Tuesday, June 28, 2005
Feeding The Maw

The Blair government demonstrated their unwillingness to countenance steps that would not sully Britain's traditional reputation as a haven for those who escape or oppose tyranny. This is an episode in our asylum farce where the roles appear to have been reversed. Whilst Mugabe instigates "Drive Out Trash", the government refuses to commit itself to another moratorium on sending asylum seekers back to Zimbabwe, including MDC activists.

The government has insisted that the establishment of a moratorium would reverse its successes in regaining control over asylum. On this occasion, the spin machine has picked the wrong target. Mugabe is the most egregious and public example of African corruption in Britain. The black Zimbabweans, 57 of them, are alleged to be on hunger strike, including MDC activists. Whilst Mugabe kills or impoverishes those who voted for the opposition, it is extraordinary that he can claim there is no evidence that returnees have not been harmed. 'Disappearances' do not count. Chris Mullin, former Minister of Africa, alleged that MDC cards were being forged to provide stories for illegal asylum seekers and accused the Tories of hypocrisy, as Simon Hoggart's parliamentary sketch attests:

Chris Mullin, once a blazing leftwinger, stood up to support the home secretary. He had suffered a "shameless" attack by Mr Davis. And, he revealed, there was even a factory where refugees could get forged membership cards for the Zimbabwe Movement for Democratic Change.

I think if I feared being sent back to Mugabe's goons I might be inclined to try to acquire one of these. But Mr Mullin sounded enraged by the subterfuge.

He has changed an awful lot.

The MDC has claimed that returnees are viewed as spies by the Mugabe regime and their safety cannot be vouched for. Given the excesses carried out in Zimbabwe, the self-serving rhetoric of Clarke and his ilk should be discounted.

A leader of the opposition, Crispen Kulinji, was spared from being deported this weekend at the last minute. Mr Kulinji, in a wheelchair from beatings he says he suffered at the hands of Mr Mugabe's men, had said: "I will be killed if I go home - it's as black and white as that."

Perhaps Clarke should be willing to personally wheel Mr. Kulinji to the passport booth at Harare Airport and stand by his claims of 'safe passage'.
Monday, June 27, 2005
Jostling for Position

Both the French and the British view the Polish government, the 'big country' amongst the "Accession 10" as the leader of the post-communist countries. Poland wishes to avoid taking sides between Britain and France in the debate over the rebate. However, if you wished to bet, follow the money. Poland has farmers, the CAP will provide, and solidarity = subvention whilst national egotism is a good road that doesn't give pols money to bribe their electorates.

Not only have the odds of Blair failing in his European endeavours increased, his tactics could accelerate the Europeanisation of the enlarged EU Members, transforming 'New' to 'Old'.
Watch out, Watch out, The EP's About!

Not satisfied with discounting Blair's waffle last Thursday, the European Parliament has launched another attack on 'national egotism', otherwise known as democracy. This time, they are irked by the revanchism of nation-states who continue to structure and procure their defences on a national basis!

In order to prevent this, the European Parliament has proposed that most European of instruments, a Directive, setting out rules for national defence procurement that will ensure national interests are discounted - presumably in favour of a common foreign and security policy. As the European Parliament debated various wordy documents in which their ideas could repose, the concept of a single market in defence procurement, governed by the Commission, sounds a one-way ticket to the elephant's graveyard.

The Commission's Green Paper outlined two ways of responding to the fragmentation of the EU defence market and to the Member States' systematic use of Article 296. One would be a Commission communication, which would clarify the existing legal framework, the other a directive aimed to fix specific rules in the field of defence procurement. Most MEPs and experts at the hearing argued for a parallel approach, calling for both a directive and a communication. Some also advocated the introduction of a Code of Conduct in defence procurement, although disagreement as to the effectiveness of such a tool was clear.

For further information, an interview with Nick Witney, head of the European Defence Agency, can be found here. Note the cautionary tone towards the United States whilst realising that unless all governments agree, his bureaucratic expansion is just another public works scheme providing fantastic pension benefits to the underemployed.
On the Coattails

Tony Blair, the British Prime Minister, confirmed that British officials were involved with contacting the terrorists in Iraq, despite their penchant for setting off carbombs and killing civilians.[Note terrorists, not insurgents]. Since most of these atrocities are located outside of the zone where British troops are deployed, it is unclear why we took an interest, except as the 'junior partner'. Perhaps our Glorious Leader felt the hand of history on his shoulder whilst deciding to talk with yet another group of terrorists.

Perhaps Blair should be looking over his shoulder at the new hardline paranoid leader of the Mullahs. Their potential for stirring up trouble in newly devout Basra should not be underestimated.
Thursday, June 23, 2005
The Anti-Europe

The Prime Minister set out his 'Eurovision' in contest with the French, and promised to report back to the European Parliament on developments, forgetting that he has a constitutional duty to address Westminster first. But Blair has never observed accountability as anything but a politically expedient value that can be raised when convenient or useful.

Refashioning the past is another tactic that proved very useful in distancing Labour from its Fabian past. Now Blair uses recollection as a weapon to disassociate himself from the anti-European Labour party of 1983.

I am a passionate pro-European. I always have been. My first vote was in 1975 in the British referendum on membership and I voted yes. In 1983, when I was the last candidate in the UK to be selected shortly before that election and when my party had a policy of withdrawing from Europe, I told the selection conference that I disagreed with the policy. Some thought I had lost the selection. Some perhaps wish I had. I then helped change our policy in the 1980's and was proud of that change.

But the content of the speech demonstrates clearly that Blair has opted to follow the same line as his fellow politicians on the referenda results and the role of the EU in the wider world. There is nothing new in his speech. Europe must have an economic and a political dimension, providing economic growth and social protection through the values of solidarity. By using the discourse that all Europhiles follow, Blair legitimates a narrative where peace in Europe was achieved through the EU, an argument with little basis in fact. Indeed, he supports the view that the referenda did not reject the Constitution, that the "Noes" were a protest, not a rejection.

Blair supports integration, the pithily renamed "political Europe". But, it appears that the people of Europe are calling out for "political leadership". This speech must mark the high point of Blair's hubris. Having won a third election and seen off the scandals over Iraq, he now serves up the warmed over socialism of Brown's Treasury as the answer for Europe's ills. His litany of successes turn Britain into a shining economy within a silver sea, all achieved through increased taxation and higher public spending. This is his cure for Europe.

It is just that we have done it on the basis of and not at the expense of a strong economy.

In addition, common defences, authoritarian populism and a solid macroeconomic structure, that coded message for putting sterling into history, round out Blair's answer for Europe's ills: exporting New Labour.

Only one thing I ask: don't let us kid ourselves that this debate is unnecessary; that if only we assume 'business as usual', people will sooner or later relent and acquiesce in Europe as it is, not as they want it to be. In my time as Prime Minister, I have found that the hard part is not taking the decision, it is spotting when it has to be taken. It is understanding the difference between the challenges that have to be managed and those that have to be confronted and overcome. This is such a moment of decision for Europe.
The people of Europe are speaking to us. They are posing the questions. They are wanting our leadership. It is time we gave it to them.

Blair understood his audience and downplayed the issue of Enlargement, making scant reference to further expansion. This is not the enthusiastic hymn for Turkey that the International Herald Tribune portrayed. Der Spiegel uses a German government position paper to look beneath the spin and argues that Britain's role as an agricultural reformer is unsubstantiated. However, by arguing that no reforms have been tabled in the last eighteen months (when CAP is frozen until 2013), the paper undermines its own tale of German success in slicing thin wafers of French lardesse. Their conclusion strikes a chord though:

The government, the working paper states, "won't rule out" further reforms. Nevertheless, the British have made no proposals for agricultural reforms during the past 15 months. They didn't present any proposals during EU constitutional convention or at the intergovernmental conference that followed it. Now they've come up with their arguments for reform like a "magician pulling a rabbit out of a hat." Anyone who negotiates in this manner, it continues, "doesn't want an agreement, and is instead looking for a pretense for failure."
Monday, June 20, 2005

Tonight, Blair has set out his stall for reform in the European Union. Whilst recognising the failures of this morass, he is unable to understand that reform will fail without support from all of the larger countries. It is not possible to implement his agenda on a majority vote.

Does he mean to argue that reform requires further integration; or drive the French into variable geometry; or use the lack of cooperation to demand opt-outs and the repatriation of powers. Nothing so planned, I suspect. Another initiative that may result in diplomatic ructions if Blair proves as incompetent in Europe as he has proved at home. Fingers crossed....!
Thursday, June 16, 2005

Something will give in the Armed Forces if the current 'string and sealing wax' approach is maintained. The National Audit Office report has highlighted the disparate stories of unpreparedness on the part of the armed forces and placed them within one framework.

The report did, however, say that there were major problems related to a reduction in collective training, a shortage of resources, including military hardware, and overstretched forces that would affect the deployment readiness and performance of the three branches of the British armed forces.

More than one-third of the armed forces was described as having “serious weaknesses” in terms of preparedness to deploy within the desired timeframes. Two per cent of these were said to have reached readiness levels so poor that they were described as “critical”.

The worst branch hit by the lack of resources has been the Royal Navy, and the Ministry of Defence will no longer be able to defend stories of equipment delays or failure as unrelated to a lack of resources for the armed forces.

In a worst-case scenario, the NAO report said, little more than half of the naval fleet would be able to deploy within the required timeframe, a problem that could continue for the next six years.

Posturing on the world stage whilst ensuring that our armed forces do not have the resources to complete the tasks laid out by our catwalk politicians will have lasting consequences. The NAO provides independent corroboration of New Labour's mishandling of our defences, though it is unclear if this cutprice approach has actually resulted in the casualties or deaths of soldiers, sailors or airmen in Britain's employ. We do know one thing from this: Probably the most hypocritical government in the world.
Tuesday, June 14, 2005
Public Holiday

Today is a public holiday in the Falklands islands, celebrating their liberation from Argentinian invaders in 1982. What a pity Thatcher didn't move the second bank holiday to this date from May, daring Labour to appease their tranzi wing!

Here is an article about the military infrastructure on the islands that allows the armed forces to fly in new forces if the territory is threatened:

The Royal Navy operates out of the East Cove Military Port, six miles from the airport, home of the Falklands Islands Patrol Vessel (FIPV). At the moment HMS Dumbarton Castle performs this duty. Her primary aim is to act as a visible deterrent by actively patrolling the Falkland Islands and surrounding waters, as well as being available for immediate tasking as required by CBFSAI. The Ship is multi-role, capable of performing maritime interdiction operations and radar support as well as being able to operate helicopters up to Sea King size.

The naval force is supplemented by a destroyer and, occasionally, by a nuclear attack submarine. The Queen's Lancashire Regiment patrols the islands and No. 1435 flight provides air support. Further troop and air reinforcements can be flown at short notice although the issue of overstretch poses a question mark on this structure. The current commitments of the armed forces could curtail these defensive requirements.

B.B.C. Greatest Philosopher Vote - Marx in the Lead! Urgent Action Required.


Apparently, although it doesn't say it on their website, Marx is currently in the lead. This is not a wild rumour: Bragg himself said it on the radio last week. We cannot allow this to stand. His theories were responsible for the deaths of millions of people and his arguments were codswallop. Please vote for one of the 19 other nominees.

I've voted for Plato, but Aristotle, Kant, Wittgenstein, Socrates, Hume, Descartes, and Spinoza all have a case. Marx hasn't.
Monday, June 13, 2005
Mozart: Yes, Michael Jackson: No

As the disillusion in the Senate mounts over the rise in public disapproval for the Iraqi effort, a British assessment of required troop deployment in the South of the country has concluded that the new government will be unable to provide competent security until 2006 at the earliest.

Middle East Newsline reports that the after an assessment of the situation in the Basra area and of Iraqi military capability, the Defense Ministry decided that Iraq's army is not yet ready. Officials cited high absenteeism, a lack of discipline and inability to cope with the insurgency.

An article in today's Guardian sheds some light on the methods used by the British Army in securing Shi'a acquiesscence to their presence. Was there a natural rise in religiosity once the Shi'a community was freed from the dead hand of Saddam's Ba'athist regime? Were the rudimentary Shi'a authorities encouraged by the British looking for figures who could be co-opted to represent and secure their territory? Did this represent a process that the Iranians tacitly encouraged, providing greater influence for their conservative brand of radical Islamisation? It is difficult to tell if the British Army has presided over a Basra, reminiscent of a shift towards mullahocracy or whether this is a genuine democratisation, reflecting the tribal and sectarian structures of southern Iraq.

Since the US-led invasion toppled Saddam Hussein two years ago, this city with a long liberal tradition and the surrounding provinces have fallen under the sway of conservative Islam.

Alcohol shops have been burnt, women have been encouraged to wear the veil and music has been banned in many places. Prostitution has gone underground. A student picnic was viciously attacked because the male and female undergraduates mingled.

Mr Bahadli, an ally of the influential cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, said music and television must not excite the wrong emotions. "Mozart yes, Michael Jackson no."

Religious parties with links to Iran won the election in January and, by the admission of Basra's chief of police, their militias largely control the city, raising the spectre of what has been dubbed "Shiastan", a swath of Iraq under the sway of Shia clerics.

Still, if the wedding market provides an indicator of Iraqi optimism and growth, then growth has soared. No longer a quagmire, but we'll draw a veil over the civil liberties of Iraqi women in Basra.

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