Saturday, September 30, 2006

Blow for Cameron as poll lead is slashed

I know Mark Pack has done this already, but I like this headline from the Telegraph so much that I felt like repeating it - twice:

Blow for Cameron as poll lead is slashed

That feels better!

Webcameron - have a paper bag ready

While it is good to see David Cameron using the internet, I would advise having a paperbag at the ready if you go to Webcameron.

Does he think we were born yesterday? If you were going to do a videcast would you do it while you were doing the washing up? I bet he's got a dishwasher anyway - so I suspect the whole dishwashing thing was a sham. And would you conveniently have someone in your kitchen who is able to hold the camera and provide the right degree of "wobble"?

Tories' laughable sham of conference democracy

The BBC reports of the Conservative conference:

...there will even be regular votes on the conference floor, which is a novel idea for a Tory conference, on a series of "hot topics".

Subjects to be tackled include "should marketing to children be banned?" and "alcohol does more harm than drugs".

Votes will be cast, X Factor-style, with electronic handsets, although what happens to the results once they are in is less clear.

Excellent. So let's suppose everyone votes to say "yes - alcohol does more harm than drugs".
Then what happens? And (putting aside the fact that alcohol is a drug) what about smoking tobacco, which, when I last checked, kills about five times as many people per year as alcohol?

So the Conservatives - all these wise grey haired individuals - make ponderous statements such as "alcohol does more harm than drugs". That is really worth the membership fee isn't it? Presumably the results of the votes will be written in stone rather like that "I believe" statement which Howard, or was it IDS?, came up with. Then have a ton of earth will be slung on top of the stone and it will be forgotten.

Presumably no vote will be held on the "hot topic" of some of David Cmaeron's recent announcements, for example his idea that the Queen's powers should be lessened. Now that would be a corker. I would expect the machinery to explode with indignation as the delegates pressed their buttons on that one.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Noel Edmonds naked at 186mph

I am not sure whether the police can at least investigate Noel Edmonds after he admitted driving naked on the Tring by-pass (where else?) at 186 mph at 4am 30 years ago.

I'll be charitable and accept the explanation of Edmonds' spokesman that he was confessing to something he now accepted was extremely foolish, rather than bragging to a lads' magazine.

It is tempting not to be charitable though.

Penny finally drops on 'Deal or no deal'

I was half-listening to 'Deal or no deal' this afternoon as my wife watched it in the kitchen.

It has barely comprehensible rules, an apparently aimless sequence of moves and inane cheering at some apparently random point.

I've got it. The penny has finally dropped.

'Deal or no deal' is the televisual version of 'Mornington Crescent'!

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Doctor Who lost without his tardis

I was ready for a disappointment when I sat down to watch Who do you think you are? featuring David Tennant last night on BBC1. "Scotsman finds he is descended from Scots and a bit of Irish" didn't seem to promise a rip-roaring programme.

However, the whole thing was unexpectedly fascinating. It was fascinating to hear that David Tennant is actually David MacDonald and chose his surname, as a sixteen year old aspiring actor, from the pages of Smash Hits magazine. Yes, he named himself after the bloke in the Pet Shop Boys!

It was when he travelled to Ireland in search of his mother's ancestors that it got interesting. His grandfather was a popular football player for Derry City FC whose season scoring record still stands. His grandmother was a local beauty queen. One of his ancestors, James, was a Unionist Councillor in the same city who "was involved in the vote-rigging which maintained control of the council for the Protestant minority. Yet James also fought for social justice, and one of his daughters married a Catholic lad. His descendants were caught up in the Bloody Sunday march in 1972, the catalyst for the Troubles that have gripped the province ever since."

First of all we saw Tennant, a self-professed "Guardian-reading liberal" coming to terms with holding the Orange sash of his ancestor. Then he was delighted to hear of James' fight for better conditions for the poor. Then Tennant seemed more at ease to talk to his cousin who was a peaceful marcher in the Bloody Sunday protest.

Tennant's family history covered quite a kaleidoscope of Irish history.

What are daddy long-legs for?

A few days ago, I asked 'what are daddy long-legs for?'

As ever, the BBC is on the case, and they have found some terribly clever boffin to provide the answer:

They are an important source of food for creatures that eat insects, including birds and spiders, says ecology professor Guy Poppy, from the University of Southampton.

"Insect eaters will be feasting on all the daddy longlegs at this time of year, a spider web will be full of them."

The larvae also eat decaying plant material and help to recycle nutrients back into the soil.

There you go.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Is Stephen Fry mad?

He said he was mad, jokingly, as he exuberantly bought his seventeenth iPod on BBC2's A Secret life of the manic depressive. Of course he isn't (mad) and this two-part programme served enormously to help the public understand manic depressives. Stephen Fry is to be warmly congratulated. He even allowed the cameras to record him as he suffered from a bout of depression in Aberdeen. It was very brave of him to go to Aberdeen (joke!) and very brave to be filmed in such a state.

The programme explored "solutions" for what is sometimes called bipolar disorder. These included medicine and Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy (CBT). Stephen said that he thought CBT wasn't for him.

But I do hope that he does follow up and have some CBT. It certainly won't do him any harm. He is likely to find it a gentle, unintrusive series of chats that help him understand his personality and work towards ways of diminishing self-damaging extremes of mood in future.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Sympathy for Blair?

A dark brooding beast sulking in the house next door.

A sparky wife telling him he's too soft and should stand up to the dark brooding beast.

And he just sits there, caught between the two of them, with a saintly grin on his face.

Don't you feel just an iota of sympathy for Tony Blair?

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Lying amongst swarms of daddy long-legs

I was just enjoying the early Autumn warm weather with a lie-down in Stroud Green, Newbury, while my daughter played with her friend. After a while I realised that I was surrounded by thousands of daddy long-legs which seem to be swarming around the park.

It seems it is a good year for them. Their other name is "crane flies".

Fortunately they are harmless and seem to spread themselves out so thinly that they don't even cause a nuisance.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Paddy is right about Charles

One of the highlights of an excellent Brighton conference was seeing Jane and Paddy Ashdown amongst us. What Paddy said after Charles' speech was quite controversial, but right:

You never quite say never in politics. There are always exceptions and one of those exceptions is when you leave the stage, you leave the stage.

Hearing this finally made me realise that Charles Kennedy will never be leader of the Liberal Democrats again. When Ming decides to retire in the distant future, we'll have a new generation on offer. We won't want to go back to the past. But that doesn't mean that Charles can't play a very full role in public life, just as Paddy has done after his retirement as leader.

Iain Dale scrapes the barrel

Iain Dale had a posting entitled yesterday entitled: "Charles Kennedy Back as LibDem Leader According to LibDems Website"

You then follow the link provided and realise it links to the 2005 conference agenda still on

Iain then excuses this complete waste of space with: "PS Just my little joke - it's the 2005 agenda, which for some reason is still on the LibDems website!"

What he doesn't say is that the 2005 agenda for the Conservative party conference is still on as well, including the the announcement of the leader's speech by "The Rt Hon Michael Howard QC MP".

So I find myself advising Iain: when you next find yourself a bit short of inspiration to fill up your five-a-day posting quota, just find a darkened room and lie down in it for 20 minutes. If you still feel the urge to post a non-story, try the old brown paper bag trick - breathe in, breathe out - slowly. It always works.

Ming's electrifying speech

Phew! I said a few weeks ago that Ming owed the Liberal Democrats a barnstormer of a speech at the conference. It was certainly that - a barnstormer. It reminded me of the best of Paddy's speeches - brilliant!

It hit all the right buttons, covered all the serious policy points and answered the question: What are the Liberal Democrats for? Ming made excoriating and funny criticisms of Blair, Brown and, sharpest of all, Cameron. He delivered the speech was fantastically well.

All in all, a masterpiece of a speech. Well done Ming and team!

Monday, September 18, 2006

BBC surpass themselves with the Scissor Sisters

Our family had a treat this evening. We were just tuning in (as they used to say) to BBC1, as we sat down for supper. Then Jo Wylie came on to tell us to press our red buttons to see the Scissor Sisters live at Maida Vale studios.

We did as commanded by Ms Wylie and within about half a nano-second (or at least very quick for the red button - which can have a very delayed effect sometimes) we were enjoying an excellent vid of the Scissor Sisters at said studio and the two girlies in our family were, as usual, cooing "We love you Vernie!" when Vernon Kay came on. (They also coo "We love you Robbie" whenever Robbie Williams comes on, by the way).

It really was a superb vid and it is amazing that the whole of our family enjoyed it - bearing in mind our dates of birth straddle the best part of half a century. The Sisters (or should I say "the Scissors" to be trendy? - I don't know - but at least I can name some current characters in Corrie - Jack D, Vera D, Mike Baldwin's son...that's about it - but it's three more than Ming - but to his credit he doesn't need to know the names of the characters - his wife can remind him because she's done a dissertation on Corrie) really are brilliant. I now have "I don't feel like dancing" (Complete with that Tina Charles twirly sound) on a more or less permanent loop on my car system.

Well done BBC!

Hypocrisy and hyperventilation - Tories on our car tax proposals

When I was younger, I used to get very upset at Tories banging on about LibDems taxing people off the road. As I get older and understand our proposals better, I find such Tory hyperventilation most amusing.

So, it was with great amusement that I read Iain Dale's "Lib Dem Car Tax Proposals are Environ-MENTAL" and all the outraged comments underneath from crusty old and young Tories.

Iain says that a humble family person wanting a 2 litre petrol Mondeo would be crushed with a £1500 tax. He then gets out his high-horse and declaims:

This is madness and is entirely regressive, as hardworking families, already struggling to survive, find themselves priced out of cars. In rural areas they would be even more hard hit.

Time to bring out the Eric Forth memorial brown paper bag, I think. Breathe in, breathe out, slowly.

What Iain doesn't say is that said humble family person wanting a 2 litre Mondeo could instead buy a Diesel 2 litre Mondeo Edge with an emissions level starting at 151 g/km on the open road and only pay another £25 in tax (i.e. a total of £125) under our proposals (a tad more if they are doing a lot of urban driving). Or indeed they could buy any of these cars and get no change to their tax at all - their Vehicle Excise Duty would remain at £100 as it is now:

Renault Clio 1.5Dci
Audi A2 1.4Tdi
Peugeot 206 2.0Hdi
Vauxhall Astra 1.7Dti
Citroen Xsara Hdi (110bhp)
Renault Clio 1.2 16v
Ford Focus 1.8 Tdi
Renault Laguna 1.9 Dci
VW Golf 1.9Tdi (130bhp)
Audi A2 1.4 petrol
Peugeot 406 2.0Hdi (110bhp)
BMW 320 diesel

What is the point of a tax system if it doesn't encourage people to make less polluting choices?

My amusement is increased by the fact that Steve Norris is proposing more or less the same sort of green car/fuel taxes as us - see this Telegraph article entitled: "Tories plan 'painful rises' in car and air tax" I am sure that Iain Dale will criticise such proposals if they come forward. However, the corporate Tory fulmination at our plans (on Iain Dale's "comments" space and elsewhere) is profoundly hypocritical.

Gee it up a bit Ming!

One of the advantages (or disadvantages) of not being at all the conference is the ability to hear some of the media coverage at greater length than is normal when attending.

I heard the BBC's clip of Ming's green speech yesterday.

It was excellent.

Slow. Profound. Deliberate. Quiet.

When I compare it to clips from Paddy's old speeches it is like comparing chalk and cheese. Paddy used to challenge the audio equipment with the loudness and passion of his voice.

Unfortunately, the clip from Ming sounded like he was trying to emulate Iain Duncan-Smith:

"Do.................not.......................underestimate the.........determination.................of a.............. quiet"

I do hope Ming lets his natural passion and vigour out of the box on Thursday. Perhaps he was trying to create a contrast - quietness and aplomb on Sunday, energy and passion on Thursday.

Let's hope so.

Archbishop's wise words on childhood and inter-faith relations

The Archbishop of Canterbury's interview on Today this morning beautifully answered the question: "What is the Archbishop of Canterbury for?"

It's not that I was wondering what he was up to. It is just that most of his media appearances to date have been to try and square an impossible circle on a matter which is utterly marginal to real life - (i.e the disproportionate furore over attitudes to gays in the church).

So it was a relief to hear the Archbishop talking about something else - two subjects in fact - which actually really matter to day-to-day life: childhood and inter-faith relations.

As usual Dr Williams' remarks were softly spoken, considered and wise.

In particular, his comments on the debate about the Pope's remarks were very wise. In essence, he said we should listen more to other faiths when they tell the story of their faith. He also emphasised that there is much to be ashamed of in the history of all religions.

I only heard the interview because of West Berkshire's traffic system having one of its Monday morning cardiac arrests, but it left me with a warm glow of appreciation for the Archbishop. He is a very wise and spiritual man.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

UK Muslims praise Pope's apology

It is a relief that Muslim groups in the UK have praised the Pope for apologising following his speech in Germany last Tuesday.

For the first time, earlier today, I visited the Vatican web site and read the text of his speech. (I notice that it is only available on the website in European languages, which might explain a lot).

I am developing the strange hobby of comparing the actual text of speeches with the furore which follows them. It is particularly interesting when the media furore contrasts sharply to the tone of the actual speech. The Pope's speech and its aftermath is a classic of that genre.

I recognise that the Pope's quoting of a 14th Century emperor was a clumsy mistake. His apology is consistent with the fact that the speech was by no means a tirade against Islam. In fact I am surprised anyone stayed awake long enough to take offence at his remarks. To a layman, the speech's text is a barely comprehensible academic tract. This passage is my favourite:

The thesis that the critically purified Greek heritage forms an integral part of Christian faith has been countered by the call for a dehellenization of Christianity - a call which has more and more dominated theological discussions since the beginning of the modern age. Viewed more closely, three stages can be observed in the programme of dehellenization: although interconnected, they are clearly distinct from one another in their motivations and objectives.


Ming lays into Brown

Ming has laid into Gordon Brown, criticising him for "centralisation and authoritariansim". In particular, he has criticised him for the means testing for the families tax credit saying "That is dynamite. That is wrecking their lives."

It is great to hear striking such a precise blow against Brown.

Bush keeps digging on terror law - McCain set for 2008?

Denis Healey's advice: "“It is a good thing to follow the First Law of Holes: if you are in one, stop digging” doesn't seem to have entered the consciousness of one George Walker Bush. He is digging ever more furiously with his proposal to loosen the standards of the Geneva Convention. This is despite opposition from Republican Senators (including John McCain) and Colin Powell, who said:

The world is beginning to doubt the moral basis of our fight against terrorism. To redefine Common Article 3 would add to those doubts. Furthermore, it would put our own troops at risk.

John McCain has, and is, playing a very clever game. He has brilliantly distanced himself from Bush. This has paid dividends for him with the public. Currently McCain leads Hilary Clinton 49/39 in a hypothetical match for the 2008 presidential election. A lot will depend on how much of the "comeback kid" magic has rubbed off from Bill's shoulders to Hilary's. In any case, being behind at this stage allows a build-up of "big mo" nearer the time. Being ahead now is a somewhat nervous position to be in. Unless you are Mother Theresa, you can only move in one direction - downwards.

Meanwhile, George Bush's fight with his own party on the Geneva Convention (surreal isn't it?) is likely to crock the Republicans' strategy to fight back against the Democrats on terror. After the summer break, the Republicans threw everything they had at the Democrats to paint them as weak on terror. The Democrats chose a smart move, in response, by picking on the weakest animal in the herd - Donald "I believe what I said yesterday.I don't know what I said, but I know what I think, and, well, I assume it's what I said" and other gems Rumsfeld.

But now George Bush seems set on a suicidal war with this own party, any significant Republican recovery in the November Congress election polls seems less likely.

They have a big gap to narrow. Depending on which polll you believe, the Democrats are anywhere between 3 and 19 points ahead. Mind you, that's the nationwide picture. Congressional elections are obviously very determined by local tendencies which get subsumed in the national poll.

If you want to keep an eye on the US congressional and presidential election situations, you can do worse than occasionally looking at The Emerging Democratic Majority . That site is hosted by Ruy Teixeira, who is Joint Fellow at the Center for American Progress and The Century Foundation. I avidly read Ruy's Public Opinion Watch postings during the last Presidential election. He is the perfect antidote to reading about polls in the normal media. His scientific analysis is exceptionally skilled.

Friday, September 15, 2006

So farewell then, Raymond Baxter

I am sure there are many people who owe the beginnings of their interest in science to Raymond Baxter, who died today in the Royal Berkshire Hospital in Reading.

He presented Tomorrow's World, at a pivotal time, with great enthusiasm and authority. He was also a Spitfire pilot during the war. For several years he commentated on the Remberance Day Eve parade at the Royal Albert Hall.

He was very much a gentleman of the old school, but was able to communicate an enthusiasm for science with impeccable charisma and clarity.

Rennard: We are the party of Ming Campbell and Charles Kennedy

Chris Rennard has written a back page article for this week's Liberal Democrat News which is mind-blowingly brilliant.

Due to being intravenously connected to the party via blogging, I have found less and less to interest me in the Liberal Democrat News recently. However, Chris' article is a notable exception. It really is terrific.

Chris writes in powerful and emotional terms of his respect for Charles. He then writes:

Charles Kennedy was, is and will be a great asset to this party and we all wish him well when he speaks on Tuesday. Some of the media will set out to make mischief this week and seek to divide us. But we must not allow the media to force us to choose to be the party of Ming Campbell or Charles Kennedy. We are the party of Ming Campbell and Charles Kennedy.

Reading Chris' article made me feel a lot better. I recommend reading it. But you'll have to get a copy - it's not available online.

Mr Dale pronounces on the Top 100 LibDem Blogs

Iain Dale has pronounced on the Top 100 LibDem blogs. He has judged them on "design; frequency of posting; writing ability; personality; comment; humour; range; interaction; popularity; independence of thought."

Blimey. He's been working hard if he had to go through 100+ Blogs and mark them on all that. Rather him than me.

In my humble opinion, Mr Dale has shown excellent judgment and laser-like insight in preparing this list. (Indeed, "laser-like insight" would be a good quote for his top banner but I doubt he would use a quote from pondlife like me). But then again, I would approve of his judgment, wouldn't I? (See list). There is nothing that keeps the blogosphere ticking over more than mutual back-slapping. Blogging is, to a certain extent, a modern version of "vanity publishing".

Hoon: Blair may not last until May

It really is coming to something when we have an actual minister (and I think a semi-detached member of the cabinet at that - from memory) and previous Blair-loyalist like Geoff Hoon saying that he may not last until May. They really are out to get him.

Tory logo - the merriment continues with the Welsh and Scottish versions

You've got to laugh. The Conservatives have now released the Scottish and Welsh versions of their new logo.

The Scottish have blue land, like the English. They have a blue trunk. Like the English. But the leaves of their tree are dark torquoise, not green like the English. And the body of their tree appears to be taller and narrower.

The Welsh have black land. They also have a black trunk. They also have black leaves (presumably someone in London thinks that Welsh trees are still covered in coal dust from the mines). And their tree is much taller than the Scottish and the English ones and the kid who scribbled it seems to have attacked the Welsh tree with far more verve and abandon than they did when they scribbled the English one. (The singular blackness of the Welsh one may be due to the fact that perhaps this Welsh one hasn't yet been officially released and some blogger has copied it from a compliments slip or something).

Norman Tebbit reckons that the English tree looks like a stick of broccoli. Really? I didn't think broccoli look like that. I suppose it might look like a sprig of broccoli after you have pulled it about a bit. I would be interested to hear Tebbo's opinions on the Scottish and Welsh versions.

It isn't a spoof - the new Conservative logo is a scribble

It is definitely not a spoof, as I suspected yesterday. This is the new Conservative logo. The only difference from yesterday's one shown by Iain Dale is that Iain's was a white one used for a conference badge. This is the full colour one, courtesy of this year's Conservative blogging winner of the "Order of the Brown Nose". The BBC and the Telegraph have now reported the official launch of this new logo.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Monday, September 11, 2006

Foreign policy speech - Another soft soufflé from Cameron

I have just waded through David Cameron's foreign policy speech, delivered earlier today.

For the most part, it is an elegant exercise in assinine platitudes.

He says there should be more "humility and patience" in foreign policy. A statement of such solidity that you could make marshmallows out of it.

He wants a "new multilateralism" and says "democracy cannot quickly be imposed from outside".

He wants to wage a war on incorrect semantics - he doesn't want terrorism waged by a single protagonist against a single, amalgamated foe or 'global jihad'.

He says "Bombs and missiles are bad ambassadors" and that there should be greater effort put into helping undermine dictators from within.

There is no apology from him for supporting the war in Iraq - and no clue as to how Saddam Hussein could have been toppled "from within".

He says we should be friendlier to the Gulf states and Turkey.

He says "force should be a last resort".

At the end of this sea of turgid generalisation there is one paragraph which at least states some sort of position which is different from Tony Blair:

"We must not stoop to illiberalism - whether at Guantanamo Bay, or here at home with excessive periods of detention without trial. We must not turn a blind eye to the excesses of our allies - abuses of human rights in some Arab countries, or disproportionate Israeli bombing in Lebanon."

However, any criticisms which Cameron has made previously of Guantanamo or Israeli bombing in Lebanon have been sotto voce.

Another soft soufflé shuffle from Cameron.

Cameron foreign policy mush - no wonder Ming is more trusted

I look forward to reading the text of David Cameron's speech on foreign policy. The spin so far released contains the normal 100% Cameron mush. He says there is a need for greater "humility and patience" in foreign policy-making.

Of course. Like he wants people to be happier as well.

Mush, mush. Put your wellies on. Squidge. Squidge.

I hope the full speech contains things like: "invading Iraq was wrong", "imprisoning detainees at Guantanemo was wrong", "Israel's use of disproportionate force on Lebanon was wrong" etc etc

I won't hold my breath. Ming Campbell has been saying these sorts of things clearly for years on foreign policy. In sharp contrast, Cameron's policy mush is perhaps one of the reasons less than half as many people trust him in comparison to Ming (see comment from Peter on Liberal Review).

Labour is gagging it's own members

The sight of octogenarian Walter Wolfgang being pulled out of his chair (for a bit of very light heckling) by two huge bouncers at the last Labour autumn conference was unbelievable. It is unbelievable that Labour employs professional "bouncers" as stewards for its conference. The idea of LibDem stewards (all party members) manhandling someone out of conference for a bit of light heckling is not something I would dream of happening.

But as if that Wolfgang-bashing wasn't enough, this year the Labour party is screening applicants who want to attend their conference. John Crace in the Guardian says that have taken the "strange decision to ban anyone who has taken part in peaceful protests." So such people will not even be allowed a pass for the Labour conference.

Is there anyone in the Labour party who has not taken part in a peaceful protest?! Presumably 'peaceful protesters' would include Tony Benn who seems to attend peaceful protests like other people watch football on the telly.

I find it extraordinary that any Labour party member would be refused a pass for their own party conference. With LibDem conferences any party member who applies for a pass gets one, subject to providing a photo and filling out the form. Indeed, members of the public who have sufficiently strong constitutions to queue up at 9am, can get a day pass.

Given that the whole history of Labour is one of trade union activism and campaigning for human rights, it is just ludicrous that they are now stopping their own members from attending their conference if there is a chance they might shout out "nonsense!" during a speech by Tony Blair.

Friday, September 8, 2006

120 houses without drinking water as E.coli strikes Tory MP's stately home

Once again, in the interests of sleeping at night, I find myself tending to make no comment on this story. The Newbury Weekly News reports, on the same issue: "Confusion reigns over Englefield contamination".

Harold Wilson had the right idea

Portsmouth's Spinnaker Tower - one thing to do before you die

Lists of "Things to do before you die" seem to be legion these days. The BBC did one of the early ones of these. It culminated in swimming with dolphins in Florida. The rest of them were also pretty expensive. So if you did the whole lot of 25 things the "26th thing to do before you die" would be to pay off your overdraft or at least gently break the news of your accumulated debt to whoever is handling your estate after your demise.

Country Life recently published a very thought-provoking list of "Ten things to do before you die". In fact they were all very simple: Light a bonfire, ride a horse, catch a trout...that sort of thing. Simple pursuits which we (or at least I) have certainly passed by in the mad dash of everyday life. I have cut out the list and it is prominently displayed in my bedroom to remind me of the sorts of things I should be doing.

Recently I have been compiling my own list. "Catch crabs (the crawly ones in the sea) with a child" is one. We did this recently with our daughter on Cromer pier and it was the highlight of our holiday. We caught 60 crabs (little non-eaters) and then put them back in the sea - carefully. We used squid as bait, which they seemed to enjoy.

Then last Saturday I did another simple thing, along the lines of the Country Life list. We flew a kite on the green near our home. It was a proper kite which we bought in a kite shop (previous attempts using a 99 pence cheapo were unsuccessful).

Then last Sunday we went up the Spinnaker Tower at Portsmouth. It definitely has to be on the list of things you do before you die. On a clear, sunny day like last Sunday, the view is absolutely stunning. You can see the Isle of Wight, the sea, boats, ships, hovercraft and a large chunk of the British Naval Fleet. It gives a better view than the Eiffel Tower and the London Eye. Here is a view from the tower:

'Comment is free'...but lawyers are expensive

I am starting to assemble a gallery of ludicrous opening sentences in Guardian "Comment is free" blogs.

There was Iain Dale starting his article with a completely invented word - "condundra".

Then there was Ed Vaizey talking about Blair's "gradual defenestration" in his first clause. I am still trying to imagine someone being chucked out of a window gradually.

But Christopher Hitchens today takes the absolute biscuit for "Comment is free" opening sentence blunders.

In fact, "blunder" is too light a term to describe it. "Limited catastrophe" might be more appropriate. First, he makes the basic mistake of calling the Liberal Democrats the "Liberal Democratic party". Then he writes an outrageous statement. "What statement?" - you might well ask. Well, I am not going to repeat it. I like to sleep at night.

Somewhere in the chambers of Sue, Grabbit and Runne I suspect a lawyer is working later than usual for a Friday afternoon.

17:06 update - someone in the Guardian corrected the outrageous sentence referred to above as my blog posting whirled around the internet. If you want to read what was originally written, Stephen Tall, bless him, has been bold enough to quote it on his blog. I notice that the Guardian have also removed a comment at the bottom of Hitchens' posting, which repeated the offending sentence. They have replaced the comment with this remark:

"This comment repeated - and took issue with - a factual error from the original post. It has been removed by CiF administrators following advice from our legal team."

So, even if someone at Sue, Grabbit and Runne wasn't having a late Friday afternoon, it appears that our learned friends in the Guardian were!

Thursday, September 7, 2006

Blair: Even the kids are revolting

Tony Blair has chosen audiences of school children to whom to make major announcements on at least two previous occasions. One was the launch of his last general election campaign.

The idea seemed to be that if you want a meek and mild audience with that extra splash of "they are the future, not you old gits" then go to a school. And, indeed, the school children sat, rather bemused, while our Tone went on about "NuLabor".

However, it is a sign of the expiry of His Toneships' "use by date" that now, even the school children are revolting and he was greeted today with protesting schoolchildren with placards saying "Go".

Is Brown any good?

I hope for the sake of our sanity that we do not hear any more ridiculous nonsense about when Blair is going to go - now that he has made an announcement. (It was nice for him to apologise for the recent ruccus though. And how is it that all his major announcements are made in front of a audience of bemused school children?) The full text is here.

If Gordon Brown makes any more mischief about it, or allows anyone within his "camp" to do so, then it proves he is not fit to hold the office of Prime Minister. It is quite right for Blair not to name a date now. After all, Bush might ask him to help him invade Iran next year and he can't handover to Brown while that is going on can he? Seriously, he has said clearly that this month's conference speech will be his last. It would childish for there to be any more speculation and debate. I realise that people like Jeremy Corbyn will never be happy and that all the recent internal debate in the Labour party has been good for the LibDems. But it really would be silly to have any more controversy over which month next year he goes.

When you add all this recent "Blair date" nonsense to all the rigmarole and pain over Thatcher's exit and the elongated Churchill/Eden handover charade then two things become clear:

-The Prime Minister of this country should be directly elected
-The Prime Minister should have fixed terms

The government could then get on with the small matter of running the country without such distractions. After all, no human being should be in office as leader of a country for more than ten years. It is ridiculous to try to go on for longer. The US constitution, once again, is proved to be one of the the wisest documents in history with its fixed terms and direct elections (albeit via an electoral college) for the President.

As for Brown, he is going to have a lot of tricks up his sleeve to dig the Labour party out of its current mess. I can't see him doing it myself. He has been a reasonably good Chancellor. But he has to turn on his smile rather like someone wiring up an ageing generator to one of Edison's original light bulbs. It doesn't come naturally to him.

Wednesday, September 6, 2006

"The terms of the President and Vice President shall end at noon on the 20th day of January"

So says Amendment XX, dated 1933, to the US Constitution. Wouldn't that be handy over here? The actual hour on the actual date at which each President expires is dictated by the Constitution. No messing around and briefing journalists to wrench the hands of the PM from the doorhandle of his office. It all happens with no debate at all.

The argument is often repeated that if Tony Blair announced a date for his departure, he would turn himself into a lame duck.

I have not often heard this obvious rubbish disputed.

Firstly, what is he now if he is not a lame duck? Take his recent announcement about helping families who are "at risk of producing" troublesome kids. In fact several NGO chiefs have broadly welcomed this proposal. However, it has been drowned out by derision and references to "eugenics" simply because it comes from Tony Blair. It is seen as a blatant attempt to detract attention from the debate over his "use by" date.

Secondly, the whole USA public and the entire world know when the US President will leave office. Yes, this does make the office holder something of a lame duck but you can also argue that much of the statesperson-like work by Presidents is done in the last year or so of office.

Also, look at Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter. They were churning out presidnetial orders in their last few days of office like ice creams being handed out on a hot summer's day. Kerby Anderson comments:

President Clinton followed in the tradition of President Carter in putting out a rash of executive orders during his last few months in office. Just on Jimmy Carter's last day in office alone, the Federal Register (a daily summation of new rules for the executive branch) was three times its normal size. The regulations drafted by President Carter and numerous lame-duck regulators earned the nickname: midnight regulations. By the time all the dust settled, it was estimated that President Carter added about 24,500 pages of last-minute regulations. President Clinton surpassed that record with over 30,000 pages of new regulations in the last 90 days.

Tuesday, September 5, 2006

Glee club "Charlie is pissed again" song in Guardian

John Hemming follows a few days after Femme de Resistance in highlighting the classic song "Over the sea to Skye" from the Liberator Songbook which ends "Charlie is pissed again". The words were written by Stuart Callison.

As John comments, this song is a very effective rebuttal against the accusation that the party covered up Charlie's drinking. It first featured in the songbook, after all, soon after the 1987 merger. It was sung with great relish at umpteen conference glee clubs in the presence of the press since then. The songbook has been sold on the internet and in "Politicos" at the conference.

And it is an excellent song, I have to say.

Seeking a larger audience for this nugget, beyond the blogosphere, I sent it to Simon Hoggart at the Guardian. I send him lots of bits and pieces (normally nothing to do with the LibDems) and these are often ignored. I did get a mention from him once for pointing out the phrase "It's all gone Pete Tong" (for reasons losts in the mists of time). You could knock me down with a feather, then, when he printed the latter half of the "Charlie pissed" song last Saturday in his Guardian diary. So existence of the song is now well and truly in the public domain, I think we can say.

Friday, September 1, 2006

Blair's mug says it all

Recently my daughter bought me a key ring which had my Christian name on it. Also on it was a list of remarkable talents which people called "Paul" are meant to possess:

Patience, good humour, leadership qualities, tenacity

It was a lovely gesture by my daughter. I treasure that keyring.

Any idea that those talents are an accurate reflection of me, just because I have the name "Paul", seems ridiculous. I know that I can be very impatient, bad tempered, clueless and weak.

You could have blown me down with a feather, then, when I read 'The Times' this morning.

During his interview with said organ, Blair sported a mug with "Anthony" written on it, along with the usual flattering qualities which "Anthonys" are meant to possess.

We've had all this damn silly mug business before. He came out of 10 Downing Street with a mug and jeans on when his son was born (I think). There were a number of mickey-takes done of that incident including one where 'Alastair Campbell', behind the door of Number Ten, begged the Prime Minister to hold a mug during his speech to give him extra street cred.

But this "Anthony" mug takes the biscuit. To actually carry a mug like that to an interview is just....well I am left having to borrow some words from the 'Young Ones'...what an "utter utter utter utter"....then the next word is rather impolite.

The mug said on it:

"Anthony, your refined inner voice drives your thoughts and deeds," it read on one side."You're a man who's in charge others follow your lead. You possess great depth and have a passionate mind. Others think you're influential ethical and kind."

Pass the sickbag, Alice

Interestingly, there were some less flattering personal qualities described on the reverse side:

"humble and private, you view the world through a dreamy and reflective lens."

"dreamy and reflective"...I see...dreams like, for example, "my party loves me and everyone loves me and I need to keep on going on and on and...oh.....let's borrow an idea from Hitler and grab trouble makers before they are born."

Shirley Williams makes the "Good List"

The Independent has put together a "Good List" of 100 people it thinks

The list bears all the hallmarks of a few journos sitting around in a "silly season" lull throwing a few names together to meet a deadline.

Nevertheless it is an interesting and thought-provoking list. At the end of the day, we are not here to be rich, as highlighted in the Sunday Times Rich List, so it is encouraging that "being good" is perhaps becoming more valued in our society or, least, in the Independent.

One bright spot is that our Shirl the Whirl is on the list. I am also pleased to see Lionel Blue on the list as he is an all-round good egg.