Thursday, 31 December 2009

Opportunity, Opportunity, Opportunity

Standard of living, inequality,  levels of unemployment, educational achievement, access to credit, all these impact on independent establishment in adult life.  On this last day of the decade a sorry sight greets us. 

United Kingdom standards of living are lower than those of European countries comparable in size of population and of economy.  Unemployment is higher and, if economic inactivity in working-age groups is calculated as part of unemployment, is the highest in Europe. Educational achievement is marred by 40% of students transferring into secondary education with deficient skills in literacy and numeracy and with the poorest already withdrawing from full time education.  Access to credit is unprecedentedly difficult. 

Against all cultural trends since industrialisation and urbanisation,  households of parents and children are being forcibly reconstituted by the return of the young and even the young middle-aged unable to establish or maintain their independent households.

Setting out in life is always going to be tempered by the gifts with which we are born, the family into which we are born,  and then the  circumstances  of sociocultural stability and the wider economy with which our own world, and our country, is interacting.  The more choices we have the better we tend to do.  Only the low living standards and dull homogeneity  that embodied the lack of opportunity in the realised socialist states is worse than what is on offer, indeed required consumption for the many, now.  And at least under realised socialism you learned enough to master a skill.

So for the next decade how about new towns, modern rail and bus services, small schools, local hospital and nursing centres, the re-mutualisation of  local credit provision, lower taxes, and locally answerable policing.  And release the economy from the grasp of an over-weening state interference, planning, and regulation. 

Pie in the sky?  No, it is the one nation Conservativism, pragmatic, non-ideological, socially well-disposed but with high regard for individual privacy, in which so many of us grew and thrived.

Wednesday, 30 December 2009

The Risks of Denying Democracy

The devaluation of sterling by 30% is far too little.  Sterling is coming down from a ridiculous high achieved for wholly political, vote-getting purposes.   Angels write from among those who sold up just about everything to get out at 1.68 - even 1.70-something for a brief moment, if memory serves.  What was left behind was left for a mixture of nostalgia, hope, and insurance.

Well, none of those are worth the risk any more.  Not because England is in dire economic straits; not because there are  catastrophic levels of political uncertainty; but because England is telling lies.

Lies about its debt levels, lies about its de-industrialisation and the collapse of its manufacturing sector, lies about its workforce and its workforce skills,  lies about its social provision, lies about pension claims,  lies about its energy security, lies about its allegiances, lies about its intentions, lies about its governing capacities, lies about its democracy.

Once a sovereign state is issuing lies on all fronts and at every level, through every means its rulers can control, cajole, influence, and buy,  then the steady and relatively discreet departure of wealth, unwilling to accept the veracity of this representation of the fundamentals, becomes a public run on the country. 

A demonstration of political maturity and democratic stability in the form of a general election, right now,  producing an elected government set upon correcting the lies and coping with debt and public expenditure splurging and misdirection is essential.  Brown might think he can go on fobbing off the rest of the world,  go on 'being in charge' but who is willing, as opposed to being forced by their own powerlessness,  to wait longer?  To wait until the last possible shred of legality and democratic hope has been expended.

An election must be now or it might as well be never.

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Taking a Risk With Uncertainty

Assessment of risk and response to risk are the stuff of which economic behaviour is made. Traditionally an important distinction is made between risk and uncertainty. Risk is a type uncertainty for which we can have a probability distribution - life expectancy, fire, car accidents, and is, therefore, insurable.  There is, too,  pure uncertainty - uncertainty of which probabilities are unknown, thus is not insurable and leads to agents acting on the basis of arbitrary, heterogeneous, and ill-founded expectations.  In economics it is uncertainty of the latter kind that is the prime mover in economic decision-taking.

Sovereign default is technically insurable by the purchase  of credit default swaps but there is no certainty that credit default swaps will be honoured by bust guarantors; we are, therefore, in a no man's land between risk and uncertainty.  Greece, for instance, is a country on the cusp of assessment of risk as opposed to pure uncertainty, just as  sovereign default is on the cusp of insurable uncertainty  and pure uncertainty.

Terrifyingly, so is the United Kingdom.  Numbers can be found elsewhere, but that is where we are.

The United Kingdom is under authoritarian, big state, high tax, redistributive, governance.    Politically the UK is under a leadership that is so devoid of any sense of responsibility (at times reality might be a more appropriate word) that it is deliberately importing the economics of uncertainty and risk into political process.

Knowing that any general election will oust Labour rule comprehensively,  how close to sovereign default can the economy be brought so that political process is rendered wholly subject to economic diktat, and is interrupted?

There is 'must' be interrupted, which is the Brown junta's intention. And there is 'will' be interrupted, which is the bitter end of scorched-earthism when this appalling balancing act along the cliff-top of disaster, motivated by necessity born of Brown's economic incompetence, motivated by desire to leave nothing should power be wrested from him, and motivated by intention to create compelling circumstances for continuity in office, results in an economic fall, a political fall, or both.

Traditional economic analysis leaves little room for discontinuities, structural breaks, and regime changes: but Brown's junta will embrace war and politico-economic collapse before it cedes political power within our country's stable historical and political practice.

Saturday, 26 December 2009

We Know Where We Live

No wonder Brown's Britain propaganda has failed.  Other than the obvious jonah reason, there is no such place.  Either we live in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, or we live in England, Scotland, Wales, or Northern Ireland.  'Britain' doesn't include Northern Ireland, nor does the term 'Briton' refer to the many non-celtic inhabitants of the United Kingdom.

An entire, distasteful political culture and its agenda lies embodied in Brown's terminology 'Britain' and the  cack-handed collapse of his attempt to foist it on the rest of us (the Times reports derisory numbers attending regional 'Britishness' meetings being hosted by cabinet ministers, Straw got down to single figures at some) reassures us all that we, at least, know where we are coming from, even if Brown is in denial.

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Going to University is Different from Going to College

Putting university entrance as the most desirable objective of the school system has had a dreadful result for school education and a poor result for university education.  The aim of enjoyment of a university education for all who could undertake one is wholly admirable.  But its provision should have been far more flexible than simply expanding acceptance rates at 18 to under-qualified and under-motivated school leavers.  The extension of a degree level qualification  to many quite mundane jobs, particularly in the state sector, that were formerly entered by those with school leaving qualifications, or at most A-levels, compounded the degredation  of degree-level study.  And as so many entered the university system the possibilities for support while studying for a degree, and for free tuition, receded.

Mass university entrance by possession of a school 18+ diploma requires a university system set up for: high levels of low-level teaching support similar to those within schools; integral provision for part time and distance learning; module-style examination systems; locally-based institutions with most undergraduates living at home.  The style of university teaching and research that in the UK has been beseiged by degree-seeking school students is inappropriate.  Models of the mass system abound - America, many continental European countries,  or - the past, too, being another country - technical colleges and polytechnics.

Somehow expanding tertiary education and training has become bound up with notions of employment qualification,  egalitarianism and universal availability.  Lopping money from LSE, UCL, Cambridge -  fill in choice of university of repute, or  individual faculties within any outstanding institution of learning and research -  satisfies such atavistic Labour urges but  does nothing for reforming any part of our failing educational systems at any and every level.

Update: Mr HG requires the spelling 'degradation'.  But his English is much better than mine.

Angels on Horseback


                                  Angels wish you all a Merry Christmas

[The suggestion that Angels cannot fly is unworthy of refutation.  Of course the images of marble and painted angels studied by the learned professor cannot fly.  Angels usually fly Lufthansa or Meridiana to avoid attracting attention - and causing concern in the skies over Berlin, or Prague, Warsaw or Moscow. Angels' journeys this Christmas are short enough to use horse power.]

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Submerged Truths About the Ecological Threats to Our Lives

A wall map of the world is on Angels' Christmas gift list.  In the Nordstream construction permissions news (another section has been OKed, by Germany this time) it is noted that the ideal line of Nordstream  is  straight but it will avoid ecologically sensitive areas and munitions dumps.

'I am not old enough' is a rare thought to cross my mind, but googling Baltic Sea munitions dumps jolted all kinds of attitudes into new perspectives.  Climate change or whatever you want to call it is as nothing. In ecosystem priorities.  In health and safety priorities.  In guilty parties priorities.  In clean-up priorities.

Did you know that after the end of armed conflict in 1945 both victors and vanquished threw  anything  and everything into the Baltic and round Heligoland, German Bight?  Those names used to lull me to sleep.  Not now.

Chemical weapons, as well as every other kind of munition, loaded into boats and carried the shortest possible distance before being tipped overboard to enable a fast return and a fresh load and a repeat payment.  What few records kept are locked down in the United States, one of the very worst offenders in the European seas pollution stakes.  The US is not too keen on facilitating a clean up and it is not too hard to imagine the geopolitical answer to: why not?

Nordstream will be built.  And as it is, understanding of what is really important in any international agreements on treating the earth with respect will rise to the surface.

Labour's Gifts Wrapped by Sarah Brown

 And lo, they came, bearing gifts, and they wrapped them in old newspaper, and scrawled across them the images of festive ribbons in red marker pen; and they offered their gifts to our children and to our children's children.

Friday, 18 December 2009

Brown Has A Cunning Plan

'Mr Brown said that he had an alternative plan in case the talks failed to yield an agreement. He declined to give any details about this plan, though it is likely to include convening another summit involving a smaller number of countries early next year.' (Times)

Well, it would have to be early next year, wouldn't it? There are quite a lot of people in the United Kingdom, ie., most of the UK electorate, who are expecting to vote Brown out of office next Spring or early Summer. So many summits to host, so little time. Perhaps it would be best to put off the inconvenience of a general election that would so interfere with saving the world (and saving his employment skin.)

And why is it that Brown can keep on jerking Obama's chain? G20s, Copenhagen Climate conferences, Afghan get togethers, now another Climate Cuddle (with only those who want to eat Sarah's wholewheat, vegetarian lasagne swilled away with local Scottish Chianti-U-like this time.)

Presidents of the United States used to preside over the rest of the world from Washington, benign and fierce depending on world circumstances. This one even gets caught in the kitchens, or in a freezing-cold Danish industrial mall (or should that be maul?) that is dreaming of global warming, while escaping from the Scottish Bogeyman.

Global Challenges Set New Tasks For the Secret Services, the Leader Underlines

'The secret services have been and remain the key link in the system ensuring security and sovereignty."

Security service personnel are responsible for preventing internal and external threats, as well as for "the whole range of issues which are brought together by one single notion - "the national interest."

Security service work "requires not only the procurement of knowledge in depth, but also great patience and personal courage...and these must be the characteristic features of security service personnel at all times,"

Recently, the state has made a number of moves to strengthen its security services. Their level of logistical support has been much increased, as has their operational and analytical potential.

"However, the modern world is ever-changing, with increasing competition in economic markets, and for domination in the spheres of knowledge and information. The stakes in this struggle are very high, and competition gets increasingly tough year in, year out.

"The global challenges we face set new and difficult tasks; and require the directed, coordinated and effective work of all of the secret services.

"Of course the war against terror, the containment of any manifestation of national and religious strife and extremism, and the active development of the border control infrastructure, remain among the priorities. [He means major regime goals, ed.].

"It is necessary, as well, to engage in long term, analytical surveillance, while ensuring the secrecy and security of secret service undertakings and activities,.."

Advanced technology and the modernisation of our economy demand higher security requirements for the "protection of our strategic, critical technologies and the steady development of science-intensive economic sectors."

Furthermore, given the state of world tension, every part of the secret services must effectively forecast and "calculate the possible consequences, of ongoing events for many moves ahead."

In practice, the secret services must be the protectors of the national interest, and of the rights and freedoms of citizens.

"They must be strong, and therefore they must be modern. They must be effective, professionally trained, and technologically equipped,".

He stressed that those serving with the security services must be well-paid, and provided with extensive benefits and protected, high-value pensions.

"We will be working to ensure this," he promised.

Thursday, 17 December 2009

Brown the Sherpa

On 12 December Angels speculated that Brown's hopes for securing his future position were 'invested' (as he would put it, rather than 'bought' as others usually understand Brown's investments, in this case £1.5 billion of UK tax-payers money and rising) in becoming the fat controller of climate change and global warming. Controlling those funds and political resources is a destiny worthy of his world saviour status. Now the BBC (no less) reports:

'... those closely following the financial negotiations say that the big game is all about controlling resources and securing power.

"It certainly is a big power game," said a senior European representative actively involved in negotiations. "The fund will run into billions and getting to control it will mean you will be powerful in the world order."

Given the high stakes and the conflicting positions and passions involved, devising a mechanism, to which all parties agree, to manage and channel the new climate fund...' is why he ditched answering to the UK Parliament at, effectively, the end of his administration (DV), and rushed off to Denmark to sherpa any agreement that can possibly be cobbled together to create the role.

Brown won't get the job - c'mon, we know he won't, is Tony President of the European Union? Course not, even though he paid for his ticket with our EU rebate. This isn't a European's job at all. But he did get the photo ops.

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Filming in Florence

Walking through Florence invariably means extending the courtesy, to visitors to the city, of the room to take their photographs and videos.  100 metres in any direction from my front door (and for the more refined taste, at my front door itself) and it's stop, smile, wave them on, check the photo shoot is over, and go on one's way.  Over and over again.  And why not?  People have travelled and paid to visit the ultimate renaissance city.

So what's with the London insults to visitors? London too is a lovely city, it deserves the homage of the dilettante photographer and should equally courteously accord them their claim to preserve their own experience and visual understanding of their surroundings.  What it should not have is a force of uniformed vigilantes  backed up by armed 'police' and savage fines for taking a picture.  London and the experience of London is photographed and videoed alright.  It's first up on the Eight O'Clock  News.

Next time you are in an Italian city and would like to picture your family, or your own, individual experience remember the vileness of England's surveillance state and its treatment of Simona Bonomo.

The Purpose of Our Nuclear Deterrent is to Ensure We Are Always Asked Nicely

Any country with nuclear weapons and competent delivery systems holds them for defensive, not aggressive reasons.  To argue that the Cold War is over and their cost could be more usefully diverted,   as Hattersley does in the Times today, is wholly specious.  At one time the Cold War enemy was the most likely enemy we wanted to stand up to.  But there were always other reasons for being able to look after ourselves.  When nuclear powers deal with any other state, including super-states, they are treated very differently from the unarmed.  Pakistan and North Korea underline this. 

Furthermore, it's bad enough to have the capacity of  independent nuclear deterrence degraded to having importance only in a past world and against past or specific, rather than any, threats, but coupled with:

  'Britain has a world role... peacekeeping, conflict resolution and fighting bush fires. ...—To finance it even adequately we need to abandon the pretensions of a superpower and ditch Trident now.' 

is highly tendentious too.  The United Kingdom's 'world role' is being horribly exposed in the Chilcot Inquiry as an off the wall agenda for defining inconvenient sovereign states as 'rogue' and then joining in aggressive wars against them in whatever status the United States cares to offer us, in breach of international law and of any moral notion of a just war.

To strip our country's defence capacities of deterrent and conventional resources for such a narrow and inadequate definition of the nature of any threat we could face, really will send us naked into any conference chamber.  And if our nuclear deterrent is not, as some argue, independent enough   that is a reason for making it so, not losing it.

Monday, 14 December 2009

Elections and Their Timing

Europe's new President is getting down to it. First he sends the member-states' foreign ministers off to play in their own meetings, which will be chaired by Catherine Ashton, not lurk about in the Council taking up space and time. Now Le Monde reports that he has called another Council meeting for February 2010:

'... il a annoncé, pour février 2010, un sommet extraordinaire afin de "dégager une stratégie économique claire dans les six mois".

Mr Van Rompuy may just have changed the 'discussion of the timing of the next general election' game. No-one in their right mind could think that Brown is going to risk missing such a shindig. (Go and look at the December European Council minutes - this is Saviour of the World stuff).

[declaration of interest: Angels has long held the view that Brown hasn't the slightest intention of conceding power.]

Sunday, 13 December 2009

Brown's Got Form

There is something truly horrible about the Brown Labour regime's dividing lines. When an authoritarian , big state party starts to place blame on a particular group in a society for the failure of its policies, politico-historical antennae twitch. When the sector of society chosen as the target evil-doers are decried as toffs and bankers the antennae begin to tune into messages. When the targets are caricatured by derisive, grinning Party members wearing top hats and formal dress, then political cartoons from the 20th century lampooning another group of bankers, of toffs, of the rich in top hats and formal dress, set beyond the dividing lines in other authoritarian states, come to mind.

The German Chancellor considers that it might be unconstitutional to seek to lay extra taxes on bonuses. Germany has no plan to tax bonuses in the manner Brown is using. Brown announced a one-time 50 percent tax on bonuses of more than £25,000 pounds last week, in pursuit of a peculiarly disturbing attitude that some sorts of earnings by some sorts of people in England should be singled out for punitive action. This brownian pandering to class and cultural aggression is, too, wholly out of keeping with upholding the Basel, Financial Stability Board self-discipline accords, which:

'discourage bonus guarantees longer than one year, encourage companies to defer bonuses for senior executives and other key employees and enable pay to be clawed back if losses occur at a later date.' (Bloomberg). Wolfgang Schaeuble, the German Finance Minister, said two days ago that:

'German financial institutions including Deutsche Bank, Commerzbank AG and Allianz SE, agreed to uphold the Group of 20’s so-called self-discipline accord, rather than resort to a new tax...' .

Regulators, central banks and investors all “need to take some responsibility,” the chairman of Morgan Stanley told Bloomberg Television in Berlin. Taxing the pay of bankers “doesn’t convey a sense of shared responsibility.” (Bloomberg)

Brown doesn't do 'take responsibility', nor sharing responsibility. Not even when he, personally, wrecked the regulation of financial behaviour in the United Kingdom. Brown does channeling blame to others, even when that involves encouraging a politics of dividing lines that puts some people beyond the pale. Last time it was British jobs for British workers; who is Brown whistling to now?

Saturday, 12 December 2009

When Will We Ever Learn?

What did Brown buy with the one thousand five hundred million pounds of UK taxpayers' money that he has given to the European Union fund to aid poorer countries cope with climate change?

That is a lot of money (to borrow a phrase from Mervyn King before the Fall) even without considering the paltry amounts made available for flood defences in the United Kingdom, where, that is, there has not been an even worse Labour policy decision to abandon fertile agricultural land to the sea. (And no, the United Kingdom is not suffering from global warming-induced climate change, it is tilting from west to east for geological reasons which are arguably just as devastating in their effects upon our own communities and capacities to feed ourselves and create wealth for a decent living standard.)

How does a kick-start to a climate administration organisation, beginning under European Union Federation auspices, that is to be extended to a global governance role, as soon as the tax on global financial transactions is in place, sound? (So unfortunate it was identified as a Tobin tax when it's actually a Gordon tax on bank profits.) That is going to take lots of negotiation and administrative input which Gordon will provide, what with his masterly grasp of finance and taxation and it being his tax after all.

So, Germany and France (it's currently Sarkozy's turn to mind Gordon) get another £1.5 billion out of the UK towards EU administrative expansion merely by dangling a job application in front of the second UK Prime Minister in a row - and the unelected are no more likely to realise their dream than the elected, while we get mulcted again; first the UK rebate, now Brown's £1.5 billion.

Friday, 11 December 2009

Keeping Calm and Carrying On

The Parliament Acts are a very thin line holding against post-democratic rule. While Labour would prefer not to have to breach them (well it, they are supposed to be read together) as this will cause such a lot of trouble, it should be remembered that the reason why there are two Acts is because the 1911 Act limiting the term of a Parliament to five years was altered by Attlees' Labour government. In a series of attacks culminating in 1949, so that the nationalisation of the commanding heights of the economy, and specifically the nationalisation of the steel industry, could be driven past the Lords opposition to the embodying of the War command economy into a socialist planning peacetime regime, and under the guise of amending the powers of the House of Lords, the 1911 Act was overturned. The five-year parliamentary term survived but is just as vulnerable as was the Upper House resistance to state ownership and socialist planning.

Best of all for the current Brown Junta Labour regime would be to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat, by calling a general election and winning it. Next best will be calling a general election and remaining in power by post-election coalition construction to resolve a hung parliament (Heath's attempt failed though). Next best is to find some form of national government that sets aside a general election in a time of grave threat to the national interest (tricky when the national interest is being dissolved in Brussels). Then comes the generation of such a financial crisis that the argument that Labour alone can deal with it (no time for novices) can be put, and the general election must be delayed - held, certainly, but that time must be given for measures to restore stability and growth.

Then there there could be the series (not just one) of domestic 'terrorist' outrages, or overseas war 'emergencies' that require the suspension of democratic process and institutions (Mandelson did a fine bit of suspension in Northern Ireland, often a practice ground for the rest of us).

And finally (shades of Frost) there is the suspension of all elections in the United Kingdom until electoral practices within our country conform to those democratic practices required by all member-states of the European Union (better to have the referendum on a different voting system before the general election rather than afterwards when there would be no guarantee an incoming administration would recognise its European Union subservience appropriately).

Lots of room here, then, for manoeuvre. We need to aim for options 1 and 2 - persuade them they might stay in power without all the other upheavals. Because we should not think that the Brown Junta is constrained to book its own tumbrils.

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Temporarily Unavailable for Joyous Viewing

Great works of art, be they pictures, sculptures, buildings, musical instruments ... have a life of their own that is extinguished rarely and only under social and economic conditions of sudden and widespread barbarity.

The Mafia pentito who claims that The Adoration by Caravaggio was burned after it had been damaged by being stored in a barn and eaten by pigs and rats, doesn't convince. The Mafia may be pigs and rats but they don't eat their own wealth. They have used paintings as currency (nothing if not sensible, the Wise Ones) since for ever. And they do not restrict the acquisition of their stores of value to purchase in the art markets of the world. This painting was acquired in 1969, to order, from above an altar in Palermo; slightly damaged in the lift (the prospective owner in tears) but its charmed life ensures that it is hidden from our happiness supply only temporarily.

The Truth is out there and, as we know, Beauty is Truth.

Sunday, 6 December 2009

Avoiding "an Orgy of Value Destruction"

Just in case there is any incipient value destruction with Angels as its epicentre, here is what I would like for Christmas.

Long-sleeved jumper by Jil Sander in charcoal wool, the one with the straight neckline and the extra long sleeves that rouche at the wrist or can be pulled over the hands in moments of angst.

Knee-high softest leather boots that rouche at the ankle (rouching is in for ankles as well as wrists) in green so dark it looks like black at first glance.

Half a dozen pairs of very dark brown tights in various deniers (not the climate deniers, the silk-weight deniers) from the shop in via della Spada.

A Kandinsky, preferably lateish and smallish (paintings do speak up so in a domestic environment) but any will do.

An enormous cashmere wrap. I cannot be drinking tea and reading in the early winter's morning risking a chill.

Fluffy slippers in a silly colour - see above.

A Drizabone. This is not fair - Elby has one and I have mentioned it before. And a Ute (with or without Dog).

Pair of linen, hand-hemmed sheets and appropriate pillow cases from Anghiari, in white.

Story books.

1 pair each of silk-lined, short but over-the-wrist gloves in: dark blue, black, green virtually black, in suede and/or leather.

A new bag for the coming twelvemonths (adjustable strap, reasonably capacious, plain, dark darker darkest brown, lots of compartments inside - don't you just hate it when everything sits in the bottom of your bag smirking inaccessibly?).

Lots of pairs of very soft, warm socks in pretty colours.

Iris-scented bath lotion from Santa Maria Novella.

I have been let down over the parrot. I recognise that it is now too late for a parrot to come and live with me, given their life expectancy and my own; the opportunity to foster a parrot in its own environment is, in any case, a better choice.
Parrot-at-large fostering opportunity.

Marrons glaces.

Marzipan animals and fruits,

A large wall map of the whole world set out flat so that I can understand what is going on.

A flat in Savignyplatz.

There may well be updates to this post during December.

Christopher Andrew - In defence of the realm: the authorised biography of MI5

Client-state Beneficiaries and Reflecting Local Community Interests

The client state, in a first past the post, one member voting system democracy, faces the problem that clients are created in too few constituencies. Both industrial and manufacturing decline constituencies, and longstanding affluence and stability sequestered from technologically-engendered decline constituencies, create pile-ups of unused votes.

Except that people freed from the need to work will tend to migrate to areas with the highest social wage: decent neighbours - resulting in decent schools, lower levels of disturbed social behaviour, better communications systems, better social-networking opportunities, etc. The chances of affluent people migrating from the Home Counties to areas of the country with collapsed socioeconomic systems are, of course, much lower than benefit-dependent migration from despoiled areas to pastures new; as many coastal and rural constituencies once bastions of Conservative support show.

Which obvious observation is very much to the advantage of the Labour client-base creation policy. The self-exportation of your excess votes into the heartlands of 'privilege' damages the enemy voter base while lowering your client-state building costs. Unfortunately it also alters people's local environments at times quite dramatically.

Back in the USSR there were internal passports to control such internal migration, democratic expression having other means of control; unauthorised external migration was controlled by execution, as so many from eastern Europe discovered.

While, in our country we can still (though there is a query for how much longer) live where we like, it may be time to reconsider a voting system designed to reflect commonality of interest within a small geographic area and replace it with a system that reflects majority voting across much larger areas for national elections. The disparity of interests becoming quite such a sore point in many areas can be addressed locally by returning its lost powers to local government.

Cuckoo Clocks

"You know what the fellow said – in Italy, for thirty years under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance. In Switzerland, they had brotherly love, they had five hundred years of democracy and peace – and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock."

For the whole of the 'thirties and the Second World War, for the Cold War 'aftermath', for the titanic struggle between capitalism and communism, between freedom and authoritarianism, they had warfare, terror, murder and bloodshed but they had King's and Trinity, they had the Apostles and the love that dared not speak its name. They had MI5 bugging and burgling its way across London, they had the entire political Establishment in the wrong beds and cleaving to friends before country when it came to betrayal.

And what has New Labour produced? Lies about climate change from the University of East Anglia and sex workers in Copenhagen.

Saturday, 5 December 2009

Taxing People is Wrong

To die in England leaving a reasonable house and some savings and investments is a fate not to be wished on your worst enemy. Not a grand house, not even a detached house in a decent-sized garden - an ordinary suburban house with front and back garden, three or four bedrooms and a couple of bathrooms would do it. A well-maintained house in one of the older roads in Hatfield Garden Village plus rainy-day savings in whatever form they are invested - and your children will be paying 40% tax on some of what you leave them.

Of course if you have chosen to end your days in a lovely house, this being your preferred consumption mode rather than motors, trans-continental summer-holidays, and Prada, they'll be taken for so much tax they'll lose your life-style - and what may well be theirs.

When the Italian centre right coalition announced it would abolish inheritance tax, the centre left lost power at the first opportunity the people got to vote. Despite a social democratic interlude under Romano Prodi (by the skin of his teeth) inheritance tax has never been restored. Prodi tried it, brought it back at a nominal 3%, and promptly lost the next election.

Brown's class hate policies and his repellent class hate rhetoric have proved already sufficiently destructive to cause back-pedalling on child care allowances and means-testing the few, very few universal welfare benefits. When we are told by a Downing Street official that Labour will focus on the Conservative policy of lifting the estates of quite ordinary people out of inheritance tax, “morning, noon and night until the general election”, Kenneth Clarke's observation (reported in the Times) that people are “only keen on tough measures so long as they don’t affect them and their families” takes on a new salience.

Friday, 4 December 2009

A Kangaroo Inquiry

Today we heard from witnesses who are (or were at the time) members of the Armed Forces. They were being asked to answer questions on their actions, the actions of others - both fellow soldiers and politicians and some who are , in the language used sometimes in the Inquiry, polmil.

The first witness was notably courteous and equally notably determined not to over-step his bounds of discretion. He answered in general terms and by describing some military processes and the kinds of background military undertakings are set against.

Usha Prashar insisted, even interrupted to insist, that process was understood, she wanted content. Angels shrank back at the witness's expression; the witness was being goaded by uncomprehending intrusive impertinence. Ushar Prashar may or may not have distinguished between the personal political response proffered, and the continued iron discretion on a campaign that the witness explained is, as are all campaigns, not really divisible into 'phases' or 'aftermaths' but could be still ongoing.

This is an ill-conceived Inquiry, even an evilly conceived Inquiry. To add insult to injury, witnesses are expected to sign transcripts declaring that their answers have been open, fair, truthful - as if they are engaged in producing advertising copy not, as seemed the case this morning, being asked to contravene private and professional reserve in public.

Reasonably we can expect our politicians, even our now-politicised civil servants, to answer us or our representatives in any forum they, or we, set up. They answer to us. The armed forces do not. They answer to the state whose power is exercised by those constitutionally entitled and there are conventions - forums with standard and formal rules. When it comes to the military, this is a kangaroo Inquiry. And what is more, the politicians should stop hiding and effectively disavowing their responsibilities behind the soldier's proper reticence.

When the politicians are brought back Angels will return to taking pot shots at them.

Thursday, 3 December 2009

The Longest Pause

The 'circle of silence' took other victims than accepted governance practice and propriety: it severely hampered the execution of the strategic, options-available planning that had been properly carried out at the Ministry of Defence. That politically-driven imperative, that Parliament and the public should be kept unaware of commitments to war, under the guise of preserving the integrity of attempts to gain more effective containment and inspection of Saddam's regime rather than war, left the soldiers (at every war stage - prewar, action itself, and properly administrating the victory) without time and without resources.

Lawrence Freedman - having listened to the reasons for prohibition on engaging the defence logistics organisation to obtain equipment, requisitioning of transport, funding for all aspects of the war from the Chief of Defence Staff during the Iraq war, Admiral Lord Boyce - asked The Question:

What other reasons prevented execution of the strategic planning?

The silence went on, and on. It was damning. At last the permanent secretary at the Ministry of Defence, in finely wrought mandarin-speak, said that at no stage did the Treasury deny funding for this operation [empasis added, ed.] The Defence budget was too small.

Well, it would be wouldn't it? It wasn't set for waging an aggressive war despite such an act having been New Labour policy from long before the last Defence budget had been set.

There was failure to authorise the purchase of 'long lead items', heroic efforts were needed to move from strategic to executive planning: for 'silence' reasons; from unwillingness to tell the military which strategic option of the three prepared New Labour wanted; and, unforgiveably, from over all lack of Defence funding.

What were the military supposed to do? Go to war on a just-in-time basis?

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

"An Exemplary Role" Denied

Gordon Brown may have dug his own grave in ordering yet another Iraq War Inquiry. He may have thought to gain or regain voters from the vast desertion of the Labour party that resulted from New Labour's war on Iraq. He might have thought to damage Blair by the exposure of the circumstances of the Iraq war - which is certainly happening. He might have thought to load all vilification for this policy so destructive not just of the New Labour faction but of the whole Labour Movement onto Blair alone and distance the New Labour cabinet and, most importantly (for he is so very self-important), his own role in the attack upon Iraq. A major role, for as Chancellor of the Exchequer Brown was absolutely responsible for the funding of the United Kingdom's part in the Iraq war.

Brown is, perhaps, unaware enough not to grasp what Blair's reaction might be to the trashing of Tony. And what the reaction of other acolytes of New Labour is to the damage this Brown-instigated Inquiry is doing to the progressive governance post-democratic project, we can judge from Mandelson's response to the evidence given by the United Kingdom's then ambassador to Washington.

The witnesses on Tuesday (there were no hearings today)have already shifted the focus from Blair-alone-with-Bush, to ministerial briefings, circulated papers, the importance of other ministries (particularly the Foreign Office) in ensuring that the various stages of preparation for war, war itself, and the aftermath of war were legally sanctioned. And legality specifically requires the proper conduct of occupying forces both during and after the conflict. How unfortunate that the United States was displaying a to-the-victor-the-spoils standpoint, "a US blind spot", on the aftermath of Shock and Awe.

The United Kingdom attacked in the south of Iraq. Reasonably it was there that our standards should be applied - at a minimum international legal standards - to the conduct of the attack and the conduct of the occupation, for a state of war 'alters the legal landscape'.

"Did we have enough resources to play an exemplary role" in this, the witnesses were asked. We were told that the budget was insufficient - there were not enough people, not enough funding for the needs of the South. Half a million troops were needed to cope with the post-conflict situation in all of Iraq. The US sent enough to win a war but not to hold a victory.

While the UK government could have no influence on what was going on in the US zones, our troops sought to play an exemplary role but our government, our Exchequer acted so that:

"The resources were never provided for us to play an exemplary role in the South."

Brown must be brought before the Inquiry to explain why not.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

The Near Abroad

The former ambassador to Jordan turned up today as a witness, flanked by an old trouper from the Foreign Office. Despite a few remarks about the Ottoman empire and the British Mandate, the Inquiry was moving on through modern time and we arrived in the immediate pre-attack phase, skipped the war itself, and considered the aftermath in some detail.

International law does not regard the act of war as sufficient unto itself, it has an integral before and after; legality and illegality rest upon intention, exhaustion of all other measures than war, an envisaged outcome better than the prewar condition, conduct of the war and behaviour towards non-combatants, and proper provision for post war civil administration and maintenance of civil order and human rights. All of that or war-makers are illegal at best or criminal by definition.

Surrounding states take a view as well. Jordan was unconcerned about Saddam's supposed WMD, or even about his conventional bellicosity; Jordan was worried about its oil supplies from Iraq and the reaction of Israel to the Intifada. We can see Jordan's point as could the former ambassador, and he properly communicated it to London. Saudi Arabia had no fear of WMD but a well-founded concern over the disruption of the entire Middle East and disturbances in its backyard if the United States and the United Kingdom made war on a large advanced capitalist country next door. Iran, not unnaturally, did feel concern about gas attacks and chemical WMD having suffered them only a decade earlier, but was more concerned along Saudi lines, weapons inspections having determined that all chemical WMD had been dismantled. Turkey wasn't letting the United States attack through Turkey unless it got the top third of Iraq (those Kurds) handed over, in which case it would be discourteous (and so self-denying) to refuse. Unfortunately attacking a sovereign state in order to dismember it is an international law no-no as well.

Iraq's post war status had to guarantee Iraqi borders, sovereignty, civil administration including law and order, all civil services (effective government, energy, water, sewage, health, education...) or international laws and standards back to 1907 would be violated. It was desperate for the United Kingdom to obtain United Nations resolutions governing any threat of, or actual attack upon, Iraq because otherwise rules going back a century would apply to UK acts. Blair might have been pressing for United Nations sanction as a Potemkin front while war preparations were completed but the rest of the UK administration wanted UN resolutions (in the plural) covering the exhaustion of all remedies other than war and covering post war administration or there was nothing between them and international regulation coverage that had responded to the Armenian massacre, the Holocaust, and even earlier acts of barbarity.

Meanwhile the US State Department was stripped of its leading role in post-war administration for which it had been conscientiously preparing should other factions of the US administration prevail and war be launched. The Foreign Office sent representatives to represent, to stand alongside the minimal, wholly US, Pentagon provision for post war coping. Rumsfeld and the visceral loathers of the United Nations were going to set up what was referred to as the Authority. The Pentagon had "taken few steps to involve their own colleagues" we were informed, never mind consult Blair's out of their loop government As the witness turned up in Washington armed with advice and plans for post conflict administration (essential remember to the legality of waging war at all), the only response he got, apart from low-level meetings, was "We hear you" (and ignore you). The UK had no voice in the US transfer of post war planning to Rumsfeld's Pentagon from the State Department, but still the UK planning to invade went on. By now the waging of war was clearly illegal in its lack of provision for all parts of any war undertaking. The UN finally passed resolution 1483 in May 2003 setting out post war necessary provisions, but after eight weeks of death and destruction (or should that be shock and awe?), had all ready killed hundred of thousands in Iraq. For the manner in which the duty of care for civilians and combatants in a post war scenario was met, recall the if you can bear to, the photographs of the tortured and the dying in US and British prison camps, and in looted Iraqi hospitals.

Years of support and help were needed if the models offered by the Australians from their administration of East Timor, or our own experiences in the Balkans were correct. The US was told that half a million troops were needed to ensure civil society after the assault phase was completed; officials from our FO who had been advised by a committee of Iraq and of war specialists that had been set up by Lawrence Freedman, (a member of the Inquiry) so intense was his anxiety about the immediate post fighting phase, returned to Washington repeatedly to press the point.

And through all this there was no collective cabinet discussion, just bi-laterals with Straw or Blair and briefing papers made available to ministers. Under a propaganda shield provided by suspect Iraqi exiles that all would be well the moment Saddam was deposed, the US refused to entertain any intervention or responsibility by the UN for coping with the devastation in post war Iraq. The prize of Iraq was theirs and theirs alone, not to be ceded to the UN.

As for the UK's near abroad - Europe - they had stated that any resolution sanctioning an attack upon Iraq would be vetoed. All that was left for the ordinary government of the UK , the government outside 'the circle of silence', was the certainty that UK commanders needed assurances from the law officers that an order to attack was lawful.

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.