EU Referendum: the Tory delusion


There is much merriment at the Sun headline citing Eric Pickles saying: "As a lover of Britain, I say we have to stay in the Eurozone". It would thus appear that Mr Pickles doesn't appreciate that we're not in the eurozone – something of a schoolboy howler. 

However, although the citation is in quotes, it is unlikely that Mr Pickles was responsible for the actual headline. Even I don't think he's that stupid.

But, what should stand out and condemn the man is the repetition of the classic delusion that afflicts most of the tribe. Unable to cope with the fact that it was a Conservative prime minister who first sought entry to the (then) EEC and then another, Edward Heath, who took us in, they have sought to re-write history.

Thus, they have constructed an elaborate sustaining delusion, to the effect that the EEC was originally conceived as a trading association and somehow got waylaid by its political ambitions. This way they can live with themselves, and maintain the illusion that the Conservatives are "eurosceptic".

For Pickles, though, he compounds his own delusion by lauding his current boss. David Cameron, he tells us, has "form" having come striding back into the House of Commons in 2011, "jubilant, having vetoed a European treaty".

"That moment", says Pickles – the non-existent veto of a non-existent treaty, "gave me hope". It made him "realise we could turn around the things that most frustrate us about Europe - the things that saw it grow from a useful trade organisation to a wannabe superstate".

There we have the founding delusion but this is further elaborated by his comment that, "things like the agreement of 'ever-closer union' and all the laws that are foisted on us as a result". Actually, this is beyond delusional. Pickles is doing the Tory "thing" of re-writing history, ignoring the singular fact that "ever-closer union" is the very first sentence of the founding Treaty of Rome.

But it is on the basis of this delusion that the current "renegotiation" myth survives. After all, if the EEC started out as a trade agreement, all we have to do is go over to Brussels and tell those troublesome little continentals that they've lost their way. And once they've been told that by the kindly Brits, they'll realise the error of their ways and return the EU back to its "original" track.

The remarkable thing is that this infantile delusion sustains otherwise sensible and even intelligent politicians. Pickles, in fact, has a reputation for being a shrewd operator but, like so many Tories, when confronted with "Europe", his brains turn to mush.

Only thus could Pickles offer in The Sun such unmitigated eyewash, telling us that, "if David Cameron comes back with that decent deal he has set out to get, I'm going to be campaigning to remain in a reformed Europe". Tragically, there is no arguing with this. We are not dealing with rationality here, but tribalism that brooks no dissent. You are either in the "tribe" or you are not, and the entry price is belief in their founding delusions.

And this is why this referendum has to be people versus the politicians. The European Union has acquired the capability of emasculating national politicians. On this subject, most of them are completely incapable of acting rationally. They are a lost cause.

Richard North 25/01/2016 link

Strategy ten: 4. Identifying the enemy


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Take a hypothetical situation, where analysis of the EU referendum dynamics strongly indicate that the "leave" campaign cannot succeed unless it is able to reassure waverers that the exit risks can be contained.

A carefully researched scheme is produced and published, aimed specifically at addressing waverers' fears, in the form of an exit plan. It shows how any adverse effects of leaving the EU can be neutralised or avoided.

Then, along comes an organisation which publically disowns elements of the plan, without itself having any equivalent or like measures. It also goes out its way to offer exit scenarios which, if implemented, would cause total chaos and which would thus deter voters from opting to leave.

In this situation, one has to ask: who is the enemy? Is it the active pro-EU campaign organisation or the one which – as you might guess – is ostensibly fighting to leave the EU but blocking the adoption of winning strategies?

Now refine the parameters, and hypothesise a situation where the pro-EU campaign is largely ineffective and, in any case, focusing on issues. These will have little relevance to the voters when they enter the polling stations. Tie that in with the situation where you have a pro-exit organisation rampant, doing more harm than good to the exit cause with crass noisemaking.

The question which now presents itself is this: do you devote your energy to attacking the pro-EU campaign, or do you spend most of your energy in attempting to prevent the "pseudo exiteers" damaging the campaign, and trying to undo the damage they have caused?

Let us now further complicate the situation. We assume here that the referendum poll is not going to be for two years. In between now and then, there will be a selection process to pick the pro-exit lead campaigner. Currently, there are several competitors.

In these circumstances – where the choice of lead campaigner may well influence the outcome of the referendum – do you still focus your energies on attacking the pro-EU campaign? Instead, do you try to influence the selection process in favour of the best (or least worst) organisation?

Now for the reality check. These situations are very far from being a hypothetical. They very much represent the world in which we live, where we have to make decisions reflecting the situation on the ground.

We've been confronting  elements of this problem for some time. I recall, for instance, August 2011 when Roger Helmer (one time Conservative MEP, now with UKIP) complained that, "Too many eurosceptics spend their time sniping at each other, rather than turning their guns on the real enemy, which in this case is Brussels".

Of course, that was at a time when Helmer was still a Tory and we were attacking Tory faux eurosceptics. Helmer solved that problem in his own way, by joining Ukip. He is now free to attack Tory faux eurosceptics – as indeed he must in order to get elected.

But Helmer unwittingly adds another complication to our scenario, in arguing that the "real enemy" is Brussels – i.e., the European Union. In respect of this referendum, that is not entirely – if at all – true. After all, it isn't the EU which is keeping us in. That power is reserved for our own politicians, currently led by Mr Cameron.

Furthermore, the EU isn't stopping us leaving, and it is not campaigning directly for us to stay in. In all cases, the front-runner is David Cameron and it is he, we argue, who should be treated as the real enemy.

If we factor this in to our not-so-hypothetical mix, how do we treat those campaigners who insist on targeting the EU? How should we look upon such activity when so much of it reinforces the "loony-tune" image of exit politics, and is thus likely to deter the "moderate middle" to which Mr Cameron will be appealing?

Then, if we did decide to ignore all these complications, and make unity our sole aim, who should we then support? We could go for Vote Leave Ltd, described by Alistair Heath – brother-in-law to Matthew Elliott, its co-founder – as run by "a small team of brilliant political strategists and campaigners". But this is the same Vote Leave which is attracting the ire of Eric Pickles for its crass tactics of targeting Europhile businesses and making a nuisance of itself? 

If we did support them, however, we could not support – just supposing we wanted to be associated with that train-wreck campaign. The two do not get on together, and nor do either want to work with Ukip – which is supposedly on the brink of bankruptcy.

When one looks at all this, it is easy to sympathise with those who ignore the reality and just want to get stuck and fight. And since the EU is the obvious (if misplaced) target, it is not surprising to see the ether filled with anti-EU rhetoric.

But if we are to win, we have to choose the right enemy – more important in some cases than having the right friends. And where there are multiple enemies, deciding on priorities is often the crucial strategic decision.

In many respects, though, our allies can do more immediate harm than our enemies. That certainly seemed so in France in 1940, and it was definitely the case in 1975. Then, the "no" campaign suffered the bad fortune of having the support of the unions – then the main blockage to the nation's prosperity.

At the time, it was thought that the competition from continental firms, brought about by membership of the EEC, would force a break-up of union power. Union opposition to the EEC reinforced that view, and led many people to vote to stay in. It could even have been the decisive factor.

In an exit referendum, therefore, unity is not necessarily a sensible option. Disowning potential allies, or those who purport to support the exit cause, may be a better idea.

Such issues – all the issues raised here – require strategic decisions. And advice from that score comes from William Norton, a business associate of Matthew Elliott. In 2007, prior to what we thought might be the referendum on the Constitution, he wrote in Conservative Home: You don't win a referendum by assembling a Big Tent or a Broad Church. "All that happens then is that lots of little groups who don't really have much in common end up having a veto over the campaign, and it falls apart".

Never mind that Elliott (with Cummings) has ignored that advice, going for the Big Tent. The predictable result is that the different factions can't agree on an exit plan – vital to reassure the voters. Thus, they end up vetoing each other's plans, and any introduced from outside. This leads the "brilliant political strategists" into a situation where the only thing they can agree on is not to have a plan.

But Norton had some more advice. A successful referendum campaign, he said, "requires a bespoke one-off specialist team in strong overall control, with the political parties in a secondary role (and seen to be so)". That applies, he opined, "to any pressure group which predates the referendum: everyone has an agenda and an ego and everyone carries baggage".

To have the best chance of success, he concluded, "the Designated Campaign should be a body without a past and without a future beyond the vote itself". He then finished off with the injunction: "No one owns this referendum".

What we will end up with, though – unless we prevent it – is a group in Vote Leave who believe they have inherited the right, as in "to the manor born", to run the campaign. It is their property, and theirs alone, despite the egos and the baggage that they bring with them.

This referendum campaign is this becoming battles within battles. A pretender, Arron Banks, is making a challenge – but he is proving to be just as exclusive - dog in the manger - as his competitor. He pretends he is interested in advice, but doesn't take it when he is given it. Gradually, he is showing his true colours. Like Elliott and his business associates, he wants to "own" the campaign for himself.

In a very real way, these bodies stand between us and victory. They are every bit as much an obstacle a Mr Cameron – if not more so. The Prime Minister's case is actually very weak, and easily beatable – but not if the "noisemakers" get in our way, confusing the message, blurring the issues and undermining our work.

Before we can progress, therefore, we have to address the strategic question: "who (or what) is the enemy". Until we answer that - and then take the appropriate actions - we are not going to get very much further.

Richard North 12/11/2015 link

Floods: taking a turn for the worse


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With Owen Paterson admitted to hospital as the flooding crisis worsens, David Cameron is taking personal control of emergency efforts to help stricken households, alongside Communities Secretary Eric Pickles.

Mr Cameron meanwhile has pledged another £100m to add to the flood control pot. Around £75m will be spent on repairs, £15m on maintenance and £10m on specific flood measures for the Somerset Levels.

However, we've been there before, with earlier expenditure failing to deliver. As Mr Cameron digs into this issue, he will find he is constrained by a ragbag of international and EU "obligations", with very little freedom to act. Not least, he may find he needs permission from the European Commission before he can implement any new policies.

Mr Paterson is perhaps better off out of it, rather than having to deal with things like this. We wish him a speedy recovery and time to recuperate. It will be a tremendous opportunity for the prime minister to discover quite how complex the "environment" portfolio has become, and what a strain his Secretary of State has been under.

Meanwhile, see what a mess the BBC makes of the issue. Spool to 18:28 minutes for the propaganda on climate change.

Richard North 06/02/2014 link

Local politics: a denial of democracy


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Demonstrating their anti-democratic credentials, Green Party councillors in Brighton and Hove have set their face against holding a referendum in order to seek an increase in Council Tax over and above the two percent permitted without holding a poll.

But what is especially telling are the comments of the Green Party leader, Councillor Jason Kitcat, who called on the government to allow councils like Brighton and Hove "more freedom to raise money from taxes".

Councils actually have freedom to increase Council Tax but, before they do so above the two percent level, they are required to hold local referendums, the results of which are binding. Thus, if the people reject an increase, councils are not allowed to up their charges.

What Kitcat is doing, therefore, is not only denying his electors the chance of deciding their level of Council Tax, he is seeking power to raise taxes without having to gain the approval of his voters.  This proto-dictator wants "freedom" to increase taxes but would deny voters the right to refuse increases.

Such remarks illustrate with some clarity the real nature of these people, reinforced further by Kitcat, when he says: "The referendum rule is mad. It's not really workable and would cost about £300,000 to run".

Here, you can see another tactic at work, talking up the cost of something that the council does not want to do. Yet, when trial referendums were carried out, the highest estimate was £150,000 and one council estimated that the cost could be brought down to about £70,000 if combined with normal council elections.  With the development of electronic voting, costs could be brought down still further.

The relatively modest costs of true democracy compare with councils spending millions on freesheets – so-called "Town Hall Pravda". They have been spending tens of millions, out of a communication budget of £400 million a year, with one council alone spending over £5000,000 on its newspaper.

Thus, there is no expense spared when councils want to spread their own propaganda, but when genuine consultation is called for, we get a council (and a Green one at that) complaining about the cost.

This comes on the back of sustained resistance from the Local Government Association (LGA) to the very idea of Council Tax referendums. In May of this year, we saw an example of this, the disdain which local authorities show for the idea of democracy, as they sought to prevent Communities Secretary Eric Pickles tightening the "referendum lock" on council tax.

As the Local Audit and Accountability Bill enters the final reading in the House of Lords, the LGA is intensifying its resistance (paywall), urging the government to publish its estimates of the impact of new council tax referendum rules on long-term infrastructure projects, amid fears of a "significant threat" to city deals and flood defences.

This is another classic ploy – shroud-waving in the face of tighter controls over spending – but once against disguising the essential anti-democratic nature of local government.

The LGA argues that the requirement to submit increases in Council Tax (to include increases in levies and precepts) "could threaten councils' long-term financial sustainability and leave authorities unable to invest in major infrastructure schemes such as transport systems, putting jobs and investment at risk".

But a Department of Communities spokesman said: "There is no reason that the Bill will affect infrastructure projects. If local authorities want to raise Council Tax because of levying bodies then they should be prepared to argue their case to local people in a referendum".

Referring to "City deals", which are being used to fund capital schemes, the spokesman said that they, "are important in encouraging investment and improving infrastructure, but they are not vehicles for bypassing the right of local people to vote on excessive council tax increases".

The right of people to vote – where it actually means something – is, of course, the last thing these anti-democrats want. But their arrogance is the only transparent thing about them. "That democratic consent thing is unworkable. Can't have the plebs having a say on whether the council should be allowed to keep spending like Paris Hilton on a coke binge", says North Jnr.

And this is why the right to limit council taxes is a central part of The Harrogate Agenda.

In their resistance to even modest requirements for increased democracy, Councils are showing their true colours. We now have a battle on our hands. Taxes, as currently constituted, have no legitimacy and the likes of Councillor Jason Kitcat are going to have to learn that the principle of "no taxation without consent" is going to be the way of the future.

We are coming, and there is no stopping the power of an idea.

UPDATE: Predictably, this issue is getting next to no coverage from the media, as Autonomous Mind notes.

He identifies an LGA briefing note, reiterating its opposition to council tax referendums, calling the requirement, "a significant threat to both local government's financial stability and infrastructure investment". Never mind that Council Tax is a significant threat to my financial stability, and to the financial stability and wellbeing of thousands of taxpayers. 

These "robber barons", as AM describes them, have not the slightest idea of what democratic accountability actually means. Their priorities are always put before our priorities – they decide how much we have to pay, and it then becomes our duty to pay these thieves, on pain of imprisonment. 

Richard North 26/07/2013 link

Bailiffs: the Government acts


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Readers may recall us taking a stand on the behaviour of bailiffs employed by local councils to recover Council Tax arrears and other debt, with us charging that some of the activity was criminal.

Back then, in September 2011, we had obtained from West Yorkshire Metropolitan Police confirmation that a particular form of behaviour, the "phantom visit" which then led to massive overcharging, was in fact fraud.

Yet, despite this admission, and formal complaints to my own local authority, nothing changed, and neither did the Police take action, even though they acknowledged that there was de facto evidence of offences having been committed. They had other priorities to occupy them, not least disposing of a disgraced Chief Constable.

A month later, I also had other priorities – a trip to the menders to acquire a porcine spare part, which gives one a somewhat different perspective on life. With that, we allowed the ball to roll gently to the edge of the field, although the momentum never completely dissipated. We still have things on the go.

However, no less than Eric Pickles, Communities Secretary has picked up the ball. An old Bradford hand, his stock is quite definitely on the rise.

Scarcely reported by the media – which says a great deal about how detached they are from real people and real concerns – Mr Pickles did at least make the pages of one of the Telegraph Media Group's sales brochures. This told us that "Ministers have ordered local authorities to rein in over-zealous bailiffs hired to collect council tax and parking charges".

The detail, though, is in recently issued guidelines which, as things go, are extremely interesting. Called "guidance to local councils on good practice in the collection of Council Tax arrears", these tell local authorities that they cannot dump the responsibility for collection of debt on the bailiffs and walk away. They remain responsible for the action of their contractors.

Councillors, the guidelines say, "should regularly scrutinise the operation of outsourced contracts; and the broader use of such recovery action must command and continue to command public support and confidence".

As to our particular issue on concern, the local authorities are told that, "Public concern has been raised about the practice of some bailiffs undertaking 'phantom visits' – charging fees for action when no action was actually taken". And then we have the money quote:
The Government consider that any fraudulent practices should be reported to the police as a criminal offence under the Fraud Act and that Local Authorities should terminate any contract with companies whose activities are proved fraudulent.
Back when we started all this, it took some serious pressure even to get the police to accept my complaint and that has been the common experience. Invariably, we get the mantra from the police, "civil action". But now there is a Government department telling us that bailiff malpractice should be treated as a criminal offence.

Mr Pickles has taken a major step forward.


Richard North 20/06/2013 link

Local government: protests at restraints on looting


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On the same day that the Daily Mail is telling us that 636 council officials who now earn more than the Prime Minister and some 2,525 council staff earned more than £100,000 in 2011-12, the Yorkshire Post is reporting on a row brewing over government plans to extend its "referendum lock" on council tax rises to cover transport authorities and other local bodies.

The contrast is more than a little interesting. On the one hand we have yet more examples of wholesale looting by local government – with my local authority alone sharing £1.3 million between the top nine officials – part of a bill exceeding £3 billion for these over-paid town hall bureaucrats.

On the other, we have an attempt by central government to allow the public to limit the power of councils to pick their pockets – only for "council leaders" to "react furiously" to the plans.

At the heart of the "row" is the Local Audit and Accountability Bill, which aims to stop local authorities bypassing the requirement to call referendums if they plan to increase Council Tax by two percent or more. What they have been doing is top-loading the precepts, increasing those rather than the core tax, which means that the total sum can increase by more than two percent without the need to call a referendum.

Showing absolutely no remorse on behalf of his members, Sir Merrick Cockell, chairman of the Local Government Association, simply complains that it was "inconsistent" for the government to subject council tax rises to a local referendum, when nationally-set taxes such as VAT are not. These, he said, "have a much greater impact on people's income than council tax, and the public was not directly consulted over those".

If Cockell has a point, however, there is an obvious answer to his assertion that it is "unfair" for the government to apply different rules for council tax hikes than it does for national taxes. To ensure parity, rather than remove the requirement for a referendum on council tax charges, we should be having a referendum whenever the chancellor intends to increase national taxes.

One might have thought that Cockell would offer that as an alternative – as an effective way to embarrass communities secretary Eric Pickles. But the fact is that Cockell and his merry men are not in the least bit interested in promoting democracy, so that idea would not have occurred to him.

Referendums to approve taxation (and overall budgets) at national and local level are at the heart of the Harrogate Agenda. But we can see from the local authority reaction to just a minor concession to direct democracy what an uphill struggle we will have in getting annual referendums on budgets as a whole.

It has to be said though that Mr Pickles has at least lodged the principle that demands for tax funds can be subject to referendums, making our job that much easier. And, with local authority officials filling their boots at our expense, never more has it been so necessary that we should have the power to restrain them.

In the meantime, these raids on our pockets lack any democratic legitimacy, and it is the reign of brute force rather then consent which determines willingness to pay.

But, short of outright refusal to pay local taxes, it becomes something of a civic duty to make collection as difficult and as slow as possible for local authorities. Speedy payment and absence of complaint is taken as popular consent, and it should be made clear that this no longer applies.


Richard North 10/05/2013 link

EU politics: hammering it out


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Offhand, I cannot recall a torrent of EU publicity of such intensity, running for so long, directed at the withdrawal issue. No one can say that this is no longer an agenda item, bringing the scaremongers out in full force.

Latest in the long list of recruits to these ranks is Danny Alexander, the Lib-Dem Treasury Secretary and full time europhile. But, in the considered opinion of this man, no responsible leader could "contemplate" leaving the European Union, an interesting development. You will note that the offence here is to "contemplate" – now we're not even supposed to think about leaving.

It is also interesting to see how the 'philes are quick to invoke "national interest", with Alexander asserting that this – i.e., europhilia – should "trump party political difficulties".

At the heart of his pitch, though, is fear. "I just think that any responsible British politician should not be contemplating British exit from the EU given how serious the consequences should be", he says. So there you are – think of the consequences, but whatever you do, don't even think of leaving.

Fortunately for Cameron, he is not entirely on his own with the chief executive of the retailer Next, Lord Wolfson telling the prime minister that although the UK should remain part of the EU it had nothing to fear from being in the "slow lane". Britain should stay in Europe, he says, "but only on the right terms".

We also see the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC), which represents many smaller firms, falling into line with the Cameron line, agreeing that EU membership should be renegotiated.

However, coming up fast on the other side of the track is Eric Pickles, another cabinet minister who is saying that we have to up sticks and leave. This is on the back of Mr Cameron apparently deciding to reject "nuclear" proposals that are to be outlined by the Fresh Start group of MPs this week – allowing for certain proposals to be vetoed.

And now we also get an intervention from George Eustice, who says of Fresh Start: "We have put forward a wishlist which we think is a helpful contribution to the debate. The government has a difficult job in deciding what it can achieve in the negotiations. Putting constructive ideas on the table is preferable to the alternative of everyone obsessing about a referendum on leaving the EU".

The man, for once, isn't totally wrong, as there are still a number of Conservative MPs – Bill Cash being one – who want to see an immediate referendum, to give Cameron a mandate to negotiate.

Simply, that isn't going to fly, which means that the debate is solidifying without reaching a conclusion. Some are thus arguing that we need to hammer out a change in the terms of the debate, and the vocabulary. Instead of talking about leaving, for instance, the view is emerging that we should instead be talking about "decoupling" trade from political integration. And for this, it just happens that Article 50 is the most appropriate mechanism.

Unless someone can come up with such means, to break the logjam, Cameron's "Europe" speech is heading for disaster. The race is on for a magic bullet.


Richard North 14/01/2013 link

A good start


To give credit where it is due, Eric Pickles the "communities secretary" has intimated that he will make mandatory a requirement to hold a referendum, where any local council seeks to impose a Council Tax increase of more than 3.5 percent.

"Councils have a moral obligation to help hard-working families and pensioners with the cost of living. If they want to hike taxes on local residents above 3.5 percent they’ll now need to get a direct democratic mandate to do it", he says.

This very welcome change is the essence of Referism and follows on from earlier experiments in local democracy, where tax rises were put to the vote.

More recently, the local paper ran a referendum in Brighton, which produced results very much in accordance with earlier votes – rejecting tax increases. The statutory requirement for a referendum, therefore, is likely to provide a powerful brake on council tax increases.

However, council tax is only a small part of the picture, and we are getting to a situation where income generated from charges exceeds that of council tax, which itself is only around 20 percent of councils' income.

Therefore, merely stopping local authority increases in council tax is no real control, especially when councils seem to have free rein to increase a wide range of charges, with no effective restraints. Any real democratic controls must extend far beyond just local taxation, and address council budgets in their entirety.

As a start, though, this is a good move, not least in getting people used to the idea of exerting their own power over local government spending. It would be better, though, if it was part of an incremental approach which eventually led to annual approval of local authority budgets, applied automatically to every single council.


Richard North 10/12/2011 link

Sod the Arab Spring


We can do without second-rate politicians grandstanding on issues over which they have little control and of which they have less comprehension, spending money we haven't got, while neglecting domestic issues.

Whether or not the politicals and their gormless claque realise it, we have enough crises over here to be going on with, not least local authority management taking the piss.

The latest example is Hammersmith and Fulham Council's highly paid chief executive. As his council was presiding over the biggest cuts in living memory, Geoff Alltimes saw his pay rise by £11,193 to 281,667 in 2010, making him the second highest paid local authority boss in the country.

We then get Essex County Council boss Joanna Killian cutting £4,000 from her salary - only to receive a £6,900 bonus. Accounts show Killian took home £289,173 in 2010/11 - £147,000 more than the Prime Minister - despite previously agreeing to take a five percent wage cut. The pay was topped up with a £6,900 bonus and an extra £1,100 towards her pension, despite County Hall having to make £98m worth of cuts.

On top of that, we have County councillors in Norfolk rejecting suggestions from communities secretary Eric Pickles that the chief executive's post is a non-job. Pickles is keen on councils saving cash by sharing top officer posts and has previously questioned both the value and substance of the chief executive's role, with the present post-holder David White taking a basic £205,000 a year in salary. But members of the county council's corporate resources overview and scrutiny panel has given the idea the "thumbs down".

Then we have a ghastly situation over in Northern Ireland, where convicted murderer Mary McArdle gets a job as a SPAD on £90K – an insult to the victim's relatives and their community.

There are so many of these sort of episodes that it would be unwise of ministers to ignore them. Whether it is hospital bosses getting away with murder, obscene compensation payments, officials living high on the hog, or just wasting money, people have had enough.

Despite the determination of the politicals not to take the riots and looting as a warning sign, we are not alone in seeing them as a response to organised looting by the parasite class, which is seriously pushing its luck - witness the political cartoon in the Independent.

The Boy maybe today rejoicing in the ransacking of Gaddafi's compound, but if he lets the sores here fester, his compound will be next. It won't then be an Arab Spring he is looking at but a British fall.


Richard North 24/08/2011 link

We've been there before


From the school of nothing new under the sun, a reader points out that, in February 2001, Labour-controlled Bristol City Council held a referendum on its Council Tax, asking voters whether they preferred to increase it by two, four or six percent, or to freeze it at then current levels.

Much to the chagrin of the Council, which had expected otherwise, more than half of the voters opted for a freeze. Sentiment was such that, had a reduction been on offer, the indications are that this would have been the preferred choice.

According to the BBC, more than 115,000 people took part in the referendum - the turnout significantly higher than at the local elections. Some 61,664 voted for no rise, 11,962 for a two percent rise, 20,829 for a four and 19,841 for a six percent rise. Thus, even the total for some sort of a rise, at 51,732, was outnumbered by the "freezers".

Nor was Bristol on its own. The Council was just beaten to the punch by the London Borough of Croydon, which on 14 February 2001 asked its 235,000 registered electors to decide whether Council Tax should be increased by two percent (in real terms, an effective freeze), 3.5 percent, or five percent. Council tenants also voted on whether their rents should be increased.

Again to the chagrin of the Council, 56 percent of the voters opted for the lowest possible rise in Council Tax. A total of 80,383 voted, a 34.2 percent turnout. Thirty-two percent voted for the 3.5 percent increase and a mere five percent went for the five percent hike.

Of the 4,190 council tenants responding to the rents referendum (24.1 percent turnout), just over 58 percent voted for a rent freeze, keeping average rents at £65 a week. On offer to the tenants had been a community patrol service, community grants, money advice and debt counselling services – all of which were rejected.

Croydon was to repeat the experiment the following year, with 74 percent of the taxpayers who voted opting for the lowest rise on offer, at 3.65 percent, on a 35 percent turnout. The BBC observed, at the time, that the referendums suggested that Tony Blair "may have his work cut out to persuade the public to pay more for a better NHS". Of course, the voters were not asked.

Interestingly, this experiment in direct democracy had started in 1999, when Milton Keynes had put to its voters the choice of three levels of increase, ranging from five percent, 9.8 percent and 15 percent.

Residents were able to vote by post or by phone for their chosen option. A 9.8 percent rise would keep core spending at the same level, while the five percent increase would have meant cuts in the core budget and a 15 percent increase would have provided extra revenue). Forty-six percent of those who voted opted for the 9.8 percent rise, thirty percent for the five percent increase and twenty-four percent for the 15 percent hike. The turnout was 45 percent.

Council leader Kevin Wilson told the BBC he was "delighted" by the result. "The referendum gave the people an opportunity to be masters rather than servants," he added, declaring that the referendum had succeeded in its aim of reconnecting people with local government and gave public backing for council tax rises.

Buoyed by the result the following year, Bristol announced that the public would get a chance to vote on their council tax levels, "under plans drawn up to tackle voter apathy". The scheme had the backing of government ministers and, if the public had responded "positively", the plan was to repeat referendums across the country. Clearly, the response was not "positive" enough.

At the time, The Independent was to lament that, "in a victory for the maxim that people vote with their wallets, the results showed few people in favour of extra spending". "Voters of Bristol pick school cuts over taxes", it headlined. The Bristol experiment was not repeated by Labour.

What the experiments showed, however, was that there was some enthusiasm for voting on budgets – even though there seemed to have been very limited local and national media exposure. And in Croydon, voters were not deterred by votes in successive years - turnout increasing marginally on the second year.

The experiments also showed that the electorates were quite capable of dealing with multi-choice votes, a capability which gives much more flexibility than having to stick to a straight "yes-no" vote. Furthermore, there seems to be a willingness amongst the voters to block expenditure. Thus, fears that the electorate will necessarily vote for more spending might be overblown.

With the Labour defeat in the last election, though, the issue is being revisited by the Tories – but in a highly distorted fashion. As of July last year Communities Secretary Eric Pickles has declared that by 2012, he wants people to be able to reject Council Tax levels "if they exceed a ceiling agreed annually by MPs", by voting on them in referendums.

This is based on a promise made in 2007. Pickles calls the plan a "radical extension of direct democracy". It is not. Instead, it is a considerably watered-down version of the earlier referendums – which themselves did not allow for an outright veto. And, needless to say, there is absolutely no suggestion that referendums should apply to central government spending.

Pickles tells us that he is "in favour of local people making local decisions", and also says he wants to reverse "the presumption" that central government knows best when it comes to deciding local priorities. He also wants to make councils more accountable to their constituents for their budgetary planning.
"Let the people decide", he goes on to say – a sentiment with which we agree. But, with Referism, we want to go much further than Pickles and reverse "the presumption" that central government knows best when it comes to deciding national priorities. We are in favour of national people making national decisions.

The Tory plan, therefore, is not anything like enough. To be really in control, the voters must have the power to force down budgets, with the ultimate power of veto if the government does not come into line. A weak as ditchwater block on a preset level of increase is merely a sop, and does nothing the redress the balance of power.

As for costs of the referendums, the Bristol events cost £120,000 each, while Milton Keynes estimated £150,000. Tower Hamlets Council has estimated that a standalone referendum might cost up to £250,000 but, if combined with council elections, the additional cost is estimated at around £70,000. Translated nationally, the total cost of a referendum would be between £30-60 million. For taming the monster, this would be a price worth paying.


Richard North 05/06/2011 link

A more honest Parliament


There seems a resolute determination in some quarters of the media to deny reality, something which is especially noticeable in The Daily Telegraph leader today.

"The State Opening of Parliament symbolises constitutional continuity," it gushes, its earlier pages offering huge pictures of the Royal procession to the throne. "It is an event intended to reassert the supremacy of Parliament," something, we are told, "that is desperately needed after conceivably the worst few months for the institution since the Civil War."

This, however, is less than two weeks to go before the Lisbon treaty comes into force, when Parliament takes another hit, on top of those it has already taken, further diminishing its powers and importance, as its primary legislative function is dragged over to Brussels.

In theory, Parliament is still supreme, but in fact, having outsourced most of its powers, it is but a hollow shell. There is nothing much left but the symbolism. Small wonder that the newspaper noted "something distinctly Lilliputian" about the proceedings. The Queen read out fewer words than were contained in the Telegraph editorial. The Commons Chamber, where there is normally standing room only for such an event, was barely two-thirds full.

Ben Brogan, the paper's political hack, nevertheless argued that the the Queen's Speech was all about "naked politics", in which there was some comfort to be found. Politics is the means by which we can start a debate about a programme for rebuilding Britain, he writes.

Beguiled by the Westminster bubble, Brogan believes that only the Conservatives can lead this programme. Voters may be fed up, even jaded, but they are not uninterested in the question of what happens next in our island story. "They will," says our egregious hack, "want to hear far more from Mr Cameron about this work of renewal before he gets to ask the Queen to read his speech."

Many voters, however, seem to think otherwise. Via WfW we see in the Tory Party Blog Eric Pickles counting down to victory, only to have the bulk of his commentators remind him about that inconvenient treaty, and Mr Cameron's desertion of his referendum promise.

Like the MPs who could not be bothered to attend the Commons chamber yesterday, they too have seen through the hollow charade, which leaves the pomp and circumstance of the Queen's Speech, but none of the substance. A more honest Parliament would have the ring of stars to flying over its Houses.


Richard North 19/11/2009 link

Things that matter


"Jaw-dropping" does not even begin to describe the news we read in The Times and elsewhere.

This tells us that a suspect in the alleged Manchester terror plot had been allowed to enter Britain last week, despite irregularities in his immigration papers. One "police source" has told the paper that the decision to admit the suspect at the airport last week had been "a shambles".

The man's documents had been all "over the place" when he had landed but had been allowed to proceed on the basis that he would return for an appointment with immigration and show them correct documents. Said the source, "He was never going to do that. He was effectively left free to do whatever he wanted."

You have to read a little further to find that "security sources" are suggesting that the suspect might have been allowed "to run" in the expectation that he would lead the authorities to other conspirators. That could be true, although it would have been a high-risk strategy, with the possibility that target simply disappeared into the undergrowth.

Maybe the truth – or some version of it – will emerge in due course, although it would be unwise to restrict one's oxygen intake in anticipation of emerging any the wiser.

However, given the lurid headlines in The Daily Mail and other dailies, the impression of our immigration controls being in total disarray is once again reinforced, an issue which has significant political traction.

This is yet another area of public policy where the government displayed its usual level of incompetence but it is also one where opposition parties have been less than diligent in pursuing remedies.

To give him his due, it was raised by Conservative MP Douglas Carswell in June 2006 but it has hardly been high profile since. The last time Tory MPs collectively tackled the subject seems to have been in January 2008, well over a year ago.

With such a lacklustre record, it is a little difficult for the Tories now to take "ownership" of the issue which means that, with it now topping the news agenda, they are left flat-footed once again, leaving the field wide open for the likes of the political BNP to stake a claim.

Predictably, that is precisely what the BNP is doing, with a highly focused "news" story placed on their web site since early afternoon yesterday.

By contrast, the Conservative website has for its top story – dateline Thursday 9 April - Eric Pickles sending his "best wishes to Christians, Sikhs and Jews celebrating the festivals of Vaisakhi, Pesach and Easter this April."

It is hardly any surprise, therefore, that the BNP is taking the high ground and even less surprising that this should be showing up in local elections results. Looking closely at the Manchester (Moston) result has been the political correspondent for the Manchester Evening News. This is David Ottewell, and his findings are quite remarkable (see graphic, right).

In what was a closely fought seat between Labour and the Tories, we saw a near 11 percent drop in the Labour vote, but a catastrophic drop of 14 percent for the Tories. That Ottewell found interesting, remarking on the "the collapse in the Tory vote - in a ward they have previously targeted vigorously, and at a time when they are riding high in the national polls."

Some of that vote might have been picked up by the Lib-Dems, who gained seven percent, but with the BNP getting 23 percent and coming second – in its first appearance in the ward – the Tories plummeted to fourth place, with the Lib-Dems third.

Nor is this an isolated result. Something similar happened in March, in Carlisle, where the Tories also lost more votes than Labour, suggesting that there is – at the very least – a "BNP effect" which is muddying the waters.

Latterly, after Harman's intervention, it seems that Conservative Home is acknowledging that the threat exists, but there is clearly some considerable complacency.

Mainstream politicians are quick to remind voters of the BNP's unsavoury past, claiming that it has not changed. And they may be right. But if that is the case, it is a reflection of the low esteem in which mainstream politicians are held that, despite this, an increasing number of people are prepared to vote for the BNP.

Thus, although Harman is now saying that the BNP could pose a threat to Labour in the euro-elections, it could also cause problems for the Tories. The Manchester result, on the back of Carlisle, should be taken as a warning. Ignoring this phenomenon will not make it go away and nor can it be assumed that any BNP success in the euros will not run into the general election.

Nearly two years ago, Tory MP Charles Walker wrote a monograph on dealing with the BNP. His advice included the injunction that, "We must rediscover our campaigning zeal and let it be known that we value our constituents and their vote."

His party would do well to take that advice. It might also take note of Martin Luther King's homily (cited yesterday by LGF), that, "Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter." That applies to political parties as much as it does to individuals.


Richard North 11/04/2009 link

Dear me


There is a rather confused story about of the party hosted by genial Tory Party Chairman Eric Pickles (who bears an uncanny resemblance to Peter Simple's character, 25-stone Alderman Foodbotham) getting a tad out of hand.

Two guests started an altercation, the police intervened, the officer was struck and CS gas was used on the two altercators, one of whom has been arrested.

CS gas seems a little excessive for what was clearly a drunken brawl of the kind the police elsewhere have to deal with routinely, as is all this talk about breaching security. The two men involved may not have had passes but they were clearly guests of the aforementioned Alderman Foodbotham Chairman Pickles.

The BBC thinks that the person arrested may have been a journalist. Letting journalists into the House of Commons may well constitute breach of security. The Speaker should look into it.

I understand Tim Montgomerie of ConHome was there at the party. He will most probably blog about it tomorrow.

UPDATE: Well, I was half-right. Tim mentions the party and its unusual conclusion but most of the posting is about the Mini-Messiah, a.k.a. Daniel Hannan MEP and the need to provide him with prime speaking slot during the Conference. Depends whether the Conservative leadership want to destroy Mr Hannan's credibility. If they do, they should certainly give him that prime slot.


Richard North 31/03/2009 link

The clackity claque


It says something of the political claque that the issue of the moment is Eric Pickles' performance on the BBC's "Question Time" programme yesterday – on the vexed issue of MPs' expenses in general and the second homes allowance in particular.

Not having watched the programme – not last night or ever – we can only take it on trust that last night was "something of a train wreck" but it also says something of the political classes that they do not seem to be able to "park" this issue and move on to more important things. Why they cannot go for this elegantly simple solution is beyond me.

It comes to something, however, when Tory Boy Blog is writing earnestly that, "It's vital that the Conservative Chairman and the wider Tory Party understand the level of public anger towards the political class." It is probably not a first, but to see this blog referring to a "political class" is quite significant, especially in terms of public anger.

Something of the same sentiment comes from Daniel Hannan, explaining why his speech on YouTube has gone "viral", now recording (at the time of writing) 1,167,339 views. "I think it has to do with pent-up frustration," he writes. “People feel ignored, ripped off, lied to, taken for granted…".

Hannan also suggests that the episode has served to show "how utterly and irretrievably the internet has changed politics." Repeating the point he made on his blog, he notes that in 24 hours, 380,000 people had watched a video before a word appeared on the BBC or in any newspaper. The days when political journalists got to decide what was news are over.

Actually, even with the view level of just over a million, Hannan might be overstating the case. That is about the daily level of readership for The Daily Telegraph and about a third of the readership of The Daily Mail.

It is also less than the hit rate that we achieved for our Qana reports in 2006, about which the British blogosphere was noticeably silent – and the media even more so. Thus, if the internet has changed politics "utterly and irretrievably", it did so some time ago – only Mr Hannan did not notice.

But if there is a revolution going on, it is not in the claque that regards itself as part of the British political blogosphere. It is to be found in the more focused political blogs such as Watts up with that and our own Defence of the Realm, which has far more influence than the hit rate would suggest.

What one would like to believe is that the "Hannan effect" is a reflection of the frustration shared by many people at the superficial treatment of political issues by the politicians and their fellow travellers.

For instance, while Mr Pickles' travails may have been the news of the moment for ToryDiary, the issue of the moment on the US blogs is Obama's long-awaited new strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The strategy, we are told, involves not just military intervention, with more than 20,000 US military reinforcements to Afghanistan and extra training for Afghan security forces, but billions of dollars of direct aid to Pakistan, and even the creation of "opportunity zones" in border regions.

This strategy is of vital concern to the UK and there is, even in narrow domestic terms a political edge to it with the recent intervention by Liam Fox in the debate. That, though, is of no interest to the clackety claque, to whom the soap opera is far more important than real life – or death.

Having just completed the arduous process of writing the book on Iraq, with the design concept for the front cover (pictured) reaching me today, that project now seems to me a lot more real than the petty preoccupations of the claque.

Yet, on this issue, the dreary focus of the mob is still on the "legality" of the war, more of a subject for historians than politicians. The real issue, with a live war going on in Afghanistan, is what do we need to do to stop the failures of the Iraqi campaign being repeated. Such issues, as we observe, are stuff of real politics. When the politicians wake up and start dealing with these, then perhaps they will get as much attention as Mr Hannan's YouTube.


Richard North 27/03/2009 link

Any which way, we pay


In what could have been a fine piece of journalism, Simon Neville and Christopher Hope in The Daily Telegraph today lifts the lid on the council recycling scam revealing that more than 200,000 tons of recyclable household rubbish is being dumped in landfill sites or sent to incinerators each year.

Furthermore, Neville and Hope tell us, the amount dumped this year is expected to rise sharply as councils struggle to sell recyclable waste during the economic downturn.

The fact the recycled material is being dumped is, of course, not new. It has been discussed on this blog numerous times, and in not a few newspapers. But this is the first time an attempt has been made to quantify the scale of the dumping.

The 200,000 tons though, this is probably an under-estimate, as a lot of the stuff goes to contractors. The local authorities are able to put this material towards their quotas, but a significant amount then goes "through the back door", back into the waste stream.

What is missing from the piece, however – which would really have brought it alive - is any mention of the EU and the fact that we have been saddled with a fundamentally flawed scheme, the inevitable consequences of which we are now seeing.

The clue is in the piece, where we are told that, "… with prices for recycled material falling, increasing volumes will end up dumped or destroyed," but no comment is sought to explain that, with a producer-driven scheme, that was always going to happen.

There is only one way a recycling scheme is going to be successful in the long term and that is by creating markets for the salvaged material, sufficient to pull recyclable waste through the system, rather than push it into the market where there is no assured demand.

In this country, however, it is extremely doubtful as to whether such markets can be developed, given our contracted manufacturing base and our reliance on imports. And, if those who manufacture our goods – and are thus interested in buying our waste - are in recession, and demand falls off, there is absolutely nothing we can do to improve matters.

Therein lies the bind of this being an EU scheme. Has this – or any other – British government been stupid enough to launch such a scheme, it could by now have suspended the rules and reverted to the traditional practice of landfill. But, as The Telegraph points out, there is the small matter of landfill tax.

This is entirely a child of the EU. It was devised by the British government as a means of forcing local authorities to recycle and thus to avoid the swingeing EU fines that will accrue if we do not cut landfill. But, with it standing at £32 per ton, councils are potentially spending an extra £6.4million sending recycling to be dumped. Since landfill tax will rise to £40 per ton next year, the potential cost spirals to £8million.

Thus, we are in a classic EU vice. If we do not recycle, we pay massive fines to the EU. But since we cannot recycle, because the bottom has dropped out of the market, we pay massive amounts for recyclable waste to be collected, then we pay silly amounts to have it stored and then, when the storage space runs out, we pay for the landfill tax when it has to be disposed. Then we also pay massive fines to the EU.

It is this story that is not told in the Telegraph – it should be, but the sleeping elephant rules. The EU must not be mentioned.

Instead, we get a facile, partisan comment from Eric Pickles, the Conservative local government spokesman. He is allowed to say: "This once again shatters the Government's green credentials. Labour's idea of recycling is dumping huge mountains of rubbish on landfill sites and in warehouses fuelling the 80 million strong rat population. The sad reality is that families who want to go green can't under Labour."

The fatuity of this is obvious. This is not "Labour's idea of recycling". It is an EU scheme and, if there is no market for the material, then there is little Labour or anyone else can do. What would Pickles suggest as an alternative, one wonders. Would he eat the surplus?

There is, of course, the option of producing energy from waste, and for Pickles to have suggested that would have been an intelligent and useful contribution. That is what I would have suggested. But then I am not a Tory politician.

Mind you, there is a comment of similar fatuity from Matthew Elliott, chief executive of the TaxPayers' Alliance. His offering is: "People are constantly lectured on recycling and threatened with fines if they don't comply, so it's outrageous that councils are just throwing the stuff away." And what does he suggest as an alternative?

To be fair, though, the first prize for stupidity goes to the Department for Environment, Farming and Rural Affairs – although it has so many already, it's almost unfair to the other contenders to give it another.

It says: "There is a strong incentive for local authorities and recycling facilities to minimise the amount of contaminated recycling due to the cost of extra material going to landfill as well as the loss of revenue from recycled materials."

And its point is? There is no demand for much of recycled materials produced. The local authorities cannot even give it away. Therefore, there is no revenue to lose, and no option other than to store the materials and then dispose of them, or the cheaper option of abandoning separate collections, disposing of the material straight away and taking the hit on landfill tax.

Any which way, we pay. But it would be nice if a newspaper occasionally told us why.


Richard North 20/12/2008 link

Foreign policy deficit


The Spectator has an interesting piece on our favourite Minister of State, Lord Malloch-Brown, former interference runner for SecGen Kofi Annan and former member of the “Soros axis of evil”, as the Wall Street Journal described it. At least, we hope he is former.

As it happens we have mentioned before that the man was going to get a grace-and-favour apartment on becoming a member of Gordon Brown’s government as well as pointing out that all this happened because the new Prime Minister has absolutely no idea of foreign policy or, indeed, where foreign is.

Still, it is very nice to have his lordship’s past career, relationship with George Soros, chief funder of the European Council on Foreign Relations, curiously enough, not mentioned in the Speccy article, as well as the expenses of his new residence laid out in a clear and easy to follow fashion.
The CV of Brown’s most senior outside appointment reads like that of a hair-shirted technocrat: a vice-president of World Bank, head of UNDP, chief of staff and then deputy secretary-general of the United Nations and now Minister for Africa, Asia and the UN. His entry in the Lords register of interests is spartan; he declares only his government salary, which is £81,504.

But Malloch Brown’s living arrangements in this country are exceedingly grand, and provided by the taxpayer. Only three members of the government have grace-and-favour residences in London. Malloch Brown is one of them, the other two are the Prime Minister and the Chancellor. David Miliband and his growing family have yet to use 1 Carlton Gardens, the Foreign Secretary’s London residence.

Yet Malloch Brown, astonishingly, has secured one of the three government flats in Admiralty House, where John Prescott used to live. In so doing, this newcomer has leapfrogged 20 full members of the Cabinet who notionally enjoy seniority over him. The oddness of the situation is compounded by the fact that the other two flats in the building are empty, and another government grace-and-favour residence in South Eaton Place, SW1, is being sold off. In response to The Spectator’s investigation Eric Pickles, a member of the shadow Cabinet, has laid down a series of parliamentary questions in an attempt to find out how much Malloch Brown’s living arrangements are costing the Foreign Office.

Malloch Brown’s return from abroad is given as the explanation for him receiving a grace-and-favour flat. Others hint that he secured it because he has four children under 16. If so, Ruth Kelly — with four pre-teen children — should surely have had first pick.

The Treasury’s National Assets Register values the Admiralty House accommodation at £7.76 million and as worth more than the flats above No. 10 and 11 Downing Street. It is, indeed, fit for a Lord, and one with tastes which are the opposite of frugal. A parliamentary answer earlier this autumn revealed that ‘the floor area of the ministerial residences in Admiralty House is 859 square metres.’ In 2006–07 the Deputy Prime Minister’s Office paid the Cabinet Office no less than £173,000 for John Prescott’s living in one of the flats there.
I guess housing in London is quite expensive but I do find it rather difficult to believe that the salary Lord Malloch-Brown is receiving together with expenses and very much together with the savings he must have made while inhabiting George Soros’s palatial residence for peppercorn rent cannot allow him to buy or rent a hovel somewhere in Westminster.

That brings us to the question as to why this man of dubious qualifications but impeccable tranzi background should have managed to negotiate quite such a good deal for himself.

There have been various theories advanced, not least the one about PM Gordon Brown wanting to ingratiate himself with the tranzi world and distance himself from the United States. That may be so (some evidence of the latter has been made clear recently as I shall explain) but we tend to agree with the authors of the Speccy article, one of whom is the estimable Claudia Rossett. Gordon Brown has no knowledge of or interest in foreign policy.

Meanwhile foreign affairs have been marching on. We discussed yesterday developments in Turkey and the fact that Prime Minister Erdogan has met President Bush to discuss various matters of importance to both sides.

The Los Angeles Times added to its report on the US-Turkish negotiations:
With his tete-a-tete with Erdogan, Bush began a week of diplomatic conferences focused on some of Washington's most important relationships. He will host French President Nicolas Sarkozy for dinner today and for official talks Wednesday. At the end of the week, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and her husband will stay with the president and Laura Bush at their home outside Crawford, Texas.
Very nice, too, but isn’t there a name missing? Turkey, France, Germany. Where is Britain? Is there a meeting planned with Gordon Brown at some later stage? Or have the Americans finally decided they had enough of the British politicians’ complacency and arrogance? Or does Gordon Brown not want to meet President Bush? To be absolutely accurate one would have to ask: does Gordon Brown not want to meet any of the leaders of other countries?

Where is David Miliband, come to think of it? We all sympathize with him adopting another child and wish the family well. But he does have an important job to do for which he gets paid rather handsomely by the taxpayer.

I must say I am rather disappointed by Miliband. The man seemed to start quite well but has fallen off recently. Must try harder.

So, what have we got out of the Sarkozy’s second visit to Washington DC (this time, one must assume without Mme S.)? Not a whole lot, according to the Daily Telegraph leader and one is inclined to agree with them.

He addressed Congress and talked much of Lafayette and Washington (old general L. does get trotted out by the French periodically, though it was, actually, the French navy that helped the Americans most), 1917, 1944, Marshall Plan, Berlin airlift (hmm, minimal French involvement in that). All jolly nice and very different from l’escroc Chirac, who had selective deafness when it came to hearing historical facts.
But on top of these familiar historical references, the French president lauded the "can-do" spirit of America, whether expressed through stars such as Elvis Presley or Marilyn Monroe or through the moon landing of 1969. America's moral value consisted in its "extraordinary ability to grant people another chance"; it was a country where "failure is never the last word", where nothing is owed but everything has to be earned.

Such verbal flourishes were, inevitably, somewhat punctured by Mr Sarkozy's analysis of current problems. He spoke of standing shoulder to shoulder in Afghanistan, without mentioning that French troops are not engaged in combat operations. He made no reference to Iraq. His determination to prevent Iran acquiring nuclear weapons did not envisage military action. And his belief that the way towards French re-integration into Nato's military command is through strengthening the European Union's defence capability failed to convince.
All of which is true. But, as the article grudgingly acknowledges, rhetoric does matter, though practical involvement would matter more. For all of that, given Britain’s gradual withdrawal in Basra as chronicled by my colleague in too many postings to refer to, a little bit of rhetoric on our own Prime Minister’s part would not come amiss.

Perhaps, a reminder that Britain and America do have a great deal in common historically and politically speaking, as well as many differences or a casual reference to the Anglosphere, whose other members also have much in common with this country could give us some idea that Gordon Brown does, indeed, know something about the world.

Sadly, it will be Chancellor Merkel who will be going to the US next, hoping, as the German journalists put it, to influence President Bush not to upset the Iranians or think about doing anything about their nuclear capability.

It seems unlikely that she will succeed. President Bush has a track record of seemingly agreeing with his European “instructors” and then doing exactly what he thinks is right. Remember the much-vaunted Merkel victory over climate change? When the dust settled (well, there is rather a lot of it what with global warming and all) it became obvious that the agreement was really along the lines the United States had advocated for some time.

We predict that Chancellor Merkel and her husband will come back, basking in the success of her mission, only to find that she had been once again diddled by the “Texas cowboy”.

All of which brings me back to my first question: where, in all this, is the British Prime Minister.


Richard North 08/11/2007 link

The debate is not over


No less than three stories in The Sunday Telegraph attest to the simple fact that, despite the warmists' insistence, the global warming debate is far from over.

The main story points up how much of an industry the scam has become, the paper retailing estimates produced by the Taxpayers' Alliance which suggest that local authorities are paying out £100 million annually "to fund an army of 3,500 workers to tackle climate change", graced with such grand sounding job titles such as "carbon reduction advisors" and "climate change managers".

As an aside, if you ever wanted an explanation as to why the Tories have completely lost it – having bought into the scam, hook line and sinker – you need go no further than the insipid response from Eric Pickles, the Tories' local government spokesman.

Instead of justified outrage at the total waste of money, he bleats that, "while many local authority eco-friendly policies were sensible, they should not be used as cover for raising extra money or getting more staff", and adds, "It is important council green initiatives retain the confidence of communities - that they are mainstream, sensible and built into existing projects."

Then we get the indomitable Booker, whose column takes on not only the warmists over the recent attempted rebuttal of the research on the sun's role in climate change, but also the BBC – the number one groupies of the disaster theorists.

Booker's payoff line is, "Far from being settled, this debate is just beginning to get really interesting" and, in this, he gets unexpected support from Dr David Whitehouse, an astronomer, former BBC science correspondent, and the author of The Sun: A Biography.

In a comment piece headlined: "The truth is, we can't ignore the sun", Whitehouse also takes a tilt at the BBC, calling it "enthusiastically one-sided, sloppy and confused", and condemns it for not including any criticism of the research on the sun's role in global warming.

Whitehouse too concludes that it is apparent that the last decade shows no warming trend and recent successive annual global temperatures are well within each year's measurement errors. Statistically the world's temperature, he writes, is flat. The world certainly warmed between 1975 and 1998, but in the past 10 years it has not been increasing at the rate it did. No scientist could honestly look at global temperatures over the past decade and see a rising curve.

So, he concludes, "look on the BBC and Al Gore with scepticism. A scientist's first allegiance should not be to computer models or political spin but to the data: that shows the science is not settled."

If I were a "carbon reduction advisor" or a "climate change manager", I would be looking for a new job.


Richard North 15/07/2007 link

UK politics: noises off


It is not possible even to begin summarising the torrent of Labour's hostile press this morning. One response from a correspondent, though, tells us, "I think we're all weary with talking while everything collapses around us... People want action but there's no leader."

Peter Hitchen in the Mail on Sunday gives us his recipe, with the panel to his column illustrated. Contrary to the leader in his own paper – which wants us to vote Conservative (we would if there was a Conservative Party to vote for) - he wants us to turn out on Thursday and mark our ballot papers "none of the above".

That's all very well, but spoiled votes are not even recorded, so that is largely a futile gesture.

The futility of that gesture, though, it is matched only by the process of casting a vote. As Booker points out in his column, the loathsome Johnny "three shags" (and counting) Prescott has so emasculated the political process with his "code of conduct" and “standards board” that elected councils are no longer able to function as representatives of the people who are foolhardy enough to vote for them.

For some "public servants", however, times are good, witnessed by the Mail on Sunday which records Ian Blair enjoying the extraordinary fortune of living rent-free in a £1 million penthouse bought with taxpayers’ money. This is the man who regards a 16.6 percent crime detection rate as a good news story. Rushing to the polls here, of course, will make all the difference.

But, what comes over, even through the "noise" on Labour is just how ineffective Mr Cameron really is. He should be storming the ramparts, yet is struggling to creep a few points ahead in the polls. Both YouGov in The Sunday Times and BPIX in the Mail on Sunday put the Tories at 35 percent, compared with Labour's 32 percent, a staggeringly poor result considering how unpopular Blair's government has become.

Even if these numbers are taken at face value – ignoring the inaccuracies in methodology - and applied to a general election, Labour would still take the majority of seats in Parliament.

While comparisons are being made with the last days of the decaying Major government, The Business sums it up, saying that the Labour government has one big advantage. By the mid-1990s, it says, "the Labour opposition was demonstrably ready for power; a decade later David Cameron's Tories can barely claim to be a functioning opposition."
Mr Blair's "Black Wednesday" (all the scandals came together on 26 April) was the Cameron Tories first major test; they flunked it. Shadow Home Office minister David Davis did a decent job of holding Mr Clarke to account, but Mr Cameron’s performance at Prime Minister's Question Time on Wednesday, when he had Mr Blair on the ropes, was limp-wristed; most other senior Tories have been missing in action. The media is still doing the Tories' job for them in holding Labour to account.
But what is fascinating about the polls is the rise of the minority parties, standing at approximately 15 percent. This includes a significant tranche of BNP support, but again, the Tory response is less than sure-footed. According to Melissa Kite in the Sunday Telegraph, Eric Pickles – formerly the detested Bradford Council leader, now Conservative deputy chairman and local government spokesman – declares:
We are not differentiating between the candidates who stand for the BNP and the people who vote for them. We believe it is a shameful act to vote for the BNP, no matter how badly you feel you have been let down by Labour. These people are motivated by race and it is not an acceptable use of a protest vote to vote for the BNP.
This is as bad as branding UKIP members as "fruitcakes", if not worse. The arrogance of telling voters that their choice of a legitimate political party is "not an acceptable use of a protest vote" almost takes your breath away.

On the other hand, what else have the Tories to offer? Good opposition, says The Sunday Times, means "putting the government on the rack". Labour, it says, "was merciless in making life even more uncomfortable for the Tories a decade ago. Mr Cameron's Conservatives need to do the same."

But, even as it fails to do precisely that, a commentator, Jack Stone, says on the Conservative Home site, "if you don't like the way the Conservative Party is heading than my advice is simple. Sod Off!!!".

That, amongst a certain faction of the David Cameron's acolytes, seems to be the central message to the "non-believers", and is one of the most powerful strains amongst the "noises off". Despite the utter dereliction of the Labour Party, an awful lot of people are going to take his advice.


Richard North 30/04/2006 link

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