Friday, 30 November 2012

Well Done Andy Stranack!

Yesterday's three by elections yielded no real surprises. Labour were not really threatened at all. A couple of interesting anomalies though....

To achieve not one but two second places will be a morale booster for UKIP, although the result is already being presented out of context by the leadership. Members might ask, if this is a sign of the party's popularity, why two candidates nobody has ever heard of have done far better than a party leader who is effectively the face of UKIP.

Note also that the BNP acheived a third place. I consider the BNP to be a busted flush, and so that particular result tells us a great deal about voter's attitudes to the 3 main parties at the moment.

Context and perspective are everything in psephology (the study of election results).

But the one thing that did make me feel good was the candidacy of Andy Stranack in Croydon. (Steve Reed was always going to get that, he is a popular local politician, and will be a good constituency MP I think). Stranack did the best of all the Tory candidates yesterday - I haven't been in London and haven't really followed the details of his campaign - but the fact that he suffers from Cerebal palsy and has thrown his hat into a real cut-throat arena like this shows some courage. He clearly did not stand to make a statement, he stood with the intention of winning the seat. I hope he gets there next time.

Andy is an inspiration.

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Brussels Ablaze!

Firstly, something in excess of 200 tractors from various parts of Europe descended on Brussels. We might question why such a large number of slow moving vehicles that are unsuited for city roads were allowed in.

Secondly, a large pavillion was erected in Place de Luxembourg, directly in front of the European Parliament, and from about 10am farmers were flooding into the square and swigging free schnapps like they had hollow legs. Was it a good idea for the police to allow that?

Given the fact that at 11am a batallion of riot police had arrived, and there were barbed wire barriers cordoning off the parliament, one would assume that the police knew what was coming next. Was it a good idea to allow the square to continue to fill, and the drinking to go on?

Within hours the centre of Place de Luxembourg was ablaze, and the riot police were fending off flying barriers, bottles, and some interesting little molotov cocktails made from empty beer cans. There were rumours of gunfire. It was quite spectacular.

This morning the fires are still burning, the European Commission has been blockaded, and ominously there are small groups of youths gathering on the fringes. At 9.30 the riot police were lining up, and guess what? The farmers are already getting tanked up on schnapps. One might have thought it would occur to the cops to shut the bloody pavillion down.

Friday, 23 November 2012

David Cameron F**ked Up My Neighbourhood!

We dread these EU Council summits.

Living about 100 yards from the Justius Lipsus building, where the summits take place, my whole neighbourhood is transformed for about three days. Otherwise chaotic roads are made worse by the presence of cops misdirecting traffic. Their guiding principle seem to be always send traffic through red lights, but don't let pass on a green. At the end of my road this morning there was the obligatory water cannon, and on every corner there are barbed wire barricades. After the summit these will be left in place so that local children can injure themselves. Don't complain, the state is nevr wrong! That's how life is in a fascist country.

Rue Belliard is always a challenge. A five lane one-way road, it suddenly turns into just a single lane just past Parc Leopold. This is the ultimate bottleneck. To make it worse, during summits a lane is reserved for these grand leaders, just as was the practice in the old Soviet days.

Why exactly does the Junior Minister for Unecessary Bureacracy from Andalucia need an escort of 12 motorcycle cops as his 6 car convoy covers the 200 yards from his hotel in Place Jourdan to the Justius Lipsus building?

During the last one of these summits, I tried to get to a cashpoint machine at the Schuman Roundabout. This is literally on the doorstep of the Commission building known as the Berlaymont. Armed police were on hand to prevent me from carrying out this dangerous terrorist act, as the roundabout was sealed off. This, of course, added to the traffic chaos as a major motorway terminates in a road tunnel that spews out traffic just a couple of hundred yards from the roundabout. You can get what the result is....

And if you want to get on or off the Metro at Schuman you can forget about that for a couple of days.

So its nice to see you Mr Cameron. I'm sorry that this part of Brussels is such a shithole, but you are making it much worse for those of us who have to live here.

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Otis Redding: A Legend!

Its a track from Otis' great 1964 album 'Pain in My Heart'.

What I love about Otis is the way he has managed to catch everybody's heart. Rockers, Mods, Rude Boys, Skinheads, and if there a generic name for the followers of Northern Soul, then they love him too. Even some of us Teds adore him! I certainly do.

Everybody knows the wonderful Dock of the Bay, but for me, this is the ultimate Otis track. That's because this is the one that hits all the right spots. No matter where you are coming from musically, this one is going to touch you!

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Dan Cooper is a Tosser!

Dan Cooper is the acting president of the University of London student's Union. He is also an asshole.

On November 11th, this jumped up little gobshite refused to lay a wreath on behalf of his 120,000 union members because of his 'principles'. He tried to explain these principles, and particularly his thoughts on the sacrifices of the Great War, but he just came over sounding like a confused and disrespectful little prick who doesn't quite get it. A sort of a juvenile Eric Hogsbawm. I simply cannot be bothered repeating his offensive and infantile words here.
As one who has personally experienced active service, and whose great-grandfather died on the Somme in 1916, I have strong thoughts about the importance of remembrance. There is a Facebook page - Dan Cooper Must resign - which I would urge you to support. To their credit, the students at the University of London have turned on Cooper, and his days seem to be numbered.

I strongly suspect that Mr Cooper ticks all the right boxes in some quarters, and that he will turn up as a New Labour MP in the not too distant future!


Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Libertarians Vs. Reality.

As campaign vehicles go, Mitt Romney's jet is one of the most impressive I have ever seen. The amount of money spent in the final week of the presidential campaign was astronomical: $80 million by Romney, and $50 million by Obama. The total spent by both sides exceeded $2 billion.

Contrast this with the campaign of Libertarian/Republican candidate Ron Paul, so beloved by many UKIP members. I got to see this highly unimpressive campaign vehicle in a supermarket car park on the outskirts of Lynchburg, about a mile away from where Romney had parked his airliner. Obviously Paul's supporters simply ignored the fact that he had failed to get on the Republican ticket, and wasn't actually standing. Swivel-eyed loons, Y'all!

Why do I mention this? Because it is an example of how UKIP gravitates towards lost causes. Peripheral issues, and contrarian arguments that seemingly set out to question or deny all received wisdom. Paul is the same, rejecting NAFTA and the WTO, and expressing some horrific racist sentiments. He is also opposed to flu-jabs, but is keen on the legalisation of certain drugs. UKIP has as much chance of winning a parliamentary majority from its Walmington-on-Sea based constituency as Ron Paul has of becoming the next president of the United States.

But... there is method in this madness. As was pointed out to us at a lunch in DC, fringe politicians can attract relatively big bucks. To be the eternal voice of opposition can be financially rewarding - a job for life, even. But God forbid that one should acheive success and actually have to deliver on the promises, or carry out the threats! No, it is better to find a comfortable and secure berth on the sidelines and snipe while the money rolls in.

Monday, 12 November 2012

The Plight of the Pub!

King James the First was a nasty piece of work, in my book. OK, the Bible was good, but he really did have a mean streak.

He did not approve of pubs anymore than he approved of, well, anything really. He decided that public houses were for the lodging and relief of travelers and wayfarers, and so he passed an act restricting the proletariat to a mere one hour of drinking at lunchtime each day.

Henry VIII had  not been much better for the brewing trade. His vandalism on the monasteries led to the slaughter of many of the best brewers of the day. Cromwell's soldiers followed in that particular tradition.

In 1880, Gladstone introduced his Inland Revenue Act, which effectively eradicated domestic brewing - that is, pubs that made their own beer. Fast forward to the 20th century, and we see the number of brewers licenced in Britain decline sharply from 6,447 in 1900 to a mere 162 by 1973. Nice one, Gladstone!

Mergers in the middle of the century saw many household names swallowed up to vanish completely - Grand Metropolitan Hotels in particular hoovered up breweries amid shameful false promises to preserve their identities before closing them down in all but name. At the same time, the breweries themselves, afflicted with a kind of communal madness, began tearing the guts out of the old Victorian pubs and gin palaces, and creating ghastly 'corporate brands'. At the same time, the taste of the drinking public moved towards awful products that no contemporary beer drinker would want to touch.

Most recently, in -home entertainment driven by fast moving technology, high taxation, and cut-throat market forces have driven drinkers out of pubs and into their own homes. Social trends change constantly, and pub culture, whilst it still exists and remains an important part of our lives, is competing with market forces, cosmopolitanism, and increasing consumer sophistication. Do you really want to be transported back to the 1970s, and a smoky bar, Skol lager, chicken in a basket, and closing time at 2.30pm? I strongly recomend Kate Fox's excellent book 'Watching the English' for more on this subject.

According to UKIP, this is all David Cameron's fault. I am not entirely clear as to what this has to do with leaving the EU, but I think UKIP left that particular ideology behind when it transformed itself from political pressure group into a cult movement. According to UKIP it is the PM who is to blame for the woes of the pub.

Perhaps UKIP will come up with a good reason for sending kids up chimneys next? Damn the EU, putting young people out of work like that! 

Sunday, 11 November 2012

November 11th.

Since 2005, I have been selling poppies in the European Parliament. It is not just a good fund-raiser, but I get the opportunity to talk to a lot of foreign colleagues about it, many of whom have never heard of the tradition. In all these years I have only ever had one negative comment, but lots of praise and some very generous donations.

Here in Brussels we have a very healthy branch of the RBL, and a thriving ex-service community. The 11th of November is a public holiday in Belgium, regardless of which day of the week it falls on, although to their shame the EU institutions do not observe this. They fear it may be offensive to the Germans, which is absolute claptrap. I can assure you that Germans of all generations face up to their past honestly and with a humility that would surprise many.

But wouldn't it be nice if the 11th were a bank holiday in the UK?

When I was campaigning years ago for a minister for veteran's affairs, a battle we won, incidentally, we put a demand for a 'Veteran's Day' on the table. Actually, that was a bargaining chip we were quite prepared to lose - it was the minister we really wanted. And well done Iain Duncan Smith, who despite his initial reserve (he expected that we would have to make do with a special committee, something I was totally opposed to) led this one, positioning Hague in the right place, and forcing Blair's hand (Blair had initially rejected the proposal out of hand, before backtracking when he realised the strength of opinion.) I was genuinely surprised when I learned a few years later that we were also to get a Veteran's Day.

Another battle I thought would never be won was for proper recognition and compensation for the Nuclear Test Veterans. I remember the 2nd Veteran's Plenary in London, when Dr Lewis Moonie (the first Minister for Veteran's Affairs) put them down sharply. But now headway is being made.

Likewise the government's attempts to silence gulf veterans. There were some dirty tricks played there, and the RBL was not entirely blameless. There was a certain amount of reciprocation however, with the whitewash being exposed one memorable night when 'leaked' documents from Porton Down were faxed around the UK to veterans and others with the request "send to everybody". As a result the official story fell apart and it was acknowledged that despite MoD denials, and intimidation of veterans, Porton Down knew that depleted uranium was the cause of many health problems for veterans and their children.

The RBL has re-positioned itself now, and is very critical of HMG when the interests of veterans, and of serving personnel and their families are concerned. That is how it should be.

But maybe we need to revisit the issue of making the 11th a Bank Holiday.....

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Victory in Virginia!

It was great last night to be in Richmond at Tim Kaine's victory rally waiting for the results to come in from across the US.

The Republican campaign had basically involved endless attacks on Kaine, blaming him and Obama for all the nation's woes. Apparently Virginians were not fooled, and the Democrats took the senate seat, albeit by a narrow margin.

During Kaine's acceptance speech, the news came in that the Presidential election had been called, and that Obama had won his second term. The Democrat campaign has been highly impressive: totally focused  energetic, and passionate. For me this has been a real learning experience.

As one TV presenter pointed out to me is at night, unemployment in the US is now 7.9%. New jobs are being created. How well this compares with the situation in the EU!

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

With Romney in Lynchburg Va.

We took a drive down to Lynchburg Va this morning to take part in a Mitt Romney rally.

 Very slick, very impressive.

Instinctively I am probably more Republican than Democrat, but I truly believe that the greatest threat to our democracy today is the control of government by big business. My feeling that Romney wants to hand the running of the US over to large corporations was reinforced by his attack, at the beginning of his speech, on renewable and alternative energy.  If elected, he will very likely be Exxon Mobil's man in the Whitehouse.

Tonight, we will check out Vice-President Joe Biden back here in Richmond. John Mellancamp will be performing, so it should be a fun evening. A nice way to spend my birthday, a helluva day!

Sunday, 4 November 2012

On the ground in Virginia.

Campaigning in the US is so different to the way we do it in the UK, which is something we are learning at every turn.

The greatest pleasure so far has been a day of canvassing in Henrico County, Virginia, knocking on doors and speaking to the voters.

It is only in the last 30 years or so that the Democrats have made any headway here, but if the good folk I spoke to yesterday are a true indication, then Obama has overwhelming support here.

At the moment Obama has a small lead in the polls in Virginia, but it is within the margin for error. The demographics are also in the Democrats favour.

Saturday, 3 November 2012

On the Campaign Trail Again!

I've been involved in some fascinating campaigns over the years, but this one looks set be be something else altogether.

Landed in Washington DC yesterday afternoon, and hit the ground running. Actually, I hit a sports bar in Arlington, but that did give me a little time to chat to people, and to check out the local news.

The team and I also had an interesting meeting today at the Capitol Hill Club, which is a private club for Republicans on - you guessed it - Capitol Hill.Informed opinion in both places, and in the media, is that Obama is going to take it.

Quote of the day: In the Senate chamber a staffer was asked "Where did Obama sit when he was a Senator?"

His reply: "Who?"

Then a long haul through Friday evening traffic down Interstate 95 to Richmond, Va, the former capital of the Confederacy. Tomorrow the real work begins....