Friday, 19 August 2011

A Belgian Bailout?

The Belgian parliament has been recalled to discuss the country's deepening financial crisis, and the Financial Services Authority (FSA) in the UK has asked British banks to give full details of their exposure to Belgian debt.

The Belgian stock market index has fallen to a two year low, and two weeks ago €7 billion was wiped off the value of shares in a single day. Dexia Bank reported a loss of € 4billion in the second quarter of this year, more than the bank is actually worth (3.2 billion).

Against this background, the Belgian government is uncertain as to who should draw up the budget for 2012!

The whispers are that Belgium will be seeking a bail-out before the end of the year.

Monday, 15 August 2011

A sad sight.....

In Rotherhithe, at Surrey Docks, we have a terrific little farm where kids can go and interact with the animals. They get to muck out stables, collect eggs, milk cows etc. There is a little cafĂ© and a working blacksmith - its a great resource.

So I thought I would take George to Brussels' equivilant, the Maximillian Park, just by Yser metro station. It is not quite the same.

I'm not sure what educational benefit there is in having 3 sheep surrounded by an electric fence, and the donkeys looked somewhat distressed to me. One of the goats was a bit lively, and feeding it an apple we scrumped from a nearby tree was the sum total of the interaction that was possible.

Possibly the saddest sight of all was what I can only describe as a hump-backed rabbit. It was either crossbred with a camel, or it had a cyst on it's back that must account for 20% of it's body weight.

The staff all appeared bored and indifferent, and I suspect they may not have much training in the animal field.

Its not often I would say this, but I do agree with the legislation that decrees that the primary function of a zoo should be education. The Maximillian Park appears to offer some courses in the Summertime, but I am not sure how interesting they may be given the dilapidated state of the premises and the livestock. When this legislation first became binding, the future looked bleak for Battersea Park zoo, until donors stepped in and saved the day. Its a shame that in Brussels, where the legislation emanated from, they are not so quick to apply the same standards that are demanded of the other member states.

Brussels has a bad record when it comes to zoos. Park Leopold used to be the city zoo, and it is now chiefly remembered for the appalling treatment of its elephant. Antwerp zoo, however, is very good and always well worth a visit.

If you do visit Maximillian park, ignore the bit on the website about it being open until 10pm during the summer - we were asked to leave at 4.50 pm because they were closing.

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

100,000 signatures. Now we want our say!

At last, after a lot of hard work Nikki Sinclaire has amassed the 100,000 signatures that should prompt a debate on our continued membership of the EU in the House of Commons. Of course, Cameron is already trying to renege on his election promise, but that comes as no surprise to anybody. His 'Cast Iron Guarantee' of a referendum on the Lisbon treaty turned out to be nothing more than rhetoric - it appears that Mr Cameron's word is worth little - as he dropped that promise at the earliest opportunity.

So what does this mean?

Nikki also sponsored a YouGov poll at the weekend, in which 52% of respondents said that they would vote to leave the EU. There is clearly a lot of strong feeling about this, and the government is morally, if not legally, bound to heed the will of the majority. The 100,000 signatories do include a lot of UKIP members, but they also include those of other parties, including at least one senior Tory peer. Most of the signatories, however, signed up in the streets of towns and cities up and down the UK, online, or through the Sun, the Daily Mail, the Telegraph, or the many local newspapers that ran ads for the campaign.

The important thing now is not to allow the issue to be placed in a box. The establishment does have a convenient box, marked 'UKIP', in which it can deposit troublesome issues. Note how within the last week or so two issues have generated a great deal of debate - this referendum campaign and a similar one run by the Daily Express - and the HS2 high speed rail link. The UKIP leadership has never supported Nikki's campaign, and seems, according to a leaked e-mail from the leader's office, not to have a great deal of faith in referenda. UKIP also supported the idea of a high speed link in it's last manifesto. Now both issues are at the forefront, up to the plate comes Nigel Farage, who throws his 'weight' behind the Express campaign, and condemns HS2 without a thought for his own manifesto. Bingo - both issues are now consigned to the box marked 'UKIP', where they can be dismissed as peripheral.

We must not allow this to happen. This is the single most important political issue of the day. And here I am not actually referring to membership of the EU - as important as that is - but to the right of the people to expect that politicians will honour their pre-election promises. British politicians rightly criticised the EU for refusing to recognise the French, Dutch and Irish no votes on Nice, the Constitution, and Lisbon. It appears, however, that Mr Cameron has learned a lot from the Commission approach to democratic obligation.

The EU is, beleive it or not, struggling to get to grips with its own 'democratic deficit', and to address it, although it has some funny ways of going about it. In terms of democratic integrity it can never tick all the boxes and satisfy all its member states, as I would argue that it can never be a classical Liberal Democracy, which is the only form of democracy acceptable to we Brits. But while we criticise the EU, it is sad to note that our own country is slipping somewhat in its standards.

Let there be more petitions, lets keep piling them up on the Speaker's chair, and waving them outside the gates of Downing Street. Perhaps the British people are waking up at last!