Friday, 28 September 2012

Basher loses the plot

but not (yet) his temper, in this post following a meeting about school places in east Reading.  He addresses the issues not at all, talking only vaguely about "passions" felt by those attending the meeting, and, naturally, avoiding the factual issue that Labour's lack of commitment to schooling in east Reading over two decades means that the present council leadership should bear its share of responsibility for any problems.  He makes a personal attack on Cllr Isobel Ballsdon, who unlike most of the Reading councillors actually turned up to meet the people and hear their concerns (and spells her name wrong).  He says that Cllr John "Salter's boy" Ennis, lead member for these things, was "calm".  Not if you look at the picture of him in Basher's post he wasn't.  He has his arms crossed defensively in front of him.  First rule of public life - if you feel threatened don't show it.  Basher then offers to collate responses from the public.  This was a meeting held by Reading Borough Council.  That is why an officer was there.  Not a Labour Party meeting, ("They're the same thing.  Council tax pays for Reading Labour Party.  Get with the programme, dingbat." Ed.)

Basher, Basher, this is woeful stuff.  Selection as candidate for Reading East is receding away from you, isn't it? *Tory gloom*

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

how very dare they?

hat-tip James Hallwood via Mark Ferguson
the LibDems the nice people's party?  I think not.  A lot of them are racist (not so much so as the Greens, obvs) and the lyrics pictured left are what they think is amusing to sing at their conference.  But why, as Labour List and I both wonder, is Nick Clegg not being asked to distance himself from this vile and hateful doggerel, as Labour were asked to distance themselves from the "Thatcher Death" T-shirts at the TUC?   Anyone got an answer? *sound of tumbleweed*

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

bish bash bosh Basher's back!

he chose this picture of himself!
Basher McKenzie is about to throw his hat into the ring for the Labour candidature in Reading East.  Srsly.  Yep, that Basher, pictured left.  Park ward - couldn't get elected.  Kentwood ward - messed it up and lost.  Henley parliamentary - Labour's worst result ever (that campaign masterminded by one M. Salter, according to Salter - in his place I'd have kept quiet).  Select him if you want to, peeps, but he has a track record in public and private life, one of threatening behaviour and violent attacks on others.  He has also behaved inappropriately sexually, in public, towards a Reading Borough councillor.  He verbally abused a woman attending a public meeting, calling her "Wokingham scum".  Part of the Reading East constituency is in Wokingham borough.  If he is selected perhaps those of his putative constituents who live in that borough will remember what he thinks of Wokingham residents.

Just sayin'...

ps - he puts photographs of used condoms on the photo part of his website.  Nice.

Poland talks to the UK like a Dutch uncle

Radek Sikorski, the Foreign Minister of Poland, has a piece in The Times which gives the UK a right talking-to on Europe in general and the EU in particular.  He describes himself as a Thatcherite free-marketeer, and that is not me, but he talks a great deal of sense.  I've reproduced it in full below, as a link would bring you up against the paywall, and to encourage you all to read it.  It's written very well too - I know Sikorski's English is excellent, but if he wrote this himself, and I am sure he did, he puts most native anglophone pundits and politicians to shame.

It’s interesting what happens on your first day as Foreign Minister. Helpful officials flutter around you like butterflies. One produces a secret red file marked “How to be a Foreign Minister". Inside are papers on the do’s and don’ts of office. But decades of bureaucratic experience are best summed up in the immortal lines of Yes, Prime Minister: “Once you start interfering in the internal squabbles of other countries, you’re on a very slippery slope. Even the Foreign Secretary has grasped that!"

It is in that fine spirit that I mean to interfere recklessly in the UK’s internal affairs. I want to offer some thoughts on a subject of considerable British sensitivity: EU membership. And I want to try to change some minds.

Let me be clear where I am coming from. I am Polish, from the Solidarity generation that helped to bring down the Soviet empire. I have lived in the US and am a fervent believer in free markets. Lady Thatcher — may she live for ever — acknowledges me in her book Statecraft. In other words, I tick every box required to be a lifelong member of the Eurosceptic club. But I believe in the the modern European project. And Poland will do its utmost to help it to succeed.

Several myths about Britain and the EU need to be dispelled.

Myth No 1 Britain’s trade with the EU is less important than its trade with the outside world.

Fact In 2011 the UK trade deficit with China was £19.7 billion. You ran a deficit with Russia, too. Roughly half of UK exports go to the EU. The UK has until recently traded more each year with Ireland than with Brazil, Russia, India and China put together. Trade growth with new EU members is even more dynamic. Between 2003 and 2011 British exports to Poland increased threefold.

Myth No 2 The EU forces Britain to adopt laws on human rights that are contrary in spirit to British tradition.

Fact These rulings come from the European Court of Human Rights, which is not part of the EU but part of the Council of Europe, a noble British creation that pre-dates the EU.

Myth No 3 UK is bankrupting itself by funding Europe.

Fact The monstrous EU budget is about 1 per cent of the GDP of all EU members; UK public spending is nearly 50 per cent of Britain’s GDP. Your annual net contribution of £8 billion- £9 billion is similar to France’s and less than Germany’s. That is less than £15 per UK citizen. Moreover, some of this money comes home. UK companies have profited enormously from EU cohesion-fund investments in Central and Eastern Europe. That improved infrastructure benefits UK exporters: higher prosperity in those member states mean new markets for the UK.

The UK Government estimates that every household “earns" between £1,500 and £3,500 every year thanks to the Single Market. That is between five and fifteen times the UK’s net budget contribution. It’s a bargain.

Myth No 4 The UK is drowning in EU bureaucracy.

Fact Yes, 33,000 people work for the European Commission, serving an entire continent. But more than 82,000 people work for HM Revenue & Customs alone. Spain has almost three million bureaucrats. In contrast to any of its members, the EU is a slimmed-down operation.

Myth No 5 The UK is drowning in EU legislation and Brusssels directives.

Fact We all have a good laugh when we hear about bendy bananas or euro-sausages. But these are not the fault of the European Commission. Usually they are proposed by member states trying to protect their former colonies or their national products.

Directives are not Brussels diktats, but regulations that British officials have agreed, approved and signed off. In any case, law inspired by Europe accounts for only 6.8 per cent of primary legislation passed by your Parliament.

Myth No 6 The European Commission is a hotbed of socialism.

Fact Whether on Open Skies or business subsidies, the EU has helped to dismantle national monopolies and stopped national politicians subverting competition rules.

Myth No 7 The EU stops hardworking Britons working longer hours than feckless continentals.

Fact The average Pole works 40.5 hours a week. The average Spaniard 38.1. The average for all the EU27 is 37.2. The average for the UK? 36.2.

Those are the myths. Now let’s look at the arguments. Because Britain’s market is too valuable for the rest of the Continent to ignore, Eurosceptics say, Britain could negotiate a trade deal that preserved all the advantages of the single market without any of the costs of membership.

Don’t count on it. Many states would hold a grudge against a country that had, in their view, selfishly left the EU. While you account for about 11 per cent of the rest of EU trade, 50 per cent of your total trade is with the EU. No prizes for guessing who would have the upper hand in negotiations.

Any free trade agreement would have a price. In exchange for access to a single market of 500 million people, Norway and Switzerland make big contributions to EU cohesion funds. They also have to adopt EU standards without any say in how they are written. At the moment, Norway’s net contribution to the EU budget is higher, per capita, than Britain’s.

Britain’s leaders must decide once again how best to use their influence in Europe. The EU is an English- speaking power. The Single Market was a British idea. A British commissioner runs our diplomatic service. You could, if only you wished, lead Europe’s defence policy.

But please don’t expect us to help you to wreck or paralyse the EU. Don’t underestimate our determination not to return to the politics of the 20th century. You were not occupied. Most of us on the Continent were. We’ll do almost anything to prevent it happening again. Europe’s leaders will step up integration to make the euro work. We believe the euro will survive, because it is in members’ interests for it to survive.

Since I first came to your shores more than 30 years ago, Britain has become much more European. You have the Channel Tunnel and are used to duvets. Even your cooking has improved. Yet public opinion and your politics is more Eurosceptic than ever.

Your interests are in Europe. It’s time your sentiments followed. Britain is famous for practical good sense and policies based on reality, not myth. We hope you return to this tradition soon.

Radek Sikorski is the Foreign Minister of Poland

Monday, 24 September 2012

Kurt Andersen, 'True Believers'

You can get this book here.  I can't tell you that much about the plot without spoiling it, but be assured that it is a cracking read.  It's set in the 1960s,  not among hippies but among radicals, of a kind, in America, who are very young.  It is about friendship, and memory, and lies.  The writer is a man, and has created a terrific female lead character, a kind of sexy grandma.  Perhaps the book, when it is not a political thriller (which it is, a lot of the time) is a study of the danger of being certain about what is and what is not.  As an aside, kind of, I discovered from this book that only one film has ever been made entirely in Esperanto.  It was called Incubus, and starred - William Shatner.  You can see a clip here.  Looks terrific.  Although I object to Esperanto as pointless.

Friday, 21 September 2012

the spoilers have started early

my man in the Civic Offices Reading Labour Party (They're the same thing, stupid. Ed.) says the leaking of the names of Matt Rodda and Richard Davies to the Reading Chronicle was done by one of the boys.  Neither of these chaps is the favoured candidate, and the leak of their names was to ensure that work against them could begin forthwith.  Which it has done.  Richard Garvie, par contre, is Mr Salter's boy in Newbury, and thus deserves a bunk-up (ooh er missus).  As for Victoria the knicker lady (see previous post), I await a briefing from Buckinghamshire.  I fancy the Labour Party is looking for its own Louise Mensch-a-like.  (a) it has probably not found her yet and (b) Reading West is probably not the place to put her.

What larks.

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Victoria Groulef

from Mumpreneur (really!)
looks like this and loves knickers, she says.  She really does.  She owns, or seems to, a sustainable lingerie company.  What does that mean?  They're fantastic, no elastic, why don't you try on a pair?  Oh, please yourselves.  She lives in Buckinghamshire with "unruly dogs", she says. And now, if you'll excuse me, I've got work to do.

the Reading constituencies start the process

We are informed that the Reading constituencies are about to choose their Labour candidates.  It's been in the Reading Chronicle, so it must be true.  There is a big picture of someone called Richard Garvie, who uses a dangler in his statement ("As a party, Reading East is important to us" - no, Reading East is not a party, dumbo, who edits your stuff, John Howarth?), and who is described as a "community campaigner", which is political-speak for "can't get elected", and the headline is barely literate, but hey, that's the Chronicle for you, n'est-ce pas, editor Sally Stevens, never were much cop, were you?  Nice long sentence, don't you think?

Where was I?  Ah yes, the Reading constituencies.  We already know that the Reading West constituency will be girls only, and that the Reading boys have been lining up one Rachel Eden, who has demonstrated that she will shut up and do as she is told, the only criteria for candidature.  Someone from Buckinghamshire called Victoria Groulef is also mentioned.  More to follow on her

Reading East will not be girls only, so naturally it is to be a white-boys-only shortlist, we are told.  There is one white boy who is not Richard Garvie, Matt Rodda or Richard Davies, all three of whom are mentioned by the Chronicle Arsewipe, whose name has not yet featured, but who has been shamelessly touting for the candidature for a long time now.  I'll leave you to guess who that is.  Sometimes the party members in Reading East can surprise you.  Sometimes they choose a surprising candidate. 

Only one person has ever won Reading East for Labour.

the debt owed to the Poles

Cllr Richard Willis of Reading has posted this to mark Battle of Britain Day.  He urges remembrance and recognition of the part played by Polish airmen in the RAF during World War II, and he is right to do so.  The contribution they made was out of all proportion to their numbers.  They had lost their country, and in many cases their families, but they fought bravely, and often recklessly, for the cause.  I was a child in west London in the 1950s, and a neighbouring family, with a daughter my brother's age, had a Polish father who had been a fighter pilot and who had married a British woman, as many of them did, and settled in South Ruislip, not far from RAF Northolt where most of the Polish RAF men were posted.  Their daughter went on to become rather famous, but that is another story, and not one she would (probably) want me to repeat.  My novel has its starting point in those west London streets, among those postwar families who wanted quiet and stability and to raise ordinary families.  But most of the men had combat or other war experience which had marked them, and had shown them other lives, and most of the women were looking for glamour in those years of austerity.  All of them were part of a changing Britain and a changing world.  My story is a tribute to them and the lives they made, but it is also the story of what their daughters' lives became.  It is a Kindle book, and you can get it here.  You don't need to own a Kindle to read it.  Although my life is hard to imagine without mine.

This post is to thank Richard for remembering the Poles. 

It is also to encourage readers to visit Poland.  I went to Warsaw several years ago when significant other and I were on our mission to visit all the capitals of Europe, and did not like the city much.  But this year we went to Gdansk, and were bowled over by the beauty of the place, impressed by the energy and spirit of its inhabitants, and stunned by the beaches and countryside.  We are going back next summer for a holiday.  Poland is a big country which probably has as much to offer the visitor as anywhere in Europe does.  The weather is better than you'd think - the summer is short and hot, the winter longer and colder than in western Europe: the northern coast has a cool maritime climate, and a Baltic summer on the icing-sugar beaches is a great joy. English is quite widely spoken, as so many people have worked in the UK and Ireland and have now gone home again, and the food and drink are excellent.  Prices compete very well - our holiday budget was about half what it would have been in France or Italy.  Don't order wine in Poland, but everything else is great.  I'm a believer.

The third reason for this post is to ask readers if they would prefer my book in print form.  It can be done,  And in fact probably will be before Christmas.

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

In the Wake of the Surge, and Where the West Ends

by Michael J. Totten, a journalist and writer I discovered through World Affairs Journal.  'In The Wake of the Surge' is a group of dispatches from Iraq following the stroke of strategic genius that was General David Petraeus' decision to create a "surge" of troops in Iraq to finish the job.  It worked.  The dispatches are fascinating.  Most of what is said about Iraq is said by people who have never been there.  Even if they have they do not know the country or many people.  For example, the Kurds.  Who, as I predicted years ago, led the Americans to Saddam Hussein (who, incidentally, had a great death, ranting at the world with a noose round his neck until they led him away to be hanged, unlike Colonel Gaddafy, who was pulled from a hole in the ground and shot like the mad dog he was).  Iraqi Kurds like the Israelis, and the Americans.  They don't like Arabs.  At all.  And no-one is their friend.  The mood in Iraq changed, after 2003, and changed back again more than once.  But Iraq is now one of the more stable countries in the region.   These dispatches are valuable because although every now and again Tony Blair pops up to put the Guardianistas right,he shouldn't have to do it all on his own.

'Where the West Ends', somewhat by contrast, is another series of essays or dispatches, but interestingly is about the notion of "The West", or "us" as the racist Guardian calls it. Where does it end?  How do you know when you are in it?  Because the essays have this theme, they are more than just a road diary.  In Iraqi Kurdistan the writer's companion takes a picture of a laser scanner in a shop, because it is one of the few things there that remind him of home.  "Iraq is the only country in the world where Kurds wield any power".  So it seems.  In the Balkans, where I have travelled too (I have never been to Iraq) he is clear that we are in Europe.  Myself, I thought parts of Serbia seen from the train were not very European at all, but there we are.  He cites Churchill, "The Balkans produce more history than they can consume", which has to be right, and frighteningly, Radovan Karadzic, "Sarajevans will not be counting the dead.  They will be counting the living".  Which is right too.  Readers know the place in my heart occupied by Sarajevo.  His travels in places in Serbia and Bosnia not frequented by tourists, in 2008, produced some ugly anti-American behaviour from Serbs.  Tony Blair was a hero to the non-Serb Kosovars, but although identified as British I received nothing but kindliness and courtesy from Serbs in both those countries in 2009.  Totten also remind us that Arab jihadists, who went to Kosovo to fight against the Serbs, were "tourists with guns" who had no effect on the outcome of the war.

These American travellers did seem a little naive.  They could not read Cyrillic, so got lost in Serbian Bosnia because they could not read the road signs.  They were anglophone and expected others to speak English, as Americans tend to do.  I did not go so far off the beaten track as they did, but I still needed my cod Russian to help me communicate, and my ability to read Cyrillic (which is not hard to do) helped a LOT.  These two went to McDonalds so they could point at pictures of food.  I never had to do that - and in former Yugoslavia you can eat very well.  They were even surprised to find that in Montenegro, where hardly anybody lives, there are not many street lights.  Why would anybody light the roads there?  "When the future of Yugloslavia looked dim and precarious, Slobodan Milosevic looked for a way to rise in [sic] power and keep it.  He found one when he transformed himself from a communist apparatchik to a Serbian nationalist."

Present-day former Yuglosavia (a concept I fear we are stuck with) is more interesting politically than most people think, as Totten shows us.  Macedonia, two-thirds Christian in population, has made common cause with the Wahhabis, mainly so that they can call their Albanian minority, who are hated by the Wahhabis, terrorists.  And remember (most don't), that well after the break-up of the former Yugloslavia, in 2001, there was actually a civil war in Macedonia.

The Caucasus, a trouble spot for centuries: "Russians are as prone to cognitive egocentrism - the projection of one's own psychology on to others - as everyone else", coupled with "Where does an 800-pound gorilla sit?  Wherever it wants".  Gallup International, in a 2004 survey, identified Kosovo, Afghanistan, Israel and Georgia as the most pro-American countries in the world.  And this was before the 2008 invasion of Georgia by Russia, which invasion was, mysteriously to me, much applauded by some commenting on this blog at the time.  Totten uses more than once the term "geopolitical spa" about countries where Americans can take a bath in water not tainted with anti-Americanism (this is a metaphor).  He finds some quotes and sources which have led me to take a lot of notes for further reading.  They include Ukrainian emigre Wasyl Hryshko, who describes Soviet collectivisation in Ukraine as "the first instance of peacetime genocide in history".  If Totten wonders where the West really ends, he finds its end very close to the borders of the EU, in western Ukraine, where he was shocked by the decrepitude and lack of hope he found.

Read these.  They might make you think.  And if they don't your mind is probably closed.

MoToons - the mainstream

from Le Monde
I didn't translate the captions from the Charlie Hebdo cartoon in the previous post, largely because they sound too silly in English.  This one though from Le Monde this morning goes like this:
"Hey, how about if I wound up those wild animals a bit, just to show them who's civilised?"
*missile hits shark*
"You're not funny any more, Charlie."

MoToons - to the barricades!

this is satire - Charlie Hebdo
 the weekly satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo is publishing - not sure if it is on newsstands, my tabac did not have it this morning - pictures including the cartoon shown here.  It was scary to see Marine Le Pen of the Front National interviewed this morning and to agree with just about everything she said.  Not the language she used, which was pure dog-whistle - "en France" punctuated every sentence, because Muslims are of course Foreign and Not Like Us and Not From Here - but she said that freedom of expression and the rule of law are not negotiable.  Which they are not.  And that if anyone thinks these cartoons have gone too far in the direction of causing racial injury (which is a criminal offence in France) then let them go to court.  The Prime Minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault, said the same thing, just phrased rather differently and without the dog-whistle, and also cautioned against "provocation".  The editor of Charlie Hebdo said the magazine takes the piss every week using cartoons, and only when the cartoons represent (apparently, allegedly) the Prophet Mohammed does it become "provocation".  Anyway, the Charlie Hebdo offices are in lockdown today and surrounded by CRS.  Makes you wonder - Jesus and Mo do cartoons several times a week, most recently captioned "R.E.S.P.E.C.T., I'll burn down your embassy!"  Wonderful stuff.

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

suck this up, haters

this is the kind of thing people are posting as comments on my post remembering the late and mourned David Geary


I was sorry to hear about Dave. I saw him recently and he was clearly very unwell. We spoke for sometime about old times and he asked about you. He got very animated about how badly you'd been treated and about those who had threatened him. He was also kind and friendly. 

Love Earl Best x

Sunday, 9 September 2012

David Geary RIP

Reading-based readers of this blog may well remember Dave, who was a friend of mine for many years, and who was a fellow ward councillor for several of those years.  Dave was Mayor of Reading twice - the first time at the instigation of myself and significant other, who sat him down in the pub and told him he was the best person for the job.  And a great Mayor he was.  There were those in the Reading Labour Group at the time who wanted as Mayor the useless Ceinwen Williams, the councillor who very nearly got the Reading Festinal closed down by her incompetence in dealing with the police as lead councillor for Licensing.  Fortunately it soon emerged thatr the hapless Williams (now mercifully forgotten by most) and her handler Josephine Lovelock did not have the support they needed, and Reading got the Mayor it deserved.  Dave was a kind man, a funny man, and a Christian Socialist with an unshakable sense of honour.  There should be more like him in politics.  When there was a plan (before ,my time as a councillor) to build a Tesco on green land, and councillors in the controlling Labour Group were informed that if they voted against it they could be personally surcharged, Dave's was the only hand which went up to vote No.  Dave was one of the Cross Town Route Five (which included me) who voted against the dirty deal brokered by Martin Salter (later MP for Reading West) and Tony Page (later defeated candidate for Reading East) to permit the construction of a dual carriageway on the Thames and Kennet riverside.  This infamous and wrongheaded plan was ultimately turned down in 1993 by the then Secretary of State, John Gummer.  Support for it remains Reading Labour Group policy.

Dave had been ill for some time, and died last week at the age of 72.  I am sorry he is gone.  He was a man who made many friends and who kept those friends.  He was a man of decency and honour, and plentiful wisdom for those who knew how to listen.  He was bullied in the Labour Group by Josephine Lovelock, and I will never forget thatr he was one of the very few who spoke up for me when I suffered similar treatment, with accompanying briefings to the Guardian Diary.  I lnew some of Dave's family too, and I will also never forget the funeral of his mother Frances.  She had been a Spiritualist, and I can tell you that Spiritualists have the happiest funerals.  They know they are going to see each other soon, on the other side.  But the family was stalked at the time of Frances' death by Martin Salter, then an MP but not Frances' MP, who told other family members that Frances had wanted him to speak at her funeral.  Dave knew that was rubbish, and told me so, but other family members did not know, and Dave stayed quiet for the sake of family peace.  I hope Salter is proud of himself for that.

Thank you Dave for being a friend and for giving me the privilege of working with you, and learning from you, as a ward councillor.  I hope you get the civic farewell you should get, and that the members of the Labour Group who treated you and others sso aboinably findd a path to penitence at last.