Tuesday 25 April 2023

Macron: dissing the EU in China

Macron is a real piece of work, n'est-ce pas?  (Is it really a French thing to marry your schoolteacher?)  But apparently his charisma is such that, they say, nobody who ever met him would ever vote against him.  And such self-confidence!  OK: but who'd trust him a single centimetre?

In fact, just the kind of person the Chinese can play like a tin whistle, the tune being that old favourite, Divide and Rule.  Flushed with his pre-invasion, errr, success across that long table with Putin, off he goes to Beijing to persuade Xi of, well, something or other that will surely bring conflict in Ukraine to an end.  Well, won't it?  But not content with this naïve presumption, he also drags along Ursula von der Leyen, only for her to be royally snubbed by the Chinese, fobbed off with having to carry her own bags through passport control while the Little Emperor is whisked off on a red carpet.  Two years ago I'd have found this very funny but since early last year, much to my surprise, von der Leyen seems to have grown in stature considerably.

Well: such is the nature of his diplomatic prowess that Macron is immediately suspected by everyone of plotting to sell Taiwan down the river.  And can anyone see the fragrant Ursula rushing to take his next call?  But it turns out that he's just brainstorming a bit, seeing what's on, floating ideas, trying a few things; c'est juste sa manière, tu ne sais pas? - and of course he's misunderstood.  Of course.  Here's how the ultra-articulate French spin-doctoring machine tries to walk it all back.  

But I rather doubt anyone is convinced.


Sunday 23 April 2023

Barry Humphries

What a man.  (What a woman!)  A brilliant brand of knowing, deadpan humour.  

The joke of his that comes immediately to my mind is from the first UK outing of Edna Everage, a very long time before the Damehood; in confident cultural-tourist-housewife mode, reporting back to her suburban friends.  She's standing in Parliament Square with St Stephen's Tower looming in the background:

"And here's me with one of those big clocks they have here"

Right up there in the Peter Cook category of someone that (almost) everyone loved and admired, despite the sharp edges.  We need them.  RIP


Thursday 20 April 2023

SNP - like a Toytown constituency branch

If the fish-woman gets arrested shortly, as is widely speculated, the SNP's humiliation will be complete.  In the major parties one sometimes encounters an apparently thriving constituency branch which completely folds when a long-time figurehead chairman departs and it transpires there was nothing else of substance there at all: the difference being that with larger parties there is genuine institutional depth, and a Head Office that can intervene to put things back on their feet.  Poor 'Mo' Yousaf** resembles the hapless constituency stooge left inheriting such a situation - but there is no Head Office by way of stability and superior resources for him to lean on; he's it!  And it'll turn out the camper van doesn't actually belong to the SNP either: so, no holiday for him. 

Other illustrative parallels suggest themselves.  In the depths of History Corner there's poor old Richard Cromwell in 1649; and more recently UKIP (remember that?) when Farage's departure made it clear that it was less of an enduring political institution with depth and significance, and more of a shallow puddle with only one rather popular fish in it.

Let's see if Starmer can strategise this one to his advantage.  It ought to be possible, but he shows every sign of being a one-trick pony, and a very wooden pony at that.  Watch for a clunky and unconvincing move towards a devo-max offering in an announcement from that quarter soon.

You'd need a heart of stone, etc etc.  Personally, I'm hoping this all assists in the noble cause of scuppering Sturgeon's "trans self-ID" legislation once and for all.  Will Yousaf really go to the wall for that, in today's circumstances?   



** There is no deeper insult than incorrectly rendering somebody's name, which indicates to the victim you've no idea who they are really; don't much care either; and are probably representative of everyone else, too.  I discovered this by accident as a journo on a student newspaper many decades ago, when a simple typo caused an absolute outpouring of distress and anger.  Sorry to say, callow and uncaring youth that I was, this then became something I deployed deliberately to offend - ten times more effective than mere abuse.  (And not even actionable!)

Tuesday 18 April 2023

German energy experiment lurches into new territory

At midnight on 15-16 of this month, Germany shut down its last nuclear power generation capacity - forever.  It was asked for one last hurrah over the winter (the Putin effect): but that's it now, despite dumb German politicians at the highest levels who seemed to think these things could just be switched on and off at will, and that actually we don't need fossil fuels or nukes at all.

Here's some dramatic irony.  For those that care about these things - and some people care a lot - the carbon intensity of the German power fleet on 15-16 April was 550 g/kWh**.  And what if Germany had maintained its nukes at the 2003 level, its peak in that country?  It would have been just 50 g/kWh, with no coal-, lignite-, gas- or oil-fired electricity required whatsoever on that day (peaking could have been provided by hydro and dispatchable biomass).  For comparison, the UK typically comes in at under 150g, having halved since 2012.  

So - as the usual suspects gear up to sue the EC for declaring nukes (and gas) to be "green", let them think on that 11-fold increase in carbon intensity which might, over-simplifying slightly, be attributed to the policy-driven closures of nukes in Germany.

Germany really is the poster-child for crass policy making across the spectrum, and it's unravelling at a rate of knots since Merkel headed off into the sunset.  I don't quite know where people get off on holding the country up as a model of rationality and consensus.  Good luck to them over the next few years, as they grapple with "new realities" for their energy, industrial, foreign and defence policies.  Not to mention the 1m+ refugees from the middle east.  Those Merkel memoirs will make for interesting reading.



** Was it perhaps a day with no wind?  No, there was a decent contribution from wind, ditto solar in the middle of the day.

Tuesday 11 April 2023

A Revealing Russian Rant - and a prediction ...

The Putin stand-in Dmitry Medvedev, lately given to vehement anti-Ukrainian rants, has excelled himself.  Extracts:


1. Europe doesn’t need Ukraine. The forced support of the Nazi regime, by the American mentor’s order, has put Europeans into a financial and political inferno. All for the sake of bandera’s unterukraine, that even the snobby, insolent Polacks don’t take for a valid country, and time and again toss in the issue of its western areas anschluss. There’s a nice perspective ahead: to permanently put the nouveau-Ukrainian blood-sucking parasites on the decrepit EU’s arthritis-crippled neck. That’ll be the final fall of Europe, once majestic, but robbed off by degeneration ... The ruling junta’s criminal ambitions forced Ukrainians to beg and roam around the countries and continents, searching for a better life. All that is for an obscure European perspective. Or rather, to let the harlequin in a khaki tricot and his band of thievish Nazi clowns to put the money stolen from the West into their offshore accounts. Would ordinary Ukrainians need that? Nobody on this planet needs such a Ukraine. That’s why it will disappear ...

Funnily enough, to judge from some of the BTL comments around here, some of our readers would broadly agree.  But that's not the point for now.  Why is Medvedev venting thus, like a two-bit incel bedsit dweller?  For answer we turn to the excellent Kamil Galeev, who has noted several times already this phenomenon of high-profile Russians going puce in public for Western consumption, and has set out his explanation once again, and at some length.  

Summarising:  any high-profile Russian Kremlin-dweller who might even vaguely appear to the West as potentially a more amenable interlocutor than Putin, is very dangerous to Putin.  That's because they might serve as a rallying point for Russian oligarchs etc who've had enough.  So, in order not to be a candidate for falling out of a window, such a high-profile, apparently Western-acceptable Russian must periodically rant in such unpleasant terms that nobody would take them for "someone the West could do business with".  Both Medvedev and Lavrov comply with this vital self-preservation imperative whenever it seems appropriate: and this is another example.

So far, so plausible.  But why such an extreme manifestation just now?  Assuming Galeev's explanation is correct, it must surely follow that Putin is fearful right now of some major setbacks about to come Russia's way, presumably when the long-foretold Ukrainian offensive bursts forth.  Or at least, as a risk-averse fellow he's making prudent preparations for setbacks and the inevitable domestic discontent that will follow.

We may not have long to wait.

BTW, Medvedev also follows in the grand C@W tradition of making New Year predictions.  You'll like these, too  - e.g. for 2023 ... 

1. Oil price will rise to $150 a barrel, and gas price will top $5.000 per 1.000 cubic meters

2. The UK will rejoin the EU

3. The EU will collapse after the UK’s return; Euro will drop out of use as the former EU currency ...

8. Civil war will break out in the US, California. and Texas becoming independent states as a result. Texas and Mexico will form an allied state. Elon Musk’ll win the presidential election in a number of states which, after the new Civil War’s end, will have been given to the GOP

You get the drift.  What a wag.  Bet he keeps away from windows, though ...


Wednesday 5 April 2023

Nigel Lawson. Not Easy to Categorise

You don't get many politicians like Nigel Lawson.  Perhaps the best thing about him was his intellectual self-sufficiency, which made him more immune than most from some of the typical politicians' permanent, minute-by-minute angst that they might not be perfectly-enough positioned (vis-à-vis their party's leadership, or their meejah image, or whatever else they worry about) for career advancement.  This leaves them always looking over shoulders - their own shoulders, and those of the people they are talking to - checking out the movements of the Important People in the room, metaphorically and actually.  This deeply unattractive paranoia, Lawson avoided better than most.

But it's all relative, and he did care.  When he first entered the Cabinet as Energy secretary, after the pathetic efforts in that job of David Howell (now there was a paranoid shoulder-checker par excellence), he was overjoyed, and held a sustained round of little parties in his splendid new office for all his friends, showing off like crazy.  He was also very circumspect in his dealings with Mrs T, with whom he disagreed on a lot of economic policy but whose favour he wished to court and to retain - even when he was at the height of his supposed invulnerability.  

A striking example was mortgage interest relief, which everybody knew was a pointless, indeed self-defeating economic distortion which merely served to increase house prices.  Geoffrey Howe, his predecessor as Chancellor, had cautiously mentioned the notion that it might be sensible to phase it out, only to be firmly beaten around the ears by Thatcher, for whom economic logic played a very lowly second fiddle to promoting (even if fallaciously) the idea of sustaining "her" voters in their aspirations.  Lawson, equally keen to scrap the subsidy, decided it wasn't on, while privately decrying it.  When, at length, he found the bottle to reform just one aspect of this nonsense, he screwed it up tactically by delaying its introduction after the announcement, causing exactly the baleful impact on house prices that theory indicated it would. 

I'd be interested to see an authoritative list of what enduring economic reforms his many admirers would claim for him.  My starter towards this little project: he played an important strategic role in defeating Scargill's epic strike of '84-85, both before and during.  That's not a small achievement: before Scargill was so soundly defeated the whole of the Left in the UK intuitively felt that Thatcher's regime was only there on sufferance: "Just wait till the miners go out ...". 

Other candidates for the list of achievements?  He certainly played a modest part in opening up the energy markets to competition, starting from the dreadful monopoly arrangements then in place.  But even on that he was half-hearted, despite being wholly persuaded intellectually of the merits of this long overdue measure.  It wasn't until John Major's often derided regime that serious progress was made, with a degree of success that made Lawson's (and Peter Walker's) efforts look like very uncertain baby steps.  A genuinely confident heavyweight proponent of free markets in his position could have moved much farther and faster. 

Feel free to add to this equivocal story BTL !