How long before Russia seeks a Cyprus naval base?

Posted on March 18, 2013

The EU’s latest step to “solve” the Eurozone crisis is the pillaging of the savings stored in Cypriot banks. It’s not hard to see the various harmful implications – a collapse of confidence in bank saving in Cyprus itself, a blow to the already miniscule levels of confidence in banking elsewhere in the EU, further reductions in bank capitalisation as savers realise the mattress is the safest place for the cash and so on.

One aspect of the affair that has yet to be widely considered, though, is the opportunities this offers to Russian foreign policy. Russians are the largest group of foreign savers in Cyprus (some legitimately, others less so), and the Russian government has loaned billions to keep the faltering Cypriot state and banking sector afloat.

Now, with Cyprus plunged into a new crisis, Putin’s Kremlin is reportedly “considering” the generous step of extending the existing loans and possibly offering more. The question this raises is simple: what will the Russians want in return for their kind helping hand?

The answer is disturbingly self-evident. Only this morning, the Russian navy announced it was to establish a new, permanent naval presence in the Mediterranean – the first since the post-Soviet retreat of the early 1990s.

At the moment, the Russians have a naval facility in Tartus, a port in Syria. Their shameful solidarity with Bashar al-Assad has been motivated at least in part by the desire to keep a foothold in the Med, but their ally’s position of power is now in doubt. At any time the Syrian regime could fall, and be replaced by a government of rebels who are unlikely to look kindly on hosting a naval base for the chums of the dictator they have just unseated.

So the Russian Mediterranean Naval presence needs a new home. Cyprus seems the natural place – it’s at the Eastern end of the sea, close to allies in Syria and potential enemies in Israel in the event of a conflict with Iran. Most compellingly of all, Cyprus is broke – and evidently ready to do just about anything for cash.

When the Eurozone’s fans say the single currency protects our security, I’m not sure a new Russian naval base on our doorstep was what they had in mind.



EU Budget: How did British MEPs vote?

Posted on March 15, 2013

The EU Budget negotiations have not run as smoothly as in previous years. In the past, the process was simple: everyone sits down, agrees to pay more cash to Brussels then off for champagne and canapes.

Then David Cameron shook things up a bit, pressing for an EU budget cut given the austerity member states are implementing. He secured an agreement with the other national leaders – which should have gone further, but was still an improvement on what went before.

On Wednesday, the European Parliament voted against the proposal. It wasn’t the final vote, but it was intended as a blocking measure to force the collected national governments to rethink their decision. The fact that various federalists in the Parliament tried to make the ballot secret – a scandalous attempt to avoid public scrutiny – shows that they know how unpopular that step is.

You would be hard-pressed in Britain to find anyone who thinks that while we are trying to save money at home, we should be paying even more to wasteful, undemocratic EU institutions. So how did British MEPs vote in our name?

Voted for the budget cut

Conservatives: Marta Andreasen, Richard Ashworth, Robert Atkins, Philip Bradbourn, Martin Callanan, Giles Chichester, Nirj Deva, Vicky Ford, Jacqueline Foster, Ashley Fox, Julie Girling, Daniel Hannan, Malcolm Harbour, Syed Kamall, Sajjad Karim, Timothy Kirkhope, Emma McClarkin, Anthea McIntyre, Jim Nicholson, Struan Stevenson, Robert Sturdy, Kay Swinburne, Charles Tannock, Geoffrey van Orden and Marina Yannakoudakis.

Labour: Michael Cashman, Mary Honeyball, David Martin, Linda McAvan, Arlene McCarthy, Brian Simpson, Catherine Stihler, and Glenis Wilmott

DUP: Diane Dodds

Ex-BNP: Andrew Brons

Voted against the budget cut

Liberal Democrats: Catherine Bearder, Philip Bennion, Chris Davies, Andrew Duff, Fiona Hall, Sarah Ludford, Edward McMillan-Scott, Rebecca Taylor and Graham Watson

UKIP: Stuart Agnew, Gerard Batten, Godfrey Bloom, Derek Clark, Nigel Farage, Roger Helmer and Mike Nattrass

Labour: Claude Moraes, Peter Skinner

Greens: Jean Lambert and Keith Taylor

Plaid Cymru: Jill Evans

BNP: Nick Griffin

So there we have it. I imagine that the Lib Dems are going to have some explaining to do, voting against the deal that their own party supported in Westminster.

As for UKIP, they are trying to rationalise away voting against a measure to save British taxpayers’ money by explaining that they want there to be no EU budget at all. That’s fine, but it isn’t a justification for voting for a bigger, more expensive Brussels right now.

As a Tory source points out, if UKIP vote this way in the final budget ballot then they may well be lining up with federalists to deliver an EU budget that grows every year…probably not the story they want to tell back home.



Gosh, crikey – Hugh Grant breaks Leveson’s ethics proposals

Posted on March 14, 2013

As the self-appointed arbiter of media standards in the UK, Hugh Grant has a lot of opinions about what is and isn’t ethical journalism. Apparently the Guardian is perfectly ethical, while papers which report on, I don’t know, sex scandals involving English celebrity romcom actors are beyond the pale. Who knows how he settled on that view?

However he came by his moral code carved in stone doesn’t matter, he’s marched down the mountain and has spent several months using the tablets to lay about any who stand in his way.

Except perhaps he should read what they say before using them to clobber others. Take today’s tweet from the Media Moses:

That’s quite a big claim – that Rupert Murdoch personally ordered the Times Editor to order the Prime Minister to follow a specific policy and set of actions, which the PM immediately obeyed. What starts as a “rumour” has become, by the end of the tweet, supposedly solid fact that “Murdoch rules.”

Surely an ethical reporter would have given some evidence, quoted a source or even given any reason at all to believe it?

In fact, I seem to recall that the Leveson report had something to say about exactly that:

“45. A new regulatory body should consider encouraging the press to be as transparent as possible in relation to the sources used for stories, including providing any information that would help readers to assess the reliability of information from a source”

In short, Hugh Grant is promoting adopting the Leveson proposals by, err, going dead against Leveson’s proposals on evidence and sourcing. His “rumour” could have come from Tom Watson. It could have come from one of Murdoch’s own competitors. For that matter, Hugh Grant could just have made it up – but he has merrily injected it into the public debate, with no evidence or source in sight.

It’s hardly “ethical reporting”, is it, Hugh?



Kirchner didn’t even win a majority of Argentines in the Falklands

Posted on March 12, 2013

The Falkland Islands’ referendum could hardly have been more clear. Turnout was over 90%, and while 1,513 voted to stay as  a British overseas territory, only 3 voted against.

Those three are intriguing. Iain Martin of the Telegraph speculates that they may have been voting for independence from Britain but not in favour of joining Argentina.

But what if they were motivated by true Argentine nationalism? After all, there are some Argentines living in the islands (real ones, I’m not adopting the Kirchner Government’s ludicrous suggestion that everyone there is legally Argentine). And any who have been resident for seven years prior to the referendum had the right to vote yesterday.

The precise number of Argentines living there isn’t clear – a spokesman for the Falkland Islands Government tells me there are “a handful”, but legal nationality wasn’t a question on the Islands’ 2012 census. The closest estimate I can find is from the BBC in 2007, who reported that:

“20 Argentines…are fully integrated into the 3,000-strong community of the archipelago”

It seems likely that those who were “fully integrated” 6 years ago would by now have lived there long enough to be entitled to vote in the referendum. Even in a worst case scenario in which half of them had died, emigrated or fallen in the sea since 2007, that would leave 10 Argentines with a vote on the future of the islands.

So it seems clear that not only did an overwhelming majority of Falkland Islanders vote to stay British – not even a majority of the Argentines eligible to do so voted to leave.

Maybe Christine de Kirchner needs to have a rethink…

 



Save Our Bacon

Posted on March 07, 2013

Some shocking news has filled the airwaves, taken over our TV screens and dominated the BBC’s online news output. Across the nation, listeners, viewers and readers are struggling to take it in: bacon, pork pies, scotch eggs and sausages are quite bad for you.

I know, I was stunned, too. Who would have thought that salty, fatty, processed meat products were worse for your health than apples and Bran Flakes?

Sure, pig lobby groups (I suppose we should call them “Big Pig”) have been pushing that line for years but until I saw today’s evidence I  thought they were just squealing to protect their vested interest in not being sliced up thinly and eaten for breakfast.

Why is this considered news?At the start of the day we all knew that unhealthy foods were unhealthy and, after top billing from our national broadcaster, by the end of the day we will still all know it. Tomorrow perhaps we can expect groundbreaking findings that a kick in the groin hurts, followed by exclusive revelations of George Galloway’s slight scepticism about free market capitalism.

There is a distinct irony in medical researchers wasting years of their lives carrying out a mass study in order to tell us something we already knew about extending our life expectancy. At best there was an outside chance that they would crunch the numbers and announce that a terrible mistake had been made – that five portions of fresh fruit and veg is actually deadly, and we could only be saved by high doses of fried bread and black pudding.

Obviously if that had happened it would have been great news, and a genuine triumph for science that we could all welcome. But I doubt it was their motivation.

Instead, they seem to have purposely re-researched a well-established fact, with the sole aim of being able to publish it again. The BBC has kindly obliged to pass the message on, with the result that thin people with excellent life expectancy are loud-hailering in the nation’s face that we ought to shape up and stop being so disgusting.

You can almost taste their exasperation that the fry-up hasn’t yet died a fatty death, face down in a pool of its own egg and beans.

I severely doubt that today’s publicity will change anything in the national diet – other than perhaps boosting bacon sales by the constant looped video footage of butties. Show me someone who doesn’t know that bacon isn’t good for you and I will show you someone under the age of 5. Propaganda campaigns haven’t just scraped the barrel, they’ve hacked through its planks with a dented spoon – and yet they still aren’t working.

That people haven’t snapped to attention at the call of a Change4Life advert isn’t down to ignorance – how could it be, given the fortune spent on “public information” campaigns? It’s down to their personal choice to do things that are gratifying and enjoyable even at the well-known cost to their eventual lifespan. In other words, they’re exercising their right to choose how their own lives should be lived.

The failure of repeated attempts to turn us into a land of the uniformly fit and boring helps to explain why food nannying is moving away from pure propaganda and into the realms of bullying. The cries for a “fat tax” will grow and grow, and if we aren’t careful the nudges will turn it to shoves and then outright legislative force. All because the people won’t do what they are constantly told they should – and because those doing the telling are self-righteous enough to shift with ease from “you should” to “thou shalt.”



Civil Service activism and the GOD delusion

Posted on March 04, 2013

Tomorrow, Sir Gus O’Donnell, the former head of the civil service known in Whitehall as GOD, starts a new BBC series titled “In Defence of Bureaucracy“. The adverts trailing on Radio 4 rather smugly quote people saying bureaucracy makes them think of “Stalinist Russia” before presenting Tony Blair and the voice of GOD himself to reassure us that in fact bureaucracy holds us in its warm embrace from cradle to grave.

We shouldn’t be surprised. Sir Gus has recently set out to make himself the UK’s Mario Monti – a top-down technocrat who thinks that if only the grubby masses would stop poking their noses into how things should be run, then the clever suits in Whitehall could get on with making this country into a statist pleasure-dome.

In 2012, he essentially put up his own civil service candidate to be Mayor of London – happily, Siobhan Benita got a worse drubbing than the Italians dished out to Monti, coming fifth with 3.8% of the vote.

It is true to say that the British Civil Service was once a fantastic institution – but that is not the same as thinking they should ever hold political power. In fact, not wanting to force their own views on our democratic institutions was essential to their success and standing. The GOD delusion that civil servants should now run the show is both a symptom and a cause of Whitehall’s downfall.

To see how times have changed, just look at today’s news. Yet again, Ministers who went into government opposing ID cards are having the wasteful, illiberal policy foisted upon them by officials.

Somewhere in Whitehall it seems there is a civil servant whose only job is to review new government policies in the hope of finding an excuse to use them as a vehicle for re-introducing ID cards. Who cares that the electoracte, and their representatives in Parliament, oppose the scheme? Why should righteous civil servants sit back and accept such opinions when they know themselves to be wiser than the people?

Politics was traditionally about the interaction of voters and politicians. That perspective worked well when the civil service appreciated the essential limits on their role. As soon as some in Whitehall decided they should give the orders, rather than take them, our democracy proved startlingly vulnerable to civil service activism. Through every window of opportunity, a pinstriped arm reached to grab another bit of power from the people.

This trend has flourished in the last fifiteen years, and it is going on right now, as you read this. The cost to our pockets, our freedom and our democracy has been vast. Sir Gus O’Donnell will take to the airwaves tomorrow morning to spin in its defence, paid for by you and me.



CrashBangWallace on Question Time

Posted on February 28, 2013

I’m pleased to report that this evening I will be joining the panel of the BBC’s Question Time as their @BBCExtraGuest. This means I’ll be responding to the questions, commenting on the show and debating/arguing/falling out with the Question Time audience on Twitter.

The show is being broadcast from Eastleigh, for obvious reasons, and the panel includes Jeremy Browne MP,  Angela Eagle MP, Claire Perry MP, Neil Hamilton and Ken Loach so it should be a fairly provocative discussion.

If you’d like to follow my tweets and join in live, I’ll be tweeting from @BBCExtraGuest from about 10 minutes before the show starts. I hope you’ll join me there!



Read this letter…

Posted on February 27, 2013

…and tell me if anyone could do so and still think love between two people of the same sex isn’t the same as “normal” love, or that it shouldn’t be recognised just as much through marriage as love of any other sort.

The letter, republished by the excellent Letters of Note blog, was written from one World War Two GI to another, his lover, on their anniversary:

Dear Dave,

This is in memory of an anniversary — the anniversary of October 27th, 1943, when I first heard you singing in North Africa. That song brings memories of the happiest times I’ve ever known. Memories of a GI show troop — curtains made from barrage balloons — spotlights made from cocoa cans — rehearsals that ran late into the evenings — and a handsome boy with a wonderful tenor voice. Opening night at a theatre in Canastel — perhaps a bit too much muscatel, and someone who understood. Exciting days playing in the beautiful and stately Municipal Opera House in Oran — a misunderstanding — an understanding in the wings just before opening chorus.

Drinks at “Coq d’or” — dinner at the “Auberge” — a ring and promise given. The show 1st Armoured — muscatel, scotch, wine — someone who had to be carried from the truck and put to bed in his tent. A night of pouring rain and two very soaked GIs beneath a solitary tree on an African plain. A borrowed French convertible — a warm sulphur spring, the cool Mediterranean, and a picnic of “rations” and hot cokes. Two lieutenants who were smart enough to know the score, but not smart enough to realize that we wanted to be alone. A screwball piano player — competition — miserable days and lonely nights. The cold, windy night we crawled through the window of a GI theatre and fell asleep on a cot backstage, locked in each other’s arms — the shock when we awoke and realized that miraculously we hadn’t been discovered. A fast drive to a cliff above the sea — pictures taken, and a stop amid the purple grapes and cool leaves of a vineyard.

The happiness when told we were going home — and the misery when we learned that we would not be going together. Fond goodbyes on a secluded beach beneath the star-studded velvet of an African night, and the tears that would not be stopped as I stood atop the sea-wall and watched your convoy disappear over the horizon.

We vowed we’d be together again “back home,” but fate knew better — you never got there. And so, Dave, I hope that where ever you are these memories are as precious to you as they are to me.

Goodnight, sleep well my love.

Brian Keith



Is Berlusconi set to confound the pollsters?

Posted on February 25, 2013

The polls for today’s Italian General Election have been clear for quite some time. Mario Monti, the EU’s pet technocrat, was going to get a welcome kicking in a popular rejection of unaccountable, top-down government from Brussels. Silvio Berlusconi, clambering from the grave like a permatanned Dracula, was going to be roundly beaten in both Houses of Parliament by the Leftist “Common Good” coalition led by Pier Luigi Bersani.

Well, it seems the pollsters shouldn’t have been so certain. Early voter samples by TV station RAI in the key battleground of Lombardy suggest that while Bersani is leading in the Lower House, Berlusconi may be on track to be the biggest political player in the Senate – meaning he will have the power to gridlock the Left’s plans. Cue all sorts of impacts on the stability of the Euro and its so-called recovery…

If RAI’s numbers are correct, and Berlusconi really is going to hold the Left to an effective draw of one house each, what has happened to make the polls so far off?

The UK General Election in 1992 holds some of the answers. The polls predicted a big win for Kinnock and the Labour Party, but on the day the Tories won out (not, arguably, to the long-term benefit of the centre right in Britain, but that’s for another day).

The explanation was simple: people lied to the pollsters.

It turned out that the human element still persists in polling – plenty of voters either wanted the Tories to win or feared the consequences of a Labour victory (or both), but were too embarrassed to tell a stranger from a polling company “I’m voting Conservative.”

The same may have happened in Italy – quite plausibly, given the very public pillorying Berlusconi came in for after his disastrous handling of Italy’s sovereign debt. Bizarrely, that would mean that the Italian equivalent of John Major in 1992 might be Silvio Berlusconi today – not a comparison anyone ever expected to be drawn.

It seems that supporting Silvio, perhaps the world’s most consistently brash political extrovert, has become a very private matter. If his supporters have gone to the ballot box to put him back in the limelight, I doubt he’ll care about how proud or public they might be.

Bunga Bunga…