Sunday, December 30, 2007

Nick Clegg's New Year message on You Tube

Nick Clegg has delivered a confident New Year message which encapsulates a coherent Liberal Democrat message. It is on You Tube - click above to see it. The text is below. It is interesting that his message includes a mention of TV advertising aimed at kids. This was the thing that Nick mentioned when asked by Alex Wilcock (during the leadership campaign - at the bloggers' interview) for one thing which he would ban.

2008 will be a momentous year for the Liberal Democrats.

We have before us an unparalleled opportunity. We must reach beyond the stale two-party system to the millions of people who share our liberal values, and change Britain for the better. Let us show what that means in the local elections that face us this spring.

Putting British families back in control of their everyday lives will be at the heart of everything we stand for.

In control of their time, not fighting to make space for family life between the demands of work and the burden of bills.

In control of what their children are exposed to on TV, not constantly struggling to protect toddlers from the pressure of advertising.

In control of their own privacy, not forced to submit personal information to a massive government identity database.

Giving power and responsibility to families – of every shape and size, of every background – is the only way to make sure everyone has a fair chance in life.

I will not tolerate a country in which the poorest people die 13 years sooner than the richest, lone parent families are twice as likely to get attacked or burgled, and the poorest pupils are twice as likely to fail their GCSEs.

I believe no-one should be condemned by the circumstances of their birth. And I am certain that is what the British people believe, too. We are a nation with a strong sense of fair play, and natural justice.

The challenge for our party is to persuade those people that their home is with the Liberal Democrats. We will do it by putting social mobility – a fair deal for every family – at the heart of our message.

That means investment in education, so every child gets the best start in life. I will campaign relentlessly for a “pupil premium” to bring spending for the poorest children up to private school levels.

It also means cutting taxes for low and income families, and reforming tax credits so that no family is ever again plunged into debt by crippling repayments enforced by an incompetent government.

We all know the Conservatives don’t have the answers. They would block opportunity, not promote it.

They talk about social justice, but want to return to a Victorian-style voluntary system. They talk about families, but only want to help married couples. They talk about tax cuts, but don’t say where they’ll find the money.

The Liberal Democrats are different. Under my leadership, we will campaign for opportunity for everyone, with people, families, and communities in control of their destinies.

So we will campaign for flexible working, shared parental leave, and flexible benefits for all families. We will campaign for sensible restrictions on advertising aimed at toddlers – my own children remember the adverts far more clearly than any of the programmes they watch. We have lost the virtue of cherishing innocence, as childhood becomes ever shorter.

Protecting very young children from unwanted commercial intrusion into their lives is part of the same instinct that seeks to protect adults from unwanted state intrusion into theirs.

So we should campaign tirelessly to stop the expensive, invasive and unnecessary Identity Cards scheme in its tracks.

The child benefit and learner drivers' data loss scandals mean there is a looming crisis of public confidence in the government's capacity to look after their personal information. So let 2008 be the year we bring down the Identity Cards scheme.

I urge you to join with me to make this happen: so we can truly give British families control over their own lives this year.

Together, we can make Britain the liberal country the British people want it to be.


Nick Clegg
Leader, Liberal Democrats

Iowa: Edwards has the "mo", while Huckabee bombs

The latest poll in Iowa shows the three leading Democrat Presidential candidates - Edwards (who has the "mo" currently), Clinton and Obama - in a dead heat.

For the Republicans, Romney is out front and Huckabee has bombed a bit.

It's great fun watching all this. Nothing seems to be for certain - they're all flipping up and down all over the place.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Diddlysquat - Labour's achievements on UK electoral reform after ten years

Nicholas Watt in the Observer reports that Gordon Brown has responded positively to Nick Clegg's proposal for a constitutional convention. But we've been here before:

The Liberal Democrats will be encouraged next month when the government publishes a paper on electoral reform, likely to be a key Lib Dem demand if Clegg holds the balance of power in a hung Parliament after the next general election.The paper will outline the pros and cons of the current first-past-the-post system for Westminster elections and the various alternatives.

Come off it! The Jenkins commission produced the "paper" to end all papers on electoral reform, but Labour did diddlysquat about it.

And, oh, look who will be handling the announcement of said "paper". Step forward Jack "Boot" Straw, Putting him in charge of electoral reform is like having Joseph Mengele in charge of a maternity unit.

Jenkins and his "azalea" repeats

Is Stephen Tall writing for Jasper Gerard. Last week, Stephen pointed out that Simon Jenkins spouts out Liberal Democrat policies for months but then, rather inexplicably, lays into Nick Clegg. Today Jasper Gerard makes the same point with some venom. He compares Jenkins to a gardening correspondent:

In my editing days on another newspaper, I discovered that the gardening columnist filed exactly the same piece on a given week as he had the year before and the year before that. The second week of June? Ah, prune your azaleas. Third week of January? Haste to the potting shed.

I enjoy a similar glow of familiarity whenever I read an article by Simon Jenkins on the Liberal Democrats. So last week, he dismissed Nick Clegg, their new leader, much as he had dismissed Ming Campbell and, for all anyone can remember, Archibald Sinclair and Lloyd George. Being a classier scribe than the gardening correspondent, Jenkins at least changes some names and explains why in this particular week he is, reluctantly, turning his withering gaze on the party.

Nick Clegg appeals for co-operation to fix "Britain's broken political system"

Nick Clegg has appealed for co-operation from Gordon Brown and David Cameron to fix "Britain's political system":

Our system of government is the stage on which the battle of political ideas takes place. That system must be fair, accessible and strong. In its present state, I do not know a single person who would use those words to describe it. Members of Britain's political establishment need to ask themselves why voter turnout has fallen so far and so fast, why mass membership of political parties is becoming a thing of the past, and why people feel not just that the political system is rotten but that it operates in a way that prevents them from changing it.

Nick describes our political system as the "most centralised, ossified and unresponsive system of government in Europe today".

Nick makes a heartfelt plea:

So, if Gordon Brown and David Cameron are serious when they say that they want to cooperate, here is the litmus test. They should join the Liberal Democrats in establishing an independent British Constitutional Convention that would bring together representatives from all political parties and from every corner of British society. Its remit would be the construction of a consensus on the reforms needed to reopen the political system and revitalise public trust.

There is nothing new in the proposal for a constitutional convention. Ming often suggested it, mainly based on his experience of the Scottish convention. But Nick Clegg has very attractively packaged this proposal and coupled it with a real challenge to the other party leaders:

So here's my invitation for David and Gordon: join me in forging a new consensus on the future of British government. No gimmicks, no gestures - just hard work and real action. Are you ready?

Well done Nick Clegg! Let's hope something gets moving as a result of this initiative!

Disturbing events in Kenya

After a glimmer of hope, events have taken a disturbing turn in Kenya, as highlighted by Lord Steel:

This afternoon with 21 seats still to be declared the Commission was giving the lead to Raila Odinga by 4.3 million to President Kibaki's 4 million. Later these figures changed to 3.8 million each - giving Mr Odinga a lead of under 40,000 votes with no other constituencies announced. "Mr Odinga has been clearly ahead throughout the two days of counting until now.

Nick Clegg unveils major political initiative

Here on the party's website.

Northern Rock - inflation anyone?

A long time ago, when I had hair and my student grant was sufficient to fund a sumptuous lifestyle in the Union Bar, I dabbled in a bit of economics. I vaguely remember something about M1 and M2, and the increase of the money supply causing inflation.

So I did wonder if injecting an extra £25 billion (or is it £50 billion?) into the "money supply" via Northern Rock might not do an awful lot of good for the inflation rate.

It is nice to finally find someone in print speculating on the same subject. Simon Hoggart in his Diary today says, while commenting on the police pay situation:

As for inflationary pressure, what on earth is Northern Rock going to create?

Mind you, presumably £25 billion is peanuts in the scheme of things (e.g government expenditure of £600 billion-odd annually).

I welcome input from someone who knows what they are talking about on this subject. There usually seems to be someone with a PhD in most subjects floating around.

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart but without writers - that's a good joke

I see that the Daily Show with Jon Stewart (below) is planning an attempt to re-emerge on the airwaves, minus writers. That's a joke in itself. The whole programme revolves around good writing.

At least Letterman is trying to a deal with the unions to come back on the airwaves with writers.

US Presidential race: Ron Paul ahead with British internet searchers

It's worth buying the print version of the Guardian today to see the centre spread on "The world according to Google", which is illustrated by some fascinating graphs. The accompanying article is available here and links to some of the graphs on Google's own website.

It is interesting that Ron Paul (above) is winning the US Presidential race, according to Google searches in Britain. In December he got about three times as many search hits as all the main Democratic candidates put together. I also notice that Mr Paul has done very well on the Newsvine presidential poll in my right-hand sidebar.

McCain's foreign policy - a recipe for lots of states "outside the tent p***ing in"

Conservative Home has started a series on the foreign policies of the US Presidential candidates. Today's subject is John McCain.

Oh, gaw blimey. His recommendations sound like the rallying call for yet more international war:
  • No retreat in Iraq
  • All means to stop a nuclear Iran
  • A new league of Democracies to rival the UN
  • No to torture
  • Expulsion of Russia from G8
  • Special help for moderate Muslim States.
While several of those points are seemingly innocuous, some of them make my hair stand on end.

Rivalling the UN with another organisation?! What complete madness!

Expelling Russia from G8. Brilliant.

To modify what Lyndon Johnson said, let's get lots of people outside the tent p***ing in, why don't we?!

Friday, December 28, 2007

Oh dear what can the matter be? Mrs Thatcher got stuck in the lavatory.

This is manna from heaven for headline writers everywhere. The Telegraph goes with "Houston we have a problem":

Margaret Thatcher may have been not for turning, but the handle on a lavatory door that she encountered in America proved equally stubborn.

A hitherto private account of the Iron Lady’s visit to the US in 1977, written by an official at the British consulate-general in Texas, records that both she and her husband, Denis, had to be rescued from the lavatory during the tri

...“The inside door handle of the bathroom would not work properly and both Mrs Thatcher and Mr Thatcher had to be rescued from bondage on different occasions..."

That was the year that wasn't

The Number Ten website has a "Look back at the PM's year 2007".

It is more notable for what isn't included, rather than what is.

No wonder Nick Clegg said that "this is taking spin to new levels".

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Benazir Bhutto is killed

What an awful end to 2007! The moment there is some hope in Pakistan, it is snatched away. May she rest in peace, and I hope that some sense comes from this appalling nadir in Pakistani affairs.

Has the Cowley Street Bedouin fallen into a quicksand?

Did the Cowley Street Bedouin actually exist? Or was he just a figment of my imagination? In my hazy nostalgic memory I vaguely recall highly balanced and equivocal postings during the leadership contest (which I seem to distantly remember may have been ever-so slightly on the side of Nick Clegg - occasionally).

Now all that's left of the fellow is a series of uncached Google search results and "This page does not exist" on, the URL in question. There is also a nostalgic appearance in the LibDem Blogs archive for 15th December. In true blogger fashion, all these snippets of the remaining internet footprint of the CSB have been preserved in screenshots (below).

But as the phoenix rose from the ashes, The Willow Man has risen from the quicksand into which it seems the Cowley Street Bedouin has sunk. Good luck to him - the Willow Man, that is. We always enjoy seeing him on the M5.

Nick Clegg on Radio Five Live in full

I have now got round to listening to the whole of Nick Clegg's "quickfire" questioning on Radio Five Live on Nicky Campbell and Shelagh Fogarty's Breakfast show.

It's worth listening to the whole thing. There are some interesting questions and answers in it, and I think that, on the whole, Nick does extremely well. It's available to listen to here.

Nick Clegg on Radio Five Live in full

I have now got round to listening to the whole of Nick Clegg's "quickfire" questioning on Radio Five Live on Nicky Campbell and Victoria Darbyshire's Breakfast show.

It's worth listening to the whole thing. There are some interesting questions and answers in it, and I think that, on the whole, Nick does extremely well. It's available to listen to here.

The Sun highlights Nick Clegg's stand against "scrooge" MOD

It is great to a see a "Sun exclusive" today accompanied by a large photograph of Nick Clegg, under the title, "Our Boys ripped off by the MOD":

SCROOGE MoD chiefs are making a fortune by charging forces’ charities for holding fundraising events on military land.

Warped ministry rules — exposed by The Sun today — mean do-gooders have to pay full commercial rents for their events.

...New Lib-Dem leader Nick Clegg last night vowed to champion the issue in Parliament.

He said: “We ask for the ultimate sacrifice from our servicemen and women yet the Government continues to treat them in this shabby and disrespectful way.”

Nick Clegg and the countryside in the Telegraph

The Telegraph seems to be getting positively haliographic in respect to Nick Clegg. Today he gets a mention in an article on the countryside by Alan Cochrane in the Telegraph:

It has traditionally been the Liberal Democrats who have contested rural Britain, often successfully, with the Tories and Nick Clegg, the new Liberal Democrat leader, says that he likes nothing more than a hike in the hills near his Sheffield constituency.

Ealing Studios re-awaken for St Trinian's

Ealing Studios re-awaken for St Trinian's

Monday, December 24, 2007

My 8 wishes for 2008

The Norfolk Blogger has been tagged me with this meme. Here are my 8 wishes for 2008:

1. For serious headway to be made in the fight against climate change
2. For serious headway to be made in the fight against worldwide hunger
3. For David Cameron to be called a "Nick Clegg clone"
4. To still have a reasonably intact body and mind at the end of 2008
5. For Barack Obama to be elected President of the United States of America
6. For Matthew Hoggard to be admitted to the House of Lords as "Baron Hoggard of Ilkley"
7. For one of the out-pipes of Sharp's Brewery to be mistakenly re-diverted to my household water supply
8. For George W Bush to leave office as the most unpopular ever President of the USA

I now tag the following to take up the gauntlet on this one:

Cicero's Songs

The People's Republic of Mortimer
Lindylooz Muze
Jo's Jottings
Liberal England

Telegraph talks of "move to the Right by the Liberal Democrats"

It's funny but for some reason the Telegraph has gone all soft on us, via Nick Clegg. Today's Telegraph feature is entitled: "How Nick Clegg plans to shake up Westminster".

Nick derides Cameron's £20 tax bribe for married couples and advocates major change in the democratic system as a priority before talk of coalitions:

I don't see how in a political system biased in favour of giving totally untrammelled executive authority to parties even if they don't get a majority of the popular mandate, how coalitions can or should be the result of that. So what's the point of getting tied up in knots about something that's not likely to happen?"

There are also hints at new "right" leaning policies, some of which seem to be existing LibDem policies:

He has begun planning a series of radical policy initiatives to achieve his aims, which will herald a move to the Right by the Liberal Democrats. Wavering Tory voters are clearly the main target.

Today, he sets out controversial proposals to overhaul the payment of child benefit which will allow parents to receive it in lump sums to pay for child care or even private school fees.

However, it is on tax where he is preparing the major battleground with the Conservatives.
"Let me be clear, I will not be seeking to introduce a 50 per cent tax rate for earnings over £100,000 and I will not be seeking to increase the overall tax burden on the British economy."

He pledges a "massive" four pence cut in the basic rate of income tax, which will be funded by £6.7 billion worth of new green levies on polluting cars, aircraft and other polluters. However, he will also strip pensions of higher-rate tax relief and "controversially" "reform" - increase - capital-gains tax.

Nick Clegg still gets wide coverage for a one word answer: "No"

A Guardian leader today does a tour d'horizon of politics and religion, mentioning US presidential candidate Mike HUckabee, Tony Blair, Ruth Kelly and Nick Clegg:

What is true of belief is equally true of its absence. On Wednesday Mr Clegg faced a series of quick-fire questions on the radio. One was "do you believe in God?", and he responded with an admirably straightforward "no". His frankness must have caused alarm among his aides, since he later put out a statement stressing the Christianity of others in his family and insisting he did not have a "closed heart" on religious matters. It is to Mr Clegg's credit that he did not backtrack, but it is worrying that he felt pressed to say anything further at all.

After all, his lack of faith puts him in the majority. While the fuss yesterday was over Catholics overtaking Anglicans in church attendance, most Britons have no faith at all. A Guardian poll a year ago found that non-believers outnumbered believers by two to one, and that more thought religion caused harm than judged it a force for good. The Church of England does not directly demand piety from politicians - the Archbishop of Canterbury responded to Mr Clegg's words by saying that what counts is sincerity.

Clegg secures pledge from Brown to secure information

The Independent reports that Nick Clegg has extracted a pledge from Gordon Brown to bring in new safeguards to secure massive databases of citizens' information:

The Prime Minister promised to tighten up procedures next spring, after a review by Richard Thomas, the Information Commissioner, and Mark Walport, the head of the Wellcome Trust, into data security in the public and private sectors.

His pledge came during a telephone conversation with Nick Clegg in the past week. The new Liberal Democrat leader raised the dangers of pressing ahead with giant databases across the public sector, warning that the Government faced a "serious backlash". He also reiterated his party's objections to a national identity card scheme. Mr Brown supports the idea, but is likely to seek extra safeguards to allay the public's doubts.

A list of past politicians and their belief, or lack of belief, in God

Matthew Parris gives a lengthy list of past politicians and their belief or lack of belief in God. He concludes that Nick Clegg is in good company (with the proviso that none many past leaders actually owned up to disbelief in God, like Nick):

My inquiries led me, almost ten years ago, to Lord Jenkins of Hillhead � the late Roy Jenkins, historian, Home Secretary, Chancellor, party leader and biographer of William Gladstone.
Lord Jenkins and I started with Queen Victoria's first Prime Minister, Viscount Melbourne. “Things have come to a pretty pass when religion is allowed to invade the sphere of private life,” Lord M said; and “while I cannot be regarded as a pillar, I must be regarded as a buttress of the Church, because I support it from the outside”.

A No there, then; Nick Clegg has at least one distinguished former Liberal Leader for company. Lord Jenkins gave Peel a Probably, Russell a Probably Not, and an open verdict on Palmerston, Aberdeen and Derby.

Gladstone was the 19th-century exception. A true believer, no question about it.
Benjamin Disraeli? Secular, I think. “Sensible men are all of the same religion,” runs the exchange in his novel Endymion.

“And, pray, what is that?” inquired the Prince.

“Sensible men never tell.”

Jenkins and I gave a probable No to Rosebery, too. The present Lord Salisbury thought his ancestor had a quiet but firm faith. David Lloyd George, “that siren-footed bard, utterly detatched from our notions of good and evil”? Unlikely. Bonar Law? Probably not. Baldwin? Yes.

Macdonald and Chamberlain? Actively uninterested. Churchill believed in Providence, but would not have got on with God at all. Attlee told his biographer privately he had no faith. There is no evidence for any lively Christianity on Eden's part; Macmillan took a somewhat theatrical interest in the Church; and Sir Alec Douglas-Home is a definite though quiet Yes.
Of Harold Wilson, his wife Mary would only say “religion was part of his tradition”. James Callaghan struck me as a mellow pessimist on such matters; and I never sensed any abiding belief on Ted Heath's part. Though hardly un-Christian, friends report a persistent difficulty in getting John Major into church.

Which leaves us, after an almost two-century sweep, with a clear majority of agnostics or atheists, and two enthusiasts for Christian witness: Gladstone and Blair.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Sunday Times on Clegg - delivering leaflets is a better option

There's a lot about Nick Clegg in the Sunday Times, as well as the Telegraph. A huge interview write-up from Rosie Millard and a long article from Simon Jenkins.

They look rather disparaging so I can't be bothered to read them - I'm going to deliver some leaflets!

Telegraph Cleggfest - is this what going "outside our comfort zone" means?

The Sunday Telegraph is full to bursting with Nick Clegg:

It has a leader article entitled: "Nick Clegg and David Cameron lead the pack" which hints at a "new consensus":

The election of Nick Clegg as leader of the Liberal Democrats suggests that the beginnings of a new consensus may be forming in British politics. Mr Clegg evidently shares more than just his mannerisms and fresh-faced youthfulness with David Cameron, the Tory leader.

The two also appear to share a similar conviction that the problems besetting Britain's public services can only be solved by devolving discretion and power to the individuals who deliver those services, and to the people who use them, rather than relying on directives from the central state.

There's a report saying that Nick Clegg is planning a "radical departure":

Patients would be able to opt out of the NHS and disadvantaged children would have the option of going to public school under plans being drawn up by the Lib Dems.

There's a comparison of Clegg's and Cameron's personal details and an analysis entitled "Lib Dems' Nick Clegg too close for Tories":

The Tories do see big similarities between Mr Cameron and Mr Clegg, both 40, but they are not as pleased about it as they would have the world believe.

In fact, Mr Cameron's closest colleagues admitted privately just before Mr Clegg was declared leader last Tuesday that he was the result they most feared.

George Osborne, the shadow chancellor, told one MP that he regarded Mr Clegg as "not good for us". He expressed the view that Mr Clegg would be very effective in challenging for Tory votes.

One is on You Tube

The Royal Family has launched its own YouTube channel.

It doesn't allow you to embed videos. Spoil sports.

For many years I have wanted to watch old Queen's Christmas broadcasts on demand.

Heaven, I'm in heaven....

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Clegg calls for inquiry into Blair's role in dropping Saudi investigation

It is good to see Nick Clegg keeping up his visibility. He has tonight strongly criticised the role of Tony Blair in the dropping of the Al Yamamah investigation following the revelation of a letter from Tony Blair dated 8th December 2006:

The letter, written to Lord Goldsmith, then Attorney General, implies that Blair saw the potential loss of a Typhoon jet contract as a secondary consideration in dropping the inquiry.

Nick Clegg comments on BBC Online:

Tony Blair must urgently explain what he thought he was up to by invoking the Typhoon contract as a reason to stop the SFO investigation.

As his own attorney general, Lord Goldsmith, made clear to him between December 2005 and December 2006, commercial relations are an improper basis under international law to suspend a legal investigation.

“Knowing this, why did Tony Blair persist in pursuing a legally improper line of argument which could amount to an attempt to pervert the course of justice?

Starkey lays into Queen as 'poorly educated'

The Guardian reports:

As the country's most high-profile historian of the British monarchy, one might expect David Starkey to take a warm view of the house of Windsor.

But in a week in which the Queen overtook Victoria as Britain's longest-lived monarch, Starkey has delivered a less than rose-tinted verdict on the head of state, accusing her of philistinism and being uninterested in her predecessors, largely due to being poorly educated.

"I think she's got elements a bit like Goebbels in her attitude to culture," the historian told the Guardian. "You remember: 'Every time I hear the word culture I reach for my revolver.' "

I have heard that quote more commonly attributed to Goering.

Mr Starkey is quite scathing about the Queen. But, he's got a TV series, and no doubt several books, to publicise. He seems to be the Brian Sewell of the history world.

Swap Shop returns / Rebus McTaggart / National Gallery

Swap Shop is back!

/ /

Rebus McTaggart is a hoot

/ /

The National Gallery

Welcome good sense from Toynbee on Christmas

Polly Toynbee has written a heartening article in the Guardian on the attitude of non-believers to Christmas: Sorry to disappoint, but it's nonsense to suggest we want to ban Christmas.

In particular, Toynbee reveals her enlightened attitude to "Christian myths":

The loss of classical mythology has made much poetry, art and literature incomprehensible to most people. The loss of Christian mythology would make most European history and painting impenetrable. Secularists do not welcome ignorance as a substitute for declining faith.

...and singing hymns:

Is it hypocritical to sing songs with words whose literal truth you do not believe? Any such sad edict would leave most great love songs, hymns and arias unsung. If the royal family can trill, with solemn faces and gladsome minds, "What can I give him, poor as I am?" then anyone can.

I think Toynbee might be surprised to learn that there are a vast number of Christians who are alarmed by silly stories about non-believers wanting to ban Christmas amid what she identifies as undertones of racism.

There is one point in her article, however, when Toynbee abandons her normal precision with language:

But we (secularists) are innocent. It is the Christians who are stirring this dangerous pot, inventing non-stories, yearning for martyrdom - and worse, fermenting an outraged sense among the mainly secular population that they had better call themselves Christian because, as the BNP says, British "Heritage, Tradition and Culture" (read Kultur) are under threat from Muslims. While pretending to attack us, covertly these Christians stir resentment against immigrants.

It is worth pointing out that her use of the word "Christians" in this paragraph is so loose that it is falling down around her ankles. Yes, some possible Christians, who she identifies as Telegraph journalists and BNP politicians, are stirring the "pot". But please don't lump us all in. I sit there biting my tongue and fuming when I hear a certain relative (who will remain nameless) ranting on about Daily Mail reports regarding nativity plays and Christmas trees being banned.

Tony Blair joins Catholic faith

Well I suppose it was inevitable. I am still a little worried that the British taxpayer paid for a visit from Tony Blair to the Pope, just a few days before he left Number Ten. It seems such a blurring on his personal and his professional lives that he should have coughed up for the expense.

Nick Clegg excels on Today

A combination of a wonderfully long lie-in and problems with RAM defaults means that I have only just listened to Nick Clegg on Today this morning.

I thought Nick did extremely well. At long last he has had a chance to start to flesh out his vision for public services, which so excited me when I interviewed him with other bloggers.

Both on health and education, Nick put flesh on the bones of his call for a more liberal society.

He sounded very good - articulate and confident.

Nick Robinson was wheeled in to comment on the interview at the end. And the exchange was prefaced by a report by Laura Kuenssberg which is also carried, more or less, in this BBC News Online article.

Clegg - the entomological namesake

We were given a little biology lesson on Today this morning. Laura Kuenssberg told us all about a clegg (pictured above):

The male clegg drinks nectar, and sucks blood.

It's is an old word for a gadfly - an insect which hops from one thing to another, irritating livestock and rarely settling in one place.

Nick Clegg, its namesake, will hope there is more political sweetness than bleeding ahead.

I am sure that irritating livestock such as Brown and Cameron will come easily to Nick.

Nick Clegg on Today

Nick was on Today this morning. You can listen to it here via a couple of options.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Great role for Chris Huhne

There has been much speculation about what would happen to Chris Huhne in the new Shadow Cabinet. I think the Home Affairs brief is an excellent one for him. I look forward to seeing his "sharp elbows" in practise in this key and high-profile area! I think it is right that Vince Cable has been left in the Treasury role, given his recent excellent performances.

I don't think the deputy leader role is within the gift of the leader anyway, as implied by some reports - it is an elected role within the parliamentary party.

I think it is excellent that the new shadow cabinet has been settled very rapidly - well done Nick. Also well done for giving Lynne Featherstone the meaty role of youth and equality.

Women's blogs which I like

The Gender Balance website is today launching an award to encourage women bloggers. I am all for this. There is nothing worse than inhabiting a blogosphere that often consists mainly of blokes. You miss a lot.

Fortunately, we have numerous stars in the LibDem blogospheric diaspora who are women.

Three which immediately spring to mind as being very worthy of nomination for the award are:

People's Republic of Mortimer - it is difficult to over-state my admiration for this blog. The masthead and title are great. Alix writes superbly - very eruditely and with remarkably nuanced, precise observation.

Lindyloo's Muze - it's an absolute disaster. Spelling error in the title. Font all over the shop. Posts hurled at the computer with buckets of emotion and even hysteria. As mad as a box of frogs. But I love it. It's what a blog should be.

Mary Reid - Mary is a model of a confident lady councillor. "Confident" sums her up. She writes about local matters for her, but also makes sensible and sound, down-to-earth observations about more general political matters. In a crisis, in a big storm with rain and hail metaphorically lashing against the windows, Mary is the sort of person I would like to have advice from.

On this meme I should also name Best women blog posts. Mine are:

People's republic of Mortimer on Giscard d'Estaing and the EU treaty: I learnt a new word today. It's a great, fab post! Hilarious and cutting. Marvellous!

Lindyloo's Muse on Nick Clegg: If you can't make your mind up - ten reasons to vote Nick Clegg. Ludicrously gushing. Ridiculously over-the-top. Utterly pointless. Enough to make a grown man weep it's so sugary - but it's what blogging is all about.

Mary Reid on on the leadership election: Clever Cleggs.

Non LibDem women bloggers? Nadine Dorries. Rachel from North London. Suz Blog.

I tag: Norfolk Blogger, Duncan Borrowman, Lynne Featherstone, Cicero's Songs, Liberty Alone.

We've elected a leader, not a bishop or a deejay

As a fully paid-up Godsquad member, I am delighted that Nick Clegg has given a straight answer to the question: "Do you believe in God?" ("No"). It is good that he has got some coverage this morning about this, and it is good that the subject has been opened up for debate.
He's a party leader, not a bishop.

I have often bored people with saying the following. I feel more comfortable with an atheist who has thought their position through, than with someone who puts "CofE" down on their census form, but who has no idea what being a Christian means.

So well done Nick Clegg, and I note that he says that he is at the "agnostic end of the atheist spectrum" which indicates further that he has given the matter thorough consideration. That's good.

When asked to name his favourite music album, Nick Clegg said "Changes by David Bowie".

This is great. It shows that Nick has a wide spectrum of opportunity to learn more about music, but more specifically, to explore the vast and diverse oevre of Mr Bowie. For example, "Starman" isn't even on "changesbowie", the compilation album to which I think Nick was referring. So Nick has loads of great tracks left to listen to and enjoy, which is great.

All right, I am a Bowie fan, so I am holding back. But he's a politician, not a deejay.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

BNP ballerina to marry BNP barmcake

Good luck to them:

The ballerina and British National Party activist Simone Clarke is to wed a fellow far-right party councillor, her new fiance announced today.

Clarke will marry Richard Barnbrook, a councillor in Barking and Dagenham and the party's candidate for mayor of London, whom she met after he came to support her during anti-fascist protests of her performances as Giselle in London this January.

The whole thing has involved a bit of a volte face by Barnbrook:

At the time of the protests, Barnbrook told the Guardian, "I don't normally go to the ballet but I'm going to support Simone Clarke. I'm supporting her freedom of expression."

He cited Clarke's relationship with Chang as proof that she was not racist but said he hoped the couple would not have children.

"I'm not opposed to mixed marriages but their children are washing out the identity of this country's indigenous people," he said.

Barnbrook said today he had no reservations about becoming stepfather to Clarke and Chang's daughter, and that his comments in January had been taken out of context.

"It doesn't bother me at all. I knew about Simone's child before I met her," he said.

"If we do end up getting married, as far as I'm concerned, that child will be my child."

Poor old Iain Dale fails to get past the first interview at Maidstone

Poor fellow!

I have news from the Maidstone & the Weald selection. There's no way of skirting the issue, so I'll just come out and say it. I didn't get past the first interview, which took place on Saturday.

Commiserations Iain, we've all been there!

The Hoosiers / The changing perspectives of age

More details on the Hoosiers origins in Berkshire

/ /

The three ages of man?

Iain Dale proves that the Tories wouldn't recognise decentralisation if it hit them in the face

We used to have a game at school in our common room when someone was sitting in one of the few armchairs (e.g. me) and suddenly someone would shout "PILE UP ON WALTER!" (or the name of some other hapless pupil) and everyone would run over and jump on top of the poor soul at the bottom in the armchair, in a marginally good-natured way, of course. It was great fun except sometimes for the poor person at the bottom of the pile. Very puerile, I know.

Well, I cannot resist to join in on the "pile up" on Iain Dale this morning.

Stephen Tall and James Graham have already commented on Iain Dale's post yesterday which bemoaned a lack of response on LibDem Voice early yesterday about the leadership result. Dale reckoned that this means that Conservative Home reigns supreme.

What utter and unmitigated codswallop! Round spherical objects.

Of course, there were over 70 blog posts listed on which Dale overlooks. (And seven posts this morning on LibDem Voice about the leadership.) What a numpty!

They just don't get it do they? The Tories just do not understand decentralisation. Liberals do. And LibDem Blogs aggregated is our belief in decentralisation in tangible form.

Isn't ironic that the total numpty Mr Cameron was calling for the LibDems last weekend to join him in decentralising power from Westminster? But of course, the Tory record, and the attitude of Tory members as personified by Monsieur Dale, shows clearly that the Tories wouldn't know what decentralisation is if it hit them in the face on the end of a brieze block.

Nick Clegg gets lobbed a question about Radio One ban

On PM last night Nick Clegg was lobbed a question about the Radio One ban (later removed) on "A Fairytale of New York". Did he agree with the ban? - Eddie Mair asked. I thought Nick handled the question very well.

He said he did not know the song and that there would have to have good reasons to ban it. "Can I listen to the song and then get back to you?" he asked.

Good answer. Should a party leader have heard of an old Pogues' song which is 20 years old.. so old, in fact, that one of the singers has died and the other was last spotted lying under a table in a Dublin pub? Of course not. And the Radio One ban was daft anyway, as admitted by Andy Parfitt, Radio One controller, who lifted the ban.

I suspect this hoo-hah will guarantee enormous sales for the Pogues disc this Christmas.

Bans always do. Ever heard of Judge Dredd? Not many people have. But he had several big hits simply because Radio One routinely banned his "Big" records ("Big Seven", Big Eight" etc). And the Sex Pistols "God Save the Queen" would never have got to Number One if it hadn't been for Radio One banning it.

Newsnight raised an interesting historic note about bans. "My little stick of Blackpool rock" by George Formby got into hot water with the BBC:

The BBC's Dance Music Policy Committee, who were later to ban Bobby Darin's Mack the Knife and the scandal-hit Jane Birkin and Serge Gainsbourg song Je T'Aime... took great issue with George's Little Stick of Blackpool Rock. Ooo-er!

Presumably Gracie Fields "Biggest Aspidistra in the world" (clearly phallic), "Teddy Bears' picnic" (connotations of forestial orgies) and Chuck Berry's "My ding-a-ling" (in many ways a mickey-take of censorship) fall into a similar bracket.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Now Cameron's Tories have their very own "donorgate"

Oh dear, dear, dear! Naughty, naughty, naughty!

David Cameron's constituency party has admitted receiving more than £7,000 in invalid donations, it has been revealed.

The Witney Conservative Association has agreed to forfeit the sum to public funds because the benefactors were not on the UK electoral roll.

The news will be embarrassing for the Tory leader, who has been scathing in his criticism of Labour over the "proxy" donors scandal.

However, aides insist privately that the latest funding incident was the result of a "genuine mistake", and point out that Mr Cameron has stressed that errors will always occur at a local level.

The dawn of a new era

Once again I want to congratulate Nick Clegg on being elected leader. He made an excellent speech this afternoon, which gives me a lot of optimism for the future.

It was an extremely close result. I take my hat off to Chris Huhne. He gave us an object lesson in how to run a campaign. Well done Chris, campaign Chair Lynne, Campaign manager Anna Weirin, organiser Candy Piercey and all involved!

I am confident that the Liberal Democrats can, after such a model contest, go forward with renewed vigour and confidence.

As I wrote after I interviewed him with other bloggers, I was extremely impressed by Nick Clegg when I met him. He has remarkable intellectually agility, wide knowledge and an infectious enthusiasm for liberalism. I was particularly impressed by his passion for foreign affairs. Also, I was entranced by his yearning for ingenuity in public services. He has a mode of speaking which relates well with people generally.

As I also wrote early in the campaign, Nick has displayed some rough edges, but there were very encouraging signs during the campaign that he has the right attitude to grow stronger as a leader.

I unequivocally congratulate Nick and look forward to an exciting future for the Liberal Democrats under his leadership.

I listened with interest to the interview with Nick on PM this afternoon. I thought he came over as very positive and, in particular, as someone who constantly uses real people as his political compass.

EXCLUSIVE: Proof that this is the dawn of a great new era for the LibDems

Well it must be, because Iain Dale says "This is the worst possible result for the LibDems".

Triples and a chorus of "1-2-3-4" all round!

Crikey that was close!

511 votes in it - 49.4% v 50.6%

I thought Nick made an excellent speech and Chris also.

It was also nice to see such a lovely collection of former leaders on the front bench.

Well done team!

Congratulations to Nick Clegg

Live blog - latest updates at the top

14:54 Nick walks out in a media scrum. Live Blog closed.

14:51 An unprecendented time of opportunity for our party - creed of our time - no more business as usual - today will mark a new beginning - a liberal future for Britain.

14:49 We must define a liberal Britain - I will hold regular public town hall meetings (excellent)One day every week outside Westminster - network of families to tell me (Nick) priorities

14:46 Liberalism is the thread that holds the whole of this country togerther. Fair play, social justice.

14:45 Text from Chris Rennard says Nick Clegg got 50.6%

14:44 Nick thanks Vince - a wit, a politician and a dancer. Nick thanks Ming Campbell "on behalf of the whole party". You restored stability and professionalism.

14:43 Nick talks about ambition and change. Renewed ambition to reach out to millions who share our values but don't vote for us. We want to change politics and Britain. Very measured speaking. Thanks Chris for warm and generous words. We are colleagues once again and I am really looking forward to working with you for the sake of liberalism in Britain.

14:41 Chris Huhne makes some very generous remarks about Nick and thanks his (Chris') campaign team. He speech is calm and measured. "We've elected a leader who is going to take us from strength to strength, good luck Nick, congratulations and God's speed", says Chris.

14:40 Numbers:

41465 votes cast
Chirs Huhne 20477
Nick Clegg 20988

Crikey! Close or what!

14:39 Many congratulations to Nick Clegg on being elected leader of the Liberal Democrats.

Commiserations to Chris Huhne.

The leadership election has been energetic and thorough. So, Nick has won fair and square. Well done to him and his campaign team.

I also think Chris Huhne fought a campaign which was exemplary in many ways, so well done to Chris and his team.

I am confident that the Liberal Democrats can, after such a model contest, go forward with renewed vigour and confidence.

As I wrote after I interviewed him with other bloggers, I was extremely impressed by Nick Clegg when I met him. He has remarkable intellectually agility, wide knowledge and an infectious enthusiasm for liberalism. I was particularly impressed by his passion for foreign affairs. Also, I was entranced by his yearning for ingenuity in public services. He has a mode of speaking which relates well with people generally.

As I also wrote early in the campaign, Nick has displayed some rough edges, but there were very encouraging signs during the campaign that he has the right attitude to grow stronger as a leader.

I unequivocally congratulate Nick and look forward to an exciting future for the Liberal Democrats under his leadership.

14:38 Vince talks about a fiercely fought contest and asks the two candidates to come up.

14:36 Vince talks about leadership, pointing out the "three" former leaders of our party in the room - a few people also pointed out David Steel, but Vince said "that was before the merger".

14:34 They've obviously booked a bigger hall than the Cowley Street meeting room, which is good. I also see Chris the Rennard sitting down.

14:32 I can see a jovial Charlie Kennedy talking to Ming, David and Paddy. Also Shirl the Whirl is there with a highly visible Brian Paddick (smart move). Nicol Stephen is just behind the former leaders, who make a resplendent bunch, I have to say. We're very wealthy in the former leader department now!

BNP fighting like rats in a sack

This is all deeply distressing. The Guardian reports:

The British National Party has been engulfed by a bitter internal row with around 50 senior figures resigning the party whip amid claims the leadership has been spying on private emails and telephone calls.

...According to Nick Lowles, an anti-fascist campaigner from Searchlight, large sections of the party across the north of England and Scotland are now openly hostile to Griffin and the current BNP leadership. "This has become a very serious split and it is difficult to see how the two sides can be reconciled without one group leaving the party," he said.

Oh dear, dear, dear, dear, dear.

John Redwood: A prat splitting hairs on rape

Every so often it is useful to be reminded of why I hate much of what John Redwood stands for. His latest blog posting gives a couple of those reminders.

First of all, he argues that corporate manslaughter should not have been introduced as an offence. Don't get me started. He defends businesses and says none of them want to kill people in order to increase shareholder value. Oh my goodness. Tell that to the relatives of the victims of the sinking of the Herald of Free Enterprise, which was aptly named.

Secondly, he gets going on "date rape";

They decided to set date rape alongside stranger rape. Again, none of us want men to rape women, but there is a difference between a man using unreasonable force to assault a woman on the street, and a disagreement between two lovers over whether there was consent on one particular occasion when the two were spending an evening or night together. Labour’s doctrine of equivalence has led to jury scepticism about many rape claims, in situations where it is the man’s word against the woman’s and where they had agreed to spend the evening or night together. Young men do not want to have to take a consent form and a lawyer on a date, just as young women have every right to go on a date and to say “No”, having it respected.

What a prat. For a more informed critique of this, I rely on these comments from the Guardian:

A spokeswoman for Rape Crisis said: "Rape Crisis is outraged that John Redwood should be making such uninformed statements about the nature of 'date' or 'acquaintance' rape and we are particularly concerned with the language he's chosen to use."

Heather Harvey, manager of Amnesty International's UK Stop Violence Against Women campaign, said: "There's very little difference between rape by a partner and rape by a stranger - both amount to sexual violence and both can leave a woman deeply traumatised. Instead of splitting hairs, Mr Redwood should concentrate on the real issue, the appallingly low conviction rate for rape in Britain."

Charles Kennedy: The LibDems are the hardest party to lead

Charles Kennedy writes with his normal pithiness in the Guardian about being LibDem leader. It's the endless party meetings which get to you, he says:

I was very struck by one review of the first instalment of Paddy Ashdown's diaries, penned by a seasoned member of the parliamentary press gallery. The journalist made the telling observation that he had never appreciated the extent to which the Lib Dem leader had to spend so much of his time bound up with seemingly endless, time-consuming and frequently frustrating internal party committees - talking to Lib Dems, listening to Lib Dems, seeking to cajole Lib Dems. It gets to you after a while.

Charles says that the demands on a leader of a smaller party are greater than those on a leader of a larger party:

A smaller-size party and parliamentary membership does not necessarily equate to lesser demands; if anything, the opposite can be the case. The scale involved brings with it assumptions of proximity and availability; delegation can be difficult to achieve, because for many inside and outside the party "only the leader will do". The same is true with the media: many a slot will be offered, but only on the proviso that it will be the leader in the frame. Do less and try to promote the credentials of others - the accusation soon comes of insufficient engagement. Do too much and the refrain becomes "it's a one-man band". There is a constant tension in trying to square this circle.

Charles recalls his first PMQs in his parting observation:

Space is all. The new leader will start with a brief interlude of a blank canvas, before January's very public and abrupt shift of gear kicks in. And the first most remarked upon "performance" will be that veritable bear pit called prime minister's questions on January 9. Shortly before my own first outing in that parliamentary cockpit, I sat in the leader's office and counted 12 people, all offering advice. That couldn't last and it didn't. But our new leader - well, he certainly has to.

Test ignore

Many congratulations to Chris Huhne on being elected leader of the Liberal Democrats.

Commisserations to Nick Clegg and his team.

We had two excellent candidates in this election. When I met them, I was extremely impressed by both of them. It has been a very energetic and thorough leadership contest.

I believe that with Chris we have a sure-footed leader who will assertively take on Gordon Brown and David Cameron, and lead the party in a new confident era.



Monday, December 17, 2007

More details on the former £100,000 newsreader sleeping rough

My post about Ed Mitchell, the former £100,000 a year newsreader who is now sleeping rough in Hove, generated quite a bit of interest. There was a long piece in the Sunday Times about him here:

His street buddy is a former millionaire turned alcoholic. Mitchell grandly predicts that the 21st century will see many more white-collar tramps. Ever the business journalist, he launches into an appraisal of the sub-prime market and fall in house prices. “A bad debt tsunami will hit this economy,” he warns.

“I haven’t thought about suicide, though I know other people in my situation have,” he says. “If life is a soap opera, I want to see the next episode.” With rumoured agents in the pipeline and a phone so red-hot “it’s been the only thing keeping me warm the past few days”, I suspect we’ll all be tuning in for the next instalment.

Tasks for new leader: First, stop the backstabbing

Nick Assinder on BBC News Online looks forward to the Liberal Democrats, for the first time in two years, having a period free (hopefully) from anguish about the leadership.

He outlines the main tasks for the new leader, starting with getting a grip of the parliamentary party:

Probably the first thing he has to do is get a solid grip of his parliamentary party, to ensure there is no more plotting and that his MPs fully unite behind him.

That will mean offering frontbench jobs to some of his rivals, but it may also mean taking a tough line with those who habitually snipe at their leader - and he knows exactly who they are.

But after the past two years, he should be working with the grain on that one.

The next big task will be to turn outwards. After a long and dangerous period of introspection, the party has slipped off some voters' radar - despite Mr Cable managing to grab more than his fair share of positive headlines.

Stop Tories

That will mean getting the party's voice heard clearly on big issues, settling any outstanding policy concerns - such as the financing of the NHS, the future of Trident and nuclear energy, for example - and even bringing a bit of chutzpah to the role.

Test - ignore

Many congratulations to Nick Clegg on being elected leader of the Liberal Democrats.

Commiserations to Chris Huhne.

The leadership election has been energetic and thorough. So, Nick has won fair and square. Well done to him and his campaign team.

I also think Chris Huhne fought a campaign which was exemplary in many ways, so well done to Chris and his team.

I am confident that the Liberal Democrats can, after such a model contest, go forward with renewed vigour and confidence.

As I wrote after I interviewed him with other bloggers, I was extremely impressed by Nick Clegg when I met him. He has remarkable intellectually agility, wide knowledge and an infectious enthusiasm for liberalism. I was particularly impressed by his passion for foreign affairs. Also, I was entranced by his yearning for ingenuity in public services. He has a mode of speaking which relates well with people generally.

As I also wrote early in the campaign, Nick has displayed some rough edges, but there were very encouraging signs during the campaign that he has the right attitude to grow stronger as a leader.

I unequivocally congratulate Nick and look forward to an exciting future for the Liberal Democrats under his leadership.

It's "Let's be obsessed with the LibDems" day

Well, I suppose we shouldn't complain. We often get precious little coverage for months. But today it appears to be our day for the Tories and the press to go on about us ad nauseam.

Conservative Home did a piece yesterday entitled "The Liberal Democrats are David Cameron's number one headache". Today, they precis readers' comments to that piece in a post called "Seven approaches to beating the Liberal Democrats" (perhaps the eighth could be "always list things in threes"!)

Iain Duncan-Smith also writes an article on the subject: "We beat the LibDems by being a decent party". [I can hear the guffaws]

There's a Telegraph leader on us entitled "The Liberal Democrats' big chance":

Mr Clegg's is plainly the more threatening tactic as far as the other parties are concerned. Just as Mr Cameron love-bombed the Lib Dems, calculatedly talking their language on their issues, so Mr Clegg could now do the same to both main parties, wooing their voters rather than insulting them.

Mr Huhne, a far more abrasive and tribal politician, will find it hard to make that transition. If Mr Clegg wins tomorrow, three-party politics will resume in earnest.

There's an Independent leader, "Beware the siren voices of alliance":

Mr Cameron's intervention should remind the new Liberal Democrat leader, too, that the next election could give the party its best shot at sharing power for many years. He must always bear that in mind and avoid all appearance of third-party amateurishness. This is a time when the appearance of substance and authority could make all the difference.

And to really put the tin lid on the whole thing, Melanie Phillips is banging on about us in the Mail and, remarkably, says something with which I agree:

It's all very well to talk of this 'progressive alliance' with the Lib Dems, but although he claims to talk the same language as they do over decentralising public services, the Tories have not yet fully endorsed it.

They are making the right noises, particularly over their school choice agenda (although this could go further). But they remain committed to Labour's own eye-watering levels of state funding, which arouses suspicions that their ' decentralisation' is simply another piece of spin.

John Major: Sour grapes and pink socks

The most outstanding thing about John Major's appearance on Sunday AM yesterday were his pink socks. It was very difficult to think about what he was saying faced with those glaring garments. There hasn't been such a flambouyant display of hosiery on Sunday mornings since David Frost moved onto new pastures.

Presumably this was John Major telling us that he isn't the "grey man" after all. ...Trying to erase that "nice peas" image.

The man really is quite worked up about his historical reputation. This bleating on about Labour's campaign against Tory "sleaze" in the nineties being "unscrupulous" is just pure sour grapes.

The "campaign" was initiated by John Major saying he wanted to get "back to basics" and to re-discover Victorian values. So, he only has himself to blame.

He also says that the "sleaze" was nothing to do with the government - it was to do with individuals. But those individuals were in the government - he chose them to be in the government - so it was his fault. If you take his argument to its logical extension, if it turned out that most of his government had been convicted criminals then that would have been a fault of the individuals - not the government. It is an absurd argument.

I read John Major's auto-biography. It was very interesting while he was in Brixton and Lambeth. But the moment he got to Number Ten he went into self-justification/sanctimonious mode, so I stopped reading.

Come off it, John Major. You didn't have a raw deal. Labour have nothing to apologise for.

OK, so you got roughed up about "sleaze". But, on the other hand you gave us rail privatisation.

Let's call it quits shall we?

David Cameron: politics on the back of fag packet

I have read David Cameron's very short article expressing the wish for an "alliance" between the Conservatives, the LibDems and the Greens. The article is remarkable due to its brevity. 296 words. The standard length of a letter to the press in the case of many newspapers.

If you are going to make a serious proposal about an "alliance" with other parties, am I the only one that thinks that the rationale should take longer than 296 words to explain ? And before anyone mentions the Gettysburg address, I would point out that Cameron's article ain't in that league. It looks like he roughed it up on the kitchen table to meet the deadline of the Sunday newspapers:

I've always believed that political parties, even though they may have serious disagreements over many aspects of policy, should work together in those areas where they agree. So I hope than in 2008 the Liberal Democrats and the Green Party will join us in putting pressure on the Government to decentralise power, and that together we can create a new progressive alliance to decentralise British politics.

What a pile of cobblers!

The Conservative government from 1979-1997 presided over one of the biggest centralisations of power in this country. Cut backs on council spending, cut backs on education spending. All dictated from the centre. You only have to look at the almighty balls-up of rail privatisation, forced through by a government with a wafer-thin majority to see the centralising instincts of the Conservative party writ large.

And this "alliance" which Cameron is proposing...would this mean the Conservative party not standing candidates in certain constituencies to allow the LibDems or Greens a better chance? Would it mean the Conservatives not criticising LibDem policies? Of course not. Because it is not an alliance which he is talking about.

It is a cloud of hot air.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

A matter of John Stuart Mill and hats

This comes under the heading of "Bizarre Conversations".

I was enjoying a full-on power walk around Greenham Common (above) today.

The etiquette appears to be that you smile or say "hello" to people who you meet as they walk towards you, but not, I think, if there is some one off the track vaguely about 20 yards from you on the heath. Anyway, I was on the track and I noticed a lady walking with her dog on the heath about 20 yards away. (I had been walking for about two hours, so, after initially wearing my hat, I had put it in my pocket when I started to get a bit warm.)

I walked on after glancing at the lady, but then I heard her say something to me: "Have you got a hat?", she said.

"I'm sorry?" I said, with my hand to my ear. I could have sworn that I had heard her say "Have you got a hat?" but it was such a bizarre question that I thought I must have misheard her. Anyway, she repeated herself:

"Have you got a hat?"

I thought for a moment that she was having trouble with her dog and needing a hat for some bizarre reason. It seemed unlikely because she was wearing a hat herself.

"Yes" I said, pulling my hat out of my pocket, waving it at her and then putting it back in my pocket.

"You should put it on", she said.

For a moment I thought I had slipped back thirty five years and I was having a walk in the grounds of my school and that this was the matron telling me to put my hat on. I was tempted to say something like "What's it got to do with you?" but I kept my cool and said:

"Why?", I asked.

"You'll catch a chill", she said.

At that I was faced with a dilemma. Do I let the charitable person in me come out and say "Thanks for the advice". Or does the bolshy liberal and, indeed, the affronted male who started getting narked by being told what to do by matronly women at about age 17, come out and say what I had initially considered saying, specifically: "What's it got to do with you?"

I am afraid to say that the bolshy liberal/narked male got the better of me and I did indeed retort:

"What's it go to do with you?"

I felt a bit unkind shortly afterwards, after all, she was only showing concern for someone else, which was nice of her.

She then said "I was joking".

So I said "Oh, I'm sorry, I didn't realise - I had my hat on but then I got warm so I took it off".

"Have a good Christmas" she said, hurrying on.

"And you" I said with as much jollity as I could muster.

What a bizarre conversation! But, as I say, it's nice that someone was concerned for my well-being. She was obviously a very well-meaning lady. But John Stuart Mill comes in here. If someone is walking along minding their own business, doing no-one any harm, should they really be admonished by the Greenham Common Hat Police for not wearing a hat?

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Do we really need a BBC1 news summary at 7.57pm?

Does there really need to be a news summary on BBC1 at 7.57pm?

Don't get me wrong. It's a wonderfully presented summary. On Friday night we had the wonderful Fiona Bruce ("rrrrrrrr" as they say on Dead Ringers) and in the South region we were treated to Dani Sinha. It's brilliantly done. It's along the lines of the very attractive BBC3 60 second news.

But we have a full news programme at 6pm and 10pm on BBC1, we can go to the internet or BBC News24 or Sky or Channel 4 or Channel 5 or ITV at other times, so why interupt the smooth flow of Eastenders, Casualty etc with a 90 second news summary?

The debate on this innovation was featured on BBC News 24 Newswatch this week.

Apparently, the new bulletin is aimed at people who sleep-walk through the week without seeing the news at all and without really knowing what is going on.

I remain to be convinced that it isn't a complete waste of time and an extravagant waste of lice-payers' money.

From £100,000 a year TV presenter to sleeping rough

Ed Mitchell
From high-flying TV presenter 1996 (left) to sleeping rough in 2007 (right)

The story of Ed Mitchell on BBC South made me sit up straight. Mitchell was a high-flying TV journalist (BBC, ITN, Sky, CNBC, Reuters) who interviewed six presidents, five chancellors and thre prime ministers. He had a £500,000 house and earnt up to £100,000 a year - but now he's sleeping rough in Hove.

He's been declared bankrupt with debts of £250,000. The cruel irony is that he was a financial journalist.

It's one of those stories which make you think: "There but for the grace of God go I". You can be sailing along and, then all of a sudden, life's cruel chances turn you into Louis Winthorpe III, that character played by Dan Ackroyd in Trading Places who went from yuppie to drop-out in a couple of days.

Things are looking up for Mr Mitchell, though. He's had loads of media interest in his plight and the Brighton Argos have given him a job for a week, reading their video news reports.

Photos from TV Ark and Brighton Argos.

Cameron is "tearing his hair out" over Boris' lazy Mayoral campaign

There's an interesting article from Peter Obourne in the Mail:

I am reliably told that David Cameron is "tearing his hair out" at Boris's lazy campaign. He backed his Old Etonian friend for the mayorship in the summer because he was eager to show that the Tory Party was taking the battle for London seriously by putting forward its most dazzling public performer for the top job. But the performer is - thus far - failing to perform.

Obourne warns that a bad defeat for Johnson would have wider ramifications for Cameron and the Tories:

...if Boris blows his London campaign, Gordon Brown will be able to claim very plausibly that David Cameron does not appeal to the broad mass of ordinary voters. And if Cameron can't sell his brand of politics in the metropolitan south-east of England, what hope does he have in the Midlands and the North, let alone in Scotland and Wales?

Obourne says that Johnson lacks ruthlessnes, having missed a series of "open goals", particularly over the de Menezes shooting inquiry: first at least, he hardly got involved. At the time, I spotted Boris (an unmistakable figure) cycling near my home. I accosted him and asked why he was so inert. His reply was disarming. He said words to the effect that he could not bear to join in the media frenzy against poor Ian Blair.

I recommend this post on Boris from the Norfolk Blogger.

Well done team!

I whole-heartedly echo Rob Fenwick's sentiments. It has been a very thoroughly argued leadership contest with lots of visibility for the candidates and positive publicity for the party. Whoever is shown to have received the membership's majority approval will have won fair and square. We can look forward to an extremely positive future for the Liberal Democrats, whoever wins.

EXCLUSIVE: Leadership election: Too elfing close to call

Now that the ballot has closed, the two candidates are indulging themselves with some much needed festive fun here.

Remembering Calamity Jane - goodness, Doris Day looked good in leathers!

Now that the ballot is closed, I feel free to mention this, albeit with a little trepidation. I didn't like to mention it at the time, because it would have looked like "spinning".

I wonder how many people these days actually remember Doris Day in "Calamity Jane"? It did occur to me that the "Calamity Clegg" title was dreamt up by someone who had an affection for old Hollywood musical films and was therefore familiar with the 1953 pistol packin' opus.

Somehow, when you remember Doris Day done up in a leather cowboy suit (above) singing "Whip crack-away!", the "Calamity Clegg" tag takes on a humourous, even camp, tinge. It is difficult to take as seriously, put that way. I think some of those who were a little po-faced about the "Calamity Clegg" tag may not have been aware of the Doris Day film. You can relive the song when she sings "Whip crack-away" - "Deadwood Stage" - below. It is recommended viewing for anyone who perhaps got a little wound up by the leadership election.

Friday, December 14, 2007

The Huckabee phenomenum - now he ties with Guiliani for national Republican lead

Six weeks ago, Mike Huckabee was fifth in the national polls for the Republican US Presidential race - with 6%. Now, a American Research Group national poll shows him tying for first place with Guiliani on 21%.

It is an extraordinary turnaround especially when you consider the comparatively tiny amount of money which Huckabee has at his disposal. He has raised $2.3M, while Guiliani has raised $46.7M.

So Huckabee has started a roller-coaster with a modest campaign, which seems to be based on an appeal to Evangelist Christians and the very clever use of Chuck Norris (below).

I can't say I agree with many, or even any, of Huckabee's policies, but I have to admire his campaign success.

Elfing about and John Madejski

Make a total Elf of yourself


John Madejski - a gentleman

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Gordon Brown isn't up to the job of UK PM

I have been in two minds about this Gordon Brown Lisbon/London diary double booking tizzy.

At fiirst I thought it was all a kerfuffle about nothing.

However, I have seen the image of the United Kingdom Prime Minister shuffling up to the signing table with EU dignatories hastilly and confusedly forming up behind him.

It was most undignified.

There is no excuse for this late signing shambles. Gordon Brown is a prize nanna. This is just one wrong judgment to add to his growing list.

Veteran Tory MEP: Cameron's promise to leave EPP and find new Euro-allies is a "hopeless quest"

It would be difficult to find a more rock-solid veteran Tory MEP than Caroline Jackson. She has been an MEP for donkeys' years.

Today she writes in Conservative Home that the search for an alternative ally, other than the EPP, for the Tories to form a new group in the European Parliament, is a 'hopeless search':

I, and probably most Conservative MEPs, believe that the search for "other like minded parties" has already proved to be a hopeless one, and that further rooting about in the political undergrowth of Eastern Europe in particular demeans our party and will prove fruitless.

Dr Jackson argues that there is a way out of the mess, compliant with the pledge which Tory candidates for the next Euro elections are being asked to sign, which will allow the Tory MEPs to decide to stay with the EPP. But this, of course, would finally renege on Cameron's hasty leadership election pledge to leave the EPP.