Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Indian Ocean Earthquake Disaster

I'm still in the provinces, so nothing new for a while.
In the meantime, donate money to help victims of the tsunami here.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Ukrainian deja vu

Hope everyone had a nice Christmas / non-denominational festive celebration thing, and congrats to those Ukrainian chappies I've been on and off in touch with for the apparent victory of their man. Let's hope he can live up to the hype (assuming he ever gets sworn in)

The results, for those who have been even more out of touch than I, were:

Yuschenko 51.21%, Yanukovych 44.01%

Allegedly.

I have no idea if these results are accurate, as I have been (and, indeed, still am) stuck in the provinces for the Christmas period on a dial-up modem with bugger-all connection speed and thus utterly out of touch with the world. The Ukraine situation seems to pale somewhat in the light of the massive death toll from the Indian Ocean earthquake, but still - this blog was one of the first outside the region to pick up on what was going on, so no comment at all on the re-run election would be a tad amiss. This is the first chance I've had. Sorry all...

The deja vu? Well, apparently Yanukovych is contesting the results. I never thought this would end easily, and it seems this may be the case. I'll try and have more on this shortly, but have no idea when I'm getting back to civilisation. Happy New Year just in case.

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Russia: a hint of ape-shit mental

Following the confirmation that Russia is not a free country after ongoing rumours of dodgy dealings in the run-up to the Russian presidential election, allegations of cover-ups to prevent knowledge of the true nature of the Beslan tragedy spreading, and suggestions that Russian troops were present in Ukraine to help enforce fraudulent election results last month, now it seems Putin is turning his beady, ex-KGB eyes on the economy.

Russia's second-largest oil company, Yukos, has been in trouble for a while now, and was finally declared bankrupt a couple of months ago. Its troubles began in October 2003, when its multi-billionaire owner (and harsh critic of Putin), Mikhail Khodorkovsky, was arrested onboard his private jet by masked members of the Russian security forces - he has been held in gaol ever since. His crime? Well, there are allegations of fraud (quite likely to be true in post-Soviet Russia), but many feel his biggest crime was buying up an anti-Putin newspaper and then using it to attack the government. But hey, Russia's all for freedom of the press... that CAN'T be true, can it?

Over the last week, Russia has started to sell of chunks of Yukos, despite court injunctions, and looks set to be by far the biggest beneficiary - it has just emerged that the state-owned oil firm Rosneft (which has one of the most brilliantly futuro-fascist corporate flash sites I've ever seen) has bought a sizable chunk of its erstwhile rival at a knock-down price. So the state has caused the bankruptcy of a company, and then bought up some of the assets. Lovely...

Oh, and lest I forget, should you be Russian and wish to elect a representative to the Duma who shares your views, tough. Today it is likely that Putin's plan to remove the right to vote for candidates will be rubber-stamped, leaving Russians the choice of voting for parties only. Sound familiar?

What to learn from all this? Simple - don't fuck with Putin, he's a vicious bastard. Yes, we knew that already, but this is just another prime example that Yeltsin knew very well what he was doing when he promoted Putin from nowhere to head the largest country in the world. This man is ideal dictator material - cold, calculating, ruthless, and with a hint of ape-shit mental about him.

After a lifetime of fascination with Russian culture (and the near inevitable off-shoot of political and historical interest), from Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky and Checkov through Solzhenitsyn, Eisenstein and the harsh beauty of Soviet propaganda posters, it seems that despite the end of the Cold War the closest I am likely to get to visiting is flying over St Petersberg at 30,000 feet on my way to Japan (see pic). Russia is right up there with Iraq and Zimbabwe on my "places not to visit in 2005" list.



For more reasons to be scared and depressed about Russia, try Siberian Light's superb weekly news round-ups.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

More on ID

(Geddit? More on - "Moron"? God, I crack me up...)

Following yesterday's post, there have been a few more responses to the government's attempts to peer into every aspect of our lives. This will, after all, be dragging on for ages...

DoctorVee reckons I've lost all sense of proportion and got a few things wrong, while The Yorkshire Ranter confirms my suspicions that I don't in a piece that looks into the practicalities of the things a bit more.

In the real world, Labour are soaring ahead in the polls despite (because of?) all this - although Dead Men Left notes that poll support for ID cards is misleading; stripped of its "war on terror" rhetoric, and with the cost of the scheme laid out, it disappears entirely.

Meanwhile, to keep loyalists onside, the rumours start that the Tories may drop their support for ID cards after the election - Guido notes that nearly half the parliamentary Conservative party abstained... Our own blogging Tory, Boris, was one of those who had more pressing engagements - he promises an explanation on Thursday. And during the confusion, UKIP again try to gain more Tory votes.

Where next? Well, if it carries on like this, somewhere warm and sunny overseas is sounding increasingly appealing... As for the kerfuffle over ID - God alone knows. Although I'm increasingly beginning to suspect that the government is suggesting the worst so that we'll all be massively relieved when these things are finally introduced in a watered-down version.

And for those who aren't convinced by any of the anti-ID arguments, my main problem with the thing is that I know how crap I am at remembering things. I've lost ten cigarette lighters in the last two months - those only cost 50p to replace; no matter how much ID cards will be, I know I'll be losing the bloody things all the time and object to the introduction of what is - for me - effectively a tax on the absent-minded.

The fact that the government will have a handy database of most of the contents of that mind, as well as the ability to retrace my steps for me to discover the last time I used the thing, just freaks me out.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

The problem(s) with ID cards

Everyone I've spoken to recently has been doing the same old "if you've done nothing wrong..." arguments, usually followed by the "so what's the big deal?" line. Normally, after a five minute rant, I manage to convince them that this is one of the most intrusive and unpleasantly fascistic laws this country has yet seen, that it's the first step down the slippery slope to genetic databases and every dystopia ever envisaged.

But usually what gets them is "what? I'll have to pay eighty-five quid for this thing?"

For those wanting a few more details, check the ever-enraged No2ID campaign (an organisation I would happily promote via a banner on this site were it not for their use of the number two to replace the perfectly good word "to") and, via Martin Stabe, a point-by-point demolition of the ID cards bill by the people behind Spyblog, who have a wealth of ID information.

The Lords aren't going to let this through in its current form, don't worry. However, all that means these days is a two year delay before Uncle Tony forces the thing through. The government won't listen to us if we go on protest marches (cf. the million-person march against the war on Iraq), they won't listen to us if we present reasoned arguments (cf. the Law Lords declaring detention without trial to be illegal), they won't listen to us if we get violent (cf. the later stages of the campaign to protect hunting).

The only language politicians understand is VOTES, and the only thing they feel represents this is letters from constituents - but only if they are short, contain no exclamation marks, and don't sound overly emotional.

  • If you vote for a candidate who supports ID cards, you are voting to be turned into cattle.
  • If your MP is bound by a three-line whip, and so abstained yesterday rather than go against the party line, write to them. Remind them that it is their party which is in the wrong, so it is their duty to go against this most intrusive of pieces of legislation.
  • Especially if they are a Tory, remind them that this is going against three hundred years of tradition; point them in the direction of The 1952 Committee; remind them of Churchill winning the 1951 election on the basis of scrapping wartime ID; tell them this could have been their route back to office (OK, that's a lie, but it could massively have improved their chances)
Whatever you do, don't be fooled into thinking ID cards will help you or make you safer. Think about it for just a couple of seconds, read into it in more detail, and you'll see it's a nonsense. Not just any nonsense, but a truly dangerous one.

Oooh, those Russians

Russia reaches lowest state of 'freedom' since collapse of USSR. This is according to Freedom House - a non-profit, non-partisan body which has monitored global democracy for some sixty years. Their accompanying press release marks Russia as the only country to become 'not free' citing:

"[the] flawed nature of the country's parliamentary elections in December 2003 and presidential elections in 2004, the further consolidation of state control of the media, and the imposition of official curbs on opposition political parties and groups. Russia's retreat from freedom marks a low point not registered since 1989, when the country was part of the Soviet Union."

Monday, December 20, 2004

Only 93 MPs deserve our respect

That's how many voted against the ID card bill just now. Many more abstained - but let's face it, that simply isn't good enough.

Angry and afraid. More tomorrow, if time.

Trackback enabled

Assuming I haven't cocked it up - ta to Eulogist from Relections on European Democracy for pointing me in the right direction. Now if anyone can tell me how to get rid of the Haloscan comments and just leave the trackback thing, that'd be all great and stuff...

Oh... Sorry, this blog's meant to be about politics isn't it? So, have the worst headline from a think tank I can remember in a fair while, courtesy of an actually rather good article from the IPPR:

Human rights are a basic human right

Coming soon: Shock new finding - a tautological tautology is a tautology!

Edit: OK, bollocks - it's buggered everything up. If anyone can tell me how to stop all the comments from displaying on the main page, and how to get rid of the multiple comments sections it'd be much appreciated. I'll leave it like this for the time being, but if I can't work it out in the next day or so, I'm afraid trackback will have to be scrapped again.

Edit 2: Right, got rid of Haloscan comments (ta, DoctorVee), but the Blogger ones are still displaying in full, even though all I changed in the template was the addition of Haloscan. Anyone got any ideas? At all?

Yes, Nosemonkey is indeed rubbish.

This is why I shouldn't play with the internet...

Edit 3: Right. I think I've got it sorted. Finally. After two days... But no trackbacks are showing up even on posts I know have been linked to elsewhere. It's all very confusing... I'll leave it in place for a couple of weeks to see if I like it (and if it starts to work) .

Ukraine TV debate

So, Yuschenko and Yanukovych are going to slug it out on TV, are they?

I'm desperately trying to work out the point, as the whole rhetoric of the last few weeks seems to be made up almost exclusively of personal attacks, threats and accusations. Are these two bitterly opposed candidates really going to debate policy issues in the midst of ongoing mass protests, while desperate efforts are still going on to ready the country for the unprecedented re-run elections on Boxing Day?

I can't see it myself. If they stick to policy it'll only looked forced - unless the entire debate is about foreign policy, but then each candidate risks looking like a tool of either Moscow or Washington/Brussels. I can't see any way that Yushchenko's poisoning or the threats of certain regions in the east to split off from the rest of the country - let alone the on-going protests and the scenes of the tent city - could not be raised in a properly free discussion, so I can't see that it's in either candidate's interest to have a completely free debate. The events and accusations of the last few weeks are bound to dominate, not the things that should truly matter.

Especially at this late stage, what is the point of dialogue? The country is so polarised I really can't see there being any swing voters left. The thing to do is simply get the elections out the way as quickly and cleanly as possible and then set about rebuilding stability, not start more slanging matches.

A good summary of recent Ukrainian developments is here.

(Note: Blogging on Europhobia may be intermittent over the next couple of weeks - as I imagine is the same with many bloggers, what with this whole Christmas business and all. We'll try to get something up every day, but it may be tricky...)

Friday, December 17, 2004

Blair government gives two fingers to the constitution

Hey, it was predictable, right? The Lords is only the highest court in the land - why the hell should the government listen to them when they vote 8 to 1 that the detention without charge of terror suspects is illegal? And who's this Lord Hoffman chap to tell them that "The real threat to the life of the nation, in the sense of a people living in accordance with its traditional laws and political values, comes not from terrorism but from laws such as these"?

After all, until we introduce a supreme court the Law Lords are not democratic because of some guff they always spout about separation of powers. I mean, so what if the Cabinet sits within the legislature and so, by the same logic the government uses to discredit the Law Lords, has no right to say anything?

We're talking about TERRORISM here, people. This is a TIME OF CRISIS. It's no time for petty legal wrangling. WE COULD ALL BE KILLED IN A MASSIVE EXPLOSION OR THROUGH EVIL BIOLOGICAL WEAPONS AND STUFF AT ANY MOMENT. Are you really going to allow some old man in a wig tell you that nice, smiling Tony is wrong? Hey - your super, soaraway Sun (and that lovely Mr Murdoch) agrees with Tony, and WHO THE HELL DO YOU THINK YOU ARE TO TAKE A CONTRARY VIEW, EH?

Hey, look, that nice Mr Clarke says that these so-called judges are wrong, and so does that lovely Mr Straw, so they must be. He seems to agree with that nice Mr Blukett about these sort of airy fairy, libertarian nonsense being almost as dangerous as the TERRORISTS CHARGING AT US OUT OF THE SKY ARMED WITH LOTS OF BOMBS!

Nosemonkey would like to make clear that he fully supports the Blair government in every single decision that it ever makes, and will never dare dissent in any way, shape or form, as it is abundantly clear that that would simply aid the TERRORISTS WITH THEIR BOMBS.

CHRISTMAS IS EXACTLY THE TIME OF YEAR THEY ARE MOST LIKELY TO STRIKE! GAS ATTACKS! BOMBS! DIRTY BOMBS! HIJACKINGS! A SOLDIER WITH A MACHINE GUN ON EVERY STREET CORNER! MANDATORY BIOMETRIC ID FOR EVERY CITIZEN! FEAR! TERROR! ONLY THE LEADER CAN SAVE US! NO ONE ELSE IS CAPABLE OF LEADING US TO VICTORY OVER THE EVIL, FREEDOM-HATING TERRORISTS!

(Nosemonkey is hungover and really quite incredibly filled with rage)

Edit: Oh, and nominate me - you know it makes sense. If you don't you're only supporting the terrorists.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Blunkett - the aftermath

Manic at Bloggerheads reads the Sun so I don't have to. Today's topless lovely is sad to see Blunkett go. Poor love.

Meanwhile, DoctorVee has a round-up of last night's immediate responses from the Bloggosphere - sadly including mine before I noticed that in cutting and pasting I'd lopped off the end of a sentence - something Blunkett would never do (boom boom!).

However, initial hopes of an end to the ID card madness have been shattered. I sort of knew that they'd still go ahead with it, but still... I rather hoped some sense would be seen.

Then again, Charles Clarke is the man who, as Education Secretary, seemed to miss the entire point of higher education when he said "I don't mind there being some medievalists around for ornamental purposes, but there is no reason for the state to pay for them".

Coming soon from Home Secretary Clarke: "I don't mind there being some civil liberties around for ornamental purposes, but there is no reason for the state to protect them".

On the day that the Law Lords are due to rule whether the government's suspension of habeas corpus for "terror suspects" at Wandsworth prison (dubbed "Britain's Guantanamo") is actually legal, Blair hardly looks like he's trying to appease those of his critics who see the growing power of the state to keep tabs on its citizens and imprison them at will as a move towards a police state.

But hey - it's the terrorists who hate freedom, right?

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

A note on the blogroll, if anyone cares

Loosely inspired by DoctorVee, I've had a bit of a re-organisation of the links to the left hand side, and added some new ones. I think of my blogroll as bookmarks as much as anything, as I blog from several different computers - they are there to help me find things quickly as much as to point out decent sites to people who have the misfortune of stumbling upon my own.

I will be adding more links over the next few weeks, and then some may disappear as I decide whether or not they are places I am likely to want to visit regularly. This isn't necessarily a judgement on their quality, it's just I've seen way too many blogs with nonsensical lists of sites which go on for ever and lose all meaning, and mine is already beginning to get out of control. Regular pruning is necessary. If you want a vast list, go here.

Again, if you feel I am missing any good links, let me know. I'm still hunting around, and have frequently forgotten to take note of some good sites I've found. At the moment, all those listed have got something interesting to contribute - I disagree with many, but interest and provocation value is the order of the day. If sites stop provoking any kind of reaction, they'll go simply to save space. It's not meant as an insult.

Oh, and I've also added "non-partisan" into the strapline of this blog, because I am. It sometimes seems this needs to be made clear, as various fellow bloggers have confused me for being a supporter of pretty much every party going over the last few months. I support none - just policies and (occasionally) individual candidates.

Absolutely no one cares at all about this post, do they?

Blunkett has quit - about bloody time

The power of modern communications proved his undoing.

Now personally I couldn't care less whether any of this having an affair, trying to break up a family, using the Metropolitan Police as bodyguards for his mistress, abusing his expenses to buy her train tickets, or getting a nanny a visa business affected his job or was overly dodgy.

What I care about is the fact that he has been one of the most viciously, unpleasantly intrusive Home Secretaries we've had for a fair while. He almost made Michael Howard look nice. I don't care why he's gone, I'm just glad he has.

Now, as long as Labour can scrap his pet ID card project, the future's looking a little less bleak in this country.

David Blunkett - worthy of great respect for his achievements in the face of adversity, but worthy only of contempt for the policies he has brought in and was striving to see brought into law.

Update: Bugger. As expected, the Home Office has gone to Charles Clarke, who also strongly believes in ID cards. Ho-hum...

Update 2: Having just seen Blunkett's interview with Andrew Marr on the BBC's 10 o'clock news, I feel genuinely sorry for the guy. I am convinced he's genuinely upset.

But I'm still glad he's gone. Not that he will be for long - his mistakes were minor compared to those of Peter Mandelson's, and Mandy's come back from the dead more times than a bloody phoenix. Give it two years at most, Blunkett will be back in the cabinet - as long as Brown isn't PM by then, obviously...

And they say economics is boring...

Overseas investment in Britain has plummeted. So is this the fault of the EU, of Britain for not joining the Eurozone, of Labour's tax and workforce policies, of the high cost of UK labour, or is it just because the global economy's a bit screwy at the moment? Either way, overseas companies invested a total of just £12.4bn in the UK last year, down from £16bn in 2002 and the lowest since 1994.

Part of this was due to a 50% fall in European Union investments, a fact which will certainly be picked up on by the anti-EU camp as a further indication that Britain doesn't need Europe, and that European trading is a minor part of the UK economy.

Meanwhile, US investment in the UK increased (which considering our government's continued blind support for the Bush administration is only fair, let's face it), despite overall US overseas investment continuing to decline.

So the anti-EU lot will also jump on this to show that our future lies with our cousins across the Atlantic, rather than those over the Channel. This is despite the fact EU companies still invest more than twice that of American ones in the UK. And, of course, these are the figures from 2003 - before the US dollar got into its current trouble, so American investment is likely to have dropped again once the 2004 figures are released.

How, then, to explain this decline in investment? Well, my gut feeling is that a likely cause of the decline in EU interest is that we have kept out of the Eurozone, but to be honest it's rather hard to tell. For starters, I'm no economics expert, and secondly it's important to remember that 2003 was an incredibly uncertain year - what with various disease epidemics all over the shop, wars being fought and the like.

If this is the start of a trend, it's a worrying one. But because of last year's uncertainties I'd say we should probably take this as an abberation.

And in any case, if the US dollar continues its decline, the UK is set to lose out far more than simply from a drop in investment from our European partners. Much as in the 1920s, America has its financial finger in a lot of investment pies around the world - and we all know what happened when the US economy went tits-up then.

With Bush in the White House for another four years, who's to say what will happen - but his first term hardly gave very encouraging signs for an American economic boom... We could be in trouble, and if the trouble stems from the US then no amount of Gordon Brown "fiscal responsibility" will be able to get us out of this one.

"Politically incorrect, xenophobic, racist and who knows what else"

Nope, not the usual UKIP suspects, but - supposedly - European politicians' real reactions to the proposed Turkish accession to the EU:

Even after 40 years of attempts to get closer, Brussels and Ankara are still strangers. That could be due to the fact that many correspondents don't know Turkey and the Turks from first-hand experience. For many Germans, the image of Turkey is still dominated by their experience of Turkish immigrants, many of whom came from rural areas of Anatolia with limited education and a tendency to stick closely to their own cultural circles.

Even for those in Brussels who've actually been to Turkey, the image doesn't improve much, often limited to the stereotype of gold-chained rip-off artist who preys on tourists in resort hotels.

Few know much about Turkey's up-and-coming business elite, the new hipsters with money to burn, the students in Istanbul's trendy neighborhoods or the successful businessman, who exports his products throughout the world.

Add to all that a hysterical fear of an emergent, "dangerous" Islam, and the picture loses any semblance of truth.
There are a lot of reasons to be concerned about possible Turkish membership, which is why the debates will be heated, but this sort of silly attitude is the most counter-productive it's possible to take.

I mean yes, obviously Turkey has some major social problems (a friend of mine was robbed, stabbed and left for dead by a taxi driver when on holiday there), but shouldn't the real fears be about the suddenly massively-extended border, which would be touching on a number of unstable, supposedly terrorist-supporting states? Shouldn't we be worried about the state-sponsored torture and human rights abuses? Shouldn't the real concern be the Turkish economy?

If we're going to start attacking countries because of national stereotypes and the experiences we had on holiday, why the hell is mafia-dominated Italy part of the EU, zooming around on their scooters? Why have we allowed the militaristic Germans in with their tendency to put their towels on the best seats by the pool? What about the new states of Eastern Europe, packed full of wideboy cowboy builders in shell suits? What about Greece, riven with corruption, and where sweet, innocent English girls are raped every summer in their resorts? How about Britain, with her snobby, holier-than-thou attitude, rising teenage pregnancy levels, and soaring gun crime?

This sort of thing is bad enough when it comes from the Daily Mail, but if this kind ignorant petty-mindedness can't be overcome, there will be little hope of sorting out the on-going social problems withing the EU, let alone those outside its borders. Turkey blatantly isn't ready to join the EU yet, but for reasons of economics, human rights and security, not because Turkish people are a bit dodgy.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

BNP leader arrested

On suspicion of incitement to racial hatred.

Coming soon: Murderer arrested on suspicion of killing someone, Rapist arrested on suspicion of having sex with someone against their will etc. etc.

Oh, sorry, I forgot. The BNP aren't racist anymore, are they?

If you've done nothing wrong you've got nothing to fear

Can someone please explain to me how the Conservative party's backing for ID cards can be tallied with their claims that they want to cut back on "nanny state" big government, save money, and their age-old ideology of promoting individual rights and responsibilities?

Can someone also please explain to me precisely how the Tories, who now back Labour's two most divisive and unpopular policies in both the Iraq war and the intrusion of biometric ID, think that blindly following the government is the duty of an opposition party?

And finally, can anyone explain to me why they might be worth my vote?

More on this, perhaps, later.

Update: John at The England Project is keeping a tally of previously pro-Tory bloggers who will no longer support the party because of this policy. Are you one? Let him know.

Update 2: Howard's bollocked it up good and proper with this one - even Conservative parliamentary candidates are pissed off.

Time to start thinking who next again, methinks...

Monday, December 13, 2004

"A totalitarian foreign power which, with the help of Quislings in Westminster, intends to take over our country"

Superb stuff via Martin Stabe:

Pub landlord in EU flag row

With a heading like that, and armed with the perennial assumption that pubs are often home to rather more "traditionalist" (to put it nicely) views on national life, you'd probaby expect the landlord to be the one objecting to the flag. But no. Instead it is the landlord who is being fined - yes, fined - by Worthing Borough Council for flying the EU flag outside his premises.

The quote heading this post in fact comes from the chap who complained to the Council about the "foul emblem", which apparently offends him when he has to walk past it. The same chap who had a letter published in a UKIP newsletter in February this year in which he claimed that "if we... surrender our constitution by adopting an EU version our children may have to fight a civil war to get back the constitution which is rightfully theirs". He's certainly got a flair for the melodramatic, if not a very strong grasp on reality. Just because he finds the idea of the EU offensive, does that mean no one else should be able to fly the flag? Personally I find the UKIP pretty offensive, but I'll still defend their right to spout their nonsense.

But the silliness of the complaint is not the issue. Where are the Council coming from with their decision to fine the landlord, rather than tell the author of this bizarre complaint precisely where to go?

Well, a Council spokesman justifies the fine thusly: "The EU flag is not a national flag and thereby falls within the same category as any advertising-type flag. These require advertising consent from the council."

So there we have it - the EU is not a state - OFFICIAL. Does this mean that every building in the land which flies the circle of stars should be fined, or will Worthing's frankly bizarre (if, technically, perhaps correct) interpretation be swiftly overturned on appeal? Either way, methinks that the EU itself should probably have something to say on this - the precedent and implications could prove somewhat problematic if the decision is upheld.

There could also be implications for the forthcoming election campaign - if an EU flag is political advertising, and so the council should receive a payment, what about those posters for individual candidates which pop up outside houses across the land in the run up to a vote? Will individual homeowners have to fork out cash for the right to state their political opinions, or will it only take one person who disagrees with them to make a complaint for them to be fined, as has happened here?

Very, very silly at first glance, but worryingly so if you start thinking about it too much. The anti-EU lot will probably have a field day once they pick up on this... So, having helped highlight it - enjoy yourselves, guys.

Saturday, December 11, 2004

Ukraine, NATO and the EU

Eurosavant reckons that Ukrainian NATO membership is simply not on the cards, while Elmar Brok, chairman of the European Parliament’s foreign policy committee, has said explicitly that "Ukraine belongs to Europe... Over the last few years we have given the impression that we would never open negotiations with Ukraine. That’s sending the wrong signals about whose zone of influence we believe the Ukraine belongs."

So, whither Ukraine? The foreign policy of the Ukraine is characterized by ambiguity. In some ways, Ukraine’s relations with NATO are the most advanced of any of the international organisations that it co-operates with, and a year ago Ukraine was pushing for both NATO and EU membership - even while the supposedly pro-Russian Kuchma was in charge (he later dropped the bid, having got concessions from Moscow).

But many Ukrainians have less and less confidence in NATO, and many of the reforms desired by NATO have been delayed. So, could it be the case that the Ukrainian leadership, including Yuschenko, are simply planning to use NATO and the EU to give itself added leverage when dealing with its more powerful Russian neighbour?

Is the whole East-West thing little more than for show, a cunning use of realpolitik? Or is Yuschenko's apparent desire for closer relations with Europe thanks to a genuine feeling that it must be now or never, that there is a danger that "if Ukraine relies exclusively on Russia’s support, it may well become a part of Russia’s foreign policy project"?

The West has woken up to the problems of Ukraine and its region, and is beginning to feel that "to make NATO effective in counter-terrorist operations... in addition to new members that will strengthen us, we have got to have new relationships with the countries to the East of NATO that are singularly important for stability and security in Europe. Russia, and the Ukraine, and the states of the Caucuses in Central Asia."

Actions speak louder than words - and we have yet to see any real action from Ukraine, no matter who is in charge. Will this change should Yushchenko be named president? During his term as prime minister between 1999 and 2001, Yushchenko also cultivated close economic ties with Russia - would a Yuschenko presidency actually be better for Russia?

One thing does seem certain - although the orange-covered protestors may well bring in a change of leadership, a new course for Ukraine will be shaped not by Ukraine's leaders alone but by Ukraine's external needs.

Ukrainian politicians - even before Yushchenko's latest resurgence - have certainly delivered on the rhetoric, but can they deliver anything of real substance to keep the EU and NATO happy? Might a Yuschenko presidency be the first step, or will the need to keep in with Russia ensure that, once again, nothing changes?

Some weekend reading

Thursday, December 09, 2004

The problems of the EU debate

I've been having an interesting discussion with a chap called Ken in the comments section of my Euromyths post down the page. I'd be interested to hear some more opinions, as it's certainly helped me clarify (as much as it can be) my thinking on some key problems which both sides of the argument face. I'll reproduce a few of these thoughts here, slightly edited, in case anyone's interested:

The basic point is that the silly details are distracting everyone from the truly important issues. Whether you are pro- or anti-EU, there's still only a year to sort out your feelings towards the constitution and to convince others of the merits of your opinion.

Distortions from either side will simply ensure that the majority of the population don't know enough to form a valid opinion. Not only would this reduce turnout, but it would also mean that the losing side will be able to continue to claim that the winning argument doesn't have a clear mandate from the people. This would not be healthy for either side.

When I started this blog, the fact that I've accepted both sides of the argument I hoped would give me a good chance to straddle the debate and treat all sides equally. As it stands, the fact I've declared myself to be pro-Europe (even though I didn't declare to what extent) means that anyone anti-EU seems automatically to take a slightly hostile stance, and anyone pro seems to think I'll agree with everything they say.

I've been labelled left-wing by a bunch of sites, even though I'm more of a centrist. A few (who have only read individual posts in isolation) have called me a righ-winger. In my time I've been called both a socialist and a Tory. As it stands, I'm both opposed to some aspects of the EU, and very much in favour of other bits.

Sadly, however, terminology is all important in this sort of thing, and there is no consensus on what anything actually means. As I pointed out the other day, even "Eurosceptic" doesn't mean what it says anymore. It's all somewhat frustrating...

The left/right assumptions when it comes to Europe are very confusing. I mean, the EU is a trade organisation, aiming to promote capitalism - that should be right-wing. But it also promotes workers' rights and such like, which is left-wing. In other words, it's neither. Just another silly generalisation.

And as you say, it is our various governments which give powers away. Personally, I can't understand why Westminster would want to do that. The Commons spent centuries building up the influence that it's now got, and is trying to gain more power by messing with the Lords - why chuck it away? I genuinely don't understand it, even though (for the most part) I think a lot of it was for the greater good. (The European Court of Human Rights being a prime example - even though we've opted out of various clauses to allow us to suspend habeas corpus - one of the fundamental rights which parliament was fighting for throughout the seventeenth century... As I say, I don't understand it...)

The double standards also get me. New Euroblogger Lose the Delusion has a good post on it. I'd add the question - Why is it that the anti-EU lot in this country ever seem to stop and think WHY so many governments want to go ahead with this? The way they present it, the French (in particular) are trying to build up the EU as a super-state which will destroy British sovereignty. By this logic, it would also destroy French sovereignty. Even the briefest glances at French politics (going back to at least Louis VII) would demonstrate that this is not something the French are particularly predisposed to do, despite all the "cheese-eating surrender-monkey" nonsense.

The French have lived under imposed foreign domination within living memory - as have the Belgians, the Dutch, the Luxembourgians, the Poles, the Czechs, etc. etc. etc. It is not something they wish to repeat, and they have far better knowledge of the situation than anyone in the UK does. I can't see any European country genuinely wanting a USA-style federal Europe, so that particular anti-EU argument simply never washed with me, even when I was full-on anti-EU.


What do you reckon? Am I just stupid for not getting this, or what?

Edit: Sorry, I've only just realised that the chap called Ken is the guy behind EURealist. Make your Blogger profiles public, people - you'll get more linkage... He looks like a thoughtful chap, so I'll try and add him to the blogroll tomorrow. Here's his alternative take on the whole Euromyth business.

European Weblog Awards

Hmmm... Nominations now open, you say?

Hint, hint...

EU Expansion - whither the Union?

An interesting post speculating on the potential future expansion of the EU that I'd missed over at The Yorkshire Ranter, which follows on from the Washinton post article I quoted from the other day, and which was picked up fairly widely in the Bloggosphere. Deliberately over-the-top in its speculations, but raises some interesting possibilities nonetheless. A good read, and worth a look.

Edit: Oh. This shows just how far behind I am... Cabalamat Journal has already done a run-down on the responses all over the Bloggosphere. Lots more speculation and arguments, which should make interesting reading.

UN man: "Iraq elections impossible"

Interesting tidbit via Eurosavant - the UN special envoy to Afghanistan, Lakhdar Brahimi, an Algerian, has apparently told a Dutch newspaper that (speaking in a personal, not professional capacity), thanks to the current chaos on the ground in Iraq, there is no way elections can safely or legitimately run on 30th January.

Self-evident, eh? I mean, how can there be any democratic legitimacy when polling booths have to be surrounded by armed men and anyone going to vote is fully aware they are taking their life into their hands as suicide bombers and the like are liable to try and blow the hell out of them?

But it is his other comments which make interesting reading, as they go even further than Kofi Annan's statement of a few month back that the Iraq war was illegal. Again, for those of us who find the situation in Iraq appalling, this all sounds self-evident. But it is important for from whom it is coming - especially after the announcement last week that the UN is planning the most sweeping changes in its history. Is this a sign of things to come?:

"Iraq is in ruins," he declares. And: "The Americans attacked Iraq without any reason at all and installed an occupation that the Iraqis did not want. How can you speak of a liberation, if you send an army of 140,000 and devastate the cities, and the electricity and water installations."

He's also got a fair few things to say on US support for Israel to boot. Is this the start of a new, tougher UN? The main US complaint before the Iraq war was, after all, that the UN never bothered to get off its backside and actually DO anything. Is this tougher language an attempt to warn the world that the UN is about to start intervening more actively?

Eurosavant also points out an article over at Informed comment about the lack of preparation for elections, which notes that "In contrast to the 600 UN election workers in Afghanistan for the recent presidential elections, there are only 35 in Iraq, and security concerns are delaying the sending of more. Even the rules of the election haven't been completely spelled out yet."

I've mostly avoided posting about Iraq here thanks to a combination of it being too depressing and other people doing a far better job of it than I. But this election thing is central to the coalition claims of legitimacy and, coming as it does on the back of Ukraine's own election crisis, I will be intrigued to see just how keen the international community will be to help the US force these things through to the entirely arbitrary timetable they have set themselves.

Professor Cole at Informed Comment also notes that "In Kuwait, Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, leader of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, gave an interview in which he described the security situation as "not good." ...Al-Hakim said that elections had to be held Jan. 30, since otherwise the present Iraqi interim government would become illegitimate. Its term was set to run out by the end of January, 2005, at the latest. He implied that after fighting Saddam for decades, the Iraqis would not accept such a descent into arbitrary rule."

Democracy cannot be rushed. As Ukraine has reminded us all, the various former Soviet states are still struggling to get it right after more than a decade of nominal freedom. They need to take this slowly, or risk making the Iraqis think that maybe this democracy lark isn't all it's cracked up to be, and that a strong leader who can get the country working again may be preferable. After all, the strong leaders of America's allies Saudi Arabia and Pakistan seem to be doing OK...

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

The Referendum

So, the wording has been set, and unlike the 1975 Referendum is not a blatant attempt to distort the results. You'd think the anti-EU lot would be happy.

But no. EU Referendum put up a post last night about British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw's covering speech, which covers similar points to my last post - albeit from a very different perspective:

"Everything is 'spun', distorted, not real, mendacious in spirit if not actually in fact.".

As much as Dr. North (a former UKIP stooge whose evident intelligence is often submerged beneath alarmist, populist sarcasm, yet who can occasionally still come up with some compelling arguments) seems to think that such spin is solely the providence of the pro-EU camp, his own side are equally guilty. Hell, a lot of the time HE is equally guilty.

Nonetheless, some of his points are valid - assuming you can get past his accusations that Jack Straw is simply a "moron" and his assertions that "In a less civilised world, you would just shoot people like Straw", that is. I mean, I'm no fan of Straw, it must be admitted, but that kind of silly name-calling is precisely what we should all be trying to avoid if there's any hope of convincing that undecided majority of the population one way or the other.

It was precisely that kind of attitude and language from the Eurosceptic camp which made me start my journey towards thinking the EU is - essentially - a good thing. Peter Oborne (of The Daily Mail and Spectator fame, and who attended the same school I did) was the main culprit in my gradual conversion. I simply couldn't bear to be associated with people who spouted the kind of silly pap he did, even while agreeing (as I still do) with many of the basic arguments they put forward. The pro-EU camp are certainly self-righteous, arrogant, seem to assume that anyone who doesn't understand their point of view are a trifle dense for missing a self-evident point, and rarely bother to set out detailed and convincing arguments, but at least they also rarely resort infant school insults.

I don't want to get into a slanging match with the eminent Dr North. He evidently has far more time for blogging than I do, so if he picks up on this I doubt I will be able to respond as fully as I would like. What is a shame, I feel, is simply that someone with his intelligence and obvious knowledge of the issues still resorts to playground tactics when he could easily provide a detailed deconstruction of Jack Straw's entire speech. Not only would such a deconstruction be a useful starting point for further debate on the merits of the constitution, but if the debate is started off in intelligent terms it may stand a better chance of continuing in that vein.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Euromyths ahoy!

Toby at Straight Banana continues his quest to disprove Euromyths. If pro-Europeans really have to go into this much detail each time, we could be in trouble. There are hundreds of these things, and some of them are truly barking.

And, unsurprisingly, the usual tactic of modern political debate is brought up in the comments - an attempt to discredit the entire, insanely detailed research of the article by picking up on one small inaccuracy. Which, as is also often the case in modern political debate, isn't actually an inaccuracy at all...

Some good news for the pro-EU camp is that the Eurosceptics' previously fairly united front seems to be fracturing, just as the pro-European camp has before them.

This is hardly surprising - as noted here the other day, Britain's attitude towards and relationship with the EU simply can't be boiled down to a black/white, Yes/No issue. It's an insanely complex affair, with many ranges of belief and perception - from the hard-core nationalists who want out of the EU entirely on the one side through to the Ted Heaths of this world who think the EU can do no wrong on the other.

Most people, if they thought about it for a few minutes (which many, sadly, don't), would lie somewhere in between. They would see that the EU has its benefits, but that it also has its flaws. They would see that it is very hard to prove categorically one way or the other that further integration will be to Britain's benefit, and that it's very hard indeed to prove that Britain would be better off out. We simply don't know.

Much as with the 1975 referendum, most people (if given the choice) would opt for the status quo, because it's practically impossible to work out which direction - if any - is the best. Given the choice to leave the EU, they'd say no; given the choice to join the Eurozone (with all the fears of federalism that entails) they would also say no.

Of course, the problem is that if the rest of the EU charges ahead, and we don't follow along with them, the status quo will be impossible to maintain. Quite what will happen - and it is impossible to stress this point too hard - no one knows. Only one thing is certain - sooner or later Britain will have to make a major choice between following her EU partners or going it more or less alone into uncharted waters. Of course, the other EU member states will also be heading into the white areas of the map - but they will, at least, have safety in numbers.

But this, too, is falling into the trap. Anyone who claims to be able to predict the future is a charlatan speculating on insufficient evidence - nothing more. This is precisely why the two sides end up polarising a debate which is far more complex than simply "Yes" or "No", and keep getting bogged down in the details.

I'm offering no solution here. I'm not sure if there is one. The details need to be examined and discussed. The myths need to be dispelled, and the problems need to be highlighted. But we need to keep the broader picture in mind at the same time or risk getting into the classic blind men/elephant scenario, with everyone having a different interpretation of what's going on. Perhaps this has already happened - it'd certainly explain the infighting between all the various EU-focussed camps.

The provisional constitution is symbolic of the entire problem - overly complex and detailed, and very hard for most people to understand even if they can be bothered to try. To resort to cliche, the entire European debate has got to the stage where not only can none of us see the wood for the trees, but we can barely see the trees for the leaves.

More political blogs than you can shake a stick at

Bloody hell. Someone's been busy... This is one of the longest lists of political blogs I've seen, and seems to be getting updated fairly regularly. It's even got a bit of indication as to what they're about (in some cases at least).

May well be old news. Still, a handy resource.

(Again, proper updates later if time permits)

Monday, December 06, 2004

Ukraine crisis - EU implications

A well-considered and interesting article on the impact the Ukrainian election crisis has had on the EU:

"while the western establishment failed quickly to grasp the import of the Kiev events, the rapid engagement of Polish politicians in the unfolding Ukrainian events allowed Poland again to show that it is at the heart, not the periphery, of the enlarged European Union.

"The Ukrainian events catapulted Poland into a crucial position of cajoling, then leading, the EU’s involvement in the post–election crisis. The resistance of Polish officials and MEPs to the traditional Franco–German preference for “stability” over “chaos” was crucial in preventing Viktor Yushchenko from being sacrificed on the altar of good relations with Vladimir Putin and non–interference with Russian imperial interests. As over Iraq, Paris and Berlin have learned that they no longer monopolise or dictate the “European” position; Poland and other escapees from the Soviet empire possess historical experience that allows them both to recognise a time of historic opportunity and to find appropriate responses."


Has this been the first taste of just how much Europe has been altered by the expansion of the Union seven months ago? So far everyone's been concentrating on the constitution, the possibility of Turkey joining, and all that chaos over the new Commission. The new member states and their impact has been almost entirely ignored. Perhaps we should have been paying a bit more attention to these guys.

Update: Via Perfect.co.uk, more Ukraine implications - this time for trans-Atlantic relations:

"the crisis in Ukraine shows what an enormous and vital role Europe can play, and is playing, in shaping the politics and economies of nations and peoples along its ever-expanding border. This is no small matter. On the contrary, it is a task of monumental strategic importance for the United States as well as for Europeans. By accident of history and geography, the European paradise is surrounded on three sides by an unruly tangle of potentially catastrophic problems, from North Africa to Turkey and the Balkans to the increasingly contested borders of the former Soviet Union. This is an arc of crisis if ever there was one, and especially now with Putin's play for a restoration of the old Russian empire. In confronting these dangers, Europe brings a unique kind of power, not coercive military power but the power of attraction. The European Union has become a gigantic political and economic magnet whose greatest strength is the attractive pull it exerts on its neighbors. Europe's foreign policy today is enlargement; its most potent foreign policy tool is what the E.U.'s Robert Cooper calls 'the lure of membership.'"

Third. That's not so bad...

Yep, the results for the Deutsche Welle International Weblog Awards 2004 are out, and Europhobia just missed out on a prize. Bugger.

Thanks to everyone who voted nonetheless - there's always next year, I suppose. Oh, and if anyone wants to nominate this for an other awards, it's always nice to feel wanted...

Proper updates later, if I get a moment.

Saturday, December 04, 2004

Robert Kilroy-Silk stinks of poo

Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! I'd missed this, so hat tip to The Periscope for spotting it.

"As I started to turn round a guy tipped a bucket of farmyard muck over me and then threw the rest of it over me and the car," Mr Kilroy-Silk said.

"I was totally covered, it was all through my clothes, and it stank to high heaven. It went all inside the car"


Heh! Couldn't happen to a nicer fella...

(More Kilroy twattishness here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here , here and here.

The Future of News?

Hat tip for this to Elusive, the chappie who helped me work out the site redesign.

For anyone following my desperate efforts to keep up with the latest developments in Ukraine a couple of weeks back (updates every five minutes, conflicting reports etc.), this may well be of interest.

The folks behind the increasingly superb Wikipedia have just launched Wikinews (in English and German). Basically breaking news stories updated by any old Tom, Dick or Harry who happens to amble by.

This could work very well - if public-minded folk like Victor Katolyk or Veronica Khokhlova start filling these sorts of pages out - like blogging from the scene. It could be a disaster - all it takes is one "amusing" 14-year-old to destroy everyone's hard work.

But it is an interesting idea nonetheless - especially how the reports will freeze up after a set period of time and become a matter of record, plus the "review" process sounds sensible.

Anyway, the current version of their Ukraine report is up, and even links to a few blogs, though strangely not to Victor's posts at The Periscope yet, or to Fistful, or even - dare I say it - here; but it does link to Le Sabot Post-Moderne, Orange Ukraine, TulipGirl and a few others to whom it should, so I guess whoever's updating it knows what they're on about.

Whether this new service is accurate or not is in the hands of the users. So, news junkies - over to you. This could be like a BBC News run by the people, for the people. It could utterly change how we look at the way news is reported. Or it could die a death. I honestly don't know.

More on the Wikipedia Foundation

Friday, December 03, 2004

Ukraine re-vote gets go-ahead

Via Tulipgirl, it sounds like the right result seems to have been achieved:

The Supreme Court has ruled that:
1. The election from November 21 is invalid.
2. There will be another run-off election, between Yushchenko and Yanukovich.
3. The election will be held before the end of December.


Good. I was getting worried again.

Let's just hope that they can ensure that no dodgy tactics come into play again. A vast fleet of international observers will be vital - preferably from impartial countries (i.e. not the US, EU or Russia). How about Japanese election-watchers? That'd do the trick.

Update: The vote will be before the 26th.

Oh, and it seems Volodymyr Campaign was first with the news.

abdymok (as it is now) has a transcript of the voting laws.

Some reactions from the Bloggosphere:

SueAndNotU: "Fuck. Ukraine elections to be held on Dec. 26. One day after Christmas. Alright, what do I do? Family, or Ukraine?"

Foreign Notes: "I think this opinion will give the court a stature that it did not have. Good for them. I might have tried to do more but I am not in their shoes. What they did do though was very, very good for democracy, for their court and for the government in the end... I read that there are members of the Court from all over Ukraine. If true, that will make it hard to argue that this is an East/West issue."

LoboWalk: "Yes, this is very good but there are reports that secret notes were passed to Parliament from the Court concerning the ruling... Also there are still questions as to any procedural changes that would take place in the re-vote; most notably concerning the issue of absentee balloting... Either way one can hardly blame the Ukrainian people for the celebratory mood."

The Argus: "Uzbekistan will undergo a process resembling an election on the 26th as well. I wonder if that creates any kind of problem for OSCE monitoring. Well, we all know that BHHRG won’t be able to be in two places at once that day…"

Ukraine, Russia, Europe, The US, Oh My!: "There are... rumors that Yanukovych will withdraw. If that is the case, and if he withdraws before the 16th, Yuschenko's opponent will be Moroz, because Moroz placed third in the first tour. However, since Moroz has firmly placed himself in Yuschenko's camp, it would seem unlikely that he will pick up the mantle to run against Yuschenko. Unless he does so only to encourage voters to support Yuschenko in the election. If Moroz withdraws, Yuschenko's opponent will be Petro Symonenko, the communist."

Victor Katolyk at The Periscope: "Yanukovych can withdraw. However, if he withdraws less than 20 days before the run-off, Yushchenko will be the only candidate in the list. In this case, he will have to get more than 'I don't support any candidate' votes."

A Fistful of Euros: "outgoing President Kuchma vetoed the recently passed law invalidating “absentee ballots” for the re-run. These ballots allowed Ukrainians to vote in other than their home districts, and were, according to numerous reports by international observers, one of the main instruments of electoral fraud in the initial run-off." (Oh, and by the way, vote for Fistful!)

Daniel Drezner: " What's becoming clear is that the correlation of forces within Ukraine are tilting in favor of a runoff election that would presumably lift Viktor Yushchenko to power. The emerging question is whether the correlation of forces outside Ukraine will permit this to happen. Will Putin tolerate the blow to his reputation that would come with a Yushchenko victory?"

By the looks of things it's all still rather up in the air...

Maggie the Movie

Sorry, this was too good not to mention. Via Anthony Wells comes the news that Oliver Stone is planning a biopic of Maggie Thatcher. Genius!

Stone apparently said "Margaret Thatcher is an amazing woman and a good subject for a film. I’m thinking about Meryl Streep to play the Iron Lady."

Europhobia's Steve got the ball rolling in an email with a few more casting suggestions:

Colin Farrell as Michael Foot (could be his shot at the Oscar - cf 'ugly' performances of Charlize Theron and Nicole Kidman)

Tom Cruise as Dennis Thatcher

Joel Haley-Osmont (or is it Haley Joel-Osmont - I always forget) as Mark Thatcher

Mary-Kate (or Ashley) Olson as Carol Thatcher

John Goodman as Nigel Lawson

Christ on a bike. This movie casts itself!


How about

Billy-Bob Thornton as Ronald Reagan

Owen Wilson as Michael Hestletine

Steve Buscemi as John Major

Jeffrey Jones (of Ferris Bueller's Day Off fame) as Neil Kinnock

Any other suggestions?

Yushchenko - anti-democratic?

Now don't get me wrong here. I'm genuinely just wondering how else it is possible to interpret his announcement yesterday that re-running the elections would not be fair.

Yushchenko himself argues that the last round was rife with corruption and fraud. International observers back him up on this. Voters were intimidated and beaten, the count was flawed and - most importantly for this situation - votes went missing.

If votes went missing and those that were left were mis-counted, how can Yushchenko be so certain he was the rightful winner? He can't possibly know - no one does. The only way he can gain any kind of democratic legitimacy is for the elections to run again - utterly fairly this time - and for him to win them fair and square.

How can running them again possibly be a problem for him? If his support is as great as he claims then surely he should storm it? Naturally it would have been better for Ukraine if they could have got a clear winner from the first lot, but it has descended into chaos and near-farce now. Time to wipe the slate clean and start again, surely - and let the best man (which I am pretty sure is Yushchenko, for the record) win.

Update: There have been a couple of very good comments made to this post. If you want a better idea of the situation, I strongly suggest you have a read.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

The press, politics and the bloggosphere

Still busy. Sorry. More posts soon. For now, a quickie:

There looks to be a friendly disagreement between (pro-EU) Toby of Straight Banana and (anti-EU) EU-Serf of The Road to Euro Serfdom over the merits and bias of that mighty organ that is the British national press when it comes to the EU.

As both bloggers are entertaining and eloquent chaps (well, I assume EU-Serf is a chap, I'm not entirely sure), it makes for a fun and interesting read. I'm hoping they're going to keep it up - I'd weigh in myself, but truly haven't the time to formulate a decent post. Rest assured, the run-down is roughly as follows:

Enter Straight Banana, stage left:

- The UK Press is generally anti-Europe and perpetuates myths in a manner which, were they to apply similarly slack levels of fact-checking to any other area of public life, would result in public outcry. But at least the myths are amusing...

Enter EU-Serf, stage right:

- Ah-ha! But what about the BBC, eh? They're always spouting pro-European pap! We need the likes of the Sun to balance out the state-sponsored selling of our sovereignty!

The great thing about this is, Toby at Straight Banana (though always enjoying a dig at the Eurosceptics) is no fool, and so desn't stoop to mindless, one-sided attacks. Liewise, EU-Serf (though always enjoying a dig at pro-Europeans) is also no fool, and likewise avoids silly, one-sided attacks. My silly little summaries really don't do either of their posts justice - they are both well worth a read, and both make several very good points.

Even though EU-Serf was responding to Straight Banana's post (and Toby may not even be aware of this yet), there is a mutual respect here from two people from different sides of the European argument, because both can acknowledge the other's intelligence and sensible arguments when they are presented.

So, perhaps the question we should be asking is not "why is the press biased one way or the other?", but "why are the respective leaders of the pro- and anti- EU campaigns so insistant in presenting everything in overblown and fraudulent terms?" On the evidence of these two posts from two people with very different takes on the EU as a whole, there is - between the lines - much agreement. Both recognise many shades of grey. But in the current climate it is very hard to admit this. Pro-Europeans feel if they acknowledge bad points that shows the EU is flawed; anti-Europeans feel if they acknowledge good points their argument is likewise weakened.

The Yes Campaign routinely claims that the EU is not a leech on British sovereignty, almost everything it does is great, and anyone who can't see the benefits must be a fool. This is obviously nonsense.

The No Campaign likewise consistently alleges that the EU is destroying the British nation, introducing mindless and petty laws, forcing foreigners in, and will destroy everything you know and love. Equally rubbish.

The truth, as ever, is somewhere between the two, but we are only ever presented with binary opposites. Either you are pro-Europe, or you are Eurosceptic. This is a nonsense (and the fact that "Eurosceptic" - in current usage - doesn't actually mean what it says and the term should probably be "Eurocynic" is simply a further complication - I am sceptical about the EU in many ways, yet I am certainly not a Eurosceptic as the term is used today).

If we as a nation are going to come to a decent conclusion over this whole mess - and not just Europe, but also my pet topic of the lack of a viable opposition - we need intelligent people from all sides of the political divide to sit down and talk like rational human beings. Avoid the name-calling that is so endemic in the Republican/Democrat split of the US, and debate reasonably without any of the petty point-scoring and one-upmanship which can be witnessed day-in-day out on the floor of the House of Commons.

This country's current poltical system was built (largely) in the 18th century (largely) on reasoned and sensible debate - even if this seems to have fallen out of fashion these days. Likewise, the 18th century saw a boom in political pamphleteering from the likes of Addison, Defoe, Swift, Paine and Johnson (and umpteen more which Europhobia's Matt could tell you far more about than I).

They used intelligence and wit to get their point across, and it worked. The good arguments and viewpoints rose to the surface on merit. Because, lest we forget, (almost) everyone really wants the best for the country: whether you're pro- or anti-Europe, Conservative, Labour, Lib Dem - even (at a stretch) UKIP. We may all disagree on the best means - and even the best ends - but in the final analysis that is what we all want, because the best for the country we live in is likely to be the best for us as individuals.

The comparison between blogs and pamplets has been made before, and discussed many times, but it remains a fair and good one.

There is a need today for the same kind of intelligent and witty debate as took place in teh 18th century if our stagnant polity is to be revived. As it stands at the moment, I wouldn't liken any blogger to any of those great figures of yestercentury - and I certainly can't name a single MP capable of delivering speeches of the kind that were reported given by the Disraelis and Sheridans of days gone by. At the moment I'd say we are more at the level of the English Civil War pampleteers and nascient parliamentarians (in the broadest sense - not just the Roundheads) of the 1640s than those of the Golden Age post-1695. But we might - just - be on our way there.

With the sort of dedication our 18th and 19th century forebears showed, and through avoiding the infantile rants and spats which are so prevalent online, bloggers - and (perhaps especially) the choices and responses of their readers - have a genuine chance to make a positive impact on current political debate.

As you may have guessed, this is a bit of a pet idea at the moment. The trouble is, for every restrained, amusing and reasonable voice like those of Toby at Straight Banana and EU-Serf at The Road to Euro Serfdom, there are ten thousand rabid maniacs who have yet to get over the novelty of internet anonymity and realise that even under a pseudonym it is possible to maintain a sense of dignity and intelligence. Hell, half the most influential and successful pamphlets of the 18th century were written under pseudonyms. Today Private Eye is largely written under pseudonyms, and it's probably the best political magazine going.

The difficulty we face is that, in democratic systems like those in which we are lucky enough to live, our political class - and our fourth estate - reflects what it perceives to be the character of the people it has been elected to represent. The fact that our polticians and newspapers are (for the most part) obsessed with petty-minded and childish attempts to make those they disagree with look silly is an indictment on our whole society.

It is time for a change. We live in a democratic society. So the change has to come from us.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Ukraine, Blogging and Democracy

Le Sabot Poste-Moderne is reporting that a compromise has been reached. There will apparently be a re-vote, and both sides have renounced violence.

Let's hope this is not another of those false starts, of which there have been so many over the last week or so. There are still a lot of questions. Yep, much is undecided.

Nonetheless, some lessons learned from blogging the revolution:

  • It is practically impossible for anyone in the west to understand the complexities of the Ukrainian situation, and certainly not the sheer enthusiasm involved - we have never experienced anything like this
  • Many people have confused "Yushchenko for President" with "Democracy for Ukraine" - they are not necessarily interchangable
  • Wearing orange to show support for Ukrainian democracy, even if that is your only intention, actually only shows support for Yushchenko
  • Pointing out the last point often leads to irritated - and perhaps justified - rebuttals from Ukrainians who see in Yushchenko hope for the future
  • That hope can blind them to his flaws
  • Pointing out that Yushchenko has flaws is not the same as saying he is not the better candidate, but it will usually be interpreted that way
  • It is next to impossible to find any pro-Yanukovych views online, despite the fact that he gained the support of a sizable chunk of the population, even after fraudulent results are taken into account
  • The one-sided feed of information makes informed comment of the overall situation utterly impossible - like reporting a US election using only Democrat sources, or on the EU while only reading pro-European blogs and articles
  • Most importantly, after more than a week of covering and following the elections, I have yet to see a run-down of either candidate's actual policies - and without seeing the policies, how is it possible to form a decent opinion?
Finally, the response of the bloggosphere has been incredible. While it took the mainstream media three days to pick up on how serious the situation was, bloggers were on it within hours. They will continue to keep on it, and I with them.

Even if we get it wrong sometimes, and even if we often fall foul of the lure of leaping to the obvious conclusions, this whole affair has convinced me of the good that us bloggers can do. With a UK General Election coming up - perhaps as soon as May - and with the ongoing preparations for Britain's EU presidency and the vote on the European Referendum, I am going to give serious consideration as to how I can help foster debate through this blog. Maybe Blog:Vote is the way forward, maybe something else entirely.

I am entirely open to suggestions - let me know which direction you'd like this blog to go in. It will remain Eurocentric, normally with a heavier emphasis on international relations and foreign affairs than domestic British politics, but beyond that I'm entirely open to ideas.

One thing is sure - this blog will try to remain entirely unpartisan. As the Ukrainian election crisis has demonstrated, it is impossible to reach any conclusions without looking at the claims of all sides. Although I am loosely pro-European, there will be anti-EU posts on here as well, when this is merited. No one political party will be endorsed or slagged off more than any of the others... Well, except for UKIP and the BNP, obviously. But they aren't proper political parties anyway.

Oh, one final final thing - I am fully, utterly aware of how arrogant and self-righteous this all sounds. But such is also the nature of blogging. We're mostly a bunch of semi-anonymous, egomaniacal obsessives who think our views may actually be of merit, and who normally seem to get riled beyond belief when someone disagrees with us. But in that we're hardly different from the mainstream press, or indeed politicians themselves - so what does it matter, eh? Humour us. Fan our egos. Fan MY ego. Go on... Please...?

Nations Reunited?

The invasion of Iraq saw the UN in both good and bad lights. Kofi Annan doggedly trod a middle path in an attempt to appease the American desire for conflict, so the eventual condemnation he dished out had real moral authority (something the Americans helped consolidate with Colin Powell's laughable attempt to present the Iraqi situation in the same uncompromising way as Adlai Stevenson did the Cuban Missile Crisis). However, French gamesmanship with the proposed American resolution and subsequent accusations of corruption against Annan's family have somewhat besmirched the UN's record.

And now, at last, to the point: the UN has announced plans for"the most sweeping changes in its history". This New York Times article puts the motivation for such changes down to "bruising division over the Iraq war" leaving the organisation "feeling ill-equipped to meet modern challenges represented by terrorism, failed states, nuclear proliferation, poverty and violence." Bruising division is certainly correct but ultimately the "challenges" to the UN remain the same: how to deal with permanent Security Council members who, with their veto and, in the case of the US, Russia and China, impressive military strength, can pretty much ignore any resolution they choose.

The proposed big shake up here is the expansion of the Security Council from 15 to 24, either by introducing a mind-bendingly complicated system of temporary members, or by increasing the number of permanent members - likely candidates are Brazil, Germany, India, Japan, Egypt and Nigeria or South Africa (according to the NY Times). This really boils down to so much PR guff. Though better regional representation is desirable, the back-room politics would remain the same, with stronger nations trying to bribe weaker nations to vote their way or, ultimately, just ignoring the final outcome if it does not suit them. If there is a way around this particular obstacle, this report has not found it.

Of more practical interest is the serious condemnation of the bureaucracy, both in terms of the UN as a sprawling gravy train for diplomats and of the decadence of certain of its bodies (a specifically quoted example is Cuban and Libyan membership of the Human Rights Commission). These subsidiary bodies are where the UN has the potential to do most good but stories of scandal and corruption have left them weakened and under as much attack as the 'talking shop' of the General Assembly.

As with the EU, it's difficult to predict the future of the UN, but while the former is on an upward path to warm and sunny climes, the latter is drifting gradually downward, paid lip-service (if that) in geopolitical terms and constantly sniped at by members for whom its decisions are inconvenient. This would not be altered by any of the 'big changes' proposed. However, the noble and optimistic ideal at the heart of the UN remains, and a sweeping set of open institutional reforms could help restore confidence in those areas where it actually does good work.

Redesign

I've had a fiddle with the site, as you've probably noticed. Hopefully in-site navigation is a bit easier, and links to various other places are also more obvious. Thanks to a chap who goes by the name of Elusive, from b3ta, for working out how to set up a three column thing for me, and talking me through the coding process.

Sorry I haven't had any updates for the last few days - excessively busy at a time when I've started getting more visitors than ever. I'll try and get a proper post up later.


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