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Thursday, 21 December 2017

Poland's judges are not independent. But neither are the rest of Europe's.

Poland's judicial independence comes in at 99th in the 2018 World Economic Forum tables, below Swaziland, Mali and Zambia. Nigeria is at 82. Poland's judicial system, like all those in Napoleonic law nations, is deeply politicised - the reason that Poland has over 4,000 cyclists in prison is not for any great breach in natural or moral law. 

However, only very few nations in Europe - the UK and the Netherlands amongst them - can criticise. Italy is not far from Nigeria, neither is Spain. Turkey, at 103rd place, receives hundreds of millions of Euros in bribe money from the EU to keep Syrian migrants within Turkish borders, despite draconian restrictions on press freedom, tens of thousands of political prisoners in detention and a growing number of unexplained deaths in custody of military officers. EU officials are not driven by human rights abuses, clearly, in their actions against Poland. The EU's excuse for action, Poland's changes to judicial appointments, are a smokescreen to disguise the use of the Brussels knout to bludgeon a disobedient vassal state into line. 

If this action was really aimed at improving judicial independence, then Latvia, Slovenia, Greece and Italy would be next in line for EU sanctions. they're not. Their courts can be as corrupt as they can be without fear, because they obey Brussels. And that's the reality about the utterly crooked, despotic regime that we're desperately trying to leave. 

Wednesday, 20 December 2017

Supporting democracy in Europe

Poland's Independence Day in November - the 99th of the current incarnation of the nation - was dry but cold. Patriotic Poles were out en masse waving a field of red and white national flags in a demonstration of real pride and love of their nation. Poland's elected politicians stood in the front row of the VIP stand, and another Pole, the President of the European Council Donald Tusk, was also there, back in the third row with other unelected officials.   

But there was another mass gathering there on that day - radical nationalist Poles carrying not flags but slogans and placards, chanting not the words of the national hymn but words of anger and protest. I don't read or speak Polish so must rely on newspaper reports for what the slogans said. They called for the protection of Polish 'blood', opposed spreading Islamic immigration to Europe, and support of defence of the Homeland.  

Poland's democratically elected PiS government - fairly described as 'hardline conservative' by the Telegraph - consistently enjoys clear popular support and the sort of opinion poll ratings that western European political parties can only dream about, the latest giving them 50% approval against 17% for their closest rivals. They are irrevocably opposed to every single EU policy in respect of opening Europe's borders to 5m non-European migrants to compensate for low European birth rates. 

They are also in the process of dismantling the mechanisms left by the old communist regime to ensure a continuity of control over many of the levers of State. The communists of course have disappeared, but their successors - some of whom in the EP are members of Verhofstadt's ALDE group - still sit on many judicial posts. In Napoleonic European systems with no real judicial independence and where justice is political, from Paris to Berlin, from Warsaw to Rome, this is a real obstacle. 

Verhofstadt is of course furious about his chums losing power. He is seeking to declare Poland a European Pariah. He will fail, but will have made a lot of noise. 

The point about all this is that I've tried as far as possible to write this post in a way to which neither a native Pole or a professional UK journalist could reasonably object, eschewing terms such 'far right' or 'enemies of the EU'. The Poles are as European as anyone; unelected officials in Brussels are neither more European nor endowed with greater moral purity than elected politicians in Poland. Both have a legitimate viewpoint. But the difference is this; Poland's rulers were elected. The EU's rulers are not. As long as this yawning democratic deficit exists in the EU, the support of freedom loving democrats must always be to those actually voted into power. 

Tuesday, 19 December 2017

Debt

Reading Polly Toynbee's mind at work is almost heartbreaking. Today, she fairly and accurately describes a queue of debtors being dealt with by the civil courts; the list is pretty evenly divided between B2B debt and failed household credit, the major creditors HMRC, local councils and banks. The witness evidence could have formed the basis for an informed and constructive article, but instead Polly just can't resist the trite and bromidic - it's all the fault of gub'ment austerity. 

Many of you will also have caught on TV one of the rival fly-on-the-wall progs about bailiffs and sheriffs; again, a litany of business debt and evictions by private landlords mostly for failure to pay rent. If HMRC, councils and banks are creditors for these cases they stay clear of any mention, or perhaps they don't permit their bailiff actions to be filmed. Where creditors are revealed, they're frequently in no better financial position than their debtors - single-house landlords, other skint small businesses.

And we ain't seen nothing yet. We're still at the top end of the curve. It's said that in 2008 the banks weren't prepared and took the hit - but today they are, and it's their debtors that will feel the real pain this time. The ECB are already preparing for the next crash - measures are even now being enacted to staunch outflows in the event of bank runs and restrict depositor access to protected deposits (€100k). 

As far as I can see the victims of debt are not victims of government cuts - and every time a council wrings its hands and closes a library I am reminded that CIPFA valued local authority reserves at £21bn in 2016 - but of globalisation. Half the country haven't done well economically and are the first casualties. The other half - the public sector, universities, global corporates, legal and accounting megafirms, media, digital economy - have done comparatively nicely, but are by no means free of debt. Their turn will come when austerity really does hit. A metropolitan elite economy based on Amazon Prime, Netflics and Lloyds Gym memberships, a leased car and three designer coffees a day is built on sand.  

That's the bloody problem. We all know it's coming, but when? Until the storm hits, we're all just marking time and standing ready. And until it does come, growth just won't return.

Monday, 18 December 2017

So 20 mph zones don't work ...

There's a certain glee in reports today that the accident-reducing 20mph zones in our towns and cities don't work. At least, it seems, not without speed cushions, chicanes, steel posts to reduce lane width and so on. I can't say I'm surprised.

Years ago I pointed out that the Pelican crossings being installed to replace existing Zebra crossings were actually more dangerous. Getting the FOI data from the Transport Department had been like pulling teeth. Yes, 20m of steel cattle pen barrier either side of the crossing on both sides of the road, loud beeping and flashing noises, peremptory commands to stand or walk, a vulgar and intrusive part of the Big State imposed on small communities, actually killed more people than the simple painted  stripes on the road that they replaced. The problem, the DoT hypothesised, was twofold. First, people didn't obey the commands of the State and oh horror decided themselves when to cross the road - the younger ones even leapt over the barriers at times. Secondly (and I suspect the real reason) was that drivers seeing green lights didn't look for hazards in the same way that the glowing orange balls of Hore-Belisha's beacons induced. 

Conservative councillor Daniel Moylan and his colleagues at K&C Council took personal liability for changing Kensington High Street when the council's officers refused to do so. They ripped out every cattle barrier, every obstacle, all the peremptory commands, scores of signs, posts and bollards and made the space one shared between vehicles and pedestrians for which space was negotiated between them - in the same way that a zebra crossing works. The accident rate dropped immediately and stayed low. KH St became an infinitely more pleasant place on which to wander, browse, graze and bar-crawl. It was a genuinely courageous move at a time when the State's agents, the council's professional officers, were advocating that only penning pedestrians behind ten-foot fences could further reduce the accident rates. 

The ideas came from a Dutchie - Hans Monderman. He found that such road sharing not only reduced accidents but allowed traffic to move more efficiently. Yes, if people are allowed to make their own decisions, if the State is put back in its box, things are more efficient. This is proved time after time on the rare occasions that traffic lights fail; motorists allowed to negotiate junctions themselves actually do better than traffic lights, and queues, slow moving traffic and extended travel times are greatly reduced. We used to reckon in our part of London that a TfL traffic light failure meant 10 minutes off the drive home. 

You don't have to be Ayn Rand to work out that generally the least intervention and the lightest touch in respect of traffic management, combined with 'nudge' rather than concrete and steel*, is not only much cheaper but more efficient and far more effective. 

*Except of course from the risk posed by rogue members of the Religion of Peace. At either end of pedestrian roads.