40 minutes ago
1 hour ago
1 hour ago
1 hour ago
1 hour ago
2 hours ago
2 hours ago
3 hours ago
4 hours ago
4 hours ago
5 hours ago
10 hours ago
13 hours ago
13 hours ago
14 hours ago
15 hours ago
20 hours ago
21 hours ago
21 hours ago
1 day ago
1 day ago
1 day ago
1 day ago
1 day ago
2 days ago
3 days ago
4 days ago
4 days ago
5 days ago
5 days ago
5 days ago
6 days ago
1 week ago
1 week ago
1 week ago
3 weeks ago
3 weeks ago
3 weeks ago
4 weeks ago
4 weeks ago
4 weeks ago
5 weeks ago
2 months ago
2 months ago
2 months ago
3 months ago
3 months ago
3 months ago
3 months ago
3 months ago
3 months ago
4 months ago
5 months ago
6 months ago
7 months ago
8 months ago
8 months ago
9 months ago
11 months ago
11 months ago
11 months ago
1 year ago
1 year ago
1 year ago
1 year ago
1 year ago
1 year ago
1 year ago
1 year ago
1 year ago
1 year ago
2 years ago
2 years ago
2 years ago
2 years ago
2 years ago
2 years ago
2 years ago
2 years ago
- ► 2011 (1596)
- ► 2010 (1372)
- ► 2009 (1557)
- ► 2008 (1456)
- ► 2007 (1691)
- Shoddy pieces of work
- A question of sources
- The curse of the Eurofighter
- And a very happy birthday to you, too
- Not made up their minds yet
- The retreat from politics – Part III
- A brave face
- Taking the Michael
- The retreat from politics - Part II
- Not impressed
- Another costly and wasteful exercise?
- Admission of failure
- Unrest in Teheran
- Lord Pearson's Bill
- Pot, meet kettle
- The "happy snaps" war
- The retreat from politics
- Hung out to dry
- Against the law for MPs to save lives
- Taliban preparing new tactics
- The window is closing
- Muppets' half hour
- Another coalition in the making
- Time to overcome outdated guilt
- Why should we care?
- A reminder
- Grannies for Gaza
- UNIFIL "shows its teeth"
- Dereliction of duty?
- It's the way they tell 'em
- They come and they go
- So much waste paper
- No cheap booze online
- It can be revealed…
- The pictures are telling the story
- Moving to the end game
- Nothing had prepared me for this…
- Riga mortis
- We are not alone
- Disaster tourism
- More about la Ségo
- Just in
- You can't beat something with nothing
- Praise indeed
- Same old, same old ...
- Repeat after me: I am Leader of Her Majesty's Oppo...
- Somewhat limited visions
- Womens' issues
- Apparently not
- Muddled thinking
- A different perspective
- Do we have an opposition?
- For the record
- Have they missed anything?
- They're waking up
- Another day, another international proposal
- They can't cope with freedom
- French socialists pick candidate
- I cannot resist this
- Serious Shi'ite
- Tarred with the same brush?
- A picture that cost £765 million
- Turkey's first quid pro quo
- Except for the recriminations
- Another one gone
- Let's do it!
- Love it!
- When the fishing has to stop
- When the music has to stop
- The new Euroscepticism
- Be afraid, be very afraid
- I guess this explains it
- A freakin water-taxi!
- Squandered lives 2
- I expect his family will be pleased
- Any ideas on how to go about this?
- Not a pretty sight
- Leaving, on a jet plane…
- How we see it
- Sovereignty up in smoke
- Justice is as justice does
- The Beeb strikes again
- Grannies or garbage?
- The haemorrhage continues
- Uncharted waters
- We do not forget
- Not guilty!
- Apparently the American system is not dying after ...
- The amateurs at the Beeb
- What a buffoon
- And still the MSM sleeps
- We are all going to die
- And the message is?
- We are not being told the half of it
- How could any of them be wrong?
- A wrong 'un from the start
- President Kaczynski goes to London
- We could have told them that…
- Mine your own business
- Will this help the Republicans?
- The Beeb does it again
- Here we go again
- What Mr Prodi needs
- That "wow!" factor
- A paradox
- And so it begins...
- Final words on the Budapest riots
- Tipping points
- Another courageous journalist
- Out in the open
- One to die for
- The Al-Dura case revisited
- Make Europe your revenge
- Well, what do you know?
- A Single European blackout
- Hang 'em all
- Santa's giant dustbin
- Cost-effective defence
- Hot air everywhere
- Missing the bigger picture
- What will we have gained?
- Sparing his blushes?
- I really must stop doing this…
- Never pick a fight with a sweep
- Toys Яn't Us
- Cock-up or conspiracy?
- It ain't overfishing
- Euro impossible…
- Impotence revealed
- All we hear is silence
- It died of boredom
- Do they know something?
- Hearts and minds?
- God is on our side!
- It's The Sun wot fluffs it
- Germany to dump EU constitution?
- An exercise in self-indulgence
- ▼ November (139)
- ► 2005 (1784)
UPDATE: "Myers thought his appearance was at a closed academic forum." See addition at the end of this post.
It is not just the lack of professionalism that gets you – it is also the pig ignorance, although it is difficult to see where one stops and the other starts.
Furthermore, the disease is not just confined to the Daily Telegraph today, where Toby Harnden has a story headlined: "Britain's special relationship 'just a myth'", which has a "State Department Analyst", telling us that "Blair has got nothing in return for supporting Bush over Iraq".
We see the same malaise more prominently on the front page of The Times, where Tom Baldwin in Washington and Philip Webster, political editor, write a story headed: "London's bridge is falling down" – a "Damning verdict on one-sided US-UK relations after Iraq".
Both papers report of a speech given by a man who goes by the name of Kendall Myers. Harnden refers to him variously as "a senior American official", a "leading State Department adviser" and only latterly, way down the page, as a "senior analyst with the State Department's Bureau of Analysis and Research" - a title that is actually wrong. We are also told by Harden that Myers was speaking in a lecture in Washington at the School of Advanced International Studies, part of the Johns Hopkins University.
Baldwin and Webster, on the other hand, content themselves with describing "Dr Myers" as a "senior State Department analyst" speaking at an "academic forum" in Washington.
Therein lies the lack of professionalism. Actually, I am being too kind and too measured. These are lies - lies of omission. They cannot really be accidental as Harnden (pictured), writing in his own Telegraph clog refers to Myers as "an academic who is also a US government official". He knows but choses to omit that information from his piece.
Thus, lie number one perpetrated by the journalists in their respective print editions: Myers is not just a State Department official. Actually, he is not even a State Department official in the sense that such a bald description would imply – a policy-maker close to the centres of power. More accurately he is - as Harnden tries to tell us but gets wrong - a "senior analyst for the Bureau of Intelligence and Research at the US Department of State".
And, as the website informs, the Bureau:
…provides value-added independent analysis of events to Department policymakers, ensures that intelligence activities support foreign policy and national security purposes; and serves as the focal point in the Department for ensuring policy review of sensitive counterintelligence and law enforcement activities. INR's primary mission is to harness intelligence to serve US diplomacy.Myers is one of those curious American political animals, double-hatted as an academic cum US State Department apparatchik. But in government circles, he is very much a herbivore, well down the food chain.
As to his academic credentials, he is billed on the leaflet adverting the speech which reports, as "SAIS European Studies Adjunct Professor" – information the hacks must have known.
As to the "SAIS", this is the School of Advanced International Studies, which is part of John Hopkins University. More specifically, it is part of the Center for Transatlantic Relations, sporting these logos on its website. That, in turn is part of ACES, the EU Center of Excellence, Washington DC, an organisation which exists to spread information (i.e., propaganda) about the EU. It has "been recognized as the EU Center for Washington DC, one of a select number of Centers for European Union Studies in the United States."
Now for lie number two: the lecture (delivered on 28 November) was not just delivered at an "academic forum" or the School of Advanced International Studies, part of Johns Hopkins University. It was part of what was specifically billed (scroll down - advertised on the panel on the right of the page) as one of the "European Studies Lecure (sic) Series" organised by the Center for Transatlantic Relations.
Furthermore, Myers was speaking alongside Anatol Lieven, Fellow, New American Foundation, and Robin Niblett, Vice President and Director of the European Studies Program, Center for Strategic and International Studies, two distinctly Europhile organisations.
In other words, Myers, an obscure analyst (so obscure, we can only find one photograph of him, and then we are not even sure that is him) in an outcrop of the State Department, well down the food chain, is also an academic at an EU-sponsored institution - and not even a full professor - speaking at a seminar organised by that institution alongside other Europhiles.
Now, had we known all this, would it have made any difference to our perception of the stories presented by both The Times and The Telegraph? My suspicion is that it might just. In fact, with the full background, one might take the view that it was a non-story, simply an opinionated (and ill-informed) diatribe by a man of little consequence.
But the real killer is the same Kendall Myers, speaking in December 2003 in a seminar entitled "Global Geopolitical Trends: Is the Iraq War a Major Turning Point?"
Then Myers seemed to have a completely different view of his subject, saying that "the Anglo-American relationship is very strong, but it faces significant challenges within Tony Blair's party", then adding:
The Iraq war clarified the reality of a squirming, complex world. Within the United States, foreign policymaking has been decentralized. The State Department is marginalized and even the Pentagon, which calls the shots, is frustrated because the war has put unlimited American power out of business."Will the real Kendall Myers stand up?" one might be tempted to ask. But what one is not tempted to do is fisk his speech. It was not even worth printing. The man really doesn't know what he is talking about, has no idea actually what the "special relationship" is – a misconception he shares with David Cameron, a man who he apparently admires – and completely misunderstands its historical relationship with another, completely different and later policy of the "transAtlantic bridge".
It is there that the journos show their ignorance as they blather unknowingly about both the "special relationship" and the "bridge". I really do not know what they were taught at school or their universities (amazingly, Harnden took a degree at Corpus Christi College, Oxford, being awarded a First in Modern History in 1988) but before they next start pontificating, perhaps they ought to read Churchill’s Fulton speech - all of it – and not just selected extracts from it.
This time, they should have listened to the State Department which, as The Times actually reported, had disowned Myers. A State Department spokesman, Terry Davidson, said: "The views expressed by Mr Myers do not represent the views of the US Government. He was speaking as an academic (an adjunct professor of European studies - ed.), not as a representative of the State Department." He was also speaking crap.
But then, had our dire, lazy and unprofessional hacks noted all this, they would not have had a story. And, as we all know, the story comes first. They should be - but of course will not be - thoroughly ashamed of themselves for their shoddy pieces of work.
The AP via International Herald Tribune is running a piece which tells us:
The State Department repudiated on Thursday comments by a veteran department analyst who said that British Prime Minister Tony Blair's relationship with the United States was "totally one-sided" in Washington's favor.Er… excuse me! From the flyer advertising the lecture:
Deputy spokesman Tom Casey said Kendall Myers, the official who made the off-message remarks, was summoned by his superiors at the Bureau of Intelligence and Research to a meeting to explain his remarks.
"The comments, frankly, I think could be described as ill-informed, and I think, from our perspective, just plain wrong," Casey said.
Myers is a 30-year member of the civil service and is an expert in U.S. British relations. He spoke Tuesday to a gathering at the Johns Hopkins School for Advanced International Studies, where he is an adjunct professor. Casey said Myers thought his appearance was at a closed academic forum.
Lectures are open to the public. No reply is necessary. Lectures take place on Tuesday evenings in the Rome Auditorium (1619 Mass. Avenue, N.W., first floor). Talks begin at 5pm and are followed by a question and answer period. From 6:15 to 7:15pm, there is a reception for speaker and audience.If Myers thought he was at a closed academic forum, then he is either more stupid than we thought or, as they say, being somewhat economical with the truth.
There is some seriously good work being done in the blogsphere on the story of the burning sunnis, with Michelle Malkin doing a superb anchor job.
The issue revolves around the credentials of a source who claimed the incident occurred, claimed by AP to be a police captain but disowned (or about to be) the Iraqi Ministry of the Interior and the US Military.
Therein lies the key to good (and bad journalism) – the reliability or otherwise of our sources. Rarely does a journo actually witness events or express a direct opinion – everything is done through the prism of a network of "sources". And in the AP story, that source seems to be very unreliable indeed, calling into question to veracity of the whole story.
This is our modern dilemma – never so much have we had so much information, in volume terms, much of it coming through the internet. But what the internet also shows us it that multiple outlets often have but a single source. How many times do you look on Google News for instance, to see a story reported in hundreds of newspapers, only to find that all the reports are copy-outs of one agency report?
In any news report, therefore, it is vital that we know who or what the sources are and whether they are reliable. Amongst other things, the job of the news agencies and the journalists who work for the direct media – those which communicate directly with the public – is to ensure that sources are reliable or, where they are partial, to make the nature of that partiality clear.
That is vital when the thrust of any story is reliant on the opinion or uncorroborated evidence of one source. Where the source is coming from can make all the difference to how a story is viewed.
And, while the "burning sunnis" are rightly getting plenty of attention from American bloggers, in their own back yard is an equally insidious form of misrepresentation, as conveyed in a story by our own Daily Telegraph. Written by Toby Harnden, it is headlined: "Britain's special relationship 'just a myth'". But, Mr Harnden, who is the myth-maker?
We will be pointing up a few little inconsistencies in a new post, as soon as we can get it written. And the photograph … one definitely in the style of Qanagate – see here for how dishonestly it has been used.
It's carrier time again, but with a difference. When we visited the story last, on 1 November, a decision on awarding the build contract seemed imminent. But, according to The Telegraph, it is not to be.
A decision on building the aircraft carriers faces further delays, says the paper, because the MoD and manufacturers cannot agree on the price. The ministry thinks the £3.8 billion asking price is too high and wants to shave £200 million off the tag. But agreement, we are told, is not even close and it will be next year before we get a decision – if at all.
Then there is the Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter (JSF), and despite the Dutch decision to go ahead with the purchase, and an Australian decision shortly, there is nothing yet from the MoD.
One cannot help but think that there are more to these delays than meet the eye, not least the strain on the defence budget as numerous defence contracts come to fruition.
By far the most expensive of those is the Eurofighter. Now coming on stream, the production bills have to be paid and Gordon was no doubt looking to some relief from the Saudi decision to buy 72 aircraft, which would have come out of the British allocation.
But, with the news that the Saudis have suspended contract negotiations on the £10 billion deal, after concerns about a corruption investigation being carried out by the Serious Fraud Office, you can see why Gordon would want to delay making key decisions in other areas. He might be waiting until the dust has settled and he knows how much money he has to spend.
What we might be seeing, therefore, is the curse of the Eurofighter. Late into service and grossly over-budget, it was already casting a shadow over the defence budget and now it might just be affecting the carrier and JSF purchases. No wonder they want to call it the Typhoon – a somewhat vain attempt to break the Euro-curse.
After the rather damp squib of the EU-Russia summit (well, they did agree that at some point very soon Russia will allow Siberian overflights without having to pay toll to Aeroflot) and the general coolth between the West in Russia (not unconnected with mysterious deaths of people who have written interesting accounts of what goes on in Putin’s Russia) l’escroc Chirac decided to take a hand.
It is his 74th birthday today and he has invited his bestest friend President Putin to Riga where the NATO summit is busy not coming to any agreement (but I shall leave that to my colleague).
U.S. and NATO officials were more amused than angry. "Typical Chirac," said a U.S. diplomat. "Trying to upstage NATO, Bush and Latvia."Maybe President Putin or President Chirac had forgotten that Latvia is no longer a Russian colony.
A statement from Chirac's office in Paris said: "President Putin expressed the wish to meet the president of the republic to extend his best wishes as he has done with other heads of state and government."
"Since the president of the republic is in Riga for the NATO summit, Russia proposed the idea of a three-way dinner at the end of the summit, which the President of Latvia, Mrs. Vaira Vike- Freiberga, would host," it said. The Latvian president's office had no comment.
This is a particularly difficult time as far as France and NATO are concerned (though, come to think of it, when is it not):
Paris is opposed to NATO's establishing special partnerships with Australia, New Zealand, Japan and other countries participating in NATO missions. Paris also dislikes the idea of NATO training programs for the Middle East, arguing that the alliance could be used as an instrument of U.S. foreign policy.Several European members (France and Germany, in particular) are opposed to Georgia joining NATO because Putin dislikes that idea. Georgia’s membership may or may not be a good idea but it should be discussed on its own merits not in a climate of fear of the Russian president’s heavy frown.
Anyway, the Americans and the Latvians, who as host nation were particularly displeased by Chirac's somewhat arrogant behaviour, can rest easy. President Putin excused himself from attending l'Escroc's birthday celebrations.
It seems that Her Majesty's Government (or HMG as it is known not so affectionately) has not exactly made up its mind about the use of non-metric measurements becoming illegal from 2010. Of course, that does not really matter since it is not HMG or Parliament that makes the necessary decision.
However, it is instructive to read the mealy-mouthed responses the noble Minister, Lord Truscott, made on Monday to a Starred Question put down by Lord Pearson of Rannoch (yes, him again):
My Lords, the use of imperial units alongside metric units is permitted by current legislation until 31 December 2009. The Government think that there is a strong case for extending this permission beyond that date and, perhaps, permanently. We await with interest a consultation paper from the European Commission, which is expected to address this issue.The rest of the short debate was taken up by a number of noble lords pointing out the stupidity and economic nonsense of making the printing of non-metric measurements a criminal offence. Exactly, what business is it of the government’s (and I do mean the one in Brussels), anyway?
There is also a priceless intervention by Lord Dykes, who seems to think that metric equals progressive, despite the fact that the world’s largest economy, which is still doing better than any European one, prefers to go on using imperial measurements.
There is so much happening at the moment that stories are stacking up on my machine waiting to be done. The danger is that you get overloaded and end up writing nothing.
One to watch is the outcome of the Nato summit in Riga. According to the Canadian Globe and Mail - a paper I am rather warming to – this has been far from an unqualified success. Says the paper:
Nato leaders put on a brave faces of unity Wednesday but managed to scrape together only a few hundred more soldiers to send to Afghanistan. "We came here expecting to make real progress and I think we have done that," said Nato Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer at the end of a two-day alliance summit in Latvia. But he admitted that newly pledged forces from the 26-nation military alliance amounted to only "several infantry companies" — meaning perhaps 500 soldiers.This I must write about at some length in due course as there are important implications - is this really the best we can do?
Meanwhile, there is also a story unravelling - via Michelle Malkin - another increasingly suspect attempt by AP to manipulate the news. I'll try and do a treatment on this later but will concentrate on producing the third part of "retreat from politics", which I hope to have up today.
The photograph, incidentally, is of the near-deserted streets of Riga in Latvia, guarded by troops as Nato leaders hold their summit. I love the "toy" – does anyone know what it is?
It always was going to be an unbalanced week, with a heavy focus on military issues, plus the Tory analysis. We could not ignore the Cameron visit to Iraq, the UAV story had to be done, and there are other "toy" stories waiting in the wings. Then we have the Nato Summit, and now the Browne speech, with some more developments in... you guessed it, Iraq.
However, we've done the overnight post on Browne and related matters here and will try to catch up with a wider range of stories over the next few days.
James Harding of The Times is not impressed with the Boy. He writes:
David Cameron has chosen to be photographed among men in uniform, rather than men in suits. And, as photo-opportunities go, Basra may make a lot more sense than the CBI conference. But his decision to drop out of the annual summit to go to Iraq is an unnecessary and, for a politician sensitive to symbolism, unusual blunder. The mistake will only add to the growing doubts about the Tory leader in British boardrooms, stoking the perception that he has an unreliable and ambivalent attitude to business.Meanwhile, the latest poll, from Communicate Research in The Independent gives Labour 36 points (up 4), the Conservatives at 34 (down 4) and the Lib-Dems at 17 (up 3). The "others" stand at 13 (down three). This is after the Darfur photo shoot, which suggests that the stunt didn't work.
Neither, incidentally, does the Basra stunt seem to have worked. Up to press, no photographs of the Boy communing with hunky squaddies seem to have been published. And Michael Harrison, in The Independent (not the Tories' best friend), writes: "It is hard to know who to feel more sorry for - the CBI delegates denied a chance to hear David Cameron speak or the troops in Iraq who had to listen to him instead."
Big deal, you might say. She fails every time she posts on the blog. But this one really hurts. I was asked to write an article on Cohesion Funds and why they were an extremely bad idea economically, politically and fiscally by the only German-language eurosceptic publication Die Weltwoche.
I wrote the article and it was duly translated and published. The aim was to warn the good burghers of Switzerland (and everyone else in that country, naturally) that paying over large sums of money to the EU supposedly to help the new member states would do nothing of the kind.
There will be no accounting for this money any more than there has been for other sums that have been swallowed in the great black hole, named the EU budget. The only reason the Swiss are being blackmailed (well, emotionally blackmailed) is because the EU has no money to fulfil its vague promises to the East European countries, whose politicians managed to get those votes in favour of membership by promises of extensive largesse that is not, at present, forthcoming. After all, the countries that have been receiving Cohesion Funds (with the exception of Ireland) go on receiving them, despite being considerably better off than the new members.
Alas, my arguments did not work any more than anybody else’s. On a low turn-out (44.4 per cent) the Swiss voted in favour of the law to hand over to the EU 1 billion Swiss francs ($830 million, £430 million, €630 million) to help the ten new member states.
The arguments in favour of handing over the money ran along two lines. On the one hand, the backers said, if we do not give the East Europeans financial help, their economies will go belly up and immigrants will pour into Switzerland as well as other countries.
On the other hand, if we do not hand money over to the EU:
could lead the European Union to take a new, hard line in future negotiations with Switzerland. Cooperation agreements on transit, energy and research issues between Switzerland and the EU are all currently under discussion.Delightful. The opponents glumly pointed out that once you have paid the Danegeld you never get rid of the Dane (or whatever the Swiss equivalent of that is and with apologies to the present population of Denmark). In other words, the EU will not be satisfied with what they have. They will demand more and use this result as an argument for future financial exactions.
In fact, rather menacingly:
It also means that Bulgaria and Romania, which are slated to join the EU on Jan. 1 and do not currently stand to benefit from the funds, could be included in future payments without popular approval.At some point the Swiss will have to call a halt to this extortion and wealth redistribution.
In accordance with our policy to try to report about the suppression of free speech in at least some countries that are considerably less fortunate than this one, we bring news of yet more unrest at the University of Teheran where students have clashed with the Mad Mullahs' thugs. Gateway Pundit.
The noble lord does not waste his time. No sooner have the debates on the Queen’s Speech began (a sign, it seems, for senior members of the Government and the Opposition to disappear from the Commons) than Lord Pearson of Rannoch introduced his European Union (Implications of Withdrawal) Bill.
This Bill has been before Parliament before but for all of that one might expect a little bit of attention from the MSM. After all, there is periodic wittering about the need to reform, the need to look forward, blah-blah-blah. One would, of course, be wrong.
The purpose of the Bill is to
Establish a Committee of Inquiry into the implications of withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union.Not much to ask but, as it happens, we shall not be opening a book on whether it happens. No point in betting against a certainty.
Through PajamasMedia I find a hitherto unknown to me blog, Brutally Honest, which boasts of “plain thoughts, delivered roughly”. Usually, that sort of thing makes me run a mile, rather the way I used to run from students who told me that they were “rebellious”, “alternative” or just “unable to pretend”.
All the same, this posting is worth reading. Apparently Cherie Blair, erstwhile first lady and still wife of the Prime Minister, as well as sister to one of the “I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here” participants, had been invited to give a talk to the students of Roehampton University. She proceeded to use this talk to attack journalists and journalism, proclaiming that there was “no professional morality in journalism”; that journalists “have no ethics”; and that it was “not a noble calling”.
According to the Independent, the students were stunned. Stunned, I tell you. I find that rather hard to understand. Who actually believes that journalism is a noble calling or that journalists have ethics? As for professional morality that tends to have something to do with getting a story and publishing it, which is precisely what Mrs Blair seems to dislike about them. Presumably, if the stories were entirely positive and drooling as they were in the early days of the Blairs’ rise to the top, she would not be calling the kettle black.
One assumes that the woman dislikes the fact that the press has published details of the many freebies she has collected over the years and the personal use she has put her husband’s position. A lecture in the United States, while the two of them were there on an official visit, for which she was paid and which was, outrageously, introduced by the British Ambassador springs to mind.
Other lectures about being a Prime Minister’s wife accompanied by “shopping” trips where no money changed hands also seem to loom in one’s memory. Hairdressers’ bills, anyone?
And don’t even get me on the subject of those nauseating family holiday pictures.
Late last night, Booker and I were discussing the extraordinary situation where the three leading politicians of this nation seemed to have abandoned the "soundbite" in favour of the photo-opportunity as a means of conveying their messages to the voting public.
But not only have they been expending their energies (and our money) on acquiring an ever wider range of pictures for the album, there is – as we noted - a distinct difference in the message the politicians are trying to convey. Of late, the Blair-Brown "team" have concentrated on the bellicose while the Boy Cameron has been after the fluffy, "caring" shots.
However, as the polls seem to be indicating that the "man from Mars" pics were giving Gordon Brown the lead on the hard-edged issues, Booker and I agreed, somewhat cynically we thought, that we would shortly see the Boy setting up some soldier shots for himself.
Prescient or what? This morning we see the news that the Boy has ditched a long-standing appointment to speak to the CBI at their annual conference (seriously upsetting them in the process), instead dashing over to Iraq for a photo-opportunity with some soldiers.
Officially, the Boy is in Iraq on a "fact-finding" tour with William Hague, his shadow foreign secretary. He says he wanted to show his support to the troops and hear their experiences.
But the amount of "fact finding" he can do in the space of a day trip – which includes getting there and back – has to be very limited. In fact, a comment on the Iain Dale blog sets out the likely scenario for such a visit (albeit in a different context - but you get the drift):
...do you think his handlers will allow him to be put anywhere near some real frontline troopies? There'd be some carefully staged photo op of him in shirtsleeves talking at a group of carefully selected, neatly washed and ironed squaddies. Then a couple of shots of him enjoying a "typical meal" with the same squaddies all of whom would be under orders not to speak unless spoken to and to smile politely.In truth, the fact-finding is a charade. The Boy is there for some happy snaps in front of some hunky squaddies, to square up his portfolio which is becoming dangerously unbalanced. He has overdone it on the "touchy-feely" shots.
There'd be the obligatory macho shot of him sitting on a tank or field gun. And maybe, if he really felt his martial credibility needed bolstering, one of him in a hilltop op watching a distant explosion through a pair of high powered binoculars. At no time will he meet frontline soldiers nor go within fifty miles of the enemy. And nobody he might meet would be allowed to display their bad manners by raising matters like equipment and supply deficiencies.
There is, of course, plenty of precedent for politicans, from Churchill and before, lining up to have themselves snapped with the troops. Famously, the "Iron Lady" – Margaret Thatcher – got herself photographed actually in a tank. But, while she may have got away with it, I suspect the Boy is just going to look faintly ridiculous - whatever he does.
A long piece for you, posted here, so long that I have had to break it into three parts, with only the first completed.
I have been thinking about this for weeks, if not months, and totally obsessed with it for several days now. The first part is analysis of why Cameron and his "not-the-Conservative-Party" are going to lose the next general election. The second is my view of what the Party must do to win and the third outlines why it cannot and will not change – and is thus doomed to lose.
Then, by way of a conclusion, I assess the consequences of a Conservative failure, both nationally and internationally. It is not, as they say, a pretty sight.
This picture of a British solider pointing his rifle at an Arab woman caused outrage amongst the Guardianistas earlier this year when it was published. But it is easy point-scoring for the armchair liberals who do not have to face the prospect of being attacked by a suicide bomber.
What we cannot see from the picture, however, is the sight fitted to the rifle but, if it had been a thermal imager, the "Vipir", as described by Marine Sergeant Stephen Brown, then the soldier could have picked up the tell-tale "cold-spot" caused by the explosives belt and, with the imager attached to the rifle, could have shot the bomber (if need be) before he or she got close enough to do any damage.
Having lost one of his men to a suicide bomber, Sergeant Brown was particularly keen to have more of such sights, his platoon being issued with three instead of the 25 it needs. "These units will save people's lives," says Brown. "They allow you to look at the potential threat and see him coming, but having to pass them around by hand and pick up your weapon – by that time he's on top of you."
Thus it was that Sergeant Brown went public in the Daily Mail initially, spilling the beans to Matthew Hickley, defence correspondent.
The issue, as we know from the piece posted on this blog was picked up by other media outlets and, in particular, by Shaun Ley of BBC Radio's World at One news programme.
Ley had the opportunity to interview the procurement minister, Lord Drayson, about this specific issue but, as we recorded, he completely blew it. In his ignorance, he allowed Drayson to confuse thermal imaging sights with the standard-issue night vision goggles (illustrated below), which work on a completely different basis.
As can be seen from the illustrations, the green picture is from the night vision goggles, which act as light intensifiers, while the grey-coloured frame is the thermal imager, showing how it picks up infra-red radiation. The latter is entirely independent of the visible light spectrum and can be adjusted for daylight use, unlike the light intensifiers.
The confusion, however, has "killed" the story, evidenced by a short piece at the end of another story in The Times yesterday, reading:
Lord Drayson, the Defence Procurement Minister, said that he was unaware of ammunition shortages or equipment problems in Afghanistan after claims by a Royal Marines sergeant that troops in Helmand province did not have enough grenades, night-vision equipment or armoured vehicles.Unless the Mail or another media source returns to the story, the issue is now effectively dead. Of course, us bloggers could try to make an issue of it but I doubt we have the power, on our own to make the issue stick. Then, I doubt even that many will try.
Interestingly, last week we did see the famous (in his own lunch-time) Tory blogger, Iain Dale wonder which of our brave servicemen will have the "courage" to ask Gordon Brown these two questions:
How many British soldiers have died in Iraq and Afghanistan because your government won't provide the equipment the armed services have said they need? How much of this is down to you and the Treasury refusing to authorise the MoD to buy the equipment?But, while Dale has been known to get the occasional quickie "tee-hee" story out of defence issues, now that Sergeant Brown has put himself out on a limb, I suspect we will hear nothing further from him.
Nor indeed is it likely that we will hear anything from the Tory defence team, which seems incapable of handling such issues. And the Boy Cameron, of course, is far too grand to concern himself with such trivial matters. Once again, therefore, we are confronting a failure of the political process, where even our troops on the front line cannot rely on MPs for support.
As a result, Marine Sergeant Stephen Brown's men are still at risk through inadequate equipment - and are likely to remain so - while he, the good Sergeant, has been hung out to dry.
That's what Booker writes today, picking up on pieces we did in March, September and this month.
Amongst other things, he writes about retro-reflective tape. Because of the confusion between EU law and UN provisions, our own MPs were not allowed to introduce a law making this compulsory on large lorries. As a result, the figures suggest that there are more than 300 people alive in Britain today who, because Parliament could not make its use compulsory, will by 2011 have met with very nasty deaths.
That is 300 dead people - real people, flesh and blood, whose lives could have been saved... yet another benefit of the EU. And there are plenty of others that Booker discusses.
But hey! Who cares ... it's only Booker ranting. Don't have to take it seriously chaps - he is a Eurosceptic, after all. What's a few more corpses littering the roads? Small price to pay for keeping the peace between France and Germany, old boy!
"The West is losing patience with Putin" says The Daily Telegraph leader, railing against the murder of Alexander Litvinenko, even though the paper admits that there is, as yet, no evidence linking the poisoning of to the Kremlin. Nevertheless, that does not stop it declaring:
Until now, the West has tended to overlook Mr Putin's authoritarianism, largely for the sake of a quiet life. But there must come a point when our patience runs out. It is one thing to tyrannise your people; quite another to presume to do so on British territory.Conspicuously absent from the newspaper, however, is the news for which The Times and many others find room – that Russia has begun delivery of Tor-M1 air-defence missile systems to Iran, confirming that it is proceeding with arms deals despite Western criticism.
This is an issue we covered in depth in January here and here, the implications of which are admirably summed up today by the Debka file:
The first of 29 Tor-M1 systems in the $700m deal have been delivered to Iran by Moscow despite US opposition to their sale of a weapon widely regarded as the most advanced of its kind in the world. Some Iranian and Russian air defense experts say its full deployment at Iran's nuclear installations will make them virtually invulnerable to American or Israeli attack in the foreseeable future. Therefore, no more than six months remain, until the Russian Tor-M1 systems are in place, for any attempt to knock out Iran's nuclear weapons industry.Now, as Russia starts deliveries of the missile systems, a window of opportunity is closing. And it was to prevent this that the US, last spring sought UN support for an arms embargo on Iran, a proposition that received no support from the Europeans, who have taken the lead role in dealing with Iran and its nuclear ambitions.
Fittingly – and perhaps not entirely coincidentally - the news of the missile delivery (known as the SA-15 Gauntlet in Nato terminology) came on the same day as the ending of the abortive 18th EU-Russia summit in Helsinki.
Plans to launch negotiations for a new agreement on partnership and co-operation between the two sides have been aborted after Poland vetoed any deal, over a dispute about the hygiene standards of meat.
In a way, this just about sums up the European Union. Having egregiously failed to deal with Iran in any effective fashion and suffered a major diplomatic defeat, its famous "soft power" having become a laughing stock, it now retreats into squabbles about Polish veterinary standards and "cross border meat smuggling".
But it also sums up our media. The issue, in its own way, has echoes of the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. If you think about it, Iran is poised to build a nuclear bomb which it threatens to use to destroy Israel. And, while the West ponders whether to take military action to prevent a holocaust, Russia steps in to supply missiles which close that option down.
Never mind though. If the Telegraph could not manage to report on real missiles, at least it found room – like a full half-page - to write about the Nintendo Wii (above), designed for the latest in "shoot 'em up" computer games. This confirms the paper's retreat into fantasy, as it finds a "toy" that it can actually deal with.
There seems to be something of a bandwagon effect running as more newspapers and the BBC join what is becoming a growing chorus of condemnation of British military equipment.
Some more issues were raised yesterday in The Daily Express, by reporter Padraic Flanagan, writing from Afghanistan. They were picked up, uncritically by the BBC and also by Matthew Hickley of the Evening Standard.
However, such is the ignorance of the journalists, their evident lack of research and their superficial approach to what is - as our readers will readily acknowledge - a complex technical subject, that the media activities have not taken us any further forward.
The Dutch election results have produced yet another political impasse. They are becoming the norm in Europe, which may be quite a good thing. Against all predictions, the Christian Democrat Party under the Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende has remained the largest party in the parliament but has no outright mandate to form a government.
Balkenende will have to negotiate with his opponents in the Labour Party (who are somewhat disappointed by the results) and a. n. other, possibly the old-fashioned Socialist Party under the former Communist Jan Marijnissen, who has already ruled out (for the time being, anyway) the possibility of going into a coalition with the CDA.
As Balkenende put it:
It's a very complicated result. Of course you can imagine I'm very happy with the results for the Christian Democrats, we've made enormous progress during the last months, we've had an excellent campaign and the most important question was, which party will be the largest party in the Netherlands, because you can take the lead from that information.As yet we do not know whether has begun and on what terms.
So I really hope I can go on as the prime minister, but that depends on the new coalition and that is really a complicated situation at the moment. Nonetheless, we will have meetings of the main political groups in the parliament tomorrow (Thursday) and then the whole process will start as far as building the new government is concerned.
Interestingly enough, and again despite predictions, a high number of votes went to the smaller parties at both ends of the spectrum, including the anti-immigration Partij voor de Vrijehid (Party for Freedom), led by Geert Wilders, the man who has to live in permanent hiding after threats made by the murderer of the film-maker Theo van Gogh. They have nine seats, more, as Mr Wilders pointed out, than the Green Left.
Before anyone asks, it does not look as if Europe, the European Union and that pesky referendum had been high on any party's political agenda.
It looks like months of negotiating and log-rolling is in store for the Dutch people, who have shown themselves to be somewhat dissatisfied with the ruling consensus.
What is it about domestic employees, particularly nannies, (or, as we like to call them, home and child solution consultants) that makes everyone shiver with atavistic guilt? After all, why should one not employ some reliable person to look after one’s brats or clean one’s house or look after aged relatives or do the ironing? As long as you treat people well and pay the going market price (or, perhaps, a little more if you wish) there appears to be no problem there. One employs, builders, carpenters, plumbers, decorators, though, of course, that, too has to be done out of an already taxed income.
I imagine the idea behind it is a vaguely socialist one: nothing wrong with people working in offices and factories but domestic labour is really oppressive. Most western countries have incredibly complicated regulatory and fiscal systems in place that make it impossible for willing employers to employ, for instance, nannies without either being very rich or ready to break the law.
We have seen this in the United States and we have seen this in Sweden, that haven of social-democratic righteousness.
Two ministers in Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt's newly installed government quit last month after saying they had hired nannies and cleaners under the table to avoid payroll taxes. The scandal came as Reinfeldt prepared to cut taxes employers pay on the wages of household help, making such workers more affordable.The suggestion of tax cuts has been well received by all except those who see it “as a return to 19th-century values, where maids deal with the household labor so that the upper classes can live well”. This, despite the fact that those who would benefit immediately are middle class families where both parents work and, of course, the people who are now hired illegally and have, therefore, no protection or economic status either.
If Sweden manages to put such a reform through we might see similar radical ideas spreading to other western countries. Well, not to the so-called Conservative Party here, led as it is by people who can afford domestic labour at inflated prices as well as private education. But then, how likely are we to have that shower in government?
The day before Thanksgiving Michelle Malkin posted a list of reasons why American journalists of whatever political persuasion (I believe there are a few who are not on the left) should be thankful that they live in the United States.
Mutatis mutandis, that applies to our own miserable band of hacks. They may not be quite as bad as the people Michelle describes:
Give thanks we live in America, land of the free, home of the brave, where the media's elite journalists can leak top-secret information with impunity, win Pulitzer Prizes, cash in on lucrative book deals , routinely insult their readership and viewership, broadcast enemy propaganda, turn a blind eye to the victims of jihad, and cast themselves as oppressed victims on six-figure salaries.But a good deal of that applies to them as well. Above all, it is high time we asked (and come to think of it we do so in this blog all the time) why, given all the advantages our hacks have, they do such a bad job of reporting, exploring and analyzing?
After all, their lives are rarely at risk if they tell the truth about the Middle East, yet they are content to reproduce Hamas and Hezbollah propaganda. (The words green and helmet spring to mind.)
They are not likely to be poisoned if they write something sensible about Russia or try to find out what really happens in Chechnya yet they are content with stories about Roman Abramovich's possible divorce.
Nobody is actually likely to behead them but they have chosen, one and all, not to reprint any of the Danish cartoons while happily printing the most insulting cartoons about Jews, Judaism and Christianity.
And, of course, they whine. They whine when war correspondents are injured or killed in battle, they whine when blogs, such as this one, criticize them and point out all their mistakes and misinterpretations. They whine whenever anyone suggests that the BBC should make its own way in the world and stop extracting a poll tax from every TV set owner. They even whine when government spokesmen are rude to them.
To quote Michelle again, well,boo-freakin-hoo. Or as the old Jewish saying had it and as many journalists and writers around the world might think: "I should have your problems."
According to The Times and others, a grandmother became the oldest Palestinian suicide bomber yesterday when she blew herself up in Gaza and slightly wounded two Israeli soldiers.
Fatma Omar An-Najar was the first suicide bomber to be claimed by Hamas for nearly two years. Its armed wing said she was aged 57, but her family said she was 68. Israel said that its soldiers had spotted her acting suspiciously and threw a stun grenade, causing her to set off the explosives early.
Just a few questions: How do you negotiate with these people? Equally to the point, how do you define a civilian (i.e., non-combatant) in Gaza? And what is the EU policy on exploding grannies?
Over 500.000 people turned out for Pierre Gemayel’s funeral in Lebanon and the procession swiftly turned into an anti-Syrian demonstration. Alas, we have been here before with Rafik Hariri’s funeral and numerous others. Nothing, it seems, can prevent the Syrians and their proxies, the Hezbollah from destroying the Lebanese Cedar Revolution and the state of Lebanon itself.
Why should they care? The UN may huff and puff but will not blow any terrorist’s house down, be it made of sand or straw. If Israel, the only power prepared to take on Hezbollah, comes anywhere near inflicting any damage on that organization, the international community unites in imposing a cease-fire that allows terrorists to operate with impunity.
In Britain and the United States, meanwhile, the “realists” are “winning the argument” with the help of the MSM who seems to be incapable of any unbiased, knowledgeable reporting. Sadly, we can all remember what happened when there was a similar situation: helicopters taking off the roof of the American embassy in Saigon and an appalling mess left behind in Vietnam and Cambodia.
But hey, there is a UN force in Lebanon. It may not be quite as large as it was promised to be (it is not at all clear, for instance, whether the 2,000 French are actually there) but it is there and its mandate is – well, now, it is hard to recall the details but I do believe disarming Hezbollah came into it somewhere. Except that UNIFIL has long ago announced that it will do nothing of the kind, because those nasty Hezzies might shoot at them.
What if Hezbollah fires rockets into northern Israel? Well, honestly, we cannot be everywhere.
Still, UNIFIL knows who the enemy is: Israel. According to the Jerusalem Post, a senior French officer has explained that should the IAF fly over the French troops again, they will be allowed to fire at the aeroplanes. It seems that the October 30 episode really unnerved the troops and up with this they will not put. What they will do should Hezbollah fire anything is unknown.
There is some suspicion in Israel that this posturing has something to do with the forthcoming presidential elections in France and the possibility that the Defence Minister, Michèle Alliot-Marie may well decide to run. Or at least announce her candidacy. (Alliot-Marie against Royal? Now there’s a contest worth watching.)
It seems that getting tough with Israel might bring some useful and approving headlines while getting tough with Hezbollah will bring nothing except shrieks of fear. One wonders what the headlines will be if Lebanon disintegrates into yet another civil war.
Most people have heard of the phrase supposedly said by Reichsmarshall Hermann Göring: “When I hear the word culture I reach for my revolver.” In fact, he may not have said it and, even if he did, so did other Nazi leaders, such as Rudolf Hess. The real phrase came from a Nazi propaganda play by Hans Johst, whose artistic and theatrical ideas seem to be an uncanny mirror of those enunciated by such luminaries of Communist literary agitprop as Bertolt Brecht.
Somewhere in what sounds to be a mind-numbingly boring play, “Schlageter” about the man who was executed by the French in 1923 for resisting their occupation of the Ruhr through sabotage (you learn a lot on this blog), one of the other characters says: “Wenn ich Kultur höre ... entsichere ich meinen Browning”. “When I hear of culture … I release the safety catch on my Browning.” Much neater, I think.
We might have to learn some of those lessons as we confront the kulturkampf of the European Union and the British film industry, which has had as many revivals as the nation state has deaths. We know which one is alive and well, tax reliefs or no tax reliefs. Our latest post looks at the whole issue.
This is not Telegraph bashing, per se – just that the paper today reports a story which provides yet another example of the failures of modern journalism. And, if you accept that the Fourth Estate has a vital role in the maintenance of our democracy – and our freedoms - then this particular failure is important.
The issue to hand is not one with which EU Referendum would normally be concerned, as it has no EU or foreign affairs dimension. But the principle raised is of universal importance, and links nicely with the preceding two posts of mine.
As to the story itself, this is headed, "Judges voice fears over law for killer drivers".
Written by Joshua Rozenberg, the legal editor, it is a perfectly respectable and accurate (as far as I can tell) attempt to convey the "grave concerns" of senior judges, who have "expressed about the new offence of causing death by careless or inconsiderate driving, approved by parliament earlier this month."
When the Road Safety Act 2006 is brought into force next year, writes Rozenberg, anyone who causes a death by driving without due care and attention, or without reasonable consideration for other road users, will face up to five years in prison.
"That might involve no more than a moment's carelessness," a senior judge said. "You could be distracted by a child in the back of the car. We have all been in that position."
Judges fear juries will refuse to convict defendants of the new offence once they realise that it will lead to prison sentences for motorists with no previous convictions who have not been driving at high speed, dangerously, or while uninsured or under the influence of drink or drugs.
Right! All good stuff. But what is the point in writing an article raising concerns now, when the Act received Royal Assent three weeks ago and nothing at all can be done.
The time for such an article, surely, would have been in March, when the Bill was being discussed in detail in committee. Then, precisely these points were raised by the opposition transport minister, Owen Paterson – on Tuesday 28 March 2006, to be precise.
Was it reported then? Or at all? Don't bother answering. The lead political story in The Telegraph for the 29 March was, "Top level attack on Brown as leadership battle gains intensity", although the paper did find space for a bijou little story on a hack whose tube travelcard ran out and his wife suggested he take the car.
Had there actually been any grown-ups on the paper to report the issue, then at least there might have been something of a public debate before the law had been passed. That would have served democracy somewhat better than today's airing of ex post facto concerns from a number of anonymous, unelected judges.
Thus, it is all very well the media taking politicians apart – when they deserve it. But, in addition, it would be nice if the MSM spent a little time asking themselves whether they are doing their job properly.
Thanks again to Biased BBC, which has produced the following gem from a BBC report on Human Rights Watch and Amnesty, quoting with a completely straight face, it seems:
Amnesty found that Hezbollah hid Katyusha rockets among civilians and often fired them into Israel from the cover of civilian villages. But researchers found no evidence that Hezbollah actually used civilians as human shields during the fighting.And the story? Oh well, that's about Israel investigating its use of cluster bombs during the recent war with Hezbollah, who have nothing to investigate as they have done nothing wrong. Well, not according to the rather topsy-turvy logic used by Amnesty, Human Rights Watch and, of course, our own, our very own BBC.
They don't last very long these days, the Commission's hand-picked Heads of Media in the UK. A new one has just been appointed: Anthony Gooch, who returns to these shores from Washington DC where he was Spokesman and head of the Commission’s Public Diplomacy operations for four years.
Now, I find that very interesting, as during those four years, in September 2003, to be specific I spoke at the Cato Institute in Washington DC at what was supposed to be a debate about the future of the European Union. The other speakers were Irwin Stelzer the writer, economist and journalist and Patrick Basham, Cato's constitutional expert.
One speaker was missing. The organizers had invited the Head of the EU Delegation to Washington DC to take part in the discussion. Dr Günter Burghardt agreed, then demanded we change the date, then pulled out with just about a week to go, pleading unavoidable business at the UN General Assembly in New York City. There were, of course, other theories as to why he had decided to pull out. I wonder whether Mr Gooch was responsible for that decision.
Again, on the face of it, a good editorial from The Telegraph. Headed, "Don't abandon Iraq", we could hardly disagree with the sentiment.
But, what the leader doesn't do is then draw the obvious conclusions. We are running away because we have to – we do not have the equipment to defend ourselves, and we need the troops and what little kit there is to stave off defeat in Afghanistan.
The point, of course, is that if the troops are to remain in Basra (and they must), they need more equipment and better protection.
This is why we keep "banging on". It is all very well for dead tree sellers to come up with their stentorious editorials but, unless they follow through, all they are producing is so much waste paper.
On the face of it, good stuff from The Telegraph today as it screams, "Cheap bullets put lives of paratroopers at risk".
The lives of paratroopers were put in danger after the MoD sent defective ammunition to Afghanistan, "it can be revealed", writes Thomas Harding, crying in aid an earlier piece in June, which complains about defence cuts – but does not mention ammunition.
In the current report, we are told that the situation became so serious that a platoon from the 3Bn the Parachute Regiment refused to go out on patrol until the problem was resolved. The troops had to borrow ammunition off Canadian and American special forces as they battled to fight off Taliban attacks.
Now, as we suggested – all good stuff, but after the event. It is nice cheap journalism, because all the newspaper does is print a story given to it on a plate.
But where was it, we might ask, when the issue of the closure of Royal Ordnance factories emerged? We reported on it here, here, here and here. Speaking to politicians at the time, they were in despair at the lack of interest shown by the media, so much so that in March 2006 we were commenting on an "unreported adjournment debate" on the issue.
We had other swipes at the MSM here and here and, while the Booker column supported us, the rest of the media went its own way, fuelled by its diet of trivia.
Nor indeed is the issue a new one. In July 2003, before this Blog was established, Bill Neely, the ITN embedded journalist with 42 Commando in Basra, told Parliament that 60,000 rounds of heavy ammunition failed at a crucial time.
It was not followed through, and none of the established media have explored how we have destroyed our own indigenous ammunition manufacture. There has been complete silence on the issue, which affects both security and quality. But now we get the cheap "quickie" story and the self-important "it can be revealed".
However, today, we can reveal that cheap journalism puts lives at risk.
Who said blogs were derivative? Compare this story in The Times, with ours here.
We did it quicker, we have more information, more links and more analysis – which you can agree with or not. Furthermore, we manage to do it without the self-important, "The Times has learnt that…", a style that the MSM so loves.
What is interesting though is what the article does not say. On a matter of such obvious importance, the paper does not see fit to publish any comments by opposition politicians. The BBC website does record some of them and from these you can see why The Times did not bother - vacuous does not even begin to describe it.
In a week so far packed with events, therefore, it has been in fact the pictures of the politicians rather than the words that have told the story. Our composite above says it all: Brown and Blair from Mars… the Boy from Venus. From soundbite to photo-shoot – is this the ultimate in dumbing down, with the politicians choosing to convey their messages this way?
And, is it the case that he who lives by the photo-shoot, dies by the photo-shoot?
Foreign secretary (in name only) Margaret Beckett has announced in Parliament today that Britain could hand over control of Basra to the Iraq government in spring next year.
That would be the next and penultimate stage in the retreat started in August, when al Amarah was abandoned to the militias - with entirely predictable results.
In this post we argue that, whichever way you look at it, we are running away.
Rich boy flies out to Africa in luxury private jet to get photographed with smiling black children. Flies back, changes into suit, reads with approval front page headlines in Daily Torygraph. Gets chauffeur to drive him to pointy building by Thames and asks questions. Gets answers from another man in suit. Tells flunkies to plant trees.
The shock and horror of it all. Did you realise that these black people don't even have solar panels on their hovels?
Well, he got his photo-opportunity and a nice collection of snaps for the next party brochure – to say nothing of the website. And what better for the leader of the caring-sharing Girlie Party to be cuddling a nice, carefully sanitised little black baby. How sweet!
But the Boy is only one of a long line of disaster tourists to visit the camps outside the Sudanese town of El Fasher. They have received a host of world leaders. Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell and Jack Straw have witnessed the dust and despair of its shelters. Hilary Benn, the international development secretary, joined the list last month.
According to The Times, however, the stream of politicians has caused frustration within the ranks of aid workers. "The problems here are well known and these camps are pretty well managed," a humanitarian official in El Fasher said. "It would be more productive for people to go elsewhere and raise the profile of some of the other, more-neglected areas."
The Boy will have plenty of time to reflect on this issue as he flies back from Africa in Lord Ashcroft's private Falcon jet, lent to him for the occasion. We know the great hardship he will have suffered in getting there and back, from a brochure which tells us that:
…the beautiful design, unrivalled comfort and outstandingly high performance put the Falcon 900 in a class of its own. From its large cabin to the innovative flight deck and proven technology, this wide body business jet redefines business jet travel.Nevertheless, the Boy's aides are anxious to tell us that trip was "carbon neutral", and the Girlie Party is paying for the planting of carbon-absorbing trees to match the greenhouse gases generated.
We are sure the refugees in Darfur will be mightly impressed.
It is not at all certain that Ségolène Royal will actually win next year’s presidential elections but there is already some excitement around her possible title. Yesterday’s Daily Telegraph (and, no doubt, other newspapers) speculated on whether she will be called Mme la Présidente or Mme le Président.
Today’s newspaper has a letter from one Derek Brumhead who suggests that the definite article will have to be dispensed with.
That’s as may be but those of us who have delved into the by-ways of French history know that there was someone called La Présidente before. Alas, she may not be an example that a sober politician, partner of another politician and mother of four might wish to follow. Apollonie Sabatier was one of the best-known and most powerful courtesans of the Second Empire. Mistress of Charles Baudelaire, among others, recipient of scatological and pornographic letters from Théophile Gautier, she was also the model for a scandalous sculpture produced by Auguste Jean-Baptiste Clésinger and entitled "Woman bitten by a snake".
So much for that bit of correspondence. Of greater interest is another letter in today’s Telegraph on the subject of la Ségo's comments about Britain having to choose between Atlanticism and Europeanism (given the many problems France is facing, you wouldn’t think this was top of a would-be president’s agenda) from one Chris Sherwood.
It would be interesting to find out who Mr Sherwood is (of course, it might be a Ms Sherwood). He (or she) lives in Brussels but gives no reason for doing so. Businessman? Journalist? Eurocrat? He (what the heck, let’s assume it is a he) spends a good deal of time writing letters to various publications banging the Europhile drum, which has a somewhat rusty sound at the moment. On occasion he seems to have given the Lib-Dim HQ at the European Parliament as his address but he denies any connection with that group.
Unfortunately, his Europhile pronouncements can be referred to as “same old, same old”. This is what he says in his letter:
Sir – Miss Royal, in asking Britain to choose between the EU and the United States, has more in common with British eurosceptics than she knows. This choice is the one often peddled by the anti-European doom merchants, and it is a false one.We can discard his comments about American attitude to the EU since that support for further integration has wavered somewhat in the recent past. To be quite precise, the State Department remains relatively unwavering and even they are not too sure; Defence, with or without Rummy, pours scorn on the whole idea, when not warning all sorts of dire consequences if the EU goes on developing alternative defence structures and the President happily negotiates directly with leaders of member countries friendly to the United States.
American policy on the EU has been unwavering in its support for further integration. The United States was instrumental in getting the EU's predecessor organisations up and running. It supported British membership, and would doubtless be fiercely opposed to its withdrawal.
The choice we have is whether to lead in Europe, and so become a more valuable ally for the United States, or to sit on the sidelines and watch it lose interest in us.
Still, one would like to know how that leadership in Europe is to be achieved, particularly if it means being a stauncher ally of the United States that way. How, precisely, does a member of a larger and mostly hostile organization can be deemed to be a stronger ally than an independent country that possibly takes its rightful place in the Anglosphere?
The words Iraq, Afghanistan and war against terror spring to mind. What was there to lead in Europe and in which direction? Has the United States really lost interest in its allies because they do not lead Europe? Why can't these propaganda merchants think of some new lines? Answer the last question first.
Pierre Gemayel, a member of the Lebanese government (whose pro-Syrian and Hezobllah members have been exiting), a Christian and son of former President Amin Gemayel, has been assassinated in Beirut. Mr Gemayel was an opponent of Syrian influence over Lebanese affairs. His assassination comes a few days after Fouad Siniora's severely depleted government approved the draft UN statutes for a tribunal to try the killers of former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri. Pierre Gemayel's uncle, Bashir Gemayel was assassinated in 1982.
Over at One London a discussion of how Hizonner the Mayor views the costs and benefits of the European Union to London. No mention of the Financial Services Action Plan.
You may not know this, from the antics of the Boy-King of the Conservative Party (to give it its official rather than accurate name), but the Queen opened the new session of Parliament last week. In fact, this Blog covered her speech and its ramifications.
What some of our readers, particularly if they do not live in this country, may not realize is that the Queen’s Speech is debated in both Houses for several days, each day being devoted to one or two subject. So, errm, where are the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition? Away, that’s where.
The PM is visiting the troops in Afghanistan. At least, he can claim that it is part of his job and, really, there is no convenient time for that if you start looking at the parliamentary calendar. Except that the beginning of last week was, as Parliament was not sitting.
But why is the Boy-King not in his place, leading the charge? My colleague has dealt with it in part, but I should like to raise other aspects of this issue, not just defence or toys.