Saturday, 28 April 2012

A cruel blow for a cool blow

It's thirty years since I and my then girlfriend used to spend long weekends in Amsterdam smoking cannabis and being culture snobs. Not for us the vulgar 'bulldogs' beloved by dope tourists with thudding rock, the red-lit Walletjes or the hostels clustered around the station; we frequented a tiny cafe on an alley between between Spui and Singel called De Tweede Kamer, much favoured by local artsy Amsterdamers. We'd share a little blond Leb or mild grass spliffy after breakfast and before a morning spent in a museum or gallery to heighten perception, then maybe red Leb or Rocky (Moroccan) to sharpen the appetite before lunch, saving the oil and the sticky Afghan black for an evening in a live jazz cellar drifting with the notes. It was all very ... civilised. And it truly advanced perception; I recall we visited the Anne Frank House on a quiet afternoon and the intolerable pressures of remaining fearfully hidden in this secret attic space became palpable - we spoke in whispers and cringed at each tiny creak of the floorboards lest the sounds be heard below. However, like many folk, cannabis was a thing of one's twenties that one grew out of along with girlfriends. 

News of the proposed Dutch ban on foreigners using the 'coffee shops' prompted me to check on Google whether my old haunt was still there - and yes it is (below), looking exactly the same as it did thirty years ago. I may just make a final nostalgia trip before the ban, though whether I can still remember how to roll a spliff after a quarter of a century of abstinence is another matter ...




Friday, 27 April 2012

German Pirates

Just when it seems that politics is stuck in a rut along comes something that's upsetting apfel karten all over Germany. The Pirate Party has come from nowhere to potentially around 13% of this Sunday's votes; it's young, it's digital, it wants change and reform and it's beyond the old labels of right and left. Der Spiegel offers an in-depth profile this week that reveals despite the confusion over what the party stands for, it's attracting large numbers of young members using internet tools and Twitter-like brevity to formulate policy. 

It's also using LiquidFeedback, a free open-source platform for interactive democracy that could revolutionise the way in which the UK political blogosphere operates, implement 'Referism' across the UK's grass roots and change political participation to a process and using the tools that the young are comfortable and familiar with. 

The established German parties are trying hard to portray it as a right-wing extremist movement, but in reality it's uncomfortably leftist but with strong libertarian leanings and actually doesn't fit the conventional models, and since the technical platforms and mechanisms are the thing rather than the policies, a UK equivalent could equally well be rightist libertarian. However, it blows the cosy metropolitan Statist party system right out of the water and builds on the strongly held belief of the young that everything on the web should be free and accessible to all. They're young, they're IT-savvy and they're well educated but above all they're completely disillusioned with our rotten political system. And now they've enfranchised themselves on their own terms. 

Thursday, 26 April 2012

Gordon vs the Digger

One the one hand is a ruthless, ambitious businessman who will go to any lengths to defend his business empire, on the other a failed politician mired in mendacity and whose brief and unsuccessful career was a litany of lie after lie after lie. The issue is not who to believe - Brown has a history of petty, spiteful and vindinctive acts and of not being in control of his reason, whilst Murdoch is quite capable of fabricating something consistent with Brown's known flawed character - but who to choose to side with.

Murdoch remains one of the very few media moguls still strong enough to be independent of governments. Without him, democracy would be at greater risk of abuse by a political class unfettered by the press, and the media would be smothered under the weight of the social-democratic-Marxian BBC. Though one may need a long spoon, Murdoch is worthy of our support.

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Time to Invest

Many of the centre right who value a small State, low tax economy have questioned whether Boy Osborne is doing the right thing right now; one doesn't have to be a leftist Keynesian to see that government investment can stimulate economic growth. Investment is not of course the same as spending, something with which those on the left still haven't come to terms. Investment means exchanging land, labour, materials, plant or specie for an asset equivalent in value, such as building a house. Employing home-helps, librarians and nursery nurses just consumes wealth with no valuable asset to show at the end of it. The other major advantage of capital rather than consumptive spending is that it can be turned on and off like a tap, unlike the government employing people to provide services, which is rather a ratchet and once advanced is horribly hard to reverse.

The latest growth figures support the views of Simon Jenkins in the Guardian this morning; "Flexible exchange rates are a more painless way of forcing down labour costs and promoting trade than government austerity. Inflation is a better way of easing debt. The remedy for depressed demand is increased demand, simple as that. The risk of inflation in Britain at present is trivial compared with that of deflation and recession."

If Osborne is getting it wrong, at least he has the opportunity to get it right, unlike the Eurozone. Jenkins writes;
The euro was a Locarno dream. It was the last cry of the 20th century, envisaging a brave new order in which bankers and businessmen, workers and peasants, would stand arm in arm, singing Ode to Joy. All labour costs would become equal. There would be fiscal and regulatory integration across the entire continent. The euro would unlock the door of a united states of Europe. Ireland and Greece would be to Germany what Nevada is to New York. The euro would squeeze and stretch the peoples of Europe until they were one.

This concept of union must rank among the great mistakes of history. Like other pan-continental visions, it has proved no match for the crooked timber of European mankind. Its acolytes cannot bear revisionism or tolerate dissent. They have driven Greece into chaos and Spain into severe depression, with half its youth now unemployed. The Eurocrats do not care. Their incomes are secure. They dance only round the euro and claim its blood sacrifice. They will do anything but admit they were wrong.
A measured and affordable investment in smaller scale construction schemes, deliverable in the short term, may help the UK avoid the worst of the Eurozone. If the Chancellor announced £10m for each Council in the country today, schemes could start spending on site in three months, the total cost a fraction of that lost to the balance sheets of the multinational banks through QE with no economic benefits. While the Eurozone gets ready for a catastrophic collapse, it's time for Britain to invest.   

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Lords reform - it ain't broke

At a time when we are singularly disillusioned with our political class, when we have lost all faith in the old party game, and when our democracy is in dire need of reform, the political class decide to 'fix' the Lords. Lords reform is not a subject on the tongues of the nation, will never 'trend' on Twitter and is generally not a matter of concern. If pressed, people will have an opinion, but the lack of impetus for change also means most see more urgent and compelling targets for change.

The subject is warranted to bring out the most crassly insane proposals from the political class. Thus Lord Adonis, not a pretty cove by any means, wants to move the chamber to Manchester as though it were the regional office of a stationery company. No doubt Harman wants to fill its benches on a strict quota system, to include the stupid, the indolent and people who can't speak English. And Clegg of course still wants to impose his PR system upon us, despite having been slapped down when we answered this question before. This time he won't allow us to have a say. What all of them have in common is that they want the Lords to be a mirror of the party political system that has dominated the Commons - with members subject to the same central control, with the party nomenklatura having the power of nomination, with whipping and all the party constraints of the Commons. They are deaf and blind to the popular anger against these things in the lower house. These mad, purblind party creatures cannot see the world but in their own distorted image. 

Like fantasy Bavarian princelings they are arguing about the design of the braid on the army's uniforms whilst ignoring logistics, training, force composition and battle order. The Lords is not a true second chamber. It has evolved a necessary expertise in revising poorly drafted legislation coming from the Commons and in cooling the passions for instant effect, allowing the Commons a second chance to consider measures in less excited mood. Both of these things it does very well, with peers of all parties and many crossbenchers owing little or no obedience to party central office. Its failures, criminals, time-wasters, those too obtuse to be useful, drunks and spongers are almost universally political life peers, the detritus of the old party system washed up on the shore of the Lords. And they imagine we want more?

Monday, 23 April 2012

France rejects the old parties

The shares of votes for the Presidential election first round in France reflects a public disillusioned with traditional parties. Sarkozy and Hollande between them shared only 56% of votes cast; Marine le Pen's 18% and the far-left Melenchon's 11% were not enough this time to upset the apple cart, and in a way this doesn't matter.

The weekend papers have been replete with advice from Conservative HQ that support for UKIP is quite wasted, that UKIP's poll showing ahead of the LibDems is de rien, and only a vote for Cameron is a worthwhile vote. Marine le Pen, today in the position of Warwick in determining which way she will now advise her supporters to vote in France's second round, would disagree.

The more votes for parties other than the big three in the next election the better - no vote is wasted. Voting against the big three is a vote for the only issue that really matters - Reform.