Monday, May 19, 2014
The Iranian crisis continues unimpeded by any British action.
Even our diplomacy is failing. After the failure to secure UN condemnation of Iran's actions, the Times reports that the EU has refused to impose sanctions on the country too.
Iran, meanwhile, has made further capital out of her hostages, releasing another letter from Faye Turney and (as reported here in the Telegraph) broadcasting more propaganda footage. The Telegraph piece sheds interesting light on the vacillation of our inept Foreign Secretary: in an interview with the paper, she said the Government had "been prepared all along to discuss how to make progress with the Iranians. But it had been impossible to do so because they had remained silent about what they wanted and were not linking their release to any clear demands ... From the beginning we have been prepared to enter discussion but we have not really been given anything to discuss."
How helpless. How naive! How pathetic.
Contrast this with the truculent chutzpah of the Iranians. As the BBC reports today, Iran's ambassador to Russia has said that our servicemen could face trial for violating international law. "It is possible that the British soldiers who entered into Iranian waters will go on trial for taking this illegal action," Gholamreza Ansari told Russian television channel Vesti-24.
Given the state of popular opinion in Iran, what do we think the outcome of such a show trial might be? As that Times piece says: "In Iran tens of thousands of football fans reportedly chanted “Death to England” while tourists burnt an effigy of Mr Blair dressed as a pirate."
In other words, our lack of will has emboldened our enemies beyond the point of considering the release of their hostages. They are now hinting at the possibility of executing them.
Will this force an apology out of our cowardly, irresolute political leadership? Unfortunately, it looks by this stage as if we're guaranteed not to take any action against Iran. Talk of rescue attempts, sanctions or blockades is just a faded dream now for a country betrayed by weak and empty men.
Accordingly, the last word belongs with the Iranian leadership. Here is Ahmad Khatami, one of Iran's theocrats.
“Today, Britain is a failed, isolated power who acts as a middleman for America. If they continue their bullying they will pay a high price. This Iran is a great Islamic and powerful Iran who is standing against America, who is the master of Britain.”
Leading our third party must be a pretty thankless task at the best of times. Paddy Ashdown saw his hopes of proportional representation coming in dashed after 1997, and with them any chance of securing a government post in the inevitable coalition which would ensue. Without PR the possibility of a hung parliament next time round still has people wondering with which of the big parties the LDs might conjoin. (Indeed, with his limply allusive Five Tests for Gordon Brown, Ming ensured such speculation completely dominated coverage of his party's recent conference.) But this is a different proposition - junior partner rather than kingmaker - and a remote one too.
Not only does the party leader have little hope of any real power. He also presides over the most diverse collection of interests of any British party, some of which exist in flat contradiction to one another. The party still has the most overtly federalist approach to the EU, for example, but it remains famously quiet on the subject when campaigning in its stronghold in the eurosceptic south west of England. (Even today, a search for "EU" on the area website draws a complete blank.) It has a new crop of economic liberals who sit uneasily with the left-leaning faction backing higher taxes on the rich. And, a handy conduit to the main stream of British politics from its variegated fringe, it has become the refuge of choice for several single-interest groups from localizers to unilateralists. The Liberal Democrats comprise an unusual beast: all wings and no body, no wonder it sometimes flies off uncontrollably in eccentric directions.
Nevertheless. Under Ashdown it began to take its national platform seriously. In the south east of England, for example, it progressed from being the party you might vote for in local elections while voting Conservative in general ones to being a serious contender, winning previously safe Tory seats. (Of course, tactical voting and a lack of serious scrutiny had their parts to play, but Lord Paddy does deserve some of the credit.) Under Charles Kennedy this success was consolidated upon. Further seats were accrued and his profile at the national level, until his demise a year ago, was high. He was a popular, humorous man, but seen to be principled and independent-minded too, and people responded well to this. So it has been possible to lead this chaotic, forever adolescent ragbag of a party successfully.
Sir Menzies Campbell cuts a sad figure in British politics. He knows all this, but grimly hangs on. To what end? Nobody knows. Certainly not for the good of his party, which flatlines in the polls well below the levels seen in the Kennedy era. Labour's star is falling, and the LDs no longer seem to be around to pick it up.
"Don't judge Ming's profile as it is", we are told. "Lib Dem leaders only ever really get any exposure in general elections. So wait until then." This utter hogwash still begs the question: what on earth are we waiting for? What will we discover about this man, who will be 67 or 68 years old at the next election, who makes a hash of his parliamentary appearances even now, and who cloaks himself with an invisibility one can only hope is partly intentional - what will we discover then that we do not already know?
Nothing, of course. Ming will be just as much of a washout for his party then. No sane party member is going to want to approach Election '09 / '10 on current polling - not when there might be someone effective round the corner. Someone like - even, perhaps, someone extremely like - Charles Kennedy? Perhaps. But you can bet it'll be someone else.
Nothing new there perhaps, but this article, by former IRA terrorist Ronan Bennett, marks a new low for Britain's leading enemy within.
I am shocked that even as anti-British a newspaper as the Guardian would choose this moment to commission such a figure to vituperate against our country.
Our inertia in the face of Iran's brilliantly engineered crisis is bad enough. How dare this newspaper add insult to grievous injury!
The most important, challenging, and probably most widely ignored programme to be broadcast this year has just aired on Channel 4. The Great Global Warming Swindle presented the facts about the observed rise in temperature changes in the 20th century, and the current state of climate science. (For those converted to the global boiling scare: the word "fact" denotes a truth whose veracity does not rely on the preponderance of informed opinion.) Examples of facts include:
Rises in the level of atmospheric carbon dioxide have always followed, not preceded / caused, rises in temperature. (This can be confirmed simply by looking at the oft-published charts. It's even obvious from watching Al Gore's film, if you bother to look.)
Temperatures have been higher than they are today more than once in the relatively recent past, and for thousands of years previously in a period known to geology as the "Holocene Maximum". (Polar bears, incidentally, managed to survive all of these episodes.)
Temperatures fell for a generation after the second world war, at a time when "anthropogenic" carbon dioxide emissions were growing exponentially.
Anthropogenic emissions! What a lovely little neologism our Green friends have appropriated to make themselves sound clever. As they are, in fact, thoroughly misanthropic, we should be chary of allowing them to appropriate mankind's semiotic inheritance. But this is a minor complaint relative to their appropriation of politics, industry and morals. Once upon a time, pagan nature worship was a harmless diversion whose devotees wanted jurisdiction over nothing more than Stonehenge. Today we're handing them the keys to the kingdom.
The science is clear. While the planet has got selectively warmer over the last 150 years or so, it is because of variations in solar activity. Solar activity, not levels of carbon dioxide, is evidently responsible for temperature changes over the last 60 million years. Carbon dioxide is not a pollutant. It is essential for life on earth, including ours. And it is one of the least important "greenhouse" gases (water vapour being by far the most significant). Despite the cries of "consensus! Consensus!" - dubious in themselves - science is not a political form, governed by the wisdom of the Bandar Log ("we all say so, and so it must be true"). It is an exciting and exploratory realm where fact is discovered through reason and experimentation. It is not hysterical. It is not susceptible to fashion. It is not validated by public funding.
At the present time, however, the fashionable hysteria is overwhelming. It is easy to understand why. The more we panic, the more money we throw at the global boiling crazies. Environmentalism furnishes the post-Marxist left with a new weapon against capital, America, progress - all the old enemies. Nature worship takes over where Christianity and other established forms of belief are in decline. And these broad alliances make it impossible for our policy makers to ignore. Here in Britain, the "green" preoccupations of LD voters in marginal constituencies have compelled Labour and the Conservatives to take the issue seriously. In America it provides the Democrats with a popular connection to parallel and counter that which exists between the Republicans and the Christian right. And all over the world, charities and lobbyists rake in hundreds of millions of pounds to assist them in stoking the furnace of apocalyptic sentiment.
The "science" of anthropogenic climate change is utter bullshit. It is a bogey man which those who can afford the time luxuriate in fearing: a truly decadent concern. And we expect the poorest of the poor to go without reliable electricity to fill the vacuum left by the fall of Communism and the decline of organised religion in the west? If we think that, we're not just green between the ears. Our souls are rotten with a self-centred, sociopathic purulence. The devil is riding out once more, and this time he sports a broad green cape, and wears an expression of panicked endeavour on his face.
The Guardian really is doing a good job of agitating for the enemy. See this witty effort from Terry Jones.
I wonder who was paid more by the newspaper for spitting on this country - the former Python this morning, or the former IRA terrorist yesterday?
This year, which marks the 300th anniversary of the Act of Union, could also witness a Nationalist government in Scotland following regional elections there in May. The prospect of losing their Scottish constituency has panicked Labour into a funk. The Chancellor rarely misses an opportunity to use the word "Britain" and (gratingly) "Britishness"; we should expect to hear them many times during his forthcoming Budget. Even his outgoing fellow Scot, Mr Blair, published a piece in the Telegraph on Friday trumpeting the virtues of the Union.
The loss of 41 Westminster seats - over 50 if you count the LDs too - is certainly a worry for the left. Blair writes in his article that devolution "modernised and improved" the Union. That it might actually lead to its partial dissolution is one of the more conspicuous instances of the most powerful law of all: that of unintended consequences. (It would also represent the crowning element of Mr Blair's rather sparse legacy.)
There would be a further consequence, less well foreseen and certainly less trivial than the loss of a handy chunk of the PLP. Recent research published by the very New Labour IPPR reveals that ethnic minorities feel more British than white people. The think tank's survey discovered that a sizeable majority of black and Asian people identified themselves as British compared to only 11% of whites, most of whom identify with the component nations of the Union.
This should not come as a surprise. The label "British", like the label "American", carries little of the racial or ethnic undertones of "Scottish" or "Welsh". For much of Britain's history, most British subjects were non-white. It is an established identity for those who comprise our present ethnic minorities in a way that the smaller terms are not.
Conversely, an encroaching nationalism, particularly in the smaller countries in the UK, has led to a preference over those with Scottish or Welsh roots to think of themselves in those terms rather than as part of a larger, British construct. This nationalism has long been encouraged by the left as a way of distancing regional constituents from evil, Tory England. (Labour's plan would have gone even better if Prescott could have torn himself away from adultery long enough to persuade the North to devolve as well.) Devolution seemed a neat way of entrenching permanently leftist majorities in junior assemblies which would be handy power bases whence to resist the more right-leaning tendencies of the southern English.
The England of the Conservative and Unionist Party, it was thought, would never countenance the demolition of the UK. Its respect for tradition and love of the flag would prevent this. One of the striking features of the Blair article, however - which itself consists predictably of vacant platitudes - is the tone of the comments which it attracted from the Telegraph's English, Tory readership. Hardly a single one spoke up for the Union, most sensing a political and economic advantage from effectively seeing Scotland off. And there we have unintended consequence number three: when confronted with the prospect of an independent Scotland as a practical reality, the English, so far from feeling affronted by the idea, feel almost universally that their own country would benefit from the arrangement.
So devolution for Scotland is proving to be a bad idea for Labour, with independence a popular cause south as well as north of the border, making it all the more likely. While the constitutional vandals of the Blair years might well have envisaged (and dismissed) this nightmare scenario from the party perspective, it is highly unlikely that they had the breadth of vision to consider what this might mean for Britain's ethnic minorities. An Englishman myself, I sympathise with those in my corner of Britain who would vote for the SNP in May's elections to the Scottish mini-parliament if they could. But I deeply regret the potential loss to those among us - most of our ethnic minorities - who feel that the label "British" is a better one for them to wear than any of those which might replace it. There are many ways in which Labour have made life less pleasant for us here, but this is something of which they ought to feel truly ashamed.
Gordon Brown's showmanlike budget was hailed in some quarters as his passport to Number Ten. What nobody seems to have realised is that our likely next Prime Minister has cut defence spending for 2007/08 by over £800m in real terms. What he announced was an additional £400m. Is this deception forgivable? And does it matter that the man who might next send British forces into battle has cut their funding?
Brown's budget speeches have always been short on detail. Journalists and analysts are left to forage in the small print before they can assess his budgets properly. This time round, their scavenging has spilt gallons of newsprint on the Chancellor's customary sleight-of-hand: his income tax cut which isn't (especially if you're poor), his corporation tax cut which might not be (especially if you're a manufacturer), his increase in tax thresholds which is offset by increasing NIC earnings limits. But nobody has yet challenged this part of his address:
"We owe a huge debt of gratitude to our armed forces. And to support those who serve us with courage and distinction in Afghanistan, Iraq and in other demanding international commitments, I am allocating the Secretary for Defence an additional £400 million."
The actual figures for public spending are published in the Financial Statement and Budget Report, Section C. Table C13 (p. 293 of the FSBR, p. 25 of the .pdf) gives the following numbers for financial years 2005/06 (actual), 2006/07 (estimated) and 2007/08 (projected):
Resource Budget: £33.4bn, £33.7bn, £32.8bn
Capital Budget: £6.4bn, £7.1bn, £7.6bn
Adding these together gives total spending of £39.8bn, £40.8bn, £40.4bn. Add in the "additional £400m", given in the table as an "unallocated special reserve", and - not, I suspect, coincidentally - the figure for 2007/08 rises to £40.8bn. Exactly the same as for 2006/07.
Rather than an "additional £400m" for our country's defence, therefore, Brown has frozen spending for the forthcoming year. Assuming that inflation for 2007/08 averages 2%, which is the Bank of England's target (and also the Treasury's assumption for the period), this represents a cut in real terms of £816m.
To repeat: Brown announced an increase in defence spending of this year of £400m. In real terms, defence spending is actually set to fall this year by £816m.
I don't know how defence plays with the focus groups these days, but if I were David Cameron I would be bringing the Chancellor to task for this. It is outrageous enough that he is squeezing our armed forces while praising their courage to the rafters. But to do so while aspiring to take charge of those forces - well. That looks like the behaviour of a man who just doesn't understand the job.