Monday, May 31, 2004

Weekend stuff

I was going to write a 'Who to vote for in the forthcoming elections' but a bit like Chris Lightfoot the experience of doing some research depressed me so much I'll have to just do some recommendations from my weekend.

Surrey County Show - I love these sorts of things. Lots of farm animals, nice from-the-farm food, things to watch, expensive cars to sit in, good selection of drinks etc. The next big one is the East of England show on the 18th - 20th June.

333 club -- Good club this in Old Street, London. Main recommendation is that there doesn't seem to be a queue at pub-closing time, but the music was quite good too. However don't leave girlfriend stuck without a phone and keys locked out as that can get you in trouble when you return home 6 hours later than promised.

Florist Bar -- Pub in Bethnal Green London. Probably the best pub in East London, in my opinion, based on being there for a few hours, and having not been to any others for about five years. Again terrific music.

Uncles - Restaurant on Portobello Road. Good place for cheap breakfast/brunch food (though its Bloody Mary left something to be desired).

Hopper at the Tate -- This exhibition of Edward Hopper at the Tate Modern looks. However found no time during the drinking and eating to get to it. Will try this week.

Thatcher - Grocer's Daughter, by John Campbell -- Got this out of the local library (wonderful institutions, can't recommend them highly enough) and it's a fantastic description of the Iron Lady's life until she became Prime Minister. Sympathetic, but by no means fawning, the book really brings home how sexist British social and political life was, particularly in Tory circles, and what an achievement it was for Thatcher to overcome this.

Sunday, May 30, 2004

Grouchy old man post

It's not the London Times! I realise that obviously calling it that helps distinguish it from the New York Times, which is often called 'The Times' for short. And clearly that's why lots of Americans call it that. But as we've seen in Iraq, just becaue lots of Americans do something doesn't make it right. It's just not the London Times. People just don't call it that.

The British Times. The English Times. The Times that is printed in Britain. The Murdoch-owned Times. The Times that isn't as good as it used to be (ok perhaps this is not clear either). Even, at a stretch, the Times of London. But not the London Times!

Friday, May 28, 2004


A handy guide from the BBC to each party's Euro-electoin manifesto, with links to the actual document.

Den Beste

Nick Barlow quoted the other day this shorter version of a Steven Den Beste post:

"(4,000 words which display a broad range of knowledge spanning a number of subjects, combined with smart analysis and interesting insights, leading up to-)

It is then impossible to escape the conclusion that we must invoke NATO's Article V and conduct a global war against France.

(Sound of thousands of readers interested by preceding technical discussion simultaneously going "Wait- what the fuck?")"

And indeed it is in some ways true. Although the man does use the events of September 11th, when a jet airliner was flown into a skyscraper murdering thousands of people, as a source of humour, he does sometimes come up with something interesting to say, such as this post (only read the first bit though, and ignore the stupid reference to modern war films) one about British hero Bill Foxley (who incidentally is still alive).

And then he goes and ruins it by saying it shows John Kerry is not fit to be President.

As expected...'s Hitchen's defence of Chalabi. It's a total mess, but worth reading just for fun. One strange thing is you could read the whole article and not realise that most of the claims about Chalabi are coming from within the Administration, another is that he ignores most of the recent damaging allegations until the end.

When he does get around to them though it's the funniest bit, unfortunately. Nod-nod, wink-wink it's not true.

As to the accusation that Chalabi has endangered American national security by slipping secrets to Tehran, I can only say that three days ago, I broke my usual rule and had a "deep background" meeting with a very "senior administration official." This person, given every opportunity to signal even slightly that I ought to treat the charges seriously, pointedly declined to do so. I thought I should put this on record.

What's staggering is that Hitchens doesn't delve into why the Administration would be turning against him if -- as a "senior administration official" told him -- he shouldn't take the charge seriously. At the very least does he not care about good government? And does he not think that maybe this level of incompetence may be the reason things are going so badly in Iraq?


I am very proud to introduce a world exclusive on this blog. By means which I cannot disclose, I've got my hands on a copy of George Bush's planned foreign policy if he wins another term as President.

Here it is, every last word.

Military Intelligence

in all its glory.

I particularly liked:

What is one to make, for example, of the way Captain Leo Merck is said to have behaved? Captain Merck, in charge of a military police unit, is alleged to have spent his time in Iraq taking "nude pictures of female soldiers without their knowledge".

His colleague, Captain Damaris Morales, is ticked off for failing to train his troops. One of them proved unable, it is alleged, to get out of his vehicle without accidentally letting off his M-16 rifle. Taguba drily notes: "Round went into fuel tank."

We wanna get loaded

Here's the memo in which Nixon is said to be too drunk to speak to the British PM.


The Economist has an interesting article about the decline of the English (and Welsh and Scottish and perhaps Northern Irish burglary).

Basically the number of burglaries has fallen from about 1.8m a year in 1993 to 1.0m a year last year. The reasons for this appear to be:

1. The value of stealable items has fallen, i.e. hi-fis, DVDs, videos, computers. Only large TVs have increased in value and they are too large to burgle. Credit cards, cheques, cash and mobile phones are now the most common items, but these are either easy to cancel or just aren't in as many houses, or as easy to find, as TVs, videos etc.

2. Better policing. Infiltration of professional gangs have meant most burglaries are now amateur affairs, often by drug-addicts. These people aren't very good at burglary, to put it mildly.

Thursday, May 27, 2004

An updated "blogroll"

I've updated the "blogroll", and it's got longer. Luckily so has my whole site, now I've eschewed posting my own thoughts and instead just copy and paste huge chunks of the London Review of Books.

I did have a policy of not linking to American blogs as I assumed everyone already read them. However I realised I did link to BDL's site, so this wasn't particularly well adhered to.

The Virtual Stoa is Three!

Chris Brooke's excellent Virtual Stoa is 3 years old, which makes the site pretty remarkable purely for its longevity. Given the slow disappearance of much of my blogroll I'm pleased to say also it shows no signs of expiring which is good news, perhaps even splendid news.

One feels one should offer a present, but times are hard, so instead I'll offer a link to Melanie Phillips' website, of which I know Chris is a great fan, and today's Mel observation, which is

Ask any apparently intelligent, educated anti-war person and they will tell you the whole thing was cooked up by the Jews

and my favourite Mel observation of 2004 so far (from a long list):

...[The similarities of anti-war folk] with those who thought 'jaw-jaw' was better than 'war-war', are uncanny. These are indeed the all too familiar weasel words of appeasement.

Why did he do it?

There's a good essay in the LRB on why Blair decided to take part in the invasion of Iraq? It takes a pyschological approach, which I usually think can mislead, but in this case I think is perhaps the only explanation. The article is long, and worth reading in full, but you need to be a subscriber. I'll try to quote some of the best bits of the first half.

Runciman starts by asking whether Iraq is Blair's Suez, and noting the similarities in planning and execution. In particular:

"Above all, though, what seems to unite Eden and Blair is the sheer recklessness of their military adventures, their willingness to stake everything on wars they could have avoided if they had wanted to. Both Suez and Iraq were huge, and seemingly foolhardy, political gambles with the futures of their respective governments. Neither prime minister was in entirely clear political waters before he went to war, but each was in a pretty secure position: both had recently won decisive election victories, and though both had critics within their own parties, there was nothing there or on the opposition benches that called for drastic action. Certainly nothing in domestic politics demanded from either of them an all-or-nothing roll of the dice."


"Yet while it is true that both Eden and Blair were ready to risk everything on the outcome of military conflicts they could not ultimately control, these were in fact very different kinds of gamble, from very different kinds of gambler. Blair's Iraq is distinguished from Eden's Suez by the different attitudes towards risk that these episodes reveal. The differences are as telling as any similarities between them."

Basically he argues that Blair is

"a highly risk-averse politician who nevertheless likes to play for very high stakes.This is not quite as crazy, or as uncommon, as it sounds. Some poker players like to wait until they have what they feel certain is a winning hand, and then put everything on the table, even if it risks driving everyone else out and shrinking the size of the pot. The thought that they can drive everyone else out is what reassures them."

This is what guides Blair's political decisions, according to Runcimann.

"Tony Blair has not committed political suicide, not yet anyway. It is one of his great strengths that he has a pretty sure sense of when he has more political capital in the bank than his opponents. When he does, this is the risk strategy he likes to adopt: to be ready to stake everything to guarantee some success, even if the rewards are relatively small. "

An early example was over Clause Four, then Kosovo, and indeed tuition fees and the Hutton Report.

"This risk-averse, high-stakes strategy is one of the things that set Blair apart from the two other most significant British politicians of the last decade. Gordon Brown is another risk-averse politician, but one who prefers to play for low stakes, endlessly and tirelessly working the percentages to build up his political reserves. Ken Livingstone, by contrast, is a politician who seems genuinely happy to take big risks, and to gamble everything on uncertain ventures that offer the prospect of spectacular rewards. Blair has frequently been frustrated by what he sees as Brown's excessive caution, particularly over the euro, about which the chancellor is not willing to take any chances. Likewise, Blair has invariably been appalled by Livingstone's cavalier disregard for the safe option, and for the finer details of political calculation. Nevertheless, he has enough in common with each of them to be able to work with both."

"Blair's attitude to risk helps to explain why he was ready to commit himself so early to Bush's military plans for dealing with Iraq. In one sense, this represented a huge gamble. By allying himself with a staunchly right-wing American president, against the wishes of many in his own party and a large section of British public opinion, Blair was risking his own political reputation and that of his government on what appeared to be a whim. But in Blair's eyes, this was absolutely not a whim; rather, it was the only risk worth taking. Blair is drawn to the Americans because of their overwhelming strength. He recognised that nothing would stop Bush getting his way in Iraq in the end. In the circumstances, he seems genuinely to have believed that it was too risky to allow the United States to go it alone. Everyone involved in the Iraq crisis thinks that everyone else has been reckless in one way or another ('reckless, reckless, reckless', Clare Short said shortly before she failed to resign). Blair's view is that those who opposed the war, including the French and German governments, were risking the unity of the West for the sake of an argument they could not win. It is not in Blair's nature to believe that it is worth taking a chance on weakness rather than strength. But nor is it in his nature to believe that once you take a chance, it is worth holding anything back."

"This is what makes Iraq so different from Suez. Both were huge gambles, but Eden's government staked its reputation on what was essentially an enormous bluff. To succeed, it needed its opponents to believe that it was stronger than it was. When Eisenhower's administration withheld military and financial support for the operation, that illusion could not be sustained, and the bluff was exposed. It is inconceivable that Blair would ever allow himself to get into such a position. This is in part a matter of temperament: he just doesn't feel comfortable bluffing. But it is also because Blair's personal attitude to risk coincides with the lesson that the British political establishment drew from the Suez debacle: it is never worth bluffing the Americans. In this respect, Blair's Iraq policy is an inversion of Eden's recklessness at Suez, because the one thing Blair was not willing to contemplate was being frozen out by the US. Indeed, he seems to have been prepared to risk almost anything to avoid that fate. "

Wednesday, May 26, 2004


Obviously apologies, and the lack of them, have been much in the news over the last year. You can't really beat this one from Orson Welles, said at the end of his infamous 1938 War of the Worlds broadcast (on CBS radio).

This is Orson Welles ladies and gentleman, out of character. We annihilated the world before you very ears, and utterly destroyed the CBS. You will be relieved, i hope, to learn that we didn't mean it.

While on panicky quotes, I have to repeat this great one from the Permanent Under-Secretary to the Cabinet at the time of Suez.

Kirkpatrick told one doubter that 'the PM was the only man in England who wanted the nation to survive; that all the rest of us have lost the will to live; that in two years' time Nasser will have deprived us of our oil, the sterling area fallen apart, no European defence possible, unemployment and unrest in the UK and our standard of living reduced to that of the Yugoslavians or Egyptians

The phrase, if I remember rightly, is "to wig".

Tory frontbencher to help Kerry campaign

Yep, its Alan Duncan.

Can a Howard endorsement be far off?

Joan Collins

The news that political heavyweight Joan Collins is backing the UK Independence Party reminds me of her stunning intervention into European politics last summer.

You may recall that she gave an impassioned argument against the euro because it had increased the price of living on the notoriously cheap Cote d'Azur by 30%, specifically dinner in her local bistro.

Oddly enough the local inflation indices suggested prices had risen on average by 5%, or maybe a little more for service goods.

So what was she on about? Suddenly I realised. Collins referred to the price of dinner in sterling. She doesn't understand that sterling is not the currency of the euro area. Once you realise this, and that sterling had fallen against the euro by nearly 20% since Jan 1 2002, the mystery is solved.

In other words it was because we HAD NOT joined the euro that her local bistro meal was more expensive, not because they HAD joined it. How stupid can you get?

Two Independent stories

So know we know...the War in Iraq has increased the risk of international terrorism, while weakening the internationa coalition against it, according a report out yesterday by the reputable Institute for Strategic Studies.

This is hardly suprising. This site has often wondered why the PM believed spring 2003 was the right time to divert scare resources of men and money away from the fight against terrorism to instead fight someone who's main threat to Britain was in the PM's own head.

Also, it has long been a surprise to me whilst so-called leftwingers spend more time "exposing" fringe leftist groups who have as much chance of real power as a bloggers collective, rather than parties that actually may gain some political control. Luckily Johann Hari today takes on the foul UKIP, which is currently riding high in the opinion polls ahead of the Euro elections.
This is a pay version, but check here in the near future where it'll be for free.

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

Well he did warn you!

Aslef leader warns of union rift

16th April

Aslef trio suspended over 'brawl'

25th May

A remarkable achievment

Blair's announcement today that the provisional Iraqi government can, if it wants, tell the coalition troops to go home is a remarkable achievement for the prospective provisional government.

For that weak, divided and under-strain authority has achieved a level of control it is believed no British government has ever managed with respect to US forces in Britain.

Which of these is more embarassing?

Mark Kleiman asks about the Ahmed Chabali affair.

Monday, May 24, 2004

Some old Den Beste madness

Via Crooked Timber I was reminded of this wonderful Den Beste moment from last year.

Just how far are [the French] willing to take their opposition to us? They've reached the point where it seems as if they're willing to make any sacrifice. Do they see the stakes as being high enough so that they might actually threaten to nuke us?

This is only slightly more bizarre than his post today in which he says when stood next to a girl in a "tube-top" sometimes an inner voice tells him to 'yank' it down to expose her "treasures" but he's moral, because he doesn't.

I suppose at least it stops him making jokes about September 11th.

It's the left's fault

Christopher Hitchens' column comes out in Slate tomorrow, and the question we need to ask is how will he manage to write a column blaming the left for the stories coming out about Ahmed Chabali.

Back in 2003 Hitchens was a supporter of Chabali's. However in his column three weeks' ago he back-tracked somewhat, with the ingenious technique of saying 'at least he proves he's not a American puppet' and criticising Colin Powell (for reportedly saying that much of the problems in Iraq were his fault) and the CIA (for having a vendetta against him).

So what tomorrow? I suspect we'll get more of the 'well the fact he was spying for Iraq shows he's definitely not an American puppet', muddled in with some criticism of a CIA vendetta, followed with a reminder that spying for the Iranians is not shredding your opponents to death, concluding with a 'you want Saddam back' and 'It's the left's fault'. However you never know, Hitchens may surprise us -- unlike many on the right he at least realised what a disaster the torture images were.

UK politics

Two stories that don't seem to have got much blog coverage are the UKIP being ahead of the Liberal Democrats in a poll on voting intention for the European elections (in today's Telegraph), and Oliver Letwin's admission that he wants government spending to be reduced to 30% of GDP, from a projected 42% by the time of the next election.

First, the UKIP beating the Lib Dems. As usual, Anthony Wells does the hard work and tells us what it means. And it looks like it means the UKIP are ahead of the Lib Dems.

The reasons for this seem quite clear. First turnout is going to be absymal. The lower the turnout the higher the UKIP (and Tories') share of the vote. The reasons for this aren't hard to fathom, and if they are say the word 'head bangers' a few times, which should make it clear, if perhaps unfairly. Second and related, about 10% of the electorate seem prepared to vote for the UKIP in a European election, but not in a general election. Thus it's a protest vote too.

So the Lib Dems could come fourth. This is not historically unheard of - in 1989 the Green Party took 15% of the vote with the Libs (then called the Social & LD) on only 6.3%.

Second, Letwin's "gaffe" as it is being called. Basically in a private meeting he is said to have said that his aim is to reduce public spending to 30% of GDP, but at the moment electoral considerations don't allow it. I should note that he denies this, saying that he was literally just saying that electoral considerations wouldn't allow it, without giving an opinion, and in any case philosophically the Conservatives wish to increase spending on the NHS and education.

Taking his denial and ignoring it, it is interesting to note how 30% of GDP could be achieved as opposed to 40% (say). First internationally it's worth remembering that this would be a very low total, in fact basically the lowest, below the US & Japan (once you add regional spending in). Second, historically it's a very low figure too. It has never been anywhere near 30% post World War II. Third, in terms of actual pounds we're talking a cut of just under a third, or about £167bn (spending in 2005/2006 planned to be £500bn).

The obvious targets are the largest. They were (forecast) on the department expenditure side, £77bn for the NHS, £46bn for local government, £33bn for defence, £31bn for education, £22bn for Scotland and £12bn for transport, On the annually managed expenditure (demand-based, not fixed) then social security is the largest by far at £121bn, with £15bn for income support/jobseekers allowance, £22bn for debt service.

Starting with the largest then, almost half of this is pensions, with Income support, Housing benefit, Child benefit and Incapacity benefit making up a similar amount together. Housing benefit could probably be cut a bit, but at £13bn even a 50% cut wouldn't get very far towards your total of £167bn. A better option might be to privatise the state pension, and make large contributions to private pensions compulsory, which you could then use to pretend it was no longer public spending. However it's not clear the public would accept compulsory private pensions where individiuals contributions didn't go solely to their future pension.

On the spending side the obvious target is the NHS, but along with education the Conservatives have said they won't cut this for the time being. Even after that time it would be hard to imagine huge cuts. However again the most likely option seems a semi-privatisation, which would allow spending to be shifted to the private sector whilst maintaining it in the NHS.

More American news

As usual all the best coverage of the insurgencies in Iraq and Washington can be found on other sites.

Kevin Drum has loads of good stuff. A prominent international relations expert Democrat says the mood in Washington is the worst for 30 years:

Leslie H. Gelb, a former president of the private Council on Foreign Relations — and a top Pentagon strategist during the Vietnam War — said he had never seen confidence sink as quickly in Washington as it has in recent weeks.

"I've never heard the kind of dark defeatism I'm hearing now, both in and out of government, including the worst days of the Vietnam War," said Gelb, a Democrat. "Support for this war is plummeting. In Vietnam, that happened much more slowly, and only after much higher casualties.

Also it seems that much of the US's pre-war intelligence may have been faked by defectors from Ahmed Chalabi's organisation (itself funded by the Pentagon). The old saying that neo-cons were 'liberals mugged by reality' should perhaps be amended to noting that they are 'right-wingers mugged by the Iranian spy agency'.

Anyway, the National Review stands by their man, and elsewhere allegations are flying that it's all a CIA put-up job to discredit him.

I guess in these dark days we should all be thankful that the Bush white house is run so much more competently and efficiently than the Clinton one.

ps Incidentally though I disagreed with the suggestion from Martin Kettle (seen on Harry's Place) that Blair should publicly disagree with Bush (even to commenting on Rumsfeld's position) merely to bolster his own support, it is a little weird that Michael Howard gets criticised for saying what he said, whilst in Washington most of the Administration is in open warfare.

Saturday, May 22, 2004

US strategy in Iraq

To most of us it's often hard to work out what the US game plan in Iraq is, or even if they have one at all. For the Administration's cheerleaders of course it's always obvious. The terrorists attacks bedevilling the coalition troops to us are a disaster of planning; to them it's actually Rummy's brilliant "flypaper" strategy to attack terrorists to where the US army can defeat them.

Even so, it's hard to see how they'll spin today's news news(via Nick Barlow) that neo-con favourite Ahmed Chabali appears -- essentially - to have been an Iranian spy, and much of the intelligence fed to the US about Iraq was fed to them by Iranian intelligence. Even more confusingly Chabali was paid about £200,000 a month by the Americans to do this.

Perhaps this was a Wolfowitz master plan, paying a man to give American secrets to the Iranians in order to increase Iranian control in the region thus overstretching them causing their inevitable collapse? Or was this another Rummy grand idea, using US taxpayers money to give Iran secrets in return for increased oil? Or maybe this one was Bush's? Who knows.

Friday, May 21, 2004

A defining moment

We now know what it must have been like to hear the news that Everest had been conquered, or the 4 minute mile had been broken. Yes, today a generation-defining moment happened.

The world record for the number of people riding naked on a rollcoaster has been set. It stands at 28, because that is the capacity of the rollcoaster where this remarkable feat was set.

Will the world ever be the same again?

Thursday, May 20, 2004

Petrol tax

Clearly given the impact it will have on the population of this country one cannot look forward to a petrol station blockade, but at least it will see whether the current Tory party believes in law and order.

In the meantime the question of petrol tax has cropped up. Michael Howard has said that the government should defer tax increases, or even lower taxes, if the world market price is rising. The government made a similar argument last year.

In practical terms this has some merit. A high petrol tax cushions us against swings in the oil price, and changing it does so more. However one must be careful. If we were to lower the petrol tax when the oil price rose, and raise it (as practically one would have to in order to protect revenue) when the oil price fell, we are essentially (currency changes aside) giving OPEC a free ride. They can increase the price of oil without concern about demand falling. Oil would have no price elasticity. Thus prices would rise.

Too good to refer to as a blogger

As one of the bloggers in the sidebar once said to me, 'I don't like to call Talking Points Memo a blog as it rather denigrates it to put it in the same category as X and Y' [insert blogs you dislike].

Indeed it's true. Talking Points Memo is the best political blog out there. Indeed it's one of the best sources of political information out there.

I'll link to some good bits from today, but really read it all.

On liberals being blamed for the current mess:

"Let's be a little more clear about what's going on here. Having led the country perilously close to humiliation and defeat, the architects of the war want to shift the blame for what's happened to their opponents who either said the whole thing was a mistake in the first place or criticized the incompetence of its execution as it unfolded. They take the blame, the moral accountability, by 'wishing' for a bad result. That at least is [their] reasoning."

On Chalabi:

"Chalabi's dwindling number of Washington supporters have awkwardly claimed that his efforts to ally himself with Shia Islamist groups in Iraq is an evidence of their man's 'pragmatism', recognizing the political realities of the country and adjusting accordingly. This is an echo of their pre-invasion efforts to explain the copious funding Chalabi received from the government of Iran, which, in case you hadn't noticed, is not supposed to be a great friend of ours.

If you're looking for any entertainment, any silver lining to this mess, watch the faces of the hardest core Chalabistas and watch the less and less subtle ripples of chagrin on their faces as their man more and more publicly shows how much he played them for fools."

Howard says tell the world you and Bush disagree

I have blogged before that I think the Conservatives should take a more anti-war stance, and would reap some electoral benefit from doing so.

Thus it is interesting to see Michael Howard's statement today suggesting that a British PM should publicly announce the disagreements he has with an American President.

A week ago I noted here (second comment) when a similar idea was floated by Martin Kettle and Harry, this seems a sure-fire way to end what is left of the special relationship.

The suggestion there was Blair should directly intervene in whether one of President Bush's cabinet ministers -- the best in that position ever, we are told -- should be fired, and to do so for electoral gain. Howard's suggestion is somewhat more nuanced.

But still in the end it's not going to fly. Even Howard seems rather confused, saying, 'Of course I don't want him [Mr Blair] to speak against America". These things are best kept private.

Good days, and there are bad days

This was a bad one for Ahmed Chalabi.

Who knows why this raid happened? It does make you wonder though, just days after the Congress cut off his funding, why so many people (e.g. Melanie Phillips) suggest that if only he'd been allowed to plan and execute the invasion of Iraq everything would have been ok.

New Iraqi poll

In yesterday's Financial Times. The poll is not out until next week, but from the article findings so far are:

* more than 50% of Iraqis want coalition troops to leave Iraq
* 88% see coalition forces as occupiers
* Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani was seen as the country's most influential figure, followed by Moqtada al-Sadr
* 32% strongly support Mr Sadr, and 36% somewhat support him.

However it is not all bad news. Actually it is at the moment, but as I said the poll is not out yet, and I imagine there saving some of the more optimistic findings.

Guess the Mail columnist II

Mother always knows what is best for her child. This is the underlying assumption in the case of the 14-year-old who had an abortion without her mother's permission. This is a sad case in which I fear this girl will indeed have been damaged as much by her notoriety as the actual abortion

(Clue - from the Sunday)

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

Hitchens on Vietnam

"I think my quarrel with the media would be different from yours. I think what isn't conveyed enough is the sheer evil and ruthlessness and indeed brilliant organization of the enemy. The media cliche about the war is that it's like Vietnam. The Vietnamese were a very civilized foe and if they had had weapons of mass destruction, for example, wouldn't have used them and didn't target civilians, did use women as fighters and organizers, were not torturers and mass murderers and so forth."

A new game - Which Loopy columnist wrote this

Via Harry's I see that the Daily Mail is now online, but you need to pay to read all but the opening paragraph of its loopy columnists.

So I thought of a new competition,

Which Loopy Columnist wrote this?

Every day I will print the first paragraph of one of the Mail's idiotic columnists, and you have to guess which one it is (no cheating please). For extra marks try to write the most likely following paragraph.

Here's todays (I've started with an easy one).

The British State has just helped a child kill her baby in the womb, and kept the act secret from the girl's own mother. I think it is revolting and frightening, though my opinions - like yours - count for little in a nation governed by an arrogant elite

Condoms filled with purple powder

were thrown at our PM during Question Time today. Forgetting the obvious and serious security issues two things come to mind

1. Private Eye is going to have a field day with its cover.
2. That headline on this blog should get some interesting searches turning up here.


People give their views on the US atrocities.

People are going off...

ID cards.

More opinion polls

Via Anthony there's an interesting and detailed Mori poll. Best to look yourself, though two things caught my eye.

One, the relationship between economic confidence and voting intention seems as strong as ever, though (perhaps to due with Iraq?) the government seems to be a little weaker than it should be.

Two, everyone by now knows that in opinion polls Labour retain a solid lead amongst all voters but on those certain to vote the parties are level-pegging, or even a Tory lead. However (this is the last page) there's also a gender bias.

On all respondents, men split 40-33-20 (lab/con/lib) whilst women split 39-30-24. However on those certain to vote it is 35-40-20 for men, in other words a large proportion of male Labour voters say they won't vote. For women it is 35-32-26, so the same direction, but much less extreme.

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

Am I too cool for Skool?

My flat had a gas leak today, so the gas was turned off, and we had to head out for dinner. Walking down Portobello Road I happened to notice that the Electric Cinema was showing not a normal film but 'DJ Shadow - In tune and on time'.

I'm a great fan of DJ Shadow (Josh Davis), who was widely considered to have made the finest hip-hop/trip-hop/dance album of the 1990s, Entroducing.

So I got the girlfriend to ask what that meant, and we got the slightly curt answer 'private showing'. So off we went.

Then a very nice woman ran after us, and said that two NME competition winners hadn't turned up, so we could have their passes.

This involved sitting in a lovely cinema (seats a bit like business class air travel), with free alcohol, watching the Great Man's new DVD. And then -- he was there himself! Handing out free DVDs, CDs, and t-shirts, all signed.

On that score, I recommend the new RJD2 album, Since we last spoke.

I'll return to photoshopped jokes tomorrow.


Aren't banks stupid?

I changed address, so wrote to a savings account telling them to change it. A week later I can no longer access it over the phone (it is a phone account). I phone the helpline to find out why, and it is because they had problems recognising my signature so cancelled the phone access until I had phoned them to confirm that it was me who wanted to change my address.

I hadn't received a letter, so they sent it again. Then I called up and said "Yes, it's me". For security I had to tell them my balance. "But all my statements have gone to the old address, and you won't let me access the telephone account".

"You'd better write to us".

Until I...

manage to post anything that isn't photoshopped or silly, I suggest you go to Anthony Wells' site, who has a seat calculator (for general elections) and lots of other interesting things.


Article in the FT today (subscription only) makes worrying reading.

"To start with, London and Washington should recognise that they are now combating a full-blown nationalist insurgency - not simply conducting a counter-terrorism campaign. Indeed, the coalition's most dangerous adversaries are no longer foreign fighters or former regime holdouts, but growing numbers of nationalist insurgents. Their fervent nationalism gives them legitimacy and appeal among the very population that US-led troops are trying to secure. One does not defeat such a movement simply by killing insurgents, but by winning popular support and marginalising the rebels. An occupied population looks to its occupiers for one thing above all - not democracy nor electricity, but security. This is what the US and UK have so far failed to provide. If the coalition is to have any chance of regaining Iraqi consent for its presence, it must put public security at the forefront of counter-insurgency strategy. If public security is the primary objective, reducing Iraqi casualties is the means. If fewer Iraqis are killed for whatever reason month to month, the coalition is winning. If the number goes up, the coalition is losing - as it is at present. A form of "reverse body count" should be the metric for success."

Monday, May 17, 2004

More photoshopping

I'll think of something else to do soon, and stop picking on Peter, but for now I saw this on Harry's Place and thought it needed updating.


More right-wing madness

John Derbyshire,

"1. The Abu Ghraib "scandal": Good. Kick one for me. But bad discipline in the military (taking the pictures, I mean). Let's have a couple of courts martial for appearance's sake. Maximum sentence: 30 days CB. "

Not good news, one would think

Leader of Iraq governing council murdered in car bomb

Sunday, May 16, 2004

Did Rumsfeld authorise prisoner mistreatment?

Seymour Hersh says he did. The Pentagon denies it.

Elsewhere Bush's job approval rating drops to 42%. Who are these people?!

A help to bloggers?

Can someone market this to bloggers?

It would make most posts about ten times faster to write.

Loopy right

I don't know why I'm surprised given the author, but I am. Here one of the leading voices of the America right finds something suspicious about Nick Berg ,who was murdered in Iraq last week. Amazing.

Sunday stuff

Well the YouGov poll referred to in the post below seems to have been too uninteresting to make it into the Sunday Telegraph. Which makes me think one should only really pay attention to the regular monthly polls as done by the likes of YouGov and ICM. For how many polls do they conduct that don't support their commissioner's interests and never see the light of day? So when you do see a one-off poll, e.g. in the News of the World, be somewhat sceptical. It might even be a 'good' rogue poll.

Following Chris Lightfoot's lead I'll add a photograph -- it's from my roof terrace (which sounds much grander than it is), where I've just realised you can see the Trellick Tower. Which means the people who live there can see me.
Update - My mistake, it was a Sunday Times poll. Details here, though I think the Sunday Times spins it rather too much. In short Labour are on 34%, the Tories 37%, and 46% to 42% people think Blair should stand down before the next election. That doesn't seem particularly high to me.

Thursday, May 13, 2004

New poll

Should be an interesting poll in the S.Telegraph, as I just did it for YouGov. It is a voting intention poll, asks about people's view of American, the war in Iraq, whether the torture pictures have changed that, etc. It also asks which cabinet ministers would do better than Tony Blair, and if he should resign immediately.

It also asked whether I'm happy with London Electricity, which might be less interesting.

Wednesday, May 12, 2004

This competent government

Do you remember when this shambles of a government had a reputation for, if nothing else, competency? It was admittedly for about three months after May 1st 1997, but nonetheless it was there.

The Independent reports:

"Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, was forced yesterday to contradict Geoff Hoon, the Defence Secretary, over the role of Sir Jeremy Greenstock. Twenty four hours earlier the Defence Secretary told the Commons that one of the reports by the ICRC about prisoner abuse had gone to Sir Jeremey. Mr Straw told MPs: "My understanding is Sir Jeremy did not receive it"

"There was further confusion when the ICRC appeard to challenge the explanation that Sir Jeremy had not received it...Amnesty International accused the Armed Forces minister Adam Ingram of "an unfortunate lapse of memory" over his denial last week in the Commons that he had received adverse reports about the behaviour of British troops in Iraq"

This is getting like the last few years of the Thatcher and Major governments.

Monday, May 10, 2004


You may have noticed that in recent weeks I've not been posting as often as normal. This is not because I have given up the fight against The Left, but the exact opposite, I have gained a new ally (warning:pdf).

The Church

One of the local churces to my house, All Saints Notting Hill, has sent me a letter announcing that it is not going to proceed with erecting a mobile phone mast. The reasons given are:

(The Good)

The operators have not been able to come up with a plan for the installation which would preserve the appearance of the church building.

(The Bad)

The widespread anxiety, as particularly expressed by parents of the Montessori school [MT - which is nowhere near the church], about the possible (though unproven) health risks

(The Ugly)

Concerns expressed to us about the content that would be accessible to users of the new generation of 3G phones, and a lack of an effective way of controlling it or monitoring it.

The last seems particularly silly. Basically he is saying that some people have read you can get porn on 3G phones, and the church cannot stop or monitor this (which sounds creepier) thus the church would be broadcasting it and hence would be morally liable.

Surely this is taking things a bit far?

Sunday, May 09, 2004

Dick's grasp of reality

Dick Cheney yesterday:

"I think Donald Rumsfeld is the best secretary of defense the United States has ever had"

(Via Kevin Drum)

New poll

A poll for the Mail on Sunday puts the Tories on 40%, I think their highest for years, and Labour on 36%, which must put the Libs lower than other recent polls but the article doesn't say. It also makes a big play that if Brown were Labour leader they would both be on 39%, with presumably1% from the Tories and 2% coming from disgruntled Labour supporters who have gone elsewhere, namely the Lib Dems (net). As I say they're all excited about this, but it seems a bit marginal to me.

Also support for the war has fallen to 43%.

The neo-cons

I elsewhere gave my view on the neo-cons's plans for Iraqi democracy so I thought I would repeat it here.

"The problem is the difference between neo-con rhetoric and reality. It is certainly the case that some of the US's problems in Iraq have been because of neo-con failing and arrogance, i.e. the belief (seemingly widespread) that the Iraqis would greet the Americans as liberators, and that therefore few troops would be required, the over-reliance on the words and deeds of exiles, particularly Ahmed Chalabi, the belief that the US was better off alone, etc.

Of course everyone makes mistakes, and it is also arguable that in the roll-call of failures that is the Bush Adminstration the neo-cons come out quite well. But it is also arguable that many of their failings are endemic, insofar that as extreme ideologues they view every opinion contrary to their own as an ideological failing, e.g. European governments or state department 'arabism', rather than something to inform and aid. We saw a similar thing here in Britain, where the ex-ambassadors criticism of Blair was viewed by the pro-war lobby as evidently a consquence of their long experience in the Middle East, or their business contacts in the region (most of which are comprehensively rebutted in the letters page of today's Telegraph), rather than an experienced view -- albeit only one -- that one should take into consideration.

Essentially if this war ends in failure, which I still do not expect, it won't be because the State Department and the flip-flopping (to the neo-cons) Defense secretary didn't invoke a neo-con plan to use 20,000 exiles led by Ahmed Chalabi to liberate Iraq.

Finally in what the neo-cons are said to believe in, and say they believe in, then Tony Blair is a neo-con. Yet Tony Blair has not dissented one bit from George Bush's policy.

Dependency ratios

A lot of stupid things are said about worsening dependency ratios, i.e the ratio of people who can't work (the retired/children) to the ratio of those who can work (those between 16 and 60/65).

In fact the effects are going to be relatively small. The current dependency ratio is about 625, made up of about 320 children and 305 pensioners. The number by 2040 will be just over 700, and by 2070 about 750, with all of the increase coming from pensioners. This is not a huge change (though of course there are differences in consumption between pensioners and children that are not unimportant).

It also shows the impact policy can have. The simple measure of raising the female retirement age to 65 between 2010 and 2020 lowers the dependency ratio by about 100. Raising both to 67 would actually make it lower than today. Increasing immigration continues to lower it annually (compared to what it would be).

Now Aaranovitch joins the stoppers*

One of the great things about the internet is that you can read the Sunday papers that you wouldn't normally buy, and without having to leave the house. So each morning I (ashamedly) look at the NOW headline, the Sunday-Times' magazine sections and the Observers' comment pages. Today I thought the latter would be particularly interesting, as might David Aaranovitch follow Johann Hari's lead and change (to put it mildly) his stance on the invasion of Iraq?

He doesn't let us down:

"It was there for you"

he begins, presumambly gently childing the Iraqis for not taking advantage of the Liberation offered by the US forces. Old habits die hard.

"These days you can't have even half a parade without an audience of piddlers standing by, contributing their own kind of rain. "

Now he's getting into his stride. By this he must mean the 'piddlers' are the pro-war lobby, which he was, unfairly hurling accusations against the anti-war marchers, of which he is now to become?

"An American TV series that was apparently enjoyed by millions for a decade comes to an end, and for every appreciative obituarist there seem to be two critics sneering. 'Friends? Not in my name!' "

Even more oblique, but I suspect here he is denouncing the American public as seeing the ongoing war since 1991 against as merely a TV series, not caring for the human costs. Now the systematic torture in Iraq has meant the 'show' has come to an end, and yet still the 'critics', presumably the 'neoconservatives' won't let it go. The last line is a particularly clever joke on the anti-war slogan, 'not in my name', whereby David is telling his former 'Friends' the neo-conservatives, that he is now a Stopper.

I can't pretend to understand the next few paragraphs, but this is a cracker. The gloves come off.

"There are criticisms you can make about the sitcom, of course, though my 14-year-old daughter warned me last night not to 'diss' it. In her opinion, not only was it full of very funny characters whom she has loved, but it also meant something to her. The speech, the haircuts and everything. "

Immediately he vents his full fury on the American bungling, calling it a 'sitcom', or situation comedy. He cleverly invokes his daughter, reminding us of Jacques Chirac's pertinent question of Tony Blair, 'What will Leo think?'. His daughter remains in the pro-war lobby, but only because to her it is funny, with 'characters she has loved' (Don Rumsfeld?), the 'speech' (surely Bush's tortured syntax?), the 'haircuts' (a subtle reference to Paul Wolfowitz's thatch) and 'everything' (a wonderfully delicate way of damning the whole Project for the New American Century).

Aaranovitch has joined the Stoppers*.

* 'Stopper' is an invented term of abuse derivating from Harry's Place. For a full explanation see dsquared's comment here.

Friday, May 07, 2004

War in Iraq II

Good article on the war in Iraq by Johann Hari, who it seems has been hit by the reality of this Administration. He's more pessimistic than I am, but pessimism at the moment has a lot going for it.

A sample

"what the Bush administration anticipated was that it would establish a neat client state in Iraq that would provide a steady supply of oil and a location for US bases in the region. It needs to admit now that it is engaged in damage limitation. The situation in Iraq has not and will not unfold as Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz anticipated"

Thursday, May 06, 2004

War in Iraq

"From the moment US forces entered Baghdad a year ago, the occupation has been characerised by hubris, misjudgments, political tone-deafness, parsimony, miscalculation and inconsistency."

(Gerard Baker, a supporter of the war, in the FT, 6/05/04)

"No one really seems to understand which laws apply any more - and many from the top down do not seem to care. No wonder that when confronted with the Bush doctrine of pre-emptive strikes (which by definition avoids legal procedures), recklessly macho presidential rhetoric ("dead or alive", "bring it on", "evil-doers"), the singular pursuit of intelligence-gathering (even by the US Justice Department), scant deference to laws of war and open disdain for "law enforcement", illegal conduct begins to appear acceptable to commander and soldier alike."

David Scheffer (The writer is visiting professor of international law at Georgetown University Law Center and former US ambassador at large for war crimes issues (1997-2001))

What's amazing is, as far as I am aware, not a single member of the British government or the US Administration has resigned because of the errors made.

This really should be a an opportunity for the Conservatives. There is no shame in noting that they supported the war under a different leader, and because they believe in supporting the PM over matters of the national interest, and now attacking the government for the shambles of the occupation. The reason they don't is I imagine because of the malign tendency of Nicholas Soames, who on the Littlejohn show on Tuesday seemed literally unable to comprehend the British Army acting in any way other than perfect. If I'm right then all is not lost -- Howard and Letwin overruled him on defence spending, they should overrrule him again.

Wednesday, May 05, 2004

American power

I was as appalled by the reports (getting worse by the day) of American (and possibly British) forces' brutality in Iraq. Thus I welcome President Bush's remarks on an Arabic TV channel today.

Hang on. What was that? The President of the United States has gone on an Arabic TV channel to explain the behaviour of his armed forces? It's gets better. National Security Advisor Condolezza Rice expressed the United States' "deep sorrow over the US troops' abuses against the Iraqi prisoners".

I know this is a different kind of war, and thus humanitarian concerns naturally are higher than in other wars. But I do wonder if in pushing the liberation angle so much in this war President Bush might have set a terrible precedent (from the US military's point of view) for limitations on the way in which future US presidents can conduct other ones.

Oh well it doesn't seem a bad outcome at the moment.

Ps: I wrote this in a hurry and it's a little unclear. I think what I'm trying to say is when a real crisis comes along, for example North Korea or Taiwan, will the US feel similarly constrained? I'm coming around to the view that armed forces should have a clear, defined role of protecting the country from external threats (however defined) and a separate body, a sort of cross between the police and the army (military police?) should deal with nation-building.

Coalition troops

I haven't said anything about the reports of coalition troops mistreating Iraqis POWs as I figured it was probably an isolated incident and was being dealt with swiftly and correctly. However today's Independent raises the stakes somewhat:

"The full extent of the mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners began to emerge last night when the United States announced it had launched investigations into the deaths of 23 detainees and the murder of two others"

Brownie over at Harry's Place notes that:

"This is not an attempt to excuse genuine war crimes, but to anyone with the most tangential acquaintance with the military, the alleged activities of some soldiers are all too familiar and wholly unsurprising. It is obviously news to some horrified commentators that those who are asked to kill, risk being killed and watch their buddies get killed, are somewhat less susceptible to the moral ambiguities that currently plague many a Fleet Street column, not to mention some contributions on this and other blogs."

This does come after a comparison with the behaviour of WWII soldiers as they entered Dachau concentration camp, which seems ridiculous and unpleasant. The ill-treatment in Iraq isn't -- as far as we are aware -- committed as soliders liberated Saddam's death camps, but some time after, and of prisoners who possibly didn't even have anything to do with the 'resistance'.

Nevertheless despite the flawed comparision, his general point has more to be said for it. Indeed it is worse than he makes out - basically soldiers are trained to not have moral ambiguities.
"On Killing", by Lieutenant Colonel Dave Grossman, explains all.

Simplifying massively, in every war before the Korean War, it's estimated (from anecdotal evidence from soldiers and officers, from examining guns that should have been fired and weren't, etc.), that less than 20% of American infantry fired their weapons when they could see the enemy. It's unclear how many of those were actually aiming at the enemy, either. At Gettysburg, some men repeatedly loaded their gun without firing it.

Yet in the Korean War, after the introduction of new training techniques, it's estimated it was about 50% of infantry soldiers fired their weapons when they saw the enemy. By the Vietnam War, it was 90%.

Essentially there's a strong, inbuilt barrier against killing other human beings. Originally, basic training for conscript armies consisted of how to shoot the gun, lots of marching, and obey this guy. The main point of all the drills is to get you to obey the officer. Hard physical exercise, lack of sleep, reduces your inhibitions, lots of drilling in formation, all encourages you to obey orders and do what everyone else does. This was somewhat effective at getting people to break their inbuilt resistance to killing people, but not very. Modern basic training involves getting someone in a much more realistic setting, e.g. sitting in a foxhole using live ammo to , and offering rewards, such as time off if you shoot enough of them, The point being that it's much, much closer to real combat.

Now this is good for fighting wars -- having 70% more of your soldiers doing what they are paid to do obviously makes you a better fighting force. However it also means that you have 70% more of your soldiers prepared to do something normally they would not do, and as in this case it's killing someone, this does not make soldiers very good peace-keepers. It also makes such reports as we have heard recently almost inevitable.

The problem in Iraq of course is that this was sold by many as a different kind of war, one in which we would liberate and democratise a nation. A noble aim, but perhaps one that is literally impossible with modern armed forces. This does not mean all hope is lost, but it does mean that perhaps in future if you want to conduct this type of war it would be best to have 100,000 policeman trained and ready.

PCRS 5 – Pacify through radiation

It is a well-known sociobiological and psychobiological fact that expecting morality from the Left is as pointless as expecting bravery from the French. Hence my utter lack of surprise to see various sections of our liberal elite – Judges, The Guardian, Londoners, George Galloway, Douglas Hurd etc – calling for our troops to be pulled out of Iraq in response to the latest terrorist outrage.

To follow their advice would be a betrayal of ten thousand years of history, not to mention flying in the face of ten million years of evolution, which I sometimes believe in. As I noted to God the other day when considering whether to attend Church, ‘The Left only want to have babies on the welfare state’. He nodded His agreement.

That is not to say there shouldn’t be a response to Arabfascist terror. The reputation of the freedom-loving democracies of the US and the UK is at stake. That is why my instinct tells me to recommend an instantaneous nuclear strike on Damascus. No asking the public, no consultation with ministers, no discussion at the UN, no cooling off time: an automatic hydrogen bomb.

Yes I hear the bleeding-heart liberals crying, ‘But millions of innocent people will die’. No I say to them, ‘Millions of potential terrorists have been deterred’. Indeed millions of potential terrorists have been vaporised.

Once the Middle East has been pacified by the only way it understands, a good dose of radiation, I would recommend pulling our troops out and bringing them home with their heads held high. Why should one British Tommy die for Freddie Foreigner?

Tuesday, May 04, 2004

Thatcher 6 - The last opinion polls before the 1979 election

It appears even in 1979 the polls overstated Labour. Mori and Gallup had the Tories in the lead throughout the campaign, but the gap narrowing right at the end. NOP had Labour in the lead in the second last week, but the Tories moving ahead convincingly in the last few days.

(Result was Con 44.9%, Labour 37.7%, Lib 14.1%)

Mori - Con 44%, Labour 39%, Lib 14%
Gallup - Con 44%, Labour 40%, Lib 12%
NOP - Con 45%, Labour 39%, Lib 12%

Thatcher 5 - Newspaper headlines a week before the election

Strangely have a children's guide to the 1983 election, which has a facsimile of the main newspaper's headlines on April 26th 1979, which was a week before the election. The slashes separate headlines, as even the tabloids had more than one on those days, otherwise nothing much seems to change. I think the Times was closed.

Daily Mirror: My Son, My Son - A mum's loving reunion after four lost years/Cool-it coppers keep lid on NF demo danger/£4000 million (Tory cuts)
The Sun: Disaster Looms for Libs/Legal sex for Tiny Teens/Storm over 'Jim's 'anti-hunt' cash/L-teachers spicy confessions
Daily Star: Howell the Olympic Meddler/Rod Stewart in baby riddle/Police ghost squad for NF rally
Daily Mail: Labour's Dirty Dozen - 12 big lies they hope will save them (the ones I can read are 'the Tories will double VAT/Raise the price of butter 12p/Increase prescription charges/Dismember BA/Sell of shares in BP - these were apparently provided by C.O)
Daily Express - Maggie I back the rope
The Guardian - Major parties forced to rethink tactics/Bomb attack on capital/Two shot in Ulster/Peace in Middle Easte after one last hitch/Police keep peace at Front meeting
The Daily Telegraph - Police foil violence at NF rally/Tories fear Liberal upsurge/Russian free exiled Doctor's mother and son/Shares hit record - £ falls/Dr Coggan barred by Poland
Financial Times - Callaghan attacks Conservatives over union co-operation/National Front protest peaceful/Mexico move to cut costs of $3bn debts/Warning on arms treaty by Carter/Egypt-Israel treaty ratified/Ulster killins/Iran police move


An excellent round-up of the differences in methodology of our opinion polling firms by Anthony Wells. We've been discussing this recently, and one thing that has become clear is that the current opinion polls are pretty similar in their overall findings, but choose to interpret the result differently. Some take the view that turnout will only be those who say they are certain, or near-certain to vote, and others that those who say they are less certain, or unlikely to vote will see some turnout, albeit not necessarily a very high percentage. Tories are more likely to turn out so the former give them a higher share of the vote, and on current trends seem more likely.

A chart of how turnout affects voting intention (using the Feb ICM poll) is here.

Thatcher 4

A few interesting Guardian articles from the 1970s and 1980s:

Thatcher elected as Tory leader
Thatcher as potential PM
Conservatives win 1979 election
Thatcher's second victory
IRA bombs Brighton hotel
Hugo Young on Thatcher after five years
Thatcher's appeal to men
Thatcher as longest-serving PM in the 20th century
Thatcher resigns

Thatcher 3

A mildly amusing spat between Bruce Page and Kingsley Amis in the New York Review of Books in 1979:

To the Editors:

In your recent symposium on the British election [NYR, June 28], Kingsley Amis says that the New Statesman tried to suggest that Mrs. Thatcher was "born to the purple." We did no such thing.

As a corrective to the usual rubbish in which Mrs. Thatcher is presented as a glittering meritocrat who fought her own way up to wealth from poverty, we showed that (a) she was, like Mr. Amis himself, born into a relatively well-off section of society, and (b) that she displayed little professional merit either as a scientist or a lawyer, and (c) that she acquired her wealth by the fine old means of marrying it.

Bruce Page

Editor, New Statesman


Kingsley Amis replies:

Mr. Bruce Page is back at the old New Statesman game of misrepresentation.

Only an idiot would present the Prime Minister as "a glittering meritocrat who fought her own way up to wealth from poverty." What she did do was rise to the highest office by her own efforts, not through her family's wealth or position.

"She was, like Mr. Amis himself, born into a relatively well-off section of society." Fine word, relatively. Mrs. Thatcher's father owned a small grocery shop in the provinces. My father was a clerical worker in a mustard firm (though what he has to do with it I can't imagine). Both were of course well off relatively to someone, like the errand-boy at the shop and the chap who swept the floors and made the tea at the office.

"She displayed little professional merit either as a scientist or a lawyer." She hadn't much time as either, entering active politics in her middle twenties. And what of it anyway? At her chosen career she has already displayed quite as much professional merit as Mr. Page cares for.

"She acquired her wealth by the fine old means of marrying it." Who ever supposed any different? Who are all these people who think that the interesting and important thing about Margaret Thatcher is not that she's Prime Minister but that she has "acquired" a bit of "wealth"? Can Mr. Page really be one of them?

Tories dump new pollsters

Just a few months after they dumped YouGov, it now appears the Tories have ditched ICM as their pollsters. Or perhaps ICM ditched them?

"Earlier this week, the party's pollsters ICM walked out because, it appears, central office refused to accept their finding that health and education, rather than Europe, are the issues of most concern to voters and thus, logically, the most fertile ground for campaigning"

Either way it doesn't bode well for the Conservatives. Watching the 1979 election coverage on TV (of which more later) it's hard not to notice the Tories picking up lots of seats in London and other cities. It's almost impossible to imagine the Conservative Party at present achieving this.

Monday, May 03, 2004

House Prices

I have mentioned before that if one was to vote purely on economic grounds, it would have to be for the Conservatives, for their standard mismanagement of economic policy, and the resulting high interest rates are the only way in which we are going to get sensible house prices anytime soon.

Nevertheless even a Tory chancellor is unlikely to be able to get Notting Hill house prices down to a level where I might be able to afford one. According to yesterday's Sunday Telegraph, the average house in the area has risen by a monumental 27 times since 1980.

Thatcher 2

A good and much-needed reminder from Larry Elliot that the Thatcher "economic miracle" wasn't really that much of a miracle. Economic growth was no higher, and inflation now lower, than in the preceding -- much maligned -- decade. The step-change in British economic performance vis-a-vis contintental Europe has come since 1992 due to a much better macro-economic policy and basically much more hard work.

On this score it is interesting to note how confused the Tory right are on economic policy objectives. There is an essay in the Telegraph today by George Trefgarne almost accusing the Government of fraudently keeping interest rates down, and demanding they are raised. Is that what the Tory-voting middle classes really want?

Wanted -- widely-read left-wing political blog

Although it has been the case for many months, it still greatly upset me to here this from Harry, of Harry's Place, who said his blog is now:

"primarily concerned with a left critique of the anti-war movement"

It's sad because there aren't many well-read and interesting left-wing political blogs (there are obviously lots of good blogs with a left-wing stance, e.g. look in the sidebar links) and Harry's Place was definitely one of the best.

Does it matter? Well although blogs are essentially irrelevant to the political process, so are niche magazines, and I enjoy them. So with an election in the next two years I think it would have been good to have somewhere to discuss and debate Labour's broad policies. Harry's Place remains a great site, but now one dedicated to attacks on a small and to the vast majority of the nation, irrelevant, faction of the left.

The one uplifting thing is of course that the same vast majority of the population, if they thought of George Galloway at all (could 5% of Briton's even name him?), had little but contempt for the man, so we can at least be pleased that elements of the soft-hard-left are coming around to our way of thinking.

In the meantime I need a non-specialist left-wing politics blog -- a UK Calpundit. Any ideas?

Thatcher Week Update: The UK history channel is from tonight having a week of Margaret Thatcher programmes. These will be the usual archive cut & paste, but some might be worth watching, especially if you still regret the passing of the Rock 'n' Roll years.

Election 1979

It's hard to contain one's excitement given we've just been promised Janet Brown doing a Mrs Thatcher impersonation and someone who looks Richard Stilgoe setting the result to music. In the meantime they very handily published Mrs Thatcher's 1979 address, as 17 Flood Street, just off King's Road. Cuthbertson prepare your pilgrimage!

Update: Oh dear. Three drunk men in DJs who have been at a 'trade dinner' have just made fools of themselves outside No.10,having come straight from the dinner without sleep. One of them was clearly sobering up and looking embarassed, but the guy on the left seemed oblivious to anything, including the unseasonally cool weather.

Update II: For Peter (though I'm sure he knows this) here's her current address.

Sunday, May 02, 2004

Thatcher 1 - "and 1940 too"

Whilst clearing out my bookshelves of old books I found a 1993 Guardian guide to Europe, edited by Martin Kettle, with interestingly a introductory essay by Enoch Power of all people. Now Thatcher and Powell did not get on, and disagreed about most things, including of course Europe when she was Premier. But I imagine these days, now she has not got the realities of power to worry about, she would find common currency, if not a single one, with Powell in this article. Anyway it's an interesting piece given the referendum forthcoming.

It ends thus:

"It does not look at present if these theoreticians are going to have it all their own way; and here an Englishman owes some apology to his fellows across the Channel. They can say to him with evey justification: "But that is just what you allowed your parliament to don to you in 1972". Crimson with embarassment the Englishman can only stammer: "Yes I know that now, but I could not believe it at the time. Now however I have wokenj up, you had better take note that nobody shall make laws to bind me, impose taxes which I must pay, or produce policies which I must go along with, except my own parliament, the Parliament of the United Kingdom at Westminster. Above that body, I recognise, and will recognise, no superior. And please be off with you and do not attempt compulsion by means open or covert. Otherwise I shall have to talk about 1588, 1805 -- yes, and about 1940".

It's a typically Powell-ite article, with all that flummory about the natural and historical power of the Englishman. If you want to read the rest click here and here (and I apologise for the quality of the scans as I had to use a digital camera not a scanner; and that the second one is in twice, and the large file size, but the sun is shining and I'm going for a walk)

Margaret Thatcher Week

In celebration this week of the 25th anniversary of her first election victory I'm going to devote much of this blog to various Thatcher things. In the meantime remember the BBC Parliament 1979 election special on tomorrow.

Saturday, May 01, 2004

Civil war

Is Civil War, where one side of the same place is pitted against the other side, inevitable?

An interesting article by Johann Hari suggests it is possible. He argues:

"The liberal hawk analysis of the Iraqi resistance as essentially fascist - expounded brilliantly by Nick Cohen and by Brownie on this site - applies only to the Sunni resistance. The Shia resistance is very different, as I try to explain in my lastest Indie column, which you can read over at my website. "