Saturday, December 31, 2011

Fallen idols

A kind friend has given me a subscription to the London Review of Books. The first edition to arrive by post includes a review by Jackson Lears of new biographies of Barak Obama's parents. The article (which is free on-line) has finally persuaded me that Kaps Komireddi may be right in at least some of his criticisms of Obama. Lears asserts that Obama has "retreated into politics as usual" and scorns his "deference to established power". He rightly identifies the defences of Obama to which his apologists including myself have resorted: "the regimented hostility of his opponents fuelled by racially charged resentment..." and that "...he really believes in the banalities of bipartisanship."

Lears' description echoes some of my thoughts about Nick Clegg. Both Clegg and Obama have multicultural backgrounds, both fervently seek to work across party lines, both attempt to maintain family life in the midst of the social demands of the nomenclatura, both have met with overwhelming hostility and both have disappointed their followers. I doubt neither the courage nor sincerity of either man but their fundamental decency seems ill adapted to the maelstrom of power and their cool rationality to the operation of its slippery levers.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Damned hackers !

Off the air over Christmas and returned to find someone had changed my password for me. Have now recovered control and will reply to any outstanding comments.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

That's another fine mess you've got us into !

A lot of nonsense has been promulgated by Tory eurosceptics and even by Liberal Democrat apologists for the mess our coalition government has landed us all in. They have tried several arguments which don't work. As usual, the mantra - "Blame the French!" plays well with the public. Let's look at them in turn.

1. The government was protecting the City of London, the financial sector.
This is true but only if they were protecting them from proper scrutiny and regulation. See response by Edward McMillan-Scott, former Conservative and now Liberal Democrat MEP. Here's a flavour: "Cameron said the sticking point was the interests of the London financial sector, which has ripped off British taxpayers and stripped savers of their assets. What sharp City practices was Cameron trying to shield from the proper scrutiny which financial services in Frankfurt or Paris were prepared to yield to? Paying lip service to Europe's single market - which is of such value to the rest of the real British economy - while making bumps in the level playing field is simply ridiculous."

2. The government was proposing reasonable measures to preserve the Single Market !
Preposterous ! The UK put forward a a whole draft protocol to the Council legal service the day before the meeting, detailing various subjects in the field of financial affairs where they wished decision-taking to switch from Qualified Majority Voting to unanimity (some in areas that have been QMV from the beginning, and some that have been QMV since the 1986 Single European Act negotiated by Thatcher). This does not fit any definition of "perfectly reasonable" as claimed by Nick Clegg, Graham Watson and Sarah Ludford. Nor does it amount to protecting the single market since the purpose of a veto would be to block single market measures leaving each member-state to decide for itself. In any case, whatever the merits of the UK proposals, you simply cannot expect 26 other countries to bow down and accept such a document at less than 24 hours notice. Summits are usually preceded by months of negotiations. Cameron refused to negotiate about the document with the consequences we all know now.

3. Sarkozy was being unreasonable
This suggests traditional francophobia but actually the real situation is "Fog in channel- continent cut off". It wasn't a French veto. It was 26 countries disagreeing with Britain ! Do people imagine that 25 Prime Ministers always dance to Sarkozy's tune ?

4. This will make it easier to regulate the banks.
This little gem is attributed to Vince Cable and has even been parroted by some of the bankers themselves. Anyone smell a rat here ? No actual argument has been put forward and I cannot imagine how it could be true. Successful financial regulation has been resisted (by this government amongst others) on the grounds that it won't work in one country alone. To claim that European disunity will make it easier would seem illogical, Captain.

Nothing in the coalition agreement required Liberal Democrats to abandon our principles so dramatically. Nick Clegg is now trying to row back following reaction within the party. He should have got it right first time.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

The good news and the bad news

I must put this ghastly day to bed, so here's joke from a local free magazine.
The Pope summons three world leaders for an urgent conference, Barak Obama, Nicolas Sarkozy and David Cameron. He informs them that he has received a message from God who asked him to pass it on to them: the world will end in three weeks. It is their job to take the news home.

Obama announces to the White House Press Corps, "There's some good news and some bad news. The good news is we don't have to worry about the Republican Congress any more. The bad news is the world is going to end." (He probably said it with more rhetoric but I'm too tired to write a pastiche).

Sarkozy summons the press to the Elysee and mounts a dais so they can see him, "There's some good news and some bad news. The good news is we don't have to worry about the Euro any more. The bad news is the world is going to end." (OK, he said it in French, but je suis un peu fatigue).

Cameron tells his private office "There's good news, bad news and more good news. First, the good news is God thinks I'm a world leader. The bad news is the world is going to end. The other good news is I'll get Nick to announce it."

Friday, December 09, 2011

Never glad confident morning again.

I joined the Liberals in 1974 for the party's views on the three Es: Economy, Environment and Europe. Now we are in government, we have abandoned our traditional economic ideas, most notably what Keynes taught the world. We have weakened our commitment to the welfare state bequeathed us by another great Liberal, Beveridge. We have compromised our environmental policies, particularly on nuclear power. Now we have condoned the nationalist myopia of Cameron and his party and isolated Britain in Europe. Of course I recognise how little 57 MPs can achieve but for all the good we might have done in government, I am now forced to the view of those friends and colleagues who argued that we should have negotiated a supply and confidence agreement and refused Cameron's faustian pact. We should have taken a long spoon to the coalition negotiations. Instead we took David Laws' knife, now held in Danny Alexander's trembling hand.

I regret my vote for the coalition agreement and I repeat in full Browning's poem from which I quoted at the time.

The Lost Leader
Just for a handful of silver he left us,
  Just for a ribbon[4] to stick in his coat—
Found the one gift of which fortune bereft us,
  Lost all the others she lets us devote;
They, with the gold to give, doled him out silver,
  So much was theirs who so little allowed:
How all our copper had gone for his service!
  Rags—were they purple, his heart had been proud!
We that had loved him so, followed him, honoured him,
  Lived in his mild and magnificent eye,
Learned his great language, caught his clear accents,
  Made him our pattern to live and to die!
Shakespeare was of us, Milton was for us,
  Burns, Shelley, were with us,—they watch from their graves!
He alone breaks from the van and the freemen,
  He alone sinks to the rear and the slaves!
We shall march prospering,—not thro’ his presence;
  Songs may inspirit us,—not from his lyre;
Deeds will be done,—while he boasts his quiescence,
  Still bidding crouch whom the rest bade aspire:
Blot out his name, then, record one lost soul more,
  One task more declined, one more footpath untrod,
One more devils’-triumph[5] and sorrow for angels,
  One wrong more to man, one more insult to God!
Life’s night begins: let him never come back to us!
  There would be doubt, hesitation, and pain,
Forced praise on our part—the glimmer of twilight,
  Never glad confident morning again!
Best fight on well, for we taught him—strike gallantly,
  Menace our heart ere we master his own;[6]
Then let him receive the new knowledge and wait us,
  Pardoned in heaven, the first by the throne!

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Pegasus Bridge and the battle for Europe

For the good of my blood pressure I have missed most of Question Time and instead watched Yesterday's account of the battle for Normandy, in which hundreds of thousands died over three months. Early in the programme we saw soldiers passing a sign to Ouistreham. I was reminded of my trip to Pegasus Bridge in June 2004, the sixtieth anniversary of D-Day. I hired a bicycle in Ouistreham and as I cycled up the canal path to Benouville I watched a commemorative parachute jump. There's a film of it here. All the hotels were full and I had taken a tent with me. Breakfasting on the campsite the next morning I met one of the paras. Out of the blue he asked me, "Are you in favour of European integration ?". "Yes", I told him, "I don't believe that the men who died here sixty years ago died so Europeans could spend the future the way we spent the past, killing each other in wars every few years.". He agreed wholeheartedly.

The European Union was founded by people who had seen years of murderous destruction. I am sickened when I hear eurosceptics bleating about the cost of the European Union, which is nothing compared with the cost of warfare even if you ignore the human cost. I am exasperated when I hear eurosceptics parroting the words "sovereignty" and "repatriation of powers" and condemning the EU as undemocratic. What does sovereignty mean in the face of global financial markets and global environmental crisis ? What is undemocratic about an elected European Parliament and a Council of national ministers responsible to national parliaments ? Do they imagine that Wall Street and its British counterparts are democratic or even accountable to anyone but themselves ?

Some days it's REALLY better to stay in bed (with a book, of course)

Some days it's better to stay in bed

Worst Wednesday for years. It began with the publication of the National Centre for Social Research's survey of British Social Attitudes revealing what a stupid, selfish nation we have become.

Item: Only 30% believe that taxes should be increased to fund higher spending on health, education and social benefits, compared with 61% in 2002. Gee thanks, New Labour. You really changed minds on that one.
Selfish and stupid.

Item: Only 26% would be willing to pay "much higher prices" to protect the environment (43% a decade ago). 37% think many claims about environmental threats are exaggerated.
Stupid but convenient.

Item: 55% believe that benefits for the unemployed are too high (37% in 2000). I think we can safely assume that none of the 55% are unemployed.

Item: 74% believe that inequality is too large (82% in 2000, since when inequality has got much worse) but only 34% believe the government should redistribute more. So what do they want to do about it ? Leave it to Santa Claus ? Perhaps they think it's just the way things are, summed up in the lazy phrase "Life IS unfair" as if there was nothing to be done.

That's how the day started. BBC2 ended the day with the film "Inside Job" which detailed the selfishness and greed of the American financial sector, its stranglehold on government and academia and the consequences for everyone else. This was an indictment of the USA but so much of it applies to the UK as well. By the end of the film, I felt like becoming a communist. I'm not, I'm a tweed-wearing Liberal, but we Liberals have to show that markets can serve society and not destroy it.

In case we could draw a small crumb of comfort from the fact that we live in a free society where such a film can be made, Newsnight gave us the BBC's now traditional biased and inaccurate reporting of the European Union. Between Paxman's sneering (incidentally Van Rompuy isn't that hard to pronounce if you try, Jeremy) and Nadine Dorries' stupidity and ignorance, it was hard to keep my blood pressure down and the dog came to comfort me when I shouted at them.

Some days we should just pull up the covers and stay in bed with a good book.

Some have greatness thrust upon them...

I hear there's a red squirrel Christmas card going around. This cat would be more appropriate.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

O little town of Bethlehem

"As we approach the anniversary of the birth of Christ, does the hon. Gentleman agree that today Joseph and Mary would not be able to get to Bethlehem because of the walls, the shepherds would be ethnically cleansed and the three kings would not be allowed into Palestine?" asked Bob Russell in the Commons on Monday