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.