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Saturday, 25 August 2007

What price secure borders?

This is a fully working 9mm pistol. I could buy it today on the web with my credit card for £84.58 plus postage, and it would be delivered by Royal Mail. The chances of it being intercepted as it arrives in the UK are minimal. You will understand why I am not providing a link.

And despite the high security at our airports, our seaports in contrast are wide open, as anyone who has used a cross-channel ferry recently can testify. Each day the coaches from Bulgaria, Romania, Poland, Latvia and the rest of eastern Europe arrive with their human cargoes of hopefuls. Any of those bulging cheap holdalls can carry a broken-down pistol that will provide the means for a rental deposit on a flat. Little wonder that the Serious and Organised Crime Agency's 2006 / 2007 report says
UK criminals at all levels are unlikely to have difficulty in acquiring a firearm should they wish to do so. Working firearms, component parts and easily convertible blankfiring weapons can all be ordered via the Internet and received through postal services.
Weapons in many ways are easier to smuggle into Britain than the 45 tonnes of cocaine and 45 tonnes of heroin that is estimated to reach our streets every year.

When Cameron talks about secure borders he is talking about blocking these routes, not about some smart new blue shirts for the lads and lasses on immigration control. That Brown is making no moves to do so really does cause one to wonder at his motivation in continuing to turn his one working eye away from this death trade.

Thursday, 23 August 2007


"And the best way of drawing up policies for the Queen’s Speech will not be discussions in government departments, but listening and learning – and involving and engaging the voices of people too often left unheard."

"To those who feel the political system doesn’t listen and doesn’t care;

To those who feel powerless and have lost faith;

To those who feel Westminster is a distant place and politics simply a spectator sport:

I will strive to earn your trust. To earn your trust not just in foreign policy but earn your trust in our schools, in our hospitals, in our public services, and to respond to your concerns.

And by listening and learning, I want to become a voice for communities far beyond "

- Gordon Brown, Acceptance Speech, May 2007


"We believe the proper way to discuss this is through detailed discussion in the House of Commons and the House of Lords and I believe Parliament will pass the legislation."

- Gordon Brown, Statement made after Merkel meeting on the EU constitution, August 2007

Big Bang Localism: Start with the Parish

Students of Hayek will be familiar with the dictum that small government is good government, and that all functions of government should be devolved to their lowest possible level. In England we already have in place a tier of local government at the parish level; many have taken up the option of a URL, and several are competent to the extent of producing their own Parish Plans.

However, parish councils currently have no budgets and no real powers. For every function now exercised by central or local government, there is a simple test. Can this function be effectively managed at the parish level?

Clearly, for funtions such as defence, the answer will be 'no'. For others - policing, planning, nursery and primary education, environmental services - the answer will be , to a greater or lesser extent, 'yes'. For every function of government, for every service funded by taxes, this test must be applied.

London is a peculiar case. Victorian parish boundaries have been overtaken by development. Yet still it is no great task to give identity to London's hundreds of 'villages'; boundaries drawn where local people (and estate agents perhaps) recognise them to be. And let them be parishes, too, whatever their cultural mix.

Of course there will be abuses. Devolving budgets to a London parish in which a cultural majority may have little experience of fiscal stewardship will lead to theft and fraud; but when people realise their streets are unswept, their streetlights are dark and thair property values are plummeting, these abuses will be self-correcting. It will be worth the losses.

Wednesday, 22 August 2007

The clink of Kopecks into Vladimir's gun bottle

As the gas boiler chuntered into life this morning, an image came uninvited into my mind's eye - the tinkle of a Kopeck falling into a huge whisky bottle. With our dependence on Russian gas, our baths and showers and washing-up provides the Russian treasury with a constant stream of kopecks and rubles, and are certainly helping to fund Russia's $100bn a year re-armament programme.

Ironic, really, that the Russian aircraft now again exploring our airspace for the first time in nearly 20 years are (in part) being fuelled, crewed, maintained and bought by we below.

France, with 78% of her energy generated by nuclear power, is in contrast a poor contributor of Kopecks to Vladimir's gun bottle.

Tuesday, 21 August 2007

In the aftermath of Iraq ....

It gives me no pleasure to witness the discomfort of supporters of the war on the right over the issue of the invasion of Iraq. Everything I predicted in early 2003 is coming to pass; civil war, regional de-stabilisation, a Vietnam for our forces, the destruction of Iraq's archeological heritage, a threat to western energy security, millions of refugees. Only the military intervention of Turkey in securing Iraqi Kurdistan is yet lacking.

What I didn't predict was the utter destruction of Iraq's professional and middle classes. They have either fled (as targets of the militias) or been liquidated. Without them, any hope of reconstruction is no more than a vapid dream.

The justification for this debacle - from both left and right - has now changed yet again. "Saddam Hussein was a tyrant...." - yes - ".. and we had to act to remove him from power" - no. It goes on "There is no guarantee that Iraq wouldn't have degenerated into civil war even if we hadn't invaded" - true. There is also no guarantee that it would have done. "What ifs" are the province of fiction writers, not historians.

I'm afraid we should have remembered the cardinal rule of direct intervention - don't. It may be hard, but the old way of letting the tribes / factions / alliances / wings slog it out amongst themselves until they're both too exhausted to continue and then stepping in with humanitarian aid is still probably best. And a hard-nosed bit of discreet assistance with financial aid or military equipment to the side that might offer us some national advantage may be 'unethical' in the eyes of many, but a nation doesn't win international competitive advantage by being nice.

In the end it's all about us; Britain, or England perhaps. Our nation, our culture, our well-being, our identity and our prosperity. Those are all things worth fighting and dying for - as our forebears have done for centuries - and at this critical stage in the 21st century all our resources should be focused on this. I feel in my bones the world's longest peace is starting to falter and come to an end, and we must look to our posts and draw in our horns.

Iraq was a dreadful blunder. Afghanistan is unwinnable. Useful, future historians may say, for testing new weapons, tactics and equipment, for finding future military commanders better at warfighting than hobnobbing with the politicians, but that is all.

There are times when one has to put 'ethics' back in the box for happier times. Or as one commentator remarked of the rapid changes in military command as the second war got serious "The gentlemen are going out and the players are coming in".
Will an election come first?

The more eagle-eyed amongst you may notice a new linky thing in the RH column; in the absence of any other event, this would seem the headline act for all EU sceptics. Chaired by the redoubtable Bob Spink MP, it is slightly disappointing that Cameron hasn't yet endorsed the event.

Of course, Brown may call an election before then....

Monday, 20 August 2007

The BBC and the Sun on an EU Referendum

Following Guthrum's piece on this, and a comment I made, I've done some digging. No great surprises. Following Iain Dale's piece on how the BBC manages to turn every story about Conservative policy into a platform for Labour spokesmen to rubbish it, here are all the available BBC stories on the EU treaty;
  • Tories attack 'rushed' EU treaty - 7/8
  • For and Against the new EU treaty - 28/7
  • Cameron accuses PM over EU treaty - 25/7
  • Draft EU treaty thuds the table - 23/7
  • Tories urge EU treaty referendum - 24/7
  • EU red lines unravelling - Tories - 2/8
  • Ex minister demands EU referendum - 26/7
  • EU to get first look at new treaty - 22/7
  • EU talks to thrash out EU treaty - 22/7
Umm. See a pattern here? It's not the British public that have a problem with the treaty, just the Tories. And they lost the last election, didn't they? So their view doesn't matter. And there are some good points in favour of the treaty.

The Sun, in contrast, is not backwards in telling us what the British public thinks, but has so far refrained from plunging the knife into Brown's back. Murdoch is reported to have personally sanctioned the use of the word 'traitor' in 2005 to describe Blair's intention to let the new treaty go through; it so alarmed Blair that he did an immediate U-turn and promised a referendum on any new constitution. Brown has escaped the 'traitor' treatment so far ...
  • Voters EU threat to Brown - 20/8
  • Don't EU forget - 10/8
  • EU treaty will scrap 50 vetoes - 6/8
  • Mallock-Brown's EU sell-out - 5/8
  • Treaty 'to let EU set UK laws' - 5/8
  • EU treaty is 'copy constitution' - 31/7
  • Top MP's EU treaty vote bid - 27/7
  • Give us EU vote - 27/7
  • Cam hammers PM on EU pledge - 25/7
...but the threat is clearly hanging in the air.

When the BBC senses it can no longer sit on the grumbling volcano and continue to downplay the story, and when Murdock unsheaths the stilleto, Brown will be lost. But will they? And when?
Great Yarmouth rave riot just history repeating itself?

The Sun reports today on a gang of frustrated ravers besieging a police station in an effort to free three of their number arrested earlier. Great Yarmouth should be fairly experienced in handling this sort of thing - the same thing happened one Saturday in 1792.

On that occassion, the three had been arrested after a riot in the market over food prices. The Norfolk Museums Service reports:

A number of different skirmishes occurred but eventually three of the most active of the mob were apprehended and “with difficulty” taken to the town Gaol. As they were taken the rest of the mob shortly dispersed. They were not gone for long. At about six o’clock “a very considerable number of disorderly persons, of all descriptions, again collected around the Gaol”. We do not know who or what rallied this crowd but they were brought into great uproar and soon attempted to break open the Gaol and recover their ringleaders.

“After great uproar and imprecations, the windows of the Sessions Room were broken, next they demolished the lower window-shutters and windows of the Gaol, then the two doors of the Gaol were forced by a large pole, used in the manner of a battering ram, and in the confusion, they obtained their purpose, by liberating the persons committed in the morning”.

The town officials did not allow this liberation to last for long. The Major, magistrates and principle inhabitants of the town soon arrived at the Gaol, all with staves. The swift arrival of the military effectively dispersed the remainder of the crowd. Two of the former prisoners were retaken and numbers of others were disarmed of their bludgeons and were secured. There were no lives lost in the disturbance and of the persons taken into custody six men and two women were fully committed for trial. A special session was called for Wednesday 21st November 1792. The report states that, “Thus by a timely and spirited interference at first not without danger to those who undertook it, a tumult was subdued, formidable in its nature and extent; and the fatal consequences which might have ensued were prevented.”
The yob culture was not unknown in the eighteenth century, it seems.
Blair's War set to end in ignominy

The British retreat from Basra won't be pretty. Commanders are planning for 10 to 15 dead and maybe 100 injured as we pull out our remaining forces first from the city then from the airport, where we are holed up, taking a score of hits a day.

Few could have predicted in 2003 that Blair's War would end in such ignominy. Even die-hard opponents of the war such as me watched the news footage of the time with pride as our armoured columns punched through into southern Iraq and we secured the port and oil facilities, and got power and water running while the septics in the north milled about in confusion.

Harold Wilson refused to assist the US in Vietnam despite enormous pressure and threats, but Wilson was born at the height of the first war and knew well the characteristics of a doomed campaign from the second. Blair was no Wilson. Blair is a vain and foolish man with poor judgment and no grasp of history at all, an opportunist mired in self-deceit.

As the world's news organisations will scramble for shots of the Union flag being hauled down in Basra, of the last helo leaving in a cloud of dust, the UK will need to put a brave face on it and endure the world's taunts. But the bitterness that this will engender in us should rightly be directed at the architect of the misadventure and not at the British Army.