Saturday, July 22, 2006

Started a loosely British blog in 2006?

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Friday, July 21, 2006

Governmental consistency

Yesterday Home Secretary John Reid announced an end to lenient punishments for people who are caught red-handed and own up to being guilty of breaking the law.

Today, John Prescott excapes punishment for being caught red-handed in breaching the ministerial code because he owned up to it.


Thursday, July 20, 2006

Via Tim and Justin, a welcome new addition to UK online political comment, with the Independent's Simon Carr launching a blog-style parliamentary sketch site. Very promising thus far, though sadly no comment facility as of yet...

Annoyed at EU legislation? It's our own fault

I've long been convinced that a sizable amount of the anger generated by EU legislation is due more to the British government's own implementation than the legislation itself. In the UK, we always seem to implement directives and other Brussels-generated laws far more stringently than our continental cousins, following things to the letter rather than taking a more flexible approach.

Now, however, we would appear to moving towards some measure of proof, thanks to initial findings from an under-reported Treasury consultation by Lord Davidson, which has found that

"Government teams responsible for applying European Union laws are often under-engaged, poorly resourced and prone to making mistakes because they are in a hurry"
More information can be found at the Cabinet Office's site, including a bunch of .pdf summary findings so far.

In his introduction, Lord Davidson notes that
"creating obligations additional to the EU minimum requirements - where it cannot be demonstrated that the benefits exceed the costs - can hamper UK productivity, innovation and competitiveness"
And therein lies part of the problem in terms of public perception of the EU. If a law is brought in "because the EU told us to", the assumption is generally that the law is also brought in "in the manner the EU told us to" - and therefore if and when said law starts causing problems, it is the EU that gets the blame.

Though Davidson's findings have not yet been finalised, it would appear that evidence is building to support my suspicions that in a large number of cases it is actually the incompetence of the UK government's implementation of those laws rather than necessarily the laws themselves which are causing the problems.

After all, other EU member states never seem to have quite the same problems that the UK does when it comes to EU legislation, and always seem to manage to find loopholes - why can't we? (New Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett's piss-poor attempts to ensure British farmers receive their EU subsidies in a timely manner while she was at DEFRA being a prime example of the UK being utterly rubbish at working with EU systems when every other member state copes fine.)

Of course, a lot of the problem is thanks to there still - more than three decades after having joined what is now the European Union - no real system in place in Westminster to scrutinise EU legislation. The closest we've got is the Commons' European Scrutiny Select Committee and Lords' European Union Select Committee - neither of which have the manpower or resources to keep tabs on everything.

As such, it is very easy, as Davidson's report notes, for departments to implement legislation badly or excessively - it is, after all, easier to simply rubber-stamp than to analyse, and quite simple to attach additional demands for governmental purposes and then blame it on Brussels:
"Over-implementation of European legislation may arise in a number of ways, including: extending the scope of European legislation; bringing EU-derived obligations into force earlier than required; failing to streamline the overlap between existing legislation in force in the UK and new EU-sources legislation; or uncertainty created by lack of clarity about the objectives or status of regulations and guidance."
Of course, what we really want to know, when Davidson publishes his final report at the end of the year, is to what extent this is due to incompetence, to what extent deliberate deception on the part of the government. Because blaming Brussels is a very easy cop out, and has been an extremely handy excuse for government after government ever since we joined.

Were our government forced finally to make a real effort when it comes to EU legislation, it's just possible that we might end up with fewer scare stories about EU bureaucrats banning things left, right and centre or imposing burdensome new rules on our businesses. At a push, people may even start to be able to see benefits from EU legislation which has, seemingly thanks to our own government's inability to do its job properly, to date been seen as largely negative.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

The dangers of blogging, part 549

Petite Anglaise has been sacked for writing her award-winning blog (or "gross misconduct", as they called it) - and has launched a test case before an employment tribunal claiming compensation of two years' salary. The Telegraph has more, as does (of all places) The Gulf Times.

It has to be said, I can't see her winning this one - you write a blog at work, using work computers, in breach of company policy (as I am doing now, in fact), you can hardly complain when they throw the book at you, surely? Yes, it may be an over-reaction to a fairly harmless bit of spare-time musing, but - as bloggers are wont to say all the time when it comes to their comments boxes - their gaff, their rules. It may be a bit nasty of them, they perhaps could have reached a compromise, but it's hardly cause for compensation, surely? Or am I missing something here?

(I, meanwhile - and without wanting to brag - have recently been offered a pay rise and a decent amount of additional responsibility at work, largely thanks to the blogging. This, in turn, has ensured that I've got rather less time for the blogging of late. Life works weirdly - and these things seem to be the luck of the draw.)

Very important note: This is not to say that I don't have a lot of sympathy and think PA's former employers are probably a bunch of shits, in case this sounds overly insensitive and leads to a bunch of her many loyal fans assuming I'm trying to flame the poor girl. I'm just not a fan of compensation culture - especially people trying to get compensation when it is they who have done something wrong. I'm also not a fan of people being sacked, but that's life. These things happen.

Update: More from Petite at Comment is Free, including more detail over the sacking. The lack of warning could, possibly, give her some ground for complaint - although she does note that "a clause about 'loyauté' is included in most French employment contracts". An odd one...

Monday, July 17, 2006

Following last Wednesday's worrying Ukraine update, more rather concerning analysis from Scott at Foreign Notes:
"in a country where there is no rule of law, and Kushnaryov’s statement that they would install Yanukovych as PM no matter what the president did is just more evidence of this, it matters who controls the buildings. If you control the right buildings you control the bureaucracy, the documents and the stamps. That is the key to power here... To get anything done you have to have them and that often means paying a “fee” to get them. So the coffers begin to fill up again as your cronies are entrenched in centers of power. Just like it used to be. Power means more money and more money means more power...

"And no court order and no presidential order, nothing short of a revolution, will dislodge these people from their positions of power, that is, from the buildings... That is what it took last time, but the people have no stomach for it again, I’m afraid...So I don’t know which is worse, new elections or letting the goons back in the door. Between two bad ideas, which one?"
Meanwhile, Orange Ukraine notes despairingly that
"Even assuming there were a chance of bringing back the Orange coalition, neither new elections nor protests will help."
All is very far from well in Ukraine - yet the English language press seems utterly unconcerned at this crisis on the EU's borders.

Blair, Brown, Cameron and the future of British international relations

One of the perennial problems for an aspiring UK Prime Minister is the need to juggle domestic popularity with workable international relationships - especially with our EU partners. Because if you're seen to suck up too much to the French and Germans, the rantings of the eurosceptic press combined with a public all too willing to believe that the EU is the root of all evil will swiftly ensure a massive drop in domestic popularity. (Sucking up to the US, meanwhile, seems fine.)

Over the last few years Gordon Brown has done a fairly decent job of giving the impression that he thinks the EU is a bit of a disaster. Be it his famous "Five Economic Tests" over joining the Euro (so famous that no one can ever remember what they are), which promise to keep the UK out of the Eurozone for the forseeable future, or occasional rants about how other EU countries should follow his wonderful example when dealing with all things fiscal, his slagging off of the EU and other EU countries seems to have been calculated to create a domestic image of a sensible, rationally sceptical figure, unwilling to leap headlong into the tepid waters of further EU integration without having tested them first.

In contrast to Blair's disastrous management of his relationship with the EU - where domestically the Prime Minister looks like a rabid Europhile, willing to give away the rebate and God knows what else, yet our EU partners see him as one of the biggest obstacles to any settlement - Brown has relitively successfully cultivated an image of euroreticence in an attempt to avoid being attacked for europhilia. This has, of course, ensured that our continental partners are not particular fans of the Chancellor - they admire his abilities, but find him personally a difficult man to work with.

With Bush not able to remain in the Oval Office for more than another couple of years, Britain's relationship with the US could well dramatically change by the next General Election. No one has any way of being able to suck up to the future President before November 2008, and will not be able to risk alienating any of the candidates just in case. As such, the one constant in our international relations over the next few years will be the EU - so any future Prime Minister would be a fool not to try and forge their own personal alliances.

David Cameron's plans are still being formulated, but show some promise - Gordon, as of yet, appears to have no foreign policy objectives at all. This may sound like a blessed relief after the best part of a decade with Prime Minister who seems to care more about what people overseas think than those of us who are his electorate, launching wars and jetting off all over the world on expensive jollies like there's no tomorrow, but it's hardly feasible for Prime Minister to ignore international relations to the extent Brown seems to have done. Yes, he's fairly well up on British trading relations and the economy - but without the personal relationships with other heads of state he'll never be able to get anything done.

Say what you like about Blair - through a combination of arrogant self-belief and sucking up to the US he's managed to build himself an international reputation that puts him on the level only of Thatcher and Churchill in terms of Prime Ministerial profiles. Whether it's Brown, Cameron or some wild card who follows him in to Number 10 as PM, they're going to have a tough time maintaining the insanely prominent position Blair has occupied on the world stage during his time in office.

So is it a sign of imminent movement on the Labour leadership front that Gordon has dispatched his most loyal minion to Brussels to start buttering up the bureaucrats? While Gordon's been starting to stick his oar in to issues of terrorism and civil liberties on the domestic front, this is the first real sign of him making a move on the international scene. Has the countdown begun on Brown's long-awaited move?

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Blog admin

I've finally got around to a mini-update of the blogroll after months of stagnation (which has left a whole raft of good bloggers like Gavin Ayling, the NHS Blog Doctor, Iain Dale and Davide Simonetti, some of whom I've been reading for well over a year, along with top-notch new projects from the likes of Unity and Bondwoman languishing forgotten). I blame my brief experiment with RSS feeds.

I've no doubt forgotten a bunch more, however, so any suggestions of people I've missed (as I type I'm remembering a few, in fact, like Andrew Bartlett and Murky) would be much appreciated. I know that there have been a bunch of new(ish) European blogs I've stumbled across in recent months, yet I've always failed to keep a record of them, because I'm useless. Those in particular I'd be grateful of reminders of.

(And no, no I haven't got around to updating the topic archives again yet - and haven't done so since January. This is because Blogger STILL doesn't have an automated topics system, so I have to do it manually. This would now take forever - perhaps I'll get around to it when I finally switch this blog over to a dedicated domain - a plan that's been in the works since February but has yet to happen due to me being technologically illiterate and not understanding how website hosting works.)

And now for something less tedious - this week's Britblog Roundup.

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

Archives by Date

02/23/2003 - 03/02/2003 | 03/02/2003 - 03/09/2003 | 04/25/2004 - 05/02/2004 | 05/09/2004 - 05/16/2004 | 05/23/2004 - 05/30/2004 | 08/29/2004 - 09/05/2004 | 09/05/2004 - 09/12/2004 | 09/12/2004 - 09/19/2004 | 09/19/2004 - 09/26/2004 | 09/26/2004 - 10/03/2004 | 10/03/2004 - 10/10/2004 | 10/10/2004 - 10/17/2004 | 10/17/2004 - 10/24/2004 | 10/24/2004 - 10/31/2004 | 10/31/2004 - 11/07/2004 | 11/07/2004 - 11/14/2004 | 11/14/2004 - 11/21/2004 | 11/21/2004 - 11/28/2004 | 11/28/2004 - 12/05/2004 | 12/05/2004 - 12/12/2004 | 12/12/2004 - 12/19/2004 | 12/19/2004 - 12/26/2004 | 12/26/2004 - 01/02/2005 | 01/02/2005 - 01/09/2005 | 01/09/2005 - 01/16/2005 | 01/16/2005 - 01/23/2005 | 01/23/2005 - 01/30/2005 | 01/30/2005 - 02/06/2005 | 02/06/2005 - 02/13/2005 | 02/13/2005 - 02/20/2005 | 02/20/2005 - 02/27/2005 | 02/27/2005 - 03/06/2005 | 03/06/2005 - 03/13/2005 | 03/13/2005 - 03/20/2005 | 03/20/2005 - 03/27/2005 | 03/27/2005 - 04/03/2005 | 04/03/2005 - 04/10/2005 | 04/10/2005 - 04/17/2005 | 04/17/2005 - 04/24/2005 | 04/24/2005 - 05/01/2005 | 05/01/2005 - 05/08/2005 | 05/08/2005 - 05/15/2005 | 05/15/2005 - 05/22/2005 | 05/22/2005 - 05/29/2005 | 05/29/2005 - 06/05/2005 | 06/05/2005 - 06/12/2005 | 06/12/2005 - 06/19/2005 | 06/19/2005 - 06/26/2005 | 06/26/2005 - 07/03/2005 | 07/03/2005 - 07/10/2005 | 07/10/2005 - 07/17/2005 | 07/17/2005 - 07/24/2005 | 07/24/2005 - 07/31/2005 | 07/31/2005 - 08/07/2005 | 08/07/2005 - 08/14/2005 | 08/14/2005 - 08/21/2005 | 08/21/2005 - 08/28/2005 | 08/28/2005 - 09/04/2005 | 09/04/2005 - 09/11/2005 | 09/11/2005 - 09/18/2005 | 09/18/2005 - 09/25/2005 | 09/25/2005 - 10/02/2005 | 10/02/2005 - 10/09/2005 | 10/09/2005 - 10/16/2005 | 10/16/2005 - 10/23/2005 | 10/30/2005 - 11/06/2005 | 11/06/2005 - 11/13/2005 | 11/13/2005 - 11/20/2005 | 11/20/2005 - 11/27/2005 | 11/27/2005 - 12/04/2005 | 12/04/2005 - 12/11/2005 | 12/11/2005 - 12/18/2005 | 12/18/2005 - 12/25/2005 | 12/25/2005 - 01/01/2006 | 01/01/2006 - 01/08/2006 | 01/08/2006 - 01/15/2006 | 01/15/2006 - 01/22/2006 | 01/22/2006 - 01/29/2006 | 01/29/2006 - 02/05/2006 | 02/05/2006 - 02/12/2006 | 02/12/2006 - 02/19/2006 | 02/19/2006 - 02/26/2006 | 02/26/2006 - 03/05/2006 | 03/05/2006 - 03/12/2006 | 03/12/2006 - 03/19/2006 | 03/19/2006 - 03/26/2006 | 03/26/2006 - 04/02/2006 | 04/02/2006 - 04/09/2006 | 04/09/2006 - 04/16/2006 | 04/16/2006 - 04/23/2006 | 04/23/2006 - 04/30/2006 | 04/30/2006 - 05/07/2006 | 05/07/2006 - 05/14/2006 | 05/14/2006 - 05/21/2006 | 05/21/2006 - 05/28/2006 | 05/28/2006 - 06/04/2006 | 06/04/2006 - 06/11/2006 | 06/11/2006 - 06/18/2006 | 06/18/2006 - 06/25/2006 | 06/25/2006 - 07/02/2006 | 07/02/2006 - 07/09/2006 | 07/09/2006 - 07/16/2006 | 07/16/2006 - 07/23/2006 | 07/23/2006 - 07/30/2006 | 07/30/2006 - 08/06/2006 | 08/06/2006 - 08/13/2006 | 08/13/2006 - 08/20/2006 | 08/20/2006 - 08/27/2006 | 08/27/2006 - 09/03/2006 | 09/03/2006 - 09/10/2006 | 09/10/2006 - 09/17/2006 | 09/17/2006 - 09/24/2006 | 09/24/2006 - 10/01/2006 | 10/08/2006 - 10/15/2006 | 10/15/2006 - 10/22/2006 | 10/22/2006 - 10/29/2006 | 10/29/2006 - 11/05/2006 | 11/05/2006 - 11/12/2006 | 11/12/2006 - 11/19/2006 | 11/19/2006 - 11/26/2006 | 11/26/2006 - 12/03/2006 |

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