Sunday, April 28, 2013


UKIP's turn to soak up some punishment

Nigel Farage has a good line in attacking his opponents, offering no quarter as he knifes their reputations, with gleeful abandon. But today has seen the backlash: Tories leading the charge against a parvenue who threatens not just them but Labour and Lib-Dems too. So we see ther ST featuring a story, gleaned from Facebook, about a UKIP candidate, Chris Scotton  who has said he has been active with the far right EDL and sympathetic to this party's aims. The Observer manages to lead with a story about 'chaos' in UKIP policy-making, devoting two pages to the part's current p[rospects with local elections coming up on Thursday.

UKIP asre fielding 1700 candidates, a massive intervention in an area where they scarcely figured last year. As most of the seats contested will be Tory, there will be a good oppostunity to see how big a slice of Conservative votes UKIP are likely to take not just on Thursday but in 2015: a long time away still but still a focus of Tory high anxiety. UKIP stand at 11% in the ST's Yougov poll, equal to the Lib Dems, so whilst it is likely to poll better than ever before, it is unlikely to storm any citadels this time around. Thrasher ad Rallings, of Plymouth University, see UKIP's following as typically older than the average and less well educated and more likely to be male than female. They tend to be against gay marriage and favour the return of the death penatly.

By entering the fray so agressively UKIP have taken a gamble: if it fails it will be ridiculed and dsimissed by the mainstream parties. Hence the row over alleged Tory 'smear tactics'. UKIP's deputy leader has answered that,   "UKIP has been subject to a co-ordinated smear campaign." Ken Clarke, for the Tories has dismissed the party as hardly worth botherring about. But there can be no doubt Tories are worrying about the threat posed by Farages insurgent army,. A poll for The Sun today predicted Tories would lose 360 seats and control of 11 councils: a virtual meltdown. Ukip will aim to improve mightily on the 8 seats it  managed in 2009. Farage had better get used to the roasting he is receiving- it's a compliment really to how grave a threat he is perceived to pose..

Thursday, April 25, 2013


Crime statistics spring 2013 Register further falls even when increases were expected

When the financial crisis arrived in 2007 many criminologists expected crime to soar, as it has in the pastduring tough financial times. What has happened however, is astonishingly counter-intuitive. Even with increased levels of young males aged 15-24, the most likely offenders, youth unemployment doubled since 2001; big cuts in police numbers and an economy mired in stagnation, crime rates continue to fall. Over the past two decades, it has halved in England and Wales, falling by 8% in a single year to 2011-12. The murder rate has fallen to its lowest point- 540 in 2012- since 1978; even anti-social behaviour fell from 4m incidents in 2007 to 2.4m in 2012. Why?
The Economist 20th April 2013 suggests that: people are buying less therefore there is less to steal, people are more home bound so deter break-ins; but most important people have less money to spend on alcohol- a 16% drop in consumption since 2004- so are less inclined to become involved in brawls. Moreover, car crime, often the gateway to more serious crimes, has been cut by better car security and the market for household goods, microwaves, televisions and the like, seems to have faded away. Criminals appear to have moved into such things as cloning credit cards or online crime, crimes which do not show up in crime reports. Crime might inch up again as further cuts bite even deeper but for the time being nothing seems to be slowing down the rate of criminal offending.  


Sunday, April 21, 2013


A Couple of Thatcher Reflections- on her Legacy and her Sanity

I must apologize for a long period of no posting- the result of not being able to get into my site to do so; sems my browser would not let me buth I then found another which did. This post is a beat behind the news I know, but I'm still mulling over the post Thatcher mood as expressed in the media and elsewhere so wanted one more go at it.

It took about two decades after t he last war for modern historians to decide we were living in time of a 'post war consensus'; maybe it's taken till now for us to realise we've been living in a 'post Thatcher' period of consensus. Mrs T claimed her most precious achievment was Tony Blair- who, with Gordon Brown, quarried New Labour's macro-economic policy from the Lady's legacy. Unlike her he applied social democratic values to the distribution of wealth. Cameron and Osborne, on the other hand are seeking to apply both economic and social wings of Thatcherism in a doomed attempt to pull off a Thatcher type 'rescue' of the UK economy, and, they like to think, its soul as well.

What seems beyond a doubt, is that Dave and George both calculate that hijacking Maggie's demise for the party- effectively politicising her funeral- will pay a political dividend. Well initially the polls showed no movement though I see that today the polls show Labnour's lead pegged back by a few crucial points, so maybe it has worked to a degree. But as Jonathan Freedland pointed out, it could back fire.

"Cameron has seized upon Thatcher's passing as a chance to do himself some good, or at least avoid trouble, with the Tory right wing. Giving the warrior queen the works has proved an easy, cost-free way to throw some red meat in their direction. Short of a British veto in Brussels, there's nothing they'd want more."

However, banging on about Thatcher might encourage even more of his colleagues to conclude that poor old Dave is but the most feeble imiotation of the great lady. Moreover, digging too deep into Thatcher and all her works, might exhume the toxic effects she was certainly felt to have in the mid to late 1990s. Whatever her achievements as a politician she in no way brought 'harmony where there was discord'.

The final thing about Thatcher is offered by Simon Hoggart  Saturday 13th April when he concedes that she did well to reclaim the Falklands and to curb the unions but cannot hold up her deindustrialisation of vast tarcts of the country on the assumtion capitalism would as if by magic, move in and create more industry. It didn't and her callous disregard to the consequencs of her actions will forever out trump her achievements as far as I'm concerned.

He goes on to suggest, on this occasion seriously, that Maggie towrds the end was virtually certifiable:

"What seems to have been left out of all the obsequies is the fact that, by the end, she was going mad. I wrote as much while she was still prime minister and heard it from several of her colleagues. Neither the evil witch nor the saviour- of-our-great-nation brigades could cope with that because it challenged their certainties.

But look at the evidence. The way she would grab a microphone from a TV reporter whose questions she didn't like. The predilection for tiny gestures at irrelevant times. (In his memoirs, Cold Cream, Ferdinand Mount recalls her breaking off an important and over-running meeting to fetch him painkillers he didn't need and had specifically said he didn't want. He also recalled her obsessive concern for "the mill girls of Bolton", even though, thanks to her policies, there were no mill girls left in Bolton.)

"We are a grandmother." Bonkers! Her unbelievable rudeness to colleagues, including Geoffrey Howe, who later helped destroy her. The way she came to speak about the government as if it had nothing to do with her. (The late John Biffen said she resembled a woman sitting under the hairdryer saying to her neighbour: "I blame the government, don't know what they think they're up to …"). The way she re-wrote her own history, obliterating things that hadn't worked, imagining those that had.

Most of all the poll tax, which might have come out of some ancient legend. "Once there was an unhappy land governed by a cruel queen. She decreed that everyone, from the richest lord to the poorest serf, should pay the same taxes, whether they could or not. So the people rose against their wicked ruler…"

And she didn't see it coming. Being off her trolley she had come to believe that whatever she believed must be right merely because she believed it.There is a nice line about that in John Major's memoirs: "Why did Margaret press ahead with what turned out to be an act of political suicide? Even lemmings have their reasons."

Tuesday, April 09, 2013


Thatcher's Legacy is Great but Very Mixed

So it’s happened. For anyone of my ‘baby boomer’ age cohort, I thought this would be a ‘stop all the clocks’ moment either of champagne cork popping celebration or dismal regret and thoughts of what might have been. Margaret Thatcher had such an enormous influence on the Britain in which I lived throughout the eighties and since. Her views and impact are still with us today and I expect the “Thatcher Effect” to extend into many future decades.

Why did this grocer’s daughter from Grantham become the equivalent of our peacetime Churchill? Perhaps a little bit like Winston it was:: her courage, her clarity and her luck.

When, in 1975, she won the leadership of a party shot through with sexism and misoginy, she had been the only challenger with the courage to stand up to the irascible and domineering Ted Heath. The huge vote she elicited in the first round of the contest, reflected her fellow MPs’- misogyny notwithstanding- appreciation of her raw courage. It established a momentum which carried her through to victory. Nervous opponents like Whitelaw, who thought Margaret would be a stalking horse for their later entry to the contest, were caught unawares.

Her courage was always a feature and was the reverse side of her formidable combative personality. She was happy to take on all comers- union leaders, foreign generals, party grandees, and, yes, even her friend Ronald Reagan. Compare and contrast the pusillanimous way Tony Blair’s hero worship of George Bush caused him to ignore intelligence briefings and cave into George Bush at that infamous Crawford Ranch weekend meeting.

Her clarity was evident every time she spoke. She managed to distil the thinking of Richard Cobden and Milton Friedman plus her own take on the Conservative tradition into a form everyone could understand almost immediately. That made her a divisive figure but in an age of political fudging a coalition of voters, including a big slice of the working class, thought she was worth giving a chance. Nobody could say they did not expect what happened and nobody, from the humblest MP to the most senior civil service mandarin could say they did not ‘get’ Thatcherism. Compare and contrast with the vague and waffly opportunism of her current successors.

Thirdly she was very lucky to have encountered a party leader who was so grumpy and anti-social that he had few remaining friends left in 1975 when he was challenged. She was incredibly lucky to find the Callaghan government in 1979, foundering on rocks created by the union movement when her own prescription for the nation entailed taking them on an defeating them. And she was astonishingly lucky that, when her fortunes were falling fast and she was threatened by: a large section of her own party; an economy which displayed a shrinking GDP combined with soaring inflation; an emergent new centre-ground party in the form of the Social Democratic Party; and Galtieri’s invasion of the Falklands

Without those challenges to overcome she would not have succeeded and historical analysis shows that just a couple more Exocets on target could have tipped the balance Argentina’s way. Once the victor of Falklands, she walked on water as far as her own party and much of the nation was concerned. Fatally though, as it turned out, she seemed to come to believe this myth herself as she later slid into reckless misjudgement over the Poll Tax and Europe.. All this is not to say her indefatigable energy and quick (though not profound) intellect, were not of enormous importance too, but that  she was greatly assisted by Lady Luck there is no doubt.

She was also extraordinarily divisive, causing rational people to shriek in pain whenever they heard her flutingly bossy Home Counties tones on the radio or saw her perfect Stepford Wives hair do and smug face with its menacing eyebrows. For a generation of people I know, she determined that their political opinions be defined in terms of a species of hate. She improved productivity and reminded us all that our standard of life is dependent essentially on the health of the economy. She arguably, I agree, cut the over-powerful unions down to size and proved that a politician with huge energy and passion really could change the state of the country. And a woman politician to boot.  

On the debit side she dismantled our decaying industries in a cataclysm of unemployment while failing to retrain the unemployed or revive the manufacturing sector; and this despite the amazing windfall of North Sea Oil (more luck there too!). She legitimised a form of corrosive contempt with which the middle classes, especially Daily Mail readers felt they could define the working and indeed non working classes. In the end her imperious narcissistic prime ministerial style sickened even her own hand picked Cabinet acolytes and on 21st November 1990 they showed her the door. Now on 8th April 2013, she has died, but her legend will live on: a heroine miracle worker to the right and  to the left a monstrous personification of callous spite and indifference.            . .     


Sunday, April 07, 2013


Blair told Saddam had no WMD by Intelligence before meeting Bush

I still feel angry and let down by this story, even though it's it's over a decade old. I fully confess that after 18 years of dismal and selfish Tory rule, I was delighted Blair had somehow been parachuted into Downing St to, as I saw it, undo some of wrongs committed by Thatcher and her pals. When Iraq came along I think we all mostly still trusted the party leader not to draw us into any foolish foreign adventures. We had acquiesced at Kosovo as justified, Sierra Leone too, but they had both been short in duration and delivered the huge advantage of being successful.I was appalled by Saddam and thought he should be toppled if it were possible but invasion with all guns blazing was not something with which I was in any way comfortable.

We now find that just before Blair went to see Bush in Texas, intelligence told him that Iraq's stock of WMD was 'trivial' and that Libya was the greater danger in nuclear terms. Today's Independent on Sunday takes up the story:
     "Intelligence officers have disclosed that just the day before Mr Blair went to visit president George Bush in April 2002, he appeared to accept this but returned a "changed man" and subsequently ordered the production of dossiers to "find the intelligence" that he wanted to use to justify going to war.
 This and other secret evidence (given in camera) to the inquiry will, The Independent on Sunday understands, be used as the basis for severe criticism of the former prime minister when the Chilcot report is published."

Despite the fact that he had been told Iraq's WMD would fit 'into the back of a petrol truck, Blair returned from meeting George Bush at his Taxas ranch gung ho for an invasion. Why was this? Well, he'd clearly been won over by a man whom he admits he admires. So many theories have been offered as to how his mind was changed but my bet is that it was pure and simple star struck hero worship. If you look at the picture above you can almost read Tony's mind: 'Gosh, I'm being driven in his truck by the US president- isn't this just great! .

Thursday, April 04, 2013


Jack Straw and Weasel Words

This story initially provokes two sentiments, both species of disillusion. The story is about .the seizure of Abdel Hakim Belhaj in Malaysia and their virtual abduction to Libya on a CIA jet. Rumours at the time were that this was part of deal made with Gadaffi; there was another example of such a trade:

"A second Libyan dissident, Sami el-Saadi has accepted £2.2m from the British government after he and his wife and four children, the youngest a girl aged six, were abducted in Hong Kong and flown to Tripoli, three days after Tony Blair made his first visit to Libya, embraced Gaddafi for the cameras and announced that they planned to make "common cause" in counter-terrorism operations."

It was suspected that the Blair-Gadaffi deal involved a number of concessions by the latter plus a possible business element in exchange for neutralisation of the colonel's opposition abroad.

My first sense of dismay related to the belief that the UK does not use torture or facilitate torture in the interrogation of suspects. In my naivety I had kind of assumed we were just too... civilised for such things. After all that's why we fought Nazism: to make sure such things were eradicated. However, Ian Cobain's excellent Cruel Britannia, removed the veils from my eyes; his research showed that Britain has always used torture when it suited, especially as the empire was headed for the buffers.

My second was that Jack Straw, whom I'd always respected as a relatively honest and very articulate politician. I was not surprised Sir Mark Allen, former senior MI6 officer hid behind the official secrets act on this sensitive issue in which allegedly individuals and their families were handed over to a ruthless dictator, known to use the full panoply of despicable methods we associate with such leaders. But I was disappointed that Straw did the same.

Little by little one's faith that 'our' side is more principled and scrupulous than the 'other' side, is eroded away by such revelations. And little by little one comes around to the dismal conclusion that Blair and Straw, in pursuit of 'deals' thought little of their cost in terms of individual casualties and their human rights.  El-Belhaj has offered to settle for just £1 from each of the defendants as long as they apologise to his wife and himself. 

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