Friday, 30 May 2014

Drugs and prostitution

The European Union has ordered member countries to include the sale of illegal drugs, counterfeit cigarettes and perfume, and prostitution in their official GDP growth figures. So far only Italy has said it will comply with this ruling.

It's not clear how any country could actually measure the sale of illegal goods and services (noting that prostitution is not actually illegal in most EU countries). Police seizures of drugs would measure drugs not consumed rather than the amount produced and sold.

Most likely this new rule will never really take effect, but it is a sign of how desperate officials are for any evidence of economic growth.

Thursday, 22 May 2014

French trains too wide

The French have spent €15bn making 2,000 trains, and they are all too wide for the stations!

Just mentioning it.... :)

Government have yanked nuts from vice

A few posts down this blog pointed out that criminal lawyers have got the government in a bind by claiming that legal aid is insufficient to cover defending people in complex cases. A fraud case was stayed by His Hon Anthony Leonard QC who claimed no fair trial could take place.

The government have now appealed and got that decision quashed by the Appeal Court. The case is to be re-listed.

It's not clear how the case could go ahead through. The defendants could try to represent themselves but in practice non-lawyers would struggle in the Crown Court - the process relies on everyone knowing  what they are doing. It would grind to a halt if the judge has to lead the defendants by the hand the whole way.

Give Theresa May her props

Yesterday Theresa May, hopeless home secretary, went to the Police Federation's annual conference and told them off good and proper. She stood in front of hundreds of officers who listened in stony slience as she reeled off a litany of complaints covering everything from Plebgate to the Hillsborough disaster. (Some of the officers in the audience wouldn't even have been born when 96 people died in the Hillsborough stadium on the 15th April 1989 and the police covered up their incompetence.)

May then went on to remove the Federation's government grant and make them liable for Freedom of Information requests for the first time. She also told them more serious kicking would be coming their way if they didn't knuckle under.

And all this was rightly said. The Federation is stuck in the 1970s. It's a sclerotic organisation stuffed with job-for-life officials with a guaranteed income from subs made by serving officers. Apparently visiting there is like getting in a time machine. Over the years they have become vastly rich and unable to just give themselves the cash they have built glass palaces and featherbedded themselves something chronic. No outsider is even allowed to know how much cash they have, but it is likely to be in excess of a hundred million quid.

So props to May for putting the boot in.

(Doesn't make up for losing the fugitive Mohammed Ahmed Mohammed who escaped in a burka or illegally detaining that Brazilian catamite though.)

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Euro-electioneering

The day after tomorrow the whole country will be electing new MEPs and the only question on everyone's lips is: will UKIP win by a landslide or will they do better than that?

A small number of clued-up nationalists will also be wondering how the BNP will do and whether Nick Griffin will lose his seat in Brussels. However the media blackout on the BNP means that the average voter thinks they went out of business ages ago. (They will be second from top on your ballot paper, someone having started An Independence From Europe party just to grab the top slot and mop up votes from UKIP supporters who get confused and don't bother reading all the way to the bottom.)

Then later this year the Scots will be voting on independence. So we could end up with England voting itself out of the EU while the Scots vote themselves out of the UK but remain desperate to be in the EU. Then in 2015 we have a UK general election and provided the Tories return to government in 2017 we get the oft-promised never-yet-delivered actual referendum on EU membership. Before that, in May 2016 the Scots have a general election of their own.

When one asks: what would be the effect of a yes or no outcome of any particular vote, it really has to be considered in the context of the outcome of all the other votes.

If Thursday sees a heavy endorsement for quiting the EU the immediate political response will be 1) the main Westminster parties will claim it doesn't really count because it was just the public expressing a general dislike for them, and 2) they will shift to a more Eurosceptic stance in order to pick up more votes in 2015.

In the Conservative party there is a strong grassroots urge to make a formal pact with UKIP, to avoid splitting the vote and letting the others, mainly Labour, in via the back door. One big decider of Thursday's vote will be whether the result is strong enough to force the Tory leadership into the arms of UKIP. If it's clear the Cons stand to lose just about all their seats at the general election expect to see a truce and joint Con-UKIP candidates in constituencies where that would tip the balance. A UKIP-Tory coalition would not be an awkward joining of mutual loathing like the current Tory-Lib Dem situation. UKIP and the Tories will love each other with a passion. The only fly in the ointment is the enduring tendency of the Tory leadership to be quite a bit more pro-EU than the membership (at least since the days of Thatcher.)

So Thursday's vote will change nothing immediately but could shift the big picture.

Then in September the Scots vote on independence. A "yes" outcome would concentrate minds. It remains the opinion of this blog that Scotland will vote "no", but a yes vote would throw lots of spanners in works. Unbundling Scotland from the UK is likely to take a few years so the current SNP government may have lost office before the deed is actually done. At the moment they only have a 4 member majority; so 2 constituencies flipping over to Labour would change the government. Labour, it should be noted, would be the main loser party if Scotland left the Union - it would be much harder for them to become the government in Westminster. They might even try to drag their heels past the 2020 UK general election or even re-run the independence referendum with a "no" recommended vote. We could see a situation after 2015 where there is a Labour government in Westminster which would lose office as soon as Scotland became independent and a Labour government in Edinburgh keen to ensure that does not happen.

We should also consider the rest of Europe. The UK is not the only country with an "out" faction. The French Front National is Eurosceptic and riding high at the moment. The Dutch Freedom party is actually keeping the minority government in office and the Germans have Die Freiheit (Freedom). Greece's Golden Dawn needs no introduction. All the other member states have "get out" parties with varying degrees of support. A formal British vote to leave the EU followed by the UK government triggering the exit clauses in the Lisbon Treaty (the first EU treaty which actually has exit clauses) would throw a cat among the pigeons not so much because of the prospect of the UK departure but because we might turn out not to be first in the stampede to the gate. By the time we were ready to quit there might not be an EU to get out of.

One can envisage a proposed UK exit triggering such an extensive reconfiguring of the EU that the resulting body would not be unacceptable to Eurosceptics, most of whom want a residual degree of free trade and some free movement of people, but are virulently opposed to foreigners making the laws we must obey, opposed to large scale immigration, opposed to immigrants being entitled to benefits and opposed to any form of common foreign policy and common defence policy. If the EU morphed into an a la carte loose association of nations with every member state free to select what to sign up to and what to opt out of and free to change its mind at any time (for example: common fishing grounds - no; free movement of manufactured goods - yes; metric measurements - no; common food hygiene standards - yes) then nationalists could be pacified but the EU departure never really take effect.

It is worth remembering that a number of countries only joined the EU in 1973 because the UK joined; notably Ireland and Denmark. They could not envisage being out while the UK was in. The Norwegian government was also keen to join but the people said no in a referendum (which caused the government to fall.)

That all said, Thursday will only be the start of a long series of plebiscites. This blog of course urges you to vote BNP but quite understands if you prefer UKIP. A vote for the LibLabCon is a wasted vote.

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Will the Russians invade the Ukraine?

You couldn't make this up! First a recap. There used to be an elected although corrupt government in the Ukraine which was beholden to Russia. The president was a guy called Yanukovych. The Russians sent the Ukraine cheap oil and gas and in return they got use of the deep-water port at Sevastopol on the Crimean peninsula.

Then in February the Americans sponsored a coup-d'etat and a pro-Western government under a guy called Yatsenyuk took over. The Russians took this badly and helped themselves to the Crimean peninsula (which really is the only bit of the Ukraine they actually want.)

The Russian-speakers in other cities in the east of the Ukraine took at look at this and decided they also wanted to be absorbed by Russia or if not that then independent. Cue many roadblocks and the occupation of government buildings. For a few weeks little actual violence though.

Faced with the prospect of the Ukraine disintegrating into a collection of state-lets, Yatsenyuk in Kiev (having his arm twisted by the American spooks actually running the show) ordered the national guard, still loyal to Kiev, to attack the "separatists", so we have now seen the army setting fire to buildings and shooting separatists when they tried to get out.

Meanwhile the Russians, who really do not want the rest of the Ukraine, Crimea was the bit they wanted, have been biding their time. They have built up their forces near the border but not technically invaded.

So the Kiev government, faced with either A) letting go of a large portion of the country, or B) civil war to keep the country together, has come up with a plan C which involves provoking the Russians into invading in the hope that Western forces will come in to help them. Hence the brutal atrocities we have seen on our TV screens in the last couple of days. It's a policy of complete desperation.

Perhaps the new new thing is that Odessa is now in play. The Russians wanted Crimea for its deep, warm-water port, but Odessa also has significant port facilities and was also a major base for the Soviet Black sea fleet back in the day. The Russians wouldn't mind having Odessa.

However the Kremlin is stuffed with grandmaster strategists and they won't easily be wrong-footed or provoked into action before they are ready. So the violence is going to have to build and build and a full on civil war is in the offing.

It is not given to us to know how the next few weeks and months will pan out, but the end result is predictable - Russia will be bigger and stronger and the West will be wishing they had never started anything.

Friday, 2 May 2014

Lawyers have government nuts in vice

We have grown used to seeing bewigged and begowned barristers demo'ing outside courts because the fees they earn from legal aid have been cut by a government fighting a £100bn budget deficit and a trillion pound plus national debt. The money barristers can get has been reduced by about 30% and some of them are struggling to afford the private school fees and golf club membership.

The public has been amused by seeing these wig-wearers out in daylight since they are normally reserved to TV drama. But the public has not been much concerned for their plight since the public doesn't care to have its taxes spent defending villians.

But the lawyers have been sneaky. They have waited until just the right case same along and then they have refused to take it. It's not a bloody murder where all public sympathy would be lost if a monster walks free to kill again, it's a £5m land fraud case where high pressure persuasion was used to sell plots of land to greedy persons who hoped to make a "killing" when permission to build houses on the land was granted. So it's a big case but there is no grieving widow on the steps of the court.

The CPS put up a QC, a couple of "junior" barristers (junior does not necessarily mean junior is legal world, it just means one of the 90 percent of barristers who are not QCs) and flung 50,000 pages of evidence at the eight defendants, as well as nearly 200 Excel spreadsheets. Clearly the defendants would need some equally high-powered representation. They approached 70 different chambers of barristers but every single one turned them down saying not enough money for the work involved. They even went to Wales and Ireland to see if they could get a barrister. One QC did agree to take them on but then backed out - one imagines someone had a word and told him the score.

So then the defendants when to the court and said (via QC Alex Cameron, brother of the prime minister, working pro bono) that they could not receive a fair trial because they had no lawyers. The CPS wriggled on the hook and suggested the judge just postpone until a lawyer became available, or the defendants could make do with some non-QC barrister. But the defendants argued that they needed a barrister of the same calibre that the CPS had (ie a QC) and that such a person would never be available because the government had no plans to increase legal aid.

The judge (who is also a QC) agreed with the defence and stayed the case, ie, threw it out, probably forever.

So take that government! The lawyers have you over a barrel. Criminals are going to walk free unless you put more cash on the table. How the government will respond is quite unknowable at this time.