The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Her Majesty's Recession

Apparently the Duchy of Lancaster, which is essentially the property of the British Royal Family, has suffered a bit of a decline:

The Duchy of Lancaster - a portfolio of land, property and assets held in trust for the Sovereign - saw a drop of £75m to £322m in the 2008-9 financial year.

But the income the Monarchy received from the Duchy, used to fund her public and private activities, increased by 5.4% from £12.6m to £13.3m.

During the last financial year, the total cost to the taxpayer of keeping the monarchy increased by £1.5m to £41.5m.

The Beeb notes, however:

[T]he Duchy of Lancaster is a body created under Charter, it is completely self-financing and does not rely on any taxpayers' money.

Foreign Policy adds:

This is further bad news for her Highness, who has had her many, many requests for increases to the royal budget rejected by parliament in the last year. The monarchy's annual expenses currently run at £41.5 million, excluding an estimated £50 million in security costs. Nonetheless, Palace officials continue to engage in talks with the Treasury to elicit more funding for the Crown for, amongst others, planned household refurbishment and the 2012 diamond jubilee celebrations.

The Queen recently dipped into her now-dwindling private funds to pay for a few royal expenses, including Prince Harry's latest trip to New York.

The most surprising thing to me, though, is that £90 million doesn't seem like a lot of money, given the income to the country the Royals may generate merely by existing. How much money from tourists comes in because of the Royals? Has anyone studied this? And how much do most countries spend on heads of state, to what benefit?

Explanation of previous post; Why you need to read Sullivan

Two unrelated topics in one post? Preposterous. Unacceptable.

And yet.

First: my previous post reflected the difficulties in typing on a tiny G1 keyboard, which magnified the annoyances in maintaining a blog in the first place. Two entries disappeared after unintentional finger sweeps, and don't even get me started on the difficulties of adding an actual hyperlink from my phone. On the other hand, I can post from my phone, which I find so cool it makes me giddy. I do feel like someone living 80 years ago complaining about air travel: yes, ocean liners are more comfortable, and yes, the thing makes a lot of noise, but wake up: you can get from New York to London in one night. At some point the coolness overcomes the annoyance, and a new technology goes critical.

Second, if you're either (a) unaware of the unfolding news from Iran, or (b) not following it on Sullivan, you need to do both. This is what Democracy looks like. I'm more and more hopeful that Iran will prevail, and its unelected dictatorship will fall. It won't look like the U.S., the U.K., or any other European-style democracy, but possibly before the end of this summer, Iran will have an elected leader, and a legitimate government, for the first time in 30 years. There will be a terrific cost, but again: the Iranian people will, ultimately, win this.

I think Thomas Jefferson put it better than I ever could:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.

Wear green this week if you agree.

Between Iraq and a Hard Place

The Guardian is reporting riots in Tehran following reports that the Iranian election monitors have declared yesterday's election fraudulent:

Iran is facing political turmoil after hardliner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was confirmed today as the winner of the presidential election and outraged supporters of his chief rival took to the streets to protest against a "dangerous charade" after a record 85% turnout.

Tonight riot police in Tehran faced thousands of angry demonstrators shouting "death to dictatorship" amid shock and confusion after the official result backed Ahmadinejad's claim to have won, made barely an hour after the polls closed on Friday night.

...Ahmadinejad's crushing and contested victory by 63% to 34% is a grave setback for hopes for a solution to the crisis over Iran's nuclear ambitions and for detente with the US now that Barack Obama is seeking dialogue with Tehran. Israel immediately reacted to the news by demanding intensified efforts to stop Iran acquiring nuclear weapons.

Is Iran heading for civil war? And what's Israel's reaction going to be?

Labour searches for wheels, cart

The Conservative Party have apparently obliterated Labour in yesterday's local U.K. elections:

Although most of the county councils have yet to declare, early results show the Conservatives taking dozens of seats from Labour and seizing control of two county councils in the Liberal Democrats’ stronghold in the South West.

In Staffordshire, Labour, which has controlled the county for over 20 years, has already lost half its seats and the Tories are on course for an easy victory.

The Conservatives also took control of Devon and Somerset from the Liberal Democrats. The Tories have not been in power in Somerset for 16 years.

... Party officials hinted yesterday that Labour was likely to lose more than half its county council seats and all the four county councils that it still held. Results so far will have done nothing to lift their spirits. Pundits suggested the Tories will gain at least 200 seats although it is questionable whether they will get the 43 per cent share of the vote they gained in local elections last year.

It's sad, really. Gordon Brown actually has done well on paper, keeping the UK from suffering as much as other countries in the current recession, and generally doing the right things economically. But the man just can't manage the politics. Neither can David Cameron or Nick Clegg, by the way, which makes the situation even worse.

Any bets on when Brown will resign? It could happen this month.

May 25th has some history

As we wake up today to news that North Korea has reportedly detonated a 20-kiloton atom bomb (first reported, actually, by the United States Geological Survey), it's worth remembering two other major news events from previous May 25ths.

In 1977, Star Wars came out. (I saw it about a week later, in Torrance, Calif. My dad had to read the opening crawl to me.)

In 1979, American 191 crashed on takeoff from O'Hare, at the time the worst air disaster in U.S. history.

And now we add to that a truly scary development in Asia. And it's not yet 8:30 in Chicago...

More on Martin

I found today's Prime Minister's Questions more entertaining than watching Parker go after geese in the park, and for similar reasons. Every member seemed itching for a fight, and the leaders of both opposition parties called for elections. Well, we'll see; it seems unlikely the government will resign until it has to a year from now.

Anyway, this exchange started the fun:

[Conservative party leader] Mr. David Cameron: This morning the Prime Minister said that a general election would cause “chaos”. What on earth did he mean?

The Prime Minister: What would cause chaos would be the election of a Conservative Government, and public spending cuts.

Mr. Cameron: So there we have it: the first admission that the Prime Minister thinks he is going to lose!

I know that the Prime Minister is frightened of elections, but how can he possibly believe that in the fourth year of a Parliament, in one of the oldest democracies in the world, a general election could somehow bring chaos? Have another go at a better answer.

...

The Prime Minister: I notice that at no point does the right hon. Gentleman enter into the policy issues that are at stake here. At no point does he want to talk about what would be the effect of a Conservative Government in this country cutting public spending in schools, hospitals and public services generally, or about what they would do in leaving people on their own in this recession. Our duty is not only to clean up the system in the House of Commons—and every Member has a responsibility to work on that now—but to take this country through the difficulties of the recession, and not say to people that unemployment is a price worth paying.

They're both right. I naturally would prefer the Labour Party over the Tories, of course, but the fact is, Labour isn't doing a very good job. The other fact is, changing governments would be disastrous right now, and Cameron knows it.

The Economist has a good summary of Martin's resignation and the lurch towards premature elections.

Michael Martin resigns

Most Americans probably don't know about the scandal that has ripped through the UK House of Commons. It seems members in all parties stretched their Parliamentary expense reports quite a lot, including in one case a Conservative member, Douglas Hogg, who claimed reimbursement for having his moat cleaned. Hogg subsequently announced he would not stand for re-election.

The Daily Telegraph broke the worst of the story a few weeks ago, and yesterday, just after the Metropolitan Police decided that the newspaper will not face an enquiry for revealing MPs' expense records, the Speaker of Parliament announced his resignation:

Speaker Martin's position became untenable after he lost the support of MPs over his handling of their expenses system.

The disclosure in The Daily Telegraph that his staff had encouraged members to claims for "phantom" mortgages provoked fierce criticism.

This morning a motion calling for his immediate resignation appeared on the Commons order paper signed by 23 MPs from across the political spectrum.

Douglas Carswell, the Tory MP who tabled the motion, said he hoped Mr Martin's successor would have the moral authority to push through reforms that would "restore dignity to politics".

This is the first time in 300 years that the Speaker of Parliament has been forced out of office. And with respect to Mr Carswell, I think it will take slightly more than a new Speaker to restore dignity, but that has more to do with politics in general than the House of Commons in specific.

I'm highlighting this story because it demonstrates why we need newspapers. It took actual reporting and actual publication to bring this story to light, and I think the people of Britain—most of them, anyway—are glad the Telegraph did it.

How not to hold secret documents

Via Bruce Schneier, a demonstrably incompetent police chief in the UK has resigned after mishandling a secret document:

Police were forced to carry out raids on addresses in the north-west of England in broad daylight yesterday, earlier than planned, after [Bob] Quick, the Metropolitan police's assistant commissioner [and senior-most counter-terrorism official], was photographed carrying sensitive documents as he arrived for a meeting in Downing Street.

A white document marked "secret", which carried details of the operation being planned by MI5 and several police forces, was clearly visible to press photographers equipped with telephoto lenses.

Yesterday, realising the existence of the ­photographs of the ­document – which included the names of several senior officers, sensitive locations and details about the nature of the overseas threat – the government imposed a "D notice" to restrict the media from revealing the contents of the picture.

The Guardian article has a photo of the document, taken as Quick got out of his car.

Police also revealed that Quick's Windows password was "bob1" and that he routinely leaves his keys in his car "so [he'll know] where to find them."