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Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear...

Wednesday, October 31, 2007
Possibly in the face of stiff competition, it is New Delhi that has the doubtful honour of hosting the seventh World Toilet Summit. I am not making this up.

This is held under the aegis of the Singapore-based World Toilet Organization, and said WTO uses a heart shaped loo seat as part of its logo. Moreover, make haste to its merchandise section, where one can avail oneself of a logo polo shirt, with early purchasers also entitled to a rather fetching dual pin badge. There is also a section of quizzes and games for those interested in such things.

Doubtless this summit is a worthy endeavour, but once a schoolboy, always a schoolboy. Highlights of the programme include "the issue of hygiene in Indian villages, preventing water-borne infections and global access to toilets. An Australian delegate will deliver a report on toilets in TV and a Greek speaker will talk latrines in Ancient Greece".

Meanwhile, I will take my cue from Nancy Mitford, and wish it would re-name itself the World Lavatory Association, meanwhile quite possibly the Apocalypse truly is upon us.

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So where did it all go wrong, Gordon (and you, Tony)?

The World Economic Forum has just published its Global Competitiveness figures, and dear old Blighty has slumped from second to ninth, having been overtaken by Switzerland, Denmark, Sweden, Germany, Finland, Singapore and Japan. Note that all of those states plus overall leader the US of A have centre right governments.

Meanwhile, down at the bottom, Burundi has overtaken Chad.

More on the UK here, but let it be noted that we rate 46/131 for macroeconomic stability, and the four 'most problematic factors for doing business' are tax rates, tax regulations, inadequately educated workforce and inefficient government bureaucracy.

Other low points: 121st for business cost of terrorism, 58th for burden of government regulation, 64th for business cost of crime and violence. However, we are #1 for Malaria incidence, or rather the lack of.

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With friends like these...

A poll of urban Pakistanis:

"Do you favour or oppose the Pakistani army entering federally administered tribal areas to pursue and capture al Qaeda fighters?"

Favour - 44%
Oppose - 36%

However, going after Taliban types is a bit more popular, at 48%. This does rather beg the question as to what the confused 4% would do about mixed AQ/Taliban camps.

And as to letting their Uncle Sam do the same:

Favour - 5%
Oppose - 80%

Meanwhile, the outlook for secularism in Pakistan is not good - 60% want more sharia law.

The Federally Administered Tribal Area has a web site all of its very own, and news is to be found at the 'whats up' (sic) tab. And lo and behold, a click reveals, "NO NEWS FOUND".

More promising is the list of books in the FATA's library, including 'Enjoy Afghanistan - An Orientation Manual for Expatriate Workers'. Which is NOT a hoax, as I have found details. 'The Khattak - A Restless People' by Muhammed Nawaz Khan also sounds a good read.


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Fun with Facebook statistics

Tuesday, October 30, 2007
The Facebook UK Politics application generates some mildly diverting statistics, so here goes:

The gender split sees the Tories leading among men (36.9% vs Labour 30.5%), but the reverse among women 30.7% / 39.6%.

In terms of relationship status, the Tories lead among singles, 'in a relationship', and 'It's complicated'. The Red horde, oddly, leads among the married and the engaged. It is level pegging between the two for 'in an open relationship'. Greens are somewhat over-represented under that heading.

Religion throws up some figures that are predictable - Methodists veer Left, as do Jedis. Supposedly over a third of declared Facebook Rastafarians are Tory, which I doubt. Humanism and Paganism are big among Lib Dems. There are also rather a lot of SNP Buddhists - 28.6% of them. Mind you, 10% of Presbyterians support Sinn Fein?

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What the Danes want

An end to the higher rate of income tax, by the look of things, but also snow for Christmas and better Christmas presents.

I have discovered this from the rather useful 'Votes for Sale' site, which shows candidates what they should promise if they want folk to vote for them: "Tax cuts, welfare reform, two cars in every garage or more snow on Christmas - sell your vote to the candidate who keeps their promise on the issue most important to you. Creators of the website ValgTilSalg.dk (VoteForSale) have given voters the opportunity to choose which election issue they think should take centre stage. ‘We thought, if politics is really about currying voters’ favour with huge campaign promises, then why not let the individual citizen decide for themselves which promise his or her vote can be bought with,’ said Torben Andersen of ValgTilSalg.dk". Source

It does not look as though any Danish pols are promising snow for Christmas as yet, but it looks like such a 'policy' would be popular. However, one should be wary of promises that one cannot keep: "A proper Danish Christmas should preferably be white, but unfortunately that does not happen often. Not until 90% of the country is covered with at least half a centimetre of snow does Denmark’s Meteorological Institute say that we have a national white Christmas, and we have actually only experienced that seven times since 1900. That was in 1915, 1923, 1938, 1956, 1969, 1981, and 1995".Source . Maybe 2009 then...

My Danish is not all it could be, so I am reliant on online translation for the detail as to current voting on the site, but it is notable that the bulk of participants thus far are self-defined as Socialdemokratiet, and working that one out is none too challenging. So excluding the silliness involving weather etc, it is quite heartening that voters choosing a party affiliated to the Socialist International are keen on tax cuts and the like. And yes, I know this is a self- selecting poll and of absolutely no statistical validity.

So, what would readers like to be promised?

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Quiz time....

Monday, October 29, 2007
Would you rather live and work here:

And take in €8000 gross per month (£67,341 PA) or live and work here:


And take in €21162 gross per month (£253944 PA) (forgot to convert from euros - £177498).


Decisions, decisions....

Lest the flags do not make it obvious, the first building is the Elysée Palace, and where M Sarkozy resides, while the second is the Bundeskanzleramt, and where Frau Merkel is to be found.

Curiously enough, the French President gets to appoint his PM, but gets paid less than half.

(Pay figures borrowed from Libération)

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How to kill a conversation with 55% of Maltese stone dead

Ask if he or she has read any good books lately. Only 45% will admit to having read a book, any book, let alone a good one, in the last year. Source . There's a useful primer on Maltese literature here, but I can't say I have read any Maltese authors. However, 28% of Maltese claim to have been to the ballet or the opera, apparently.

One's chances of progressing a conversation from that gambit would stand a greater chance of success if one's target is a Swede - 87% have read something.

Meanwhile, doubtless to the joy of Dutch equity card holders, 58% of Netherlanders claim to have been to the theatre this year, but only 18% of Poles. Apparently, "One of the most original twentieth-century theatre personalities was Tadeusz Kantor, painter, theoretician of drama, stage designer, and playwright, his ideas finding their culmination in the theatre of death and his most recognised production being "Umarła klasa" (Dead Class)". Sounds like a bundle of laughs...

We British types dominate trade in antiques, accounting for 62% of imports by value and 67% of exports by value. Perhaps the old joke about the four antique dealers on a desert island, who despite having one chair between them nevertheless made a living needs reworking.


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They do things differently in....Sweden

"A church in Västerås is asking parishioners to donate enough pieces of white Lego to create a life-size statue of Jesus. A local priest is leading the drive to construct a white plastic Jesus in the central Swedish town". Source. No indication as to whether it will be an Ecce Homo, Man of Sorrows, Salvator Mundi or a Majestas Dominiis, but presumably not a pietà.

Despite the use of 'priest' to describe the man of the cloth, it is far from clear whether he is a Catholic, (Lutheran) Church of Sweden or another denomination entirely. Must say it does not sound like something I imagine Martin Luther would approve of.

Anyway, here's the punchline: "And the priest was insistent that the statue should be made up only of white pieces, as anything else might be considered tasteless". I am not making this up.

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Time to put back together what Sunningdale put asunder

Unnoticed by the press in these parts, the Ulster Unionists have been having a conference, and there is a part of Sir Reg Empey's speech of particular note for friends of the Union in the part of the Kingdom on this side of the water:

"The Ulster Unionist Party has committed itself to a political and policy process which allows Northern Ireland to complete the transition to "normal" politics... As Party Leader I want the Ulster Unionist Party to engage with like-minded allies in Great Britain to promote a pan-UK vision which endorses the over-arching benefits of a United Kingdom as the best framework in which to nurture the benefits available from devolution".

He can only mean the Conservatives, and unless the Ulster Unionists are prepared to do a Trimble and join the Conservatives, it is for the party to make every effort to undo the damage wrought by the still birth of the Sunningdale Agreement and welcome the UUP back into the bosom of the wider Conservative movement. While the UUP is undoubtedly on something of a back foot at present, UUP MPs taking the whip after the next election would aid the electoral arithmetic, and would also be the right thing for all concerned.

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"Widespread celebrity support"

Saturday, October 27, 2007
That is what Unison is claiming for its "I love the NHS march and rally on 3 November". Oh aye, thinks I. And how many celebrities constitutes 'widespread' in Unison-speak?

Have a guess.

No, it is two, unless the union's general secretary is included. Elaborating ground covered previously, Unison has to explain who its celebrities are. Should anyone be interested, they are Sir Ranulph Fiennes and Tamsin Greig.

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Woodstock revisited

There is talk of a Woodstock Museum, funding for which is causing ructions on the Hill. Here's a campaign video from John McCain. Enjoy:




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Not a bad scratch...

Friday, October 26, 2007
Meanwhile, on the other side of the Irish Sea, Bertie Ahern has just trousered a rather nice pay increase, which takes him to €310,000, or in pounds sterling, £216,386. The opposition are not impressed.

The Lord Protector gets £187,611. Given the relative populations of this nation (60,587,300) and that of the Irish Republic (4,239,848), Broon might think he is entitled to £3,029,149 (DON'T tell him). Alternatively, maybe Ahern should have his pay packet cut to £13,128 and the all important 86 pence. Or €18,808.60.

(I am nor being entirely serious about Ahern. He seems to be doing a better job there than Broon is here).

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Where your money goes

All things considered, I would reckon that there a fair few priorities for spending the military budget, and doubtless readers could come up with lists of their own .

Sticking my neck out just a tad, I would suspect that "a unique flypast over Wembley Stadium on Sunday 28 October to mark the start of the first ever American National Football League (NFL) game to be held outside the United States" would not be one of them

See, I am NOT making this up.

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Che Guevara does something useful

Dead Marxist criminal, thug, terrorist etc Che Guevara, has some years after his death done his bit to ease the retirement of Gustavo Villoldo, a CIA / Bay of Pigs veteran, who snipped a lock of Guevara's hair and has just auctioned it for $100,000.

"A lock of Ernesto ''Che'' Guevara's hair -- secretly preserved for years by a Miami exile who buried the rebel leader 40 years ago this month -- garnered a winning bid of $100,000 at an auction Thursday night....Reached after the auction, Villoldo told The Miami Herald he was amused by the sale. ''...To me, Che is a criminal. It's a surprise to see somebody pay that amount of money for the hair and a few photos of a dead Che.''

And it has been sold to a Texan, of all people - "Bill Butler, 61, a book dealer from Houston who called Che ``one of the greatest revolutionaries of the 20th century.'' "Said Kelley Norwine, spokeswoman for the auction house, Butler was proud of winning this lot. He's ''never been to Cuba,'' Norwine said, ``but would love to go.''

Well Bill, maybe you could swap places with one of 11 million or so who would just love to get out of the Caribbean's largest open air prison.

Butler intends to display the hair in his shop, and while I would not wish to encourage the good people of Rosenberg to lob the odd half brick through his window, one might note that Fort Bend County might not be the best place to flirt with the extreme left: "No Democrat has carried Fort Bend County in the presidential election since 1964, when Lyndon B. Johnson of Texas won his second term". Furthermore, this county has launched the careers of Ron Paul, Phil Gramm and Tom DeLay, and "every elected countywide office in Fort Bend County is held by Republicans, who also control a majority of precinct-based positions". Perhaps Butler would be happier in Vermont.

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More of those falling crime figures...

Stewart Jackson, our man in Peterborough asked the following yesterday, "how many times police armed response units were deployed in the northern division of Cambridgeshire Constabulary in each year since 1997", and got a reasonably full answer in reply.

And here are the figures, charted:

Maybe Cambridgeshire's finest like dashing around with firearms that they might live out their Mad Max fantasies, or maybe more armed response units are being sent out because of the increase in gun crime...

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Really rather good....

Thursday, October 25, 2007


Or as a click through.

At least there's no Mel Gibsion this time.

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Would you sell your name, and other pressing issues

Zogby has a poll on various internet and other issues, and the commissioning party decided that what the world really needed to know was whether Mr / Mrs / Ms etc America would sell his or her name for $100,000.

Keenest to take up the offer were African Americans at 26.3% very likely / likely and 18-24 year olds at 34%. Libertarians were keener than Republicans and Democrats at 33.9% to 18.2% and 22.8%. The 70+ demographic was least keen - 73.2% not at all likely.

A further key issue was whether one would wish to have the internet accessible from one's brain (if safe etc etc), which is fairly tempting and would make one a whiz at pub quizzes: 19.2% of Asian Americans fancied it compared to 4.5% of African Americans. The self-defined very conservative managed 11.2%, which is odd.

Elsewhere, progressives and libertarians need to pull out the modem cable and get out more, with 31.3% and 35.8% reckoning "that for a relatively short period of time the Internet can serve as a substitute for a significant other" Mind you, it does not ask whether it is a good substitute.

As to inserting a device into a child that one might better track it, a shocking 18.1% think that would be just dandy, with southerners (20.4%), Catholics (21.1%) and conservatives 21.1% especially keen. And hats off to the 80.9% of progressives who would feel 'uneasy'. I think there should be an outbreak of pointing and jeering at the 13.8% of those in civil unions who were 'unsure'.

Finally, if you have tears, prepare to shed them now: 5.7% of Americans consider the iPhone sexier than Halle Berry, Scarlett Johannsson, Patrick Dempsey and Derek Jeter. I have no idea who the latter two are, by the way. And 8% of progressives, 8.9% of libertarians and 9.1% of Hispanics. The divine Ms Berry leads in most demographics, bar the very conservative and 25-34, both of which prefer La Johannsson

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Something to chew on

I do not suppose many people have heard of the Åland Islands, but they are an autonomous archipelago in the Baltic Sea, ruled by Finland but Swedish speaking.

Anyway, the Alanders look to have got themselves into a bit of a hole, because ferries registered in the islands have been selling this stuff:

They are not the grim teabags they appear to be, but rather are pouches of snus, a chewing tobacco popular in Sweden and Norway, but banned elsewhere in the EU.

And this is where the Alanders have a problem. Quite a big one, actually, as the EU is intent on levying a fine for this wickedness, and "Åland and Finland have an agreement according to which Åland pays its own EU fines". So €2m, and counting, is not an insignificant sum, and works out at about €75 per head.

But how is the EU going to get its greasy mitts on the money, I wonder?

Meanwhile, the islands have their own top level internet domain in .ax.

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Who's afraid of Lord Ashcroft?

Nick Palmer (Lab) Broxtowe - Maj 2,296
Martin Linton (Lab) Battersea - Maj 163


Or so it would seem from quite how strongly they are opposed - out of principle, clearly - to spending in constituencies between elections.

"Martin Linton (Battersea) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is vital to plug this local loophole before politics descends into a mercenary battle to see who can raise the most money? There is an urgent need for a Bill in the Queen’s Speech to extend the current limits on national campaign expenditure to local parties and candidates".


"Dr. Nick Palmer (Broxtowe) (Lab): Is it not clear that the official Opposition are so hooked on their regular injection of funds from the gentleman in the other place that they are not interested in consensus, and that to satisfy the public that democracy is not being bought, we will have to introduce legislation in the next Session?"

And Straw, (Lab) Blackburn, Maj 8,009 (oh well...) seems minded to run with the arguments of Messrs Palmer and Linton. Fancy. While excluding money from trade unions, natch.

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Red boxes cost *how* much?

These things:
Judging from a little light number crunching of these figures, up to £927.50 each. Apparently, "They have been made the same way for centuries - a wooden base covered in roan deer leather, or cloth. The cost varies, depending on size and finish" and what is more, "When Ministers leave office, they are traditionally permitted to retain one of the red (or black) boxes as a memento", which is a nice bung. I may well see if any ever turn up on ebay....

Just for sake of comparison, Louis Vuitton do some reasonably attractive briefcases that come in at about that price point, and further down the foodchain, Samsonite leather cases can be had for about £150.

Dizzy did this ages ago...

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The EU wine lake

Wednesday, October 24, 2007
I was tempted to do a full scale post on this, but lack the energy so will content myself with this:

"The EU spends around half a billion euros every year just getting rid of surplus wine for which there is no market".

Or in sterling, £347,597,003.00.

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Are the Danes too honest for their own good?

Another eurobarometer survey, this time on the informal economy in the EU.

And what is it with the Danes? When asked whether they had performed undeclared work, a rather impressive 18% were prepared to 'fess up. In contrast, 2% of my compatriots were prepared to make the same admission. Perhaps most telling is that 11% of the Irish took the Fifth, so to speak, and refused to answer.

Elsewhere, the Portuguese are the most in fear of being caught, with 50% reckoning the chance of being nabbed at 50%. Maybe they should make tracks to Stockholm, as only 14% of Swedes think the chances of being collared are high. Mind you, 18% of Swedes reckon that the Goteborg / Kiruna / Stockholm Big House would be their destination if caught Meanwhile, over a fifth of Irish, Romanian, Spanish and Bulgarian respondents just did not know.

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Reducing pensioner numbers the kind way...

AKA Petition o' the day:

"We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to Free carvery meals for pensioners". Source.

"All people of pensionable age should be allowed a daily free carvery meal and one drink in a restaurant or public house of their choice".

Can't say I blame the petitioner for trying it on, but I foresee a few more heart attacks and the like if he has his way.... Maybe I'll book my place on the pavement outside Simpsons now.

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NATO - is it actually an 'Organisation' at all?

Way back lost in the mists of time, a dysfunctional state wedged between France and the Netherlands proved remarkably unhelpful when it came to selling us ammunition during Gulf War I.

And now this is being replayed, only with rather higher stakes in the Afghanistan War, with our Canadian friends getting the back of the hand treatment:

"NATO plans to rent helicopters to resupply front lines and remote bases in southern Afghanistan – an unprecedented move that could reduce ground casualties even as it exposes the unwillingness of major European allies to send their choppers into dangerous, Taliban-infested areas.... Canada [is] the only country with a major fighting role in southern Afghanistan that has no applicable helicopters of its own...Italy, Spain and France are among the Western European countries with large numbers of big, modern helicopters protected by sophisticated anti-missile defences and flown by highly trained crews. All three countries have turned a deaf ear to repeated pleas to deploy their aircraft to southern Afghanistan. In the past few weeks, NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer made a final appeal for military-transport helicopters. He was turned down by Germany, France, Turkey, Spain and Greece, according to a NATO source".

What in the name of all that is holy, or come to that, profane, is the point of an alliance where members fail to pull their weight and will not risk materiel in combat? Are the helicopters more precious than the lives of the men putting their lives on the line?

Shameful, simply shameful.

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A retrograde step

Which country have we allowed travellers from to enter the UK without passports for about 85 years? The Irish Republic. And now as part of "a so called e-border system in order to track the movements of terrorist suspects, criminals and illegal immigrants" there will be passport checks in place for sea and air arrivals in Great Britain from the Republic, if not on land crossings to Ulster. And, not surprisingly, our Hibernian neighbours are going to engage in a little tit for tat.

Given the utter chaos that masquerades as border control in this country, and the complete absence of terrorism etc being exported from the Republic to Great Britain, I really would have thought that the government would be focusing on more pressing issues rather than messing about with a bit that actually works just fine. And given that there will not be passport checks when crossing by land, presumably anyone with something to hide will drive to Belfast airport or Larne and hop on a plane or a ferry to the mainland. Still, something must (be seen to) be done, I suppose. This tale, note, is on the 'front page' of the main serious newspaper in the Republic, and the second most circulated Irish daily.

And the gratuitous quote from Bevin, "My policy is to be able to take a ticket at Victoria station and go anywhere I damn well please!"

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Kraft durch freude....

Tuesday, October 23, 2007
Or 'Strength through joy', as the Nazi-era German is usually rendered. If there is one parallel that is overused, invoked far too lightly it is that of the Third Reich, but what else could this, from former Blair aide, Professor Julian Le Grand, chairman of Health England, be compared to? North Korea, the USSR, one of the more spartan public schools?

"A radical plan to improve the nation's health - including a workplace "exercise hour" - has been unveiled by a leading Government adviser....He proposed the introduction of a smoking permit, which smokers would be required to show each time they bought tobacco. It is then their choice to go smoke free and not buy a permit. Companies with more than 500 staff would have an " exercise hour". Employees would have to deliberately choose not to join in....In his speech...the professor". It is not like banning something, it's a softer form of paternalism". Source.

Where to start? Let us start with a cheap shot. The professor appears to have a broken nose, judging from the photo on his deeply uninformative web page. Perhaps he got it from rugby or another dangerous sport. Should he have been 'allowed' to imperil himself, put the medical business at cost, and perhaps have caused anxiety to whoever he was emotionally close to at the time?

The exercise hour. Would this time be added on to the working day, or would it come out of an employee's allotted hours? Would it be Japanese-style whole company physical jerks in the
car park followed by a heartfelt rendition of the company anthem? Or perhaps a nice gym for the upper management and compulsory sits ups for the machinists, salesmen etc etc? Why only companies with more than 500 staff? Might this be just another way of passing on the cost of public health on to the wealth creating sector? Would BP, M&S, Vodafone be in any way compensated for the loss of millions of productive man hours, or otherwise helped with the inevitable recruitment and retention problems that would stem from employees refusing to be infantilised? Would the opt outers have to work, and if so, who would supervise them, or could they just make a beeline for the nearest pub?

Smoking permits. Smokers are already subject to ruinous levels of tax, and under 18s are no longer allowed to buy cigarettes, cigars, loose tobacco, and for all I know snuff, despite being allowed to consent to sex, enlistment in Her Maj's forces etc etc, and retailers face hefty fines for breaching the law. Would these permits have quotas, and might civic minded non-smokers or non-smokers be prevailed upon to buy nicotine products for heavier users, recognising that enforced 'virtue' is no virtue at all.

It is not like banning something, it's a softer form of paternalism. No Professor, it is the slipperiest of slippery slopes, and it is an utter negation of the most basic concepts of freedom and personal autonomy. As a professor at the LSE, I hope the shades of Hayek, Popper, Seldon and Oakeshott (inter alia) will pursue him with pitchforks.

And over to another LSE bod, Shaw for the last word: "Liberty means responsibility. That is why most men dread it".

(With thanks to comment maker Sexist Pedant for pointing out my misrendered headline)

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Gaddafi speaks, or rather spoke

Muammar Gaddafi, or "Guide of the First of September Great Revolution of the Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya" / "Brotherly Leader and Guide of the Revolution" has a website, and very pretty it is too and available in a variety of languages.

He does not update it very often, but I have found an interesting diatribe against FIFA and the World Cup:

"The World Cup was established to achieve a social and psychological benefit for people. Nevertheless, what The World Cup has achieved is the exact opposite. First, beware the deadly diseases caused by The World Cup. Medical research has proven, and will prove further in the future, that those who have football (soccer) mania, and those addicted to the game are most at risk of psychological and nervous disorders. Those disorders in turn are the leading causes of heart attacks, strokes, diabetes, hyper-tension and premature ageing".
....

"Second, beware the hatred, enmity and racism generated by football".

....

"The World Cup has strengthened the extreme right and the racist tendencies in the world. The irrefutable proof of this is the fact that the associations that support sports clubs are racist associations of the extreme right. Where is the conscience of the world?"

However, he likes Sepp Blatter: "Mr. Blatter is a prudent man. He is not corrupt personally. I respect him". Opinions differ on Gaddafi's second statement....

Meanwhile, how did Libya do in the 2006 World Cup? Well, it did not qualify, but it did make it to the second round of the African qualifiers after beating São Tomé and Príncipe 9-0 on aggregate. However, it came fourth out of six in the group 3 stage, despite beating Sudan away, and both Benin and Egypt at home. And they have not made it into the African Nations cup for next year, although maybe the Brotherly Leader and Guide of the Revolution has no animus against Cameroonian Issa Hayatou and the Confederation of African Football.

There are plenty more pearls from Gaddafi on numerous other topics, should there be interest....

Note his rather alarming map of the world:



No British Isles, no New Zealand, no Japan, no Newfoundland, no Sri Lanka, a rather large island at the bottom of Hudson Bay, no Panama and hence no connection between the two Americas.....




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Consultants, even dafter than wonks?

How else could one publish a survey, which does not appear to be a joke, in which Jordan, yes Jordan, ranks as a more globalised economy than the United Kingdom and Australia. Apparently this is in part owed to it having "one of the highest levels of peacekeeping troop contributions of all U.N. member states".

Still more curiously, it has Jordan "finishing in the top 10 for the economic, social, and political components of the index". Now admittedly Jordan is not North Korea, Sudan or Zimbabwe, but fancy your chances of opening a shul in Amman, given that Jordanian land buying and nationality appears still to be barred to Jews?

For a further bucketful of cold water, over to Freedom House - Jordan rates as partly free, at five for political rights and 4 for civil liberties. We score 1/1. The Heritage Foundation's Index of Economic Freedom makes Jordan's "economy is 64 percent free, according to our 2007 assessment, which makes it the world's 53rd freest economy....Jordan is ranked 3rd out of 17 countries in the Middle East/North Africa region, and its overall score is higher than the regional average".

Meanwhile, Singapore, Honkers and the Netherlands make the top three, and bar the less than democratic rule of HK, that does not sound that wrong.

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Has the BBC finally worked out what 'liberal' means?

Monday, October 22, 2007
The first paragraph of a report on the Polish election win for Civic Platform:

"Poland's liberal opposition Civic Platform party has won a massive poll victory, ousting Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski's conservatives".

If I did not know better, I would be thinking, this is BAD news.

However, here are some extracts from Civic Platform's, erm, platform:

* flat tax (15% for personal income tax (PIT), corporate income tax (CIT) and VAT);
* privatization of the remaining public sectors of Polish economy;
* privatization of health care;
* decentralization through allocating a larger portion of the budget for local governments;
* direct elections of mayors and regional governors;
* higher education reform with equal rights for private and public universities;
* expanding the teaching of economics in secondary schools;
* halving the number of MPs in the Sejm from 460 to 230 and depriving them of parliamentary immunity from prosecution;
* first-past-the-post electoral system instead of proportional representation;
* labour law reform to reduce the power of trade unions;
* independence over monetary policy by the National Bank of Poland.

Good manifesto, isn't it? Lifted from the usual place. Try as I might, I can't see our own dear Lib Dems, the US Democrats, or any members of the soi disante Liberal International signing up for that set of policies.

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A late breaking contender for Frenchman of the year

Step forward Etienne Chouard, teacher of economics, law and IT, despite your nausea-inducing website.

The teacher is interviewed in Libération on the EU Constitution, and he does not mince his words. He frames it in terms that make British eurosceptics, maybe even British euronihilists sound quite mealy-mouthed:

L: The new EU treaty was adopted in Lisbon on Friday. Is the text similar to that [The French] rejected in 2005?

EC: It is not an amended version, it is the same thing and I will fight it. They have removed three (sic) insignificant details: the flag, the anthem, the reference to money and the word 'constitution', as if taking away the label removed the danger. And so they will impose on us by parliamentary terms that which we rejected in the referendum. For me it is a rape ('viol' can also be rendered as 'violation', but context makes the word I've chosen appropriate. C) A political rape is a cause for civil war. And the journalists who defend this have been cowed. They are not doing their jobs.

....

Chouard goes on to demand a referendum for five reasons: the confusion of executive powers with 'special legislative procedures', the loss of judicial independence, loss of monetary sovereignty, the automatic revision of the constitution without reference to the people, and that no organ of the EU is accountable for its acts.

And so to the pay-off:

L: Will opposition grew, especially on the internet, as it did in 2005?

EC: That depends on journalists. In 2005 there could be a debate because there was a referendum. But if your rulers decide to rape you, that is, to never ask your opinion, and to gag the victim, indeed one can no longer shout out.

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Elected judges NOW.

A sad tale from my neck of the woods: a 97 year old man was left blind in one eye following an unprovoked assault on a Croydon tram, the event being captured on CCTV. And what did the assailant get at Croydon Crown Court for GBH? A three year supervision order.

Not happy.

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Picking Hillary - do the Dems know what they are doing?

Hillary Clinton is the runaway favourite to get the nod from the Dems for their presidential nomination, but a Zogby poll makes her the most divisive of the candidates from both sides - 50% of those polled say that they would never vote for her, a four percentage point rise on the last Zogby poll. She is followed by Kucinich with 49% antipathy, and a preliminary search shows him to be very liberal (in the American sense...). The worst performance for any GOP candidate is Ron Paul, with 47% of pollees 'nevers'. Full disclosure time, Paul is my 'heart' candidate for the presidency.

Down at the other end of the scale, the American people can only muster 34% hostility to Bill Richardson (D), 35% for Huckabee (R) and 37% for Obama.

So, what of Richardson, that he has failed to generate much(-ish) hostility? The Cato Institute rate him "one of the most fiscally responsible Democratic governors", is very popular in New Mexico - "received the highest percentage of votes than in any gubernatorial election in the state's history".

On the social issue shibboleths, "Richardson is pro-choice, supports the death penalty and gun rights, and advocates affirmative action policies in government contracts. While he voted in favor of the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996, he has since supported LGBT rights in his career as governor; he added sexual orientation and gender identity to New Mexico's list of civil rights categories, and opposes the "don't ask, don't tell" policy".

He is currently the fifth favourite for the Democratic nomination at Betfair (95), and I think a trading bet of a fiver or so might be in order. Here is his campaign website. He looks a bit like a younger and lardier Melvin Bragg.

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Can we swap him for Alistair Darling, please?

The man in question being Mladjan Dinkic, Serbian Minister of Economy and Regional Development, newly crowned as IMF Finance Minister of the Year. Apparently he also has a rock band called Monetary Shock. Source

Here is an extract from his citation: "managed to stabilize...the Dinar, renew the banking system, turn the deficit found in the state budget in 2005 and 2006 into surplus and decrease the country’s debt making Serbia one of the least indebted countries in Europe. It is further written that Dinkic introduced order in the tax system, introduced VAT and decreased tax on profit of enterprises to the lowest level in Europe, increased public income and significantly [reduced the] grey economy. Dinkic has also merit in Serbia’s payment of debts to IMF and the World Bank before due time thus making Serbia no [longer] dependent on their financial support".

And furthermore, "[the] successful privatization of ‘Mobi 63’ and sale of the license for the third mobile operator contributed [to] Serbia attracting $4.4 billion Dollars of direct foreign investments in 2006, the highest in the region".

It is not known whether he wants to travel the world and work with children, but he sounds a better bet than Darling. Not that I would wish to inflict Darling on Belgrade, the place has suffered enough.

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Yet more Labour achievements

Last night I had half an eye on the repeat of the programme about the best and worst places to live in the UK, and while property porn is not my thing, the emergence of a pattern which the presenters did not mention made it a tad more interesting. See if you can spot it:

The Twenty Worst

Middlesborough - MPs - both Labour. Council - Labour
Hull - MPs - all Labour. Council - Liberal Democrat
Newham - MPs - all Labour. Council - Labour
Nottingham - MPs - all Labour. Council - Labour
Merthyr Tydfil - MP - Labour. Council - Labour
North East Lincolnshire (Grimsby) - MP - Labour. Council - Labour
Islington - MPs - both Labour. Council - Liberal Democrat (NOC)
Blaenau Gwent - MP - 'Independent' (re-badged Labour). Council - Labour
Mansfield - MPs - both Labour. Council - Independent
Knowsley - MPs - both Labour. Council - Labour
Blackpool - MPs - both Labour. Council - Conservative (2007 gain)
Hackney - MPs - both Labour. Council - Labour
Stoke - MPs - All Labour. Council - NOC (Labour)
Barking & Dagenham - MPs - both Labour. Council - Labour
Doncaster - MPs - All Labour. Council - Labour
Cannock Chase - MP - Labour. Council - NOC (Labour)
Manchester - MPs - All Labour. Council - Labour
Haringey - (Despite Justin Hinchcliffe's best efforts) - MPs - One Labour, one LD. Council - Labour
Burnley - MP - Labour. Council - NOC (LD)
Hartlepool - MP - Labour. Council - Labour

I was also following the 20 best areas, and a somewhat reversed pattern emerged. If the people insist, I will go through them line by line, but the only ones that leapt out at me as not being Tory were Edinburgh (#1), with 4/5 MPs Labour (1 LD) and an LD/SNP council, Winchester (#2), Lib Dem MP (bye bye Mr Oaten) and a Tory council, and East Dunbartonshire (1 Lab, 1 LD) and a Tory / LD minority council.

Getting one's ducks in a row....

Sunday, October 21, 2007
The EU's site has publishesd an extended whine / outbreak of special pleading interview with remarkably obscure French film director Cédric Klapisch, in which he rails against "American hegemony and the lack of circulation of European films" in a way that is too predictable and dull to be worthy of repetition. However, the juxtaposition of these two bits is quite amusing:

"It is tragic to see that Eastern Europe, for example, has lost its cinematography because film makers have simply fled to the US where the money is".

"Almodóvar helps me understand Spain, Fellini - Italy, Kusturica – countries of former Yugoslavia and Forman the Czech Republic".

Soo, Miloš Forman. The director who brought us, inter alia, 'One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest' and 'Amadeus'. A quick check of his biography shows the following, "During the invasion of his country by the troops of the Warsaw pact in the summer of 1968 to stop the Prague spring, he left Europe for the United States". Source. Not quite the same as following the money, is it?

Forman has not made a film in Czech since 1968, so I am quite intrigued as to how Klapisch is aided in his understanding by Forman's work. As a point of gratuitous pedantry, it could also be noted that Forman has never directed anything about the Czech Republic, only its predecessor in title, Czechoslovakia.

As a footnote, prior to the Versailles settlement, the good people of Bohemia and Moravia were referred to in English as 'Checks', rather than 'Czechs', and it is rather odd that we have used the Polish rendering for the thick end of a century

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A thousand years ago....

Or technically, three months ago, I blogged about this photo:


And noted "This touching photograph by Reuters shows Nicolas Sarkozy with Maud Fontenoy, who has just been a made a chevalier of the National Order of Merit. She would appear to be a French equivalent of Ellen McCarthur, in that she sails solo. I hope for France's sake she whines rather less though".

And what do I discover in today's Sunday Times?:

"He was seen frolicking in a Paris nightclub recently with friends, among them Maud Fontenoy, an attractive yachts-woman whom he presented with France’s highest award, the Légion d’Honneur, in July in recognition of exploits that included a solo circumnavigation of the Antarctic". The print edition includes a photo of La Fontenoy, noting: "[she] is just one of the glamorous women now being linked to Sarkozy"


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Back to the pavilion, Imran?

Saturday, October 20, 2007
Worldpublicopinion.org has polled urban Pakistanis on prospective presidents and the like, and I do wonder whether they have got to grips with this democracy malarkey:

Benazir Bhutto returning to Pakistan to stand for elections? (This was before she actually did)

Favour - 50%
Oppose - 34%

Nawaz Sharif returning to Pakistan to stand for elections?

Favour - 51%
Oppose - 35%

Benazir Bhutto becoming Prime Minister?

Favour - 40%
Oppose - 40%

However one feels about prospective presidents of Pakistan, it does seem rather sad that only 10% of those polled choose to differentiate between supporting Bhutto's right to stand and actually supporting her.

Meanwhile, support for would be contenders stands thus:

Pervez Musharraf - 21%
Benazir Bhutto - 27%
Nawaz Sharif - 21%
Iftikar Chaudhry - 3%
Shaukat Aziz - 2%
Imran Khan - 2% (Not exactly a captain's performance, eh?)
Other- 7%

None of the Pakistani parties are affiliated to what I am going to call the Conservative International, or more correctly the International Democrat Union, so there is no short cut to discovering who are the good guys and gals in Islamabad. Going through the list of Pakistani political parties, they seem to represent varying shades of ghastliness, although Musharraf's / Sharif's lot are described as centrist and Bhutto's lot as leftist.

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Petition o' the day - and it is a *corker*


"We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to Remove the Right for a Pregnant Woman to urinate in a Policemans helmet". I am NOT making this up.

I have gone for a preliminary web search and have not been able to find confirmation or otherwise of this law from a reputable source - just mentions on fora and, cough, blogs.

I do wonder quite why the petitioner feels quite so strongly about this topic - is he a serving plod who has suffered the exercise of this right, a career misogynist, or who knows what? Is it Professor of Applied Human Rights O'Flaherty? Jobbing actor O'Flaherty? Another O'Flaherty completely?

Meanwhile, everything one could want to know about variations of British police helmets can be found here. After reading that, no longer will one struggle to differentiate a 'cockscomb' from a 'Prussian' or a 'Ball Top'.

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Well just fancy that....

Friday, October 19, 2007
The following dry as dust announcement appears at Pravda Central:

"Statistical Press Notice: Patient Choice Survey Friday 19 Oct 2007

The following statistics were released today by the Department of Health:

Report on the National Patient Choice Survey May 2007 England and provisional headline results of the July 2007 survey".

I will admit to being something of a drop-forged cynic, and experience has also shown that the drier the announcement, the more certain it is that an announcement containing bad news is being sneaked out purely because there is an obligation of disclosure, with the hope being that no-one will bother digging deeper.

And, lo and behold, it is not news that Alan Johnson has made haste to associate himself with:

In May, the percentage of patients offered a choice of hospitals has fallen on the quarter, the percentage of patients offered a booklet on hospital choice has fallen, and those aware of choice prior to a GP appointment is effectively static.

The worst SHA areas for awareness etc etc are London, the South East Coast and the East of England. The best are the East Midlands and the North West - the only two where a majority were offered a choice. Bottom of the class for offering a choice was Brighton & Hove City Teaching Hospital - 18%, and the highest, East Lancs - 67%.

The provisional results f0r July show further falls. Tweaking the positioning of my cynical hat, I would imagine that having made all the noise about making patient choice, the government is less than keen on making it real, as press releases (and newspaper headlines) are easy wins, but making things happen is a good deal harder, given the culture of the NHS.

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Libération calls the UK 'the EU's enfant terrible'

In the context of reporting on the EU constitution, cough, 'reform' treaty.

The precise text is 'La Pologne, autre enfant terrible de l'UE', but that would have made for an unwieldy headline.

Although it notes Brown's claims that all of his red lines have been held, it also reports 'The text includes the main parts of the provisions of the Constitution, like the new voting mechanism, the creation of a post of a president of the European Council, the granting of powers to the spokesman for European diplomacy and the extension of qualified majority voting'.

So nothing we did not know already. I suppose I should be grateful that there has been no reference to 'Albion perfide'

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Polling in Afghanistan

The Globe & Mail, and sundry other Canadian media organisations have paid to have the unfortunate people of Afghanistan polled on the issues of the day, and the results are quite noteworthy. While polling in Helmand is unlikely to be as straightforward / accurate as polling in the Yukon or Ontario, there is a full breakdown of statistical method, and it deserves to be taken seriously. There is a heightened emphasis on Kandahar, as our Canadian friends are based there.

So, the Big One:

What do Afghans think about the multitude of foreign countries that have been present in their country over the past five years? Most believe this has been a positive presence. Six in ten (60%) Afghans say the foreign presence is a good thing for their country, compared with 16 percent who say it is a bad thing; another 22 percent are more ambivalent...Are the foreign countries doing a good job fighting the Taliban? Yes, say nearly two thirds (64%) of
Afghans, versus 17 percent who say a bad job (in Kandahar, 58% say a good job versus 27% who disagree.

So, pretty good, all things considered.

But not this: In terms of public awareness of the presence of foreign countries (covering all functions and roles), Canada ranks fourth after the United States (95%), Germany (63%), the U.K. (52%) and then Canada at 46 percent.

I think that is a bit raw given that the British are by far the second biggest contributor to NATO forces after the Americans.

And "Who, top of mind, is fighting the Taliban? Nationwide, it is almost exclusively the United States (89%) that is seen as playing this role. Few mention any other country, including Germany (4%) and, the U.K. (3%), with virtually no mention of Canada. Even in Kandahar (where our forces have lost 71 soldiers and counting), it is the U.S. who is seen as the military presence (90%), with only two percent naming Canada. This result is in sharp contrast to the perspective within Canada, where the public is painfully aware of our troop casualties, the highest proportion of any foreign country".

And the Taliban?

When asked, almost three quarters of Afghans nationwide have a very negative (53%) or somewhat negative (20%) opinion of the Taliban, compared with only 14 percent who hold a positive view.

And the more run of the mill questions?:

"A majority (51%) say their country is going in the right direction compared with 28 percent who say it is heading in the wrong direction...six in ten (60%) Afghans say they are personally better off today than they were in 2002...Seven in ten (71%) are very or somewhat positive in their general opinion of the Karzi government (versus 20% who are negative), and six in ten (59%) believe the Karzi government represents their interests as an Afghan".

So, it looks as though the work of NATO is appreciated, and the men on the ground are making a difference. What chance this poll being picked up by the UK media, I wonder?

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Balkan shenanigans....

Thursday, October 18, 2007
If I had to guess which post-Yugoslavia states were the least friendly, I would nominate Serbia and Croatia (after Serbia and Bosnia Herzegovina, naturally), what with the series of wars fought between the two, ending with the expulsion of some 200,000 Serbs from the Krajina and elsewhere at the culmination of Operation Storm. And that is before any consideration of the remarkably bad blood between Croatia and Serbia from the War and before.

Anyway, Serbia has just voted for Croatia to be a non-permanent member of the UN security council, as did all of the states in the region, apart, apparently, from Slovenia. And Croatia and Slovenia have seemed to be fairly chummy of late, and if this is pay back for a border dispute involving one house, it seems a tad excessive as a response.

The details on the Serb and Slovene votes are up at Hina.hr, but it is not possible to link to the individual stories.

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CWF Forthright Debate: The Future of the Union

I attended a Conservative Way Forward debate on the Union last night, addressed by David Mundell, our man in Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale & Tweeddale, Matthew Parris and Alun Cairns, our man for SW Wales in the Welsh Assembly.

Given the quality of the panel and the importance of the topic, I was a little disappointed that the turn out was 40-50 ish. Ben from 18 Doughty Street was there filming it, so I imagine it will be available for viewing ere long. Anyway, for those who cannot wait, the following is my attempt to craft a half way sensible narrative from my rough notes.

David Mundell

I am not the only Conservative in Scotland, but at present the only MP. However, Scotland is *not* a hopeless case for us. John Lamont took Roxburgh from the Liberal Democrats in the May Scottish elections, the Westminster seat having been Lib Dem for 40 years, and he did it in the traditional way by doorstop campaigning. While our position in Scotland is not as good as we might hope, the outlook is not bleak. The same holds true in local government, and it has to be conceded that we have been helped by the STV system - there are Tories on North Lanarkshire Council and on virtually all Scottish councils. (Having checked, there is a Tory, singular) Moreover, all Scots have the chance to vote for a Conservative. While we are not where we would want to be, we have 17 MSPs, including the Presiding Officer (speaker).

Interruption from Jonathan Isaby : 'He's an old Etonian'. To which Mundell rebutted, 'it shows how inclusive the Scots Tories are...'

So, the Union. We want it to continue, but it has to evolve. It is now 300 years old, but with the anniversary's marking so muted, one would scarcely have realised. Gordon Brown announced a £2 commmemorative coin that cost £14 to buy... It is important to have a greater understanding of the Union, as it has brought stability and prosperity on both sides of the border . While the Scots know the difference between 'Scottish' and 'British', the English are less able to split 'English' from 'British'. The reality in Scotland is not as it is sometimes seen in London - there is 25% support for independence, a figure that has been much the same for 25 years. While there is a desire for greater independence, there is little sign of a greater desire for separation. The Scottish Parliament is comparatively popular, but the Lib/Lab coalition that ran it until May was a lowest common denomination coalition, and Labour in London effectively had a veto. The prospective 'New Age of Enlightenment' did not come about, and while things have not gone sour, they have gone stale, and that disenchantment manifested itself in May. It was a vote for change, and as the largest opposition party the SNP benefited, with this not a vote for independence.

Salmond has 47 of the 129 seats, and cannot legislate without the support of other parties, still less push for independence. However, he has promoted 'The Big Conversation', which 'consults' on the constitution and the like, and he has threatened to take this to England. Salmond has proved adept at stirring up mischief between London and Edinburgh, and no process for dealing with differential government was in place as an old pals act between Dewar / McConnell in Edinburgh and Blair in London kept things ticking over. Similar factors were at work in Wales between Alun Michael / Rhodri Morgan and Blair. Salmond has proved expert at grandstanding, and characterises the United Kingdom as doing down Scotland, as evidenced by the spat over the Libyan in jail over the Lockerbie bombing. There are other buttons that Salmond can press, and he is on the look out for issues to stir on (Note my post about nuclear energy the other day. C) The problem is the lack of understanding of the devolved settlement, and this gives the oxygen for these difficulties to be expanded upon.

However, these give us opportunities: the 17 of us, plus the SNP and the Greens gives a majority and the challenge is to use that positively. The SNP is not as left (or as prolier than though) as it is often painted, note the shares in Scottish Energy that had to be put in a blind trust... We are working with the SNP where we can promote conservative (small 'c') policies. Salmond is seeking to manipulate English nationalism, and that is perhaps the greatest threat to the Union. Consider the claim that Scotland is cutting class sizes to 18 - this was rubbished in Scotland but treated as fact in London. Likewise, the talk of free personal care for the old - there are court cases and waiting lists. Scotland is not a land of milk and honey. Salmond uses these matters to advance himself and to stoke resentment in England. The Union is more, much more than pounds, shillings and pence and there are links between Scotland and England that go way beyond the financial. The financial issues have ebbed and flowed over 300 years, and a pound less spent in Scotland does not equal a pound more spent in England. Differentials between parts of England are greater than between England and Scotland, and any needs-based post Barnett set up would see more spent on health in Scotland. Britain is greater than just England and Scotland, and is much, much greater than the sum of its parts.

Matthew Parris

(I had the opportunity to speak with Mr Parris prior to his address, and he is a man of immense charm and a rich source of anecdotes. A friend from university was his research assistant, and it was encouraging that the man I knew by proxy was the same in the flesh).

What David says is true, we will do better in Scotland, we will win more seats, but Tory policy to devolution is not seaworthy. It can be compared to the stance of the Partido Popular in Spain to Catalan separatism. It has accepted regional devolution in as far as it goes, in a reactive way, and in common with us, talks of a stance that evolves. However, maybe we need a revolutionary approach. The PP is associated with Madrid, Castille and the 'centre', and it has shrivelled in Catalonia (having checked, the PP has 14 seats out of 135 in Barcelona, and took 11% of the vote). The PP is seen as representing 'Spain' and the Left Catalonia. We are at risk of making the same mistake, as the Conservatives are seen in the same way in Scotland. I think that we need to move more towards a federation, and to quote that great conservative Lampedusa, "If you want things to stay as they are, things will have to change" (or in the original, and why not?, Se tutto deve rimanere com'è, è necessario che tutto cambi" C).

We could outflank Labour by going along with regionality, with a shared but separate identity. While opportunistic, this is also a real political philosophy. Can we do business with the SNP? If we yield to them they have the opportunity to become Scotland's right wing party. (The SNP was formed by the merger of the Scottish Party, which was right-ish, and the National Party of Scotland, which was left-ish. C)

A split, perhaps deliberately engineered, between the Scottish Tories and the Tories in the rest of the country would best serve Conservatism in Scotland (What I would call the Germany / Bavaria model. C), as otherwise English nationalism could be the accomplice of Scottish nationalism. A Scottish and rest of the UK Conservative parties could be good for both, and there are plenty of areas where a Scottish Conservative party could act alone an in the interests of Scotland rather than the UK, so the final question is whether the Conservatives can successfully pursue an approach between what we have now and prospective Scottish independence.

Alun Cairns

Why did the Welsh Conservatives fare so badly, and why are things now improving? We were wiped out in '97, and we were seen as an English party in Wales, and /that/ footage of Redwood has been replayed ad nauseam. (According to his biography, Mr Cairns is fluent in Welsh, and he certainly sounds very Cambrian. C).

At the time of the Assembly referendum, the Conservatives were the only party to oppose it. The plebiscite was nearly lost by pro-assembly forces - there were just 6000 votes in it. (From memory, only a quarter of the Welsh electorate voted for an assembly. C) As Hague puts it, 'Good generals do not fight yesterday's battles', and we have to accept the settlement. While I am not personally in favour of the Assembly or PR, they have served us well in Wales, and the Welsh Conservatives have accepted them.

Under Alan Michaels' administration, only the Tories were opposing leftism, and this underlined our apparent lack of Welshness. Faced with the first Assembly elections, we opted for a 'preferendum' in out platform, with this compromise allowing us to be united and thus to present policies on day to day issues, and not get caught up on policy towards devolution and independence. Our comparative success since then has been due to that settlement. David Davies (Monmouth, not Haltemprice. C) would have liked to have had a referendum, but now accepts the settlement. While we could abolition of the Assembly central to our platform, instead we have opted to give the Left the necessary rope. We are campaigning positively, scrutinising, pressing etc and believe that we can squeeze Plaid Cymru. PC is small 'c' conservative in West Wales, but leftish in the Valleys. We are attracting the small 'c' PC voters, and pushing PC into being a left wing party, by being alone in offering conservative policies.

Labour is worried about the logic that Wales should, post-Assembly have fewer MPs, as it gains from over-representation in Wales. A re-balancing (as in Scotland. C) would strengthen the union. For Wales to accept that quid pro quo suggests that it has confidence in itself. Devolution needs the Tories as we are alone in offering opposition to the three left wing parties, and we can either lead, or follow the debate. Nick Bourne (Tory leader in the Assembly. C) has suggested a move to Edinburgh-style powers, and he has been able to show that we are serious, that our arguments are relevant and we are (again) seen as Welsh.

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What is it with Portsmouth?

The Home Office has been helpful enough to release statistics on arrests, banning order and the like by football club for last year, and comparing those with average attendance gives the rogues' list of clubs with the worst records.

And as the headline has rather given away, it is Portsmouth that has the worst fans, so to speak - 110 banning orders last year, or 0.56% of its average gate of 19,257. Middlesborough follows with 0.31%, Wigan with 0.22% and Chelsea at 0.19%. And there was I thinking that Chelsea fans were all prawn sandwich eaters. And which clubs have the best behaved fans? Fulham (0.03%) and Arsenal (0.07). Note for Dizzy - Everton's score is 0.11%, and for Iain Dale - WHU's is 0.12%

Further digging in the lower leagues makes it appear that Millwall lives up to its grim reputation, with 104 banning orders, giving 1.3% of its average gate of 8,132.

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'The squalid raffle' to spread its wings?

Wednesday, October 17, 2007
The European Commission has decided to give our neighbours on the other side of the Irish Sea a hard time as its nationals are banned from "tak[ing] part in lotteries run in other countries. The Commission disputes the classification of UK premium bonds as a lottery".

I think that Harold's term is the more amusing, but I also offer up the less well known description of them by the then Archbishop of Canterbury, "a cold, solitary, mechanical, uncompanionable, inhuman activity".

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Is Brown living in the past?

Watching PMQs, he has referred to the 'Liberal party' and 'Liberals' six times in a row. It is worth noting that the Liberal Party we knew and loved morphed into the Liberal Democrats when it merged with the SDP in 1988. There is a continuity 'Liberal' party that regularly loses its deposit in elections, and it seems odd that Vincent Cable did not see fit to correct him on nomenclature.

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Is Sarkozy ready to 'do' a Thatcher?

I think we all know that French trade unions regularly get away with murder, and the public 'sector has it pretty sweet on the other side of the Ditch. A particular 'highlight' is the special retirement regime for TGV train drivers, inter alia, which allows them to retire at 50 with a spectacular package of benefits.

Anyway, Sarko is intent on doing something about this, as he committed himself to do, and SNCF, RATP etc employees are striking tomorrow. So far, so very far from out of the ordinary. What is interesting is the reaction of the French public, judging from this poll in Le Figaro:

'Do you think that the government's reforms are going in the right direction?' 57% yes, 32% no. Even among leftists, the split is a comparatively balanced 41%/49%.

'Do you think the strikes are justified?' 43% yes, 55% no. 76% of right wing sympathisers think not, 67% of Leftists do.

And perhaps the most telling:

'Do you think the strikers are motivated by defence of broad social interests, or those of special interests?' Even the Left can only muster 42% in agreement with the former, and - bizarrely - 19% on the Right, while the latter reason attracts 47% of the Left, and 69% of the Right.


Come on Sarko, tough it out. Your country needs you too.

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Petition o' the day

Tuesday, October 16, 2007
And this one is typical of the reasoned, well thought out submissions that I have come to expect:


"We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to Work with progressive partities (sic) and orgnisations (sic) to introduce a European Union Minimum Wage".

And what is the petitioner's proposed level? €5 per hour.

Bulgaria, I believe, takes the prize for the lowest income per head in the EU, and a bit of sniffing around has thrown up these figures:

"In 2004 the average yearly salary (gross) is 3618 BGL (about 1810 EUR). According Lyuben Tomev, Director of the Institute for Social and Syndicate Surveys, about 66% of the households in Bulgaria live on an income of 165 leva (about EUR 83) per capita".

So, that equates to just under €35 a week. So the apparently fortunate Bulgars would only need to work seven hours at the minimum wage per week in order to reach that level. Not that that would actually happen. What would happen is that the Bulgarian economy would collapse because of the dramatic increase in the cost of labour, and Bulgarians would make haste to a country where the cost and the reward of labour were rather less out of kilter.

As if this was not quite 'progressive' enough, the petitioner reckons "It [would] also [be] an important first step in the introduction of a global minimum wage". Must be marvellous to be 'progressive'.

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Some important research from Canada

Those good people at the Globe & Mail have been evaluating Canadian universities according to various criteria, and rather amusingly have rated them for 'on-campus pubs and bars'.

Of large institutions, Université Laval scores the highest with a rather impressive A-, whereas McGill (of which I have actually heard) rates a C. Laval is the alma mater of Conrad Black and Jean Chrétien, and McGill that of Zbigniew Brzezinski

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Minding one's P's and Q's

Just how is one to address Elizabeth Butler-Sloss, the unfortunate woman presiding over the idiotic waste of money that is the Diana inquest? (She was not wearing a seat belt, her car crashed and she died. End of)

Anyway, this has been vexing Sir Thomas Bingham, so he has put out a practice note:

"Since 1988, the Court of Appeal has enjoyed the great benefit of including among its members Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss. Formally, she has been a Lord Justice of Appeal and is required to be so styled by s 2(3) of the Supreme Court Act 1981 unless and until that section can be amended. But she has, when sitting in court, been addressed as 'My Lady', as she was when sitting as a puisne judge, and as other female puisne judges are addressed. This has led counsel, when referring to her in court, to adopt the usage 'My Lady, Lord Justice Butler-Sloss'.

This usage is plainly absurd. Nothing can for the time being be done to alter the formal position, but for informal purposes it is desirable that reference should be made to Lady Justice Butler-Sloss, so that she will be referred to in court as 'My Lady, Lady Justice Butler-Sloss'.

This change was the support of Lady Justice Butler-Sloss, and also of the Lord Chancellor. No offence will be taken if counsel or solicitors slip into the old usage; but it would be regarded as a courtesy if the new were adopted".


Thanks for clearing that one up.

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Poor old Ming

The man is only 66, which hardly makes him Methuselah. As a point of comparison, Michael Howard was 64 when he stood down in 2005, and Ken Clarke is just a year older. Brown is 56.

While Campbell does look older than his years, does this tell us that no-one can hope to lead a party if he or she has the combination of grey and thinning hair?

Note that if it now becomes open season on under-performing party leaders, Darling's appearances at the dispatch box make it horribly obvious that he is combing his hair in such a way as to disguise baldness creeping on from the back.

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What more do they want from him? Blood?

Monday, October 15, 2007
A French opinion poll shows that Sarkozy's approval rating among supporters of his party stands at 98%, down a point on the month.

If anyone can dig up Blair's approval rating among Labour supporters in 1997 I would be profoundly grateful, as I have failed to turn it up.

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Great marketing moves of our time

Lurking in my spam folder was an e-mail from the 'Islamic Lottery Board' - insert your own joke here - promising me a prize of $500,000 in return for a scan of my passport and an administration fee of a mere $320.

Now Crockfords and sundry others might be in trouble if the Arabian Knights abandoned them, but gambling is deeply, deeply banned under sharia law....

Isn't 56 a bit old for primary school?

I would think so, but it would appear that the Lord Protector is still finding time to fit in finger painting at Kirkcaldy West Primary School along with robbing the nation blind:

"When I was at school, one child in the class was very fat and it was a problem for them. Now there are four or five in the class and it's a big problem for them." Source

I am sure said weans are delighted to have been outed by the ever so trim and jowl-less PM.

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Not such good news for the euro

Eurostat has been surveying those countries with the euro, and even the thick end of six years after its physical introduction, euroman and woman seems to be getting awfully confused by the coins. A rather poor 36% of them claim never to have to turn a coin to check on its value, whereas 8% have to do so on every occasion.

Here are the universal sides:


Not a thing of great beauty in my reckoning, although I am strongly in favour of coins and banknotes with maps on them.

The survey also noted the ability of users to detect euro coins with fake national sides, coins from other countries etc etc and while I would not expect the average Gaul or Spaniard to have seen that many Slovene euros, nevertheless it is pretty odd that only 48% of Portuguese could recognise a Spanish 50 cent coin, and frankly jaw dropping that only a little more than two-thirds of Spaniards could recognise their own coin. Anyone who fancies passing off fake euro coins would fare best in the Republic of Ireland and Italy - 27% spotted a fake. The Belgians came top with 56%, which is hardly impressive either.

If the purpose of the survey was to act as a trojan horse for scrapping national sides to euro coins (cynical? Me?) , the commissars found little support for it among those polled - 9%. The Luxembourgers are keenest on national sides - 82% deem it a good thing, while 31% of Italians do. What I found surprising, although I suspect there was a degree of giving the 'right' answer going on, is that the number one reason for supporting national euro coins was "that it is an expression of cultural diversity in Europe", at 65% to the 30% seeing it as a national symbol. 28% must be numismatists, judging that "more variety makes coins more interesting".

Meanwhile, hidden deep in the report is data on support for the euro overall - the Euro area average is 68%, with the peak 87% in the Republic of Ireland. Germany musters 66% support, Italy and Spain 64% and top / bottom of the class are the Hellenes at 49%.

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Hubris redefined

Consider this - you are a successful rock band, if not quite as big as you were a few years back. The conventional activities of recording, playing live, haranguing politicians (can you guess who it is yet?) and so forth are getting a bit stale, so what could be more rock and roll than getting into property development, and giving Dublin (getting warmer?...), and moreover the Republic, apparently - its first skyscraper.

"As well as the band's recording studio, the inspirational building will include a public viewing platform at 100 metres, a public amenity area at the base, hotel, retail and residential accommodation including 20% social and affordable housing".

The U2 Tower, for that is what it will be called, is to be designed by Norman Foster. I do wonder how often they will actually us the recording studio, and whether there are enough obsessive fans who will wish to pay to lurk a few floors short of their heroes. For what it is worth, the lead singer appears to have his main residence in the Dublin stockbroker belt (very R 'n' R), but otherwise flits between NYC and the South of France.

I am sure the business plan and the extent of the band's actual involvement in the consortium would make for fascinating reading, but as Homer Simpson put it, "
Rock stars ... is there anything they don't know?"

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They do things differently in....Florida

Saturday, October 13, 2007
Election slogans tend towards the dry, dull even, in these parts, but 76 year old Jose ''Pepe'' Caragol has decided to liven up the election for Hialeah City Council with this slogan:

"Si te gusta el sexo oral, vote por Caragol por consejal".

'Gusta' means like, and 'conseja', council....

He is not, however, promising more of it, either given or received.

One of his opponents is unimpressed: "Mercy Dominguez, his opponent for the Group 2 seat on the council...said that as a mother and a woman she finds the phrase offensive". Not sure that that I can see a connection with the latter, frankly.

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Great excuses for not serving one's country

Actor Shah Rukh Khan is not tempted to enter Indian politics because he reckons he is "too selfish, too materialistic and capitalistic kind of a person to join politics. Second, I am too good looking". Source

Good job our pols rarely allow the latter consideration to get in the way.

(Cue obligatory recitation of 'Politics is show business for ugly people')

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*Not* such a good idea

Friday, October 12, 2007
The E65 nuclear recoilless rifle with a projectile that once detonated leaves the rifle's crew irradiated...


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Carry one of these, and Ian Blair thinks you should be off to the Big House


The Met's site has a report of a generally sensible speech by Ian Blair, much of which deals with the fettering of the police's discretion by legislation and the mountains of paperwork required for even minor offences.

However, towards the end he comes up with this piece of silliness:

"I repeat that I am not asking that everyone who carries a knife goes to prison. I also know that there must be exceptions, such as foreign travellers transiting Heathrow, but what I want to see is that everyone who carries a knife or other offensive weapon on the streets of London knows they are at risk of going to prison because they will be appearing in front of magistrates, rather than being cautioned".

Granted, I have chosen the smallest Swiss Army knife I could find, and moreover one in electric pink, the price for which includes a donation to the Breast Cancer Campaign, but lumping all knives together - including kitchen knives, presumably is just silly. What am I bid for bored Plod intent on bumping up their arrest rates hanging around the kitchen department of Peter Jones that they might nick table knife (1) buyers once they exit to the King's Road? My point is that there are perfectly legitimate reasons for carrying knives, and the mens rea of an 'offender' has to play a role in this crime as it does with other crimes, along with the act itself. Returning to one of my favourite hobby horses, there are an awful lot of outwardly innocuous objects that lend themselves to becoming makeshift weapons - fancy having a snapped CD drawn across one's throat?

(1) While at conference I had the opportunity to see the contents of the confiscated / abandoned / forgotten case at the metal detection unit, and there were a couple of table knives there - presumably belonging to a couple intent on having a civilised picnic lunch somewhere within the confines of the Winter Gardens.

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