Thursday, 25 March 2010

The Name of the Games

In typical British style there was a shared feeling of surprise, faint bewilderment and an attempt at National Pride when it was announced London had won the bid for the 2012 Olympics. In typical French style, and to this day, our competitors for the rival bid across the Channel are still proclaiming "we were robbed". Whatever happened in the backroom to swing the votes in our favour was indubitably tied up with politics and rivalries, much like the Eurovision Song Contest, but at the same time, we must give credit to Lord of The Rings, Seb Coe who proved the UK were still at the front of the track and field.

But were the French robbed?
Well, in typical British style the celebrations lasted a day or so (topped off by that rather bleak performance by.......................) and after that all focus was turned to how much it would cost, who would benefit and how the spoils should be shared between all the nations of the British Isles.
The only thing that has perhaps prevented The Express from running a headline saying "Olympics to cost Brits £65,000 each" or something similar was the story that that 75 per cent of tickets ­a will be open to anyone ­living in the EU.
So just when we were warming to the idea that actually hosting an international event may be more than just a huge expense, we learn that actually, all those British Taxpayers at the bottom of the foodchain of olympic spending wont even have the privilege of buying tickets for the event. In fact, the French can just as easily hop across to London, enjoy the spectacle and return to Gay Paris knowing that they are no less out of pocket for the experience.
Why, then, if 75% of tickets must also go to people in the EU are 75% of the cost of hosting the games not afforded by Brussels?
I'm just waiting for an announcement that some or other event, or Olympic village or something will magically now have to be in Bratislava.
Organisers Locog however have set up a preregistration ticketing site hosted only in the UK in order to avoid a deluge of applications from the EU. Normally overseas purchases would go through the National Olympic Committee of that country but given that European competition law means EU citizens can access the British ballot, it also means British citizens can buy tickets from EU countries through their national Olympic committees, but really, this is not exactly likely to happen. People who register will be able to enter a public ballot more quickly when it opens next spring – although they are not guaranteed to win a place at an Olympic venue.
I urge you nonetheless to sign up. Registration will be open for the next 12 months at or by calling 0844 847 2012.

A country that might not be digging so deep to attend the Games is Greece. The founders of the Olympics instead have a marathon task ahead of them to stay afloat and keep the Eurozone happy. But unfortunately for Greece they are being given very little room to manoeuvre while they are stuck between a rock and a hard place. Surely the Greek people themselves would like a say on the situation? Rioting in Athens suggests that a Referendum should be on the cards...but we know how Brussels feels about them...

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Britain could never debate the burka like France | Agnès Poirier - Times Online

Britain could never debate the burka like France | Agnès Poirier - Times Online

A Face Off over The Burqa

The reason I am dragging this subject back into the blog is because I was asked about the matter for a radio show just recently. Click here to listen to Eye on Wales in which I contributed.

Should we, could we and would we ban the burqa?
The French have of course brought up the issue, and I stumbled across this fascinating article on the Time Online which really spells out where Britain has gone with it's overdose of political correctness.

Written by French journalist Agnès Poirier, it reveals why on this occasion, we should be following their lead.

"The burka is not a religious problem, it's a question of liberty and women's dignity. It's not a religious symbol, but a sign of subservience and debasement. I want to say solemnly, the burka is not welcome in France. In our country, we can't accept women prisoners behind a screen, cut off from all social life, deprived of all identity. That is not our idea of freedom.”

So spoke Nicolas Sarkozy in Versailles during his first state of the nation address to France's two chambers, the National Assembly and the Senate. He won rapturous applause and there is little doubt that an overwhelming majority of the French agreed with his every word. I say an overwhelming majority because this issue crosses all party lines in France. Republican principles of equality and secularism are so deeply grounded in the French mind that they belong as much to the Left as to the Right.

For someone like me, firmly on the Left, the defence of secularism is the only way to guarantee cultural diversity and national cohesion. One cannot go without the other. However, when I get on Eurostar to London, I feel totally alien. To my horror, my liberal-left British friends find such a position closer to that of the hard Right."

This point of view struck me as such an interesting truism I felt I had to cite it here. But interestingly the situation in France and the UK is not comparable. Across the Channel, the Burqa has been banned in state-run schools since 2004 and cannot be worn in hospitals or municipal offices or for that matter "anywhere where people interact as equal citizens"

Poirier goes on to say (and I am starting to like this woman more and more) that such a ban could never happen in the UK.

"When Jack Straw dared to state the obvious in 2006 by saying that the burka and the niqab were “visible statements of separation and of difference” before asking politely that women visiting his constituency surgery consider removing them, it provoked angry protests from Islamic associations and the British liberal- Left, always inclined, it seems, to defend the rights of liberty's enemies.

Seen from France, Britain's tolerance of extremist views looks at best naive, at worse dangerous: a recipe for trouble, division and painful soul-searching....If Britain's tolerance of political and religious extremism is often bewildering to the French, it also fascinates them. This tolerance does appeal to some French because of its sheer exoticism. French tourists visiting Britain for the first time, London in particular, are struck by what they perceive as a kaleidoscope of different ethnic minorities going about their day in their religious and cultural attire, cohabitating seemingly peacefully with punks and the half-naked: being free to differ.

What those visitors may discover later is that the price of this peaceful cohabitation lies in a constant bargaining of specific rights for specific communities in the name of cultural difference - the opposite of equality as understood in France. In France, public swimming pools would never allow women-only sessions to satisfy the demands of a minority. A public space is constructed for citizens to interact freely, and legislation written to remove the barriers of difference that separate them.

Seen from Britain, French principles of equality and secularism are often misinterpreted, and dismissed as authoritarian or prejudiced. But critics of the French approach don't seem to understand that secularism is neutral - the State doesn't recognise any religion in particular but protects them all, guaranteeing cultural and religious diversity by ensuring that one faith does not get the upper hand.

Can our two countries learn from each other? France could certainly try that very British tolerance and Britain could be more rigorous in arbitrating between the common good and the demands of communities. But our two systems are anchored in such different traditions and histories that we can only keep marvelling and staring in bewilderment at each other's approaches to social harmony; both of which are struggling to keep pace with the growing confidence of minorities who, once ignored, are now at the centre stage."

The fact that Poirier draws a conclusion that the British seem to pander somewhat to those minorities that impact upon the very concept of Britishness is interesting, and leads me to make this final point...

You never see women in the dictatorial, tyrannical, misogynistic cultures that promote the veil asking for the right to not wear it, for fear that stoning or flogging or domestic violence would ensue. The fact that Muslims in support of the ban hold it up as the right of that particular woman is as incongruous and hypocritical as people who suggest in some way that lapdancing, pole dancing, porn and the resultant objectification of women is in fact female empowerment. I think not.

Thursday, 11 March 2010


When the Arctic started to change shape, Russian explorers managed to navigate a submarine 4,200m below the North Pole where they planted their countries National Flag, reinforcing Moscow's claims to the Arctic. In an angry retort Canadian Foreign Minister Peter MacKay told Canadian TV "This isn't the 15th Century. You can't go around the world and just plant flags and say "We're claiming this territory"."Why are people getting their knickers in a twist over the planets most inhospitable territory? Because buried just below is an estimated quarter of the planets oil and gas reserves.

Several countries with territories bordering the Arctic, including America, Russia, Canada and Denmark, who have sovereignty over Greenland - have launched competing claims to the region. And so in wades the EU.

Current UN laws place territorial waters 200 nautical miles beyond their land borders. The North Pole is currently not regarded as part of any single country's territory, although the Russians claim Geologically, the North Pole is an extension of the Russian Coastal shelf, and is therefore part of their territory. The US and Canada are locking horns over the North West Passage, Russia and Norway are caught in a tussle over the Barents Sea and Canada are also trying to see off Danish claims to a small island just off Greenland.

Denmark, an EU member state since the start of Britain's membership back in the seventies, is Europe's best claim to the territory alongside Iceland, who are looking to join the Union next year and will no doubt prove very popular if she manages to wield any power up North.
Recent talk has seen the five key competitors for a slice of the ice talk about carving up the region based upon geography and size. Although I can't see America or Russia looking to share. What does Europe want? Well the Commission has been very vocal in issues such as biodiversity and ecological protection, read here the EU's favourite guise for political blackmail. But just under the cover of Green Good Will lies the real reasons why the Arctic is so in demand, and why Europe are so keen to stop anybody barging in and taking what they want by warbling about melting ice caps and nature.

What I worry about is what this sort of posturing will do. Although nobody is coming out on the subject, there is a lot of side glancing, snooping and plain chauvenism when it comes to claming the pole. And we've seen many a time before in history where such posturing can lead.
It is for this reason I grilled Baroness Ashton, former Secretary for the CND during the Cold War, over whether her first hand experience of the Arms race has taught her nothing over this race for resources in the Ice War.

The point is, why are we even caught up ion all of this? Do we want to be part of a group sizing up to Russia and America over Arctic rights? Whether we do or not, the point is, again, that it is not you or I making that decision.

More ironic perhaps is the conjecture by the EU that Regional Fishing Rights have been extended to the Arctic while they stop and figure out what to do, meaning like a German laying his towel on the sunbed at daybreak, Brussels has already decided upon fish quotas for the area before being able to claim any rights.

The problem here is being part of a Union that has Foreign Affairs at all. Any action taken by the EU would only undermine NATO and the UN, two global organisations who are supposed to be the circus ringmasters when it comes to these kind of knotty disputes. Surely any interest from Brussels would only aggravate relations with America, whose new President seems to have forgotten International tact and historical allegiances in his recent neutrality over the Falklands, and would surely send the wrong sort of message to our biggest not-so-friendly neighbour Russia. Lord knows what sort of affect Moscow's old satellite states queuing up to join the EU gravy train is having on the aging superpower anyway. But if they start heckling her over territory she believes is rightfully hers, then you've read it here first: I predict a riot.

Hold on to your hats boys and girls because we have an unelected soviet sympathiser, guided by a Dane, heading up an External Action Service coordinating foreign policy that nobody wants on behalf of 27 nonethewiser European countries, looking hungrily at that big floating fridge on top of the world.

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Making Plans for Nigel

It's becoming a familiar sight in our newspapers now, and is even creeping through into television and radio. I'm talking about the circus of opinion that comes in the aftermath of controversial comment where people from all walks of life impart their wisdom on who should be sacked, who should quit, who should retire, apologise, resign etc. Well, there just isn't enough Max Clifford to go around.

We had a mini media flurry in the wake of Nigel Farage's remarks to the New President of the European Union, Herman Van Rompuy. Unsurprisingly in a meeting today with the head of the European Parliament Jerzy Buzek, he was asked to make a series of apologies. Of course in the meantime, commentators and columnists have all had their piece to say. Perhaps the most entertaining was Elfyn Llwyd on Question Time who stated that name-calling and personal attacks had no place in politics, then told Nigel he was a caricature of himself and a Little Englander.

The point is, Nigel has been making these speeches for years. Controversial and pithy they may be, but they rarely get filtered down to the Press. There have certainly been stronger comments than those aired against Van the Man. But comments like this are needed for exactly that reason - to shake the media out of their apathy and get real debate going over the EU. I expect the average man on hearing Nigel's outburst would have said "Well, who IS this Van Rompuy?" Not because he's not a high profile European figure, but because a lot of people wouldn't even have had a clue a President of the EU even existed!

In the aftermath, everyone was clamoring to suggest it was a bid to raise publicity before the General Election. But why should we complain either way? It got the European Parliament on television and now a few more people might go away and find out what this Van Rompuy says he wants and what their future under his leadership will be like. Because he wants some pretty dramatic changes, and even more worryingly, has the power to enforce them.

Nigel was given a chance to explain further on The Daily Politics today
. A good programme but nonetheless with a limited audience. The most important part of the whole story is not the "damp rag" comment, but why this man's appointment has caused such outrage. And that is the part of the story which is being kept away from the public. The fact that there is a new unelected President of the EU, so that means MY President and YOUR President and the President of about 500 million people, on a salary bigger than Obama's, who has had bestowed upon him a wealth of power by the Lisbon Treaty - which our Prime Minister signed without asking his people if they even wanted it - who has dreams of a Federal Europe. This should all be sounding a bit Nineteen Eighty Four, because it is!

And I suspect Nigel's opinion is, if it means just two more people come to realise what this man has in store for their future as Europeans, then it was worth it.