On page 18 of the Sunday People today, there was a political article by Fiona May attacking "Tory glamour boy David Cameron" and citing Professor Tony Travers of the London School of Economics:
The Prime Minister's New Year's message has been described as "bleak" and starts a 'realistic' push on the part of New Labour to pre-empt some of the difficult economic developments anticipated in 2008. With the list of issues and challenges populating the initial paragraphs, Brown's rhetoric combines his traditional message of feeding off people's insecurity and fear. It is a narrow message that tosses a line to the old politics of Blairite aspiration and shouts out that New Labour will provide security.
The actual passage is cleverly pitched to a reciprocal exchange of continuity an change. Continuity is provided by Brown's emphasis on security and stability: keeping the British secure from terrorism, keeping the economy stable from all of the changes caused by external problems. Brown does not acknowledge that some of these may be caused by the government. Change is a list of the mooted public sector policies that Brown promotes as the answer to personal and shared problems.
We will lead in the public services of the future - services not just universal but tailored to people's needs with more voice, choice and accountability for the parent and the citizen.
2008 will be the year when the public sees services becoming more personal to their wishes and aspirations. And we will not be deflected from our commitment to cleaner hospitals and to change to increase the opening hours of GP surgeries. Illness is not a nine to five condition - and the NHS cannot be just a nine to five service.
We have other promises to keep, from neighbourhood policing in every community to the renewal of our democracy and the revival of confidence in our political process. We will define a new citizenship of rights and responsibilities - and establish a new points system as a condition of living and working in Britain.
Brown may pitch his policies in the consumerist rhetoric that pervades political discourse, yet the blossoming of plans, programs, targets and solutions leech individual participation out of the equation. The emphasis on Britishness is clear from the outset, but now sounds oddly discordant and out of touch with the constitutional changes his party promoted. There are hints of the sectarian positioning Labour will use to attack its opponents, tarring the Tories as English and posing as the saviour of the Union in Scotland:
And in 2008, with firm conviction and resolve, we will make the case for the United Kingdom - standing up for the cause of the Union and against secession, showing people in all parts of the country that for so many of the challenges our country faces - from climate change to terrorism - there are no Wales-only, Scotland-only or England-only solutions.
This season is above all a time to pay tribute to those who serve and sacrifice for our country, often in places far away. And we pledge that the men and women on the frontlines of our security, at home and overseas, will have all the resources they need for our defence and their own safety.
All these policies reflect our shared vision of a new Britain rooted in enduring traditions and values. A Britain, strong, prosperous and fair. A country proud of its progress toward equality and confident of its future. That is what I want to see when we look back on another New Years Day years from now.
Brown is now restarting 2008 with an anticipated recognition of problems arising and avoiding any responsibility for the changes that will ruin lives. It is the politics of fear where Papa Broon will use the government to provide security and safety for all those damaged by the economic storms. It is the politics of abdication: a man who shirks responsibility calling on citizens to abdicate their decisions and hand their rights over to him.
The Ministry of Justice, as part of its consultations on changes to Parliament's role, has proposed that the deployment of British troops or the declaration of war should be put to a vote in the House of Commons. This sets out the context in which former defence chiefs have attacked the proposals for their inflexibility.
The Government is looking at creating a War Powers Act, modelled on the US statute.
But both Lord Guthrie, chief of the defence staff under Tony Blair, and Sir Kevin Tebbit, former permanent secretary at the Ministry of Defence, opposed such a move.....
Lord Guthrie feared pressure for an act was the result of a "knee-jerk reaction about what happened in Iraq".
Speaking on Radio 4's Today programme, he said: "In theory Parliament should be able to debate things before we go to war, but in practice it is very very difficult.
Sir Kevin said controls were already in place.
"No Prime Minister would able to deploy forces without a parliamentary majority," he said.
One of their key arguments circled around European countries where there is greater parliamentary control over armed forces, even though Brown prefers to emulate the US system. European countries are far more reluctant to commit their troops and are far less likely to go to war, even when their interests are threatened, resulting in a reputation for impotence. Would the United Kingdom trend towards this path if parliamentary accountability was enhanced?
This is an unlikely outcome. Support for this development weighs the need for a parliamentary vote in the conscious deployment of troops like Iraq and the flexible requirements for sending out forces on an urgent mission, when necessary. Blair's vote before Iraq could stand as precedent for a convention, without the need for an Act that may well fall into desuetude under the exigencies of events. Kevin Tebbit rightly states that a government without a parliamentary majority will not be able to go to war. Additional consultation in the Commons goldplates this fact and complicates the decision making process for the Prime Minister. There is little to recommend a War Powers Act.
Belgium now has a government. An interim government, a coalition to hold the ring. The politicians had decided that they had begun to look like a laughing stock to their counterparts in other countries and their own citizens were beginning to wonder if they performed a useful function. The country continued to run itself and the lack of a government did not have much effect upon this state of affairs.
Next year may prove the last year for Belgium in its current guise. The issue of the balance between the French and Dutch speakers will not go away and has merely been postponed until next March.
Liberal Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt won a confidence vote in parliament Sunday for his five-party interim administration ending a stalemate which had paralyzed government since general elections June 10.
Verhofstadt is scheduled to hand over power in March to the Flemish Christian Democrats — the big winners in the election — if an agreement can be found on a new balance of power between the Dutch- and French-speakers.
If a compromise is not found by Easter then new elections will be called. Belgium offers a salutary lesson to the United Kingdom of the dangers of regionalisation, if national institutions are fragmented and decentralised too far. Fortunately, we do not have to deal with the added complication of a language division.
However, this is with the proviso that Belgium functions as an effective country and not as two de facto states. This would require a broad change of directions and attitudes. Major efforts would need to be made to construct national cultural and political institutions. This would require the establishment (or re-establishment) of a bilingual media, national political parties and a bilingual education system.
It would also require Flemings to abandon their obsession with regionalism and Walloons will have to give on being monolingual and monocultural - Belgium is more than an economic space.
If they do not work it out, Belgium may be no more.
The expulsion of two diplomats is now represented as a misunderstanding. Reuters reports that the two were assessing the town of Musa Qala in Helmand province for UN and EU aid. This assessment included talks with tribal factions in the region who were not supportive of the government, though they could be viewed as mercenary supporters of the insurgents. In this murky sewer, all actions are compromises and open to question:
A spokesman for the UN in Afghanistan, Aleem Siddique, said the affair was a misunderstanding that arose after the men visited the Helmand town of Musa Qala, recaptured this month after 10 months under Taliban control.
The men visited the area to assess "stabilisation" efforts after the military offensive, Mr Siddique said. They spoke to locals including "people who are perhaps undecided whether they are supportive of the Government of Afghanistan".
One foreign power may have been talking to the Taliban at this time. Reuters also reports that MI6 were talking to elements of the Taliban, to the distaste of the United States and the co-operation of Afghan officials.
Officers from the Secret Intelligence Service - MI6's official name - held discussions, or jirgas, with senior insurgents several times in the northern summer.
"The SIS officers were understood to have sought peace directly with the Taliban, with them coming across as some sort of armed militia," a source said. The British would also provide "mentoring" for the Taliban....
The half dozen meetings between MI6 agents and the Taliban took place at houses on the outskirts of Lashkah Gah and in villages in the upper Gereshk valley, to the north-east of Helmand's main town.
To maintain the stance that the Aghan Government was leading the negotiations, the clandestine meetings took place in the presence of Afghan officials.
"These meetings were with up to a dozen Taliban or with Taliban who had only recently laid down their arms," an intelligence source said. "The impression was that these were important motivating figures inside the Taliban."
Peeling off militia in the short term is a useful tactic, but it is not a long-term strategy. Our actions in Afghanistan should not be constrained by lipservice to an ideological rhetoric. Such contacts are assessed upon whether they are actually useful.
Brown denied any contacts with the Taliban, but MI6 would not have sanctioned these meetings without the foreknowledge of their political masters. After the demonstration of political primacy over military engagement in Basra, are we to believe that the actions of MI6 were not planned and directed by the government. That is why these contacts should be opposed. Not because we should recoil from meetings with enemies, however distasteful, because they fit into some moral definition of violence and fear. But because they are pursued by a government that elevates short term advantage in politics and has sacrificed military strategy to this goal.
They did not know what they were doing in Basra. They do not know what they are doing in Helmand. They do not have a plan for resolving Afghanistan and they will be unable to defeat the Taliban with their current approach.
Two officials of the European Union, with longstanding experience in Afghanistan, have been expelled by the Karzai government, on the grounds that they were talking to the Taliban in Helmand. The United Nations and the European Union have been unable to reverse this decision.
This decision looks rather odder when we start to review the background of one of the individuals expelled. He is Michael Semple, who used to act as the UN Co-ordinator for the Hazaras, and publicised the massacres of the Emirate in Mazar-i-Sharif (page 118 of the linked report). Semple also coordinated humanitarian relief up to 1998 and was probably the last person to see the Bamiyan Bhudda intact.
They issued me the last ticket to see the Great Buddha. Then they collected the stubs and the visitor’s books and bundled them into the sacks of documents to be buried. The remaining staff of the Department for Preservation of Historical Monuments had orders to hide even some things as innocuous as the books that recorded the impressions of visitors from six continents about the monuments of Bamian. A potato patch will be the resting place for the archives documenting 20 years of war.
I was pleased to have a chance to wander round the Buddhas again. The rock-cut Buddhas of Bamian are cultural sites of great significance, and were once the centre of Afghanistan’s mass tourist trade. In historical times, these Buddhas were targeted by zealots. Their survival (including several friezes of original paint work) through the two decades of war is amazing. Once again, there is fear that zealous conquerors might just try to prove their anti-idolatry credentials by further destroying them.
At night there was an air of the Day of Judgement in Bamian, as the local people, the Hazaras, tried to guess how long it would be before the Taliban arrived. The sound of haunting nocturnal congregational prayers carried across the valley. The faithful feared that the Taliban would wreak revenge for 20 years of defiance and for their share of casualties in previous Hazara-Pushtoon fighting. This fighting had seen some of the civil war’s bitterest encounters, and the locals prayed for deliverance. The threat to the Bamian Buddhas is symbolic of the one hanging over much of the population of central Afghanistan.
Whatever Michael Semple was doing, his past record leaves no doubt that he publicised the excesses of the Taliban and that he championed the minority Hazaras. Is this linked to Pushtun influence in Kabul?
And a Merry Christmas to those who drink. If you don't, start!
For those who celebrate Newtonmas, where do I start. You don't attract any sympathy by replicating tradition or ritual. Pagan saturnalia will do for me if I need a reason to party, which I don't anyway. I get a couple of days off which I am quite willing to take and enjoy. I do not care if this is because some people have concluded that they need to worship whatever shibboleth takes their fancy. I like the time away.
So, all of those multicults who argue for optional religious holidays, all of the secularists who wish to abolish Christmas, all of the eejits who follow any creed that endangers my time off, **** off and lie down in a darkened room. I just wish Christ could have been born in September and crucified in July. His timing was off.
Both the Queen and the Prime Minister paid tribute to the work of the armed forces over the past year. One was a genuine and public vote of thanks; a tribute from a dignity who has valued their work since the Second World War. The other was a tribute to convention and a definition of hypocrisy, where actions belie the statements uttered.
Some people in the forces community haven't known you so well, others like some of the former CDSs claim that they know you, and I raise this only because I think there is a lack of knowledge of your attitude towards the armed forces. Lord Guthrie famously said, or accused you of lacking interest in the MOD. Was he being fair when he said that?
I think totally unfair. I was Chancellor of the Exchequer, we had obviously every two years to negotiate a defence settlement. You never get everything you want when you are negotiating on one side or the other and there always is an issue, could we do more, could we do more in future years than in present years, and these are all the issues that are dealt with in the defence settlement, and of course you have the discussions with the Defence Chiefs about that. I think over the last few years, despite the difficult circumstances and despite the fact that I acknowledge everybody will say there is more that we could do or should do. We have tried our best not only to give decent settlements so that there is the money to do the things that are necessary, but also where there is an urgent operational requirement, we changed the system a year or two ago so that equipment could get more quickly, new equipment I mean, Mastiffs, helicopters, all the different sort of vehicles that are needed, and equipment, night vision equipment, you know all the different equipment that could be of help so that we could provide it far more quickly. So I have tried when I have been Chancellor of the Exchequer to develop a system that gets the money as quickly as possible to build what is necessary, and get the equipment when it is necessary. And I think the evidence on the ground is that the equipment that people have is a lot better than it was a few years ago and of course we want it to be even better in future years as well.
British forces were deployed in Afghanistan and Iraq for over two years before the Chancellor developed a system of finance that could provide improved equipment. This development was behind the curve of mortality.
What the Chancellor did not say in this reply was that the monies provided for improved equipment in theatre would be clawed back from the overall Ministry of Defence budget, stripping future investment to prevent contemporary deaths in action.
At the very least this is disingenuous. True, more money is being spent, but on operations, not on the armed forces. The distinction is important: the convenient conflation of the two is part of what the last-but-one CDS, Admiral Lord Boyce, called the Treasury's "smoke and mirrors work".
In a straightforward breach of faith, the money for equipment rushed into service under the Urgent Operational Requirements procedure is being clawed back from the defence vote by the Treasury.
For the rest, the 1.7 per cent annual budget increase is hopelessly inadequate when defence equipment inflation is running as high as eight per cent. How "in real terms", then, can the defence budget be "worth more"?
With this clawback, Brown mortgages the lives of future soldiers for present day defence requirements. Unwilling to finance war, yet lacking the courage to abandon his allies, he asks for Tommy to pay the price of his dithering and contempt. Let us not forget Blair, who stood idly by and allowed his Chancellor to render the armed forces a thinner red line. No budgetary constraint would stand in the way of his hardheaded liberal internationalism. Both are culpable for those deaths that can be attributed to a lack of equipment.
The socialist mentality naturally assesses itself morally superior to its opponents. This egoistic fallacy justifies immoral actions for noble purposes. The ends justify the means. Corruption is a byword for capitalism that can never apply to those who suffer to make society more equal. When presented with an opportunity to gain political advantage in the name of social justice...
The Liberal Democrats called for a National Audit Office investigation into the spending patterns amid accusations that public money was being used as a political tool.
Critics said that there should have been greater equity in the proportional increases over the last decade, which has seen more than £383 billion being spent on the schools system.
The disclosure comes just weeks after it emerged that, over the last decade, £30 billion had been collected from taxpayers in the suburbs to fund urban regeneration schemes.
But they had failed to make any difference to the deprived areas.
Lucky for us that such endeavours will always worsen the symptoms rather than provide any cure. Labour did not actually think beyond its normal calculation of spending money (in its own areas) to resolve problems. They just provided lots of shiny new schools for kids to vandalise. It is noteworthy that none of the authorities with the largest increases were in London: an area where immigration and linguistic challenges might actually demand such expenditure.
The socialist mentality will not dwell on this failure. Problems of culture or backwardness will prevent the attainment of social justice and further money is needed to alleviate the symptoms. Trapped in a regressive loop, the failures will always be seen as a triumph of socialism, since the ideology is impervious to empirical evidence. Thus, they hasten their own demise.