American Government (8th edition) by Gitelson, Dudley and Dubnick
    Purchase at: Amazon;

  • Randi Art
    This is a Flickr badge showing public photos from randubnick. Make your own badge here.
  • Draw Breath (Friends CiarĂ¡n and Isabel)
  • Sociable Geek (Friend Stephen)
  • Meditations71 (Friend Stefan)
  • Slugger O'Toole
  • Ideal Government Project
  • Thur's Templates

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Rebates, Freemasons and a bit of drama...

As predicted in my previous post, the sun did peek through the Belfast clouds by late morning and I was able to carry out my plan for heading down to Roast for a large cappuccino and my usual "bagel melt" lunch while I read the Sunday Observer. An observation on my reading of the Observer: it takes a little more than a cursory reading of the news these days to see that accountability remains so central to the public perspective on governance -- both public and private.

Consider, for example, just the headlines on pages 6 and 7 of the Observer news section. Four stories, completely unrelated (so it seemed), were found there.

One is about the current headline grabbing dispute between the UK and the EU over the British rebate that was negotiated by Thatcher a couple of decades ago in which now amounts to a 3.1 billion GBP return on what the UK puts in each year. The net effect seems to be that the UK contributes something around 3 billion GBP a year to the operations of the EU. This compares with a net inflow of about a billion GBP from France and 5 billion GBP from Germany.

The rationale for all this was an issue of equity raised by Thatcher back in 1984, for while the formula applied for contributions to the EU were consistent across-the-board, the expenditure side of the EU budget tended to favor France and other nations. While the French have obvious political reasons for raising the issue at the moment (to distract attention from the failure of the recent referendum and to give Jacques Chirac some political wiggle room in the postelection crisis), it has generated quite a bit of positive support from others (including some prominent Brits) who find that the equity shoe is on the other foot in 2005, especially in the newly expanded EU.

The rebate has always been a bit of an issue in the background, and both Blair and Brown cannot have been surprised that it would eventually emerge from time to time. This is, after all, an age of accountability where everything and anything can be revisited -- especially 20 year old agreements. The beauty of their response (although it seemed to take a while for them to come up with one beyond Blair's adamant refusal to negotiate the rebate announced last Wednesday) was to raise the issue of accountability for the entire EU budget, and especially as it relates to France. We will reconsider the rebate, they argue, if you will reconsider the way funds are spent, particularly the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) which seems to be so lucrative for the French. The result is we now have a stalemate that will probably result in little or no change in the short-term....

Two of the other articles on those pages highlight perhaps more politically trivial matters that are no less a function of the current obsession with accountability in its "transparency" form.

There is a piece about the delay in the release of ministerial diaries sought by the Observer under the Freedom of Information Act that recently went into effect in the UK. The Observer asked for the diaries six months ago under the pretense that it wanted to see what contacts ministers had with lobbying groups and others. This article was probably a reminder to Lord Falconer who heads the Department of Constitutional Affairs that the paper was still waiting...

The other small item was a story about a Commons motion that will be tabled on Monday asking that all MPs and peers be required to openly declare their membership in secret societies -- something presently required of police officers and judges according to the article. It seems as if underlying the sanity of British government is a bit of paranoia about the conspiracies being hatched among the Freemasons....

Last and certainly least, it is the rather hot topic (it must be to deserve so many column inches) of Kevin Spacey's departure from the London stage so he might engage in a bit of filmmaking (something about playing "archvillain Lex Luthor in Superman Returns"...). Now what does this have to do with accountability? And why is it on one of the main news pages in this otherwise semi-respectable British broadsheet? Well, it seems as if the folks at Old Vic have been a bit slow in announcing and advertising the change in stars of current play, The Philadelphia Story, and this says generated quite a reaction from folks who bought tickets on the assumption that they were going to see Spacey perform. They want their money back, but the theater is unwilling to comply (they have been in rather tight financial straits of late). After all, the patrons argue, why would they go see some badly reviewed play if it wasn't for the celebrity featured in all the adverts. Theater management is apologetic but unwilling to admit that this was done on purpose or that it was different from any other situation when an actor has suddenly been replaced (they give you the impression that the Superman role was some sort of last-minute arrangement, or even an emergency). It looks like the intermediaries in this little drama -- Ticketmaster -- will provide the refund demanded by angry theatergoers, but I'm sure that will see some new law or regulation emerging out of this episode. After all we do live in an age of accountability....

links to this post

Comments on "Rebates, Freemasons and a bit of drama..."


post a comment

Links to this post: