Showing posts from July, 2009

Blogging break

If I'm honest July has been rather patchy in terms of traffic in any case, so it's an appropriate time to take a break. I'm off to France, Brittany to be exact, and I'd be very surprised if I find the time to post anything. Comment moderation will shortly be operating, purely because of the enormous quantities of bile and rubbish which have surfaced over the past couple of months.

Britishness entails participation

This is a piece which I wrote for another source prior to the twelfth. It wasn't used, so I reproduce it here.

Ostensibly David Cameron should be reassured by the pageantry scheduled to take place in Northern Ireland over the forthcoming holiday weekend. By striking a deal with Ulster Unionists the Conservative leader has asked people here to express their Britishness through participation in national politics.

With the province’s popular public holiday consisting of demonstrations which affirm the Union and celebrate foundational constitutional events in the UK’s history, Cameron’s appeal should find, ready made, a large and receptive constituency. But despite the fact that our place within the United Kingdom is now settled, and despite the fact that an incoming Tory government will strive to normalise our position further, Northern Ireland retains a contradictory attitude to national British politics.

Since Gladstone introduced the first Home Rule bill in the 1880s, Irish unio…

Conservative win in Norwich keeps Tory hopes up

Nick Robinson has had to row back from his initial implication that the Conservatives were struggling to victory in the Norwich by election. The BBC’s political correspondent speculated that the Tories would fall far short of the 17% swing which saw them win in Crewe and Nantwich and insinuated that even an election winning target of 6.9% might be beyond the party. The final result actually brought a 16.5% move towards the Conservative candidate, Chloe Smith. She took the seat with a comfortable 7,348 majority.

David Cameron and his team will be delighted with the outcome, which comes at a time when some commentators have suggested that the Tories have lost momentum. Labour’s collapse might well partly be ascribed to the unpopular deselection of sitting MP, Ian Gibson, but even so, its share of the vote disintegrated dramatically, from forty four to eighteen per cent. This is yet another indication that Gordon Brown’s government is irreparably damaged in the eyes of voters.

And t…

Scotsman exclusive: Colours are sectarian

You can tell the ‘silly season’ is almost upon us, because the Scotsman is reporting fascinating news that some kerb stones in Larkhall were painted red, white and blue. The paper informs us that this horror was perpetrated by a ‘sectarian girl gang’. Now I have no doubt that their actions comprise a wanton piece of vandalism and all the details in the piece suggest that some underlying sectarianism might motivate the youths in question, but the paper simply hasn’t mentioned circumstances that justify using the word in the article.

We are told that this “is the latest example of sectarian behaviour in the Lanarkshire town known for its over-enthusiastic support of Rangers Football Club and the Queen”. Now I loathe both members of the ‘Old Firm’, I’m a bit of a sceptic as regards our Royal family and I deplore illegal graffiti, so I’m not going to defend the town or its inhabitants on any of the above counts. But are the above components really defining indicators, or corroborating …

Election count number 2. Kyrgyzstan. Slightly more contentious.

Norwich North is not the only election count taking place this morning. In Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, 25% of votes cast in the country’s presidential election have already been counted.

In the East Anglian parliamentary constituency, it is expected that the Conservative candidate will win with comparative ease. The current Kyrgyz president, Kurmanbek Bakiyev, will certainly be returned with a thumping, improbable majority. In Norfolk Labour’s candidate was confined to bed with swine flu during the final days of the campaign. In Kyrgyzstan Bakiyev’s main rival, Almazbek Atambaev, withdrew from the election on Thursday, claiming fraud.

The country’s central election commission has announced that the President has won 87.7 per cent of the vote so far. In contrast Atambaev, who has already denounced the poll as a fraud, has taken roughly 5% of the counted ballots. Other candidates’ tallies are negligible.

The opposition claimed yesterday that widespread violations have taken place, in…

Andrew Sparrow blogs Norwich North count live

To judge from Question Time last night the Norwich North public are a little angry at being asked to vote at all. However it looks odds on that 27 year old candidate Chloe Smith will take the seat from Labour for the Conservatives. The count is taking place this morning and you can follow the action at the Guardian Politics blog where Orwell shortlistee Andrew Sparrow is updating one of his patented live posts.

Report urges new international strategy on Georgia

The Foreign Policy Centre has published a pamphlet entitled ‘Spotlight on Georgia’, timed to coincide with Vice President Biden’s visit to Tbilisi, this week. It is a substantial document and I have yet to plough through all of it. What is clear from my reading so far is that the influential British think tank’s investigations have charted a decline in standards of democracy and human rights under President Saakashvili, despite Western support which is often ‘almost reflexive’.

From the 2003 Rose Revolution, and promising beginnings, degeneration in standards has been discerned in recent years, particularly since 2007. Saakashvili’s autocratic style has precipitated a pool of disgruntled politicians prepared to challenge his regime. Opposition has been suppressed, often by violent methods and press freedoms have been curtailed. In its ‘Nations in Transition’ report Freedom House adjudged Georgia to be ‘less democratic’ today than it has been at any point in the last ten years.

The …

Hague's foreign policy speech outlines the right approach, but the test will be implementation.

Yesterday William Hague delivered a speech to the International Institute of Strategic Studies describing the contours which a Conservative government’s foreign policy would follow. The shadow foreign minister gave the clearest indication to date that his party intends to renounce the interventionism which Labour has practised during its time in office. Existing undertakings in Afghanistan will be honoured, although the strategy there must be reviewed. But the Conservatives will develop their foreign policy around a realist core, making future military entanglements less likely. Significantly, Hague’s address suggests that, whilst Britain should continue to emphasise commitment to democracy and human rights in its relationships with other countries, the proselytising style favoured by David Miliband and other government figures will be replaced by respectful engagement.

It is a speech which will delight advocates of a more cautious and sceptical foreign policy. And it is a speec…

If the UDA cared about 'communities' it would go away.

Observers are wondering what exactly is happening within the UDA. Reports suggest that a split has developed between the paramilitary organisation’s north Antrim / County Londonderry members and those who belong to an ‘inner council’ based in Belfast. Last Thursday night, in the Waterside area of Derry, a ‘spontaneous’ march is said to have taken place organised by the ‘Ulster Political Research Group’ in the area.

The UPRG is considered either to be the ‘political wing’ of the UDA, or ‘closely connected’ to the terrorists, depending on the degree of Orwellian language that you are prepared to tolerate. Whichever description one favours, no political representatives have been elected under the group’s auspices.

It is widely supposed that the Belfast based UDA leadership is prepared to destroy its remaining illegally held weapons, whilst in north Antrim and County Londonderry, pivotal figures do not wish to disarm. Whether that disagreement has sprung from the implication, by some …

Conservatives force climbdown on Common Travel Area.

In the teeth of Conservative and Ulster Unionist opposition the government has been forced to postpone its plans to scrap the Common Travel Area between Ireland and mainland Britain. Immigration Minister, Phil Woolas, indicated that whilst the pertinent clause, which formed part of the Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Bill, would not be forced through by Labour, the party will not change its position on the CTA for the long term.

So although the people of these islands will be spared passport checks and other inconvenient and impractical measures, thanks to steadfast Conservative and Unionist opposition, the government remains committed in principle to their instigation. Resisting Labour on this issue remains a rolling imperative, and in today’s Belfast Telegraph Shadow Northern Ireland Secretary, Owen Paterson, explains the matter’s special relevance to the province and the manner in which integrated political involvement at Westminster can allow voters here a real say in nati…

"It isn't so much the repetition of these inanities that is so profoundly depressing..."

Regular commenter Gary has kindly sent me a link to John-Paul McCarthy’s article, in the Irish Independent, which offers a savage assessment of Gerry Adams ‘unity’ rhetoric.

“It isn't so much the repetition of these inanities that is so profoundly depressing, so much as the deep intellectual and emotional vacuity that lies at the heart of the non-analysis here.”

McCarthy unpicks the latest buzzwords to discover an ideology which has changed little since 1920. It is worth reading the piece in its entirety, if only to enjoy its author’s Sopranos inspired flourish. But perhaps its most telling passage examines the tangential role which Adams’ fantasies accord the pro-Union majority.
“The article once again emphasises "British policy" as the "key to unlocking the potential for this change to occur", and his references to Britain's "colonial past" are simply a coded way of denying the democratic basis of the unionist desire to go their own way in 1920…

Estemirova report by Newsy

Tesco the 'choice architect'. Arrrrgghhhhh!

I approached Thaler and Sunstein’s modish book ‘Nudge’ with trepidation. I nearly chose not to continue past the odious epithet ‘choice architect’ which appeared in its opening pages. And it would be misleading to imply that I didn’t almost chew through the insides of my face on a couple of occasions when the co-authors’ references to themselves in the third person became too frequent to bear. Yet, my oceanic reserves of irritability aside, I found the work to be animated by a well argued, worthwhile premise and its central thesis was, I acknowledge, communicated clearly.

The book does impart to its readers a curse which endures months after the volume itself has been consigned to the bookshelf. I’d be surprised if anyone has yet managed to read it without finding themselves impelled to identify and categorise any number of ‘nudges’ which suddenly manifest themselves in various political and commercial situations. My suspicion, in this regard, has been substantiated by Rob Greenla…

Kadyrov - the path of least resistance? Does Moscow really control Chechnya?

Sean’s Russia Blog is one of the best English language sites featuring comment on Russia. It carries a balanced assessment of the Estemirova murder and examines exactly what it tells us about Moscow’s relationship with Russia’s southern reaches, and the nature of stability in Chechnya. Sean suggests that the most significant aspect of this incident is not Kadyrov’s involvement (or lack of it), but rather the flimsy nature of law and order in the region, which the killing exposes. The long arm of the Kremlin retains only a loose grip on its troubled Caucasian republics, any perception of Chechnya and Ingushetia as predominately peaceful is largely misplaced, and Kadyrov is a symptom of the disease of lawlessness, rather than its root cause.

When Memorial chairman, Oleg Orlov, declared, “I know, I am sure of it, who is guilty for the murder of Natalia. His name is Ramzan Kadyrov”, in the aftermath of Estimrova’s death, the world’s media interpreted his statement as a direct accusati…

Murder puts strain on moral compromises which maintain order in Chechnya

In the wake of Natalia Estemirova’s murder in Chechnya, Dmitry Medvedev has rubbished suggestions that Ramzan Kadyrov, the region’s president, sanctioned her killing. Although, ostensibly, it is possible that the Memorial activist was abducted by a group which was not linked to the Chechen authorities, the incident will raise more questions about the methods by which Kadyrov has stabilised the Russian republic.

After the last campaign in Chechnya the Kremlin’s pressing priority was to restore order without expending needlessly the lives of more Russian soldiers. Clearly Kadyrov, with his rapid ascent through government posts and his strong arm tactics, has succeeded in pacifying the republic. There is scarcely any doubt, however, that the thirty two year old is a highly unsavoury character, given to autocratic and violent methods. Knowingly, Vladimir Putin entered into a Faustian pact when he allowed Kadyrov free rein to subdue separatism in Chechnya.

The former rebel, who fought f…

Top UK political blogs poll - it's that time again.

Can it possibly be that time of year already? Iain Dale and Total Politics are taking votes for the UK’s top politics blogs. The idea is that readers email their list, ranked one to ten, to, ensuring that they select no more, or no fewer than ten. Obviously all votes will be gratefully received and it would be great if we could get some of the Northern Irish blogs further up the top 100 than last year. This site came 70th previously and both Unionist Lite and Redemption’s Son made the top 100.

I'd imagine that Burke's Corner and Bobballs will be knocking on the door this year. And one of my favourite new blogs is written by Moscow Tory who focuses mainly on eastern Europe and its politics.

Anyway, I'm prohibited from telling you what my ten nominations will be. So I will therefore suggest merely that Three Thousand Versts voters transfer to preferred pro-Union candidates. Or not, as the case may be!

London 2012 event to hit Northern Ireland

The organisers of London 2012 are keen to encourage a sense of ownership and participation throughout the United Kingdom.

Although the games themselves will be based in the capital, the bid was prepared on the basis that benefits would accrue nationally. Given the quantity of tax payers’ money required to stage a successful Olympics it is necessary that people across the country feel that they are being included in the festivities.

Such is the spirit behind a series of ‘Open Weekends’ which will take place each year, in the run up to the London games, in an attempt to spread an ethos of involvement throughout Britain’s regions. Last month Northern Ireland’s goal-scoring hero, David Healy MBE, launched the local event which will take place in a variety of venues from the 24 – 26 July.

The programme seems varied enough to interest most people. And although it is unclear whether any British Olympic symbols will be displayed, surely this is a weekend with UK wide benefits which even…

NIHRC's 'loyal but dissenting member' likely to be vindicated. Lady Trimble's evidence.

The Northern Ireland Affairs Committee at Westminster has questioned Lady Trimble, NI Human Rights Commissioner, on her note of dissent which was entered after the NIHRC submitted its final report. Lady Trimble describes herself as ‘personally committed to human rights’ and ‘a loyal member’ of the Commission, but remains convinced that the body did not stick to its remit, outlined in the Northern Ireland Act 1998 which implemented the Belfast Agreement. Her opinion is in accordance with comments which the Secretary of State made when he was interrogated by the same committee. Shaun Woodward expressed the view that the NIHRC’s advice went ‘well beyond’ the brief which it was given, a factor which, he implied, compromised the usefulness of its recommendations to the government.

Under questioning Lady Trimble reiterated her stance, clearly referencing the relevant legislation. Section 69 (7) of the Act prescribes the Commission’s role in drafting a report on a prospective bill of hu…

More democracy = less diversity? Cameron's selection headache.

Might David Cameron’s scheme to select Conservative candidates for Westminster through open primaries be incompatible with his aspiration to make the parliamentary party more representative? That’s the implication of Andrew Sparrow’s article on the Guardian politics blog, which cites evidence that women are less likely to succeed when primaries are the method of selection.

The Conservative leader is already committed to trialing the new procedure in the Totnes constituency which, having returned a Tory majority in 2005, must be considered a reasonably safe seat for 2010. But by undertaking to give local people more say in choosing a candidate, is Cameron compromising on diversity?

It is an interesting proposition, but an open postal ballot is being used in Totnes for the first time. Necessarily the research on primaries must be based on a fairly limited number of instances when the process was used, even if open meetings are considered. We’ll have to wait until the method is emp…

Gerry Adams the slow learner

Gerry Adams is not, by anyone’s estimation, a parvenu in the world of Northern Ireland politics. Yet, with all his accumulated years of experience, the Sinn Féin leader talks about unionism as if he had no understanding of the thinking which animates it. Scratch the rhetoric and you’ll find, unalloyed, unqualified, lacking even a veneer of nuance, the old republican assumption that unionists are possessed by some manner of false consciousness. Adams does hint that he is prepared to humour the misapprehension (as he sees it) of 20% of Ireland’s population that it is British, however, at no level has he internalised the lessons of the many years of needless violence in which he participated. Britain’s ‘political presence’ on this island is an extension of the British political identity of a majority of Northern Ireland’s inhabitants. It is almost poignant that a lifetime in politics can leave someone so untouched by any understanding of that which he professes to oppose.

The Provisi…

Sean Russell memorial vandalised

I wouldn't normally condone any form of vandalism, but I have a degree of sympathy with Dubliners railing against a monument to a Nazi collaborator being re-erected in their midst.

Gombeen Man has a rather good post describing why this memorial is so unpopular amongst the public down south. A substantial constituency does not want to be reminded of "the IRA man who colluded with fellow nationalist fanatic Hitler".

Short break

Unless the weather is really terrible this weekend there is unlikely to be any further blogging as I'm off to the north coast. Comment moderation is on because, regrettably, some 'friends' of this site seem unable to stay away.

No gimmicks. Just a constructive approach to Britishness.

I mentioned in a previous piece Tim Montgomerie’s open letter to David Cameron, in which he urged the Conservative leader to place Britishness at the centre of the party’s election campaign. Conservative Home today carries Cameron’s reply. In it he argues that patriotic pride is a bottom up phenomenon, inspired chiefly by providing citizens with something to be proud of.

It is a sound response to Montgomerie’s missive because it rules out the option of entering a ‘flag waving’ contest with Gordon Brown, whilst showing an innate understanding of the civic nature of Britishness, whereby institutions, history and certain common cultural coordinates draw a diverse nation together, rather than race, perceived ethnicity or a narrow prescription of culture.

In the previous article I contrasted the conceptual nature of Brown’s unionism with Cameron’s genuine engagement as regards matters pertaining to the Union. By seeking to secure Northern Ireland’s full participation in national politi…

Newt on the quangocracy.

Newton Emerson has a typically caustic take on the Alliance party’s recent tribunal wrangle with the Equality Commission. David Ford’s former PA had made a series on unfounded allegations of discrimination against her employers.

“Things became messier and murkier as a tribunal panel stepped down rather than hear a medical witness, the Alliance barrister accused the tribunal of bias and Ms Hawkins made demonstrably inaccurate statements. Finally, the case collapsed when the Equality Commission withdrew its financial support, citing an “irretrievable breakdown” with the plaintiff.”

Newt cuts to the quick of the tribunal resignations.

“All three panel members resigned because the chair had “difficulty” with a doctor testifying that Ms Hawkins had exaggerated her claim of disability. This was not because there was any doubt over the doctor’s testimony. It was because the panel did not think anyone claiming to be disabled should be doubted.”

A key point to be determined in the case was wh…

Ethnic murder is ethnic murder despite the context

Rubiya Kadeer is the US based Uighur separatist campaigner whom China has accused of fomenting disturbances in the province. On Sunday ethnic tension spilled over as members of the Turkic speaking minority went on a murderous rampage, with the bulk of 156 victims comprised of Han Chinese. Kadeer describes the violence as ‘a call for freedom and justice’. China has since imposed martial law on Urumqi, where the deadly riots took place.

No doubt the Uighurs of Xinjiang have legitimate grievances against the Chinese government, but a bloody ethnic attack on neighbours should not be allowed to take on the complexion of a second Tiananmen Square. Whether China has an enlightened approach to its minorities or not, it is not helpful to contextualise ethnic mob murder as an outcome of government policy.

Orangefest to be gay but not camp

If two of Northern Ireland’s newspapers are to be believed the Orange Order is sending out contradictory signals about Monday’s parades. The Belfast Telegraph reports that crowds in the city centre will enjoy street entertainment as part of the ‘Orangefest’ celebrations. Iris Robinson will be shocked to learn, however, that one of these acts is to be a ‘Gaiety Engine’ who will be presented by ‘Strangelings’. This revelation seems to sit uneasily with Fionnuala O’Connor’s claim, in her Irish News column, that the Order’s Drew Nelson plans to clamp down on ‘camp followers’.

The Telegraph, vomit and state sovereignty

Nearly a year after Russia intervened to put an end to Georgian military adventurism in South Ossetia the Daily Telegraph is still filling its leaders with condemnation of the Kremlin’s ‘shameful invasion’. It is almost as if the paper does not want to let its readers forget the painfully simplistic editorial line it took when war flared in the Caucasus. It is like a dog leading its owner back to vomit.

Only the most partisan commentators now persist in the illusion that Georgia was blameless last summer. And the Telegraph’s nasty, sneering piece is nothing if not partisan. It lists triumphantly what it perceives to be Russia’s weaknesses, then with jaw dropping condescension claims, ‘we take no pleasure in pointing this out, for the achievements of the Russian people are exceptional: their literature is justifiably renowned and their stubborn heroism was indispensable to the defeat of Hitler’. Those Russkis are a bad lot, but still, soon there’ll be a lot fewer of them and you’v…

Obama need not be firm with Russia, just reasonable and fair.

Barack Obama is in Russia today. Thus a proliferation of articles and editorials urging the US President not to trust perfidious, semi-Asiatic barbarians adorn the newspapers. Predictably.

In contrast, few media outlets chose to cover an assassination attempt last month on reforming Ingushetia president, Yunusbek Yevkurov, which constitutes part of a reinvigorated Islamist campaign in the Russian Caucasus. Encouraged by Dmitri Medvedev, Yevkurov has implemented a regime built on principles of glasnost in Russia’s most dangerous region. The terrorist attack was targeted very deliberately at a force for normalisation and transparency, which Wahhabi militants wish to undermine. Fewer reporters still have highlighted the ongoing struggle for democracy in Georgia and the government’s repressive tactics against the country’s opposition. But with Obama in Moscow to meet his Kremlin counterpart, all the clichés about a totalitarian Russian regime, intent on snuffing out democracy along…

'Born Survivor' grins and Bears it in ireland

Over the weekend a helicopter had to be scrambled to the North Coast after a group of students got into trouble during a Duke of Edinburgh Award expedition. If only they had scheduled their trip a week later they might have avoided any problems (and saved the Republic’s coast guard a pound or two) by watching Bear Grylls guide to surviving in Ireland; screened on Channel 4 on Saturday evening. Conquering the harshest conditions our island can muster, according to Bear, involves stripping half naked in a peat bog and grunting a lot with a dead sheep between one’s legs. Particularly as a Ballymena man, I’d say that seems a small price to pay in order to cuddle up in a stinking, shit encrusted ‘sheeping bag’ for the night.

Would it seem unduly cynical to suggest that Mr Grylls, with all his Special Forces’ experience, made his task seem just a tad more difficult than an unalloyed imperative to survive strictly merited? Let’s face it, he was in Ireland. At any given moment there must …

Gillespie - Hungary for success?

Hungarian is a notoriously difficult language, but I have enough faith in my readers to post this link, in the faint hope that someone might decipher it. From these photos it would certainly appear that flying Northern Ireland winger Keith Gillespie has found himself a new club.

Ferencváros, or Fradi as they are popularly known, are a Budapest team with the biggest support in Hungary. I also gather that they will be playing in the country’s top flight next season after a sojourn in the lower leagues.

Good luck to Keith if he has found himself a new club. Perhaps he might yet don the green shirt of Northern Ireland again, if his performances in this new shade of green are adequate. The talent is still there if the temperament and fitness can be maintained as well.

(H/T Tubby Morton OWC)

Update: Yourcousin has kindly provided this synopsis of the article courtesy of his (Hungarian I assume?) wife:

A little late with this one (as per usual) but my wife read it to me and the article …

IRA's Nazi collaborator's statue unveiled in Dublin.

Given that resisting republican rewrites of history is the topic of my post below here's a rather instructive story about what happens when that imperative is cast aside. Pictured is a memorial in honour of 'Irish republican' Sean Russell which was unveiled last week. The Republic's National Graves Association oversaw its reconstruction, after the original was beheaded.

To fill in some history, whilst the Luftwaffe blitzed English cities during World War 2, the IRA's Chief of Staff launched his own bombing campaign in England. Russell eventually lost his life on a Nazi U Boat. This is what 'countenancing' recent history involves for those unfamiliar with republican doublespeak.

No progressive or thinking person would 'countenance' tolerating such revisionism.

The most constructive future for the Maze is to flatten it

I’m going to defend Sammy Wilson. Everyone please retrieve their jaws from wherever they’re now lying.

The outgoing Environment Minister is investigating whether he can de-list buildings at the site of the ex Maze prison. Amongst republican commentators such talk is presented as extremist posturing by the DUP in an attempt to underline its hardline credentials.

Whatever the party’s motivation, as it seeks to remove protection for unremarkable buildings, in which some convicted terrorists happen to have committed suicide, repugnance at such a place being effectively sanctified is neither a hardline attitude nor an unusual one.

Moving this society forward has required some unpalatable compromises, but what it simply cannot entail is acceptance of history, rewritten to suit the provisional movement. It is thoroughly disgraceful to suggest that IRA terrorists should be memorialised and glorified as a matter of course. All the more so where the proposed celebrations are in high profil…

Leading question disguises unionist intent

The modern Conservative and Unionist Party was conceived as a coalition between Tories and pro-Union Gladstone Liberals. Today the party remains a ‘broad tent’ encompassing a range of opinion. This morning Phillip Blond, writing in Comment is Free, proposes means by which a Conservative government might ‘capitalise’ the poor. His views do not remotely resemble the free market liberalism which other members of the party advocate. I have no doubt that a Conservative government will draw from Blond’s ideas in order to shape the type of ‘One Nation’, socially aware conservatism which the party leader has promised. Equally, there is little prospect that Cameron will set himself the task of reinventing capitalism as a bottom up phenomenon in quite the fashion which Blonde envisages. It is the job of the party leadership to steer the energies of the party as a whole towards a constructive, realisable programme which will translate into successful government.

Which is not to say, of co…

Red Flair - Liverpool to grab new Arshavin?

A quick Premier League transfer snippet. I was aware that Russian Cup winners CSKA’s teen prodigy Alan Dzagoyev had attracted interest from Chelsea. But Ria Novosti believes Liverpool are also chasing ‘the new Arshavin’.

The youngster has played down suggestions that he will leave Moscow this summer, but where there’s a will in football there’s generally a way.

Although it would’ve been better had Benitez’ side made a meaningful attempt to sign the real Arshavin when he left Zenit, perhaps the club’s first Russian player might yet arrive before the new season.

Bring in the clown. New Finance Minister doesn't understand how devolution is funded!

Northern Ireland’s new Finance Minister, Sammy Wilson, has been showing off the grasp of economics which he acquired teaching the subject at Grosvenor High School. Let’s not forget that he was head of department and helped to set some exams.

The East Antrim MP has repeated the DUP’s occasional mantra of ‘Tory cuts’ which, whilst it is echoes a theme developed by Labour leader Gordon Brown, does not quite share the Prime Minister’s intellectual disingenuousness. He is simply lying about his intentions for the economy but the DUP neither knows nor cares about the national picture, as long as Northern Ireland retains the same sized slice of a diminishing pie.

None of which is new or particularly surprising, but Sammy has accompanied his pre-empting of Conservative policy with some ludicrous claims, wonky sums and awe-inspiring ignorance.

Wilson demonstrates his wobbly grasp of Tory pledges by claiming that George Osborne has promised to ‘ring fence’ spending on health and education.…

Smoking ban is rare Labour success. Don't change it.

I notice that a couple of the big Conservative blogs, Dizzy and Iain Dale, have clambered aboard a campaign to amend the smoking ban. The argument is that current legislation is too inflexible and provision should be made for certain exemptions. There is an implication that pubs and clubs especially might choose to operate outside the ban, in order to lure back lost customers.

This type of thinking is obviously attractive to the libertarian strand of Conservatism. Personally I oppose the campaign.

I suspect that the smoking ban’s uncompromising nature has provided the impetus for its success. Without producing hard evidence (although I’m quite prepared to do some research if anyone thinks my contentions are questionable) I’d imagine there are fewer smokers today than there were before the legislation came into force and those who do smoke certainly smoke fewer cigarettes when they are out at bars and restaurants. I am told that medical professionals are already satisfied that the…