Wednesday, March 31, 2004

Summer

Summer's here, and the blog has a new name. I know it sounds ridiculous, but it was the only change I could work out how to do correctly, which was an important factor given my disastrous attempts to change the comments box earlier. No-one in my life has ever called me Matt T, and I very much doubt they will now.

She's back

MP Ann Winterton has been allowed back into the Conservative Party after saying she 'deeply regretted' the offence she had caused. She added, 'despite their slitty eyes they're not a bad bunch really. More hard working than those brown ones. Now where's my joke book'.

Dangerous driving

On August 24th 2003 a lapse of concentration on behalf of one driver resulted in the deaths of three people in another car. The driver escaped with a £1,500 fine.

The reason for this is:

"CPS spokesman John Revell said: ’There is no suggestion of any bad or wrong driving before the collision, just a momentary piece of carelessness. It is the seriousness of the driving that we have to consider, not the serious of the consequences’”.

Although there is no question of retrospective punishment road-safety campaigners have set up a petition calling for there to be tougher sentences on drivers who cause death or injury through dangerous driving.

I mention this as a friend of my girlfriend was one of the two in the car who survived. I haven't really thought through whther the proposal is a good idea or not. An initial thought is that it's usually bad policy to make policy in response to terrible accidents such as this, but having said that if we took that view the law would rarely be changed.

Update: The BG has noted that the driver is appealing against the sentence (only a google cache I'm afraid). Regardless of the merits of the law change I think we can safely make some assumptions about him.

Vive la France

John Kay on life in France. Incidentally John Kay's website is excellent -- full of interesting and innovative analysis, particulalrly this long-ish one on how the best things in life are achieved indirectly, from profit-maximising to happiness in life.

Tuesday, March 30, 2004

Speakers for hire

I found this site fascinating -- if you want a politician/jounalist/sporting star or 'celebrity' to speak at an event here's where you go to get them. Some examples:

'NEIL HAMILTON is a great speaker for any occasion - for a riotous after-dinner speech or a serious topic presented in an entertaining way.'

Former Talk Radio's morning phone-in presenter Derek Hatton has become one of the country’s most popular after dinner speakers with his repertoire of highly amusing stories, culminating in an optional and entertaining question and answer session.

Ming Campbell is an engaging writer and a popular charismatic public speaker. His journalism has appeared in a variety of publications and he is appreciated for his dry humour and wit. He is currently much in demand as a humorous after dinner speaker.

Blog Comments

As noted before on this site, the idea that blogs are going to be the great political debating forum of the future is rather undermined by the fact that comments boxes -- a major part of most blogs -- become pretty useless once you reach a certain number of visitors.

This site luckily has only around 10 readers, who all tend to play nicely in the comments box. There are no plans for that number to increase. However a good example is the excellent Harry's Place, which over the last few months has suffered from trolls using a number of aliases to clog up the comments' boxes (for example 'Benjamin'), and from self-appointed comments-box's Guardian Angels who try to 'expose' them (for example 'Mark D'). In fact sadly sometimes they now approach the unreadable, despite the valiant efforts of the site's management.

So what can be done?

1. Don't have comments' boxes. This seems a practical solution for sites that are more 'Look at me -- this is what I think' than sites that encourage political debate, but even for the former it means less feedback and encouragement.
2. Have comments but with a delay. This stops trolls but requires a lot of work on the part of the site owner and rather slows down debates.
3. Have comments but police them. See no. 2.
4. Have a system where you need some sort of password to post comments. This obviously strops trolls, but it does rather ruin the spontaneity of the site, and requires losts of admin.
5. Make the site less controversial. It is well know that the easiest way to get lots of blog traffic is to say something outrageous, and if it's very right-wing it helps even more. Ditto the number of comments you get. But this rather ruins the point of having the site.

6. Er...are there any others?

Update: My numbering of the points was rather wacky. I've corrected it now.

Monday, March 29, 2004

Case dropped

This is quite interesting -- the Pentagon has dropped charges against the Muslim chaplain who was arrested on allegations of spying for Al Qaeda.

The Guardian's new Agony Aunt

It's always to see politicians making fools of themselves, and the new Anne Widdecombe Agony Aunt column is no exception. It's bound to give lots of fun over the coming weeks. Now I know that she's been told to be short, moralistic and spiky but nevertheless this answer gives you a flavour of the woman's advice...

"He should have stayed with his wife as he vowed to do when he married her. You should have married and stayed with the father of your kids. Then you wouldn't be in this silly mess, where the only victims are the children. Goodnight. "

European integration

It's the European Constitution time again! A few months' ago I was against it, but the events of 11/3 have made me realise that only through closer European co-operation and integration can we fight international terrorism. Indeed I think anyone who opposes it must be objectively pro-Al Qaeda.

Sunday, March 28, 2004

The Boat Race, a bar and restaurant review

Doesn't seem much going on in the world so I'll do some Sunday-posting. I suggest most readers would rather skip this post.

Having always failed to watch the boat race through, opining that from what I'd seen on TV the team winning at the first bend won the race, I was somewhat surprised in 2003 to a) find myself in Putney on the day of the boat race, and b) find it was moderately exciting (though always with that nagging feeling that if the atom bomb under Twickers had missed a few then a small tactical one under Putney would have mopped them up, and some useful collaterall with it).

Anyway I'm pleased to note today that my uninformed view has been proven right, and even on TV it was about as interesting as you'd imagine watching students rowing on a cold day would be. Still well done everyone who took part -- I'm only jealous of fit people.

A more interesting view of London I saw on Friday at the Vertigo bar on the 42nd (i.e top) floor of what used to be the old NatWest Tower (what a shame they missed the chance to call it the Level 42 bar though). Word of warning -- you need to book in advance, it has airport style security and it only sells champagne. Also the curious shape of the tower means it really seems more like a circular corridor. If it wasn't in mid-air you would not go there, particularly as it closes at 11pm. However it is and you get a lovely view of London, stretching out for miles around.

Two restaurants I have bravely gone to so you can be better informed. Latium on Berners Street, W1 (opposite the Sanderson) is a new Italian with specalises in food from the Rome region. And very nice it is too -- especially (so my companions told me) was the liver and veal (where were their principles?), though if you don't like them undercooked ask for them burnt. I had the duck, which as duck always is was very tasty, and unlike duck usually is it came in large quantities. Comes with nice little tasting bits between courses (there's a word for this, isn't there?). Good value-ish at £19.50 for two courses. Uhmm...I'm not very good at this review thing -- try Matthew Fort in the Guardian.

Not new, but worth going to, at least if you are in Notting Hill, is Manor, on All Saints Road, W11. This was the basis for the restaurant in Sliding Doors (if you are a Gwyneth fan) and I would recommend it for a Friday or Saturday night when you want a trendy bar with restaurant attached. A starter of oysters tasted like oysters the world over, i.e like eating salty water. Our main courses, a whole seabass (which stared at me menacingly) was described as 'lovely' and my pork steak was fabby. Desert, a chocolate cake with ice cream, was nice like only chocolate cake with ice cream can be. It's also down the road from a fabby pub, The Pelican, with a great jukebox.

Update: It appears Oxford lost because their blades clashed with Cambridge. For some reason the commentators are describing this as if its the first day of the Somme - 'awful, awful'. The Oxford cox is not taking it in the gentlemanly way we expect of such an august institution.

Update II - By watching it I've let Simon Kuper down, and that makes me feel bad. I'll go for a walk next year.

Update III -- the BBC has been receiving lots of complaints over the Cambridge's cox's exclamation after the clash of oars, 'Now's it's time to fuck them'. I bet they're glad it's going to ITV.

George Bush is more important than the war on terrorism

...so says Mark Steyn, in today's Sunday Telegraph.

Well obviously he doesn't say that in those words, but essentially that is the gist of his article which in reviewing Richard Clarke's book Steyn offers us a half-page rant, in which Clarke, 'a mid-ranking bureacrat' is attacked through name-calling, innuendo, and inaccurancy.

Clarke's book, which I have read, makes uncomfortable reading for those of all political persuasions. Those on the right and left who have downplayed the extent of the challenges global terrorism poses will find it hard going - Clarke is in favour of earlier, more aggressive and more widespread action against terrorists than any US Administration has been, let alone European governments. But those who support such action, but also support Bush's Presidency and Administration will find it most soul-searching. Clarke's allegations against the Bush White House (which concur with those of other insiders) are such that it is clear for Bush -- cocooned by all the security the Presidency allows - finds the war on terror, if not a joke (see below), merely a smokescreen for policies unrelated to the security of America and other countries.

Which is why Steyn's article is so unwelcome, if hardly surprising. Steyn has built a career on light-weight, jokey material so it would be wrong to expect much political analysis. But at least on the war on terror, which has the capacity to affect so many of our lives, one would have hoped he was serious. But today we learn what matters is the re-election of George W Bush. Period.

Blair by 113 or 35

Interesting article in last week's Observer of a computer simulation that -- in great detail -- forecast results for each consitituency. It believes that Blair would only win a majority of 35 if an election was called now, but will get 113 by May 2005. Oliver Letwin will lose his seat to the Lib Dems. As the architect of our plan to slash defence spending this is bad news indeed.

Bush sense of humour

Surfing the internet at some stupid time of the morning I find President Bush is in trouble over a humorous speech he made, mocking his own inability to find WMDs. Well I thought it was quite funny -- you can judge for yourself (note video clip).

Friday, March 26, 2004

Growth is not everything

Interesting FT column by Sam Brittan on whether economic growth is the correct objective for economic policy, and if it's not what should be.

Thursday, March 25, 2004

The Things Metro Readers say

"Before women heed the excellent advice of Simon H and rush out to buy a short skirt, could you please ensure you have the appropiate legs to match such an outfit? This will prevent a lot of unnecessary suffering in the workplace"

Sean Joyce, W1


"In reply to Steve Ainger - people with long hair generally smell. I mean men with long hair..."

R.Prior, Manchester


"...As a Police Officer I couldn't care less about the criticism we come in for. I am based in an office, earn about £40,000 a year for a 40 hour week, have free travel on the Tube, trains and buses and have a large amount of equity in a house worth £250,000...If I can remember to occasionally spout the latest politically correct propaganda, all being well, I can retire at 50 with one of the most generous pension packages available in the public sector. Carry on running down the 'stupid' police -- we know who the stupid ones are"

Name and address supplied.

I'm back!

Though no time to post. I'll just note that I've read Richard Clarke's 'Against all Enemies' and am feeling particularly fearful for the future. On the other hand I bought some of the RU21 no-hangover wonder drug and so see a solution.

Thursday, March 18, 2004

Away

I'm going to New York for five days so I'll see you all on Wednesday. Many moderate and sensible Conservatives take holidays, and they enjoy them and recommend others do them. I think this is good, and I think they are right.

Now play nicely in my absence.

Well blow me down....

Time for one more thing. This is a rather good proposal for reforming our state pension by the Adam Smith Institute. I endorse it whole-heartedly.

Views of the sensible right...

Harry says that blogs have got to extremist and that he is 'going to make a renewed effort be more positive and link to sensible and considered arguments'.

I couldn't agree more. In fact for the next five days (until Wednesday) all posts on this site are going to link solely to sensible, reasoned and considered arguments from the political right, on issues such as the budget, Labour, the Tories, the war in Iraq, the war against Terror, in fact everything.

The Budget II

The British blogosphere is a very strange thing. I can't find one comment about the budget, which presumably is of great importance to the future political direction of this country. Samizdata had a pre-budget report, 'Gordon Brown is a great fat sweating thieving spurt of the devil' but other than that nothing (I await the avalance of 'you obviously missed...'.

I made some comments below, which perhaps were a little rushed. Nevertheless they seem to be right -- this was an intensely political budget, which took all the Conservatives' good ideas (without 'hat tipping' them) of efficiency gains mainly, and rejected all the Conservatives' other policies, i.e. tax cuts based on cuts in defence, transport, law&order and other non-education and health spending.

Thus, as the political journalists say, the 'battle lines' have been drawn. The problem the Conservatives will have is that they now don't have efficiency savings to put towards tax cuts (note this argument relies not one bit on whether those savings can actually be made, as that will only be known after the election). Thus in order to keep their policy of a) reducing deficit, b) maintaining health and education spending, and c) cutting taxes, they are going to have to impose stricter cuts (i..e actual nominal cuts rather than just real cuts) on the rest of the spending.

This is not politically possible. Already their policy on cutting defence spending whilst we are at war has been (in my view wrongly) strongly criticised within the party. Thus I expect the new policy of a) reducing the deficit will quietly be scrapped. The problem here is that their main line of attack, as seen from Howard yesterday, was over the deficit, e..g 'this credit card chancellor'.

The only logically consistent policy will be to scrap (b). They could do this, saying that they were sticking to Labour's 2003 spending plans. But it wold be brave.

Martin Wolf, as usual, says it rather better:

"These commitments can be challenged on the basis that public spending is intrinsically wasteful. But this argument for cutting the ratio of public spending to GDP is persuasive only if the opposition plans to take important areas of public spending out of the public sector. To keep priority areas within the public sector and then cut spending in real terms is to ensure that the public has neither the freedom to spend its own money on the services it wants nor the ability to enjoy adequate public spending on them. This is the worst of both worlds. Since in one area where the Conservatives had the opportunity to support a shift in responsibility to individuals - namely student fees - they insisted on complete socialisation instead, their credibility is in tatters."

Wednesday, March 17, 2004

The budget

Not a lot to report -- growth is stronger than everyone thinks, public finances ok, golden rule to be met, pensioners to get more than £100, extra spending here, there and everywhere.

In the main it was a political speech, and a brilliant one at that. He took all the Conservatives' efficiency gains, and spent them. He then outlined his budget priorities:

"It has been put to me that we freeze the defence budget and cut it in real terms.

At a time when our armed forces are now serving in Iraq, Afghanistan and Kosovo as well as in Northern Ireland and elsewhere, this course would be irresponsible, contrary to the national interest and I reject it. In the last Spending Review we allocated the largest spending increase in 20 years to defence and I can tell the House that I propose real terms increases in defence spending.

There have also been representations to freeze the Home Office Budget and to cut it in real terms. I have agreed with the Home Secretary that having increased the numbers of the police this would be exactly the wrong time and contrary to the national interest to freeze expenditure on the Home Office.

I have also received representations that we should freeze the transport budget, cutting it in real terms. I have consulted with the CBI and business organisations and they feel it is critical to the economy to press ahead with investments in our infrastructure and that we should not return to the old stop-go in spending which left hundreds of road projects planned but never completed. So the Spending Review will provide for real terms growth in transport funding not for cuts."

I think the Conservatives should tackle this head-on. Given their policies on efficiency gains, health and education spending are similar, let the election be fought on a Chancellor who wants to spend on defence, law & order and transport and Conservatives who want to slash spending on those issues and make some limited tax cuts (once they've reduced debt).

Obviously now the efficiency savings have gone we'll need to make bigger cuts, but Conservatives believe that 25% of government spending is wasted, so why not 25% cuts?

Voting for Tony Blair

Now we know (see below) that the atrocity in Madrid did little to change the election, and until we know why the tiny % of right-wingers who changed their minds did so, the main concern about Sunday's Spanish election is that it gave the impression to Al Qaeda that they can get what they want. The argument is simple -- Al Qaeda want Western troops out of the Middle East, the Socialists plan to withdraw Spanish troops, ergo Al Qaeda wanted the Socialists to win.

This argument is clearly weak -- Al Qaeda wanted US troops out of Saudi, but few think Rumsefd is in their pay (well ok, some do...). But it's the only argument we have. So my worry is this.

As a leading figure in the War on Terror, Al Qaeda would presumably love to be rid of Tony Blair.

I think this is unarguable, whatever Michael Howard's policies would be (and of course there is evidence that by slashing defence spending, and - see ex-Tory MP Michael Brown in today's Independent - their more sceptical policy towards Iraq those policies would be seen to be weaker on terrorism).

Thus a vote for anybody but Labour is a vote for Osama Bin Laden. Now I know it's not, but that would be the impression. And impressions count.

What am I going to do?

The Spanish: An Apology

What you should be reading on right-wing blogs

Dear Spaniards,

We apologies for maligning you over your recent election. It appears that actually the Socialist Party was 2% in the lead (With thanks to Harry Hatchet (see the links to your left)) before the attacks, so at most about 1% of right-wing voters changed sides after the attacks, and in any case we have no evidence why they changed sides. It could have been for a plethora of reasons, only one of which involves 'giving into Al Qaeda' like we suggested. Furthermore the turnout was up, and that almost certainly brought many new voters into the equation. Most of this we knew when we wrote our foul nonsense (see below) but the fact is that we don't really believe that any country should have a foreign policy which isn't 100% support for George Bush, nor do we believe much in democracy.

Yours

Right-Wing Bloggers

What you might read...

Dear Portuguese,

Go ahead, appease the Islamofascistibabykillermotherfuckers. Bow your heads to god their way, cover your women in black sacking, kill your gays. Forbid Jews to hold good jobs, make them wear yellow stars – you know the drill. As the Great Cthulhu says, “You will be devoured last! Yum!” But at least you’ll have shown up those Yankee imperialists! And that’s what counts, isn’t it?"

Yours

Right-Wing Bloggers

Blogging bad for the economy?

Backword Dave finds out Al Qaeda's real intentions...

" I can reveal the true horror of a-Qaeda’s plans. They do, indeed, intend to bring down Western civilisation. As with 9/11, they plan to use our own technology, our trusting nature, and our culture against us. The plan is simple: with only a few attacks (they probably only have a few handfuls of men) they generate news, this news in turn generates comment, the comment stirs up the blogosphere. Bloggers write posts. Other people comment, then write their own. In a matter of days, civilisation grinds to a halt while nobody does any work at all, being too busy arguing with each other."

Indeed in the three years before InstaPundit started blogging (taking him as the first (no emails please)) US gdp growth averaged 4.2% a year. In the three years since it has been 1.9%.

Tuesday, March 16, 2004

Some more advice to Europeans from the N.American right

"Go ahead, appease the Islamofascistibabykillermotherfuckers. Bow your heads to god their way, cover your women in black sacking, kill your gays. Forbid Jews to hold good jobs, make them wear yellow stars – you know the drill. As the Great Cthulhu says, “You will be devoured last! Yum!” But at least you’ll have shown up those Yankee imperialists! And that’s what counts, isn’t it?"

"Spain is now ruled from a tiny cave somewhere in Pakistan or Afghanistan, and her rulers will be encouraged to see how many other countries they can take over.” Yup. Even if the “real” reason for the change of governments was some weaselly non-important matter like health care or whatever it is the socialists over there think is worth a few bombs going off every now and then, the terrorists will think they’ve caused this, and they will respond accordingly. "

"I wouldn't put England in the list [of countries who 'get it']. They just went along to Iraq so they could slow us down. They'll jump ship at first opportunity"

"France is discovering the ugly truth about this culture: it is, well, ugly. This culture doesn't believe in freedom of speech (except for themselves.) It doesn't believe in living in peace. It doesn't believe in human rights (except their own.) It is a backward
anachronism that makes Medieval Western Culture appear civilized by comparison."

"What happened in Spain’s election was almost enough to make one feel nostalgic for General Franco (who is, unfortunately, still dead). "

BiasedBBC

As readers of this site will remember I find BiasedBBC laughable, but complusive, from its nutty commenters to the ways in which it finds bias in the least biased of things through analysis word by word.

However as I note below this week it really took on a new gear. If you were wondering how those at BiasedBBC view journalists, and not just ones from the BBC, this post by Patrick Crozier (one of the official posters) brings it home:

"Convulsed even. I’ve been watching Channel 4’s “News”. I know, it’s not the BBC but it’s all part of the same thing: the cancer of bent and twisted journalism. Bastards. I want these people to feel pain. I mean real pain. The sort of thing only a professional torturer can dole out. It’s the only thing I think that will ever wake them up to reality and the responsibilities of their offices."

The very same people frequently refer to the BBC as 'amoral' or 'sick' yet fantasise about the torture of journalists, many of whom probably spend much more of their time in 'reality' than do these armchair thumb-twisters.

Bookmark it now!



Syrian Kurds

Fantastic article on Channel 4 news based on a video smuggled out over the internet. It was of the clashes between police and Syria's Kurds, which resulted in five deaths. On the video it looked like a lot more...

ps The video should be (in 33 sections) somewhere on the internet, but I can't find it.

More polls on Iraq

Newsnight has a poll on British attitudes to Iraq. Here's some of the more interesting findings...

The British support the war by 48% to 43%.
They think it was illegal by 39% to 37%.
40% though Blair exaggerated about WMD, 29% told the truth, 22% lied.
52% said it makes no difference to their trust in him, 42% trust him less, 4% trust him more.
57% are dissatisfied with him as PM, 37% satisfied
32% trust him most, 22% Michael Howard, 17% Charles Kennedy.
55% think the war made the UK less secure, 34% more secure.
27% think the war was fought for human rights, 26% to be friends with the US, 15% oil, 15% international terrorism, 10% WMDs.
48% said Britain should use force if in our interest even without the UN, 46% only when authorised by the UN
46% would side with the US, 34% France/Germany
66% oppose military action against Iran, 67% North Korea

More rightist cowardism

If, as we are told by the bonkers right, there was a certain proportion of the Spanish electorate who normally would support the right-wing party, but then changed their mind in an attempt to appease Osama Bin Laden, it doesn't really say much for right-wingers, does it?

The Things Daily Mail Readers Say

"If parents can be fined £100 or sent to jail for their children's truancy, surely they can also be held responsible if their children join terrorist groups and become suicide bombers"

S.Klaff, London

Iraq survey

Interesting survey about Iraq (pdf file)

Monday, March 15, 2004

Redwatch

Here's a new one for the extremely wacky people, Redwatch. Warning - it might offend - for more details see this story about it being under a Home Office investigation (from the BBC). Essentially it seems to posting pictures of anti-Nazi League activists and others, for what reason it's unclear.

French say Bin Laden nearly captured

According to the link you can find in the comments. I wonder if our loopy friends would welcome his capture if it was by the French? Perhaps the French would become 'new europe' and Spain 'old europe'?

He's sort of innocent

The Guardian reports that weekend stories that IDS was to get off were sort of right, but not quite. In fact he's been found guilty on 2 of the 5 charges, and half guilty on the other. Does anyone care? Do you remember who he was? Well go to Save Iain Duncan Smith for more.

A better explanation

Chris Brooke makes the rather good (though presumably checkable if I could read Spanish and their polls are like ours) suggestion that the victory for the socialists in Spain yesterday was due to the higher turnout, itself a function of the demonstrations and greater political awareness after the bombing.

Certainly this is what would happen in the UK if the turnout increased. Most opinion polls that show the parties level-pegging are based on a 50% turnout; they would show Labour about 5% in the lead on a 75% turnout. That's about the magnitudes we saw in Spain.

A great day for democracy, as Chris says.

Update: Doing a regression on ICM's latest poll, it seems that for every 1% increase in turnout, Labour's lead rises by 0.2%. I've got a lovely chart but unfortunately I can't find my ftp details.

Democracy is good as long as you vote for the pro-Iraq invasion party

In the minds of the right and the pro-war left, it hasn’t taken long for the Spanish to go from dependable allies from ‘new Europe’ in the War Against Terror, to victims of Al Qaeda, to ‘selfish myopic dupes’:

“Instead, the country has chosen introspection, division, surrender and the snake-oil of appeasement. To those Spaniards who let 3/11 swing their vote in the Socialists' favour I can only say: You selfish, myopic dupes.”

Anthony Cormack has a somewhat more nuanced stance, but even he says:

“In practical terms, the terrorists have won. They have launched an attack on an American ally and the result they have seen from it is that within 96 hours the anti-terror coalition has folded like a house of cards and one of the Coalition countries will be withdrawing from Iraq with almost immediate effect.”

Other bloggers, from Instapundit downwards, are more wacky, but the general view is the same – when you cast your vote nowadays, you should first think what Al Qaeda’s going to make of the result, and unless you vote for the pro-US invasion of Iraq party, Al Qaeda have won (1). This unedifying site of bloggers, often with no knowledge of Spanish politics whatsoever, telling the Spanish what they should do suggests democracy to them is merely a word President Bush says from time to time.

It also seems to me to bring up some unfortunate consequences. As these people believe we are in an ongoing war, a vote for anybody other than Tony Blair at the next election (or the Labour leader) clearly will be a vote for Al-Qaeda, particularly given the Tories’ shifting position on Iraq and defence spending.

That ends of course in saying that a vote for Kerry is a vote for Osama. I imagine this is what a lot of the right-wingers believe, just as a vote for Dewey was a vote for Hitler.


More strangely, it seems to conflate the War against Terror and the invasion of Iraq, which of course exists only in their heads. Quite clearly one can be for the first and against the second. Indeed it is my view, and that of millions, that resources used in invading Iraq: the £5bn and counting, and half of the British army required, could obviously have been used better in this country or others fighting terrorism.

Is this then why the Spanish voted for the socialists and against the popular party? Coud it be that they are serious in the war against international terrorism, and decided that the Bush/Blair/Aznar policy of invading countires obliquely related to it was not the best way to fight it? Maybe bringing the Spanish troops home is a better policy?

Certainly we have been told, by President Bush no less, that the first duty of a government is to protect its citizens. Thursday’s bomb blast is evidence that Aznar’s government was failing in that responsibility. Maybe that is why his party had to go.

(1) How seriously you should take a lot of the right, and particularly it's advocacy of democracy and liberty, is of course a debatable point. On Sunday we saw a glimpse of their agenda through the site BiasedBBC (which tries to 'expose' BBC left-wing 'bias'), where one contributor fantasised about the professional torture of journalists (not just BBC ones) merely for asking whether the bombs might make a difference. Later I'll post some of the comments, so you can see for yourselves what kind of nutters we are dealing with.

Update: My mention of the pro-war left was in response to a post by Gene on Harry's Place. I should in fairness therefore note there is an excellent comment (in the comments to Gene's post) by Harry, pointing out that sending messages to Al Qaeda assumes they are open to debate, which is not the usual pro-war left view.
Update II: I got my Anthonys mixed up, it was Cormack not Cox. He also suggests I misrepresent his position, and outlines it in more detail. It seems to be merely that this looks like weakness to Al Qaeda (which begs the question -- well what can voters do about that?). It also seems to drastically confuse the battle against international terrorism with the war in Iraq.

Sunday, March 14, 2004

Terrorist atrocities

I was wondering whether anywhere on the internet if there was list of terrorist attacks ranked by deaths or injuries caused?

[Rest of post deleted as now have the facts]

This site might have some answers. particularly here

Here we have a complete list. My guesses were completely wrong (I forgot about airlines, had a dreadfully pro-western bias etc).

For one week only...

SaveIainDuncanSmith is back!

The other election

Also Russia is going to the polls today, in what is expected to be a landslide victory for Putin. For what it's worth I had dinner last week with an expert in the field, who said that Putin might not be perfect, but he's honest, and that's a rare enough quality in Russian politics to make him the best candidate.

Was it the war?

Over at BiasedBBC, and some comments in Harry's Place, in the wake of Thursday's atrocity in Spain there is rising anger at -- yes you've guessed it -- the BBC and other journalists for asking some questions about whether Spain's involvement in the invasion of Iraq made it more vulnerable to terrorism. For example, Patrick Crozier,

"the cancer of bent and twisted journalism. Bastards. I want these people to feel pain. I mean real pain. The sort of thing only a professional torturer can dole out. It’s the only thing I think that will ever wake them up to reality and the responsibilities of their offices."

Now even if you think Spain's involvement in the Iraq war increased the risk of terrorism (I do, but not because Spain is more a likely target, but because I agree with MI5's prediction that the whole war would increase the risk of terrorism) there is clearly a case of -- so what? The increase, it could be argued, is tiny compared to overall risk, and the long-term effects of invading Iraq will be to lower the risk much more. Furthermore you could argue it was a moral thing, and the Spanish can't be held responsible, or even do much about, Al Qaeda's actions.

Neverthless, it's worth remembering why journalists are asking those questions of the Spanish government. It's because, unlike in Britain or America, where public opinion was split, around 80-90% of Spaniards disagreed with Spain's involvement in Iraq (falling to a low of 70% just after Baghdad's fall, but now back at 85%) and in an opinion poll taken just two weeks' ago, 85% of Spaniards said that the war had increased their risk of being attacked by terrorists.

So it seems this was an issue for the Spanish people, even if the reality of the bombing may increase support for the government. It's therefore not bent, or twisted journalist to ask such questions.

Update: Well know socialist Con Coughlin asks the same questions in the ST.

Saturday, March 13, 2004

WorldCom restates profits by $74bn

It's not really the sort of money you can lose down the back of the sofa, is it?

We need more anti-Union legislation

This won't be of much interest to non-Oxford or Cambridge graduates, but Johan Hari launches into them with much justification in today's Independent.

Friday, March 12, 2004

Blogger

In today's Economist, there's a really funny picture of what the magazine clearly thinks bloggers look like (p.14 of the technology review)

Spanish bombs

In the debate over whether it was ETA (as the Spanish seem to be convinced -- for good reasons if today's Economist is right) or Al Quaeda I've seen no-one (I haven't looked very hard) mention it was on March 11th, exactly six months after September 11th. I don't know if this has any significance.

Update: My girlfriend has just informed me that it was on the front-page of today's Metro, read by millions of people. And the Sun. Another four million people. I'll go quietly.

Why did it end so bad?

The LRB finally gets around to reviewing John Campbell's The Iron Lady (II) and a cracker it is too (not yet online though). One of the most disappointing things in politics these days is the lack of understanding of her premiershp, with views either she was brilliant, or she was evil.

In a surprisingly complimentary review (Blair's appallingness it seems has turned us all into Thatcherites), Ross McKibben draws 7 conclusions, worth repeating briefly.

1. Her first government was the best. Indeed I have argued elsewhere that her last government was possibly the worst in post-war history.
2. Crossing the Rubicon (Howe's 1981 budget) was not something the electorate were keen on. But the Falklands war changed all that. So she was lucky, but she made her own luck, and deserves credit.
3. Thatcherism developed slowly and cautiously, and indeed Thatcher was often less Thatcherite than her cabinet - Kenneth Clarke for instance was much more prepared to radically reform the NHS.
4. Thatcher was obseseed with the 'Secret State', i.e. the nexus of defence, foreign policy and spies.
5. Thatcher was always much more European than her post-premiership record would indicate. To the degree she came anti-Europe during her premiership it was in reponse to Labour's pro-Europeanism. She was also much -- much -- less subservient to the US than Blair.
6. She accelerated the decay of Cabinet government, mainly because at first she couldn't get her own way in Cabinet.
7. Campbell claims her hatred of local government is due to her disguised hatred of her father.

McKibben also notes that the 'paradoxes' often noted about Thatcher, such as her wish to free the state but as PM making it evermore burdensome, her belief in prudence and saving but her policies of uncontrolled debt, her views about 'useful' occupations in a woman who quit industry for the law, her attempts to creat a classless society yet her creation of hereditary peers, her belief in an entreprenurial class but her dislike for immigration, aren't really paradoxes, at least for her. With respect to the State, for example, Thatcherites prefer the word 'freedom' to 'liberty'. Freedom to them means freedom within a market polity constructed to favour some against others. Liberty has a different connotation, and Thatcher is a Conservative, not a libertarian (note similarly to most 'libertarians' on the internet).

The main thrust of the essay however is why did it end so badly? In Thatcherite (not Thatcherist) lore, it's because the nasty left-wingers stabbed her in the back. This of course isn't true. Thatcherism essentially unleashed forces that were to destroy her premiership.

At its basic level Thatcher's aim was to destroy the Labour Party and 'socialism', not to, say, transform the British economy. If the economy was transformed, that was good, but it was a second-order goal. Socialism was to be destroyed by restructuring the electorate, essentially through the destruction of the industrial working-class. This was done through attacking the idea of class as a concept, via home ownership or popular capitalism, and the economy viewed not as a productive force, but as a lottery in which many would gain, and many would lose.

The problem of course was that it was incredibly unstable, and many of the winners became losers. Furthermore the political strategy was also risky. To take up populism and against Old Etonians is 'to play with fire' -- the outcome might not be what you wanted. McKibben notes that Thatcher spent much time grovelling to tabloids, but tabloid culture in the end was as damaging to the Tories as Labour. Furthermore the class system she brought into place, a large and ill-defined middle class, was not really Conservative at all. The old Tory working-class meanwhile had sisappeared.

So her legacy was destructive. McKibben notes that of her successors, only one wasn't Thatcherite, and she did her best to destroy him. Hague thought about changing direction, but panicked. IDS was more Thatcher than Thatcher. Howard is a Thatcherite who's good at bruising (my attempts to recast him as a social democrat have clearly passed Lancaster and McKibben by).

In conclusion she was really riding a wave common to most western countries, and indeed many (New Zealand for example) went much further than she. However this historic and successful movement she gave 'a vocabulary, a dynamic force, an indomitable character, which personalised it and made it inescapable'.

Wednesday, March 10, 2004

Top Tip

Young Right-Wing Bloggers,

Stuck with something to say? Can't quite get the requisite level of outrage mixed with hatred? Click on this link, then right-click on the photo and 'set as background'.

There -- your very own 'Nearly the same view as Peter Cuthbertson does when blogging'. Off you go!

If you've still can't get quite the right words to slag-off single mothers, fulminate against foreigners, or tear into terrorists, down six pints of this stuff and stick this on the CD. If that doesn't work, you'd better join the Lib Dems.

More small stuff...

Viz this month has an excellent cartoon strip, 'Wacky Racists', with Hitler, Eugene Terreblance, Unity Mitford, Bernard Manning and 'David Irving and his sidekick Mosley' (no direct link, but here and latest issue for a taster.)


It also has a nice letter of the week, where Mrs Close notes an issue that you'd think the Tories would be banging on about:

"I was shocked to hear Home Secretary David Blunkett say that Britain's prison population has been ballooning for the past ten years. My God, has the world gone mad? Those people are there to be punished, not to be given 'thrill of a lifetime' experiences that most law abiding citizens can only dream of.
Mrs Close, Headingley "

British hero cleared; no news on Canadian cheat

British hero Greg Rusedski has been cleared of all drug charges, only a few weeks after Canadian drug cheat G.Rusedski was caught red-handed.

Quick posts..

The news that one of the Guantanamo suspects has been freed on his arrival in the UK begs the obvious question -- why was he kept in Cuba so long? If it is found they were held on the most flimsy of evidence I hope all the decent Starters will make attempts to disassociate themselves from George Bush, lest we think they support this kind of thing.

Changing subject, given 'libertarians' believe that liberty is the freedom from being prevented doing something, rather than the freedom to do something, presumably they believe English people were more free to travel the world in 1750 than they are in today's world of passports and visas. Isn't that weird?

After our dicussion about the hatred between the two rugby codes, put down to a mixture of class-hatred and regionalism, what can describe the behavour that made me watch not only Man U's defeat against Porto live, but also a Sky+ recording of it this morning to just start the day off on a bang? I would call it anti-Mancism, but as everyone knows all their supporters come from Kent.



Monday, March 08, 2004

It's going to get strange results

Given how many people with internet connections seems to blog these days, I'm wondering whether YouGov will find rather unexpected the results to this question in their latest poll

"And in the last week, how many people have you offered advice to, though they didn’t actually ask you for it (for example, telling someone to try a great restaurant you’ve just been to, or a good deal you’ve spotted)?"

0-1, 1 to 2, 3 to 4, 5 to 6, 7 to 8, 9 to 10, 11 to 15, 15 to 20, more than 20

More good Tory opportunityism

It sometimes seem that whatever I hope will be Tory policy on Monday becomes so on Tuesday, or thereabouts. Thanks to Bob for the heads-up on this one, from Shadow Tory foreign secretary, Michael Ancram.

"Our relationship to the United States will be one of genuine partnership not of subservience. When we disagree we will say so. Where we can persuade we will do so."

I once said that although Tony Blair would jump into a lake if George Bush asked him to, Iain Duncan Smith would empty the lake of water, then jump in, just to prove he was willing to go further. The new Tory leadership seems made of better stuff.

Sunday, March 07, 2004

Insulting Clinton the easy way

John Pilger is getting some stick for calling President Clinton "a crypto-fascist" and deservedly so (though it reminds one a bit of Mrs Thatcher's memorable rant against Neil Kinnock). Surely if you wished to insult Clinton it would have been easier just to recall Chris Hitchen's description, which was "War criminal, criminal psychopath and rapist".

Good news for Labour?

This post on Samizdata is a good example of the risks in making sporting predictions,

"England play Ireland at Twickenham this afternoon – and are looking good"

Now let's not be harsh on the author, it would be a dull world where nobody made sporting predictions and he admits it leaves him with egg on his face. Yet England's defeat does raise some issues mentioned in another post by the same author before the rugby world cup, when in a bizarre post he said,

" Basically, it would suit the Conservatives if the England rugby team were to triumph, while many Labour supporters would probably prefer England to make a humiliatingly early exit...The England rugby team now gives off the precise atmosphere of teamwork, toughness, modesty, effectiveness, confidence-without-arrogance, upward economic mobility, emotional commitment, patriotism and yet non-toffness and non-ghastliness that the Conservative Party is trying to radiate, or ought to be trying to radiate if it knows what's good for it. If England do shine as brightly as they well could in this World Cup, it will be one more little boost for the Conservatives, and one more little nail in the coffin of the New Labour project."

So presumably yesterday was a good day for Labour.




Thursday, March 04, 2004

Honesty is a wonderful thing. But is it wise?

The Labour Party has a reputation for shooting itself in the foot, and this page on their website really doesn't do them any favours, proclaming:

"The Labour Party - the party that can never say no"

Michael Howard's first four months

On Saturday Michael Howard has been Conservative leader for four months, which seems an appropriate time to take stock.

As a party member and contributor I have been generally pleased with his leadership, despite my initial scepticism. This seems a view shared by many of the electorate, with the Conservatives 5% ahead in most opinion polls.

On the policy side Howard has moved us back to the left. He has maintained Ian Duncan Smith's courageous policy of free higher education for all, linking of the basic state pension to average earnings growth, and reaching out to groups that traditionally have shunned the Tories. But Howard has gone further than IDS -- promising to increase health and education spending to levels never seen in this country, slash defence and other spending traditionally associated with the Conservatives. Most impressively, this week we saw evidence that Howard is planning to break from IDS's policy of slavish support for the government's foreign policy, which has caused this country so much damage.

In short, I can see literally no reason why a consistent social democratic would want anybody but Michael Howard to win the next general election.

Good consequences of the War in Iraq

Everywhere you hear more and more good consequences of the recent war in Iraq -- Libya handing over its weapons, Pakistan playing nicely, terrorists leaving our shores and heading to Iraq like flies to flypaper...you know the rest. In fact there must be hundreds of good things caused by the war that people just don't realise did, and certainly don't give credit to Tony and George for.

No. 1 A warmer Britain

This is pretty impressive. A direct result of the Iraq war, President Bush's 'Warming World' strategy, used the energy from the munitions fired at Iraq, combined with the warm glow from the moral high ground, to increase the average daily temperature in Britain by a statistically significant 17 degrees farenheit. Obviously the Baathist insurgency from September muddies the picture, but hey, you know who to blame for that.

Date ---------- Average Daily Temperature
Before the War
Jan ---------- 39.6 F
Feb ---------- 40.3 F
Mar ---------- 43.0 F
Apr ---------- 47.7 F

After the war
May ---------- 53.8 F
Jun ---------- 59.5 F
Jul ---------- 63.0 F
Aug ---------- 62.1 F



Update: I am deeply chuffed that this post has received its very own Chris Lightfoot chart, which incidentally proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that indeed the war made it warmer.

Building democracies

There are of course great exceptions to my description of blogs (see comments below) as merely written down pub closing-time conversations. Here is an excellent piece by Marc Mulholland on the difficulties of building democracies, and how to say so re: Iraq is not just underestimating the capacities of people in the Middle East.

Wednesday, March 03, 2004

On the Lib Dems

If you were to spend your life reading nothing but blogs you would get a pretty strange view of the Lib Dems. You would think they were 'After the BNP, the most vile, dishonest party that has graced UK politics ever', their spokesman 'pointless indivduals', and that their members discuss politics a lot.

If on the other hand you read other forms of media, such as our oldest daily national newspaper, you might get a different opinion, on how vile they are;

"The Lib Dems are no longer just the temporary home for protest votes by people with widely divergent views. Repeated polls show that there is now a growing identity between the policies of the party and the opinions of their supporters: anti-war; sympathetic to asylum-seekers; pro-Europe; in short, liberal Britain. So the Lib Dems offer a home for disillusioned former Labour supporters (notably educated professionals) and for those not yet, or ever, ready to switch to the Tories. "

on their relevance,

"The surefootedness of Sir Menzies Campbell, the Lib Dem foreign affairs spokesman, in handling Iraq in countless media interviews has done the party a lot of good. "

and on...well ok.. they do discuss politics a lot.

Party donations

I found this site via James Graham's blog, and fascinating it is too.

Who is William A Tippett (the BNP's largest donor at £7k)?
Or Norbrook Laborataries (the Tories' 4th largest, and biggest corporate donor)?
Or Hereford Liberal Club (a big Lib-Dem donor)

Luckily the site also tells you (e.g Norbrook are a pharmaceutical company specialising in drugs for animals)

Off we go again

From the comments in Harry's Place,

"Bobby,

I didn't ask the antiwar movement to apologise. I simply asked if they would condemn this [yesterday's bombings in Iraq] act of genocidal terror. And clearly your answer to that is NO.

And if you won't condemn it, that means you support it - therefore you share in the moral responsibility for these murderous acts.

Posted by Jack R at March 2, 2004 10:29 PM"


Now regular readers will know that I have already set up the Moderate Muslims' Immoderate Muslim Notification Service (MMIMNS) which for a small fee condemns acts by immoderate Muslims on behalf of their moderate brothers, in order to wade off this kind of stuff (which usually ends by quoting an Orwell quote that Orwell didn't like to quote).

I also have course Marched Against Evil And Terror, something I imagine Jack R might not have done. But now it's clear it wasn't enough. So today I launch the Terror Condemnation Service. Essentially like the MMIMNS this will condemn any act of terror anywhere and at all times, thus saving you the bother of having to make sure people like 'Jack R' don't think that you support such acts of terror. Pricing the same as the MMIMNS.


Tuesday, March 02, 2004

Stirring words

from Oliver Kamm,

"My conclusion is the usual one, because it’s the truth."

Labour in trouble

Anthony links to a new opinion poll putting the Conservatives 5% ahead of Labour, the second month in a row. Blair's lead over Howard as best PM though rises from 2% to 4%.

Monday, March 01, 2004

The legality of war

This post on Harry's Place by 'Marcus' is at once rather funny, and profoundly depressing. It's funny because, unless he is merely saying that no international law cn blow the 6th Fleet out of the water, his assertion that there is no international law governing invasions of countries is profoundly misguided, as you can see by his shifting position in the comments much like Michael Howard before a WMD inquiry. It's depressing however in its seeming rejection of the desirability of any laws governing international relations beween country.

Now clearly international law is not well codified, understood, observed and applied like national laws. But it does exist, and indeed the attempt to legalise international relations and literally outlaw war was one of the good things to come out of WWII. It is also true that international law -- like any law -- can lead to sub-optimal outcomes, but I still don't think it's in the left's interest to suddenly say it was all a waste of time and might is right, regardless of how superior we think our democracies our, and the moral authority it gives us. That it should normally be illegal for countries to invade other countries remains something worth hanging on to, and is something both President G.H.W.Bush and Mrs Thatcher were quite happy to say, too.

British Spin raises the issue of humanitarian reasons for intervention, which don't get much leeway in much international law. And it is true that there has been a evolving belief that humanitarian catastrophes can require intervention outside of the UN charter- but this was not made by either government with respect to Iraq, and indeed Blair and members of the Administration intonated that they would be ok with Saddam staying in power if he gave up his WMDs.

This is not to say that I believe the war is illegal. I trust Tony Blair to have checked this out, and indeed his Attorney General declared it was (something that presumably makes a mockery of claims that wars cannot be illegal or legal), and it seems senior figures in the Army, who had been concerned, were reassured by this.

Howard duped

From Conservatives.com in early February

""I am confident that the terms of reference cover the use made by the Government of the intelligence," Mr Howard told conservatives.com. He added: "If we have a thorough report on the nature of the intelligence and the way in which it was used by the Government, which is fairly and squarely within the remit, then it will be open to everyone to make their own judgements about why we went to war and whether the reasons were justified."

Today

"It makes clear that it will consider such acts or omissions only in the context of its examinations of structures, systems and processes," said Mr Howard. "There is no basis in the terms of reference for that view and I consider it a quite unjustifiable restriction on the committee's approach. After careful reflection of these matters, I have therefore, decided with regret to withdraw my cooperation from the Butler Review."

Monumentally ill-advised?

As the Tories withdraw from the Butler WMD inquiry, what will Conservative-leaning blog LibDemWatch say? When the Lib Dems refused to take part, they noted

"After trying for days to put into words how monumentally ill-advised the Lib Dems' choice to have no involvement in the Butler inquiry is, perhaps it's best to point you towards this satirical take on the matter. The grain of truth in this piece of satire is more like a boulder.

Posted by Oatencakes at February 7, 2004 10:08 PM "