21 August 2009

Reconsidering Pashtunistan

A guest post by Edward Turner

An American Solution for an American Empire?

The traditional story says Afghanistan's problems began around 1993: a year earlier the Soviets had retreated from the mujahidin and in the subsequent anarchy a group of half-illiterate vigilante Madrasa students decided they could do a better job at keeping order and challenged the power of the warlords.

At first it didn't seem significant: a 30-man group of tribesmen, lead by Mullah Omar a Pashtun of the trans-border Ghilzai tribe, took control of Kandahar city from a particularly hated warlord. But it didn't stop there: with the help of Pakistan, the "Taliban" movement snowballed into an unstoppable force for statehood.

By 1996 the ragtag group had conquered most of the country, Pashtun and non-Pashtun. In gratitude to their - as yet uninvited - Arab guests, whose jihadists and cash had helped the disorganised fighters win significant battles, the Taliban allowed Osama Bin Laden and Ayman Zawahiri to set up Al Qaeda training camps in the new Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.

Pakistan, wishing to support an Afghanistan state in which ethnic bonds were suppressed in deference to religious ties, eagerly recognised the new state in 1997.

Using Afghanistan as a springboard, the Arab Al Qaeda committed a string of high-profile terror attacks. This culminated in the 9/11 strikes on America, in New York and Washington, which in turn lead to the War on Terrorism being launched on Afghanistan in 2001.

Soon thereafter all Al Qaeda's bases in Afghanistan were flattened by bombs and a new Afghan government installed in 2006 - it seemed the Taliban had fled across the border with some remnants of Al Qaeda.

But three years later, while the Americans had stopped calling the war in Afghanistan a "War on Terror" the conflict with the Taliban appeared to have intensified to a terrifying new level and spread to a nuclear state, Pakistan.

Surely now, the traditional narrative of the conflict in Afghanistan has run its useful purpose. In Afghanistan the threat of Al Qaeda has been destroyed, while the Pakistani government support of the Taliban has U-turned into a fight for its life against it.

Rethinking the War on Taliban

The alternative narrative is this: the most significant date before 1993 was 100 years earlier, in 1893. In this year the 1600 mile-plus squiggly border over the barely-explored mountains between Afghanistan and Pakistan, called the Durand line, was etched into historical infamy by the most powerful Empire of the age, Great Britain.

After decades of futile conflict with the North Western tribes, the British, like Alexander the Great before, decided conquering the inhabitants along the North West Frontier was too much trouble. The region would be far better left as a natural quagmire for an invading Russian army.

Typical of British divide-and-rule tactics, the Durand line split the Pashtun tribes down the middle: the majority put on a trajectory towards a Pakistan state in 1947; while the historically most influential Durrani and Ghilzai tribes would be out of harm's way in Afghanistan.

The more educated and wealthier Durrani Pashtun, who lived in the urban south west of Afghanistan, would be the most powerful force in the notoriously unstable Afghan state until 1979. It is from this tribe of five million that the 2006 Afghanistan government draws its Pashtun Taliban opposition, including President Hamid Kazai.

The strategic point is this: the British Empire didn't need the Pashtun; they were a nuisance that could most effectively be employed as someone else's nuisance, and ignored. Today the successor Empire forgets about the Pashtun people at its cost.

The Taliban are not just Islamists, they are Pashtun Islamists.

If the conflict against the Taliban is to be won the Pashtun, and specifically the Ghilzai tribe of the Pashtun which forms the core of the Taliban, must be placed at the center of strategy. Everything else, including the need to protect a multi-ethnic "Afghanistan" can be ignored: why fight a British Empire war in the age of American Empire?

A useful strategic concept: Pashtunistan

If Pashtunistan had a capital city it would be Kandahar. At least three times in its history sizeable Pashtun Empires - including the Taliban's Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan - have been built upon the initial capture of Kandahar by representatives of the Durrani or Ghilzai Pashtuns. (The other two cases were the Durrani Empire of the 19th Century, and the Hotaki dynasty of the 18th Century).

Mullah Omar is a member of the Hotaki clan of Pashtun nomads from the mountains east of Kandahar. While his traditional enemy is the Durrani - when one side has gained power the other has been excluded from leadership positions, which is the case inside the Ghilzai dominated Taliban - to describe their history as a Hatfield and McCoy act would be an over-simplification.

Though Ghilzai lead, the Durrani and other Pashtun tribes have cooperated under the banner of the Taliban, and so cooperation between them must be crucial for leveraging the Ghilzai Pashtun away from Al Qaeda with the promise of power within a Pashtun state. This cooperation is not due to a developed cultural sense of Pashtun nationhood (though from time to time Pashtuns have planted the Pashtun flag-stick on Pakistan’s side of the Durand line) but mutual interest.

Pashtun society has a "Russian doll" structure which means allegiances are always mixed and forever shifting. From tribe, khel, sub-khel, to kahol and the nuclear family, the koranay, the approximately 350 tribes (all but half-dozen insignificantly small) are united only in being notoriously ungovernable (such as Pakistan's experience with the Waziri tribe within the Federally Administered Tribal Area). Though they share one language and culture, the Pashtun are too much at war within itself to unite as one nation.

The Pashtun share a distinct social code, the Pashtunwali, and it is the strong emphasis on personal freedom within it that provides the basis for rejection of all external authority which is common to all Pashtuns when faced with attack. It also strongly favours a violent honor culture, and, if we didn’t already guess, hospitality and protection for guests. Graft on to this another the binding agent, the Islamic religion, which the Taliban represents, and it could be understood why it is not easy for external authority to overrun Pashtun peoples.

If the lock of peace can be unpicked it is through fostering cooperation on ethnic lines between the two tribes that have spawned Pashtuni Empires and which would provide the basis of Pashtunistan.

As the Taliban has shown, cooperation between Pashtun tribes is not an insurmountable problem. In order to be powerful, Ghilzai nomads must have control over the valuable economic strongholds of Uruzgan, Kandahar and the Helmand river valley (where opium is currently produced). This lies in Durrani Pashtun dominated regions. For their part, in order for the slightly less numerous Durrani to rule they need to be strong enough to rule the fierce Ghilzai warriors.

For one tribe to rule the other must acquiesce; their fates are entwined; there is no other way. Today, the Ghilzai have the upper hand through their Taliban vehicle. The concept of Pashtunistan is a useful one, however, as it might be the only political carrot that could rival the binding cause of the Taliban and make the powerful Durrani and Ghilzai tribes work together in a project that conflicts with the aims of Al Qaeda.

New American Solution: Self-determination for Afghanistan's ethnic groups

The sine qua non of any solution must first be to ensure a multi-national terrorist group can never use the region as a base for terrorist activity and that any new state does not directly sponsor terrorism. Other goals, such as democracy and human rights, should be ignored.

The idea of Afghanistan's Islamic democracy is contrary to the aims of the War on Terror: it encourages peoples of different ethnicities to live together in one state bound not by their shared ethnic ties but by an Islamic mono-culture that will lean toward extremist solutions.

As the Taliban proved, the only way to keep a comically diverse country together as Afghanistan is by a brutal version of Islam that cares neither for human rights or the destruction of foreign cities. States built upon territory, institutions and people can be deterred with force, however nasty. States built upon evil religious ideology and intimidation of out-groups cannot.

In Afghanistan, does America want another Syria, Egypt, Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon or Libya or another Saudi Arabia?

To reduce the role of Islamism as a binding agent for “Afghans”, the ethnic groups must be separated and ethnic ties must be used to bind them. Like the British Empire, Afghanistan, which was little more than a Pashtun Empire, must be consigned to the dustbin of history.

Specifically, the Pashtuns, the only group that seems genuinely interested in the Taliban, need a rejuvination of bonds on ethnic lines. For this, cooperation between the Durrani and Ghilzai tribes is paramount. The Durrani can provide the economic base, the Ghilzai the security and political leadership.

Americans believe in self-determination - they demonstrated this in Yugoslavia. There is no reason for Uzbeks or Tajiks to live in the same state as Pashtuns. Likewise the Shia Hazara, whom the Sunni Pashtuns treat as non-believers, require their own state if there is going to be peace.

That old legacy of Empire, Pakistan cannot be allowed to derail the new American solution. It will be a challenge to incorporate parts of Pakistan into Pashtunistan without compromising Pakistan's sense of security. This could be done by lease of land of strategic importance to Pakistan for 50 years, with non-proliferation in mind.

Barack Obama who visited Pakistan in 1981 and whom has friends in high places is the ideal American President to host the Dayton style negotiations. He may recall Afghanistan represented a solution useful to the British Empire but not to the American Empire. It’s time for boundaries to be redrawn so there is never another Afghanistan.

01 August 2009

News values

In projecting the progress of the counter-insurgency in Afghanistan, metrics most commonly by the media are the deaths of British soldiers and, more generally, the deaths of other coalition troops. Further "downstream" are reports of the deaths of Afghani citizens, both civilians, members of the security forces and such categories as security guards.

In the hierarchy of death, however, we have long been aware that there has been a ranking applied by the popular media – the emphasis (quite understandably) given to British troops. Much less attention is given to other nationalities and, down the scale, are incidents involving Afghanis, which are often completely unreported.

Much the same applied to the campaign in Iraq, to the extent where the death of even quite prominent Iraqis went unreported, sometimes dropped in favour of more prominent events, especially those with a domestic political content.

This, I remarked upon in Ministry of Defeat, in one instance noting that the murder of a prominent Sunni and his son in Basra – and the kidnap of five others - had gone unreported. The British media had focused on Tony Blair giving evidence to the House of Commons Liaison Committee, where he had been asked whether life was then better for the citizens of Basra than it had been pre-war.

This came up during the Frontline Club meeting yesterday, as an example of my unreasonable criticism of the media, the argument being that the news value of the Blair evidence far outweighed the murder and kidnap of a few Iraqis, even if these crimes had been committed by men in civilian clothes and police uniforms, in a fleet of 10 "official" cars with no number plates.

This, incidentally, had coincided with a six-hour curfew being imposed in Basra in an attempt to stem the growing tide of violence and a report that oil smuggling in southern Iraq had reached epidemic proportions, costing the country an estimated $4 billion a year, followed by yet another report of a rocket attack on a British base – none of which were reported in the British media.

What I had not realised, however, was that the ranking was quite formally structured. In the early days, of the occupation, one news organisation imposed a "tariff", reporting events only if they involved one dead British or American soldier, or five Iraqis. But, as the violence increased, the bar was raised where, to qualify for inclusion in a news report, three US soldiers or 25 Iraqis had to be killed. A British military death, of course, was always reported.

This, in my view, undoubtedly distorted British public perception of events – and indeed misled journalists. Relying on the metric of British military deaths as a comparator, in May 2005 Guardian journalist Jonathan Steele actually wrote that the insurgency barely existed in the south, it having been "quiet for months". British troops could pull out immediately, he declared.

Undeterred, the media is playing the same games in Afghanistan. We know, of course, that the reporting of British troops has been extremely high profile, with the toll reaching 22 for the month.

Yet, in the last two days, four Afghani soldiers have been killed in Helmand, their lives ended by an IED which hit their vehicle, and – in two separate incidents, eight and then four Afghani private security guards were killed, also by roadside bombs in Helmand, the first incident injuring four others. None of these incidents have been reported by the British media. You will have to turn to the official Chinese news agency Xinhuanet for details.

This news, however, is highly significant, for several reasons. First, it points up the perilous insecurity of the roads, where the death toll is actually far greater than the British media would indicate. Secondly, it reminds us of an important, but again ill-reported dynamic – that the Taleban is by no means confining its attacks to foreign security forces. The Afghan forces are at greater risk than our own.

Nor indeed are just the security forces are risk. There is also a steady and largely unreported toll taken of construction workers, another incident recently reported in Khost. And just over a week ago, 13 Afghan road construction workers were kidnapped in Paktia.

All these issues have a much wider significance. On the one hand, the strategic plan for Afghanistan is progressively to hand over responsibility for security to Afghan forces and, on the other, much depends on the coalition and aid agencies being able to deliver reconstruction. Where both the security forces and construction workers are so much at risk, neither is going to happen, even discounting the unreliability of the local police.

The other significant issue here – one we have noted before – is the media-supported demand to increase helicopter lift for British troops, to enable them to be transported without using the road network, to keep them out of harm's way. Yet, that very process – effectively abandoning the network to the Taleban – could delay progress, by exposing local security forces and others to greater risk.

Meanwhile, in Lashkar Gah, in the city's main bazaar, turban seller Haji Lala says Taleban black is still the most popular colour. "Everyone wants black, like the Taleban. I sell 40 or 50 a month." It may be an indicator of where ordinary people think the province is heading, notes Australian writer Jerome Starkey.

Whichever way the province is heading, it seems not unreasonable to aver that we will not find out from the British media. Whether it is even reasonable to suggest that they should tell us is another matter. The very firm view I heard expressed on Wedenesday was, effectively, that it was not. What matters, it seems, are news values – not the actual news.

Snout in the trough

Through the MPs' expenses scandal, one occasionally heard noises off from our European "partners" who seemed to be amazed that there should be so much public outrage about what is, in other climes, perfectly normal behaviour.

Now, it seems, the Germans are having their own version. Social Democrat Health Minister Ulla Schmidt has raised a storm of protest after it emerged that she had flown out to Spain on holiday while instructing her official chauffeur to drive her ministerial limousine down from Germany to meet her at her holiday destination.

After the 3,000-mile trip in the official Mercedes, the chauffeur was kept on duty for two weeks, at the beck and call of his minister, being paid handsomely as overtime, while he shuttled her to and from the beach.

Embarrassingly, the chauffeur never got to do the 3,000-mile return trip as enterprising Spanish thieves nicked the motor, thus leading to the revelations in the press about the minister's little arrangement.

Interestingly, the minister was perfectly within the rules to use her official car for this purpose – so we have another "I was only obeying the rules" scenario, which went down so well in the UK.

The revelations have come at a particularly unhappy time for Frau Schmidt, now dubbed "S-Class Ulla" after the Mercedes model that disappeared. With a general election in the offing, the Social Democrats are positioning themselves as the party best equipped to lead the country out of the economic and financial crisis.

In her defence, I suppose, Frau Schmidt could claim that she was creating employment – not least for Spanish car thieves – and no one could complain that these were ruinously expensive "green jobs" so beloved of our ruling classes.

19 May 2009

Unacceptable waste

They ordered 401 of them in November 2003 at a cost of £166 million. Only now, nearly six years later, are they finally going into service, but not before the Ministry of Defeat has spent another £20 billion on them to make them suitable for Afghanistan. This is the fabulous Panther.

MP's should be furious – that sort of unacceptable waste could have financed 16 months-worth of Additional Cost Allowances.

Regulating MPs' remuneration

The current payment system should be replaced with a single scheme, the suggested name for which is the "constituency management fee". It should be paid from central funds and drawn down by MPs annually (or in periodic increments). From this, MPs pay all expenses and remuneration, in accordance with what is most appropriate to the effective management of the constituency and which is acceptable to their local voters.

Thus, an MP will draw from the fund, the salary, pension payments, working and all other expenses (including normal travel), staff employment and all other expenses.

Accountability is maintained on the one hand by publishing a "business plan" setting out the "budget" and the expenditure heads, and then publishing quarterly audited accounts, with an annual report at the end of the year (or period). As to monitoring of expenses – and allowable amounts – this should be a matter between constituents and the MP, with the tax authorities as the arbiter, scrutinising expenditure as they do with other enterprises.

On the basis of current salaries, allowances, etc, the fund could be in the order of £300,000 a year, possibly "banded" by constituency zone, reflecting distances and other issues which affect individual MPs. The sum set would be a maximum, with each MP able to come in under the sum allocated.

To guard against abuse – as with Conway – there should then be a "recall" provision. Electors in a constituency should be able to raise a petition (say with 10,000 names) on which completion there should follow within a stated period a by-election, where the sitting MP is required to stand for re-election.

In terms of overall advantages, this has the benefit of insulating MPs from abusers. With each MP devising their individual schemes, with the agreement of their local electors, no other MPs are tainted if one or more MPs go off the rails. On the other hand, voters are empowered, and may well be inclined to take a greater interest in the workings of their constituencies and their MPs.

Within the broad scope of the scheme, there is and should be great scope for innovation and flexibility. Some MPs, for instance, may chose to appoint a local "advisory board" made up from the local "great and the good" to advise them on disbursement of funds. There is scope for each political party to issue "guidelines" on expenditure, which an MP may (or may not) vary according to local circumstances. Others may prefer to devise their own schemes.

Ultimately, this puts voters "in charge" as ultimate accountability rests with the electorate, where it should reside (and not with an unelected bureaucracy). This also should lead to some savings, as the administrative teams currently processing and authorising payments can be disbanded.

13 May 2009

Politics as usual?

As one would expect Libertas has been making much of the embarrassment that is afflicting our legislators, real and pretend ones. Should Libertas.eu be elected to the Toy European Parliament, they tell us solemnly, they will publish all their expenses on their website, thus ensuring complete transparency. This is part of their “Stamp out Sleaze” campaign that they launched yesterday to little public interest, the latter being entirely focused on details of MPs' spending.

Well, that is very nice, though I can imagine various ingenious ways of making sure that transparent expenses do not mean quite what they say. But there is another problem: Libertas.eu also boasts of the many existing euro- and national politicians they have acquired en route to putting up 550 candidates across Europe. Or as the Former British Soldier, Robin Matthews is supposed to have stated in today's press release:
Six months ago, Libertas didn’t exist. Today it is fielding many times more candidates than any other party in Europe.
Since no other party in Europe is quite as much in favour of European integration as Libertas.eu is, that means very little. But what of those politicians who have allegedly joined them?

For instance, every press release tells us proudly in the Notes for Editors that "in Latvia we have a former Prime Minister as the lead candidate". Quite true, the lead candidate for the single region of Latvia, Guntars Krasts, was briefly the Prime Minister from August 1997 to November 1998 (well, maybe not that briefly by Latvian standards) but since 2004 he has been a member of the Toy Parliament. Try as I might, I can find no evidence that he has declared his expenses in detail in the last five years. Perhaps I am looking at the wrong sites.

Similarly, several sitting French MEPs have announced that they will be standing for Libertas this time round. Presumably, this means that they feel strongly about the sleaze in their institution and, in order to show their feelings have always made all their expenses known to anyone who cares to enquire.

Has Philippe de Villiers done so? There appears to be no evidence of this on his party's official website or on his parliamentary site. Mind you, the idea of the ultra-traditionalist, ultra-nationalist M de Villiers from La Vendée teaming up with Mr Ganley who dismisses all forms of national politics as being out of date and helpless in the face of the EU, is quite entertaining by itself.

The point is that if sitting MEPs have not bothered to be transparent about their expenses up till now, what guarantee is there that they will change after this election? I think Mr Ganley should address that question.

There are, as it happens, a few other problems with the way Libertas.eu and its leader present themselves. Several press releases have also informed me in those Notes for Editors that "in the Czech Republic, the President, Vaclav Klaus, has endorsed our party".

This surprised me somewhat. In the first place, everything President Klaus does is news and yet I have heard nothing about this. In the second place, President Klaus opposes the Lisbon Treaty because he does not like European integration and has severe doubts about the whole project. Libertas, we are told ad nauseam, is on a very different platform: it loves the European Union but thinks that the way has been lost and needs to be found again. Has Vaclav Klaus really endorsed that?

Yesterday evening I searched news sites, Vaclav Klaus’s own site and Libertas; I found no reference to any endorsement. In desperation I e-mailed the Libertas press office asking for a link. This is a news story, I pointed out but that clearly stirred no interest.

I received no reply but today there is an item on the Libertas site about Declan Ganley meeting EU President Vaclav Klaus (who may not like to be described thus and, in any case, it is not entirely accurate) at the Libertas press conference. No mention of endorsement though if President Klaus attended the press conference that could count as such.

It would appear that things were not quite like that. Looking at Klaus's site and the English language pages one finds nothing until one glances at the diary. There, among many other items one does find information about a meeting.

My knowledge of Czech is shaky and I am prepared to be corrected on this but what it looks like to me is an extra diary item eased into an already busy day with President Klaus receiving Declan Ganley in Prague Castle, his official residence. Did Libertas hold a press conference in President Klaus’s office?

The Czech news item [in English] does not help us much, repeating as it does Ganley’s usual comments and the position with regards to the treaty in the Czech Republic, Poland and Germany. Oh and it mentions that Declan Ganley met President Klaus. Endorsement? What endorsement?

Then there was the unfortunate saga of former Polish President Lech Wałęsa, a hero of the fight against Communism and an unsuccessful politician after the system's collapse. (I wonder what he thinks of Robin Matthews's assertion that the EU had "removed the shackles of communism".)

On May 1 I received a press release that told me of a pan-European meeting of Libertas in Rome where "Nobel Peace Prize winner and champion of Polish freedom, Lech Walesa, will address over 1000 delegates from across Europe". I guess they did not discuss with him about who removed the shackles of communism.

Well, that sounded quite impressive even if Mr Wałęsa is a bit of a back number, having failed spectacularly in his presidential role, but a well-known and much admired back number. What the press release did not say was that he was being paid and, one assumes, paid quite handsomely to stand up before the 1,000 delegates, who, presumably, did not know this either. For himself, Mr Wałęsa supports the Civic Platform and is known not to be too keen on the League of Polish Families, an ally of Libertas.eu.

Really, one does begin to wonder what Mr Ganley tells all these very disparate parties about what Libertas stands for.

When the Polish media approached Lech Wałęsa he cheerfully admitted that he was paid, explaining that he had to accept all these engagements because he could not live on his state pension. I should have thought the state pension of a past president cannot be all that bad and he gets a good deal of free service in Poland and elsewhere in recognition of his heroism at a time it really mattered. My own suspicion is that he finds it hard to live without media attention.

Indeed, the only thing the former president found insulting was the suggestion that he received €50,000 for his speech.
Asked by the Polish newspaper about claims he had received a €50,000 fee for the speech, Mr Walesa replied jokingly: "Are you selling me short? You must be joking. You'd have to work one year for the same amount of money that I can get for one lecture." In a separate interview, Mr Walesa said he accepted the Libertas invitation because he is unable to live off his state pension.
According to his son, Jaroslaw, who is a Civic Platform candidate for the Toy Parliament, the old man had spoken to the EPP meeting the previous day without getting paid for it, because he agrees with them. Go figure.

Then again, Mr Wałęsa also said that he supported the idea of a single European state or, at least, up to a point. And all those who criticize him just want to attack him for everything. I do trust he is not going to turn himself into a political victim.

The news is that there will be more appearances by the Polish Grand Old Man at Libertas meetings, one assumes on the same terms, currently estimated at €100,000.

Mr Ganley, on the other hand, became all coy about the whole business.
DECLAN GANLEY has acknowledged a payment was made to former Polish president Lech Walesa to address Libertas delegates at their conference on Friday in Rome.

The Libertas founder said it was usual to pay a fee in such circumstances, and described Polish media queries about the exact amount as "offensive" …

"Gentlemen do not talk about money to other gentlemen," Mr Ganley told the daily newspaper Dziennik yesterday. "The word 'honorarium' includes the word 'honour'. Let's drop the subject."
With the greatest respect in the world, as Sir Humphrey would say, Mr Ganley is talking tosh. Politicians are not gentlemen and the question of money in politics is very important. After all, Mr Ganley spends a good deal of time talking about money received and spent by MEPs.

There is all the difference in the world between a grand old man of European politics appearing at a political rally because he supports the cause and the self-same GOM appearing like an after-dinner speaker for money. Mr Ganley had better get used to questions of this kind being asked about his party.

It could be said that I am nit-picking because I do not like Libertas. What do these stories matter, after all? Up to a point, Lord Copper.

It is true that I do not like Libertas. I do not like their basic platform, which is more European integration; I do not like their smug assertion that they are the wave of the future, coupled as it is with an invincible ignorance about the past and the present; I do not like their refusal to discuss any details of their programme – just like any other political party; I do not like the way Mr Ganley travels round Europe, having himself photographed with the great and the good; and I most certainly do not like the patronizing way both Mr Ganley and Mr Matthews talk to me. Only the boss is allowed to patronize me.

But there is something beyond that. Libertas.eu is presenting itself as being a special new party, one that will clean up the EU and its politics. One expects a little more from them than this kind of economic attitude to the actualité and grand dismissals of any question and criticism.

It is, let's face it, politics as usual though on a very amateurish level. I mean if you are going to diverge from the strict truth, do it in a way no-one notices or not till after the election.


15 April 2009

Chasing their own tails

Did you know that "Europe" has not just been the most successful peace process ever (Denmark not having invaded Holland for some time) but has alos advanced the cause of democracy eastward and "removed the shackles of communism"? You did not? I thought everyone knew that. After all, that is what we were told by the Former British Soldier, Robin Matthews, who is also leader of Libertas in the UK (though, obviously not of Libertas.uk) and a prospective candidate for the Toy Parliament in the South-West.

He was introducing the London list- six prospective candidates, all people, as he explained after giving a ringing endorsement to the European project, which has, alas, gone astray, with experience in life and enthusiasm. Apparently, knowledge of anything to do with the EU or the Toy Parliament or, even, of basic history is not required. In fact, it might be a disadvantage. You wouldn't want the regional candidates to know more than the UK leader.

The candidates, should they be elected and, as they all pointed out with the list system a small party can have a disproportionate number of seats, will help to transform the EU. In fact, they will help to transform the EU into Europe because it is clear from the speeches made by Mr Matthews and the three candidates at the table that they see all bad things - unaccountability, lack of transparency, lack of democracy - as being part of the EU and all good things - errrm, that peace process and the wonderful effect on the City of London - as being part of Europe.

What Libertas.eu, a ringingly pro-European party, will be aiming to do is "to reinstall accountability, openness and, most importantly, democracy at the heart of Europe".

Wisely, Mr Matthews did not waste any time explaining when all these highly desirable elements were last at the heart of Europe.

To be fair, neither he nor any of candidates wasted time explaining anything about the EU or even Europe. They did produce some shock-horror information. Apparently the accounts have not been certified (by an unspecified body as mentioning the Court of Auditors might be counted as information overload) for 14 years.

It seems that 80 per cent of our legislation comes from the EU and it is invariably initiated by unelected bureaucrats and that the Brussels elites ignore the wishes of the people of Europe, preferring to listen to lobbyists of whom there are a good many there. I am shocked, I tell you, shocked.

Interestingly enough, the will of the people only matters in connection with the Constitution and the Lisbon Treaty. There seemed to be political amnesia as far as the Danish no vote over Maastricht and the Irish no vote over Nice were concerned. When I raised the subject with one of the Libertas officials, it was waved aside in a "don't bother me with silly details" kind of way.

There was a good deal of talk about the referendum we did not have - always a good subject as Gordon Brown was undeniably being economical with the truth when he insisted that the Treaty of Lisbon was completely different from the Constitution for Europe. (We have written about it too many times on this blog to be able to manage links.)

There was more talk about MEPs' expenses, also a good knock-about subject and, of course, that old chestnut, the travel between Brussels and Strasbourg. When in a subsequent conversation I pointed out that this was in the treaty and not a lot can be done about that (my interlocutor, unlike the candidates knew about treaties and inter-governmental conferences) I was told that the Toy European Parliament can get round that by deciding not to go there more than about once a year or not at all.

Even if a large group of MEPs succeeded in abolishing the Strasbourg trips (and it sounds very unlikely that they will do so) this does not strike me as anything but displacement activity for people who have neither the knowledge, nor the curiosity, nor the courage to tackle the main issues. The Libertas official was taken aback when I pointed out that I did not consider them particularly radical as they were creating a position for themselves within the existing project. Indeed, I said using his own words, they merely wanted to reinforce the status quo.

Somebody has had a word with Mr Matthews because he has managed to update his speech. At the launch of Libertas in the UK he talked of Europe "chipping away at national sovereignty". I pointed out at the time the illogicality of using that as an argument for a party that wants to function on a pan-European basis. Clearly, someone else has had a go at the Former British Soldier (FBS, I think) and he no longer talks of that.

He has a new oratorial gimmick. Libertas is the logical political development of the twenty-first century. It is the one organization that looks forward and will deal with the problems of this century. The national parties, founded in the nineteenth century can deal only with national issues; they have failed comprehensively in ensuring that the great European project was not derailed by the EU elites in Brussels. A new radical pan-European movement is needed for that and Libertas.eu is the one to take on the mantle.

That would sound a lot better if Mr Matthews could grasp a simple fact: nationalism is not dead. The Soviet Union was brought down by a mixture of various movements among whom the national ones were extremely powerful. It is the EU or the European project that both he and Mr Ganley, not to mention the candidates, are so enamoured of that is completely out of date.

A creature of the mid-twentieth century it has shown itself unable to cope with the many problems of the twenty-first. It is unlikely to survive many more years and what will happen to Libertas.eu, that pro-European anti-Lisbon party?

That new and fresh formula that Mr Matthews and, in different words, the candidates keep talking about remains extraordinarily vague. They want elected Commissioners; well and good but how is that going to solve the problem of our own elected Parliament having no power over the legislation.

They want legislation to be initiated by the European Parliament and/or national parliaments with a complicated procedure afterwards to produce EU legislation. But how are they going to achieve that state of affairs and how is that going to help this country when something like the Droit de Suite legislation is pushed through by countries that have no interest in the art market to detriment of the ones (Britain and Netherlands) that do?

I may add that when I tried to explain what the Droit de Suite was and how it was passed and, indeed, what the role of the Council of Ministers is, the looks I received were blank though concerned. Well, I was told kindly, there is always legislation that one opposes, no matter how democratic a system is. But we are talking about legislation passed by people we do not vote for and who are not accountable to us; legislation that is not in our interest and, should other countries' representatives vote for it, we can do nothing about. Why do I bother?

That is, in fact, the question I asked myself as I walked out of the Royal Festival Hall where the launch took place (great view from the 6th floor) towards the Palace of Westminster. How many more of these launches can I attend before they cart me off to a padded cell?

21 March 2009

Amateur hour

Another week, another party launch. Last Monday it was the turn of Jury Team, Sir Paul Judge's brainchild (though, quite honestly, I am not sure anybody's brain was much engaged in the process). This event took place in Millbank Tower, rather than One Great George Street, which was something of a mistake. The latter is a much more attractive venue and right in the heart of Westminster. The former is a rather ghastly and characterless structure some distance away from the nearest transport points.

Once again, I compared it to Kilroy-Silk's launch of Veritas and once again I had to admit that the buzz was not there. In fact, the media did not seem to be there either, which may have been the fault of the organizers. The time and place of the launch remained something of a mystery till the week-end and this was not a big enough story for journos to drop everything at 24 hours' notice.

Furthermore, it was not clear whether the event was for the media or for potential supporters, members and candidates. The questions certainly came from the group of potentials but there was, as it happens, very little time for questions. Despite assuring us over and over again that this was a new kind of politics that relied on the internet, mobile phones, social chat sites like Facebook and My Space, twitter and all other suchlike activity, Sir Paul and his co-panellists spent an inordinate amount of time explaining various aspects of the enterprise, quoting liberally from the Jury Team website.

One assumes from the name of the anti-party party that, apart from the pun of judge and jury, it is a reference to the way that highly estimable institutions works – without fear or favour, balancing the evidence (with a dash of judge’s guidance). Indeed, Sir Paul managed to insert a quote from Gilbert and Sullivan’s highly entertaining “Trial by Jury”.

There is, however, a problem: a jury is not elected, it is chosen randomly from eligible members of the population. That may be quite a good way of choosing legislators as well (though the logistical problems of people having to stop their jobs and family lives for four or five years whether they liked it or not, whether it was appropriate or not would be hard to solve) but that is not what Sir Paul and his cohorts are arguing.

They want an elected House of Commons that will resemble a randomly picked jury or an appointed House of Lords (I’ll come to that below.) The contradictions in that idea need to be resolved.

There are other contradictions that crop up whenever people propose reforms that are best left where they belong – in pubs, wine bars or round dinner tables. It is bad, such reforms postulate, that politicians care about their careers or behave according to the party’s demands. Well, maybe, though I prefer careerists to people who are in politics in order to “help other people” or to “do good”. They are the potential dictators because they know what is good for other people. Ayn Rand was not wrong about the evils of altruism, particularly in public life. That she opposed private charity as well is a separate issue and one on which I part company with the lady.

Then there is the muddle as to what an MP is supposed to be guided by; is it his or her own conscience, the good of the country, the will of the country’s people, the needs and/or interests of his or her constituents? What happens when there are serious contradictions between some or all of those? And what of the fact that many people vote for a party?

According to the poll conducted by YouGov on behalf of Jury Team, 26 per cent said that they voted the way they did because they supported the policies of the party and 6 per cent because of the candidate; 17 per cent voted because they supported the party and its leadership and 12 per cent because of the candidate and the party. All very muddled though, I suppose, attitudes might change if candidates stood on their own individual principles, especially if they carefully tailored them to suit the constituency’s mood at the time of the election.

Here is an example. When Britain was preparing for the war in Iraq, which was debated in Parliament ad nauseam, the idea was quite popular in the country. Those who opposed it out of principle, like Sir Teddy Taylor (whose explanation for his opposition is muddled but consistent), received angry letters from their constituents, demanding that they abandon their principles and fall in with the majority’s wishes. Should they have done so?

Subsequently, as the war did not turn into a quick and easy victory it became less and less popular. What should MPs have done at that stage? Decided that, after all, they are not in favour of it? Many of them did and even tried to erase from the record the fact that they had voted for it in the first place but it is hard to think well of them for that reason.

What of that famous quotation from Burke’s Address to the Electors of Bristol, which Jury Team proudly sports on its website and Sir Paul Judge trotted out at the launch.
His unbiased opinion, his mature judgment, his enlightened conscience, he ought not to sacrifice to you or to any set of men living.
Edmund Burke wrote those proud words on his election in 1774. His Letter to the Electors of Bristol continued:
These he does not derive from your pleasure – no, nor from the law and the constitution. They are a trust from providence, for the abuse of which he is deeply answerable. Your representative owes you not his industry only, but his judgement; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion.
Hmmm. Not quite what Jury Team is saying methinks. Where do they stand on conscience versus constituents? Or, for that matter, on country versus constituents?

Four years after his election Burke and his electors faced that very conundrum as a swift reading of a biography of that great man (I recommend Conor Cruise O’Brien’s) would tell the the Jury Team’s gifted researchers.

In 1778 Burke supported the idea of free trade for Ireland, partly out of deep-seated principles, partly because he thought it was better for the whole country to have a richer, more developed Ireland. His constituents thought otherwise. Free trade would undermine their own protected position in Bristol and the politician’s attempts to explain that in the long run this would be better for Bristol as well were met frostily.

In 1780 Burke decided not to stand in Bristol as he had lost the support of his electors. Instead he re-entered the House as MP for Malton.

One can argue about Burke’s views on the role and duties of an MP and, indeed, historians have done so for over 200 years. But by no stretch of the imagination can one say that his defiance was directed at the party managers (yes, they were in existence in the eighteenth century as much as they are now). It was directed at the people who elected him, to whom, according to the Jury Team, as I understand it, an MP is bound to listen at all times.

The line-up at the launch consisted of Sir Paul himself, a former independent MP, Martin Bell and a present one, Richard Taylor, Lord Ramsbotham, a Cross-Bench peer, Tony Egginton, Independent Mayor of Mansfield and Councillor Keith Ross, Leader of Independent Group at the Local Government Association (LGA).

Without any disrespect to them I must point out that Mayor Egginton and Councillor Ross talked exclusively about local government and the possibilities of independents rising within it. As Councillor Ross’s career shows that has always been possible for people who have no desire to align themselves with any party but want to serve within their local authority. Frequently, as in this case, they can rise in the national structure of local authorities.

This gives us no indication of what can be done at the national or European level or what needs to be done. There are many reasons why people will vote for an Independent councillor that would not apply to a Member of Parliament.

Lord Ramsbotham, a man of genuinely distinguished military and public service career, spoke of the advantages that Cross-Bench Peers have over MPs who are beholden to their parties. They are also beholden to their constituents who may or may not re-elect them. If candidates are to be chosen in open primaries, as the Jury Team suggests, they may or may not be picked if they start doing what peers, and not just those on the Cross Benches do, which is speak and vote as they see fit.

One can’t help wondering how many of those people asked in the YouGov poll, who dutifully expressed their distrust of MPs would also insist that the House of Lords should be an all elected one, a development that Lord Ramsbotham, very sensibly, sees as the destruction of the Cross-Benches and, one may add, of the general independence of the Upper House? We are back with that impossible contradiction.

So we come to the two MPs (one former) who, actually, spoke first, immediately after Sir Paul Judge. Their presence, we were told, showed that it could be done: an independent can get elected to the House of Commons.

The problem is that Sir Paul was a little economical with the actualité. There were certain aspects to their elections that will not be there for Jury Team. Richard Taylor referred to one of them when he explained that he was very lucky in that there was an overwhelming local issue – the Kidderminster hospital – in his constituency and people felt very strongly about it while the sitting MP, David Lock, was “precisely on the wrong side”.

Very true. What neither his short address nor his website tell us is that the Lib-Dim candidate in Wyre Forest stood down both in 2001 and 2005, urging his supporters to vote for Dr Taylor. That sort of thing does help and is unlikely to happen when Jury Team puts up its candidates.

In the case of Martin Bell the situation was even more favourable. When he stood against Neil Hamilton in Tatton in 1997 both the Labour and the Lib-Dim candidates stood down, urging their supporters to vote for Mr Bell. Furthermore, he received a great deal of help from the local Labour association. Again, this is not something that will happen to any Jury Team candidate.

While we are on the subject of St George of the Anti-Sleaze Campaign, a.k.a. Martin Bell, it is worth reminding ourselves of his subsequent political “career”.

In 2001 he announced that, unless the Conservatives at Tatton choose Neil Hamilton again he would stand down. They chose George Osborne and Martin Bell stood down, retiring into his castle, well satisfied with slaying the Dragon of Sleaze.

He was then called upon to fight another battle and stand against Keith Vaz who had become embroiled in a far worse scandal than anything Neil Hamilton had managed. St George of the Anti-Sleaze Campaign refused, pleading his war-weariness but then rode out again on a very different battle: he stood in Brentwood and Ongar against Eric Pickles, a man of limited ability but blameless reputation.

Mr Bell had clearly realized that fighting an election against Keith Vaz with no quarter given by the Labour machinery and no help from any other party would have been a silly idea so he decided to fight against another Conservative on the grounds that the local association had been infiltrated by a Pentecostal Church.

The evidence for actual infiltration was rather slim and, in any case, why was St George of the Anti-Sleaze Campaign getting involved in the internal squabbling of a Conservative association? He lost and did so again in the 2004 European Election when he stood as Independent (for no discernible reason) in the East of England Region.

He now spends his time in that graveyard of all ambitions, a UNICEF ambassadorship, grousing about politicians and journalists alike.

Incidentally, if they wanted an existing Independent MP, why didn’t they bring out George Galloway? After all, his party, Respect, has now split and he may well be the only representative of his particular branch of it.

There were two other people on the platform, Lyn Tofari, potential candidate for the South-East Region and Miranda Banks, potential candidate for the South-West. At the time they were the only ones to have come forward. By now Jury Team has more potential candidates on whom people can vote through the internet or by mobile phone.

Open primaries are a big part of Jury Team’s plans, as they oppose the choice of candidates by closed circles within parties. They have a point there and the situation is particularly bad with the European elections in which lists are drawn up by parties (though it is not clear that the would-be candidates and campaign managers know this).

But will an “open” primary be any better? After all, this is a primary of self-selected voters who are likely to vote immediately on reading the summary posted by the candidates. There will be no question and answer sessions, no way of establishing what the candidates are like beyond the way they see themselves. This is not precisely how the American system of primaries works but then the Americans have primaries within what is virtually a two-party structure.

Ms Tofari gave us an interesting speech about how she had become involved in local politics, first at the parish level, then rising to other bodies. Her next logical step was going to be a seat as an Independent on Buckinghamshire County Council but she abandoned that in order to become involved with Jury Team and to stand (possibly) for the European Parliament. On the whole, I think that was a mistaken decision.

Ms Banks, on the other hand, leapt around the place, gesticulated with great fervour and meaning, talked much of painting pictures, creating images and, generally, managed to leave no cliché unsaid. I was not altogether surprised that she is a “performance psychologist”.

After the formal parts of the meeting, during which not one reference had been made to the fact that 80 per cent of our legislation comes from the EU and Parliament can do nothing about it, even when it actually goes through that institution, I went up to talk to the two wannabe candidates.

Why were they thinking of standing for the European Parliament (I didn’t think they would know what I meant by Toy Parliament)? Well, they explained to me, it’s because neither they nor other people know anything about the EU and they thought they would do this to find out.

Rather an expensive way of learning something that they could read on a certain blog or, failing that, on the Europa website, which is full of very useful information.

Then I expressed my surprise that among all the complaining about politicians being subjected to party discipline or being interested only in their own career, there was no mention of the main problem, the 80 per cent of our legislation coming from the EU and of Parliament either knowing nothing about it or not being able to reject it. And, by the way, I added, the European Parliament is not the primary legislating body in the EU.

I got blank stares in response. I didn’t know that, one said. No, added the other one as well as a young man who had joined our group, I didn’t know either. This is the sort of thing we need to find out, they said.

We chatted a bit longer along the same lines. It was clear that neither the two would-be candidates nor the rest of the audience, many of whom were thinking of joining, had the first notion of how the EU works, how it affects our legislation and how it is structured, let alone what its purpose is.

There are far more candidates for the open primaries listed on the site but a swift perusal of their election mini-manifestoes confirms that people are signing up without bothering to find out what it is they want to be part of.

We hear a great deal about the arrogance of politicians and all those who live in the Westminster/Brussels bubble. Indeed, I have written and spoken about it myself. But what of the arrogance of people who think that they should be in that bubble, make decisions that affect us all and generally throw their weight around without wanting either to slog through the party structure (fair enough if you do not believe in it) or to make the slightest effort to find out what is actually going on around them?

What on earth makes these people think that the world (or Britain or their region) is waiting breathlessly to hear their ignorant ideas on what needs to be done? At the very least, they could find out that the European Parliament does not function in the same way as the Westminster one does. Or about the treaties. Or about the European Communities Act. Or, or, or ….

In the end it is not only our politicians who are failing in their duties but many of us as well – our duties as citizens of a constitutional democracy. Those duties include finding out information. Much of it is easily available. Before rushing in to give us the benefit of their wisdom, members of Jury Team ought to start thinking about their own tasks and duties.


15 March 2009

The underlying problem

It is the Ides of March and, therefore, issues of importance need to be looked at. Not that the EU is not important but, in many ways, it is the symptom, not the cause.

Yesterday I did a longish stint on the BBC Russian Service and, in the course of it, spent two minutes talking about the growing popularity of Ayn Rand’s novel “Atlas Shrugged” in the United States and the ever more frequent signs of “Who is John Galt?” appearing at the continuing Tea Parties across the country. (This movement has been documented extensively by Instapundit, Sister Toldjah and Michelle Malkin, among others.)

The point, for those who do not know about John Galt is that “Atlas”, the productive members of society, withdraw their labour because they no longer want to carry “the world”, that is the huge and ever-growing load of government, politicians, civil servant, public servants, regulators, all those who do nothing but leech off them and use the money to run their lives. Since her day the problem has become worse and the situation in the US is such that people are seriously threatening to limit their work to the minimum necessary to survive in order to deprive the human and institutional parasites of their lifeblood.

But Atlas is shrugging as this placard says and the book is no #27 on Amazon.

I have certain difficulties with Ayn Rand. In the first place, she was not a very good writer and her novels are long, boring and lumbering. She is also, like so many political philosophers who comment on the present as well as try to tease out more permanent laws and theories, better at seeing what is wrong than at building up alternatives. Her solution as presented at the end of “Atlas Shrugged” is seriously unsatisfactory to anyone who really believes in individual liberty and is likely to turn into another Animal Farm.

Her worship of strength, contempt for any weakness, disdain for private charity and hatred for anyone who disagrees with her makes me feel that Whittaker Chambers was, yet again, correct when he caught a whiff of fascism in her writing, particularly in “Atlas Shrugged”.

More than anything I dislike her disciples and followers, though, one could argue, she is not responsible for them. Their reaction to anyone who disagrees with the slightest point Ms Rand made is vitriolic hatred and abuse, all of which, apparently, demonstrates their belief in freedom.

Having said that, I have to add that Ms Rand’s analysis of what is wrong with society in general both at a more superficial and the underlying level is unmatched. She slices through all orthodoxies and shows very clearly how it is they manage to produce the noxious results we all have to live with.

I have never been able to get through Ayn Rand’s novels but I have read a number of her essays, which tend to reformulate the same two or three ideas but they are good ideas. However, the best summary of the underlying problem is in the Introduction to her collection “The Virtue of Selfishness”, written in 1964.
The meaning ascribed in popular usage to the word “selfishness” is not merely wrong: it represents a devastating intellectual “package-deal”, which is responsible, more than any other single factor, for the arrested moral development of mankind

In popular usage, the word “selfishness” is a synonym of evil; the image it conjures is of a murderous brute who tramples over piles of corpses to achieve his own ends, who cares for no living being and pursues nothing but the gratification of the mindless whims of any immediate

Yet the exact meaning and dictionary definition of the word “selfishness” is: concern with one’s own interests.

This concept does not include a moral evaluation; it does not tell us whether concern with one’s own interests is good or evil; not does it tell us what constitutes man’s actual interests. It is the task of ethics to answer such questions.
The subsequent essays try to establish some immutable laws of ethics that could underpin human behaviour, always concentrating on the need and advantage of rational self-interest.

Further down in the Introduction Ayn Rand says:
Altruism declares that any action taken for the benefit of others is good, and any action taken for one’s own benefit is evil. Thus the beneficiary of an action is the only criterion of moral value – and so long as that beneficiary is anybody other than oneself, anything goes.

Hence the appalling immorality, the chronic injustice, the grotesque double standards, the insoluble conflicts and contradictions that have characterized human relationships and human societies throughout history, under all the variants of altruistic ethics.

Observe the indecency of what passes for moral judgements today. An industrialist who produces a fortune and a gangster who robs a bank are regarded as equally immoral, since they both sought wealth for their own “selfish” benefit. A young man who gives up his career in order to support his parents and never rises beyond the rank of grocery clerk is regarded as morally superior to the young man who endures an excruciating struggle and achieves his personal ambition. A dictator is regarded as moral, since the unspeakable atrocities he committed were intended to benefit “the people”, not himself.
Ayn Rand knew all about dictators being regarded as moral. Having escaped from Soviet Russia in 1926 she spent a good deal of her life in the United States, particularly in Hollywood battling against the various Communists who produced pro-Soviet propaganda, which culminated in the particularly evil or preposterous, depending on how you look at it, wartime films, “The Song of Russia” and “Mission to Moscow”. Here is a little more on the latter film.

We, too, know about this in the double-think and hypocrisy that prevents people from saying openly that Communism was the other evil ideology of the twentieth century and was responsible for far more deaths and a greater social, political and economic catastrophe than Nazism. Ah, we are told, but, at least the Communists meant well.

Finally we come to those well-meaning agents of altruism, the governments who take money away from those who work in order to impose what they see as a fair society, which just happens to be a society in which the elite has more and more entrenched privileges than the rest of us; the regulators who, in the spirit of pure altruism and paid for by the taxpayer, regulate our lives for our own good; and, finally and most importantly, the NGOs who demand more and more unaccountable power for themselves in order to run the world or various parts of it for what they see as other people’s benefits, destroying people’s lives and all hope in developing countries.

The EU (oh, yes, I was going to work my way round to it) is part of this world-view of altruism, in which the worst sin is exercising self-interest even if it is that self-interest that moves the world forward and spreads wealth around it. It is, however, merely a symptom of the underlying problem.

12 March 2009

Muddled thinking

Having expressed a certain lack of enthusiasm for the great Declan Ganley, I did go with interest to the launch of the Libertas's electoral campaign in the UK. The press conference was not as well attended as I would have expected. When Kilroy Silk launched Veritas in 2005, there was barely standing room in the big hall in One Great George Street and the main media had sent their big guns. This launch was thinly attended though I gather from Mark Mardell's blog on the BBC site that he was there or, at least, he had spoken to the leader of the campaign, Robin Matthews, described as a former British soldier. Actually, that may have been the previous day as the blog was posted at 10.30 am, the start of the press conference.

A "former British soldier" is a remarkably coy way of describing a 21-year army career and Mr Matthews was no more forthcoming during the press conference, saying merely that he had served in Bosnia, Sierra Leone and Afghanistan. Mr Ganley also added in ringing tones (he is good at ringing tones) how ironic it was that Mr Matthews has travelled round the world as a British Soldier "championing the values of democracy" only to find them being eroded at home.

Yes, that is ironic, all right and one is glad that Mr Matthews has understood this but one is not too sure that he knows quite what to do with that understanding.

A few quick enquiries established that Robin Matthews left the army with the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel and during 2005 he had commanded The Light Dragoons, a British Cavalry Regiment, on operations in Iraq. After that he was seconded to army media operations, which is not, I fear, any recommendation though it might mean that he knows journalists and will be able to give them stories.

The official bio says:
Just prior to leaving the Army, he was seconded as the Strategic Communications Advisor to 16 (Air Assault) Brigade, Helmand Province, Afghanistan and also acted as the spokesman for all British Forces there.
On the subject of army spokesmen in Afghanistan and the problems they have caused in not providing a clear narrative or even accurate information I refer my readers to postings by the boss, too numerous to link to.

However, this may explain why Mr Matthews thinks that he can just sit back and journalists will approach him. Some will, perhaps, but he is no longer the spokesman for the British Forces in Helmand but the leader of a political party on the fringes. He will have to learn some media savvy very quickly.

We were not told who else will be standing in Britain but were assured that there will be a candidate in every constituency, including Northern Ireland. That makes 83 candidates. There will also be candidates in every EU member state but it is not clear how many.

Why should we vote Libertas in June? Well, setting aside the rather nebulous talk about "restoring democracy to Europe" of which more below, the main argument seems to be that they are putting up ordinary people and not politicians.

This appears to be the USP of another party that is to be launched next Monday, Jury Team, set up by Sir Paul Judge (judge – jury, geddit?). This one wants to do without parties as well, believing that doing away with those noxious organizations will make "politics more accessible, politicians more accountable and political institutions more transparent". An attractive notion but, in actual fact, it will create something approximating Russian politics where the nascent parties have been effectively abolished in favour or a more personal style.

We, veterans of the eurosceptic movement and of party launches have sat through numerous meetings when various political groups announced that they would field "real" people or "ordinary" people, not politicians with whom the electorate is fed up and who have moved away from "real" and "ordinary" people.

This is a very fine example of what is known as muddled thinking. There is a definite dissatisfaction with politics and politicians and part of that comes from the widespread feeling that politicians now seem to be part of a separate class that has no dealings at all with the rest of the population beyond canvassing for votes every so many years.

A far greater part of the dissatisfaction comes from an understanding, inchoate but real, that those self-same politicians, while grabbing more money and privileges for themselves have, in fact, made themselves and us completely powerless by handing over powers to the EU as well as numerous unaccountable quangos.

Disentangling all that and discussing what the answer might be is quite difficult; it is much easier to say that all would be solved if people in politics were not politicians or if politicians had done ordinary jobs.

The argument is fallacious. Being able to do an ordinary job and even being good at it does not necessarily indicate any political ability. History is littered with successful businessmen or military men who failed comprehensively when they took their skills into the very different field of politics.

There is no evidence that a businessman of any kind understands larger economic matters or that a good company officer knows aught about defence (or even other parts of the army, never mind the navy, the air force or the marines); bus drivers know what is good for … well, bus drivers and do not necessarily know about transport policy and the idea of teachers being in charge of education policy (which should not be part of the government's portfolio anyway) is terrifying. I am not even talking about the possibility of those people knowing anything about other political matters. They might or they might not.

The fact that James Callaghan left school at 17, not being able to afford the Oxford place he had won and worked in various "real" jobs as well as serving with great distinction in the Royal Naval Reserve during World War II may have made him a better man but contributed little to his abilities as a politician, though he was quite good at getting round his colleagues.

While having a separate professional political class may not be such a good idea, having people who do not know anything about politics going into it is no better. Admittedly, what we have at the moment is the worst of both worlds: a class of professional politicians who know nothing about politics. Substituting amateurs with no knowledge is hardly the solution.

Apart from anything else, a bunch of elected politicians who have absolutely no understanding of what they are doing, being "ordinary" or "real" people, are extremely easy to manipulate either by the leader of their grouping or by the government, wherever it happens to be.

Nothing in Mr Ganley's or Mr Matthews's statements or in their replies to the various questions made me think that they have the faintest understanding of how the EU works or, indeed, what it is Libertas wants to achieve.

In his introductory comments Mr Matthews spoke of "a Europe that seeks to transfer more and more power to Brussels, chipping away at national sovereignty in the process". But the whole raison d'être of Libertas is to create a pan-European party that will, somehow, make the EU more democratic and accountable, which is what it apparently was at some point in the past.

I asked Mr Matthews whether his aim was to campaign to restore power to national parliaments or to reform the EU, whose structure would not change even if the Lisbon Treaty failed, and if the latter, how was he intending to go about it. His reply did not fill me with confidence.

The first thing, he said, was to take stock and to ensure that there is a vote on Lisbon (preferably, one assumes a No); whether people are prepared to sanction this enormous transfer of power to the European elite. Then we can move on and, in due course, Libertas will publish its policies. I suspect this means that they have not thought beyond the first step.

Back when I cut my eurosceptic teeth, the days of Maastricht and the battle for that referendum, it made a certain amount of sense to say that we should concentrate on this treaty that had qualitatively changed the process of integration.

The European issue was new to most people as the project had been apparently (though not in reality) quiescent for many years; it was necessary to introduce all the many aspects of it into public discourse and to suggest withdrawal appeared to be politically suicidal. Luckily Jacques Delors on the one hand and the people of Denmark on the other helped us to make "Europe" familiar to many.

We have moved a long way from there, though not as long as we would have done had some people concentrated more on what really matters - politics and policies. To return to the same point and argue that we must not frighten the horses and let's discuss the Lisbon Treaty, which is so horrific that it makes one faint with horror, before we, possibly, move on to other issues is pointless at a time when people are seriously discussing the possibilities of British withdrawal or even the complete collapse of the EU.

But then, that is precisely what Mr Ganley is afraid of: that those wicked eurosceptics will have their way and the great European project, which, in his opinion, would be absolutely wonderful if only it acquired popular support, will collapse. That is why we say that Libertas is not fighting on our side - they want to strengthen the EU, we want to destroy it in order to start creating genuinely democratic structures in European countries and alliances between them and outwith Europe.

Libertas is facing a number of problems. In the first place, there is some doubt as to whether they will be able to stand in the election as Libertas UK as UKIP has registered that name as a political party and has put up one candidate in a local by-election under that name. Usually that means that the name of the new party has to be changed but it is not clear what is the situation with a pan-European party, which is based in Brussels.

To those sensitive souls who tell me this was a dastardly low-down trick by UKIP I say pshaw. This is no more dastardly than the Tories trying to infiltrate their people into the UKIP administration or Libertas, itself, cavalierly sidelining other Irish organizations who had laid the foundation for their own work - organizations such as The National Platfrom, led by Anthony Coughlan, which somehow managed to win the first referendum on the Treaty of Nice without Mr Ganley or his financial input.

As far as the Treaty of Nice is concerned, Mr Ganley has amnesia. Year Zero came with the French and Dutch votes against the Constitution. There was no history before that.

Then there is the question of money. Mr Ganley told one questioner very firmly that he was through with putting money into the campaign because, he could not resist adding, this was not just about him but about all the people of Europe. The question is how many of those people will put money into what promises to be a very expensive exercise.

Mr Ganley's own idea is that it is the small donors that matter. I think he has been misreading the funding of the Obama campaign. There is well-documented evidence all over the internet and the blogosphere that most donations to the latter were not all that small and those that were under the reportable level were all too often multiple donations. There were, as Hot Air documented several times, no real checks on whether money came from the same card several times.

Mr Ganley, on the other hand, is calling for people to contribute one pound each. If you give even a pound, he said, you will feel yourself to be part of the campaign and will get involved. Um, no, that is bad psychology. People give money to a political party in order not to get too involved, unless they give a lot, in which case they want their investment to pay off.

Still, big money is needed for political campaigning across 27 countries and it is not clear where it will be coming from.

Then there is the question of competition, particularly in Britain. Libertas is not like UKIP, they explain because they want to make Europe or the EU (the two are still interchangeable) stronger and more democratic in order to harness the energy of the European people. (I kid you not.) UKIP, on the other hand, wants Britain to withdraw, as does the BNP, though that party was not mentioned. That is just negative.

Actually, that does not have to be negative if plans are elaborated on the subsequent political development because politics is not either/or - either you stay in the EU or you fall into the darkest abyss. Even the Commission does not use those crude arguments any more. Why on earth does Libertas?

In any case, "we want to withdraw, restore power to Parliament and govern ourselves in our own interest" is a difficult to achieve policy but it is very clear if one wants to explain it to the electorate. We want to make the European elite democratically accountable is not so easy to explain, especially if you do not even know what you mean by that or how such a thing can be accomplished, even in theory.

The Conservatives, too, are stirring, obviously frightened by the ever more crowded electoral field on which their rather feeble eurosceptic credentials will not be discerned. Whereas, if all you are offering is a vague desire to reform the EU, well you have the Lib-Dims and the Greens. No doubt others will appear in the next few weeks. Then there is the about to be launched Jury Team, about which I shall write next Monday. (Or as close to it as I can manage.)

Finally, Mr Ganley issued a warning. They will be attacked (well, one usually is in politics) and we must not believe what will be said about them. Once again, he put on his "ready-to-go-to-the-stake" expression: they are afraid of us in Brussels, he said, they do not want a pan-European movement, they will accuse us of being eurosceptics. But do not believe them.

Well, OK, I will not believe them.