Boris, Bigley, and a sense of identity
Poor old Boris has got himself into a spot of bother thanks to a rather poorly-judged comment in The Spectator, bemoaning the country's response to Ken Bigley's death as an over-reaction.
Boris has apologised, and his boss at Conservative Central Office, Michael Howard, has apparently described it as "nonsense from beginning to end".
However, to be fair, Boris has got a point - not his silly comments about Liverpudlians being dole-scum and criminals, obviously - but he is right in pointing out that, as sad as Mr Bigley's death was (and my own views on this have already been stated), a national outpouring of grief for the death of a man in his 60s is a little bit bizarre. Why don't we have a similar reaction everytime a British soldier in his/her teens or twenties is killed? And as Boris also points out, the reaction has been utterly disproportionate when it is considered that:
"There had been a two-minute silence for Mr Bigley... according him the same respect offered annually to the million-and-a-half British servicemen who have died for their country since 1914."
But he is wrong when he says that Tony Blair and his government are not to blame for Bigley's death. Not directly, maybe. But had Blair and his cronies not launched their illegal war, there would have been no need or opportunity for Bigley to go to such a dangerous place in the first place.
Nonetheless, Boris is a silly fool if he thought that such a prominent public figure could get away with saying what many people have suggesting quietly in pubs and bars around the country for the last few weeks, namely:
"The truth is that Ken Bigley sought to make a living by undertaking work in one of the most dangerous areas on the planet. He went there against the express advice of the Foreign Office. He chose to live with a pair of Americans and seemed unconcerned about his personal security. His motives and misjudgments do not lessen the horror and injustice of his death; but they should, without lessening our sympathy for him and his family, temper the outpouring of sentimentality in which many have engaged for him."
It's almost admirable that our Boris blunders off and speaks his mind without thinking of the consequences, and because so many people find him so entertaining he'll probably get away with it.
But his comments about Liverpool and Liverpudlians (apparently they have an "excessive predilection for welfarism" and "a peculiar, and deeply unattractive, psyche", plus "wallow" in their "victim status"), and especially about the Hillsborough disaster are hardly going to do the Tories any favours in that part of the world and would, had they been about a sexual or ethnic minority group, have instantly got him sacked from his Shadow ministerial post, and quite possibly have forced the party to withdraw the whip.
Why is it OK to slag off Scousers, Geordies and Brummies, but not to slag off homosexuals, asians or blacks? People with strong Liverpool, Newcastle or Bimingham accents are often at least as discriminated against (especially in the workplace) as people from ethnic minorities, so why aren't they also protected by anti-discrimination laws? Very confusing.
In short, the comments about Ken Bigley are not where the focus should be here, but the petty regionalist attitude which still affects so much of British society. This is part of why I have no problems with the EU: Britain is made up of so many distinct regional attitudes and accents, several separate nations, and umpteen ways of life which still continue to this day, I honestly can't see any British (or Scottish or Welsh or Cornish etc.) national identity being lost were Britain to become part of a Federal Europe.
The petty regional rivalries which are hang-ons from skirmishes stretching back aeons have survived, even though England has been one nation for over a thousand years, and the United Kingdom united for three centuries. What makes anyone think these identites are so weak they wouldn't survive being absorbed by Europe? Is it really so impossible to be both British AND English AND Scouse? Of course not - and adding "European" on top of that wouldn't - in the long-run - be a problem either.
A response and statement of principles
I’ve had another one of those comments which deserves a response in full – this time about a post I did about a pamphlet highlighting how shit the UKIP are which has been produced by the Labour MEP Richard Corbett, and which the UKIP are trying to have pulped as they claim it might jeopardise the forthcoming fraud trial of Mr Ashley Mote MEP. This might be very dull. If so, sorry. Normal (hopefully non-dull) service will be returned asap…
Please note that my anonymous respondent points out that: "the order banning reference to Ashley Mote's legal problems was only made on 5th October, after the document went to print". Now I can't claim any particular legal expertise, but when courts make such orders, I'm pretty sure they are not retroactive. As my respondent also notes, “There is no justification in publishing old material and claiming that you didn't know the rules,” but as he/she him/herself admits, the ruling hadn’t been made when the pamphlet was printed. At best, distribution of the document might be temporarily suspended while the trial is running, but considering that all it states in relation to Mr Mote are facts of public record, I very much doubt that even this will happen. I quote from the pamphlet:
"UKIP's MEPs were forced to expel Ashley Mote MEP. It transpired that Mr Mote was facing nine criminal charges of alleged false accounting and one of allegedly making a false representation regarding housing benefit."
This is a point well worth raising as (to quote from the European Parliamentary Elections Act 2002):
"A person who-
"(a) is a citizen of the European Union, and
"(b) is not a Commonwealth citizen or a citizen of the Republic of Ireland,
"is disqualified for the office of MEP if he is disqualified for that office through a criminal law or civil law decision under the law of the member state of which he is a national."
A conviction for fraud disqualifies one from becoming an MP, and would therefore disqualify Mr Mote from being an MEP - should he be convicted. But this is beside the point: he was aware of the forthcoming trial throughout the elections, yet neglected to tell anyone. As the UK Independence Party admits on its website:
"The whip has been removed because Mr Mote did not inform the party of this situation before, during or immediately after the European Election campaign."
Had they known of the impending court case beforehand, they would not have allowed him to stand, as it case would - if it returns a guilty verdict - disqualify him from office. This would then force a byelection, and leave a decent chunk of the electorate unrepresented in the European Parliament. Not very democratic, eh? Would this not imply that Mr Mote may not have been acting in his contituents or party's best interests?
Why are the UKIP leaping on Mr Corbett (about whom I have little knowledge and certainly no party loyalty, having never voted for his party and not being a member of it) when on the same page of their website on which they explain Mr Mote’s dismissal they themselves say almost exactly what the document Mr Corbett has produced does, namely:
"Mr Mote faces a court case in the autumn concerning allegations of housing benefit fraud."
By the same logic, shouldn't they be taking out court orders against themselves? The section in Mr Corbett's pamphlet under which the short paragraph about Mr Mote is listed is indeed entitled "They have scant regard for rules or for the law", and I can see how it could be inferred from this that Mr Mote is guilty before his case has even been tried. But the wording is clear - the charges are described as allegations twice in a paragraph of only about 50 words. Plus – and this is the crucial point – it doesn’t go into any details about the charges. Had it done it would indeed have jeopardised Mr Mote's trial, and the pamphlet should indeed be withdrawn.
As it stands, Mr Mote is no longer a member of the UKIP anyway, and was barred from attending their recent party conference, so why are they leaping to his aid? He's now an independent MEP - why can't he fight his own battles? Or is it because they don't like the other contents of the pamphlet and that was the only part of it they had any hope of exploiting. Their calls for it to be pulped will be thrown out of court. At best they might get the pamphlet temporarily withdrawn until the result of the trial is clear, but I doubt it.
As for me offering to host it, I was being glib to indicate my approval of its contents. I didn’t say “if it gets taken down because of a court order”, simply “if it gets taken down”. This is because I feel more people should be aware of the factual contents of the pamphlet, and thus that it should remain online (preferably not in .pdf format, but I lack the knowledge, skills and software to convert it…), and also because I am 98% certain that it is not in breach of the law. It is, however, possible that Mr Corbett could come under so much legal pressure that he may be forced to take it down even without it actually breaching any court order due to the potential costs of defending its publication.
The whole point of this blog is that I have switched from a Eurosceptic perspective to a pro-European one, from the centre-right to the centre-left. I have worked for a Conservative MP, and I have worked for the European Commission. I hope it gives me a decent perspective on both sides of the argument: I am now broadly pro-European, but still agree with certain Eurosceptics on certain points - the EU is in bad need of reform and has lots of areas which are, frankly, unsatisfactory - in fact in some cases which are borderline disgraceful.
However, I despise the UKIP. I will regretfully admit to having voted for them in the 1999 European elections, and my uncle even stood for them in the 1997 General Election. Then they were a misguided but principled party, staffed and backed by people who truly believed that what they were doing was right. Now they are packed out with some of the most unpleasant people in British politics – racists, xenophobes and petty nationalists – and I disagree vehemently with pretty much all of the few policies they have.
Any excuse to show the UKIP up for what they are, or just to take the piss out of them, I will take it. I know that ukipwatch is a biased website – that’s pretty obvious from the fact it’s got a Labour MEP writing for it. As you may have noticed in my post, I was calling for non-partisan material of a similar sort because, as is evident from the reaction I have received, the fact that a Labour MEP was behind the pamphlet ensures that certain people will automatically dismiss it as propaganda.
This has almost turned into a statement of principles. As such, a brief final summary:
I was once Eurosceptic, now I am not, but retain certain suspicions about the precise nature of the EU as it currently stands. I come from a centre-right, fairly nationalist Tory background, but would now describe myself – were I to want to sound pompous – as a liberal internationalist. I am a member of no political party, and never have been. I have no loyalty to any one political party either. I base my voting decisions on the individual policies of the various parties presented to me on the ballot paper, and have voted, over the last few years, for at least six different parties based on my concerns at the time. Hence this blog having taken the piss out of all of them at various times.
The last few years of terrorist threats, war and chaos have convinced me that close co-operation between nations is vital, and in Britain’s best interests. I consider the responses of the UKIP and their ilk to the European project to be reactionary, backward-looking, and harmful to Britain’s best long-term interests. I also consider the UKIP to be a laughably pathetic excuse for a political party, so will continue to rip the shit out of them until they go the way of the Referendum Party, and vanish into the historical footnote which is all they deserve to be.
Robert Kilroy-Silk: Twat (once again) and UKIP get in a tizzy (also again)
Via the wonderful place that is B3ta, where I spend far more time than is strictly healthy, comes the news that our old friend Kilroy is threatening to sue a webmonkey over the delightful video which has been at spoof site www.ukindependence.org for the last few months. (Warning: video features naked Robert Kilroy-Silk - not safe for work...)
From the B3ta Newsletter:
Tony Bennett, Research Assistant to Robert Kilroy-Silk writes:
"I represent Mr Kilroy-Silk and the U.K. Independence Party. You are advised that your site will be reported to the Police and we are currently taking the advice of a libel barrister as to its contents. I am a Solicitor as well as a research assistant.
"You may wish to consider removing the site forthwith."
So the battle is on. Should Mystery Bob capitulate to legal threats? Or should he stand strong and proud - free to mock silly old fools who spout racist crap against Arabs?
Please note that the Tony Bennett in question is not the Easy Listening crooner once named as having the best voice of the bunch by Frank Sinatra, but a UKIP goon and failed candidate who made headlines by vandalising roadsigns and more recently with his claims that the Prophet Mohammed was a paedophile (reg req). Lovely chap. Not at all barking...
I must confess to being somewhat surprised
Robert Mugabe is a raving lunatic who has been buggering up Zimbabwe for years. His political opponents are regularly beaten up and threatened. He has used loyal police and soldiers to intimidate voters at the polls. He has banned most foreign media from the country, and suppressed all dissenting domestic newspapers from pointing out how corrupt and self-serving his government is. He has also been engaging in a programme of what could almost be described as ethnic cleansing in his campaign to drive out rich white farmers and redistribute their lands among the native black population, helping to destroy his country's economy and bring about a famine in the process. No amount of external political pressure has made a blind bit of difference, because his vocal denunciation of the legacy of European colonialism has gone down very well with many of his African neighbours.
In short, he is a menace, and a prime example of precisely the kind of despotic leader to which George Bush's America is likely to, and probably should be turning its attention at some point. This is hopefully more likely to get some progress thanks to Tony Blair's recent calls for action in Africa to counter famine, civil war, corruption and genocide throughout the continent (a policy stolen wholesale from President Josiah Bartlett).
So, with all this unsavoury background, there was little hope that the leader of Zimbabwe's main opposition party, Morgan Tsvangirai, would be cleared of treason. The fact that Mugabe's government was also accused in court of trying to frame their chief domestic opponent is also quite astonishing in a country where dissenting voices are quickly rounded up and silenced.
Does this indicate a shift back to reason for this much put-upon nation? Or will there be retribution for this court's insolence? Watch this space...
The death of Conrad Russell
The death has been announced of Conrad Russell, fifth Earl Russell, Lib Dem peer, and - most importantly - foremost of the generation of revisionist historians who did so much to enrich our understanding of the British civil wars.
Defecits, Defense - Debate a Draw?
It's a bit of a shame Kerry couldn't deliver the killer blow, but unfortunately Bush seems to have got his game a little bit back on track. The first poll, the results of which were released by ABC news 25 minutes after the debate hit, showed Kerry judged the winner by just a one percent margin.
Yet in one crusical swing-state, Arizona, with 10 electoral college votes and where the debate was held, it looks like the Democrat challenger may have gone down quite well. Plus a later poll for USA Today and CNN, gave the debate to Kerry by a margin of 16% - nearly as much as his sweeping victory in the first, so there is hope. But he really needs to pull Ohio (20 votes) and Florida (27 votes) out of the bag - at the last polling they were respectively split 51:43 and 49:45 in Bush's favour.
Kerry's laudable aims to increase healthcare provision and produce extra money by raising taxes on the super-rich were, predictably if somewhat unjustly, criticised by the President for being "far-left". Quite how trying to prevent people dying and asking people who have managed to make the most of the "American Dream" to put a little more back to give others a break counts as "far-left" I'm not entirely sure. But then we are talking about a country in which being "liberal" is somehow a bad thing...
Kerry also had some good soundbites: "Being lectured by the president on fiscal responsibility is a little bit like Tony Soprano talking to me about law and order," and had a nice crack about the sticky issue of his wife's fortune, which seemed to go down quite well.
Is America finally warming to him? Can he shake off his stuffy, boring image in time and convince the voters that it's better to have an intelligent, dignified man with whom the world can work coupled with one of the best trial lawyers America has produced in a decade running their country rather than a recovering alcoholic and big business crony?
We'll have to wait and see, as we will have to wait and see how Bill Clinton's return to the fray might affect the result. His hands-off approach in 2000 seemed sensible, post-Lewinsky, but Kerry isn't sullied by that particular incident so Clinton's early low-profile (and post-heart op forced low profile) may not have been the best thing for the Democrats this time around. Picking up on Clinton's previous Bush-beating line of "It's the economy, stupid" could well work, and having the charisma of the 42nd President behind the campaign in the final stages may yet work wonders...
Fingers crossed, eh?
The full transcript can be found here (NYT reg required), along with video of key exchanges. Main quotes from the two candidates can be found here.
A bit of breaking news...
How are they going to get out of this one? Looks like the European Parliament are trying to veto the Italian Commissioner's appointment after all. If they can't get Italy (i.e. Buttiglione's mate Berlusconi) to withdraw the nomination and choose someone in his place, ALL the Commissioners may have to be vetoed.
This is the first time ever that MEPs have voted to oppose the nomination of a commissioner. There is no precedent for this situation, so there seems to be a lot of confusion in Brussels at the moment. No change there then...
With a few weeks to go until the new Commission is set to take over, is there enough time to get the Italians to withdraw their candidate, find a new one, and get the European parliament's agreement?
"Liberal MEP Chris Davies is urging colleagues to set a precedent upholding parliamentary scrutiny of the EU executive.
"'We have to insist that the views of the elected parliament take precedence over those of the appointed commission.
"'The ball is in Barroso's court. We don't want blood but we do require that our position is respected,' he said.
"'If he wants to put his head in the sand and suppose that he can ignore the parliament he should not be surprised if MEPs vote down the entire commission.'"
Barroso's not got an easy job on his hands...
Blair and Barroso
The two somewhat put-upon politicians gave a joint press conference yesterday, taking in a range of European issues but - perhaps unsurprisingly, throwing out little that was controversial or new.
Barroso once again defended the Commission's new Mr Controversy, Rocco Buttiglione, in a fairly general manner:
"One thing is the personal beliefs of the members of the Commission, the other thing, differently sometimes, is the policies they are going to implement, and in matters of a sexual orientation I want to be very clear. My Commission is very liberal in that matter. We believe and respect different sexual orientations and there will be no discrimination about it. That is our policy, definitely, we have no discrimination in regard to that point."
One thing I remain amazed at is that Barroso has not yet brought up is the fact that one of his Commissioners is a very prominent homosexual. Yep, our very own Peter Mandelson could and quite possibly should have been used to counter the attacks against the allegedly homophobic Italian. Why has he kept silent? Is this a sign of infighting to come? Will relations within the Commission itself be strained?
Beyond that, Blair fobbed the press off with the typically vague nonsense which always seems to be spouted in this country whenever a pro-European is given a platform to say something good about the EU. When the hell are we going to get our act together? I mean, how more pathetic can you get than Blair's assurances that:
"I think there is every possibility with the new Commission that that agenda can be taken forward, and I think that will make a difference too if people in Britain here see that happening to British attitudes towards Europe as well. So it is important for Britain, it is important for Europe."
Just telling people it's important isn't going to convince them, Tony, especially coming from you.
UKIP get in a tizzy
Blogging Labour MEP Richard Corbett, who is also one of the contributors to UKIP Watch, has got the UK Independence Party in a bit of a huff with his pamphlet 25 Things You Didn't Know When You Voted for UKIP (and why you'll never vote for them again) (.pdf).
It's a little bit clumsy and heavy-handed in places, but hey - so are the UKIP, so what do I care? The UKIP, however, haven't taken it particularly graciously, and have demanded all 10,000 copies be pulped, the poor dears. According to the UKIP, "There is a reference in the pamphlet to [UKIP MEP for South East England and alleged benefit fraudster] Mr [Ashley] Mote which we believe breaches the terms of the court order and we are demanding that all copies of this document be pulped, and that the cost to the public purse be borne by its author Richard Corbett."
My only concern is that this is coming from an elected representative of another political party. The supporters of UKIP may simply dismiss it as Labour propaganda.
When are pro-Europeans going to find their own Paul Sykes to help fund this sort of material? And when is the government finally going to start putting the case for the EU to the British people rather than engaging in petty squabbles?
People vote for UKIP out of a dislike for the EU, not their detailed policies - if they are convinced of the benefits of the EU, they'll stop voting for them, and this kind of thing will no longer be necessary.
It's well worth a look in any case - a nicely-researched little document confirming what we all know anyway - the UK Independence Party is a one-note bunch of extremist hypocritical racists. It's highly unlikely that it will end up pulped, as from a quick skim through there's nothing there that could jeopardise a court case (and I doubt Mr Corbett would be stupid enough to allow them a get-out anyway), but catch it while it's still online. (And if it does get taken down, let me know - I'll host a copy of it myself...)
Project for the Neo-Con American Century
The consipracy theories about the sinister right-wing group who supposedly plotted the ousting of Saddam Hussein as far back as 1997, and who are the puppetmasters behind the Bush presidency, have been knocking around for a while. Rarely have they been as prettily presented as in this little animation (well, I say little - it's actually a fairly large Quicktime movie, but has some fantastic animation and makes a simple point).
The Project for the New American Century's website is strangely disconcerting. How many evil shadow governments advertise their presence, and state their aim for world domination so blatantly?
"We seem to have forgotten the essential elements of the Reagan Administration's success: a military that is strong and ready to meet both present and future challenges; a foreign policy that boldly and purposefully promotes American principles abroad; and national leadership that accepts the United States' global responsibilities."
Lest we forget, the Reagan administration was also responsible for funding and training Osama Bin Laden, engaging in illegal covert interventions in support of friendly military dictators in Central and Latin America, and that whole - somewhat dodgy - Iran-Contra business... Hardly a great role-model.
As has been well advertised, the signatories to the Project's June 1997 Statement of Principles include certain names which have become rather more familiar over the intervening years: Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz - as well as a fair few others which you may recognise.
More can be found here, here and here.
Especially since the advent of The X-Files, conspiracy theorists have usually been dismissed out of hand as a bunch of nutters looking for plans and order amidst the chaos.
The trouble is, this one seems to have a bit more truth to it than most. The Project for the New American Century may well not be anything more than a coalition of like-minded public figures, but they seem to be having a tad too much success with what is, let's face it, a rather scary plan revolving around one central idea: "what America wants, America gets, or we bomb the shit out of you."
Considering that Republicans have traditionally been opposed to military intervention overseas lest brave young Americans be killed, how can they continue to support a President who is so closely linked to a group committed to interfering all over the world, a President whose decision to go to war has already cost the lives of over a thousand brave US soldiers?
Or do those Americans planning to vote for Bush in three weeks really want the US to become Team America: World Police?
Justice Commissioner vetoed?
Not quite, and it's pretty close, but still... As I noted the other day, there was a fair amount of opposition already, but it still didn't look like anyone would seriously oppose Rocco Buttiglione's appointment as such a move could severely damage the EU's public face just as a sizable number of member states are beginning to think seriously about referenda over the proposed constitution.
This is cutting it a bit fine and, even if the Civil Liberties Committee is more of an advisory panel than anything else, could yet cause problems. Nonetheless, starting out on such a controversial note is - fairly obviously - not a good thing. Could this further damage the European Commission's already somewhat dubious reputation? Is that even possible?
Or could it actually have a benefit for the EU? The recent talks with Turkey, combined with a condemnation of traditionalist Catholicism, could go some way to destroying the boring old "EU = Popish Plot" arguments. Is it worth vetoing the new Commission to get across the message that the EU is a secular organisation? I'm moderately tempted to say yes. As we've all surely noticed over the last three years... It would be nice if Europe could avoid going the way of the Taliban and the Bush government, it must be said.
Tuesday Update: The Italian reaction
Just realised I never did anything on the most recent Bush/Kerry clash. It seems a bit late now, and when it's already been summed up so effectively, there doesn't seem much point any more...
22 days to go, predictions are currently 270 Kerry, 248 Bush.
Robert Kilroy-Silk: Twat (yet again)
I thought it was the European Union he wanted to wreck, not the UK Independence Party? In an interview with the Telegraph over the weekend (registration required) Kilroy's rabid arrogance seems to have finally slipped beyond his limited control. Having already scared off the UKIP's main financial backer by his earlier demand to be made leader, now it looks like he's going to continue to rant like a spoiled child until he gets his way.
Kilroy's ego knows no bounds. As the Telegraph itself - a paper not exactly unsympathetic with the UKIP's aims - puts it, "To say that Robert Kilroy-Silk had thrown a fit of pique would be a grave understatement... Throughout the telephone conversation, Mr Kilroy-Silk spoke at breakneck speed and often sounded breathless."
Kilroy rambles on without any apparent care for the good of party unity, political realities, or even truth (who are all these people he claims want him as leader? He'd be a disaster): "I'm not going to go on taking all the flak for the party and having no authority to put things right. Stop asking me to take on the burden of being leader without the leader's authority... What I am doing is telling people, 'Put up or shut up. Stop telling me you want me to be leader. Do something about it.' ... I can't carry on dissembling. I can't carry on like that. It has to be sorted out."
Reading the rest of the article, what seems to need sorting out more than anything is Kilroy's own deranged mind. The full account of Paul Sykes' abandonment of the UKIP almost makes me feel sorry for poor little Kilroy:
"Mr Sykes, UKIP's biggest donor, had taken issue with one of Mr Kilroy-Silk's comments about the need to 'kill the Tories'...
"Mr Sykes confirmed that he was switching his allegiance back to the Tories while sitting next to Mr Kilroy-Silk during a bizarre interview on Channel 4 news last week. 'Paul and I want the same thing,' Mr Kilroy-Silk had said during the broadcast. 'He believes in UKIP.'
"But Mr Sykes retorted: 'I don't believe in UKIP. I believe in the message on Europe.'
"'I'm pretty confident that if I want him to help in the East Midlands, he would help,' Mr Kilroy-Silk said with a nervous laugh.
"Mr Sykes snapped: 'Not in a general election campaign, I wouldn't.'"
And therein lies the problem. Local elections and European elections, fine. Vote for nutters to send a message. Very few people will waste their votes at a General Election. (Which is possibly why the Tories remain 9 points behind in the polls...)
"One of the major figures of intellectual life of our time"
So, farewell then, Jaques Derrida, who has died aged 74.
The quote, from Jaques Chirac, is almost an understatement. Derrida's ideas on phenomenology and contributions to the "post-modernist" and post-structuralist movements (with the likes of Michel Foucault, Roland Barthes, Jaques Lacan and Jean Hippolyte) have caused thousands of students headaches for the last four decades, as he himself acknowledged, but at the same time have helped to revolutionise the nature of criticism and analytical thought. Having lost Pierre Bourdieu a couple of years ago, France's place as philosophical capital of the world could well be under threat. Who of the late 1960s/1970s French philosophical revolution is left?
Read more on Derrida here (including links to various articles of his online), pick up a summary of his most famous ideas on deconstruction with the book of interviews Deconstruction in a Nutshell: Conversation with Jacques Derrida, or read obituaries at The New York Times (reg req), Le Monde (in French), and The BBC (nice and short...)