Saturday, 26 November 2011

Party funding insanity

Sir Christopher Kelly's Committee has consulted comprehensively, deliberated and cogitated, and after all that has gone back to Hayden Phillips' corrupt and anti-democratic party funding proposals like a dog to its vomit. It is a conclusion that defies sanity. The electorate are to be deprived of any choice in the matter, and the three big parties are to be established as fixed and permanent State political parties to carve Westminster up between them evermore. Sinn Fein will get oodles of State cash, UKIP will get none, despite the party now running neck to neck with the Lib Dems in the opinion polls. Even the Speaker - a 'Party' of one MP, according to Kelly - is set to gain £67k of taxpayer's money. 


The only option a voter has to deprive the State parties of cash is to cast a vote for a party that holds no seats in the Commons, like, erm, UKIP. For many voters, a vote against Kelly's corrupt and sleazy proposals will be more important than traditional ballot box loyalty. 


Commentators have suggested that Kelly's proposals are already dead, that the proposed £10k limit on donations has effectively killed the report at birth. Perhaps so. But we shouldn't underestimate the cupidity and vice of our Parliament; MPs could still vote for a much higher donations cap, and keep the State funding proposal intact. Let's see where this goes, but I've said before I'll never consent to compulsory State funding of these private clubs in my name - and that this is the one issue that will propel me onto the barricades. And I'm damn sure I'm not alone.  

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Krakow concluded

In Britain, the rail station coal-yards became car parks at about the time that diesel electrics replaced steam trains. One presumes that space heating for the station buildings was converted at the same time to gas or electric. Not so in Krakow. As Winter approaches, the main station coal-yard is alive with workers reducing a stack of fat tree trunks to uniform split logs. Alongside the wood piles are the huge heaps of coal, in a line from a heap of large, engine-block sized pieces that will need hammer-breaking to heaps of smaller, graded fuel. 


All must be destined to be burned in the station's boilers and stoves over the next few months, and indeed it must have started already, for Krakow is one of the few heated mainline stations I've yet encountered. The entrance atrium, the ticket halls, the waiting rooms, the station restaurant, the shops and lavatories all pleasantly warm. This brings its own problems. I watched a station official exercising a sort of time limit on the elderly destitute, around half of them couples, who sat around on the oak benches of the waiting room as inoffensively as possible, sheltering from the bitter cold outside. A group of four men had reached their time limit; the official clicked over to them and few words were necessary. They picked up their bags and filed out to the square. I guess it was like our short-term parking restrictions; maximum two hours heat with no return within one hour or something similar.   


You can tell a lot about a country by its rail stations. Unlike the shopping malls. Right bang beside Krakow's is the now ubiquitous Euro Mall; the same steel, the same glass curtain walls, the same layout, the same terazzo flooring and the same tenants as the Euro Malls I found in Budapest. It was Carrefour here instead of Match, but the Zaras, the H&M, the Swarovski, the McDonalds and Burger King, the Hackett and the rest were all the standard Euro-tat. I'll bet I can go to Bucharest, Warsaw, Bratislava or Belgrade and find exactly the same. Hugely popular with the locals, of course, but I found it profoundly depressing. I loathe homogeneity. And I'll bet the Mall's security staff won't even let the destitute past the door - my somewhat ragged and travel-battered Barbour came under disapproving scrutiny from a crop-headed blond boy in uniform and for a moment it was touch and go whether I'd get anywhere near the Zara frocks myself. 


I found the bars last night after all. In a district called Kazimierz, between the old walled city and the Vistula. None of them truly old, but many the product of the interior decorator's imagination of what a brown bar should look like. In Winter, they told me, Krakow goes down to the cellars in Kazirmierz as the pavement cafes are disassembled to make place for the Christmas Market now under construction in the old town. The street corner bar, so familiar an adjunct to every residential city block from Zurich to Hamburg via Lille, Brussels and Amsterdam, is unknown here. I know. I walked twenty blocks around the back of the hotel trying to find just one. Instead are plenty of 24hr off-licences with shelves of cheap vodka and great floor stacks of cans. It can't be that Poles are unsociable - they're not - and must be result of some historic quirk. Still, it's a minus point. 


The EU rag was far less apparent here than in Barcelona, Porto or Budapest; I didn't actually spot a single EU flag anywhere, though the Polish Bicolour was everywhere in evidence.  The ghastly EU symbol was confined to something the size of a postcard on a few civic projects obliged to acknowledge funding, but there was no pride or belief in it - in complete contrast to Budapest, which revelled in EU membership as a Labrador revels in cowshit.   

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Darwin and Polish chickens

Krakow is the only Shengen airport I've been to with beautifully messy smallholdings complete with crowing fowl  within 50m of the Arrivals lounge. You come out of the airport onto a farm dirt track and a 200m walk to a rail-halt, a bus shelter on a square of bitmac beside a single rail line, that glories in the name of 'Krakow - Bilice'. There are more chickens here, too, just over the track. These are no ordinary chickens, though - these are Polish chickens.


Poland is bang in the middle of a thousand-year war zone. It's pretty flat, which means armies roll across it with ease, from Mongols going West, the French going East, the Russians going West, the Germans going East and so on. Now, there is nothing that poses a greater danger to Gallus Gallus Domesticus than soldiers. It's an observable fact that as armies advance, the chicken population in the path of the advance shrinks to somewhere close to zero. But perhaps not quite zero; chickens who have learned to roost in minefields, to refrain from vocalising the fact that an egg has been laid, and who can remain hidden and still in very small hard-to-reach places will survive. 


As I watched the flock at lunchtime as I waited for the little thump-thump two-coach Diesel Unit for Krakow, I realised that these birds were at the peak of evolutionary development. They could hear the squeal of tank-tracks at thirty km, smell cordite at twenty miles and recognise military dress instantly. They would have tunnels and escape routes ready, a secret hen network across Poland that would pass them from farm to farm out of the path of invading armies. They were good. They'd survived a thousand years of being chased and eaten by soldiers. I watched the brave little cock erect his blue-black fan of tail feathers at me and saluted in respect. 


I've been in Krakow for four hours now and I can tell that it's small. It also seems to be utterly bereft of the small warm brown bars full of companionable topers that exist everywhere else in Northern Europe; I've just recce'd at speed the entire old city and couldn't find a single one. So I'm back in a Soviet steam heated hotel resting my feet before a further explore tonight. It's about freezing outside, but dry, and the pavements are unforgiving. 

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

The political class and corporate class are one

On a day when no one is arguing seriously against the condemnation by the High Pay Commission of the naked corporate greed by the parasitic bloodsuckers who siphon the profits from your savings and pensions to fund their lavish lifestyles, only the Guardian seems to have got it right on the Spanish election. And the preceding paragraph doesn't make me some sort of Trot - I'm still the One-Nation Conservative I always have been. But the biggest threat to my core ideologies, to Adam Smith, laissez-faire capitalism and a Burkean Britain, comes not from the left but from an unholy Statist alliance between the political class and the corporate class. 


And they will fall together. The scrawls of 'Vote Here' on the ATM machines in Spain, and the almost universal cries of 'they don't represent us' and 'they're all the same' are not manifestations of anarcho-trotskyist protest but of the Wisdom of Crowds. 

Monday, 21 November 2011

The Winter of the World

Half the population of Egypt is under 24, and half the population of Syria under 21. Half of the population of Gaza are under 17, and of Yemen 16. In other circumstances, this 'bulge' of a prime working-age cohort entering the labour market would presage economic boom, but outside of the BRIC nations if economies are stagnant and opportunities limited what it produces is a lot of angry young men and a market for assault rifles. Back in February, when the shoots of Spring were stirring, I wrote
What they have in common in their demands is not ideological; this isn't a war of competing ideas. What they want is a bigger say in their nation's conduct, an end to nepotism and corruption and a fairer go at prosperity. Much like our own young people, really. They want the rewards of a globalisation process that depends on the expansion of a global middle-class for economic growth; jobs and salaries, secure homes and consumer goods. The great sadness, and the great threat, is that they've probably missed the boat.

The twenty-first century will be utterly different from the post-war bureaucratic age we've known in the West; what it will bring we simply don't know - there are just too many variables, one can't model chaos. We can be sure that we can't stand immune from the tectonic shifts now in motion, and with no assurance that the tensions now manifest in the Mahgreb won't play themselves out here in the UK. All of which makes it even more urgent that we deal once and for all with the corruption of the political class, the denial of popular democracy by a repressive European Union and its domestic dags, and the growth of a fair and equitable society free of Socialist inequalities, distortions and jobbery.
Of the three objectives I stated for our own polity, the corruption of the political class is as entrenched as ever, with them now proposing to establish themselves as State parties at the taxpayer's expense, the EU is more repressive than ever, rolling nascent democracy into the dirt, and the unfair and unequal grip of Socialist ideology on our nation and society remains untouched. We face entering the Winter of the World with all the evils of Statism still in place, and unless we deal with them, we'll regret it eternally.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Britain is good for Europe

A peaceful, prosperous Europe in which the rule of law prevails has ever been Britain's key foreign policy aim. Europe is a key market for our goods, and key customers of our legitimate financial services (insurance, brokerage, commodities, exchange rather than the buccaneer bankers who have screwed our entire economy) - why wouldn't we want a wealthy and stable Europe? Ever since we traded wool for Burgundy wine we've aimed to maintain a balance of power in Europe; between France and Spain, Germany and Austria, France and Germany, until recently by manipulating a series of bilateral or trilateral treaties but since the EU by playing a powerful broker role under a plenary treaty, always aimed at preventing any one Euro nation getting too powerful. By and large, our influence has been good for Europe. It's encouraging that Handelsblatt as reported in Der Spiegel recognises this; 
But Germans have a better memory than the French of the complicated outsider role played by the Brits and its importance in European history. Would it be prudent to marginalize them and to eschew their weight in foreign policy? And what would Europe's defensive capabilities be without Britain? Without the Brits, would we have the European common market that we have today? And what position would Germany be in if its last closest major partner was the French?
Keeping the Hun Down, Ivan Out and the Septics In has been British foreign policy since 1945 and so far Europe has done pretty well out of it. Let's not shirk now.