Friday, October 21, 2005

Right - I'm off.

Leaving for Tokyo first thing in the morning. I'm back in the UK on the 11th, and have no idea how often I'll be able to post while I'm away.

In the meantime, check out another new find, Rachel from North London, the blog of a survivor of the King's Cross/Russell Square tube bomb on 7th July - she was in the carriage in which the bomb detonated, killing 26. She's currently on a bit of a drive to help other survivors recover:

"There's a big push on now though, from us in the survivor group to let other survivors know they can meet fellow-passengers from the train, before the November 1st Memorial Service for the Victims at St. Paul's Cathedral. We're on a bit of a deadline, before the news moves on, which it will soon. (Plus we are seeing that it seems to be about now - 3 months on - that the impact is really hitting people, now that the shock is fading, the emotional blowback kicks in.)"
Do what you can to help spread the word, eh? Our dear government, and even Ken Livingstone with his much-publicised fund for the victims, have so far managed to do effectively tit all (there's a surprise). We can slag off the policies that have arisen in the aftermath as much as we like, but others have far more to worry about.

Otherwise, help out with expanding the Wikablog, as helpfully explained by our own dear Devil's Kitchen. The bigger it gets, the better.

And, considering I'm getting back on November 11th, why not ponder donating to help ex-Service and Service men and women and their dependants? They have, let's face it, got a bastard of a job. Again, we can slag off the policies and the politicians who make them, but these guys bear the brunt of those decisions. They deserve our support.

Right. Me done. Ta-ta for now.

The EU budget and CAP reform tedium continues

As expected, negotiations over farming subsidies have gone all to hell, US trade representative Rob Portman stating that "The responsibility at this point lies squarely with the EU" - which is partly right, but a tad unfair really - the blame really lies, as ever, with France - but also with Tony Blair's piss-poor "leadership" during the UK EU presidency.

And so, in typically new Labour style, Mr Blair, titular EU president, asks everyone to avoid the details when discussing the EU budget. Because, let's face it, little Tony seems to have trouble speaking in anything other than meaningless platitudes - why should he suddenly have to try and cope with the nuances of the single most divisive and important issue facing the EU when he's managed to be in power for so long without ever discussing anything in anything other than the broadest of terms?

I had some hopes before this UK presidency kicked off, but always knew that Blair would let us down, despite frequent pleas for action. Although I do like to see my political perception being spot on (God, I'm good etc.), this whole thing really is fucking pathetic. Sometimes I don't like being proved right.

(A handy overview of the farming subsidies issues can be found at the Common Agricultural Policy blog (another recent discovery).)

Berlusconi: "Just call me Il Duce. Oh, sorry. Did I say 'Il Duce'? I meant, erm... Oh - look over there! It's the Goodyear Blimp!"

Not content with reforming the voting system ahead of April's elections, apparently to give himself a better chance of beating ex-EU Commission bod Romano Prodi (aka a potential Nosemonkey political hero for his consistant refusal to join any political party), dear old Silvio (aka "most corrupt man in western Europe") has just passed yet more constitutional reforms. This time giving himself the right to dissolve parliament and dismiss ministers at will, bypassing the head of state. Effectively the equivalent of Tony Blair passing a law declaring himself King.

To which our man Prodi (pray he somehow wins...) responded with typical eloquence:

"A few months before the elections, a governing majority which knows it no longer enjoys the country's confidence, which has lost all the electoral tests of recent years, which is divided and fragmented on the inside and incapable of leadership on the outside, is about to strike the definitive blow at our constitution."
He doesn't exaggerate. Also included in the bill are widespread reforms which could at first glance look as if they're abolishing the Italian central government - transferring responsibility for education, health and policing to the regions. Much as if Blair suddenly announced that the failures in the NHS and state school system are no longer going to be dealt with by Whitehall, and washed his hands of the whole thing. Which many in Britain would welcome (perhaps rightly - let's face it, it'd be difficult to cock things up any more...).

In Italy, however, you can't trust Berlusconi as far as you could chuck his vast piles of cash. This is (and I will admit this is purely, like, my opinion, man) simply a way of shifting the blame away from central government - which retains the right to intervene and meddle at any point.

These are the most significant reforms since the post-Mussolini constitution came into force in 1948, and place more power in one man's hands than has been seen in Italy since the time of the baldy blackshirt. Berlusconi's response to Prodi's criticisms, however?
"Prodi's tones are not those of political debate but of civil war"
Yay! Great idea! Bring up the idea of civil war having just apparently devolved powers to the regions in a country which has only been unified for a bit over a century, has widespread regional economic disparities, a history of corruption and violence, and has famously had the least stable governments imaginable since the fall of the last strong leader... It's shaping up to be quite an interesting time in Italy over the next six months.

Oh yes, lest I forget, yesterday Berlusconi also vowed to change the law which guarantees political parties equal access to the media during election campaigns. The fact that he just happens to own the majority of the Italian media is just, like, a happy coincidence and stuff, obviously... So fingers crossed for a boom in the world of Italian blogs - a few English language ones of which I was previously unaware I've discovered today: Italy Magazine's news blog, A Welshman in Milano and Beppe Grillo. The always good North Sea Diaries also has a bit of a Berlusconi fixation. If you know of any more, let me know.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Tory leadership - members' voting preferences via the ever top-notch Polling Report:
"Cameron has a dominant position - asked which candidate they thought would be best at attracting new members, best for party unity, best at opposing Brown and Blair in the Commons, best on the television and radio, which candidate would offer the best chance of winning the election and which candidate would make the best Prime Minister if the Tories did win, David Cameron trounced the other candidates on every count, beating Fox and Davis by over 30% in every question"
Jamie at Blood & Treasure, however, has yet to be convinced about the Tories' latest Great White Hope...

Has Hungary developed a Bird Flu vaccine effective against H5N1 in both birds and humans? Nothing in the UK press about this that I can see so far, but Le Monde and Le Figaro both have stories on it, as does Voice of America, in English but with few details. Seems a tad odd the British press haven't picked this up, after all the recent scare stories of the lack of vaccines and all...

Speedy translation of parts of the Figaro and Le Monde pieces:
"clinical trials (on 150 volunteers) proved to be effective, the blood of the human guinea-pigs having produced antibodies", announced the Hungarian Minister for Health, Jenö Racz, in Budapest. "We only have the preliminary results but I can say with 99.9 % certainty that the vaccine works."

The prototype was developed since the end September by the National Center of Epidemiology, starting from a stock of avian virus H5N1 which appeared in Hong Kong in 1997 and was isolated at the beginning of 2005 from a person in Southeast Asia by the World Health Organization.

"the cost of developing the vaccine (estimated at more than 4 million euros) will be covered partly by the general reserve of the national budget, by the budget of the Ministry for Health and by the receipts from the export of the vaccine", Mr. Racz said.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Well that was odd - I just got mugged, I think

Notice to friends/relatives who I know read this: no worries - absolutely fine, just a tad bemused and pissed off. Especially as when my dear grandmother warned me to "be careful after dark" on the phone the other day I just patronised her with a "yeah, yeah - I'll be fine".

Inept bunch of little bastards though. You want money, you've picked the wrong guy with Nosemonkey. I'm pissing broke, my cash-card's one of the old-school, pre-chip-and-pin ones that even gets refused when I'm using it, I don't have a credit card thanks to NatWest being shit and not having sent it to me yet, my mobile's two years out of date and pay as you go, and I had a grand total of £2.54 in my wallet. Which I happily gave them to get them to bugger off. Even called them back for the 10p they dropped... And that was precisely all they got. They agreed that my phone was shit, saw that I had no notes, and didn't even bother taking my wallet, because it's falling apart at the seams.

The only somewhat irritating thing, aside from having lost exact change for a pint of IPA at lunchtime tomorrow, is that I walk down that particular stretch of road at around 11:15 in the evening, as it was, very frequently indeed, what with it being on the way to quite a few of the pubs I frequent on a regular basis. And now I'm going to have to pay closer attention to bunches of 17 year old twats in their hooded tops (show your faces, wimps - pimply teenagers all look alike anyway). Plus be worried every time the missus is out after dark in what I previously thought was one of the safest areas of London. Which it is. But I have no doubt that I'll be slightly paranoid about it for a while now for her sake.

Nosemonkey's solution? Twilight curfews for all under-21s. Bring back Borstal. And the cane. Teach them a little respect. Ban hooded tops. And anoraks. And big scarfs. And umbrellas. Anyone under 30 breaks the law, cut their parents' benefits off completely. I want CCTV cameras on every lamppost, tree and garden fence. And halogen lamps, beaming down 300 watts of glaring light as soon as the sun goes in. And ID cards - mustn't forget ID cards, they're the solution to all our ills.

Nosemonkey's actual solution? Meh... Bunch of opportunistic dicks. That's only the second time in eight years of living in London that I've had any money taken off me under threat of violence. I've been lucky. And even if I wasn't, there's still tit all anyone can do about it, because these things aren't premeditated. It was four to one, no one else in the street, and they knew that even though I could have caused some damage to a couple of them (they were all rather smaller than me, and despite the smoking and drinking I'm in fairly good shape) I wouldn't risk it in case they had a knife. Teenagers are twats, these things happen, and it's not going to make me change my mind about anything.

Right. that's me vented. Time for a whisky, a cigarette, and then bed. Normal service will resume in the morning.

Update: Heh - that cheered me up - just discovered I'mtop Google result for how much is a pint of beer in London. The answer, in case you're wondering, is anywhere between £1.68 and about £6.00, depending on where you go, but will rarely top £4.00 in any pub (those pubs are, obviously enough, never worth going into). The average is about £2.60, though.

Enter, stage right, accusations of giving in to terror and yet more misunderstandings of the nature of the Spanish vote in the elections which followed the Madrid bombings.

Though it must be said, issuing arrest orders for foreign soldiers over friendly fire incidents that took place in another country, and when those killed were journalists who had voluntarily sat themselves in the middle of a warzone, does strike me as a tad silly.

Thanks to my wonderous judicial expertise (gained by once being accepted for a law conversion course, but later turning it down due to lack of funds, thus losing myself a cool hundred quid, the bastards), I'd likely rule death by misadventure. Tragic, stupid and everything - but if you don't want to get killed, don't plonk yourself in the middle of a city that's currently being bombed and invaded. Simple. Oh, and look both ways before you cross the street. And don't make fun of that little bloke in the corner of the pub - you know, the one who always sits on his own, nursing his pint, and staring at everyone under his eyebrows.

(More on this from Spanish blog - in English - Barcepundit, with the case for more arrest warrants...)

"I will pledge £10 to a cash prize fund to be awarded to the person who proves Tony Blair is a liar and prompts that PM's removal or resignation as a result, but only if 100,000 other people will too."
(courtesy of)

Showtrials are so damn predictable

This may not be a showtrial in the Stalinist sense - Saddam is, after all, guilty of the crimes of which he is going to be convicted. It is, however, a trial purely for show. But the people it's trying to impress simply aren't going to be. So I really can't see why anyone bothers.

Why bother faffing about with the trappings of justice when we all know that Saddam's supporters don't recognise the legitimacy of the court and that the critics of the refusal to take this to the International War Crimes Tribunal, plus anyone who disagrees with the death penalty, have a tendency to feel the same way? And as Saddam's so obviously guilty, why were they so afraid of putting him on trial in a court outside US control anyway? I simply don't get it.

In any case, it's sort of started, and the headlines are already utterly, tediously predictable:

  • Iraqis watch Saddam trial with relief or fury - and the furious will not be placated by it
  • Saddam Pleads Innocent to Murder, Torture - in a vain attempt to make his life last a bit longer
  • Judge says witnesses too scared for Saddam trial - perhaps because there's still a load of his supporters roaming the country with lots and lots of guns and bombs, the government is not yet stable, the rushed constitution not yet in place, the government of suspect effectiveness and legitimacy, and the entire place reliant on foreign troops who will not be around to offer their limited protection to the witnesses forever? Just a wild guess...
  • Saddam defense blasts US, Iraq - attacking the legitimacy of the court being entirely fair enough, and the only hope they've got, what with the guy being guilty as Hell and all
  • Saddam argues with judge at start of trial - what, an arrogant former dictator not accepting anyone's power to sit in judgement over him? Surely not!
  • Saddam struggles with trial guards - yet another non-surprise, which will only go to show his supporters that he's still got fight in him, so they should still have fight in them

  • and, entirely unsurprisingly and so even more depressingly:

  • Insurgents kill 13 in attacks as Saddam's trial opens

  • Here endeth Nosemonkey's already nearly non-existant interest in what's currently going on in Iraq. The whole thing's just too depressing.

    A quick ID card vote question

    Last night the government won their ID card vote by just 25 votes.

    The House of Commons has 636 sitting MPs (not including the 5 non-voting Sinn Fein members, obviously or the Speaker and Deputy Speakers). In the vote, 309 voted in favour of the government's bill, 284 against.

    So, my question is this - where the pissing fuck were the other 43 MPs? That's nearly double the number of the government's majority, and more than enough to have sent the revolting little thing back where it came from.

    I want names and I want to hear the excuses. Anyone who has spoken out against ID who didn't vote without an EXCEPTIONALLY good reason, I want to make their life an abject misery. Nosemonkey is angered, despite knowing this was an inevitability.

    Update: Right - here we go:

    TORIES (in favour of the rights of the individual versus the state, remember) who weren't present for the vote -

    David Davies (Monmouthshire), Quentin Davies (Grantham & Stamford), Roger Gale (North Thanet), Michael Gove (Surrey Heath), Greg Hands (Hammersmith & Fulham), Daniel Kawczynski (Shrewsbury & Atcham), Peter Lilley (Hitchin & Harpenden), Michael Mates (East Hampshire), Richard Ottaway (Croydon South), Nicholas Soames (Mid Sussex), Anthony Steen (Totnes), Gary Streeter (South West Devon), Ian Taylor (Esher & Walton), Edward Vaizey (Wantage), Ann Widdecombe (Maidstone & The Weald), George Young (North West Hampshire)

    WIDDECOMBE? That's the last time she goes on the fucking Today Programme ranting against the things. And Soames? He above all others should realise that one of the best things Churchill ever did when PM in the 50s was scrap wartime ID. Pretty much everyone there should know better. Dicks.

    LIB DEM absentees

    John Hemming (Birmingham, Yardley), John Thurso (Caithness, Sutherland & Easter Ross)

    Hemming, eh? He seemed quite the opponent of ID on his blog - perhaps we should all pop over and ask him what the fuck he was playing at yesterday?

    I'll let the Labour lot off the hook for now - them absenting themselves did, at least, mean Blair's lot had fewer people to bully into voting in favour. Although I'd be interested to know where the hell Frank Dobson and Dennis Skinner were. They've both been constant campaigner against these bloody things, yet don't bother showing for the vote? It's not even like Dobbo's constituency's far away - it's only a 20 minute walk to Westminster, if that.

    Update 2: John Hemming has responded (in the comments) - apparently he was in hospital yesterday, which sounds like a good reason to miss the thing to me.

    Now what about the rest of them, I wonder?

    Tuesday, October 18, 2005

    Another of the 20th century greats has gone. An interview from 1996 with "the father of glasnost and perestroika", one of the first to publicly break with the party and point the way to the Soviet path to the end of the Cold War, is well worth a glance, as is this 1993 lecture on where Russia should head post-USSR. Or you could just kick off with his Wikipedia entry, from where those two links come (I'm in a rush, sadly, so no time for more).

    The UK, one of the 12 least corrupt nations in the world?


    Mandelson? The Mittal Polish steel contracts affair? Paul Drayson's government contracts and peerage following his donations to the Labour party? Birmingham postal vote fraud? Allegations of bribery? Ex-Transport Minister Stephen Byers "accidentally misleading" parliament? Capita's no-bid contracts? High-profile gambling moguls being found to have - shall we say - "connections"? Keith Vaz? Geoffrey Robinson? "Cash for Coronets"? One Lord Chancellor just happening to be the PM's ex-boss, the next his ex-flatmate (both of whom then just happened to appoint friends to high-powered posts)? Bernie Ecclestone? David Blunkett's train tickets and nanny visa? Corruption that would "disgrace a banana republic"? The Hinduja passport affair? The executive soliciting party donations from the judiciary? Relatives and ex-employees of ministers working for Private Finance Initiative companies? Dodgy Labour councillors? Public money spent on party propaganda disguised as public information? Using known conmen to help buy flats? Clive Betts MP and his male escort's immigration papers? The "reworking" of pretty much every means of assessment going, from unemployment figures to hospital waiting lists? Not to mention that 36 of the 71 corporations currently barred from World Bank contracts due to corruption or fraud are British, or any of the other countless bits of petty corruption, lies and sleaze?

    If we're that good in comparison, what the hell's the rest of the world like?

    The Tories have become a bunch of scaremongering big-government fuckwits - and that is why they will lose the next election whoever wins the leaderhip ballot. "Minister for Bird Flu"? Fucking morons!

    Note to Tories - the thing that separates you from New Labour these days (well, bar the fact that you're perennial losers and they keep on winning) is simple: your history of promoting the rights of the individual against the state, and the commitment to small government that goes hand-in-hand with that. Creating additional ministries, with additional layers of bureaucracy and expense, is not only idiotic but a betrayal of your party's once-proud history. Keep on like this and you'll have lost my vote for ever, rather than merely for the time being.

    Charles Clarke confirms that ID cards will be a massive waste of both time and money - well, what else can he mean by guaranteeing that the personal details contained on ID cards won't go beyond those currently held on passports? If we've already got passports holding that information (with which we can, erm... prove out identities), why, precisely, do we need ID cards as well?

    An obvious point, I know - but I do so very much enjoy highlighting when our dear overlords start digging themselves yet more holes. There is, as far as I can tell, now no possible justification for this legislation. If Clarke is to be believed and the biometrics are dropped (hurrah!), then what, precisely, is the fucking point?

    Update: Talk Politics has more considered analysis of why this latest wheeze "looks like a major concession but it isn't"

    "A police dog has been forced to quit his job, because he's too nice... He tried to make friends with people he should have been catching, and in one case, decided to lie down for a bit of a rest while chasing a burglar."
    [Insert satirical comment about the de Menezes shooting, Sir Ian Blair and the Metropolitan police here, thusly prompting yet more accusations of "typical lefty anti-police bullshit" even though I'm neither typically lefty nor anti-police]

    Mandelson sets up a faintly homophobic double entendre: he "needs wriggle room", as "Any attempt to reduce room for manoeuvre would be likely to reduce the chances of a success".

    I would say more about today's Doha talks, but as they're going to fail and I've already touched on them here I can't see the point. Instead I shall plant in your minds, this chilly morn, wonderful images of an oiled and wriggling Mandelson rubbing his speedos and beckoning, always beckoning, with a sly look on his face and a twinkle in his eye - "Come to Mandy," he says, "Don't be afraid...". It has haunted my dreams for many a night and, much as with The Ring, the only way to break the curse is pass it on. Probably.

    Monday, October 17, 2005

    Some nice person wrote something nice. Hurrah! (But what's all this about "language which overly sensitive readers might find troubling"? Cocking bollocks - just because I'm number one result for "cunting" and "pissing shit" and "cunting cunts" and on the first page of results for "Blair government"... Pshaw, I say...)

    In other news - we all nearly died of the plague!

    The EU and Tony Blair, the ineffectual loser

    Another load of Blairite EU-nonsense? An attempt to make it look like we're actually making an effort after the US farm subsides offer and ahead of the WTO meeting this week? Or is this just Prescott picking up his notes from a few months back by mistake?

    Yep, he's mentioned the whole "we'll scrap the rebate in exchange for CAP reform" thing again - this time also swinging a few wild shots at the sacred cow that is the rebate by branding it a mistake and - effectively - Maggie Thatcher a bit of a wimp for taking the easy option back when the negotiations for the bloody thing were going on.

    We can probably expect a few more vocal yet half-hearted noises about EU reform from Blair's lot over the next couple of months. Because a couple of months is all they've got left of their presidency - in which, as of yet, they have achieved precisely tit all. And now, of course, they also have the possible threat of Bird Flu to distract everyone from Blair's much-promoted "reforming agenda" that they spouted so much crap about back in the summer when we took over the presidency.

    Today, Liberation has a fun article slagging off the "political inertia of the British presidency", hot on the heels of the amusing sarcasm of Austrian MEP Othmar Karas, the vice-president of the EPP-ED Group, who last week put out a press release as follows:

    "We have lost the President of the Council. From what we hear he is the British Prime Minister Tony Blair, although nobody has seen or heard of him since the summer recess ended. Useful indications concerning his whereabouts and especially his activities will be gladly received by the European citizens"
    Karas also noted something that most Brits have become all too used to since 1997 - "we hear from hard work behind the scenes from his cabinet ministers, but the man himself is showing none of his promised European leadership". Replace "European" for "domestic", Karas could easily have been talking about Blair at home...

    Liberation quotes a few other Europeans who are less than iimpressed with Blair's "achievements":
    "You've got to judge the performance of this presidency by other criteria that those that usually apply... as the United Kingdom thinks that the EU already does too much, one imagines that by not doing anything they're fulfilling their objectives perfectly!"
    So, has Blair become a Eurosceptic again, as he used to be back in the early 1980s (when he was also anti-nuke, anti-US, and a pacifist)? Is he following Kilroy's line of basically doing tit all when it comes to Europe because he can't be arsed with it?

    Blair may have made bold claims about his EU plans. He may claim to be a "passionate European". But actions speak far, far louder than words - especially words coming from Blair or anyone in his circle. As of yet there has been no action. At all.

    The uncertainty of the German situation, the ongoing potential exit of Blair, the likely ousting of Chirac and the hope of the booting out of Berlusconi, combined with the rousing defeat for the piss-poor constitution, spats with Turkey and ongoing disputes with the US over air travel, steel, farm subsidies and the like ensures that, at present, no one knows what the hell's going on, and no one's been prepared to commit to anything when they know that in a couple of years' time the leaderships of the main EU countries could look very different indeed. Why do a deal with Blair when you might be able to get something more sensible from Brown, a man our EU cousins seem to respect rather more? Why argue with the stubborn bastard Chirac when he's going to be out on his arse in a year or so?

    This UK presidency is turning into a six month EU-wide holiday. Time for everyone to put their feet up and take stock of the situation, ponder their strategies over the next decade or so, and work out who their allies might be. In other words, Blair's lame-duck presidency could be precisely what the EU needs. A time out, a chance to regroup - and certainly a chance for Germany to sort out who the hell it is who's going to be speaking for them on the international stage. Because until Germany's got a stable government again (the final line-up of Merkel's cross-party cabinet is expected to be announced today, but it'll still take a while to stabilise), no EU negotiations are ever going to get anywhere.

    The fact that Blair and co seem genuinely to have thought that they could achieve something significant with their six months as the nominal head of Europe, that they would actually make some progress on so many issues, simply makes the whole thing that much more enjoyable.

    But what Blair and co failed to realise, having won three General Elections with no effort, and having had an immense parliamentary majority to ensure every piece of legislation always goes through without too much fuss, is that to succeed in grown-up politics you actually have to make a bit of effort. All they've done with this presidency is hold some press conferences, announce some initiatives, and expect everything to somehow come together. That may work in Britain - it won't cut it on the continent.

    Put Blair up against real politics, this is how he fares - inertia and withdrawal. Blair's international policies have pretty much all been dismal failures - about the only thing he's succeeded at is getting the Olympics for London, something which will end up costing the country billions with very little return. It doesn't bode well for his much-vaunted post-Prime Ministerial career as some kind of world statesman - and has certainly put down any suggestions of Blair becoming the first permanent President of Europe. Which, once again, can only be a good thing. Prime Minister Blair is bad enough - President Blair, as he's proved over the last few months, is an ineffectual loser.

    It's true and stuff

    I am indeed off to Japan at the end of the week. As such, after Friday this place may slow down for a few weeks, as I shall be otherwise engaged and, although I will doubtless be inundated with interwebnet technology in the heart of Tokyo, I won't have too much time to piss around hunting down interesting news-based thingies to send me off on a rant.

    If you get bored, why not help out with a new Worstall project which could be good - the Wikablog? There's no Europhobia page yet (hint, hint)...

    Service shall be just about as normal this week, assuming I can get NatWest to DO THEIR SODDING JOB PROPERLY and sort out all the stuff I need, and that I can hit the deadlines I've got today and tomorrow in the real world.

    /tedious, irrelevant nonsense

    Friday, October 14, 2005

    Don't panic over bird flu, UN says. Fair enough. The article does, however, contain the wonderful information that the UK's chief vetinary officer is called Debby Reynolds. Which considering the name of the anti-Bird Flu drug means I've now got this stuck in my head:
    I hear the cottonwoods whisp'rin' above
    Tamiflu! Tamiflu! Tamiflu's in love!
    The ole hootie owl caught Bird Flu from the dove
    Tamiflu! Tamiflu! Tamiflu's in love!
    I'm sorry... Friday afternoon and all that...

    A Charles Clarke policy "rather alarming"? Surely not... - Once again the courts make a sensible decision in the face of rabid Labour nonsense; once again, the utterly unelected prevent our elected leaders from being dicks.

    Thanks to this cheeky bastard I have felt obliged to install "Backlinks" - Blogger's new sub-par alternative to Trackbacks, where clicking on the new little "links to this post" bit below will utilise the power of Google's sub-par Blogsearch to find, erm... Links to this post. Apparently. Bollocks knows if it'll work.

    The Bush Administration - saviour of the EU?

    It's not often you'll find a Frenchman slagging off EU farm subsidies, but that's precisely what World Trade Organisation Director General (and Peter Mandelson's predecessor as European Commissioner for Trade) Pascal Lamy is doing. Is international pressure to scrap the God-awful Common Agricultural Policy finally going to see some progress in the EU's internal deadlock on reform/abolition of this outdated, unfair and - frankly - stupid system of subsidies and protectionism? We can but hope.

    The Bush administration's offer to cut US farm subsidies by 60% was at first met with incredulity - largely because it's precisely the sort of deal which could at one stroke undermine the limited justification for the CAP and allow the global market finally to adjust itself sensibly to changing times - it seemed too good to be true. Now it has been met by Mandelson offering to cut EU subsidies by 70% in return. Something France is not at all happy about, what with being the biggest recipient and having a powerful farming lobby and all - hence accusations the other day that he exceeded his mandate in initial negotiations.

    In the unlikely event that France is eventually made to bow to global pressure to cut farm subsidies - and assuming we don't all die from Bird Flu in the meantime - this joint US/WTO pressure could be precisely what is needed to solve many of the EU's current woes.

    The CAP sucks up half the EU's budget. Even if the end result of these current negotiations is only a compromise, any reduction in CAP spending would greatly aid the rethinking of the EU budget, still stuck in deadlock despite the high-profile pronouncements from the Blair government in the early stages of the current UK EU presidency, and still desperately in need of a complete overhaul since enlargement to 25 member states last year. To top it all, better economic minds than mine would argue that the reduction in subsidies would open up fairer/more free competition in the global market, bolstering third world economies and various other Good Things.

    Of course, the difficulty is - as pretty much always - France. Last night she called for an emergency meeting of EU foreign ministers ahead of next week's WTO talks in Geneva, and has managed to get 12 other member states to support her - most of which could almost certainly be talked around if they thought there was any chance of a sensible reform actually taking place. But with a French veto, that's decidedly unlikely...

    Mandelson's response to all this is typically vacuous - "We are rapidly approaching the choke point where the different pieces either fall together or fall apart" - but he may well be right. This US offer will not remain on the table for ever, not least because once Bush ends up in the second half of his second term, he won't be as willing to risk pissing off the midwest farming belt in what is sure to be a hard-fought and close-run 2008 presidential election, and it's highly unlikely that any first term President would try anything as potenially alienating to domestically-obsessed voters. Already the midterms are beginning to loom - another month or two, if not sooner, the offer is likely to be withdrawn.

    If the US and EU could drop their farm subsidies then many of their farmers will end up screwed - after all, stopping them from being screwed is precisely what the subsidies are all about. But there surely must come a point when propping up failing industries is no longer viable. Whether that time is now or not is hard to tell - but the current US offer is an opportunity the EU would be stupid to pass up.

    At some point CAP spending will simply have to be reduced. Especially since expansion it is unsustainable at its current levels, and unfair in its current workings. The longer it drags on, the more the resentment will build. The CAP is the festering sore at the heart of the EU - the longer it stays the more irritation with it will spread, causing divisions and factional splintering throughout the EU, weakening the union from its core. At some point it will have to be either severely reformed or utterly abolished - that much is certain. So why not take the chance to get the US to drop its subsidies at the same time? The offer may not be there again for years...

    Thursday, October 13, 2005

    Yaaaaaaaaay! We're all going to die!

    Turkish bird flu confirmed as "the highly-pathogenic H5N1 strain that scientists worry could mutate into a human virus and spark a global flu pandemic likely to kill millions".


    Here we go again...

    I was wondering what the next area for Blair's EU presidency to fail in would be. They've already buggered up sorting out the budget, the constitution aftermath, CAP reform, data retention, very nearly Turkey, and doubtless numerous other less prominent areas of dispute which I've missed thanks to them being discussed behind closed doors or in Brussels corridors.

    Next step? EU/US military relations - specifically that ongoing spat over the long-suggested European Defence Force (first proposed by Winston Churchill back in the 40s, and still no closer to becoming a reality).

    The US position? What's the point if we've got NATO? (You can kind of see their point...)

    The position of a good chunk of our EU brothers and sisters? Erm... We don't seem to agree with US foreign policy much at the moment and rather object to the idea that we could be forced via NATO ties into getting involved in wars with which we don't agree - we want our own little club, thanks. (You can kind of see their point too...)

    The UK position? Almost exactly the same as that of the US.

    Yep - we're the IDEAL people to be the middle-men on this one, aren't we? We can't speak for the rest of the EU because we don't agree with or understand the positions of a decent section of them - and those that disagree with the British position will likely refuse to be bound by any deals the UK presidency proposes out of suspicion that we're acting as Bush's lapdog rather than honest brokers - whether this is true or not.

    On top of that we also can't shake off the ongoing competition between European military manufacturers (a decent percentage of which are British) and those of the US. So the US is going to be suspicious that all our boys are trying to do, nominally on behalf of the EU, is secure NATO contracts for British arms dealers conflict resolution hardware suppliers.

    Can't see this one going tits up...

    Bird flu confirmed in Romania. Tomorrow the test results on the virus found in Turkey should reveal whether it's the deadly H5N1 strain - with its 50% fatality rate. And still the government has only 900,000 doses of the vaccine.

    Go on, everyone - sign the pledge - we haven't had a good old-fashioned mass panic opportunity for - ooooh! at least a couple of months now...

    Wednesday, October 12, 2005

    Blair government in complete policy U-turn following "turns out it wasn't either popular or properly thought through" shocker! - This time those stupid data retention proposals they were trying to push through the EU to avoid having to have a vote in Westminster on the things.

    Now, I wonder, will they start pushing for EU-wide biometric ID as an alternative? They've only got a couple of months left with the presidency - are they really going to achieve NOTHING with it?

    I do hope so...

    Christ, I'm busy...

    As such, things put here to remind me to read them later:

    "Is there anything left to argue about in economics? Anything interesting, to be more precise, or important?"

    "A couple of days spent clicking around the economics blogosphere last week gave me the feeling of walking through a maze of corridors, as in a dream, academic passageways giving way suddenly to corporate swank and back again to think-tank threadbare."

    Are Today's Authoritarian Leaders Doomed to be Indicted When They Leave Office? The Russian and Other Post-Soviet Cases

    "'peak oil' doom-and-gloom fantasists are talking a load of nonsense"

    Carnival of Revolutions

    More, possibly, to come, if I can find a spare few minutes.

    Tuesday, October 11, 2005

    France attacks Peter Mandelson for "going beyond the principles of his mandate" in trade talks with the US. Mandelson has a mandate? Mandelson has principles?

    Italy: Rupert Murdoch lies out of his arse, and a bit on electoral reform

    (I hate migranes by the way - I've been out of action for eight hours today...)

    Tax-dodging media mogul Rupert "I really shouldn't say this, but" Murdoch has announced that he won't be taking sides in the Italian elections expected in May next year, at which anyone with any brain desperately wants Silvio "rabid, corrupt maniac" Berlusconi, whom Murdoch met for lunch today, to be booted out on his unpleasant arse.

    Murdoch says of his Sky Italia channel that "I believe that in TV one is using a public licence to disseminate the news and it is important that you should remain absolutely fair," while admitting that "If I were publishing a newspaper or magazine [in Italy] I would consider that quite differently".

    Murdoch and Berlusconi used to be good mates - but that was before Sky started branching out into the Italian market. As Silvio owns 45% of Italy's free-to-air TV channels and a good chunk of the country's printed media, he was always going to be a rival - but since he became PM he's been pissing about with government subsidies for digital services, undermining Murdoch's satellite base.

    Is this enough to make Murdoch swing behind Belusconi's rival for power, former European Commission head Romano Prodi? God knows - he did meet him for a chat yesterday though. But even if Prodi did get Murdoch's backing, Berlusconi's half-Nelson on the country's media ensures that his propaganda machine will still easily dominate.

    And then, of course, there's Berlusconi's attempt today to reform Italy's voting system ahead of the elections:

    "'This law would reduce the margin of the opposition's likely victory,' said Maurizio Pessato, a political analyst and chief executive officer of Trieste-Italy based SWG Srl polling company. 'It's a return to the past where each party defends its own interests rather than the general interests of the country.'"
    Sounds great, eh? The basic plan seems to be to return to a version of the voting system Italy had before 1994 - the one that produced such unstable governments that Italy has had over 50 of the buggers since the war. The benefit to Berlusconi? Well, under that system you voted for a party alone. Romano Prodi - and here's a reason to love the guy - has not only never joined a political party, making it rather hard for him to get elected if the system changes again, but is also leading a coalition made up of lots of little parties which may get wiped out under the proposed changes. Coincidence, eh?

    Paul at Make My Vote Count is my bitch, so has more on the dodgy vote changes. Worth keeping an eye on, this - Silvio got so excited about it in the debates today that he twisted his ankle. He knows that without some kind of dodgy dealing even his propaganda advantage won't be able to help him cling on to power - this is not something he's going to be prepared to let slide.

    I feel a migrane coming on, so will shortly be unable to see. So in the meantime check out how much just one government department is forking out on consultants via our Justin and the generally top chap that is blogging Grimsby MP Austin Mitchell. I was reading it just as my vision began to go/ It made me cross. As usual.

    Update: An alternate perspective, well worth a look.

    Bloggers are wankers

    Ha ha ha! Thanks to Amazon's "Customers who shopped for this item also shopped for" thingie, I've just had my suspicions confirmed - bloggers are all self-obsessed onanists. On the page for our man Worstall's anthology of British blogging (in which I will apparently be making a couple of appearances), one of the items listed is The Big Book of Masturbation...

    Monday, October 10, 2005

    Public Service Announcement: Human Rights group Liberty has organised some potentially interesting public meetings this week as parliament returns to discuss Blair's mental anti-terror legislation. On Wednesday at Central Hall, Westminster, 6:30pm they've got an interesting line-up of speakers to discuss the statement "Only united communities will defeat terrorism and protect civil liberties" (which you can sign up to here), while tomorrow from 7pm in the Grand Committee Room at the House of Commons there is a meeting titled "Defend Our Liberties! - No To The Politics Of Fear!" with another load of interesting, if not quite so prominent, speakers. May be worth a look for London-based people.

    Defence Secretary John Reid: "Iraq has achieved in 14 months what it has taken this country several centuries to achieve"

    Eh? I know this country's gone to shit recently, but I still don't seem to recall car bombs and suicide bombers killing tens of people daily, having to spend months with only intermittent electricity and running water, or having to keep an eye out for foreign troops rumbling around our towns and cities in armoured vehicles, guns at the ready, due to our police force having been inflitrated by terrorist insurgents determined to overthrow democracy and the rule of law. Or maybe I haven't been paying attention and the New Labour project to destroy everything good about Britain has got a lot further than I thought...

    .eu domain pre-registration now open, prior to the launch of the new web address wotsit in the new year.

    Bad news for Eurosceptics though - someone's already booked - although,, and are all still available.

    I'm currently pondering, or, more seriously, or But any of those would involve forking out a tenner to register...

    Blair government in "ill thought-out legislation" shocker! Yep - once again a supposedly bold initiative is being dropped because they didn't think it through properly - this time the pub smoking ban. Which for those of us who like a fag with our pints is good news, as we get a bit of a reprieve before the near-inevitable blanket ban on smoking in public places. Although quite why they couldn't leave it to market forces, perhaps offering incentives to pubs along the lines of reduced licensing fees for those which voluntarily ban smoking, I have no idea...

    Bird Flu hits Europe, and who's to blame?

    Why! It's the Blair government!. Yep, much as with the whole mad cow disease thing - and bovine TB, for that matter - rather than fork out on funding vaccination research and production they've sat on their fat city-based arses and done tit all. So now Turkey and Romania are desperately culling poultry in a bid to stop the bloody thing spreading to the rest of the continent, chicken farmers look set to go bankrupt and - if it turns out to be the H5N1 strain - we could all die slow painful deaths. Hurrah! Thanks Tony!

    Update: The Guardian - "authorities across the EU were yesterday preparing for a worst-case scenario: that the H5N1 virus could mutate into one that spreads easily among humans, creating a catastrophic pandemic. The Spanish flu pandemic of 1918 killed between 20 and 40 million people."

    Well, except for the British government, that is - nowhere near enough vaccine, and not enough time to churn enough out to protect us all on the off-chance this is the nasty stuff. The English Channel may be a handy barrier that's saved this country from invasion on countless occasions - but unlike our current threat the Spanish Armada couldn't fly.

    And so we have to rely on our continental cousins to deal with this crap, as otherwise we could be screwed. Hurrah!

    Update 2: Blogcritics has a Bird Flu blogging roundup to help get you up to speed on the latest thing that's going to kill us all.

    Update 3: Just to heighten EU/Turkish tensions even more after last week's accession talk nonsense, the European Commission has announced a ban on Turkish bird imports - somewhat neglecting to realise that this thing doesn't just affect domesticated animals and that wildfowl is rarely documented observing international borders.

    Elsewhere, The Independent has a review of a book on the whole Avian Flu business, again pointing out that "so far the Department of Health in the UK has taken delivery of just 900,000 doses [of anti Bird Flu drug Tamiflu]. So, if the pandemic arrives this winter and you were thinking of relying on the state to protect you and yours - forget it. It will be every man, woman and child for themselves."

    Update 4: Hot off the email - a new Pledgebank wotsit to try and get our dear government to finally get their sodding arses in gear.

    Update 5: Scare yourself even more shitless with the Personal Pandemic Preparedness Plan - "Since December 2003, 112 people have been infected with H5N1 and 62 have died. Although it is possible some minor cases of H5N1 infection in humans may have gone undiagnosed and unreported, a mortality rate approaching 50% is frightening in its implications especially considering that the Spanish Flu Pandemic, with only a 2-5% mortality rate, resulted in 50 million deaths globally... When people do begin to take the threat seriously, there is apt to be panic and frenzied buying as worried individuals rush to stores to begin their own stockpile purchases. Avoid panicked crowds and stockpile necessities NOW."

    Yaaaaaaaaaaaaay! It is the end times!

    Looks like the balance of power in europe has shifted - Angela Merkel to take over the German Chancellorship.

    So, the left(ish) anti-war, pro-France leader of Europe's largest economy is replaced with a right-wing, pro-war, pro-Busher who has hinted at trying to break up the old Franco-German axis within the EU - quite possibly by looking to the new member states to the east, what with Merkel's East German origins and recent attempts to befriend Putin and all. This could alter things significantly. Or it could all just collapse as soon as the cobbled-together coalition falls apart and leave Germany impotent and unstable for a while - a tad early to say... especially as under the terms of the deal four of the major ministries - foreign, finance, justice and labour - will remain under the control of the SPD. All very interesting...

    Friday, October 07, 2005

    Leaders come, leaders go

    So Howard steps aside gracefully, leaving chaos in his wake; Blair clings to power even after saying he's going to go, breeding resentment and fear respectively among his heir's and his own supporters; Kennedy faces down his internal opponents and defiantly states he'll carry on ad infinitum even though nobody can ever imagine him in Number 10.

    We Brits really aren't much good at this whole getting rid of political leaders lark, are we?

    It's time to take some pointers from our continental cousins - and where better to look than Italy, home of the original Et tu, Brute? moment, and home to a positively ridiculous number of governments since they got rid of their last genuinely strong leader by executing him and his cabinet, before hanging his body upside down in the middle of Milan to be pelted with fruit and rocks by a braying and jubilant crowd.

    Just picture that happening to Blair and co... Wonderful, isn't it? And we'd get a genuinely fluid, responsive democracy in the process. (And probably all kinds of chaos and confusion as a side-effect, but you can't have everything, eh?)

    Anyway, I digress... Italy's longest-serving post-war Prime Minister (at an impressive four consecutive years) looks - finally - to be in a spot of bother. And it couldn't happen to a nicer guy.

    So, Tories, non-Blairite Labourites, anti-Kennedy Lib Dems - keep an eye on how Berlusconi's enemies get rid of the guy, as could and should be happening soon. He's got a far stronger hold on both his party and his country than anyone in Britain's managed since the days of Charles I - if the Italians can boot him out, it's final proof that Blair and co really shouldn't be that much of a challenge.

    And hell - worst comes to the worst we can always follow the example of our forebears and do to Tony what they did to Charlie, or what those happy crowds did to Il Duce. We can test the axe out on Clarke, Blunkett and co first - it'll be great! Fun for all the family! Although knowing the way things work Sky will probably buy up the rights to the execution and whack it on pay per view... The bastards.

    (Or does advocating the killing of the Prime Minister count as incitement to terrorism? Can't work it out these days... Anyway, if we'd overthrown the government in a popular revolt and instituted our own laws making our actions legal, we'd be acting with the authority of the state, so it couldn't be terrorism, right? I dunno - maybe I ought to just shut up now. Probably taking things too far. Brevity is better and all that - and makes you less likely to get locked up in a windowless cell for three months on the Safety Elephant's whim...)

    Result! - I bet my mother's so very proud...

    Ken Clarke in trouble? Looks like some of his business buddies are trying to eject him from one of the many boards he sits on - this one being his Chairmanship of Savoy Asset Management. Could throw a spanner in the works?

    Cameron Cameron Cameron Cameron Cameron Cameron Cameron

    It's like that sodding bit in Being John Malkovich where old John pops through the portal into his own head and stuff. Everywhere you turn now, people are raving about the Tory whizkid.

    The Herald runs with the story that bookies William Hill have shortened his odds to 11/10 while lengthening them on David Davis to 5/4.

    Not being a betting man I have no idea what that means, but icWales tells me it means Cameron's the favourite - and apparently his odds were 10/1 at the start of the Conference.

    The Sun, however, cranks things up a notch, claiming Cameron to win Tory race - all based purely on the betting public's responses, of course. And the Sun's somewhat snide take on David Davis in response to his lambasting of the media response to the race is unlikely to help his chances much.

    Nosemonkey's free advice to Tories - don't attack the media, guys. Mr Murdoch doesn't like it. You'd have thought the lessons would have been learned after Central Office threatened to sue the Times just before the General Election, but apparently Davis didn't get the memo...

    So, if there's betting and there's politics, who do we turn to for advice but Political Betting? They ponder whether John Major's old whip Derek Conway could save it for Davis by bullying his pre-Conference supporters into sticking around rather than desert to the current media darling.

    The Telegraph, on the other hand, ponders whether outgoing leader Michael Howard may come out for Cameron Cameron Cameron Cameron. Michael Howard, jumping on a bandwaggon? Surely not...

    This may be a good juncture to return to the Guardian, who - being urban intellectual types - need something more serious than what some guy in a sheepskin jacket tells them, so commissioned an ICM poll - tellingly before the conference and Cameron's sudden media love-in - in which he was apparently rated best candidate. (Although "30% thought Mr Cameron was the worst candidate and 23% thought Mr Davis was"...)

    I have to confess that I, like the Guardian, am not too happy relying on a profession that has John McCririck as its public face to tell me in which direction the oldest party in the country may be heading next, so where else to turn but Anthony Wells at his sparkly new-look, YouGov-hosted Polling Report and his overview of the polls so far. His take: "[the polls] suggest that Cameron has the advantage over Clarke and Davis in terms of image, though naturally it doesn’t necessarily follow that he is better in other ways."

    But, let's face it, image is all anyone seems to care about in politics these days. Who cares about the reality or the policies when everyone's striving to occupy the middle-ground? Cameron versus Blair over the dispatch box: Cameron looks younger, less tired. Cameron wins in the clips they show on the news. Cameron versus Brown likewise.

    What the Tories need to remember is that the party leader - even the Prime Minister - doesn't HAVE to be the person to provide the hand on the tiller - that's just what we've become used to in recent decades. The party leader can merely be the public face. The spokesman. The chap who stands up and takes the flak (and the credit when it's due) while the real masterminds of the operation gently guide him from the sidelines.

    That's pretty much how Churchill was managed while he was party leader - roll out old Winston for special occasions, let him make one of those speeches everyone likes, and meanwhile let the men in suits sit in their smoke-filled rooms and work out the actual policies. He was a figurehead - an increasingly senile figurehead - and little more. Why not bung Cameron up there and manage him the same way - a younger, prettier, less senile Churchill?

    The only problem is that in the 40s and 50s the Tories had some genuinely great political minds knocking around to provide the guidance and management. These days? Hmmm...

    Best. Idea. EVER.

    Combine the spectacular, life-affirming delights of sweet, sweet booze and wonderous, soothing, stress-reducing cigarettes in one beatific product. I love the Germans sometimes. Not often, but sometimes... (Says the man whose grandmother's maiden name was Müller...)

    Thursday, October 06, 2005

    Gah - busy... To make up for it, have Mark Mardell's latest European Diary, complete with reader comments - somewhat amazingly with only one that's decidedly eurosceptic, the others berating Mardell for not being pro-EU enough...

    Also catching the eye: Jamie K on the media and the Tories ("the actual bias of people in media London... is tribal rather than political. It reaches towards people who resemble it's members as closely as possible, or at least resembles their image of themselves. It reaches out to groom them, in the manner of chimpanzees picking nits off each other in a jungle clearing.") and North Sea Diaries on the problems of EU attitudes to aspiring members - a nice alternate to my earlier, more positive take.

    Ukraine-EU relations

    Well, after Turkey and Croatia, now it looks like Brussels is turning its attention to Ukraine, with Orange Revolution head Victor Yuschenko's Prime Minister (no, not the fit one, she's gone - the new one...) heading off for talks in Belgium today.

    However, despite some friendly talks between Ukraine and Finland over the last few days with Finnish PM Matti Vanhanen's trip to Kiev (including hints that Finland's EU presidency could see the start of discussions about an EU-Ukraine free trade zone), plus positive Commission comments about a new visa agreement, not all's well.

    After all, considering the on-going EU/Iran nuclear standoff, and especially considering yesterday's somewhat idiotic public announcement from Britain blaming Iran for British troop losses in Iraq (way to heighten tension there, whichever moron decided to make these claims public), the idea of opening negotiations with another country with a less than tranquil past is going to be made somewhat less fun by the news that Ukraine's just been involved in talks with Iran to set up energy and aircraft manufacture co-operation...

    Either way, Ukraine still has some way to go before it can meet the standards required. It's a complex, unstable mess over there: a slowly recovering post-Soviet new state torn between Russia and Europe, riddled with petty corruption and powerful politico-industrial factions working behind the scenes. While Yuschenko may be a decided improvement on his predecessors, there are still doubts, and whether the crisis has been resolved is, as yet, uncertain.

    Either way, I think we can probably - no matter our views on the EU - all agree it will be better for the people of Ukraine if the country shifts westwards to Brussels, high ideals and human rights rather than back eastwards to Moscow, Putin and political repression. Yet another case where the promise of possible EU membership could do much good. That's the thing, guys - the EU is as important for its aspirational, ideological, symbolic value as it is for what it actually achieves. Ukraine may currently have only the first foot on the path to revival, but these early talks with the EU could help ensure that the next steps are taken in the right direction - and the EU is in by far the best position to do this.

    Wednesday, October 05, 2005

    Not too chuffed about Blair's actions on civil liberties, the war on terror and Iraq? Don't mind your face being on the interweb? Tim Ireland needs you.

    Nosemonkey elsewhere - Six Degrees #1 the first in a new series of weekly posts I'm planning to do at The Sharpener. A blogland journey from European politics to Japanese paper lanterns - by way of Pieter Brueghel the Elder, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, epistemological psychology, catblogging and Edward Lear…

    Oh, and while I'm here (insanely busy at work today), check out Paul Davies' near-comprehensive analysis of how the Tories' leader doesn't matter as long as the voting system stays this way. From what I've found time to read so far, top stuff indeed.

    Tuesday, October 04, 2005

    Possible career move for Gordon Brown?

    Heh - via a friendly French reader, Le Monde ponders why, as Gordon may have to wait a while longer to become Prime Minister, doesn't he go off and save France, Germany and Italy from their disastrous heads of state in the mean time? (Very rapid translation):

    "The chancellor is the only person able finally to give Germany the macroeconomic policy which it needs, the only person who can finally bring to France a governmental line which is not solely dictated by the preoccupation with 'communication', and the only person capable of formulating a vision for Italy which is not short-term. Mr. Brown, last but not least, could, as a single Prime Minister for the three countries, coordinate their economic policies which are today far too separate, too national and uncooperative...

    "England has two great talented politicians that may be part of the solution [to our problems] : Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. That's one too many. Rather than letting them fighting each other, it would be better for Her Majesty to lend us one. The only problem with the Scotsman Brown is that he never smiles. He's not funny. Good. That would make a change from our jokers."
    Could this be an option now that there are increasing numbers of column inches devoted to slagging off and doubting our Chancellor's abilities? Heh...

    Nosemonkey elsewhere - a quick summary of problems between Russia and the EU as Vladimir Putin chats with European leaders in London today - over at EU News.

    Tory Conference quickie

    Ditto this - it's time to sort yourselves out, chaps. We need a proper opposition.

    After eight years of Labour fiddling and interference in every aspect of our lives, and expecially after the last few years of ever more intrusive trampling over our civil liberties, we need a Tory party returning to its traditional values of small government and the rights of the individual. Sod the image overhaul (although that's also, to an extent, needed) - sort out an ideology, as that's what the British political scene has been missing for the last decade.

    As for the leaderhip contenders, my entirely unconsidered takes:

  • David Davis - too boring, too smug. Don't like him. Just a feeling.
  • Ken Clarke - used to like him, but he's missed his chance. Too smug, not likely to unite the party and, because of that, not likely to be able to revitalise its image or policies sufficiently. He'd get some good hits on the government, but would have to be watching his own benches more. As such, not good for the country. (And then there's the whole tobacco thing...)
  • Liam Fox - like him, though disagree with him. Seems affable. But too likely to turn into the Tories' Charles Kennedy - you wouldn't really want him in Number 10, though you'd probably be happy to have a beer with the guy.
  • Malcolm Rifkind - my early favourite for his intelligence and experience, plus lack of taint from the last eight years of crap, but now I doubt he can overcome his "boring and old" image enough to appeal to the electorate. Would be great versus Blair, less so versus Brown - although at least he has the brains and gravitas to outwit the Chancellor over the dispatch box if/when he becomes PM. Still, probably a no-go unless the Tories are willing to look to 2013/14 rather than 2009/10 for a return to power, and for yet another bridging leader.
  • David Cameron - young, seems fairly sincere, little enough known to the general public that he can position himself however he wants. After last night's Newsnight, it appears he could have popular appeal. Could prove to be a new William Hague, which could - if he avoids making the same mistakes Hague did - be no bad thing. Probably the best option for a proper, effective, reforming opposition.
  • Let me be the first to say - And it's goodbye from me and it's even more goodbye from him.

    Forgot to mention this - EU News, a new project trying to collate stories and the like "with a European touch" and "from a European perspective", like wot I've been asked to help out with. It's a good idea, and could well prove to be a decent resource once it gets off the ground properly and those of us who've come in late work out what we're meant to be doing.

    In semi-related news, I've given the EU Resources section of this place a bit of an update - now it has its own page it should be handier anyway, but I want gradually to get it as comprehensive as possible - so any helpful links I'm missing, bung 'em my way. Ta!

    Monday, October 03, 2005

    Right, logo's been re-done to look smoother and nicer, as has the europhobit logo thing, not that anyone really cares. My only major issue now is the border in the comments section - anyone know how I can either get rid of the lines that stick up at the top or scrap the thing altogether? I can't work it out...


    So, Austria's screwing Turkey good and proper. Why? Well, Ostracised from Österreich's got some interesting theories about that:

    "Despite appearances, I am pretty sure that Austrian chancellor Wolfgang Schüssel, who personally defines the foreign policy of the country, is actually in favour of full Turkish EU membership..."
    Meanwhile Tony Blair and Jack Straw are trying to look like they're making an effort (even though the UK presidency of the EU so far has been characterised by brief spurts of activity followed by complete backtracks and stalemate, so few reckon they actually care any more), Straw moaning that
    "It’s a frustrating situation, but I hope and pray we may be able to reach agreement. We have a situation where 24 have decided to move forward and one has not. It is not the first time that has happened, and I am sure it will not be the last."
    Diddums - perhaps you shouldn't have waited until the day before the talks were due to start before trying to sort it out, Jackie? It's bad enough students handing essays in right on the deadline - but this is the future of an entire continent we're talking about. A little bit of planning's not too much to ask, surely?

    And so the Empire of Priam - and as such the legendary origins of Rome and most of western European civilisation (not to mention the kingdom of Croesus, the origin of coinage and thus modern trade) - waits on the sidelines like the ugly girl in the turquoise crimpline dress, while 73% of Austrians and 53% of Europeans as a whole demonstrate their historical and cultural ignorance by declaring that "cultural differences" between Turkey and "Europe" are too big.

    Update: Well would you look at that? A last minute deal...

    Sunday, October 02, 2005

    Looks different, eh?

    This weekend has mostly been spent fiddling with HTML and CSS, and watching The West Wing. The results were mostly satisfying all round (Season 6 is a decided return to form).

    Although I'm happy enough with it to roll it out, there are a few niggling problems with the code for this place - any help would be much appreciated. In Internet Explorer on PC the sidebars aren't quite in the right place, and the title bar drops down a few pixels too low. In Firefox on the PC, the BlogAds box keeps shifting around the shop for no apparent reason. In both, the drop-down menu things in the sidebars don't look right. There are doubtless more, and all are entirely due to my own lack of any kind of programming knowledge - this has been a case of trial and error.

    Thanks once again to Chris for working out the initial template, and now - as I've had no chance to actually write anything this weekend (at least nothing that hasn't involved vast numbers of triangular brackets), go check out the latest Britblog Roundup - good as ever, and in particular the Curious Hamster on Sir Ian Blair - the post I would have written this weekend had I not been overwhelmed with code stuff... The only addition I would make is that there is now a strong case to be made that Blair not only broke the law by not allowing the IPCC to check the scene of the Stockwell shooting, but also that he misled parliament - and either way the man is not fit to hold office any more. Then again, we knew that anyway...

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