Saturday, January 14, 2006

This may be worth a look - though not on a Saturday evening, so I haven't read it myself yet: former New Statesman editor John Lloyd on his pet topic of anti-Americanism (my own views on which can be found here) - this time in a European context (I think the likelihood is I will disagree strongly with his take...).

Yep, that's right - I'm linking to a review I haven't read of a book I haven't read. The book does, however, sound interesting...

Tony Blair as UN Secretary General? A man with no concept of international law - or even the legal system of his own country? Wouldn't that be rather like putting Mr Stabby in charge of the knife drawer? Oh well, at least the picture of Blair and Clinton they've chosen to illustrate the piece is a contender for Viz's Up The Arse Corner...

Update: I don't know if this is so much a case of great minds thinking alike as this is really the only possible reaction...

Friday, January 13, 2006

Menzies Campbell: "I will take the party left of Labour" - yeah, like THAT's hard... The difficulty, old boy, is in making your party electable. Which it never really has been - and that's coming from someone who has voted for you buggers more than once.

Please help us to find this man!

It's just like that episode of Spooks with Giles from Buffy... (Or something entirely innocent, who knows?)

The constitutional zombie

So it looks like the EU constitution has turned into one of the undead, roughly raised from its shallow grave to parade around the continent once more and scare the crap out of everyone. From the manner of its rising it can only really be a zombie - a shambling, slowly rotting, rather ineffectual member of the army of darkness which can, nonetheless, be a bit scary and have the potential to eat many a good brain.

The Austrian presidency is planning to relaunch the constitutional ratification process on January 27th in Salzburg - the home town of Mozart and the 250th anniversary of his birth, prompting all kinds of PR guff about "bringing harmony to Europe's orchestra". Meanwhile Andrew Duff and Johannes Voggenhuber, British and Austrian MEPs respectively, were the European Parliament's rapporteurs on the EU Constitution, and are due to report again next week on the "period of reflection" everyone was supposed to have been having since its rejection by France and the Netherlands last year.

They are also expected to try and get the Parliament's backing for a pointlessly contentious attempt to revive the damn thing, the only possible benefit of which could (if we're lucky, which on Friday 13th seems unlikely) be increased pan-European debate - something the Blair EU presidency studiously avoided, despite calls from the Commission for a "Plan D for Democracy, Dialogue and Debate" in the aftermath.

Nonetheless, as it looks like the constitution is going to become an issue again over the next six months, how about a recap?

  • First up, a summary of what it was the constitution was actually proposing to change
  • Then, a reminder of why something along these lines is necessary for the EU
  • A look at why - especially with Blair in charge - ratifying the constitution would be a good thing for Britain
  • A specific example of one area which would have been improved by the constitution - immigration
  • Then a quickie on why those of us in favour of the EU should reject this constitution anyway
  • The difficulties of the lack of EU democratic accountabilty and the lack of a European demos
  • And a lengthy bit on why sensible debate over the EU is all but impossible
  • Finally, a handy collection of links to other blog posts and articles on the constitution
  • Right, that's it - no more slagging off Galloway for being on Big Brother for me. Him getting locked up for a reality TV show and not being able to attend to his Commons duties is one thing, but once a government minister from a constituency 300-odd miles away starts interfering in a pathetic (and belated) attempt to jump on the bandwaggon, that's when I get sick of the whole affair.

    Thursday, January 12, 2006

    The EU budget deal's screwed again:
    ""In its current form, the parliament would have to reject the common position of the council, as it does not secure a budget guaranteeing prosperity, security and solidarity for European citizens.”
    So, that would be precisely tit all that Blair managed to achieve with his six month EU presidency then? Hurrah!

    Chris Who-hne?

    A Blair vs. political philosophy quickie

    It's been a few years since I read it, but Blair evoking Leviathan (from his perpective as effective sovereign) would tend to suggest that he wants absolute power over every aspect of society. There is, however, a qualifier in Hobbes - no one has any obligation to obey a sovereign if in doing so their life would be put at risk. *cough*Pissing off the entire Muslim world with Iraq*cough*

    I think it's time Tony read up on a bit of Locke - his stuff about "being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his Life, Health, Liberty, or Possessions" could be handy for this Respect thing. He should probably skip the bit about "liberty from arbitrary rule" though - load of rubbish, obviously.

    Montesquieu might also suit his purposes - political liberty "is that tranquility of spirit which comes from the opinion each one has of his security, and in order for him have this liberty the government must be such that one citizen cannot fear another citizen." Sounds like the Respect Agenda to me. Sadly, though, old Monty also came up with a load of guff about separation of powers, checks and balances and other such outdated nonsense...

    (Originally posted as a comment over at A Big Stick and a Small Carrot)

    Oh and have a few more intriguing political parrallels over at Bloog and Treasure...

    Update: More Hobbes goodness, from Leviathan Chapter XXI:

    “LIBERTY, or freedom, signifieth properly the absence of opposition…”
    Heh… On a more worrying note (from the same chapter):
    “if we take liberty for an exemption from laws, it is no less absurd for men to demand as they do that liberty by which all other men may be masters of their lives. And yet as absurd as it is, this is it they demand, not knowing that the laws are of no power to protect them without a sword in the hands of a man, or men, to cause those laws to be put in execution.”
    See - by opposing this, we’re actively ASKING asking to be mugged by hoodies. We’re poor, foolish, easily led idiots:
    “it is an easy thing for men to be deceived by the specious name of liberty; and, for want of judgement to distinguish, mistake that for their private inheritance and birthright which is the right of the public only. And when the same error is confirmed by the authority of men in reputation for their writings on this subject, it is no wonder if it produce sedition”
    (Originally posted as a comment to Jarndyce's rather good Sharpener piece, linked up top)

    Mark Mardell's latest Europe diary is up at the Beeb, along with a glimpse of the Austrian presidency's barcode-like logo (which I'd have thought would have been more suited to Blair, but still...)

    Wednesday, January 11, 2006

    What's the agenda behind the Respect Agenda?

    If one belives the government's own statistics (the recording methods for most of which have been changed since Labour came to office to make them look successful for electioneering purposes increase accuracy), since a peak in 1995, crime in this country is now back to roughly the same level it was 25 years ago.

    Take criminal damage - an antisocial form of behaviour if ever there was one, including as it does graffiti, petty vandalism and the like - current figures show that we're currently experiencing less of this than for 25 years. It's the same for non-vehicle-related theft.

    Meanwhile, violent crime - which with all the reports of "happy-slapping", armed robberies and the like one might assume to be through the roof - has declined to its lowest level in 15 years.

    Assuming one takes the government's figures seriously (which, considering they must be the same figures our overlords are working with to determine which policies to pursue, we pretty much have to, even though minor "antisocial" crimes often go unreported), it looks like - despite my protestations the other day - this "Respect" thing is a meaningless PR stunt - an attempt to reassure the public could be all that is really needed.

    Could it be the case that it is actually only the fear of crime which is the problem? Certainly the last 25 years have seen a massive boom in public access to news, with 24 hour news channels and the internet all jostling to attract audience attentions with ever more shocking stories. And we all know that horror stories are often the most compelling - what better than peadophiles and teenage muggers to take the place of the bogeyman of our childhoods?

    But if this is the case, then why is dear Tony, in launching this "Respect" nonsense, telling us that

    "The scale, organisation, nature of modern crime makes the traditional processes simply too cumbersome, too remote from reality to be effective."
    Has he not been reading his own government's crime statistics that show a decline in criminal activity over the last ten years? Has he gone mad, and decided to ignore statistics (accurate or otherwise, but official nonetheless) that could easily be used to show that his government has actually been quite successful on the crime front - as a commentor on my piece earlier today contended.

    Or is Blair merely deliberately adding to the public's apparently misplaced perception that crime is out of control in yet another attempt to extend the power of the state?

    We already know that Labour want to get rid of Jury trials, so it's no surprise that Blair also mentions "a jury utterly bemused". He also catagorically admits that his legal reforms have "reversed the burden of proof". His government has tried to dictate to judges how to try cases. His government have scrapped habeas corpus. But "now... we want to take these powers further."

    I thought this Respect thing was meant to reduce our fear? Personally, the more I think about it, the more terrified I get.

    Promising new Euro-centric political discussion fora, courtesy of Der Spiegel. Launched yesterday, so hasn't quite kicked off yet, but could be worth a look.

    Two things to turn you illiberal:

    1) "Man gets life for raping 12-week old baby"

    2) "Thugs used broken bottles to cut off a man's eyelids and ears while robbing him of just £1.50... The boys are believed to be 13 or 14." (From this morning's Daily Mail sister paper, The Metro, not repeated in any other news source that I can find)

    I mean, Christ... Thank goodness for Tony Blair and his "respect agenda", eh? (Please note that the latter story appeared alongside a large feature on said new initiative. Convenient...)

    Tuesday, January 10, 2006

    The UK Today is back up and running, noting that, thanks to clutching at fame on Big Brother, that knobber George Galloway will miss the Crossrail Bill debate on Thursday - despite it promising to have a major impact on his constituency. To be fair to the mustachioed one, he's made some sensible points against the thing in the past. Not this time, though, and his constituents' concerns will go unheard, even though Galloway himself (in a rare visit to the Commons) told the House that "the residents and small businesses of my constituency will pay the greatest price" if the Bill is passed. Nice one, George.

    Ukraine parliament sacks government? According to the BBC's ticker-tape, at any rate, but no details as of yet. Either way, after Prime Minister Yury Yekhanurov defended the Russian gas deal earlier today, it looks like the MPs haven't bought it. Until more details emerge, here's a good overview of why the deal could be flawed, and another defending it, as well as a bit more background on the domestic Ukranian troubles caused by the deal and the growth in anti-Russian sentiment. Is this the end of the Orange Revolution?

    Update: Here's the BBC's stub, doubtless soon to be expanded upon. Looks like a no-confidence vote in the government was backed by 250 out of 450 MPs which should, from what I can tell, force an early general election.

    Update 2: Hmmm... According to Auntie, "Mr Yekhanurov has told reporters his government is not bound by the parliamentary vote". Yaaaay! Ignoring the will of the democratically-elected legislature in a country which saw a popular revolution just over a year ago - nice one... Keep your eye on former PM and Orange Revolution leading light, the rather gorgeous Yulia Tymoshenko.

    Update 3: "Mr Yushchenko told reporters on a visit to Kazakhstan: 'This decision will be shown to be unconstitutional.'" - not "this vote IS unconstitutional", please note. Either way, one might ask what good a constitution is if it doesn't force a government to abide by a vote of no confidence...

    The "respect" placebo

    After yesterday's nonsense about "community calls to action" (formerly known as "dialling 999"), New Labour appear to be turning into the Daily Mail. From their latest email propaganda missive:

    "In my local shop, at the bus stop, I would rage about the graffiti I saw.

    "You might disagree with me, I know some say it's art but for me, I ask, why don't they scrawl over their own homes? It used to make me feel useless, that there was nothing I could do to protect my community.

    "Graffiti has always driven me mad but lack of respect shows itself in other ways. Maybe you have friends disturbed by rowdy neighbours or you have relatives who can't help but feel intimidated by young people hanging around outside even though they know most of them aren't doing anything wrong.

    "We all have different tolerance levels but everyone should feel safe, secure and happy in their own area, in their own home and that is why Tony Blair has launched the 'Give respect Get respect' campaign today."
    Please note, once again, that everyone should FEEL safe - not necessarily actually BE safe. This whole thing is mere window-dressing, a placebo designed to shift public perception with the minimum of resources. Which is why they are asking for the public to volunteer to help - literally, it would seem - to clean up our streets.

    I don't deny for a second that encouraging voluntary work in the community is a good thing, nor do I deny that trying to organise it at a national level, with all the propaganda resources of the state thrown behind drumming up recruits, is a potentially valid new approach.

    What I don't see, however, is how this is really that different to the "Neighbourhood Watch" drives of the 1980s. And I certainly object to the prospect of Blair/Labour being able to claim the credit for any and every example of positive community action from now until the next general election.

    Plus, to sound like the Daily Mail myself for a moment, considering that most of the problems highlighted by Labour as examples of "lack of respect" seem to stem from bored teenagers loitering on street corners, I object to the lack of any kind of attempt to tackle the root cause of the problem. This is merely encouraging the public to do their local council's job of cleaning up the mess after the fact and worst case scenario, in a typically tabloid-friendly approach, encourage more "have-a-go heroes" to turn vigilante.

    While "respect" for and engagement with one's local community are both aims to be lauded, without increased police resources, funding for youth activities to keep the little buggers off the streets and - perhaps most importantly - a genuine attempt to tackle the problem of what to do with young offenders who feel themselves to be above the law thanks to the courts' difficulty in dishing out suitable punishments, all of this is little more than a smokescreen designed to make us all feel better without actually doing anything about the problem itself. A perfect New Labour policy, in other words.

    Update: Is this the kind of thing they're planning? Charging people £3.50 a week for the joy of helping the police monitor CCTV? Christ...

    Monday, January 09, 2006

    The end of anonymous blogging in the US? - "Last Thursday, President Bush signed into law a prohibition on posting annoying Web messages or sending annoying e-mail messages without disclosing your true identity." Yes. Really.
    "Whoever...utilizes any device or software that can be used to originate telecommunications or other types of communications that are transmitted, in whole or in part, by the Internet... without disclosing his identity and with intent to annoy, abuse, threaten, or harass any person...who receives the communications...shall be fined under title 18 or imprisoned not more than two years, or both."
    Just as well DK's not in the US, eh?

    Tony Blair proposes yet another pointless waste of time and resources in a platitudinous attempt to gain favourable tabloid press. "Face the people sessions"? "Community calls to action"? A "national parenting academy"? What the pissing hell? Please also note the Downing Street spokesman's statement:
    "Where there has been a concentrated campaign to tackle the problem, there has been both a big increase in the use of powers and a significant decline in concern about antisocial behaviour."
    A decline in "concern about antisocial behaviour", please note - not in antisocial behaviour itself.

    Well done, Tone - nice to see "the respect agenda", largely forgotten about since May, back once again. Yet more meaningless flower arrangement around the ever-growing pile of dung that will be your political legacy.

    New year, new approach?

    Nosemonkey elsewhere: A bit of speculation on what 2006 may hold in store for the EU over at The Sharpener. I was going to post it here as well, but it got a bit out of hand length-wise...

    Sunday, January 08, 2006

    That's one more decent, respectable former Labour minister gone then. Good man, Tony Banks. Wrong on a lot of issues and had an irritating voice, but a good man nonetheless.

    Utterly unrelatedly, the Britblog Roundup is up.

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