Former Labour Prime Minister Lord Callaghan has died the day before his 93rd birthday.
Despite being the only politician in history to have held all four major positions in British politics - Chancellor, Home Secretary, Foreign Secretary and Prime Minister - he's probably unfairly, for the time being at least, going to be remembered as a bit of a failure. After all, he was only PM from 1976-79, and on losing the 1979 general election his party entered a ridiculously long period of opposition. He was also responsible for the devaluation of the pound in 1967, the deploying of the British army to Northern Ireland in 1970, and was in charge during the Winter of Discontent.
The judgement of failure is, however, unfair: while at the Department of Transport in the late 1940s he brought in both Cat's Eyes and Zebra Crossings, making our roads safer and demonstrating a strange obsession with animals which he failed to capitalise on later in his career.
God, that sounds callous. By (almost) all accounts he was a thoroughly nice chap. More from The Guardian, The Times and Wikipedia.
Putin backs the Kyrgyz rebels?
That's what it sounds like as he says "We hope the opposition will quickly take the situation under control."
Overnight there has been some rioting and looting - five are reported dead, 200 injured. The former opposition leadership, now in command, are promising elections in June. We'll have to wait and see.
For more info and background, The Argus has been doing a sterling job of compiling info, and Publius Pundit has a good introductory overview of both the country and the situation. There is also a photo album of the rebellion and a hint about the implications at EurasiaNet, and another at Transitions Online. There's more too at the always reliable Siberian Light, and Gateway Pundit likewise has loads and is being regularly updated - note especially their press reaction roundup (with links).
Kyrgyzstan crisis kicks off
I was wondering a couple of weeks back why no one seems to be interested in the protests in Kyrgyztan. Well, against all expectations the opposition protestors seem to be getting somewhere:
"The opposition in Kyrgyzstan says it has taken control of the capital, Bishkek, after overrunning the president's palace."
This could turn nasty... But, fresh from their Orange Revolution (see "Ukraine" section to the right), the new Ukrainian government has offered to step in as intermediaries
.Watch this space
Vote for me update!
The Guardian have sorted out their Weblog Awards thing, so now it seems clearer which one I am. As such - vote for me!
There's a lot of catch-up to be done to get up there with Lib Dem Watch after their storming early lead (even though they haven't updated in nearly a fortnight - has no one told them there's an election coming up?) - so get voting etc. Or not, whichever's easier...
The EU, US and China 2
My fellow Guardian Political Weblog Awards nominee, the bastion of the "pro-war left" that is Harry's Place, has a post up on the decision to delay lifting the embardo on arms exports to China, following a piece by Timothy Garton-Ash - the pundit of choice for pretty much everyone who wants a quick Euro hit, by the looks of the blogosphere. Can't say I rate him overly highly myself (always seems a tad overly simplistic), but I suppose I should be nice as we went to the same school and all...
Anyway, that's beside the point. Harry (for it is he) argues that
"There hasn't been much noise about the scandalous position taken by the EU on this issue. It would surely have been different if it were the other way round and the EU had a tough line of not arming a dictatorship which has long been making war-mongering grumbles against a small neighbouring state and it was the US who unilaterally announced it was going to break the agreement and start selling weapons to the free-market Stalinists?"
It may be worth pointing out once again that, despite US protestations about EU plans, 6.7 percent of Chinese defense imports come from the United States and only 2.7 percent from Europe.
This is not, of course, to defend the EU's plans to bunk arms to China on any moral level (as morality isn't really a factor and it does, after all, make perfect economic sense
) - and I am certainly uncomfortable with the idea that we might be aiding any future attack on Taiwan
But come on, people - what's with all these weak comparisons
between the US and EU? They are not, as much as many from both the Eurosceptic and Europhile camps may like us to believe, actually sensibly comparable. There are vague, broad similarities, certainly - but there are far, far more differences in their structures and ways of working than anything else. If you start making silly comparisons in particular areas you can make a convincing-sounding argument about pretty much anything
Message to The Guardian - time for one of your famous Corrections and Clarifications...
The Guardian Backbencher's Political Weblog Award shortlists are out. It would appear Europhobia has made it through.
I would ask for your votes - but sadly another, similarly-titled blog, EUrophobe, has also been nominated in the single-issue campaigns section. The Guardian, that bastion of subediting genius, has managed not only to bugger up the capitalisation of this site's name, but also their HTML.
Ten English pounds to the person who can tell me who I should click by to give myself a vote:
1) The site listed as EUrophobia - which links here but is described as a "'Europhobic' blog written by a European parliament employee. Scarily un-PC, but very funny in exposing EU wastefulness and bureaucracy." (Europhobe's description)
2) The site down as "Europhobe" - which links there but is described as "A former eurosceptic turned pro-European on politics and international relations in Europe and the rest of the world. Good stuff." (the description for this place)
I have to confess, I have no idea which of us is which... Still - thanks for the thought, Farringdon guys. Nice to see that I can have my first "Oh look the 'MSM' has got it wrong" moment in another one of these bouts of blog navel-gazing...
So, as I say - a correction and/or clarification might be in order - if only so I can work out just how badly I'm losing.
(By the way, am I on a single issue campaign? News to me... Oh, and thanks to Jarndyce&Jarndyce of The Pseudo Magazine for pointing this out - and the kind words and all.)
Can't be bothered at the moment - it's sunny and I'm overworked and knackered. Have a picture of me to cheer yourself up:
"A voice for the voiceless"
Thanks to efforts by The Guardian, the Zimbabwean opposition's newspaper now has its own website, launched yesterday. The Zimbabwean is more than worthy of patronage from anyone who professes to be a supporter of democracy and freedom, standing up to the insanity and ruthlessness of Mugabe. With "elections" due on the 31st, it should prove to be a valuable source of information - and one well worth helping out with a few donations, should you be inclined to put your money where your principles are...
No one cares about terrorists or foreigners
According to the latest ICM opinion poll (.pdf file), at least.
In the first question, "Which of the following issues will be most important in your decision on how to vote in the next general election?", there was a singular lack of interest in anything other than domestic issues. As per usual.
Asylum and Immigration - 8% see it as important
The fight against terrorism - 4%
Europe - 4%
A grand total of just 16% interested about anything beyond our shores - and immigration is primarily considered a domestic issue anyway. So the fact that the Tories are considered to have the best policies on Asylum and Immigration (30% to Labour's 24% - Table 5) will be small comfort.
For those of us who hoped Blair might get a bloody nose in these elections thanks to being a filthy liar who misled us all over Iraq and wants to lock us all up and throw away the key, Table 9 shows we might be in trouble - 36% think Labour have "the best policies on The fight against terrorism". Equally, Table 11 shows that 33% "much prefer Blair to Howard", with an additional 18% preferring Bliar "on balance".
We could be in trouble.
As for the EU (Table 6) - for us supposed Europhiles, it appears that 30% think Labour have the best policies on "Europe" - 30% to the Tories' 27%. Add in the Lib Dem lot as well, and 39% think that a primarily pro-European line is the "best".
Of course, you can prove anything with statistics. For another take on this poll, check out the always interesting UK Polling Report.
Blame it on Brussels
An article in The Sunday Times yesterday was a prime example of the easy cop-out of buck-passing to the EU whenever a government department makes a cock-up.
Basic story? A moronic official at DEFRA vetoed a food advertising campaign because he thought the images were "too British" (fields, cows, farmers - the sort of thing you'll find all over Europe):
"One photograph, headlined One Day with Daisy, was deemed to be too obviously of a British landscape and thus risked breaching articles 20 and 28 of the Treaty of Rome, designed to curb illegal state subsidies."
Erm... Here's the Treaty of Rome
. Let's see:
"Article 20. The duties applicable to the products in List G shall be determined by negotiation between the Member States. Each Member State may add further products to this List to a value not exceeding 2 per cent of the total value of its imports from third countries in the course of the year 1956.
"The Commission shall take all appropriate steps to ensure that such negotiations shall be undertaken before the end of the second year after the entry into force of this Treaty and be concluded before the end of the first stage.
"If, for certain products, no agreement can be reached within these periods, the Council shall, on a proposal from the Commission, acting unanimously until the end of the second stage and by a qualified majority thereafter, determine the duties in the common customs tariff."
The official at DEFRA even explicitly referred to article 28: "many of the proposed articles [in the advertising leaflet] would breach article 28 of the treaty because of their focus on the British origin of the product".
"Article 28. Any autonomous alteration or suspension of duties in the common customs tariff shall be decided by the Council, acting by a qualified majority on a proposal from the Commission."
Yep - LOADS there about places of origin for foodstuffs, isn't there? Christ...
As the Commission has noted, this whole thing is simply a load of old bollocks:
"The European commission said it 'never' regarded pictures of national landscapes as posing a breach of state aid rules. A spokesman said: 'That is wrong.'"
For a change, this is not a press distortion, but a deliberate propagation of a Euromyth by a civil servant desperate to pass the blame elsewhere. Mention a few random articles or subclauses from some European treaty, the assumption is that no one can be bothered to check because these things are all so dull. Most of the time, this seems to be a safe assumption to make.
But it sounds good, doesn't it? Meddling Brussels bureaucrats interfering with or way of life, wasting our money, etc. Who cares if it's a load of old nonsense?
When it turns out to be one of our own bureaucrats, generally speaking everyone stays rather more quiet. As I've tried explaining numerous times, both here
and over at Commissioner Wallstrom's blog
, there's really not much difference between our own civil service and the Commission's various workers (note: not the Commissioners themselves). The only real difference is that the Commission doesn't have the luxury of being able to pass the buck...