Friday, April 25, 2008

Larne -- twinned with Sangatte?

Now, here's a curious thing, for some hours featured as the main item of Scottish news on the BBC national news portal:
Police have caught more than 1,000 people later identified as illegal immigrants at ports in south west Scotland over the past four years.
Numbers of foreign nationals detained at Stranraer and Cairnryan have more than doubled between 2004 and 2007.
Crimes including people trafficking for the sex trade have also been detected.
The numbers cited are:
2004 - 117
2005 - 304
2006 - 327
2007 - 259
Total - 1,007
This would seem to be prompted by a press-release from the Dumfries and Galloway Constabulary.

The last occasion this was kicked around, to Malcolm's casual notice, was back in June 2003. Peter Duncan (then the only Tory MP in Scotland) put up a parliamentary question about immigration officers attending at Stranraer/Cairnryan.

The formulaic answer was:
1 January 2000–31 December 2000 Immigration Officers attended the Port of Stranraer on 56 occasions during this period (two Officers each time).
1 January 2001–31 December 2001 Immigration Officers attended the Port of Stranraer on 131 occasions during this period (two Officers each time).
1 January 2002–31 December 2002 Immigration Officers attended the Port of Stranraer on 215 occasions during this period (two Officers each time).
Peter Duncan lost his seat, in large part through redistribution, at the last General Election. One might speculate whether his question was one of constituency interest alone, or was a foreshadowing of Michael Howard's "dog-whistle" campaign on immigration. Malcolm would point, in passing, to an incisive post-mortem on Howard's strategy and leadership, courtesy of conservativehome. The present incumbent in that neck of the woods, Russell Brown, seems a down-the-line Labour loyalist, and a bag-carrier for Des Browne.

So, while there may be a historical trend for the SW Scotland short-sea-route becoming a port-of-entry for illegals, there is no major up-tick in recent years. In other words, as a news-item it can be "spun" either way.

The other questions remain:
  • why are the Poliss putting up a statement now?
More to the point,
  • why are the Beeb picking it up, and featuring it on the national news-portal as the single Scottish story of interest -- above the Grangemouth refinery kerfuffle -- on the "Around the UK now" listing?
And, above all,
  • why did the Beeb switch to a more sensational headline? —
Port immigration offences surge
— particularly as the increase from 215 in 2002 to 259 in 2007 (assuming some degree of comparability) hardly qualifies as a "surge". Indeed, if one changes the base-dateline for the comparison, the story falls flat on its face.

As far as Malcolm can see, the native Scottish press have not yet reported on this as a significant topic.

One final thought.

Something has changed.

From 4 April this year, we have the new UK Border Agency:
Border, immigration, customs and visa checks will be united from today in the country's new UK Border Agency, the Home Office has announced.

The new UK Border Agency, established as a shadow agency of the Home Office, will protect our borders, control migration for the benefit of the country, prevent border tax fraud, smuggling and immigration crime and implement quick and fair decisions.
That raises questions about the UK's land border, that with the Irish Republic.

Back last 12th November, the Irish Times did a major piece (and editorial) on the implications of how the higher UK standards of passport control would impact on the common travel area between Ireland and the UK. Since the border with Northern Ireland always has been unenforceable, that suggests UK citizens in Northern Ireland might be subjected to passport control at a point-of-entry into Great Britain.

Ummm ... Sphere: Related Content

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

What is it about YouGov?

It claims to be one of the leading polling organisations, and has made huge profits for its founders. Perhaps that is because of canny knack of "discovering" just what its clients expect.

So we come to its polling for the Evening Standard on the London mayoral election. Over recent weeks, YouGov has been able to play to the Standard's Kenophobia by showing vast leads for the Tory candidate. A month ago, after calculating second preferences, the gap was an astounding 14 percentage points: 57-43. Then, a fortnight ago, it was still 12: 56-44. Suddenly, a week back, it was down to eight: 54-46. Now, it has eroded to just six points: 53-47. Recently, that lead has been eroding, until, now, with just a week to go, the gap is more credible:
Johnson (Con) 44% (Down 1)
Livingstone (Lab) 37% (Down 2)
Brian Paddick (LibDem) 12% (Up 2)
Sian Berry (Green Party) 2% (Unchanged)
Others 3%
What is missing here (and, moreover, it is a telephone poll) is a confidence indicator. The Standard article does not give one, and -- more surprisingly -- nor does the YouGov source document seem to. Let us assume, however, that it is a 3% margin of error -- and in view of the sudden shifts in this poll's recent history, that has to be a valid assumption (either that, or the poll respondents are playing funny buggers). So that means the Tory candidate may lead by a stupendous 13% (which would suggest the earlier polls were correct), or by as little as 1% (which is in line with what the Guardian-ICM poll said earlier this month). That is also the finding of this week's Mruk Cello poll for the Sunday Times.

More pertinently, perhaps, Andrew Rawnsley does a piece on Politicshome. This derives from a weekly tracker poll, PH100, using a panel of 100 political insiders. So watch this:
Rawnsley's comment:
If the gap between the contenders continues to narrow along this trend, the Boris and Ken lines will roughly meet each other on May 1st. That, of course, just happens to be election day in London. This could be a nail-biter.
And Malcolm's view?

It says a lot about the "sophisticated" London political scene that we are stuck with two "chancers" as the only credible candidates. Two of the also-rans, Brian Paddick and Siân Berry, seem at least house-trained. Both are refuges for a conscience-vote, knowing that it will all come down to second-preferences.

At the last, though, it is not a hard decision. Malcolm is repelled by the serial adulterer, the man who was sacked from his Party's Front Bench, not because of his affairs, but because he blatantly lied about them. How can we take seriously a paltroon, who regards emotion that a 62-year-old man (Ken Bigley) is beheaded by an Iraqi death-squad, as "mawkish sentimentality"? What do you call a man who repeatedly betrays his wife, impregnates his girl-friend after lying to her about marriage, then talks her into an abortion? And is exposed for it by the girl-friend's society-lady mother in the London scandal-sheets and even the Daily Telegraph? How is referring to "piccaninnies" with "water-melon smiles" not racist? It's certainly racist enough to win the fascist BNP vote.

Pass the sick bag, Alice.

So Malcolm's vote will tally for Ken Livingstone next week. Sphere: Related Content

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Three things collide
in the curious demi-monde that is Malcolm's mind.

Here's one, from the New York Times Editorial Board blog today:

The nonprofit History News Network is reporting that in an informal survey of 109 historians, 98.2 percent considered President George W. Bush’s presidency to be a failure, while 1.8 percent called it a success.

On the question of whether he is the worst president in history, there was greater difference of opinion: 61 percent said he was, while others disagreed or are withholding their opinions. (The survey also made clear that James Buchanan has some work to do rehabilitating his whole catapulted-the-nation-into-Civil-War reputation.)

The corollary from that is:
We’d be interested in knowing more about the 1.8 percent of historians who regard this presidency as a success.
Of course there's more than a degree of nonsense in any of these self-serving academic polls. Yet that provokes the second thought.

Not too long ago Malcolm had, for reasons of putting bread on the table as well as financing a serious wine habit, to toil daily at the chalk-face. He was once given (by an "expert") an explanation of classroom misbehaviour. It is that, at any given time, about one person in twenty could be diagnosed as clinically-insane.

So just 1.8% beats that generalisation.

Curiously, and this is the third thought, that's about the same percentage as the Britons who, even in the depths of the Second World War, could not name their Prime Minister.

So, let's hear it for James Buchanan, finally released from his wooden-spoon ranking as the the "worst" President. At least he could have told Dubya one Pennsylvanian home-truth:

What is right
and what is practicable
are two different things. Sphere: Related Content

Monday, April 14, 2008

Why is this Malcolm's comment on today in Northern Ireland?
Sphere: Related Content

Friday, April 11, 2008

It's a Boffo! It's Biffo!*

Thursday's Irish Times (pages 1, 7, 8 , 16 and the lead of the letters column on page 17) did more than full homage to the enstoolment of Brian Cowan as the leader of Fianna Fáil.

Malcolm sensed in it something odd, even unpleasant: a deep-felt wish to be past the Ahern years and into something cleaner, more decent, more honourable. Less of the "cute, wee hoor" and more of (as Mark Hennessy's Analysis column started):

a new public face: softly-spoken, gentle, statesmanlike, but quietly tough.

That piece continues with another fair evaluation:

Though he has been left a united party by Ahern, Cowan faces major troubles on the economy, unemployment, the Lisbon Treaty and, crucially, the sclerotic public services.

In passing, Malcolm wryly wonders whether a Dublin-based journalist would recognise a "disunited" Fianna Fáil. It is, after all, and consciously so more of a successor to its revolutionary origins than a political party on the British or American patterns. There is a strong, even bone-headed loyalty to the Leader of the Army of Destiny, through thick and thin.

As usual, Martyn Turner (Malcolm's favourite political cartoonist) said it all neatly and succinctly (see above).

Cowan's fate is not entirely in his and his Party's hands. The glory years of celtic tigerdom may have passed for good.

As a context, “Charlemagne”, the regular comment column on Europe, in today’s issue of the Economist should be essential reading. It runs (with its apposite graphic) under the heading:

Danger ahead for the mighty euro

Typical points (all cut-and-pasted plagiarisms):

  • the outlook for the euro area seems to be deteriorating a lot faster than the optimists had expected.
  • inflation has picked up to 3.5%—the highest in the euro’s nine-year existence. Troubles in the region’s two biggest export markets—recession in America and slowdown in Britain—are starting to bite.
  • A weaker dollar is driving an American export boom; a stronger euro is likely to have the opposite effect in Europe. Mr Almunia ["the engaging European economics commissioner"] says the euro is “overvalued” and adds that, although the impact has been moderate so far, “we are at the limits, if not beyond them.” It is a delusion to suppose that euro-area exports can continue to barrel on regardless of their cost.
  • Europe may have avoided the American subprime mess, but in several countries house prices have been even bubblier than in America. They are already falling in Spain and Ireland, and, beyond the euro zone, are starting to do so in Britain. A property bust may not produce an American-style mortgage meltdown, but it will surely topple economies heavily dependent on construction (which accounts for 15% or more of Spanish and Irish GDP, for example).

Hidden in that article are two further comments that are particularly relevant to Ireland:

  • some countries have adapted a lot better to the discipline of the euro than others. Germany and the Netherlands have cut labour costs and introduced enough reforms to make their economies more competitive. France, Spain and especially Italy have done less—and are suffering more, from both the euro's rise and the global slowdown.
  • To qualify for the euro in the late 1990s, countries such as Italy and Spain had to make swingeing fiscal and structural adjustments. Yet by shielding weaker countries from a currency crisis, the euro now relieves much of the pressure on them to keep up reforms. In fact, these are more essential than ever now that countries have lost the option of devaluing their currencies to regain competitiveness and offset relatively slow productivity growth.

"Charlemagne" has a conclusion to this well-argued and finely-written piece:

the euro is about to show the world that it is not yet an optimal currency area — and the demonstration may not be a pretty one.

To which, in the context of Ireland, must be added:

  • Yesterday’s Irish Times front page news about unemployment: now 200,000, up 12,000 in the last month alone (that's the cost of a booming economy based on construction for the residential market).
  • Nor should we lightly pass over today’s front page side-bar item about Unions getting restless about 5% inflation.

Yes: Euro-area inflation at 3.5%, but in the RoI at 5%. Growth down to 1.8% and that's with all fingers crossed. No control over interest ECB rates: only two clubs left in the golf-bag: taxation and public expenditure (those "sclerotic public services").

Welcome to the dog-house, Mr Cowan: it’ll be you they blame.

*Pity if the "Biffo" tag sticks. It is, as is well-known, an acronym for "big ignorant fucker from Offaly".

Sphere: Related Content

Thursday, April 10, 2008

How the Brown Bear has the last laugh

In the High and Far-Off Times, O Best Beloved, when the world was young, the Great She Elephant ran our bit of the jungle. There was a blond giant called Hez-el-Tine, (though others called him Tar-Zan because of his hair and the way he swung sticks around).

The Great She Elephant and her friends like Hez-el-Tine wanted to be nice to the Sow-dees because they had great heaps of gold and lots and lots of oil ...

You can read the rest of this enthralling tale at:
Sphere: Related Content

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Over at
Malcolm Redfellow's Home Service
Malcolm waxes loud and lyrical about
  • the Daily Mail,
  • 1930s fascism, and
  • the continuing moral blindness of the British press.

Among other targets.

Sphere: Related Content

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

3 a.m. fantasy
I've seen the lights go out on Broadway
I saw the Empire State laid low.
And life went on beyond the Palisades, ...

We held a concert out in Brooklyn
To watch the Island bridges blow...
The worst way to celebrate a birthday is to finish the bottle, with music and Brie.

In the early hours, the mind is wide awake, and speculative...


The time came when the capitalist world was fully wired. We all had instant messaging, super-Blackberries, iPhones Mk 3. We no longer needed to go into the office.

We no longer needed an office.

What we were not prepared for was the suddenness of it all. There was this "tipping point"; and that was it.

Rents in the central business zones collapsed. A brief flurry of converting the buildings to hôtels and "loft"-apartments was too late: the life and purposes had gone out of the city-centres, and with it the need for accommodating the drones of capitalism. Very soon, the tourists tired of the tattiness and tackyness that was left behind. The notion of visiting "attractions" seemed very passé, and -- the ultimate dismissal -- very "Twentieth Century".

The city authorities were no longer afford to maintain the infra-structures. Power was cut off. For a while, litter blew along the concrete canyons. Then the weeds took hold. Soon after that, bits began to fall off: the streets and avenues were no longer safe. A final patrol prowled the neighbourhood, left, and locked the gates behind them. Behind the barricades, silence took over, broken by the rumble of a building surrendering to neglect and decay.

Outside, life went on, happier and more compact. Suburbs became interlocking villages. Villages and small towns flourished.

We became content with our lot, and stayed put upon it. Joyce had claimed that, if Dublin were destroyed, it could be recreated from his books. Virtual reality drama did just that: at the touch of a remote-control, it could be June 16, 1904 any day, anywhere. If we wanted to see Venice, we could be guided aboard a Vaparetto by Francesco da Mosto, or walk the sestieri with fictional Guido Brunetti. No smells, no mosquitos, no hordes of tourists, from the comfort of one's own sofa.

In consequence, something else, something quite astonishing happened. Energy consumption dropped. We no longer needed the huge electricity plants that had lit, warmed and driven the megalopolis. The robotic factories, which replaced manual labour, provided for our needs, more efficiently, more accurately, more humanely even, than before.

Nor was there mass unemployment. Two main industries took up the spare capacity: health-and-welfare, education-and-leisure.

In another way, time went into reverse.

There was a second agricultural, or rather horticultural revolution. Small-holding and gardening became something more than a hobby. The village market-day returned, selling (or, more frequently, bartering) surplus to ready buyers. People had time for society and a social circle. Others opted to retreat further into the depths of a quieter, boskier countryside. With e-communication the norm, that was not isolation, except by choice, however.

Conservation gave way to frugality, as a philosophy of make-do-and-mend became something of an art-form. The scent of wood-smoke became universal, as copses were systematically harvested as part of the new order. Domestic appliances and cars achieved new longevities, into their second or third decade, cosseted by the local Jane-and-Jim repair shops (another of those many craft industries that sprang up). If all else failed, another Jane-and-Jim ran Rent-a-Wreck to keep you going while heavy repairs and rebuilds happened.

Cars were frequently cannibalised, or were repaired from the scrap-yard. It became a badge of honour not to repaint, so multi-coloured bodywork became the norm, rust-brown the favoured tone. Other forms of transport proliferated: the bicycle, even the pony-and-trap. After all, when horizons shrank to the local townland, what more was necessary? The one constant was the Jack Russell or the lolloping Labrador in the back seat.

It would take longer for the "global-warming" effect to reverse, but the indicators were positive. Populations gently aged and declined.

The western world had passed into a fourth phase. From basic survival to the age of exploration and discovery. Then to hectic industrialisation and the urban lifestyle. And now to a new phase of individualism and self-awareness. Development became something internal and personal. Mental health improved dramatically, alongside a whirl of local involvement, spiritual and intellectual life. Children were cherished.

So, was it all better? More comfortable, less fraught, certainly. More balanced. Even more human and humane. Sphere: Related Content
Subscribe with Bloglines International Affairs Blogs - BlogCatalog Blog Directory
Add to Technorati Favorites