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- British loans … for EU students
- A title
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- How about it Mr Brown?
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- Comparable with ancient astrology
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- Yesterday's news
- The shadow of Auschwitz
- Getting there?
- There again …
- Keeping the Queen's peace
- We shall see
- British jobs … for Austrian workers
- A seriously bad idea …
- You play, we pay …
- Oh this is so sad
- A summer of anger?
- The censorship of the Beeb
- The wages of neglect
- Bring out your unrest
- Lost before it started – Part 7
- Now they tell us
- What fun
- A wide-ranging debate
- Lost before it started - Part 6
- A lesson in politics
- Not altogether surprising
- Naïve or just plain arrogant?
- In the heart of our democracy
- Lost before it started – Part 5
- Guardians of our freedom
- Waffle, waffle
- For all the fine talk …
- Lost before it started – Part 4
- Not wanted in Paris
- Nothing changes …
- Armageddon Jones
- The name of the game
- Surely not
- Lost before it started – Part 3
- The joke's on us
- The world has gone mad
- "Far right may benefit in EU poll"
- A price worth paying for our success
- Brussels calling!
- Before and after
- Lost before it started – Part 2
- EU losing its grip …
- This man is insane
- Oddly enough ....
- The last word (well, temporarily) ...
- Lost before it started – Part 1
- A distorting prism
- One knows how they feel
- Raiding the reserves
- The age of unreason
- Only one choice
- Killer Greens
- Distorted values
- Seriously screwed!
- Another day, another prediction
- A symptom of our consensus of cowardice
- It hasn't gone away
- Mark of the beast
- Statement from Baroness Cox and Lord Pearson of Ra...
- Justified pessimism
- Well, now we have a problem
- Got in one!
- Stitched up
- OK, you can pile in again
- Nearly missed this one
- A question of trust
- Caught in the crossfire
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- Self indulgence
- The blind shall lead the blind
- Siren voices
- If hypocrisy was a religion …
- German reactions to Swedish decision
- Regulation without reason
- Being there
- Sweden rethinking?
- In need of pity
- A culture of denial
- Deluded or what?
- You are welcome ...
- More global warming
- That totemic figure
- Open Letter to the Taxpayers' Alliance
- A few inches of global warming …
- We can't have "perceptions"
- A promise of peace
- Pointing in the wrong direction
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After our attempt, Charles Moore takes the subject head on. He writes:
There are roughly 650 MPs. By a grim law of averages, I would guess that this means that, perhaps every two years, one of them loses a child. Why does the House not adjourn then? And why, when you think about it, does the House not adjourn for other sad child deaths, or other unusual deaths? Will it mark the passing of Jade Goody? What about deaths of a greater horror and scale? The House did not adjourn after September 11, or the London bombings of July 7.That is precisely the point. In suspending parliament, the MPs individually and collectively signalled that the death of one politician's child was somehow more important than the death of any other. Doubtless, that was an unintended message, but it was nevertheless the message conveyed.
Again, one death is being privileged. It typifies what is wrong with politicians that, to them, a tragedy experienced by one of their number requires more attention than the same loss when suffered by anyone else.
Parliamentary conventions and traditions have developed over the centuries for a very good reason, not least because they are most often the best way of dealing with sensitive and difficult issues such as this. You abandon them at your peril – the result, as here, being to send an unfortunate and unintended signal.
But Moore makes another point. "It typifies what is wrong with politicians …" he writes. And indeed it does. It illustrates just how introspective and self-centred the breed has become, elevating its values and needs above those of the people it supposedly serves. The message, as Moore points out, comes over loud and clear: "We are more important than you."
It is a very great shame that this should come to light over the tragic death of a child, and it makes it very difficult to discuss the issue rationally, laden as it is with emotive overtones. It is very hard to separate the personal sympathy for a bereaved family and the point of principle. But Moore has done the right thing drawing attention to the difference. Furthermore, he has some support from the comments section. One commentator writes:
I am pleased that someone has written on this subject. I, like many, feel the deepest sympathy for the Cameron family, but failed to see why the business of Government should stop as a result.Another makes a similar point to that which we made:
I found the mawkish opportunism expressed by Gordon Brown deeply unpleasant - especially as three of our young lads were killed in Afghanistan. What sort of precedent does this set?There is another on the same lines:
It will not have gone unnoticed that on the same morning that Ivan Cameron died, it was reported that another three of our soldiers were killed in Afghanistan. The only public expression of sympathy that their relatives are likely to get will be a few weasel words from the politicians responsible for sending them there.We are not out of step on this issue – much as some would like to present us in this light. Moore writes that, "But to me, however genuine the personal sympathy, the scene felt false and the proportion askew." I would go further remarking, as I did, that I would forego the emoting about dead soldiers in exchange for some cold calculation that stopped them getting killed in the first place.
To put it more bluntly, I would sooner have a hard-headed, miserable bastard who kept me alive than a soft, touchy-feely milksop who wept tears over my grave. In the context of Parliament, MPs are paid to do a job – some do it very, very badly. I would prefer they did their jobs – amongst other things putting in the hard graft that will keep people, and especially our soldiers, alive and well.
They should emote in their own time, not ours.
In The Independent today: "Those for whom the idea of the British National Party as a part of mainstream politics has always been unthinkable would do well to start thinking about it."
You can ignore the electorate for just so long ... eventually, it bites back. Get used to it … it's going to happen. It's happening under the radar, and it's going to go on happening until the mainstream parties wake up.
Strangely, this is about politics – real politics. The name of the game is that you put forward your ideas to the electorate and invite them to respond, as opposed to telling everybody how wonderful you are and expecting them to vote for you.
For too long, there has been this idea in certain quarters that, "they have to vote for us because there's no alternative". Well, there is an alternative. The luvvies may not like it, but it's a tough old world out there.
The wonderful thing about being an eco-warrior is that your world vision allows you to see things in black and white … capitalism is baaaad, recycling is goooood, etc., etc., (never mind that one depends on the other). Rather like Conservatives, Europhiliacs and other faith-driven believers, there are no greys.
One tiny problem for those zealots intent on wiping away the tears of Mother Earth, however, is that the closer they get to real-life implementation of their fantasies, the more that problems begin to stack up – the Severn barrage being one classic example.
Here, we learn that this £22 billion monument to greenery is not going to be £22 billion after all. Another £2 billion is needed … to cover green issues. This is necessary, we are told, by a consultant hired by the government, who attributes the sum to the cost of replacing the natural habitats that could potentially be destroyed by the barrage.
The beauty of this is that the requirement to replace habitats comes straight out of the EU's Habitat Directive. This means that, in pursuit of the EU's renewable energy quota, the greenies are running slap into another requirement.
Anyhow, the consultants in question is Peter Kydd, of Parsons Brinckerhoff, who also warns that the compensation package for displaced economic activities would also have to be factored into final costs. Not least is the Port of Bristol, one of the country's largest docks. This would be forced out of its present site. These costs have not been quantified but "could run into tens of billions of pounds."
By the time the two-year consultation process has finished, there is a very real chance that the original cost estimates – themselves uncertain – could have doubled or more, making this scheme even more insane than as at originally conceived, putting the greenies, the climate change believers, economists and just about everybody else in conflict.
All of which rather suggests a new collective noun for the greenies – a "conflict" seems rather appropriate.
The ironic thing is that this scheme has been mooted seriously ever since 1925 (see picture) when an official study group was commissioned. Then it was turned down on economic grounds, only to be reactivated in 1975 when again it was rejected on as not being economically viable.
However, there were more studies carried out in 1979 and 1986 and with the current studies we now have about as many computer-generated simulations as the Airbus A400M.
The only thing that seems to have changed is that the frequency of studies is increasing, a phenomenon which possibly offers a long-term solution. We could launch an endless series of inquiries, locking the greenies in a room and letting them battle it out – while rest of us get on with our lives.
John O'Sullivan in the National Review on the "failed" Cameron experiment.
The great problem is that, despite that failure, the erstwhile Conservatives will probably win the next general election. The even bigger problem will be that many of them will have convinced themselves that they won the election "on merit" rather than simply benefiting from the collapse of Labour.
Then the overwhelming problem will be that, having failed entirely to think through any coherent policies, and having suppressed debate on so many issues, they will not have the first idea of how to govern the country. From day one, they will be on the back foot, reacting to rather than dictating the agenda.
The fourth and final problem will be that when the erstwhile Conservatives fail – as indeed they must – there will no longer be an alternative party as a reservoir of hope for the deluded. It will be too soon for a Labour recovery.
Then the fun will really start.
Reluctant as we are to enter the loathsome cockpit of parochial politics, it is interesting to note that Iain Martin in today's Telegraph suggests that Mr Brown's government is disintegrating.
That much is self-evident and has been true for a long time. But it is also true that British government in general has been disintegrating for some time, even before that charlatan Blair parked his rump in Downing Street. That looming presence in Brussels had a great deal to do with that – its primary objective being to undermine national governments.
However, with the decay thus evident and a general election looming ever-closer – and the euro-elections even closer - you might think that the Labour luvvies would be most concerned with their putative successors, the erstwhile Conservatives. But not a bit of it.
There are several pointers as to why this might be, not least today's YouGov poll which shows that the one subject of immigration tops the polls as the issue about which people feel most strongly.
Some fifty-two percent of respondents wanted an incoming Conservative government to deal with it. Interestingly, the party split had forty-two percent of Labour voters and sixty-two percent of Tory supporters putting it at the top of the list.
The other pointer comes from the same poll which puts voting intentions for the Tories at 41 percent, still showing a comfortable lead over Labour, on 31 percent, and the Lib-Dims mouldering on 15 percent. What is significant though is that all three of these parties have lost share – the Tories losing three points - while the "others" have climbed to 12 percent of the vote. And, tucked in there are the BNP at four percent, with UKIP trailing at two.
Expressed on a national scale for a party that has patchy representation, that four percent for BNP probably under-estimates the appeal of the party. This is possibly indicated by last week's by-election victory in the Swanley St Mary's Ward seat, when the BNP took 41 percent of the vote compared with 34 percent for Labour and 25 percent for the erstwhile Conservatives.
Given that the Tory vote is failing to soar – despite the dire performance of Mr Brown's government – it is the performance of the BNP which is really worrying the luvvies. Thus we have Labour MEP Glyn Ford warning that the BNP could win up to seven seats in the euros, especially after the collapse of UKIP as a credible party.
It has not gone without notice that Swanley was virgin territory for the BNP and that in Bromley, a few weeks previously, the BNP narrowly missed winning a council seat by only eight votes. Yet this area is UKIP heartland, having returned two UKIP MEPs in the last euros, not least the fun-loving Nigel Farage.
But Bromley is also the scene of (one of) Mr Farage's greatest humiliations, when he fought the Bromley parliamentary by-election and achieved merely eight percent of the vote, despite spending a record £100,000 on his campaign.
Not only could BNP displace Mr Farage, Glyn Ford is suggesting that it could field successful candidates in the north-west of England, where party leader Nick Griffin is standing, and could also make gains in Yorkshire and the Humber. Ford suspects that many of those people who voted for UKIP people will be encouraged to vote for the BNP. He could be right.
The same spectre is clearly haunting Caroline Flint, currently the minister for Europe. She is warning Labour MPs and trade unions they will play into the hands of the BNP if they continue their campaign against companies they claim recruit "foreign workers" to undercut pay levels.
The fair Flint is not of course suggesting that these Labour MPs and trade unions should do anything about the problem – and nor will the erstwhile Conservatives even begin to address it. The conventional wisdom is that they should stop talking about it, and then it will go away.
Unfortunately for the luvvies, this is an issue which simply will not go away. In fact, as the recession deepens, it will become more strident and demanding, breaking into the cosy conspiracy of silence which the three main political parties have sought to foster.
This, it seems, is matched by an equal stridency from the Tribune Magazine, which is telling its readers that "the fight against the far right in Britain has never been harder – or more important."
It is reporting the "Unite Against Fascism" national conference at Congress House in London last Saturday, when more than 400 politicians, trade union activists, members of Muslim, Jewish, black and Asian groups, and lesbian and gay organisations got together "to sound the alarm about the rise of the British National Party."
The problem for these people, however, is that they cannot address the root concerns of so many people – and cannot even discuss them coherently. Their very existence and tactics therefore exacerbate the problem they seek to resolve, leaving a yawning gap which the BNP will be only too pleased to fill.
The nature of first past the post politics suggests that the BNP is unlikely to do any great damage in the general election, but with proportional representation in the euros, they could indeed make some significant gains.
And, although that does worry the luvvies, it should worry UKIP even more. Should it happen, it will spell the demise of "moderate" euroscepticism in this country and give it an altogether harder edge. For that, UKIP would bear much of the blame. Its performance over the last EU parliamentary term has been, to say the very least, lacklustre.
But the greater blame will be on the luvvies and their pretence that "Europe" and the associated issues of immigration can be safely swept under the carpet for ever and no one will notice. However, as they are about to find, these inconvenient matters come under the category, "deal with them, or they will deal with you".
Despite that, they will not deal with them, even though at the end of the road they are travelling lie the tumbrels. They are not going to be idle for ever. The BNP is merely the interim stage.
(PS: I am the man in the red hat.)
It seems we're rubbish at producing rubbish. In fact, so appalling is the quality of our rubbish that our councils can't even give it away. They are having to make the ultimate sacrifice and bury it in holes in the ground. Not even China wants it any more.
That is the thrust of this piece which tells us that the recvcling system in many councils is so poor that it fails to get a good price in the market. That in turn means those councils have to stockpile rubbish in warehouses and then send it to landfill.
But never mind. Mr Mal Williams, chairman of the Campaign for Real Rubbish, is on the case. He makes the rather obvious statement: "If you collect poor quality material then at the end of day the stuff ends up in landfill sites which is exactly what you are trying to avoid."
He could have saved some words – it's been said better: "Garbage in – garbage out". Put rubbish in your bins, and you will get … rubbish out!
Clearly, we need better quality rubbish. What kind of a nation are we that can't even produce high quality rubbish when Mother Earth is crying? To hell with the recession – that is the least we can do.
On second thoughts, this is definitely one for Captain Euro and the euroweenies. We need a Directive on the Quality Standards for Rubbish. Shall we call it "euro-rubbish"? There's plenty of that about.
Definitely Daily Mail territory, written to get "middle England" worked up, we get a story about how students from other EU member states are able to apply for loans here – yet there are no provisions to make them repay them.
British-based students, of course, have to pay back their loans automatically through the tax system but there is no repayment mechanism for those who move abroad. This means that they are effectively getting "free" university educations in Britain – for what that is worth.
The figures currently show that 2,240 students resident in other EU member states should have begun repaying the Treasury the cost of their tuition but 1,580 have not been traced. And, with tens of thousands more students from other EU countries currently at university – so far having borrowed £124 million to cover tuition fees – there is a tidy little sum set to go begging.
The Student Loans Company insists that "measures will be in place" by April next year to identify and trace these students, but on the current track record, it seems unlikely that they will be successful.
Not least, while students applying for loans must provide a permanent address, such as their parents' home address, the SLC does not routinely write to parents' addresses to check details, because it "might breach data protection' rules."
The real question, though, is why we are giving foreign students loans in the first place. And the answer is … EU rules. Under the non-discrimination provisions of the Treaties, whatever applies to UK nationals must also be given to any Jacques, Fritz or Toni who happens on these shores.
But never mind. A spokesman for the Department for Universities, Innovation and Skills said trace agents are being used to hunt down students who failed to repay their loans. So, in the darkest regions of Naples, amid the mounds of rubbish, we can be assured that British interests are being looked after.
As indeed, they always are.
The grand work on the defeat of the British Army during the occupation of Iraq 2003-2009 needs a title ...
Something short and snappy, which really grabs you by the the throat. And no, "Balls-up in Basra" really won't do!
Ultimately, in a parliamentary democracy, the buck stops … in parliament. However powerful a government might think itself to be, it lives and dies by permission of parliament, which can bring it down with one vote of confidence.
Short of that nuclear option, the day-to-day work of scrutinising government is – or should be – carried out by the select committees. They are the bodies that really get down to detail, call the witnesses and examine the documents, producing at great expense detailed reports which, themselves often provide the basis of debates on the floor of the House. That is how the system works … or should do. Except it doesn't – not, at least when it comes to the Defence Committee.
This one has failed to deliver. And when a committee fails, it is important – it means that a vital part of our parliamentary democracy has failed. But who the hell cares? We do … and look at the mess on Defence of the Realm.
Well, it wouldn't be the first time I disagree with numerous comments and general opinion that prevails among readers of this blog and members of the forum (not the same thing by a long chalk). So, let me put my cards on the table - I disagree about the phenomenon of Jade Goody and, in due courses, shall make my opinion known.
In the meantime, here is a link to a posting I did about that girl when she was hounded by the self-same media that is now turning her into a secular saint with the approval of many readers and viewers. As I recall, the discussion after the posting did not deal with the substantive issues but went on about the wretchedness of the show and its participants. Maybe this time somebody (just one or two people) will pay attention.
Superb article by Richard Beeston in The Times today. He tells us to "Stop obsessing about the legality of invading Iraq. The campaign itself was the real disaster". Brilliant! Amongst the delights:
Of all the parochial, navel-gazing, non-issues surrounding the Iraq war, the endless debate about the lead-up to it has wasted more time and energy than any other.He then goes on:
The Army was poorly equipped and inadequately manned. When security deteriorated, the Government responded by continuing to reduce British Forces to the point where a few hundred soldiers were left protecting their headquarters at Basra Palace. Eventually, the British abandoned Iraq's second city after making a deal with Iranian-backed militants.Beeston then concludes that "what we face today is a crisis of confidence that all the marching bands and Ministry of Defence spin cannot conceal. Once masters of counter-insurgency, our global reputation has been badly tarnished."
He thus writes: "Unless we move on from who did what when and instead examine this difficult question, we run the real risk of leaving Iraq with little to show for our efforts and nothing learnt from the experience."
This is a grown-up analysis, written by an adult. One fears, however, that he is addressing children.
We frequently rail at Parliament's loss of power to the EU, but it is still the case that MPs have a great deal of power to hold to government to account in areas outside the competence of the EU – and they have a responsibility so to do. That is what we pay them for.
Now, do not be put off by the subject matter – which happens to be about "toys". Look at the evidential trail and then ask yourself if the MPs concerned are doing their jobs. Let me give you bullet points:
That brings us to the current state of play. The people who are supposed to sort all this out, bring the Government to account and make sure that this sort of debacle is not repeated, are the MPs. Specifically, they are the MPs on the all-party Defence select committee.
The Army/MoD buys a supposedly protected vehicle (call it Vehicle A), which clearly is not. In fact, it is clearly and obviously dangerous. It has been specially developed for the Army at considerable cost. This vehicle is supposed to be a replacement for another vehicle type, which itself was acknowledged to be dangerously vulnerable, in which many soldiers have needlessly died (call that Vehicle B). Vehicle A is, in fact, even more dangerous than Vehicle B. Predictably (and predicted) a number of troops are killed – wholly unnecessarily - in vehicle A. Because it is so dangerous (and mechanically unreliable) the Army had to withdraw Vehicle A prematurely. This means that Vehicle B has to remain in service, even though soldiers are also being killed in it. In an attempt to improve Vehicle B, which should have been withdrawn but has not been, an expensive refit has to be ordered, and more armour is bolted on. Quietly, the MoD/Army then goes about finding a replacement for Vehicle B, which should already have been replaced by Vehicle A, planning to spend a great deal of money on it. The only replacement vehicles on offer are types which were available long before Vehicle A was developed. They could have been bought cheaper and have been in service some years ago, having by now saved many lives. This new vehicle will not now be in place, at the very earliest, for at least two years – meanwhile, Vehicle B stays in service.
Sure enough, our fine – and handsomely remunerated – MPs got down to work. On 16 December of last year, they called in for questioning the minister responsible for procurement, Mr Quentin Davies, two generals, General Sir Kevin O'Donoghue KCB, CBE and Lieutenant General Andrew Figgures CBE, and a senior civil servant by the name of Amyas Morse.
The MPs’ inquiry is about "defence equipment" and Vehicle A is on the agenda. We can now reveal its identity – it is the Pinzgauer Vector. Vehicle B is, of course, the Snatch Land Rover. Now, imagine you're an MP on the committee. What would you ask these "stars"?
Well … let's look at what "they" did ask. Actually, only one MP – the chairman, Mr James Arbuthnot - asked any questions … er … one question. This is what happened:
Q372 Chairman: Okay…Vector: is Vector unable to take the weight? Is it unable to operate on rough terrain? Does it keep breaking its axle?And that's it, folks. That's all you get. End of inquiry on the Vector.
Lieutenant General Figgures: I will pick that up if I may. Vector was introduced as you know, as an urgent operational requirement. Yes, we have had some problems with it, yes it is a combination of all up weight, cross-country performance and, like many of these things, you do not get a perfect solution, and so that is why we are constantly looking ahead in terms of protected patrol mobility and the utility vehicles necessary to support it to see what other options there are. Some of these solutions have not been perfect.
General Sir Kevin O'Donoghue: You produce a solution for the requirement of the time; the requirement changes as the threat changes, as the security architecture changes and you need to produce something else. Quite rightly, Chairman, there is only so much weight you can put on a particular chassis and when you reach that weight limit you either have to have something bigger and more powerful or you have to have a different form of protection, which it would be inappropriate to go into, but things change.
Yesterday, we learned of another three soldiers being killed, the direct result of inadequate protection, protection that could have been provided if the MoD and the Army had done their jobs. They were in a different vehicle, but one which Vehicle A could also have replaced, had the right one been chosen.
Nevertheless, you will be encouraged to learn that Commander Paula Rowe, spokeswoman for the British taskforce, said of the three killed:
We will all feel the loss of these brave soldiers, whose role was to build the capacity of the Afghan national army. But it is their family, friends and loved ones, as well as the men and women who served alongside them, who feel the greatest pain and we offer them our deepest and heartfelt condolences, thoughts and prayers.Personally, sooner than condolences, I would have preferred meaningful assurances that every effort was going to be made to prevent more soldiers being killed the same way. But then, it is the job of our MPs to get those assurances. Do you think they did their jobs well? Are they worth the money they get paid?
And do you ever wonder why I get a little angry sometimes?
Three soldiers in The Rifles have today been reported killed in Afghanistan. Early indications are that they were killed by an IED while riding in a Land Rover Wimik.
Now, let's see. You were prepared to suspend parliament until 12.30 today over the death of a six-year-old child, for whom you bear no responsibility. The deaths of these three, the children now of grieving parents, are partly your responsibility. Your government sent them to their deaths in equipment which is not even fit for a scrap heap.
Given your fine sensibilities, what shall we suggest? Shall we suspend Parliament for three days, or should it be longer? And are you going to wear a black tie for three sons, the deaths of whom you are partly responsible.
And, with Parliament in suspension, perhaps you will have time personally to visit the parents and explain to them how and why their sons died – and how theire deaths could have been prevented had they been equipped with more suitable vehicles?
And while you are there, no doubt you will want to repeat those fine words you used today: "No parent should ever have to endure the loss of a child." I am sure the parents will be mightily comforted.
We were not going to comment about the tragedy that has hit the Cameron family. The death of a child is always terrible and one can feel nothing but sympathy for David and Samantha Cameron at this time.
However, the death of six-year old Ivan is not a national tragedy. This needs to be said before the country is overwhelmed with the kind of sentimental schlock that paralyzes all public activity.
In 1916 the Prime Minister Herbert Asquith's son was killed at the Somme, a great blow to his father who was being attacked by all and sundry in the House of Commons and outside it for his perceived inability to conduct the war well. It would not have occurred to him or anyone else to suspend proceedings in the House even for an hour.
As Michael White reminds us in the Guardian, the House of Commons was not suspended on that terrible day in 1966 when well over 100 children were killed in Aberfan.
Other, perhaps less tragic, examples can be found throughout history. It has always been accepted that private and public life are separate and one does not and should not intrude on the other.
The idea of cancelling parliamentary proceedings because the six-year old son of the Leader of the Opposition has died is the sort of self-indulgent sentimentality that we, as a country, can ill afford.
It would have been understandable if David Cameron had found it impossible to attend and, indeed, according to this article in The Independent, the Conservative Party was, rightly, preparing to put William Hague in the lead. A few words of sympathy would have been in order and then it is business as usual - there are important issues around us that need to be dealt with.
Instead, Gordon Brown's office suggested the suspension of proceedings and the cancellation of PMQs. The Opposition ought to have refused and insisted on carrying on as usual. Indeed, it ought to have told the Prime Minister not to be such a self-indulgent ninny.
As The Independent points out, "The suspension of PMQs and normal Commons business usually only follows the death of a party leader or former premier."
The last time this happened was in 1994 after the death of John Smith, then the leader of the Labour Party. That is acceptable, in the sense that the death of a party leader or a fomer premier are parliamentary matters. The death of a child, tragic though that is for the parents, is not.
After all, we do not suspend parliamentary procedure every time one of our soldiers is killed and they, too, are somebody's sons and daughters. Furthermore, their death is in the service of this country. But, rightly, we do not think that parliamentary procedure is something with which we should play about with.
However, it seems that that is exactly what our MPs think - that Parliament and its procedures are their private games and a stage on which they can display their sensibilities for all the world to see.
The Register has pulled off a coup, translating the work of a group of key Japanese climate scientists, who are somewhat less than impressed with the work of the IPCC.
Their findings have been published by the Japan Society of Energy and Resources (JSER). Lead author is Kanya Kusano, Program Director and Group Leader for the Earth Simulator at the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science & Technology (JAMSTEC).
He focuses on the immaturity of simulation work cited in support of the theory of anthropogenic climate change and, using somewhat undiplomatic language, compares the IPCCs conclusions with ancient astrology.
After listing many faults, and the IPCC's own conclusion that natural causes of climate are poorly understood, Kusano concludes: "[The IPCC's] conclusion that from now on atmospheric temperatures are likely to show a continuous, monotonous increase, should be perceived as an unprovable hypothesis."
Three of the five researchers in the Japanese report disagree with the UN's IPCC view that recent warming is primarily the consequence of man-made industrial emissions of greenhouse gases. Remarkably, we are told, the subtle and nuanced language typical in such reports has been set aside.
Not only does one of the five contributors compares computer climate modelling to ancient astrology, others castigate the paucity of the US ground temperature data set used to support the hypothesis. Furthermore, they declare that the unambiguous warming trend from the mid-part of the 20th Century has ceased.
The report is considered to be an "astonishing rebuke" to international pressure, and a vote of confidence in Japan's native marine and astronomical research.
JSER is the academic society representing scientists from the energy and resource fields, and acts as a government advisory panel. The report appeared last month but has received curiously little attention. So The Register commissioned a translation of the document - the first to appear in the West in any form.
Needless to say, our milkmaids in parliament and elsewhere will studiously ignore these findings. No doubt most of them are too busy in the Commons tea room, studying the dregs of their beverages in order to predict the next increase in their pension plans.
Two recent cases of fatal accidents in which the perpetrator had been sending and receiving texts prior to crashing into a stationary car and killing its driver have come to notice. One was that of the waitress, Philippa Curtis who killed Victoria McBryde on the A40 near Wheatley in Oxfordshire. She was given 21 months in prison and was banned from driving for three years.
The judge used suitably tough language even though Ms Curtis sounded shattered by her experience (as well she might be):
Judge Julian Hall said it had been "folly and madness" to use a phone while driving and it had been "disastrous" for Curtis, Ms McBryde and her family.Ms McBryde's family are campaigning for tougher penalties for people who use mobile phones particularly to send and receive text messages (try doing that while keeping your eye on the road).
Let's not get overexcited. The second case concerns that pillar of the Establishment, Lord Ahmed, last heard of strenuously trying to prevent the Dutch politician Geert Wilders from making his case in the House of Lords and succeeding with the help of our own special idiot of a Home Secretary.
Incidentally, Lord Ahmed sees nothing wrong with him inviting controversial speakers to the House, as David Pryce-Jones points out on his blog.
Two years ago, Lord Ahmed invited Mahmoud Abu Rideh, a Palestinian previously detained on suspicion of fundraising for groups associated with al-Qaeda, into the House of Lords. It was his parliamentary duty, he told critics, to listen to what Abu Rideh had to say.He has also hosted a book launch for a well-known anti-Semitic writer, Israel Shamir also known as Jöran Jermas. But freedom of speech goes only so far with the noble peer and in this he seems to be supported by those brave souls in the Home Office.
However, the latest news is that Lord Ahmed has finally been sentenced for his dangerous driving during which he sent and received text messages and at the end of which he killed a man. Precisely the same sort of behaviour that earned Ms Curtis 21 months in prison.
So, if a barmaid gets 21 months and a three-year driving ban, a peer of the realm who is much in the public eye and ought to be an example to many people, not least Muslim young men, gets ... 12 weeks.
Well, you see, he had finished texting a little while before the accident, though, as the judge pointed out, he had actually been conducting a long conversation with a journalist via his mobile phone's texting facility (or possibly his Blackberry but that hardly matters). And anyway the chap who was killed had been drinking. Well, yes, the vehicle was stationary but ... ah well, you know, these things do happen and we can't have the first Muslim peer going to gaol for a long time and possibly losing his peerage.
Actually, he is not going to prison for even that long as he will serve half the sentence on licence. Well, one wouldn't want to inconvenience his lordship too much, would one. He has also been banned from driving for a year and ordered to pay £500 of prosecution costs. His solicitor seems to think this is all a terrible injustice.
Outside court Lord Ahmed's solicitor, Steve Smith, said he thought his client had been used as a "scapegoat" by those attempting to drive home the message about not using a mobile phone while at the wheel.Goodness, I am so glad that he is exhibiting great dignity in the face of the terrible injustice of a six-week gaol sentence for killing a man through careless and dangerous driving.
He said he was launching an immediate appeal against the sentence.
He said: "I've been with him. He's very philosophical. He's approaching it with great dignity."
Long and tedious discussions from political hacks have been devoted to Gordon Brown's "controversial" plans to part-privatise the Royal Mail. Not least has been the oft' posed question, "why is he putting himself out on a limb like this, when it is so unpopular?"
The subject is heavily rehearsed in the print media and online, where the likes of The Guardian purport to give us a complete background briefing, while Edward Heathcoat-Amory tells us in The Daily Mail that privatisation is essential for the survival of the service.
But nowhere will you find any mention of the real reason for Brown's "enthusiasm" (at least, not anywhere I can find). What you do see though, is news that the Tories are considering helping out Mr Brown in his endeavours to implement the Postal Services Directives. And he really needs their help. The "full market opening", under EU rules, must be in place by 2010.
It thus comes as no surprise to learn that Kenneth Clarke has promised to vote for the part-privatisation plan. That really tells you all you need to know. But are the Tories really that stupid? Or is it, as Iain Dale suggests, they don't know how to spell o-p-p-o-s-i-t-i-o-n?
December last, we started seeing a disturbing increase in the number of casualty reports – at a time when, traditionally, the campaign season should have been winding down. Only later, in typical MoD style – well after the event - did we learn that there had been a major operation in progress.
This was codenamed Sond Chara – Red Dagger. The MoD reported the operation as a "success", but not all is as it seems. We have a look at it over on Defence of the Realm.
Deutsche Welle and many others are remarking on how the stresses of the global financial crisis are affecting the unity of the EU.
In particular, it makes some interesting observations on the meeting in Berlin last Sunday, "designed to forge a common EU response to the global financial crisis ahead of a G20 summit". The talks, it says, called by Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel, were attended by the leaders of France, Britain, Spain, Italy, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and the Czech Republic, the latter in its capacity as the "rotating EU presidency".
This, of course, was not the EU and the "dwarves" are being left out. Sweden's Carl Bildt is complaining bitterly that "six to eight" EU member states had been left out of the decision-making loop.
Finnish Foreign Minister Alexander Stubb then admitted to being "extremely worried about the EU's institutional chaos," adding gloomily: "Never in the EU's history has there been a period like this with so many cliques." He goes on to say that: "This confusion is not only undermining small EU member states and the (European) commission, but the council (of all 27 EU members) itself."
This was at the General Affairs Council, where the EU commission took another knock, when the Council refused to endorse its grandiose plans to swipe €5 billion from the EU budget to fund its latest raft of pork-barrel projects.
It is quite strange how little publicity that has got in the British media, but then of course our gilded fourth estate have much more important things to concern themselves about. But this is a major setback for Barroso. The Council has not only rejected the cash grab but has also refused to accept any alternative proposals for funding the projects.
It has to be said that if the government in Britain had put up a €5 billion project, on very dubious legal grounds, and had been slapped back with not even a figleaf on which to rely, it would be all over the headlines but, once again, because it is in Brussels – even though it is our government and our money (part of it), no one wants to know.
DW suggests that the "divisions" witnessed in Brussels on Monday highlighted the EU's difficulties in remaining united "as it struggles to deal with its worst economic downturn in decades."
Furthermore, those divisions are very real. As Ambrose "Armageddon" Evans-Pritchard wrote yesterday, the Germans are having to consider financial measures which fly in the face of eurozone rules, which the commission would be hard put to oppose.
Gradually, step-by-step, the power and authority of the commission is draining into the sand.
Ambrose notes that the architects of EMU were well aware that a one-size-fits-all monetary policy for vastly disparate nations would create serious tensions over time. They gambled, he says, that this would work to their advantage.
The EU would then be forced to create new machinery to safeguard its investment in the euro. It would be a "beneficial crisis", bringing about the great leap forward to full union. We are, predicts Ambrose, about to find out if they were right.
Not a little while ago we enjoined our readers to remember the words of the 19th Century German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche: "What does not kill us makes us stronger." Then, we observed, if by the end of this financial crisis – if it ever ends – the EU is not a smouldering wreck, it will emerge stronger, more powerful and more arrogant than before.
It is beginning to look as if the smart money should be on "smouldering wreck".
The website publicservice.co.uk, which calls itself "the information portal for the public sector", blandly tells us that: "Galileo to be given military purpose." This is one of the outcomes of the debate in the EU parliament on von Vogau's own initiative report on which we reported earlier. Thus we are told that:
The European Parliament has confirmed that the Galileo satellite system will be made available to the military and security services of EU member states to enhance their communication capabilities.When you think, going back, how hotly it was denied that Galileo had any military applications. It was a civilian project under civilian control, etc., etc., repeated ad nauseam. And now it just plops out in an obscure journal, natural as you like, as if it was perfectly uncontentious and hardly worth a comment.
It also called for member states to adopt standardised communication technologies that can be used for common capabilities for both defence and security purposes. This applied to satellite-based intelligence, surveillance and warning equipment, unmanned air vehicles, helicopters and telecommunication equipment and air and sea transport. The parliament also called for a common technical standard for secure communications.
However, if we cast our minds back to various statements on this issue, we can recall Adam Ingram who on 19 January 2005 told the House of Commons:
On Galileo, let me just say that it will be a civil system, under civil control. That has been confirmed by successive EU Transport Councils. The UK has emphasised that that should remain the case. In December … the Transport Council stated that any decision to alter the civil status of Galileo would have to be agreed unanimously by member states under pillar 2 of the EU treaty. That is the constitutional structure under which Galileo exists. It is quite clear that what we have laid down with our NATO partners will protect the integrity of that system. The global positioning system, not Galileo, is currently the basis of NATO operations, and will remain so into the future. Galileo will be a civil system. That has been expressed time and again in the Chamber and elsewhere.Whatever happened to the Transport Council statement that any decision to alter the civil status of Galileo would have to be agreed unanimously by member states under pillar 2 of the EU treaty? I somehow don't remember any official announcement of a change in status based on a decision by member states.
So it is, another EU project based on a lie, reinforced by our own politicians who so glibly repeat the lies. Galileo always did have military applications and it was always the intention that it should be used to strengthen the ESDP. But, when the lie is admitted, nothing is said, nothing is done. We just go on with our lives, and the "project" marches on, built on its foundation of lies that, in the fullness of time, it cannot even be bothered to conceal.
The BBC is informing us that Polish Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski "has urged EU governments to contribute to a special fund to maintain the Auschwitz death camp memorial site."
The camp, where Nazi Germany murdered more than one million people - most of them Jews - now consists of decaying buildings, mostly in need of repair. Poland wants international support for a €120m foundation to preserve Auschwitz.
Sikorski is saying that it was "the last moment to act" to save the site. "If the foundation receives €120m it could use six or seven million euros each year for the conservation of the camp." He adds: "This is really the time to ensure that the last death camp still conserved is maintained for future generations."
With such huge historical overtones and the burden of guilt carried by this symbol of death, it is almost impossible to discuss this rationally. But there has to come a point when questions have to be asked about the historical drag of the Holocaust and how it still dominates modern politics.
The problem is not the retention of Auschwitz as a memorial to the dead. The problem is the European Union which is, in effect, a living memorial to those horrors.
What very few people fully understand is the extent to which the doctrine of "preventing another war in Europe" drives the ideology of the EU. We are all used to the oft repeated mantra that the EU kept the peace in Europe for (insert number of years here) but what does not come over is how deeply and seriously this is meant, and what an enormous influence it has on EU politics.
Anyone who questions this is immediately reminded of the Holocaust, to the extent that the real, if unspoken, symbol of the EU is not the ring of stars but Auschwitz itself. In such terms, to question the EU is to question the Holocaust – so intimately bound up are the two.
It is that understanding – my understanding – of how deep this vein of history goes – that provoked my earlier reference to Arbeit macht frei in relation to the British purchase of Austrian-built trucks. The reference, for all its emotive overtones, is apposite. The award of the contract was not made on operational or commercial grounds but for ideological reasons.
At the heart of this contract was the deal agreed by Tony Blair and Jacques Chirac in St. Malo in 1998, to build a European Army, the then euphemism being the European Rapid Reaction Force. Anyone who thinks this was anything other than a stepping stone toward the final objective is deluding themselves.
The "colleagues", as with Karl von Wogau, have made their ambitions crystal-clear on this. There is no pretence here, no deception, no cloaking of intentions. They want a European Army. It is their Holy Grail, the final step which must be achieved before the grand experiment of European political integration can be called complete.
If there is any deception it is with our own politicians, who continually and wilfully delude themselves that the "colleagues", who are so clear in stating their ambitions, somehow do not mean what they say. Thus, we have an all-pervading self-deception, where the march towards the European Army is dressed up as "co-operation" and the underlying political agenda is airbrushed away as if it did not exist.
Thus, when it came to awarding the British contract to MAN, our politicians may have deluded themselves that this just a fine gesture, to demonstrate British good faith and our willingness to support European "co-operation". But the "colleagues" see it very differently.
The principle of "synchronisation", about which von Wogau is so enthusiastic, runs deep into the heart and soul of the European "project". This is the fundamental principle whereby, if we are all so heavily synchronised - "interdependent" is another word - we will no longer have the wherewithal to go to war with each other. That is the purpose of European integration, the final cover being to achieve a perfect state of "interdependence".
Thus, more than sixty years after the end of the Second World War, the fear of starting another one is still the main driving ideology behind contemporary European politics. The shadow of Auschwitz looms large in the corridors of Brussels. It is still the dominant force, and drives the project forward during every waking moment.
Thus, when Radek Sikorski evoked the symbolism of Auschwitz, he is appealing to the very heart of the European ideology. But, what he does not realise, perhaps, is that the memorial he seeks to preserve is not in Poland but in Brussels. It should belong in Poland.
Thus, Sikorski should get his €120m to maintain the memorial, so that we never forget. But the corresponding deal is that we should dismantle the shrine in Brussels that is the EU, turn away from its sterile, backwards-looking ideology and get on with our lives. We should look to the future instead of being trapped, perpetually in our past.
David Cameron has called for a public inquiry into how financial regulators failed to spot the collapse of banks including Northern Rock and the risky lending practices that led to the current credit squeeze.
Er … and what took you so long? And wouldn't it be a good idea to find out what went wrong first, before you rush in with new legislation, trying to fix the problem?
That seems a simple progression: find out what went wrong and why; work out what is needed to remedy the problem; then implement the fix. Why does anyone think that doing it in the reverse order is going to make things any better?
According to a YouGov poll, with details via the Press Association, more than a third of voters believe the Army will have to be brought in to deal with a "summer of rage" on British streets as the recession bites.
The poll has been commissioned by the Prospect magazine, which has found that 37 percent thought such "serious social unrest in several British cities" was certain or likely. A slim majority (51 percent) disagreed.
This may be an attempt at wish fulfilment on the part of those who believe violence will erupt – or would like to see it happen. Polls on such subjects are even more unreliable than usual, and what people think might happen is no guide as to whether it will.
However, you can be fairly well assured that there will be plenty of recruits from the Washwood Heath district of Birmingham, should the call come. It would be sadly ironic if the Army was called in to restore order, driving in MAN trucks.
The manufacturer of these trucks, MAN Nutzfahrzeuge Österreich AG, has an interesting history. Originally, it was part of Steyr-Daimler-Puch, which was founded in 1934 out of the merger of Austro-Daimler-Puchwerke AG and Steyr-Werke AG. Then, in 1941, it became part of the "Reichswerke Hermann Göring" empire, producing vehicles, armaments and also manufacturing aircraft engines under licence from Daimler Benz, using slave labour for its workforce.
After the war, it reverted to its original name, building up its truck business which it then sold off. That became Steyr Nutzfahrzeuge AG which was absorbed by the Germans to become the Austrian part of the MAN-Nutzfahrzeuge group. Its workers are now happily employed producing trucks for the British Army.
With such an interesting and varied background, it is only right and proper that these trucks should be used for such important work as maintaining the Queen's peace. Arbeit macht frei, as someone once said. Certainly worked for the Austrians.
- - -
And if you think that is in bad taste, this company is the linear descendent of a company which during the war was owned by a Nazi gangster and which used slave labour from concentration camps. This is the company which is now building trucks for the British Army which, as our previous story shows, directly displaced British workers and led almost directly to the collapse of LDV.
By all means, we can forgive the Austrians their past, but not at the price of their producing equipment for the British Army which we could and should have produced. This is especially so when it is to be used by soldiers in a war zone where the Austrians are notably absent, yet are profiting mightily from it - all funded by the British taxpayer who will have to pick up the dole payments of our displaced workers.
That, to me, is in extremely bad taste. It is about time some of our politicians woke up and smelt the coffee.
Geert Wilders, the man whom the Home Secretary deems to be a greater threat to Britain than many hate-spilling imams and known terrorists, is visiting several American citis this week and going to Washington DC on Friday. Undoubtedly, there will be threates of violence. After all, the best way of proving that Wilders's arguments in "Fitna" are wrong is by doing just what he says Islamists do - threaten violence.
We shall see how the American authorities on various levels will react.
UPDATE: He has made it as far as New York City as this account by Phyllis Chesler shows. As ever, I wish she would not make ignorant comments about Churchill but it can't be helped. Americans seem to be insane on the subject. (And you don't often hear me say things like that.) Still, the fact that Geert Wilders has been able to speak freely in the United States shows that things are not as bad there as here and also proves something I have been saying for some time. This country needs a new Bill of Rights (just as soon as we are out of the EU) with that all-important First Amendment incorporated very high up.
What is the connection between the demise of the troubled van-maker LDV and the British Army?
Well, have a good look at the picture on the left. It shows an Army truck assembled at the Vienna plant of MAN Nutzfahrzeuge Österreich AG in Austria, and you are now seeing some of them – like this one - over here.
The MoD chose these in 2004 to equip the British Army, much to the anger of British bidders, with 5,200 to be delivered between 2007 and 2013. The contract was worth £1.1 billion and, at the time of the order, the MAN website was happily chirping that it "ensures a continuous workload for the Vienna plant and thus helps to safeguard jobs" – Austrian jobs.
In the bidding for the contract, however, the clear favourite was the then US military truck maker, Stewart & Stevenson. It had a combat-proven product which was acknowledged to be better.
Crucially, and here is the rub, it had teamed with UK firms, Multidrive Limited, Lex Defence, and LDV Limited in order to bid for the contract. It intended to build the trucks in Birmingham, giving the contract a high British-design and build component, using one of the LDV plants for the manufacture.
The purchase was made during Blair's "European phase" when he was putting his weight behind the EU's Rapid Reaction Force and this was yet another of those rigged contracts in pursuit of the "European First" defence procurement policy. Such was the enthusiasm to buy the MAN truck (also bought by Eurocorps) that key performance standards were waived.
Thus, according to the National Audit Office, it was not required to meet "Defence Planning Assumptions" and neither was it required to be "capable of operating in world-wide climatic conditions", an interesting waiver, given that it was intended to operate in both Iraq and Afghanistan. That the competition fully met the specifications put them at a disadvantage.
For LDV, the loss of the contract was disastrous. Formerly part of the British Leyland Empire, the company had been saved from closure in 1993 by a management buy-out and in 2002 had put in a bid for the Army support vehicle contract, as part of the S&S consortium, with high hopes of winning. Success would have guaranteed the jobs of at least 600 British workers, directly employed, and many more secondary workers. With the contract now in full swing, would have helped the company weather the recession.
Furthermore, not only would this have given the British Army a high quality, British-built product, it would have presented us with an opportunity to restore military truck-building to the UK, with the prospect of future export earnings from vehicles which would have been combat-proven in Iraq and Afghanistan.
LDV actually claimed that, had the contract been awarded to its consortium, it would also have provided work for 140 suppliers across the country, as well as recreated a strategic UK manufacturing capability in specialised military trucks.
Ironically, Stewart & Stevenson was bought out in 2007 by BAE Systems, so the manufacture would have been a wholly British affair, with taxpayers' money going to British enterprise rather than Austrian truck-builders.
As it was, shorn of any prospects of participating in a valuable £1 billion-plus contract, in 2005 LDV was put into administration and rescued by a venture capital firm, a year later then Hoovered up by the Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, owner of the Russian military truck-maker Gaz. He got it for the knock-down price of £50 million, a fraction of what it would have been worth had it secured the MoD order.
In 2007 it posted a £25 million loss – a fraction of what the company would have made building British trucks for the British Army. Now, with the company on the ropes, it is seeking a bridging loan of up to £30 million from the government - which would not have been needed had it secured the MoD order.
The firm, which employed 900 people in Birmingham and supported about 5,000 more in related industries, suspended production in December. All those jobs are now at risk, a particularly savage blow for the run-down Washwood Heath district where LDV is the largest private sector employer. Chairman of the Gaz automotive group, Erik Eberhardson, says the British van-maker had been "surviving on air for the past few days and on the goodwill of the employees".
Meanwhile, the employees of MAN Nutzfahrzeuge Österreich AG are happily building trucks for British soldiers to take out to Afghanistan. There, our troops are fighting for the freedom of the Western world, where there is a noticeable absence of ... Austrian soldiers.
And the Government tonight has ruled out a taxpayer-funded rescue. Having spent all of £1.1 billion on fine Austrian-built trucks for British soldiers, it cannot afford £30 million that is needed to save the jobs of British workers.
Even if we thought it should legislate in this area – which we do not – the way this is happening is not good news.
The EU, we are told, is moving into top gear on financial regulation reform "as part of global efforts to apply lessons from the credit crunch and make markets safer for investors." However, it seems, this complex process has turned into a "race" dictated by the timetable for the Euro-elections.
In order to get the first stages of the legislation through before the parliament breaks to go electioneering, the EU commission wants to rush its proposals through, to avoid hang-ups later.
The timetable is also heavily influenced by the prospect of a new commission taking over – with a considerable hiatus as new members are vetted and approved by the EU parliament, putting new legislation "on hold" from June until near the end of the year.
On the agenda are, amongst other things, reforms to the bank capital rules, in an attempt to undo some of the damage done by the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision guidelines. But, considering the labyrinthine complexity of these rules, and the fact that the Basel Committee took fourteen years to get them wrong, the thought that the EU is rushing ahead with modifications is not a happy prospect.
Certainly, no thought is being given to any wide-ranging examination of the regulatory structures which have done so much damage. This is more of the same, only done at great speed, which can only bode no good.
The EU is at it again, prancing on the world stage, trying to be important. Its latest pronouncement being that it has a "crucial strategic interest" in Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine. Therefore, "we" should dosh out €350 million to help tide them over their little local difficulties.
Now, there can be no dispute that the fate of these countries is of immediate importance to the likes of Germany and some of the eastern states, not least because of the gas supply and diverse other matters. And, in the general run of things, what happens in these countries is important. But it's not that important … not to the UK, anyway.
Nevertheless, that does not stop EU external relations commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner declaring that the EU's so-called "Eastern Partnership" has "gained urgency" and we must drop everything and rush to its aid. Problems in Eastern Europe, she says, "affect us directly".
Therein lies our problem. They don't "affect us directly". Our prime minister has – or should have – far more important things to concern himself about, and we have far more important things on which to expend our dwindling pile of cash.
But there it is in a nutshell. If the EU says it's important, then it's important, whether we think so or not. And when it plays, we pay, all to help the little old lady in Kiev cross the road, between the high-priced SUVs (pictured) – AP's way of illustrating that there is a crisis in Ukraine.
The trouble is, we really cannot afford these diversions. We need to be able to address our own priorities, and deal with what is important to us - not wasting our efforts and resources dancing to the EU's tune.
Every year, round about now I write a posting about the Oscars as there is usually something of interest in them; in return, every year I am roundly abused by many of our readers who do not consider such events worthy of discussion. Then again, those readers abuse me for so many things that it really does not matter what the particular excuse is.
So here it is, folks: the ritual Oscar posting but this year with a difference. There is nothing to say. Which is very sad for those of us (well, me) who love film and like looking at pretty clothes on attractive people.
I am very glad that Kate Winslet won the Best Actress award because I think she deserved it. I went to see "The Reader" and reviewed it for the New Culture Forum. I remain ambivalent about the film but not about Winslet's performance: it was excellent.
I was particularly pleased because I have been reading pompous articles about the need for British actors to adopt the American obsession with the Method, which produced such luminaries of the screen as Marilyn Monroe and Marlon Brando, neither of whom could act but both were undoubted stars who hogged the screen. If they do not, said pompous articles, British actors, even as good as Kate Winslet will fall behind in the Oscars stakes. Well, yah-boo and sucks to them.
I am quite pleased that "Slumdog Millionaire", by the sound of it (have not seen it yet but fully intend to) an unpretentious film, has won all those awards.
I am not all that impressed by Gordon Brown, former Chancellor of the Exchequer, now Prime Minister trying to bask in reflected glory. This has nothing to do with him or any other politician and to proclaim that the British film industry, such as it is, leads the world is the height of stupidity. But then, what would one expect?
Others I am less bothered by, though I hear good things about "Milk", so I may well overcome my visceral dislike of Sean Penn and go to a screening. But really, I could not put the general flatness of the whole business better than Andrew Klavan, writer, blogger and script-writer, has done. Sad but true.
So, I think, this evening I shall go to the National Film Theatre. On offer are a French film of 1946 with a young Yves Montand or a heavy-going German film of 1933. Decisions, decisions.
UPDATE: It was decided for me. "Les portes de la nuit" had sold out so it was heavy Germanic symbolism. "The Testament of Dr Mabuse" was the last film Fritz Lang made in Germany before he went into exile and it was banned in his homeland. Goodness knows why - I should have thought it showed quite clearly that the country needed a benign Leader. It is not a film for the fainthearted, some of whom giggled hyserically behind me but it does put many things into perspective, not least Hollywood's great gift to Mr Lang - a really tough editor.
Pointing to more trouble to come, The Daily Telegraph notes: "Thousands of foreign workers exploiting British jobs market".
The issue is "intra-company transfers", through which means international companies can transfer their staff to the UK for supposedly limited periods of time. However, the number of workers taking advantage of this system has increased by almost half in four years. Some 48,010 applications for intra-company transfers were approved in 2008, up 47 per cent on the 32,770 given the go ahead in 2004 and the equivalent of 131 arriving every day.
These figures, says the paper, will further fuel the row over foreign labour as the recession deepens and comes ahead of more damaging immigration and population statistics to be published tomorrow.
Much as the political establishment wants to ignore this issue, numerous stories are doing the rounds, one doing the e-mail circuit at the moment being a report from The Liverpool Echo. This tells of foreign workers being brought in by coach because "a company can't find the skills it needs among the local workforce."
Where this falls apart is that the company is the ship-fitting contractor Trimline, and it is claiming that cannot find skilled ship workers - in Birkenhead.
To add insult to injury, the work is on a Royal Fleet Auxiliary vessel at the Cammell Laird shipyard, paid-for by the British taxpayer. Polish workers are being bussed in to do the work, despite there being hundreds of skilled British shipworkers left idle after recent completion of major MoD contracts.
A number of media outlets are therefore picking up on the same vibes we reported in our earlier piece, the latest being Reuters. It is recording that the police are warning of a "summer of rage" with mass protests over the economic crisis, the first being the G20 summit in April.
The Met Police are well used to dealing with this sort of thing, and the likelihood is that any disruption will be the usual "renta-mob", using the current unrest as a cover for that which they do anyway. They do not need an excuse. And, with this being so well flagged-up, it could amount to nothing very much.
However, The Daily Mail is also on the case, and it too it picking up the vibes. The concern is that "law-abiding middle-class individuals who would never have considered joining demonstrations may now seek to vent their anger through protests this year. "
The point that has perhaps escaped the paper – and the police who have made the comment – is that the middle-class is no longer "law-abiding". Submerged under a tide of New Labour laws and forever being picked on by petty officials looking for easy targets, few have avoided brushes with the law. There is, therefore, an underlying reservoir of resentment and contempt which brings a new dimension to this situation.
This may result in developments which are not as clearly flagged-up as the police would like to believe. When people get really angry, they do not always follow the script.
Something more than an idle historical curiosity is the intriguing tale of the BBC's "dirty tricks" against the offshore pirate radio stations of the '60s, and its campaign to take them off the air.
What is particularly chilling is the way the BBC was able to ban all its own presenters from broadcasting any reference to Radio Caroline, the most popular of the pirates. It also suppressed audience research on the stations' popularity and put pressure on the Conservative Party not to support the pirates.
Amongst the other actions it took were lobbying acts such as The Beatles, Cliff Richard and Ken Dodd to ban their records from being played by the stations and blacklisting pirate DJs such as Tony Blackburn and Simon Dee. It even went to the extent of complained about an episode of the ITV spy thriller Danger Man (how I used to love that!) which was set aboard one of the ships, claiming that the show gave pirate stations undue publicity.
The actions did nothing to dent the popularity of the stations – and how could it. For a public broadcaster that still thought Palm Court Hotel was popular music, there was a ready audience out there which did not want to hear what the Beeb had to offer.
What people thought – and wanted – though - didn't matter to the Beeb – not when it thought its own monopoly was at stake. As a result, we saw the exercise of naked power, culminating in 1967 with the introduction of the Marine Broadcasting Offences Act. That was a "pork-barrel" Act if ever there was one. It made it illegal to work for, advertise on or supply pirate stations, closing down all but one, Radio Caroline, which struggled on in a sort of half-life.
The point of course is that this display of raw power demonstrated what the Beeb could do when it felt threatened by the relatively modest power of the commercial stations. Anyone who thinks the Beeb could not or would not exercise such power again – or does not – is in the land of the fairies. If government turned the screws, it would very quickly fall into line, and we would never even know.
The most sinister activity has to be the censorship – wiping from the content of a public broadcaster any mention of a phenomenon to which 20 million people were listening and which was familiar to many millions more. We have argued many times that the most powerful controls exercised by the media is in what they don't tell you, rather than what they actually publish.
In its attempts to suppress the existence of the pirate stations, the BBC was being rather ludicrous. Virtually everybody knew about them. But there are many, many other things about which we do not know – or about which we should know more – and are not being told. And, if we are not being told, how do we know that? If the Beeb knows, and it ain't telling, it may well be more than a simple oversight or a local editorial decision.
The BBC has shown is it is a major player in the censorship game, and can exercise enormous power. This sinister organisation is not our friend.
One gets exceedingly weary of the hole-in-the-corner way the MoD is "playing" the war in Afghanistan. Its strategy is to keep us largely uninformed as to what is really going on, while devoting its resources to a steady trickle of propaganda which serves to obscure rather than reveal the truth.
It played exactly the same game in Iraq, feeding us with glowing "puffs" about the "derring do" of "Our Boys", and happy little "touchy-feely" pieces about how our caring-sharing troops were engaging with those nice Iraqis and how things were getting better all the time – when the whole campaign was going down the pan.
We saw the propaganda technique in full swing last week when, out of the blue, we get a graphic account of an operation in the Upper Sangin Valley "which has struck severely at the narcotics industry in Helmand".
"Waves of helicopter-borne troops caught the Taliban by surprise," we were told, "in a meticulously planned assault which helps finance the Taliban's insurgency." And then we got the political pay-off from defence secretary John Hutton, who happily twitters:
Our dedicated and professional forces have once again taken the fight to the enemy. Their bravery, coupled with the size and sophistication of our firepower, has cleared the enemy from large areas of Helmand bringing security and governance to more of the province. The seizure of £50 million worth of narcotics will starve the Taliban of crucial funding preventing the proliferation of drugs and terror on the UK's streets.It is funny how military operations are always "meticulously planned", and no doubt this one was – like all the rest, although one suspects the MoD would not be publicising it otherwise. They leave those to their Boards of Inquiry and then keep schtum about the results.
Putting this operation in perspective, the local value of the Afghani heroin trade is in the order of £3 billion (as export income). By the time the drugs get on the streets at their destinations, they are worth ten times that – and sometimes more. Hutton's £50 million is in fact worth about £5 million as export value in the form of heroin. As crude opium in situ it is probably worth one tenth of that – about £500,000. That is not even chump change compared with the total value of production.
Even then, the figure is meaningless. The "industry" in Afghanistan is vastly over-producing. It is thus keeping back considerable stocks in reserve, to keep the price buoyant. It will simply replace this amount from stock and won't even miss it. That is one of the more sinister activities of the Taleban, they way they are manipulating the market. Thus, the loss of this small quantity of drugs will have no impact on the overall income and cause very little more than a minor, local inconvenience. It will certainly have no effect on the amount of heroin reaching the UK.
Without in any way downplaying what our troops achieved – they put their lives on the line for this operation - this is typical MoD spin. They talk up every "success" while never giving us the overall picture.
We saw them doing exactly the same in Iraq, talking up weapons cache seizures, which were minuscule compared to what was actually in circulation. On the other hand, they kept very quiet about major losses of equipment and wounded soldiers when, for instance, supply convoys got bounced - which was happening very frequently indeed.
The very great danger in hyping this up is that the MoD actually begins to believe its own propaganda, and starts to think it is achieving anything substantive. That again harps back to Iraq, when the Army mounted a huge programme of raids to capture weapons and bomb-making materials. When it paraded the seized material, one definitely got the sense that the MoD believed it was achieving something. But the raids made absolutely no difference to the rate of bombing and attacks.
Yet, when the US Army and Iraqis closed down the bomb-making factories in al Amarah and Maysan province, within a month, combat engineers doing mine clearance noted a sharp fall off in the number of bombs being laid. The MoD was deceiving itself that its activities were having any effect at all.
What we don't get is any sense of a balance sheet – what we are gaining in overall terms, and what it is costing us. For sure, we know that troops are killed – we know that because the MoD is obliged to tell us when a soldier dies, but it does not tell us of the injured.
What little information we get is statistically meaningless, because we can't relate to anything. The most detail we get is in "puffs" about heroic recoveries of British soldiers, who defy all the odds to overcome their injuries. This is in no way to denigrate these admirable people. It is to attack the MoD for the way it exploits their efforts as a tool of propaganda, giving a one-sided view without the bigger picture.
A little of that emerges in The Sunday Times today which publishes an article headed: "MoD hides rising injury toll of Taliban bombs". There, we are told that more than 100 British soldiers have suffered amputations and other debilitating injuries in the past year in Afghanistan, "according to previously suppressed Ministry of Defence (MoD) figures that reveal the true toll of the Taliban's roadside bombing campaign."
The number of troops losing limbs or eyes, suffering serious burns or permanent brain damage has increased dramatically since August 2007 when the Taliban intensified their efforts. During the past 18 months, 37 of the 71 British troops killed are known to have been the victims of roadside bombs or mines, but the number of troops disabled in the attacks has never been fully disclosed.
Figures now obtained by The Sunday Times show that 37 soldiers suffered "life-changing injuries" between April 2006, when they first deployed to southern Afghanistan, and the end of that year. There were 55 such injuries during the whole of 2007. Last year the figures more than doubled to 114 and there have been 12 cases this year.
Yet this is only one glimpse of the downside. We still don't get any details of how these troops were injured, under what circumstances, and whether – of crucial importance – they could be prevented.
One tantalising piece of information is that, while the MoD has bought better armoured vehicles in an attempt to counter the Taliban offensive, insurgents using such large amounts of explosives there is a limit on the protection afforded even by new Mastiff armoured vehicles. There have, we are told, been cases of soldiers in Mastiffs who were protected from a blast but who lost their legs below the knee as a result of the shock wave inside the vehicle.
We also learn that such is the scarcity of helicopters – which would provide a safer mode of transportation - that last week a British operation against the drug barons financing the Taliban had to use aircraft provided by the US marines. That, incidentally, is a detail curiously missing from the MoD "puff" on the operation.
Campaigners, says The Sunday Times claim the MoD is deliberately keeping the human cost of the war out of the public eye. All the MoD will admit is that 23 soldiers underwent amputations between December 2007 and November 2008, but said is was "unable to provide a breakdown of other serious injuries."
If that is what it is saying, that is a barefaced lie. The most comprehensive details of all injuries in theatre are kept, on a single computer database in Selly Oak, with complete details of all incidents. They are instantly accessible and can provide breakdowns of all the details needed.
Since the MoD is so sparse with its information, perforce, the only real way of measuring progress on the battlefield has been the death rate. This detail has traditionally been used by military historians and, of late, it has been the main metric (sometimes the only metric) on which the media rely. It there is a high number of deaths, the media get interested. If there is a period without casualties, the media goes to sleep.
The problem is that even this metric is now becoming heavily distorted. We saw recently a report in The Daily Telegraph on the extraordinary measures taken to airlift a dozen wounded servicemen out of Helmand province "in the largest and most complex medical evacuation since the conflict in Afghanistan began".
From that piece, we also learn that more than 20 troops a week are being evacuated by air from Camp Bastion and that the number of aeromedical evacuations has more than tripled since the first British forces entered Helmand in 2006 with 800 troops flown home in the past year.
Last year, we also saw a piece which reported that British battlefield casualties had been almost halved by radical new changes implemented by medics, bringing down the death rate on the front line in Afghanistan from almost a quarter dying from their wounds to one in eight.
The massive improvement in survival rates has been put down to "miracle bandages", a new tourniquet and the use of trauma consultants on board evacuation helicopters.
Significantly, the use of large Chinook and Merlin helicopters carrying an anaesthetist or emergency medical consultant plus four medics are the key factor. With most journeys in Helmand involving a two-hour round trip, the doctors can effectively set up a trauma station in the back of the helicopter keeping the patient alive until they reach the field hospital in Camp Bastion.
All this is being done for admirable reasons, and it is far too cynical even to suggest that the enormous effort made to prevent troops dying suits the MoD rather well. The fact is though, that with fewer troops being killed – when even quite recently they would have died – the war in Afghanistan is getting far less scrutiny than it might otherwise have done.
With 58 troops having died this year and last, and a ratio one death in eight applying when previously it would have been one in four, we might have seen 132 deaths but for the changes. Those extra 74 deaths would have brought the total from the current 126 to exactly 200.
These are, of course, rough calculations, but the point is made. With there having been 178 deaths in Iraq, a recorded death toll well in excess of that in Afghanistan would have drastically altered the media dynamics. There would have been far more reporting, much more comment, considerably more criticism and a great deal more political intervention.
What has escaped comment from those who have recently reported on the efforts made to keep injured troops alive is the apparently disproportionate effort being expended. From our extremely limited fleet of Merlins and Chinooks, no expense is spared when it comes to using them as flying trauma stations, but that leaves us even shorter of helicopters for operations, so we have to borrow from the Americans or send troops out in less safe forms of transportation.
Not for the first time do we observe that it would be gratifying if the MoD – as well as the media and politicians – devoted as much energy and resources to keeping troops alive and uninjured as they did to treating them and trying to keep them alive after they have been wounded.
That they could do more is indicated by a piece from Thomas Harding last week, in which he records an interview with Canada's defence minister who tells us that British forces in Afghanistan could "learn lessons" on how to properly equip troops on the front line.
This is an issue we have covered many times on this blog, noting how the Canadians are far more advanced in their force protection techniques, using equipment that we are only now thinking of buying, while still having considerable capability gaps.
With the death rate being contained by "artificial" means rather than by improved fighting equipment and tactics, the fear is that these words will fall on deaf ears. It has been difficult enough getting the MoD to focus on force protection and without constant pressure, there is great danger that we will see backsliding and a renewal of the complacency which has blighted the whole campaign.
As important, with the statistics being skewed – even if for the best of reasons – we are no longer getting any measure of what is going on, beyond the propaganda "puffs" from the MoD. Deprived of signals, we can only speculate, with suspicion that it is far worse than is painted and deteriorating rapidly.
Neither this government nor the MoD can be trusted to tell the truth, and nor can the media be relied upon to ferret it out. We can, under these circumstances, only fear the worst. We are now, in many senses, paying the wages of neglect.