Monday, 30 July 2007

The Chinese "Civil War" Moves Up a Gear

Readers of my old blog, Liberal Legend, might recall that I charted the strengthening of Hu Jintao's political position inside China by moving against the so-called "Shanghai faction" of the Chinese Communist Party. The Shanghai faction is apparently loyal to former President, Zhang Zemin. Ironically, it was members of this faction that tended to hold sway in Jiangxi Province when I worked there.

Chen Lianyi, the former Party Secretary of Shanghai, has apparently been kicked out of the Chinese Communist Party in the past week. An interesting act of retribution that will have put the fear of God amongst Jiang loyalists and probably Jiang Zemin himself. It may just become possible that Hu is going to move against the old man himself or potentially some of the "old Guard" themselves (Li Peng?). Li's family has been alledged, in true Taizi Dang fashion to have been involved in corruption and the use of Li's position to enrich themselves.

So, having hit the currently existing Shanghai faction, how far is Hu prepared to go? Will he also move against Zeng Qinghong who would have been Zhang Zemin's favoured successor?

The 17th Party Congress could prove even more interesting than the last one for seeing how powerful Hu Jintao really is.

Saturday, 28 July 2007

Returning from Kosovo in Triumph!

I'm delighted to report that my Management Development Programme was a great success with 10 very happy punters if the daily evaluation forms were to be believed. Very encouraging and it was fantastic to do what I love doing AND getting paid for it!

It seems that someone was listening to my concerns on Tuesday and I'm pleased to say that the Serbian delegation joined for the remaining two days of the programme. It was good to see the Albanians and Serbs cooperating together and it filled me with some optimism that a shared future of mutual coexistence might just be possible. Working in Kosovo has certainly helped me to put several things into perspective.

The weather was fantastic out there and I'm rather sorry that it is such a wet homecoming to Folkestone. Folkestone in the sunshine is such a great place and I am really hoping that we might get something of a summer here still.

I'm hoping that there will be some more training out there in Kosovo the not too distant future as I had a great time meeting with friends in the international development business and making new friends amongst the Kosovars who work on the project.

Now it's back to building up my West End Training business here in Kent through building up more relationships with local businesses and individuals. I can't wait for Monday!

Tuesday, 24 July 2007

The Pity of War and the Joy of Training

Today was a bit of a jolt after several pleasant days spent in Pristina. I travelled this morning over to Mitrovica and I have to say that whereas Pristina has, on the whole, recovered from the 1999 conflict the situation on the road to Mitrovica showed a completely different side to Kosovo. In shades reminiscent of my trip to Bosnia-Hercegovina in October 1998, there were a significant number of bomb damaged, burnt out and bullet holed buildings along the main road between Prishtina and Mitrovica. Very sad to see.

My colleagues and I didn't cross over the river running through Mitrovica into the Serbian part of the city, instead we were training in a hotel on the south bank. Sadly, for reasons of concern for their personal security the would be Serb trainees didn't attend today. This made me personally sad since I have always taken the view that it is important for people to rub along together even if we don't always see eye to eye. Perhaps it is my instictive Liberalism that gives me this view.

The training went well today. Everyone seemed happy (including me) and I had my usual fun time delivering training on people management (which, according to one or two people near Folkestone, I apparently know nothing about) and project management. It's always good fun getting people actively involved in their learning and I also learned a lot about what it is like trying to run a legitimate business in Kosovo (difficult, apparently) - Don Liberali, take note.

I hope to see our Serb colleagues tomorrow and look forward to another day doing what I love doing - developing managers. Businesses in Kent, take note.

Saturday, 21 July 2007

"Good Morning Prishtina"!

It's been a great time here in Prishtina. I've hardly had a chance to pause for breath as quite a few of my mates in international development are here working either with EU projects or for UNMIK.

Wednesday night reunited me with a Bulgarian friend, Dimitrina Karayotova, who I had the pleasure of training and coaching in her home country back in 2000. She's now working for the Kosovo Trust Agency, a body tasked with privatising many of the state owned enterprises in Kosovo.

Last night my friend Jim Duncan rolled in from Croatia where he's working on an EU project with the Ministry of Trade and Industry helping them to develop their SME policies. Jim and I worked together several years ago in both Chengdu and later Nanchang, China. We met up with Mike Mann who worked with us in Nanchang on the EU-China Enterprise Reform Project.

I got an early morning call to meet Jim and we went off to the Phoenix Bar near the UNMIK buildings to watch New Zealand beat Australia in the Tri-Nations Rugby. Then I met up with another of my China friends, Bill Cox and his wife Julia for lunch. It's all been go since I got here and I had to take an evening off to recover!

I'm also been well looked after by my local colleague Halit, who I will be sharing the pleasure of delivering the management development training next week in Mitrovica. I have to say that so far, working here in Kosovo has been a surprisingly very pleasant and positive experience. Long may it continue!

Friday, 20 July 2007

Have the Wheels Come Off Cameron?

By-election junkie that I am I was compelled to stay up and watch Sky News last night (thanks to the ex-pat community here it is widely available in Prishtina) and follow the results of the by-elections. Congratulations to Greg Stone who did a great job with Ruth Milburn and the team up in Sedgefield and congratulations also to Nigel and the team in Ealing Southall. I'm sorry that I was not able to play a more active role.

Despite all the hard spin I think David Cameron will have been feeling rather concerned that the Tories are still not able to hack it in by-elections. He still does not seem to have been able to get it right with regards to candidate selection and the Tory grassroots have to be getting more and more frustrated. He's always wanted to do a Blair but to get more and more detached from the Party is perhaps not a wise strategy. Another failure like last night and he's likely to end up following IDS.

The only slight niggle I have is that the Tory vote did not collapse enough and enable us to take two seats. The Tories are probably not much more than spoilers now and Brown will have to fancy his chances if he calls a May 2008 General Election.

Thursday, 19 July 2007

Boiling in Pristina

It's got to be said that Pristina is boiling for more than one reason. Firstly, it is about 40C here during the daytime which I don't mind so much and only wish we could enjoy something like that in Folkestone where the temperature struggles to get much above 20C for most of the time at the moment. Where DID that hot summer we were promised go?

The second reason relates to difficulties with the Russians. All the talk amongst the Kosovars is about difficulties with Putin (does that sound familiar?). He's not quite doing a Krushchev by banging his shoe on a table shouting "nyet, nyet, nyet" but he seems to be not far off. The Kosovars are getting rather impatient regarding the final status of Kosova and it has to be said that if they weren't Muslims then Vladimir Putin would probably not be on their Christmas card list.

They also revere Tony Blair (yes, I too share that collective "WHY?" that goes up from Liberal Democrats - hopefully Greg Stone will be Blair's replacement as MP within the next few hours) and more understandably they will soon be erecting a statue to Bill Clinton here in Prishtina.

I've now got to get back to work and burn the midnight oil preparing management training materials for next week. In the meantime Prishtina is buzzing tonight with talk about the future and uncertainty.

Wednesday, 18 July 2007

Hello from Pristina

I've arrived safe and sound in Pristina and I have to say that the place is a lot better than I was expecting. Having worked in Bosnia in 1998 I was expecting some similarities in terms of bullet hole damaged buildings and so on. Although it is obvious that although the place is perhaps not amongst the best places architecturally (lots of 70s and 80s concrete blocks which wouldn't look out of place in back streets in China) it certainly isn't all that bad.

The UNMIK mission is clearly a major presence in the City and there are a significant number of ex-pats about. In fact, I met a friend from Bulgaria tonight who I had trained in 2000 and she now works for the Kosovo Trust Agency which is responsible for privatisation and liquidation of former state owned assets. I've been rather surprised at how small a world it is here in Kosovo having spoken to or heard of the exploits of a number of friends and acquaintances in the international development trade.

My Kosovar driver Bardh spoke fantastic English and was able to brief me on what was going on politically from a Kosovar point of view. Naturally there are at least two sides to every story but it does seem that there is quite a lot of tension in the air at the moment for various reasons.

Anyway, I shall meet my team leader tomorrow morning, the Italians who are running the project (which is working with disadvantaged groups in the Mitrovica area) and my local counterpart expert who I shall be delivering the training with next week.

GOOD LUCK GREG AND NIGEL FOR TOMORROW. I hope that we have great success in the by-elections tomorrow and I'm sorry that I can't be there to help.

Monday, 16 July 2007

Farewell Lennard Woods

Today was the funeral of Lennard Woods, the Chair of Bromley & Chislehurst Liberal Democrats who was so tragically taken away from us on the 26th June.

It was a sad but good occasion to remember the life of a great and persistent Liberal Democrat (he stood for election to Bromley Borough Council on numerous occasions and only missed by 50 votes in 1998), father, husband and friend. Michael Chuter gave a great eulogy which Len (what we called him behind his back) would have been proud of.

Thanks Lennard for the memories and all your encouragement. I think that if you had been with us today you would have known that you will never be forgotten.

Saturday, 14 July 2007

Technocracy is not Democracy - A Response to Cui Shixin

Cui Shixin is a senior editor of Remin Ribao (The People Daily in English), the main mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Party (equivalent to "Pravda" in Chinese terms). Cui has made a bit of a song and dance about the appointment of Chen Zhu, as Minister of Health. Chen apparently has no party affiliation and is the second Minister "elected" this year who is not a member of the Chinese Communist Party.

The previous appointment was Wan Gang who was appointed Minister of Science and Technology. Wan is a member of the China Party for Public Interest (Zhongguo Zhi Gong Dang) and was the first non-Communist Minister since the 1970s. One of the "8 Concubines" the non-Communist Parties of China are about as effective a political opposition as the non-Communist Parties were in the former East Germany. The last time any of the so-called "democratic" parties considered setting up as a political opposition to the Communists was in the mid-90s and then, they did not follow through.

Cui seems to be suggesting in the typically round about way that Chinese Communists tend to discuss political issues that this somehow shows the Chinese Communist Party's commitment to the development of "socialist democratic" politics. Hmm....

Apart from "socialist democratic" politics being an oxymoron, the reality is that China is at best in transition from authoritarianism towards some form of technocracy. Clearly the Chinese Communist Party has had a dismal record in it's handling of a number of major health issues. It's performance around SARS was pathetic whilst I lived in China and resulted in travel in much of China being effectively shut down for a few months. Their handling of bird 'flu wasn't much better. China has failed to inspire confidence in the way it has continually sought to cover up what happens. The factors leading to this are two fold. They are the "Tiangao, huangdi yuan" syndrome, where local government officials deliberately keep national government officials in the dark for reasons of personal power and a desire to avoid interference from Beijing. The second relates to the nature of the Communist Party itself and it's "knowledge is power" paradigm. The Communist Party would often like to pretend that China is perfect sometimes and this means a desire not to lose face on the international stage. Having said that, I suspect that sometimes Beijing has less idea what is going on on the ground than the international media at times.

Quite frankly, in the light of the Chinese Communist Party's dismal health record it was essential for social stability that they turned to a non-Communist to try to rebuild trust amongst the international community.

However, Cui Xiansheng, let us be clear, technocratic appointments are still no substitute for genuine democracy. Please try not to insult the intelligence of the international community by pretending otherwise.

Starbucks and the Forbidden City - Lessons for Liberal Internationalists

I am not completely surprised to hear that finally, after a significant amount of pressure, Starbucks has finally been effectively asked to leave the Forbidden City (Gugong) in Beijing. However before we all cheer at an major American multinational has being humbled there are some quite important underlying lessons which need to be borne in mind from this episode.

Firstly, official Chinese sanction must have been given to Rui Chenggang to wage his campaign against Starbucks. Rui is a high profile media personality in China and you don't usually get into such a position unless you are seen as "safe" by the Chinese Communist Party (typically meaning membership cards for high profile positions only). Rui criticised the Starbucks cafe on the grounds that it "trampled on Chinese Culture".

Such statements show quite clearly that the Chinese have not really moved forward from nationalism, and particularly economic nationalism, at all. This should be somewhat worrying preceding the Olympic Games. Far from opening up the country, the Games appear to be stoking nationalist sentiment. There is also little evidence of any positive moves on human rights either. Quite the opposite.

The second lesson to be learned is that official discourse in China is still far from embracing any genuine form of liberal approach to international relations. This should cause concern to those who hope for a democratic big bang. Instead, the likelihood is that any "democratic" government in China would attempt to outdo it's rivals on who would best stand up for China on the world stage in the event of a Communist collapse. It would even be likely if the Communist Party split into two competing factions contesting elections as one Chinese commentator has suggested as an approach to rooting out inherent corruption in the Communist Party power structures.

Liberal democracy in mainland China seems, regrettably, a long way off as this episode demonstrates.

Wednesday, 11 July 2007

R.I.P. Councillor Chris Gaster

I've had more sad news this evening from my Bromley friends. Chris Gaster, Councillor for Crystal Palace Ward on Bromley Borough Council sadly passed away at lunchtime after a long battle with cancer.

Chris was first elected to Bromley Borough Council in 1971 and I understand that he was originally a Labour Councillor before seeing the light and joining the SDP in the 1980s and then subsequently joining the Liberal Democrats.

Like Lennard Woods, Chris will be sadly missed. Our thoughts are with his wife and daughters.

Kosovo Bound

After a few weeks waiting for a decision from the European Agency for Reconstruction I am delighted to announce that I'm going to be going to the Mitrovica area in Kosovo to deliver some management training over the next couple of weeks.

I'm really looking forward to it as it will my first trip to the former Yugoslavia since I delivered training in Bosnia-Herzegovina in October/November 1998. It's also another place I have never worked in before which is also good.

Some fairly scary economic statistics there though. Off the top of my head I understand that there are apparently only 6000 people working and 43 000 unemployed! I think I've got my work cut out to help local companies and managers create enough new jobs.

I'm hoping to blog whilst I'm over there to share my experiences.

Tuesday, 10 July 2007

Rounding on the Brewers - Is this the Tory "Clause 4" Moment?

Those who know me well will be aware that I was born into a pub (The Prince Albert in Deal) and grew up in the Oddfellows Arms in Folkestone. During those years the brewing lobby (particularly the "Portman Group" members) gave not inconsiderable sums to the Conservative Party.

Arthur Guinness was a Conservative MP as was Samuel Whitbread. Many Tories also were strongly opposed to Lloyd George's licensing law proposals during the First World War which shaped pub licensing for more than 70 years.

The proposals from the Tories to raise duty on beer by 7 pence is nothing short of astonishing given the historical links going back 2 centuries. Could this quietly be the Conservatives "Clause 4" moment when they finally round on the brewing lobby?

Monday, 9 July 2007

My Political Future

In the light of recent events I have been thinking very hard about my political future. I've decided that I no longer wish to remain a member of Shepway Liberal Democrats and will be making a formal written request to Bromley & Chislehurst Liberal Democrats to rejoin them this week and aide them in their campaigning.

This will enable me to continue to play a role in the wider Party and to continue to support the ideals and implementation of genuine Liberalism, something to which I have dedicated the whole of my adult life. I will, however, remain living in Folkestone and running my businesses from there. I am sad that the chance to represent my hometown in Parliament as a Liberal Democrat, a dream I worked towards for the best part of 20 years, has now sadly gone for good.

There have been some strange allegations passing around (mainly, I suspect, created in the mind of a certain local newspaper editor who shall remain nameless) that I was somehow considering forming yet another breakaway Party from the Liberal Democrats. This is an allegation without foundation. I have always held the belief that Liberalism is greater set of ideals than the vanity of any individual, however they may have been treated by some of those who call themselves "Liberal Democrats" but perhaps don't genuinely understand what that label means.

Great ideals of Liberalism include: putting the freedom of the individual over the tyrrany of the majority, being free to do as we like as long as our actions do not harm others; freedom of expression and thought against dull conformity; freedom from poverty and ignorance and belief in the rule of law and the right to property. Regrettably to my mind it seems that some would have the party turn into a fan club of particular individuals (both local and national) rather than recognise that intelligent debate and dissent is essential if organisations and political movements are to move forward.

I am concerned that the "cult of personality" is unfortunately eroding those core values locally in the Shepway Liberal Democrats. I understand from friends of mine that certain elements in the Shepway Liberal Democrats have behaved in a fashion more in keeping with the fervent elements of the Red Guards during the Cultural Revolution in China (one of the particular individuals concerned is well aware who he is and needs to start reflecting on his personal conduct).

Above all, it is critically important now that the Shepway Liberal Democrats reunite and focus their attention upon the genuine common opposition, the Conservatives, who, despite the warm words, would promote a vision of society that maintains existing divisions and the privileges of the few at the expense of the many and this Labour Government which is still pressing ahead with actions which will damage our local communities and erode our personal freedoms.

To facilitate reunification after this period of division I now leave the field.

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