referendum come what may was not a promise after all. Mr Cameron was playing word games and nothing at all has changed. By coincidence though, William Hague is interviewed by The Spectator, where he tells us that: "Trust in politics is now at an unprecedented low point; the shameless and deliberate abrogation of a binding manifesto pledge [on the treaty referendum] is surely one of the reasons why."Another reason is that thinking votors know that the Conservatives are playing word games on the possibility of a referendum on the Niece Treaty. Empty promises, it seems, are the politicians' stock in trade – and people are getting a tad sick of them.
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On the back of the Populus poll which brought us the current expectations of UKIP success in the euro-elections also come indications of support for "radical" reform of parliament. These included provision for a "recall", referendums on "important issues", fixed-term parliaments, more "free votes" in parliament, a cut in the number of MPs, stopping MPs having second jobs and a fully elected House of Lords. Also proposed was a change to proportional representation.
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It almost goes without saying that all proposals got a favourable reception. Seventy-seven percent went for more referendums, 74 percent backed fixed-term parliaments and 73 percent wanted more free votes. Even proportional representation got 56 percent support, a small but clear majority in favour.
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What precisely is the point of conducting this survey is not clear. Asking people, the majority of whom most probably have a limited grasp of how parliament works, much less of governance in general and constitutional theory, what is needed to fix a broken system, seems to have limited utility.
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The whole process is akin to taking a broken-down car to the garage, to be confronted with a list of possible repairs, with the family being asked to vote on what should be done.The great danger of this approach is that it gives spurious legitimacy to changes which will not necessarily fix the problem. With Gordon Brown also mooting changes, including proportional representation, the whole process is in danger of getting out of control.In days gone by, before even considering changes, we would have had something like a Royal Commission, thoroughly to explore the problem and to produce a report, following which there would be widespread discussion and debate.
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Whatever else, we must avoid knee-jerk reactions and quick-fix Elastoplast solutions. Above all, the politicians – who have made the mess in the first place – must not be allowed to dictate the terms of any reforms, with or without opinion polls.
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Sunday, May 17

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The Editor's 'Sunshinelady',
Churchill Gardens Jersey CI

The Booker Column

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Expenses but not as we know it; see Christopher Booker's column today, who has been doing some background research into the MP's expenses/allowances issue.
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The Sunday Quote:

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“...It is high time for me to put an end to your sitting in this place, which you have dishonoured by your contempt of all virtue, and defiled by your practice of every vice; ye are a factious crew, and enemies to all good government; ye are a pack of mercenary wretches, and would like Esau sell your country for a mess of pottage, and like Judas betray your God for a few pieces of money.
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“Is there a single virtue now remaining amongst you? Is there one vice you do not possess? Ye have no more religion than my horse; gold is your God; which of you have not barter'd your conscience for bribes? Is there a man amongst you that has the least care for the good of the Commonwealth?

.“Ye sordid prostitutes, have you not defil'd this sacred place, and turn'd the Lord's temple into a den of thieves by your immoral principles and wicked practices? Ye are grown intolerably odious to the whole nation; you were deputed here by the people to get grievances redress'd; your country therefore calls upon me to cleanse the Augean Stable, by putting a final period to your iniquitous proceedings, and which by God's help and the strength He has given me, I now come to do.

.“I command ye, therefore, upon the peril of your lives, to depart immediately out of this place! Take away that shining bauble there, and lock up the doors. You have sat here too long for the good you do. In the name of God, go!”

Oliver Cromwell, addressing 'The Rump Parliament in 1653, setting up a short-lived nominated assembly before being made Lord Protector of England.

Perhaps we need his help now, just a thought!


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Saturday, May 16

Our Parliament

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On the popular ToryBoy blog Tim Montgomerie points out that Parliament (he means the House of Commons but it is a common mistake) needs more MPs like Douglas Carswell. He is probably right. Douglas is a good MP and shows commendable independence and strength of character, consistently attacking Speaker Martin (not just when that becomes fashionable) for not doing his job and being a government stooge; speaking his mind on various issues; and joining the Better Off Out campaign. Not that it is particularly clear what the latter will achieve.
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There are, of course, similar people in the House of Lords but they do not receive handsome remuneration or indeed appropriate publicity and the upper House's work goes mostly unrecognised.
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Not for the first time, political commentator Charles Moore has put his finger on the spot in The Daily Telegraph, today. The headline and strap – accurately reflecting the text of his column – which exactly articulates the salient point: "The House of Commons is ours, not theirs. Don't ruin it, reclaim it
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… Our thirst for revenge over the expenses scandal is understandable but there is an alternative."Writes Mr. Moore, "We must save the House of Commons. I never thought that, in writing such a sentence, I would be swimming against the tide of British public opinion, but people are so angry about the revelations of MPs' expenses that they seem not to care what happens to the entire institution."
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Nothing in the torrent of coverage in the past days, led by The Daily Telegraph, has served to strengthen Parliament and many of the proposals for "reforms" will not in any way improve the situation, while the claque - always easily pleased – rushes in to applaud Mr Cameron for his "leadership", what he proposes is essentially a statist solution which does nothing at all to reinforce the primacy of Parliament.
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In fact – as one might expect – he is simply reacting to events, his measure in part being damage limitation and in part and attempt to make political capital out of the situation. But his response has been of a party leader – which he is – not that of a parliamentarian. Thus, the "Cameron way" – as outlined by Moore
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…… is to decide that MPs have been so despicable that they need to come under greater control. Some external authority – as yet undefined – will watch over them. They will work exclusively as MPs. If they are housed at our expense, it will be in barracks, with prefects to make sure they are all in bed by lights-out at 10.30.
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There will be regular inspections of the contents of their boots. The logic is that if you cannot trust MPs, you cannot allow them to have much power. So parliamentary government collapses.

This is the wrong move. As a party leader, soon to become Prime Minister, Cameron has a vested interest in fostering a weak, compliant parliament. Its job will be – as it is now – to constrain the executive, which he will lead.
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In strict terms, parliament is the "enemy" of the government, as indeed governments are the enemy of the people. We should tolerate them only because the alternative – of not having a government – is far worse.
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Importantly , at every point, it is governments – not parliaments – which should be bound, hamstrung and constrained by rules which limit their freedom of action, their powers and their reach. What the Telegraph and the media is doing is turning Parliament - our Parliament, into the enemy, while the claque rush gleefully into the trap, and rejoice at the prospect of a Parliament in chains, not realising that those chains will be their chains.
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Thus, the task, as Mr Moore avers, is to reclaim Parliament, to rehabilitate and to strengthen it. The baying of the crowd has never been a rational guide for action, and it is not now. Citing Edmund Burke, writing about the French Revolution, Moore quotes him saying, "Rage and frenzy will pull down more in half an hour than prudence, deliberation and foresight can build up in a hundred years." It remains, writes Moore, a useful warning.
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Putting it more prosaically, we are in danger of throwing the baby out with the bath water. And, in this, one needs to remember that The Daily Telegraph is a commercial operation – its primary concern is to sell newspapers. That it has achieved, spectacularly. But, despite its protestations, that does not mean it is a friend of democracy.
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Friday, May 15

Enough is Enough


Fact: MPs regarded their additional cost allowances as an "entitlement", following which a system was set up to enable them to claim them. They represented a covert – and largely tax-free – pay rise implemented on the sly by a legislature which did not have the bottle to make the public case for higher salaries.
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All the rest is detail and, however odious they might be, it is unfair to pick on individual MPs. Collectively, they are all guilty – some were just more creative than others in the paperwork they submitted which allowed the fees office to give them the money to which, under the system, they were entitled.
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The fact is also that the political journalists – and many others – knew all about the system. It was put in place in 1972 and has been part of the remuneration system ever since.The basic mistake the MPs made, of course, was not to adopt the European Parliament system, where the MEPs are given a block grant, no questions asked, and no receipts required. Thus, perfectly legally, and with only minor and occasional protests, MEPs are able to trouser £45,000 a year as "office expenses", nearly twice the amount paid to MPs for their "expenses", with no damning paperwork that can be used against them.
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Thus, for the media now to indulge in a feeding frenzy, touting its high moral – but incredibly selective - principles and "outing" individual MPs, is little short of hypocrisy. The system is at fault but, for more than thirty years, MPs have kept that system in place and the media have conspired in allowing it to continue.
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Fixing the system, however, will change nothing. If anything, it will make it worse. With the intense media scrutiny now directed at individual MPs, many of those who might have thought of becoming MPs will now think otherwise. The net effect will almost certainly be a continuation of the trend towards hiring professional MPs, colourless, apparatchiks, whose main claim to fame will be their ability to keep their expenses accounts in order and tick the right boxes on their claim forms.
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What will not be addressed – and nor is it being addressed – is the competence of MPs and the performance of Parliament as an institution. Egregious examples of its failure are seen even today, but they are lost in the torrent of prurient outrage over what amounts to trivial sums of money.
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Thus do we say enough is enough. The madness of the crowd is upon us, from which there is no escape when it is all over Parliament will not be a better place. We will not be better off. We will have achieved nothing.
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Sunday, May 10

The Sunday Quote

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"In Germany they came first for the Communists,
And I did not speak up because I was not a Communist,
And then they came for the trade unionists,
And I did not speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist.
And then they came for me
And by that time there was no one left to speak up’’

A German, Pastor Martin Niemoller, Nazi Concentration camp survivor.


This posting is dedicated to the memory of Peter Painter a 17 year old Victoria Collage School Boy from Jersey CI who was arrested one day in the summer of 1943, deported to occupied Europe along with is Father by the German Military Occupying forces. According to a French resistance survivor, interviewed in 1946, Peter died in a squalid cattle truck in his Fathers arms on a frightful railway journey to the notorious Belson Death Camp during 1944. Their 'crime' was to have listened to the BBC on a hidden Wireless, this was forbidden under Occupation Rules.
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The Jersey civilian informers who provided the information to the German Military Police were exposed in an article titled: ''I accuse'' written by the then Jersey News Editor William Troy, printed in the Jersey Evening Post 64 years ago today. Peter Painter along with his father who it is assumed perished on arrival at Belson have no known grave. Lest we forget.
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ID Cards

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It was reported recently that the controversial ID cards scheme will be piloting in Manchester in the autumn. This, in spite of the fact that the scheme is estimated to cost billions per year, and is entirely unnecessary. Both main opposition parties in the UK have vowed to scrap the scheme, seeing it for the waste of money it is... - Read More
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Saturday, May 9

Unintended Consequences

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Commenting on the expenses controversy, Iain Watson, BBC political correspondent, makes a statement of the blindingly obvious. He writes, "Seemingly endless stories about MPs who, in the main, have not broken any rules - even if the rules themselves are being questioned - diminishes, from a low base, any remaining public trust in politics."
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A worrying issue is the opportunity cost. While the political claque is indulging in its feeding frenzy, over what is in effect little more than bicycle shed syndrome, all sorts of things that should be in the news are not being reported by the MSM.There is an awful lot happening out there at the moment but the media seems to have given up trying, while the British political blogosphere is retreating into its own bubble and pulling up the drawbridge. This orgy of introspection is not healthy, since most people are politicaly apathetic at the best of times.
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All too soon, we will see another immutable law kick into action – the law of unintended consequences. Ignore certain issues, or do not protest and politicians have a nasty habit of leaping up and biting you hard when you least expect it. At which time it is too late, thus is how political extremists win!
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Thursday, May 7

Some Of Our Millions are Missing

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In a detailed piece we are invited to get worked up about EU missing millions. Not only are they missing, the EU and UN have abandoned investigations into what happened to £60 million worth of funding for Kosovo, with allegation of serious fraud and corruption.
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The funds for "economic reconstruction" to help rebuild a war-shattered Kosovo ten years ago were hit by at least 11 scandals involving 12 cases of alleged criminal activity and 27 examples of alleged breaches of rules on the awarding of contracts and nepotism.The trouble is, no one is really going to get interested. There is nothing anyone can do about it. No one will be held responsible. No one is accountable the fact of life is that people have better things to do with their lives than rail over things over which they have no influence, the course of which they cannot change.
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So those of us who follow these matters mutter into our real ale shrug and move on to mutter about something else. The sad bit is that an MP whose partner has claimed £10 for a porn movie on parliamentary expenses, Ah! That's something people relate to feel some how they have some influence over and relate to it as if a plot in a soap opera.There in lies the difference between UK and EU politics.

Not reported this week was an interesting exchange in the House of Lords about the EU budget. Lord Campbell of Alloway, asked:

Her Majesty's Government what is the justification for the projected increase in the United Kingdom's net contribution to the European Community Budget to £6.5 billion in 2010-11.

Not an unreasonable question at a time of financial difficulties.

The response by Lord Davies of Oldham was the usual one - we really do not like the system and we really would like to rectify matters but as we can't we shall just have to keep handing the money over. I wonder if all those people who promise such reforms ever bother to read these replies and ever ask themselves why the situation is as it is. (Yes, Open Europe, Libertas and Taxpayers' Alliance, I am referring to you.)When he was pressed by Lord Campbell, Lord Davies became so snappy and rude that their lordships expressed their displeasure. He then proceeded to snarl:

My Lords, the House will appreciate that, if such a solution were available, all—or the majority of—European states would follow the strategy. However, the issues are more complex because the problems with accounting in the European budget are largely the fault of expenditure that is partly controlled by the member states; so it will not do to say that the issue relates directly to the European Commission or any other institution. Member states, too, must improve their standards of accountancy and effectiveness, which is exactly what the United Kingdom has been doing.

That last sentence is questionable in view of the fact that statistics have become meaningless under this government, what with all the shifting of goalposts and chaning of parameters.The question of enlargement was ignored and the subject of the surrendered part of the rebate, raised by Lord Waddington, pooh-poohed. Then Lord Lea of Crondall got to what his side see as the crux of the matter:

My Lords, is it not the case that the thesis, "We want our money back", is demeaning for a country in our position in the world after the G20 and all the commitments that we have entered into? The Conservative Party policy, "We want our money back", would mean that there would be no EU, which is what the Conservatives are driving at.

Well, actually, there is nothing demeaning in a country's representatives taking good care of its money, however rich that country might be.Which politician was respected more, Margaret Thatcher who got the rebate or Tony Blair who gave it away?

Anyway the soap opera continues while more and more billions of UK taxpayers money is given to the EU and millions upon millions is lost, in return for what exactly?
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Wednesday, May 6

The not so accurate weather forcast

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The Met Office is forecasting a ''barbecue summer after two summers of rain''.
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Welll now , given the shortcomings in past summer forecasts from the Met Offoce in London how much credence should we give this one?
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Remember the summer of 2007? On 11 April of that year, the Met Office chirped: "The summer is yet again likely to be warmer than normal. There are no indications of a particularly wet summer." - the wettest summer for England and Wales since 1912. Temperatures were below average.
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In April 2008, the Met Office projected: "Summer temperatures are likely to be warmer than average and rainfall near or above average." That didn't prepare people for one of the wettest summers on record, with high winds and low sunshine. Chief meteorologist Ewen McCallum said: "We can expect times when temperatures will be above 30C (86F) - something we hardly saw last year."
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Mr McCallum admitted recently in a news conference that seasonal forecasting is still in its infancy - a cross between climate change prediction and tomorrow's weather forecast.But he said normal forecasting had massively improved, with the four-day forecast now as good as the one-day forecast when the Met office started more than 30 years ago.

I think I have spotted his problem, the Met Office was actually founded in 1854. So as with so much of what he says he is actually technically correct, in that it is more than 30 years ago, but hardly accurate!
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As time moves on ....................

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The media and the blogosphere are buzzing with that anniversary. Thirty years ago the Conservative Party, led by Margaret Thatcher, won the first of four elections and began a government that proved to be the most radical in its reforms than any since Attlee's 1945 one that sealed this country's socialism. One can discard the left-wing canard that Mrs Thatcher destroyed this country's economy and political life. Britain in the 1970s was not a happy or efficient country.

A more insidious myth is propounded by some of the younger Conservatives that in 1979 the country deliberately voted for radical reform. Absolute rubbish. The country rather hesitantly voted for the Conservatives, anyway, and nobody outside the immediate circle around Thatcher knew that she had any ideas beyond the widely shared rather vague assumption that "something needs to be done" with a country that had, apparently, reached rock bottom.James Callaghan who lost in 1979 also promoted the idea that there was a sea-change in opinion because it suited him to say so. In actual fact, he lost the election because he was perceived to be a bumbling incompetent. The third question that needs to be asked is whether those radical reforms have really changed the country or were they as Mark Steyn says in a recent article, largely about Obama, just a blip, a slowing down in the collapse?
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In retrospect it can be argued that Mrs Thatcher was not a conservative – she was a liberal. Her free market ideology was influenced by the economist Milton Friedman and the author Friedrich Hayek, both of whom described themselves as liberals. Furthermore, conservatism has not traditionally supported the ideas of any particular type of economic system, free market or not. Traditional conservatism has sought to maintain social stability through maintenance and gradual progression of the current social order. The market system which Thatcher imposed upon Britain radically altered our society in a very short period of time – some of the effects of which we are only just beginning to feel now. It was an economic revolution rather than a slow and gradual process.
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Tuesday, May 5

Better Off Out

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In the wake of that BBC poll that showed 55 per cent of this country's population would like to see us out of the European Union and in the midst of a huge financial crisis (made far worse by our own government as well as the EU, to be absolutely fair) Better Off Out is being relaunched as a cross-party group in both Houses.


The Better Off Out website gives the full press release as well as some other information about the group. The aim is to co-ordinate a parliamentary campaign of questions, both oral and written and, whenever possible, debates, thus raising political and public awareness of the EU and its dire influence on this country. Needless to say, this blog stands with the group and is ready to assist its work in every way possible.
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Our Best Friends


Monty 'Sunshinedog'
Green Island Jersey CI

.Man’s best friend could be just the rescue package Brown needs
By David Williamson of the Western Mail
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IF YOU visit a pet shop within walking distance of Westminster, do not be surprised if a hefty man with a deep Scottish brogue is examining the merits of a selection of puppies.

A politician’s career would be fried if he attempted to deflect a tough question in a press conference by playing a banjo. But play with a dog and photographers will drown out bleating inquiries about bail-outs for billionaires with the snap of flashbulbs.

Times are tough for Gordon Brown and a canine could be a source of solace and spin.

In the run-up to the 2001 election, Tony Blair attempted to rekindle the youthful euphoria of 1997 by arriving at Downing Street with a guitar case. What are the chances we will soon see Brown clamber out of his car with a five-week-old wolfhound?
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Global fascination with the arrival of the latest White House dog demonstrates the genius of President Obama’s news-spinning and contrasts with the clunking despair at the heart of the Labour machine.

On the night of his election, Obama promised his daughters a puppy. This was one campaign pledge that was quite easy for the press and public to track.

He soon added a new twist by announcing the hound would have to be hypoallergenic to protect the health of his eldest daughter. This portrayed Obama as America’s super-dad. Yes, he was cautious and hyper-intelligent, but he was not a closeted boffin; just as his daughters would have to wait for a safe puppy, so the populace could not expect an instant solution to financial malaise.

Economists will argue for years about the merits of his stimulus package and political opponents will disparage early claims that the nation is on the road to recovery.
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But each time Americans see Obama’s daughters frolicking with Bo, the Portuguese water dog (the decision not to imitate JFK and buy a Welsh terrier should not be taken as a snub), they will remember that their president is a man who keeps his promises and their hearts will throb with hope.

Choosing to announce the selection of this pooch as he approaches his 100th day in office is a honeymoon-prolonging masterstroke.
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Brown’s spin-hacks should have been e-mailing each other ideas for interesting pets (or, if they wanted to be radical, great policy concepts) {Right, Sunshine Bella, in deep thought} rather than concocting lurid nonsense about rivals’ family lives.
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Mr Brown should be advised not to imitate ostrich-loving music legend Johnny Cash who was nearly killed by his giant bird.
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All Prime Ministers long for a place in the history books, but being the first forced out of office by an ostrich is an accolade nobody wants.


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Just a thought

No matter how often and how carefully one explains, as I do to overseas clients from time to time, that the UK not having a presidential system prime ministers are not elected, too many people respond by complaining (to put it politely) that Gordon Brown or whatever stupid nickname they decide to give him was not elected.
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Indeed not and neither was any prime minister, especially not those who took over between elections. That would be Churchill in 1940, Eden in 1955, Macmillan in 1957, Douglas-Home in 1963, Callaghan in 1976 and Major in 1991 as well as Brown in 2007. It is the party that is elected and it is the party that decides who is to be the leader.
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In many ways this is unsatisfactory and shows up once again that there is no real separation of powers in the UK with the Executive being part of the Legislative and, consequently, strongly in control of it. That, rather than the existence of parties, imposes constraints on MPs. (We are assuming that MPs, unconstrained, would actually be decent human beings.)One could argue that with a smaller majority the Legislative would acquire more control over the Executive.
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Given the fact that between seventy and eighty per cent of our legislation comes from the EU with Parliament either knowing nothing about it or being unable to reject it, control of government is all our parliamentarians can hope for - power they cannot have and, apparently, they do not miss it.

Assuming that the UK country will one day be independent and sovereign again, should we not think of a different political system, one which would separate the two branches of government? Should the resignation of a Prime Minister necessarily entail a general election, thus allowing the people have some say in the matter of the next leader of the country?

Alternatively, could we not have something resembling the American system in which the head of the Executive is elected separately from the Legislative and then chooses his cabinet, which is then approved of or otherwise by the Legislative? The question there would be how to reconcile that with a Monarchy, which is still the most popular body in this country and has many useful attributes, not least keeping politicians in their place.

It used to be the case that an MP who accepted a paid governmental position or an "office of profit" had to resign and a by-election was called. Though this principle is enshrined in the Act of Settlement (1701) and Act of Union (1707) and is still adhered to in the United States where it was enshrined in the Constitution. Since 1919, however, we have abandoned the notion in Britain and MPs are merrily accepting emoluments under the Crown without having to face the electors again. Despite the howl of outrage that would follow such a suggestion, a return to the ideas written into the Act of Settlement could be a first step towards a better regulated political system of separated powers. Well it was just a thought!
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In my View


Banking is too important to be left to Bankers is the conclusion of a report issued last week. The effects of the continuing banking crisis will be felt for generations, a committee of MPs has warned last week.

The Treasury committee, in its second report on the crisis, said that it had been caused largely by the banks' own reckless behaviour. "Bankers have made an astonishing mess of the financial system," said committee chairman John McFall MP adding "The culture within parts of British banking has increasingly been one of risk-taking, leading to the meltdown that we have witnessed''. Though as most small business operators will confirm that risk taking has not in fact been with banks lending to small businesses - the risks were taken, as is now well recognized, with reckless domestic mortgage lending and irresponsible and unaccountable high risk strategies in the complex and mysterious world of hedge funds, dodgy derivative bank securities and over investment in overseas emerging markets.

The scale of the losses incurred by the banking sector is difficult for most people to comprehend the figures are truly colossal. The total losses of British banks so far are a huge £207 billion of which only a third has so far been written down. The much troubled euro zone banks have lost £600 billion but have only so far written down 17 per cent of that loss. The low ratio of write downs by the banks is an indication that the banking sector's woes are far from over, the crises has yet to reach rock bottom and the consequential misery is likely to cast a further cloud over the business world, particularly small businesses.

This recession unlike the recession before or indeed the one before that is different in that this down turn in the economy is bank lead. The solution to the economic crises thus cannot be found within the banking world for they are the problem not the solution.

Contrary to the claims being made by banks many small businesses whose growth is fundamental to the economy are finding it very hard to obtain loans, except with much higher charges and fees. This is a situation that is being closely monitored by the Federation of Small Businesses' FSB Bank Watch scheme. Their detailed scrutiny of the banks will need to be long since despite optimistic noises from corporately closeted bankers there are dark storm clouds building in Europe which will threaten recovery on our shores.

We will do well to pause and remember that back in the '90s British bankers with the support of most of the corporate world (but not small businesses) and many politicians were spending vast amounts of money urging us to join the single European currency, the euro. Had this powerful group had their way the banking crises and economic cries that we are all in some way suffering from today would have been far worse than it is.

A large slump in the economy in Europe and the increasing likelihood of the collapse of the euro - a currency that is used by 16 nations in the so called euro zone - is a huge storm in the waiting. The most important fact about the euro as a currency that is not understood by most people is that it is a political construction and is therefore doomed to failure; it is only a matter of time. Recently I emailed five investment managers from large corporate fund managers seeking their opinion on the effects on equity markets of the demise of the euro. Without exception the answers I received demonstrated an acute (a depressing) lack of understanding of the political reality of the euro; an example that investment 'experts' work in a very self focused bubble.

The euro is not the product of a market driven economic process but is rather the product of a political idea. This means that from it’s inception, European monetary union (the euro) has served a political function to which economic and financial realities were always to be subservient. In short, when times get tough it won’t work and sorting out the mess of the euro's inevitable collapse will cost the banking world and the tax payer huge amounts; this will impact further on the UK despite the fact that we rightly rejected entering the euro twelve years ago.

The arguments for not joining the euro club at its inception are more true today, particularly the fatally flawed notion that one exchange rate and one interest rate are appropriate for economies with very different and disparate histories, structures, performances and sovereign governments. There are also institutional problems with the management of the euro which are now causing big problems, notably that the institutions of the European Union suffer from a well known ‘democratic deficit’. The European Central Bank that controls the euro lacks the kind of transparency that characterizes both the Federal Reserve Board in the US and the Monetary Policy Committee of the Bank of England.

When the euro fails as one day soon it will, the cost to the people of Europe will be huge, some of that cost will inevitably impact on the UK economy which we can ill afford on top of the cost of the current rescission.

So there we have it a very gloomy state of affairs. The lesson, in my view, is that Corporate Bankers, Investment Managers, Politicians when left un challenged cause economic mayhem, that is all the more reason for an effective well informed media and attentive lobbying organisations.
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North of Bradford

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Dr Richard North continues his Afghan "season", with another offering over on Defence of the Realm.
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Thirty Years Ago

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The media and the blogosphere are buzzing with that anniversary. Thirty years ago the Conservative Party, led by Margaret Thatcher, won the first of four elections and began a government that proved to be the most radical in its reforms than any since Attlee's 1945 one that sealed this country's socialism.One can discard the left-wing canard that Mrs Thatcher destroyed this country's economy and political life. Britain in the 1970s was not a happy or efficient country.

A more insidious myth is propounded by some of the younger Conservatives that in 1979 the country deliberately voted for radical reform. Absolute rubbish. The country rather hesitantly voted for the Conservatives, anyway, and nobody outside the immediate circle around Thatcher knew that she had any ideas beyond the widely shared rather vague assumption that "something needs to be done" with a country that had, apparently, reached rock bottom.James Callaghan who lost in 1979 also promoted the idea that there was a sea-change in opinion because it suited him to say so. In actual fact, he lost the election because he was perceived to be a bumbling incompetent.The third question that needs to be asked is whether those radical reforms have really changed the country or were they as Mark Steyn says in a recent article, largely about Obama, just a blip, a slowing down in the collapse?

In retrospect it can be argued that Mrs Thatcher was not a conservative – she was a liberal. Her free market ideology was influenced by the economist Milton Friedman and the author Friedrich Hayek, both of whom described themselves as liberals. Furthermore, conservatism has not traditionally supported the ideas of any particular type of economic system, free market or not. Traditional conservatism has sought to maintain social stability through maintenance and gradual progression of the current social order. The market system which Thatcher imposed upon Britain radically altered our society in a very short period of time – some of the effects of which we are only just beginning to feel now. It was an economic revolution rather than a slow and gradual process.
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Sunday, March 15

A taxing Issue

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The Scottish government's "radical plan" to introduce a minimum price for the sale of alcohol has a serious obstical to implimentation - EU Law.
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However, in a comprehensive piece in The Times, we are treated to an explanation of how this plan would almost certainly fall foul of the all embracing EU.
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This is on the basis of a legal opinion from the law firm Lovell's, a specialist in EU law, which contradicts Nationalist ministers at Holyrood who until now have claimed that minimum pricing would not be challenged by Brussels.
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The legal firm argues that the effect of minimum pricing would be to prevent alcoholic products imported from other EU member states from having a competitive advantage against UK produced drinks that they would otherwise enjoy as a result of lower production costs. This, we are told, could amount to an unlawful restriction contrary to Article 28 of the European Community treaty ... which states that restrictions on imports and all measures having equivalent effect shall be prohibited between member states.
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This issue, it seems, has already been tested in the ECJ in respect of tobacco, in a case between the EU commission and the Greek Government which had argued that setting a minimum price was necessary to discourage tobacco consumption in Greece.
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The Court stated: "It must be observed that Article 30 of the (EC) Treaty enables the member state to apply national provisions that restrict intra-community trade in order to protect the health and life of humans.
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"However," it stated, "measures based on Article 30 of the Treaty cannot be justified unless they are necessary in order to attain the objective pursued by that article and that objective is not capable of being attained by measures which are less restrictive of intra-Community trade." From this came the killer line, "In this case it must be observed that the objective of protecting public health may be adequately attained by increased taxation of manufactured tobacco products, which would safeguard the principle of free formulation of prices."
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What this boils down to is that governments are entitled to raise prices by means of taxation, in order to restrict consumption, but they cannot interfere with the market mechanism in such a way that it eliminates competitive price differences between domestic and imported products. However, this is not the only problem faced by the Scottish government.
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Not mentioned by The Times is the case of Klas Rosengren and Others v. RiksÄklagaren of 5 June 2007. This concerned the attempts by the Swedish government to restrict imports of cheep booze, whence the ECJ found that the prohibition of the importation into Sweden of alcoholic drink by private individuals amounted to "an unjustified quantitative restriction on the free movement of goods."That measure, it added, was inappropriate for attaining the objective of limiting alcohol consumption generally and was not proportionate for attaining the objective of protecting young persons from the harmful effects of alcohol.This rather stymies the Scottish government as it would not be able to stop the flow of booze from across the English border.
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One could thus see hordes of Scots storming over the border, not stealing sheep this time but buying cheap English booze.
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Although this might be good news for Scottish drinkers, it could have longer-term implications for all of us. Faced with the near impossibility of making unilateral measures work, one can see heavy lobbying by the Scottish government for action this side of the border as well.
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There could only be one possible outcome – higher booze taxes for us all. I am sure Mr Brown will be only too happy to oblige, to save his fellow Scots.
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Sunday, February 15

The Sunday Quote

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''I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.'' - Voltaire (1694 -1778)


The above quote is inspired by the subject this week of - Geert Wilders the Dutch MP and his the treatment of him by this country – my country. Last weeks reaction by the Government makes me feel as if I am living in a foreign land. Is this reallythe UK from which he was turned away because 'we' do not like what he says? Is this the same country which so egregiously, for so long, permitted the hate-filled preaching of Abu Hamza, before finally doing something about it?
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Philip Johnston makes the point well in The Daily Telegraph, as do many many more right across the political spectrum. Johnston thinks that the refusal to admit the oddball Dutch MP to Britain yesterday "marks a further retreat from this country's traditions of free speech." He is quite correct; any right-thinking person would agree.
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Over and above the loathsome behaviour of our government, however, is the attitude of Her Majesty's "loyal opposition", the once great Conservative Party, which is reduced to this.
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Did we not hear so very recently from our MPs, a strident dissertation about the "privilege of freedom of speech", enjoyed by Members of Parliament, this being "in truth the privilege of their constituents."
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Well … Mr Wilders is an MP. Or does freedom of speech apply only to Conservative MPs and their constituents?
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For the avoidence of doubt any doubt, I do not agree with the views of Geer Wilders he is clearly bonkers, but the point is however, freedom of speech is a very basic right in any proper democracy.

Peter Troy
Sedgefield. County Durham
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Saturday, February 14

Banking Regulation

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With news today that the Lloyds TSB/HBOS Banking group is in serious difficulty it is amazing that despite the acres of newsprint, it seems that many people still do no understand the nature of the crisis and its root causes.
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A key point this is not being recognised is that, while the financial system was globalising, so was the regulatory system – with the Basel Banking Regulation committee and other international bodies taking the helm.The net effect was that we in the UK were saddled with an inflexible, slow moving and wholly inadequate system of regulation and, as importantly, it was one over which no single – or any – nation had control. As was the global financial system out of control, so was the banking regulatory system.
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It is curious therefore, to see that the response of our government has been to in effect nationalise most of the UK banking system, with more to follow. The effect of that is to reassert national control. But there is no recognition that the other half of the equation – the regulatory system also needs to be nationalised.Thus, in effect, we are getting the worst of all possible worlds.
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While most of our Banks are being bought up by the government with public funds, the very regulatory system which allowed them to go to the brink of destruction – and even beyond – is being left almost completely untouched, its role wholly unrecognised as a primary cause of the banking problem which is particularly adversly effecting small businesses.
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In many ways, Gordon Brown is as much a passenger of events as are we all. That is the really terrifying thing – nobody is really in control. The mighty machine of global finance is falling apart and there is nothing anyone can do to stop it.
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Tuesday, February 10

Parliament is Cavalier about Democracy

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Charles Moore suggests in The Daily Telegraph that "Few people would fight for Parliament today," questioning whether anyone would "defend democracy in today's political climate."He is reviewing a book about the English Civil War – Cavaliers and Roundheads, and all that – adding his "take", writing that:

Because voters are so angry – rightly – about "sleaze", they have almost forgotten that those they elect must have "privileges". That is to say, they must have rights against the power of what is still sometimes called the Crown, but which means, in reality, the might of government and the power of "Europe".

Parliament has sacrificed these privileges, preferring material ones, and has therefore lost respect. If we had a civil war today, few would fight for it. That is fair enough comment, and if you move over to The Times you will see a graphic illustration of what has happened to parliament's power.

Way down the list, this is a nasty little story about how a drinks manufacturer, Sovio Wines, is appealing to the High Court against a Food Standards Agency (FSA) ban on its products. There is nothing wrong with the product – in fact it is extremely popular and has been welcomed by health campaigners as an excellent idea.

What the company has done is use a pioneering process in order to take high quality wines and to reduce their alcohol content to just eight percent without in any way altering the taste or texture of the wines. But the "mistake" it made was then to label its product wine, thereby falling foul of EU law which specifies a minimum of nine percent alcohol for a product to be thus labelled.

Enter the FSA which claims that, because a breach of EU law is involved, it has jurisdiction over its distribution, whence it moved in to ban its sale. In so doing, it has "paralysed" the company's business. Stocks worth tens of thousands of pounds, held at a bonded warehouse since the 2007 banning order, have been rendered undrinkable and therefore unmarketable because of the wine's short shelf-life.

The company's chairman Tony Dann thus notes that: "The Government is urging the drinks industry to provide a wider range of lower alcohol products, consumers want to drink them and yet the FSA is seemingly trying to kill a product that everyone wants".The problem, of course, is that the government – in Whitehall – is no longer in charge, and neither is Parliament. This is a law made in Brussels, untouched by parliament because it is an EU Regulation, which contradicts British government policy. It is being enforced by an Agency – not a Quango – paid for by us, which is not answerable to Ministers or parliament. It is acting solely and exclusively in defence of EU law.

Now look at Melanie Phillips. She writes in respect of the financial crisis:

Ultimately, however, such re-arrangement of the political furniture is unlikely to make much difference. For the public are terminally disenchanted with the entire political scene. Totally bemused by the financial meltdown, they perceive that no politician appears to have a clue either. MPs themselves hardly exude any more confidence in themselves. With their woeful attendance records, long holidays and shorter hours, and with ministers making announcements anywhere but in the Commons chamber, there is a palpable sense that power has moved elsewhere.
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By diverse and several means, parliament has rendered itself impotent, irrelevant to the government of this country, toothless, self-obsessed and venal. Would we fight for it? Of course not. We would be happier driving the tumbrels.
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The only mistake Charles Moore makes is in confusing parliament with democracy. We have not had true democracy in this country for some time. The proof is in incidents like the one affecting Sovio Wines. We would fight for democracy, but not for the people who gave it away.
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Press Accountability

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An interesting item in The Independent opens up a hornet's nest on the issue of press accountability and, more generally, on the performance of the media.
For those who hold – as we do – that an effective and well-founded media is an essential prerequisite of a functioning democracy, the report which spawned the piece, from the Media Standards Trust, is an important contribution to an ongoing debate.The report itself can be found here, with a summary/press release here, the essence of which is retailed by The Independent report.
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This tells us that financial pressure and the introduction of fast-paced new technology could combine to increase the risk of press intrusion and inaccuracy. This is backed by a survey carried out by YouGov which finds that few people (7 percent) trust newspapers to behave responsibly and three-quarters (75 percent) believe papers frequently publish stories which they know are not true.
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The Media Standards Trust uses this as a platform to argue for a "more accountable press" calling for urgent reform of the industry's existing self-regulation system, the Press Complaints Commission, describing it as "insufficiently effective" and "largely unaccountable". "Without urgent reform, self-regulation of the press will become increasingly ineffective at protecting the public or promoting good journalism," the Trust concludes.
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One can entirely sympathise with the Trust's views on the adequacy of the PCC, experience with it over the Qana affair being less than happy, leading us to conclude – as with other matters – that it is a toothless and largely useless body.
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However, we cannot help but feel that the Trust's emphasis on more or better regulation is somewhat misplaced, as the PCC and the other issues it focuses on are – in our view – only the smaller part of the problem.As we pointed out in an earlier post, the bigger problem is not so much what the newspapers publish, but what they do not. Much of the distortion in the media comes from its inability – or unwillingness – to carry out its basic function of reporting the news. And no amount of regulation is going to change that.
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Further, another pressing problem is the competence of many journalists, whose knowledge of their subject and their ability to carry our basic research and fact-checking is extremely suspect. We saw a classic example of that recently, where the media got hold of completely the wrong end of the stick and, as a result, gave a completely wrong account of an important story.
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However, the Trust's report concludes that, "Public trust in the press has fallen below the level necessary for it to perform its proper role in a democratic society,” then adding that: "Until the system is reformed there is little chance of trust being raised.”The response of PCC chairman Sir Christopher Meyer illustrates that we have an uphill battle. Even to the relatively mild criticism offered, he reacts by saying the report is "careless and shoddy", and then pours out defensive bureaucratese, which demonstrates that he is not even past the starting gate when it comes to understanding that there is a problem.
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At this point, of course, we could offer the view that the "new media" will overcome the shortcomings of the "dead tree media", except that there is no sign of this happening. The blogs and other web-based output is as much part of the problem as the old media.
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Where we go from here, therefore, is anyone's guess, but it is interesting to see that a body which this blogger didn't even know existed is taking on a debate which needs to happen and needs to be resolved.
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