Friday, 28 August 2015

Lords for the Lords?

There seems to be a consensus of opinion across the spectrum that the Lords isn't working. For every dedicated peer giving time and effort to scrutinising and revising the minutae of legislation there are ten getting pissed on subsidised public booze in the UK's most expensive private club. Spivs, crooks, dags, dead-beats and losers; life peers, of course. Drawing a per diem allowance every time they turn up to lunch. So what are the options?

If we need a second chamber - and we do - it must be rather smaller, of no more than 200. Making it an elected chamber creates huge problems of democratic rivalry with the Commons - which is the more legitimate? So it really needs to be an unelected chamber.

However, leaving membership appointments up to serving politicians means they will stuff it full of the drongos, dags and failures with whom it's currently stuffed; we need a way of getting 200 random, non-partisan peers dedicated to good legislating and not afraid of standing up to the government when necessary; men and women of honour, virtue and valour.

Life peers are a poor-doing lot. You'd need to mince a good score of 'em to get an ounce of virtue. So how about restricting membership of the Lords to, erm, hereditary peers? They owe the government nothing, usually have a real diversity of life experience before they change their name (forget the Woodhouse stereotypes - think Keith Rous, a successful Australian sheep farmer who became the earl of Stradbroke, telling villagers at his local pub to 'call me Keith' ) and are generally both independent and bloody minded.  

Add to this a revival of the practice of elevating truly exceptional individuals sans reproche to hereditary viscountcies or earldoms (perhaps not even one each year, and Willie Whitelaw wouldn't really make the grade) and our most outstanding contributors to national life would be recognised and augment and refresh the peer-pool. 

Thursday, 27 August 2015

The blasted Prince of Wales gets everywhere ...

It was several years ago now in Krakow, taking an early evening wander from my hotel to the studenty bars of the Kazimierz, that I noticed an English-language plaque on the gateposts of an attractive period house next to the surviving synagogue on Miodowa. It was, naturally, the Prince of Wales' foundation for something - arts, architecture whatever. I expect there's one in every city in Europe; the Crown Prince, in between visits to the dressing-up box at home, is an inveterate private European traveller. He has a cottage in Transylvania and no doubt a modest castle on the Rhine. Good on him. In promoting his view of what's truly sustainable and what's not I'm very much on his wavelength - as is Adam Aldridge, as Archers listeners may be aware. 

Whilst modern agribusiness scoffed at Bulgaria's horse drawn carts, small mixed farms and market gardens, subsistence smallholdings, hens in every yard and so on, wiser minds now realise that such methods may not create profitable agri-exports but neither do they devastate the land and soil. Turning 50 small farms into a vast perpetual Rape field worked by a single gigantic 12 foot high tractor and chemically dosed with food and poisons doesn't provide great employment possibilities, either. 

And just as Heineken is busy acquiring not breweries but water sources across Europe, the global corporates and insurance funds are busy creating agrifactories on the borders of Europe. Last week we had a delivery from Trieste; the wagon was registered in Serbia, the driver was Montenegran and for the three days the trip had taken him he was paid €30 a day. We were charged  around 25x his total wedge for the transport element. It was more than he could have made at home.

So it's hardly surprising that a third of all asylum seekers reaching Germany now come from Serbia, Albania and Kosovo - fleeing not war or persecution but relative poverty. Thanks to China's industrial revolution, even the poorest corners of Europe now have 3G wireless communication, satellite receivers, LCD screens and access to the interweb; they can see that they wear exactly the same jeans, trainers and hoodies as their counterparts in London, Paris and Berlin and thus are illusions of difference and distance dispersed. Exchanging their €10 a day for our casual labour €100 a day is just a short coach-trip away, and no barriers at all with an EU passport. 

And, with sympathy to those in Lincolnshire, Peterborough, Hull or similar, I see nothing wrong in having this freedom of movement within Europe - to work and earn that is, not to chase child benefit. In return the NHS could save billions by flying-out all routine surgery patients to Romania, Croatia or Hungary - it seems reasonable to me that in future one should pay to stay in the UK for a bunion op or a hernia procedure, a new hip or a breast reduction. Terminal Alzheimers sufferers can be cared for in Wroclaw or Poznan just as humanely as in Newcastle or Chester, but for a fraction of the cost. Making sure that everything we do creates sustainable local employment in Eastern Europe is the only way we'll slow the vast numbers heading here from Europe.

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Thank goodness Juncker is so deeply stupid

There was a howl of anguish from the EU's unelected senior official, Herr Juncker, yesterday at the suggestion that Europe's nations might once again man their borders. The Brussels federast lost no time in contacting the democratically elected governments of the Shengen nations begging them to preserve the embryonic federal empire in its borderless state.

 However, it is the immediate and compelling pressure from Europe's voters on their elected governments that will determine this issue. The EU's notion of quotas is arrant nonsense akin to herding cats; you may transport migrants around a borderless Europe but like water they will flow back. And the 'let's all have a big hug' cretins in Europe's own populations who advocate allowing the entire third world in are so out of touch with popular feeling that they probably still think Blair is a force for good. 

Juncker is simply too stupid to realise that the EU can survive the return of certain borders, particularly those between the richer and poorer EU nations. Austria would dearly love to exclude Roma and Sinti more effectively, Hungary to restrict Bulgarians and so on. Borders between Austria and Germany,  France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg and so on are far less critical. This is a good opportunity to 'tweak' Shengen without giving too much offence to the less desirable neighbours.   

But I doubt Juncker will see it this way; like many zealots his mind may simply be too inflexible. Which will encourage national action in defiance of Brussels - or widen the cracks already apparent. 

Monday, 24 August 2015

Making money from the migrants

Der Krone reports today on the extent to which the 'informal' Greek economy is taking advantage of the millions of economic migrants headed to Europe from Africa and Asia Minor. Fake papers to identify the migrants as Syrians rather than Pakistanis, Iraqis or north Africans cost about €150; these will get you free passage to Athens. From here a taxi to the Macedonian border - for a train to Serbia and onto Austria or Germany - is another €35, or for the affluent migrant the going rate to Germany itself is €500. 

The Turks, who have no reason to want to keep the migrants, make sure their naval vessels in Bodrum are 'blind' to the fleets of RIBs openly leaving the port for Kos. None are ever stopped. 

And Greek strawberry farmers are making good use of the cheap labour, too; €10 to €20 a day that undercuts already stressed Greek workers. You can't buck the markets. 

Sellers of SIM cards, cheap mobiles and of course provisions and comestibles are also making considerable sums from the migrants - as are sellers of cheap lifejackets in Turkey. 

But by far the lion's share of money to be made from the migrants goes to the people smugglers, the Thomas Cooks of the migrant world, who offer an all-in package from Karachi to Bradford, often paid for with money sent by Western Union from the UK.  

And of course with borders open between the Med and the Channel, with the migrants come drugs and weapons ...

Sunday, 23 August 2015

Amnesty gives Austria only 2 stars for migrant facilities

The Austrian hospitality sector was left reeling this week after Amnesty International only awarded the little country 2 stars for its migrant facilities, based on an assessment of accommodation in the province of Lower Austria. The rating agency's criticisms included;
  • Lack of air-conditioning in temperatures of over 30deg
  • No professional counselling for migrants
  • Women have to use the same showers as the men (though at different times)
  • The Austrians were not cleaning the migrants' toilets rigorously enough
  • Austrian medics were concentrating in screening for parasites, infestations and infectious diseases and not providing more complex and longer term medical care for chronic conditions
  • Migrant children had inadequate access to social workers 
Head of Amnesty Austria, Heinz Patzelt, said "What we found is totally scandalous ... because human rights are being violated there massively for no reason".