Friday, October 29, 2004
Get the tear gas for the Trots...
My walk to work this morning was disrupted by a demonstration. The bloody Metro workers are on strike, which means firstly, no tube to work, and secondly, they feel the need to disrupt traffic and pedestrians by marching through the main streets of Brussels, letting off firecrackers.
I cannot understand for the life of me why public sector workers are allowed to strike. The Police can't; the Army can't; so why should those who provide an essential public service (fire brigades, transport workers) be allowed to disrupt the lives of everyone just because they want a few more poxy shekels?
The Belgian Police react brilliantly to protest marches, even the student ones we had recently; it's clearly the excuse they need to wheel out the riot trucks, don their body armour, and feel like Real Men for the day. There were umpteen battalions of heavily armoured coppers wandering the streets today, in gangs, clearly spoiling for a fight. They should have just turned the water cannon and tear gas on the bloody Metro workers, regardless, to teach the ungrateful bastards a lesson for disrupting the lives of the rest of us.
Thursday, October 28, 2004
Who really cares?
Yesterday, as I was relaxing in the gym following a hectic day, one thing occurred to me. Amongst all the overenthusiastic whooping, hollering and jubilation of Conservative Press Officers, as they celebrated the downfall of Kilroy; amongst the scornful sniggers of Eurosceptics as they revelled in the display of Europhile disarray over the Commission vote delay; and amongst the general excitement of a bear-pit debating chamber in Strasbourg, the thought struck me: does anyone at home in the UK care? The more I thought about it, the more downcast I became.
So Kilroy has quit? Who cares? One news page and a sub-heading on BBC News.
So the Commission vote was delayed? Who gives a damn? Does it affect house prices, fuel costs and the price of bananas? No.
So lots of MEP's got angry and shouted at each other. How many Britons in one hundred would be able to name even one of those MEP's? One? Two, if lucky?
One of the reasons the EU has been able to inveigle itself so easily into British life and British law is that no-one knows or much cares about it. The EU Institutions can do what they like: people at home feel disclocated from the EU, so EU stories won't sell newspapers (except the Daily Mail...), so there's no effective Fourth Estate scrutiny as there's no imperative for the media to raise hype about it.
At national level, some of the things the EU gets away with would cause governments to fall and Prime Ministers to resign - the Eurostat scandal, the repeated failure to balance their books, the financial waste on a vast scale, the ardent expenditure of taxpayers' money on ceaseless self-promotion. Yet because no-one knows or cares, and the media fail to properly inform the electorate, there is barely a flicker of interest in these massive scandals.
Yes, the Commission nonsense was a big deal for us politics hacks in our Eurobubble, but it means absolutely nothing to the average UK man-in-the-street. The EU is responsible for the origin of 66% of British law. They're actually far more important in legislative terms than Blair, or Howard, or (snigger) Kennedy, and yet not one person in ten can name one of the Commissioners-elect. We can get as excited as we like here in Brussels over Euroshenanigans; however, until people realise just how crucial and utterly vital to our national interest this EU business is, both Eurosceptics and Europhiles alike will have difficulty in getting anyone at home to care.
Wednesday, October 27, 2004
I laughed until I cried.
Won't somebody think of the children?
I attended a Youth Parliament back in the UK last Friday; it was a day of group discussions and debates on the EU in general, including such topics as "Integration and Expansion", "What has the EU done for us?", "The Constitution" and an afternoon debate on the Euro (which, incidentally, the No vote won by 78% - good stuff). I was invited along in an advisory capacity (well, my boss was - but he sent me!).
It was great fun, I have to say. Working with idealistic 13-18 year olds made an enthusing change from working with embittered, cynical political hacks, and I really enjoyed the day - not to mention crushing the poor pro-Euro kiddies, and, far more amusingly, the local Labour MP, with my unfairly superior knowledge and experience (well, I have got a degree in European Law and European Public Policy, AND I work in the god-damned place...). I was delighted at how sound most of the kids were - the vast majority were anti-EU, for various reasons.
Two things became quickly clear, however. Firstly, despite the healthy anti-EU attitudes on display, young people are utterly clueless about the EU and what it really stands for. Some of the misunderstandings and misapprehensions about the EU and the Constitution were baffling - "I want EU expansion as it means we'll have a bigger Army," and "Just because a one-size-fits-all interest rate hasn't worked for the Eurozone countries doesn't mean it won't work for us", amongst others. And comprehension as to what the Constitution would actually mean (legal personality, etc) was nil.
Secondly, the way in which the pro-Europeans have insidiously spread their propaganda really hit home to me. I blame, again, the BBC - for example, on the Breakfast News this morning they had a vile 4 minute piece on the Constitution, and completely airbrushed out the deeper implications of loss of national sovereignty).
In Friday's "What has the EU done for us?" debate, it seemed accepted without question that "Trade" was an automatic benefit of EU membership. Oh really? I'm glad I was able to put that particular myth to bed, anyway.
Yes, we have more than 50% of our trade with the EU, but most of it is in imports: ergo, they need us to buy from them far more than we need the EU to sell to. Furthermore, the UK Treasury's own import/export Balance of Trade figures since 1973 show that we're actually operating at a massive trade deficit with the EU - equivalent to £30 million per day since we joined. Last year alone, we were £28 billion in deficit. We have been in net surplus in only one year since joining. For most of the past 30 years, the UK has been in surplus with every continent in the world except Europe.
So let us hear no more of this "the EU improves our trade" argument. If nothing else, I'm glad that last Friday gave me the opportunity to put across to young people the other side of the EU argument.
...and whaddya know?
Barroso has postponed the vote on his Commission for a month. Well, it was either that or get voted down, so the poor sod really was stuck between a rock and a hard place. This extra month should give him the time he needs to swap his team around jigger-poker enough support form MEP's to pass them.
Still, this is excellent news for several reasons.
Firstly, it has outraged and upset the Euro-hacks in Brussels, and anything that wipes off the supercilious, condescending smirks from their faces has to be a good thing.
Secondly, it makes the Commission look really stupid at a key time for the EU, with national referenda on the new constitution just around the corner. This really is a complete embarrassment - and by implication it discredits every EU Institution. No-one comes out of this sorry mess looking good.
Thirdly, it will disrupt and delay on-going EU business. Great! It all goes to show why the EU can never work: at a crucial time for EU expansion, when a presentation of unity of purpose is vital, two of the most pro-EU bodies (the Commission and the left-wingers in Parliament) fall out in the most public way imaginable, and put petty political and personal differences ahead of the "common good".
Fellow Eurosceptics and I can afford a good belly laugh at this one.
Tuesday, October 26, 2004
Major tension in the Parliament, as the new Commission is voted on tomorrow by MEP's in Strasbourg. It's either a yay or nay; they either reject the lot of them or accept them as a slate. The possibility of a "No" vote arose after comments by the Italian candidate, Rocco Buttiglione, who dared to express his own personal beliefs as a right-wing Catholic. The whole mess hinges on the fact that he referred to homosexuality as "a sin" - which, actually, he didn't - that exact word was used by a Green MEP in cross-examination.
So, we have an instance of a massive storm kicked up by the Left, after having seized on a minor part of a Commissioner-elect's testimony, placed words in his mouth and blown the whole thing out of all proportion.
Set aside the ardent Catholic-bashing of certain left-wingers. The reason behind this storm is simple. When Berlusconi was elected President of the Commission, you may recall he took objection to heckling from the leader of the Party of European Socialists, Martin Schulz, and inferred that Herr Schulz would make a good Nazi Camp Commandant in a film. Again, a huge media tempest resulted.
Take note, however: the man leading the push to vote "No" to the new Commission, over the Berlusconi-appointed Signor Buttiglione? Step forward, Martin Schulz. The controversy is nothing more than inflated payback for Signor Berlusconi's falling-out with the Party of European Socialists.
Thursday, October 21, 2004
OK - all this kerfuffle about redeploying British troops in Iraq: I fail to see why the media are kicking up such a fuss. As I see it, the situation stands thus:
1. There is no change to the length of the Black Watch's deployment - they will still be home for Christmas.
2. They're not going to be deployed to Baghdad or Fallujah - they're moving to replace US troops, so that the US forces can be moved to the major combat zones.
3. They're technically under US control already, as are every British unit in Iraq, so it's not as if we're parcelling out our troops willy-nilly.
So why is there a problem? The Black Watch is comprised of gap-toothed inner city Glaswegians anyway - I'm sure they'll be delighted to get away from Basra and have an increased opportunity to get into a fight.
Once again, then, the BBC are using every minor development in Iraq to push their anti-war agenda by blowing everything completely out of proportion and using it to bash the government with. I want my licence fee back.
Monday, October 18, 2004
Argh! So much to say...
Have been busy as hell for a week so have not had time to post. That's the way it goes...
1. The girlfriend has been ill this week; some kind of rather nasty virus, coupled with her weakened immune system (vegetarian, you see - if she'd been a red meat eater she'd have shrugged the damned virus off in days), means that the poor thing has been bed-ridden for five days with no signs of recovery. Bless. Still, it gave me a good insight into the Belgian medical system.
Firstly, we had to pay for hospital treatment. I would have been fine with that, had the "you pay for better service" myth been true; alas not in this instance. There's a major external factor at play here, however; I suspect that the poor service was simply because the hospital staff were Belgian. A Belgian in a service-based industry has one prime concern with regard to a customer: to get rid of them as soon as possible. We approached the casualty desk, with my poor girlfriend half-conscious in a wheelchair, and I waited patiently for the woman behind the desk to finish what she was doing and take my details. Sixty seconds later, she hasn't even looked up. I tap the window. "I'm busy!" she snaps, and storms off!
Still, once we had got past the front desk the staff were brisk and efficient, and all things considered I think the private sector (once again) outperforms the British public sector health service. I'm confirmed in my resolution that the NHS should be privatised as soon as possible, with the burden of payment placed on private health insurance and, ideally, employer-based insurance deals (with a state-funded safety net only for those who genuinely can't afford it). The Belgian system, with Belgian staff removed and replaced with British ones, would work excellently. Having seen how easy it is out here, I'm almost embarrassed at the way British NHS workers have to suffer with a cumbersome, outdated and overstretched public sector. They, and their patients, deserve better.
2. A quick post on the US Presidential election. Up until the TV debates, I was fairly undecided - I thought that both candidates were a waste of space. Post-debates (I stayed up to watch them, political geek that I am), in my view, Kerry towered over Bush in eloquence, demeanour, and policy. He argued Bush into the ground; Dubya seemed incoherent, peevish, small-minded, and completely unable to defend his own domestic policies, instead resorting to petty attacks on Kerry and an obsession with his "War on Terr'r". Kerry seemed like a statesman. Kerry all the way!
3. UKIP have finally realised what they've done in unleashing Kilroy. They sold their soul to the devil in exchange for increased publicity, and now Kilroy's ego is tearing their party in two. He's demanding the leadership of UKIP, he's alienating their core support with comments about "killing" the Tories, and he's generally stirring up dissent and trouble at every turn. I give it a matter of weeks before he has the whip removed...
Monday, October 11, 2004
Always shit on the English side of the bridge...
...yes, we were. What an embarrassment Wales were on Saturday; no guts, no flair, no hwyl - Giggs might as well not have been on the pitch. I can take solace in two facts, however: 1) football is a rubbish sport for girls and poofs, and 2) at least Wales's captain isn't a petulant nancy boy.
Euro update: NOTHING WORKS in this god-damned country. The cash machines are always empty; the (French, needless to say) waiters are hopeless - my vegetarian girlfriend had to contend with being given... a PLATE OF CHEESE when she requested a veggie main course in a restaurant the other day; and to top it all my co-worker D and I just had to fill out forms in triplicate to qualify for purchasing a Diet Coke (well, not really, but you get my drift).
Wednesday, October 06, 2004
What is wrong with the Tories?
I'll tell you. I've figured it out. I've spent sizeable amounts of time watching the Conference this week (see below), and one thing has become clear to me: the Tories are terrified. A perfect example - the gist of an interview between David Cameron, Conservative Head of Policy, and Andrew Neil, brillo-pad-headed BBC interviewer:
AN: "You've criticised Labour for putting in place 66 tax rises since 1997. Which of the 66 are you going to repeal?"
DC: "I can't say."
It's pathetic. The Tories are petrified of committing to anything perceived as right-wing (i.e. tax cuts) for fear of being beaten with the "Nasty Party" stick by the Lib Dems and Labour, but are equally terrified of not being right-wing enough and thereby losing more ground to UKIP. The result? They're dithering around topics rather than having the courage of their convictions to say:
"Yes! We are going to cut tax. Yes, that means less money for hospitals - BUT we're going to reform the way NHS funding works in order to improve services so the cash we give them actually reaches patients. And yes, that means less dole money for you work-sky council estate scum. Tough shit - get off your arses and work. But we're going to spend the money we've saved on bringing back grammar schools, reforming the University system and restoring some common sense to the A-Level system. And yes, we're going to build more prisons and give the police powers to nick criminal scum without subsequently needing to fill in two million forms. And yes, we're going to have stern words with the EU and reclaim our national sovereignty and £3 billion a year. And yes - we're going to be tough on immigration, tough on political correctness, repeal the Human Rights Act, give the Armed Forces the money they need and save a fortune by drastically paring down the civil service and sacking lots of bureaucrats."
That'd do me, anyway: less cowardice, more conviction. All the Conservatives have to do is remember that boldness won them four consecutive general elections between 1979 and 1992. Temerity will result in the very thing they fear: people will vote for the parties who sound like they mean it instead - the Lib Dems and UKIP.
Tuesday, October 05, 2004
OK - I think the EU Thought Police are after me. My pass - having as it does a British flag where all others have an EU flag - keeps attracting stares wherever I go in the Parliament. I'm half expecting any day now to feel a heavy Belgian hand on my shoulder, and be dragged off to some back room for an interrogation about my subversive ways.
Bah, I say! I have a petty political point to make and no amount of disapproving German tutting in lifts will stop me. Besides, the EU flag gets flown outside council buildings, etc, in the UK - where it has absolutely no place whatsoever - so I'm going to damned well fly the Union flag here in revenge.
On a more entertaining note, this is quite funny. The EU have deleted Wales! Shock, horror. Thanks to Cennydd for the link.
Things I Hate (#27364)
Two things that really annoy me. With subheadings.
The attitude of the EU Establishment (in all new Microcosm)
I went to Peter Mandleson's debut "grilling" by MEP's, yesterday. I say "grilling"; it was more an "Isn't the EU, and everything we do, simply marvellous?" session. Non-rabid UKIP leader, Nigel Farage (who, obiter dicta, I think is charismatic, excellent and a real loss to the Conservatives), asked a perfectly reasonable question concerning Mandelson's position as a privy councillor - his gist being that as someone sworn to act in the Monarch's best interests, Mandelson should resign his "Rt Hon" status before swearing an oath of allegiance to the EU. Farage's position was perfectly cogent and arguable, whether you agree with it or not - as was Mandy's reply that he didn't consider the two incompatible: fine - that's his position and he is entitled to it.
What really riled me, however, was the supercilious and arrogant manner in which Mandelson replied. Knowing he had the backing of the room, he slipped happily into the EU establishment attitude that I've seen over and over again - if you don't agree wholly with the EU 'Project', then you are wicked or stupid or misguided or all three, and deserve pity and condescension. It's deeply unpleasant and ugly to see, and sums up the sheer arrogance of those who run the EU.
The Conservative Party Conference
Stop. Trying. To. Be. Trendy. There have been some excellent speeches and contributions; Howard's speech was largely decent, although it descended into soppiness at the finale; Redwood's speech was excellent; even Oliver Leftwing's effort wasn't bile-inducing. By the same measure, however, the matey, chummy, trendy atmosphere they're trying to put across just doesn't work. I can't stand the sub-Kilroy chatshow format they're using in some debates, and all these slick video vignettes in the background, where mid-forties MP's drone on about their favourite book, the last CD they bought, or the last brothel they visited (or something) are just cheesy, and this almost Bridget Jones-y presentation clashes horribly with the octogenarian audience-shots to which the BBC keep cutting. People aren't looking for an all-new, funky, Tory Party: they're looking for a coherent and believable alternative to the horrendous, corrupt, ineffective and arrogant Blair government. The Conservatives need to avoid the Labour all-spin, no-delivery appearance trap. Don't look too slick - although, for the most part, the message is good.
But if Liam Fox really listens to Scissor Sisters, then you can paint my arse red and spank me.