Friday, May 23, 2003

Full of sound and fury? It’s all Europe, all the time.

Stupid Daily Express. Today they run a big story on the Euro on P4 (and the Mirror has done the same on P2) in which they quote a senior government source as saying:

‘In his meetings with ministers this week, Gordon Brown has completely allayed the fears of those who thought he wanted to keep Britain out of the eurozone. Brown is preparing to get pro-active and he will make the case for Britain’s membership as you’ve never heard it before.

He will basically tell the country that we have to make ‘one more push’. He will say the conditions are not perfect now, but he expects the economics to be right by early in the next parliament.’

This is then used as the basis for a story claiming Gordon Brown is to lead the charge for the Euro.

Well, if that’s not falling for a line, then I don’t know what is. The entire fight in the government has been about whether the Referendum should be held in the next 2 years or not. Saying that Gordon Brown is going to lead the fight for a referendum next parliament is basically saying that he’s told the Euro-enthusiast to sod off and is trying to present this as a great victory for the pro-Euro forces.

Look. On June 9th, People will make as many pro Euro noises as they can without it sounding ridiculous that we're not actually entering the Euro any time soon. The aim will be to behave like a fat man on a strict diet, hungrily eyeing the cream cakes and making sorrowful noises about how much he'd love to have one, but he has to think of his blood pressure.

Now, you might believe, with me, that the whole argument is the political equivalent of self harming and that Browns point about an economic decision is entirely valid, but at least the Express should know what the debate is before they write the story. I mean, do they really think that for the next three years, Gordon Brown is going to tour the country whipping up Euro-enthusiasm?

In other news, Denis Macshane is in trouble for stating the bleeding obvious.

" What I have always tried to make clear to all my pro-European friends calling for a referendum irrespective of the economic tests, is that that would launch a long civil war in the UK with everyone fighting everyone.

" That would be bad for Britain and bad for the international community and wouldn't help Europe.”

Macshane is a Europhile in that he loves Europe, but not apparently a “Euro”-phile about referendum timing.

Finally, there’s a very clever article in Tribune (not online) in which David Mills says

“If Tony Blair takes the advice of the Pro-Euro Camp, he’s in danger of looking like the political equivalent of the gimp in pulp fiction.

Fetishists get their kicks by taking something out of context, say, a shoe, or a Ford Capri, and investing it with enormous symbolic significance, often to the exclusion of everything else. … for it’s most ardent supporters the euro is coming to represent the fetishisation of the rest of the government’s policy.”

The only relief for having to wade through reams of pro and anti Euro twaddle is that one day this will all seem as epochmaking as bi-metallism..

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Thursday, May 22, 2003

I don't link to the National Review often..

I mean, how interested do I think you lot are in the ramblings of Amercan rightwingers (Sample headline today: Gun Control Made Hitler possible.)

But, leave that aside, gentle liberal reader, and turn you eye to this excellent article by John Derbyshire about different UK and US attitudes to Journalists. (Basically Yanks have dull newspapers written by worthies, we have interesting newsapers written by ne'erdowells) In the course of his argument he provides pen portraits of newspapers as family members. He freely admits that his account is out of date. I though I should try and help out in updating the descriptions for today.

The Times is a businessman who, while talking fluently of shareholder value and leveraged equity, secretly wishes his company still had a private dining room, plush carpets and an aura of hush, rather than open plan offices and total focus on Pay-out projections. He favours the double windsor knot to the tie and endeavours to look somewhat distant and philosophical as he sits at his computer screen staring at the share price.

The Daily Telegraph is a former captain, (always Army, never navy) who now works in some field that requires him to live in the home counties. He plays golf at his local club, and is a little florid at weekends. He is fond of talking about the fillies, and you have the vaguest sense that his sexual tastes involve corporal punishment of some kind. However, all his forgiven as his lawn is perfectly manicured and his cottage in the country is truly beautiful.

The Guardian is a social worker or other public sector professional. Earnest and serious, with a tendency to bemoan the worlds ill's and to assume that if everyone was just sensible (which always carries the hidden implication.. "like me"). She's admirable, in a suffer little children sort of way, but you can't imagine having a good night out with her. She'd probable object to getting to drunk because of the effect it has on the crime rate. Oddly, despite this censorious nature, she seem a little ineffectual. The world is going against her.

The Daily Mail is not a lady who lunches. She is a lady who goes to the gym during the day. It's important to look good., especially when you're in your.. well, let's leave that for a moment. Her husband works and she does too- but part time, perhaps in her own business. She is forthright and direct (which she thinks is a compliment) and can become shrill after a few glasses of wine at a dinner party. The most likely person you know to utter the phrase, "I'm not a racist but..."

The Sun is the builder doing your extension. Milky tea, bacon sandwiches, and a sucking noise through the teeth that says, "what cowboy did this job last time?" You can't see, but you think there a union jack tattoo under that T-shirt. He's always ostensibly friendly, but there's a troubling sense of threat just under the surface. Though your never quite sure if this is just your paranoia. Of course, if you were a real friend of his, you'd see him in a totally different light because he's got a heart of gold, and is always a good choice for a Chinky and a few lagers.

The Mirror is the Suns builder mate. Not as cockily self confident, he disguises this with a a more moderate and considered approach to things than his bras friend. However, secretly, you think he wishes he had his friends charisma and energy .

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TV review

Couple of interesting political shows on TV recently. The Situation Room- American Hostage. Basically, Big Brother for policy wonks- featuring senior diplomats and politicians roleplaying the National Security Council. Naturally, I loved it. BBC4 only, so only about 10 people watched it, but surely coming to BBC2 soon. Well worth watching when it does- even though I spent as much time wondering how they were managing to give the characters information to build their decision on. Also- couple of good Clinton Admin/Bush Admin rivalry pointers- at one point James Steinberg reflects that they can't rule out that the anthrax threat originates from Iraq "because we still don't know what happened to Iraq's anthrax after we invaded- which was one of the concerns about invading in the first place." at another point General Merritt has a dig at the Clinton Administrations propensity for ending Military contact with regimes with poor human rights records- noting that this means they don't have any contacts when the sh*t hits the fan.

Second, "State of Play" one of those thriller drama's. This time revolving around an ambitious Labour MP and a dead researcher and teenager. It's not bad, but as for detail, they're off their heads. The ambitious MP is Chair of the Energy Select committee and is predicted "to be in the cabinet within the year". What? The Chairs of Select committees never go straight to cabinet, and it's not exaclty the kind of job an ambitious young hack chases after. A look at any of our select Committee chairs will tell you that. (Martin O'Neill? Donald Anderson? -Public Accounts is a possible exception). Would it have been beyond the realms of possibility to make him a junior energy minister? Second, the big drama where the MP broke down at a packed press briefing for the Energy select committee. I'll say that again, a packed press briefing for the energy select committee. I'd wager a tenner that if the chair of the DTI Select committee tried to hold a press briefing he'd barely get a journalist. (Unless he was about to say that we'd run out of oil).

Honestly. It's enough to make you understand what policemen feel about "the Bill".

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The Dark Heart of the Drugs war

Nick Davies is starting a major series on the British “Drug war” in the Guardian. Or rather he’s starting a major series in the Guardian on the failings of the drug war.

Nick is one of the few journalists I admire. He combines deep commitment to his subjects, passion, intellectual honesty and a degree (though only a degree) of objectivity. Plus, he’s a great writer. He has style and energy. He brings the facts alive. The last time I mentioned his work was to recommend his “Dark Heart” as one of the best books on poverty and it’s implications in recent years. (Peter Cuthbertson’s reading it, but I’m not sure what he makes of it yet)

Now Nick takes an unflinching look at how we are fighting the Drug war, and it doesn’t make pretty reading.

“There is no shortage of information for drug users. There is masses of advice and support. There is anger management and debt management and counselling, both group and individual. There is aromatherapy and acupuncture and careers advice and nutritional advice. This could help new users or old users who have given up. But where on this tragic roundabout is the treatment, which is going to transform the life of a career criminal who has spent the last 10 years on heroin?

……from the 4,500 chaotic users with Bristol addresses who are targeted by the DAT, only 256 will have access to detox”

Now, before you Conservatives get too excited, Mr Davies' preferred solution to the drug war is that Heroin should be legalised, but that analysis doesn;t affect the accuracy of his observations on the way that we currently treat addicts (or fail to treat them). He argues that the centralisation of programmes does not just focus attention on targets, but take away attention from treatment and into securing and spending funding, while at the same time, the core addict, the criminal, the sick, malnourished, vicious addict sspiralling into a life of povery, crime and misery is more or less left to their own devices.

This stuff matters, because I believe this cultural failing is real, and is a problem for this government (truth be told, for any government). In a way, this reminds me of the divided between Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society programmes for urban regeneration and Robert Kennedy’s idea’s for community based regeneration and development.

The fundamental issue is that if you devolve power and money down to the local level you get programmes going in different directions, ineffectiveness, and on occasion corruption. In effect, the entire success of your project is dependent on whether your local people are any good and want to do what you suggest.

On the other hand, by devlolving power, you get quicker, faster action- and what’s more action that is tailored for the communities you want to target.

It’s not always wrong to centralise power- For example, if you want to felectrify the soviet union in 5 years, or build a big dam, you're going to have to do it, but all parties in politics need to address themselves to how well their policy works in any given situation, In this situation, the Whitehall, contract based, programme based, inititive focussed does not seem to be delivering.

Go and read the whole thing and then let's have a debate.

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Tuesday, May 20, 2003

Memo to Americans. No-one cares about your Blair

I have one of those news trackers that alerts me to coverage in the US about Tony Blair. So as soon as I worked out that Jayson Blair was an American Journalist who made some stuff up, I thought I had the story covered.

Apparently not. As far as I can tell from US Blogs, this is the biggest issue of my holiday. To me, this is about as exciting a revelation as the news that a 27 year old accountant can't add up or a 27 year old lawyer didn't bother reading their case notes before the trial.

This story is boring, parochial, and utterly, utterly trivial. When Presidents lie it's a news story. When young journalists pretend they're good at their job it's not.The citizens of the globe care not one whit about it. Stop talking about it. Please.

On the other hand, I can't wait to read the inevitable Big Brother 4 blog.

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Monday, May 19, 2003

Well, never go on holiday..

You can’t leave these politicians alone for a minute.

You slip off after the elections for a couple of weeks well earned rest and recreation and all hell is let loose. I can heartily recommend holidaying in a moderate islamic country by the way. For some unaccountable reason, places are quiet, prices are low and you have an enjoyable sense of bravery whilst at the same time promoting international relations via the drinking of beer and the flaunting of athletically honed bodies. Hmmm. Perhaps doing more harm than good there.

Well, to review the last two weeks. Clare Short has resigned, we have our first Black Female cabinet minister- and more deliciously, she’s a Baroness. My BNP correspondent in the comments section must hate that. Still, what can he expect, I mean, the multicultural society is so successful that he’s forced to spend time posting comments on a political website written by someone he’d like to deport.

Since I don't know that my BNP correpondent is the person I suspect (Kevin Scott, Northumbria University and B&Q- a guess based on e-mail address, intellectual ability and political knowledge), I put it only like that, although of course, In the past, Kevin Scott preferred a more… direct approach to my type of person than commenting on our websites.

Then we’ve had apparently two weeks of fevered Euro speculation. This I don’t understand. It’s completely obvious what’s going to happen, at least in the short term. As I said before going on holiday:

“…a formula will be found that leaves the door just about open to a referendum, but in reality making it quite difficult for such a referendum to happen (basically requiring a shift in economic fundamentals).

Why? Simply because all the other options are a disaster. If the door is shut, the pro-Euro folks will go ape and a huge part of the intellectual support for the PM will go off the reservation permanently (See some of the Guardian and Independent commentators for a foretaste of this). If the referendum could easily be held next year, it will be clear that the decision will be made on political, not economic grounds. Either way, the futures of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown look very uncomfortable. So they both have an interest in making sure neither option comes to pass.”

I see no reason to change that assessment. Though of course some of our more excitable politicians and correspondents will gather together to produce a crop of stories suggesting otherwise between tomorrow’s cabinet and the June the 9th announcement.

The other big Euro issue is the Convention on the Future of Europe. For me, the big story here is that no Britsh government has yet been able to come to terms with the fact that the British people are fundamentally not, in Chris Patten’s elegant phrase “mad about Europe” (oh, some of them are mad about Europe, but not in the way that Mr Patten imagines.

Every government wants to engage, because of the benefits of free trade, co-operation, strong diplomatic links, lower costs of government, higher economic growth, but in the end they have to pull back because the British people show a marked reluctance to pay much of a price for these things. It’s an uneasy relationship, but in a strange way a stable one. The big prize in British politics goes to the politician who can cut this gordian knot. My suggestion? What the hell’s the problem with a two speed Europe?

Finally, the Tories are enjoying a fair wind. First of all they’re abolishing tuition fees. (Paid for by letting fewer people into university: best of luck in the exams Peter, be glad you’re studying under a Labour government!) Imagine my surprise to return to a slew of articles (For example, this one in the Sunday Times) saying that the Tories are on the edge of a revival. Well, I underestimated how much the Tories would be lifted by a moderate to decent performance in the local elections. However, I don’t think it changes the fundamental issue. I’m with Andrew Rawnsley.

Ahhh… it’s good to be back.

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