Friday, December 02, 2005

Following his amusing piss-take a few days back, blogging Grimsby MP Austin Mitchell has returned with an evidently long-considered, demolition of Labour's Education White Paper. The palpable exasperation of this old Labourite is almost painful. Can't say I agree with him on everything, but he makes his points very well indeed:
"these principles, while sounding good, in fact drain the under-privileged schools of money (which goes to the expanding ones), good children (who'll gravitate or be sent by parents and the New Advisers to the schools with teaching ability and numbers). Empowerment of the pushy hurts the humble, the inarticulate, the indifferent and the poor...

"Any understanding of human or even professional nature tells us that whatever promises are made of "no selection", "serving all" and a "full spread of ability", the key to success for schools will be results. That means getting more of the better kids to drive the league tables. Surely you've researched this and its effects on draining the less successful schools? So let's hear it for the people. Our people."
Go read. Good man, that Mitchell - a rarity in the Commons.

A rebate quickie/roundup

Busy again today, so light/nonexistent blogging, I'm afraid. But I really ought to provide some info on the latest rebate spat.

As the rebate's based on regional spending, it fluctuates from year to year. It's currently worth about €5bn a year, but is expected to rise to €7bn. On those projections, Blair's current offer could see the amount Britain receives back drop by €1.5bn a year - in fact, still a net rise of €0.5bn, so not really that much of a concession. All he's really doing is refusing the offer of even MORE returned cash (which could be worth about €9bn to €10.5bn in the 2007-13 budget period if he took it up).

In other words, Blair's in a lose-lose situation again. UK critics will be able to accuse him of surrendering to the French, and giving away the one thing which keeps EU-sceptics moderately OK with the whole British contributions to the EU thing. Critics on the continent, meanwhile - doubtless led by France - will be able to point out that he's only giving up money on paper, not in reality, and that the rebate will continue to rise.

NOTE: All figures above taken from EU - other estimates vary.

Some other views and more info:

The Financial Times reckons (and they know more about this kind of thing than me) that

"the move could mean that Britain has to make an additional net contribution to the EU budget of between £6bn and £7bn over the EU budget period from 2007 to 2013...

"British officials have long acknowledged that, without the concession over funding for eastern Europe, there can be no hope of achieving an EU budget deal.

"This is because failure to adjust the mechanism by which the rebate is calculated would leave Britain’s net contribution to the EU budget at 0.23 per cent of gross national income, while France’s contribution would stand at 0.4 per cent."
The Guardian:
"The best [Blair] can now hope for in Brussels next month is agreement to a review of subsidies in 2008...

"Downing Street knows it has to give ground because the enlargement of the EU means that the rebate will dramatically increase if no changes are made."
The Times:"In a move to get a December deal, however, Jack Straw will accept on Monday that if the rebate is retained virtually intact the budget system will become gradually too favourable to Britain and by the end of the next budget period, 2013, this country will be the second-smallest net contributor after Cyprus."

Prof Péter Balázs (in The Telegraph) - "the blame is on Britain and I am sorry for that, because the CAP is a much bigger problem than the British rebate"

Le Monde: "The initial British plans caused a flurry of negative reactions in the new Member States, which were - until now - allies of Great Britain because of its more liberal, Atlanticist positions."

Jean-Claude Juncker and Guy Verhofstadt, quoted in Le Figaro: "We are worried by the outline of the British project: it is far too tight a corset for the future of Europe"

Another quote from the same article from "an Eastern European Diplomat": "By lowering the budget in this way, the British buy the silence of the rich countries and turn to blackmail with the poorest countries... They are using divide and rule as in the good old days of colonialism: it is very shocking."

Finally, I unusually find myself agreeing almost entirely with soon to be ex-Tory leader Michael Howard, quoted by the BBC:
"We are not going to get fundamental reform of the EU budget in the last days that remain of the British presidency.

"We should have been talking about what we want the EU to do, about what the EU is for, and once you have decided what it should do and what it is for, then what it should cost and how you pay for its costs follow naturally from that decision.

"We never had the slightest attempt from the British government to take part in that debate or lead that debate and that's why we are in the mess that we are."

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Busy as hell, so go read Mark Mardell's Europe diary, which features the intriguing information that he's been filming a programme for BBC4 called "My Euro Blog" - although from his description it would appear blogging plays no part in it whatsoever...

Oh, and you may also like to have a look at MatGB taking on a few objections to the EU of Devil's Kitchen's. Haven't had time to read either post fully yet, but should be an interesting debate starting up there.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Calling new(ish) political bloggers: Come, tell us you exist and stuff.

Oooh - I like this! Another critical examination of the British political blogosphere to complement my lengthy ramble yesterday. (And yet another description of me to add to the last couple of weeks' pile of "progressive lefty" and "Tory": I'm now "right-wing" - albeit of a decent kind, by the sounds of things - hurrah!)

Blair and the European democratic bypass, part the nth

Yet another example of how Blair and co are trying to screw us by abusing the mechanisms EU (via):

"On 1-2 December 2005, European Union justice and security ministers at a Council of the European Union meeting in Brussels plan to back stringent new anti-terror measures. Some of them will be based on a strategy that raises difficult questions about personal integrity, fundamental rights and freedom of speech. They will almost certainly be put on the agenda of the European Council summit in Brussels on 15-16 December... This is one of the most important points on the United Kingdom’s agenda for its presidency of the European Union...

"The measures should have been the subject of a public debate at EU level, involving many parts of society – not least Muslim communities. It has not happened: instead, although member-states have discussed the strategy and the wider action plan for four months, the documents are still kept secret in the council secretariat."
That Open Democracy Article also links to a leaked memo giving a few clues as to what the plans are (in typically Blairite tones like "consequence management capabilities" where they mean "manpower for picking up bodies and rubble", the old chestnut of "justification for terrorism" etc. etc.).

There's also yet another mindless attack on modern technology from our luddite overlords (they have to be technological incompetents to think their data retention and ID card plans could ever work, surely? And the obviously don't understand the internet, or government websites would be rather easier to navigate...):
"The ability to put ideas into action has been greatly enhanced by globalisation: ease of travel and communication and easy transfer of money mean easier access to radical ideas and training. The Internet assists this facilitation and provides a means for post-attack justification...

"We need to spot such behaviour by, for example, community policing, and effective monitoring of the Internet and travel to conflict zones. We should build our expertise by exchanging national assessments and analyses. We also need to disrupt such behaviour... We must put in place the right legal framework to prevent individuals from inciting and legitimising violence. And we will examine ways to impede terrorist recruitment using the Internet. We will pursue political dialogue and target technical assistance to help others outside the EU to do the same."
Yes, of course the internet provides a "means" for post-attack justification. So does a pen and paper. So does the ability to speak. But what, pray tell, does "disrupt such behaviour" mean? What does "prevent individuals from inciting and legitimising violence" mean? The conflict zones stuff, fine - no problem with that. But are Blair and co again trying to get the blessing of the EU to start wading in and censoring the internet and limiting freedom of speech?

Call me cynical, but these days I hear them say "Throughout we will ensure that we do not undermine respect for fundamental rights" and I remember the Safety Elephant blathering on about how some rights are more fundamental than others (and some animals are more equal than others).

I also note that "respect for fundamental rights" is not the same as "commitment to fundamental rights". A hunter may respect the deer he's stalking - that doesn't stop him from shooting the fucker in the face...

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

UK Blogging: cliques and changes - a new (rather lengthy) post by me at The Sharpener. Apologies in advance for any boredom that ensues...

Forgot to mention this: a good overview of ID cards in history from Chris Lightfoot, which helps give some context not only to the inanity of the current proposals, but also to the government's methods of trying to introduce them. Worth a read.

Heads-up sceptics

How do you fancy getting paid to brainwash our nation's youth? Oh, sorry... Did I say "brainwash our nation's youth"? I meant, erm...

"run an educational project about the EU. This includes a nationwide programme of sceptical talks for sixth-formers, a sixth-form conference in March 2006 and a series of balanced fact sheets about EU policies and institutions."
"Our speakers come from across the political spectrum, and include parliamentarians from Labour, the Conservatives, the Liberal Democrats and UKIP, as well as top business people, journalists and political campaigners. All are sceptical about the Constitution for Europe or the euro; some would like to reform the EU from within; and some think that Britain would be better off outside the Union." (emphasis mine)
Then again, this is a post with the same thinktank that is seriously trying to promote Our Island Story as a proper history book, providing copies to as many primary schools as they can. Aside from the fact that it was written a century ago and so maintains a somewhat outdated late Victorian / Imperialist paternalist attitude (not meant in any kind of politically ideological way) and a doggedly whiggish, teleological approach to history (with a vague idea that it was Britain's - or rather, England's - fate to forever advance to become the most powerful nation in the world), it is also simply not a work of history, as the sample chapter makes abundantly clear.

Our Island Story is little more than a heavily fictionalised version of a particular interpretation of British history which has now been rejected by pretty much every major historian going as at best overly simplistic, at worst outright wrong. To wit:
"They stood beside the bed, hardly daring to look at the two pretty children in case the sight might soften even their hard hearts, and they would be unable to do the cruel deed. Then they seized the clothes and the pillows and pressed them over the faces of the little boys. They could not scream, they could not breathe. Soon they lay still, smothered in their sleep."
This would tend to give the impression that "the Princes in the Tower" were definitely murdered, and that this was witnessed/recorded to the extent that it was even known that they were smothered in their sleep. The truth? Nobody knows what happened to them. At all. There is no evidence that they were murdered beyond the fact that they seemed to vanish from the Tower of London after being locked up by Richard III, and most of the stories of their deaths originated in Tudor propagandists trying to justify Henry VII's usurpation of the throne. To present their murder as historical fact is to ignore five hundred years' worth of research.

So, if you fancy a job which involves peddling works of fiction to schoolchildren and convincing the poor kiddies that they're fact, while ignoring anything which could contradict the particular take on reality you've chosen to adopt, it looks like Civitas is the place for you. (I was going to apply myself, but my conscience simply couldn't take it - what's happened to genuinely rational EU-scepticism these days?)

Monday, November 28, 2005

BBC News: Met chief to face Menezes probe:
" The Independent Police Complaints Commission probe will be led by senior investigator Mike Grant, and be separate from the IPCC's existing investigation into the circumstances of the shooting."
Of course, they won't need to do much investigating, because they already know that it was a direct order from Sir Ian Blair that prevented the IPCC going into Stockwell station, in direct contravention of the law... Looks almost as if, much as we saw recently with Blunkett getting booted out nearly a year after Private Eye had already pointed out he was in breach of ministerial guidelines, Sir Ian has also now outlived his usefulness to the government.


(Oh, and ta to Chris for the heads up - I'm ill at the moment, hence little blogging action from me today...)

Sunday, November 27, 2005

It's not often you get an accessible yet interesting programme on the EU appearing on the telly (cf. the abysmal shite that was How Euro Are You? a few weeks back), so tonight's Panorama, Battle for Europe, came as a rather nice surprise. Read the overview in that link then - if you want a top-notch primer to the complexities of the on-going problem of the EU budget and economic reform presented in an easy to understand way that manages to avoid being either simplistic or patronising - head to the BBC's website and watch it online. Well worth it if only to compare Jack Straw in interview to the various other high-up European politicians doing their talking heads bit - he comes across like a nervous idiot, desperately trying to bluff his way through an exam he forgot to revise for. Great fun.

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