January 26, 2018

QotD: Britain’s boozy parliamentarians

Filed under: Books, Britain, Politics, Quotations — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

It is Wright’s contention [in his book Order! Order!] that alcohol has as many benefits as it does drawbacks. Not only does it help loosen ties and tongues it also boosts confidence and dilutes stress. Most prime ministers drank, many to excess. Herbert Asquith went by the nickname “Squiffy Asquith” and regularly appeared in the Commons three sheets to the wind. Margaret Thatcher did her best to promote the whisky industry, the uncapping of a bottle of Bell’s marking the end of the working day. She believed that whisky rather than gin was good for you because “it will give you energy”, which I fear could be a hard fact to prove scientifically.

Tony Blair, whose reign ushered in an era of 24-hour drinking, thought his relatively modest drinking was getting out of control because he calculated it exceeded the government’s weekly recommended limit. This did not impress Dr John Reid, Bellshill’s finest, who once drank like a navvy. “Where I come from,” Reid told GMTV, “a gin and tonic, two glasses of wine, you wouldn’t give that to a budgie.” Blair, of course, did not have to look further than next door to find an explanation why his consumption increased over the years. Gordon Brown, his nemesis, was fond of Champagne – Möet & Chandon no less – which he did not nurse but washed down in a gulp. “He was like the cookie monster,” recalled one aide. “Down in one, whoosh!” Drinking is of course one of those areas in which we Scots have long punched above our weight and Wright’s pages are replete with examples of intoxicated Jocks carousing nights away and causing mayhem. Former Labour leader John Smith was one such. Occasionally I encountered him on the overnight train that carried Scottish MPs home from Westminster on a Thursday night. Known as “the sleeper of death”, it was a mobile pub that never closed until it reached Waverley, whereupon politicians were disgorged red-eyed and pie-eyed among bemused early morning commuters.

Alan Taylor, “Lush tales of our political classes’ drinking exploits”, The National, 2016-06-20.

November 21, 2016

“We are one click away from totalitarianism”

Filed under: Britain, Law — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Cory Doctorow on the awful authoritarian “Snooper’s Charter” that somehow slithered onto the law books in Britain recently:

Britain’s love-affair with mass surveillance began under the Labour government, but it was two successive Conservative governments (one in coalition with the Liberal Democrats, who are nominally pro-civil liberties) who took Tony Blair’s mass surveillance system and turned it into a vicious, all-powerful weapon. Now, their work is done.

The Snoopers Charter — AKA the “Investigatory Powers Act” — is the most extreme surveillance law in Europe, more extreme that America’s Patriot Act and associated presidential orders and secret rulings from the Foreign Intelligence courts. Snowden nailed it when he said it “goes further than many autocracies.”

The fact that these new spying powers — which conscript tech companies to do the collection and retention of materials for use by the government, usually in secret — comes even as the ruling Conservative Party is barely holding itself together after the Brexit vote and the rise of nativist, racist, pro-deportation/anti-migrant movements who are working their way into the halls of power. Needless to say, any project of mass roundups and expulsions will rely heavily on the legal and technical capabilities for surveillance that the British state has just claimed for itself.

September 24, 2012

Warren Ellis: the fun in politics is gone, gone, gone

Filed under: Britain, Media, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 10:29

In his weekly column at Vice, Warren Ellis finds it in his flinty heart to mourn the passing of fun in politics:

There has long been a notion abroad that positions of authority should be given to the best-qualified people who don’t want them, as the job of “ruler”, like “censor”, does not necessarily attract the best kind of human being. That would, of course, kill the inherent black comedy in politics-watching. The creatures who fight and kick and bite for the right to fuck with our lives tend to be grotesques, and serve as warnings. Warnings we never heed, of course, because we end up voting something in from that shallow pool of eels every time.

But, every now and then, there comes a period where that pool gets drained, and we find ourselves dealing with the dregs.

I actually find myself weirdly nostalgic for the authentic monsters of politics. Even the sly, hollow hustling of Tony Blair would be preferable to the callow bafflement of Nick Clegg, the unnaturally shiny forehead and beta-male posturing of David Cameron, and the… well, whatever Ed Miliband is. There’s Vince Cable, whom lots of people seem to like the idea of, but his presence, unfortunately, is that of Gravedigger #2 in one of the less successful Hammer Horror films.

Over the water, Mitt Romney doesn’t even have the facility to be slippery. He just staggers down the corridor of ideology like a cheap drunk, bumping into the walls. And President Obama isn’t even a tragic hero in the mode of Jimmy Carter, who struggled mightily (with himself, as much as anything else) and fell before the eerie charm of Ronald Reagan. I can admire the man’s intellect and general beliefs (or “values”, which is the season’s buzzword) while recognising that his main mode of operation is as a chilly functionary unwilling to take the big fights all the way.

July 8, 2012

Economic land mines laid by Blair and Brown’s governments exploding now

Filed under: Britain, Economics, Government — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 10:34

At The Commentator, John Phelan wonders if it’s now time for “an economic Nuremburg” for the 1997-2010 British governments of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown:

Like an iceberg, the extent of the damage wrought by the last Labour government is still becoming apparent.

One of the wheezes Labour used to camouflage its vast spending spree was the Private Finance Initiative. These had been brought in by John Major’s Conservatives (to criticism from the then Labour opposition) and involved a private sector entity building something and then selling it or leasing back to the government over a number of years, usually decades.

Upon winning the election in 1997 however, Labour performed a volte face and embraced PFIs. They appealed to Gordon Brown because the liabilities taken on under PFIs would not show up on the government’s balance sheet. In other words, they wouldn’t be included in the national debt figure.

Labour signed up to an estimated £229 billion of PFI projects. That’s almost two and a half times the entire projected budget deficit for 2012 – 2013, or 16 percent of GDP.

[. . .]

Indeed, like the cat who leaves little ‘presents’ around the house for you to discover when you return from holiday, the Labour government of 1997 to 2010 is the gift that keeps on crapping on your carpet. We will be discovering fiscal turds left by Labour for literally decades to come.

If you were being charitable you would ascribe the fiscal incontinence of the Blair/Brown governments to some sort of Keynesian economic theory, though that fails to explain why they applied fiscal ‘stimulus’ for seven years to an already growing economy.

If you were being slightly less charitable you might ascribe it to incompetence of a quite staggering degree. The last Labour government, after all, were probably the biggest set of mediocre idiots ever to govern this country.

And, if you were being even less charitable, you might ascribe it to something more sinister – Brown poisoning the wells when he heard opposition tanks at the end of his strasse.

June 25, 2012

The rot began at the top: Britain’s rotten state

Filed under: Britain, Government, Media, Politics — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 09:06

David Conway reviews The Rotten State of Britain by Eamonn Butler:

In fourteen pithy, well-documented chapters, Butler guides the reader through the maze of political, economic and social changes to which New Labour subjected Britain during their period in office. After noting that ‘the rot starts from the top’, Butler summarize the main political changes the country was made to undergo so:

‘From Magna Carta in 1215, our rights and liberties have been built up over the centuries. Trial by jury, habeas corpus, the presumption of innocence — all these and more grew up to restrain our leaders and prevent them from harassing us. Yet within a decade almost all these protections have been diluted or discarded. Our leaders are no longer restrained by the rule of law at all [22]…The Prime Minister and colleagues in Downing Street decide what is good for us and then it’s nodded through Parliament. It’s hardly democracy: it’s a centralist autocracy.’ [31]

One by one, Butler explains how each of the country’s traditional constitutional restraints on uncurbed executive power was deliberately weakened, if not altogether discarded, by New Labor in pursuit of their master political project which was, having come to equate the national good with that of their own party, to perpetuate their hegemony indefinitely. Their first step was to effect a massive centralization of power in the hands of the Prime Minister and a small clique of unelected advisors that led to a systematic downgrading of Parliament, the Cabinet and civil service.

To observers of the Canadian system, this critique sounds hauntingly familiar: change “Downing Street” to “Sussex Drive” and it’s equally valid here. Some of the centralization was already well underway before 2001, but it was accelerated by terrorist attacks and governments’ response to them:

9/11 also served New Labor, Butler argues, as a pretext for making a power-grab in the name of security that turned Britain into ‘a surveillance state’ where ‘freedom exists only in name’. [106] He chillingly observes:

‘Of course, the terrorism threat is real… But in response, we seem to have given our government powers to track us anywhere, stop and search us in the street, arrest us for any imagined offense, imprison us for peaceful protest, hold us without charge for 28 days, extradite us to the United State without evidence, ban us for being members of non-violent organizations that they don’t happen to like, export us to other EU countries to stand trial for things that aren’t a crime here, take and file our DNA samples before we’ve been convicted, charged or even cautioned for any offense — and much more as well. In the name of defending our liberties against terrorism, we seem to have lost them.’ [92-93]

April 16, 2012

Member of the House of Lords offers £10 Million bounty for capturing Barack Obama and George Bush

Filed under: Britain, Politics, Religion, USA — Tags: , , , , , , — Nicholas @ 11:11

I’m not sure what they’re putting in the drinking water in the House of Lords, but whatever it is, it must be powerful:

During a recent visit to Pakistan, Lord Nazir Ahmed, a member of the British House of Lords who originally hails from Pakistani Kashmir, announced he was putting up a bounty of £10 million for the capture of U.S. President Barack Obama and his predecessor, George W. Bush. The announcement, made at a conference held in the Pakistani town of Haripur, came in response to a recent U.S. announcement offering a $10 million reward to anyone providing information leading to the capture of Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, founder of the Pakistani jihadi organization Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), and emir of LeT’s charity arm, Jamaatud Dawa.[1]

Stressing the seriousness of his offer, Lord Ahmed said he would back the bounty at any cost, even if it meant selling his house. Qazi Muhammad Asad, minister for education in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provincial government, was among those present at the conference at which the announcement was made.

Yes, it’s likely a fake story, but it’s too funny to check before running it.

Update: Oh, perhaps it’s a real story after all:

Lord Ahmed suspended from Labour Party after ‘offering £10m bounty for capture of Obama and Bush’

Lord Nazir Ahmed, 53, who in 1998 became the first Muslim life peer, was reported to have made the comments at a conference in Haripur in Pakistan.

A Labour Party spokesman said: “We have suspended Lord Ahmed pending investigation. If these comments are accurate we utterly condemn these remarks which are totally unacceptable.”

[. . .]

But Lord Ahmed complained that party chiefs had not spoken to him before announcing the move and challenged the party to produce evidence against him.

He had told the meeting that Mr Bush and ex-Labour prime minister Tony Blair should be prosecuted for war crimes however, he added, speaking from Pakistan.

[. . .]

Asked about the reported comments, he said: “I never said those words.

“I did not offer a bounty. I said that there have been war crimes committed in Iraq and Afghanistan and those people who have got strong allegations against them — George W Bush and Tony Blair have been involved in illegal wars and should be brought to justice.

“I do not think there’s anything wrong with that,” he said — adding that he was equally concerned that anyone suspected of terrorism should face justice as well.

December 15, 2011

James Delingpole on Great Britain, the Green Movement, and the End of the World

July 20, 2009

I look forward to Gordon Brown’s “Paul Martin” moment

Filed under: Britain, Cancon, Politics — Tags: , , , , , , — Nicholas @ 12:56

For those of you who have already forgotten the premiership of Paul Martin, one of the most striking moments of his term in office was his leaving of it. His final speech, after the election results were in, was the best speech I think he ever made. There was a jauntiness, a cheerfulness in his voice that had been totally lacking at any point before that. After a successful term as Finance Minister under Jean Chrétien, Martin, like Gordon Brown, couldn’t wait to get the current PM out the door.

Martin, for all his faults, was not the ongoing disaster for his party and country that Brown has been. Martin also knew when to bow out. Brown has not been willing to go — and has been unwilling to risk the opinions of the electorate in a general election. Yet.

Christopher Hitchens looks at the wreckage:

Early this past June it became hard to distinguish among the resignation statements that were emanating almost daily from Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s Cabinet. The noise of collapsing scenery drowned out the individuality of the letters — one female minister, I remember, complained that she was being used as “window dressing” — but there was one missive from a departing comrade that caught my eye. It came from James Purnell, a man generally agreed to have done a more than respectable job as minister for work and pensions, and it began like this:

Dear Gordon,
We both love the Labour Party. I have worked for it for twenty years and you for far longer. We know we owe it everything and it owes us nothing . . .

I sat back in my chair. Yes, it’s true. One suddenly could recall a time when membership in the Labour Party (or “the Labour movement,” as it would call itself on great occasions) was a thing of pride. [. . .]

The true definition of corruption, it seems to me, is the diversion of public resources to private or politicized ends [. . .] There are other and lesser definitions, such as milking the public purse or abusing the public trust by “creative accounting.” The cloudburst of lurid detail about the expenses racket, which has made the current Parliament into an object of scorn and loathing, is a cloudburst that has soaked members of all parties equally. However, the Brownite style is by far the most culpable. It was Brown’s people who foisted a Speaker on the House of Commons who both indulged the scandal and obstructed a full ventilation of it. As if that weren’t bad enough, Gordon Brown still resists any call to dissolve this wretched Parliament — a Parliament that is almost audibly moaning to be put out of its misery and shame — because he still isn’t prepared to undergo the great test of being submitted to the electorate. Say what you will about Tony Blair, he took on all the other parties in three hard-fought general elections, and when it was considered time for him to give way or step down, he voluntarily did so while some people could still ask, “Why are you going?,” rather than “Why the hell don’t you go?” For the collapse of Britain’s formerly jaunty and spendthrift “financial sector,” everybody including Blair is to blame. But for the contempt in which Parliament is held, and in which a once great party now shares, it’s Blair’s successor who is the lugubrious villain.

H/T to Ghost of a Flea for the link.

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