Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Commonwealth grows

Flag of RwandaJust a quick post to welcome the newest member of the Commonwealth of Nations, Rwanda. (ABC News: Rwanda joins Commonwealth) Yes I know what you're thinking, Rwanda was never a British colony (it was German then Belgian) but then neither is Mozambique (ex Portuguese). Nor are they the only non-ex-British colonies interested in joining - Algeria and Madagascar (both ex French) have both applied.

Here in the UK the Commonwealth is often dismissed as an irrelevance but throughout the world it offers strong political and cultural ties between nations. It is a sign of its significance that even countries who lack a shared history with the UK wish to join. Let's hope that Rwanda's membership brings strong benefits to both Rwanda itself and the Commonwealth as a whole.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

It's grim down under...

Once upon a time Australia had a successful conservative party called the Liberal Party, for reasons of Australian history. It governed Australia for 42 of the last 60 years. Sure it had its ups and downs but it persevered and gave conservatives around the world hope and inspiration. Not for nothing were Robert Menzies and John Howard so admired by the British right.

Sadly that was then and this is now. In the last two years the Liberal Party lost a federal election and has imploded. First it elected as leader its very own version of Iain Duncan Smith, Brendan Nelson. Then it deposed him after only nine months. Next it elected Malcolm Turnbull who has lasted until now despite rubbish poll ratings and endless speculation.

But in the last week the party has descended into chaos over proposed climate change legislation. A large number of front benchers have resigned and at a meeting of the parliamentary party a motion to hold a leadership election was defeated by only 48:35, despite the only challenger coming forward being unelectable even by current Liberal standards. (ABC News: Defiant Turnbull takes on climate rebels & Conservativeinternational: Six frontbenchers quit Liberal frontbench in protest at Malcolm Turnbull's climate change deal with Kevin Rudd) One of them, Tony Abbott, is likely to be the credible challenger for the leadership that Turnbull has so far not yet faced.

What makes this even more ridiculous is that it's highly likely the Australia's Labor government will get climate change legislation passed one one way or another - either moderate proposals now with Liberal backing in the Senate or radical proposals after a potential "double dissolution" election that will give the Green Party the balance of power in the Senate. But common sense and pragmatism seems lacking in all this.

Here in the UK the Conservatives went through a horrible six years of naval gazing, infighting and umpteen leadership elections before we even began to get our spirit back. Now it seems that affliction has spread to the Australian Liberals and will harm them for a long time to come.

Oh and yes the Liberals have had leadership problems in the past. They once had an eight month leadership by Alexander Downer that few remember with praise - see YouTube: The Downer Months. But the party then had ideas and alternative talent, and soon found a viable new leader who swept them to election. Today it seems to have none of these.

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Sun is not 40 tomorrow

Shocka as The Sun gets it wrong!

Tomorrow The Sun is celebrating its fortieth birthday. (The Sun: We are 40 tomorrow) Invariably this is leading to much self-congratulation.

But The Sun has made a very basic error - the first edition did not "burst on to news stands on Monday, November 17, 1969". Depending on your preference (or whichever is the nearer excuse for self-congratulation) The Sun began either on September 15th, 1964 (see for instance the five year old BBC News: Forty years of The Sun) or on April 15th, 1912.

The latter date was when a newspaper called the Daily Herald was launched. It lasted under that title for over four decades, during most of which it served as the official newspaper of the Labour Movement (so its later "desertion" of the "family" is a key reason why many in Labour hate it). However by 1964 sales were heavily in decline and so it underwent a relaunch and a title change as The Sun, which was initially a high-minded broadsheet (publishers IPC already had a tabloid, the Daily Mirror). But after five years it was doing even worse than the Herald and so IPC sold it to Rupert Murdoch who relaunched it as the tabloid it is today on November 17th, 1969. But I guess "40 years of Rupert Murdoch" is not so good for publicity.

I can't remember if The Sun itself was celebrating 40 years in 2004 but the BBC News story suggests it was. And I won't be surprised if in 2012 The Sun celebrates its 100th birthday, then its 50th in 2014 and again in 2019. It seems The Sun has more birthdays than the Queen.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Julie Kirkbride - No, No, NO!

It is often claimed that in some constituencies a pig could get elected if it wears the right coloured rosette. From the news today it looks like one MP is so determined to keep her snout in the trough that she wants to put that claim to the test. (ConservativeHome: Julie Kirkbride tells Bromsgrove Conservatives she wishes to be their candidate at the general election)

My response to this is: No, No, NO!

Kirkbride was rightly forced to announce her retirement back in the summer and the only thing that has changed since then is that she's dropped out of the headlines for a while. But that does not mean it is right that she can try and just retract her announcement and hope to sneak back into Parliament as though everything is now all right.

We don't yet know for sure what her association will say but nigel hastilow: It works for Julie makes the interesting point:
Still, I don't suppose for one minute all this local support has anything to do with the fact that the association's chairman's wife and his daughter both work for her.
Grassroots Conservatives nationwide played a role in forcing her original announcement and can do so again. Whether it is persuading the local association to stick her application in the cess pit where it belongs or getting the national party to exercise its powers and Howard Flight her, it can be done and it must be done. She is completely unacceptable as a candidate.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Is Europe important to the electorate?

With dozens of commenters and hundreds of pseudonyms roaming the internet to express fake moral outrage about the Conservatives' policy on the European Union, invariably many are claiming that a huge portion of the electorate are concerned with this. But does the evidence stack up?

Late last month Ipsos MORI conducted their "issues index" opinion poll and the results are available online. This opinion poll asks two questions:
  1. What would you say is the most important issue facing Britain today?
  2. What do you see as other important issues facing Britain today?
One of the entries is for "Common Market/EU/Europe/EURO" (the multiple labels allow for ease of tracking over time). So how what percentage identified this as the most important issue facing Britain today?


Yes it's clearly an issue a huge chunk of the electorate prioritises above all else. Greater percentages selected each of the following:

Economy/economic situation, Crime/law & order/violence/vandalism/ASB, Race relations/immigration/immigrants, Unemployment/Factory Closure/Lack of Industry, National Health Service/Hospitals/Health care, Defence/foreign affairs/international terrorism, Education/Schools, Inflation/prices, Morality/individual behaviour/lifestyle, Pollution/environment, Poverty/inequality and Other

Ah but what about the second question, about other important issues? Well yes this did increase the total. The combined responses to questions 1 & 2 for Europe were:


Still an issue of huge concern to a vast chunk of the electorate! As well as all of the above, this time it was also beaten by: Pensions/social security/benefits, Housing, Drug abuse, Low pay/minimum wage/fair wages

Still the Euro-obsessives can take comfort that Europe scored equally to Local government/council tax and higher than: Public services in general, Taxation, Petrol prices/fuel, Nationalisation/Government control of institutions, Bird flu/Pandemic Flu/Swine Flu, Transport/public transport, Pound/exchange rate/value of pound, Nuclear weapons/nuclear war/disarmament, Countryside/rural life, Trade Unions/Strikes, Scottish/Welsh Assembly/Devolution/Const. reform, Privatisation, Animal welfare, AIDS, GM/GM (Genetically Modified) foods, Northern Ireland (this poll is Great Britain only) and Foot and mouth outbreak/farming crisis.

But I expect people to still make the same old unsubstantiated claim.

Oh look it's another resignation

And another MEP has resigned from the front bench over the new Conservative policy. (BBC News: MEP resigns in referendum dispute) Wow things must be really serious.

Oh it's Roger Helmer. This is the equivalent of Dennis Skinner resigning the Labour whip. It's just the same old difficult names causing trouble again.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Daniel Hannan has resigned

Two months ago the seemingly impossible happened. Daniel Hannan finally started to actually do something in the European Parliament when he became the Conservatives' front bench legal affairs spokesperson.

It could never last. Hannan has spent all his political career as a shouter not a doer, rabble rousing rather than negotiating. (If ever one wanted an argument for restricting leadership elections to parliamentarians, the fact that Hannan would win an activists' ballot for leader of the MEPs despite being utterly unsuited to the task is one.) And today the inevitable happened and Hannan has resigned. (Evening Standard - Paul Waugh: Cam's "EU-turn" backed by 1922..but not ConHome)

I'll post my thoughts on the new Conservative policy later, but for now I'll just say that Hannan will not be missed from the front bench. And I doubt he will have much influence on party policy either, after the mess he dragged the party into in the European Parliament. He will just have to rant in the wilderness.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

The Lisbon Treaty has been ratified

The deed is done. Václav Klaus has signed the Lisbon Treaty and thus it becomes enacted. (BBC News: Czech leader signs Lisbon Treaty) Now it is no longer a question of "if" but "now what?"

Inevitably attention is now going to turn to the UK Conservatives as to what policy they will follow if the next election puts them in government. The wilder ends of the blogosphere are already demanding a retroactive referendum be held early in the new parliament in the hope of undoing things. But let's be clear - such a referendum that votes "No" can have no legal force. The changes can't be unenacted.

(A slight diversion here as I expect someone is already about to post a reply on the lines of "Yes it can be undone! Parliamentary sovereignty means anything can!" Parliamentary sovereignty is all well and fine on matters within the full jurisdiction of Parliament. But it doesn't apply to areas beyond the scope of the jurisdiction or where jurisdiction has been withdrawn. For example Parliament could repeal the Canada Act 1982, but try enforcing that withdrawal in Canada! Similarly Parliament cannot undo an action transforming the EU, anymore than a person can unscramble an egg and put it back in its shell.)

All a post-ratification referendum would do is consume a lot of time and taxpayer money for no discernible difference. At the end of it the United Kingdom's relationship with the European Union would remain the same no matter what.

There are only two real ways forward. One is to grin and put up with the situation we have. The other is for a new government to undertake a renegotiation of the terms of membership of the European Union and then put those terms to the people in a referendum, much like the 1970s Labour government did, and if a satisfactory arrangement cannot be found then to withdraw.

However too many on the Eurosceptic wing of the party are rarely realistic on these matters. They have just spent the last four years focusing all their energy on the rather trivial matter of which grouping we sit with in the European Parliament after all!


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