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Wednesday, June 30, 2004

First time

A couple of weeks ago, for the very first time, I traded for something in that dreaded currency - the Euro! The wonders of buying stuff over the internet. The item that enticed me to make this giant leap forward in European commerce was this little computer game, called Crusader Kings. The game company, Paradox Entertainment, makes the best historical strategy games on the market, bar none.

The game arrived yesterday. I foresee many sleepless nights ahead.

Monday, June 28, 2004

Kerry-McCain

In the comment Al confirms my own view that it was pipe-dream. I guess my main point still stands, albeit probably in a different way - who did the liberal media think they were kidding?

I think it must show a lack of judgement on their part, but then, I am admittedly biased.

Anniversaries

This summer we have had a number of 60th anniversaries related to World War 2. It is perhaps emblematic that more attention is likely to be given to D-Day that to today, when 90 years ago Gavrilo Princep assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand. It was the pivotal act that led to WW1, and that war has defined our world today far more deeply that its successor conflict.

Indeed, WW2 can only be seen as a direct consequence of the peace treaties of WW1, and even the Cold War was foreshadowed by the alliance of Western Powers that fought with the "White" Russians against the "Red" Russians (Bolsheviks) of Lenin in the Russian Civil War, that Appendix of WW1 so often ignored by historians and textbooks. Without WW1 there is no understanding of the histories of Communism, Facism, or the United Nations, to name just three.

The Peace Treaties of WW1 are the true source of its continuing influence however. The Balkans today is the creation of the diplomats in 1919. So is the Middle East. One of the reasons that Western leaders and policymakers continually get bogged down in these regions is they lack the capacity to appreciate how treaties that were made generations ago still hold weight, still demand attention.

There will be very few people alive in the world today who were born when the fatal bullet struck home and did its deadly work. There will be even fewer that genuinely remember the event itself. WW1 stands of the very cusp of living memory, but we forget it to our peril.

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Death of the pipe-dream ticket

This is now way out of date, but I'd just thought I'd comment on the death of the "dream" Kerry-McCain ticket.

To begin with I never understood, and still don't, why it got touted as much as it did. McCain, though he may not be entirely fond of GWB, and certainly has some of policy disagreements with the White House, has never struck me as the man who would abandon his party and walk across the aisle. Call it loyalty or call it principle.

Then I never understood why they thought a committed republican (if not a committed "Bushie") would be able to work with the equivocal Kerry. My only conclusion is that there must be a level of concern about Kerry. GWB is hardly the most charismatic of figures, but he looks positively sparkling next to the even more stilted performances of Kerry. I sense this remains the greatest problem of the Kerry campaign - its candidate. Unlike GWB's campaign in 2000 that managed to turns his weaknesses - his verbal accidents and unsophisticated image - into neutral, if not positive, attributes.

Now Bush-McCain would be a dream ticket, except I reckon both men know very well that they probably could not work together successfully in that sort of partnership. And besides, I think its quite probably McCain has his sights on 2008.

Clinton Interview

Just as a note last night I saw an ad for an interview with Bill Clinton they are going to be airing over here. For some reason I can't stand the man's accent, it sounds like he's constantly speaking through his nose or something. Of course, I'm biased against him from the start, so don't read too much into that.

Sunday, June 20, 2004

How to spot foreigners

Over at Oxblog Patrick Belton notes:

AFTER A HALF-DECADE as a proud resident of Great Britain, I can note that I've finally learned how to tell, within a second of looking at someone, whether they're a foreigner.

They're the ones who smile back.


This is, unfortunately, generally true. Why it is I don't know - maybe it's because we spend so much time complaining about the weather.

Saturday, June 19, 2004

EU Constitution

Well its been agreed. My gut feeling at the moment is that I will vote against it when the time comes, but I will hold off making a final decision until I have actually read through the whole thing.

Now, I am hardly an expert. I could well read the treaty 'wrong' - but that's frankly not my problem. And yes, although I will try to read through the Treaty with an open mind of possible I have to admit to hefty bias against it. With that in mind these are the five main things I will be looking for.

1) Whether the Fundamental Charter of Rights can be applied against UK law. Anything that includes a 'right to strike' will automatiicaly get my no vote. There is a reason why the French economy is in the doldrums, and I'd rather the UK not drown in the same boat.

2) Whether, with all the talk of a European Prosecuter, a someone resident in the UK (be they citizen or resident alien) could be arrested for a crime that is not on the UK statute books. If I think the Constitution could allow this, I will again vote against.

3) Foreign affairs & tax. Again, anything that limits UK action in these realms would very likely ensure a no vote, though to be honest I am not expecting to find anything objectionable here.

4) Economic stuff. The area I probably know least, but if I think there is a threat to our economy, particularly the role of London, it will induce a no vote.

5) Common law. If I perceive a threat to UK common law a no vote, no question. In fact in the above 4 I might give a little leeway here and there for a very good reason, but this one is entirely and utterly non-negotiable. Out system of law is one of the things that I believe has made my country great throughout the centuries, and is something so integral to how we operate that trying to alter the system I would regard as an explicit attack on British liberty. Extreme words perhaps, but that is what I think.

I am hoping to find increased democratisation of the EU in the treaty as well, but I am expecting to find only nice phrases of little substance.

A final thought, at quick count of the election results (slightly skewed because it does not take into account Northern Ireland) 55% of people who voted did so for parties that will campaign against the treaty. Only 40% did so for parties that intend to support the treaty. The remaining 5% are to minor parties whose views I do not know. However, a word of caution on those results, just as UKIPs large Euro election result is unlikely to translate into a large General Election share of the vote (because people are more likely to vote on domestic issues than european/international issues at a general election) so we should expect traditional party-line voting to be even less relevant to the referendum, whenever we hold it. This means that I think there is no reliable guide to how the vote will go. The one thing that would radically change the dynamic is if the referendum is held the same day as a general election. I think politically the risks of doing this are too high, but it remains a possibility. An election is widely expected next year (relatively successful British governments tend to call elections every four years, though a Parliament has a maximum lifetime of five years). A possible argument for holding the election and referendum together is a bid to increase turnout. Another set of local elections are held next year, county council elections, and combining the two would make more sense (like they did this time around with the local & euro elections).

We'll just have to see. I believe Parliament will need to ratify the Treaty first. That should be fun.

Refrigerators

Believe me blondie its true. We have in this house what is, by UK standards, a relatively large fridge/freezer combo. That is it stands about 6' tall and it maybe 20" wide. The top half is the fridge, the bottom half is the freezer. This is a big unit for the UK. Larger, I must add, than most others in houses of friends and family.

From memory it is about half the size of what I think of as the 'typical' US family fridge-freezer unit of today.

Ankle

At the end of the April I had a MRI scan on my right ankle, basically to try and find out what is wrong with it. The history of this is simple, in October 2000 I slipped on the punultimate step on a flight of stairs and ended up in an ungainly heap at the bottom. Since then my ankle has been causing me problems. Initially it was thought to be a matter of tendons. I first had physio in June/July of 2001 (that's right, 8 months after the initial injury - the wonders of a public health system). Did some good. Moved. Ankle had gotten worse again. More physio, no good. Get referred to Orthopaedic surgeon. More physio (surprise surprise) which was useless. So finally the guy decides for me to have this MRI.

Interesting device the MRI scanner. I talked to a colleague who is a Radiographer, and she said that one of the wonderful things about MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) is that no-one really understands the long-term of effects of it, compared to say what we know about the possible effects of too frequent X-Rays or CT scans. Also it is noisy, very noisy.

On the 1st June I saw the consultant again with the result of this scan. In this case the waiting time between result and appointment was my responsibility - I went on holiday for a week in the middle. And what did the scan show? Well, blow me down it is not my tendons after all. It's something to do with my cartilege, which does not show up on ordinary X-Rays. And there is a possible chip on one of the ankle bones (the talus) but its difficult to tell on the MRI (more a suggestion of a chip). Also the bone is bruised (I didn't know bones could bruise). I have to say I felt rather vindicated. I've been telling any doctor-like person for the last 18 months that I didn't think this was a simple matter of tendons, but do any of them listen? No, cause here I am, only a human being perfectly capable to think for himself and able to make a couple of reasonable deductions. But who cares, I'm only the dumb patient who because of the extortionate taxes used to pay for the NHS can't go private.

I should make plain that I have never had this problem with my GP, who got quite angry after after my second bout of physiotherapy when the nurse told me I might have to accept this as a chronic condition (he felt that, whatever the truth of the matter - and he thought it a possibility - it was very much NOT her place to tell me, or make that assumption, when no one really knew what the problem was). He also had it X-Rayed, and that x-ray apparently showed some early possible arthritic changes (why the consultant decided to ignore this X-Ray I don't know).

Anyway, the Consultant has now referred me to another consultant in the same DEpartment. Why? Because ankles aren't his speciality. So I am now going ot see the Consultant that my GP originally referred me to. You could say that I am less than impressed with the Orthopaedic Department right now. However, looking for the silver lining, I must admit that I am pleased that this Consultant plainly knows his own shortcomings (for the record he is a joints person, but mostly in terms of replacement operations, and he does not specialise particularly, though practically I think this means hips and knees are what he knows best).

So I now have another appointment - in mid-August. I have a suspicion though the initial outcome of that might be another investigation. I got the impression that the MRI mainly just showed that there was something wrong, but was not terribly clear on precisely what. Some sort of endoscopy was mentioned, or perhaps other imaging.

I'll just have to wait until August to see. Great.

Note - I should explain that I was already turned against the NHS before the above sequence of events. That was when I was on a 22 month waiting list for a relatively simple operation. Trust me

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Ice Update

Make my own ice? (see comment below)

Well, this has been tried. It has run into what I call "technical hitches". Basically the old sort of ice-cube plastic bags that I remember frmo childhood that one used to fill with water and then stick into freezer no longer seem to be in production (though its possible I just haven't noticed where they are still being sold). The more 'modern' option, plastic trays with divisions that one fills with water and then precariously places in the freezer, and then battles to get the ice out from, fail because of lack of place to put and because about 50% gets wasted.

As for automatic ice machines - I live in the sticks in the UK. Not happening.

However, when I am in a position to buy my own fridge-freeze you can bet your bottom dollar (or pound, or, dare I say it, euro) that it will have an ice machine. Until then for a couple of quid I'll pay for some supmarket to freeze tapwater for me.

Ice!

Waddling Thunder pokes a little fun at some habits of mine from days of yore. I think he refers in part to this post of mine some time back.

I suppose an overview of the current situation is in order.

Contents of fridge include: 1 2-litre bottle of Diet coke
Contents of freezer include: bag of ice (now about 1/2 used)
Item included on shopping list for next order on internet: 1 bag of ice

My local Tescos started selling ice in about November last year, that I noticed (Sainsbury's made the move first the month before I think, ain't competition wonderful).

I must admit to occasionally drinking un-chilled coke or vanilla/lemon diet coke. This is still the UK, the land where chilling cabinets apparently stop working once the temperature rises into the 70s, let alone the 80s (as I found out last week).

I have to say all my family think WT has a great deal to answer for when it comes to things like ice.

Should he ever manage to visit me I might even be able to prove this to him, but if not then he's just going to have to take it on trust.

An explanation is probably due to the lack of iciness in these shores. Take these phrases: "overpoweringly hot" "extremely sticky" "heatwave". These phrases refer to temperature in the low 80s and a humidity of 55-65 over the last weekend. One hour in DC enabled me to get a sense of perspective.

Monday, June 14, 2004

Final thoughts

To bring my blogging of the immediate results to a close (this entry being brought to you by the invigorating energising effects of Red Bull, Coca-Cola, & PG Tips (with added sugar).

The final tally: Conservative 27 Labour 19 UKIP 12 Liberal Democrat 12 Green 2 Scottish National Party 2 Plaid Cymru 1 (this is excluding Northern Ireland, which has its own party set-up).

The worst electoral result for Labour since before world war 1 (ie during the period of their rise to major party status in the pre-war years). This record though the Tories are able to trump: the worst electoral result in Conservative history since 1832 and the campaigns around the Great Reform Act.

A turnout of 38.2%, which equates to roughly 16.85 million votes cast. Generally I think this is a "good" result -not from the point of view of any individual parties but from the view of the political landscape as a whole. For the first time in years British politics is engaging people, energising them, and motivating them. Iraq has doubtless played a role there, and Europe is playing another. To be blunt, I hope the politicians sit up and take notice.

There is a third motivator however that is having decides a less rosy impact, and that is racism masked by anti-immigration talk. All the major parties fall into this trap to a greater or lesser extent. So does UKIP. However, in one party it crosses into blatant racism, and that is the British National Party. I am very glad they did not get a seat, but just under 5% of the electorate voted for them (or about 808,000 votes), and increase of 3.9% on their 1999 showing (though they only moved sideways in the local elections, thankfully). So the psychologically important (to them) thresholds of 5% and 1 million votes were not reached, but this shows there is an undercurrent of support for a very racist party. Now, I don't necessarily think that all of those 800K who voted BNP are racist, but people who have been left out. Doubtless some are racist thugs, but their many of their voters will probably be indistinguishable from their mainstream-voting counterparts. Ignoring that fact and branding the voters as crackpots probably raised the anger level of UKIP support that got people out to vote (that's a guess, but I think a reasonable one). We do not want the BNP to get any boosts at all.

Across Europe incumbent governments have been mostly punished - the main exceptions in Greece and Spain where the governments have changed recently and thus are having an electoral honeymoon. Likewise the protest parties have generally done well, taking votes and seats from the more major parties. There is clearly a sense of malaise with 'ordinary' politics in our political landscape. Turnout is mostly down, to about 44% on average, but with many of the larger states falling in the 30s. From what I've read Poland seems to have had the lowest turnout hovering around 20%. What is interesting is that in the UK turnout was up, and up by 14%. What is also noticeable is that althought these have been the European Elections Europe has been mostly absent from the debate. Indeed, the only party in the UK that focused fully on Europe was ... the United Kingdom Independence Party. Perhaps there is a lesson there. The most pro-European party, the Lib Dems, ran a campaign that focused almost entirely on the Iraq war, while Labour avoided the issue concentrating on domestic services, and the Tories dithered. This is apparently a trend across Europe, the main parties talking about Europe are the hardline euroskeptics and anti-EU crowd.

Now, and correct me here for being simple, but I think therein lies the simplest explanation for the hardening of anti-European attitude, in the UK and on the Continent. The only parties that talk regularly about Europe are those opposed to it. They are also the only parties that make clear statements, the rest all equivocate to varying degrees, or go to extremes such as the pro-EU Lib Dems and avoid it altogether.

This raising another question though, though it is only one I can comment on in the UK. Does the hardening of anti-european attitudes, now visibly expressed by the successes of UKIP, mark the signs of a polarising electorate? I think this is likely to be the case. For the anti-EU crowd's part they are already polarised, polarised by not having their voice being heard (and the easiest way to polarise anyone is to ignore them, and tell them that they are crackpots). I suspect that there is a similar polarised pro-EU element which has been hiding behind the facade of the Lib Dems. When (if) we vote on the Constitutional Treaty I think this question will become clearer.

And as for the Treaty, will these elections make one whit of difference to the politicians as they sit around the table in Brussels come Thursday? Unlikely. Perhaps Tony Blair will point to the UK result and say something along the lines of "Well Jacques, you can put in that business of a European Prosecutor but it's all going to be so much hot air in a few months". Perhaps not.

End of night summary

Well I need to get up in far too few hours, so I'm heading to bed. A few words.

It seems that the polls were right and UKIP have managed to beat the LDs into 4th place. Of course this still depends on what happens in the North West and Scotland, but even if UKIP does poorly in them it seems likely they will either equal or exceed the Lib Dems in terms of seats. What does this mean? Traditionally in UK politics one thing mitigating against voting for minor parties is that it is seen as a wasted vote. In most seats, either at general or at local elections, it is two-way contest (usually Con-Lab, sometimes Con-LD or LD-Lab).

What has changed? Well, the first thing was the election of Martin Bell as an independent MP for Tatton in the 1997 general election on an anti-corruption ticket. Admittedly this was aided by Labour and the Lib Dems pulling out their candidates (the Tory incumbent, Neil Hamilton, had been beset by corruption charges).

Then in 1999 you had the European elections, which saw the Greens and UKIP pick out seats, and the first elections to the national assemblies in Scotland and Wales, which also use a hybrid system of PR and first past the post seats.

Then in 2001 another independent won in the general election, fighting for the preservation of a local hospital. And in 2003 minor parties made a small effect on the Welsh and Scottish elections.

I think the rise of UKIP must be seen in that light. Over the last 7 years the old truth of UK (and especially english) politics of two-way contests is being tested, and now with a PR system shown to be totally incorrect.

Both Labour and the Lib Dems have been punished tonight. It will be interesting to see if the Scottish National Party vote goes the same way as Plaid Cymru when Scotland reports tomorrow.

Otherwise while in Europe the turnout is generally down here the turnout is up at 38.6% so far. This compares with 44.6% for the EU average. Interestingly some of the worse turn-out figures are coming from the newer members (with the notable exception of Malta, polling in the low 80s. Poland is the worst apparently with just 15%. All-postals have a slightly higher turnout, but the general trend is up. Why? I think because people thought that their vote would make a difference. Iraq as a motivator for protest can claim some credit for that, but I think UKIP and the upcoming Constitutional Treaty are the prime factors. UKIP after all has a nice, seductively simple message, something that all the other 3 parties lack on Europe. The LDs tried to substitute with an anti-war campaign, but with 9 of 11 regions where they are standing having returned (Northern Ireland has its own parties) they have only increasd their share modestly with 1.8% of the vote, effectively gaining a seat, it has clearly failed to win them big gains.

The effect of this on the Tory party will be fascinating to watch. I think Labour will be able to shrug this one off, partly because most other incumbents also did terribly (and for France and Germany two that were against the war, thus blunting the effectiveness of that hammer), and because the Tory result is even worse. They will likely focus on the local results, and it continues to mystify me why people are making such a think out of them. Labour ends up with winning more wards, and apparently they are about to lose a general election. Oh please.

I'll post more tomorrow and the day after once the final results are in and leaving me to gather my thoughts.

Sunday, June 13, 2004

East Midlands Region

Six seats now and in 1999 (Con 3 Lab 2 LD 1)
Turnout Full Results here

Labour 294518 1
Tory 371362 2
LibDem 181964 1
UKIP 366498 2


Wow. UKIP came with 5000 votes of 'wining' the region. I am really not quite certain what to think. I had expected UKIP to do fairly well, but this is something else. Elsewhere they have picked up 1 seat, or 2 in the three regions where they had previously 1. I wonder why they have done so well in the East Midlands. It is not an overwhelmingly rural area like the South West. This puts UKIP on 11 seats, two more than the LDs.

West Midland Region

Seven seats now and in 1999 (Con 4 Lab 2 LD 1)
Turnout Full Results here

Labour 336613 23% 2
Tory 392937 27% 3
LibDem 197479 14% 1
UKIP 251366 17% 1

Lib Dems again put into 4th place. On the one hand Labour is heading for its worst result in terms of share of vote since 1918, the Tories since 1832. Isn't that precious?

Eastern Region Results

Eight MEPs in 1999, now just 7 (in 1999 Con 4 Lab 2 LD 1 UKIP 1)
Turnout Full results here

Labour 244929 1
Tory 465526 3
LidDem 211378 1
UKIP 296160 2


Another very good UKIP result, its share rising by over 20%! Again the Tories and Labour lose votes, and on the TV they are saying that this could be the worst night for the Tories in terms of share of vote since 1832! Also apparently nationally UKIP is now threatening to put the LDs into 4th place, but the Tories will come out with the largest share of the vote.

South East Region Results

Ten seats here, down from 11 in 1999. Con 5 Lab 2 LD 2 UKIP 1 Green 1

Turnout 36% Full Results here

Labour 301398 14% 1
Tory 776370 35% 4
LibDem 338342 15% 2
UKIP 431111 20% 2
Green 173351 8% 1

So UKIP gets another seat here, and a very good showing. But both Labour and the Tories lose large shares of the votes ( and -9% respectively). Basically the idea of a bad night for both Tories and Labour is coming through very, very strongly. The LD vote here is more or less flat, Labour and Tories down. An interesting note is that the South East had 13 different parties standing.

South West Region Results

Seven seats here, the same as in 1999. Then Con 4 Labour 1 LD 1 UKIP 1

Turnout 38% Full Results here

Labour 209908 15% 1
Tory 457371 32% 3
LibDem 265619 18% 1
UKIP 326784 23% 2


This is where UKIP was expected to do really well. And they did indeed they have succeeded. It is only an increase in one seat, but an increase of 12% in terms of share and the vote. Indeed, it generally seems that UKIP is roughly doubling their share of the vote in all regions. The UKIP vote would seem mostly to come from the Tories (share down 10%) but clearly Labour is in difficutlies being pushed into fourth place. This is not surprising because the South West is very rural, and generally has been a Tory/LD backyard. The LDs got a small gain, but nothing to shout home about.

As a side note, the BNP got booed as their results took place. That pleases me.

Wales Regional Results

Four seats, down from 5 (Labour 2 Plaid Cymru 2 Conservative 1)
Turnout 41% Full Results here

Labour 297810 33% 2
Tory 177771 19% 1
LibDem 96116 11%
UKIP 96677 11%
PC 159888 17% 1


Plaid Cymru is the Welsh Nationalist Party, and this seems to equal their bad local results. Also of interest is that the UKIP has just pipped the LDs to the post for 4th place. Of course, Wales (like Scotland) will be a poor guide to English results because of the presnce of the national parties.

I should note that the shares of votes here are rounded up.

Yorkshire & Humber Regional Results

Six seats in total, had 7 in 1999 (Lab 3 Con 3 LD 1)

Full results here

Turnout 42.6%

Labour 413230 26 2
Tory 387369 25 2
Lib Dem 244607 16 1
UKIP 228666 15 1

So UKIP is holding up well. Both Tories and Labour suffer, and in this region the Tory share of the vote were down 10% or so.

REcounts

Apparently there are two recounts going on. One is in the South-West. I am very intrigued.

Overall turnout so far 38%. Last time round this was 24%, and that holds true for both London and the North East.

North-East Regional Results

Only 3 seats here. Full results here

Turnout 41%

Labour 266057 34% 1
Tory 144969 19% 1
Lib Dem 138791 18% 1
UKIP 94887 12%

Both Labour and Tory shares are down by 8%, the rest of the share being spread more or less equally between UKIP, LD, Greens, and an Independent candidate.

Completely unsurprising. Bad news for Labour, but also bad news for the Tories. Midly encouraging for the Lib Dems, and a reasonable if fruitless result for UKIP.

In terms of national share Labour are down 9% so far, Tories down 7%, LibDems up 4%, UKIP up 6%, and Others up 5%. Short idea of the night - bad night for the Big Two.

First Results

From London votes/shares/seats
Turnout 37%
I might have misheard some of the votes, and I have ignored the smaller parties.

Labour 466584 27% 3
Tory 504931 25% 3
LibDem 288790 15% 1
UKIP 232633 12% 1
Green 158186 8% 1

An interesting vote, let's see if it becomes a trend.

Altogether all Others (non-Labour, LD, or Tory) votes measured 33%

Edit: Link here to London Results
Comparison with 1999 when there were 10 MEPs (Con 4 Lab 4 LD 1 Green 1)

Turnout

First indication of turnout in the UK in the North-East region. 42% (in 1999 it was 19%). And the UKIP doing very well according to rumour.

Euro Election 2004

Turnout around Europe is apparently down to udner 50%. If the turnout in the UK in these elections went up in line with local elections to 35-40%. First UK results in 5-10 minutes.

The other main theme so far seems to be that nearly all long-standing incumbents have been punished at the polls. Given the anti-war crowd on mainland Europe perhaps people ought to reconsider just how important Iraq has been as an issue.

Friday, June 11, 2004

Alas

Amid all this election talk, and the rather more profound matter of President Reagan's passing, I just want to give a quick encouragement to the O's, now three games below .500. But let's find something positive - they've scored more runs than the leaders of the other 2AL Divisions, and all the NL Divisions (indeed, they have outscored all but 2 teams in the NL from what I can tell). IT's just that with both the Sox and Yankees they are between a rock and a very rich place.

Another thought: I have never before really supported any sporting team in my life (only occasionally following national teams in cricket and rugby). But even though my team is not doing so well I'm having fun. Just alas that I can hardly ever watch them.

PS For the record I will be entirely avoiding the entirely of the Euro 2004 tournament. France play England on Sunday, and for the record if England lose I will laugh my head off. Considering how patriotic I am, and how much I dislike the French, that should give some sense of the loathing I have for the despicable game.

Another note

Something I meant to mention below - local election results are notoriously bad guides to general elections. We are told this time and again by the political pundits, and time and again they are proved correct. Yet time and again those same pundits try and draw fine allusions between these elections and a general election in one or two years' time. Beats me why they make such blatant hypocrites of themselves.

Elections 2004

Most of the results of the local elections have now come in, and in typical fashion the mainstream British press is tearing into Tony Blair, either because they are backing the Tories, or because they are anti-war. The BBC is typical here. The BBC did a poll, in which amongst other things (some which were indeed negative from Tony Blair's point of view) that his leadership (as opposed to popularity) was greater than that of Michael Howard or Charles Kennedy put together (the two main opposition leaders). Also that more people believed that Labour was delivering on making the public services better. Yet in the BBC Article only mentions the negative points. If you hadn't watched the election programme last night at about 00:15, iirc, you would not know of this. I point this out to explain why I pay so little attention to the analysis of the results that one might see floating around.

There is another factor here: no government in mid-term ever does well at local elections. This becomes more and more pronounced the longer they have been in power, Labour has now been in 7 years, and one would expect these negative effects to be pretty marked. As a general rule the ruling party recovers some local ground in election year.

Onto the figures. Elections were taking place in 166 local councils in England and Wales. There is a nice map over at the BBC, but I'm not entirely certain how up to date it is. Many of the councils this year were urban, though there were a rural smattering. 2 councils have not yet declared - Birmingham and Denbighshire. In total I think just under 6000 seats are up for grabs (5816 without the two not yet returned). Labour have lost 484, the gains being mostly split between the Tories and Lib Dems on a 2:1 ratio, roughly (163 and 132 respectively). This of coures hides the larger picture, Labour has actually lost just under 550 to date, but also gained just over 80. Interestingly the Lib Dems lost over 100 seats, while the Tories only lost in the 50s. Indeed, in total 867 seats have changed hands - or about 15% of the total.

Labour has a net loss of 8 councils (winning 7 and losing 15). The Tories are up 10 councils, with nothing negative. Very interestingly considered they won in terms of overall seats to LibDems actually lost a net 2 councils (losing 4 and winning only 2). Finally, so far slightly more councils are "No Overall Control" - or NOC for short - up a net 2 ('gaining' 17 and 'losing' 15).

What I have not yet been able to find very much out about turnout. This article is virtually useless, but all that I could find, and it suggests that the trend I heard last night was correct: that turnout is up across the country, people probably being galvinised by the Iraq Controversy and by the EU Constitional Treaty. I don't doubt Labour will try and claim all postal-voting has been a success, but I don't think it is.

On a side note the Welsh nationalist party, Plaid Cymru, seems to have done badly, with a net loss of 26 seats, so from 191 seats to 165. This losing them control of two councils to Labour, they keep hold of just one. I'm not entirely certain what to make of that, but I'd assume there are local rather than national explanations for that.

Another side note is that Ken Livingstone has gotten re-elected as London Mayor. Good for him.

Overall conclusions: the country's confused. There is definite anger against Labour over Iraq, but then this is nothing unusual. Governments are never popular mid-term. Against that neither the Tories or the Lib Dems are convinving - though I think the Tories had a slightly better night than the Lib Dems. My reasoning for that is that the Tories did not lose control of a single county. But neither can take much comfort. Out of the 5816 seats returned so far here are the total tallies: Labour 2171 Conservative (Tory) 1633 LibDems 1246. In what some are reporting as a disaster Labour still comes off having got the most seats. Certainly a dismal result, but nothing spectacular either way. And these elections are only getting their brief moment of glory before the Euro election results which are the ones everyone is really interested in. But we'll have to wait till Sunday for the rest of Europe to finish voting before we know those (unless we follow the Dutch and publish them anyway in defiance of Brussels). However tempting I can't see TB consenting to that.

Euro Elections

Well, I voted at 7.25am. I just thought I'd explain how it works here, since I'm aware that the traditional voting system over here in the UK is hopelessly primitive compared to in the US (tongue very firmly in cheek). Thankfully I am not in one of the regions where they've been experimenting with all postal voting. Also in my local town there are no other elections (in some parts of the UK there are also local elections).

Well there I am early in the morning, walking to work as is my habit, my polling card tucked into my pocket. This rather drab white carboard item is not essential to vote, it just speeds the process up. Unsurprisingly not very many others are about at this time in the morning, and none walking. The polling station is the village hall, nicely half-way between my house and the post office where I pick up my paper. A couple of signs marked 'Polling Station' are marked hung up on the noticeboards, and two more signs with 'Enter here' signs by the open door. I walk in and two very brave people (the stewards - all volunteers) are all ready there, though they look rather tired. I hate to think what time they were up to get ready for this. I hand over my card, my name is checked against the electoral roll, and I am handed my voting form. This one of the stewards pre-folds in half four times so that I will be able to fit it in the ballot box! He also punches a series of holes in one corner - I am not entirely certain why this is but I think it has sometime to do with verification.

With the form in my hand I now go into the voting-booth. These are wooden screens not unlike phone-booths. No one else is there. I put the form down on the surface, and look at it. The form has a list of the parties down one side, with the names of the candidates in small print underneath. Next to the each part name, on the other side of the form, is the box for the vote. You make the vote by making a simple cross.

It took me about 30 seconds to finally make up my mind, and I put my cross next to the UKIP. Then I fold the ballot paper up, and stuff it into the box. A parting farewell to the stewards, and then I went on my way to work.

Just as a side note, according the early coverage of the local results (we won't get the European results until Sunday evening after the Continent) shows a turnout average of maybe about 40%. If that stays true for the European election it'll be very interesting.

Also so far early indications are that Labour is having a pretty typical night for a mid-term governemnt i.e. not good. But considering how negative the publicity the government has received its a good night. The LibDems and Tories are having much of a muchness nights - the Tories probably faring slightly worse than the LibDems. Interestingly in some seats it appears that genuinely local issues - speed humps in Swindon for example - were vital in changing the council. I always like it when parties campaign on purely local issues. Last year the Tories swept the LibDems out of my local council mostly over the remodelling of one road junction and the disasterous impact this had on the entire town's traffic flow.

More tomorrow when more results are in.

In other news I've now read the opinions of Altmann v. Austria. I'm letting ideas slosh about in the brainbox for a while before I post, but it was (I thought anyway) really interesting.

And I've got tomorrow off work. Which is just as well since its 2am here!

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

Euro Elections 2004

Well, tomorrow it is, so I suppose I better work out where precisely I stand on the issues. Firstly, what are the issues? Let's ignore the blatantly national issue (Iraq) that the LibDems and some others are fighting and concentrate on ones that might actually be relevabt to the European Elections.

1. The Euro
Far less relevant than it was due to the fact that we will now get a referendum, and thanks also to Gordon Brown's own antipathy to the project. I'm against the euro, not solely because of the single currency itself but because of all it entails. A quick long at how the UK and the Euroland economies explains why.

2. The Constitution.
A very important issue, somewhat less than it was now that we will get a referendum. I am opposed to the current drafts of the Constitution, and I do not expect whatever happens that the parts I object to will change. I agree that some sort of tidying-up treaty is great, but that is not what the Constitution is (and given the fanfare about it, not really what it was about anyway). There are some nice ideas in it, but it has become a vehicle of lobbyists and bureaucrats.

3. Immigration.
Most parties (indeed, I think all parties) are anti-immigration to greater or lesser degrees. I, however, am pro-immigration, for reasons that I think I might develop in a different post.

4. The Performance of the European Parliament and Commission over the last five years.
In my opinion this is the most important issue, but it's barely on the horizon. This might be in part because the big institutions have made such a mess of things. It is probably unfair to castigate the EU for Parmalat. But why bother, this is an institution that has not been able to properly audit its accounts for 9 years, iirc. Again, subject to my memory something like 90% of the European budget is not properly accounted for. Then there is the Eurostat scandal, and the Parliament's craven response to all of the above. Essentially I'm not impressed.

So basically I draw negatives in all four major issues. Where does that leave me? Myself I am not ideologically opposed to the European Project. I am practically opposed to the European reality. I doubt my objections are ever likely to be met. Probably the Tory Party's stance falls closest to my own, but I think Michael Howard is being entirely dishonest if he thinks he can renegotiate the entire Constitutional Treaty at whim. The UKIP's stance is more hard-line than my own, but I think essentially more honest. It would be a good way to complain about the general state of affairs. Not that I think it would do very much, even if UKIP won every seat in the country.

So for me my vote is hinging on whether I protest vote, or positively vote. I'll probably wait until I am in the vooting booth before I make the final decision.

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

Knowing too much

I read the following in the News Digest section of the FT today, but I can't find it on the website. Still, I simply had to pass it along.

BARRISTER REMOVED FROM MURDER JURY

A senior barrister was discharged from a murder trial jury after a judge said his presence might be prejudicial to the defendant. Judge George Bathurst-Norman said that the lawyer's knowledge of court procedure would allow him to understand a legal matter that other jurors would not pick up. The lawyer - a Queen's Counsel - had told staff he recognised prosecuting counsel after being sworn in at the Old Bailey. Recent legislation has widened the pool of people who can be required to do jury service, but yesterday the judge said that he did not know how this was expected to work intelligently.


Now, if I read that right (any typos are mine), the idea that having a juror who might know something about the legal system is a bad thing. Can someone please explain the logic in that sentiment?

Supreme Court decision

In Republic of Austria v. Altmann the US Supreme Court ruled in a 6-3 decision that foreign governments can be sued in US courts for human rights violations. I noticed this decision this morning in this FT article, and then this lunch-time quickly popped over to SCOTUS Blog's entry on the decision.

I am not entirely certain about the details of the case yet, but I have one question. If a soveriegn government does not recognise the right of the US court, what happens? Nasty word, sovereign. Means all sorts of things, most of which I'm fairly willing to bet no one ever really thinks about.

Anyway, I hope to get around to reading more about the case later in the week.

Monday, June 07, 2004

European Elections 2004

I've been meaning to post on this for a while, but haven't gotten around to it.

On Thursday I will be exercising my democratic vote in the European elections. At best only about a quarter of the British electorate will do the same. Across Europe we will be lucky if over half of the electorate votes. That is according to polls anyway, though as my father is fond of saying, the only poll that matters is the one on Polling (Election) Day.

To explain, this election uses a form of Proportional Representation. In other words this is an election designed by semi-corrupt political parties to further their own ends and so that they can ignore the democratic will of the people. Moreover, there are very large regions. I live in the South West Region of England for the purposes of this election. Incidentally the region also includes Gibralter.

Here is a list of my candidates, broken down by the party list. A quick look through the parties.

The British National Party (BNP). Racist hitler wannabes. The price we pay for freedom of Speech. Let's just say that I won't be voting for them, and if one of them does succeed anywhere in the UK I will be very, very angry at my fellow countrymen and women.

The Conservative Party (Tory). Party of Margaret Thatcher, fallen somewhat. Campaiging basically on an anti-Constitution, anti-immigration ticket. Also anti-euro, but that is no more than a latest issue this campaign. I might vote for them.

The Countryside Party Minor party campaigning on rural issues such as affordable housing and farming. Basically they mean well, and might have a very minor impact on the Tory or LibDem vote, but politically are insignificant. I won't be voting for them.

The Green Party Pretty much what you'd expect, except that unlike the vast majority of Green Parties in Europe it is euro-skeptic. Campaigning on an anti-constitution, anti-euro, anti-war ticket, and pro-environment policies. I think most of those so-called green policies will actually be more harmful to the environment in the long run, and display a very skewed view of priorities (sorry, but when it comes to animal testing human health comes first, every time). Because of the anti-war spiel I won't be voting, otherwise I would have considered them for a protest vote on account of their euro-skeptic credentials. NB: They argue against the euro on ecological grounds, according to the flyer through my door. I wonder how that one goes down with their european colleagues.

The Labour Party I have absolutely no idea what Labour is campaigning on because I've recieved no campaign literature through my door and missed all their election broadcasts. I suspect their concentrating their effort in the cities of the region, especially Bristol, Exeter, and Plymouth. Although I am very supportive of Tony Blair I won't be voting for them. If they can't be bothered getting someone to stick a flyer through my letter box they don't get my vote.

The Liberal Democratic Party (LibDems, LD). If this were a 'first-past-the-post' voting system with a proper constituency basis I would most likely be voting for a Liberal Democrat. His name is Graham Watson. He is currently an MEP for the region. Of all the current batch of MEPs he is the only one to have replied courteously to an email I copied into all of them. Courteously, and more importantly, seriously. His party is pro-constitution, pro-euro, and anti-war - basically exactly the opposite of my own views. I would vote for him however because I think he is a good man, and a man is a serious constituent MEP. However, since I am forced to vote for parties and not people, I will not vote for him. This is one reason why I loathe Proportional Representation. It disenfranchises people, and delivers them as helpless victims to the party machine. The Lib Dems also support PR. Well, as I commented below I make no claims about being logical.

The Respect Coaltion. Created by the Saddam-loving, al-Quaeda embracing MP George Galloway. As best as I can determine this party is founded on racist American-phobia springled with Marxist Socialism and general leavening of living in cloud-cuckoo land. So I won't link to them either, and most definitely will not be voting. Should they end up with an MEP from anywhere in the country I'll be angry, although not quite as angry as if the BNP got a seat. They might possibly benefit from a protest vote.

The UK Independence Party (UKIP) Anti-European party that wants Britain to withdraw from the EU, though to remain within the European Free Trade Area (EFTA). The big political story here is that several recent polls have shown them doing at least as well as the LibDems, perhaps better. This is probably a reflection of the deep unease many people have with the EU, that has only hardened in recent years (contrary to expectations that after the introduction of the euro on the Continent it would soften). They rather surprisingly won 3 seats in the last election, two of them in the south west. If I decide to protest vote then I will mostly likely vote for them.


So that's the 'scene' for my vote. Tomorrow (hopefully) I'll get around to explaining my own thoughts in more detail - though the brief summary is that it is either Tory or UKIP. I don't yet know which.

A thought

I have read in a couple of places that various people on the Democratic left have been maligning Ronald Reagan, though I have not read such things myself. I would think their hopes of Kerry winning in November would condition them to shut up. Whether they like it or not Ronald Reagan was and is held in high esteem by nearly every Republican, and a very large number of independents and conservative democrats. Many of them are probably not too fond of GWB. However, if the left is perceived as "dancing on RR's grave" I cannot imagine many things more likely to drive many of those people into the Bush camp.

So credits to Kerry for his nice words this weekend. But remember, alot of what GWB says is often lost amid hysteria about the "Christian fundamentalists" in the Republican party (this is even more apparent over here in the UK). Kerry I think must be careful in the coming months that what he says is not entirely obscured by the opposite effect.

Ronald Reagan

I was having a very laid back weekend, so I did not hear that this great man had passed away until late on Sunday.

It is probably impossible to overstate the importance of the President Reagan's acheivements. Some people and events are so fundamental to the course of human history and our common experience that, if they did not exist, there could be no simple replacement. Reagan was one such person. And more than that, he was a force for good throughout the world. Not untarnished, for he was only human, but he looked the USSR in the eye and spoke the truth, called it evil; and he looked at the west, at our democratic heritage, and spoke the truth when he called it good. He was not afraid to view the world in moral terms, and having determined the absolute evil of communism he worked to unseat it.

While we remember with gratitude the life of this extra-ordinary man, it is worthwhile to reflect that he is but that first of the great individuals of the 1980s that so defined the modern world, and to whom we should all be so grateful.

Margaret Thatcher, of course, was his counter-point in the UK. Karol Wotjyla, otherwise known as His Holiness Pope John Paul II; and of course, Mikhail Gorbachov. Four people who between them shaped and defined the world in which we live. Four people who are responsible for the end of Communism. Four people without whom the world would have been utterly different.

None of the remaining three are young anymore. This generations is slowly passing. This weekend we have mostly been reflecting on an even older generation, one starting to slip from sight, as we give what will probably be the final large public commemoration of their sacrifice. But the leaders are long gone. In that perhaps Ronald Reagan might best be compared to Winston Churchill than FDR.

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