Friday, September 07, 2007

Let Battle Commence

Argentina v France
Argentina v France KO 20:00BST
In just over half an hour, the 2007 Rugby World Cup begins. I shall shortly be heading out into the Village, where I shall be favouring Base Camp with my first World Cup drinking of the tournament.

This will be in no small part down to the establishment's fine Zimbabwean assistant manager, who has managed for England's opening game against the USA tomorrow, to relegate the England Association Football World Cup qualifier versus Israel to the poky little TV in the back near the kitchen.

It is the way he did it that deserves particular praise. He alleged that the technically feasible way to show both games was to show the Sky TV coverage on the big screens, with the terrestrial BBC soccer coverage on the small TV. The kevballers have reluctantly accepted this. It says something for their collective wit that they seem completely unaware that the Rugby World Cup coverage tonight is on, erm, ITV3, another terrestrial channel, not Sky at all.

The tournament opens with the hosts, France, facing the ever improving Argentinians. I shall, despite my French friends, be supporting France. This is not a classic case of the British supporting the underdog. It's simply a feeling of solidarity that many rugby supporters feel for the Pumas. The reluctance by the countries of the Six Nations and Tri-Nations tournaments to find some way to accommodate a team like Argentina that is as good as, if not better than some of these self-appointed elites is a scandal.

Argentina is currently ranked sixth in the world and deserves regular top flight competition to allow it to grow further, for the greater good of the sport.

Riding Two Horses

One of the leading causes of Euroscepticism
Peter Mandelson, who other than being one of the more free-trade minded commissioners, I still consider to be one of the most odious of individuals to emerge from the fetid swamp of NuLab politics, is at it again.

He has followed his boss, the buffoon Barosso, and several other commissioners, in a wholly inappropriate intervention into the internal affairs of a member state. The fact that he is the UK nominee to the commission makes it no more acceptable than any other commissioner's intervention.

According to the BBC:
EU trade commissioner Peter Mandelson has warned pro-European MPs not to get drawn into an anti-Europe campaign by supporting an EU Treaty referendum.


"Britain is not a country governed by the use of referenda. And those who argue for one in reality all too often want Britain to withdraw.

"I am afraid those pro-Europeans arguing for a referendum risk being drawn into supporting this agenda."

Source: BBC News

Curiously enough though he prefixed his comments with:
"It is not for me to express a view on the UK's domestic decision about a referendum"

Source: BBC News

In this, and in this alone he is right. But of course then went on to do exactly what he clearly knew it was inappropriate for him to do. When the ever ethically challenged Mr Mandelson went to Brussels, the commitments he made to the commission were in direct conflict with the oaths of office he had made as a government minister. Now, here again he willfully has violated the rules that govern his new role out of simple self-interest.

If Mr Mandelson wants to influence the decision on whether the UK should, or should not have a referendum, the path is clear. He must resign his role in Brussels and return to national politics where his voice may be legitimately be heard. Nothing would please me less than to see more of the deeply unlikable Mandelson in our domestic politics, but his intervention would be nonetheless legitimate; what he cannot do is continue to ride two horses, reentering national politics as and when it is in the interests of the Commission for him to do so.

As to the substance of his remarks, they are at heart pathetic. The idea that the likes of Keith Vaz and Gisela Stuart are some kind of unwitting puppet of the Eurosceptics is ludicrous. Their position is one of confidence and principle, where his is one of weakness and cowardly self-interest.

It is not these life-long supporters of the concept of European Union who cause the nation's distrust of the institution, nor is it the Eurosceptics. It is people like Mandelson and his vile colleagues, who insist that Europe continues to be something 'done to us', without, at any cost, letting the people ever have a say in the matter and letting it, perhaps, become their project too. It is the like of Mandelson who show 'the project' in a bad light, as they continue to shamelessly show utter contempt for the views of the people of Europe and campaign ceaselessly for their voice to be silenced.

Time to Stand Up

I Want a Referendum

Iain Dale has highlighted the launch of the new website for the cross-party campaign to raise the pressure on Brown to call a referendum on the upcoming EU treaty.

You can sign up to show your support quickly and easily on the site, as a few thousand already have.

Back already?

It's certainly a professionally put together offering with a fresh simple look and a direct message. We were promised something and now we want it. Their YouTube campaign video takes a similar approach:

If I was to question one aspect of the case made on the site, it would be the occasional forays in to the actual implications of the treaty itself, focusing on some sensitive issues like immigration and EU control of foreign policy. While I may have some sympathy with the arguments they make, especially in the latter example, I can't help feeling that this may diminish the potential for true cross-party support.

As I have posted previously, one of the most encouraging things about the current situation is the number of public figures who are highly supportive of the EU who have come to the conclusion that a referendum is needed, both from the standpoint that it is a promise that should be honoured, and also that it is a debate that should take place.

I'm not sure that with the tone the campaign has currently set, that some key players will feel that a broad enough church has been pitched for them to enter it. I couldn't imagine, for example, too many more senior Lib Dems, who currently seem to be in two minds on their position on a referendum feeling entirely comfortable with the current message.

It would probably have been better to have a clear position that it was a campaign simply for the promised referendum, not a campaign for a referendum and a subsequent 'no' vote. It should simply be based on the fact that such a vote was promised, is patently necessary if the British people are ever, as a whole, to feel comfortable with our relationship with the EU, and that it is long overdue.

That said, fundamentally it is an initiative I wholeheartedly support, and I hope it may act as a rallying point for the very many initiatives along the same lines that many have been working on.

The pressure must continue to mount on Brown. I can't believe, given his upbringing, that he can be entirely comfortable knowing that with one signature any reputation he may have had for integrity and honesty will be gone at a stroke. Add in the amount of political pressure he is under from several angles, and he might just decide that upsetting the Commission is very much the least of several evils.

Into the Confessional

The art of the possible
I've done a hundred or more surveys where I am forced to try and categorise what I do for a living, and nobody seems to have the right radio-buttoned answer. It's hardly surprising because it takes me about five minutes to explain it face to face with someone I haven't met before. I guess the closest bite-sized answer would be the somewhat discredited term 'Management Consultant' rather than something more focused on the world of IT where most of the day to day grind comes from.

In my defence I would say that although most of what I do ultimately has a result involving more computer systems, I've used what influence I have to nip ill advised and ultimately unprofitable 'good ideas' in the bud at least as often as I have promoted the use of the latest 'sexy' technology to my own business' gain. Other than in the shortest of terms it has been the right approach to take.

I was struck today by the similarity of the position of senior politicians, especially those in opposition, with the announcement of David Cameron's ideas for voluntary 'Citizen Service' for 16 year olds.

It seemed to contain all the right buzz words, and touched on an area where there is almost universal acknowledgment of the need for action. For all that, I was surprised by the level of support from some of my favourite areas of the blogosphere, most noticeably Iain Dale who termed it a policy 'Everyone can Unite Behind'.

To an extent I believe Iain, one of the most rational and erudite commentators you could ever wish to listen to is right. It is certainly a message that will appeal to the broadest possible church that the Conservative party can ever hope to appeal to. It is also possible that the appeal may go even further, given that the best of stinging attack from the government was:
Cabinet Office Minister Ed Miliband said the Tory proposals were "neither costed nor funded".

Source: BBC News

Neither "costed nor funded". Mmm, there's a formula we've seen before that basically means "that will be in our manifesto too and we'll just quibble over the balance sheet, and may drop that 'voluntary' bit too."

The problem is though, and I hate to use a buzzword myself, is that one of the most valuable skills of a good consultant is to really understand how the proposal sounds to the 'stakeholders', and to really put yourself in their shoes, view it throug their eyes. Ok, 16 year olds do not have the vote yet, and perhaps electoral maths comes first, but they can still make the difference between good policy and a costly failure from which no party can withdraw without loosing face.

Frankly, I suspect that the vast majority of 16 year olds to whom Cameron's concept will appeal are already doing a Duke of Edinburgh award or something of equal merit. To reemphasise the great value of such schemes is a good thing and well deserved, to assume that you can market the idea to a vast new audience of willing teenagers is something else entirely. To assume that, for those not already engaged in good works, you can take another six weeks out of someone of that age's life 'for the greater good', at a time when every moment of freedom seems precious, and think that it will breed anything but resentment towards those that demand the sacrifice of them would be, in most cases I think, naive.

There's a simple mathematical fact in play here. Mr Cameron is 40 years old, just a few years older than myself. We've also both had 3 years of Oxbridge with relatively short official terms and a lot of leisure time that we may or (in my case at least) may not have used constructively (in a socially responsible sense). We've both had a range of experience in the workplace which, if Mr Cameron was anything like myself, did put me in a position where, regardless of other sources of income, at least when younger, I would have been, and to an extent was, able to take make a little time for some personally enriching experiences; you could even, with no hint of criticism intended, say that Cameron's Rwandan experiences, which I think was a fantastic idea, fall into this category as were my own travels in India.

The problem is that even at my age, let alone Mr Cameron's, the time we have devoted to such activities represents a relatively small fraction of the truly free time that life has afforded us. Six weeks overlapping a year crammed with the pressures of exams would seem like a lifetime to those just becoming accustomed to some degree of control of their lives outside the prescribed requirements of the educational system.

Presented as one option, for the willing and enthusiastic, the existing schemes are fantastic. For such models to become the clear state mandated norm can only cause resentment whether a Tory carrot or Labour stick is used.

I'm sorry to be so negative about what is most certainly a well intended proposal, and I have a deep attachment to some of the underlying philosophy. That said, I must swim against the tide as I feel this was one of the weakest proposals in what should have been a very good week in Conservative policy announcements were it not for certain acts of petty vandalism.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

A Question of Breeding

Not here Sedley, sorry.
Today's Telegraph shed's a little light on the ridiculous idea from appeal court judge Stephen Sedley, that every man woman and child should be placed on the national DNA database.

He includes the 32 million or more visitors to the country each year, who in the dreams of Sedley will now have a unique form of welcome to the country, by being swabbed and added to a database of potential criminals. He is apparently unaware that in some of the countries whose citizens choose to visit the UK, the concept of a presumption of innocence still holds the whip hand in determining the relative rights between the individual and the state.

It transpires that:
Unusually - perhaps uniquely for an Appeal Court judge - Lord Justice Sedley is a former member of the Communist Party.

Source: The Daily Telegraph

A little further digging reveals that his father, also in the legal profession, was a lifelong communist who died in 1985.

The understanding that even in the eighties, when the true evil nature of communist regimes was becoming understood, that Sedley was at the least still close to those who were supportive of the aims of the self same regimes that Regan and Thatcher were beginning to fight against, begins to explain his cavalier attitude to individual liberties. It helps us understand why he ruled that a twelve year old, profiled but ruled innocent of any crime, must have his DNA profile held on the national database for the rest of his life; for one of Sedley's background the simple claim of 'necessity' from the state would probably be enough to trump any right to individual dignity.

Supporters of the judge may point to his support for the Human Rights Act. Above and beyond the extra wealth the Act has brought to the legal profession, it should also be remembered that many of the communist states that he probably at one time supported also had similar declarations in their systems of law. The problem was that the simple act of enumerating these rights brought with it the scope to limit and place boundaries round them, and it is clear that in the minds of many from the left that a claim of 'necessity' by the state should carry significantly more weight than I find comfortable in considering the need to abrogate such rights.

On a more practical level, there have been a few back of a fag packet calculations floating around, about the cost of such a scheme, generally coming out at about an initial £10 billion, and then £3 billion per year thereafter. This probably goes some way to explain why our government, which has abandoned any real pretence about caring about our liberties, is only luke warm on another authoratarian measure that would normally be right up it's street.

It should be pointed out that these figures are based on the cost of about £70 to process each test, and would come on top of the already spiralling costs of the ID card and National Identity Register scheme.

As someone with a background in genetics I can't really imagine there would even be any significant scope for the benefit of the scale of Sedley's scheme seeing the £70 figure drop. The processes are already highly automated, and at several key stages rely on natural processes that will only ever happen in their own sweet time, regardless of ministerial exhortations to hit targets for faster processing.

What is more likely is that the cost per sample would increase with the inevitable vast scaling up of the bureaucracy that would certainly be entailed. Furthermore, it is likely that the reliability of, and thereby the confidence in the system would fall off with potentially disastrous results. One only has to look at the well meaning project increasing cancer screening, where the inability to maintain the high quality of those involved in the process, and the delegation of skilled tasks to basic technicians has led to some tragic misdiagnoses.

All in all, this proposal needs killing more firmly, and indeed the campaign to get rid of data on innocent people needs to get underway, now that Sedley has ignited the debate.

Yes, a few guilty people will escape detection, but the number of cases where the DNA of someone previously considered innocent of any crime will be much lower than the already quite small headline total figures on the number of cases solved using any DNA evidence.

This is clearly not a good thing, but the dignity of the individual and the right to live one's life with minimum of interference from the state comes first.

As for Sedley, I could never support McCarthyite purges of those whose political past have shown remarkably bad judgement from the bench, but it important sometimes that we try to understand their past, and concern ourselves with the motivations that may lay behind unacceptable proposals carefully wrapped in a tissue of reasonable sounding words.

Update 1:00AM: Having found broad agreement from the good burghers of the village on Sedley's position, an interesting point was raised over such political interventions by senior judges.

Should, God forbid, another case regarding the retention of DNA evidence ever come before Sedley again, is there any hope whatsoever of a fair trial? He's happy for an innocent 12 year old's DNA to reside on a state database for life, so what hope is there for anyone else?

Any decent, fair minded judge would clearly have to withdraw from such a case having made such a clearly partisan position public.

The big question is whether such concepts as fairness and decency really mean anything to authoritarian scum like Sedley, and perhaps that's the biggest worry of all.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Yes Commissioner

Derk-Jan Eppink
Derk-Jan Eppink
Just short of £20 has just been dispatched in the direction of Amazon and I suspect it will be money well spent.

Derk-Jan Eppink, a Dutch former eurocrat, has penned an insider's account of the inner workings of the European Commission and its most powerful officials. According to EU Observer it does not portray the institution in an especially flattering light:
Deeming them "footsoldiers in the battle for integration", Mr Eppink portrays high-ranked eurocrats as being in constant battle between themselves for one upmanship and in battle with their commissioners to make sure they do not stray from the official message - also known as The Line to Take (LTT).

Source: EU Observer

None of the contents reported by EU Observer are anything particularly new, though it will be interesting to read them from an insider's perspective.

The running theme is one of unelected officials making fundamentally political decisions behind the backs of Commissioners who at least have a minute degree of democratic legitimacy, nominated as they are by democratic national governments. At the very least the Commissioners are those who face the public opprobrium when the policies turn out to be as appalling as ever, rather than skulking in the shadows working on the next phase of 'the project'.

Hopefully, in the face of Mr Eppink's pedigree, the book may at least help chip away at the facade of the Commission simply being a 'civil service' there to act at the behest of national governments on matters for their common good.

The complete europcrat training DVD series can also be ordered at Amazon here.

Quis Custodiet Ipsos Custodes?

Lord Justice Sedley
Deranged LunaticLord Justice Sedley
It was with deep revulsion I heard the vile ramblings of Lord Justice Sedley on the subject of the DNA database. The attitudes of some whose role place our fundamental freedoms at the heart of their thinking is becoming extremely troubling to say the least, and once again raises questions over how the judiciary can enter into a public debate without the slightest semblance of accountability.

For those who missed the deranged justice's ramblings, a precis of his theory is as follows.

  • DNA evidence makes it possible to convict more criminals, which is a good thing, but...

  • There are a disproportionate number of black males on the database, which is a bad thing, therefore...

  • Every man, woman and child in the country, including those on even the shortest of visits should be recorded, to make it 'fair' and destigmatise being on the database.
His reasoning for recording everyone's DNA is a logical absurdity of course. Pretty much anyone who gets arrested these days has a DNA sample taken and thereupon end up on the database in perpetuity. If proportionately more black males are on the database than white males this must be because more black men proportionately are being arrested; this may represent an unacceptable state of affairs or it may reflect valid police actions, but it matters not when it comes to rubbishing Sedley's perverted ideas.

As for the stigmatising aspect, yes I would agree there is a stigma attached to being on the database. If you have been convicted of a crime you deserve the stigma. If you are an innocent person against whom no case in law has been proved you do not, and you should be removed from the database. Simply making sure that every person in the country is on the database does not remove the stigma of being treated by the state as a potential criminal in the making.

What next? Going to prison stigmatises, so shall we make everyone spend a token day in prison (if we had the space) to remove that stigma so those that have served their time may have a chance for an easier fresh start?

The government has rejected the idea, however not in the most reassuring of manners, the BBC reports:
Home Office Minister Tony McNulty said there were no plans to introduce DNA profiling for everyone in the UK, but "no-one ever says never".

"We're broadly sympathetic to the thrust of what he is saying. [The idea] has logic to it, but I think he's underestimating the practical issues, logistics, civil and ethical issues that surround it," he said.

Source: BBC News

There are 'practical issues, logistics, civil and ethical issues' that surround ID cards and the National Identity Register, and the new NHS IT systems, but this has not dampened this authoritarian governments enthusiasm for treating us all as little more than state property, even if, especially in the case of the former, the benefits of their expensive schemes are limited in the extreme.

There is also an unhelpful contribution from an Association of Black Police Officers spokesman supporting Sedley's brainless position, equally devoid of any serious analysis of the situation he calls 'unacceptable'.

North of the border, the SNP led government, my attitude toward which swings from admiration to disgust on an almost daily basis, is on this subject on the side of the angels, as is often the case when it comes to individual liberties. Again, the BBC reports:
A spokesman for the Scottish Government said: "On 26 June, the justice secretary Kenny MacAskill announced a review of DNA retention in Scotland.

"In announcing the review, Mr MacAskill said that blanket retention was unacceptable in the relationship between the citizen and state.

"The review is expected to begin very shortly."

Source: BBC News

In Scotland, DNA samples taken when people are arrested must be destroyed where no conviction is obtained or no charges laid, with a very limited exception for certain violent crimes. This is a much more satisfactory system, one where people will feel happy to volunteer samples when it may be appropriate in the course of a criminal investigation, knowing that their genetic blueprint will not become state property for ever and all time.

Leaving aside the consideration of whether a true presumption of innocence can exist once a DNA match is made, rightly or wrongly with an individual, does more DNA data mean for a safer society anyway? Have speed cameras made the roads significantly safer? The evidence is equivocal at best. I'm not convinced that having yet more police officers trawling computer databases is the way we want to go, when the day to day crime that blights peoples lives needs more officers on the street to address.

Lord Justice Sedley should take a moment to look at some of the magnificent declaration of his predecessors in defending the rights of the individual against the state, and pause to consider whether he is fit to stand in their shoes. Then, perhaps if he finds himself in an empty room with a shotgun, he could do the decent thing, and make his own personal contribution to the liberty of the British people.

Update 6:00PM: I was surprised nobody had really sunk their teeth into Sedley's suggestion, but it looks like my news feed was just a little delayed, as Thunder Dragon is breathing fire. In his post he highlights the following positive statement from David Davis, the shadow home secretary:
"The erratic nature of this database means that some criminals have escaped having their DNA recorded whilst a third of those people on the database - over a million people - have never been convicted of a crime...

"It is long past time that the Government answered our calls for a Parliamentary debate about this database and to put it on a statutory basis."

Source: The Daily Telegraph

David Davis once again proves that is possible to have a tough attitude to crime, while maintaining a genuine concern for the liberties of the individual.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

No S*** Sherlock

Ballot Box
Sending a message, at last?
The EU Observer highlights an interesting report by political scientists working at the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies.

Every time there is a vote in which opponents of the EU advance, and its supporters suffer the cry goes up that "people weren't voting on Europe, they were voting based on the popularity of their national government". Bad results in elections for the European Parliament and rejections of the proposed treaties in referenda and the same refrain is heard. The same argument is also commonly used to deny popular votes in the first place.

While the researchers concede that this may have been a significant factor in the past they point to trends since the mid-nineties that suggest that this may no longer be the case. They have identified a pattern that while member state's govenment have trended towards becoming more positive to the EU, the European Parliament is gradually trending towards a more Eurosceptic position.

The EU Observer notes that:
Interpreting these data, the researchers claim that voters are increasingly using European Parliament elections to express dissatisfaction with the EU and with the pro-European attitudes of their national governments.

"Voters have a diffuse feeling that Europe has gone too far and that their national governments have a tendency to accept too much of further European integration," [one of the researchers] Mr Manow told EUobserver.


"[The Dutch and French referenda] fully fit the picture of an increased but as of yet not politically represented EU-scepticism. It's only that referenda bring out the populist dissatisfaction with the EU much more purely than the European Parliament elections did so far."

Source: EU Observer

I'm sure that even the most blinkered of British Europhiles would accept that this has been the pattern in this country for some time. While we might use local elections to bash a party that is unpopular on the national stage, there seems to be little of this type of behaviour when it comes to European elections. What else would explain the last election to the European Parliament, where a Conservative party that was still deeply unpopular on the national stage, and the UKIP which still has only the most tenuous of presences at Westminster, respectively trounced NuLab at the peak of its powers and the relatively buoyant LibDems.

In one sense it's encouraging that this type of behaviour may be developing a pan-European perspective. The problem is that the extent to which the central forces of EU integration give a damn what the people actually want is, to say the least, limited. It's possible that the backlash against the gradual erosion of the meaningful democratic power of the people within the EU system was fully anticipated by the EU elites; after all, a parliament without the power to initiate legislation could only ever halt integration, not roll it back in any meaningful way, regardless of its composition.

The EU should take on board that many people will cast their vote in Europe related polls not only on what the EU should do, but also if the EU should do it at all. They should, but on past performance they will continue to raise a single finger to the people whenever their plans and schemes are challenged.

Another Bad Day

Bob Crow
A Shaved MonkeyBob Crow
It's not only David Cameron having a bad day. Over at the other end of the political spectrum the union movement has been inflicting some self-inflicted wounds on itself.

The day started with Brendan Barber, TUC General Secretary, making a completely fatuous comparison between working conditions for migrant workers, and the slave trade. It was idiotic at best, and I suspect to some would be considered offensive had it been uttered by someone who happened to espouse the most moderate of right-of-centre politics.

He was quoted by the BBC:
"This study reveals systematic abuse of migrant workers, which is tantamount to modern day slavery," said TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber.

Source: BBC News

I won't comment on the stupidity of comparing slavery with a system where someone comes of their own volition to accept a paid job which they can leave any time they like, as Croydonian has done an excellent succinct job of doing so already.

Meanwhile in London, public transport been seriously disrupted by a strike by arch-prat Bob Crow's RMT, closing most of the underground system. Let it not be forgotten that the roots of the dispute are that the RMT are seeking assurances over jobs and pensions following Metronet's collapse, assurances that have, erm, been given, and given from the offices of none other than Ken Livingston, hardly a capitalist lackey. Even was this not the case, would the non-specific hypothetical possibility of changes in employment conditions in the distant future ever justify a four day all out strike?

I suspect part of the RMT's behaviour might be simple incompetence. The England football game is on Saturday, and unfortunately it looks like someone at the RMT, whose strikes have an odd habit of coinciding with major sporting fixtures, can't add up properly, as their strike ends on Friday.

There have been a few strikes recently that have had a degree of public sympathy, and there have been signs of sensible modernization of attitudes in a number of major unions. The RMT will be unlikely to see any significant support for today's actions, and in terms of understanding the modern workplace Bob Crow remains stubbornly neanderthal.

Actions like Bob Crow's can only set the union movement back, and diminish any sense in which it might once again be seen as a voice of reason. Judging by government reaction, Mr Crow can rest assured that if there was even the slightest chance of unions receiving new rights under Gordon Brown, that probability has almost certainly become zero as a result of his actions; he'll be able to play his pathetic persecuted minority line for some time to come.

Shut Yir Puss, Yi Haverin Bastirt

Michael Ancram
Nae Mair Pish Michael
I don't usually bother to stir myself over an issue like Michael Ancram's deeply unhelpful contribution to the policy debate within the Conservative party, because I know long before I get round to it someone will have done a better job of it than I, usually with more inside knowledge.

I will make an effort though in the case of the the 13th Marquess of Lothian, not only since he is Chieftain of the clan from which my Scottish roots descend, but also because I've usually found him someone who brings forth more useful offerings to debates, even if they do not always follow the party line.

It was a very disappointing effort to say the least. While delivered in his normal calm, thoughtful style I don't think much of what he said would have been especially damaging, he certainly would have been, or at the very least should have been, aware of the feast he would have been offering up to the Labour spin machine, and its coterie of ever ever helpful assistants, especially in the BBC Radio team. To be fair, I don't think even he could have fully expected Broon's ludicrous attempt to portray himself as the 'New Thatcher'.

It's getting increasingly hard to understand where Ancram is coming from these days. To me, it almost seems like he is suffering some kind of political identity crisis, as he adopts a series of positions that seem to be contradictory, either internally or to principals he himself has stood through throughout his political career.

Each in of itself can seem reasonable, even principled, even if one may disagree with his position. I remember his measured opposition to renewal of the Trident independent nuclear deterrent. I disagreed with much of what he said in the recent Parliamentary debate, however he delivered his speech calmly and with a rational explanation of why he felt the need change his life long position. Even though I thought his analysis was flawed, his speech was one of the highlights of what was one of the most mature and considered debates I've ever heard in the Commons.

This was though, not a one-off volte-face. Ancram was one of the principal signatories to the Henry Jackson Society principles, including the acceptance of military intervention as being occasionally necessary in the defence of, and promotion of liberal democratic values, but more recently became one of the principal Conservative voices against military action in Iraq. He has never seemed to be a particularly hard-core Thatcherite, yet now seems to be unable to grasp the reality of the need for the reforms David Cameron is trying to make, where others much more closely associated with the core of Thatcher legacy have managed to make that leap.

I was tempted to use the better known Scots phrase Sleekit Bastirt, however 'sleekit' implies slyness and cunning, and I don't think that this fits the bill for Ancram. If I was to be kind I think 'naive' comes closer. Nobody doubts Michael Ancram's intellect, but I don't think that as of now he has a coherent view of the political landscape, and to advance his half baked ideas and not anticipate the damage it will cause was decidedly foolish.

Some of the indisciplined behaviour by leading Conservative figures in recent weeks have been a particular tragedy, as parts of the media unsympathetic to the party have leaped on their contributions with delight, allowing them to push a series of very interesting, and to many appealing, policy announcements way down the news agenda.

I've just been listening to Tim Montgomerie, and (I think) Matthew D'Ancona on Radio 4. They made a valiant effort to draw attention to the Conservative's proposals for Education, including a very sensible commitment to restoring confidence in the 'A' level system. Half way through the programme it's looking pretty much as that this might be the only focus these sensible proposals will receive today, as the reporting team revels in the Ancram news, and delights over Ashley Mote's jailing. The fact that there were also very Thatcherite proposals over housing policy today also seems to be very far from the headlines.

Well done M'Lord.