The Casement Award: no entries yet?

Last year’s crowd of entrants led to a tight race for the Casement Award. This year is a disappointment so far, but we are hoping for a last-minute surge.

The organisers can thank Michel Barnier for trying to drum up support a week ago, but so far no one has bitten, at least openly.

The Casement Award was created as a prize for the British statesman, civil servant, journalist or other person of influence who, in the model of Roger Casement, best betrays his own country by conspiring with a hostile foreign power. There have been some very impressive entries in previous years amongst those working tirelessly to promote the interests of Russia, China and Iran, but last year’s bumper crop of traitors was dominated by MPs and influencers working with the European Union to harm the British government’s negotiating position. Many were so keen to get ahead in the Casement Award stakes, they even publicised their own visits to Brussels openly to conspire against Britain. The TIGgers and ChUKas blew their chances by blowing their own credibility. Towards the end it was neck and neck between Keir Starmer and a clutch of rebel Tories, but was clinched by the chutzpah of the Chairman of the Parliamentary Security and Intelligence Committee revealed as an enemy spy: a worthy winner.

This year began slowly with many of Brussels’s friends cast out of the Commons. We were hopeful when Keir Starmer took up the Labour leadership but he has fallen silent. A stealthy approach to the prize maybe, after he was pipped at the post last year?

There was a worthy attempt when many susceptible journalists run with an op from the DGSE trying to get the Brexiteer-in-chief sacked as Boris Johnson’s adviser. However the rules of the Casement Award are strict: it is for deliberate betrayers of their own country, not useful idiots. (And for some “useful” is the wrong word.)

Where are Casement’s successors now? Where is Layla? She’ll say anything. Aye, but even Barnier and Van Leyden wouldn’t bother with the LibDems.

As the season wears on we’ll see who puts their heads above the parapet as the post-Brexit gap widens. This year though may be China’s year. They spend money buying ports, infrastructure and politicians across the globe, so who will sup their noodles to get this year’s prize?

There is still time for some left-field entries to come in, and there is always room for a new name to be putin.

The Way to the Stars

A flawless launch and flight, and a milestone in the reconquest of space. This time it is not a rocket built by a government committee but by private enterprise – SpaceX. While bureaucrats sitting in offices seek the dull safety of familiarity with the eyes of bureaucracy on ledgers of politicians on tomorrow’s ballot box, private enterprise always has its eyes on the stars.

The wonders that SpaceX have achieved cannot be overstated. Since 2002, Richard Branson has been trying and failing to use existing technology to get a craft into mere suborbital flight, but in that same time, Elon Musk has created a new company created new technology and built numerous successful rockets, with support structure and drone ships culminating last weekend in sending a crew safely to the International Space Station, all while pushing a transport revolution on the roads too. He is not alone – Jeff Bezos has been beaten to the main achievement, but his Blue Origin has made tremendous progress in commercial space.

The rockstar of the two is Musk. The publicity over the launch was about how American it was but it has Elon Musk’s personality, genius and drive all through it, and Elon Musk is British to all intents and purposes. He is South African, of a South African father and Canadian mother, and has joint South African-Canadian citizenship (and American too – he picks passports up like souvenirs). Canadians and South Africans are Britons really, as we know, with all the inheritance of the world’s greatest culture. We might get faintly embarrassed by our own Richard Branson limping behind, but we have Elon Musk to count as our own, and he has more to do with his company’s technical ability than Branson has in his (he employs Americans).

To be fair to Richard Branson, he has different aims in mind, and when he succeeds, and he must, it is for different purposes, and to make spaceflight cheaper than anyone else will achieve, by being less ambitious.

The new entrepreneurs, Musk and Bezos, have found their own solutions by coming into the field from outside it. I cannot help looking at some other efforts with a feeling of familiarity and knowing there are dangers in a company whose slogan could be “Yesterday’s Technology for Tomorrow!”

Then comes the fourth wheel, while could be a revolution even though it really is using the ideas of the 1980s: Reaction Engines and the Skylon project. The ideas may be 1980s, but the achievement is up to date. The question is whether they can achieve cheaper £-per-pound to orbit launch costs, when their main issue is lack of any investors. Maybe they need a rockstar. If the cash were there, Skylon would be punching payloads into orbit in a year or two.

It looks as if I said at the beginning that governments are useless at this sort of thing, but it was NASA, a state agency which put men on the Moon. There was one crucial difference between that project and any other tumbledown government project: George Mueller. He was a single, driven man who took command out of committees and into his own hands to ensure that he took responsibility and made it happen. NASA in the 60s had George Mueller as SpaceX today has Elon Musk.

Governments fail because they are made up of individual petty clerks with no personal reason to succeed, with a few outstanding exceptions. Companies succeed when they have driven men who know how to succeed. That is what we are seeing today. That is the way to the stars.

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