Tuesday, June 27, 2006

That chap McKeating mocks former Home Secretary Charles Clarke so I don't have to. The final paragraph is absolutely spot on...

Monday, June 26, 2006

Cameron, constitutionalism and confusion

Tories pledge 'cheap, meaningless stunt', otherwise known as David Cameron continuing to ride the civil liberties bandwaggon with the promise of a "US-style" Bill of Rights for the UK in place of the Human Rights Act.

There are a fair few problems with this plan - aside from the fact that Britain already has a Bill of Rights (even though the 1689 version has been amended countless times, promised Protestants the right to bear arms and banned Catholics from all sorts of stuff, hardly making it the bastion of toleration and liberty its fans would have us believe).

The major one, however, is that the reason the US Bill of Rights has actually guaranteed certain freedoms for our American cousins is that it was merged with the near-sacred US Constitution as the first ten amendments. To amend the Constitution is a major, major thing; even amending an amendment can cause some serious kerfuffle - witness National Rifle Association's vehement defence of the Second Amendment's "right to bear arms".

The UK has no equivalent to the US Constitution. No piece of British legislation is sacrosanct in the same way, because the single fundamental of the British constitutional system (logically, as well as through legal convention) is that no parliament can bind another.

Without a US-style constitution - with so many checks and protections surrounding it that any amendments are incredibly hard to pass - any British Bill of Rights would, once passed into law, have no more chance of surviving and guaranteeing our rights than any other piece of paper passed by both Houses and rubber-stamped by Her Majesty. Remember the Human Rights Act, the failure of which has prompted this little PR exercise? Passed in 1998 and already both main parties are lined up in opposition to it, ensuring it will soon die a death. The same could (and probably would) happen to Cameron's proposed Bill of Rights as soon as it got in the way.

In other words, without a fundamental overhaul of the entire British constitution, there is no way that anything can be legally guaranteed for more than the lifetime of a single parliament. Even then, there can be no legal bind on any politician to stick to a particular policy position, so all we would have to go on is their word...

In other words, Cameron's "Bill of Rights" idea is meaningless window-dressing. All he actually needs to do is amend the Human Rights Act - a process which would take far less time and cost far less money than the lengthy consultations and parliamentary debates the passing of an entirely new Act of Parliament would necessitate. (A process, in fact, that would take little more than an afternoon, should Labour manage to pass the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill...)

Does Cameron genuinely believe in the whole civil liberties thing? Yep, I think he probably does - as long as he remains in opposition, at any rate. Is he approaching the problem in the right way? Not so far. Bells, whistles and shiny baubles are all very well and good, but no matter how pretty your ideas may look and sound, they have to actually WORK.

Sadly, however, Cameron is not yet in a position to propose the one route that would allow the UK to come closer than it ever has to giving its citizens inviolable rights (something no British subject has ever really had) - because that route is via binding international treaties, and most easily achievable through the European Union, adding an EU layer on top of the Council of Europe's European Convention on Human Rights. But, aside from the generally anti-EU stance of most Conservatives, the likelihood of Cameron being able to achieve anything in Europe if he continues with his apparent plan to move Tory MEPs out of the European Parliament's largest grouping is minimal to say the least. Still, perhaps he has a plan there too (.pdf).

What IS Cameron's game? He's been knocking around long enough now that I should have a definite take on the guy, but I simply can't work him out.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Tony Blair - mediaeval madman?

You have to get 43 paragraphs into his speech on anti-social behaviour ("ASB", apparently) before you get to what he's really getting at.

Unfortunately, most journalists seem only to have made it to paragraph 38, where he mentions (among many other reasons, all to do with the shifting nature of social relations and structure during the last century - although most of them actually started with the dawn of the industrial age) "mass migration".

Some sections of the press, skimming through, seem to think this means he's blaming crime on immigration in yet another attempt to pander to the tabloids. He's not. At least, not really.

Blaming crime on newcomers and darkies may be populist for some sections of society, and may provoke others into blind rage, but the real worry is Blair's categorical statement that he supports "summary justice" - also known as "arbitrary justice", more properly described as "punishment based on accusation, not evidence":

"Because we care, rightly, about people's civil liberties, we have, traditionally, set our face against summary powers; against changing the burden of proof in fighting crime; against curbing any of the procedures and rights used by defence lawyers; against sending people back to potentially dangerous countries; against any abrogation of the normal, full legal process.

"But here's the rub. Without summary powers to attack ASB - ASBO's, FPN's, dispersal and closure orders on crack houses, seizing drug dealers assets - it won't be beaten.

"That's reality. And the proof is that until we started to introduce this legislation, it wasn't beaten"
That's right, folks - "anti-social behaviour" has been "beaten". He continues:
"Without the ability to force suspected organised criminals to open up their bank accounts, disclose transactions, prove they came by their assets lawfully, you can forget hitting organised crime hard. It won't happen."
Yep - sod evidence, sod the rule of law. Sod legal rights that have been established for centuries and survived riot, rebellion and revolt in tact.

The really odd thing, however, is that near the start of his lengthy speech (though soon countered with statistics suggesting a severe decline in law and order since the 1950s), Blair insists that crime has gone down since 1997 and seems to acknowledge that public fear of crime has risen disproportionately to the overall crime rate. In other words, that the problem is all perception, not reality. He argues first that there is no crisis, then uses the same non-existent crisis to propose fundamental changes in the way this country works.

He again repeats '97's mantra "Tough on Crime, tough on the causes of crime", yet dismisses all explanations of causes - from the "criminals are evil" brigade on one extreme to the "crime is caused by poverty and desperation" lot on the other.

In fact, Blair seems to have no idea what causes crime whatsoever. Which is fair enough, in many ways, as it's bloody complex. You'd be an idiot if you thought you could explain the thing. Which means you'd also an idiot to try and tackle its causes if you have no idea what those causes are.

So it's only appropriate that the causes of crime get not a single look-in during Blair's speech. No appeals to improved education, to fostering community relations (no mention of the Respect Agenda either - remember that?), to providing opportunities that may give alternatives to crime.

Instead, he focuses exclusively on how best to ensure criminals (both proven and suspected) are punished. And this is punishment as deterrant, not punishment as rehabilitation.

In other words, having again used the line about "fighting 21st century problems with 19thcentury solutions", Blair is proposing a return to pre-19th century solutions, where punishments were vastly disproportionate to the offence.

Blair's vision of justice is a medieval one - inflict so much harsh retribution on people who you think have failed to abide by the law that all live in terror of the power of the state, and only the most desperate or depraved resort to crime - only to be met by a system of justice that allows little or nothing in the way of defence (hence his mention of "curbing... the procedures and rights used by defence lawyers"). The summary justice apparently approved of by Blair is little better than branding, trial by combat, or throwing suspected witches into a river.

Ah, but how silly of me:
"Each time someone is the victim of ASB, of drug related crime; each time an illegal immigrant enters the country or a perpetrator of organised fraud or crime walks free, someone else's liberties are contravened, often directly, sometimes as part of wider society... if they [suspected terrorists] aren't deported and conduct acts of terrorism, their victims' rights have been violated by the failure to deport."
Of course - the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few... (A twisted utilitarianism, Tony? I thought you'd already rejected the 19th century's contributions to the way we look at the world?)

But then comes the admission - hidden way down in the middle of the speech - of what the real thinking is here:
"even if they [suspected terrorists] don't commit such an act or they don't succeed in doing so, the time, energy, effort, resource in monitoring them puts a myriad of other essential task at risk and therefore the rights of the wider society."
In other words, to save time and - especially - money, it's better to punish the innocent.

With such brilliantly logical thinking, why not just shoot everyone in the head at birth? That'd prevent them from committing any crimes and save a lot of time, energy, effort and resources and all...

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

DANGER: tediously overwrought political footballing metaphor approaching*

As if the team's performances on the pitch weren't boringly average enough, we now get our two options for next Prime Minister acting like primary school kids fighting over who had the "best" seat at the football. "Best" here meaning "most like ordinary people", apparently.

As such, by Labour's definition, "ordinary" is being given a ticket to a world cup match by the government of the host country - the Tories think it's flying by private jet to take up a ticket donated by the company broadcasting the match in the UK.

(Note to Brown and Cameron - grow up and get on with your jobs, you infantile morons.)

Both Brown and Cameron are somewhat like the current England team, come to think of it - their hardcore supporters think they've got a real chance but everyone else knows they're lucky to have got as far as they have; they show occasional flashes of brilliance, more often brief spells of mere competence, yet you always have a sneak feeling that when they do well it's only a fluke; and they're both not only really rather dull but also lack the ability to inspire enthusiasm from those not already converted to the cause.

(Note to the England team - please get knocked out by Ecuador and save us from further bromidic, pedestrian, somniferous performances.)

* sod it, everyone else is doing it - something to do with this World Cup business, I suppose...

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Hi, my name's Tony, and I love the environment - Labour have just thrown away their "Cameron's an environmental hypocrite" card...

The oddness of international law (part 234): Montenegro's independence has finally allowed the country to conclude a peace treaty with Japan. Europe's newest state had technically been at war with the land of the rising sun since the 1904-05 Russo-Japan War - in much the same way that the town of Berwick-upon-Tweed and Russia were supposedly in a state of war from 1853 to 1966 (when a Soviet official and the mayor of the town formally ceased hostilities, the latter supposedly asking his commie counterpart to "Please tell the Russian people that they can sleep peacefully in their beds").

Monday, June 19, 2006

In case you missed it, final proof that the EU is interminably dull: even Eddie Izzard can't make it entertaining. (But he does try, bless him...)

(Oh and a handy summary of the outcome of last week's summit - the EU's in a holding pattern for another couple of years at least. There's a surprise...)

Lacking the facility to do a screengrab before they realise the cock-up, nonetheless this is worth flagging. A BBC news story with the headline "Homes crisis 'down to immigration'" would tend to make you think that an official body has swallowed the BNP line. In fact, the summary of the story reads "The UK housing shortage is mainly down to single households not immigration, says the government."

This is why Sub-editors need to pay attention...

More hearteningly, the first page of most recommended comments for the BBC's Have Your Say: Should paedophile laws be changed? is amazingly (currently) not full of extremist rantings for a change. In fact, only one comment on that page appears to think that scaremongering is a solution - and only one other demeans itself by arguing (I paraphrase) "it's not paedos that's the problem - it's foreigners".

£12.4 billion for an overdue computer system? Double the original estimated cost? Fears of the National Identity Register are declining...

But hell - that's three times the cost of invading Iraq, for Christ's sake! We could have whooped some filthy foreign terrorist arse in Iran, North Korea and France by now if it weren't for those dodgy PCs.

(And yes, I know I'm behind with this, but my computer died over the weekend...)

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Weekend reading, shamelessly lifted wholesale from the always superb Political Theory Daily Review - as much to remind me to read them later as anything. (Warning: last few links are to .pdf files):
Charles Kupchan, author of The End of the American Era, has long been a courageous advocate for Europe. Now that he is changing his mind. And a new issue of Europe's World is out, including a look at why religion is the wild card in transatlantic relations; an article on how things turned nasty for the nice guys of the OSCE; articles on scenarios for escaping the constitutional impasse, treating Europe's Ills, diagnosis and prescription, and six priorities for tackling the EU crisis; and a section on Views from the Capitals.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Yet more future of Europe futility

Our dear national leaders are meeting today in the Belgian capital to discuss the little problem of the EU no longer having tedious little things like "a purpose", "a direction", or "a viable way of continuing to function for more than the immediate future". As the BBC's Mark Mardell rightly points out, the chance of anything genuinely constructive happening at this summit is somewhat akin to my chances being appointed editor of the Daily Mail.

Yep, it's all yet more fall-out from that bloody constitution, which in some quarters is being treated like the beloved pet you lug down the taxidermist's so you can stuff him full of straw in a "life-like" pose and leave him lying round the sitting room in a really rather sad act of self-denial. Meanwhile, sensible types dug a shallow hole out in the garden and shoved the poor bugger in long ago, saying a quick prayer and hoping that the local foxes don't dig up the bones.

In other words, this summit is all about one group asking "where next?" and the others asking "where next for the constitution?" The fact that they can STILL deny that the thing was well and truly put down by the French and Dutch a year ago ensures that the latter group will well and truly stop any progress being made in allowing the EU to get on with coming up with processes to tackle the many problems it faces - despite them maintaining that they're the most enthusiastic "Europeans" of the lot.

Here's a tip, chaps. It you love someone who's ill, the way to help them get better is to try and find them a cure that will work. The constitution has already been rejected. That particular medicine has failed. It's time to try something new. Because if you leave the lurgy for too long, some parts will become so sickened that the only option left will be amputation.

But enough with these tediously overwraught analogies.

The prime reason that this summit is going to fail is because it's being conducted between the 25 Europeans not only least capable of understanding the people of Europe, but also least capable of forming a sensible, mutually-beneficial solution to a trans-continental problem: the political heads of the 25 member states.

The major problem, of course, is that none of these 25 national leaders can risk seeming weak. Remember Blair (entirely sensibly) offering a compromise on the British rebate last year? BLAM. He's portrayed as weak, caving in to the French, and betraying the national interest. Remember Chirac offering a compromise on anything, ever? Of course not - his eye is firmly on the French electorate and the desperate struggle to maintain power. The same is more or less true for all the other politicos in Brussels for today's summit.

But an added problem - especially for a summit one of whose aims is to discuss how to increase "transparency" - is that these national leaders are precisely the same people who make up the Council of Ministers*, the single worst offender in terms of accountability and openness of any EU institution. The Council has repeatedly insisted on a secrecy and almost total lack of accountability that would make many dictators envious - yet it is the Council of Ministers' members who are going to come up with solutions to the EU's "transparency" problems? Yeah, right...

The only way - as I've argued before - to come up with a workable plan for the future of the EU is really rather simple. We need to find out what everyone wants from the thing. Currently the only opinions that get heard on a regular basis are the extremes - abolitionists at one end, political unionists at the other. The opinions of the people of the EU are not that simple or extreme.

But if the people are not consulted - as they weren't in the drafting of the failed constitution - then the politicians who are consistently failing to come up with a plan will have no guidance on what might work. They're desperately stabbing around in the dark with a rubber sword, hoping to skewer a passing solution while all the solutions are happily putting their feet up in a different room. But even if a solution was to be had, few of the other politicians could agree to it lest they appear weak, and unable to find one of their own.

And so it continues. Another pointless summit at which nothing will be decided. The decision will be deferred again. And again. Until, one day, the last-minute compromises on which the EU has been so reliant for the last few years will fail to materialise any more. The already present cracks will widen, and the whole edifice will start to collapse.

For people who profess to be trying to find the best solution to help the EU continue to grow and strengthen itself, the lot in charge are doing a great job of destroying it. For those of us who can acknowledge the EU's many and major problems, yet want to see it do well, this whole charade is getting increasingly depressing.

* The Council of Ministers is properly known as the Council of the European Union - not to be confused with the Council of Europe (which is very different and not an EU body), but also not to be confused with the European Council, which IS an EU body and has pretty much exactly the same rules and members as the Council of the European Union, yet is subtly different for some obscure reason best known to its members - the political heads of the EU member states. It is as the European Council, not as the Council of the European Union, that the heads of the EU member states are meeting in Brussels today. Clear?

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

"Renew for freedom"? Well, sort of...

Largely because it had run out, but partially because of the Renew for Freedom campaign, last month I renewed my passport, sending the thing off with plenty of time for the potential three week turnaround time.

Perhaps thanks to the claimed "resounding success" of the campaign to get as many people as possible renewing in May to avoid the cut-off before the introduction of the new computer-chipped biometric passports, I now have a passport with an issue date of 2nd June - more than three weeks after I sent the thing with next day delivery - an even worse photo than usual, a microchip of some description, and a little leaflet which "contains important information about your new biometric passport". (Although, of course, despite forking out fifty quid for the thing, "Your passport belongs to the government".)

Yes, despite "renewing for freedom", I now have a biometric passport. Cheers guys.

The new chip apparently "stores a copy of your photo and the personal details printed on page 31. There is no extra personal information in the machine-readable zone or on the chip."

As the authorities haven't - to my knowledge - got my fingerprints or DNA (what with me never having been done for any crime), at least I've avoided that part of the biometric invasion, which "we are also considering including... in the future" - apparently "in line with new European Union standards" - which are presumably the ones that Blair's lot made so much fuss to try and push through while they held the EU presidency last year, but as yet (that I recall) have not been passed.

The attempt to pass the fingerprint-storing buck to the EU and "international obligations" is, either way, at best a semi-truth. This is entirely consistent with Blair and co's push for ID cards and the National Identity Register - neither of which are mentioned at all in the accompanying literature, despite now being firmly linked to passports thanks to the piss-poor compromised reached at the final stages of hte Bill's reading.

Vaguely concerningly, the chip also has "an antenna" - although quite for what purpose is not made clear. How far away can the thing be read from? Who is it going to be read by?

Apparently it is "secured by advanced digital encryption techniques", yet they warn that

"The chip and antenna are sensitive electronic devices. Please protect your passport and the chip from damage. They must not be bent, torn or damaged in any way, or exposed to very high or very low temperatures, excess moisture, magnetic fields or microwaves."
So no more carrying the thing in your pocket, travel to sub-Saharan Africa or Antarctica - or Britain for that matter, given the "excess moisture" warning - don't let your headphones get near the thing on the plane, and in fact don't even take it anywhere near an airport...

Hell, perhaps this is the government learning from Apple - create a flimsy product that'll break after a few months and force everyone to upgrade to the new one. Like with an iPod, not only will the new version have a load of useless new features that you'll never want to use, it'll also cost more. But unlike Apple it'll also force your details onto a vast and insecure database, claim continued ownership of the product, and demand that you hand over your fingerprints for the privilege.

Still,I suppose I at least avoid the full-on biometrics that will be coming in in a couple of years. And which, apparently, will now be blamed on the EU - because Blair and co have been quietly trying to push the legislation out as EU-originated while no one was looking. Someone should have seen this coming. Oh - wait - I did.

I love the BBC (part 98,476) - their already superb news site promises to get even more addictive with these dinky real-time stats of the most popular stories. Of course, the results are likely to be skewed by what's on the front page of the respective UK / International versions of the site, and they haven't got stats for every news subsection, but still. News-addicted geek heaven.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Self-obsession

It has been far too hot for me to even contemplate thinking for at least the last week. I'm British, damn it - I can't handle nice weather. As the various Sharpener people I had a drink with on Sunday will testify, I tend to melt and go pathetic in these temperatures.

In the meantime, I got interviewed about blogging and the like a couple of weeks ago by a chap from Cafe Babel - and the results are now online:

"Brainy he seems – and his habit of chain-smoking self-rolled cigarettes strangely adds to that image – but a screen-addicted geek he certainly isn’t."
As I'm currently suffering from a case of heat-stroke, to prove that I'm not addicted to this blogging lark, posting is likely to remain light until we get some nice, cold, overcast weather again... In the meantime, that interview was part of a wider Cafe Babel look at blogs in Europe, most of which I haven't had a chance to read yet. Looks like there's some interesting stuff there though.

I can't get angry when I'm already hot, so no rantings about strange responses to suicide, stupid responses to almost as stupid anti-terror raids, Alistair Campbell, dead terrorists, or the latest developments in the ongoing EU/Turkey pussyfooting. Sorry about that.

(Oh, and I appear to have inspired my interviewer to have started a blog of his own, and it looks rather promising thus far. Go have a gander and give him some encouragement.)

Friday, June 09, 2006

Libération notes that the online petition to end the European Parliament's pointless moves between Brussels and Strasbourg has now reached over 500,000 signatories (not bad considering the site was only registered on 28th April) - and that EP President Josep Borrell plans to present this to the EU summit next week. Where it will likely be utterly ignored by our dear heads of state.

(In other news, it's hot and sunny - hence the distinct decline in posting round here. Normal service will resume at some point.)

Monday, June 05, 2006

Ask Tony

Yep, it's "pretend we care" time at Downing Street again, as Blair

"will be taking questions from two respected newspaper journalists, Sarah Sands of the Daily Mail and Michael White of The Guardian, as well as from users of the Downing Street website.

"This is an opportunity for you to submit questions to be answered by the PM. The interviewers will select the questions and put them to the PM on your behalf.

"The new forum is open to anyone and is an opportunity for the public to challenge the PM on any subject they wish, just as MPs do every Wednesday at Prime Minister's Questions Time.

"The interview will take place on Tuesday afternoon and be broadcast from 1700 BST that evening via our website.

"Please email your questions toquestions@pmo.gov.uk

"You should include your name and the town or city that you live in. Questions will be accepted up to 1200 BST on Tuesday 5 June."
So, what are the chances of Sands or White picking some of the genuinely tough questions that will doubtless be sent off? And what are the chances of them receiving satisfactory replies?

Still, if it's for real then it's an interesting new approach, as they seem very keen to stress that, despite being the party of manufactured media, "The questions chosen to go to the PM will not be selected by his office."

Thursday, June 01, 2006

The EU - one size fits all?

It has been a full year since the rejection of the EU constitution by France (29th May) and the Netherlands (1st June) - and still the European "political elites" (their phrase, not mine) can seemingly agree on only one thing: the failure of the constitution to connect with the people was the fault of, erm... the European political elites. They're not wrong.

But of course, while it's all very well to have a post-match analysis that goes on for a year, and while these constant discussions doubtless have their uses, the problem persists that as long as the EU tries to find a one size fits all solution, nothing will ever be solved through the organisation's many committees. Nothing that actually does the job, at any rate.

There is plenty of room under the EU umbrella to incorporate both Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt (recently the author of a book somewhat anachronistically entitled "The United States of Europe") and the more nervous likes of Britain, Denmark - even Norway and Switzerland. Hell, done right, partial membership could easily be extended to the likes of Ukraine, Turkey and even some north African and central asian states - a juicy carrot promising more goodies if they behave themselves.

It is the less stable countries on the EU's eastern and southern periphery that are currently posing the most problems for the continent as a whole, be it through criminal gangs or immigration, so it is those states on which attention needs to be focussed. Get them on board, and a lot of the EU's problems could be solved.

To that extent, Verhofstadt is right in arguing that "The Union must continue to grow. This is the only guarantee for lasting peace and stability in Europe", even if he goes on to make a huge logical leap in claiming that political union is the only way forward.

Of course, what Verhofstadt fails to acknowledge is that in order to grow, the EU must have somewhere suitable to expand. Currently there is nowhere. Some of the new member states who joined two years ago had not really reached the right levels of economic performance to join the club - hell, arguably France and Italy haven't got the right levels of economic performance to join the club...

Yet expansion was allowed in 2004 at least in part to save face - a sign that the great European project is still on track and positively craved for by those countries not yet lucky enough to be members. It was as much a message to existing member states as it was an extension of friendship and hope to the new ones. With future expansions, this would become ever more the case - unless Switzerland, Norway and Iceland can be persuaded to join, the EU is fresh out of economically and socially-sound neighbours.

And so, with expansion at its current limits and with no obvious way forward, a year after the constitution was rejected it still remains the best hope of the self-same elites who approved it. The one major problem it would have provided is the one thing thaty all political leaders can agree is needed - political leadership. With 25 member states, an EU President and Foreign Minister could have provided focus in a way that the Commission simply cannot. With the constitution's rejection, however, that is not - for the time being - to be.

Unfortunately, as the last year has shown, with not a single major European leader capable of providing guidance to their fellows, the political elites who were responsible for the constitution may be able to churn out reams and reams of text discussing the problems, but can rarely boil down the solutions to bit-sized chunks - because they can't come up with any solutions. Many argued prior to the constitution's rejection that what was needed was not hundreds of pages of legal jargon, but a short, snappy statement of principles - a "We, the people...", a "We hold these truths to be self-evident..." Currently the trans-continental committee is incapable of agreeing on even something as basic as what count as human rights.

Pinning all their hopes on a constitution that none of them were truly happy with, they still haven't reached the obvious conclusion: it is time - if only temporarily - to reject the one size fits all model. The very existence of the Eurozone proves that it can be done - and add to that the complex Venn diagram of European relations that brings in the Schengen Agreement, Council of Europe, EFTA and the like, you have the beginnings of a model that everyone could be happy with. A core Europe of Eurozone states who can happily push forward with political and economic integration whenever they please, with various decreasing intensities of membership on the periphery.

The logic of this to me seems obvious. They've given the one size fits all approach a fair attempt, but it was already under pressure with 15 members all having to reach unanimous agreement, let along 25 - hence the introduction of "qualified majority voting" in a vain attempt to get SOMETHING done by forcing reluctant member states to accept the will of a majority.

But while EU-sceptics from all over the EU frequently complain that their contries are being pushed down a route they don't want to take, rarely do they use the other, more subtle argument: the more sceptical countries are holding the EU back. This is an analogy I'm sure I've used before, but it remains true - as long as the EU is forced to go at the speed of the slowest child in the class, the brighter kids are not only going to get increasingly frustrated, but they're never going to reach their full potential.

Blog response time, example 56,798. Massive explosion at a major chemical works in the middle of the night. BBC News website reports at 1:03am (though it will have been updated by the time you read this in the morning). Blogs report at 12:44am and 12:52am. Doubtless there are more.

(I guess that's what you'd call "citizen journalism", even though I hate the phrase...)


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