Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The Guardian now blames the Liberal Democrats for arguing too much with the Tories !

Damian Carrington writes in the Guardian that arguments over energy in government are unsettling the markets and the banks and the resulting uncertainty will put the costs up for consumers.

Would Mr Carrington prefer it if the Liberal Democrats didn't argue with the Tories ?   That of course would calm the markets and all the financiers would be happy bunnies.   The Guardian usually attacks the Lib Dems for not arguing enough with the Tories, so this makes a change !  Democracy has produced a coalition and there is a price for democracy, which I for one am happy to pay.

Cambridge Revisited (1): Cambridge Union

Walking around Venice in early 2011, I decided to move back to Cambridge.  Finally in the summer of 2012 I did it. From time to time, I'll be posting about what I found here  

After a hard day's work at home in June, I received a message from the Cambridge Union: Presidential Debate tonight: "This house would disband the Liberal Democrats".  Well, I wasn't having that.   I turned up and sat on the committee bench where I had last sat in 1973.   (Prize if you can spot me)

The polite young people ignored the strange old bugger who had wondered in.  They were busy holding hustings for various posts which either didn't exist when I was a student or, if they did, were not elected posts.   This went on for over an hour.  You can have too much democracy, you know.  What struck me was that none of the candidates gave the slightest clue of their politics.  They all talked about their experience and their plans for the Union.  One candidate was in China and appeared by Skype.  In 1973 runners with cleft sticks would have been the technology.

Finally, the actual presidential debate.  The first thing which anyone from my generation cannot fail to notice is the number of women in the chamber, a big change from the early '70s when there were only 3 women's colleges and no co-education.  The debate veered between two themes - the nature of the Liberal Democrats and the record of the coalition government.  The outgoing president attacked the latter and his supporter David Davies cleverly attacked the former - for not being Liberal enough.  Ed Davey unsurprisingly chose to defend the coalition record.  Lembit Opik said...well, who can ever remember what Lembit says, but it was a bravura performance and probably won the debate for us, defeating the outgoing president's motion.  Of course, it might have been my own short contribution in the floor debate when I read out the preamble inscribed on every party membership card:

"The Liberal Democrats exist to build and safeguard a fair, free and open society, in which we seek to balance the fundamental values of liberty, equality and community and in which no-one shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity."

No other party will save you from conformity.  

I really welcome two changes from the old days.   We used to have all the guest speakers first, then the floor debate during which most of the audience drifted off to the bar.   Now they have the floor debate before the final guest speaker. The committee used to entertain the guests in the Chief Clerk's room.   Now they are taken to the bar where everyone can meet them.  I have yet to sample some of the more contemporary innovations, such as the Union's classes in how to mix cocktails.  We didn't have that in the '70s.  I wonder if they did in the '20s and '30s.  Probably not.  You'd hire a chap to do that for you.

Tell it not in Gath

Craig Murray comments on the distorted western media coverage of conflict in Palestine and Israel:

"There is no mention on the BBC – there has never been any mention on the BBC, or anywhere in the Western mainstream media – that for at least 4,000 years Ashkelon was an Arab town, until in 1948 the entire, Arab population of 12,000 was driven out by armed force, many being massacred."

It seems that Israeli propaganda follows the advice in the bible, 2 Samuel 1:20

Tell it not in Gath, publish it not in the streets of Askelon; lest the daughters of the Philistines rejoice, lest the daughters of the uncircumcised triumph."

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Shame on the Anglican laity !

As a devout atheist, I share the sorrow of my Anglican friends at this ridiculous decision and  as a devout Liberal, I believe it's time to look at disestablishment again.   If the CofE wants exemption from equality legislation, then it should join the other churches without the privilege of being the state's church.

The media keep reporting that the synod had voted against women bishops.   This is a simplification to say the least.   The church has a very odd constitution, requiring a two-thirds majority in each of the three houses, which voted today on the question of women bishops as follows:

Bishops: For 44, Against 3, Abstentions 2
Clergy: For 148, Against 45, Abstentions 0
Laity: For 132, Against 74, Abstentions 0

In other word a blocking minority of 74.   If only 4 members of the laity had voted the other way, the measure would have been passed.   If the combined backwoodsmen (and sadly women) of the laity have any regard for the hobbled majority, they should return tomorrow, vote again (which can be done with certain permissions) and eight of them should abstain, producing 132 for and 66 against, which provides 2/3 of those present and voting exactly, as required by Article 8 (1C) of the Constitution of the General Synod.

If you think think this is odd, have a look at how the membership of the synod is chosen.   The University of Cambridge elects one of the clergymen.   Don't ask me how that the university chooses that person.  I didn't have a vote.

Here endeth the lesson.

Friday, November 16, 2012

To Europe House last night for the launch of Surrey University's Centre for Research on the European Matrix (CRonEM) where my old friend Richard Corbett (now designated the 4th most influential Brit in the EU) and Sir Stephen Wall debated "Is the European Union past its sell-by date ?".

Richard emphasised a point he has also been making on the Today programme, that the UK should engage in the debate about the content of the EU budget not just the level.   Has any British paper or radio or TV programme reported that the European Commission's proposal involves cutting the CAP budget by 20% in real terms over 5 years and switching funds into activities that would benefit our economy like the research budget ?  

Incidentally, EurActiv's list of top Brits in the EU has a Liberal Democrat at no.1 and three others in the top 20.   You can check whether you guessed right here.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

An Eye for an Eye Will Make the Whole World Blind

Oh Israel !    Do you wish for peace ?  Oh Hamas, do you ?   It seems that both sides are engaged in using war to win power on their own sides.   Hamas leaders are fighting amongst themselves to replace their executed leader.   Israel's leaders are gearing up for an election.   The lives of Palestinians and Israelis  are not important to these people.   Why did Israel imagine that killing one man would make things better ?

Thursday, November 01, 2012

EU Budget: a few facts

I know it's inconvenient to let the facts get in the way of an argument but the European Movement has published a few, which I set out below.   I spared myself the ordeal of watching the assembled Europhobes in the Commons foaming at the mouth yesterday but I say to all of them - Tory and Labour alike - (and men and women alike, in case I am accused of sexism): "Calm down dear !"

European Movement UK calls for a better debate on the benefits of the EU budget
As the Westminster debate on the EU budget delivered a defeat for the PM and a display of political brinkmanship from the opposition that might prove a double edged sword, the European Movement has put together some facts and figures that have been mostly missing from discussions around the EU budget.
The budget of the European Union is an instrument that can help member states achieve economies of scale and reduce spending at home, on areas where better results can be achieved by spending at the EU level. It is an instrument of stability, with a 7 year long perspective and a long-term focus that often is not available to national budgets.
Instead of self-defeating arguments on how to reduce a budget that represents just a bit over 1% of public expenditure, the debate should be focused on how to make the most of EU spending to deliver added value and more benefits for citizens across the EU in general and in Britain in particular.
Everything you wanted to know about the EU budget but were afraid to ask.
The proposed EU budget for 2014-2020 is just 1.05% of EU GDP, whereas Member States’ budgets account for 44% of GDP on average.
Member State budgets are also increasing: In 2012, 24 national budgets out of 27 are due to increase according to the latest estimates.
More than 94% of EU budget goes back to EU citizens, overwhelmingly more than is the case for national budgets.
48% of new EU budget will go to measures promoting growth.
Only 6% will be allocated to administrative expenditure. Administrative reform, which already started a few years ago, has already saved EU taxpayers €3 billion, and it is expected to generate another €5 billion in savings by 2020.
Spending at the EU level can help Member States achieve economies of scale and reduce spending at the national level. €50 billion will be spend to fund transport, energy, and ICT priority infrastructures of pan-European interest, through the Connecting Europe Facility.
In 1985 70% of the EU budget was spent on agriculture. In 2011, direct aid to farmers and market-related expenditure were just 30% of the EU budget.
CAP reform has moved support away from production and towards income-support for farmers and projects to stimulate economic activity in rural areas.
The average EU farmer receives less than half of what the average US farmer receives in public support.
Estimates for 2009 are that the number employed was 5.6 million higher as a result of EU spending through cohesion policy in 2000-2006.
GDP in the EU-25 has been 0.7% higher in 2009 due to EU cohesion policy investments during 2000-2006. This is estimated to rise to 4% by 2020.
Growth in poorer regions and Member States thanks to EU spending leads to purchase of goods and services from another, richer region or member state. EU spending can increase demand at one part of the EU, creating more jobs at another.
EU Cohesion funding helped to revitalize Merseyside, and continues to invest in the Liverpool City Region. £300 million are spend to improve electronic interconnectivity between the UK and Ireland. Satellites for the EU funded Galileo project are built in Britain, creating high-paid jobs.
The UK received the second largest share of Research and Development funding, €2,282m, equal to 14.4% of the total EU spending on R&D.
According to the Court of Auditors, 95% of payments at EU level are correct. Out of the 5% error rate only 0.2% represents fraud. When EU funds are judged to be spend inappropriately, they are clawed back and returned to the EU budget.
The EU budget has never run a deficit.