Quotulatiousness

April 13, 2014

QotD: Politicians

Filed under: Humour, Politics, Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:24

Being an MP is a vast subsidized ego-trip. It’s a job that needs no qualifications, it has no compulsory hours of work, no performance standards, and provides a warm room, a telephone and subsidized meals to a bunch of self-important windbags and busybodies who suddenly find people taking them seriously because they’ve go the letters ‘MP’ after the their name.

Jonathan Lynn, “Yes Minister Series: Quotes from the dialogue”, JonathanLynn.com

April 10, 2014

Former finance minister Jim Flaherty has died

Filed under: Cancon, Politics — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 13:38

The former federal finance minister and MP for Whitby-Oshawa (my riding) is reported to have died earlier today:


Jim Flaherty, Canada’s finance minister, smiles while speaking during a press conference after releasing the 2014 Federal Budget on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, on Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2014. Flaherty ramped up efforts to return the country to surplus in a budget that raises taxes on cigarettes and cuts benefits to retired government workers while providing more aid for carmakers. Photographer: Cole Burston/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Former finance minister Jim Flaherty has died. He was 64.

Emergency crews were called to his Ottawa home Thursday afternoon. The cause of death has not been released.

He was one of the longest serving finance ministers Canada has ever had and until he left politics, was the only one to ever serve under Prime Minister Stephen Harper. He stepped down on March 18.

A Conservative MP for the Toronto-area riding of Whitby-Oshawa, Flahery was first elected in 2006.

Flaherty has suffered over the last year from a rare and painful but treatable skin disorder. In his statement, Flaherty said his health did not play a part in his decision to quit politics.

My deepest condolences to his wife Christine Elliot, and their sons John, Galen, and Quinn (Galen and Quinn were players on soccer teams I coached a decade or so back).

April 3, 2014

September, 2014 – the potential start of “interesting times” in the UK

Filed under: Britain, Politics — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:09

If Scotland votes in favour of separation from the United Kingdom this September, it will kick off a period of vast political uncertainty on both sides of the border:

The potential negotiations are all frighteningly close. In just six months time difficult discussions between the Scottish government and Whitehall could be getting under way. David Cameron would lead for the Rest of UK, but only as a weakened Prime Minister contemplating a legacy centred on the loss of the Union. His Westminster opponent Ed Miliband would have to contemplate the loss of many Labour MPs from north of the border. Meanwhile, Nigel Farage would presumably be jumping up and down shouting “bye-bye Scotland, close the door behind you” and stressing that England should be for the English. That view would, I suspect, be very popular after the Scots had raised two fingers at the English in the referendum.

In Scotland, once the Nationalists had woken up with a massive collective hangover, there would be bedlam too, with Salmond the victor and head of government demanding to lead for the Scots in negotiations on oil and so on. But should one man be allowed to create a separate state and dictate its constitution? Shouldn’t a wider group of founding fathers and mothers come up with a plan that Scottish voters can then be asked to approve? To help, the better Scottish MPs and peers at Westminster would very quickly have to go home to try and prevent Salmond turning the whole exercise into a massive vanity project. They would also have to stand for seats in the next Scottish parliament elections, or retire and pipe down.

All this would be taking place against a backdrop of economic uncertainty and intense emotional turbulence.

In such extraordinary circumstances, it is unlikely that English, Welsh and Northern Irish voters would put up with Scottish MPs trying to carry on as normal and then standing for election in 2015 as though nothing had happened. The Members of the Scottish Parliament would say that they now spoke for Scotland. The English, Welsh and Northern Irish at Westminster would be justified in saying later this year to those MPs from Scottish seats: what are you still doing here?

March 20, 2014

Jim Flaherty’s legacy

Filed under: Cancon, Economics, Government — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:10

The federal finance minister announced his resignation the other day. This had been rumoured for quite some time, as Jim Flaherty had been having health issues for the last couple of years. He’s at least for the time being remaining as my local MP (full disclosure: I coached two of his sons in soccer several years ago). He wasn’t going to be my MP in the next parliament, as my village is being moved to a different riding under the new boundaries. At Gods of the Copybook Headings, Richard Anderson tries to find the right words to say goodbye:

Writing valedictory posts is always a bit tricky. You have to strike a balance between showing the bad that is the obvious at the moment with the good that might be visible only in hindsight. It be must admitted that Jim Flaherty was not a bad finance minister, a minister who surrendered to every short-term political demand of the cabinet. Nor was he a great one charting a new course for Canada. He didn’t shift the goal posts, like Michael Wilson did for Brian Mulroney or Paul Martin did for Jean Chrétien. Big Jim minded the shop better than the other guys would have. Among midgets he was a giant.

The Flaherty years consisted of digging a gigantic hole and then carefully filling it back in. Modest surpluses, massive deficits and then a projected modest surplus. To quote the old poem: “Always he led us back to where we were before.” The net result is that we have a somewhat larger national debt than if we’d balanced the books for eight straight years. Not good but not too bad either.

[...]

As for Big Jim? Well he was one of the best Liberal finances minister of the last hundred years.

Such a well-placed barb. So artistically planted. And so true.

March 14, 2014

Iain Martin on the three phases of Tony Benn’s political career

Filed under: Britain, History, Politics — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:12

The death of Tony Benn was announced this morning, and the Telegraph‘s Iain Martin says that Benn’s political trajectory had three distinct phases:

The BBC‘s James Landale described it well this morning only minutes after the death of Tony Benn was announced. There were, he told the Today programme, three phases of Tony Benn the public figure. That is right, and in the second phase Benn almost destroyed the Labour Party. His death — or his reinvention as a national treasure from the late 1980s onwards — doesn’t alter that reality.

In the 1950s and 1960s Benn was part of Labour’s supposed wave of the future, serving in Wilson’s governments and embodying the technocratic approach that was going to forge a modern Britain in the “white heat of technology”. It didn’t work out like that.

[...]

But it is when Labour found itself out of power in 1979 that Benn the socialist preacher applied his considerable talents — his gift for public speaking and the denunciation of rivals — to trying to turn Labour, one of Britain’s two great parties that dominated the 20th century, from being a broad church into a party that stood only for his, by then, very dangerous brand of Left-wing extremism. In the wars of that period against Labour’s Right-wing and soft centre he did not operate alone, but he was the figurehead of a Bennite movement that created the conditions in which the SDP breakaway became necessary, splitting the Left and giving Margaret Thatcher an enormous advantage to the joy of Tories. When Labour crashed to defeat in 1983, Benn even said that the result was a good start because millions of voters had voted for an authentically socialist manifesto, which would have taken Britain back to the stone age if implemented.

From there, after a bitter interlude and a sulk, Benn began his final and, this time, wonderful transformation, during which he was elevated to the ranks of national treasure — a pipe-smoking man of letters, like a great National Trust property crossed with George Orwell. As with many journalists of my generation, I encountered him one on one only in that third phase, and found him, as many others did, a deeply courteous, amusing and interesting man. It was his defence of the Commons, against the Executive, that I liked, and when he spoke on such themes it was possible to imagine him at Cromwell’s elbow in the English Civil War, or printing off radical pamphlets before falling out with the parliamentary leadership after the King had had his head cut off.

February 22, 2014

Ukrainian President flees coup

Filed under: Europe, Politics — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 11:09

The situation in Ukraine just got more fluid, as President Yanukovych is said to have fled from Kiev and the speaker of the Ukrainian parliament announced a vote to remove him from the presidency. James Marson, Alan Cullison and Alexander Kolyandr report for the Wall Street Journal:

Government authority appeared to melt away Saturday, leaving protesters in control of the capital’s center. President Viktor Yanukovych left the capital for a city in the country’s Russian-speaking east and vowed to remain in power.

In a television interview Saturday afternoon in Kharkiv, Mr. Yanukovych denounced the events in Kiev as a “coup d’etat” that he blamed on “bandits.”

“I have no plans to leave the country and I have no plans to resign. I am the legally elected president and all the international intermediaries I’ve talked to (over the last few days) have given me guarantees of security. We’ll see how those are fulfulled,” Mr. Yanukovych told a small TV station in Kharkiv.

Opposition leader Vitali Klitschko earlier had called on parliament to vote to oust Mr. Yanukovych and announce presidential elections in May, as police withdrew from the center of the capital Saturday.

Ukraine opposition leader and former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko was expected to be released from prison within hours, according to a spokeswoman for the opposition.

Ukraine is divided politically and linguistically on almost the same line:

Ukraine language map

The BBC reports that new elections have been called for May 25:

Ukrainian MPs have voted to oust President Yanukovych and hold early presidential elections on 25 May.

Mr Yanukovych’s spokeswoman said he did not accept the decision.

Earlier on Saturday, protesters walked unchallenged into the president’s office and residential compounds.

Also on Saturday afternoon, prominent opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko was freed from a hospital in the eastern city of Kharkiv where she was being held under prison guard.

A BBC correspondent saw Tymoshenko driven away in a car after leaving the hospital.

MPs had voted to pave the way for her release on Friday. She was sentenced to seven years in prison in 2011 for abuse of power.

Her supporters have always maintained this was simply Mr Yanukovych taking out his most prominent opponent, and her release has always been a key demand of the protest movement.

January 17, 2014

QotD: Forming a cabinet in a parliamentary system

Filed under: Britain, Government, Humour, Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:05

The argument that we must do everything a Minister demands because he has been ‘democratically chosen’ does not stand up to close inspection. MPs are not chosen by ‘the people’ — they are chosen by their local constituency parties: thirty-five men in grubby raincoats or thirty-five women in silly hats. The further ‘selection’ process is equally a nonsense: there are only 630 MPs and a party with just over 300 MPs forms a government and of these 300, 100 are too old and too silly to be ministers and 100 too young and too callow. Therefore there are about 100 MPs to fill 100 government posts. Effectively no choice at all.

Jonathan Lynn, “Yes Minister Series: Quotes from the dialogue”, JonathanLynn.com

January 14, 2014

Questions in Parliament – Scotland and the post-referendum military

Filed under: Britain — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:01

A few answers to questions in the UK parliament on issues relating to the military in a post-separation Scotland, courtesy of Think Defence. First on the official reactions to the Scottish government’s pre-referendum white paper:

Sovereignty: Scotland

Andrew Rosindell: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what discussions he has had with Ministers in the Scottish Government on defence prior to the publication of the White Paper on an independent Scotland. [178081]

Dr Murrison: The Secretary of State for Defence, my right hon. Friend the Member for Runnymede and Weybridge (Mr Hammond), did not have any discussions with Ministers in the Scottish Government about the White Paper on an independent Scotland on defence nor were any requested prior to its publication.

10 Dec 2013 : Column 197W

Ann McKechin: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what representations his Department has received from the Scottish Government in the last 12 months on the proposed reconfiguration of the UK defence estate in the event of Scottish independence, as set out in Scotland’s Future: Your Guide to An Independent Scotland. [178610]

Dr Murrison: None. The Ministry of Defence has not received any representation from the Scottish Government regarding the reconfiguration of the UK defence estate in Scotland in the event of independence.

Ann McKechin: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what representations his Department has received from the Scottish Government in the last 12 months on the proposed removal of the UK Trident nuclear submarines from Scottish waters in the event of Scottish independence, as set out in Scotland’s Future: Your Guide to An Independent Scotland. [178611]

Dr Murrison: None. The Ministry of Defence has not received any representation from the Scottish Government regarding the removal of the UK’s nuclear deterrent from Scotland in the event of independence.

And again, on the 17th of December:

Sovereignty: Scotland

Ann McKechin: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what representations his Department has received from the Scottish Government in the last 12 months on the proposed transfer of armed forces personnel in the event of Scottish independence, as outlined in Scotland’s Future: Your Guide to An Independent Scotland. [180163]

Dr Murrison: None. The Ministry of Defence has not received any representation from the Scottish Government regarding the proposed transfer of armed forces personnel in the event of Scottish independence.

And on January 9th, a question on the estimated costs of defending Scotland in either case after the September referendum:

Sovereignty: Scotland

Mr Gordon Brown: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will estimate the pro rata population adjusted cost of defence provision in Scotland in 2016-17; and what the Scottish Government estimates those costs will be for 2016-17 in an independent Scotland. [180865]

Dr Murrison: Defence is organised, resourced and managed on a UK basis to provide high levels of protection and security for all parts of the UK and its citizens at home and abroad. Decisions on spending are based on meeting Defence requirements and ensuring value for money. The Defence budget is for the whole of the UK and is not apportioned on a regional basis. As part of the UK, Scotland benefits from the full range of UK Defence capabilities and activities funded by the Defence budget. The UK Government is confident that the Scottish people will vote to remain part of the United Kingdom and is not planning for an independent Scotland. In the event of a vote to leave the UK, it would be for the Scottish Government to determine the Defence budget for an independent Scottish state.

January 9, 2014

The Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill, “a revolution in law-making, creating an unprecedented form of blank-cheque state power”

Filed under: Britain, Law, Liberty — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 11:30

Josie Appleton on the amazingly restrictive bill wending its way through the UK parliamentary process:

The bill includes Injunctions to Prevent Nuisance and Annoyance (IPNAs), which can be issued against anybody whose conduct — or threatened conduct — is capable — on the balance of probabilities — of causing nuisance or annoyance to any person.

Few things in the public space are incapable of at least annoying someone. Some people can be annoyed by busking, ball games, skateboarding, street preaching, protests, and all the rest of it. As the former director of public prosecutions Lord Macdonald QC judged: ‘It is difficult to imagine a broader concept than causing “nuisance” or “annoyance”. The phrase is apt to catch a vast range of everyday behaviours to an extent that may have serious implications for the rule of law.’

[...]

However, the problems don’t stop with clause 1. Other clauses in the bill include Public Space Protection Orders (clause 55), which allow local authorities to ban any activity which has a ‘negative effect on the quality of life’ of the area. This ban can be applied to particular groups or individuals, and can also impose conditions with which such groups must comply. This is drafted so broadly it could target anything from sleeping rough, collecting for charity, public drinking, begging, feeding pigeons, or smoking in parks. Indeed, the lead civil servant agrees that the law could be used against groups ‘if there is a localised issue’, such as a ‘group of Goths’ or ‘twentysomethings listening to music in a park’.

At base, this bill represents a revolution in law-making, creating an unprecedented form of blank-cheque state power. The aim is explicit: rather than create specific powers, it seeks to remove limitations to local authorities’ actions. The civil servant says: ‘We don’t want to put too many constraints in the legislation.’ Well, there is no danger of that.

The bill completes the transformation of the role of the British local authority, from a limited body concerned with public provision to a summary law-maker and public-order power.

QotD: The civil service delaying process

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Government, Humour, Quotations — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:24

Any unwelcome initiative from a minister can be delayed until after the next election by the Civil Service 12-stage delaying process:

1. Informal discussions
2. Draft proposal
3. Preliminary study
4. Discussion document
5. In-depth study
6. Revised proposal
7. Policy statement
8. Strategy proposal
9. Discussion of strategy
10. Implementation plan circulated
11. Revised implementation plans
12. Cabinet agreement

Jonathan Lynn, “Yes Minister Series: Quotes from the dialogue”, JonathanLynn.com

December 11, 2013

Canada Post to phase out home delivery

Filed under: Cancon, Humour, Politics — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 16:10

I haven’t had home delivery of my mail for the last few decades, but for folks downtown it’s going to be an unwelcome change. The decision forced itself on the crown corporation through the arcane workings of economic reality: it just costs too much money to deliver to those millions of homes (a tweet I forgot to save said it cost over $200 per year for home delivery and just over $100 for communal mailboxes). The news is not going down well with at least one member of the official opposition, as Colby Cosh pointed out in a series of tweets:

December 4, 2013

The essential unseriousness of the Chong parliamentary reform debate

Filed under: Cancon, Humour, Politics — Tags: , — Nicholas Russon @ 17:04

October 17, 2013

Yesterday’s throne speech

Filed under: Cancon, Economics, Government, Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:13

The big news from yesterday’s throne speech appears to be that there was no big news. In Maclean’s, John Geddes sounds underwhelmed:

To my ear, the pro-consumer rhetoric is flat. The job-creation talk is slightly better, but still pretty prosaic. I think these Conservatives know what they want to say, and how they want to say it, much better when it comes to Canadian history and the Canadian military.

So the opposition parties should be worried when they hear the revving of the 2017 Anniversary of Confederation engines. That’s a huge political marketing opportunity. Next year’s centennial of the start of World War I isn’t bad either. I was surprised, however, that the Tories risked tarnishing the history-commemoration theme by linking it closely to, of all things, the Senate. “The road to 2017 is a fitting time to strengthen our institutions and democratic processes,” the throne speech said, segueing awkwardly from great moments in Canadian history to the depressing present reality of Parliament’s upper chamber.

On the military, the throne speech hit some effectively brassy notes. For instance, touting their purchase of transport aircraft for the air force, it said: “No longer does Canada have to hitch a ride with out allies. Our serving men and women can now carry out their vital missions.” That’s good, straightforward material. The challenge will be sustaining that tone as the Department of National Defence moves from expanding to cutting.

Paul Wells considers this the government’s moment to “seize Canada’s moment, and suffocate it”:

In an excellent season for Canadian literature, the Prime Minister will pay personal tribute to Stephen Leacock by riding madly off in all directions.

He will introduce balanced-budget legislation as reliable and airtight as his fixed-election legislation. He will sell off federal assets, if he feels like it. He will encourage foreign investment, if he likes it. He will, by state fiat, find the Franklin Expedition. He’ll release a new science strategy. He’ll “crack down on predatory payday lenders,” something he already did once this year when he fired Nigel Wright. He’ll implement the Leslie Report on moving military resources from National Defence Headquarters to someplace more useful — not because the report’s ideas were self-evidently useful, but because Andrew Leslie is now in the business of giving ideas to Justin Trudeau. He’ll make Malala a Canadian citizen. He will celebrate the hell out of Canada’s 150th birthday.

Somewhere in there, at about the point where Tom Hanks would be starting to feel mighty thirsty if this had been a screening of Captain Phillips, there are a few paragraphs about consumer rights. Far less than there is about the 150th birthday celebrations. And far, far less than there is about continuing to crack down on criminals, people who look like criminals, people who might be criminals, and people who might know where there are some criminals. But the PMO assiduously leaked these table scraps about consumer protections for days before the big read, and everyone played the consumer stuff up big in the pre-throne-speech stories, and the CBC spent two hours talking nonstop about the “consumer agenda” after the speech as though there had actually been one in it. The great thing about leaking news is that you can create news where there is none, durably, long after your ruse should have been noticed. No wonder it’s so addictive.

September 30, 2013

Re-evaluating Neville Chamberlain

Filed under: Britain, History — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:17

BBC News Magazine on the reputation of British PM Neville Chamberlain:

…this derogatory reference reflects the continuing potency of a well-established conventional wisdom assiduously propagated by Chamberlain’s detractors after his fall from the premiership in May 1940. As Churchill is once supposed to have quipped, “Poor Neville will come badly out of history. I know, I will write that history”.

In his influential account The Gathering Storm, published in 1948, Churchill characterised Chamberlain as “an upright, competent, well meaning man” fatally handicapped by a deluded self-confidence which compounded an already debilitating lack of both vision and diplomatic experience. For many years, this seductive version of events remained unchallenged and unchallengeable.

[...]

The Munich agreement, which later came to symbolise the evils of appeasement, was signed 75 years ago, in the early hours of 30 September. At Munich, Britain and France acquiesced in the dismemberment of Czechoslovakia and the transfer of its Sudeten region to Germany in face of Hitler’s increasingly bellicose threats of military action. Chamberlain’s hopes that this humiliating sacrifice would satisfy Hitler’s last major territorial demand and thus avert another catastrophic war were dashed within four months.

After this monumental failure of policy Chamberlain’s name became an abusive synonym for vacillation, weakness, immoral great-power diplomacy and, above all, the craven appeasement of bullies — whatever the price in national honour. Despite his many achievements in domestic policy, therefore, ultimately Chamberlain’s reputation remains indelibly stained by Munich and the failure of his very personal brand of diplomacy.

As he confessed in the Commons at the outbreak of war, “Everything I have worked for, everything that I have hoped for, everything that I have believed in during my public life, has crashed into ruins.”

September 28, 2013

QotD: Sir Humphrey Appleby on discrediting an expert report

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Government, Humour, Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:01

Sir Humphrey: There is a well established Government procedure for suppress… deciding not to publish reports.
Jim Hacker: Really?
Sir Humphrey: You simply discredit them.
Jim Hacker: Good heavens… how?
Sir Humphrey: Stage one, you give your reasons in terms of the public interest. You hint at security considerations — the report could be used to put pressure on government and could be misinterpreted.
Jim Hacker: Anything could be misinterpreted. The Sermon on the Mount could be misinterpreted!
Sir Humphrey: Indeed — it could be argued that the Sermon on the Mount, had it been a government report, would almost certainly not have been published. A most irresponsible document. All that stuff about the meek inheriting the earth could do irreparable damage to the defence budget.
Sir Humphrey: In stage two you go on to discredit the information you’re not publishing.
Jim Hacker: How, if you’re not publishing it?
Sir Humphrey: It’s much easier if it’s not published. You do it by press leaks. Say it leaves some important questions unanswered, that much of the evidence is inconclusive, that the figures are open to other interpretations, that certain findings are contradictory and that some of the main conclusions have been questioned.
Jim Hacker: Suppose they haven’t?
Sir Humphrey: Then question them. Then they have.
Jim Hacker: But to make accusations like that you’d have to go through it with a fine-toothed comb.
Sir Humphrey: Nonsense — you can say all that without reading it. There are always some questions unanswered.
Jim Hacker: Such as?
Sir Humphrey: The ones that weren’t asked.

Antony Jay and Jonathan Lynn, “The Greasy Pole”, Yes, Minister, 1981-03-16

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