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Qatar and the UK 23, February 2011

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The British Prime Minister, David Cameron, was in Doha today. In addition to visiting Qatar University and giving a pithy little speech to members of the Qatar British Business Council, he also signed a £2 billion gas agreement with Qatar.

This one agreement on its own construes 10% of the UK’s annual gas demand. This also does not take into account the huge imports of Qatari gas to South Hook in Wales.

The Times of London notes that this agreement replaces and supercedes previous deals between Qatar and Centrica, which were done on the open ‘spot market’ according to whatever were the prevailing prices.

This, therefore, guarantees supplies for the UK, sales for Qatar and suggests that those who think that there is a gas-OPEC coming may need to re-think. One argument proposed by those fearing such a future was that Qatar’s huge LNG supertankers could be diverted from port to port to seek the best price. Yet, with a long-term contract established, such arbitrage cannot take place.

On a more personal note, the Gulf Blog would like to inform readers that their author here in fact had a chat with David Cameron today in Doha. So, you see loyal readers, you really are getting the latest news from the highest sources. During our hugely long-winded, lengthy, extended and in-depth…err…five-minute chat today we discussed several key issues of central relevance to the world economy if not world well-being. I am sure – rest easy reader – that he is now significantly better informed and will now…err…do loads of good stuff. Or something like that.


UK to scrap £4.1 billion new spy planes 27, January 2011

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As a part of the UK Government’s cost cutting, £4.1 billion worth of brand new spy planes are to be destroyed and sold for scrap.

The Nimrod MRA4 reconnaissance aircraft were designed to patrol the Atlantic searching for submarines. However, one expert notes that the electronics in the planes [once again, I note that these are literally brand new plane] are

already out of date. You wouldn’t put them in last year’s Playstation


The Ministry of Defence says that it will save £2 billion in operation costs by axing the Nimrods. It would not be cost effective, they note, to mothball the planes as not only would this cost a fortune but they would be yet further out of date when they returned.

Couldn’t we sell them, I hear you ask. Nope.

the most expensive aircraft ever made for the RAF [the Nimrod] has almost no commercial value.


So scrap metal it is.

As much as I blamed Cameron for this seemingly absurd decision, it actually appears to be the right thing to do. What we need to do now, however, is find out which genius at the MoD ordered these planes and shoot him.

Are there any nuts and bolts from 100,000lb (45,000kg) of hardware that can be salvaged, re-used, or sold on?

…the BBC reporter asks finally.

“Not a great deal, I’m afraid…there’s nothing there of value bar scrap aluminium.”


Purile student protests in London 30, November 2010

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I’ve already made clear what I think about the issue of student fees in the UK. But – frankly – this is my blog and this gives me the luxury of, well, moaning on about the same thing again.

This afternoon I was in central London where there were small crowds protesting the rise in University fees. Seldom have I seen such an absurd, juvenile, immature and vaguely thuggish group of motley protestors.

Their key method of protest today was to chant vile slogans and to generally make a noise. “Fuck the government” they screamed when prompted. “Down with society” one curious fellow suggested, though that didn’t really take off. As they walked from Trafalgar Square in dribs and drabs towards Parliament, their swearing increased and they began to innovatively start giving passers-by – mostly tourists – rude gestures while screaming obscenities: who knew such people could multitask. Amazing.

Incidentally, many stopped off in McDonald’s en route for a quick burger before continuing to decry western capitalism amongst other revolutionary new topics. Truly not a shred of comprehension or irony was visible.

When they reached the police line at Parliament they informed the police there that they were “nob-heads” and “wankers”.

I felt 100% sorry for the police: they just stood there in the cold for hours on end waiting to be abused by a bunch of angry children who had no real idea why they were there. I spoke to a few of them.

The first told me to “fuck off” when I asked what his rationale was for demonstrating. The second and the third were similarly devastating in their verbal reparti and eloquence of argument. I asked the fourth if she expected a world-class education for free. After 30 seconds of umming and arring (she was giving out the leaflets: think she might know their gist) she launched into a bitter tirade about how her mum had been paid to go to University with grants and even rent-help.

‘Mine too’, I replied,’but is that it? You’re here because you’re jealous of your mum? The past is, well, gone…things change and if the money is not there the money is not there’, I suggested.

‘Yeah well…corporation tax is…umm…you know…banks take our money….fucking Tories…’ and it generally descended from there.

Not one coherent sentence among the lot.

The majority – today at least, and by looking at the TV pictures of previous demos, the majority then too – were there purely and simply for a chance to skip school/class and to swear at police and saunter through central London spouting profanities because they could get away with it. This was it: their raison d’etre. Barely a brain-cell between them. Just an embarrassing, utterly and profoundly juvenile bunch of petty-minded idiots.

To cap it all off, it seems they spent some of the afternoon desecrating Nelson’s column in Trafalgar Square. Charming. Even were I one of those ‘students’ who wanted fees to be scrapped and say I was on the demonstration, one of the last things that I would do is desecrate a national symbol: I’m fairly sure that I didn’t need a University education to teach me that such an act would be perceived rather poorly by the general public to the determent of ‘my’ cause. Clearly, the ones that did this – painted revolution on the column – don’t actually have a cause and are there, once again, for the vandalism and yobbish opportunities that such a demonstration affords.



On the England World Cup bid and Panorama 29, November 2010

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Tonight on BBC1 there is a Panorama (an investigative show) examining corruption in FIFA, football’s world governing body. This comes in the week before the host for the next two World Cups is to be held. England are hoping to host the 2018 tournament.

The BBC are being pilloried in the UK for the timing of this programme with many fearing that by highlighting examples of corruption in FIFA England will be punished when the voting comes.

I am ordinarily the sternest defender of the BBC. I think that it’s a wonderful service and one of the best things about the UK. However on this occasion, I just can’t understand what they are doing. Surely this is guarantees to cost England votes when there is already stiff competition?

The fact that there is corruption in FIFA is up there with journalistic scoops like “Pope is a Catholic” and “Gaddafi in some absurd announcement”: everyone knows that its a mire of vote-buying and general malfeasance.

What’s worse is that England are due a world cup. Though I’m English and would like to see the WC in England, by any standard measure, England ought to have a very good chance: world class stadia, proven ability to handle such events, a fanaticism for football, guaranteed pay-day for FIFA, well placed for the majority of football fans in the world, being the country that gave the world the game but has not held the tournament since 1966 and so on: England are due and, while I hope I’m wrong, I think that the BBC have just lost England the tournament.

Saudi curriculum in British schools 22, November 2010

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The BBC flagship investigative programme Panorama tonight airs a show focusing on the Saudi curriculum being taught in British schools.

Around 5000 pupils are being taught at schools and clubs using the official Saudi curriculum and Saudi Ministry of Education textbooks.

Anti Semitic and homophonic content is rife. One diagram even shows exactly how and where thieves’ hands and feet are chopped off. Charming.

The Saudi government insisted that it had no direct ties with the schools even though their official curriculum was being taught and Panorama obtained one of the Saudi textbooks from a building owned by the Saudi Government in the U.K.

The Saudi education establishment has had a notorious reputation for instilling anti-Shia, homophobic, anti-Semitic and generally anti-foreigner messages for decades. Under the particular delineation of powers in Saudi Arabia, traditionally social spheres like education were administered by the Wahhabi authorities. Only after 9/11 and enormous pressure from America were changes begrudgingly begun. Exactly how far such changes have gone is difficult to judge. While the more egregious examples of racist content may have gone, a general intolerant ethos remains.



Bishop to bless gritters ‘to protect them’ 21, November 2010

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In the English county of Lincolnshire, a Bishop is to bless the gritting lorries used to salt the roads in winter to protect them.

This is frankly the kind of medieval nonsense for which I usually mock Saudi Arabia. I suppose the silver line in the UK is that firstly, these bishop-type-people have no real power here and secondly, the vast majority of the people here reading this will think that this is some kind of absurd if quaint throwback. In Saudi, however…

The Right Reverend Dr John Saxbee, who retires in January, has blessed the county’s fleet each year since 2003.

He said past ceremonies had been followed by a reduction in road deaths, which was “perhaps not a coincidence”.


The more I think about this the more offensive I find it; as if s/he/it would make a choice to protect a bunch of trucks as opposed to the litany of real misery experienced by swathes of the planet. Priorities…anyone?


Students must pay for their education 11, November 2010

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(Above: a picture of one of the student idiots rioting and breaking windows to make a serious political point. Notice how different he looks to most people yet how he looks exactly like EVERYONE ELSE in Camden)

Some time ago, a tiny island called the United Kingdom ruled the world. Somehow an auspicious confluence of events transpired that meant that the sun never set on the British Empire. Its navy was the greatest and largest ever seen, its industries cornered the world’s markets, its political power reached every continent and its cultural power can still be felt today through the English language and the fact that time begins in east London.

Yet these days are gone. Today the U.K. is a middling power on a par with many others. Still, arguably, punching above its weight in international politics, but clearly it no longer enjoys anything like the preponderance of power that it once did.

Though its industries and navy are vastly depleted, some aspects of the U.K. are still preeminent throughout the world. Specifically, Britain’s higher education is world-class. Its best Universities are still among the very best in the world – somehow – despite catastrophically low relative levels of funding compared to the new powerhouse of world higher education, America.

This miracle can and will not last. Generations have gone through Britain’s higher education system obtaining degrees valued and sought-after the world over without paying anything, even being paid to take the degree. Truly, it was something for nothing.

These days students have had to pay a few thousand pounds for their degree, but a fraction of what similar degrees would cost in America. Still, British Universities soldiered on, seeking private funding to augment government funding and the pittance of student fees, and they kept up their standards.

The Liberal Democrat platform going into the last UK election was that they would abolish tuition fees. Again, they declared, students should get a world-class education for free. It sounded nice and they successfully courted the student vote.

Along came the election and the Lib Dems found themselves, via the coalition government, with their hands on the reins of power for the first time in generations. Partly thanks to the exigencies of the coalition and partly now that they saw the ‘real mess’ that the economy was in they went back on their pledge to abolish tuition fees.

Recently, the government announced that fees would go up to a maximum of £9000 per year for the best Universities. Still less than half of what a similar degree would cost in America.

Students were outraged by this hike in fees and marched on Westminster to make their feelings known. Around 50,000 students joined in but a minority broke off the planned path and instead decided to attack the building housing the Conservative Party’s head quarters. They broke in, smashed windows, terrified staff and other protestors, stormed their way to the roof and threw a fire extinguisher off the roof in a petulant act of near-murder.

Ignoring the criminals who saw this rally as an opportunity to break things under the cover of masses, is the student position really that ‘we want a world-class education for free’? We want the best lecturers and professors, the best equipment, the best facilities, the best libraries, the best research environment and the best student experience for free? What a truly absurd proposition.

Yes, in the past others have been this fortunate. This is exceedingly annoying and modern-day students are rightly jealously angry. But just because previous generations were so wantonly if not criminally underfunding higher education is hardly a reason for this state of affairs to continue.

Students are entitled to feel betrayed by the Liberal Democrats, but that serves them right for believing in a wholly stupid policy in the first place. I too would feel aggrieved if my politician promised me breakfast in bed every day but didn’t deliver, but then again, it would be mostly my fault for believing in something that was patently not going to happen.

To think that British Universities could maintain their place at the top of the world’s league tables without a radical change to the ways that they are funded; to think that they could continue to compete (and beat!) Harvard and Yale while their funding is but a fraction of theirs is farcical. The endowment of Harvard University alone is more than the endowment for every UK University put together. As one Professor moving back to the States from Cambridge University put it, ‘the formal collegiate dinners in castles are nice…but double the pay back in America is nicer.’

Things have to change. Tuition fees have to come in. And in the real world people cannot get a world-class education for a pittance. Is that really such an unreasonable proposition?



Video: UK army abuse of Iraqi civilians 5, November 2010

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The following video is taken from The Guardian website. They describe its content as the UK’s ‘Guantanamo’.

As unpopular as this may well be, I wholly do not class shouting at a prisoner as abuse. The development of this kind of ethos, however, can be dangerous. Arguably the death of the man in UK custody whose case prompted the release of these videos is a case in point.

Much as with Godwin’s Law, I feel that we need to be much more careful with the use of the word torture than we currently are. I believe that I know what torture is – like pornography – when I see it. I am sure that lawyers can argue that according to various conventions this is an example of torture, but for me it is not.

Describing these activities as torture demeans what purportedly happens in jails in Egypt (the black house), Syria, Iran, North Korea etc.

UK’s most advanced sub runs aground 23, October 2010

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One of the most advanced submarines in the world and the future of Britain’s submarine force ran aground off the coast of the Isle of Skye. What a joke.

And in a nice little twist, the tug boat that went to rescue it is planned to be cut in the defense spending review.

From The Times

Blears: ‘Labour is a nasty party’ 1, October 2010

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Hazel Blears is a Labour MP for Salford near Manchester.