Thursday, 27 January 2011

Belgian Customer Service

This could really apply to any Belgian institution or company. I once had a problem with my internet connection, which Belgacom were able to trace remotely to the failure of a piece of kit. They sent an engineer, telling me that the replacement would be free. They then added 70 euros to my next bill, and when I complained they told me "Yes it is free but you have to pay for it to be done"....

When I moved into my apartment I had to spend an afternoon at home waiting for the Electrabel engineer to come and connect me. It took him all of 15 seconds to throw a switch in the cellar. I then got a bill for his services....

Monday, 24 January 2011

Goodbye to the Nimrod.

Having spent £3.25 billion on the new Nimrod MRA4, HMG is scrapping it before it enters service. The cost of scrapping the nine aircraft will add an extra £200 million. This is apparently how the British Conservative government defines "saving money".

Not just in London, but across the world, security agencies are extremely concerned about the terrorist threat to next year's London Olympics. The new Nimrods have a superb electric intelligence gathering capability, and would be key to the security operations. But we won't have them.

A personal anecdote.... back in 1977 as a young cadet, I spent time at RAF HalFar in Malta. At nearby Luqa there was a flight of Nimrods, and we got to have a good look around them. I remember one crewman showing the onboard computer, and proudly informing me that "this computer is so advanced, I can actually play chess against it!"

Times have changed, in more ways than one. Sadly, our priorities appear to have become a little confused.

Saturday, 22 January 2011

HMS Ark Royal - the end of an era.

Today there was a parade to mark the early decommissioning of HMS Ark Royal. Is nothing sacred, I ask myself? I remember how proud I was, as a schoolboy, when the first of the Invincible Class was launched in the 1970s.

Perhaps we should decommission our entire political elite? They seem to have lost the will to govern, having enthusiatically handed over as much sovereignty as possible (and here I accuse the Conservative Party above all others!) Perhaps the Tories are 'clearing the decks' for the new Fleet carriers that they are building, with our money, on behalf of the EU navy....

A good friend of mine (and London UKIP members will know who I am referring to) literally lost the will to live a few years ago. He was so despondant about what had happened to his country. Sadly, this likeable gent took his own life. There are days when I get a wee glimpse into how he must have felt.

Is it time for a revolution?

Friday, 21 January 2011

HS 125 to stand down after 45 years.

Apparently, the RAF will no longer need to train weapons systems operators, or indeed any rear crew at all in the future. Therefore, that lovely little aircraft, the Dominie, is to be stood down. After an astonishing 45 years of service, the last seven aircraft, operated by 55 squadron, are to be decommissioned.

I do hope that any future aggressors will be so kind as to take into account that we don't actually have much in the way of either aircraft or aircrew anymore, and go easily on us.

Bloody heartbreaking, isn't it!

Friday, 14 January 2011

A Bit Of Fashion Advice....

The Crystal Palace Pub
circa 1978
 Since I spent most of my teenage years walking around in ankle length drape jackets, drainpipes, and brothel creepers, cynics might question my competence to pass judgement on the sartorial elegance of today's youth.

But youth fashions today seem to me to be somewhat bland, and lacking in imagination to say the least.

One little affectation which seems to be making a reappearence is the habit of wearing only one glove.

I think it was the great Gene Vincent himself who started that one, with Alvin Stardust and Micheal Jackson (both big Vincent fans) following suit in subsequent decades.

This morning on the Brussels Metro I noticed a young chap displaying this particular affectation, but not quite getting it right. Therefore I would like to offer the following advice in the unlikely event that any Belgian teenagers . and some of them do know the alphabet - are following this blog. There is a right way and a wrong way to do it.

The right way (a la Vincent et al). Black leathers, gleaming winklepickers, and a skin tight black leather glove.

The wrong (Belgian) way. Ill-fitting blue-grey jacket from Primark, grubby jeans, white trainers, and a single grey wooly mitten.

Mittens are simply not Rock n Roll, I'm sorry. I know it was a bit chilly today, but this is not an accurate interpretation of the trend.

And at least we combed our hair properly!

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Meeting Gérard Latortue

With Nikki Sinclaire and Gérard Latortue
Jean-Bertrand Aristide was the first  elected president of Haiti. Whilst not a total failure, he was accused of serious human rights abuses, and corruption. He was subsequently to be removed in a coup d'etat

Aristide was replaced by Gérard Latortue, who was appointed as Prime Minister by a "council of the wise", set up up by international powers.

Latortue served for two years, at which point elections were held, and a proper parliament was elected by the people.

He is highly regarded on the international stage, and I was very proud to meet with him, along with Nikki Sinclaire MEP, in Brussels recently. I think that the word "charismatic" is an understatement when applied to this particular gentlemen. He was an opponent of the evil François (Papa Doc) Duvalier, and when Aristide tried to buy him off with a senior political position, he refused the post. He took on a corrupt judiciary - and sacked them all!

Gérard Latortue is a man of courage and integrity, and I will be delighted to tell my children that I shook his hand and exchanged a joke or two with him.

Ethnic Tensions in the Belgian Armed Forces.

Belgian Chief of Staff, General Charles-Henri Delcour, says that he is concerned about the recent economy drive in the Belgian Army. The Army has been forced to make a total of 130 million euros in savings, which seems like a tiny amount when compared to the way the British defence budget has been slashed to the bone.

General Delcour adds that although a lot of the material used by Belgian soldiers is desperately in need of replacement, much-needed new equipment has not materialised - echoeing the British experience.

This, he says, is in part due to the on-going political crisis. Belgium is still operating with an interim government, with the King assuming greater responsibilities. However, even before last June’s elections, Belgium had the second lowest defence budget per capita of any NATO member.
General Delcour points to the psychological pressures Belgian troops are often put under when on foreign missions, and is unhappy with the Defence Minister’s refusal to allow soldiers returning from Afghanistan a rest and recuperation break on the Mediterranean island of Cyprus. Poor dears!

But it is the old division between the French and the Flemish that really exposes the weakness of the Belgian armed forces. The General is critical of those in the south of the country that have expressed concerns about Flemings being over-represented in Belgium's armed services. He points to the generally superior knowledge of other languages among Flemish candidates as well as Fleming’s willingness to move away from their home areas as the main reasons for Flemish over representation in the services..

He also highlighted the fact that many Francophone service personnel are reluctant to accept postings in Flanders.

Monday, 10 January 2011

UKIP Policy - You Couldn't Make It Up!

Would you buy a used policy from these men?
The UKIP policy making process was always a bit different. Although I was one of those who called for a widening of the policy base from the moment I joined the party, I eventually came to agree with Roger Knapman who argued for a narrower and more focussed set of policies concentrating on withdrawal. Britain does need a new party, but UKIP clearly ain't it!

I was very surprised, however, to read that UKIP is now coming out in favour of farming subsidies, a la the Common Agricultural Policy. Opposition to the CAP is one thing that traditionally unites all eurosceptics - and quite a lot of europhiles as well. Maybe UKIP has become so obsessively contrarian that it has even turned against conventional euroscepticism now, who knows?

I recall a transport policy paper which called for the electrification of a line that had, in fact, been closed for many years. There was also a local government paper that was quite probably the most politically illiterate thing I have ever seen.

The biggest question that observers will be asking, however, is not whether UKIP has done an about-turn on farming subsidies, but whether the party is, as it appears to be, out of control.

Sunday, 9 January 2011

Youth Unemployment in Brussels

According to recent statistics, youth unemployment in the Brussels region is at a staggering 35%. That takes some doing, so well done chaps!

In fact, the figures may not accurately reflect the true situation, as working on the black market is absolutely normal. Indeed, most Belgian families will be reliant to a certain degree on the black money that one or more members will be bringing in.

The social costs of employing people, especially part-time workers, is horrific in Belgium, so many businesses simply do not do it. They can't afford to.

The costs of setting up a small business in Belgium are equally daunting, as is the associated paperwork. Taxes are high, VAT thresholds are low, and so again, many people simply do not bother. A lot of Belgians of my aquaintance set up their businesses in the UK - it works for them, and it puts a little extra money into the UK economy, so I am all for that ruse.

One would have thought that the Belgians would be worried about all this - after all, their national deficit is now around 100% of GDP, which technically makes them a bankrupt nation. The roads are falling apart, and the cities are seething with ethnic tensions.

But they don't seem to care at all.

The Brussels region floats on a sea of subsidies. It is kept afloat by the transnational institutions that attract so much cash from across the world. But there is some bad news for the Belgians.... NATO is upping sticks and moving out.

NATO headquarters are moving to Bonn, which makes absolute sense as the focus of the alliance is shifting eastwards.

This hasn't broken in the Belgian press yet, but I expect it will shortly as it is common knowledge amongst journalists.