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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