Monday, 30 November 2009

The Apologist

Today's witness added nothing to what we had learned from the United Kingdom representative to the United Nations and the United Kingdom ambassador to Washington. Indeed he repeatedly empasized the previous evidence that had been given by those witnesses. Today's witness had a twofold message to deliver: that Blair was not using the United Nations as a propaganda front while he pursued war on Iraq with George W. Bush; and he was not alone in the policy he was pursuing, which was indeed war on Iraq.

Blair's foreign policy adviser may have registered the widespread media distaste for the degradation of our system of government by a prime minister bent on a personal crusade. We were assured that ministers were kept informed of the developing Iraq policy in bi-lateral, small group and officials'-level talks. Those within 'the circle of silence' on the attack upon Iraq policy were consulted and cajoled. Blair was not alone and others must stand with him. Repeatedly we were assured of Blair's conviction that war on Iraq was 'the right thing to do' (what is it with this sanctimonious phrase? Is it some kind of dog whistle?

Disjunction between not just various sectors of government in both the UK and the US was delineated, but there was displayed too disjunction between cause and effect: Saddam was showing attitude to early 1990's United Nations resolutions, therefore Iraq should be invaded and its society pulverised; (this last, pulverisation, was covered in the session section on preparations for post war occupation which, inter alia, carry very specific requirements under international law governing invasion and warmaking by above divisional strength forces - that would be option 3 for the disciplining of Iraq that was put into effect by Blair. These legal requirements were not met by our Forces.) The notion that 2003 was not by any reasonable stretch of political time, immediate post 1991, was covered by the spurious assertion that 2003 was post 9/11 - and this despite Iraq being wholly exonerated from any involvement in 9/11 under UK Foreign Office policy.

So, what we got today was that the Iraq war was a US, supported by the UK, policy (though the question on whether the US positively sought UK involvement or merely allowed Blair to tag along if he so desperately wanted to was side-stepped), and that Blair made sure via the ad hoc groups, bi-lateral discussions and 'presentations' to the general public and to Parliament, that we had all agreed to destroy Iraq.

The other dawning realisation was that Blair's policy (supported unwittingly by the rest of us from ministers, through officials, through Parliament and people) displayed remarkable disloyalty to European partners. We may not wish to remain in the European Union, but while we are there it would have behoved our Prime Minister to act with respect and active co-operation with their policies and wishes. You don't belong to a club and try to exploit its connexion while dissing the membership.

So if Brown, Straw, and whoever are the other few, so very few, survivors of the Brown threat to power scythe, think Tony's going to be tarred as a lone, maverick warmonger, he's given warning: all those bi-lateral chats, that 'transparency and coherence', that' 'unity in policy' are already being referred to.

Sunday, 29 November 2009

Referendums All Round

The torrent of opposition to the Scottish independence referendum might be taken as a measure of the levels of fear of its effects. Not whether it is won or lost but that it is held at all. If the Scottish people can be asked whether they would like to alter the nature of their relationship with the federation of the United Kingdom how much more appropriate might it be to ask the English people whether they would like to alter their relationship with the Federation of the United Kingdom?

The Scottish National Party, which governs Scotland, is about to publish a White Paper on Scotland's constitutional future, to be followed by a Referendum Bill. Although Scotland sends 40 odd MPs to Westminster to vote on English affairs and maintain Labour in power in England, Scotland voted Labour out of power in Scotland years ago. It really is time for all of us, English Irish, Scottish and Welsh, to have a direct say on whom we wish to have poking their noses into the affairs of other members of the UK Federation.

Friday, 27 November 2009

The Denial of Legitimacy by the Forces of Democracy

The United Kingdom's representative to the United Nations is a very different kind of clever from the ambassador in Washington. And as he pointed out, what goes on in New York is also very different from what goes on in Washington. Washington is driven by its own agendas and, to a lesser extent, by its need to explain itself to its wider domestic audience. He also pointed out, from the off, that the first question, Usha Prashar was leading the questioning this morning, was excluding the long run to 20o1/2002 from where she was starting. She may have started, but after the break the chairman took over. He asked the crucial question:

When the Prime minister's foreign affairs adviser took his bundle of instructions, his 'secret' instructions from Downing Street to the ambassador in Washington, before the meeting between Bush and Blair at Bush's Crawford ranch, was the representative at the United Nations copied in? In any way informed?


In a single word everything that has been heard so far on the dual foreign policy, the first being run from the UK Government openly and normally, and the other from the Blair cabal in Downing Street determinedly secret, is confirmed. The activity in the United Nations, the publicly practised diplomacy in support of the publicly diffused and understood foreign policy of the United Kingdom was not, however, merely a Potemkin operation.

Iraq's fate was sealed, it was to be invaded and laid waste, but at least the good fight for the legitimate democratic sanctioning of international action, that could only emanate from the United Nations, was going to be put up. Parts of the US Administration had decided to invade Iraq, supported by parts of the UK government, but they would be, and were, denied legitimacy even if their acts of war were (barely) legal. The democrats fighting for UN sanction of the use of force were aided by the people of the United States, that wider domestic audience spoken of at the opening of the session, whose expectation that international legitimacy be conferred on acts of force by any part of their government forced at least Bush to try for United Nations acquiescence.

The majority of the Security Council, even the majority of its permanent members had no intention of granting any such thing. They wanted Saddam to conform to the UN resolutions on ceasing rearmament and developing chemical and biological WMD (nuclear WMD were no longer credible, as Lawrence Freedman had noted), and they wanted smarter sanctions, real co-operation with UN inspectors, and a route for Iraq to emerge from the sanctions/inspection regime as soon as the UN was satisfied. They also wanted something else.

As the witness stated when invited to add anything the questioning had not covered: the United Nations is a good international institution of reasonable people; a forum where a good argument based on evidenced facts will receive a decent hearing and where there is a quick recognition of any other kind of argument and pressure and an appropriate reaction to it. [This is a paraphrase; go to the transcripts for the actual words, the witness's words are worth their weight in gold, every one of them.] The United Nations was asserting its claim to control not just Saddam, but the United States in a policy imposed by a part of the US Administration, too. The opposition from France, Germany, Russia, and China was whole-hearted, ie no dual policies from different factions within their administrations was displayed. Bulgaria, Aznar's Spain, stood with the invade Iraq sector of the US administration, as did Blair's Britain.

To its eternal credit some parts of our country's government fought on, not just for the people of Iraq and against the horror that engulfed them, but for our democracy as well and against what was engulfing us.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

The Ambassador's Tale

The UK ambassador to the United States at the time was witnessing today. He is a very different type from the Foreign Office witnesses of the last two days. Think school master breezily imparting complex knowledge at an apparently low level while interacting with his class by using names, lots of you and singling out of interlocutor, lots of attribution of intelligent thoughts to listeners, lots of apologies for not making himself clear or being misleading as he dragged perception back onto the narrative line every time it wandered. A positively Le Carre character, writhing in his chair, gesturing freely, bit of light swearing, and man to maniness - man to boyiness actually, honesty in telling. Patronising of this kind is hard to deal with and an effective tool for ranking people - by interacting with them with quite small shifts of behaviour within the over all histrionic manner. Ranking questions too, so that off message or difficult queries can be dealt with in a let's get this basic boring information straight and the get back to the exciting things there are to discuss.

What there was to discuss was the relationsip between the Blair UK and Bush US administrations. More accurately the relationship between Blair and his aides and the various factions of the Bush administration. Large sections both of UK policy and of the UK government who might reasonably be thought to play a role in this were simply excluded. The ambassador seemed to have been reporting to Downing Street, not to the Foreign Secretary; only Blair had access to Bush, Cheney, Powell, Rumsfeld, and Rice. Others had access sometimes to some of them (not Bush, of course) but no-one else to all of them (including through any other channels or to underlings). Asked more than once about communicating shifts in various policies (for instance, whether a full record of the abandonment of any interest in strengthening sanctions and putting in weapons inspectors again - official UK policy - by the US administration had been given by him to London) our man in Washington replied certainly but he'd been unable to find the advice in the archives. The archives failed repeatedly to yield documents from the ambassador over the period under consideration but this was touched on so airily, so lightly by the now ex-ambassador it might well have been of little importance. It was a relief that the chairman returned some weight to the proceedings by announcing at the end of the session that the documents would be looked for again and presented with the other Inquiry documentation. Nul points at the very best for preparation Mr Ambassador, and a serious query over the state of the archives.

So while Downing Street conducted war preparation policy with Bush and parts of the Bush administration, the rest, including Colin Powell and the the Foreign Office, pressed on with what might now be seen as the propaganda policy for international and UK parliamentary and public consumption. The policy of renewing and strengthening United Nations sanctions and resolutions. The alleged flouting of these last, and the alleged intention on Saddam's part of flouting them further was conflated with the new(ish) concepts of rogue states and state-sponsored mass victim terrorism+WMD = condoning pre-emptive action; and further conflated with human rights, internationally guaranteed, permitting armed intervention in sovereign states (Kosovo and the Balkans). No wonder that the majority of the Security Council being against any armed attack upon Iraq was ignored, the whole apparatus of international relations, including the UN, was being ignored, except for cover. The decision had been taken by the weight of military preparation and its exigencies, under the spurious new international politics, and by an inner US administration unconcerned by formal, accepted international constraints and organisations for which they felt a visceral disgust as attempts to constrain US actions. And if Tony felt it was politically impossible in England to get the attack on Iraq without UN then the US would play the UN charade to help but - hey - no hard feelings if Tony couldn't join in (as the President said to the Prime Minister, according to the ambassador, but who knows as so much of the documentation seems not to be to hand in the archives). The military imperatives were made more pressing too by a much more important ally than the UK.

Turkey made shifting US troops and weaponry from Germany impossible by refusing transit. The only voice speaking for major European states (Russia spoke as a weak but still world-power) in the Security Council was France; it would be interesting to hear how relations with Germany were getting along and by whom they were conducted. And who spoke to Turkey?

The witness taught on: Blair's condemnation of Saddam's "defiance" in a 1998 speech and the need to deal with him by the use of armed force was read out by the ambassador to the Inquiry. The policy, about which Blair had later seen the need 'to be discreet in public' was longstanding and carried over from the Clinton Administration. The thought occurred to this listener that this pattern of continuity of policy regardless of administration is accompanied by another pattern of disjunction where an administration has an inner core that either uses normal institutions and practices for propaganda cover (as the FO was being used) for its non-public agendas or, if facing active opposition even from within government, sets up a parallel institution that is compliant (as Rumsfeld did in Defence when the CIA doggedly stuck to its intelligence evaluations and sources). As New Labour has done in any number of instances.

By now the witness had moved the Inquiry safely on to considering what the United Kingdom might have hoped to gain from all this, rather than considering why a longstanding rogue policy, introduced by very small part of the Executive under considerable conditions of secrecy, was laying waste to our system of government. Blair had not demanded enough, we were told; although if the US didn't mind if we joined in or not, which seemed to be of only marginal interest to them, it is difficult to feel there was much to claim. The claims the ambassador had sought, really presssed for hard (the archives had failed again with the documentation) were: the provision of better flight slots for Richard Branson's airline and the possibility of internal US flights; and the non-imposition of some US duties on specialist steels produced in the UK. The UK was told the duties would have to go on but some effort would be made to effectively exclude the UK from being charged. Branson didn't get anything either.

Despite our ambassador's further vigorous pressure and detailed notes on the subject (archive-failure again) the US made no post-invasion plans for the occupation. They refused to discuss the aftermath of the attack. It wasn't as if they weren't asked and warned.

So was what occurred what they wanted - the complete collapse of Iraqi civil society?

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

An Attitude Problem

The Iraq Inquiry covered a big arc of time today, from 1991 to 2004. There were two witnesses, both from the Foreign Office, and they stuck very closely to what was happening from a Foreign Office viewpoint; if questions were asked about briefings by others to Whitehall or to ministers in general, the Inquiry was referred firmly to other, closer sources. The witnesses were of very different type. One was as quietly straightforward and competently informative as yesterday's men, but the other, the current United Kingdom ambassador to China, showed another strand of thinking - a more political and tendentious account of what was going on, and its interpretation today.

The morning was a long presentation of post first Gulf war attempts to contain Saddam. It dealt as well with the effect of his aggressive stance towards neighbours on Foreign Office and international perceptions of Iraq, and on the feeding of concerns for the integrity of the various international non-proliferation treaties on weapons of mass destruction. Of course Iraq was subject both to the treaties as well as to special sanctions after its aggressions, but it was the weakening of the special sanctions and any attempt to revert to just reliance on international treaties that worried the FO, Saddam having already flouted the treaties and displayed an attitude that was unacceptable.

Saddam had resisted the first round of inspections and requirements to come clean on what armaments he had and what preparations he had in train. It was here that the split opened up between the two witnesses, one continuing to discuss the development of the FO longstanding policy of sanctions that were to be narrowed but strengthened, perhaps accompanied by another bout of inspection, the other portraying a view that Saddam's whole attitude to conforming with internationally imposed requirements was unacceptable and he now needed to be dealt with. Dealt with by more than stronger sanctions backed by further inspection. Dealt with by force.

This was, of course, what parts of the UK Executive, under parts of US Administration pressure, wanted. Force now, its use backed by intelligence that international treaties and specific to Iraq obligations legally applied by the United Nations were being breached. Furthermore the equation WMD+mass civilian casualties+state-sponsored terrorism as opposed to inter state only use of WMD was being heavily pushed as the new warfare by America. Sanctions and even inspection - Potemkin scenarios were mentioned as the US view - were not ever again going to be enough.

Unfortunately the intelligence was hard to obtain and often suspect, impossible to confirm. So Saddam's attitude was added: if the intelligence were correct then his refusal to co-operate tipped the balance on that intelligence possibility into a justified use of force. Except that, as the commissioners' questions showed, Saddam could not co-operate in revealing his WMD when he hadn't got any.

Lawrence Freedman came to the fore today. As Professor of War Studies at King's London he was on home territory as he excluded rapidly from consideration that there could have been any belief that Iraq had nuclear WMD capacity; a try for declaring they could have developed it within 5 years under weakening or abolished sanctions was not accepted as within the bounds of possibility; such a view required 'heroic' assumptions. So the FO's fears were really concerned with chemical and biological WMD. Here it was established that the intelligence referred only to battlefield weapons, and very short range delivery systems. But Saddam's intent, his imputed mindset was added into the equation again by the China man. Saddam intended to develop longer range delivery systems - only the intelligence on that was actually evaluation papers written in the west. The FO attempt to obtain another UN resolution for toughened sanctions and further, more robust inspections; a set of six 'tests' that Saddam must meet was proposed (one wondered where that idea came from, a contribution from the Chancellor? He's always setting tests) sank under President Chirac's declaration that he would veto any further interventions in Iraq.

Roderic Lyne had evinced the acknowledgment yesterday that war preparations were highly advanced by early 2002, taking on a life of their own: 'fish or cut bait' as he remarked today. This time pressure was a major factor in ignoring the other options, even though, as Usha Prasha established, the threat of force was producing higher and higher levels of Iraqi co-operation. Nevertheless, although no direct intelligence had been coming from Iraq since the weapons inspectors withdrew in 1998, we were, we were told, receiving a constant stream of unverified, low level intelligence that convinced them to fish.

After lunch was an exercise in humiliation. The Foreign Office warned politicians to be cautious in making justificatory claims of WMD discoveries. Blair paid no heed. As his words were read out to the witnesses they were reduced to stating flatly that no such claims had ever come from them. There were no WMD. None found, ever. We had gone to war over Saddam's unco-operative attitude?

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Impressions on Watching the Iraq War Inquiry

John Chilcot's Inquiry is being streamed. It takes a time to become attuned to the ethos of the proceedings, the mannered questions and formal mandarin responses, and to recover the sustained attention levels over long periods cultivated once during academic lectures. And here there are none of the built in resting points, the repeats, the part-summaries of material covered, that a good lecturer provides. Ground is covered remorselessly as the chairman drives on through witnesses to how it came about. He has had the advantage of preparing the advance, we hang in there grimly.

So on the first day much of what is learned is made up of impressions rather than hard information. First, these civil servants are telling the truth. Circumspect, dispassionate, without emphasis, but they recount what happened in response to the commissioners' questions fully.

There was a longstanding, internationally acceptable policy of 'caging' Saddam's regime through sanctions, denial of resources, denial of profit from Iraqi economic activity, particularly oil exports, denial of the worst excesses of internal repression through the imposition of the north and south no-fly zones (which were also very cheap surveillance under guise of human rights support). Two sources authorised these internationally sanctioned actions - a specific United Nations resolution, and a more general conferment of a right to act in defence of oppressed populations under customary international law provisions. But the cage began to loosen: economic and commercial ties reestablished themselves with local neighbours and more distant partners. The Foreign Office tried to toughen the extant policy by more narrowly defining what was to be denied to Iraq but ensuring the denial was made more effective, with the double goal of limiting the rising suffering of the general Iraqi population resulting from sanctions and preventing the erosion of the core sanctions. Standard monitoring of the effectiveness of the carrying out of this policy was performed in a classic Whitehall operation. There was no particular interest in it coming from any part of government until the new US administration came to power.

At once there was a request from the Cabinet Office for more detailed briefing on weapons of mass destruction. No ministerial discussions on the redesigning of the containment policy, no particular interest in the difficulties the policy was encountering in receiving UN and wider international acceptance, just the WMD interest. The impression was of a foreign policy agreed and pursued that was ignored and a wholly other agenda being developed entirely cut off from the Foreign Office.

The chap from Defence gave a different impression. Truthful, certainly, but not so bound-in to the Foreign Office clear, longstanding, internationally backed policy. Particularly when he described how areas outside the no-fly zones came to be attacked in 'self defence'. Attacks which led to France's withdrawal from involvement in the sanctions policing, and to condemnation, not least from Russia. The impression from this witness was of a sense of trying out, a push on the envelope of the agreed caging of Sadam policy.

While the civil servant lawyer made plain that the self-defence was wholly legal under all international conventions, the reality was that the no-fly zones were becoming even less defensible than the overall sanctions, and the Foreign Office's narrower sanctions policy was being thwarted by both Russia who wanted sanctions eased (and France), and the United States who argued that the sanctions were getting nowhere in ousting Saddam (which was not their political intent), indeed were strengthening his hold on the ground and in propaganda terms, and so had another agenda for getting rid of Saddam all together.

The view that the ordinary operation of government in the United Kingdom was profoundly changed by 2000 and that bearers of expertise and responsibility were cut off from policy-making was greatly reinforced today. At least the responsibility is being laid firmly where it belongs, in that inimitable, low key way.

Monday, 23 November 2009

Who's Who?

Whether it was written by the Earl of Oxford or William Shakespeare, Act I Scene ii of Julius Caesar is a good re-read in these days.

Sunday, 22 November 2009

Brown and Out

Reflection will show that the denial of European office to Blair, Mandelson, and Miliband is more than a series of separated events. It is interesting to consider who denied the Third Way Troika. Interesting for United Kingdom politics and interesting for the wider discussion that is taking place on what is happening to social democracy in Europe.

When Blair told Brown that he could not take the EU presidency clearly a Plan B was needed. There are only five social democratic member-state leaders left, out of the 27 direct electors (although at the time the plan for these two offices was formulated, at the very end of the last century, social democrats held the majority of the then eighteen member-states): Austria, Greece, Portugal, Spain, and the United Kingdom, which are grouped as European Socialists. Despite this it had been agreed that the centre left could nominate the High Representative for Foreign affairs (in recognition of the still reasonably large social democratic constituencies in all 27 member-states) without, ostensibly, interference from the electors to the Presidency who would come from the centre right. One side would accept the other side's nominee.

Blair then lost it. Brown was threatened with proceeding to an immediate vote of all the electors if he did not at once withdraw the United Kingdom's nomination of Blair, and a consequent major humiliation (from both social democrats and from the centre right). Unsurprisingly he ran away in the face of a vote being taken on Blair's candidacy although he pretended to continue to support it until last Thursday, thus obstructing both the proper development of an agreed Plan B and, in true brownian fashion, arrogating the Pan B choice to himself (at least as far as any other input from the UK was concerned).

Even with Blair out, the Third Way neoliberals posing as social democrats could have gained almost the same position in Europe if Mandelson took the High Representative post and Miliband remained in London to deal with Brown once the mandelsonian Sword and Shield of the Party was withdrawn. This would have had the doubly desirable effect of replacing Brown, thus giving some fighting chance to Labour in any general election, and advancing the post democratic progressive Project in both Europe and the UK. Reports that Mandelson was canvassing independently for the High Representative post in past days without even informing Brown, never mind with Brown's support or even agreement, are telling.

The atlanticist aspect of the Third Way, as well, is underlined by the unlikely expressions of admiration and support coming from Mrs Clinton for David Miliband. But open as the European Union is to being on the best of terms with the US, its inner driving force is not atlanticist: it is ever closer union. Brown's driving force of self-preservation coincided with the Union's driving force to exclude both challenges to major member-state power and foreign policy challenges to the Union's desired identity and its economic power. Even European social democracy no longer identifies the Third Way as the way forward.

And what of Brown now? On Europe he not only has nothing more to give - he has actively withheld. He has no allies in a European social democracy that remains insulted at the candidate he foisted onto the Union in their name. He has infuriated the United States with his constant preempting of President Obama's choices. His departure would revive Labour's electoral fortunes and remove a notably disliked tendency from any power within the Party. His last weapon - to call a general election forthwith which Labour would lose grows weaker with every passing day (and we all know what a week is in politics). It is hard to think of anything that will stop his removal at his many enemies' earliest convenience.

Saturday, 21 November 2009

Brown's Labour Party Tribalism Has Wrecked Our Country's Economic Influence

That is the kindest way to put it. Spite, viciousness, self regard, aiming for a cheap headline, incompetence, and the disadvantages of lack of awareness of others is probably more accurate. France and Germany will take the economic prizes, the positions and powers that mean so much more within the European Union, and for the status of London as a world financial centre.

In return for placing a New Labour weakling in office for a couple of years; in return for failing to nominate any UK candidature that was not from inside the bunker; in return for teaching those European socialists the weight of a brownian clunking fist; in return for being told he must do as he is told and vote for the agreed European President - Brown has done a Bercow for Speaker on the whole of Europe.

Friday, 20 November 2009

Why Spelling Matters So Much

Botogol said...

btw HG. it's superseded. With an S :-)

(the C betrays your classical education, only someone who has studied latin makes that mistake. But actually it its super sedere, to sit upon, not from cedere, to yield.

(he! he!, you don't have to approve this comment!)

20 November 2009 00:09

It wasn't a happy Angel that put this comment up. Spelling 'correctly' is almost a professional deformation for Angels. But it's a revelatory comment because it shows why we take quite fierce stances on how words are put down on the page. Botogol softened the blow by explaining that 'only someone who has studied latin makes that mistake', but why should having studied latin make it feel not so bad?

How we spell is similar to an archaeological dig. An entire life lies buried in our spelling, (and other writing skills: punctuation, grammatical usage, vocabulary, and access to rhetorical device.) The papers invariably put ages, we worry about databases loaded with names, whereabouts, life details and their security. But every time we put finger to keyboard we say who we are, and were , completely.

(And I did know about the 's' and the different root, honest; it was overridden by conditioning and lack of attention to detail, ie proof reading.)

A Presidential Voice

The President of Europe has begun well with a tart display of attitude:

"I await anxiously my first phone call,"

he remarked in answer to 'Kissinger's Question'.

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Brown's Scorched Earth Extends Over UK Social Democracy

It's too early to have heard much about what form the Riot Act read to Brown in Brussels took; but this has been a terrible defeat for New Labour. They have delivered the Labour party and centre left people in the United Kingdom irreversibly into a centre right European Union whose politics will soon be reinforced by an incoming centre right government in the UK. They have reinforced a FrancoGerman alliance and united most of Europe around it.

Perhaps now a principled, social democratic movement will rid itself of these failed opportunists.

In Brussels Tonight

Commonsense - political commonsense - would suggest that consultations are taking place in Brussels tonight, (as we know they have been over the period of soundings on candidatures for the Union presidency and High Representative for foreign affairs), with the incoming United Kingdom administration, even if the dinner party has to have Brown as the visible guest from the UK. Brown is in no position to deliver on any deal he strikes, as everyone knows, not least because the government in waiting has said so, even publicly.

The belief that Germany wants the ECB when Trichet goes is not a goal any UK government can affect as we soldier on with sterling and following Brown's lonely path through the wilderness he brought us to, while the rest of Europe and the world saves itself by other means. But Germany wanting the ECB does feed into the feeling that Italy should provide a left of centre High Representative, which seems reasonably fixed - middle-sized country, southern sector of the Union, founding member and, if it gets the High Representative, then no Draghi candidature for the ECB (not that he wants it, but there is a small queue forming for Governorship of the Bank of Italy so others might like him to move on). It is a relief that the eastern sector is being iffy about ex communists taking foreign relations, and quite funny that the somewhat defective technical skills of D'Alema as a foreign secretary (waiter's French was pretty scathing) have brought Dr Amato slipping discreetly on stage; he could do it for a few of years then be home in time for being the next President of the Republic.

And it's no good Brown being obdurate and clunking fisted - the rules now prevent single member-state vetos. The ballyhoo for Blair from New Labour has drowned out discussion of any centre right UK candidature but one does wonder who is being discussed in any/all of the shadow consulting; particularly as the proposal that the first president's term of office should be shortened or perhaps not renewed has been associated with the acceptance of a pro tem., compromise (conciliatory is perhaps a better word) candidate.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Pay Attention to Detail

As any panama hat-wearing convent school girl will tell you - what you do to hold on a hat like this is:
brush hair forward;
put on hat with elastic under hair left down at the back;
brush rest of hair from the front over elastic holding on hat that is showing;
secure front of hair to back of hair with pins/laquer/spit/what you will. Otherwise your hat turns into a peculiarly-shaped alice-band, which is what has happened here.
Gloves should never be skimped on. They will not fit and their lumps and bumps will make your hands look like paddles or as if they are clad in baseball mitts. The best thing is not to wear gloves at all if you can't stand the upfront cost and, in the case of gloves, their frequent replacement. They take a lot of use and they cannot be repaired - after all, they are standing in for your hands and should fit like - well - gloves. (Expenditure is reduced if you avoid buying gloves in curious shades of whatever that colour might be. Old duck egg? Particularly nasty bruise?)
Dark shoes in town, particularly with tights or stockings.

Sacrificial Offering

A meeting of the NATO allies engaged in war in Afghanistan would be much more appropriate at NATO headquarters in Boulevard Leopold III. Brussels, not London, can meet every need - administration, secretariat, security and any other resources.

The pretentious claim from Brown "I have offered London for a summit" [on exiting Afghanistan asap] is also very dangerous for London. Labour has made the United Kingdom more than enough of a terrorist target in its pursuit of a pat on the head from the United States.

Do not be in London during the Brown photoshoot - be in Rome, Paris, Berlin, Sydney would be best of all - for it may not be that he has offered London but offered up London.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Dressing Up

He can't even zip his trousers up properly. Sigh.


Germany is stymieing the choice both of European Union president, and of foreign minister. Not because it isn't engaged co-operatively in reaching suitable nominations, but because of what Germany is - literally it has an existential problem.

It is Germany that is pulling the Union out of economic recession: other member states are doing their bit, particularly Poland, the Czech Republic and Italy, while France is at least not being a drag, but it is Germany that is the engine. German relations with Russia, with the East in general but particularly Russia, have been cultivated at every level with a welcome recognition that Russia isn't just an energy source or an exploitable market for finished goods but an industrial partner with technologies to offer as well as a partner seeking technological transfers in manufacturing. The Russians said, in terms, "We are holding out our hand to the west. Take it, or there is pressure to turn towards China." And the Germans did. (The abrupt negation of the Opel deal was in large part an attempt to disrupt the development of Russo-German relations).

Germany is on the best of terms with its more immediate neighbours that form the geopolitical European heartland: the physically and economically enormous centre of the continental European market and its economic and defence focus.
With the Scandinavian countries, with the countries of the former Yugoslavia, with Iran, Germany does business and gets things done.

Germany's freshly elected government embodies the longterm political trend in Europe away from collectivism whether expressed as communism, socialism or social democratic redistibution by state intervention. The individuals appointed to office in its new government point to shifts in attitude to the use of its power. The Leader of the FDP coalition party has Foreign Affairs while Defence is in the extraordinarily capable hands of Mr zu Guttenberg; the Chancellor herself is one of the most powerful politicians in the world and actually growing in stature, and in command. Germany is draining power from international institutions where its standing is not reflected - from the United Nations Security Council, from NATO, from the EU, from the once imperial power of the United States and its 'global' institutions.

Anyone who worked in Brussels in the Commission before German reunification will have been aware of the single, driving political purpose of reuniting Germany that was the prism through which German influence within the European Union was focused. That achieved, recovery in terms of everything that was lost in the destruction 60 years ago, and has been lost since in the dreadful years of realised socialism, is the focus. Whoever is appointed to 'president' and 'foreign minister' of Europe it will be with an all-seeing eye to the furtherance of a geopolitical environment in which the outcomes of the last century are corrected and the circumstances of their recurrence prevented.

Monday, 16 November 2009

Jerking the Strings of a Puppet Democracy

The odium that Brown is sinking under is deserved, personally and as a practitioner of a particularly dirty kind of hate politics: cultural hate, class hate, religious hate, race hate, all and more of these define his politics and his morals, (he brought his morals into it for consideration, so no whining from the back). Divide what is variously unacceptable from the Brown tendency, define it as excluded from any behaviour towards it governed by truth or decency and, thus, justify the use of any means to wipe it out.

We've been in this mindset before. And we have seen what it leads to, although up to now we have been fortunate enough not to suffer its worse excesses as they have been experienced in continental Europe, in Africa, in the Middle East, in Russia.

Brown plans to have his divisive and condemnatory ideology, concretised in specific policies and legislative proposals intended, declaredly intended, to make outcast any political or moral belief of any grouping other than the Brown tendency, formally recited to the United Kingdom Parliament by the Head of State.

She really should tell him No.

Sunday, 15 November 2009

Economics As Political Propaganda

The G-20 finance ministers’ meeting on 7 November in Scotland which heard, gobsmacked, Gordon Brown propose a global tax on financial transactions, with the dual purpose of reducing their size and volatility, and raising funds to finance investment and growth in less developed countries, must have wondered what century they found themselves in.

This kind of tax was first suggested by James Tobin in 1972: he originally envisaged a tax rate of 1% on all foreign exchange transactions, but later reduced it to from 0.1% to 0.4% (still a tidy sum considering that the volume of financial transaction is of the order of ten times world GDP). Forty years ago it might have been possible to introduce it effectively in economies that were relatively closed to financial flows. The United Kingdom still had a dual exchange rate, one for current transactions and one for investment carrying an investment premium; an individual or company based in the UK officially could only invest abroad by borrowing from the holders of investment sterling and paying them back in the same sterling. Global communications were costly, time-consuming and insecure.

Today, such a tax could only be global: it is sufficient for one country not to introduce the tax, for that country to attract the bulk (well, all) of global financial turnover thus offering the entire world a tax avoidance opportunity. There are no global governance institutions that could institute it or enforce it globally, and even if the tax were introduced as a genuinely global tax, it could be avoided by transactions taking place in cyberspace, for the argument that a tax levied at a small rate would be preferred to a tax-free but less secure transaction no longer applies. Financial transactions in cyberspace are so secure as to minimize any associated risk.

If the objective of reducing the size and volatility of financial transactions in times of turbulence is to be gained then much higher tax rates than a fraction of a percentage, higher than any conceivable insecurity premium of unofficial market channels, would be needed. James Tobin complained that his proposal had been hijacked; it has become, in today’s world, a laughable economic proposition, but as a political proposal it has its propaganda uses.

We know that Gordon Brown is a politician of little economic understanding, and that he is a desperate man anxious to look as if he really is saviour of the world, especially on the eve of high-level European appointments with handicapped 'British' candidates, and the sure prospect of electoral defeat next year.

The UK Treasury strongly criticized the Chairman of the Financial Services Authority, Lord Turner, when he was sent out to make the same proposal last August. Now New Labour economic commentators such as Will Hutton unashamedly pretend that this is a serious proposition, that "Gordon Brown has backed a truly radical plan to transform the world’s banking system", that he is "brave" and "radical". Were it not for the fact that Hutton always was a sucker for the Third Way, political propaganda might be mistaken for serious economic thought rather than a revisiting of the history of economic thought for any grist to take to Brown's mill.

As chief executive from 2000-2008 of The Work Foundation:

'a British not-for-profit foundation that provides Consultancy and Research to the UK business, governmental and not-for-profit community. It concentrates on improving both economic performance and quality of working life. It is based in London and has 60 staff. Formerly The Industrial Society, The Work Foundation - since 2002 - has shifted its business model away from being a training organisation towards being a think tank on research, consultancy and policy.'

Hutton is at least in part funded by a quango that swallowed up an earlier institution and now benefits from our tax-funded, obligatory charity. Not a position of any comfort if the New Labour links to high office in the european Union are not renewed; even worse if the quango hunters of the Conservatives are returned to power.

Saturday, 14 November 2009

Madder By The Minute

Brown sends emissaries to Washington to talk up his idea of a Tobin tax. Sends emissaries to European capitals to drum up troops for Afghanistan - a plan for which he says he has 'taken responsibility' and is 'close to President Obama's intentions for Afghanistan and follows 'his discussions with President Obama'. He claims a great victory at the Glasgow North East by-election which was resoundingly won by the None of the Above Party. And that's just in the last couple of days.

All this frenzied displacement activity is additional to a determined presentation of poll data, economic data and statistical returns on unemployment and continued economic recession (bottom of the heap in his G-somethings, and in the EU) as 'putting Labour in with a chance' in any election that might be held (including a general election in the UK) but, most particularly, that most restricted election to high office in the European Union.

No one wants to deal with Labour in Europe; social democrats across the Union are finding themselves in ever sharper decline at every vote that is taken and Labour is up for the same kind of beating as the German social democrats got last September (not to mention the Italians and the French earlier). Why ever give a job to deadbeats from a deadbeat Party?

Now a serious proposal for a serious right of centre UK politician might get some consideration - but proposals come from Brown, the man who sends out representatives to flog dead horses.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Where Angels Fear to Tread: Choosing a President

The suggestion that Massimo d'Alema could be the social democratic choice for High Representative for Foreign Affairs in the European Union has been pushed more and more forcefully in the last few weeks. At first just a piece of chitchat in political and technical circles it is now being discussed in mainstream press articles with details of which social democrats are supporting the candidacy and why it is appropriate - because the European centre left have been accorded choice of High Representative while the centre right choose the President of the Council etc., the withdrawal of a UK candidate because Miliband as High Representative would put a stone finally on any remaining possibility of a Blair candidacy for President, because of d'Alema's abilities and experience both as Italian foreign secretary and prime minister...

D'Alema has been a communist for most of his political life - a leader of the Italian Communist party for some of it, with all that implies for immersion in the not just murky but filthy waters of Italian politics of the left in the second half of the 20th century; a left marked, too, by the politics of failure. And a man who's manoeuvres for personal advancement have brought down very competent governments under Romano Prodi, on the last occasion permitting the return to power of Silvio Berlusconi (cf the Economist on Berlusconi if you think Berlusconi was ever a good thing for any government of a member state of the European Union).

Prodi was brought down as well because he is not a centre left politician. He is a Christian Democrat of the moderate centre right; a one nation Conservative in English political terminology, who put together and then led coalitions, for whose building he was largely responsible, which produced clean(ish) effective democratic governments that took Italy into the Euro, out of Iraq, underpinned the institutions of a state shaken by corruption of the left and the right (Craxi's Socialist party anyone? Andreotti's Christian Democrats?), stabilised and encouraged economic growth and generally provided what one nation conservatism has to offer.

When Roman Prodi was President of the European Commission (1999-2004) he enjoyed the support of both centre right and centre left, of both the European People's Party and the social democratic Party of European Socialists in the European Parliament. Prodi's presidency saw in the euro, the Amsterdam and Nice Treaties, the enlargement to the East, and the creation and signing, though not the ratification, of the first European Treaty that later was reborn as Lisbon. Prodi is such a glaringly obvious candidate for the presidential role. Is d'Alema's candidacy being run as a spoiler, just as Miliband's was against Blair?

A highly competent, technically skilled politician, with intimate knowledge of every important act in the European Union's past, and a past master at coalition construction and reconciliation politics, from a middle-sized member state, must have ruled himself out to be out of the running. Which would be a pity because, not least, he could exclude d'Alema from any further political role in all our lives. The obvious country from which to draw the High Representative for Foreign Relations is Poland:they'd get foreign affairs right, they've so much to lose if they didn't.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Labour's Dilemma

With the United Kingdom's AAA credit rating again called so severely into question the Gordon Brown dilemma presents in ever more acute form. If there is the slightest suggestion that Brown could possibly continue in power except in the very short term there will be a complete collapse of sterling; the only thing holding the UK economy together is the confidence that responsible government will be resumed as soon as possible.

Worse, for Labour, if they go to the country with the Cabinet and NEC having forced Brown to come to terms with reality and the likelihood of leading the Labour to annihilation if he is not replaced, any suggestion that this might produce a new government too weak to act on the desolation that Brown has brought about, or even a hung parliament, will lead to the same collapse and all its consequences.

If Brown persists in going on and leads Labour into an election, Labour is finished. If he tries to avoid an election and the consequent destruction of Labour by the electorate, then the economy of the country itself will be taken down in the rush for the exit.

Friday, 6 November 2009

Ending European Involvement in Afghanistan

Nord Stream has been signed off by Sweden, Finland and Denmark. So energy supplies to Germany and northern Europe generally should be assured by 2011. Bypassing Ukraine was important as it has been manipulated to pressure the EU and Russia. Poland may feel concerned but its manufacturing capacity importance to central European and Russian manufacturing and market plans outweighs any notion of it being isolated from the west of Europe in energy supplies.

Together with South Stream, on which Serbia and then Italy signed off during the summer, energy supplies from the Russian Federation to Europe seem to be secured within the time it takes to build the pipelines.

An agreement last month between the Russian Federation and China for energy supplies, and for payment to be acceptable in roubles, provides diverse markets for Russian energy .

The 'war against terrorism' in Afghanistan (which is really an attempt to impose a pipeline route through Afghanistan for US energy supplies from the Caucasus) costing such a grievous price in lives and ruined families becomes less and less relevant to any European interest.

English Universities Top the List

The Best Universities in the World list was always going to get a quick look to see where we were. Pride. Even more Pride, four of the first six (as fifth place was a draw) are English universities; Cambridge, University College London, Imperial College London, and Oxford. The other two are Harvard and Yale.

An international standing like that means international levels of competition to enter any of them. So why has New Labour banned state schools in England from offering international GCSE (IGCSE) courses and examinations? The IGCSE, offered by the Cambridge examinations board, would seem an ideal qualification to obtain for entry into the best universities in the world and put English students on the same footing as applicants from all over. University entrance qualification is made up of GCSEs as well as A-Levels; it might be thought that the possession of international standard GCSEs would balance the common criticism of A-Levels, that they are too narrowly focused in comparison with other countries' advanced school leaving examinations.

Nope, the Balls department is sticking with the less attractive GCSEs, because they cover the curriculum and the international examinations go beyond it. They would, they'd have to when GCSEs stop covering, for instance, photosynthesis. Oh, and we can't go back to an examination system that doesn't serve everybody. At the same time the Mandelson empire is coming out with demands that examination grades should not be the only determinant of university entry. Perhaps not, but curriculum content and satisfactory evidence that a candidate has mastered it should be, which is why so many fee paying schools now use the IGCSE examinations. And is very possibly a contributing factor in the success of their candidates entering internationally competitive universities.

Minds are going to be have to be made up: we cannot have both international status, competitive entry universities and our state school system committed to 'inclusive' curriculums and examinations.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Opel Moves to Responding to Industrial Not Political Imperatives

'A wholly rational choice. They have acted correctly and this [decision] is a good thing for Europe because they are doing what must be done: infrastructures in Europe, which are too big and extensive, must be rationalised. This is a complicated business: rational industrial choices should be made with great care.' Sergio Marchionne welcoming GM's decision to retain Opel.

[''Una scelta totalmente razionale. Hanno fatto bene ed e' una cosa buona per l'Europa , perche' fanno le cose che dovranno fare: dovranno razionalizzare le infrastrutture in Europa che sono troppo grosse e complesse. Questo e' un business complicato: le scelte razionali e industriali vanno fatte in una maniera molto precisa'].

The FIAT director took over Chrysler in the summer and has been restructuring ever since, according to his industrial blueprint. (FIAT's shares rise steadily). He abandoned discussions to acquire Opel remarking that when the politics had been washed out of the negotiations and industrial efficiency and profit were the objectives Opel would be worth looking at. But the German elections stood in the way of a European-wide rationalisation of car production.

Dr Marchionne doesn't do politics - not politics politics - he does industrial planning and efficiency and profits. Vauxhall may be cheering at events today but a lot of politics politics will be over by next Spring, both in the UK and in the local German elections. The plants in Poland and Russia can then take on their industrial importance, while older plant in Germany, and peripheral plant in other countries, particularly the UK, wish the English Secretary for Industry had kept himself to himself.

Unitd Kingdom Democratic Deficit to Be Remedied

Gosh, a United Kingdom Constitutional court; my Goodness, a Sovereignty Act; heavens! what is available to Germany, to Ireland to the Czech Republic (and to every other of the member states of Europe) will be installed in the United Kingdom.

Who could have thought it?

God, People Like This Are Insufferable

The Finnish woman who has pursued the removal ad oltranza of crucifixes from classroom walls in Italian primary schools has been a culturally blind class warrior from another planet. That she has been accorded membership of Italian society on her marriage to an Italian has not conferred on her any cultural sensitivity whatever, and seems to have raised no thought of extending, to those who have received her, any cultural courtesy at all.

Italy is a Christian country. Who could have the remotest connection to Italy and not understand that? There is no need to labour the point with examples and historical reference. It is also an advanced capitalist democracy with guaranteed freedoms of speech, belief, worship, and peoples of many cultures living (reasonably) peacefully side by side. Lots of us, native and immigrant, are not Christian but most of us are grown up, and polite.

The Finnish woman is just plain rude.

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

The Czech Constitution Guarantees Czech Sovereignty Over Lisbon. Does Ours?

The ruling that the Czech constitution is robust enough to defend Czech sovereignty in its interaction with the Lisbon treaty is good news for Czechs but reflects badly on our own. The United Kingdom is the only member state of the European Union sent naked into the conference chamber (to borrow a phrase from a Labour pantheon member).

David Cameron has still not set out a manifesto for the construction and reconstruction of a British Constitution at least as robust as that of the other 26 member states of the federated European Union. Not talk of the repatriation of powers, not talk of constitutionally insignificant and irrelevant referendums, not mention of negotiation either friendly and constructive or obstructive and bolshie; what is needed are clearly set out proposals for providing the United Kingdom with rules for its conduct that match those of our fellow Europeans.

While he is at it he might pay attention to the internal federation of the United Kingdom itself. There is a gross lack of internal democracy within the UK that is due largely to the former dominance of England within the federation of the British Isles. Once the English ran the whole show. Now they do not but the paradigm has been particularly malignant in informing attitudes to the European Union. There was an expectation that the UK, and for the UK read England, would run Europe much as England ran the UK - after all, we won the war innit, well with some assistance from America but we've got a special relationship, right? Remember at the heart of Europe?

Only we aren't, are we? Outside the euro, outside Schengen, outside the European social model - outsiders - facing a lot of unfinished post War business and a very different view of England's behaviour in Europe than the propaganda history we still promulgate in our schools and trash media. Europeans have a lot of stuff to sort out, and it won't be solved with the impositions of 60 years ago. Out of money and credibility too. And with our candidate for European high office a warmonger and war criminal of the centre left in a Europe where the centre right predominates. There is a famous photograph of a Berlin banana seller offering a banana to a small child; he would doubtless be more competent at foreign relations than the self-hating everything banana- offerer that is being put forward as a serious contender to conduct European Union foreign relations (to which England's constitutionally unprotected statehood will be subject).

Right now, the only thing that is holding together the United Kingdom economy, its currency, and any hope of avoiding a devastating depression - not recession but full blown depression - is the expectation of a reassertion of democracy and the election of a sane government in the United Kingdom. That is a respectable government, elected, in correct relations with the permanent state and its other aspects of law and legislature. A sane government that recognises the straits we are in, not blinded by an obsessive, childlike denial of wrongdoing, and will cope with our dreadful debt and frightening isolation from our neighbours and former friends. A clean government that is untainted by the corruption of a bribed legislature, a subverted civil service, a shadow administration of appointed cronies, a civilian surveillance without redress from maladministration and bullying by apparatchik appointees.

England is more than a peripheral power in Europe. We were once well-regarded and rightly seen as a model of informal, as well as constitutionally enforceable, decencies. Mr Cameron and his party need to set out some very clear plans to reinstate our country's decencies and ensure that in our relations with other federations, both local and European, we can be ourselves and pay our debts.

On reflection

It is just as important that the centre left in England should set out its proposals for protecting the sovereignty of the United Kingdom, and for resolving the problems of its internal federation. But to do so would require the removal of a Labour Executive premised on and wholly committed to the installation of what has been called authoritarian capitalism (there are older fashioned names but let's move on). The social democratic movement in the UK has been unable to dislodge the authoritarian Executive by any means open to them within Labour party structures. All attempts at dissuading the Labour authoritarian Executive from illegal wars, the introduction of unbearable levels of social, and private familial surveillance, the removal of constitutionally safeguarded civil liberties, the disempowering of the judiciary and the legislature, the construction of a client state coupled with crippling levels of direct and indirect taxation (and tax payer looting by Executive friendly operators but that's another matter), the identification of the Executive with the permanent state, have failed.

Obviously just as many social democrats in the UK have been abused and defrauded as people on the centre right. The problem is they cannot protect both the centre left and dethrone their 'leaders' to reinstate a decent party and movement. Only the whole electorate can do that.