No internet browsing this weekend. I'm doing a different type of surfing in Croyde, North Devon. The weather forecast looks atrocious and this is my first experience, so it should be fun. I've also thrown the keys to this website to another politico, so keep checking in... It could be fun.
31 August 2006
Croydonian alerted me to a terrible article in the Grauniad. I don't like doing long pieces but this article was full of c*** so I had to nitpick.
Blinded by the cold war - Neil Clark Tuesday August 29, 2006 The Guardian
We can no longer deny the link between the eastern Europe exodus and economic 'reform'
Who's we? Is Mr Clark a xenophobe?
As the entry of Bulgaria and Romania into the European Union edges closer, condescension towards eastern Europeans and their countries of origin grows into a crescendo.
Condescension growing into a crescendo!?!!!
The double standards could not be more glaring.
Both Bulgaria and Romania are routinely portrayed as backward, mafia-ridden hell-holes that will infect the rest of the continent come January 1. But is the political system in either country so much more corrupt than in Berlusconi-tainted Italy or cash-for-honours Britain?
You ask the questions... Independent research in this field says the answer is yes and yes. Romania is placed 85th just behind Rwanda and Lebanon who are tied in 83rd. UK is 11th. By the way, whilst I agree it stinks, nobody has been convicted of selling honours in Britain. Neil should be careful throwing such charges about.
We can also witness this unappealing chauvinism in the way eastern European migration is covered in the tabloid press.
Ahh... so you've answered your own question differently. Any basis for that?
Eastern Europeans are castigated for flooding into Britain,
Never heard of that at all! This isn't the experience of new EU migrants. What are you talking about?
yet very few people stop to ask why so many people (427,000 have left for Britain since 2004) are leaving the region
No I think that does happen. Are you just making this up? Also, that figure is very specific. It's also low.
where they grew up and have friends and family.
very emotive, but they are hardly cutting all ties with home.
On the rare occasions they do, the "pernicious legacy" of 40 years of communism is usually held responsible.
This is the main reason that they are poorer in general. It might be useful to compare East and West Germany in the post-war period if Neil remains unsure.
But communist rule ended more than 16 years ago - can it really still be blamed for the problems of today?
Anyone over 30 grew up under Communism. It's hardly ancient history. Western employers often comment that they can't employ anyone over 35 because of their old mindset.
What the people of the region are in fact escaping from are the consequences of the neoliberal economic policies of the early 90s, which led to what economist Laszlo Andor has called "Europe's great depression", the biggest economic slump in the continent since the 30s.
Most of these countries are pursuing much more "neoliberal" policies now than in the early 90s.
Away from the glitzy, globalised centres of Budapest, Prague and Warsaw, millions face poverty and hardship in the former communist bloc. GDP in the region fell between 20% and 40% in the decade after 1989,
Factually incorrect and poor, poor, poor analysis. Does this man not "get" the concept of hidden unemployment/wasteful production and how that artificially boosted GDP pre 1989? End of communism leads to price liberalisation leads to reduction in wasteful output leads to short-term (recorded) GDP falls. By 1993 the initial (inevitable) GDP dips had ended and signs of strong growth were seen in all countries which had taken reform seriously.
and, while a minority have seen real wages rise since the millennium, for the majority the "transition" process has witnessed a spectacular fall in living standards and a massive rise in unemployment and inequality.
Balderdash. I could do a whole separate piece on this.
Western politicians laud the countries of "new" Europe for their "dynamic, flat-rate tax" economies, but deny there is any link between the economic reforms and the massive exodus.
Certain right-wingers do laud these policies. More typical is the ex-German Chancellor, Gerhard Schroeder, who accused Slovakia of unfair competition for "dumping" tax rates.
The condescension shown towards eastern European migrants is, in many ways, the real, lasting legacy of the cold war.
If that's it, then I suppose we'll live with it.
It is essential for western neoliberals to deny any achievements of the system that half of Europe lived under: hence the vogue for equating the 40 years of postwar eastern European socialism with the horrors of Nazi Germany.
It needn't - and shouldn't - have happened like this. Had the eastern countries not thrown out the baby with the bathwater in the early 90s by adopting the massively deflationary IMF/EU prescription, their economies would now be in better shape and much of the current wave of migration could have been avoided.
And it could have been avoided if they still shot people at the border. NB - the above analysis is also rubbish.
The large-scale labour exodus we are witnessing may benefit the CBI and western multinationals but certainly not most western workers, who are seeing their wage rates depressed.
Hang on, stop being so condescending.
But the biggest losers are the eastern countries, deprived of so many young, talented and productive people.
So whose fault is it again - the IMF, the EU, the migrants, us?
The irony is that far from being backward, eastern Europe, thanks to the residual effects of 40 years of socialism,
I think you mean Communism - you know food queues, secret police, shooting of dissidents.
still puts much of western Europe (particularly Britain) to shame when it comes to the quality of its education, public transport and healthcare. Children of the former socialist countries regularly come top of European studies of comparative education systems: in the latest International Maths Organisation competition, Bulgaria finished fifth, Hungary seventh and Romania 10th.
The people of the east have been bombarded by more than 15 years of relentless propaganda extolling the need for further "reforms" and "modernisation".
And then voted for those reforms!
The view that "west is best" and "there is no alternative", encouraged by political leaders with one eye on an EU commissioner's job or World Bank posting, has proved disastrous.
I think that most Eastern European politicians have one eye on their bank balance, but sure, hypothesise away.
In Britain we are told ad infinitum that "our way" is the best and the east irredeemably backward. Why, then, do we need to import railway engineers from Romania?
I remember meeting a Brit rail expert in Sofia in Bulgaria. Cuts both ways.
Why, if our dental system is so superb, are we flying out to use the services of Hungarian dentists?
Who said our system was superb? We don't train enough dentists. Cost of living in London is very high so of course people may go abroad for cheaper treatment.
And why are English teacher-training establishments showing videos of Hungarian maths classes?
I don't know either. Sounds like a strange thing to do.
The east-west divide and the xenophobia that accompanies it (sorry I just don't see this xenophobia) will only end when there is a more honest, balanced appraisal of the legacy of communism and an acknowledgment that despite the lack of political freedoms there were also solid achievements.
Look, there are simply big cultural and economic differences that will not be bridged even in the medium-term. His solution (acknowledgement that ...blah blah) is bilge. Can the correspondent also explain when and how the North-South divide in England will end?
At the same time, we need to recognise that the economic "reform" process has created far more problems than it has solved.
So back to Communism then?
Global capital and its political spokes-people will of course do all they can to ensure that neither happens.
Sense may also prevail.
30 August 2006
I rate Rikki Clarke as a poor county player. I think the stats bear me out. Why oh why is he being picked for England? I despair of our ODI selections. Strauss and before him, Vaughan and Hussain can not score quickly enough for International limited overs. Why can't we use players like Darren Maddy, (top scorer in 20/20) who I saw take Australia apart on their first match of the last Ashes tour? Bowlers who can neither strike nor contain should not be picked. What is the matter with the selectors?
29 August 2006
I'm damned busy with paid work at the moment, so I decided to write a list setting a flavour of what I want to blog about next. Please feel free to make comments/suggestions;
Judgement Day - Reid's First 100 Days
My Bottom 5 Labour Blogs - who's poor and why.
The Constituency System - Why PR Doesn't Work for me.
Land Value Tax - A Great Idea
How To Reduce Car Crime
Too Many Building Regs
Fascists In Slovakia - tensions with Hungary
Life In A Border Town - a report from the EU's Ukrainian border
Blogger Anonymity - the pros and cons
Estonia & Latvia - The Right Way (bit of research needed for this one - it's about how these are the only two ex-Commie countries to consistently vote right)
27 August 2006
5 Things Not To Do
1. Don't smile too much or suggest that you are happy or content
For example, to answer the question "Jak se mas?" (How are you?) the best answer is inevitably "Ujde to" which is equivalent to "considering how terrible everything is I suppose I'm surviving". If you do come across too happy, at best Czechs will think you are stupid, at worst they will hate you and choose every opportunity to wipe that smile off you silly Western face.
2. Don't get familiar immediately
Czechs don't expect personal questions immediately and take a while to warm up. Keep your powder dry.
3. When you receive a fresh pint, don't top up from your other glass
By all means drink from a chipped glass, but don't spoil your fresh pint with an old one. Also, don't leave any beer behind. Sacrilege.
4. Don't talk about how things are done in the West or elsewhere
At that moment the majority of Czechs will stop listening.
5. Don't indicate your real wealth unless you are very poor
I met a rather rich Serb who had this one figured out perfectly. He lived outside of Prague (probably in a mansion) suggesting to all who would listen that he couldn't afford to live in the city. If your flat is luxurious, lie by saying that it's paid by the company/you got it at a discount through a friend.
5 Things To Do
1. Speak freely
You can say what you like. You're in a non-PC world. You won't be litigated against, you won't be ostracised, you're free.
2. Get out of Prague
There are beautiful places to see outside of Prague (Telc, Cesky Krumlov, Karlovy Vary). I particularly recommend the Karlovy Vary Film Festival held in the first week of July each year.
3. Learn a bit of Czech language and history
Handy, for pubs, restaurants, taxis and a bit of off-the-cuff humour.
4. Be bossy
Czechs sort of expect it from Westerners so you might as well. I have found it has good results with taxi-drivers, colleagues, gfs etc.
5. Be wary on public transport.
There are some good pickpockets out there and some of them are dressed as tourists!!!
Bonus for men
Make the first move.
Don't be a loser. Most Czech women aren't going to jump you no matter how sexy you are! You've got to make the moves.
Any comments or ideas?
26 August 2006
Everyone can have an off day. When the normally delightful Cherie Blair got doorstepped in her pyjamas , looking like she'd been pulled backwards through a hedge Labour's response was to spend £7,700 of Party funds on her hair. God knows how much they'll be budgeting this time based on the latest less-than-flattering photos over at Guido's blog.
Czech women are famed for their beauty so you'd imagine that top politicians have the pick of the crop. Allow me to introduce you to the delectable Zuzana Paroubkova wife of leading Socialist Jiri Paroubek (Czech PM 2005-2006). Zuzana is known for her unswerving support for her husband and unlike Cherie has little interest in using her position. Earlier this year Zuzana caused a bit of a to-do with her statement that women don’t belong in politics (’ženy do politiky nepatří’). Her reason was that women have too many other concerns in their lives and they could not be sufficiently impartial! I'm finding this hard to write, but I've probably got a bit more respect for Cherie than Zuzana.
Meanwhile, back in the UK, Labour bloggers such as Adele Reynolds and Bob Piper have been trying to monster James Cleverly for the following fairly uncontroversial and more pertinently, probably empirically true remark - "I am not convinced women, especially mothers, are as willing as men to put their families into second place to fight an election."
Anyway, over to you.
Darrell Hair must have a strong case for breach of privacy following the actions of the ICC in revealing private mails. His offer to resign for compensation doesn't look good from a PR perspective, but was a fairly reasonable course of action. In the aftermath of the controversy surrounding the first Test match to be forfeited in 129 years of Test cricket, Darrell Hair has been completely left hung out to dry by ICC chief Malcolm Speed. I'm very interested to get the timeline on these events, because it is reported that Hair withdrew his offer two days after it was first made. Speed made these mails public and accused Hair of "embarassing the game" but if he revealed these private mails after the revocation, there was no need to reveal them and it is Speed who is embarassing the game. Regardless of whether the revocation was received before the press conference, these private mails should have remained private. They were revealed because they might have been leaked. On those ground nothing should ever remain private. This is politicking and right now I am very disturbed with the ICC's actions. Where's the sense of fair play?
25 August 2006
The action taken about the near fatal stabbing (attempted murder) of Peter Woodhams in January was clearly inadequate. He is now dead - shot multiple times on Monday - with suspects from the first stabbing suspects for the murder. Speaking at a press conference at Forest Gate Police Station, Commander Jarman said: "During our murder investigation we became aware of a stabbing that took place involving the victim in January...". Is this policeman slow or something? I remember it in the press at the time.
An apology is not enough. Londoners do not have the police force they deserve. Ian Blair's mob have failed to stem rises in serious crime from already unacceptable levels.
Do you get the feeling that if Peter Woodhams was a different type of victim he would have been accorded a better response from the police? I do. Once again (as with the Tom Ap Rhys case), failure by the police to crack down on low level crime has emboldened criminals and allowed more serious crime to pass.
In the aftermath of the Czech election debacle Mirek Topolanek's ODS has proposed election reform and succeeded in losing the support of smaller but moderate parties. His government is now effectively propped up by the "support" of Communists. As I have said elsewhere, what is needed is another election soon/now but that should have happened weeks ago. There is open speculation that Topolanek is likely to be the shortest-serving PM in Czech history.
24 August 2006
"OUR party seeks to cherish freedom, advance opportunity and nurture responsibility."
So that's the vision as set out by Cameron last week in the document "Built to Last" here's a specific proposal...
One of the most irritating things about the UK "system" is "pay as you go" pensions. In the years when I am tax resident there, I pay tens of thousands to the government in tax. In fact, I fully expect to pay over a million in tax into the system over my working life. Despite these painful outgoings, the government tells me that I can not rely on the State to look after me when I retire. Not only that but should I have provided for my future, my income is likely to be means-tested and I will have to sell assets to pay for care services. So just to go over things again, the more you put in the less you get out. With a mixture of extra taxation and additional regulation on pension funds, New Labour has almost succeeded in abolishing saving. Coupled with cheap credit, this lower propensity to save has led to a consumer spending splurge with short term benefits for the economy. Be warned that this won't continue.
The bad news keeps coming re the state pension as the start date goes up (68 is the latest edict) and the commitment to link the benefit to wages keeps getting pushed back to the less than foreseeable future (2012 is the latest false promise).
I propose a much fairer system whereby from the first three thousand pounds that you pay in income tax/NI each year is ringfenced in a "Personal Social Fund" which is maintained by the state. If you fall short of the maximum in one year you can top the fund up in future years and you can choose how the fund is invested (i.e. bonds or shares or mixture of the two). A feature of this fund is that you can decide when to purchase the annuity from your fund. The state doesn't decide when you retire, you do. It's called personal responsibility - it's not a Labour concept.
I would also use the Personal Social Fund to solve a massive problem - unpaid fines and governmental waste. For example in 2004-05, magistrates’ courts imposed financial penalties totalling £352 million; fines totalling £222 million were collected and £75 million cancelled. People receiving fines could select/be obliged to pay from their social fund. The same could apply for the cost of the following
- missed doctors appointments
- wasting police time (e.g. resisting arrest)
- damage done by you or your dependents
Used in this way, the Personal Social Fund would lead to individuals being far more accountable for their actions.
Let me know what you think? Any comments gratefully received.
PS - I've deleted the last post because the graphic was too big and I'm not very tecnically able.
22 August 2006
Earlier this month Iain Dale took on the thorny topic of Immigration. Obviously the post generated a lot of heat and comment, but happily the debate turned to actual policy. I commented that;
"... THE KEY QUESTION IS OUR POLICY RESPONSE TO EU 2008 EXPANSION. Bulgaria is about twice as poor as Poland and Romania twice as poor again. Taking a similar approach (to 2004) in 2008 when these two countries join will be a disaster. This is a key upcoming issue and the policy response has not been set in stone. The Tories should not (and I hope will not) allow free migration from these states."
I'm glad to see the Tories have set out a clear policy in this regard. It is very timely.
Further Relevant Info
1. Given that unemployment has been rising for over a year in the UK another large open door is not what is required in the UK national interest.
2. Most estimates place earnings in Romania at about £100 per month. If you assume a 40 hour working week the average hourly rate is about 15% of the UK's minimum wage so they will come to the UK in droves.
3. The semi-official numbers re Poles/other new EU migrants are palpably wrong. They are based on a voluntary registration scheme that a minority of people have signed up to.
I might be in favour of seasonal work permits, but unfettered access is just too much and not in UK interests. I doubt that (for example) the Greeks will be opening their northern border to Bulgarians - and I don't see why we should be the only country playing by the EU rules - again.
Now to the question of non-EU migration.
21 August 2006
Pictured are new Czech PM Mirek Topolanek (left - current ODS leader) and Czech President Vaclav Klaus (officially ex-ODS leader) clinking glasses. Having followed the story of his ascent, Topolanek looks a bit like the man who has spent days climbing a mountain, only to meet the bloke that kitted him out at base camp sunning himself at the summit. Immediately after the June election, in which the ODS got the most seats “nice guy” Topolanek was widely seen as an electoral asset for his party. Since then the route to the top has been tortuous. But, the twist that people will remember is his reported adultery and its aftermath.
As has been widely reported in the British press, Pavla Topolankova (wronged wife of Mirek Topolankova) has taken the unique(?) step of putting herself forward for another party in a move her husband has described as "surprising" and "sweet revenge". The reaction from fellow politicians is revealing for students of the "Czech personality". More opprobium has been heaped on Mirek for his inability to control his women than for the actual adultery that is alleged.
The not unattractive third party in the love triangle is Lucie Talmonova. Ironically she is an ODS member since 1991 and Deputy since 1998. In hardly the most vehement of denials, Topolanek was reported as saying that he would not sue the tabloids over their controversial articles, which he labelled full of untruths, half-truths and lies. Lodging complaints would prevent him from concentrating on things he considers important, he said... and as for adultery in general, Topolanek said that like all men he would respect the advice of Miroslav Plzak, a renowned psychologist, that an unfaithful husband should deny adultery at any cost.
In an intriguing sub-text to the above is the background to the party that Topolankova is planning to represent. Politika 21 (i.e. 21st Century!) is headed by a controversial Euro-MP with a background in the Czech media - Jana Bobosikova. If you read the small print, you will notice her connections and allegiances to Vaclav Klaus - the current President seen congratulating Topolanek at the top of this post! Curiouser and curiouser. This story has legs!!!
15 August 2006
The graph shows electoral turnout in the Czech Republic over time. When I last spent extended time in Prague, there was a widespread feeling that no matter who you voted for, the people and attitude of the political elite did not change. This graph covers that period and beyond demonstrating that the sense of disillusionment has, if anything increased.
As passing observers may be aware, the Czech elections in June ended in a dead heat with the Socialist(CSSD)/Communist grouping scoring 100 seats and the right-wing ODS and other smaller parties gaining the same number. The obvious and practical solution was to have another election, but by referring to a constitutional fig-leaf this option appears to have been rejected. Instead, over the last two months since the election has been marked by politicking at its worst - rumour, defector speculation, scandalous gossip and horse-trading. Finally, a break in the deadlock appears to be in sight. The Czech Republic's foremost English language subscription bulletin - Fleet Street made its view clear earlier in the week. In its view, the two major parties (CSSD & ODS) have used this crisis to cement their dominance and in the process are making sure none of the nasty skeletons in their cupboard will be rattled.
Of a similarly serious nature is that no political party will deliver on its election manifesto. There were some radical policies in the ODS manifesto such as flat rate tax. As a part of the ceasefire required to "form the government" such policies are unlikely to come to fruition. As part of the power-seeking process the ODS took the unprecedented step of offering offering to take forward the Opposition's policies!!! I hate to say it, but what are the Tories doing with these clowns?
Much will need to change before the typical Czech voter is voting without holding their nose.
I've put nearly all the arrangements in place for my first visit to Conservative Conference which takes place in October this year. Photos and forms signed and countersigned, hotel booked 10 mins walk from Conference, booked to attend the Gala dinner where several other overseas Tories will be in attendance, flight to Bournemouth from Amsterdam, lift back to Birmingham, flight back to Prague from there blah, blah, blah. So that's the physical preparation, what about the mental one. I spoke to a local official from Prague Tories who was at conference last year. He spoke about it in the way that you might talk about climbing a mountain. "It's tough - you'll meet so many new people". So I've decided to give myself just three goals for Conference.
1. Network with Conservatives Abroad - I will be attending the AGM on Monday and sharing a table with other members at the Gala Dinner I am also very keen to receive best practice ideas for mobilising overseas supporters.
2. Meet/put faces to other bloggers and promote this website to fellow bloggers and others. Stretch target - agree to combine with other bloggers on political campaigns.
3. As I am a Brummie, I would like to meet some of the people behind the fast-growing City Branch of the Conservative Party in Birmingham. If only we could put together such a packed events calendar in Prague.
The rest I will play by ear. Any comments or tips?
14 August 2006
13 August 2006
In the aftermath of an averted atrocity it's even obvious to the Lefties at bloggers4labour who the bad guys are.
So I pick up the Saturday's Grauniad (we're a bit behind in Prague) to find on page 2 and 3 a selection of eulogies to the men arrested on suspicion of plotting these despicable and unjustifiable terrorist acts. See here or here. Page 4 gives column inches to the terrorists' political wing attempting to blackmail the UK into a change of policy. This rag gets worse - who or what do they stand for? So I thought I'd do a bit of digging.
The Guardian Media Group's annual report makes interesting reading. As required by International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) the group's performance is recorded by segment. One segment is the "national newspapers" division comprising the Grauniad, Grauniad Unlimited and the Observer. The operating loss in this segment was £49.9m (a cynic might suggest £50m+!) compared to a £48.3m loss last year. Net assets (the balance of assets less liabilities) in this segment were a wafer-thin £2.2m at the balance sheet date so they must be charting negative territory by now. So far so bad for the Grauniad. However, it appears that the Grauniad editor and GMG board member Alan Rusbridger (pictured) who trousered an increased bonus has little to fear from the financial disaster at the Grauniad.
Although the newspapers are losing money hand over fist, a less politically correct arm of the group is making incredible profits. The "Trader Media" division which includes print titles such as Auto Trader, Bike Trader and Motorhome & Caravan Trader and successful on-line sites such as
Autotrader made operating profits of £119.5m last year easily offsetting the problems at the print division.
So, if you want to hurt the Grauniad, don't buy your cars through autotrader.
12 August 2006
Of the 30 OECD countries, the UK was second only to the United States in the adult illiteracy table (Source OECD). In what is a horrendous case of government waste, I would like to note that UK government spending on education (as a % of all government expenditure) is well over double the OECD average.
The following excellent speech in the Commons from the Conservative MP for South West Bedfordshire Andrew Selous sums up my views;
"If about one in five or one in seven of our nation’s children cannot handle basic reading and writing and basic numeracy—in some parts of the country, the figure is even higher, at 40 per cent —that is unbelievably serious. For goodness’ sake, what have children been doing in our schools for the 11 years between the ages of five and 16 if they leave unable to read properly? Looking at the issue from first principles, it strikes me that when such a problem is identified when children leave lower school or primary school, there should be intensive—almost exclusive—concentration on teaching them to read and write. What is the point of taking them on and teaching them history, geography, religious education and all those other subjects if they cannot read and write properly?
I gather that in some schools in the Caribbean, and even in places such as Ghana, children do not move up a year unless they have mastered the basics of that year. I spoke earlier this week to our shadow Secretary of State for Education and Skills, my hon. Friend the Member for Havant (Mr. Willetts), and to my hon. Friend the Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton (Mr. Gibb), who has been instrumental in bringing the teaching of synthetic phonics into greater national focus. All credit to the Government, as they have taken on board many of the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton. He told me that it is possible, through an intensive 10-week course, to give any seven-year-old child basic reading skills.
Earlier in the debate, we heard about antisocial behaviour from my hon. Friends the Members for Bexleyheath and Crayford (Mr. Evennett) and for Castle Point. If we cannot get these basics right in our schools, what hope do we have of conquering problems such as antisocial behaviour if children aged 16 or older leave without the basics—being able to read and write and get a job of any sort in the employment system?
Why is there no sense of anger about that? Why are MPs not picketing their local directors of education? Why are we not having tough conversations with heads outside this House? Why does this issue not dominate Education and Skills questions? The Public Accounts Committee’s report last year, “Skills for Life: Improving adult literacy and numeracy”, drew the following hugely understated conclusion about raising basic levels of literacy and numeracy:
“a large proportion of its resources”-those of the skills for life strategy—
“are taken up by recent school leavers, many of whom might reasonably have been expected to gain their qualifications at school.”
Given all the debates that we have had this week about structure, funding, independence and involving other organisations, we must get on top of that issue. We must drive down the percentage of children who leave school at 16 without those basic skills. Unless we can do that, we will not have a hope of dealing with the problems of antisocial behaviour about which we have heard this afternoon, or of increasing our national productivity and competing effectively with other countries in Europe, and with India, China and other countries in the far east, as we need to do."
Who could disagree? Whilst this failure remains achieving a fairer society will be like walking up a downward escalator.
11 August 2006
Whilst pontificating about Eastern European immigration, the UK political elite is ignoring the elephant in the room. What do we do about the Muslim enemy within? Certain views expressed by a fair proportion of this group are incompatible with inclusion in British society and recent studies show that their level of integration/interaction with the mainstream is falling. Will our future make Northern Ireland look like a playground tiff? How do we prevent further Balkanisation?
Update - after 24 hours of no comment - here's my suggestion
"Moderate" Muslims have had long enough to put their house in order. From their claims to misunderstand the next generation to blaming foreign policy, it is clear that their attempts to control extremists in their midst have been half-hearted at best.
A bit more stick and a bit less carrot is needed I think. The UK should give these guys one more chance to provide meaningful co-operation with kicking out preachers of hate/provide intelligence re terrorists - if they fail, cut off all state support for Islamic organisations and remove charitable status of all Islamic charities. Actually deport the illegals in their communities and, stop all further migration from terrorist hotbeds such as Pakistan. Have a marketing campaign backed by voluntary resettlement packages (to Islamic countries) for Muslim families who are opposed to the British way of life. In other words think the unthinkable.
09 August 2006
Over a meal and an entertaining game of pool I was introduced to a person who has been working for the last 3 years on a private project that will bring massive tangible social benefits (I will blog later on this). Unfortunately for this project, he tells me that he has been repeatedly refused funding solely on the basis of his postal address. He's from a middle-class Southern Conservative-run town. It's been suggested to him that he moves to Portsmouth or Wales as he would then get the funding he needs for his project. Nice...
Funnily I have had a few similar conversations over the last month with people who don't benefit from the postcode lottery in one way or another. A cousin of mine is looking to do a human rights MA but is struggling for funds. If she lived in Wales she would be confident of securing a grant but she lives in Worcestershire so forget about it. A New Yorker in Prague was telling me about how there are lots of EU funds around to help fund people on her economics and politics MA course and that she's trying to work out how she might be able to access them.
I have to note that all 8 supercasino bid sites are located in Labour areas. Has anyone else got any more stories about this funding bias. It goes without saying that I think this resource allocation is highly damaging.
06 August 2006
Surprisingly for a Tory, I don't think we need to increase the number of police. In the long run I think that the numbers should be coming down - because what is more to the point is how the police are spending their time.
It takes five hours to process the average arrest in the UK. It takes less than two hours to check in all the passengers and luggage on to a Boeing 737, but it takes five hours to process every arrest!!!
I don't care what the reasons are for this dreadful waste of time, this should be the first thing to sort out in the criminal justice system. I don't think the benefits need to be spelt out, so I won't. I think an hour to process each arrest would be reasonable. But if someone can explain why the status quo is as it is I would appreciate it. I think I remember a policewoman telling me it had to do with form-filling and getting approval from a sufficiently senior colleague (which sometimes meant driving from one station to another). Please enlighten me. And let me know how we can achieve this simple objective.
05 August 2006
1. Navel-gazing and self-flagellation - step forward Theresa May, Michael Portillo and a dishonourable mention to David Cameron (Every morning I think about how the party needs to change)
2. Michael Howard appointing Lynton Crosby and only allowing two or three Tories on TV in the run-up to the 2005 election - this was an election we could have won, but lost because the message was wrong and the leader was a control freak
3. William Hague's PR gaffes - The guy is a legend, but the Tory-Boy speech, Notting Hill baseball cap, the 14 pints and the flag-wrapping shaped his public image
4. DC postponing the mayoral nominations - kick in the groin for electoral fairplay
5. MH dumping Howard Flight for talking about tax cuts - I've heard of party discipline but that was ridiculous.
And on a policy note, failure to set out clear vision on education, health, law and order or the economy. The mood music needs to stop soon!!!
Over to you
1. Bullying David Kelly and lying about why we went to war in Iraq.
2. Disrespected democratic institutions/norms - from disregard of Ministerial Code of Conduct to Speaker appointment to undeclared loanations to peerages to the lobby system to...
3. Turning our pension system from the envy of the world to a disgrace. Latest surveys report that just 46% of workers are currently making adequate provisions for when they retire.
4. Legislated on Criminal Justice but never enforced - failed to deliver on law and order
5. Taken the UK from 3rd to 13th in the global competitiveness league - a combination of many failures
- 2000 hours of Parliamentary time on the Fox-Hunting bill which related to how pests are killed.
- Supercasino selection process - pork barrel politics at its worse
- Falls in cognitive ability of primary school children
Over to you
I have to lay my cards on the table. I am in favour of a EU tax. History and economics show that democracy is strengthened by levying of tax. Turnouts for European elections are disastrously low which as at least part explained by the fact that EU citizens believe that EU revenue decisions occur at the governmental level.
The levying of a Euro tax would improve transparency and democracy and if it was fair would remove the "budget rebate" squabbles.
In 2001 Romani Prodi called for a direct EU tax to replace the system of funding from national contributions and the progress of this idea has ebbed and flowed ever since. In a classic case of spinning/coverup Labour thinks that an EU tax would increase Europhobia in Britain and is opposed on these grounds.
Even if member states gave the EU the go-ahead the EU would tie themselves in knots trying to achieve it. The Lefties in the EU would be vigorous to make sure that any tax policy conforms with their aim to ensure progressive redistribution (isn't this what the Structural funds are for?).
So whilst I would definitely favour/support a eurotax based on consumption, this ain't going to happen.
The "acceptable" alternatives are company taxation (but how would that increase the democratic link between citizens and the EU) and income tax (a complete minefield).
So as with most questions affecting the EU, we are in paralysis and any movement will be glacial. If Cameron and the Tories are serious about forming a new grouping, a direct EU tax would be an excellent flagship policy for other Euro-sceptic parties to rally around.
04 August 2006
It's amusing that all five groups vying for Aston Villa are said to approve of Martin O'Neill. So not only is his appointment good news for the club, but it is also a slap in the face for Sven Goran Eriksson whose agent Athole Still fronts one of the contenders.
I failed to put my money where my mouth was but I had a feeling that Martin O'Neill would be shrewd enough to want to come to Villa. Despite all the negative press surrounding the club, I think that he judged that there is enough talent around to achieve mid-table and that expectations are so low that it would be hard for his reputation to be tarnished no matter what happens.
Alan Curbishley had more to lose, but I think he was unwise/cowardly not to throw his hat in the ring.
02 August 2006
Latest figures show the budget deficit in Q2 was up more than £3 billion on the corresponding period of last year. Add in where we are in the electoral cycle and it’s unsurprising that new measures to help plug the shortfall are being floated. In the Lyons Inquiry Into Local Government bed tax has been mooted as one revenue-raising idea.
Specifically, the proposal is that all hotels, hostels and B&Bs will be required to levy a 10% bed tax on their customers’ accommodation bill in addition to the 17.5% VAT that most of these places already have to charge.
It’s not hard to see why this must be a particularly appealing option to Labour strategists. The tax will mainly hit foreigners and the rich. Come the next election, entrepeneurs affected by the drop in business/bankruptcy are likely to be voting in constituencies with solid Tory majorities so no loss there.
I am resolutely against this tax. Firstly, it requires an extra layer of bureaucracy both for the hotel owners and for the government to enforce making it an expensive tax. With planning it is a relatively easy tax to avoid as hotel owners can reduce official accommodation rates by lifting prices on other products (e.g. food). Even more pertinent is the fact that in most places where it has been introduced it has been withdrawn quickly because of the disastrous effect on tourism and related services. The Balearics and New York are examples of aborted bed taxes. A bed tax may provide the Treasury with a short-term boost, but this is another example of bad policy.
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7th August Update
Great to see the leadership taking the anti-bed tax campaign to the streets. People remember these eye-catching events. We need more of these guerilla-type campaigns. Labour keep bending towards our policies, but we need to make sure that the electorate believe us when we tell them that's what we've been campaigning for all along. This style of campaigning helps.
If you've studied the Czech nation you will know that Czechs are famous for their adaptability. Czechs are also renowned for terrible driving and the country is known as the car death capital of Europe. Well, due to some new legislation (and enforcement of it) it appears that the Czechs are adapting their driving for the better.
With some trepidation I drove on the busiest Czech motorway between Prague and Bratislava and back on Monday. In 2002 I had been a passenger on this journey with an American guy who was an OK driver but had rather slow reactions. I had to sleep all the way to avoid frightening myself to death. To my surprise the driving on the roads on Monday was excellent. The speed limit is 130kph (82mph) but only foreign cars seemed to be exceeding 140kph. To say things have changed doesn't begin to describe the transformation in habits.
In the office on Monday I asked my Czech colleagues about my surreal experience. One month ago a new regime came in on the roads in the Czech Republic.
Major offence (e.g. 50kph above speed limit/parking in disabled space!) - Instant loss of driving license and punitive fine
Minor offence (e.g. more than 10kph above speed limit) - 3 points on license and 200Euro fine.
A 200 euro fine is probably equivalent to a £1000 fine in the UK. Former speedsters around the office all admitted that their habits have changed overnight. Apparently, road deaths have halved in this first month of the new regime and suddenly driving on Czech motorways is a pleasure - excellent.
I hope you don't think I'm going to let the UK government off the hook. The current Roads Minister Stephen Ladyman has been caught speeding three times and has a passion for sports cars and powerful motorcycles. Much to the chagrin of EU partners the UK amended new EU regulations to remove certain key road safety measures such as speed limiters. I'm not holding my breath waiting for Ladyman to reply to a letter on this matter. So the next time you hear a Leftie attacking Jeremy Clarkson for being a motorhead tell him/her to have a go at the people responsible for making policy.