Sunday 31 January 2010

Temper, Temper

There are some astonishing, and damaging allegations, in today's Mail on Sunday regarding Gordon Brown's temper:

Sensational claims that Gordon Brown has physically attacked his staff in a series of outbursts in Downing Street - and once in America - have rocked the Government.

Well-placed sources say the Prime Minister has been accused of hitting a senior adviser, pulling a secretary out of her chair and hurling foul-mouthed abuse at aides while distraught over an alleged snub by President Barack Obama.

Stories about Gordon Brown's temper and 'flying Nokias' have been well-known for years, but here the allegations are different; they suggest that Brown's temper is so bad that he physically assaults people - hauling a secretary out of her chair is extremely serious and it's difficult to imagine a worse revelation.

It's hard to dismiss these allegations out of hand as journalist Andrew Rawnsley has a very good track record and impeccable sources within Labour. Also interesting is, despite Downing Street denials, Sky News appears to have been got at and pulled the Mail from their paper reviews.

Partly Brown must be thankful that today's coverage is dominated by the revelations of a different kind regarding a certain sportsman, but should these gain traction over the next few days Brown is in deep trouble.

The motive is interesting; it's surely too late to replace Brown now, though he's clearly made a lot of enemies on the way up. I'm wondering if this is about the post-election leadership - damage Brown so much to maximise the potential for a devastating defeat, thus making sure Brown and Balls are out of the picture completely. Interestingly the Times today is reporting that Brown wants to remain as leader even if he loses the election.

Mandelson's love is for the Labour party, not for Brown.

Friday 29 January 2010

The Frog's Favourite Blogs

Here's a round-up of a number of blog posts that have caught my eye over the last seven days. Enjoy!

The Spectator thinks it's great that Baroness Ashton has made a dreadful start.

Andrew Neil suggests the dam is cracking regarding Global Warming. He is the lonely sceptical voice within the so-called 'impartial' BBC regarding Climate Change.

Governmentitus asks where to cast the Eurosceptic vote at the next election.

EUReferendum continues his terrific assault upon the apocalyptic forces of darkness.

Mary Honeyball MEP discusses the EU's role in trying to stop the horrific custom of Female Genital Mutilation.

Tom Harris has a short but sweet tale of an attempt at blagging.

Blair? I Don't Care!

Apparently Tony Blair is appearing before the Chilcot Inquiry today. I only know this because the media have gone into collective orgasmic meltdown; it's dominating all the media outlets - the Daily Telegraph even have a live lie detector on their website. The mind boggles.

I really really really don't care about the lead up to the Iraq war. It was 7 years ago, this has been raked over many times before and Blair is the past. Nothing he says today is going to change anyone's opinion, least of all those that want him stuck in the Tower.

If the Chilcot inquiry asks some probing questions about Blair's role in Britain's subsequent disastrous and humiliating campaign in Iraq as depressingly detailed in Richard North's excellent book, then some use may come of it for lessons to be learnt in Afghanistan, otherwise it's just a waste of everyone's time and money.

A Greek Bailout

The euro continues to be in serious trouble, and failing rapidly; the immediate problems resulting from Greece’s debt. It seems clear that the government in Athens is unable or unwilling to address Greece’s financial problems; the question now is bailout or no bailout.

As I noted here the Eurozone countries will not allow one of its own to go into default - the project is far too important to allow Greece to default. With Greece facing bankruptcy and despite questions over the legality of such a move, Charlemagne's notebook confirms that it’s now a question of how not if:

IN Brussels policy circles, the question asked about a bailout of Greece used to be: are European Union governments willing to do this? Now, I can report, the question among top EU officials has changed to: how do we do this?

Twice in the past 48 hours I have heard very senior figures—both speaking on deep background—ponder the political mechanics of how large sums in external aid could be delivered to Greece before it defaults on its debts: a crisis that would have nasty knock-on effects for the 16 countries that share the single currency.

One figure said yesterday that heads of government could not wait "forever" to take decision. That means a decision in the next few months, at most. Greece's draft plans for reducing its deficit from around 13% to 3% in three years did not seem credible, said this source. Thus a crisis loomed. "We need to help them," he said. This means "external aid" of some sort, in exchange for strict conditions.

As expected, it looks as though the EU will bailout Greece and impose very strict IMF-like conditions as a result - forcing a reluctant Greece to deal with its deficit.

There are a couple of dangers here. Firstly, the strict conditions could be political disastrous in Greece, something the Greek government is already acutely aware of - a backlash against membership of the EU could result on the streets. Secondly the political consequences around the rest of the EU could be grim as well.

As a result of the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty under Article 122 all the 27 member states of the EU, not just the 16 member states of the Eurozone, are obliged to help the Greeks if the EU decides to bail them out. Article 122 states:

“Where a member state is in difficulties or is seriously threatened with severe difficulties caused by natural disasters or exceptional occurrences beyond its control, the council of ministers, on a proposal from the European Commission, may grant, under certain conditions, Union financial assistance.”

This decision is taken on a majority vote, consequently meaning that the UK, which is not part of the Eurozone, would be forced to help save the euro. If the EU decides that member states have to contribute in accordance with their own share of the total EU economy, Britain might be forced to pay a £7 billion bill to bail out Greece – or perhaps even more, if other bankrupt Eurozone countries, such as Spain, are excused their share.

The bill could be even higher if other debt-ridden countries such as Spain and Portugual, seeing the Greece bailout, claim the same treatment. This could saddle Britain with a bill of £50 billion to save a currency in which the UK has never been a part of. Political dynamite, and not just in the UK as I noted here such a move would also be deeply unpopular in Germany.

There are other problems; no-one knows the true scale of the Greek debt - it's very likely to be much higher, the EU still lacks clear mechanisms to handle a situation like the present crisis, it is stuck on debate regarding the legality, and there is clearly a split in opinion between countries more positive in helping Greece and others that are deeply uneasy.

One obvious solution would be to order Greece to go to the IMF. The IMF have already indicated their readiness to help, they not only have the necessary tools but would take the hit for the unpopular measures needed.

The reluctance to bring in the IMF is, of course, political - to do so would be humiliating for the Eurozone, but also Charlemagne's notebook points to another reason for the reluctance:
This brings me back to an interesting detail about the IMF. It is often said that the IMF cannot intervene within the euro zone because it would be too humiliating, politically, for the EU to admit it could not look after one of its core members. That is clearly a view shared by senior officials. However, one source offered a further reason why the IMF is not welcome that I had not heard before. The fund's experts typically offer countries in trouble a mixture of fiscal and monetary advice, he explained: ie, they tell countries to cut public spending and raise taxes, but also to alter interest rates and take steps to stabilise their currency. If the IMF told Greece to cut public sector salaries, say, that would not shock the rest of the EU, he said. But what if the IMF demands that Greece tighten or loosen its monetary policy? Greece shares its monetary policy with the other 15 members of the euro zone: would the ECB be expected to change its monetary policies? And what would Germany have to say about that?

Political considerations are being placed above financial ones but as the EU is about to find out, you can't buck the market. The day of reckoning is approaching fast, though Jose Luis Zapatero, Spain's premier appears confident:
"Nobody is going to leave the euro"
The political will may be there, but markets move much faster. The problem is not just Greece but Spain, Portugal and Italy - the prospect of contagion is very real as the markets find the next weak link. The EU leaders could very well soon find themselves surrounded by the wreckage of a European currency before they know what the hell has happened.

Update: This chap can't be accused of mincing his words regarding the crisis in the Eurozone:

hattip: thedarknight comment on The Tap blog

When Is A Peep Show Really A Cinema?

In a rather bizarre VAT case at the European Court of Justice, the owner of a Belgian sex shop is attempting to argue that a coin-in-the-slot peep show counts as a cinema, which would then qualify for a reduction in VAT.

Under EU rules a cinema qualifies for a lower rate of VAT because they are identified has having a social or cultural purpose and in Belgian this reduces the rate from 21% to 6%.

The question posed to the ECJ is as follows:

Should a cubicle consisting of a lockable space where there is room for only one person and where this person can watch films on a television screen for payment, where this person personally starts the film projection by inserting a coin and has
a choice of different films, and during the time paid for can continually modify his/her choice of projected films, be regarded as a ‘cinema’ as referred to in the Sixth Council Directive
No 77/388/EEC (1) of 17 May 1977, Annex H, Category 7 (subsequently: Annex III, No 7, of Council Directive 2006/112/EC (2) of 28 November 2006)?
Now, a number of questions spring to mind; 1) Will the judges need to make a site visit, 2) why don't Belgians have the internet and, 3) are Pringles really cakes?

Thursday 28 January 2010

The End Of Common Law?

13th Spitfire alerts me to an Early Day Motion tabled by Bob Spink regarding the appointment of a European Public Prosecutor one of the essential steps in the general adoption of Corpus Juris in EU, thus replacing Habeas Corpus in the UK:

  1. The Lisbon Treaty provides for the appointment of a European Public Prosecutor ["EPP"]. Don't confuse it with the European Peoples Party that the Conservative MEP's finally left four years after Cameron said it would take place immediately! Mr Bob Spink, the Member of Parliament [Independent; formerly UKIP and, before that, Conservative] for Castle Point, tabled Early Day Motion ["EDM"] 637 on the 18th January 2009 about the EPP. A copy of that EDM is attached; it is self-explanatory.

  2. Confirmation that the European Commission is now going ahead with the appointment of the EPP was provided in the European Parliament on the 12th January 2010 during the Committee hearing of the candidate Commissioner for the Taxation and Customs Union, Audit and Anti-Fraud portfolio, Mr Algirdas Semata [Lithuania], in response to a question by Ms Marta Andreasen MEP [UKIP]. See the video of this on; Commissioner Questions 3.

  3. From the point of view of the European Union in further expanding its powers, the appointment of the EPP is one of the essential steps in the general adoption of Corpus Juris throughout the Union. Corpus Juris was first formally debated as long ago as 1997 and it has been "waiting in the wings" ever since. Now that the Lisbon Treaty has been ratified, Corpus Juris will go ahead. Generally, as far as continental countries in the European Union are concerned, the adoption of Corpus Juris would be consonant with their present criminal legal arrangements but for the United Kingdom [and for Ireland and Malta] it would entail a complete bouleversement of our criminal law entailing, inter alia, theabandonment of habeas corpus, of the presumption of innocence and of trial by jury - safeguards of individual freedoms that have been customary for us for centuries but are not followed in any continental country.

  4. EDM 637 is unlikely to be debated in the House; its objective on this vital legal matter is to alert the Government about the extent and depth of the opinion in the House that, hopefully, will finally be determined by the number of signatures that it attracts from supportive Members; it already has cross-party support. Parliament itself - because of the provisions of the European Treaties - is powerless to prevent the appointment of the EPP, but those provisions do provide our Government with the power either to veto the appointment or to opt-out of the Treaty provisions relating to criminal justice thereby preserving the present basis of the jurisdiction for criminal law in the United Kingdom. It would be expected, in conformity with their Oaths of Allegiance, if for no other reason, that every Member in the House would sign EDM 637. If there were overwhelming support for EDM 637, the Government would be under great pressure to use either its veto or its opt-out

  5. However, it must be borne in mind that, in practice, the present Government and previous governments have shown little inclination to safeguard Britain's legal systems from encroachment by the European Union. For example, the European Treaties provided that in many respects the European Court of Justice - clearly politically motivated in so many of its judgments - should be our final Court of Appeal. Another pertinent example indicating the present Government's approach to the adoption of European legal arrangements relates to the maintenance of "law and order". On the 18th October 2007, five countries in the European Union [Spain, France, Italy, The Netherlands, and Portugal] established a European Gendarmerie Force ["EGF"] by means of the Velsen Treaty pursuant to a Declaration of Intent dated the 17th September 2004 - see the EGF official website The EGF is an armed paramilitary anti-riot force under central control and is primarily intended to support the police and civilian authorities in the individual countries in the European Union [and, in practice, elsewhere in the world] in which the EGF can be stationed and deployed with the agreement of the country concerned. However, when asked in the House last year for an assurance that the EGF would never be allowed to set foot in Britain, the Government refused to give it.

  6. That is a summary of the present position on the appointment of the EPP. What can we do? The answer is that, as a matter of urgency, as many people as possible in each Constituency should get in touch with its Member of Parliament [personally, or by email or post] and ask him/her to confirm that he/she will sign EDM 637 immediately - and, if not, why not. Also, as many letters as possible should be addressed to local newspapers and the matter of the EPP should be brought to the attention of local broadcasters and television stations. By all means, letters should be sent to national papers and broadcasters but, in the past, it has proved to be difficult to interest them in complicated European Union matters - however vital to Britain's interests - and that applies particularly to the BBC.
So far the EDM has been signed by 7 MPs, I have written to my MP to ask him to sign it, but I don't hold out much hope that he will.

Wednesday 27 January 2010

My New Mobile Phone

Today I received a free mobile upgrade as part of my contract; a Nokia 5800. It's nothing special in mobile phone terms but it gave me a chance to mess about with a new gadget. Being a man, naturally I threw away the instruction manual, and preceded to press lots of buttons to see what they did.

The phone has a camera function which makes a rather annoying 'clicking' sound when a picture is taken. With my previous phones this could be turned off.

So there I am searching fruitlessly for the 'off' option and I discover that I can choose from one of four annoying sound options but there's no 'off'. Why? I retrieve the instruction manual from the bin but that's no help either.

A quick search on the internet shows that this is the result of privacy laws guessed it - the EU.

An unelected, unaccountable government has decided that I cannot be trusted with a product that I have purchased lest I stick it up a young girl's skirt and start taking pictures. I'm in effect being found guilty before I've actually done anything.

So basically within a day of receiving my phone I've had to download software to hack the phone in order to get my phone to do what I require.

Tired and Emotional

Due to feeling the after-effects of being tired and emotional, the result of celebrating the wonderful and thoroughly deserved tonking of Leeds, blogging may be a bit light today.

Tuesday 26 January 2010

Left Right Brain Trick

The Tuesday "I'm out and about for the rest of the day watching my football team (probably) lose" post.

If the woman above is rotating clockwise then you use the right (creative) side of your brain. If she's rotating anti-clockwise then you're using your left brain, or your logical side.

Apparently it's most common to see her turning anti-clockwise and it's pretty tough to make her turn the other way.

UK Limps Out of Recession

The last major economy in recession finally emerges into growth by a weaker than expected 0.1%. Labour spin will no doubt now go into overdrive at this 'good news' and Dizzy argues here that Brown may even consider an early election. Brown will be in for a shock if he thinks that the voters' will be grateful to him, or Labour, for today's news.

Update: Guido has his take here; it's a rounding error.

Update II It seems that I was rather over-optimistic about Labour's spin, there's a lack of crowing on the airwaves, Brown in particular is noticeable by his absence. The economic figures are not good then.

EU External Action Service

There were a few questions and comments yesterday in the Lords regarding the progress in setting up the replacement for the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Lord Howell of Guildford asks, in a follow up question (my emphasis):
Did he hear Javier Solana's view that this is going to be "the biggest diplomatic service in the world"? Has he noticed that, since the Lisbon treaty came into force, 54 new super-delegations, previously EU embassies or delegations, have been set up around the world? To whom will this enormous force be accountable, what will it cost and how much of the impact will fall on the already squeezed Foreign Office budget?
Lord Brett replies:
My Lords, we are looking not at the creation of a major new entity but at the reorganisation of the current external representation of the European Union into a much more coherent and effective body.
It's not often that the words 'European Union' and 'coherent' are used in the same sentence. Of course the best way of making the External (non) Action Service more coherent and effective would be to abolish it. Lord Brett continues:

It is not yet possible to give a detailed breakdown of costs.
No I bet it isn't, rest assured though it ain't gonna be cheap.

Any costs would have to be held within the overall EU budget for financial perspectives, which is €49.8 billion, but we are committed, in the form of Cathy Ashton's high level committee, to producing results by April this year, which is not far away. I regret to say that I do not have them at the moment.

Notably Lord Brett avoids the part of the question regarding accountability, though I think we can all guess the answer to that one. There then follows a couple of questions on the staffing of the EAS noting a desire that appointments are based on merit, not because they are French. UKIP's Lord Pearson then asks:
Can the noble Lord give us a clear assurance that there will be any British embassies left in 10 years' time? If he can give that assurance, will he tell us where they will be? If he does not have the answer at his fingertips, would he be good enough to put a letter in the Library?
A pretty fair question given the concerns. But no, apparently not:
My Lords, I used to listen to with great interest, and enjoy, the questions of the noble Lord and the expertise and perseverance he showed on Europe. However, since he became leader of UKIP, his questions have got more esoteric and strange; I can think of no stranger one than this.
Lord Brett didn't answer that inconvenient question either, Lord Brett may have considered the question strange but that doesn't negate the fact that the answer to it could be 'none'.

It's clear that Lord Pearson is now regarded as enfant terrible in the political world; anyone with a desire to exit the EU must regarded as somewhat peculiar. Your Freedom and Ours cites another example here in a different debate, on climate change:
Nevertheless, Lord Brett, the Minister in question summoned his vituperative powers:
I am afraid that I consider that to be quite a long way from the Question on the Order Paper. The noble Lord seems to be becoming on climate change what the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, has become on Europe.
So there we are: you want to insult a peer you compare him or her to the Lord Pearson of Rannoch, than whom there is no one more terrible in the eyes of the Ministers.
Shocking isn't it that anyone could possibly hold a different opinion to Lord Brett.

Monday 25 January 2010

The Cunning Plan?

Bob Ainsworth, has became the latest Labour minister to apparently make a gaffe and refer to a 6th May General Election.

To me the 6th May was always the likely date, but this regular drip-drip of 'gaffes' suggest we're now in the season of silly buggers.

As I predicted here, Brown will be furiously consulting his giant ACME book of Machiavellian plans, and there will follow a period of oh-so-clever will-he-won't-he speculation designed to out maneuver the Tories.

For a 25th March election, dissolution of Parliament would be 1st March, so I suspect in the week leading up to this, Brown will change tact and there will be further gaffes speculation on an earlier election hoping to send the Tories into a panic, an election which of course won't happen and it'll be 6th May anyway as widely predicted.

In Brown's head this will be fabulously cunning stuff, but naturally it will backfire and we'll be reminded that we've been here before.

Of course it could just be that they are all genuine gaffes due Labour's incompetency.

Saturday 23 January 2010

Dublin MEP Argues Against Democracy

The European Citizens' Initiative is an 'innovation' of the Lisbon Treaty, and is laughably aimed at increasing democracy in the EU.

Currently in a consultation period regarding the implementation detail which is due to end on 31st January, the initiative seeks to enable EU citizens, to petition directly the European Commission to bring forward an initiative of interest to them in an area of EU competence (though the actual process is likely to be made as difficult as possible).

This possible example of people power (I use the term lightly) is making some MEPs rather nervous (my emphasis):

Fine Gael Dublin MEP Gay Mitchell warned the Oireachtas European Affairs committee that there could be unintended consequences. “I could see a coalition of Youth Defence or whatever they’re calling themselves now, UKIP, [UK Independence Party], the communist left and the Dublin confederation of mothers of seven or whatever you want, getting together very easily,” he said.

They could be “putting together 0.2 per cent of the population across Europe and then saying what scoundrels the EU is for ignoring the wishes the people.”

I mean how dare we? Fancy using a device intended to make the EU more open and democratic to tell the EU to open and democratic!

What planet are these people on?

Time For The UK To Divorce The EU says Norman Tebbit in another spot-on post. He argues, rightly, that the two different systems of law between the UK's common law and the EU's European law (which is now supreme) are incompatible:
"It saddens me that in the bastardised ruins of what was once an educational system even children taught the importance of what happened at Runnymede are often told that the barons forced King John to grant rights, such as free speech, freedom from arbitrary arrest and imprisonment and the right to a fair trial. No, not quite so. The King was forced to sign a declation that he would not interefere with, nor abridge, those rights which were were the inherent rights of English freemen (and women too, Harriet) according to rank.

Our fellow Europeans may well enjoy similar rights, but they are rights which have their origins in constitutions and laws. The right of a German or Frenchman to free speech is a grant by law – essentially an entitlement rather than a right. Here, it requires a law to set limits upon that right, which in this Kingdom is (I’m sorry Professor Dawkins) the God-given right of an Englishman or woman from birth.

What I discovered during many days (and not a few nights) negotiating and dealing around the table in Brussels was that my colleagues were, with a few wonderful exceptions such as Count Otto von Lamsdorff, not just corporatist by nature, but inclined to the unspoken assumption that man was made for the state rather than that the state was made for man. At its worst, that became an assumption that whilst the citizen must obey the law and his rights were limited by the scope of the law, the state could do whatever was not specifically forbiden to it.

The basic assumptions underlying the two systems of law, English Common law and European law, are such that they cannot exist side by side. While we are members of the EU as it is constructed today, wherever the two clash on a matter within European competence, European law is superior."

Tebbit concludes:

"I believe that we should have a treaty relationship with other European nations covering matters of mutual interest, but that our Parliament should remain fully sovereign.

Divorce is never easy, but it may be better than persisting in an unhappy marriage. The question should not be whether we part, but what sort of relationship would follow."

He's absolutely right, although I suspect it will be quite some time - and more damage inflicted on the UK - before Tebbit's vision of a divorce comes to pass.

Friday 22 January 2010

The Frog's Favourite Blogs

Here's a round-up of a couple of blog posts that have caught my eye over the last seven days. Enjoy!

Governmentitus has one or two things to get off his chest

Norman Tebbit admits he was wrong to believe in the European project

A Fistful of Euros has more on the Greece problem within the Eurozone.

Daily Referendum says Brown isn't fit to run this country. I couldn't agree more.

Alex Ellis Roswell leaves UKIP to join The Libertarian Party.

Nosemonkey questions Libertarianism and their stance on the EU.

Charlemagne's Notebook notes that the French are throwing their toys out of the pram.

Cut-Off Day

I was intrigued by this comment by Mike L on
Don’t forget today is cut-off day!

If Brown doesn’t announce his resignation today then there cannot be a contested Labour leadership election pre GE (as the Budget acts as blocker).

Looking back at his previous comments I found his reasoning here:

If anyone wants to get rid of him...Friday 22 January is the cut-off point.

The reason is that it is inconceivable that Labour could present a Budget (approx 3 weeks before the GE would be called) without a permanent leader in place.

Whatever people say about accelerating the process, including time for nominations at the start and a Special Conference at the end the Leadership election is going to take 5 weeks minimum.

Now guess what Brown has just done? Surprise surprise he’s holding a big summit at the end of January which blocks off the chance of a challenge before then.

Looking back at the last few months he’s been very clever - he spaces out “blocking events” eg Glasgow by-election, Queens Speech, PBR, Copenhagen because he knows nobody can challenge him in the few weeks before a blocking event. So if there is never more than a 4 to 5 week gap he can never be challenged. Now he’s done it again with this summit he’s just called.

Which lead me to look at the dates:

  • Brown hosts a London Conference on Afghan security on 28th January.

  • The earliest a budget can be held is 9th March due to the three month rule with the PBR, which was 9th December last year. That's just over 5 weeks from the 28th, and would also rule out a March election.

  • For a 6th May election, the writ for dissolution of Parliament would be 12th April again just over five weeks from a 9th March budget.

  • For June 3rd, the last conceivable date, the writ would be 10th May, that is just under 9 weeks from a 9th March budget but of course no-one would know this until the 12th April deadline has passed which really makes it 4 weeks.
I'm inclined to agree with Mike L on the 5 week minimum, given Labour's complicated rules and lack of organisational skills.

My view is that Brown will remain in place largely because of the ineptness of the plotters and there's no-one willing to take the hit for the likely defeat. But it's fascinating to see how Brown uses big events like this purely to save his own skin.

In some ways the ruthlessness of the man is rather impressive regarding his mastery of his own party's politics, the contrast with his complete lack of it when comes to running the country is astonishing though.

But whatever Brown does internally, judgment day's approaching rapidly and it still won't stop me celebrating with copious amounts of alcohol when he loses in May.

Thursday 21 January 2010

Can't Get The Message Across

I confess that I only rarely take an interest in American politics, though I did follow the Obama election. I've never been a particular fan of him; more overblown rhetoric than substance.

'Change we can believe in?' Yawn! We've heard it all before and no doubt we'll hear it all again this year by the Tories.

His first year has been underwhelming to say the least, brilliantly encapsulated by the Democrats losing Ted Kennedy's old Senate seat.

On a rescue mission of his Presidency Obama has given an interview and admitted voter neglect (my emphasis):

“If there’s one thing I regret, it’s that we were so busy just getting stuff done …that I think we lost some of that sense of speaking directly to the American people about what their core values are.”
Hmm so they've voted against you because you failed to get your message across? Now that sounds familiar:

"To achieve that we need a leader who can articulate that vision and let our country and the party move on."
Labour ministers have a collective responsibility for the government's lamentable failure to get our message across.
The Conservative party's rout in the local elections was because the party failed to communicate with the electorate, Prime Minister John Major said.
The people of Massachusetts have voted for Scott Brown not because Obama's lost that sense of communication about core values, but precisely because they know what his message is and they don't like it.

Failure to get the message across is the language of a doomed government.

Lib Dems U-Turn Again On EU...Maybe...Who Knows?

How the 'Neither Liberal nor Democrat' party win any seats is beyond me. Utterly devoid of any principles, their stance on the EU epitomises their naked opportunism.

Following on from their not very surprising recent about turn on an 'in-or-out' referendum, Lib Dem Foreign Affairs Spokesman Ed Davey said this last night on the Tory amendments to the Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill:

"Liberal Democrats support a referendum on Europe, but on Britain's membership of the EU and not on the legalese of any specific treaty. We believe that the British people want to be able to answer the in-out question, and that that is the sort of constitutional issue that is best put in a referendum. As the right hon. Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz) said, that is the right way forward."

What an incoherent joke they are and Jon Craig at Sky also reports on further splits in the Lib Dem's position on the EU.

As an aside, there were a couple of other interesting little snippets from last night's debate, from Labour MP Keith Vaz:
The public are concerned, because they only ever get anti-Europe stories from the tabloid press. Everything is blamed on the EU, but the public would feel differently if we had a fair press that respected discussions on Europe.

Yes Keith we're all stupid, and are shamelessly brainwashed by the Sun newspaper. This was the same re-occurring patronising responses I got from MPs and Peers when I wrote to them campaigning for a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty. Vaz continues:
Of course we want to govern ourselves, but the British people ought to have an opportunity to say something about Europe. They have not been allowed to as yet, but people need to be able to position themselves as they wish.
'The British ought to have their say', says the man who voted against a referendum on Lisbon.

I often wonder whether I should just cut out the ballot box nonsense and just get one of these.

hattip: OpenEurope

ECJ Ruling Challenges Supremacy of German Constitutional Court

I'm a bit late to this, but I've just spotted this ruling by the EU Court of Justice on Tuesday. It involves the case of a 28-year-old German woman, who claimed age discrimination on the basis that her employer refused to take account of all her years of service to calculate her redundancy notice period.

Seda Kücükdeveci had been working for Swedex GmbH since she was 18 and she was made redundant in 2006. Under German law, her employer needs only to take into account the number of years she had been with the company since aged 25; thus they gave her one rather than four months’ notice.

The ECJ ruled that this was discrimination on grounds of age at the workplace, and was against EU law:

On those grounds, the Court (Grand Chamber) hereby rules:

1. European Union law, more particularly the principle of non-discrimination on grounds of age as given expression by Council Directive 2000/78/EC of 27 November 2000 establishing a general framework for equal treatment in employment and occupation, must be interpreted as precluding national legislation, such as that at issue in the main proceedings, which provides that periods of employment completed by an employee before reaching the age of 25 are not taken into account in calculating the notice period for dismissal.

2. It is for the national court, hearing proceedings between individuals, to ensure that the principle of non-discrimination on grounds of age, as given expression in Directive 2000/78, is complied with, disapplying if need be any contrary provision of national legislation, independently of whether it makes use of its entitlement, in the cases referred to in the second paragraph of Article 267 TFEU, to ask the Court of Justice of the European Union for a preliminary ruling on the interpretation of that principle.

What's interesting to note is that this is a direct challenge to the German Constitutional Court's self proclaimed supremacy, that it established in a ruling before Germany's ratification of the Lisbon Treaty:
“The peoples of the member-states are the holders of the constituent power. The Basic Law does not permit the special bodies of the legislative, executive and judicial power to dispose of the essential elements of the constitution.”
By ruling that, essentially, directives can have a horizontal effect - they can be relied upon in a suit between citizens - the ECJ has issued a challenge by directly using the anti-discrimination directive in an employer-employee relationship, thus by-passing German industrial law.

It will be interesting to see the Constitutional Court's response. It will also be interesting to see Cameron's response (should he win the GE) when he, undoubtedly, faces a similar challenge despite his rhetoric regarding a sovereignty bill.

I don't hold out much hope.

Wednesday 20 January 2010

Slowly But Surely

Yesterday the new EU President met with Gordon Brown to discuss the economy, climate change and the crisis in Haiti. It gave van Rompuy the chance to reiterate his idea of direct taxation by the EU in the form of a bonus tax, following on from Luc Frieden, Luxembourg's finance minister, at the weekend who also mooted a similar idea, and using Haiti as an opportunity to suggest an EU 'humanitarian rapid reaction force'.

Aside from the slightly amusing title (I presume by rapid reaction they mean that they will decide to do nothing even quicker), it's another sign that van Romuy's desire for more EU integration is coming along rather nicely. Fraser Nelson at the Spectator sums up the meaning of Rompuy's suggestion well:
This rung a bell with me. When I did my tour of duty in the Scottish Parliament, this was a goal of the SNP. They want to creep on to the world stage, without asking permission. One step is to send “observers” to various committees. But aid is the softest target. The SNP have long wanted to use this as a way to project Scotland as an international actor (just as Rompuy wants the EU to be recognised as having a force in its own right). So when an earthquake strikes, Scottish aid with Scottish money leaves a Scottish airport on behalf of the Scottish people. Politically, it’s a great tactic – because it seems heartless to object to such a mission. It should, of course, be quashed as needless duplication. The SNP want to duplicate what DFID does – this sneaking one step closer to nationhood.

Rompuy has cottoned on to the same scam, as he made clear in his press conference with Brown today (transcript here). It’s all part of the slowly-slowly method of preventing voters with a fait accompli: to create a fake Scottish or EU government and the following it up with tax-raising powers. Aid, defence and foreign policy should not be an EU competence: different countries have different priorities. But aid is the softest target for the EU – and Rompuy clearly has his eye on it.

Fraser's absolutely spot on.

Tuesday 19 January 2010

Religion and Liberty

Shami Chakrabarti, director of Liberty, has, unsurprisingly, waded into the UKIP burka ban debate with an article in the Times about religious tolerance and freedom of speech:
...96 per cent think that everybody should have freedom of thought, conscience and religion as long as they do not harm others; 85 per cent say that regardless of your faith, the law should protect the right to wear its symbols as long as they do not harm others. The supposed libertarians at UKIP can put that in their populist pipe and smoke it.
Now, I would take Shami's opinion a lot more seriously if she had made the same impassioned defence of Geert Wilders when he was banned from the UK illegally, but she didn't, so I won't.

The UK's New Leader

 in town today, meeting Gordon Brown and having a working breakfast at Downing Street. Now where's the IRA when you need them?

Monday 18 January 2010

Daily Telegraph Letters Page

For the first time ever, I have a letter published in the Telegraph (not that I write many to tell the truth).

I wrote it in response to two letters in Saturday's Telegraph; one by Andy Burnham the Health Secretary, regarding minimum alcohol price, which I also wrote about here.

My letter's been shorten somewhat and a couple of words rejigged, but the gist of the content remains intact:

SIR – There are arguments for and against imposing minimum alcohol pricing, but there is one fundamental problem. Such a policy would be in direct breach of article 28 of the European Community Treaty.

Greece and Ireland attempted similar policies with regard to cigarettes and the EU made it very clear that such price controls were illegal.

I find it odd that a government minister is either unaware of this or neglecting to inform us that this is the case. Either way it is another example of the impotency of our elected representatives and Parliament.

I'm slightly saddened that 'willfully' neglecting didn't get pass the sub-editor, but I guess they weren't likely to print a line that implies Andy Burham was being deliberately deceitful.

Sunday 17 January 2010

UKIP Want To Ban The Burka

I read, with my head in my hands in despair, at the editorial in today's Sunday Times that Lord Pearson is proposing to ban the Burka.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch, the leader of UKIP, said (my emphasis):

“We are taking expert advice on how we could do it. It makes sense to ban the burka — or anything which conceals a woman’s face — in public buildings. But we want to make it possible to ban them in private buildings. It isn’t right that you can’t see someone’s face in an airport.”
As the Times rightly points out this makes UKIP the first national party to call for a total ban, and plants them firmly in BNP territory. Not even the BNP has called for a ban in private buildings - they are, rather predictably, gloating.

Lord Pearson continues:
“We are not Muslim bashing, but this is incompatible with Britain’s values of freedom and democracy.”
I'm not sure how Pearson correlates the values of freedom and democracy with being forcing not wear certain clothes. It would also appear to be an infringement of the 'equal before the law' part of the supposedly Libertarian-leaning party's constitution, which states:
2.3 The Party will be guided in its activities by the principle of non-discrimination, including non-racism and non-sectarianism, and will be guided by the principle that all people are equal before the law.
Personally I largely hold the view that the less a government bans the better, I do not believe that a total ban in this case is the answer. Bans obviously should apply in areas where facial covering is deemed unacceptable for example; banks, building societies and airports, and it's also right to try to tackle genuine concerns regarding immigration and the rise of Sharia Law.

But to me Pearson is starting to show a worrying obsession with Islam, he was, after all, the person who invited anti-Islam Dutch politician Geert Wilders to the UK. He also stated in 2009 that Muslims are:
“breeding ten times faster than us. I don't know at what point they reach such a number we are no longer able to resist the rest of their demands. We must be looking at somewhere between 10 or 20 years. If we don't do something in the next year or two we have in effect lost."
Is it Pearson's aim to have Muslim-bashing as UKIP's second priority and why on earth is he using similar language to the BNP? In all it leaves me frustrated and a little angry.

As someone who wants the UK to exit from the EU, I have very little choice at the ballot box. Labour, the Tories and the Lib Dems have all signed up to the EU project (and will continue to do so), the BNP is, for obvious reasons, a non-starter, so the only realistically choice I have is, for the main political issue I really care about, UKIP.

It is the only political party I have ever campaigned for on the doorsteps, one that I've voted for more than any other, and I often do so against my own better judgment. I despair, at the antics of the leadership, the in-fighting and even the chaotic nature of UKIP's organisation and its amateurish internet presence. But I carry on because I passionately believe in Britain not being run by unelected bureaucrats in Brussels.

There are two main criticisms I have faced when campaigning;

1) UKIP is a joke party, with no other policies other than EU withdrawal.

and far more serious;

2) that any Eurosceptic must be a closet racist, xenophobic little Englander.

The finer points of the EU's impact can be easily lost in the damaging second accusation, so any discussion on immigration and Islam by UKIP has to be treated with caution. Something, which Pearson acknowledged himself last year on the Politics Show (no longer online):
“We’ve got to be very careful, especially in this area of immigration, that we cannot be confused with the BNP. I accept that. There’s a fine line to be drawn here...”
UKIP needs to seriously focus on wider policy aims (which still suffer at the hands of the EU) such as education, crime and healthcare like the other parties.

However, thanks to Pearson, the job of trying to convince the electorate that UKIP is a non-racist, serious and 'safe' party to vote for has now become much much harder.

Saturday 16 January 2010

Saturday Caption Competition

The Saturday "I'm out and about today watching my football team (probably) lose" post.

Please feel free to add a caption to this picture.

Friday 15 January 2010

Quote Of The Day

"they hide behind the knife and they stab with the cloak."

Ken Clarke on last night's Question Time (31:40 mins in)

The Cost Of Alcohol

Just spotted this from Paul Waugh asking; 'Is Labour edging towards a min. price for alcohol?'

Citing an article in the Daily Binge Drinker
which itself is recycling old news from early last year (yawn), Waugh goes into detailed analysis of Labour's position on alcohol pricing and whether they are seriously considering the option.

Waugh quotes Andy Burnham the Health Secretary:

"We need to balance the rights of people who drink responsibly with those who buy ludicrously cheap booze and go out and harm themselves and others. The mood has changed and there is rising public concern - we need to respond to that and move on the debate."

He then notes that:
Sources close to Andy Burnham rejected the Telegraph's take today, stating that he had not pushed the policy to Cabinet. But, intriguingly, Whitehall sources also said that the public would need to be taken on a "journey" of education about alcohol before the idea could be implemented. It could take 10, 15 years and would need cross-party consensus.

Leaving aside the rather patronising line about being taken on a "journey" of education, this is essentially all hot air and nonsense from Labour. There won't be minimum pricing for alcohol quite simply because it would fall foul of EU laws.

The EU permits governments (how jolly nice of them) to raise taxes in order to protect public health, but rules out minimum pricing if it negates cheap imported goods having a possible competitive edge. It would be in breach of the (EC) Treaty.

The issue of minimum pricing has already cropped up amongst EU member states when Greece and Ireland attempted the same policy with cigarettes. The EU made its position clear:
In this respect, the European Court of Justice has already stated that:
  • imposing a minimum price is incompatible with the current legal framework (Directive 95/59/EC), since the setting of a minimum price by public authorities inevitably has the effect of limiting the freedom of producers and importers to determine their selling price (see also case C-302/00, Commission/France)
  • minimum prices are not necessary, since the health objectives may be attained by increased taxation of tobacco products. (Case C-216/98, Commission/Greece).

The Commission fully supports Member States in designing measures on tobacco control in order to ensure a high level of public health protection. Among the measures that could be used, the European Commission advocates minimum taxes to tackle cigarettes’ consumption. This would have the same impact on the prices and would not hamper price competition to the sole benefit of manufacturers.

But no fear, this inconvenient detail won't stop politicians and the media pontificating about minimum pricing, despite that the UK has no power to actually implement it.

Thursday 14 January 2010

It can't be bargained with. It can't be reasoned with...

From Iain Martin at the Wall Street Journal:

And that’s the genius of Gordon Brown. He grinds opponents down — as Tony Blair discovered when he dared to become PM instead of Brown. When you think he’s dead, he gets up. He’s relentless, he never gives up, he never admits weakness, he never stops saying he’s right and everything he does is brilliant, until his opponents say they can’t take it any longer and want to rush screaming from the room.

Hmm, now what does that remind me of...?

So What Will The Tories Do?

Yesterday was the hearing of EU Commission nominee Michel Barnier. The Frenchman's appointment as Europe's internal market commissioner alarmed the City of London. He is well-known as a defender of French protectionism and for his hostility to the Anglo-Saxon free market model of capitalism. He will now have regulatory control over the City, a situation that could be of a serious concern according to William Hague.

Indeed, the appointment was widely seen as a coup for the French over Gordon Brown and London. Sarkozy at the time gloated:
“It’s the first time in 50 years that France has had this role. The English are the big losers in this business.”
Clearly then Michel Barnier's hearing yesterday was likely to be scrutinised closely for any signs that could be detrimental to an important part of the UK economy.

Overall, Barnier seemed to give a smooth performance and wanted to reassure the UK that he doesn't want an Anglo-Franco dispute:
"I believe in a strong City at the heart of jobs and growth – for London, the UK and Europe as a whole. I don't want to undermine the City, on the contrary. I fully understand its importance and I want it to be an even more vibrant powerhouse, creating jobs and growth for all."
However, he also made it clear that reform of the banking system was on the agenda. Using language and phrases designed to appeal to the MEPs who are going to approve his appointment, he laid out a number of possible legislative initiatives that will cover areas ranging from derivatives markets to bank capital:
"We are not just going to talk about reform. We are going to reform. We need to put transparency, responsibility and ethics at heart of the financial system. No market, no financial player and no product should be allowed to escape anymore."
Barnier continued (my emphasis):
“Let there be no doubt, I’m not going to be taking orders from Paris, London or anywhere else.”
Which sounds rather ominous and as Godfrey Bloom, a UKIP MEP warned him:
“Don’t kill the goose that lays the golden egg.”
Kay Swinburne, a British Conservative MEP adds to the concern:
"[Barnier 's] now talking about giving European regulators binding powers [to intervene], which he didn't before. He seems to have swung towards the Germans and French."
Barnier, in my view, during his hearing has publicly and deftly positioned himself between appeasing the MEPs to secure his job and not being specific enough to frighten the City. But it’s clear that behind the scenes there will be more coercive maneuvering in order to introduce more and more restrictive legislation.

The recession is essentially a beneficial crisis where the EU will take the opportunity to instigate another power grab. Undoubtedly it will be euphemistically sold as a way of 'strengthening financial supervision', and given the low esteem with which bankers are held in who is going to argue?

So where will this leave the Tories? Assuming they win the General Election this year, which looks very likely considering their solid lead in the polls, what will they do to try to stem the tide of EU regulations and protect a fundamental part of the UK's economy?

Well so far the signs are not good, Mark Hoban, Shadow Financial Secretary to the Treasury said:
"George Osborne was one of the first politicians to call Barnier to welcome him to his new post."
Ok not much to see there on its own, but worrying when Hoban continues with (again my emphasis):
"The government said the rules would not have a fiscal impact on the UK. It said this was a red line issue. But we know that the rules as they stand can have a fiscal impact on the UK. Yet if the government had engaged at an earlier stage we could have shown that these rules were not just a problem for London, but all EU countries," he said.

Hoban said the UK needed to engage with the commission at an earlier stage to influence new laws and regulations."

Oh dear, engagement; a phrase every Government uses as another way of saying being at the heart of the EU. We've been here before.

The problem is that when 'cast-iron' Dave backtracked on a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty he emphasised that the economy came first before any bust up with Europe. But the two are not mutually exclusive. The financial services sector is fundamental to the UK economy; it generates 15% of corporation tax and accounts for 10% of the total output of the UK economy. Its competitiveness is essential for helping the UK to get out of recession, whether we like or not.

Cameron obviously wants the issue of the EU to go away but it won't, if Cameron wants to protect the City he has to adopt a more vigorous line. Engagement with the EU never works in Britain's interests so what will he do?

Well my hopes are not high. It's been demonstrated time and again from Heath through to Thatcher, Major and Blair that a desire to be at the heart of Europe, and try to influence the process, inevitably turns out to be ruled by Europe.

The whole sorry process seems set to continue.

Wednesday 13 January 2010

The BBC Quotes A Nazi

The main BBC website today has this quote:
"Unfortunately this earth is not a fairy-land, but a struggle for life, perfectly natural and therefore extremely harsh. MARTIN BORMANN"
All well and good apart from the fact Martin Bormann was Hitler's Private Secretary - a Nazi who was tried at Nuremberg in absenti.


hattip: Biased BBC

Tuesday 12 January 2010

A Jobsworth Story

From the Mail today:
Three soldiers returning from Afghanistan were ordered off a train and threatened with arrest by a 'jobsworth' ticket inspector.

The men from the Intelligence Corps were on their way home from Helmand for a fortnight's rest and recuperation when he challenged them, claiming their rail warrants were not valid.

I've not much to add for fear of developing an acute form of tourettes, apart from that I hope they find the ticket inspector and name and shame him:
Fellow passengers watched with surprise as the inspector queried their right to travel on the 8pm train, the last service to the capital that evening.
As a fellow passenger surprise would have been way down the list of reactions I would have experienced had I been on the train.

Sadly this kind of mentality does not appear to be an exception.

ECHR Rules Stop And Search is Illegal

The BBC reports that the European Court of Human Rights has ruled that section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000 is illegal.

Personally in some ways I'm rather pleased, I have grave concerns regarding terrorism legislation passed by this Labour Government; I know from personal experience as a football fan regarding Section 60, that the more powers the police get, the more they abuse it.

However it's my view that Labour's draconian laws should be repealed by the British people via the ballot box, i.e. vote in another government in May.

Instead it takes a foreign court that's unaccountable to UK citizens to tell our democratically elected government that laws passed via a sovereign Parliament are illegal under European Human Rights Legislation. What a mess!

Labour are likely to drag their feet (again) on this judgment, so it will be left to the next government (probably the Conservatives) to deal with this judgment after the May elections. Will the Tories implement or reject this judgment, if they agree they leave themselves open to accusations of being soft on terror and if they disagree it will mean a bust up with Europe, which they don't want.

Along with the ECHR judgment on prisoner voting rights, the Tories' desire not to have a bust up with Europe is looking increasingly difficult.

hattip: Old Holborn.

General Election 6th May?

Labour's Europe minister Chris Bryant during a speech to diplomats regarding tensions between Britain and South American countries said:
"I hope that by the time of the general election on May 6, relations will have improved."
This only after a week when Brown also appeared to confirm the date:
The slip came when Marr asked him if there'd be a Labour Budget this Spring - a coded way of asking him to rule out an election before May. "Of course," came the reply, before the PM realised what he was being asked and so he hastily added "if it's the right time".
So May 6th it is... possibly.

hattip: Dizzy

Ashton Hearing

Catherine Ashton had her three hour hearing in front of MEPs yesterday. As expected she faced critical questions over her lack of foreign policy experience and some hostile questions from Conservative MEPs regarding her CND links.

Undoubtedly she had spent the Christmas period foreign policy cramming, but despite that she was caught on Afghanistan detail by suggesting that EU troops were there, and didn't know answers to two questions on Somalia. Ashton also responded to the question about her thoughts on the reform of the United Nations Security Council with:
“The answer is I don’t know. This has not even crossed into my thinking… You’ve caught me out. Well done.”
Overall she was vague in her answers, gave no great vision of the role of her position or the EU position on key foreign issues, but ultimately avoided any major gaffes that might have put her job in jeopardy.

The hearing can be seen here.

Monday 11 January 2010

Free Porn For The Poor

More evidence today that Labour have run out of ideas, the old chestnut of free computers and internet access has reared its ugly head again.

Labour has announced that the government will issue 270,000 laptops with free broadband to pupils from poorer backgrounds. There's nothing like a Brown re-announcement of old policies every so often, like here and here.

I would have thought that giving people free broadband access is counter productive for Labour, it means they can more easily access news that is not sympathetic to Labour's cause unlike the BBC. Realistically though I wonder how many of the laptops will actually end up here.

Intriguingly also today, Brown will try to rally the Parliamentary Labour Party tonight with the message that:
"We cannot and will not fight the election on small ideas but on big ideas,"
Big Ideas? Free laptops? Oh dear oh dear!

More Trouble Ahead For Brown?

First it was Blair for President of the European Council, then maybe David Miliband for High Representative then maybe Mandelson. The farce eventually concluded with frantic behind-doors negotiations resulting in the relatively unknown, unelected Baroness Ashton being appointed High Representative. According to Brown this appointment:
"gives Britain a powerful voice both within the European Council and the Commission,"
Well, the drama is not quite over yet.

Although Ashton has already made public appearances, she will only obtain full Commissioner status once she has been approved by the European Parliament, along with the other 26 nominated Commissioners. This process of holding hearings with the respective candidates begins today and lasts until 19th January.

Baroness Ashton's hearing is today at midday GMT and is keenly anticipated, not least because there are significant doubts in the EU regarding her limited experience in foreign affairs, which could hamper her efforts in trying to raise the EU's profile on the world stage. Doubts which have not helped by her less than impressive appearance in the EU Parliament last December, and critisim by the Trade Committee for floundering under questioning. There are also likely to be challenging questions regarding her written answers, which are required prior to the hearings:
My first priority will be to build the European External Action Service as an efficient and coherent service that will be the pride of the Union and the envy of the rest of the world.
According to the Lisbon Treaty, the High Representative must conduct the EU's common foreign and security policy, not build the External Action Service, which is seen as the duty of member states. Ashton will need a better grasp of detail in order to convince MEPs.

The vote is due on 26th, and in principle the EU Parliament can only vote 'yes' or 'no' on the entire line-up, not the individuals. In practice, though, approval is not a foregone conclusion and MEPs can force the Commission to rejig some of its nominations. This is precisely what happened in 2004 when Barroso had to withdraw his proposed team after a parliamentary committee rejected Italy's Rocco Buttiglione for describing homosexuality as a sin during his hearing.

If Ashton's performance is unconvincing today will MEPs try to prevent the appoint of her thus heaping more indignation on our beleaguered Prime Minister?

Another hearing to look out for this week is Michel Barnier, who oversees the internal market and financial services; an appointment that had resulted from the French outwitting the Prime Minster, giving them regulatory control over the City of London. His hearing is on Wednesday

Sunday 10 January 2010

Quote Of The Day

‘The truth is, Peter, we have spent ten years working with this guy, and we don’t actually like him.

'We have always thought that the longer the British public had to get to know him, the less they would like him as well,

Douglas Alexander, the international development secretary on Gordon Brown and why an early election in 2007 was necessary.

Saturday 9 January 2010

Prisoner Voting Rights

From Hansard 7th January:

Mr. Pickles: To ask the Secretary of State for Justice (1) who the respondents were to the second round of consultation on voting rights for prisoners; [308289]

(2) how many respondents to the second round of consultation on voting rights for prisoners were convicted prisoners. [308290]

Mr. Wills: The second stage consultation on the voting rights of convicted prisoners closed on 29 September. A detailed analysis of the replies to the second stage consultation-including a breakdown of respondents-will be available upon publication of the Government's response. There have been over 100 responses to the consultation from a number of different groups including charities, local authorities, members of the public and prisoners, which we are currently considering carefully.
Currently considering carefully? I think that's also known as dragging your feet. I wonder what the Tories will do about prisoner voting rights if they win in May?

I suspect that if they win, then they will cave in to the Council of Europe knowing that there's another five years till the next General Election when it will all be forgotten by UK voters. After all the Tories don't want a bust up with Europe.

Jailhouselawyer's Blog

Darling Cuts Through The Spin

Stark evidence today that the botched coup earlier this week by Buff Hoon and Co has left Brown fundamentally weakened for the time being.

The interview in today's Times with Chancellor Alistair Darling is extraordinary for its candor regarding spending cuts; he is clearly emboldened by Brown's current weakness and has no problem with completely contradicting Brown's earlier dividing line of "Labour investment versus Tory cuts":
“The next spending review will be the toughest we have had for 20 years . . . to me, cutting the borrowing was never negotiable. Gordon accepts that, he knows that.”
Darling is, of course, only stating the bleeding obvious; the need for cuts and addressing the UK deficit is as obvious as it is imperative. For Brown to try to pretend otherwise is deluded and dishonest. The Cabinet are not hiding their frustration with Brown's tactics.

The problem though is the closer we get to the election the less weak Brown will be, because the chances of further plots against his leadership will diminish accordingly. I can't envisage Brown taking Darling's message about cuts into an election. Brown has a pathological hatred of the Tories, it would be against everything he believes in to agree with the Tories on the need for public service cuts.

He also is well known for micromanaging, and while it's not possible to micromange an election it won't stop Brown trying. I sense further bloody internal battles ahead, especially when the danger of another leadership challenge has passed, I suspect Brown and Balls will try to regain control of the election strategy; all those promises made now will be disregarded, like they were last June. The control of election strategy now looks set to be a fight to death between Darling and Mandelson on one side and Brown and Balls on the other.

The Tories must be absolutely delighted, not only does this vindicate their own 'need for cuts' message (although they've yet to spell out in detail how this will happen) but it's further proof that Brown is incapable of leading his Cabinet let alone the country. Campaign slogans are writing themselves.

It's not in the bag yet for the Tories, however, they still have an uphill task to win the General Election. They need 2 million more votes just to draw level on seats, and they need to win 117 seats in the next election to gain an overall majority of one, and 140 seats to win a 'working majority'. This will require at least a swing of 6.9% to the Tories – the biggest swing in 60 years.

Labour are doing their very best to help them though.

And lest we forget:

Friday 8 January 2010

EU Commission Demands Slovak Explanation Over Airport Security Test

The EU Commission is seeking an explanation from the Slovak authorities over the botched security test, where a man traveling to Dublin flew with explosives planted in his luggage.

An EU Commission spokesman said last night:
"We would like to know what happened,”
Er...I think that's pretty obvious, what happened is that airport security is not very good.

This though has occurred at the same time the EU is deciding whether to install full body scanners at European airports; an issue where the EU nations are divided between security and concerns regarding privacy.

Belgian's Secretary of State for Transport, Etienne Schouppe has described such enhanced measures as "excessive," saying security requirements at European airports are already; "strict enough."

In all this debacle at least the Slovak chief of border police, Tibor Mako has had the decency to resign.