Friday, February 19, 2010


The 10-day Parliamentary recess comes to an end on Monday, and its back to work, only six weeks before the dissolution and the general election campaign. Having this week off has been a good opportunity of clearing up some of the heaps of paper on the floor, as well as having a bit of time off. I finished Christopher Hogwood's Handel, a great book which increased my admiration for the composer. Its a pity we still hear mainly the favourites like Messiah when there's so much else in his huge output, like Giulio Cesare in Egitto which I listened to on CD - conducted by Karl Richter, with Dietrich Fischer-Diskau as Caesar, Tatiana Troyannos as Cleopatra. The next on my reading list is Alison Weir's The Lady in the Tower, about the last months of Anne Boleyn and the aftermath of her execution. Yesterday I attended an excellent lecture at the National Army Museum by John Sadler, on the battle of Towton. He's written a book on the subject, to be published shortly by Sword and Pen. And yesterday evening Lindsay and I went to St Martin's in the Fields to hear a performance of Musikalisches Opfer, which Lindsay said was too cerebral for her taste.

In the afternoon the Sri Lanka Deputy High Commissioner and a colleague called on me to talk about the latest developments including the programme for returning the 280,000 IDPs to their homes, since the crushing of the LTTE last year. Good progress is being made, with demining the former war zones and rebuilding destroyed or badly damaged houses. Road and rail links to the north are being restored steadily, and with a growth rate of 6% the economy can sustain the infrastructure spending needed.

They are obviously not pleased about the EU's severance of the trade preferences, on the grounds of Sri Lanka's human rights violations, and they consider that insufficient allowance has been made for Sri Lanka's emergence from a civil war that had lasted for 25 years, but the EU's demands are reasonable: that within six months, laws should be passed to ensure the independence of the judiciary, the police, the civil service and the elections department and that minimum human rights standards are met. These aren't requirements that would present any great difficulty, and in the further dialogue between Brussels and Colombo, we could suggest that if they are ready in principle to comply with these standards, we would offer technical advice on drafting the necessary Bills.

There is another risk - that Sri Lanka, with its historic ties to the UK, and its decision to upgrade the use of English in parallel with Sinhala and Tamil in the public service, could nevertheless turn increasingly to China. Of course, we should welcome the availability of Chinese help in rebuilding the north, but we still have a lot to offer.

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