Thursday, 31 May 2007

Will Mr Lugovoi come to court?

I wonder why the Kremlin is so vocal on the question whether Mr Lugovoi may be extradited to London. The Russian Federation’s Constitution (adopted in 1993), Article 10, provides (unless this translation is inaccurate): “State power in the Russian Federation is exercised on the basis of the separation of the legislative, executive and judiciary branches. The bodies of legislative, executive and judiciary powers are independent.” So the extradition decision ought to be up to the courts, not the Kremlin.
As for the substantive question, Article 61(1) of the Russian Federation's Constitution provides: “The citizen of the Russian Federation may not be deported out of Russia or extradited to another state.” But it does not end there because Article 15(4) provides: "The commonly recognized principles and norms of the international law and the international treaties of the Russian Federation are a component part of its legal system. If an international treaty of the Russian Federation stipulates other rules than those stipulated by the law, the rules of the international treaty apply.” Which seems to imply that if Russia is party to an international treaty that permits extradition, the treaty overrides Article 61.
According to the BBC Mr Lugovoi himself held a press conference today and said (amid a good deal else): “I will hire serious lawyers in London in order to defend my honest name in the British law-enforcement agencies. If the British authorities refuse to conduct a fair trial, I will be prepared to appeal to the international court in The Hague." By "British authorities" does he mean the judiciary? And what trial does he have in mind? Does he think that he might be extradited? I take it that he does not intend to come to London voluntarily to be tried on the poisoning charge. Perhaps he envisages a different kind of trial - bringing a claim himself in the civil courts for defamation? I wonder who the defendant(s) would be, and how Mr Lugovoi would give evidence: not by personally attending court in London, presumably. We must wait to find out.
To bring such a claim would imply, interestingly, a degree of trust in the impartiality of the judiciary of England and Wales. He does, it seems, have time for lawyers, at least the "serious" variety, which is a nice bit of good press for them, for a change.

Wednesday, 30 May 2007

We are wasting time

I am greatly troubled by information from a trusted grassroots source that voters were unenthusiastic about turning out in support earlier this month because they were unenthusiastic about Ming. Whatever was intended by those who forced Charles Kennedy to resign, this is the result.
In March 2006 the membership made what they thought was, on the limited information available to them, the safe choice, but I thought then and have thought ever since - a period of nearly 15 months now - that it was not the best choice.
Now what? We are waiting, but what for? From every quarter we are getting signals that environmental catastrophe is approaching. Valuable time is being lost while the two main parties, with their half-baked responses, hog the stage. We need to influence decisions - on energy, transport and the rest. We need leadership that will inspire, and we need it now.

Sunday, 27 May 2007

Films to see before you die

Channel 4's list of the 50 films to see before you die was pretty idiosyncratic so here are a few they missed: Pather Panchali (Satyajit Ray); L'Enfant Sauvage (Truffaut); Solaris, Mirror, Andrei Rublev and Stalker (Tarkovsky); Rashomon and Ikiru (Kurosawa); Fargo (Coen Brothers); Manon des Sources (Berri); La Grande Illusion and Le Regle du Jeu (Renoir); Three Colours Red (Kieslowski); Blade Runner (Scott); with an honourable mention for Groundhog Day, American Beauty, Fitzcarraldo, All or Nothing, Night of the Hunter, Once Upon a Time in the West (not in America, which was same director, later film, correction!) and Un Homme Echappe. Forgot to mention La Dolce Vita. No Eisenstein - some great moments but his grandiosity toppled into absurdity. I agree with C4 about including The Searchers and Erin Brockovich. Happy viewing!

Thursday, 24 May 2007

Rubbish bag horror

Was it really fortnightly rubbish collecting that led to the defeat of a number of Lib Dems in Godalming, Surrey on 3rd May? Do improvements in recycling rates and savings in council expenditure count for nothing in comparison with the horror of foxes ripping open rubbish bags? Apparently so if Radio 4's Today has reported accurately. Good grief! Things have come to a pretty pass if the people of Godalming do not have the wit to go out and buy a metal dustbin.

Tuesday, 22 May 2007

The rule of law - or not

In November 2006 the Director of Public Prosecutions for England and Wales and the Deputy Prosecutor General of the Russian Federation signed a Memorandum of Understanding on co-operation between their respective Offices. Article 3 states: “The Participants will co-operate in the sphere of extradition and in other issues of mutual legal assistance.”

This makes a nonsense of a report today that a spokesman for the Kremlin claimed Russia's constitution did not allow its nationals to be extradited.

The reported Kremlin response was to today’s announcement that the Crown Prosecution Service is to seek the early extradition of a suspect from Russia, so that he may be charged with the murder of Alexander Litvinenko and prosecuted in a court in London.

The Director of Public Prosecutions called the murder “this extraordinarily grave crime." Indeed it was: a more premeditated case could not be imagined, and it was also a reckless environmental crime against the people of and beyond London, as it left a trail of potentially lethal radioactive contamination. Such criminality is absolutely intolerable to any civilised people.

I trust that the Russian legal system will deal with this extradition request justly, according to the evidence. If it is prevented, what are we to conclude about the true nature of the present regime in Moscow?

Thursday, 17 May 2007

The leadership stitch-up

I detest a stitch-up, so I was angry at the attempt to stitch up the leadership contest by getting other MPs not to stand, thus depriving the ordinary membership of a say. Profoundly undemocratic. I refer of course to the Lib Dem leadership contest last year. The attempt succeeded only partially, in that it kept some contenders out of the ring but not all. Fortunately there are robust, independent-minded MPs in the Lib Dem ranks: just the sort of people this country needs in Parliament.
Not so the Parliamentary Labour Party. The current Labour MPs must be seriously lacking in spines, as not even 45 were prepared to nominate a leadership challenger to Gordon Brown. Pathetic.

Wednesday, 16 May 2007

Some questions about Scotland

A nagging question in my mind is: why was the late swing in Scotland earlier this month to the SNP and not to the Lib Dems? Following yesterday's FPC meeting I am none the wiser.
But I vividly recall the speaker from Scotland in the Trident debate in March who told the Federal Conference that the Scottish Lib Dems really, really did not want to retain Trident.
And I have been told that a balloon shaped like a Trident missile was being towed round Edinburgh's streets during the election. A very effective campaigning tool, I am sure: if someone installed a nuclear missile facility near my home, I would have pretty strong feelings about it.
I suspect that the Scottish Lib Dems' disappointed hopes are a first instalment of the price we will pay for that narrow majority to sit on the fence on whether to replace Trident.

Friday, 11 May 2007

Nice but hopeless, Simon Jenkins should call it a day

This lamentable commentator cannot even master the electoral system to which he has hitched his comments. Surely it's time to fold up his tent.
What is Simon Jenkins for? He is the flotsam of 20th-century journalism drifting on into the 21st, coagulated from ancient clubs, cabals, splits and defections from other newspapers. Not since the 20th century has he cohered round any great interest. He represents no mass movement, no breaking of the political mould. Ask Simon Jenkins what he is for and you get only a susurration of platitudes. Yet thanks to the newspaper industry this commentator gets to influence the ruling classes. It is Grima for a day.
Westminster commentators have always given each other a free pass, as over cash for articles, because they are both hopeless and nice. Most commentators that have been writing for what feels like a century and are a political subsidiary of the two-party system would stop writing. But Britain's patronage media industry keeps Simon Jenkins going, that and the hope that his one distinctive policy, getting his column into print, might give him blocking power at his newspaper.
Simon Jenkins claims a bizarre interpretation of democracy, that the share of votes should not be reflected in a share in power. This confuses quite different concepts: executive government and assembly representation. The first requires a coherent team, a declared programme and some mechanism to account for its delivery to the electorate. They are checked by a second concept, that of a separately elected assembly, in which PR is both fair and just.
Forcing executive power to be shared with political rivals in a coalition makes it diluted, more representative and accountable. Indeed, the purer the proportionality the more representative it tends to be, as in Israel. (This is not necessarily a pretty sight, but that is down to the opinions of the electorate, not the system!) First past the post rarely engenders harmony. The invocation of "history" to hallow yesterday's fourth attempt at power sharing in Northern Ireland was prudent. It could last. It defuses opposition and favours consensus. The new Stormont regime, its mouth stuffed with money, could withstand a real delegation of political and fiscal power. Such coalitions seem to work when, as with the governance of Switzerland, there is genuine devolution of power.
It is a relief that in Scotland and Wales the executive is chosen from the parliament, as at Westminster, but from one composed by PR, thus virtually ensuring rolling coalitions. This was instead of the London option of a separate executive and assembly. Scotland and Wales should not have had directly elected first ministers, with proportionately elected assemblies to check them. This would not have met the requirement for fair representation in Edinburgh and Cardiff except for proportional representation in the balancing parliament/assembly.
Instead we have commentators flying about like £10 notes thrown into the wind. They carry no content, no programme, no sense of direction. They merely confer on the holder a false sense of having a valuable contribution to make to the political debate.
There is no perfect form of journalism. But since power without responsibility is its besetting sin, a journalism that empowers a thoughtful commentator subject to an external check – an Internet that permits separately empowered expression of different but as valid points of view - is preferable to one that internalises that check within the newspaper industry, where it is vulnerable to the whim of editors with an axe to grind.
The commentators are proving that they cannot work a system to which they have hitched their wagon for half a century. There is much talk that the next general election may yield a quirk rare under the first-past-the-post system of a hung parliament, with the Lib Dems again as king-makers. On the basis of 1977, 1997 and now 2007, it will mean not elective dictatorship but democracy. It is surely time for Simon Jenkins to fold his tent and go.

Sunday, 6 May 2007

Back to the Land

What bliss - no leaflets to deliver! I celebrated by constructing a mini-greenhouse on my allotment (a triumph of recycling, and the price was right - nothing so far) with room for nine tomato plants. In case you thought tomatoes only come in one colour, namely tomato red, I have news. They range from white through all the warm colours to black. And stripy. This season I'm trying Black Russian (black, obviously), Yellow Pear and Golden Sunrise (yellow, obviously), Sungold (orange), plus some red ones: St. Pierre, and a beefsteak type whose name I forget, and the glorious Gardener's Delight.

Friday, 4 May 2007

Labour Light Fiction

Yesterday St John's Wood tube station was littered with Good Morning leaflets resembling the Lib Dem design but produced by Labour: imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. They featured a "doorstep survey" stating that the by-election "is a straight fight between Labour and the Conservatives", with a bar graph showing Labour just behind the Tories, with support for the Lib Dems as minuscule.
The actual result in both of yesterday's City of Westminster by-elections was that the Tories held the seats (not a surprise on past figures), the Lib Dems were second and Labour were a clear third. The Lib Dem share of the vote increased: the Labour and Tory shares fell.
The Labour Good Morning leaflets also repeated that Lib Dems propose to "get rid of free travel for over 60s", which is, as is well documented, rubbish. This story is deliberately targeted at pensioners on low incomes - among society's most vulnerable members. To cause them anxiety by such means is not only deceit but also heartless, whether the aim is to win or, as here, merely to prevent meltdown in a seat where Labour never had any serious expectation of success.
To me, tactics like these are unacceptable from any quarter.