Saturday, November 26, 2005

Great Grimsby (Pffft!) MP Austin Mitchell rules. And he should blog more often. A sample, from his latest musings on Labour's "Educashun White Paper":
"Then, finally, Triumph. The follow-up Press Release: "Parents give schools plan the thumbs up". MP rushes back to Westminster to give Ruth Kelly the good news. "I have no doubt that they will get their message will be heard (sic) in Westminster loud and clear". There's even a quote provided to prove it: "[[INSERT PARENT NAME]] a parent at the event said "The government's plans are really ambitious. I'm pleased they want to give parents control ... but I was even more pleased the [[NAME]] MP and the head bothered to take time out to listen to my views". Democracy Works!"
Austin Mitchell: top chap - and decent photographer to boot. I raise my glass to you, sir.

Friday, November 25, 2005

That memo nonsense

As honourable as I find this sort of thing and the subsequent support, does anyone else get the feeling that something's not right here?

Am I merely being cynical in thinking this could be a deliberate ploy to keep the "look - Tony Blair really DOES have influence with Bush" story running for a bit in the wake of his Terrorism Bill defeat? (And in any case, I'm pretty sure that Bush isn't stupid enough to seriously suggest deliberately targetting al Jazeera - it sounds more like a Reaganesque "we start bombing in five minutes" joke.)

This is all far too much like the whole "whatever you do, don't throw me into the briar patch" thing. Why has the government opted for such heavy handed methods when there are subtler ways of keeping the story under wraps?

That book (again)

They've been and gone and made a helpful page with links to all the featured blogs in our dear Mr Worstall's book. Which is rather handy.

(Oh, and I can confirm, following a few ales last night, that Messrs Worstall, Briffa, Connor and Burgess are all thoroughly nice chaps.)

Thursday, November 24, 2005

The database state is one step closer

Courtesy of the EU, and we're now well on the way to bypassing the British parliament just as Blair and co planned (even if they did originally want the data to be stored for three years):

"An European Union parliament committee voted on Thursday to keep details of all EU-wide telephone calls and Internet use for six months to a year to help combat terrorism and serious crime.

"Telecoms firms typically store data for three months for billing customers, but some member states such as Britain want data to be kept for much longer...

"Details on a fixed-line call would include name and address of caller, number dialled, name and address of the receiver, the date and the start and completion times of the call.

"Details of a mobile phone call would include the subscriber's identity number or SIM card and the location at the start of the call."
There have, however, been a number of improvements to the original proposals, which were basically drafted by Britain and brought in via the Commission, notably
"The committee also agreed that only a judge could authorise access to telephone and Internet traffic, a condition absent in the Commission proposal."
Though now semi-approved by the committee, this could all yet be thrown out by the European Parliament. Fingers crossed, eh?

Nonetheless, after yesterday's UK-initiated proposals to allow police and security services across the EU full access to other countries' databases, it would seem that even though they have only got a month to go, Blair's boys in Brussels haven't given up yet. The predictions of an abject failure for the UK EU Presidency may yet have been premature...

Update: An overview of Brussels reactions and, via the comments, a really rather useful run-down of the major issues at stake.

Easyjetsetter has some interesting observations on Angela Merkel and the EU which are well worth a look.

1) If you have to spend more money (say, £1,000-£3,000 a year) you need to earn more money to pay for it.
2) If you have more demands on your time you are able to concentrate less intensively on specific tasks, potentially leading to a fall in performance.

Well there's a surprise...

Ooooh! A really rather good anti-Kilroy rant over at The Sharpener. I do enjoy slagging off Kilroy. Unchallenging, perhaps, thanks to the sheer vastness of his manifold flaws - but great entertainment nonetheless.

Note to the Metropolitan Police: Randomly increasing police presence on the streets at rush hour is most decidedly NOT reassuring. Coming in to work and seeing upwards of fifty policemen ambling around in day-glo yellow jackets down the length of the Kings Road merely makes everyone in the area rather freaked out, as they assume you have some intelligence of an imminent terrorist attack on Chelsea. Or something. Please tell them to bugger off and arrest some thug teenagers for sniffing glue. Or something. Cheers.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

London, tomorrow:

5,200 extensions to pub/bar licenses approved in London, taking effect from midnight tonight. Of this, I generally approve - the 11pm closing being a prime example about how silly legislation can end up staying on the statute books far longer than necessary (it was only put in place to help the war effort 90 years ago, after all), and thus why governments - especially the current government - shouldn't be hasty to instigate new laws. But are the emergency services going to get the additional support and funding they will need to cope with the concurrent, inevitable rise in drunk people collapsing and/or beating each other up? Yeah... Right...

Oh yes, forgot - you really ought to watch this, the latest production from our Tim. Deserves to go viral and stuff just by dint of being quality - and if people actually pay attention, could do some good to boot.

Tony Blair, acting in a self-contradictory manner? Surely not!

Prime Minister's Questions today:

"The DUP's David Simpson kicks off by drawing an immediate parallel with the tragedy in Bradford: would the prime minister grant an amnesty to her killers, as the Northern Ireland (offences) bill will do for killers on the run for offences before 1998?

"Mr Blair says he is meeting the widows of RUC officers this afternoon, at the request of the unionist parties, but says the bill is something 'that has to be dealt with' in the context of the peace process."
In other words, known (if unconvicted) terrorists are being let off the hook and allowed to get away without blame/court cases for fear of stirring up more anger and violence.

So how can this be reconciled with this little exchange from the end of the session?:
"Labour's Dan Norris complains that a Lib Dem council will be adopting a 'no-blame' approach to bullies during national no bullying week. 'I'm shocked,' replies Mr Blair."
Terrorists should be allowed to get away with it (presumably as long as they aren't brown Islamic terrorists); bullies shouldn't. Nice to see they've got their priorities right...

The database state slowly creeps

From today's EU Politix morning briefing:

"[Justice and Security Commissioner Franco] Frattini proposes a decision for the council of EU governments on the exchange of data held on Europe’s Visa Information System.

"National police forces, Europol and other 'authorities of member states responsible for internal security’ will be able to access the data collected by visa issuing agencies across Europe.

"Alongside this proposal, Frattini sets out some ideas to boost the effectiveness, exchange and ‘interoperability’ of various EU crime related databases.

"Some of his ideas – for EU-wide access to identity registries or DNA databases – will alarm some MEPs, civil liberties and privacy campaigners."
"Alarm"? Too bloody right.

The really odd thing is that these proposals (and that is all they are at this stage - they haven't even been adopted by the Commission yet) come just a couple of days after the EU advocate-general declaring transfer of airline passenger information between the EU and US to be illegal:
"Philippe Léger, the Advocate-General of the European Court of Justice, the EU’s supreme court, called for the annulment of an agreement requiring EU airlines to give US authorities access to a wide range of confidential data on passengers before they travel."
Which earns M. Léger a place in my little book of heroes.

Sadly, however, it is Léger's opinion which is getting all the press - not the Commission meeting today at which even more invasive EU-wide data transferrals are going to be proposed.

The big fear is not necessarily that such data transferral would be misused (it's certainly not as obviously invasive of privacy as the earlier data retention proposals, and is arguably essential in some form if trans-EU counter-terrorism operations and policing are ever going to work), but - once again - what it could be used as an excuse for.

Such a decision by the EU can only help Blair's case for UK ID cards and the UK central database. After all, if all 25 EU member states are swapping information with each other all the time, there will soon emerge a need for some kind of standardisation of the information held on member states' citizens. Standardisation - in the UK's case at least - will mean the state having to hold more data about its citizens to get up to the level of those EU members which already have ID cards and the like.

It might be time to think about contacting your local MEPs (click on your country, then region - pretty much every MEP will have emails, phone numbers, addresses and faxes listed).

Update: Sorry, forgot to mention. Yes, yes this was all an initiative of Blair's EU presidency - as covered by me before, they're trying to use the EU to bypass the British parliament on this one - something we might see more of now Tony's suffered his first Commons defeat...

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

A quick HTML/CSS/Blogger question: I recently fiddled with this site's template - shifting the archives around a bit, altering the title text etc. As far as I understood it, if I alter the template, that should affect every page on the site - including archived pages.

So why, when I click on archive pages, do they still appear with the pre-fiddled-with layout? Shouldn't that be impossible, if the template no longer contains the information that is being displayed on those archived pages? It shouldn't be a cache issue, as some of the pages I've just checked this on I've never previously looked at on this computer. Very confusing...

I fully accept that I will never make a web designer...

More EU budget nonsense

Tony Blair will end up a "serious loser" if he doesn't sort out the EU budget according to his old buddy Peter Mandelson, who it would appear is a reader of this blog...

To be fair to Mandelson (which is something that goes against my better instincts) he does genuinely appear to be striving for everyone's best interests here. Because, as French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy puts it,

"Either [the UK presidency] presents a balanced proposal in the coming days with a just distribution of the costs of EU enlargement or it condemns us all to failure"
- and Gordon Brown, albeit for different reasons, agrees:
"Failing to break the deadlock will mean a huge price – for reform of Europe, for prices, for consumers, for our competitiveness, and for the world’s poor"
They're both right. No agreement will mean failure. It will mean an all-round fuck-up.

But we're still not going to get an agreement, because neither Britain nor France - despite what their leading politicians may say - is going to back down. It's hard not to agree with Belgian Foreign Minister Karel de Gucht's assessment of this whole thing,
"We are sitting here wasting our time."
Gordon Brown may be spot on when he says that
"It is simply wrong to say that tariffs are essential to advanced industrial societies and wrong to say that big cuts in farming tariffs would not help a solution to poverty"
but sadly being right means nothing when it comes to this sort of thing. Because, as pointed out yesterday (for the umpteenth time - see also here, here and here for starters) there's no way in hell France will back down on this one.

Blair has offered to give up the rebate, the US has offered to cut their farm subsidies to make the loss of CAP cash less hard. But French parochialism has already blocked both of these really quite incredibly generous offers.

So, once again, Blair will be a loser - and his EU presidency (as predicted right at the start) will be a failure. Which would normally be something to celebrate - unfortunately, however, the longer the CAP remains in its current state, the more poverty-stricken and screwed will be the third world farmers who are always going to be the biggest losers as long as France continues to act in its national interest rather than in the interest of the world.

Nation states, you see? It always comes down to nation states. Source of all the world's ills.

German elections: Well, that's it then - Germany has its first female Chancellor, elected by MPs this morning, and a vastly changed political landscape. What can Merkel achieve and what is she inheriting?

Hero of the day - good work!

Monday, November 21, 2005

Even a stopped clock tells the right time twice a day...

Ha ha ha! More EU budget negotiation nonsense from the government:

""We are in no way underestimating the difficulties of doing a deal, but equally nobody should underestimate our determination to try to see if a deal is possible"
Translated, that roughly means that they've given up on sorting the budget entirely.

It seems that for once Blair was entirely right when he said that the EU was facing "not a crisis of political institutions, [but] a crisis of political leadership" back in June. After all, that quote comes from a speech made just a week before he took over the EU presidency. Based on his "achievements" over the last five months, if this hasn't been a crisis of political leadership, nothing has.

Bloody hell - I told you European Tribune keeps getting better. This "week in preview" idea's not only got legs, but has also been insanely well put together. Grrr. Envious now - wish I'd thought of it. (Then again, looks bloody time-consuming - maybe I'm better off carrying on as I am...)

"One of the most trade-distorting farm support schemes in the world"

I'm pro-EU, in spite of all its faults, for the reasons outlined in a post back in April.

The way to do it with a clear conscience, just so you know, is to basically turn a blind eye to the Common Agricultural Policy - to treat the CAP in much the way you would an unfortunate, but extremely prominent, pus-dribbling wart on the face of a beloved aunt. You have to simply pretend it isn't there while hoping that your dear aunt will surely notice it soon herself and toodle off to the doctor to have it removed. But still, despite your best efforts you still occasionally find yourself staring in disbelief and disgust at the hairy, slimy lump that is so horrendously disfiguring someone you love so much, and catching yourself just before the dear relative notices that you've started to shy away from her welcoming kiss.

The quote that heads this post is from an interview with EU Farming Commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel in the Financial Times - not actually said by her, though it is implied that she would agree with that assessment. (Read the whole thing for a good overview of some of the current problems in the run up to the Hong Kong World trade organisation talks next month.)

As long as the CAP continues to exist, and as long as the EU keeps subsidising an agricultural sector which would likely fail without taxpayers' money, it will be impossible fully to defend the EU as the great idea it should be. After all, how can you fully defend a system where someone wanders into a government office and says "Hello - I'm really crap at my job, give me some money," and the faceless bureaucrat simply hands over vast piles of cash? Because that's effectively what the European farmer is doing to the EU.

The CAP rewards failure, and pays idleness. Which is, of course, why it's going to be impossible to get it reformed as long as the EU continues in its current set-up. Who, after all, is going to vote to have to do more work for less pay? That's precisely what we're asking of (to pick the most obvious example) France whenever we try and push for much-needed CAP reform.

Until Qualified Majority Voting comes into force, as mooted in the piss-poor draft constitutional treaty that was roundly rejected by the French and Dutch voters back in the summer, there will be no way to override the objections of those member states who do well out of the CAP. All of this is just a rather pathetic sideshow, with fancy-sounding calls for intense reform which can not, in the current set-up, ever be delivered upon. It's much like the perennial cry of the populist right-wing of the Conservative party that "we'll take back powers devolved to Brussels" - no you won't, sonny; not without the agreement of all 24 other member states, that is.

And therein lies the problem. By maintaining the individual member state veto, the maintenance of the status quo is always the most likely outcome of any dispute - especially over the CAP. France is not likely to surrender - especially not after so many recent crises for Chirac's government, from the "Non" vote in the constitutional referendum to mob violence in the towns and suburbs. To back down over farming subsidies is a political impossibility for Chirac and co.

For France to vote for a reduction of CAP subsidies would be like the proverbial Turkey registering his support for Christmas. The French would need to be offered something substantial in return - and most importantly, something substantial that they could also use to placate their doubtless irate populace. And the big trouble is, no matter how hard I think I just can't work out what the hell that might be.

And thus, once again, we get back to the ducking of the issue which is all that really can be done with the CAP if you're even slightly in favour of the EU. It's not only indefensible, but also insoluble.

But the rest of the EU's great. Honest.

Another one of those "you're searching for WHAT now?" moments... Thank the sweet Lord I'm only third this time...

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Britblog Roundup #40. *insert usual cliched praise here*

For those that care, I've just spent a couple of hours updating the archives. Good God, that was tedious. Why can't Blogger introduce a topic archive thing so I no longer have to do it manually, eh? The lazy bastards. I mean what have they ever done for me, eh? Other than provide a completely free and relatively versatile blog hosting service and software, that is...

(Mostly) Britain
(Mostly) Europe)
Regional Expertise
New Blogroll Additions

Archives by Date

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