Sunday, July 30, 2006

Kennedy denies leadership reports

I see that the well-known cerebral newspaper, the News of the World, reports that Charles Kennedy is preparing a challenge to get his old job back as leader. Reports of regular "secret" meetings with aides are the basis of this. The Press Association also report on this, with details of the people who are supposed to be at the meetings.

All this is described as "fanciful" by Kennedy.

On balance, I believe Kennedy's denial. I don't think we should give much credence to News of the World forays into political reporting (alongside 'Michael Portillo's romps in Commons with City babe')

On the other hand, the denial would sound more credible if Kennedy refers to Ming by his name next time he is interviewed, rather than as "my successor" (as he referred to him on Question Time). And, the conspiracy theorist in me would not be surprised if there is a grain of truth in the story - at least regarding a challenge after the election.

The News of the World article is headed "Kennedy plot to oust 'Ming'" and starts: "Former Lib Dem leader Charles Kennedy - dumped because of his drinking - is plotting to get his old job back. He is holding secret meetings with top aides in a bid to replace bumbling successor Sir Menzies "Ming" Campbell..."

However, it is not all sweetness and light for Charles. The story also mentions a "new biography of Kennedy coming out this summer...The book will detail Kennedy's drinking and paint a picture of a man who was not in control of his party." Perhaps he needs "secret" weekly meetings to work out his damage limitation strategy for the publication of that book.

The News of the World report ends by saying "However, other friends have warned Kennedy that he's deluding himself, and that such a (leadership) move would make him a laughing stock. 'He had to quit because senior MPs said at the time they would not serve under him,' one said. 'Even if Sir Menzies was deposed I just can't see them supporting Charles again.' "

I can't find the News of the World report online (they only seem to cyberfy their more salacious stories). So I had to don dark glasses and mackintosh (hot in this weather) to buy a copy.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Cameron's ratings at all-time low - 'Tories no better than under IDS'

David Cameron's ratings are at an all-time according to YouGov. My graph below shows a massive dip down to just a two point net rating. Writing in The Daily Telegraph, Anthony King commented:

"The Conservative Party increasingly resembles a tired runner panting along in sweltering heat. He is ahead in the race but only because his main rival is even more exhausted...

The Tories today are no better off than they were under William Hague, Iain Duncan Smith and Michael Howard.

David Cameron's election as Tory leader last December has so far made remarkably little difference. An initial tick upwards has been followed by several ticks downwards...

Mr Cameron has still failed to make a personal mark. To be sure, more people think he "would make the best prime minister" than think the same of Tony Blair, but the margin between them is wafer-thin -26 per cent to 25 per cent -and the largest single proportion of voters, 41 per cent, can offer up only a despairing "don't know"...

People at first seemed impressed by Mr Cameron's performance, if not as a potential premier, then at least as leader of his party. Six months ago, a healthy 46 per cent of YouGov's respondents thought he was "proving a good leader of the Conservative Party". That figure has now fallen to 35 per cent...

The proportion who reckon he is not proving effective has nearly doubled from 19 to 33 per cent. The proportion of voters unable to make up their mind about him remains high: 32 per cent."

Time for us to shape up

I am a great fan of the energetic and wide-ranging blog of Peter Black AM. I read his blog entitled "It's time for Ming to shape up" with some sympathy. It has now been covered by BBC News.

However, the focus of the article is wrong, in my opinion. I have read many blogs like that.

Quite frankly we should be saying to ourselves - it's time for us to shape up. Each one of us in the party should be asking ourselves - are we doing enough? Enough leaflet delivering? Enough casework? Enough residents' surveys?

Ming went to Bromley four or fives times during the campaign (I can't find the actual number but it was something of that order). If we had all gone there as many times as Ming we would have won and we wouldn't be in this situation.

One line on which I do agree with Peter is that before the conference I would like to see a Paddy-style tour of the country by Ming.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Mark Oaten to stand down

Mark Oaten has announced that he will be standing down as an MP at the next election.

Very wise.

Sighs of relief and triples all round!

Monday, July 24, 2006

Max Clifford: "The most powerful man in tabloid Britain"

I enjoyed the article, entitled "Circus Maximus" in the Observer magazine yesterday about Max Clifford. However, the strapline was ridiculous. It said: "He's the most powerful man in tabloid Britain"

The article's writer Carole Cadwalladr kept quite objective throughout. So I suspect she did not write that strapline.

I just think of Rupert Murdoch, Sly Bailey and Viscount Harmsworth. They can sack editors, close down/buy/sell newspapers, close down printing presses etc etc

Can Max Clifford do any of that? Can he 'eck as like.

It speaks volumes that someone at the Observer has fallen for this man's line in self-publicity.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Murdoch pooh-poohs Cameron

I just happened to spot Saturday's Financial Times in a newstand. Not my normal reading. There was an interesting front page story on Rupert Murdoch's view of David Cameron.

Previously, the spin was that Murdoch thought Cameron was the best thing since sliced bread.

Now, when asked what he thinks of Cameron, Murdoch says "Not much".

He adds: "He's totally inexperienced. He's going around the country making speeches which . . . must be hugely upsetting to a lot of his older followers".

I also notice that Tony Blair is jetting off to address the News Corporation clan gathering at Pebble Beach. It seems that David Cameron has not been invited.

Thank goodness for British criticism of attacks on Lebanon

Foreign office minister Kim Howells has said about the attacks on Lebanon:

"The destruction of the infrastructure, the death of so many children and so many people: these have not been surgical strikes. If they are chasing Hizbollah, then go for Hizbollah. You don't go for the entire Lebanese nation...I very much hope that the Americans understand what's happening to Lebanon."
I could not agree more. I cannot understand why viaducts, mobile phone masts and roads need to be blasted, and children and innocent civilians need to be killed in scores, to find the terrorists who have captured two soldiers. Mossad have been specialists in surgical assasinations over the years, how come their skills have suddenly deserted them?
The destruction of the Lebanese infrastructure is even more depressing because the Lebanese have spent years rebuilding their country after it was flattened in the 1980s.
Of course, the attacks on Israel by Hizbollah are disgraceful but the Israelis seem to specialise in destroying their own case through over-reaction.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Rain, Panama hats and hot stairways

With every passing day of hot, clammy weather I have become more and more like Test Cricket umpire Steve Bucknor. I move very, very slowly.

Today's downpour was such a relief! I don't think I have ever greeted rain with such enthusiasm.

I bought a Panama hat a few weeks ago. I needed it to do an impression of Hercule Poirot at Newbury Carnival. It then came in handy for my visit to Lord's for the joyous first day of the first test against Pakistan.

Since then it has been an absolute Godsend. When you are like me and have to pay a search fee to the barber, protecting one's bonce from the sun is all-important.

This morning was a classic. I did one of my dawn raids on the tradesmen's bells of Newbury to deliver leaflets. While the air outside was cool, the air in the stairways of the blocks of flats was terribly warm and close. So much so that I had to take the unusual step of having cold showers between bundles!

Middle East strife - it will only end round a table

Like everyone else, I am horrified by the latest outbreak of violence in the Middle East. I pray that it will end soon.

After viewing the Northern Ireland troubles from the sidelines for many years, I learnt not to try to suggest who was to blame or "who started it".

One thing is for sure, the only place that the strife will halt is round a negotiating table.

It is remarkable to remember that there was a glimmer of hope in the Middle East with the Oslo Accords in 1993. It seems that the deterioration in the situation can be tracked back to the assasination of Yitzhak Rabin in 1995.

The Northern Ireland troubles went on for years and, to some extent, still rumble on. But what brought relative peace to Northern Ireland was some old-fashioned give and take, and endless tense negotiations.

We could all go on for years blaming people on all sides for the Middle East strife. But at the end of the process, all sides will have to swallow their pride and sit round a negotiating table with their enemies.

Let's just hope that no more innocent people lose their lives before this inevitable meeting.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Ming on Newsnight: Substance and passion

It was wonderful for Ming to get a decent period of exposure on Newsnight last night.

I thought he made his points with real passion, conviction and eloquence.

He answered the questions from the audience very fully. At the end you could see many of them nodding in agreement with him.

In particular, I thought he brilliantly put forward the party's position on tax and the environment.

It was clear from the piece that Ming is a man of substance and passion.

Rob Fenwick has assessed Ming's performance. He says:

"But ultimately Ming ducked the crucial question that two audience members alluded to - the Liberal Democrats may have a popular message, but the public aren’t at all sure about the messenger."

Do give Ming a chance, Rob. How did the audience get the message that "the Liberal Democrats may have a popular message" if not from the messenger? He came across as passionate and serious (as you concede). How on earth does he answer the question about the "messenger"?

He has three options on what to say:

1. "Yes, I am an old git but I get paid well" - The Self-Destruct option


2. "I am wonderful, my wife loves me and all my friends think I am a brilliant communicator, so yah booh sucks to you and let me read to you what the Telegraph said about me only two months ago, and I quote.......(snoring heard from man at back of audience)" - The Iain Dale option


3. Get on with it and answer the substantive questions about policy.

He took the third option.

Rob goes on breathlessly: "All eyes will be on Charles Kennedy. A natural party President, he used the role as a springboard to the leadership once before. Will he try it again?"

If he does, I hope he is well when he does so this time.

John Reid: Veteran of the old "three envelopes" technique?

A manager moved into a new job but didn't have time to do a handover briefing with their predecessor. So they had no idea what to do in the new job. Fortunately, while searching their new desk they found three envelopes marked "1 - open now if things are dire", "2 open later if there are still problems", "3 open later than that if things really get bad".

So, with things indeed looking dire, the manager opened envelope 1, eager for advice. It said:


The manager followed this advice. It worked exceedingly well.

However, after a few weeks the problems continued and the "blame the predecessor" routine was wearing a little thin.

No worries. The manager opened envelope 2 which said:


So the manager took that advice and went around saying he had a plan to fix things and, indeed, detailing what that plan was.

A few months passed. The problems continued unabated. People were getting a little cynical of the "I HAVE A PLAN" routine, so the manager resorted to envelope 3 and opened that.

It said:


It does seem that John Reid is a dab hand at this old "three envelopes" routine.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Tony Blair RIP?

After reading Andrew Rawnsley's article in the Observer today, I suspect that now is the time for newspapers to prepare their political obituaries of A.Blair, if they have not already done so.

Thinking strigently, if only he had followed up his promise to properly reform the House of Lords - if only he had made it 100% elected - he would not be in this mess. By the way, if he had agreed to public funding of political parties, which I think will come, he would also not be in this mess either.

One the of the most staggering things about the loans for peerages affair, as Rawnsley points out, is that Jack Dromey, Treasurer of the Labour Party, knew nothing about the loans. The fact that Mr Dromey is the husband of cabinet minister and Attorney General, Harriet Harman, makes this fact even more gobsmacking. It was an act of incredible stupidity and arrogance that Tony Blair took the Labour Party's finances (insofar as arranging those huge loans) into his own hands and those of his appointed envoy, Lord Levy.

From Rawnsley's article, it seems that the police may well be onto something. Of course, the huge crossover between peerages and donors to the Labour party is one thing. Proving a connection is another. But it seems that Terrier Plod is scenting a bone, in canine terms.

The fact that the trail allegedly leads to Number 10 Downing Street makes the whole thing incredibly incendiary . It promises to be possibly far worse than the sleaze of John Major.

I think we are seeing the exposure of Tony Blair's Achilles heel. He is basically a "toff" and he is impressed by money. It could be his undoing. The Bernie Ecclestone affair was the first crack in the Blair facade and now we may be seeing the whole thing crack up.

If he has any sense, A. Blair should have an exit strategy ready, measured in days. I suspect that he doesn't have any sense, so the Labour party ought to have an exit strategy ready for him. If that exit strategy is measured beyond the party conference this autumn then they may well have done their calculations wrongly.

The National Lottery - "A tax on stupidity"

In the Guardian yesterday, Marina Hyde described the National Lottery as a "tax on stupidity". Fortunately, I have never taken part in the lottery, so I could laugh at this.

Mind you, the reason I have never taken part is not a question of stupidity or otherwise. If you have a faith, I don't see the reason to take part in a lottery. I am sure that sounds sanctimonious, but there it is.

Saint Swithin's Day and flying ants

Yesterday was Saint Swithin's Day. If the traditional rhyme is anything to go by, we are in for a good spell:

St Swithin’s Day, if it does rain
Full forty days, it will remain
St Swithin’s Day, if it be fair
For forty days, t'will rain no more

I also noticed about eight flying ants while I was walking around. I was always told that they come out for one day a year. I think this is, perhaps, a localised thing. So they have chosen today in Newbury but not in Cornwall, according to my mother, who was the source of the theory.

I have often wondered how all the flying ants decide that it is their day to come out. But presumably it has something to do with localised weather conditions.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Doing the Sports relief mile at St Barts

We have just done our Sports Relief mile at St Bartholomew's school Luker athletics field, Newbury.

It was great fun. Very well organised. We had to do our warm ups (which were more aggressive than I am used to!) under the direction of Mike Hart, the PE teacher.

It was wonderful to see people there of all ages. There were lots of costumes including some lads going round dressed for golf with their clubs in their bags. Rather them than me.

We were divided into two sections: "Fun runners" and "Elite athletes". I think they should have had a "mildly aspiring athlete" section, which I would have naturally fallen into. As my daughter was in the elite athletes, I had to join her. I regretted it after the first fast (for me) lap, but managed to settle down and save some puff for a fastish finish.

My nine-year old daughter beat me by about half a lap, which she has already reminded me about three times. In my defence, she is a member of an athletics club and has competed at national level.

All in all, a wonderful event. Well done St Barts for organising it.

Richard Thomson's comedy genius

At the Newbury Comedy Festival I went to see "Rebus MacTaggart" , a one-man show by Richard Thomson. It was one of the most original and funny things I have seen for years.

Richard played a detective giving a talk to police cadets (us - the audience) on the business of policing. The talk also involved other "guest speakers" such as a Hungarian psychologist and "Margaret Stewart" (my favourite character), an artist specilising in identification drawings.

Being of a certain age and living in the home counties, one gets used to certain brands of humour. But I have to say that Richard's brand of humour strikes me as different and new. I suppose it is because he is young and comes from Scotland. There were a whole new range of jokes and funny angles which I wouldn't normally come across.

Richard has an extraordinarily skilful ability with impromptu asides. He thrives on heckling and audience participation.

At the end of the show his laptop died (I had noticed that it had closed down 10 minutes earlier), depriving him of his big finish. However, he blagged his way around it without batting an eyelid.

The highlight of the evening was Richard's little sketch where he plays a policeman reciting the technical details of the various speed cameras, while arousal. It was hilarious. It has to be seen to be enjoyed.

Cameron failing to recruit more women in winnable seats

There seems to be quite a bit of light-headed euphoria in the Tory blogosphere over an "A lister" being chosen for Folkestone and Hythe and other winnable seats.

The sub-text is: "The media said that the A list system wouldn't work and local associations would choose their own candidates in defiance of D.Cameron....but they've been proved wrong....look at all these thrusting new A listers who have been,na,na,na,na!"

There is, however, a slight bijou problemette. I thought one of the main reasons for the A list was to select more women for winnable seats. However, of the ten winnable seats selected so far, only two of the candidates selected have been women.

Apparently, there is a bit of a pattern emerging. The associations shortlist two women and one man and then, after much deliberation, they select the token man. Fascinating.

Oh, and in addition to those problems, there are also accusations flying around that the A list system is "ageist". See this from Conservative Home.

There is a full list of candidates selected since the A list here.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Lord Levy - guilty of crimes against music?

Probably not, but it's borderline. There is a case to be answered.

Lord Levy was responsible for bringing Alvin Stardust to stardom through Magnet Records when he was plain Michael Levy.

I've heard worse lyrics than those of Alvin Stardust's "My Coo Ca Choo". His second hit "Jealous Mind" was approaching a decent record.

Peter Shelley was the writer and producer behind the Alvin Stardust hits. Mr Shelley himself had some hits on Magnet records. It is to his records we can look for some fairly incriminatory musical evidence against Lord Levy.

"Gee Baby" was Shelley's first hit. Crikey. Does anyone in this country use the word "gee"?

But the real incriminating Magnet record was Shelley's "Love me, love my dog". I feel the will to live sapping away from me, just thinking about it.

However, Magnet Records did issue a record by the Buzzcocks and discovered Bad Manners. Both superb bands. And Chris Rea, another product of Magnet records, isn't bad.

So, I think Lord Levy can be released from the dock without stain on his character on the grounds of crimes against music. Not Guilty. But, we will have to wait to hear about the other areas he is involved in.

There is an excellent summary of Lord Levy's music business career on Cafe80s.

Lord's sign-writer kept busy

Yesterday, I was fortunate to be in the Mound Stand at Lord's for the first day of the first Test against Pakistan. As usual, I had my trusty Long Wave steam radio, plus earpiece, with me. So, I was able to hear the explanations of the 'Test Match Special' team as I watched (although five minutes of the outspoken certainty of Geoff Boycott is normally enough for me).

The preceding paragraph represents one of my ideas of heaven on earth.

One gets to a certain age and one is inured to dodgy England performances at many sports. So I had steeled myself to expect something like 125-5 at the end of the day.

Trescothick and Strauss started splendidly. Then came three quick wickets interspersed by hopes raised and dashed by Pietersen's flash in the pan. Oh crikey! Back to the old struggle.

So I went to lunch with rather low expectations of the afternoon. It seemed that wickets did not fall if we were in the lunch or tea tent. Maybe there was a connection - the opposite of a watched kettle and all that. So, to be on the safe side, we did our bit for England and had a long lunch and tea with half an eye on the telly.

My goodness me! What an afternoon! Little did I expect to be standing in ovation three times, once for the 200 partnership, again for Collingwood's century and then, near to ecstasy, for Cook's hundred.

It was a tremendous day's cricket, the memory of which I will always treasure.

It has to be said that Pakistan will be kicking themselves over dropped catches. I understand that there was money on Bob Woolmer, their coach, waiting outside their prayer session this morning at 4.30am to march them off for fielding practice!

But it really was splendid to see Collingwood and Cook (especially Cook at a mere 21 years old) enjoy centuries at Lord's - which, of course, are a special honour.

My cricketing friend tells me that as soon as a century is scored at Lord's, a sign-writer in the Home dressing room starts writing the player's name on the honours board in gold gilt so that when the player finishes their innings they can see their name already on the board with all the greats down the ages!

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Barry Cryer still going strong at 72....or was it Barry Took?

Tonight at the Newbury Comedy Festival I saw Barry Cryer. Although a few of his jokes had a mustiness resonant of the musical hall, the man was a triumph and had the audience, including me, in stitches throughout.

He must have told about 300 jokes in about 90 minutes. For someone aged 72, that is remarkable.

He repeated a line which Kenny Everett said to him: "Baz! You have been married 30 years and you have four children! Wow! What a smokescreen!"

Before the opening, the theatre stewards asked for the audience to write down questions for the great man. As I left work I told someone I was going to see Barry Cryer to which they replied: "Isn't he dead?" So the question I wrote down was "Why do people think you are dead? Is it because they confuse you with Barry Took?"

It got a laugh, and as with all the questions he drew out of the hat, he was able to recount a very funny anecdote on the subject. In this case it was about Princess Anne and the late Barry Took and Barry Cryer getting mixed up in introductions to her. It involved a word beginning with "b" and was hilarious. I wouldn't do it justice if I tried to write it down.

Barry Cryer's take on politicians is relevant to this forum:

"Politicians are like nappies. They should be changed frequently.....and for the same reason."

Newbury Comedy Festival

The Newbury Comedy Festival is an absolute triumph this year.

Last night we thoroughly enjoyed the "Wise Crackers" final which was a competition involving youngsters from Reading and West Berkshire. Hosted by the excellent Richard Thomson, it was hugely entertaining. One always feels for the young ones - a couple of whom were nine years old - taking to the stage to entertain. But they were all brilliant.

I am looking forward to tomorrow night. I am going to see "Rebus MacTaggart" which is a spoof mélange of Scottish detective programmes by Richard Thomson.

I must declare an intrest in Richard Thomson. For the last two years he has lodged in our back room while he played Jack and then Buttons in successive Newbury Corn Exchange pantomimes. He is Scottish and an excellent stand-up comedian. So I am looking forward to him saying "Murrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrder" à la Taggart tomorrow night.

Tribute to Syd Barrett

I was very sorry to hear the death of Syd Barrett announced on Virgin radio as I was driving home. He was the "first creative force" behind Pink Floyd in the sixties.

The first thing I would pay tribute to him for is "See Emily Play". It is one of the greatest pop singles ever produced. I am very proud of my vinyl 45 original copy of it. As well as being a mind-blowing recording, it is one of the finest examples of how vinyl can enhance a song. After years of playing, my copy has an extra "zing" which enhances the original recording. You don't get that with CD or MP3!

If you click on the arrow below you can see the video for "Arnold Layne", Floyd's first single which was written by Barrett, as was "See Emily Play". Below that, another click will get you to a superb selection of clips and photos of Syd, with "Shine on you crazy diamond" in the background. This was put together by "ChriscoMI" on

I have always been very struck by the great respect shown towards Syd by the members of Pink Floyd. Of course, their tribute to him "Shine on you crazy diamond" says it all.

Reading the coverage on the BBC web site I was particularly touched by the heartfelt tribute from David Bowie. (He did cover versions of "Arnold Layne" and "See Emily Play", by the way).

Bowie described Barrett as a "major inspiration", saying:

"I can't tell you how sad I feel. The few times I saw him perform in London at UFO and the Marquee clubs during the '60s will forever be etched in my mind. He was so charismatic and such a startlingly original songwriter. Also, along with Anthony Newley, he was the first guy I'd heard to sing pop or rock with a British accent. His impact on my thinking was enormous. A major regret is that I never got to know him. A diamond indeed."

I don't think you can add to that.
Arnold Layne video:

A tribute to Syd by "ChriscoMI" on

Saturday, July 8, 2006

Cameron's net approval rating continues downwards

Thank you to Peter at Liberal Review for drawing my attention to the latest IPSOS/Mori poll. It shows that David Cameron's net approval rating continues downwards.

His approval rating is down from 33 to 32%. His disapproval rating is up from 27 to 28%. That means his net approval rating is down from 6% to 4%. Those comparisons are with the same question by IPSOS/Mori on 30th May with ratings taken on 30th June.

Then I get my little graph out and update it, and, oh look - the slide continues!

BNP 'gaining strength' in Barking and Dagenham

There is an interesting article by Steve Boggan on the BNP in Barking and Dagenham in the Guardian.

The staggering thing is the lies they have told in that area:

They "leafleted the electorate, telling them grants of up to £50,000 were being given by nearby Newham, Tower Hamlets and Hackney to encourage people to move into Barking and Dagenham, thus helping them to buy the cheapest housing stock."

Truth: This is described by the deputy mayor of Hackney as "utter fabrication"

The "party focused its efforts on promulgating the claim that the borough's housing stock was being given to people from outside its boundaries, mainly asylum seekers and refugees."

Truth: "According to Barking and Dagenham Council, of its 20,250 council homes, just four are occupied by asylum seekers or refugees."

"Before the election the party put out leaflets claiming that burglaries were up 79%, robberies up 80%, violent crime up 61% and that 33% of the borough's residents were now from minority ethnic groups."

Truth: "The Barking and Dagenham Post checked the figures and found that burglaries were down 11.7%, robberies up by 5%, rapes were down 10.8%, violent crime was up by 1.2% and around 15% of residents were from an ethnic minority."

When you see the allegations and the truth so starkly contrasted like that, it provokes a number of thoughts. How do they get away with it? - is the first thought. Why are people, by all accounts, so ready to swallow such lies?

One thing is clear. If we ignore the BNP, or more correctly, some people's readiness to vote for them, they will not go away. Exposing their lies seems a very good place to start in fighting back.

World Cup betting fish is beating human punters

There is a knife edge betting contest (proceeds to charidee, of course) going on in the Guardian World Cup section.

Everyday of the tournament, the fish and the People make a £10 charity bet. Both were given a £250 kitty at the start. So far the fish, called 'Der Kaiser', is ahead. "He predicted Italy and Germany would be 0-0 after 90 minutes and won himself £55, taking his total winnings to £378.83. Homo sapiens struck back last night, after they said France would beat Portugal by a single goal, but still trail Der Kaiser with £365.98."

The fish by the way, can be seen live here. It is a "sunset wagtail platy fish, with distinctive black, red and gold colouring." The "people" it competes with are those who comment on the Guardian betting web pages.

I presume that the betting inclinations of the fish are surmised from which number he swims over when a question is asked. You will notice that he has been given a world cup trophy and a football in his tank, to keep him in the mood.

Today, the fish is betting that France will win the final in 90 minutes by a margin of two or more goals at 11-2. The combined wisdom of the people are betting that Italy will win the final in 90 minutes by one goal at 14-5.

It will be fascinating to see whether the fish is victorious tomorrow.

Friday, July 7, 2006

Prescott's nemesis: Affairs or cowboys?

The Sun today highlights John Prescott's unbelievable Today answer about his ranch stay:

“I was in America and he (Anschutz) said ‘would you like to see my cattle ranch?’ I was curious about it. I saw the cowboy films over my young years, I was interested to have a look at it.”

I discussed this yesterday.

"Son of a dumb" is The Sun headline with a "Is that a gun in his pocket?" thought bubble added to a photo. Normal Sun stuff.

It reminds me of that old adage that when people start laughing at you, you really have had it. Unless you are a professional comedian, that is.

Michael Iliff interestingly explores the various Western movie permutations relevant to Prezza's predicament. The BBC have done an interesting piece on the cowboy tourism angle.

When I listened to the interview I did think the "cowboy films" reference was incredibly misguided. I think he was trying to inject some humour into his smokescreen.

It is interesting that The Sun has latched onto it. The more 'highbrow' commentators had focussed on his refusal to answer the question about affairs and various ramifications of his Anshutz connection. However, I think the "cowboy films" reference was more damaging for Prescott and I am glad that The Sun has thrown its weight behind this element of the Prescott furore.

It seems the taxpayer did pay for Prescott's stay at the ranch, although the money was given to a charity or something (I must admit to losing the plot a bit as this particular strand grew more complex in the interview).

If the taxpayer had to foot the bill for every "cowboy films" fan in this country to visit ranches, one imagines the bill would be for several billion pounds. It is very difficult to identify why the taxpayer should indulge the Deputy Prime Minister's love of cowboy films.

It was a colossally stupid thing to say. Prescott has given birth to a glaring emblem of a government which has been too long at the trough.

Thursday, July 6, 2006

Rollicking Rik Mayall in "The New Statesman"

We went to see Rik Mayall in "The New Statesman" at the Hexagon theatre, Reading this evening.

We were laughing from beginning to end. It was the best evening's entertainment we've had for years. The writing from Marks and Gran is excellent. But, of course, Rik Mayall is brilliant.

It was wonderful to see him doing such a demanding role. He has to speak very quickly and voluminously. There are a lot of lines for him remember. It is marvellous that he recovered from his quad bike accident so well.

Anyone with even the slightest interest in politics should see this show (indeed there were two members of parliament at this evening's performance). It is wonderful.

Prescott: "People must judge me by what I do on the job"


Seriously, I thought his defence on the Anschutz questions was reasonably convincing.

The eighteen minute (by my watch) unedited interview on Today this morning admirably answered the question "what is the BBC for?".

It also answered the question: "What is John Prescott for?". The answer is, apparently: 'To spend weekends in the USA finding out how cowboys live to see whether it is the same as when he watched Western movies as a lad'.

Though he may have trouble convincing taxpayers that they should pay for him to do this, I can quite accept that a "fact finding" visit was a better way of spending a weekend than sitting round the pool in a hotel. Having said that, we all know about "fact finding" visits. It would be interesting to know how long John Prescott spent in substantive discussions with farmers that weekend (as he mentioned). Or did he just chat to them over drinks at a barbecue?

All this, though, is going a little beyond the normal level of inspection of a minister's role.

It does seem that John Prescott remains Deputy Prime Minister because he has transcended the normal level of public perception of a public figure and has now entered the area of being a "national treasure" or at least, a "national institution".

We all find him so amusing that it would be a shame to lose all this entertainment if he returns to the back benches.

Michael Heseltine was never half as much fun as this.

Tuesday, July 4, 2006

Tatler puts paid to Cameron's man of the people credentials

Society magazine 'Tatler' reports that David and Samantha Cameron are top of the list of society hostesses' guestlists - three places ahead of the Earl and Countess of Mornington.

I must say I have been trying to get the Earl and Countess of Mornington to attend one of my parties for a long time, in order to play the world's most authentic game of "Mornington Crescent" but, alas, all gilt-edged invitations from me have been greeted with a polite silence.

I do hope this news about the Camerons is well publicised as, along with the recent sale of his family's posh furniture, it demonstrates the truth about the Cameron background, rather than the "man of the people" spin.

'Shirl the whirl' lays into Blair on public services

There is a typically articulate and passionate deconstruction of Blair's public service initiatives in the Guardian's 'Comment is free' today.

Monday, July 3, 2006

People won't vote for bandwagon constitutional bodging

One of the things which reputedly turned voters off William Hague when he was Tory leader (if they had ever been turned onto him that is) was that he obviously jumped onto any passing bandwagon.

We appear to have the same trend emerging with Mr Cameron.

There is a gap in his press release schedule and the figures from Bromley don't look good, so he hurriedly (by all accounts) slaps together a "British Bill of Rights" idea. Laughable really. A bit like the Founding Fathers in the USA bodging together a constitution in a couple of hours to meet the inking deadline of the New Hampshire Gazette.

Then he's after some good press after his Bromley debacle so, via proxy, he revitalises the Conservative proposal for making Scottish MPs ineligible to vote on some matters in the United Kingdom parliament, adding a bit of knuckle duster on his fist as punches home the point: it means Gordon Brown and Menzies Campbell can't be Prime Minister. "Na,na,na-na-nah! English public schoolboys rule OK?!"

Ming Campbell quite rightly commented "A constitution is like a brick wall. If you take out one brick without regard to the strength of the wall, it all comes tumbling down...What we need is a constitutional convention to provide a constitution for 21st century Britain...What we don't need is knee jerk responses driven by political opportunism."

I would like to associate myself with the comments of our distinguished leader on this matter.

Sunday, July 2, 2006

Are the Conservatives starting the break-up of the United Kingdom?

It sounds like it. Conservative MP Alan Duncan says:

"I'm beginning to think it is almost impossible now to have a Scottish prime minister because they would be at odds with the basic construction of the British constitution,"

..because of the so-called West Lothian question, which has been around in one form or another since the Irish Home rule debate in 1886.

So the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom cannot come from Scotland. Hum...I imagine dolls of Mr Duncan being sewn together by eager seamstresses in Auchtermuchty as we speak, while Jock and his mates sharpen up the pins. (With acknowledgements to the late Sir John Junor)

If that argument applies to a Scottish prime minister, it also applies to a Northern Irish prime minister or a Welsh Prime Minister because of the assemblies which cover (or should cover, in the case of Northern Ireland) those areas.

So, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom can only be English, if you follow Duncan's logic.

Brilliant. How to destroy the United Kingdom in one easy lesson, and, by the way, ensure that the current dearth of Tory MPs in Scotland continues for a long while.

Of course, the Tories would never, even under extensive torture, admit that the solution to this problem is to have a proper English Assembly or proper directly-elected English regional assemblies. That solution would still retain a United Kingdom parliament and the Prime Minister could fairly come from anywhere in the United Kingdom including Penzance, Lerwick, St Davids or Enniskillen.

Saturday, July 1, 2006

Very mixed day for sport: England, Andy and Fred

I became inured to mediocre England football performances in the years from 1970 onwards. So, I never get my hopes up.

One could moan on and on.

The team played fantastically well with ten men (funny how they often play better with ten men than eleven - remember when Beckham was sent off in 1998?). I take back everything I have ever said about Owen Hargreaves. Ronaldo obviously exploited Rooney's short temper and the Portuguese goal-keeper was superb on penalties.

Frankly, I've been through this so many times I think I just prefer to move on. Fortunately, Andy Murray provided the perfect antidote, and of course, we are all British now, aren't we?! There is something about that lad. He seems to have the killer instinct. After the perennial disappointment of Henman, he is a delight to watch.

After the high of that straight sets win against Roddick, I learned the sad news about Freddie Trueman. Cricket writer Michael Parkinson said: "He was the greatest fast bowler we have ever produced". He was one of the greatest ambassadors ever to come out of Yorkshire.

There was a humour and certain humility in Freddie which you don't get with others. I will forever remember when he used to introduce a lunchtime ITV programme called "Indoor League". He used to have a pint of beer in front of him and he always finished the programme with these gruff, Yorkshire words:

"Ah'll Si' Thee!"

'Tax plan will test me' - Menzies

On the face of it, this report on BBC news sounds very confessional. It says: "In an interview for the GMTV Sunday Programme, (Campbell) admitted he could lose a vote on the (tax) plans at his party's autumn conference."

All very dramatic sounding. But in fact all Menzies seems to be doing is stating the simple party process. The conference decides on party policy.

Presumably this sounds sensational when compared, say, to the Conservative party.

I may have missed it, but did David Cameron's "plan" to scrap the Human Rights Act and replace it with a Bill of Rights ever get debated at a Conservative conference? Of course not.

I enthusiastically agree with Cameron's announcement that gay partners who have had a civil ceremony should enjoy the same tax breaks as heterosexual married couples. I just wonder whether it has been put to the massed ranks of blue-rinsed matrons and retired colonels who largely make up the Conservative party. I may be judging them wrongly, but if they had discussed the proposal, I suspect the cries of outrage in the seaside conference centre would have been heard in Belgium. One Conservative die-hard I know, when asked about civil partnerships, issued a stream of bigoted invective that I do not care to repeat.

Whatever tax plans come out of the Liberal Democrat conference in the autumn, we can be sure they will have the party behind them, having debated them thoroughly.

One cannot say the same for the ideas coming out of the Cameron cabal at the moment, with respect to the Conservative party. While this 'idea by dictat' mode might look very sexy in the media, sooner or latter the whole facade comes unstuck.

But at the moment it is difficult to tell. Are we dealing with "liberal Conservative" Cameron or "British Bill of Rights" Bulldog Cameron? For now, neither it seems. We seem to be dealing with David "I am as confused as everybody else, so let's slam the LibDems for playing 'dirty' " Cameron.