Thursday, 30 September 2010

Power Games and the Great Reunification

The extraordinary inside story  of the reunification of Germany 20 years ago is covered in Der Spiegel, after the release of documentation by both Germany and the United Kingdom. 

The players dwarf today's political figures, as  the events and tense negotiations described dwarf today's political news.

If you have an hour, read it.

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Clapped-out Harman

Cabinet is not the House of Commons.  Cabinet ministers are consistently briefed in far greater detail than the House on Executive policies and decisions.  And if the House of Commons is deliberately misled by the Executive of the day, particularly by the prime minister of the day, it does not bear anything like the same responsibility for policy endorsements as that  borne by cabinet ministers.

If a cabinet minister accepts as 'wrong'  (as the new Labour Leader put it) major policy choices taken by the Executive then their course is to resign, as did Robin Cook over the attack upon Iraq.  The resignation of the then Leader of the House of Commons  followed by his statement to the House shows that determining the worth of evidence for the decision to make war on Iraq was open to cabinet ministers in a way that it was not to ordinary  Members of the House - be they government back-benchers or opposition Members.

So when David Miliband turns in contempt to Harman, asking"Why are you clapping?"  he is not referring to her behaviour as a member of Parliament voting in the House, but to her voting behaviour as a Cabinet member, and her repudiation of cabinet responsibility  during the last  Labour government.

"I am supporting him...",  doesn't begin to justify the public rejection of a central part of our governing system, and the denial of a responsibility that can never be set aside once assumed. 

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Brotherly Advice

Did Ed Miliband talk David out of toppling Brown when he had the chance?  If he did his behaviour is so offensive at so many levels, and towards us all, not just his brother, that he's up there with Brown as unfit to lead.

Monday, 27 September 2010

Don't Stand for the Shadow Cabinet, David

David Miliband would be lost for good if he accepted standing for office in the Labour opposition.  That while in opposition Labour elects those who will be members of the shadow cabinet, while allowing the Leader to appoint any of those elected to any shadow office, creates a nightmare in which he finds himself both patronised by his younger brother, and surrounded by 'colleagues' chosen by a ballot in which every elector's eye is on the new Leader and who and what put him there. 

Certainly he would be elected, but who else would be elected with him?  What shadow office could possibly attract him?  Shadowing William Hague?  Miliband's international status far outstrips that of Hague - international interlocutors would feel they were talking to the wrong man - and they would be right.  Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer?  The gulf between what the public service unions, in deficit denial, and what he would know needs to be done, renders that position unavailable.  No other office, shadow or  not, is of any real importance; except for deputy prime minister, and that only because of what a Coalition government has required and made of it.

It might be thought a bit hard to expect him to be his brother's deputy, too.

David Miliband  represents not just his constituents but an entire social democratic movement in UK politics.  Continuing to give that movement voice, expression, and eventually form, free of the malign deformations inflicted by peculiarly British trade union nature and practices  (to which the party led by his brother is once again in thrall) is his political task in this country.  If he doesn't want what that will involve, then he must be off to other things. 

It's no good his brother trying to pretend that he can make a social democratic party free of inappropriate union power.  He can't.   He was put where he is to prevent the development of a democratic, left of centre, party; and he was put there by the former Leader's men.

It is to be hoped that David Miliband will choose to continue in UK politics.  If he does, it must be from a position that defines his division from Labour as it now is.   

Sunday, 26 September 2010

Can You Forgive Him?

“I’m nobody’s man, I’m my own man and I’m very very clear about that,”

declares the new Labour Leader.  Well, that's not quite the case, is it?  Ed Miliband is Gordon Brown's protege.  Think what that means: no-one who didn't jump as high as Brown said 'jump' remained in post, and Miliband remained in post, he advanced, under Brown.  He was parachuted into a safe Labour seat in the North of England - what on Earth has Miliband to do with the constituency he was handed?

Deeply involved in the setting up of the New Labour Project from when he was very young, he has declared also that New Labour is dead.  Well, that's not quite the case either, is it?  This phase of the Project is over, the shifting of the dinosaur aspects of Labour towards the centre ground. The next phase is shifting the centre ground itself to the left.  That is what he will be party to.

And  he wants to shed 'some of the baggage' of recent years:  there's  the war-mongering  and its dead to shed; the lifting of all and any regulation on the banks to shed (and Miliband was an economic advisor); the startling growth in inequality within the United Kingdom during the first governing phase of the Project to finesse. And all the assaults upon our civil rights and democratic practices to be denied, now that they are being unravelled by the Government.  Baggage!

Democratic practices are going to be tricky to assert, or even reassert for a man elected to the Leadership of his party by such a doubtfully democratic process as the Labour party's rules.  His predecessor, of course,  didn't bother with those processes at all; but Miliband's party electoral weighting and process is such a despicable fix it's barely acceptable to any modern political party, and not at all acceptable to a democratic party.  It no more confers any claim to be prime minister of the UK on him than it did on those Labour Leaders who have gone before him and achieved general election victories.  Except for Blair.  Only Blair, reviled by Miliband,  rose above his Party to truly claim a democratic mandate.

Miliband's reputation for being indecisive is probably a reflection of being his master's voice or, at least, creature;  difficult to be decisive when every decision, no matter how small or from whatever department, was disappearing into the black (or should that be Brown?) maw.  Not nice, though, either  to assert that standing against your brother is a sign of decisiveness; I'd choose a word more like disloyalty (or  one of the freudian terms were I inclined to interpret the world in that kind of context.)   And getting a kiss from Lord Kinnock is something disgraceful in any kind of context (unless you're Glenys I suppose).

We know what he stands for because it was the manifesto that he wrote on which Labour lost the last election (with a little help from his friends).  And if he has repudiated that as well, now, it's beginning to look as if he will say anything at any time to anyone to obtain office, first in a democratically discredited party, as a stepping stone to bossing-about us all - and we all had quite enough of that kind of behaviour.

The trouble with Ed Miliband is that he is tainted with the very worst of Labour's thirteen years,  and the fact that so were all the other candidates doesn't make him any more attractive.  There is nothing he could say or do that would make me ever believe him.

Or his party until it apologises sincerely for spoiling, indeed taking, the lives of so many millions of people, and demonstrates its remorse and penitence by the putting in place of fully democratic party systems. Then it can pretend to choosing a potential prime minister.

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Winter Coats

The outburst of fashionability for Bavarian traditional dress encourages me to recommend:

When I last went to Munich -  (that was the occasion of the eery walk in the Englischer Garten  round about  midnight with a chap from Transylvania wheeling a large suitcase which, when asked what it contained that he had brought it to dinner with him, replied "A tombstone."  How I hoped my other dinner companions hadn't drawn too far ahead of us - I'd only hung back because the poor chap had this unwieldy burden) -  I bought this lovely coat.

Since then I have worn it every winter, despite being greeted by a German friend on its first outing  with, "Oh look!  The country gentlewoman has come up to town in her best coat."  But then, she comes from Stuttgart and is just jealous she couldn't get away with a loden Mantel, as an Englishwoman can.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Surprise Reprise of Brown "I am Angry..." Number

There must be a union-guaranteed freeby clause in every defeated Project politician's global governance contract. 

"Once you are out of office you will receive a minimum of 4 (FOUR) international outings a year; two will be intercontinental, and the other two will be one each to expensive ski resorts in winter and the seaside in summer.  First class return air fare, greeter at the point of arrival, black Mercedes to five star accommodation, all meals, and at least one opportunity to address an audience of journalists (tamed by equivalent travel and hotel arrangements).  At least 1 (ONE) current Head of State or Equivalent will address your venue during your stay. (Even if only to say 'thank you for coming and we always value your opinion)'."

The return is that the defeated/outworn/not awfully comfortably-off anymore, will keep a closed mouth on anything they may have picked up in office.  

Sunday, 19 September 2010

Jaroslavl a Week Later

The Global Policy Forum was a set piece to bolster President Medvedev  against Prime Minister Putin's intentions towards the presidency of Russia.  As such  most of its efforts were not directed to the open investigation of the topics on the agenda - which in themselves enunciated  an already narrowly defined stance towards matters which, of their nature, are wide and long-debated.  For instance "The main topic is how [sic] the modern state should look  like, how it should develop and act to guarantee, on the one hand, freedoms and welfare for its citizens, and, on the other hand, to remain competitive and responsible actor in the rapidly changing world." [actually, sic to all of that, punctuation included.]

The notion that it is democracy that defines the democratic state, not the modern state that defines democracy was not on the agenda.

Instead: 'efficiency of modern democratic states and criteria for measuring it; defining the standards of modern democracies and ways to develop them; the diversity of democratic experiences; the role of the modern state as an instrument for modernization; new challenges that countries and the world community face; legal mechanisms to respond to these challenges; ways of development of regional and global systems of security,' [sic again] was, and corralled the tightly controlled participants.

Round tables of 20 speaking participants (chosen by the organisers earlier) were given minutes to comment on closely prepared, glossily produced working papers, tens and sometimes more than a 100 pages long.  These had been turned out by think tanks (who would have thought there could be so many?) and university departments using Russian and 'international body' funding.  No questions were taken from the floor within the time limits, although occasionally the distinguished audience (never have so many been gathered at such expense to sit and listen to  points of view, opinions and arguments large numbers would dismiss, have already dismissed) could not be contained and things would go off message into valid and interesting discussion that was never reported.  The 1400 journalists, out-numbering the participants 3 to 1 had already received their press summaries of the sessions.  It was claimed:

'Global Policy Forum is the venue where criteria of modern effective democratic statehood are jointly developed, as only collectively elaborated and recognized standards serve in the interests of building a just, balanced, and stable world order providing conditions for decent life of millions of people.'  They might have continued 'and where what we want, and say, goes'.

The section on 'Regional Systems of Global Security' was moderated by "Lord Robertson, George (UK), former General Secretary of NATO, member of the board of directors of TNC BP'  and a Russian I.G. Yurgens, chairman of the board of the Institute of Modern Development."  I never did manage to get hold of the names of the 20 talking heads at the round table, but Robertson says it all, at least for me; and there was no list of every participant attending the Forum available at all.

'New Challenges and the Concept of International Law' argued that 'regulatory development of the international law during the last decades has gone ahead of its theoretical understanding [sic, as ever; why don't they get some decent editors?] Contentious? Just a bit.  But then one of the moderators was the former Federal Chancellor of Austria 2007/8 AND a former leader of the Social Democratic Party of Austria, co-moderating with the chairman of the Russian Federation's Public Committee for the Development of Civil Society (which just sounds so post 1789  France).

This post is just a taster of what was going on; I have piles of licit and illicit bumf collected from the Arena 2000 venue in which we were 'locked down' for security reasons for an entire day when Medvedev and Berluska were there.

A salute to the eminent Italian sociologist Poggi, who pinned Medvedev down on interference with the internet and control over the mass media practiced in Russia, during a round table series of 'questions to the President'; and a salute to President Medvedev who didn't duck the question with blether, though looking decidedly black-faced about it, and insisted that there was no interference with, or intention of setting-up interference with, the internet or blogging, and that the media was for the media to run, its problems and practices its own, and not  the state's.  Which may or may not be true but was at least an admirable view, roundly asserted.

A lot of those who might be thought of as politically dead (cf Robertson above) are alive and circuiting.  M'beki  seemed to be the only one with personal guards - it was rather comforting being greeted whenever going in or out by half a dozen and more smiling Africans with jumpy eyes - one at the lifts, one at the seating area looking over the city, one each side of M'Beki's rooms, more in the rooms opposite.   Mostly though, the obvious security was at the access points.  Lovely spaniels filling in time sniffing who knows what through the grass and into the trees as no bombs were being found, and large alsatians on leads held back by men in black while we all waved labels at commissars (they looked like commissars, I don't know what they were really)  who waved us on in turn.  And people who  consume personal security are probably doing it as a fashion accessory rather than from necessity.  Perhaps one of the themes of the Forum should have been 'Loss of Office does not Imply Loss of Status or Influence in Modern Democracy; Discuss'.

Sunday, 12 September 2010

Looking Gift Horses in the Mouth

Some economists are silly.  There was a serious contention that Russia's natural resources were a curse.  That oil and gas were leading to currency over-valuation, de-industrialisation and unemployment.  Surely, the failure to take full advantage of natural resource richesse springs from policy mistakes, not the existence of resources.

This ridiculous argument (coming from a reputed expert in energy policy) of a resource curse, the Dutch disease, the adverse impact of oil export revenues, led to the observation that it can always be left in the ground utilising a costless storage opportunity, used  to take foreign policy advantage, used to invest nationally to promote further growth. 

If poverty of resources were a prerequisite of growth, beggars would ride.


Saturday, 11 September 2010

Global Forum Gobsmacked by Berlusconi

"This is my speech, prepared for me by my research department" Berlusconi began to the assembled great and good bathed in the curious blue light of the main  hall "but  that is just for the record", he confided, handing it to the chairman of the session.  "Let me tell all of you here what is democracy".

First he claimed to be the greatest of Russia's friends.  It was he who had turned the G7 into the G8 when inviting  Yeltsin to join them in Naples in 1994; he who had told  Putin and Obama thay would not be invited to Aquila unless they signed the agreement on  nuclear disarmament first and they had shown him the signed treaty on their arrival; he who had re-opened the dialogue between Russia and the United States after their relations cooled over the missiles in Poland and the Czech Republic and the invitations to Ukraine and Georgia to join Nato.  He claimed the warmest of personal as well as political relations with Putin and Medvedev, who he called "Un dono del Signore al vostro popolo".  By now sections of the audience where openly giggling or making remarks to their neighbours.

Democracy, we were told, requires three things: freedom from bureaucratic oppression, from fiscal oppression, and from oppression by the judiciary.  For instance, in Italy there are too many rules.  He, Berlusconi, is guided by the principle that we can do anything we like, and that ex post authorisations rather than prior permissions and regulatory conformity should be the only requirements for initiating an enterprise. Otherwise corruption is bred by bureaucratic oppression.

The state does too much: while up to a third of income, paid  in tax, can be regarded as payment for services provided by the state, such as defence and internal security, more than that is an unfair imposition; above 50 percent in tax is theft, indeed robbery.

Finally, oppression by the judiciary, especially  where magistrates have unlimited power and independence, as in Italy, leads to the effective suppression and dissolution of democratic parties by the incrimination of politicians and parties.  In Italy in 1993 the magistrates set out to take power, so he, by popular demand, decided to enter politics as owner of television stations and national newspapers, and of the most successful football team in the world.  The magistrates had tried to prevent his entry into politics by all kinds pretexts and prosecutions in which he has invariably established his innocence. The 1948 Constitution, (the Italian Constitution) seeking to avoid the resurgence of Fascism had set extraordinary limits to government and executive powers and handed the judiciary oppressive powers.  This must be undone to re-establish democracy.

By now the tittering and murmuring had stopped and the hall had succumbed to this remarkable take on the nature of democracy.  His oratory was masterly, it must be admitted. Berlusconi the democratic politician, martyred by judicial abuses, high taxes, and bureaucratic regulatory strangulation.

Without democracy (presumably as freed from regulatory and judicial tyranny, and those pesky taxes) there can be no freedom to develop individual talents and without that freedom there can be no economic growth.  But democracy can be improved. On we leapt into the development of democracy by the introduction of new technologies. We were swept through the digitalisation of public administration, the stabilising of prices in oil, copper, other metals, food - wheat, soya, rice, and the fight against the drugs trade. Strong sanctions should be placed on the personal consumption of drugs - it is the drug consumer who is responsible for generating drug production. All this was to be organised at the next G20 summit in Seoul he added, beaming at the South Korean prime minister, who looked nervously at his aides.

There must be concentration on raising life expectancy to 120 years and improving the quality of that extended life-span, as he was doing by funding research into stem cell technology.  His wish for the gathering was the spread of democracy everywhere, and a longer and healthy life of 120 years.

The audience put their hands together for Silvio and wondered what they had been here for, what they had achieved in all the hours of analysis and discussion, with all their massed expertise in technology, economics, political science, and history.

At least  he had brought them all to a moment of  reflection and self-awareness. Afterwards they were all quite cross.

Friday, 10 September 2010

A Political Intermezzo

I had that Massimo D'Alema  (Italy's 77th prime minister since 1946, from 1998-2000) in the back of my car last night, on the way to the formal dinner.  He had been scheduled to speak (allocated 9 minutes - 12.39 to 12.48) in the section on regional systems of global security.  He'd reneged on the extraordinary grounds that Silvio Berlusconi, who  speaks at the plenary session today, is both capable of, and prone to, saying anything at all.  To make outlandish suggestions such as that Russia should join NATO, which would have been grossly at odds with D'Alema's stance and Party's politics.  (It is very bad form to clash with one's own Head of Government at these jamborees; leads to speculation that a country is changing its policies or otherwise coat trailing).

Despite being the former leader of the former Italian Communist Party, D'Alema claimed to be convinced of Gianfranco Fini's sincerity, of his integrity, despite Fini being the former leader of the former Fascist Party, which thus enabled a good working relationship and a proper opportunity in combination with the PD, to drive Berlusconi from office, .

"But he's a Fascist" I remarked angelically.  "Once a Fascist, always a Fascist.  It's a matter of the heart as well as the head, a way of viewing the world, not just politics.  We can't vote for him ever."  Then I remembered the Communist past.  Same difference.  Woops.

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Democracy Considered as a Reward for Economic Growth

The session on the state and technological modernisation consisted of a round table of eighteen middle-aged to ancient men, and an 150-strong audience with a sprinkle of long-legged blonde photographers and journalists.  Spontaneous contribution is not accepted at the Forum.  The Press has a list of all speakers  (there is no published list of all participants) both formal paper-givers and those who comment afterwards (who are timed to four minute contributions.)  Looking round the spectators just on a casual know-by-sight-or-reputation basis, this is a great pity; there are some distinguished men and women here.  But  time is allocated for 'interaction and informal discusssion' only after the sessions - it seems there is a time and place for everything.  People are restive, not used to being bridled in this fashion.

The line is priority to growth and technological development, for while democracy and its institutions are a good thing, it must be acknowledged   that there is no single model or extant type of wholly satisfactory democracy, no Holy Grail yet found and, furthermore, no kind of democracy can be permitted to thwart or hinder economic advance and the achievement of fairness and rising living standards. Sigh.

There are so many questions begged here, where do we start ? (in the proper time and place for informal discussion and interaction, not in the plenary sessions, naturally.)  Of course, those who see democracy and what it confers as desirable and to be installed only when advanced economic success  is achieved under more efficient  institutional arrangements, almost as if it were a high order good to be consumed once basic  economic global goals have been delivered, can stay perpetually in charge - in purely technical roles and with authority derived from purely efficiency-driven needs, they would say.  And they can get together in Jaroslavl, and lesser (though no less costly) meetings of minds, and reinforce to one another and to the world, the rightness of their undertakings and view of how to order the planet.

Capitalism produces initiative, entrepreneurship, innovation, trust, rewards; markets clear. And all this goes hand in glove with individualism,  personal and civil freedoms, flat authority structures and high expectations of participation in the use of state power by regular, democratic consultation.  That is, with democracy; which is at the root of economic and technological success and grows and transmutes with it.  If it is suppressed, excluded, in the name of efficiency both technical and managerial, then we lose the spontaneously produced characteristics of capitalism so successful in providing the advanced world with its high living standards  and individual fulfilment.

They  never give up, do they?  You would think they would have died of shame - the older ones -  and the younger ones have  been convinced by growing up and living under the failures of realised socialism.  But no, all that's needed is to to tweak it a bit, find a means to simulate market functioning, and then democracy and capitalism can be matched, despatched, by benevolent statism and planning.     

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Bunfight on the Jaroslavl Express

The hammer and sickle were absent - too much to hope for in retro-decoration, I suppose - but the samovar is hissing at the end of the corridor and a steady supply of black or jasmine tea is being handed into our compartment by a large blonde lady.  Ructions among the assembled trainload of attendees and pressmen as some are getting lunch and the rest cheese and ham sandwich on what appears to be a purely arbitrary basis generated by plan under-fulfilment. Angels are happy with jasmine tea in unlimited amounts (those hotel breakfasts) so are, of course, above the fray.

There are a number of sessions that seem to be relatively insulated from one another.  All are ominously undemocratic but that may be an import from the way Russian speaks of political concepts.  Nevertheless: 'the state as an instrument for technological upgrading; standards of democracy and diversity of democratic experience; new challenges and new concepts of international law; regional systems for global security, taken together to indicate a mindset untainted by libertarian or even individualist and democratic ideals...  There is to be an intersectional panel on the European Security Treaty

Could Russia be envying Chinese command and control economics?. 

To Jaroslavl from Platform 9 and a Half

President Medvedev's Global Policy Forum  is setting out from Moscow on a special train.  If, instead of a giant, dark green engine, emblazoned with red hammer and sickle on a golden ground, wheels taller than a man doesn't come panting up to the platform, with samovars of boiling tea in every carriage, I'm going to be very disappointed.  They wouldn't put us all on the equivalent of the Cambridge Cruiser would they?

The Modern State: Standards of Democracy and Criteria of Efficiency is to have its hash settled in the next forty-eight hours by specialists of every kind and persusasion under the gaze of journalists from across the world - but only here will an angels'-eye view be offered.