Archive for August, 2012

Christopher Lee

August 30, 2012

Mali Jihadis ready to export terrorism to France & beyond

30 August 2012

Is Mali the new Afghanistan? That’s the big question for US Intelligence analysts as the CIA redraws the map of the West African state.

And the picture that emerges shows that more than half the country is now controlled by Ansar Dine, the Islamist army that translates as Defenders of the Faith.

The military commander of Ansar Dine is Omar Ould Hamaha and his message to the West is simple: the sun will never set on Islam.  In other words, his cause is to overwhelm first France, then the United Kingdom (two countries with large Islamic populations) and eventually the United States.

But maybe Ansar Dine is just another Islamist group and maybe Omar Ould Hamaha is just another slogan-strutting Islamist taking advantage of a collapsed civil state. They do not think that at Langley.  The CIA state board on Mali is a fast changing information platform. The scary bit for the US is that Ansar Dine is thus far firmly linked into Al-Qaeda in the Mahgreb and they have a hold on three important centres: Timbuktu, Kidal and Tessalit.

They have also established a weapons and support supply network that includes an airbridge through at least two important airfields. If that runway control persists then an offensive against Omar Ould Hamaha’s territory is harder.  On the other hand, without outside intervention, an internal counter offensive looks unlikely.

Ansar Dine’s ambitions do not rest in Mali. They follow the threat patterns that were seen more than a decade ago coming from Afghanistan. To indicate the seriousness outsiders take those threats, French Intelligence also has dedicated resources to track day-to-day events in Mali because Omar Ould Hamaha’s threat lecture to anyone who will listen – and plenty do – is that France is a number one external target.

At this stage, few but alarmists would see a military offensive spreading from Mali to France.  But standard terrorism against France and its overseas possessions including territory, commercial enterprise and embassies and individuals is taken very seriously. The north African emigre population in France for example, is an unknown quantity. French Intelligence is perfectly aware that terrorist and would-be terrorist groups in the United Kingdom come mainly from British nationals. So it could go in France with the al Qaeda inspired support from Mali.

Within Mali, there is a further terrorist threat. This is seen largely emanating from Nigeria and the Boko Haram jihadists, a sort of Taliban equivalent. Such Islamist created disorder and collapse of the national security authority suggests it is hardly surprising that jihadis from other African territories including Somalia and some as far afield as Pakistan are making for this revolutionary territory, just as happened in Afghanistan.

None of this is an overnight phenomenon. Africa has long been ungovernable in its remoter regions – neighbouring Nigeria is an example of civil war and Islamist discontent. Mali has in 2012 had the additional pressure of the Tuaregs who fought for Gaddafi arriving in the country demanding they be given a state of their own in the style of Palestinian and Kurdish demands in the Middle East.

What has the Mali government been able to do?  The answer: precious little because there is no proper government. The authorities in the capital Bamako display a very African style of corruption and one consequence is an unreliable army inclined even to mutiny.  It was one such mutiny that brought down the government and thus allowed the jihadis to gain such huge swathes of territory without any practical opposition.

The Afghanistan pattern is clear. The north is now under Sharia law with all its uncompromising demands.  The population is on the run – literally. Hundreds of thousands are attempting to escape the area causing an uncontrollable instability in the country and among neighbours ill-equipped to cope with such an influx.

Contingency plans for outside intervention suffer three difficulties.  No foreign military force can legally enter Mali until asked to by the government. The only rule in Mali is from those who set up the military coup.  That government is not internationally recognized and so the United Nations Security Council that would have to produce a Resolution supporting outside intervention, cannot move.

A West African brigade is on standby to go in, but cannot for the same reason.  The so-called governing army council is reluctant to call for outside help because the first task on an intervening army would be to take control of the capital.

Few doubt that Mali is Africa’s Afghanistan.  Perhaps Somalia may be a better comparison because its easier to control by jihadis. Whichever model is chosen – and a combination of the two is about right – Mali faces the bleakest of futures.  If the threats of exporting terrorist values persists, we should expect terrible times long away from Mali’s borders because disconnected peoples in Europe especially are looking for a banner under which they can make their furious actions which is why, the Afghanistan comparison stands up to scrutiny.

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Christopher Lee

August 29, 2012

The ghost of Michael Collins will not save Ireland

Dublin, 30 August 2012

In Fitzgerald’s bar by O’Connell’s Bridge the craic is that Enda Kenny, The Taoiseach – or the prime minister as they say across the water – is claiming he’s leading Ireland in the great tradition of Michael Collins the great revolutionary murdered 90 years ago this past week.

Now the bar has been there since 1832 so there’s a keen since of history in the place as well as the common touch of two televisions in the long bar for Gaelic football (Donegal thrashed Cork at the weekend in the All-Ireland semis).

This is no tap room gossip. Neither the football nor Enda Kenny will change the lives of those who quietly mutter the state of state affairs and football while sipping a pint of the stuff. What they do know is that Sunday’s semi final at the multi-zillion euro Croke Park is played in a spirit of openness and corinthian fervour.  Whatever the result, it’s back to the day job (if you have one) the following morning. A hard game, then a hard night but few hard feelings in the morning.

And before we get off the metaphor, the 55,000 or so fans all go through the same gates.  None of this internecine warfare of the British Premier Division which has the body-searched “fans” channelled through different ends of the ground for fear of uncontrollable violence.  In Ireland (for the moment at least) the divisions among one of the most articulate peoples in Europe is one of spectator enthusiasms thus acceptance of fate whether it’s the game of Gaelic Football of the more secretive sport of Irish national politics. Hence the puzzle over Kenny’s claim to a mantle that he’d best not try to wear.

For the Irish people know that the country is broke, that services are being slashed and we ain’t seen nothin’ yet. And Kenny’s Fine Gael party and Eamon Gilmore’s Labour have formed Ireland’s coalition government since 2011. That’s too short a time to sort the national problems of economic calamity and social hardship.  Just as Brits hark to the spirit of Churchill and the French to De Gaulle (or some of them do anyway) so Kenny has snugged up to the still national hero Michael Collins.

He’s buried in Glasnevin Cemetery.  So lie the remains of Roger Casement, Daniel O’Connell, Charles Stewart Parnell, Maude Gonne. Modern Ireland is the story of revolutionaries and heroes and heroines – the connection is not always as obvioous as it appears in a land at war within itself since the 11th century.

So Kenny must be careful when he calls up the ghosts of Ireland’s past. Modern Ireland is a land of what one sensible voice here calls moral barbarism. Collins would recognize it.  But he would not praise the commonly corrupt and graft-ridden Ireland that everyone knows exists but none has the guts and power to reform.

At street level there is, for example, a crisis in mortgage areas that is creating an island of ghost estates and even half villages with property not completed and certainly unsold. That is the trappings of modern serfdom, the medaeival authority being the European Central Bank that forced Ireland into its hopelessly wrong conditions of its economic bail-out.

Kenny cites the tones of Collins when he demands that Ireland’s oppressors “give us back our country we have no time to waste.” The giants of the oppressors are the incompetents. The originators of the euro never understood that it should be not a national but a common hard currency (like the dollar on international markets) were terrible incompetents.

Sadly, the real incompetents, therefore the day-to-day oppressors are in the coalition.  Kenny, in his remember-the-ghost-of-Collins mode, is laid back, too casual, in the memories and citations of those remains in Glasnevin Cemetery.

In Fitzgerald’s they talk about Donegal’s surprise win over Cork that cost me the money I might have put on the lottery this weekend – another lost cause.  In the bar with your man creaming off the stuff two glasses a time most of us now count the change to see if there’s enough for a third.  Mostly there isn’t.  That’s Ireland today and we know, even if the Taoiseach does not, that Ireland does not need a Collins. Maybe it doesn’t need a Kenny either and certainly it doesn’t need one who believes in ghosts.

Christopher Lee…

August 29, 2012

Christopher Lee

Why should Tutu let Blair off the hook?

29 August 2012

Archbishop Desmond Tutu tells us that he will not appear with ex-Prime Minister Tony Blair at a leadership summit in Johannesburg because he still thinks Blair was morally corrupt over Iraq.  

Blair’s office clearly could not give a toss whether or not Tutu shows as long as the organizers pay the fee anyway.

Blair’s people say that he and Tutu have never agreed over Iraq and as Blair was so damned right and Tutu wrong, so who cares. Tutu for a start. He says “Mr Blair’s decision to support the United States’ military invasion of Iraq, on the basis of unproven allegations of the existence in Iraq of weapons of mass destruction, was morally indefensible.”

You might say that after all this time, who cares? The bit of the world – including the archbishop and his many, many supporters – that protested over the invasion was then powerless to stop it so why keep at it?

Blair’s oblivious to the whole thing and expects people wherever he goes to give him a good fanging over Iraq, the legality of the operation and his relationship with then President George W Bush, who incidentally, keeps quiet over the whole affair.

Yet that’s not reason for Tutu to pull out of the conference.  Shouldn’t he stay and argue his case – he’d certainly be allowed to and it would get even more publicity than the  planned protest by Al Jamaha who understandably will be dismissed by most media commentators as local Islamists and noting more.

Locally, it’s a shame the archbishop has pulled out.  He’s a great guy with loadsa personality and a spirit of mankind that gives you hope.  Blair, now he’s different.  Most commentators seem to think Blair is morally corrupt and thoroughly unlikeable and on Iraq by the way, almost no one outside his office thinks he was anything but shifty.  However, organizers of such jamborees as this know that the international crowd puller is the camera perma-tan Blair and not the chirpiest chuckling bishop ever, Desmond T.

The problem with continuing moral and political challenges is that the public get bored. Moreover, even though they are so in need of alarm bells every time their leaders even think of yet another intervention they gain little or nothing from a continuing debate over lost causes.

For examples, what would we get if Krushchev and Kennedy were still around to debate who was right and who wrong in Cuba? What could ever become of a confrontation between Eden and Nasser?  No differences would be resolved. How about the Duke of Windsor and British archbishop Cosmo Lang on the morality and complications of public duty in 1936? Ultimately of course the one to really watch would be Pilate and Jesus of Nazareth.  (OT scholars would prefer God and Job).

Nothing of course would have shifted the opinions of great people just as little said anywhere would move Blair from his position that he may not have been universally supported but it was what he believed in.  And Tutu? Much loved. Much respected.  But although not of that persuasion, no more divisions had he than had the Pope.

Christopher Lee…

August 29, 2012

Christopher Lee

Why should Tutu let Blair off the hook?

29 August 2012

Archbishop Desmond Tutu tells us that he will not appear with ex-Prime Minister Tony Blair at a leadership summit in Johannesburg because he still thinks Blair was morally corrupt over Iraq.  

Blair’s office clearly could not give a toss whether or not Tutu shows as long as the organizers pay the fee anyway.

Blair’s people say that he and Tutu have never agreed over Iraq and as Blair was so damned right and Tutu wrong, so who cares. Tutu for a start. He says “Mr Blair’s decision to support the United States’ military invasion of Iraq, on the basis of unproven allegations of the existence in Iraq of weapons of mass destruction, was morally indefensible.”

You might say that after all this time, who cares? The bit of the world – including the archbishop and his many, many supporters – that protested over the invasion was then powerless to stop it so why keep at it?

Blair’s oblivious to the whole thing and expects people wherever he goes to give him a good fanging over Iraq, the legality of the operation and his relationship with then President George W Bush, who incidentally, keeps quiet over the whole affair.

Yet that’s not reason for Tutu to pull out of the conference.  Shouldn’t he stay and argue his case – he’d certainly be allowed to and it would get even more publicity than the  planned protest by Al Jamaha who understandably will be dismissed by most media commentators as local Islamists and noting more.

Locally, it’s a shame the archbishop has pulled out.  He’s a great guy with loadsa personality and a spirit of mankind that gives you hope.  Blair, now he’s different.  Most commentators seem to think Blair is morally corrupt and thoroughly unlikeable and on Iraq by the way, almost no one outside his office thinks he was anything but shifty.  However, organizers of such jamborees as this know that the international crowd puller is the camera perma-tan Blair and not the chirpiest chuckling bishop ever, Desmond T.

The problem with continuing moral and political challenges is that the public get bored. Moreover, even though they are so in need of alarm bells every time their leaders even think of yet another intervention they gain little or nothing from a continuing debate over lost causes.

For examples, what would we get if Krushchev and Kennedy were still around to debate who was right and who wrong in Cuba? What could ever become of a confrontation between Eden and Nasser?  No differences would be resolved. How about the Duke of Windsor and British archbishop Cosmo Lang on the morality and complications of public duty in 1936? Ultimately of course the one to really watch would be Pilate and Jesus of Nazareth.  (OT scholars would prefer God and Job).

Nothing of course would have shifted the opinions of great people just as little said anywhere would move Blair from his position that he may not have been universally supported but it was what he believed in.  And Tutu? Much loved. Much respected.  But although not of that persuasion, no more divisions had he than had the Pope.

Christopher Lee…

August 27, 2012

Christopher Lee

Dublin, 27 August 2012

In Fitzgerald’s bar by O’Connell’s Bridge the craic is that Enda Kenny, The Taoiseach – or the prime minister as they say across the water – is claiming he’s leading Ireland in the great tradition of Michael Collins the great revolutionary murdered 90 years ago this past week.

Now the bar has been there since 1832 so there’s a keen since of history in the place as well as the common touch of two televisions in the long bar for Gaelic football (Donegal thrashed Cork at the weekend in the All-Ireland semis).

This is no tap room gossip. Neither the football nor Enda Kenny will change the lives of those who quietly mutter the state of state affairs and football while sipping a pint of the stuff. What they do know is that Sunday’s semi final at the multi-zillion euro Croke Park is played in a spirit of openness and corinthian fervour.  Whatever the result, it’s back to the day job (if you have one) the following morning. A hard game, then a hard night but few hard feelings in the morning.

And before we get off the metaphor, the 55,000 or so fans all go through the same gates.  None of this internecine warfare of the British Premier Division which has the body-searched “fans” channelled through different ends of the ground for fear of uncontrollable violence.  In Ireland (for the moment at least) the divisions among one of the most articulate peoples in Europe is one of spectator enthusiasms thus acceptance of fate whether it’s the game of Gaelic Football of the more secretive sport of Irish national politics. Hence the puzzle over Kenny’s claim to a mantle that he’d best not try to wear.

For the Irish people know that the country is broke, that services are being slashed and we ain’t seen nothin’ yet. And Kenny’s Fine Gael party and Eamon Gilmore’s Labour have formed Ireland’s coalition government since 2011. That’s too short a time to sort the national problems of economic calamity and social hardship.  Just as Brits hark to the spirit of Churchill and the French to De Gaulle (or some of them do anyway) so Kenny has snugged up to the still national hero Michael Collins.  

He’s buried in Glasnevin Cemetery.  So lie the remains of Roger Casement, Daniel O’Connell, Charles Stewart Parnell, Maude Gonne. Modern Ireland is the story of revolutionaries and heroes and heroines – the connection is not always as obvioous as it appears in a land at war within itself since the 11th century.

So Kenny must be careful when he calls up the ghosts of Ireland’s past. Modern Ireland is a land of what one sensible voice here calls moral barbarism. Collins would recognize it.  But he would not praise the commonly corrupt and graft-ridden Ireland that everyone knows exists but none has the guts and power to reform.

At street level there is, for example, a crisis in mortgage areas that is creating an island of ghost estates and even half villages with property not completed and certainly unsold.  That is the trappings of modern serfdom, the medaeival authority being the European Central Bank that forced Ireland into its hopelessly wrong conditions of its economic bail-out.

Kenny cites the tones of Collins when he demands that Ireland’s oppressors “give us back our country we have no time to waste.” The giants of the oppressors are the incompetents. The originators of the euro never understood that it should be not a national but a common hard currency (like the dollar on international markets) were terrible incompetents.  

Sadly, the real incompetents, therefore the day-to-day oppressors are in the coalition.  Kenny, in his remember-the-ghost-of-Collins mode, is laid back, too casual, in the memories and citations of those remains in Glasnevin Cemetery.

In Fitzgerald’s they talk about Donegal’s surprise win over Cork that cost me the money I might have put on the lottery this weekend – another lost cause.  In the bar with your man creaming off the stuff two glasses a time most of us now count the change to see if there’s enough for a third.  Mostly there isn’t.  That’s Ireland today and we know, even if the Taoiseach does not, that Ireland does not need a Collins. Maybe it doesn’t need a Kenny either and certainly it doesn’t need one who believes in ghosts.

Doesn’t Assad …

August 20, 2012

Doesn’t Assad have the right to defend Syria from the rebels?

20 August 2012

So the new UN-Arab League special envoy to Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi is asked the obvious and obviously dumb question by the bunch of lurking hacks looking for a headline and to hell with the sensitivities of the position in Syria. They bawl out: did he think Bashar al-Assad must resign?

You can just imagine it? The headlines in every country in world.  New Peace Maker says Assad Must Go. In other words, end of peace mission.

It doesn’t stand much chance anyway. Peace deals don’t get done in public. Which is why the Chinese have the best chance of finding some face-saver, although that’s as slim as a cat-walker.

What does the excellent Mr Brahimi say? He says “I am a mediator.  I haven’t joined the Syrian party.  I am a mediator and a mediator has to speak to anybody and everybody without influence or interest.”

So first he has to go the UN in Washington and then to Cairo to talk to the Arab League. He’ll then know for sure his Terms of Reference.  He may also get to know what the Chinese are doing, although that’s really unlikely at this stage.  Of course, the hacking tribes of the world, especially the lay-abouts at the UN in New York simply re-write what the UN press office hands out and have never been known to get an inside line on the truth.  What they want is for the new man to repeat what the departing envoy, Kofi Annan said.  Having failed to get a deal (hardly his fault) he said that Assad must go.

Brahimi is smarter than that.  He says, I’ve just got the job, let me go and listen, then I can tell you if anything stands a chance of bringing about the end to the Syrian civil war.

But for one moment, let’s turn this whole thing on its head. Let’s ask the question that none of the UN correspondents ask and none of the major political players at the UN would dare ask: why should Assad go?  It’s his country isn’t it? A bunch of blood-thirsty guys with the help of ooutside agencies and governments are trying to bring about the overthrow of Assad’s lot.

Let’s make it clear that we think Assad, his brother Maher and maybe every general still in town are a bunch of evil dictators. But that still does not mean that the so-called West plus some of the Gulf States has logic on their side when they demand Assad’s head on a political platter.

Northern Ireland was no where on a related stage, but this was the scenario from 1969: an armed bunch of thugs called the Provisional Irish Republican Army and its variants bombed and shot their way into an uncompromising uprising against the civil power, the British Government.  The British Government sent troops to reinforce the standing garrison and for thirty years fought to defend Northern Ireland against the rebels/terrorists.

In Syria, an armed bunch of thugs and their variants are bombing and shooting their way into an uncompromising uprising against the civil power. The Syrian government has deployed its troops to defend the Assad regime and Syria against the rebels/terrorists.

We may not like the Assads, but they are governing – to whatever way and reason – the state of Syria.  If the UK is allowed to defend its rukle in Northern Ireland, why isn’t Assad allowed to defend his hold over Syria.

Anyone who talks about the Free Syrians as part of a democratic uprising, then let them talk again. The Syrian National Council says Brahimi’s refusal at this stage to call for the departure of Assad shows “disregard for the blood of the Syrian people and their right to self-determination.”

That statement is, of course, utter rubbish. Brahimi doesn’t reckon he much of a chance of coming to any peace deal.  But he’s not going to reduce those chances by making provocative statements.  The Syrian National Council know this.  But the SNC, like most of the opposition do not really offer peace and wonder for the people of Syria who must know that. You can smell the twitch of vengeance as far away as this capital.

So the whole thing is the handbasket of hell’s journey.  But if you want to get near to understanding how to stop the civil war, then remember that however sick-making it may be, Assad is President and by any norm should be allowed to defend his state – for whatever reason.  The Saudi Arabis and the Qataris openly supporting the rebels, would do exactly the same. No government, especially not dictatorships like the Syrians and the Saudis have, know that and would have troops out on the streets at the first hint of uprising.

The Assads are nasty bastards. But look around the Middle East and especially the Gulf and you’ll know there are a lot of them in that region who would do exactly what the Assads are doing.

We may not support Syria’s right to put down a rebellion, but until we understand that they do in a cynical manner, have that right then we’ll not be on the right wavelength to get a peace deal.  Brahimi knows that.  Give him space.

Doesn’t Assad have the right to defend Syria?

August 20, 2012

20th August 2012

So the new UN-Arab League special envoy to Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi is asked the obvious and obviously dumb question by the bunch of lurking hacks looking for a headline and to hell with the sensitivities of the position in Syria. They bawl out: did he think Bashar al-Assad must resign?

You can just imagine it? The headlines in every country in world.  New Peace Maker says Assad Must Go. In other words, end of peace mission.

It doesn’t stand much chance anyway. Peace deals don’t get done in public. Which is why the Chinese have the best chance of finding some face-saver, although that’s as slim as a cat-walker.

What does the excellent Mr Brahimi say? He says “I am a mediator.  I haven’t joined the Syrian party.  I am a mediator and a mediator has to speak to anybody and everybody without influence or interest.”

So first he has to go the UN in Washington and then to Cairo to talk to the Arab League. He’ll then know for sure his Terms of Reference.  He may also get to know what the Chinese are doing, although that’s really unlikely at this stage.  Of course, the hacking tribes of the world, especially the lay-abouts at the UN in New York simply re-write what the UN press office hands out and have never been known to get an inside line on the truth.  What they want is for the new man to repeat what the departing envoy, Kofi Annan said.  Having failed to get a deal (hardly his fault) he said that Assad must go.

Brahimi is smarter than that.  He says, I’ve just got the job, let me go and listen, then I can tell you if anything stands a chance of bringing about the end to the Syrian civil war.

But for one moment, let’s turn this whole thing on its head. Let’s ask the question that none of the UN correspondents ask and none of the major political players at the UN would dare ask: why should Assad go?  It’s his country isn’t it? A bunch of blood-thirsty guys with the help of ooutside agencies and governments are trying to bring about the overthrow of Assad’s lot.

Let’s make it clear that we think Assad, his brother Maher and maybe every general still in town are a bunch of evil dictators. But that still does not mean that the so-called West plus some of the Gulf States has logic on their side when they demand Assad’s head on a political platter.

Northern Ireland was no where on a related stage, but this was the scenario from 1969: an armed bunch of thugs called the Provisional Irish Republican Army and its variants bombed and shot their way into an uncompromising uprising against the civil power, the British Government.  The British Government sent troops to reinforce the standing garrison and for thirty years fought to defend Northern Ireland against the rebels/terrorists.

In Syria, an armed bunch of thugs and their variants are bombing and shooting their way into an uncompromising uprising against the civil power. The Syrian government has deployed its troops to defend the Assad regime and Syria against the rebels/terrorists.

We may not like the Assads, but they are governing – to whatever way and reason – the state of Syria.  If the UK is allowed to defend its rukle in Northern Ireland, why isn’t Assad allowed to defend his hold over Syria.

Anyone who talks about the Free Syrians as part of a democratic uprising, then let them talk again. The Syrian National Council says Brahimi’s refusal at this stage to call for the departure of Assad shows “disregard for the blood of the Syrian people and their right to self-determination.”

That statement is, of course, utter rubbish. Brahimi doesn’t reckon he much of a chance of coming to any peace deal.  But he’s not going to reduce those chances by making provocative statements.  The Syrian National Council know this.  But the SNC, like most of the opposition do not really offer peace and wonder for the people of Syria who must know that. You can smell the twitch of vengeance as far away as this capital.

So the whole thing is the handbasket of hell’s journey.  But if you want to get near to understanding how to stop the civil war, then remember that however sick-making it may be, Assad is President and by any norm should be allowed to defend his state – for whatever reason.  The Saudi Arabis and the Qataris openly supporting the rebels, would do exactly the same. No government, especially not dictatorships like the Syrians and the Saudis have, know that and would have troops out on the streets at the first hint of uprising.

The Assads are nasty bastards. But look around the Middle East and especially the Gulf and you’ll know there are a lot of them in that region who would do exactly what the Assads are doing.

We may not support Syria’s right to put down a rebellion, but until we understand that they do in a cynical manner, have that right then we’ll not be on the right wavelength to get a peace deal.  Brahimi knows that.  Give him space.

Play Up Play The Game Cameron

August 17, 2012

The Cameron government has had to apologize for telling at the very least unintentional fibs over the number of school playing fields its selling off.  

Last week, PM David Cameron told the world that the legacy of the Olympics would be to give all children opportunity to play sport, even to compete in school games.

This week the Prime Minister, in spite of his bucket shop speeches, has shown every half observant parent and kid that he’s beholden not to principles but to bank balances.

The Olympic pledge and the glorious legacy is discarded by the Cameron led government and his Education Secretary Michael Gove.  This week, Gove came out with figures about the number of school playing fields sold off for development when children desperately need them.  It now turns out that someone was hiding the truth – a third more were flogged than the Department of Education admitted.

On paper it does not sound very much, but in this month alone, the government gave permission for schools to sell 30 playing fields but told the public that it was only selling 21.  Gove of course blamed his officials.  That’s what honourable ministers now do.  Not my fault they cry.  So who is boss? Gove.  Who is boss of officials? Gove.  Who then takes the blame?  No way Gove is going to admit to anything.  The officials carry the can.

But the story is bigger than the two-faced policy decisions of the Cameron government.  Here’s what has happened: the previous government and the Cameron led coalition have, in spite of saying publicly that they were going to halt the wholesale selling of precious playing fields, have done nothing of the sort.  Hundreds have been quietly flogged to fat fee paying developers.

The Blair and Brown Labour government sold 213 playing fields while saying they were not going to sell any more.  

But the Tories under Thatcher and John (now Sir John) Major sold off 10,000 between 1979 and 1997.  Yes, they flogged to anyone with the dosh, ten thousand playing fields – and then blamed the kids for not trying.

Worse is to come: Michael Gove’s department has over-ruled advisers who said it was wrong to sell off playing fields.

A spokesman from the Department of Education (a department that is so educated that it thinks it’s OK to leave out the o in of and so calls itself DfE) says “Ministers have sought to ensure that proceeds go to improving sports facilities for young people overall.”

Whoever told the spokesman to say that should be rated in the long contested Official Whitehall Public Fib-or-Worse Statement of the Year.  Ministers do no such thing.  The fields are sold to keep existing schools going. That is the level of successive government commitment to education – an essential strand in our society that has been continuously messed about with since the late 1950s by successive ministers including the politically adorable and useless Shirley Williams and don’t forget, Margaret Thatcher.

Getting rid of wonderful facilities (admittedly some went if a school was closing or merging) has left British schools with the cynical policy of having to provide only “suitable outdoor space.”

So, what did the utterly trustworthy Cameron say after the Olympics? There needs to be “a big cultural change” towards sport in schools and that schools must return to the “competitive ethos” in sports.

He says that while his appointed minister, Gove, is carrying out the government’s grubby cheating.  The government is cheating British kids at a time when hard working young athletes are setting examples that other youngsters want to follow.

Without examining the government political pressure cooker that children are thrown into by the likes of China and some of the old Eastern Bloc countries, it should be remembered that British schools offer some of the shortest sports times and the worst facilities in world education.  

People like Cameron point to Team GB’s number three slot in the Olympic medal tables and say that the UK must be doing something right.  The issue is bigger and two fold:  the government says one thing and is doing the other.  Rufty tufty adults can handle that.  Kids grow up to believe that unless they’re at private schools then they can forget the facilities that the Camerons are saying must be theirs by rights, even kindness.  

Secondly, this is not about winning medals.  It’s bigger.  It’s about an opportunity to do sporting things that will be fun, will be competitive, will be, frankly, a great improvement on the the national youth sport – texting and hand-held game playing.

But neither Gove nor Cameron have any real idea about that and worse still, do not seem to care.  The hard part of all this is that their predecessors in government did no better.

Rooster for PM

August 14, 2012

Christopher Lee in Westminster, 14 Aug 2012

Prime Minister David Cameron is off on his summer hols. He says that even politicians need holidays and anyway, it’s just a couple of weeks. He’ll be back for the Paralympics and then the following week, it’s the start of the new parliamentary term.

But it will not be a complete switch off for Cameron. He has to think hard about a Cabinet reshuffle.

Past PMs have shuffled their political deck in the summer so that ministers can read into their portfolios before Parliament returns. His biggest problem is behaving like a PM and ignoring every pressure group including Nick Clegg’s increasingly mundane LibDem MPs. Cameron carries the burden of power-sharing.

Number 10 has to negotiate with his coalition partner and although the LibDems have 50 or so seats in the Commons, they punch above their weight which, in most cases, is no heavier than welter. That is frustrating for Cameron but Clegg insists on his right to approve any changes Cameron might make.

Apart from the political grip that gives Clegg, it also shuts up some of the LibDems who feel their natural ally (in truth, a non sequitur in the LibDem lexicon) would have been Labour. LibDems are supposed to be radicals and they see that Cameron is shifting his Toryism to the Right.

But that’s instinct and Tory juxtaposition. LibDems have a bone to pick with their leader as well as Cameron. They feel mad because of the Tory failure to twist enough backbench arms to put through the Lords Reform preliminary bill. That gripe is not going away when the Commons returns. Shuffling a Cabinet could take some of the heat off Number 10.

So to the changes. Will the Tory’s biggest beast Justice Secretary Ken Clarke be dropped? Many Tory backbenchers want him to spend more time with his jazz collection and real ale labels. He doesn’t want to go and if it were suggested that he could best slip along the corridor to the Upper House, he would resist.

Why do some want him out? Too liberal they say. Too much of the past. Also, because this is a coalition government the Tories have fewer ministerial jobs. And many of that group resent the quality of LibDems in some of the ministerial cars. Moreover, they suspect that David Laws, the LibDem ex-minister who had to resign over his parliamentary expenses, will be brought back – even if it’s only as a Minister of State but with a place in the cabinet.

And what about the sad figure of Jeremy Hunt, the Culture Secretary, who was too close to the Murdochs during the Sky bidding rounds? Best dump him. And while he’s doing that Cameron could break up the ministry itself and farm out its lesser parts to other departments.

However, Cameron’s first decision does not touch the LibDem sensitivities. He will probably look for a new chairman of his Party, getting rid of the not very effective Lady Warsi who recently has come to the attention of the guardians of the House of Lords Code of Conduct. Party chairmen may not sound such a big deal other than that they have perfect stomach linings for consuming dreadful local Tory Party chicken lunches. But by the time of the next Tory Party conference, Cameron will need the best manager possible to shield him from the Party faithful charge that he is losing them ground in the polls.

He wants a popular figure who can ring the handbell of Tory politics that the late Quentin Hailsham did decades ago. Now there’s a thought: step up Ken Clarke.

What would be a brilliant shuffle would be to bring in people from outside.

Annie Lennox, Russell Brand and Bob Diamond

How about Annie Lennox as the long promised Minister for Women? Russell Brand Minister for Culture because he has none. Bob Diamond as Chancellor because he can work the system at a profit? The Home Office would get Slasher Martin (as soon as he’s out) because he’s on first name terms with most of the South London villains and magistrates.

Justice Department could go to John Bird in his character of barrister Fuller-Carp because he’s most people’s image of m’learned friend.

That leaves one replacement. Cameron himself could step aside. Who instead?

Image

No contest: Mark Rylance because in whatever character he is, from Rooster Byron in Jerusalem or Richard III, Rylance is an utterly compelling character – which is what we need as Prime Minister before Boris gets the gig.

Mars, Elvis & Reality

August 13, 2012

NASA has put a robot called Curiosity on Mars.  Thy say it’s there to tell us if life once existed on the red planet. The whole exercise cost a few $billion dollars.  A few $billion to tell us what might have been there?

Don’t they know I could have done that for $40 a day plus expenses?  Maybe no one would have cared a bucket of rocks what I think, but tell me how many people are going to get wet under the arms about Mars zillions of years back – which no one will believe anyway.

Now I happen to know (because I read it in the Inquirer, I think) that Elvis lives in an abandoned B52 on the dark side of the moon (a great rock title there for someone?).  I also happen to know (because I’m told on average authority that Spielberg was thinking of making a film about it) that Marilyn did not die but leads a quiet life learning a little Serbo Croat and doing marshmallow recipes just in the next crater to The King.

You see where we are?  These are credibles.  We all do credibles.  NASA spends $billions and maybe no one says why? Now me, I’m exicited by the imagery sent back from Curiosity via the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.  I loved the black and white picture of Curiosity’s from off-side wheel.  Truthfully, I have never seen a robot’s front off-side anywhere, never mind on Mars.  Did you know that NASA control at the JPL in Pasdadena Ca. had to upload computer commands to the spacecraft about three days prior to pressing the camera button.  Well did you? I guess they must be using the same broadband provider as me.

Anyway, how do these guys plan to get evidence of any life? They say it could take two years? I got a nephew whose mother says he’s a genius who for the past two years has not shown any sign of life other than constant texting.  So I’m sure waiting to get patched into the technique.

But there is an upside to all this. I’m not sure that that bit isn’t done. Did you know that Mars is sometimes 250 million kilometers from earth?  I say it’s sometimes that because at other times it’s on;y around 60 million kilometers.  Why you ask?  Because they are in elliptical orbits so they get close and then they go away again – or something similar.  My point I suppose is that Mars is a really long way away and this little robot about the size of a family automobile weighing a ton has travelled millions of kilometers and taken months to get there and then is neatly parked some place called Gale Crater within a two centimeters of where the Pasadena guys said it would be.

No that makes me tingle. That’s not only clever.  We are, as is broadly agreed, fouling up this planet earth.  Maybe out children’s, children’s children are going to have to do what the founding fathers did: get out to some place new.  Curiosity and the NASA folk say that’s doable.

All highly unlikely.  Easier to clean up this place instead.  But just suppose Elvis got it right.  I trust his instinct.  Maybe he knew all along that Kyoto wouldn’t work.  Yes, I think he may just have done that.  The Moon? Easy compared with Mars.  The Dark Side? Pink Floyd said it was possible.  Stay with it Pasadena.  Keep sending the signals, but take a tip from one who knows: best switch your ISP. Okay?