Saturday, October 09, 2004

"Perhaps if he were in charge of beetroots..."

Thus spake EU Parliament Chief Josep Borrell about the proposed new EU Commissioner for Justice, Rocco Buttiglione.

For why? Well, largely because he's a traditionalist Italian Catholic (plus friend of both the Pope and the rabidly corrupt Italian PM Silvio Berlusconi), and so buys into various Catholic viewpoints on issues to do with gender and sexuality.

"Rocky" Buttiglione has defended himself moderately logically, by stating plainly that "I may think that homosexuality is a sin but this has no effect on politics, unless I say that homosexuality is a crime".

It has to be said, though, having someone in charge of justice whose personal morality doesn't tally with that of the state could well cause problems. As Borrell told Radio 1 Europe, "It does not seem to me that in this day and age, we can have people in charge of justice - especially of justice - who think that".

It's the old problem which has haunted Europe for centuries - the split in loyalty between Church and State. Buttiglione can't be forced to abandon his religious views, but equally there is thankfully now a majority who likewise feel that those who feel homosexuality is a sin cannot be allowed to force their own views on others. Appointing a justice chief who thinks homosexuality is a sin, when the laws of the EU state clearly that it is legal, will inevitably create a crisis of conscience for the chap.

As such, it's yet another rather silly move, and has been met with opposition from across the left, with Dutch Green party MEP Cathalijne Buitenweg summing up the basic dilemma, "After he has judged homosexuality as immoral, how can I trust this man to protect homosexuals against discrimination?" The Party of European Socialists later issued a statement declaring "The Socialist Group is united in thinking that this man is not the best person to be put in charge of defending human rights, civil liberties and the EU’s anti-discrimination laws."

So, after the problems with Neelie Kroes and Peter Mandelson, one has to wonder - are EU states DELIBERATELY appointing dodgy candidates to the Commission, and are they DELIBERATELY being appointed to the least appropriate positions? Is this an attempt to sabotage the existing EU system, or just the usual incompetence?

Friday, October 08, 2004

Ken Bigley dead?

According to Sky News

Well done, Tony.

Edit: The Guardian has more and leaves some room for hope.

Saturday update: So much for hope... It was pretty much inevitable once he had been captured, and there wasn't much that the British government could do. But he shouldn't have been in the middle of a warzone in the first place. The reason he was is because Tony Blair committed us to an illegal war in the face of massive public opposition. Well done, Tony.

How valuable is your MP?

So, how much are MP's worth? Well, Tony Blair's £15.75, Michael Howard's £10.48, while the blogging MP for Grimsby (and good-egg) Austin Mitchell is a bargain-bucket £1.72.

Just came across Polidex - apologies if this is old news.

Pick up some shares today! With a General Election about 7 months away, can you spot the next Tory leader and shadow cabinet after Michael Howard's inevitable failure? Will you put your money on Blairites or Brownites? Will you put any money at all on the Lib Dems?

Seems fun.

A Moment of Repose

So a brief calm between the policy-fest of the conference season and the fluster of the Commons being back in session. The findings of the Iraqi Survey Group. Blair, predictably, has said that war was still justified and - much as I hate to say it - I agree with him. To an extent.

Ultimately Hussein had no intent of acceding to demands to give up pursuit of WMD, hoping to lie low until the heat was off. He did have intent to resume research and production when the opportunity presented itself. He was an evil man and a danger to his people and the countries around him.

However, to rush into conflict with such unseemly haste, espousing certainty when their claims were based on nothing more than reasonable suspicion and bringing a nation to its knees without any real plan to help it get back up again, all the while justifying their actions with wheedling arguments based on threadbare technicalities. This is not the way to go about defending one's nation (via the Bush Doctrine of preeemptive action) or 'liberating' a people.

The anti-war lobby need to recognize that the removal of Saddam Hussein was a good thing (albeit done in the worst way). The pro-Bush/Blair lobby need to appreciate what Colin Powell said in the run up to the Iraqi invasion - 'You broke it, you bought it.' In other words you got yourself a Saddam-less Iraq. Now sort it out.

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

No more representative of Islam than IRA terrorists were representative of Catholicism

It's a moderately catchy quote, and spot on. Shame the same can't be said for the rest of David Davis' speech today at the Tory Conference.

The decision to launch the meaningless "War on Crime" by showing a video of Nottingham shopkeeper Victor Bates, who witnessed his wife being killed in front of him by armed robbers, talking of his horrific experience could, at best, be seen as an opportunistically callous exploitation of an innocent victim's pain for political gain. And, as The Guardian points out, "Since a man has been charged with that murder, the short film clip risked running foul of the law on contempt of court."

Good work - launch a "War on Crime" by flaunting regulations aimied to protect the impartiality of the courts, thus potentially prejudicing a jury and allowing a criminal to get off scott free.

Actually, the sad and scary thing is that a lot of what Davis (who, for non-UK - and probably a fair few UK - readers is the Shadow Home Secretary), said may well be catchy. Especially the new hardline Tory rhetoric on immigration.

It's all very well praising Britain's laudable "tradition of toleration", but to follow this up with alarmist bullshit about how "immigration alone could fill six new cities the size of Birmingham over the next three decades" flies in the face of everything the Conservative Party should stand for. What happened to the value of the individual which used to be the party's underlying mantra? Why are they now lumping all immigrants together? Have they forgotten that even their current leader is a second-generation immigrant?

Apparently, the current level of immigration - for which earlier in his speech Davis admits no one has reliable figures - "is too much, far too much, and we must do something about it."

Perhaps it is, but as Davis himself admits, no one knows; following this up with the classic "my best friend is black" get-out and a frankly disturbingly right-wing assertion demonstrates amply that even though the UKIP look like a spent force, the Tories are going to continue in their rabid lurch to the right which has served them so brilliantly at the polls over the last seven years of massive Labour majorities:

"Let me make it clear, we will never diminish the contribution that immigrants make... But Britain is already the most densely populated major country in Europe... immigration endangers the values that we in Britain rightly treasure."

He then tops it off with a no-doubt unintended admission of what the Tories now are:

"Extremist political parties are hoping to batten on the fears and resentments that already exist.

"So the next Conservative Government will act."

Maybe this hasn't been thought through properly...

"Vote Blair get Brown" is being hinted at as a key phrase in the Tories' forthcoming election campaign. Of course this seems to ignore the obvious riposte from LAbour (or indeed anyone else): Vote Howard, get Howard.

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

"What has happened on tax and on Europe has damaged people's faith in politics"

Tax and Europe? Eh? What now? How exactly, Mr Howard? Labour have (stupidly and anti-democratically) promised to hold referenda on the Euro and the proposed European constitution, allowing people to have their ill-informed say. Tax (and inflation) has been lower over the last few years than it was under the Tories; in real terms, most people are better off. Has Michael Howard been living on a different planet for the last few years?

Unless I'm very much mistaken, what has damaged people's faith in politics is that after a million people marched through London in the biggest protest in history, the government still went ahead and illegally invaded another sovereign nation based on suspect intelligence.

What has damaged people's faith in politics is the fact that the Prime Minister mislead parliament with the full complicity of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition - aka the Conservative Party - and has yet to apologise or face disciplinary proceedings.

What has damaged people's faith in politics is the knowledge that if George W Bush gets back in as President of the USA, it doesn't matter for shit who the next Prime Minister of this country is, as both the two main parties will support him all the way.

I guess the major problem with the Tories is their complete inability to respond to the changes that have taken place over the last decade or so. The fact that Howard's opening attack was devoted to Neil Kinnock - a man who hasn't been leader of the Labour Party for TWELVE YEARS - and a Labour policy which hasn't been on the agenda for fifteen years, stands as a fairly decent example of just how fucked up the Tories are these days.

Shake off the Thatcher legacy already - that why everyone still hates you.

Ha ha ha ha ha!

Yesterday I mentioned Robert Kilroy-Silk's announcement that he wanted to be leader of the UK Independence Party. This was, in part, due to his assumption that he'd have the backing of the UKIP's major financial backer.

He doesn't. Ha ha ha ha ha!

In fact so spooked was the financial bod in question, Yorkshire eurosceptic millionaire Paul Sykes, by Kilroy's rabid rants against all and sundry (especially his determination to wipe out the Tories as a poitical force in this country) that he's withdrawn his support entirely.

That's a shame. The UK Independence Party haven't got any money any more. They won't be able to spend insane amounts of money on massive billboard campaigns. They won't be able to stump up deposits for MPs to stand at the General Election.

In short, they're screwed.

Ha ha ha ha ha!

Monday, October 04, 2004

Vote Blair, get Brown

Well, the Tories are on to yet another vote-winner. Launching "Vote Blair, get Brown" as a slogan would make a good vote-winner for Labour, whose single biggest election liability is the prime Minister, but for the Tories to try it on is just ridiculous.

How is "getting Brown" bad exactly? He's (mostly) been a damn good Chancellor, has one of the most powerful intellects in modern politics, and a certain statesmanlike gravitas which could, given the opportunity, work well on the international stage. Blair, meanwhile, is discredited in the eyes of the public, can't be trusted to tell parliament the truth, seems to be having health problems, and is increasingly disliked even by the people who brought him to power.

Meanwhile Brown has kept the economy ticking over nicely, and Blunkett's hardline approach to his Home Office brief has been just as right-wing as an Conservative Home Secretary's would have been. Get rid of Blair and the major Tory objections to Labour are removed - no warmongering, no close personal friendship with George Bush, no dodgy mates like Peter Mandelson, Carol Caplin and the like, no weird wife, no rabid pro-Europeanism, and far fewer attempts to be trendy by appearing on television in ironed jeans while holding a fender stratocaster. Blair was once the personification of Labour's successes, now his close involvement in every one of their failures has made him a liability. Were there to be a proper opposition in this country, Labour would be out at the next election.

But instead we're stuck with the Tories on the other side of the Commons. So is this week's Conservative Party Conference FINALLY going to signal their death as a political force in this country? They're already following the same mistakes as Hague and Duncan-Smith by swinging to the right (once again neglecting that Blair got in based on the votes of the centrist majority), and now they're helping Labour out by suggesting that the one thing that everyone's got a big problem with might not be around for much longer. Way to go the Tories!

Even though the Liberal Democrat Conference was nothing overly impressive, they seem to have the drive to succeed, and may yet manage to at least put in a convincing show against the Conservatives. The only trouble is that as much as I like Charles Kennedy, and as much as he's done wonders for broadening the support base of the Lib Dems, I really can't picture him as Prime Minister, and I doubt many others can either. But with Menzies Campbell too old and infirm and Paddy Ashdown running around the Balkans sorting out problems, who else can the Lib Dems turn to? They've got no one of sufficient stature waiting in the wings, and in this age of personality politics that could well be their undoing.

When the hell are we going to have a proper opposition in this country again? It's been seven years of a one-party state, we need some kind of challenge. The Lib Dems' showing in Hartlepool was promising, and the UK Independence Party are continuing to leech votes from the Tories, so maybe we're finally going to get one of those sea changes... If so, it's long overdue.

Commissioners comment

Peter Mandelson faces questioning from MEPs today, and unsurprisingly seems to have found his toughest challenges coming from the British contingent. While Mandy promises to be a team player, amazingly an interesting point was raised by a UKIP MEP, Nigel Farrage, who has pointed out that being a member of the Privy Council and of the Commission simultaneously could lead to allegations of split allegiance, as commissioners are meant to be working for Europe as a whole, and not their own countries. In practice, of course, sitting on the Privy Council means very little these days, but technically Farrage has identified a problematic issue.

Conflicts of interest are difficult things to define. Although most would agree that the Conservatives' candidate for Mayor of London, Steven Norris was jeopardised by his Chairmanship of Jarvis, which holds Private Finance Initiative contracts for running sections of London's transport system (and which most agree was responsible for the Potter's Bar rail crash, Mandelson's conflict of interest (this time at least) seems less problematic.

Of course, in an ideal world, no politician would hold any posts other than their political one. That was why MPs were given salaries in the first place, and it should apply to other political posts, elected or otherwise, if the public are going to believe that their representatives are truly acting in the public's best interest. Part of the reason former Chancellor of the Exchequer Ken Clarke lost out on the Tory leadership (bar his pro-European views, which don't gel with the membership) was his GBP100,000 p.a. salary on the board of British American Tobacco. That salary is more than double what he earns as an MP, so where do his loyalties lie - to his constituents, or to the cancer-merchants? And where do Mandelson's loyalties lie - to Her Majesty, to Britain, to his best buddy Blair or to the EU?

Meanwhile, outgoing British Commissioner Chris Patten, former Governor of Hong Kong, gives an interesting little interview on where he thinks the EU is heading. Unsurprisingly, he gives few definites, because as yet nothing is certain. Europe remains in the state of flux it has existed in ever since the original six let in new members, and is in desperate need of some kind of clarification. Which is kind of what that whole constitution thing was meant to be about...

Robert Kilroy-Silk: Twat (again)

Hurrah! My views on the man have already been stated, but it never hurts to emphasise the point. Not only do we have the Blair/Brown business heating up following the PM's announcement he'll step down after a full third term (assuming he doesn't have any Anthony Eden-esque convenient heart problem excuses, that is), but now the UK Independence Party have also got a leadership fight on their hands. This is hardly a surprise considering Kilroy's previous antics, but even so, it's worth a chuckle.

I missed his appearance on Breakfast With Frost yesterday (largly due to it being on a Sunday morning - bed is somewhat more appealing than politics when nursing a severe hangover), but it sounds like it was a corker:

"I would like to be leader of UKIP. I think I could turn it into a very effective, electoral fighting force... What everybody tells me they want is for the current leader to accept the inevitable and to stand down... during the last June elections, the current leader told me and others that he would step down after the election - but then of course he got a massive election result and probably liked the size of his new train set and now he's changed his mind - that's fine... Now you will think that's arrogant and presumptuous and I'll get accused of all those things but of course I think it would be better, otherwise I wouldn't want to stand."

Oh, and "UKIP also revealed yesterday the former TV chef, Rusty Lee, is the latest celebrity to join their parliamentary candidates for the next election."

Oh my God! Not that political powerhouse Rusty Lee! It'll be interesting to see the impact another no-mark "celebrity" will have on their reprihensible campaigning style. And it'll be especially interesting to see how long a black woman can stand being surrounded by a bunch of abject racists...

The EU and the Bear

So, Russia's decided to ratify the Kyoto Protocol on greenhouse gas emissions - a move which the entire world should welcome. The UN Climate Change Convention's superbly-named executive secretary, Joke Waller-Hunter, has done, and without that I'd never have heard of him. It's one of the best names ever. Who said that environmentalism couldn't be entertaining?

Weirdly, however, Russia is one of the few countries set to benefit from global warming, as large chunks of currently icy wasteland in the north of the country would be set to become lush and fertile pastureland if current climate changes continue. Of course, it would also probably turn the central steppes into a desert, but still... "Without Russia the 122 countries which have signed up to the pact account for only 44 per cent of total emissions. Russia accounts for 17 per cent of world emissions." Now all we need is for the US - which produces 25 percent of the world's carbon dioxide emissions - to finally come back in on the deal (which isn't going to happen any time soon unless Kerry gets in), and we may not be doomed to a Mad Max-style future of depleted resources and desert living. Hurrah!

However, could Vladimir Putin have ulterior motives? "Some Russia watchers... doubt the President's intentions are heart-felt or yet clear while some even suspect foul play. Putin and Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov were nowhere to be seen at the announcement of the government's decision, having left the job to the deputy Foreign Minister Yuri Fedotov. All the most important ministers and the prime minister are predicting a 'battle' to ensue once the Duma takes up the proposal, reflecting the fact that many in Russia's distinctly eco-unfriendly industrial lobby oppose the emissions controls."

All is not rosy in Russia-EU relations: "The relationship between the E.U. and the Russian Federation regularly occupies headlines in the Russian media. Politicians in the Russian Parliament debate the extent of the relationship with the E.U., and many ministers talk of either "joining Europe" or establishing their own sphere of influence in the former Soviet Union, thereby driving towards the still-distant goal of multipolarity... the issue of Chechnya still generates major ripples of discontent between otherwise close partners. The E.U., championing human rights issues, simply cannot let Russia continue what it regards as human rights violations on a consistent basis."

So is there a fight brewing between the EU and Russia?

Sunday, October 03, 2004

What music do you play at a political party?

Scissor Sisters if you're Liam Fox, Dido if you're Nicholas Soames, The Smiths if you're David Cameron and Meatloaf if you're Michael Ancram. As the Conservatives set up shop in Bournemouth, some bright spark came up with idea of trying to humanise the men (and women) in blue by circulating a questionnaire asking a range of light lifestyle questions.

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