Governor Gary Johnson goes crowd-surfing

Posted on October 03, 2012

It’s a depressing reflection on our nation’s politics that one of the reasons Ed Miliband’s well-delivered speech at Labour Conference is being feted by apparently stunned journalists is that he was able to make a speech without having it written down in front of him.

Across the pond, on the other hand, Gov Gary Johnson – the Libertarian Party Presidential candidate – has shown how to really break the mould when making a speech: Crowd-surfing…

Arming the police would be a terrible mistake

Posted on September 19, 2012

Yesterday’s news from Manchester was monstrous – two police officers, Nicola Hughes and Fiona Bone, were apparently lured to a house by a false 999 call, and then brutally murdered in a gun and grenade attack.

Any decent person would be horrified at this crime. These were two officers who worked to protect people, were not carrying any weapons with which to shoot back and were, it seems, killed in cold blood.

Inevitably, a debate has started about whether it could have been prevented. Just as inevitably, there are now calls for all police officers to be armed as a matter of course. This has been a perennial topic for debate throughout the history of the British police, which remains one of the few forces in the world whose officers do not routinely carry guns.

It’s understandable why such proposals are being put forward. Civilised people will always feel revulsion at the idea of people being shot without the ability to shoot back. However, giving the police guns would be a terrible mistake.

For a start, we should consider the Manchester case that reignited the debate. The full facts are not yet known – indeed we may well not know more until (or unless) more is reported at a trial or an inquest. There is no guarantee whatsoever, though, that had PCs Hughes and Bone been carrying guns the outcome would have been any different. In the United States, where law enforcement officers carry guns every day, there have been 33 fatalities this year already.

What we do know is that the alleged killer, Dale Cregan, was out on bail at the time, having been questioned on suspicion of involvement in at least one previous murder. It seems the system lost track of him and he disappeared, only to resurface in this horrific way.

There is always an emotional challenge in cases like this. The heartbreaking detail and personal photographs that are spread across the newspapers make us want to do something to prevent it happening again. The photos we don’t see, though, are those of the people who would die accidentally if the police were armed. We should force ourselves to remember them – those who are alive today precisely because the police don’t have guns – when making any decision.

This is not a flight of fancy, or a supposition based on guesswork. Where police forces arm all their officers, innocent people get shot.

Take, for example, the Empire State Building shooting last month. A gunman murdered a former colleague in the street, and when police in turn shot him they also wounded nine passers-by who were caught in the crossfire.

Or consider the case of Renaldo Cuevas, a shop worker who was accidentally shot by a police officer two weeks ago while trying to escape from a robbery at the bodega in the Bronx where he worked.

These cases weren’t down to malice, and I’m not spinning any conspiracy theories – but through pure accident, confusion or other factors, innocent civilians were wounded or killed.

The killings of Nicola Hughes and Fiona Bone were a disgusting crime, and we should look at how they could have been avoided (by asking how Cregan was able to go on the run while on bail over an extremely serious crime, perhaps) – but if we rush into arming the police, other innocents will die as a result. That would not be a fitting memorial.

Lookalikes: an occasional series

Posted on October 21, 2011

Every now and then a famous face you’ve been looking at for years (not continuously, obviously, that would be weird) suddenly emerges as a lookalike that you hadn’t previously noticed. So it was for me, watching the news last night.

I’d never clocked it before, but it turns out the BBC’s North America Editor Mark Mardell bears a remarkable likeness to Family Guy’s Peter Griffin:








Spooky, no?


Pentagon Intelligence #Fail

Posted on January 19, 2011

Those big brains at the Pentagon seem to be losing their touch a bit – at least when it comes to the pressing issue of China’s military growth. Obviously with the economic contest between the USA and China powering away amid speculation that America’s crown is about to be nicked, the darker issue is whether China might be able to seize military dominance in the Pacific.

Unfortunately, the spooks who are meant to be keeping an eye on these things are apparently a bit, err, misinformed. here they were on January 6th:

China Stealth Plane still “years away” say Pentagon

And here they are with egg on their faces a mere five days later:

China conducts first test-flight of stealth plane


Hattip to JM

Kevin Brennan MP’s violent language

Posted on January 11, 2011

I’m at an absolute loss as to how the appalling attack on Gabrielle Giffords and her constituents has somehow become a debate about political semantics. People suddenly seem to have noticed the existence of military metaphors – which are inevitably part of the English language, particularly in a combative (see, there’s the military creeeping in) environment like politics.

Obviously this is mainly a debate in the US, but now some in the UK have started posturing about it, too.

Kevin Brennan, MP for Cardiff West tweeted this:

“Let’s all give our thoughts to #GabrielleGiffords and eliminate the crosshairs mentality from our democratic discourse online or anywhere”

That all sounds very nice, but perhaps Kevin should have given some thought to his own record before jumping on this bandwagon. He has used some pretty violent language himself:

“It is important to dispose of the ACT argument—the argument that the shortfall has been caused by the removal of advance corporation tax. I shall kill that stone dead once and for all” 25th March 2004  

“I just reminded him that there were such creatures as Liberal Democrat special advisers and perhaps fired a shot across his bows8th May 2003 

I don’t think that Kevin Brennan is a violent person, or that at any stage he intended to incite violence or even to create a hostile environment with these terms. Nor do I think these terms actually did contribute in any way to any violent culture. That’s because I think military terms and metaphors are an embedded element of our rich and beautiful language – like it or not we are a species which has been at war since time began and these terms have been around since time immemorial.

If you look at any politician’s record I am certain they will have used terms like “shot down in flames”, “blow up in your face”, “destroy the opposition”, “turn your fire”, “set your sights”, “strike a blow” and so on. Given that, it’s probably best that all of us resist any temptation to jump on bandwagons by criticising others for doing the same.

“America should bail out the Euro”, say europhiles

Posted on January 06, 2011

In 1972, German Chancellor Willi Brandt announced a gesture of thanks from the German people to the USA for the Marshall Plan reconstruction funds provided over the previous 25 years. He gave 150 million Deutschmarks to establish the German Marshall Fund of the United States, a think tank and grant-giving body to encourage discussion and understanding between Europe and the US.

The tone of the Fund was set from its birth – in effect, Brandt was giving the US bak some of their own money to be used on his terms. Since then it’s been a voice for Eurofederalism for the last 38 years.

Now, though, the German Marshall Fund has perhaps pushed things too far.They are too smart to pretend that the Euro is safe and solid, and their proposed solution is that the USA should bail the single currency out.

If German taxpayers are furious about bailing out Ireland and Greece, can you imagine how their American equivalents would respond to the idea of bailing out this failed project? It will go down like a lead balloon.

The Americans are getting a taste of a classic EU approach: they will take your money hand over fist, sweeten you up with a generous “gift” of a slice of your own cash, and only later will you find out that this money has in fact been given to try to get more cash out of you. I somehow doubt they will put up with as patiently (and foolishly) as we have.

Brown in the USA

Posted on December 16, 2010

Gordon Brown is treading the traditional path for ex-Prime Ministers by going Stateside to lecture our American cousins about how he “saved the world”. On Monday he was hawking his book on Jon Stewart’s Daily Show. So how did he do?

Tony Blair remained very popular in America even when his approval ratings were languishing back home. Judging from the reaction on Twitter, though, the Yanks didn’t really warm to Gordon. Here are just a few choice snippets:

The guy’s a complete idiot“…”unfunny“…”Oh God“…”slightly scary….shivers down your spine“…”Not exactly shocking that Labour got smacked around“…”demented“…”oh, crap“…”too weird-lookin‘”…”what a dick“…”reinforces why the Yank Patriots conducted the American Revolution“…

Really, the Americans got off lightly – most British viewers felt they were seeing a jollier, more relaxed Brown than ever before.

The old Brown still shone through, though – that “weird thing with his mouth” was picked up, and the smile was as worrying as ever. In classic, embarassing Gordon style he also committed his old sin of using the same lines at different gigs, opening on the Daily Show and the Late Late Show with a cringeworthy “what a great country!”

Americans evidently know how to spot a wrong’un when they see one. It’s hard to imagine Gordon Brown ever winning an election in the USA – much like in Britain, in fact…

The real midterms result: Neo-conservatism is dead

Posted on November 03, 2010

The media are now engaged in a frantic exercise in tail-chasing over what the result of the midterms really means.

It’s certain that the Democrats took quite a drubbing – particularly in the massive swing in the House of Representatives and the strong swing to the Republicans in many gubernatorial races, though less so in the Senate.

It was also a good night for the Tea Party both electorally and reputationally.

Electorally, the real posterboys of the movement – Rand Paul and Marco Rubio (whom I drew attention to back in September) romped home. The movement’s detractors claim these two don’t count, because they were fighting for seats with Republican incumbents, but that misses the point. Yes, they beat the Democrats but more crucially they beat the Republican establishment. These were victories for the Tea Party over the whole political establishment – that is why they matter so much.

Reputationally, the candidates that the media and the Tea Party’s critics wanted to be the face of the movement – people like Sharron Angle and Christine O’Donnell – lost. There are some burned TPM fingers as a result, but that is a lesson learned: don’t pick weirdos. The ability of voters to be selective and sensible whilst still backing the Tea Party has been demonstrated.

The most important result of all, though, is that last night represents a crushing defeat – particularly on the fiscal front – for neoconservatism.

The British stereotype that neocons are all about foreign policy is mistaken; that was tacked on to a previously isolationist philosophy  after 9/11. In reality, the neocons’ most distinguishing ideological feature was a rejection of fiscal conservatism (opposition to deficits and support for balanced books, low tax and low spending) in favour of big spending, big debt and hang the consequences. That is why they and Obama are viewed as much of a muchness by most Tea Party activists and why the Tea Party began rolling in the Bush years, well before Obama’s election.

The Tea Party is an earthquake, and it is the neocons’ house that has come crashing down. The people have rejected big spending, government debt and deficit finance wholesale in favour of low taxes, spending cuts and an end to deficits.

The Republican establishment took a long time to realise this. Those who stuck to their deficit-financed guns have been swept away, and those who adapted are scrabbling to join the new consensus. Neoconservatism is dead – long live the Tea Party.