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Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Well "success" of sorts:

Iran hails UN nuclear 'victory'
A top Iranian official has claimed a "great victory" over the US after the UN said it would not punish Iran's nuclear activities with sanctions.
. . .
According to Mr Rohani, Iran's offer to suspend uranium enrichment would only apply for the duration of talks with the EU.
"We are talking months, not years," the cleric and head of Iran's top security body said.
Officials from the UK, Germany and France are trying to get Iran to renounce its nuclear fuel enrichment programme for good.
. . .
Tehran stepped back from a similar offer to freeze uranium enrichment six months ago, sparking the current round of negotiations over its atomic ambitions.

Three Cheers for Euro-multilateralism it is then! If they do make a deal, I gues Iran could just wait a few months and then break it again. That way this news story can run in an endless loop. What joy. Except it may end of course, one day.
PS: See also here ;)

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DumbJon poses a challenge:

Honestly, they are quite useless. So that's really the question d'jour. What reason does anyone have to support the Conservative Party ? I mean, positive reasons to really support the party - 'the other lot are worse' doesn't count. I'm talking real, 100%, 'that's a great idea' policies.
Are there any ?

I been giving this some thought but so far I am not coming up with any possible answer. There are many arguments that run along the lines of “well they’re less worse than Nu Lab”, but at the end of the day that’s it really. Ok, so that is ultimately good enough for me, but it’s not exactly an edifying spectacle.


Sunday, November 28, 2004

In an otherwise sound piece on the Tories’ wayward drifts, Gerald Warner goes slightly drifting a-wayward himself:

The crass notion that Labour has stolen the Tories’ clothes does not stand up to any factual scrutiny. It is the Tories who have lost their sense of identity and their nerve. They have six months to recover both and save us from a one-party socialist state.

That sounds realistic. You mean a one-party state, like say, the former East Germany, or perhaps more along the lines of the Stalinist Soviet Union. And why stop there? Will Tony Blair be the next Pol Pot? Please give me a break. Even if Labour wins, that’s the last time they will. They are going to self-destruct in their next term, and however awful the Tories are, they will get in. Oh, yeah, though they might have to form a coalition with the LibDems ;)

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Saturday, November 27, 2004

I noticed some time yesterday, reading about the UN oil-for-food scandal, that deep down I just don’t care one bit about the UN. Even though I have for many many years found the UN rather ineffective, useless and even counterproductive, I had always hoped for and wanted it to be reformed. During the run-up and direct aftermath of the toppling of Saddam Hussein’s regime I was still dismayed that the UN couldn’t be made to work and devoted some intellectual energy to coming up with ideas to rectify the thing. I thought a major failing of the Bush administration was that it didn’t try to reform other the UN and other international bodies, but instead side-stepped them; the idea being that international law and institutions can be an effective instrument of security policy. But my disenchantment has just kept growing. It’s not really an intellectual thing as I still think a revamped UN would be a highly useful tool for making the world a safer and better place. It’s just in my heart I don’t believe it’s possible anymore, and in fact, I just don’t care anymore. In that context I just found this essay by Charles Krauthammer, an essay he wrote in 1987, but that unfortunately still rings too true today. He goes a lot further than my thinking on the issue, but my gut agrees quite a lot. Conclusion:

the major point: the U.N. has failed in its principal role, which is keeping the peace. In fact, it has degenerated to the point where its actions exacerbate the few conflicts it still influences and where its remaining moral authority is used to promote ideas and policies inimical to those of the Western democracies.
The United States stays in the U.N. for a variety of bad reasons: sentimental attachment to the hopes of 40 years ago, guilt over the fate of the League of Nations, inertia. One can respect the one-world idealism that attended the founding of the U.N. and still face the facts of today. The U.N. is more than just a failed instrument. It is a bad instrument. We have the power to see it shelved. We should use that power.


Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Via Oliver Kamm:

The Chomsky defenders--and there seem to be a surprisingly large number of them--seem to form a kind of cult. Arguing with them seems to be a lot like trying to teach Plato's Republic to a pig: it wastes your time, and it annoys the pig.

Brad de Long

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Thanks to Harry’s Place for the link to a fox problem that I’m actually very familiar with, what with living in Lambeth and all. Those housing estates mentioned start about 50-100 yards from my front door and I can definitely confirm the foxes in the area are a right cheeky bunch. And their nemesis also look quite cheeky. Have a look at this, I found this quite hilarious especially the mischiveous grin on the boy in the front. Brought up fond memories form when I were a lad. . .

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These past days I have bumped into a number of pieces on the fortunes of the Tories that are all worth having a close read and think.

Peter Oborne gives some insightinto the Voter Vault machine the Conservatives’ are hoping will deliver the next election for them. Apparently this machine/computer (?) works by finding who the decisive swing voters are and then giving them what they want. This is supposedly how Karl Rove put Bush in the White House, so the Tories think perhaps it can do the trick for them as well. I have my doubts, remembering that in 2001 something very similar was the Tory strategy, albeit somewhat less sophisticated; and let’s be honest that weren’t necessarily the comeback of the forces of conservatism. However Oborne does provide some arguments that the fight for Downing Street is still well open.

Which of course begs the question, if they’re in, what then? What kind of policies a Michael Howard Government will eventually follow is of course open to speculation, so I want to give some though about the things the Conservatives ought to be pushing for.

First up is Simon Jenkins, who actually makes good sense on local government, in contrast to some of his writings on foreign affairs in the Times which are rather less impressive, to understate it rather. But anyway. It’s all about local government; that being real local government rather than Prescott’s weird regional assembly thingies. The money-shotted version:

Central governments will always be needed to set minimum standards and redistribute revenues from rich to poor. But nowhere has needed Gordon Brown’s stupefying structure of targets, league tables and central controls. Some local variation in services is accepted everywhere else, provided only that accountability is local. The key lies in that accountability.
Britain does not need to reinvent new local structures. They exist in the cities and counties that applied before 1974, needing only a revitalised politics and fiscal regime. . . . In rural and suburban areas below the county tier, European experience indicates that what matters is not size but loyalty to place. The present structure of mostly anonymous districts could go, with truly local government built on existing boroughs, towns and rural parishes. . . . I cannot imagine a more exciting cause for a modern Tory party than restoring power to communities. It embodies the Conservative principle of local diversity and choice. It makes services accountable at the point of delivery, to local users and voters. . . . Cutting bureaucracy means devolving power.

So far, so right. What I am a little sceptical of is this:

Such a programme cannot be gradual. From Cornwall to Kent, Hampshire to Cheshire, Bristol to Newcastle, the party should declare a nationwide festival of democracy. People must take back responsibility for their public services. They must be reawakened, with a bang.

I still think it would be better for such a process to be gradual. What needs emphasising though is that a policy of localisation needs to be stuck to through all the troubles that will undoubtedly arise. It will take a while between giving power back to local institutions and people getting properly involved in them again. In that interim period there is a clear risk of the lack of accountability a programme of localisation is aiming to abolish may simply change its face. A future Government enacting such a policy would have to have the nerves or the popularity to see off the unhappiness that would occur.

This resuscitation of the small platoons would also have beneficial effects on the character of our society and nation, and improve our moral lives.
Just to clear one thing up from the beginning, running on a moral values agenda strategy like the Bushies isn’t an option for the Tories, not primarily because there is little in terms of votes to be gained from it, but because the Tories themselves are split evenly on most relevant issues. So this part of the current US-Republican policy is dead in the water in the UK.
However, the invigoration of moral life has another dimension to it, that would be popular and is certainly necessary, and that is the strengthening of an active citizenship. James Bartholomew writes about this, again in the current Spectator:

By ‘citizenship’, [Bush] does not mean, as people tend to here, paying lots of taxes to outsource kindness to the government. He means real citizenship — direct, personal contributions to other people’s welfare and ... He has made it possible for faith-based charities to do social work on behalf of the government (since Bush recognises that the government is not much good at it). Traditional decency used to be big in Britain. But it has been undermined, bashed about and crowded out by the welfare state.
The Times conducted a survey of middle-class people in 1895, asking them how much they gave to charity. They donated 10 per cent of their income. How much do people now generally pay? Less than 1 per cent. . . .
It is as if people feel that the need for them to be decent is satisfied by the payment of taxes. This liberates them to be wholly selfish. The concept of decency and real — rather than politicised — social solidarity has gone out of the window.
. . . Traditional, conservative decency has been extracted from the culture by the all-enveloping welfare state — a state which, without intending to, has encouraged lying, cheating and lone-parenting, while discouraging saving, generosity and self-respect.

Ok, well some of Bartholomew’s stuff is a little too social conservative for me, but surely this is a generally desirable direction in which to go. What has this to do with local government? Simple, the closer people are to how the welfare state is lead and operates the more they understand its shortcomings and can see more clearly what to do about it. With these government actions more directly in their own hands, they will be empowered to take affairs into their own hands, rather than sitting around miserably in their current passivity. I’m confident many people would really like to do something good for their fellow citizens, but feel they’re inhibited by the overweening central state that is trying to control everything.

This is all relevant because ultimately the stakes are high in politics, always. Head over to God save the Queen and see this posting on Conservatives against Fascism.

All that said, I think that ultimately the election should be decided on foreign affairs, as this is the primary responsibility of central Government. I know it won’t be decided about these issues, I’m just saying that it ought to. I’ll give that a separate posting later on in the week.

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Sunday, November 07, 2004

I’m sorry that I hadn’t returned to proper blogging yet, but I’m going to have to put another delay in. I’m going ot be on a very deserved holiday and won’t have much internet access in that time.
I have calculated that I will be away for eleven days. So, for every one of those I have one old fave:
-Today: Bishop of Hulme trying to ban “I vow to thee my country”,
post 1, post 2
-Monday: anti-Bush books in Germany
-Tuesday: Today, fifteen years ago, the Berlin wall came down. Semi-poically therefore a comparison between German and British economic development since.
-Wednesday: outbreak of World War One and what it means to Britain’s identity.
-Thursday: Remembrance Day, post of 2003
-Friday: historical lessons we should have learnt from Hitler.
-Saturday: my Iraq wobble
-Sunday: Given that quite some people are claiming that Bush only won because of religious loons , a more general look at religion in the US
-Monday: how the terror-“rogue state”-nexus works
-Tuesday: Why we should cut the EU common agricultural policy
-Wednesday: A look at a strange age gap in British attitudes towards America

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