Showing posts from 2011

The State Duma elections and their aftermath

A belated word on the State Duma elections in Russia and their aftermath.  United Russia suffered a striking decline in support, managing 49.4% of the vote and scraping an outright majority, though the party lost the constitutional majority of 2/3rds which it previously enjoyed.
The results have attracted a great deal of attention and commentary in the western media for two reasons.  Firstly, the disappointing outcome for United Russia has been interpreted as a sign of growing disillusionment with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and his successor as President, Dmitry Medvedev.
That’s not an unfair thesis.  Putin has acknowledged himself that some voters have taken the opportunity to give their country’s rulers a bloody nose at the polls.  He ascribes this phenomenon to difficult financial circumstances, but there’s also more than likely a growing sense of weariness and resentment at an elite which has dominated politics for 11 years.
It’s still almost inconceivable that Putin could lose t…

Positive case for Britishness as well as the Union

You could be forgiven for missing the poll on Britishness contained in this month’s Prospect Magazine.  It’s buried in a series of articles about the UK’s involvement in the European Union. 
Yougov found that people in England who identify primarily as British are less likely to want to leave the EU, while people who describe themselves first as English are much more likely to want immediate withdrawal. 
It’s hardly a startling revelation that nationalism often coincides with euroscepticism.  More eye-catching is the break-down in the number of people who identify first as British / English.  This survey suggests that over 60% of people in England view themselves primarily as English rather than British.  That compares to just over 40%, as recently as 2008.
Again, you might say it’s hardly surprising in a post-devolution UK, with nationalist politics influential in Cardiff and dominating governments in Edinburgh and Belfast, that Britishness is being eroded.  The extent of that decl…

Nationalism hindering opposition in Belarus

The World Affairs Journal has published a nicely written article by James Kirchick, called ‘The Land of No Applause’.  It’s a sprawling account of modern Belarus and well worth reading.
The author quotes some startling statistics which suggest that popular disillusion with President Lukashenko is spreading and they lead him to the obvious question – why hasn’t a credible opposition emerged in Belarus?
It’s a little disappointing, but at this point Kirchick opts for a traditional answer.  He argues that a viable challenge to the President has not developed because Lukashenko has so effectively suppressed Belarusian national identity.  While that is a tidy enough explanation, I suspect it reflects only one aspect of a more complex situation. 
The President took power in 1994, at a time when the politics of nationality were to the fore in Eastern Europe.  He judged that there was no similar appetite for a nationalist rewrite of identity in Belarus and, it must be said, he appears to ha…

Guest post: Germany resists British calls for greater European integration.

The following is a guest post from itwassammymcnallywhatdoneit. I should point out that all views expressed in guest posts are solely the opinions of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of Three Thousand Versts.

As economic crises rage across the Eurozone, it is still not clear whether we are witnessing the (relative) decline of Western Capitalism and the passing of the prosperity baton to the East (as the Olympic  baton goes in the opposite direction) or just the latest Western adjustment to the fallout from the financial crisis.
The Chinese, sitting pretty on trillions of dollars in foreign reserves responded to being tapped up by an indebted Eurozone by suggesting that "European labour laws induce sloth, indolence rather than hard work." and told the Europeans to get their act together before looking for their help. (The US of A, having recently had its credit rating downgraded was not invited to provide assistance, presumably to spare their blushes.) Last…

Dowie for manager!

I was unsure of who I wanted to succeed Nigel Worthington as Northern Ireland manager, but my mind's now made up.  I give you Mr Iain Dowie esq. and his mission statement. "we need to get some passion back. We can't have players not turning up, then playing for their clubs at the weekend, and we have got to stop the trend of losing so many players to the Republic. If we can do that, anything is possible, as Billy Bingham showed in the 80s. We haven’t been to a major tournament since, and that is something that needs putting right. It's a tough group we are in for the next World Cup, but we really should be able to compete with teams like Israel. We will, if we can get back to making Windsor Park a difficult place to come to on a wet and windy night. That has to be the aim, and it is a realistic one." Well said Mr Dowie Sir!  There's been a lot of technocratic talk about the respective merits of various candidates' CVs.  Let's cut through the nonsense …

Hard-line leaders driving trades union members toward strikes

Following Unison’s strike last month, Nipsa, which represents 45,000 workers across the public sector, is urging its membership to vote ‘yes’ in a ballot, aimed at bringing about industrial action.  
Not only will any further stoppages bring widespread misery, but the vast majority of union members don’t want to strike.  Unison’s walkout was carried on a ballot of just 18% of its membership. 
That’s hardly surprising.  Most employees join a union, simply expecting it to help them if they encounter a problem in the work place, while their leaders are sometimes driven by hard-line politics.  
Where the latest batch of strikes is concerned, unions readily admit that they don’t know the details of public sector job losses which they say are in the pipeline.  Some of those potential redundancies could yet be avoided with a little flexibility where it comes to pay and conditions.  However their stock response is nothing to do with protecting jobs.  They just repeat, “you can’t cut your way ou…

All registered parties will contest State Duma election

Elections to Russia's State Duma will take place on December 4th.  Ria Novosti reports today that all of the registered parties will contest the poll and points out that this is the first time that has happened since 1993.  The Russian ministry of justice provides a list of the contenders.
It includes Pravoye Delo, or Right Cause, the free market friendly group, whose newly appointed leader, Mikhail Prokhorov, was recently ousted.  Other contenders Zyuganov's perennial challengers, the KPR (Russian communists), and another veteran's grouping, the LDPR, led by nationalist rabble-rouser Vladimir Zhirinovsky.
Pollsters were suggesting that United Russia, whose list will be topped by the outgoing President, Dmitry Medvedev, might struggle to retain the 2/3rds majority which it needs to change constitutional law.  Levada's latest suggestion is that voter apathy might help the party to maintain its dominance.

Oh minister, where art thou?

Sinn Fein reps are quite the culture vultures this week, with the notable exception of culture minister Caral Ni Chuilin.   Máirtín Ó Muilleoir is curating an exhibition of ‘political art’ hosted at the Golden Thread Gallery. It includes an offering by Conrad Atkinson (above), which apparently caused controversy back in the 70s, when Protestant museum workers refused to hang the painting at the Ulster Museum.   As it happens, they may have acted on aesthetic rather than sectarian motivations, because, aside from its questionable 'political message', the artwork looks rather like it was painted by a disturbed four year old child.      However all art exhibitions are certainly not equal in Shinner land.  According to the Irish News our so called culture minister has declined an invitation to attend the Royal Ulster Academy’s 130th Annual Exhibition, which gets underway at the Ulster Museum today.  One of its exhibits is a rather striking portrait entitled “Remember Mary Travers”…

Guest Post: Leave our Alain alone

By itwassammymcnallywhatdoneit

As we know well in Northern Ireland, predicting someone’s views on a range of issues doesn't require a crystal ball, just a clue as to their background - their name, the school they attended or their address. Once you have sniffed out those details, you can identify their tribe and you can then have a fair stab at working out what they think.

Of course, tribalism is not just confined to Ulster and tribal loyalties are not always that straightforward. Take Monsieur Alain Rolland for example, born and raised in Ireland but with a French father. For many Welsh rugby fans such continental lineage was proof positive of his preference for the land of his father, Wales's opponents in the rugby world cup semi-final and of course explains his 'outrageous' decision to send off the Welsh captain Sam Warburton.

When England were knocked out of the world cup, by perhaps the bitterest of their many 'old enemies' France, Wales found themselves up a…

Difficult job for new Northern Ireland manager as Worthington era draws to an end.

This blog and Nigel Worthington’s spell as manager of Northern Ireland are about the same age.My first post, way back in May 2007, dealt with the IFA’s search for a replacement for Lawrie Sanchez, who had just taken up an English Premier League job at Fulham.
It’s fair to say that after Worthington took charge, I was quickly a sceptic.As early as 7 June2007, I voiced disillusionment with his tendency to ‘talk down’ players and two months later I asked, for the first (but not for the last) time, ‘is Nigel worthy?’.
Now Worthington has announced his intention to leave the post after his current contract elapses on 31st December. We’ve come full circle and the IFA has to start the search for his successor.
Back in that opening blogpost I expressed the hope that Jim Magilton would end up in the Northern Ireland hot-seat.More than four years later and this time the West Belfast man is the bookmakers’ favourite to take over from Worthington.
If Magilton does get the job he will have a fo…

Russia's presidential saga resolved as Duma election takes a familiar shape.

Last Saturday a lengthy political saga finally came to an end at United Russia’s conference in Moscow.  Dmitry Medvedev and Vladimir Putin announced that the latter will contest next year’s Russian Presidential election.  This resolves the “will he or won’t he” speculation about President Medvedev seeking a second term in office.

There will, of course, be many Russian liberals who see this decision as a fatal blow to Russia’s democracy.  There will also be a chorus of “we told you so”s from commentators hostile to the Kremlin who always maintained that Medvedev’s presidency was a sham.  
Their arguments have some force, but they’re very far from the full picture.  
The President has defended his decision to step aside and let Putin contest the election, observing that the Prime Minister is Russia’s “most authoritative” leader.  
The Russian public has consistently expressed its preference for Putin, ahead of Medvedev, where polls gave a choice between the two men.  Alexei Levinson, f…

You don't learn basic honesty at journalism school.

For months now the Johann Hari affair has gripped the political blogosphere.  The Independent columnist caused consternation when he was caught out embellishing some of his interviews with quotes taken from other sources. 
Now I don’t intend to make any contribution to the highly personalised debate which has taken place for and against Hari.  I didn’t particularly enjoy his columns, but neither did they send me into apoplectic rage.  The most I can say about his writing is that it was highly ideological and as such it had that precocious-but-angry adolescent feel to it.
His interviews, I must admit, I rarely bothered to read.  The Independent may take a great deal of pride in its ‘journalistic integrity’, but it’s by some distance the least read national quality newspaper and it is (let’s be honest) seriously dull. 
Its coverage of the UK regions is frankly shameful and the best that can be said about the re-modelled paper is that it’s dropped those intensely irritating ‘issue’ fr…

Boundary changes in Northern Ireland

If you're one of the chosen few pouring over details of the boundary commission's proposed changes to the electoral map in Northern Ireland, this map will prove useful.  We're set to lose 2 out of our current 18 Westminster constituencies and these are the commission's plans to change the boundaries.

The possible electoral ramifications will keep pundits busy over the coming weeks and months, but a few weird and wonderful geographical / local identity issues will also keep debate boiling.

For instance it's intriguing that the new mid-Antrim constituency will snake out from the coast to encompass Ballymena, as well the East Antrim locale of Larne and Carrickfergus.  Indeed Ballymena town will be separated from outlying villages like Cullybackey and Broughshane, which are part of Ballymena council and undoutbedly part of the same area.

No doubt there will be similar issues elsewhere.  Intriguing.  

Guest Post: Rugby, thuggery, and the judge

A guest post by itwassammymcnallywhatdoneit

Rugby, thuggery, and the judge

Manu Tuilagi is an outstanding rugby player and at 20, he is the youngest of six professional rugby playing brothers.

His 5 older brothers have all represented Samoa, but Manu, having arrived from Samoa at the age of 13, declared for the England senior team having played through the National age grade structures. Season 2010-11 was Manu’s first season in the Aviva Premiership and he almost immediately showed his potential, not only as an outstanding prospect for his club Leicester, but also as a future England international.

In boxing parlance, he weighs in at 17.5 stone and stands 6.1 tall (reach undeclared) and as he proved on the 14th May, when lining out for Leicester against Northampton, in the Aviva Premiership semi-final, he packs a hell of punch.

His Tysonseque attack (shown here about 30 seconds in) on England’s winger Chris Ashton, would have been worthy of Iron Mike himself and resulted in both pl…

Four points or bust for Northern Ireland in next two games

Another Northern Ireland match is looming.  Last time the team took an early lead against the Faroe Islands, before falling into the old pattern of slow sideways passing.  Luckily the introduction of Niall McGinn, early in the second half, revitalised the line-up and Steven Davis notched up a second from long range, before Pat McCourt decided to take the Islanders apart twice with his mesmerising ball skills.

This time the opposition is a sight stiffer.  Mind you, over at The Social Club, Jonathan Wilson notes that the Serb manager, Vladimir Petrovic, has indicated that he would be happy to return from Belfast with a draw
It is therefore likely that the Serbs, with a number of players missing, will set up defensively against Northern Ireland.  Nigel Worthington is also an innately cautious manager and it looks probable that McCourt and Kyle Lafferty, both of whom are reportedly suffering from calf-strains, will be missing,   It's therefore shaping up to be a turgid encounter. …

Transparency on Spads

My column from News Letter 25 August 2011. SPECIAL advisers, or Spads as they’re generally known, are a rather unique type of civil servant. Appointed directly by ministers, they aren’t required to go through a competitive recruitment process and their role is openly political. Spads do operate within certain limits; for instance they can’t get involved in campaigning during elections, but they’re bound by no requirements of impartiality. There’s nothing wrong with that per se, but it means that, effectively, the taxpayer foots the bill so that ministers can receive highly political advice. Obviously such an arrangement should carry with it some pretty strict responsibilities, because while parties and ministers pick Spads, it’s the public that pays for them. At Stormont, though, the special adviser role seems be shrouded in secrecy and recently it has attracted one controversy after another. There was widespread revulsion earlier this year when Sinn Féin culture minister, Caral Ni Ch…

Guest post: What does a vote for Sinn Féin really mean?

The following is a thought-provoking guest post by itwassammymcnallywhatdoneit.  It's interesting because it rather flies in the face of the usual nationalist analysis: i.e. that a vote for Sinn Féin does not necessarily imply any degree of approval for the IRA's campaign of violence.

By itwassammymcnallywhatdoneit

Berty Ahern,  famously opined that SF and the Provos “are two sides of the same coin”. 
Now, if we leave aside the boul Berty’s general tendency to get things wrong (especially when he was Taoiséach) and if we also leave aside the amusing protestations of President Adams that he has never heard of the IRA (or whatever it is Gerry likes to tell us from time to time) and assume that on this one at least, Bertram is on the money, then what does that tell us about the majority of the Northern Nationalist electorate who vote for SF?
Well, it surely tells us, that Northern Nationalists have, at the least, an ambivalent attitude to the Provo’s campaign of violence. It surely a…

Operation 'Certain Death'

It's nearly six months late, but here's my take on Northern Ireland's rather bizarre trip to Serbia.  It's an early, diary style draft of an article which appeared in Four Four Two magazine.

They’ve become known simply as ‘The 200’.  A group of Northern Ireland fans determined to defy security warnings and a UEFA edict in order to attend their country’s Euro 2012 qualifier in Serbia. 
It’s 1.15pm on Friday 25th March and FourFourTwo dashes across Budapest airport on a mission to join these steely souls.I reach the gate just as it closes and collapse in a sweaty, panting heap on the connecting flight.Next stop Belgrade - home of the most feared football hooligans in Europe.
Violence at Serbia’s last qualifying match in Italy led UEFA to rule that the game against Northern Ireland at Red Star’s ’Marakana’ Stadium should take place behind closed doors.After protests from the Irish Football Association (IFA) the authorities grudgingly agreed to admit travelling fans who boo…