Monday, January 28, 2013

I have in my hand a piece of paper...

Fascinating debate tonight in Cambridge on whether the preamble to the constitution of the Liberal Democrats should be amended.   We decided not to, not only because Cllr Colin Rosenstiel has  amended it enough already, but because it embodies in reasonable prose values which have stood the test of time.   There are indeed one or two minor infelicities of expression and a bit of repetition but nothing any of us would actually want to oppose.

Julian Huppert compared our golden opening words with the other main parties.

The Liberal Democrats (constitution here)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. We champion the freedom, dignity and well-being of individuals, we acknowledge and respect their right to freedom of conscience and their right to develop their talents to the full. We aim to disperse power, to foster diversity and to nurture creativity. We believe that the role of the state is to enable all citizens to attain these ideals, to contribute fully to their communities and to take part in the decisions which affect their lives.

The Labour Party (constitution here)

Clause 1 - Name and Objects
1 This organisation shall be known as ‘The Labour Party’ (hereinafter referred to as ‘the party’). Its purpose is to organise and maintain in Parliament and in the country a political Labour Party.

The Conservative Party (constitution here)
1 This is the Constitution of a political party which shall be known as “The Conservative and
Unionist Party” (referred to in this Constitution as “the Party”).  
2 Its purpose is to sustain and promote within the  Nation the objects and values of the
Conservative Party.

So the Labour Party and the Conservative Party  exist to maintain and promote themselves.  I always thought so.  (Actually the Labour Party says a little more in Clause 4 - no, not that clause 4)

Looking a little deeper, I wondered about how each party makes policy.

The Liberal Democrats (constitution here)
5.8 Subject to the foregoing procedure, all Federal policy papers and motions approved by
the Federal Conference shall thereby become the policy of the Federal Party.
6.7 Subject to the provisions of this Constitution, the Conference shall be the sovereign
representative body of the Party, and shall have power to determine the policy of the
Party in accordance with and subject to the provisions of Article 5.

The Labour Party (constitution here)
Clause 5 - Party Programme
1 Party conference shall decide from time to time what specific proposals of legislative, financial or administrative reform shall be included in the party programme. This shall be based on the rolling programme presented to conference by the National Policy Forum as approved by conference. No proposal shall be included in the party programme unless it has been adopted by conference by a majority of not less than two-thirds of the votes recorded on a card vote.

BUT N.B. " The 2008 Labour Party Conference was the first at which affiliated trade unions and Constituency Labour Parties did not have the right to submit motions on contemporary issues that would previously have been debated.[28] Labour Party conferences now include more "keynote" addresses, guest speakers and question-and-answer sessions, while specific discussion of policy now takes place in the National Policy Forum."  (Source - wikipedia)  How many constituency members in the National Policy Forum ? 55.

The Conservative Party (constitution here)

64 There shall be established and maintained a national policy development forum to be known as
the Conservative Policy Forum, the principal functions of which shall be:
64.1 to encourage and co-ordinate the formulation and development of policy ideas

BUT  nowhere in the Tory Constitution can I find who actually decides on policy. It's a mystery.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

WG Snuffy Walden and Brothers in Arms

...and now the Sunday song.  
BBC Radio 4's Soul Music  today discussed Dire Straits' Brothers in Arms and how WG Snuffy Walden used it in the West Wing when President Bartlett decided to run again.

Nationalism: an adolescent fantasy

I don't know if Daniel Hannan or any of his fellow Europhobes have ever visited the Menin Gate in Ypres.  It is the memorial to 54,896 soldiers who died near there in the First World War but whose bodies were never found.  Another quarter of a million died in the Ypres Salient.  The Versailles Conference and its success redrew the map of Europe with more nations than ever.  Twenty years later most of these were at war and another 60 million people died, 2.5% of the global population.   Now you find them in the European Union, fighting in committees not trenches.

Robert Schuman came from Metz in that strip of land that has seen more fighting in Europe than most ever since the Treaty of Verdun in 843 and on the advice of Jean Monnet proposed what became the European Coal and Steel Community, the first step in the creation of the European Union.  Neither of them was simply concerned with the better management of coal and steel.   They wanted to create a new form of supranational governance that would end war between the nations involved.   

If you have teenage children, you will know how important to them is their new-found independence, fresh from the dependent years of childhood.   Only when they become adults will they realise that John Donne was right:

No man is an island entire of itself; every man
is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;
if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe
is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as
well as any manner of thy friends or of thine
own were; any man's death diminishes me,
because I am involved in mankind.

Hannan and his chums, the clods who risk washing us all away, share this teenage delusion for Britain, which they call national sovereignty.    The truth is that the countries of the world are interdependent.   Our trade, our culture and our science have long recognised this.   Isn't it time our politics grew up too ?

(Here endeth the Sunday sermon).

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Blogger random change - help !

Blogger has started publishing some of my words with a white background but not all of them !   I wrote them all the same way.   What's happening ?  Any advice ?

Blogger now refuses to publish this post at all !    It's a conspiracy.

Hostages to fortune

BBC reports:
David Cameron has postponed a long-awaited speech on the UK's relationship with Europe to respond to the hostage crisis in Algeria.

Well, that was lucky for him - a jolly good reason not to make that speech yet, but he'll have to do it some time.    Cameron is like a man in a mire.  If he stands still he sinks slowly but if he tries to move out, he may sink faster.    If, as we all expect, he promises a referendum after a negotiation to make the UK different from every other member-state, then he will be a hostage and so will we all.  Cameron will be a hostage to a negotiation that he cannot win and we - the whole country - will be hostages to the prospect of the referendum and the uncertainty of our membership of the European Union.   Investment in the UK will fall and some firms may even move their work to less ambivalent member-states.   

The late Mr Biagioni...

Crane driver Mr Biagioni says he escaped death from the helicopter crash at Vauxhall because he was late for work.  The site developers gave a different version:

Tony Pidgley, chairman of site developer Berkeley, said the crane driver was not in the crane because of the "fog level".
"The operative is just not allowed up that crane in conditions like that because you just can't see,"
I believe the crane driver.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

More fog in Channel

The nation waits, breath held, belts tight, ears cocked for the great leader's great speech on Europe. What will he say on Friday ?   Why will he say it in the Hague ?   Will it be perhaps in double Dutch ?

The Tory europhobes give their view in Fresh Start.   Simon Titley give his view of their view in the Liberator Blog .  Andrew Duff gives his view in the pamphlet On governing Europe.

I see two certainties and one necessity.  1. There will be a referendum on British membership of the EU during the next parliament.  2. If there were a referendum today, the europhobes would win.   The necessity is to work hard to avoid the same result in 2016 or 2017.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Swords not yet into ploughshares

Who said this ?

"Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. The cost of one modern heavy bomber is this: a modern brick school in more than 30 cities. It is two electric power plants, each serving a town of 60,000 population. It is two fine, fully equipped hospitals. It is some fifty miles of concrete pavement. We pay for a single fighter with a half-million bushels of wheat. We pay for a single destroyer with new homes that could have housed more than 8,000 people. . . . This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron."

Answer tomorrow.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

He's not the messiah, he's a very naughty boy !

I was living in Brussels in 1979 but had the odd experience when visiting Britain of seeing only two television shows, of which one was a parody of the other.    On 9th November I went to the early evening performance of Monty Python's Life of Brian.  As we left the cinema, I noticed Malcolm Muggeridge and Mervyn Stockwood, the Bishop of Southwark going in.   Funny, I thought.  Funny, not their sort of film.  Later that night we tuned into the BBC's review programme  Friday Night, Saturday Morning, in which Muggeridge and Stockwood laid into the film, which was ably defended by John Cleese and Michael Palin.
Eleven days later, back in Britain again, I watched Not the Nine O'Clock News with a sketch in which a Python-worshipping Alexander Walker (film critic played by Mel Smith) laid into the fictional General Synod's Life of Christ.   This would have made no sense if I hadn't seen the original debate.

I'm delighted to find that both programmes are available on YouTube,  the Life of Brian discussion here and the parody here.   I thought Muggeridge and Stockwood were pretty awful when I saw the show 33 years ago but their bigotry and contempt looks even worse today.   I admit I had been shocked by the crucifixion scene myself but the Christian girl I was with had not been at all upset by it.  What does strike me now is the length of time the review programme was prepared to devote to one subject, impossible in the impatient, ratings-driven world of modern TV.  

Wikipedia has a fascinating article on Life of Brian and the Christian reaction.   Apparently Muggeridge and Stockwood claimed not to have seen the opening sequence which makes clear that Brian is not Christ.  If they did claim that, I have to wonder what they were doing between the moment I saw them and the start of the film.  The article reveals a cameo role played by a famous British comedian who happened to be visiting Tunisia at the time of filming.  Can you guess before you look it up ?

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Who shall we defenestrate now ?

Fascinating Economist article comparing the European Union and the Holy Roman Empire, the current crisis in the EU and the decisive moment which is upon us with the Reichstag meeting in Regensburg in 1652.   Probably safe to assume that Van Rumpuy will not arrive accompanied by 60 musicians and three dwarves, unlike Ferdinand III, the Habsburg monarch of the Holy Roman Empire.    There is continuity even in that family.    I once had to lobby the German MEP Otto von Habsburg.    There is a well-known but apocryphal story that finding the European Parliament bar empty one day, he asked the barman where everyone was.   The barman replied that they were all watching the football.   
"Who's playing ?", asked Otto.
"Austria, Hungary" said the barman.
"Against which country ?" asked Otto.

Interesting though the comparison between the EU and the HRE is, it neglects one vital feature.   Boris Johnson made the same mistake in his television programme some years ago comparing the Roman Empire favourably with the EU.   Yes, the difference is democracy.   The EU was established democratically by democracies and, for the most part, works democratically.   This leaves us with one question:

"Who shall we defenestrate today ?".   My choice is Nigel Farage.