If you listen to this week's Any Questions? you'll hear my friend Stephen Pollard in full flight commending Irish voters for rejecting the Lisbon treaty. As if Stephen's views on this were not perplexing enough already, he has posted a comment on his Spectator blog entitled "Oliver is wrong". The mistake he alleges I've made is to insist that the treaty is not an EU constitution. Readers who wonder which of us is right on this have an easy answer to hand: I am.
The Lisbon treaty is not a constitution but an amending treaty, comparable to the treaties of Maastricht, Amsterdam and Nice. It is a sensible and unexceptionable measure to make the EU work better, since membership has expanded far beyond the original member states. So far from giving power to Brussels, the treaty reduces the number of commissioners, and enhances the role in EU decision making of the European Parliament and national legislatures. The successful "No" campaign in the Irish referendum argued that, on the contrary, commissioners should continue to be drawn from each member state - a nice instance of a populist campaign in favour of unelected rule from Brussels.
On another subject entirely, I've been rereading this week one of the finest books ever written on the phenomenon of pseudoscience: Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science by the polymath Martin Gardner. The book was first published more than fifty years ago (and Gardner is still going strong in his nineties), but its entertaining evisceration of crank beliefs from flying saucers to "scientific" racism holds enduring relevance. This is particularly obvious in the chapters Gardner devotes to quack medicine and food faddists; in no other field have the advocates of pseudoscience gained such prominence as in the promise of health and healing, through homeopathy, naturopathy, osteopathy and lesser-known cults.
Among writers whom I applaud for exposing the current practitioners of quack medicine, none stands higher than Ben Goldacre, who writes a weekly column in The Guardian on "Bad Science". I'm touched that in a list of educational blogs, he includes this one, even if the education it provides is not the most elevated: "Oliver Kamm, although I disagree with him on many things, will teach you how to call someone an arse using only posh words."
It is an unfortunate juxtaposition rather than an ineluctable extension that I turn to the blogger Neil Clark, who published a post on "Comment is Free" this week about the wisdom of Labour's general election manifesto of 1983. The word "inflation" does not appear in the article. You can see why Mr Clark would have difficulty understanding public attitudes to the Labour Party in the 1970s and 1980s. But his article at least serves as a pretext to refer my readers to Clive James's contemporary account, in The Observer, of Labour's 1983 campaign. I still find it funny:
Mr Foot’s Little Laugh, however, is the merest distraction when compared with his syntax. He doesn’t just say that ‘this election is about jobs’. He has to add that ‘this is the number one issue we raised at the start of the campaign and shall continue to raise until the end’. He says that he has said it before, as indeed he has, at the beginning of the sentence. Then he says he will say it again, as indeed he does, at the end of the sentence. Except there is no end of the sentence. The most you can hope for is that the sentence will get back to roughly where it started, so that the man uttering it will be struck by some recognisable phrase which he will pause to savour. This he does by nodding his head vigorously, in full agreement with himself.