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Saturday, 10 December 2011

5 Reasons to be cheerful

If this is the beginning of the end for the UK's membership of the EU, here are 5 reasons to be cheerful and damn the miserable Aunt Sallys on the Guardian who foresee nothing but doom and gloom:-

  1. We get to keep our own seat on the UN Security Council while France has to give hers up to Mr Von Rumpy
  2. Our 200 mile EEZ gives us exclusive rights to the most productive fishing grounds in Europe 
  3. English has 375 million native speakers throughout the world and a further 1.4 billion for whom it's a second language; German has only 90m native speakers and another 90 million for whom it's a second language
  4.  The UK has had 120 Nobel Laureates; Germany, despite her far larger population, has only has 102 and France a beggarly 58
  5. It's been 945 years since we were invaded compared with 70 for anywhere else in Europe
Any others you can think of?

"26 to1; er, 22 to 1 sorry oh it's 18 now, for certain"

As far as exactly what the UK vetoed, or didn't veto, Richard North's latest post offers a clear and succinct analysis. Both he and Ambrose Evans-Pritchard are spot on, though, in their assertion that the complex reality of treaty amendment negotiations has lost out to the way in which events at the Council are being spun. The "26 to 1" meme is being repeated by news organisations throughout Europe with some glee; EU Parliament Chief Jerzy Buzek confirming source-credibility for this by announcing that there was an EU26 agreement to go ahead, but with a few countries needing to consult national Parliaments. "Twenty six versus one. That is a very good result" he said, and that's clearly the line that suits France and Germany, determined to push the UK from restraining their Euro-ambitions. 

However, as EU Observer reports, it's not quite that clear cut. There is no certainty that Ireland, Austria, the Netherlands, Romania and Denmark can be part of a new treaty without Referenda, and given the current right-wing and nationalistic mood across Europe, considerable doubt that their respective Federasts will win the vote. There are additional hurdles to Finland, Latvia and the Czech Republic signing up. Hungary says it was misunderstood. Suddenly those 26 are melting away to 18. Over the next weeks and months we will see the spectacle of the domestic Federasts in each trying to steamroll through domestic opposition, and all this whilst the Euro continues to fail.

For my money, the odds are still on a collapse of the Euro before a new treaty is signed. 

Still, the "26 to 1" meme has touched a national nerve and one can forgive a certain joie amongst those of us who delight in the Guardian's deep mourning. The Englishman's Castle sums the mood up with the 1940 Low cartoon "Very Well, Alone" and others of a military bent tot up the potential Order of Battle (what chance now a shared carrier?). But consider the real potential of the way this might shake-out;  the UK, Ireland, the Netherlands, Austria and Finland together as a low-regulation, high productivity, outer-Europe, with the  UK (as Coney Island mentioned in previous comments) as a sort of Hong Kong, linking Europe to Asia and the Americas as an even stronger and more powerful financial centre. 

It's worth playing for, isn't it?

Friday, 9 December 2011

Celebrate the Commonwealth

Well, I guess as we haul down those those old EU flags we'll need something to replace them with; no need to look too far, though .....

Euro still headed for collapse

German history has a way of playing itself out like a film loop. When defeat is all but inevitable comes the final counter-attack, the forlorn-hope assault, with everything thrown into the battle. It was so in 1918 and in 1945, and is so today with the proposed treaty of the 23 that will clear the way for a final ditch throwing of liquidity into the Euro markets. After this, despite this, the Euro will collapse. 

The fact is, Britain isn't alone, isn't the maverick outsider that France is painting us as this morning. When the people of the nations of southern Europe and of Ireland realise the extent of loss of sovereignty that their politicians have signed away the fires will flare again. 

Still, it's a marker that we're now into the final phase.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Two minds on museum charging

We were fortunate in having enlightened and dutiful parents and as a consequence there wasn't a holiday that didn't involve a day in South Kensington, Bloomsbury or Kennington. Once in, we couldn't be shifted until closing time, parking Mum near the cafe and checking back every hour or so. Our national museums were vast treasure houses crammed from floor to fourteen-foot ceiling with objects. Not here the solitary Ushabti that languished on the shelf of the Ipswich Museum, but a high Mahogany case crammed with a thousand, classified into Old Kingdom, New Kingdom, Theban Recession, Romano-Graecian and thence by stylistic form and convention. In just one case one learned taxonomy, art history, religious schism and the life-long basis of being able to discriminate. The great museums were all free, of course; intended as philanthropic gifts for the education and enlightenment of the English, a few foreigners being permitted to enter and gasp in wonder at the wealth of our culture. 

From the foregoing you may imagine I'm wholly in favour of maintaining free admission to our museums. Not quite. You see, curatorially  our museums lost their way sometime in the 1980s / 1990s. All these objects, the thinking went, discriminated against the stupid, those who couldn't be bothered to follow up a visit by buying a book or catalogue, or as I did, spending hours in the reference library self-teaching. What the stupid needed, they decided, was interpretation - aimed at a backward twelve year-old. The Mahogany cases packed with Ushabti disappeared to be replaced by a display panel and a single exemplar figure. From now on, the museum would decide what you learned and what objects meant - we were no longer to be allowed the opportunity to do so ourselves. 

And so our great cultural treasure houses hid 95% of their collections away in store and replaced them with graphics panels, video screens and unconvincing mannequins. Worse was to come. Under New Labour, they adopted an attitude of abject apology for cultural hegemony; the museums became a giant apology for slavery, colonialism, European expansionism and for ever thinking that our cultural achievements were superior to those of a naked tribe of goat-keepers scratching in the dirt with sticks. The most sickening and kitsch exemplar of the New Museum came from the National Maritime Museum, with an utterly meretricious little tableau depicting two eighteenth century ladies taking tea at a Pembroke table perched incongruously over a ship's deck grating from which protruded a pleading black hand. Really. It was indescribably awful. 

From that point my commitment to free museums disappeared. They had abandoned academic integrity for politically driven sycophancy; let them then stand or fall without my tax keeping them open. I even found a loophole; if you introduced yourself as a researcher, then the entire treasure-house was open to you on a bespoke basis. Many a blissful afternoon did I spend in the Norman Shaw building at the V&A being brought box after box of prints and drawings I had ordered up from the store, each day being a personally curated exhibition in which I got not only to choose the exhibits but could spend as long as I liked seated at a comfortable desk gazing on each as I held it my hands for as long as I wished, and without a single interpretive label in sight. And it was free. Sometime soon I shall ask the British Museum to produce a few score Ushabti for my personal delectation, and I shall spend a pleasant afternoon arranging them on the desk according the long-remembered taxonomy of my youth. Without a single interpretive label in sight.    

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

The sound of Europe disintegrating

Please try to find forty minutes to listen to "Greece - Broken marble, Broken Future" - not sure if it's available on iPlayer after tonight or if you need to wait until Sunday, but this is the sound of Europe disintegrating. 

A postcard from home

I'm in a Christmas mood this year unlike the past few and reminded that amongst the log-fired wonky pubs and bleak brown lanes that make up my home County live some of the weirdest creatives known to man. Any County that can host both Neil Innes and Brian Eno is really something special. As a seasonal treat, here's Innes' 'Accountantsea Shanty' ;

Cameron's bluff called on Europe

Such brave words we've had from the Prime Minister on Europe; not one step further, a real repatriation of powers, a treaty re-negotiation, even the threat of a referendum if the UK doesn't get what its people want. And what audacious mendacity. Not a word of it the truth. It's now clear that Cameron will go along with whatever Sarkozy and Merkel have decided without anything in return for the UK, and will wriggle and dissemble and squirm his way out of any threat of a referendum. 

In this not entirely unexpected betrayal of British interests, Cameron has proven himself responsive not only to pressure from the Franco-German alliance but from the US, which has been leaning heavily on the British government to do nothing that would rock a potential Euro settlement. The UK, it seems, is to pay the price for American financial stability. 

Cameron is a politician very much in the mould of Chamberlain, ever ready to see the grievances of others as justification for appeasement. The Germans were angry about the Versailles settlement, so they must be allowed to recover the Sudentenland, the Rhine, Alsace, Danzig to calm them down; Hitler would become a benign Euro statesman, visiting the King at Windsor, taking tea at Balmoral, and fairies would play at the bottom of the garden. 

Of course it's high time we ditched the Chamberlains and Halifaxes from our government. But this time, there's no Churchill waiting in the wings.  

Monday, 5 December 2011

Bastardy and Crime

The August riots were a God-sent opportunity for the nation's army of Sociologists and Statisticians, who have been seriously under-employed since the government halved the number of fatuous studies commissioned. First on the scene was the Ministry of Justice, with a statistical analysis that showed that 76% of those charged following the riots had a previous conviction, and they were likely to be in receipt of Free School meals or benefits, were more likely to have had special educational needs and be absent from school. 

Next up was the Riots, Communities and Victims Panel, a brand new Quango set up by Nick Clegg to report on the riots. In a weasel conclusion, they announced that  "Lack of confidence in the police response to the initial riots encouraged people to test reactions in other areas." or in other words when it was clear that the rioters were getting away with it, others were encouraged to join in. 

And now the Guardian's joint study with the LSE has been published, and reveals that most rioting was opportunistic, a chance to steal and get away with it, that activity was orchestrated via Blackberry Messenger, and that many of the rioters disliked the police. With 76% of them at the time being convicted criminals, you may think their last prejudice a not unreasonable one. 

There is one question that no-one has asked of the rioters so far to my knowledge; "did you grow up with your biological father?" You see, I think I know the answer to this already - that an overwhelming majority of them will be growing up or have grown up with an absent father - but it would be nice to see the figures. 

Sunday, 4 December 2011

BBC pensions - It's what we do

For anyone who joined the BBC before 1996, the Television Tax provides a generous pension:
Example Retires at 55 after 30 years service on final salary of £60,000
30/60ths x £60,000 = £30,000 at age 60
4% reduction for early retirement at 55
You get £28,800 a year
After decades of overmanning, gold-plating, empire-building and staggering inefficiency, the vast bloated Soviet bureaucracy that is our national broadcaster has accumulated a terrifying pension liability on the most generous of terms - with some 17,000 staff in the pipeline entitled to this 'old' pension. The pension fund is forecast to be £2bn - £3bn short. With a freeze on the TV Tax and a falling payroll, the ability of current staff to pay for previous staff diminishes alarmingly. In fairness, they can't apply cuts retrospectively. Thus it's looking more and more likely that these obligations can only be met by diverting broadcasting budgets.

It may be that the only longer term option is to form a vehicle to inherit all the pension liabilities of the BBC, and sell-off most of the rest of the broadcaster to the commercial sector, retaining only World Service radio and News 24 / Parliament TV, to boost the pension fund.