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That's nice....

Thursday, July 31, 2008
From the EU's page listing forthcoming events:

And no mocking Alistair Darling's bald patch, presumably.

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How to lose friends and alienate people through blogging

Catalan Green Socialist MP, Lluís Suñé Morales, has shown with this well thought out post on his blog that the squabbling, foot swallowing and so forth some manage in these parts is rank amateurism:

Extremadura is the poorest region of Spain, whereas his home turf of Catalonia is at the top of the economic tree. Draw whichever UK etc parallels you like. The post, which - fancy - he has now deleted suggests that people should adopt an Extremaduran child at a cost of €1000 per month. He claimed it was a joke, and merely a wry comment on regional subsidies. The Extremadurans are not best pleased. My very limited Spanish allows me to work out that in this item the Extremaduran authorities are going to sic their lawyers on him. Some English language detail is available at El Pais.

The coalitions and parties in Spain can be a tad confusing, but Morales flies the colours of Initiative for Catalonia Greens / United and Alternative Left, neither of which are parties I could imagine myself voting for.

The former has an 'ideology [that] looks to renew the left and is firmly against communism as practised in the former Soviet Union and against capitalism, as practised by Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, but also against social democracy, which is only a lesser evil, but does not respond to the environmental and social challenges ahead. From the ecosocialist point of view, both communism and capitalism are two faces of the productivism "mode of production" (a marxist term), which should be phased out if our planet is to survive. According to this book, this ideology is also deeply feminist and pro "freedom of the European peoples".

The UAL has Communists in it, so further exegesis would be pointless.

Nice man, very green and very socialist.....

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A pointer for our own dear Labour Party

Libération has a contributed item by a former Mitterand minister, Paul Quilès, whose big idea for French Socialism is to go back the thick end of a century and re-read Jean Jaurès. Jaurès is one of those Frenchman they name streets after (along with Victor Hugo and Gambetta...) and it is a safe bet that there will be a Rue Jaurès in most towns and it will be fairly central.

Here he is in full flow. The flag is red, apparently:

Apart from his appeal to street namers, he is most famous for being a Socialist, founding L'Humanité (the paper, not the species) and for being assassinated for his opposition to the First World War by a killer rejoicing in the name 'Villain'. I am NOT making this up.

So, what does Jaurès have to offer today's thrusting, power suit wearing Socialistes? Lots of old school red blooded class war socialism, for example, "In effect, all socialists work for humanity’s fulfillment. Humanity doesn’t yet exist, or rather barely so: in the interior of each nation it is compromised and shattered by class antagonism, by the inevitable struggle between the capitalist oligarchy and the proletariat. Only socialism, in absorbing all classes in the common ownership of the means of labour, can resolve this antagonism and make of every nation, finally reconciled with each other, a parcel of humanity". No hint of Das Godesberger Programm there....

I suppose that would be one of guaranteeing themselves an eternity in the electoral wilderness, and I urge the Parti Socialiste to follow this manifesto, and for the Labour Party to root around in the writings of Hardie and Lansbury (one of my school's old boys) for some similar helpful pointers.

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The sweetest four words in the English language

Are 'I told you so'.

And I did: "Given the (often rightful) contempt that some of Middle America has for Europe, is film of Obama transporting Germans, Gauls etc to ecstacy something that is going to play in Peoria?"

And lo, and indeed, behold:

"More problematic for Obama, the Rasmussen poll showed that crucial swing independent voters reacted negatively to the news of his hyped trip - 30 percent said it made them less likely to vote for him while 23 percent said it made them more likely".

Meanwhile, this, from John McCain:

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Come on down and name that vegetable....

Wednesday, July 30, 2008
Great surveys of our time dept (requires registration):

"Tootsies [a restaurant chain] asked 200 children between the ages of 11 and 13 if they were able to name 40 items commonly available from a greengrocer's stall".

And they were not very good at it. Carrots topped the table at 94.5%, while there was single figure recognition for artichokes, aubergines, spinach and turnips (good job they didn't include rocket and sweet potatoes, eh readers?) The differential between boys and girls was sharpest with cucumbers - 90% of girls recognised it but only 67% of boys. Boys were better at identifying tomatoes and cauliflowers.

As to fruit, apples, bananas, oranges and strawberries secured 90% + recognition, with the poor gooseberry languishing on 1%.

Two things to note - only 200 children were questioned, and they were selected from diners at the chain's restaurant, so it may well be a woeful reflection on the parenting of its patrons rather than an indictment of small people overall.

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Trots, Greens and Communists for the Third Empire

Tuesday, July 29, 2008
La Voix du Nord has, very kindly, grilled Walloons and Gauls as to the future of Belgium and if it were to break up whether it should enter the warm embrace of Paris.

The Gauls are keener than their trans-Meuse neighbours - 60% fancy adding a few départements (let's face it, they are not going to rename it La République Française-Wallon, are they?) to the 49% of Walloons who are supportive.

However, as the headline implies, it is the breakdown of figures that is the most interesting - 25-34 year olds are the keenest age group, top end white collar workers the keenest socio-economic group (66%), Greens (67%) and the rest of the extreme left (66%) the most enthused voters.

Less keen are Parisians (57%), Bayrou's liberals (56%) and 50-64 year olds (57%). Women lead men at 62% to 59% pro.

As for the Walloons themselves, it is the people of Hainaut (56%) and Namur (57%) who are the keenest (dark blue), Liege (42%) is unsure (mid blue) and Brabant-Wallon (40%) and Luxembourg (40%) the least enthusiastic. Perhaps some of the Liegeois/e grilled are actually German speakers and would like the historic wrong of the Eupen and the Ost-Kantone landgrab rectified.

Not entirely sure what one should conclude about France's neighbouring provinces being the keenest, although perhaps the legendary French rudeness seems like the last word in politeness after living among Belgians.

As to the attitudes of the French, the FN vote is not broken out, but is presumably captured as part of the overall Right. On that basis, it is intriguing that the nationalists are the least given to irridentist dreams, while the far left is. Perhaps the Greens fancy shutting down a few factories while the Trots and Communists think that this could be the French equivalent of Lenin trying to export the Red Terror to Poland and the West.

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Pigs fly, Elvis lives and the world is flat

In the light of the TUC Congress motion I am about to repeat below, I think my headline is not that outrageous:

"Congress condemns the board of the Cooperative Group for its anti-trade union actions in derecognising the GMB union and withdrawing from the collective bargaining and recognition agreement held with the GMB within the funeral care business of the Co-operative Group".

Coming from a long line of non-Co-Op users - I am NOT wittingly giving money to the Labour party directly or indirectly - that elements of the Socialist coalition are falling out is deeply encouraging.

It is that time of the year again, and there are plenty more nuggets in the congress agenda which I will consider later, but that one just could not wait.


A date for your diary

Who would want to miss the Limoges conference on 'The challenges and future of the European sheep industry" in early September, as after all, 'The benefits of sheep production are very significant (e.g. skilled livestock farmers, a very positive public image, high-quality products)'?

Stakeholders, if not steak holders are invited, and doubtless there will be no woolly thinking in evidence...

Rather sadly we are only the world's seventh most sheep rich nation with around 35 million of them (of the white and woolly variety) and do not have the sheep majority that Oz, NZ and Sudan (of all places) have.

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The poor little darlings

Monday, July 28, 2008
That I do not have a great deal of time for the Olympics - see repeated references to 'the world's largest outdoor steroid abuse fest' for confirmation - will come as no surprise to those people of impeccable taste who read my jottings on a regular basis.

For all that the kitchen sink is supposedly thrown at athletes to stop them spiking up, pilling up or - for all I know - toad licking, the drug scandals just keep on coming. Those of a cynical disposition will note how the press never wants to believe it of those swathed in our version of the red, white and blue, but that is a story for another day.

Another country which goes in for the same flag colour scheme - and they did get there first - has a sports minister who is concerned about the, cough, human rights of the runners, throwers, jumpers and underwater tiddlywinks players:

"The Netherlands' Deputy Minister for Health, Welfare and Sport, Jet Bussemaker says excessive testing for doping is violating athletes' right to privacy". ..." Although I think doping tests should stay, you must balance them against the rights and freedoms of the athletes, in the knowledge that you can never eliminate doping altogether."

Erm, they are dodging around in outfits that would see them barred in any number of hostelries in these parts and lapidated in some of the more delightful parts of the Middle East, and they are concerned about privacy?

Facetiousness aside, either drop the testing completely and rely on participants to be honourable or allow random testing at any time etc with zero notice. Way back lost in the mists of time I read of a poll that asked the runners, throwers etc whether they would be prepared to take a drug that would guarantee a Gold medal but also in the longer term kill them. The precise wording escapes me, but that was the gist of it. A very clear majority said yes please, and I doubt that opinions among the steroid munchers have changed with the generational advance.

As an aside, Princess Anne was the only competitor in the '72 Olympics who did not have to undergo a sex test. True story.

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A brief observation on the family Darwin

They of the Reggie Perrin-style disappearing father.

The sons have eased their pain by selling their story to the Mail on Sunday, and have been, quote 'through Hell' and want nothing to do with their parents. Their choice....

My father died nine years ago, and if he were to reappear now, I do not really care what he might have done in the preceding nine years, even if he was then to spend the rest of his life in jail. Orphaned or part orphaned friends quizzed on such an eventuality take the same stance.

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A start

From Pravda Central:

"Every neighbourhood in England and Wales will have access to the latest local crime information through new interactive crime maps, Home Secretary Jacqui Smith announced today.


By the end of the year every police force area will produce crime maps which will allow the public to:

* see where and when crime has happened, down to street level for some crimes;

* make comparisons with other areas; and

* learn how crime is being tackled by their local neighbourhood policing team".

So, a start, and the provision of fuller geographical data is to be welcomed. However, I fully expect the finished article to lack the capacity to drill down to the data that John and Joanne Q Citizen actually want. What I demand is information on crimes against property and against the person to post code / street level, a user friendly interface that the average person can manipulate to bring up the data they want, not an interface that only the illuminati can use. A weekly update map in the local paper would be very welcome, and entirely doable.

Beyond that, yes, I still want elected sheriffs, I want data on police patrols, arrests, clear up rates and convictions.

A bit more rumination and I may add to my wish list.

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A *complete* waste of time and money

From the Mail & Guardian, South Africa:

"The Cabinet has approved a draft framework for a national food-price agency, President Thabo Mbeki said on Sunday...."This arises out of the concern about the high and rising food prices and their impact on the poorest in the country," he said. It was necessary to have some institutionalised way to respond to it on a continuous basis, rather than an ad hoc basis. The agency would study the phenomenon so that it could recommend to the government what could be done to produce the desired results".

Could it be that supply and demand are alien concepts to Mbeki? Cutting through the persiflage, this is a softening up ahead of introducing price controls, which sure as night follows day will lead to shortages. If he really wants to do something about the cost of living, he would be better off giving a loaf of bread to everyone he meets.

Meanwhile, they are trying the reverse approach some 100 degrees to the north:

"Preliminary conclusions from a new report show that the uniform price reform has given low income workers in the big towns more money in their pockets.

At the same time, middle-class residents in the smaller settlements and outer districts have seen a worsening of their finances. The conclusions are part of a soon to be published report from the Department of Infrastructure and the Environment, according to knr.gl".

Can't say I am surprised.

As a probably one off, 'only in Greenland' footnote, note this reference by Rasmus Sembach Olsen of the distribution department of the Environment Agency: 'the big towns like Ilulissat, Sisimiut or Nuuk'. Ilulissat - pop. 4,453, Sisimiut, pop 5965 and the great metropolis of Nuuk - 15,047.

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A useful site for nervous travellers...

Saturday, July 26, 2008
Or at least for jittery air travellers departing from Gay Paree.

Securvol.fr has grouped airlines into five categories - good, OK, with reservations, avoid and banned in the EU - as blogged about last year. It is updated every time there is 'an incident', apparently.

In Group 1 from these shore are BA, easyjet and Monarch. None of our other carriers are listed. Air France is in group 2....

The avoid list is full of gems:

Aerobrazil - charter airline with one plane, a 38 year old Boeing 707.

Aerojecutivos (sic) - One plane, a 56 year old convair which should be in a museum.

And here it is:


A very brief observation on Obamamania

Given the (often rightful) contempt that some of Middle America has for Europe, is film of Obama transporting Germans, Gauls etc to ecstacy something that is going to play in Peoria? (1)

McCain and co would be well advised to find a few useful idiots on this side of the Atlantic who can be persuaded to make 'helpful' comments on how they want Mr & Mrs Joe Sixpack to vote. Shades of The Guardian's hilariously ill-judged Clark County intervention in 2004?

(1) - OK, maybe not Peoria. He is going to win Illinois without too much difficulty.

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Three cheers for Cape Verde

I can't say that my top of mind recall of Cape Verde goes much beyond, 'erm, islands off the coast of Africa, ex Portuguese colony', but having seen that it has just joined the WTO, went for a little dig:

"Since 1991, the country has pursued market-oriented economic policies, facilitating foreign investment, fostering the private sector through privatisations, developing tourism, light manufacturing industries and fisheries. Cape Verde has also developed its transport, communications and energy facilities".

And it has worked: "In 2007 the United Nations graduated Cape Verde from the category of Least Developed Countries, only the second time this has happened to a country".

The other country to get promotion is Botswana, also a free market orientated democracy.

As a footnote, the WTO states "Any state or customs territory having full autonomy in the conduct of its trade policies may become a member (“accede to”) the WTO". The UK is a member, but can it be said to have 'full autonomy in the conduct of its trade policies'? Open to debate, isn't it?

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'Television without frontiers'

That is the name of an EU directive on matters televisual. If, as the saying goes, it does what it says on the tin, one would hope it would be a clarion call to free trade in goods and services. But it does not:

"Article 4 of the “Television without Frontiers” Directive calls upon EU Member States to ensure "where practicable and by appropriate means" that broadcasters within their jurisdiction reserve the majority of their transmission time for European works".

Prima facie this sounds like a pretty grotesque violation of the GATT agreements, and one can be stone-cold certain just which originator of material this is aimed at - the US of A, of course.

The release goes on to show the percentage of material shown in each market that originates in the EU, with Sweden bottom of the class at 45% and ourselves (53%), Slovenia (52%), the Irish Republic (55%) and Greece (55%) also all on the naughty step. Poland (81%) and Denmark (81%) are this year's teacher's pets.

The item doe not make clear quite what constitutes the broadcasting universe per market - all TV stations including those weird shopping / religious / music etc etc channels one sees when channel surfing when at a Sky-enabled house, those available through a normal television or whatever. However it is calculated, it must be broadcasters overall not broadcasters one by one. Otherwise the likes of Five USA let alone the likes of the Tamil film channels would be regulated out of existence. Further, those raw figures tell nothing about what is popular, what is scheduled when and where and so on.

However, the overall point remains that the EU is in its usual way showing scant regard either for free trade or the wishes of the populace. Should the entire population of Cyprus wish to sit down to back to back repeats of 'Gilligan's Island' or Denmark discover the delights of Australian soap operas, their governments should not be facing even mild criticism from the EU - it is none of its damned business, frankly.

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Brief thoughts on the succession

Friday, July 25, 2008
Brown is extremely unlikey to admit that the game is up, partly because of his towering ego and partly because he regards the Labour party as existing to serve him, not vice versa.
However, if he gets run over by a bus, overdoses on happy pills or opens his veins in the bath, then what?

All of the younger candidates can be ruled out. why would a Miliband or a Purnell be interested in spending two years with a neck in the hangman's noose and continuing to lack a /popular/ mandate? they will be happy to wait.

so, the older candidates? Clarke is untainted by the Brown coronation as he was one of the few away from the rubber room left not to vote for him. Straw may well not fancy the scrutiny although I could imagine he could be persuaded to act for the good of the party, if necessary. Byers and Milburn? Blairs without the charm.

My money would be on Harman - she has the arrogance to think she could turn things around and the lust for high office, woeful lack of ability notwithstanding.

further thoughts, links etc when I have a keyboard rather than a phone to blog with.

Crumbs from the table

Having finally stopped laughing about the humiliation of Broon's homunculus last night, back to blogging:

"The European Commission has approved 31 programmes in 16 Member States ...to provide information on and to promote agricultural products in the European Union". Source

Using your intuition have a guess as to where the money goes:

Did you get it?


Guess how many special advisers Brown has.

Thursday, July 24, 2008
I would have guessed four or five, with an outside maximum of ten.

He has, in fact, twenty four.

And here they are: Greg Beales, Theo Bertram, Nicola Burdett, Stephen Carter, Konrad Caulkett, Matt Cavanagh, Dan Corry, Colin Currie, Jo Dipple, Justin Forsyth, Michael Jacobs, Gavin Kelly, Richard Lloyd, Patrick Loughran, Damian McBride, Jennifer Moses (unpaid, which is nice), David Muir, Geoffrey Norris, Sue Nye, Nick Pearce, Lisa Perrin, Paul Sinclair, Nick Stace and Stewart Wood.

Three of them are part time, so I suppose one could be generous and say 22.5.

Firstly, that is not a kitchen cabinet, it is a class room of the little blighters, and haven't they, collectively, proved to be about as much use as an inflatable dartboard. I do not suppose that 'SpAd to Broon 2008' on a CV is going to open many doors come The Reckoning. They cannot be all that special either.

Further, these people are making a very nice scratch, four of them making £140,560, and all making at least a shade under £40,000.

Other ministers generally have two apiece, but respect to Flint, Benn, Baroness Royall (of Blaisdon, no less), Murphy, Browne and Purnell for making do with just one.

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Africa on a dollar a day?

The Foreign Office would appear to be treading on the toes of Lonely Planet / Michelin / Fodor and the rest of them. Or so it would appear from this headline:

Guinea travel advice

Rather than a Thousand Guineas there are only three of them at the moment, but the FO is referrring to the Guinea, the one with Conakry as a capital. Anyway, go if you must, but avoid the capital and the regions bordering Liberia and Sierra Leone. While the north and eastern borders are reckoned ok, the main airport is in the capital, so only rather more adventurous tourists are likely to get to the place.


"Weimar without the sex"

Wednesday, July 23, 2008
From Christopher Hitchens' 'For the Sake of Argument' (Verso 1993) writing of the fag-end of the Callaghan administration:

"The end result was a sort of Weimar without the sex: the country mortgaged to the IMF, placementship and jobbery everywhere from the Washington Embassy to the Bank of England; and an indecorous last-minute vote buying exercise involving both the Ulster Unionists and the Irish Republicans".

A little tweaking and it sounds somewhat like our own times.


Ill thought out press release headline o' the day

Take a bow, Dept of Health:

Johnson calls for national movement to tackle obesity

Well yes. I suppose any movement apart from placing pudgy fingers into a bag of crisps etc will involve burning some calories.

Facetiousness aside, watch out for the Fat Police at home, at work, at play etc etc:

"Tackling obesity requires a much broader partnership, not only with families, but with employers, retailers, the leisure industry, the media, local government and the voluntary sector".

And the Fat Police number, gulp, 220,000: "I have also written to 220,000 local activists who are already doing excellent work in their communities to promote good health to ask them to shape this movement". That's one for roughly every 200 adults, so I suppose Big Nanny will be forcing entry to one's residence twice yearly to confiscate everything bar lentils and brown rice.

"This national movement for change will enable every citizen in the country at every stage of their lives to get the encouragement and support they need to be healthy - from what they see on the television, to what they buy in the local supermarket, to the resources at their disposal in the local community, to how they travel to and from work or school, to the information and advice they get from health professionals. "We are calling on everyone - from the smallest community keep fit class to the biggest retailers in the land - to join in this campaign to change the way we live our lives."

Instead of all this kraft durch freude, what's wrong with a little bit of personal responsibility, self-denial etc etc?. So, Alan, if I might venture so bold, get stuffed.

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The US update

Zogby's polling suggests that the best VP candidate for Obama is Colin Powell, with him delivering a net positive of 32% more likely to vote Dem, compared to a net 5% for Hillary Clinton. Bill Richardson is the only other to give a net boost, at 5%. Evan Bayh, Kathleen Sebelius and Tim Kaine (who?) are net negative of 4-6%. I suspect that the Powell effect is exagerrated due to a reluctance on the part of pollees to snub an all black ticket. Given that CP would not run for the Big One, I doubt he would want to be the younger man's spear carrier, as after all, 'The vice-presidency isn't worth a pitcher of warm [urine]' as John Nance Garner once put it.

Over at GOP HQ, McCain's best bets are Romney at +15% and Huckabee at +14%. Joe Lieberman does little at +3%. Others are net negative.

Given past presidential elections in my lifetime, I would not be surprised if the VP candidates come as surprises come convention time.

As to the electoral college, the very wonderful Electoral College site (it helped me win a few sucker bets on Bush last time) aggregates state polls and has OB at 207 strong to JM's 83 strong. Including weak and barely, it comes out at 292 OB, 219 JM, with 27 dead heats. 270 are needed for the brass ring. Geographically OB has the West Coast, NE, Great Lakes bar Ohio plus Hawaii, Montana, Colorado and New Mexico. McCain has the South and the Mid-West / Rockies bar MT, CO and NM. Indiana and Pennsylvania are worth 32 votes and are weak for OB, while Florida and North Carolina (42) are weak McCain.

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In the best Dizzy Thinks tradition of asking why certain questions are asked by certain people in Parliament, I will offer this up without comment:

Anne Main: To ask the Secretary of State for Health how many sexually transmitted infections were diagnosed at (a) Waverley Sexual Health Clinic, St. Albans and (b) in all genito-urinary medicine clinics in Hertfordshire in each of the last five years.

Ms Main is the MP for St Albans, and to the best of my knowledge, of impeccable character.

And there's more:

Bob Russell: To ask the Secretary of State for Health what estimate he has made of the number of gender reassignment operations which will be carried out by NHS trusts in 2008-09.


Shock o' the day

From Hansard:

David Simpson: To ask the Minister for the Olympics how many staff in her Office have had five or more periods of sickness absence of less than five days in two or more of the last five years.

Tessa Jowell: None.

Blimey. Either they are a very fit and healthy bunch, or else they like their work so much they will bound into the office despite hangovers, Lassa fever, in-growing toenails and what have you. Or, perhaps, they sit around playing Tetris and Tessa lacks the authority to make them do any work.

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France - what's hot and what's not

Tuesday, July 22, 2008
Les Echos has grilled private sector Gauls as to where they would be prepared to move for work, so courtesy of their data (and my mapping - the crapauds used a PDF...) here's where to go if you want to hang out with the young Turks, or how to avoid them:
Red is where 56-72% would regard relocation there as desirable
Orange - 40-56%
Yellow - 24-40%
White - 8-23%

That they fancy the South is no huge surprise - Provence-Alpes Cotes d'Azur is top at 72% - and I know that the West is generally well favoured. There is no option to choose the DOM-TOMs - Martinique, Tahiti and - ahem - St Pierre & Miquelon etc, otherwise doubtless that would scoop the pool. However, I assumed that Nord-Pas de Calais (17%) would be bottom of the heap, but it isn't - that honour goes to Champagne Ardennes at 8%. Shame they did not take it down to departmental level.

As to the more adventurous ones, it isn't Kensington they are all pining for, but rather Montreal and Geneva, with Quebec, ahem, Canada (88%) leading followed by the US (73%), Switzerland, Spain, Luxembourg (nothing to do with the tax situation, everything to do with the crazy nightlife...) and only then Albion Perfide. Shunned Francophone lands and ex colonies include Belgium and both North and Southern Africa. The latter is last at 16%.

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Oh dear....

While I will not always agree with every judicial decision, I think it is fair to aver that our Lords and Dames of the higher judiciary have pretty sharp minds. This might not be the case in the South Pacific, judging from this photograph hosted at the Commonwealth Secretariat in its report on 'the annual meeting of the heads of the South Pacific Council of Youth and Children’s Courts'.

Firstly they have allowed themselves to be bamboozled into wearing fancy dress, but much, much better still they have been photographed under a fascia board that says 'Barlow's Rehab Centre - Moemoe Fou'.


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One hour and nine minutes of Parliamentary time

What would you want debated if you had the time? Perhaps the economy, or the assaults on our ancient rights? Lefties might prefer the wars as a topic. Doubtless few sentient people would fail to come up with something that exercised them.

And what was debated between 21.21 and 22.30 last night? Brass bands and the lack of subsidies therefor.

While there is an argument that if one form of unpopular culture should be funded from taxation so should all the rest, I take the stance that all state / council arts subsidies should stop now. That,k I think is a debate for another day, but it is worth skimming the debate for the attempts by sundry northern Labour MPs to be prolier than thou. Including, rather hilariously the admittedly non Northern 'Enver' Hodge. And they do find it so hard not to use variations on 'blow your own trumpet'. Laugh, I thought I'd never start.

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It's the return of the Doomsday Book - only for ferns and liverworts this time...

The Son of the Bennotollah is kicking it off. Perhaps he 'had deep speech with his counsellors and [will send] men all over England to each shire ... to find out ... what or how much each landholder [has] in land and livestock, and what it [is] worth".

"A wide-ranging audit of England's natural resources - its wildlife, habitats and ecosystems - was today launched by Environment Secretary Hilary Benn.

The two year project will result in the most comprehensive picture ever of our natural environment, the benefits it provides to society, and how it is changing".

I feel sorry for the poor devil who will be going through Epping Forest clicking every time he / she sees a fern, but sorrier for whoever has to peer at fungal spores on the rocks in the Peak District.

Facetiousness to one side, note this: 'The results will be used by Government to prioritise work so that the natural environment is enhanced'. Erm, the natural environment is what we would have if it was left untouched, so anything the state does, from the Forestry Commission (or whatever it is called this week - 'Treesational!' maybe?) to Canute efforts via nerds with laptops kicking leaves around to moss auditors sneezing in areas of outstanding natural beauty is rendering it unnatural.

I think that I will never see, a Benn Plan lovely as a tree....

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The man with all the comic timing of the Bay of Pigs Invasion

Monday, July 21, 2008
Yes, our very own, very dear Prime Minister:

"Poor Gordon Brown," a senior official in the Foreign Ministry said on Sunday, "he just happened to visit Israel the same week U.S. presidential candidate Barack Obama is expected to arrive and isn't receiving much attention." Indeed, visiting Israel on the same week that Obama is expected to arrive is like being the opening act for the Beatles.

There were few signs on the streets of Jerusalem yesterday that the prime minister of one of Israel's most important allies...For some reason, Union Jack flags were nowhere to be seen in the capital.

Brown's arrival is also in the shadow of the recent visit by French President Nicolas Sarkozy. Sarah Brown may be a founding partner in a public relations firm and a supporter of charities, but she's no Carla Bruni".
Thanks to Haaretz.com for the extract.

Shades of his disastrous trip to the US when he was, unsurprisingly, overshadowed by the Bishop of Rome. Don't the idiots in his office ever check diaries and the like?

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4% of Belgians love the place

Or maybe they just fancy free entertainment, as today is Belgium's national day, and Le Soir reckons 400,000 Belges will be in Brussels for the celebration.

Given how much animosity lurks either side of the Waffle Curtain, the lyrics of The Brabançonne are a little inappropriate:

O beloved Belgium, sacred land of our fathers,
Our heart and soul are dedicated to you.
Our strength and the blood of our veins we offer,
Be our goal, in work and battle.
Prosper, o country, in unbreakable unity,
Always be yourself and free.

Not sure whether this is the official rendering in English, as it does play a bit fast and loose with the French version.

The next time I have a lot of time on my hands, I might post about some of the other national anthems I have encountered, which rang from the preposterous to the tragic.


The country where they give honours to Honecker

Remember Erich Honecker? The deeply odious leader of the German Democratic Republic and father of the Berlin Wall? He has, thankfully, been powering the central heating in the infernal regions for about 14 years.

His scumbag wife is still desecrating the world with her presence, and normally resides in Chile (what is it with that place?) on a state pension from the Federal Republic. She was not some little woman waiting at home for the vile Erich, but the Education Minister of the DDR for 26 years. I have seen extracts of text books from the DDR, and maths questions would involve tractors carrying beet from various fields to the collective farms. I am NOT making this up. So, Not One of Us.

However, Margot is on holiday in Nicaragua and they appear to be having quite the Sandinista / Sandalista reunion at the moment:

"Margot Honecker...was awarded a top Nicaraguan honor for her work on a 1980s literacy campaign....[She] reportedly also received the Rubén Diario honor for her husband's services to the people of the Central American country."He showed such solidarity and particular caring interest in the free people of Nicaragua," said the wife and spokeswoman of President Ortega, Rosario Murillo, adding that Honecker had supported the first Sandinista government back in the 1980s".

Seethe, seethe. Oh yes, and Victory to the Contras.

I hope she gets kicked out of the plane home at 30,000 feet.

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'Pakistanis in greater understanding of democracy than Indians' shocker.

From Worldopinion.org:

"Suppose the majority of Kashmiris...want Kashmir to be an independent state. In that case, would you regard an independent Kashmir as desirable, acceptable, tolerable or unacceptable?"

India - 13%/24%/14% (51% positive), 35% unacceptable. And 14% could not express an opinion..

Pakistan - 21/32/13 (66% positive), 11% unacceptable. And 23% found the question just way too difficult.

Can't say I have especially strong views on Kashmir, but were I living in Kashmir, I would rather be ruled from New Delhi than entrust myself to the tender mercies of Islamabad.

Elsewhere, a rather foolish 35% of Pakistanis think that kicking off a war to annexe Kashmir is a great idea.

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Ask a stupid question...

From Hansard:

"Helen Southworth: To ask the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform if he will hold discussions with industry representatives on measures to increase the affordability of access to broadband for (a) people with a disability and (b) older people"

To which the Wickser replied with a laundry list of statistics, and this:

"I would be delighted to hear from industry about any plans they have to make broadband more affordable, including for the elderly or disabled".

Two points - those of a vintage who can remember life before 1984 will recall the difficulty, delay and overall sheer bloodiness of getting a phone line installed, and I just hate to think what the situation with broadband would be like if BT had not been de-nationalised and the market freed.

Secondly, and rather more immediately pertinent to the question, try substituting 'blonde', 'port drinkers' or 'size 9 1/2 shoe wearers' for disabled or older people for a measure of quite how silly is the attempt to thrust undifferentiated victim status upon millions and millions of people.

I would love to be able to say that the hitherto obscure Southworth should be declaring an interest, but she appears to be in good health and is 51.

However, and this is just wonderful, Lady Internet has a website - helensouthworth.labour.co.uk

Try clicking through, or note this screenshot:

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Panic in the street of Chişinău

Sunday, July 20, 2008
It might be an idea, judging from this:

"NATO proposes joint Black Sea naval drills with Russia".

Here, as an aide memoire is a map of the Black Sea:

And to illustrate matters further, NATO membership in the area:

That the Black Sea is black in the graphic is serendipitous rather than a deliberate joke.

So, Turkey, Greece, Romania and Bulgaria are in NATO, Ukraine and Jawjuh want in while the Rodina herself and Armenia (who knows who its friends are) do not want to join the club. That covers the entire littoral of the Black Sea. While the reach of the US 6th Fleet is such it could flatten pretty well everything within a range of a few thousand miles of the dead centre of the Black Sea, even some of the less capable navies in NATO should not be too stretched if they sought to bombard landlocked Moldova, all of about 20 miles from the coast.

So, Moldova Beethoven and tell Tchaikovsky the news... (Sorry)

(The article actually refers to mine clearing, but having decided I fancied doing the post I pressed ahead disregarding that minor mouche in the unguent).

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Abuse of the language

Saturday, July 19, 2008
In the sense of beating it with a piece of 4" by 2" for ten minutes, pouring petrol over it, setting it ablaze and then dancing around the flames and finishing off by urinating on the embers:

"The report from the National Audit Office (NAO) said....[HM Revenue and Customs] needs to more actively demonstrate the benefits to its staff and manage the expectations of customers". Source

Would not 'victims' be more le mot juste?

Elsewhere the report notes low morale at HMRC. While I would consider many (any?) options before taking a job with The Beast, someone has to do it, so one must feel some pity for the individuals who must spent their entire working lives either lying about their livelihoods to people they meet socially or else risking the effect of a crucifix on a vampire.

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A vital mission for government

Friday, July 18, 2008
From Hansard:

Ben Chapman: To ask the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport what estimate he has made of the number of closures of establishments in the public house sector in (a) 2000, (b) 2003 and (c) 2007.

Mr. Sutcliffe: The Department has not at any time made an estimate of the number of closures of establishments in the public house sector.

And to think of all the things they waste time and money on....

Having failed dismally to find a particularly apposite quote on pubs from a 'name', I will merely add the thought of an ex: "People who don't like pubs don't like life".

Although I might make an exception for Dublin shortly after the wild ginger man himself expires:

When I die I want to decompose in a barrel of porter and have it served in all the pubs in Dublin.”

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How many captains of industry moonlight as models, and vice versa

Thursday, July 17, 2008
Statements of the bleedin' obvious, Swedish branch:

"Having attractive employees doesn’t necessarily add to a company’s bottom line, according to a new study from Karlstad University in central Sweden".

The research, such as it is, is not exactly blind, noting 'Companies in the hotel and restaurant branch have among the highest demand for employees with good looks'. One might note that fashion victim stores, hair salons, parfumiers etc etc do not go out of their way to employ those tapped to a greater or lesser degree with the ugly stick either, having noted that are appealing to folk making aspirational purchases. I doubt the average department store would shift much scent if the spray gals etc were wearing house coats and curlers. Perhaps the seat of learning would have come up with some rather harder data if they had persuaded Johansson & Nilsson or whatever Karlstad's department store is to try my little test.

Meanwhile, I am struggling to think of any chief execs who are likely to appear on the front cover of Vogue - as clothes horses - any time soon. Given that the average 'mo-dell' appears to have an IQ equivalent to a centigrade room temperature, I suspect that the boards of FTSE 100 companies will not be despatching the head hunters to Models R Us either.

The devil in the detail

Pravda central has put out a release telling us just how great the Dept of Work & Pensions is, including:

"Whitehall's largest government department is in good shape and delivering a better service to its customers".


Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, James Purnell, said:"This report shows that we have a really well run Department delivering its services increasingly effectively to the millions of people it serves every day. The report is a great tribute to the leadership and staff of the DWP - and I want to congratulate everyone's hard work and commitment to ensure that we are delivering results."

What Purnell did not see fit to announce in his puff piece are the following:

"DWP...needs to clarify its direction of travel to staff, and to articulate its core purpose and the end result it wants to achieve. The Department needs to consider how best to ensure understanding of its aims and achieve buy-in, and embed this throughout the organisation. (Apologies for the managementese, I'm just copying this stuff. C)

* Staff engagement scores are below the central government benchmark but are consistent with a large-scale delivery department undergoing massive change. The Department must work hard to improve engagement with its staff.

* Although plans are in development, the Department has not yet articulated clearly what it needs in terms of its people and skills mix and ways of working to ensure future delivery effectiveness. There are concerns amongst staff about the performance management system and the consistency with which it is implemented. These include concerns over differentiating performance, incentivising good performance, tackling poor performance and identifying and meeting development needs.

The Department could push further to encourage more strategic innovation.

* Whilst stakeholders think that the Department is working more innovatively and proactively, and is good at adapting as it delivers, they think that it could do more to encourage a step change rather than incremental change.

* The Department could do more to encourage a consistent culture of appropriate challenge and innovation from staff and stakeholders. DWP needs to give better feedback to external stakeholders and to explain its response to their advice and suggestions.
* Much is riding on Lean (an initiative to streamline processes) to create the space for future investment. The Department will need to ensure that this initiative is having the desired impact.

Further, leadership direction setting and capability building and planning, resourcing and prioritising of delivery - that latter bit being what these people are supposed to be doing all day - are euphemistically termed 'a development area'.

Not quite so rosy, is it?

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The 'Common Market'

Wednesday, July 16, 2008
Remember when it used to be called that, and we were led to believe it was little more than a free trade agreement?

I would be quite happy with that, but that is no longer on the menu. It does not even stand for inter European free trade any more:

"The European Commission today presented a Report and a proposal for a Directive to amend the current EU excise duty legislation on tobacco. The draft Directive foresees a gradual increase in the EU minimum taxation levels on cigarettes and fine cut tobacco up to 2014....László Kovács, Commissioner for Taxation and Customs Union said: “Today's proposal supports the EU policy to reduce tobacco consumption and narrow the differences in price levels of tobacco products within the EU. It will help reduce illicit trade and cross-border shopping, which undermine the revenue and the health objectives of Member States which impose high taxes to deter smoking. It will give more flexibility to Member States on setting minimum tax levels and will modernise the current rules so as to ensure a level playing field for producers and retailers".

Ever been had?

(Declaration of interest - I am a non-smoker who has lapsed but intends to stop dead tomorrow).

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What is it with French lawyers and doctors?

I ask because French Sunday Journal du Dimanche was good enough to commission a survey on public attitudes to pompiers, militaires, gendarmes and policiers. Sadly, there is no data on attitudes to l'art pompier, hélas.... However, there are plenty of nuggets in the findings including the relatively high level of antipathy to the four groups above from the liberal professions. Note, 'The policing of the countryside, rivers and coastal areas, and small towns with populations under 10,000 (outside of the jurisdiction of the French National Police). About half the French population is under the direct jurisdiction of the Gendarmerie'. Source

Despite, or perhaps because of their storied drinking exploits, near as damn it everyone has a good opinion of pompiers, with only a 1% 'mainly bad' for women, 34-49s, liberal professions, manual workers, Greens, Parisians and Bayrou voters. Maybe there is one embittered middle aged Bayrou fan architect lurking in St Germain....

The military do not get quite such a vote of confidence, with 24% of those liberal professionals answering 'mainly bad'. Same figure for Greens, with 26% for Communists. So much for a Soviet of workers, peasants and soldiers... Sarko's 2007 voters top the scale at 95% positive. Perhaps the 10% of unenthusiastic Le Pen suporters are still hacked off about the De Gaulle Algeria move.

As to the Gendarmes, a surprising two-thirds of the extreme left are keen, with a third anti. And 83% of Communist voters. I am NOT making this up. Elsewhere, there are a peevish 20% of lawyers / civil servants etc. Given that the young are most likely to brush up against the plod, note that only 19% of 18-24s are anti. Looks like there will be no repeat of May '68 any time soon.

The police need to start winning hearts and minds, as the headline 'mainly favourable' figure is 81%, but 76% for men. 37% of 18-24s are unfavourable as are 46% of Trots (extreme left here) and 22% of Communists. Socio-demographically it is those lawyers, doctors etc who most dislike being stopped for drink driving - 29%.

Elsewhere, 61% regret the end of conscription, split between 41% of under 35s and 69% of over 35s. The 28% of 18-24s who regret it presumably are all gazing lovingly at St Cyr. Astonishingly, 46% of Trots and 63% of Communists regret it ending, and 23% of Le Pen's lot are glad it has gone.

Strange lot, sometimes, our neighbours.

As to what the force de frappe etc should be applied against, 66% see international terrorism as the key enemy, with 45% opting for 'Islamism', 32% nuclear proliferation states and 28% China. Uncle Sam will be pleased that he has dropped 16 points from the 31% in 2002 seeing him as principal adversary to 'just' 14%. We do not get a look in, as we are not named, and there is 1% for 'others'. Professionals and manual labourers are most likely to fear the 101st Airborne

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Give a dog a good name.

Indonesia and East Timor are not the best of friends, unsurprisingly. Lots of background here.

So, what do they call their joint effort to fend off the UN?: The Commission of Truth and Friendship.

right. It was established in 2004, and has just made its final report, exhibiting the glacial speed of some of our commissions.

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No wonder Andy Burnham has such shiny hair

Tuesday, July 15, 2008
Because he's been dosing up on his Omega 3:

Mr. Peter Ainsworth: To ask the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport how much fish was procured by his Department and at what cost in each of the last five years, broken down by species; and what amount and value of such fish met the Marine Stewardship Council standard in each such year, broken down by species. [217901]

Margaret Hodge: The Department holds the information set out relating to fish purchased in financial year 2007-08. Information is not available for previous years. Source

Product Approximate w eight (kg) 2007-08 Total c ost 2007-08 (£) Marine Stewardship Council Standard

Haddock/cod fillet tail




Tuna in brine




Sandwich prawns




Smoked salmon




Salmon fillet




Good for all sorts up other things, alas, thus also aiding Enver Hodge and the rest of them too.

I quite fancy a seafood / fish pun death match, so if anyone fancies joining in. I think this is the right plaice...

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Working for the King of Prussia

The above is a rendering of the French saying, "Travailler pour le roi de Prusse" which although sometimes seen in English is not wholly naturalised. Anyway, the meaning is to 'work for nothing, not be paid for one's efforts and participation'. It derives from a war in which France sided with Berlin but was not 'compensated' on the Rhine or wherever. Opinions differ as to which particular war gave rise to the expression.

So much for the exegesis, consider this:

"London's Child Poverty Ministers Stephen Timms, Beverley Hughes and Jane Kennedy are calling today for organisations across the Capital to recognise their role in tackling child poverty and to pledge to do more....The 'London Pledge', launched today, asks services that work with children and families, such as jobcentres, schools, childrens centres and other local groups to sign up to a set of specific actions to help London's families raise their incomes and lift themselves and their children out of poverty".

Now we are all well aware that this is relative poverty, and short of the Procrustean 'solution', it will never go away. That is scarcely worth considering at present, but always supposing Timms, Hughes, Kennedy and Uncle Tom Cobbleigh achieve their aim, just who do you suppose will claim the credit,eh?


Democracy, South African style

Monday, July 14, 2008
In the words of the head of the ANC Youth League, Julius Malema:

"We must ... intensify the struggle to eliminate the remnants of counter-revolution, which include the DA and a loose coalition of those who want to use state power to block the ANC president's ascendancy to the highest office of the land...Our responsibility is to defend the ANC and its leadership with everything we have. We remain firm in our determination to unleash every resource at our disposal to obliterate this sham of a case and expose the counter-revolutionary agenda it represents".

Thought about trying persuasion first, Julius?

In other news, I'm moving house and in all probability blogging will be light to non-existent for the next day or so.


Trot watch

Friday, July 11, 2008
New pickings from the ever rich seam that is the French extreme left, with the Trot postie (LCR) and the Trot bank clerk (LO) going mano a mano:

"No compromise with non-revolutionary workers communist parties". Well, that's how I have rendered "Hors d’un parti communiste ouvrier et révolutionnaire, point de salut !" Until such time as I can compare notes with my tame Gauls, any better stabs that better combine sense and technical accuracy are welcome.

And why is Lutte ouvrière (the bank clerk's lot) getting antsy? Because splitters, class traitors, Judean People's Front etc etc are talking to the Nouveau Parti anticapitaliste (NPA) of Olivier Besancenot (the postie), a new vehicle he's knocked up from the LCR and a few useful idiots.

I would like to say that this has shades of Jorge Luis Borges' phrase "a fight between two bald men over a comb" (he was speaking of the Falklands war, but less of that later...), but our French friends will insist on giving terrifying levels of support to the insurrectionist left (see passim).

Anyway, Olly proved to have the bigger dustbin of history during the last presidential election, with more than 1 Gaul in 25 thinking that LCR should have the vanguard role, to the derisory 1 in 75 who awarded the spoils to LO.

Arlette Laguiller stuck her fingers in her ears and is not listening: "We are a party of militants and these electoral results will not make us retreat". Which is nice.

Anyway, there is much more in the original item, but that conveys the thrust of it.

And if that was not sufficiently cheering, what about this from John Kampfner?:

"But my straw poll suggests the numbers thinking of quitting Labour benches may be unprecedented. They know that something terrible is afoot: the collapse of centre-Left politics, not only in Britain but across Europe".

Can I get a witness?

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Great junketeers of our time

How many politicians, civil servants and other named hangers on *needed* to go to New York to address the UN's 'Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women'?

Go on, have a guess. A taxi full, maybe? Minister, plus spear carrier and a secretary? Nope.

Thirty, according to the figure quoted by the UN, but totting up the names listed, I make it 41.

And presumably they all needed spear carriers, bag carriers, SPaDs, PA's and sundry other flunkies. Let's call it a round 100.

These include the following, names removed to protect the guilty:

Head of Diversity Policy, Department for Culture, Media and Sport
Team Leader: Gender and Mainstreaming, Scottish Government
Director, Policing and Security, Northern Ireland Office
Child Maintenance Legislation Division, Department for Work and Pensions
Deputy Director, Department for Children, Schools and Families

And having got to the podium, what did Ms 'Colour Me Beautiful' have to say for herself?:

"Women were not a homogenous group, she said".

"The United Kingdom had always championed gender equality in public policy and in representation at democratic institutions, she said". Absolutely, Lord North, both Pitts and Robert Peel refused to let the loss of the American colonies, the Peninsular War or the Corn Laws distract from that policy.

This sentence could have been expressed better:

"The United Kingdom had recently published a “Women Not for Sale” report focusing on advertisements for personal services in local newspapers, which could fuel the demand for trafficked women".

Oh yes, and for her pains, Follett had to contend with impertinent questions from those veritable shangri las of female empowerment etc etc, Egypt, Bangladesh and China.

Like this:

"Zou Xiaoqiao, expert from China, observed that minority women appeared to be more discriminated against in the United Kingdom than elsewhere. The income gap was still very high compared to other European countries, even though the equal wage law regulating equal pay had been in force for 40 years now. And, because of sexual discrimination, women in full-time employment still earned less than their male counterparts".

This is the ne plus ultra though, my emphasis added:

"Meriem Belmihoub-Zerdani, expert from Algeria, said less than 20 per cent women’s representation in Parliament was not sufficient for an advanced country like the United Kingdom. That figure should be at least 50 per cent".

Looks like Maine needs re-writing:
"we may say that the movement of the progressive societies has hitherto been a movement from Status to Contract".

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Great Parliamentary questions of our time

From yesterday's Hansard:

Bob Spink: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs how many residences of foreign diplomats there are in (a) Castle Point and (b) Essex.

Meg Munn: According to our records, there are no foreign diplomats currently living in Castle Point and 21 foreign diplomats currently living in Essex.

Having spent my formulative years in the Far East (1) I am not going to be making mock of Essex, but I cannot help but wonder why Spink thought this was worth asking, and having discovered the answer what he is planning to do with it. Maybe he is angling for the Americans to abandon Grosvenor Square for Southend. Perhaps he wants the addresses in the hope that he can wangle an invite to a Ferrero Rocher party.

(1) Old joke, with which I have suckered a few people. Near East is the E postal codes, middle east is Romford etc, and the Far East is the fair county of Essex itself.

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Fancy becoming German?

Thursday, July 10, 2008
Not entirely sure that I do, but 'Spiegel Online has compiled a quiz based on the citizenship test soon to be introduced in Germany'.

I got 30 out of 33, not knowing the colours of the flag of Nordrhein-Westfalen, inter alia. Most of them are absolute sitters, so I am not claiming any great insight into German culture, history, geography and its institutions.

Over to the rest of you.


Three cheers for the Liberals who are actually liberal

That there is a carve up by the EU 'parliament' to dish the eurosceptics is hardly news, but the plan has been made flesh:

"Members voted on Wednesday, July 9, to raise the minimum number of deputies needed to form a political group from 20 members from a minimum of six member states to at least 25 members, representing seven states".

Had it gone to fifty, the two extreme left parties - the Greens and the Communists - would have been in trouble, not that there was much prospect of that happening.

Anyway, that true believer in democracy, Richard Corbett (Socialist, Yorkshire) thinks the scheme is just great:

"the parliament has "one of the lowest thresholds that exist for allowing the constitution of a political group." "Just 2.5 percent of our membership can create a political group".

Keir Hardie would have been so proud of him.

Anyway, now for the punchline:

"But the new rules came under fire from smaller groups and were also opposed by the third biggest political group in the parliament, the Liberals, who called it "detrimental" to parliamentary democracy and efficiency".

So, good for the ALDE, which houses our own dear LibDems.

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That man Brown

Compare and contrast:

Broon's reply is here:

For those who cannot be bothered with the erms and ums etc,

"One question saw "Jazza" ask the Prime Minister what he could do for the country that nobody else could. The PM replied that he was determined and focussed on changing the country and on giving everyone the chance to make "the most of their talents"."Why do I want to do this job, because there are things that I can do, I want every child and every young person in this country to have the chance to realise the potential to the full."My idea in life, why I get up in the morning is everyone should have the chance to make the most of there talents, that's what I am determined to do." Note he does not even begin to answer the thrust of the question, and one might wonder whether wits at Downing Street made this the lead video in order to hold Brown up to richly deserved ridicule and contempt.

Generally Brown's rather sad attempts to get down wiv the kids are not worthy of note, but the OECD has just lacerated the post '97 regime's approach to youth unemployment etc, and here , in a handy table are the figures:

As ever, click for heightened visibility, but the key points are an increase in NEETs, a fall in the employment rate, a rise in the unemployment rate and a higher unemployment rate for the low skilled relative to the OECD average. So, for the last 12 years he has been party to being 'determined and focussed on changing the country and on giving everyone the chance to make "the most of their talents". With great success, evidently.

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The Great White Chief knows best.

Or so she thinks.

Meg Munn, who represents a part of the Caribbean called Sheffield Heeley was asked the following:

"To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether he has agreed to the request of the Chief Minister of Montserrat for the island’s accession to the Caribbean community single market and economy".

Montserrat is a colony 'British overseas territory' in the Leewards, and by pretty well any reckoning, a rather more pleasant place than Sheffield Heeley, bar the volcano.

Meg doesn't think that the Chief Minister of Montserrat, the Honourable Lowell Lyttleton Lewis, is capable of making decisions in the best interest of Montserrat, and told him so:

"I wrote to the Chief Minister of Montserrat on 12 June 2008 responding to his Government’s request to join the Caribbean Community Single Market and Economy. Given the recognised internal capacity constraints in Montserrat, I explained that it would be more appropriate to focus on the key economic priorities identified in the new Montserrat Sustainable Development Plan, rather than prepare for the Caribbean Community Single Market and Economy".

And just in case he hasn't worked out that massa knows best, "I also offered to discuss these issues in more detail with Chief Minister Lewis when he visits London for the Overseas Territories Consultative Council in October".

That's told the Honourable Triple L, hasn't it? How dare he think that free trade might be a good thing for Montserratians, and to presume that as someone elected by Montserratians (if not to this post - the Chief Minister is appointed by the Governor General from among elected Legislative Council members) he is best able to judge the island's best interests?


"With stupidity, the Gods themselves do battle in vain"

Wednesday, July 09, 2008
A terrifying insight into the minds of Londoners c/o London Councils:

"The poll, carried out by Ipsos MORI, revealed that almost half the people surveyed incorrectly believe that their local council runs the police and hospitals. Only two in five people know which political party runs their own local council, and just 6 per cent of Londoners know the name of their council's leader".

But "one in four said they would be interested in standing for election as a local councillor".

To the hills, to the hills....

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'Dirty tricks', French style

Obsessive collectors of political trivia (guilty...) will recall the farce that was the Spycatcher farce of some years back. That does not concern us except obliquely, in that Wright claimed "For five years we bugged and burgled our way across London at the State's behest, while pompous bowler-hatted civil servants in Whitehall pretended to look the other way".

My old 'friend' Ségolène Royal seems to think that the Direction Centrale du Renseignement Intérieur or somesuch is playing a similar game:

"I note that last week, at the time that I said that it was necessary to put an end to the grip on France of the Sarkozy clan, my residence was ransacked...I make a connection between the two events...It is a funny coincidence and this is the second time, the first time being during the Presidential campaign".

She is quite given to erm, 'odd', pronouncements, as I have noted before:

""Unfortunately I also believe that there was - and perhaps it was sub-conscious - sexism in all of these attacks, and to see it so strongly - and even I am surprised by it - I think it is connected with racism". (Well she is an army brat, born in Dakar...)

Sarko's spokesbod says the accusation is 'absurd' and Fabius (who presumably thinks he is up for one more lunge at the brass ring) 'does not have the information necessary to make a judgement'.

Looks like our Gallic chums are lucky not to have got themselves such an individual as President...

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Nonsense on stilts, German style

From The Local:

"More than 40 German deputies on Tuesday proposed that the voting age be lowered to birth to give children a say in the country’s political future, the parliamentary press service said...They proposed that parents be allowed to vote for their offspring, until such time that the children felt they were ready to cast ballots themselves".

One of the partisans is named as a Free Democrat, the FDP being reasonably sound, generally. I will accept that 16, 18, 21 or whatever is an arbitrary age, and would regard dropping the voting age to 16 in these parts as being reasonable, with this the youngest age regarded as a threshold of adulthood.

What our woolly-minded German friends do not seem to have factored in is that an awful lot of pater and mater familiases will deem their progeny incompetent to vote, and should mutti, vatti and die kinder kick off in a polling station, who decides who gets to exercise the franchise? I forsee lots of litigation, lots of harassed polling officials, domestic violence and probably an outbreak of parties bribing younger voters with the promise of jelly and ice cream rather than the traditional cakes and ale.

Truly etc etc.

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Living in, erm, Bromley, is bad for you

Care of David Evennett, MP for Bexleyheath and Crayfishford:

"how many people were diagnosed with cancer in (a) Bexley and (b) London in each of the last five years?" Source

The good people of Bexley have been diagnosed with cancer at a rate of circa 1000 per year, with the prevailing level in London being 26,000 ish. So, given that Bexleyites make up some 2.9% of London's population, what of the cancer diagnosis rates?

2001 - 3.7% of all London cancer diagnoses
2002 - 3.6%
2003 - 3.6%
2004 - 3.8%
2005 - 3.7%

Historic Surrey / Kent rivalry to one side, I do not suppose the figures this side of the border are much better, and age distribution is doubtless the biggest skew relative to the London-wide stats.

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The return of 'free' school milk. Ish...

Readers of a certain vintage will remember being force-fed with milk because our overlords in the 70s wanted to inflate demand for milk 'make sure we grew up with strong bones'. The greatest peace time PM of the 20 century did away with it, fortunately.

So much for the history lesson. Our overlords in Brussels are now trying to to inflate demand for fruit 'combat child obesity' by dishing out 'free' fruit and veg to Euroyouth, and some €90 m has been earmarked for the scheme, and "Governments would have the choice of whether to participate or not. The programmes would be co-financed, either on a 50/50 basis, or 75/25 in the so-called 'convergence regions', where GDP/capita is lower".

For the sake of easy maths, let us say that there are 100 million Eurochildren out of 500 million Eurosubjects. Reasonable? So, that would mean less than 80 pence, per year, per head. Hardly worth all the hoo hah, but for the fact of the €90 m not having been magicked into life by Agriculture and Rural Development Commissar Mariann Fischer Boel.