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This is the Truth.

This is a lie.

This is the Truth.

This is a lie.

This is the Truth.

This is a lie.

We now know that, even before Minister James Purnell finally turned up for his photocall at the Tameside General Hospital, his fellow Labour MPs were already planning for a lie to be told (see here for the Telegraph Report).

Thus it is not just a matter of Mr. Purnell being a lying, cheating, dishonest dissembler: all five of his colleagues must own to that description.

This story tells you all you need to know about Labour MPs: when faced with a choice between the Truth and a lie, they will always reach swiftly for the Lie.

And what sort of Prime Minister is it that, when his MPs are caught out in a squalid little piece of trickery (and in Mr. Purnell’s case, rank hypocrisy, in view of his pompous utterings on the BBC’s shortcomings over ‘trust’), remains utterly silent. In this instance, Mr. Brown, we take your failure publicly to condemn these tricksters as tacit approval of what they did.

But that should come as no surprise concerning a man who has been castigated for his ‘Stalinist’ methods of conducting the business of government.

Is the gold which forms the UK’s Gold Reserve held at the Bank of England as pure as had previously been believed or has the Bank at some stage been cheated by an unscrupulous supplier selling The Old Lady of Threadneedle Street gold bars which are, shall we say, a few carats short?
This is the question raised in a number of newspaper reports (HERE for example). As usual the information has had to be extracted from a Public Body (one that ultimately serves the People of the United Kingdom), on this occasion the Bank, by means of a request under the Freedom Of Information Act 2000 in like manner to a dentist removing a set of particularly well-entrenched wisdom teeth.

The issue that is raised is that of the purity of some of the gold bullion bars held by the Bank, some of which may have been there for decades. Cracks have appeared in some bars which suggests to experts and even to the layman that those bars are not as pure as they should be. Today bullion which is intended for use by Central Banks are described as ‘London Good Delivery’ bars and weigh in at 400 ounces (12.5 kg) and should normally have a minimum purity of 99.5% or 995 fine (i.e. 995 parts of gold per thousand).

The fact that some bars may contain something in sufficient quantity to affect their appearance suggests that the level of purity is significantly lower than it ought to be and if so, someone has, perhaps in the dim and distant past, pulled a fast one on the Bank. Or, to put it another way, the Bank has been well and truly had.

The Bank, of course, seems unmoved by the possibility:

A Bank spokesman insisted it was not a big problem. The gold could easily be sent off to a refiner to be melted down and turned into new bars, he said.

No doubt that is entirely right, strictly speaking. But does it not also sound utterly complacent? What, you might ask, will be the value of the ‘new’ bars if it turns out that some crafty so-and-so once sold the Bank gold that was sufficiently impure to affect its physical appearance, say by a factor of 5%? That would mean the gold was only 945.25 fine and so, new bars at the requisite level of purity would necessarily be 5% short of what we thought we had in terms of the quality of ‘London Good Delivery’.

Current Bank of England figures show that in August 2007 we had 9.98 million fine ounces of gold, worth today US $ 7,358,753,000. If, however, purity was to be found to be 5% off, that would only be worth US $ 6,990,815,350 meaning that, at worst, we have US $ 367,937,650 (£180 million) less than we thought. Ouch!

I say “at worst”: of course, it may well be that things are not as bad as that but then they may equally be worse. But it does beggar belief that, over all these years, the Bank of England may have apparently never bothered to check that the gold they were purchasing was of the quality they thought they were buying, something which would be a matter of the greatest simplicity to check.

But my lawyer’s nose sniffs another scandal in the wings.

Since 1999 Gordon Brown, in an act of rank incompetence, has flogged off 12.3 million fine ounces of gold reserves (just over half of what was held in 1999). He has already been rightly castigated for having done so as the gold price in 1999 was US $ 278.76 per fine ounce whereas it is now US $ 737.75 per fine ounce, 2.65 times the 1999 price, so we have notionally, because of his foolishness and imprudence lost US $ 5,645,577,000 (£2,759,256,616). Ouch again! That is a lot of hospitals and nurses, as they say.

It is this 12.3 million fine ounces which attracts my attention, legally speaking.

It has been sold, presumably as being of ‘London Good Delivery’ quality, that is of 995 fine quality. If it transpires that any of the gold sold was, say, of only 945.25 fine quality (that is 5% less), the purchasers would, prima facie, be entitled to sue the Bank of England for not just the 5% difference from that contracted for but also for the consequential loss:

1) 5% of 12.3 million fine ounces, being 615000 fine ounces, at US $ 278.75 (the shortfall in gold quantity), which is US $ 171,437,400 (£83,789,447);
2) 5% of 12.3 million fine ounces, being 615000 fine ounces, at US $ 458.99 (the difference between the price in 1999 and 2007) which is US $ 282,278,850 (£137,962,830)

So as well Gordon Brown (who, as usual, acted against advice) losing us £2.8 billion, the Bank of England, by an act of incompetence which might easily have been avoided, may have laid us open to a liability in damages of £221 million and having gold reserves up to £180 million less than we thought: if, that is, the gold quality is only 5% less than we all thought. It may be worse.

Does any of this surprise us? No.

Will Brown and the Bank try to cover it up? Of course.

Receiving a comment which is so pertinent that I feel it deserves a wider audience enables me to challenge the spurious claims made by Europhiles that, because we have so many ‘shared values’ with Europeans, we should embrace joyfully their ghastly Empire to spread those values worldwide like latter-day emulations of Cecil John Rhodes.

The comment came from blogger Hatfield Girl whose interesting and crisp blog is “Angels in Marble”. Inter alia, she has an intriguing list of ten heroes which is as eclectic as you could hanker after, two or three of which had me reaching for Wikipedia. She writes:

I wondered if we are so close to the Low Countries after all.

The conflicts between the Dutch and the English discussed so ably by Furnivall in his study of Netherlands India were not merely contention over the control of, or at least access to, the spice trade; there was real diversity of view on the guiding principles of rule that can be summed up as the rule of law and the rule of properly based authority. The first leads to the liberalism and utilitarianism so typical of England and the second, rooted in Roman law, to the European, large state, detailed regulation of the lives of citizens mode.

As Furnivall notes, “In a society so constituted [the former] one may expect material progress and the promotion of capitalist interests, but one must expect also the growth of litigation and, in proportion as the principle on which the society is founded becomes effective, the multiplication of disorder and crime.” He goes on to discuss the restoration of rule by authority by Van den Bosch after Raffles’ introduction of the rule of law in Java threatened both the indigenous and Dutch social power structures, though this is much later of course.

This very different approach to how a society organises itself is still embodied in the English and European cultures and perhaps makes the Low Countries as distant from us now as are the East Indies.

Hatfield Girl has an excellent point, of which I have direct personal experience through my work at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY). Here the jurisprudence and the Rules of Procedure and Evidence reflect the curious mix of the Common Law and Civil Law that has been necessitated by the presence of Judges on the ICTY Panel from both the great legal systems of the world.

I arrived there ten years ago to be thrown into the deep end of the first multi-defendant International War Crimes Trial since the Tokyo Trials of the late 1940s (one other individual had already been tried and was awaiting his appeal). Fortunately I was able to get going very quickly as the Rules of Procedure and Evidence were essentially those which any Common Lawyer would recognise as features of their own legal systems. There was very little that one would think of being Civil Law orientated.

One consequence of this was that colleagues from Civil Law jurisdictions struggled terribly with the whole manner of adducing evidence, on the one side by examination-in-chief of witnesses and the other side by cross-examination. It was the latter with which they had especial trouble for in many Civil Law systems it is the Judge who questions the witnesses and your question has to go through him. He may then ask the question in a way which neuters the effect of what you were trying to do and, indeed, there is a real chance that he does not have your or your client’s interest at heart, so the question may well get ‘lost in translation’. Thus the Civil Lawyer is wholly unused to the use of a series of well-planned rapier-like questions which may be deployed like a battery of artillery to box in a crucial witness and there flounders like, well, a flounder.

Nor do they feel comfortable with many of the questions that we consider both routine and vital. In a trial for rape in the common law there always comes a moment when you have to ask a question of the victim that is vital to the issue of proof of rape: was there a sufficient act of penetration to amount to rape? There is, like telling people of death in their family, no easy way to do it and you ask it and move swiftly on. If the victim does not get the point at once there can sometimes be an unseemly, but still vital, process of going round the houses until at last you get to where you want to be, so to speak. The Civil Layer recoils at this.

It is said that when the ICTY was in its infancy, two of the Judges, one of them a dolt of a Frenchman in front of whom I later did a trial and who proved himself to be quite the worst judge in front of whom I ever appeared (and I have seen some real donkeys over the years), went, at the behest of the US Department of Justice, to trials in New York whilst on a visit to the UN. By all accounts they were taken to a rape trial where they were due to sit and listen to both examination-in-chief and cross-examination. At the end of the former, however, the French Judge lifted his skirts and swept out with his colleague in tow, declaring: “C’est trop brutal!” [It is too brutal!]. One wonders what he would have thought of cross-examination. Later when I did my case in front of him he was full of imprecations to ‘nuance’ the question: I suppose he must have blanched at how you ‘nuance’ the mechanics of an act of rape….

Later as we began to grapple with the jurisprudence and the procedural stuff, it became abundantly clear that when it came to having to adapt one’s game when some concept of Civil Law was adopted, it was the Common Lawyers who simply adapted to the new situation. On the contrary, when Civil lawyers had to get their heads round some adaptation (from wherever it came) they almost always got into difficulties and simply could not or would not understand what it was all about. There is a simple reason for this. The Common Law has over its history always been about adapting and changing to meet the needs of the society it serves as that society’s habits, technology, mores and commerce change, the better to meet its needs. This adaptability and flexibility means that, whatever you may read in The Daily Mail or The Sun, the Common Law always has about it a freshness that reflects its constantly evolutionary nature. Civil Law, much older than the Common Law, tends to ossify round a series of Codes which go for long periods unaltered and interpretation of which by a Judge to fit round some new circumstance is simply not done. I, for one, am in no doubt which system is the better equipped to meet the needs of it’s citizens.

This is a strand of that which Hatfield Girl has asserted. In our system the law can be a tool for the Citizen to assert himself against the overweening power of the state, a bulwark against oppression: thus we have a well-developed system of administrative law which has evolved on the back of Joe Public saying, of some high-and-mighty Jobsworth, “You can’t do that!.”

In Civil law systems, the law is there to ensure that Citizens do just what the law allows, no more and no less and that good order and discipline are maintained. It is the handmaiden of the State. That it might be used as the handmaiden of the Citizen would be regarded as revolutionary and thoroughly dangerous.

I take as a further example the question of human/civil rights. What has happened to the McCanns in Portugal is of a piece with all European systems: “Confess and you will only do two years!”, with the unspoken implication that if you do not confess, the sky is the limit. This, as I discovered from professional colleagues in Vienna when I was researching the Civil Law, is absolutely routine. In English law such an imprecation would cause any subsequent ‘confession’ rightly to be ruled inadmissible. Given its universality, I strongly suspect that EU Prisons are filled to the gunwales with innocent people who have thus been induced to ‘confess’.

If one wishes to one may follow, one may follow the strand of law that is now embodied in the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 through the Judge’s Rules to the Criminal Evidence Act 1898 and beyond and thence to the English Bill of Rights and the cases that involved the struggles between Parliament and the King in the period before the English Civil War via the US 1789 Bill of Rights and the US Constitution. Although the French Revolution’s “Declaration Of The Rights Of Man And Of The Citizen” may well have had an influence, it is the Common Law jurisdiction’s principles embodied in these documents which have had the greatest influence and, it may be argued, coming down the scale once more, that there is more of the English Bill of Rights’ DNA in the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the European Convention on Human Rights than there is of the short-lived Revolutionary document whose principles were quickly hustled off the scene.

So Hatfield Girl is right on the issue of how we run our societies and how disparate, in fact, are our approaches to nationhood and law, and one acknowledges that absorbing Flanders would prove a real tester. But for the reasons I have given I believe we would do it in workmanlike way and adapt our own polity to the arrival of a Civil Law entity with relative ease. But if France tried to digest us, I am confident that they would make a terrible hash of it.

As for this nonsense about ‘shared values’ it is, as with so much of Advanced Rampant Europhilia, just bosh and baloney.

Speaking of spurious claims, there are some which are made of the EU that are calculated to annoy. One particular canard that is oft repeated as a claim about the efficacy and desirability of the EU which needs to be nailed, regularly, firmly and with a Big Hammer, is the one about the EU having ‘kept the peace’ for the last fifty years. This is as big a piece of tosh as the notion that Bruce Kent and CND (of which most of the present Cabinet were card-carrying members before it behoved them to hide the cards away) winning the Cold War. NATO, led by the USA and firmly supported by the UK, and our possession of nuclear weapons kept the peace for fifty years after the war. The idea that the EU, full of wet blankets like Belgium, ‘neutral’ Ireland, Sweden and Finland, had any significant role in keeping the peace is as laughable as the idea that it should have responsibility for defending the continent in preference to NATO when the Emperor is finally crowned.

When I wrote my piece on the situation of Flanders and the one alternative that seemed not yet to have be thrown into the mix, namely a Union with England and Northern Ireland, I had not appreciated that this would stimulate some quite so much interest: it was helpfully drawn to the attention of Paul Belien at “Brussels Journal” by my esteemed colleague here on Umbrella Blog, Elaib Harvey of “England Expects” and provoked some fascinating correspondence as well as the usual bit of vitriol-throwing from what I suspect was the Celtic fringe. But they are entitled to their view, so long as they are polite about it. In the event I thought I would return swiftly to the topic whilst it was fresh in people’s minds with a view to making some serious points as well as gently prodding the hornet’s nest afresh: let us see if you can rise to the debate once more (I apologise for the awful pun so early in the morning!)

One important point that was made concerned the degree to which England has over the last one thousand years had so much to do with The Low Countries (a phrase that is now in desuetude but which I use here as neutral code for both Flanders and The Netherlands), often to the mutual commercial benefit of each party and often in ways which enriched us culturally as well as economically.

It should not be forgotten that many of our Anglo-Saxon forebears originated in what are today the Low Countries. In particular there is a demonstrable link between England and Friesland. In programmes about the English language I have often been forcibly struck when listening to the Frisian language by its similarity to the dialect one might hear in Norfolk and, indeed, with practise one could follow what was being said without great difficulty. In truth many of us can point to our own origins in Europe as a foundation for a more modern relationship.


Following the Norman Conquest, there came many Flemish weavers who had a large share in the development of England. Dutch immigrants started sheep-farming, which was to contribute so much to England’s early greatness. The Flemish type of industrial organisation inspired the formation of the English guilds of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. In the twelfth century Dutch merchants had their own private wharves in London and were members of the Guildhall. At the time of the Conquest, many Anglo-Saxon refugees settled in the Low Countries. Thomas à Becket escaped to Holland. Time and again Dutch soldiers have fought on English soil, where some of their descendants now are. In 1165, for example, Henry II fought the Welsh with Flemish and Brabant troops.

East Anglia is, of course, full of reminders of that relationship. Once upon a time both Norfolk and Suffolk were the heart of the English Wool Trade and brought great riches to the region, often evidenced today by a parish church which is of a size and magnificence which seems at odds with the small village that now surrounds it but which was, in fact, built on the back of the commercial success of the wool trade, many of whose members were the Flemish Weavers who then remained amongst us as wealthy and respected members of English Society.

As someone brought up in the Fens I am also reminded of the very great impact that people from the Low Countries had upon the landscape, amongst them Sir Cornelius Vermuyden (1595-1683) who was born at Tholen in The Netherlands. An engineer, Sir Cornelius introduced Dutch land reclamation methods and drainage techniques into England and began the two hundred-year process of draining the Fens. Supported by King Charles I and funded by a group of wealthy venture capitalists called The Adventurers (today commemorated in the name ‘Adventurer’s Fen’), he came to England in 1626 to begin what was to prove a controversial programme of land reclamation. The engineering techniques were highly innovative, but in some quarters the schemes proved highly unpopular as Dutch workers were employed and because it removed the livelihoods of some of the inhabitants of the area, who quickly realised that the draining would have a significant social impact which prompted The “Fen Tigers”, men who made their living from the copious fish stocks and the vast numbers of wildfowl in the Fens, to attack the Dutch workers. When an agreement was finally made in 1630 to complete the project, the engineer had to employ English workers and compensate Fenmen for the loss of hunting and fishing rights. There is, as they say, nothing new under the sun.

Vermuyden was also contracted to drain the Great Fen, or Bedford Level in Huntingdonshire, under an arrangement by which he would receive 95,000 acres of the drained lands. During this period the major contribution to the drainage were the Old Bedford River and the Forty Foot Drain near Ramsey in what used to be Huntingdonshire, which is today also known as ‘Vermuiden’s Drain’ which still drains the Fen to this day.

Oliver Cromwell was a farmer on the edge of the Fens (not very successful) and, much as a modern politician would do, tried to tap into the discontent associated with the project and in 1642, during
the English Civil War, got Parliament to order the dykes to be broken and the land flooded in order to stop a royalist army advance and to destroy the source of wealth of his political opponents, in an act redolent of modern Socialist chippiness.

In modern times our relationship with Flanders has assumed an emotional dimension with Britian’s involvement in the defence of Belgium between 1914 and 1918 and again in 1940 and the liberation if Belgium in 1944 as a result of which hundreds of thousands of England’s sons lie buried in the soil of Flanders and the names of Passchendaele and Ypres as engraved on our hearts as the word ‘Calais’ was on that of Queen Elizabeth. That this is appreciated by the people of Flanders is evidenced by a simple, yet deeply moving, act which takes place each at the Menin Gate, a memorial which contains the names of 54,896 officers and men of the British and Commonwealth forces who fell in the Ypres Salient and who have no known grave, at Ieper (Ypres) each evening when, at dusk, volunteers of the local Fire Service sound the Last Post as they have done every evening since the late 1920s, save for the period of the German Occupation when it was banned. Then the bugles were kept safe, however, and when the Germans left Ypres in 1944, the plaintive notes of the Last Post rang out once more under the Menin Gate the same evening.

So the relationship of England and Flanders over the centuries seems to have been largely a good one, built on sound economic ties and not marred by the sorts of constant warfare which have characterised, before 1603, our relationship with Scotland (and the odd little blip since then) and, until the Great War, our relationship with France.

Today there are some striking parallels in our respective situations. England concerns herself about the fairness of the situation whereby Scottish MPs have a disproportionate amount of power over measures which only affect England and how public money is spent there, whereas English MPs have no such say in how public money is spent in Scotland. Resentment exists and is building at the huge sums of public money which is transferred to Scotland under the so-called Barnett Formula, a state of affairs which results in Scots being able to afford such luxuries as free University education for its residents and for EU Citizens, but not for English residents, prescription drugs unavailable in England on the NHS and so on.

Much of the political support for parties such as Vlaams Belang and the general centre-right cast of Flemish politics has been built on a similar process which has taken place in Belgium. Thus in 2003 Flanders transferred €10.4 billion to Wallonia and Brussels by way of social security, Federal Budget payments, regional funding and government debt payments, a figure 2.75 times the amount so transferred in 1990. Whilst Wallonia and Brussels have lumbered along economically since 1955, recording a growth in Gross Regional Product of, respectively, 275% and 268%, Flanders has in the same period undergone a GRP growth of 474.5%. Ring any bells? Many English people will think so when contemplating the privileged position that Scotland occupies, thanks to the part its Labour MPs play in providing a majority for Labour Governments at Westminster.

When one looks at political orientation, the relationship with economic progress is actually quite stunning:

No wonder they would like to offload Wallonia!

I am also much struck by this comment from the BBC’s Mark Mardell on his blog:

One of my Flemish friends confesses that he finds his Francophone countrymen far more “foreign” than the Brits, like me. It’s probably an arrogant, very English way of seeing it, but to me there is no denying that Belgium can seem like an argument between the more “Anglo-Saxon” Flemish and their French-speaking neighbours. For humour or for approaches to the economy they would tend to look to the UK rather than France.

My point, at the end of this, must be that my proposal was very much tongue-in-cheek and one unlikely to become the preferred option of Flemish politicians who will want to see if they can go it alone. But there is in all this a sound message is that if Belgium splits, England might care to look to Flanders to develop anew a close relationship built on mutual respect, history, shared economic interests and development of a more Atlanticist approach to the many mutual interests that exist. And if Flanders should ever want to come knocking at our door with a proposal….well, we should look at them as our equals from whom we can learn much (not least how to make those wonderful chocolates!) and who would be a much more attractive partner than the Painted Picts who cost us an arm and a leg and who show no real signs of wanting to give up their Wallonia-style Socialist and Statist model.

And, if Flanders wants to go it alone, she should know that many here will be understanding of her motives and will wish her well in her great undertaking which now seems to have a degree of inevitability about it and that many of us will hope to refresh the ties of friendship which have long existed between us.

And France, I hear you ask after my last offering? Altogether more tricky, I fear, and a topic which I shall contemplate for your delectation next week.

UPDATE: Might I also commend to you this article by Frank Field, Labour MP for Birkenhead, who seems to me to a radical at heart with a conservative instinct who might be somewhat of an improvement in the production of ideas to some of the nonsense Cameron’s commissions have produced. I should love to sit and watch a conversation between Field and Redwood…..

We flagged it up in May and today, four months later, the MoD website officially announced it – the arrival of the Hermes 450 Tactical Unmanned Air Vehicle (UAV) in Iraq. The utility of this equipment is well proven and, after the MoD’s disastrous excursions into UAV design and development, this represents a welcome turn-round …

Posted on Defence of the Realm.

I hate to begin a post with the words “The Telegraph reports today…” but there it is. The Telegraph (disgusting spun rag that it is) reports today that the Tories are to return to traditional Tory values by decree of the Boy King. The headline brought a smile and my immediate thoughts were “he-he, we won”.

Posted by North Jnr on Umbrella Blog 3.

…will cost someone’s life. The time has come for the Department for Transport to intervene before Sunderland City Council’s failure to even understand the most basic of traffic sign legislation leads to a fatality. The Chief Executive have been informed that the inability of council officers to understand and follow the law could potentially have very serious consequences.

Posted on Neil Herron blog.

click here to go to the blog If there’s an election, it’ll be fought on the web, writes Alex Hilton in The Daily Telegraph. Hilton describes himself as a “new media adviser”. And he is right. But it is not only the elections, it is also the referendum, if ever we have one. In fact, political discourse is increasingly taking place on the internet.

Posted on EU Referendum.

As Labour-led Sunderland Council lurch from crisis to crisis like the Titanic looking for icebergs, the local by-election result last night could shatter Gordon’s chance to go to the country early with a snap General Election. But with the EU constitution spectre looming and now this body blow in the Labour heartlands …

Posted on Neil Herron blog.

The following post is complete nonsense. But, it serves to demonstrate how varied photographs, properly scaled and positioned can entice a reader to continue reading. It will also show how to overcome bloggers block. Politics is everywhere if you look for it. All these photos were taken in a one hour drive …

Posted by North Jnr on Umbrella Blog 3.

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