Monday, March 31, 2008


I managed to watch the DVD of Emilio Estevez's Bobby at the weekend. I found it to be a thoroughly absorbing and enjoyable film. One of the questions which the film attempts to answer is "why was Boby Kennedy so loved, particularly across the racial divides in America?"

With the characters of the humble Mexican busboy (based on the young man who actually cradled RFK's head after he was shot) played by Freddy Rodirguez and the campaign volunteer played by Nick Cannon, the film attempts to explain the love felt towards Bobby.

However, for me, the movie spends too much time on two campaign volunteers who spent the day of the assasination at the Ambassador Hotel getting stoned, when it could have spent that time more usefully in further exploring why Bobby Kennedy inspired so many.

Having said that, it is an excellent film, a truly moving film which is a joy to watch. Any film with Anthony Hopkins, Harry Belafonte and Martin Sheen in it (plus an army of other highly notable actors) would have to be subjected to an almighty directorial mess-up not to be delightful - and there is no mess-up here. I particularly found the weaving of contemporary footage of Bobby Kennedy to be inspired. Apart from someone playing his back, there is no attempt to have an actor playing Bobby Kennedy. That makes the film exteremly powerful, in my view.

Could lack of cash force Hillary out of race ?

The Politico reports that Hillary Clinton's campaign is delaying paying bills:

Hillary Rodham Clinton’s cash-strapped presidential campaign has been putting off paying hundreds of bills for months — freeing up cash for critical media buys but also earning the campaign a reputation as something of a deadbeat in some small-business circles. A pair of Ohio companies owed more than $25,000 by Clinton for staging events for her campaign are warning others in the tight-knit event production community — and anyone else who will listen — to get their cash upfront when doing business with her. Her campaign, say representatives of the two companies, has stopped returning phone calls and e-mails seeking payment of outstanding invoices. One even got no response from a certified letter. Their cautionary tales, combined with published reports about similar difficulties faced by a New Hampshire landlord, an Iowa office cleaner and a New York caterer, highlight a less-obvious impact of Clinton’s inability to keep up with the staggering fundraising pace set by her opponent for the Democratic presidential nomination, Illinois Sen. Barack Obama.

Meanwhile, Michael Sneed in the Chicago Sun-Times reports:

....major money problems in the Clinton camp may soon become a coroner knocking on her campaign door.
• To wit: Word is the cash feeding into Hillary Clinton's campaign coffers has not only slowed down in a big way, undisclosed campaign debts that have yet to be made public could signal the end and have insiders biting their nails.

Translation: "It won't necessarily be politics which may force her out of the race," said a top Dem source. "There is no hanky panky going on, but Hillary needs to raise money to stay alive . . . and word is she may not be able to climb out of the money hole."
• The buckshot: "I think it's safe to say Hillary's not going to dip into her pocket again," the source added. "And if her employees start taking pay cuts while chasing the dream . . . it's usually the beginning of the body becoming totally cold."

Cameron admits he's too posh to win votes in the North

The Mirror reports:

David Cameron has given up on voters in the North to focus his election battle on winnable seats in the South.

The Tory leader's posh background is a big turn-off in Labour's heartlands, private polls by his own party reveal.

His inner circle have now drawn up a secret "core seat" strategy to snub voters in the North of England where the party holds just 19 councils and has 17 MPs. In Scotland it holds no councils and has just one MP.

A senior Tory source said: "David's team has decided it's simply not worth fighting a losing battle to win lots of seats in the North in the general and local elections.

"There may be a couple of visits by David, but he will be focusing his energies on seats in the South and Midlands where he is more popular. He can't even command support from some of our own people in places like Yorkshire where he's seen as a 'soft Southerner'."

More on Cameron's cycling problems

On the new format BBC News Online, Clive James offers a few whimsical thoughts on David Cameron's cycling deficiencies.

The third way for Heathrow

The Economist this week carries a Leading Article on the future of Heathrow. It's worth reading. Rather than its future being a simple question of "Third runway - yes or no?", the Economist suggests that there is a third way:

A new airport may yet be needed. But, in the meantime, there are ways of making Heathrow better. It is crowded because it is too cheap for airlines to use and because BAA has been encouraged to stuff it full of transit and leisure passengers who it hopes will spend money in its shops. Business travellers, who generate the most value for the wider economy, account for only a third of the airport's passengers.

This suggests a better solution to the overcrowding. First, the price for using Heathrow should reflect the value and scarcity of its capacity. Second, any new capacity should be built at London's other airports. And, third, these airports should be set free to compete with Heathrow by breaking up BAA.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Ming's diary is Private Eye'd

Ming Campbell's Diary gets the Craig Brown treatment in the latest issue of Private Eye. It's hilarious. You'll have to get hold of a copy to read it.

Brian Paddick officially nominated

Brian Paddick has now been officially nominated as LibDem candidate for Mayor of London. His web site is here.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Terminal 5: At last an Irishman called Willie speaks !

All the media have searched in vain for a BAA or BA manager to explain the Terminal 5 cock-up. Willie Walsh of BA was all over the media, like a rash, when the Queen opened the place and admired the absence of queues.

But now: Not a manager to be found to talk to the waiting world.

GMTV have been hanging on the BA Helpline since midnight last night, listening to their hold music and recorded "we are sorry to keep you waiting" announcement.

But now, at last, an Irishman called Willie has been found to comment on the disaster. Here's what he told the Press Association:

Well it's not a very good situation at all. The going is rather unusual down there. I'd call the track surface 'shiny and smooth' - which is not a going term normally used. There are an awful lot of obstructions on the course and I'd say this is one for the Jockey Club to look at, if not a Steward's Enquiry, before they go under orders".

Thank you random Irishman called Willie.

In praise of Lewis

Click here

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Democrat senior statesman: Moves afoot to make Hillary bite the bullet

Stephen Tall writes a very interestingly article on LibDemVoice entitled: "What will convince Hillary to drop out?"

I wrote a comment there asking whether the US Democrats have a equivalent of the "men in grey suits" who might pay a late night visit to Hillary and, after plying her with a stiff Jack Daniels, persuade her to raise the pearl-handled revolver to her temple.

Imagine my surprise when, by coincidence, browsing Political Wire I cam across this:

The Las Vegas Review Journal runs a brief Q&A with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) about settling on a Democratic nominee for president.

Q: Do you still think the Democratic race can be resolved before the convention?

Reid: Easy.

Q: How is that?

Reid: It will be done.

Q: It just will?

Reid: Yep.

Q: Magically?

Reid: No, it will be done. I had a conversation with Governor Dean (Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean) today. Things are being done.

Bosnia gaffe bursts Clinton's "super-stateswoman" bubble

I've blogged before about my annoyance at Hillary Clinton's insistence that she is some sort of Super-Stateswoman with a history of solving the world's conflicts from Bosnia to Ireland.

So, it was with an element of schadenfreude and vindication that I witnessed Hillary's Bosnia discomfort. She said she visited Bosnia in 1996 under a hail of bullets, running "with our heads down into the vehicles". A diligent TV researcher visited the bowels of the archives and unearthed footage showing that her arrival, in fact, was something akin to a walk in the park.

This gaffe is a very welcome emblem. Through the campaign, Clinton has constantly tried to portray Obama as inexperienced while stating that she has great experience on the world stage. (Northern Ireland ? Of course, ol' Hillary melted the heart of Ian Paisley and Gerry Adams and had them signing up to the Good Friday agreement in no time)

The 3am red phone call ad was typical.

But, until the Bosnia gaffe (which, unbelievably, was unforced - Clinton herself freely bragged about her visit) there was nothing which illustrated the lie behind the 3am phone call ad.

That lie is that Hillary has been a statesperson. She hasn't. She has been a Senator for a bit longer than Obama (who by the way has experience in many other areas). She was First Lady of the US and Arkansas.

That doesn't make her Henry Kissinger.

I don't wish to diminish the role of the partner to the US President, or indeed partner of the Governor of Arkansas. However, the Clinton campaign has built it up so much, that I am delighted that the Bosnia gaffe has burst the bubble.

Carl Bernstein on CNN describes the Bosnia gaffe as a "watershed" in a very interesting article on Hillary Clinton's relationship with the truth.

MP's second homes legal fight - adding insult to injury

We've been here before. It happened in connection with publication of detailed MP's travel expense claims. Good old Norman Baker fought to have them released. The reactionary drag on progress which is the Speaker's office, in cahoots with the worst of the MPs, fought to keep them covered up. They were released.

Now the same thing is happening with MP's second homes' expense details.

I am just flabbergasted that there should be any attempt not to publish this information. The public has been paying these expenses into MPs pockets, so the public has every right to know how much was paid out for what items.

To think that the public is now paying to fund a legal action, on behalf of the speaker, to stop publication of the details is a classic case of "adding insult to injury". It is just breathtaking.

Gordon turns into a sofa

2000th post

There is a determined and subtle sofa-isation of Gordon Brown going on. On GMTV this morning they were trailing: "We'll be talking about violent video games and how to better protect children from them. Psychologist Tanya Byron will be here....with the Prime Minister".

See what he did there ? ...Subtly smarms his way onto the sofa holding onto the skirt tails of our Tanya...

Never mind "This morning we'll be talking to the Prime Minister about global warming, the financial crisis, AIDS in Africa etc"... No, instead it's Gordie simpering on the sofa saying "Yes, Tanya....well done Tanya....very important....lots of hard work done by Tanya....vital to have a simplified classification for video games...well done Tanya".

....And not even a "while we've got you on the sofa, Prime Minister" question!

Greens turn Brown

It is unbelievable that the Greens have gone into coalition with Gordon Brown's Labour. That's the Gordon Brown which is pro-nuclear, pro-airport expansion, pro-Iraq war and pro-unlimited capitalism.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Gordon Brown's worst enemy

Brown does occasionally do something right and which sets him apart from Blair. I am thinking of the Bevin boys medal presentation yesterday and the cancellation of "Blair Force One" today. Both principled moves.

It's a shame he messes everything up by starting off by asking for a whip for the embryology bill. Doh ! It's obvious you have a free vote on embryology. Why on earth did he start the whip hare running and then take so long to shoot it ? He's his own worst enemy.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Alasdair wins the frenetic postings crown !

Consider me gob-smacked. Alasdair W on Alasdair's LibDem Blog has published 23 posts in the last 36 hours ! That's even broken my record I think!

Tory pig-headedness on Iraq invasion

It was rather unpleasant seeing William Hague on GMTV and BBC Breakfast today. His appearance is enough to curdle porridge. He was bleating on about there needing to be an inquiry into the Iraq War.

But his argument doesn't stack up. He still says it was right to invade Iraq! Unbelievable!

How on earth can we move forward while there exists such pig-headed reluctance to acknowledge the mistake of the invasion ?

Well done Ed Davey for taking the issue head on:

For the Tories to demand an inquiry into the Iraq war is like Ronnie Biggs wanting an inquiry into the Great Train Robbery.

There is an excellent new website on this issue here.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Police to give Cameron cycle safety advice

Boris Johnson yesterday said there should be "zero tolerance" of cyclists who break the rules of the road. When asked about his own boss' cycling mishaps, he blustered, saying: "Show me the evidence !". Obviously, Boris doesn't bother to read the press before he ventures out in the morning.

The Mirror reports today:

Bike menace David Cameron faces a humiliating lecture from police safety bosses over his hazardous cycling.

Met chiefs called him "very stupid" after the Mirror filmed him breaking four road laws - including going past a red light - in 22 minutes.

They will send a cycling expert to give clueless Cam safety tips. But Tory London mayor hopeful Boris Johnson had no sympathy for him and declared:

"We should have zero tolerance of cyclists when they break the rules."

Senior officers say they plan to give Calamity Cam, 41, a lecture on his haphazard riding "to save him from an inevitable trip to A&E in the back of an ambulance".

A trip to A&E in the back of an ambulance for David Cameron ? Perish the thought! We can't have that! It is in all our interests that David Cameron is taught to obey the Highway Code with all possible urgency. I would suggest that he joins a Cycling Proficiency Class for nine-year-olds at a local primary school. The future of the country is at stake.

Independent: Only the LibDems were right on Iraq

Andrew Grice in today's Independent:

On Tuesday, the Conservative Party will propose an inquiry into the conflict to ensure all lessons are learnt. It, too, is trying to rewrite history. Without its support, Mr Blair would have lost the crucial Commons vote and Britain would not have gone to war. The only party that doesn't want to rewind the tape is the Liberal Democrats, whose opposition to the war has been totally vindicated.

Hat-tip: Conservative Home

Friday, March 21, 2008

David Cameron caught on video breaking the law - several times !

Oh dear.

When I became a councillor I was galvanised into being extra-punctilious in obeying the laws of the road.

It is therefore a great surprise that David Cameron has been caught on video breaking several laws of the road:

The Tory boss was spotted flouting the law by cycling the wrong way in a one-way street, through red lights and the wrong side of a bollard on his 30-minute trip to work.

Hapless Cameron was breaking the rules within minutes of leaving his Notting Hill home in West London for Westminster.

He sailed past a large red no entry sign even Mr Magoo would have noticed. Another clue was the huge arrows on the road pointing which way traffic should go.

Next to be ignored was a keep left beacon in the Mall. He veered off to the change there then. Cam also hurtled over a toucan crossing, for cyclists and pedestrians, while the signal was red.

Outside the Commons, the 41-year-old spotted he was late, so to speed things up he went past a red light.

Michigan Senate goes on holiday - Is Hillary now toast ?

So the Michigan Senate has adjourned for its holiday without passing legislation for a "re-do" of the Democratic primary.

Is Hillary now toast ? Probably not, of course, because you never write off a Clinton.

Bill Schneider on CNN says that Clinton faces an uphill struggle. Obama leads on delegates and the popular vote so far in the primaries/caucases.

To win on delegates, Schneider reckons that Clinton would have to win two-thirds of the delegates from the remaining contests. Tough.

To win on the popular vote, Clinton would require 56% of the vote in the remaining primaries. So far she has averaged 46%.

So either way, Clinton is struggling. The super-delegates are likely to go with whoever is ahead in the actual primaries, Shneider reckons.

However, also on CNN, David Gergen writes about "How Hillary grabs the nomination".

If at the end of the day, the re-dos disappear in Michigan and Florida, Clinton still has one hope - and not a very appealing one for anybody: That because of the Reverend Wright affair, the bottom completely drops out for Obama and he loses big not only in places like Pennsylvania and Indiana but also in North Carolina, where he has been ahead. That is a scenario that would bring shutters to much of the country that has a more elevated view of what America is all about.

Give me strength #997: Jeffrey Archer 'hates snobs'

I was rather surprised to read in the Observer's Q&A that Jeffrey Archer 'deplores snobbery' and 'despises snobs'.

This was quite a revelation as I had gone about my business for many years regarding Jeffrey Archer as one of the biggest snobs out.

When I read Michael Crick's Stranger than Fiction I got the overall impression of someone constantly ducking and weaving to climb up the social and establishment ladder.

After all, what are those shepherd's pie and Krug parties with the great and the good if they are not to "imitate, admire, or seek association with people regarded as social superiors" ?

And what are those impressionist paintings by Monet and the like that conspicuously adorn his magnificent flat (directions to the loo are reportedly given as "Turn left at the Monet") if they are not indicative of "One who affects an offensive air of self-satisfied superiority in matters of taste or intellect" ?

Polish Federation complains about the Daily Mail

I am delighted that the Polish Federation has at last got fed up with all the negative headlines in the Daily Mail about Poles, and complained to the Press Compalints Commission. All right, there may well have been positive articles about Poles in the Mail, but a constant barage of headlines such as "The Polish Baby boom", "The Polish Borat", "Polish migrants take £1bn out of the UK economy" and "The 450,000 Polish migrants who may be here for good" outweigh all that and add up to an insidious campaign. Whatever happened to the British tradition of tolerance ?

Global Warming: Don't Panic Mr Mainwaring !

Reading the Observer's article last week entitled Glaciers melt 'at fastest rate in past 5,000 years' sent me scurrying to re-read my copy of How Many Lightbulbs Does it Take To Change a Christian? - a Pocket Guide to Shrinking Your ecological Footprint and re-check my carbon footprint on the Act on CO2 calculator.

There was an interview in the Guardian with James Lovelock on March 1st which was also extremely depressing. When asked for his advice on what to personally do about global warming, Lovelock replied:

Enjoy life while you can. Because if you're lucky it's going to be 20 years before it hits the fan.

The Observer Glacier article was also very disturbing but at least had an encouraging concluding note, quoting Achim Steiner, executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP):

It's not a reason to sit back and say "it's all too late"

My thinking on this was also galvanised by a visit to the British Museum recently. They very sensibly had a lady curator on hand showing children five artefacts from different ages. The children were allowed to handle them (although I noticed that the lady put her hands underneath the childrens' hands when they held a small Egyptian pot, which must have been particularly fragile). It's funny, but those five artefacts were more enlightening that millions of pounds worth of audio visual displays.

The lady kindly told us how old each one was. 50 AD, 200 BC etc. We gasped when she told us a piece of pottery was four thousand years old.

But I almost collapsed when she told us that a Birtish flint fashioned into a cutting edge was 350 thousand years old. Shurely shome mishtake ?!

So, homo sapiens have been around for 350,000 years, fashioning tools to catch animals and eat them. But we have virtually trashed the planet in about 50 years. A blinking of the eyelid.

An utter disgrace - House of Commons expenses "system"

It was, I suppose, depressingly predictable.

The House of Commons expense "system" is such a pathetic shambles that the police can't prosecute Derek Conway. There is such an appalling lack of framework to the expenses "regime" that you can do anything you like, basically.
So, stick your son on the pay roll with a nice fat bonus and let him do his full time studies while getting a full time salary from the taxpayer. Yes, he might have strolled into Newcastle University library and cut out the odd newspaper clipping and sent it to Daddy, but apart from that there is no evidence of his "work": no emails, no Word documents, no remaining clippings and sonny didn't even know the name of Daddy's secretary.

But that's OK, because the House of Commons expenses "rules" are basically a blank sheet of paper. There are no rules to break, effectively.

It is an utter disgrace.

Well done to Nick Clegg for highlighting the need for a fundamental reform of the House of Commons expenses system and for Duncan Borrowman for raising Conway's case with the police in the first place:

Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg said:"The public have the right to expect that their money is being properly accounted for. The Speaker's review of expenses must provide the basis for fundamental changes to the system of MPs' allowances."

The Met started an investigation after receiving a letter from Duncan Borrowman, who is the prospective Lib Dem candidate for Mr Conway's Old Bexley and Sidcup seat.

Mr Borrowman, who asked officers to examine whether a fraud had been committed and said he was "disappointed" the inquiry was not pursued further.

In February, I highlighted the highly dangerous position of Nick Harvey as frontman for the House of Commons administration. I agree with James Graham that it is now time for Nick to disassociate himself from this utter disgrace by resigning from his "spokeperson" role for the House of Commons Commission.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Will his pastor's "God Damn America !" phrase be Obama's political epitaph ?

Since I last wrote about the US Presidential campaign, a lot has happened.

We found out that Obama won Texas on delegates - not Clinton.

The Florida primary re-run has been declared dead (although the "re-seating" idea is still being mooted) and the Michigan re-run is on its death bed.

So, Obama is ahead on delegates and it is going to be down to super-delegates. So, Clinton is emphasising the popular vote all of a sudden. However, she is behind in the popular vote against Obama - but she is closing in the polls.

It is an increasingly depressing picture for the Democrats.

I agree with Cicero's Songs that Obama's Philidelphia speech was remarkable (Click below to see and hear it). Obama showed himself as deft and strong. He doesn't take criticism by hiding. He puts his head above the parapet and gives positive, energetic responses. Of course, as a woolly old liberal, the speech pushed all my buttons and left me with the impression, yet again, of a towering statesman.

However, the impact of the publicised sermons of Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Obama's pastor, should not be under-estimated. Even if they don't become a successful campaign theme of the Republicans (how tedious would that be?), they have certainly helped to turn around McCain's campaign.

In a few weeks we have gone from having the Rush Limbaugh's of this world slating McCain, to them now unifying when they finding some red meat (Wright) to get their teeth into. That such things excite the Republicans is an appalling comment on the state of American politics. But when a close associate of a candidate has been doing sermons, for example, repeating the phrase "God damn America !" (click second down below), then the opposing party's supporters are hardly going to ignore it. It's a gift to them.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Nick Clegg speaks for the Gurkhas

It was very good to see Nick Clegg on ITV News demanding justice for the Gurkhas. Nick is quite right to highlight that the plight of the Gurkhas is, in his words, "a National disgrace".

When Gurkhas hand back their medals you know that there really is something rotten in the state of Britain. I am particularly glad that Nick is at the forefront of this campaign as often the LibDems get "trumped" on veterans' affairs by the Tories.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The Heather Mills book of Public Relations

One hesitates to take a gratuitous shot at an open goal, so I will restrict myself to a couple of comments on Heather Mills.

A publishing career obviously beckons....Heather Mills on "How to make do on a tight budget" or "The Heather Mills book of Public Relations" or "The Heather Mills legal manual".

I was baffled by her reference to "A" and "B" Class travel yesterday:

She is obviously meant to travel B class while her father travels A class, but I will take care of that.

I can find no reference to "A" Class travel on Google except in respect of a discounted First Class ticket in an article here on Wikipedia. Did she mean First and Second Class ?

I notice that the judge in the divorce settlement case said that Mills is a "kindly person and devoted to her charitable causes".

I am always a trifle cautious when listening to someone who feels they have to mention their work for "charidee". Ms Mills hardly opens her mouth without making us aware of her tireless efforts for charity. Good for her.

But it was something of a surprise to read this BBC report of the Judge's remarks:

The judge added that her tax returns "disclose no charitable giving at all", despite Mills saying she gave "as much as 80% or 90% of her earnings ... direct to charities".
Commenting on that claim, Ms Mills said it was because her accountant "hadn't ticked the tax return box".

Ah! An accountant who doesn't properly claim charity expenditure. That's a rare beast, that is.

Perhaps now Ms Mills will realise that every time she opens her mouth in public, she slumps another notch or two downwards in the public estimation. Bleating about only having £35,000 on top of all the rest of the £24.3 million to bring up a child ? As one caller to GMTV said: "She should try bringing up a child on £5 a week like me".

To borrow a phrase from Atlee:

A period of silence on your part would be welcome.

Monday, March 17, 2008

MP absent from home-coming reception for troops

Here's an interesting scenario.

In Parliament, an MP incorrectly says that a Council leader "wanted nothing to do" with a home-coming reception for troops.

It turns out that the Conservative MP in question based that false accusation on an internal council email which he had been sent by the Mayor (a Conservative councillor), without checking the meaning with the sender (the Mayor). Indeed, the Mayor confirmed that the Council leader had said nothing of the sort.

You would have thought that the MP in question would have withdrawn his accusation and apologised, wouldn't you ?

You would have also thought that the MP in question would have attended the reception in question, wouldn't you ?

The MP in question was nowhere to be seen at the reception on March 4th. He was busy in parliament (Hansard) voting on this motion, amongst others:

Amendment proposed: No. 47, in page 2, line 39, leave out
“may not vote in favour of or otherwise support”
and insert
“shall vote against or otherwise reject”.

You would have thought that, bearing in mind that the Mayor who set up the reception is in the MP's own party and went out of his way to keep the MP informed via email of the event, it would not have been difficult to arrange it on a day when parliament wasn't sitting, wouldn't you ?

Apparently not.

You would have thought that the Conservative leader of the council in question would have ensured he was able to attend anyway wouldn't you ?

Er no...

The Conservative leader of the council is also a member of the area's Unitary Authority. The reception was arranged for the most important evening of that Unitary Authority's calendar - the night of the vote on the budget.

Memoirs of a Republican Revolutionary....not

By strange coincidence, shortly after saying I would only swear allegiance to the Queen after a stiff whisky, I was called upon to indicate, if not fully swear, allegiance to her on two occasions.

First of all, I attended a formal dinner, something I do about as often as Julian Clary carries out a bit of spot welding. I managed to bring myself quietly join in the "loyal toast", although I used my water glass which I suppose is a bit like crossing your fingers.

Then, unusually, I attended a church service where the National Anthem was sung at the end. I have never come across such a practice. I did the singing in harmony, rather than singing the tune.

Ever the revolutionary, eh?

Friday, March 14, 2008

Cameron's kids on TV: A cynical, undignified and cheesy stunt

While the spectacle itself was not overly nauseating, the decision by David Cameron to show his intimate family moments to News at Ten is of great cause for concern.

Firstly, I am concerned that David Cameron does not have sufficient self-confidence not to have to do this. It is sort of "not British". He feels the need to show off his family. That doesn't feel right.

Secondly, this move is inherently saying: "I am a family man and I am not ashamed to show them off" and: "Now it's your turn Gordon".

Gordon Brown, of course, also has a wife and small children. He also has a disabled child. So, we could now be in for a "My son is more disabled than your son" contest.

Then it will be Nick Clegg's turn to show off his small kids.

Let's stop it here before it goes any further! It is a stomach-churning and undignified spectacle.

Most of all, the kids aren't old enough to choose not to be on the telly. That's the crucial point. They didn't choose to be born into a politician's family so they should not be taken advantage of by their father to get more votes for the Conservative party.

It's a disgraceful, tawdry and nauseating thing for Cameron to do. It will reinforce the view of a great many people that Cameron is "all spin and no substance".

Update: The Mole on First Post reveals the cynical reason behind this Cameron stunt:

Now we know why David Cameron risked controversy by being filmed at home with his family, including his seriously handicapped son.

The Tory leader caused a few raised eyebrows with his decision to put his children into the frontline when ITN cameras were invited to film the Cameron family around the breakfast table. Cynical manipulation of the Cameron kids?

Not a bit of it, we were assured.

Except that a leaked Tory strategy document has now emerged showing that one of the party’s key objectives of 2008 is to improve the party's credibility among families. Polling has shown that people move away from the Conservatives when they have children.

The note was used for a presentation by James O'Shaughnessy, the director of research and policy at Conservative Central Office.

Government ministers who held off from openly criticising Cameron for using his kids, saying it was his "personal decision", are less likely to restrain themselves now.

Thanks to Edis for pointing out the First Post link.

Hallejujah !

Unbelievable! Shannon Matthews has been found alive and well.

This has to be one of the most successful police operations in a long time.

Leave our Shirl alone !

It is very difficult to think of any politician with higher integrity than Shirley Williams. Also, it is very hard to think what she might have to gain from playing fast and loose with the thruth, or indeed defecting. A peerage ? She's already got one.

I cannot think of anyone who, better than Shirley, encapsulates the spirit of the Liberal Democrat party.

So, can we please just take her word that she didn't threaten to defect, and leave it at that ?

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Spink to become first UKIP MP - reckons two Tory MPs

Nadine Dorries MP and Stewart Jackson MP both reckon that Bob Spink will join UKIP, becoming that party's first MP. Writing on her blog, Ms Dorries says:

Stewart Jackson MP and I chewed over the meaning of this in about 30 seconds. Spink will, we think, given his strong anti Euro views and Essex seat, join UKIP - bad move!

A music question

Is Duffy's "Mercy" a cover version of an old song ?

Lembit on The Apprentice - how wrong I was !

All right - I was wrong about Lembit on the Sports Relief Celebrity Apprentice. He wasn't eaten alive by Sir Alan and he didn't lock horns with Kelvin MacKenzie. In fact, Lembit was a conciliatory and calming chair who managed to help the men's group recover from two hours of arguing to achieve a respectable income from their project.

This programme was a text book example of how women get on calmly and efficiently with a task. In contrast, the men were too busy entering into a genitalia measurement contest to actually achieve much.

The real laugh of the programme was an ongoing verbal punch-up between Kelvin MacKenzie and Hardeep Singh Kohli, which Lembit wisely side-stepped.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Darling's budget: Is that all there is ?

On hearing the budget, my first thought was "Is that all there is ?" (Incidentally an excellent song once recorded by Peggy Lee and available below for re-enjoying). So much of the budget has been spun, re-spun, unspun, de-spun, leaked and positioned before today that there was little left for Alastair Darling to do other than sip his "tap water" (we are told) and attempt, as usual, to induce somnambulance in the opposition.

Poor old Hugh Dalton must be turning in the grave - to think that he lost his job for giving one snippet of his budget to the Evening Standard a few minutes before their "Stop Press" deadline. Nowadays, Alastair Darling doesn't need to carry his red box to the Commons - all he needs to do is to pick up a copy of the Evening Standard on the way and read the budget out of that - the press already knows most of the measures in advance.

Dear old Darling was there boasting that his forecast of economic growth is better than the USA's growth. It's so easy - this Chancellor stuff, isn't it Alastair ? You just make up a forecast and then - oh - look - it's better than the USA's growth. So easy. Except that, as they always say, there is one thing you can be sure of with a forecast: it will always be wrong.

What is it with dodgy Chancellors and Badgers ? Norman Lamont looked a bit like a badger and lost himself in a flurry of soap bubbles. Now Alastair Darling looks like a badger and we all wait with increasing stupor to find out what does for him.

Dodgy Darling tried the old 'national debt lower than 1997' gambit. (Most of his sentences included some sort of disparaging statistical reference to 1997 for some mysterious reason - why is that, I wonder ? It really was shockingly repetitive) But when I last checked Labour have smurgled national debt so that it doesn't include PFIs and Northern Rock. Again, this Chancellor thing is a piece of cake, isn't it Alastair ? Just whizz things round the balance sheet and: hey presto! Go to the top of the class Young Darling !

And we get all this cant from Darling about the perils of binge drinking, but the extra taxes on alcohol represent an undisguised choice of the "easy option" to try to recover some direction towards order in the public finances.

The Times reports:

Nick Clegg's budget reaction: Today's budget is a green cop out which kicks the difficult decisions on environmental taxes into the long grass and offers no help to the millions of hard pressed families struggling to make ends meet, according to Liberal Democrat Leader, Nick Clegg.

He said: "This is not a green budget. This is not a people's budget. This is a con trick budget that protects the rich and abandons the poor. The Government has bottled it on green taxes and failed to implement the necessary measures to cut child poverty."

So it's not just me asking "Is that all there is ?" The poor, those concerned about global warming, hard working families, those staring at negative equity situations ...they're all entitled to ask the same question.

Sock it to them Peggy.....

Deaf couple and IVF - angels on the head of a pin ?

It was good to see a very calm, sensitive and rational Jackie Ballard representing the Royal National Institute for the Deaf on BBC 1's Breakfast News. She was talking about the discussion of a deaf couple's potential choices over their IVF offspring.

As Jackie pointed out, we are talking about one couple out of a population of 60-odd million people in this country, so this is a very rare situation. The couple in question have yet to seek IVF treatment. So this really is a bit of a daft debate - premature, to put it charitably. They might choose not to have their embryos screened (as most IVF parents have done up until now anyway). And then they might produce all non-deaf embryos or all deaf embryos so the need for a decision would not arise.

Also, some basic knowledge of IVF and the screening process is required to understand this dilemma properly. Martin from London, commented as follows on BBC Online:

How would the child react when they found out that their parents actively sought to deprive them of a sense ?

Of course, that is not a valid comment. If a situation occurred where there were, say, two non-deaf embryos, A and B in the "petri dish", and one deaf embryo, C, in it, the couple in question want to be able to choose the deaf embryo, C. So they are not depriving the embryo C of a sense if and when it becomes a child. They are simply letting it have a chance to live and not implanting A and B embryos into the womb. You could say that decision is unfair on embryos A and B but quite the opposite for embryo C.

Even then, embryo C might not grow in the womb. Most IVF implantations involve three embryos and only one, if any, survives. Bear in mind that only about 17-20% of IVF attempts end in a live birth!

So, the chances of this decision having to be made and then producing a child are very slim anyway. Bear in mind that many couples try IVF and don't succeed. Many embryos are discarded or simply fail to grow anyway - for example in 1996 there was a legal deadline and any "unclaimed" embryos or eggs held in cold storage, in liquid nitrogen, had to be disposed of. Many were discarded.

So are we debating Angels on the head of a pin here ? We may well be doing so.

Having said all that, I tend to side with the deaf couple. They already have a deaf child and are deaf themselves, if they want to choose a deaf embryo over a non-deaf embryo in the highly hypothetical possible scenario where they could do this, then I would say "let them". I can quite understand that having another deaf child would be an attractive prospect for them, in terms of maintaining the culture and, perhaps closeness (or at least their perceived closeness), of their family.

One further background point. Any debate about this sort of thing tends to get emotionally charged when the word "embryo" is mentioned. People tend to think back to their biology lessons and pictures of large embryos forming in the womb. I am not certain at which stage any screening is done on embryos, but normally, after unfreezing, or after removal of the egg from the ovaries and fertilisation, the parents review the embryo under a microscope before implantation in the womb. I assume that is the stage at which screening is done. In which case, we are talking about an embryo which is only two or three cells big. You look through the microscope at it and all you see are two or three irregular, slightly translucent circular outlines. It is not an embryo in the highly advanced stages that we normally imagine one to be. That doesn't take away the fact that the embryo is a potential human life when implanted, if it successfully grows in the womb, but it ought to be borne in mind.

Of course, we wouldn't be having this discussion were it not for remarkable advances in science. Even a few years ago, routine screening of embryos prior to implantation was not available. Indeed, IVF itself is a relatively recent facility in terms of its availability to parents. Louise Brown, the first IVF baby, will be 30 years old this year. In many ways, things were far simpler in the "old days". You were simply "barren" and you got on with your life without the roller coaster ride of IVF. There were none of these moral dilemmas.

I'm reminded of the remark of Barbara Castle's husband, Ted. The Castles went through a primitive form of fertilisation treatment in the 1940s. After several attempts her husband, a bluff northerner, put his foot down saying with some feeling:

I'm not going to make love to another bloody jam jar as long as I live !

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Refreshing approach to the hoary old chestnut of faith schools

Joe Otten has written an extremely sensible and fair opinion on faith and schools, on Liberal Democrat Voice under the title of "The issue is not faith schools but freedom of conscience". I thoroughly recommend the article for reading, inwardly digesting, copying bits out and pinning them on the wall etc. I have already nominated it for this week's "Golden Dozen".

There have been hundreds of "comment battles" on LibDem Voice about faith schools which have boiled down to "Is there a God?" or "You can't believe it God, you daft numpty" - essentially. Joe is right to refocus our attention on the right to a faith, and indeed no faith, and how that right should fairly and liberally interact with society in respect to education. Joe's approach is extremely refreshing.

Looking at the comments below Joe's article, as usual, what seems to be "marmalised" in these debates is the essential fact that there are several categories of "faith schools".

The category of which I have most, although possibly out-of-date, knowledge is Church of England schools. Following the recommendations of the Dearing report, the Church of England has a policy of not "bussing in" students to fill their school with "faithful Christians". The student composition reflects the local population. Indeed, one Church of England in the North of England has 90% Muslim pupils.

There should not be selection based on "declared religion" and I agree with Joe's advocacy of parallel provision for worship if there is a significant student population in the school which does not hold the main faith of that school. Indeed, I think this policy should extend to declared atheists.

All in all, I agree with Dr Evan Harris' proposed bill of a few years ago (2004 or early 2005 I think) which proposed an end to inequalities in the faith school system. I note that the Bill was even supported by David Trimble.

The Democrats should be scared sh.....witless

Andrew Rawnsley skilfully pulls together a comprehensive treatise on why the Democrats should be scared witless of McCain, due their internecine battle between Obama and Clinton.

Darling nicks our policy - twice

We should be flattered. After all, it's becoming a regular occurence.

(Darling) is widely expected to increase the proportion of revenue from green taxes, slapping a "showroom tax" of as much as £2,000 on gas-guzzling 4X4 vehicles, as well as transforming air passenger duty into a tax on flights in a bid to cut carbon dioxide emissions.

A stiff whisky is needed before an oath of allegiance to the Queen

The morning news programmes have been majoring on Lord Goldsmith's report on strengthening citizenship. As usual, the report has loads of recommendations and is designed to start a "national debate" (the government's code for: "see if there is an outcry or if we get some good coverage in the Mail").

But the media have alighted on one eye-catching proposal: to have school leavers or 16 year olds pledging an oath of allegiance to Queen and Country.

Part of me thinks that 'we don't do things like that in this country'. We have a relaxed informal democracy where dissent is tolerated and even perhaps encouraged. I would have to down a stiff double whisky before pledging allegiance to the Queen. I am a Republican and although I respect the Royal family as people and fellow citizens, I think they are put into a ridiculous position. However, on balance I can see that there is a general public consensus about our currently constituted Head of State and that the Queen has been a good head of state. So yes, I would pledge allegiance to her, after a stiff Glenmorangie. She is Queen of Scotland as well, after all.

But should 16 year olds take that pledge ? In America they go mad with flag waving. Politicians compete with each other to have the most Stars and Stripes behind them when they give statements. But their country is just 200-odd years old and they've only been attacked twice. Our nation is 1000-2000 odd years old, depending on from when you measure its existence, and we've been attacked thousands of times. We have confidence in our selves. I like that. We don't have to go crazy with flag waving to prove that we are a nation.

So this proposal will go down well with cabbies and Daily Telegraph readers, but I don't like the sound of it. Make it a pledge to the country and it sounds a bit better. The Americans, as pointed out this morning by Lady Kennedy, don't pledge allegiance to their Head of State - it's to their flag. Just as well too, I should imagine that free lobotomies would have to be administered before a lot of Americans would pleadge allegiance to George W Bush.

In closing I would say that many seven year olds already pledge allegiance to the Queen. This is the pledge that some of them take:

I promise that I will do my best,
To love my God,
To serve the Queen and my country,
to help other people,
And to keep the Brownie Guide Law.

I didn't take that pledge. I wasn't a cub or a scout (or indeed a Brownie). So I have never given a pledge of allegiance to the Queen and I hope no-one ever forces me to take one. But do I feel like a citizen ? Do I do my bit ? Of course I do.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Boots show the way on organ donation

It is not often that one sees unalloyed good being done by a commercial enterprise. One million people have joined the organ donation register through their Boots loyalty card:

New customers simply tick a box on the application form to register their wishes.
Seven times more women than men have signed up since the partnership was launched in 2000 and 89 people have donated their organs after death via the scheme.

I remain opposed to the "opt out" proposal. This Boots sheme shows that there is still a latent pool of people who want to opt in - but they have to have the opportunity put "under their nose" to do it.

You only have to look at the comparison with Holland. There, 44% of people carry an organ donation card. Here it is 25%.

We see lots of "sexy" celebrity adverts for blood donation. Let's see the same thing for organ donation before we take the illiberal step of an "opt out" system.

If you haven't already signed up to donate your organs upon your death you can do so here (you can choose between some options).

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Getting things into perspective

Some retrospective thoughts on this week.

First of all, one of the most pithy and poignant postings came from Adrian Sanders MP who reminded us on his blog:

The only people who voted against such a referendum were Tory and Labour MPs - not a single Lib Dem voted to deny the people a vote.

Secondly, the article from Martin Kettle in today's Guardian should be required reading for all LibDems, as highlighted also by Stephen Tall on LibDem Voice and Peter Black AM.

Kettle argues that Nick Clegg did the best he could and that the week's events confirms that the other two parties are mightily concerned about the strength of the LibDems. The title of his article sums up his viewpoint: "This shambles is in fact a sign of LibDem strength":

No party can ever be satisfied with a shambles. Yet while acknowledging the damage, it is important also not to exaggerate it. The Lib Dems will recover. Nick Clegg's fledgling leadership is not at risk. Indeed Wednesday night's abstention and pro-referendum rebellion was probably the least worst option for the party. The free vote that some of Clegg's critics advocate on the Lisbon treaty referendum would have seen half of the party in the pro-referendum lobby and the other half, including Clegg himself, in the anti. The derision that would have greeted that damaging spectacle would easily have eclipsed the derision provoked by the abstention. And anyway, Europe isn't a free-vote issue.

This paragraph should be read by any Liberal Democrat who is despairing a bit:

...although both Labour and the Conservatives are keen to mock the Lib Dems, they do so because, in the end, they fear them - and with good reason. This is because the biggest shift in British voting patterns over the past half century has been the continuing erosion of the Labour and Conservative duopoly that claimed 97% of the votes in 1951, but only 67% in 2005, and the steady rise of the Liberal Democrats and the lesser parties which, conversely, have moved from 3% of the total to 33%.

Sometimes when I read LibDem blogs accusing Nick Clegg of "lies" and calling for his recall, I do have to do a reality check on myself. Am I on the same planet as other LibDem bloggers ?

I actually think Nick Clegg has done remarkably well this week. He has gone through a week where he had to show leadership and he has done so - masterfully.

And hey, look at me. A few months ago I was sarcastically posting about Nick under the title "The Messiah has arrived" and there was a posting asking "How low can Chris Huhne's supporters go ?" by the very person now calling for his recall, while I am posting under titles like "Well done Nick Clegg".

Politics is a funny business.

From our slightly over-heated sports desk....

Well done Barnsley !!!

Man U v Portsmouth - Is it OK to laugh ?

Those barmy tyrant councils are at it again !

More proof that it is a slow news week from the Express today:

BARMY new waste collection rules mean that councils across Britain are now refusing to empty bins altogether – unless the lid is shut.
One in three local authorities has ordered collectors not to touch any open bin, even if the lid is only slightly lifted.
It is the latest “ridiculous” edict to hit householders already fuming about fortnightly collections and confusing advice about recycling.

What amuses me about this article is the word "now" in the strapline. They must have had this story on file for a very long time, ready for a slow day. Our council has been refusing to take away open wheely bins for at least ten years.

The Sun finally succombs to its most obvious headline

As Edis commented on my post yesterday, it is not normal for servicemen and women to wear their uniforms off duty anyway. Do nurses wear their uniforms off duty ? Bus conductors ?
Gordon Brown makes noises to the effect that he would like the RAF Wittering commander to rescind his order to his boys and girls not to wear their uniform off duty in Peterborough. Hello ? Who is actually in charge of the armed forces ? Step forward one Rt Hon Gordon Brown MP.
All he needs to do is make the order. Or is he facing a mutiny on this ? (More likely he doesn't want to intervene but also doesn't want to be caught out on this one).

More proof that it is a slow news week from the Express today:

Lembit slagged off by Sir Alan Sugar ?

Surely not something to look forward to..... Worse still, we might have to witness Kelvin Mackenzie and dearest Lembit locking horns. It could all be too much...

BNP "target" Duncan Hames' opponent

This should liven things up a bit in Chippenham. I would have thought that any "targetting" of Wilfred Emmanuel-Jones, self-styled "Britain's only black farmer" (though note that there is at least one other), is likely to back-fire.

Charles Clarke joins LibDems

Well, it looks like him (arrowed above). He's even got this Spring Conference "Bag for Life" slung over his shoulder.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Calm down dear, it's a slow news day

Both BBC and ITV (GMTV) are leading their Breakfast News with a story about RAF Wittering's commander telling his service men and women not to wear uniform off duty in the town. This is due to verbal abuse.

Big deal. This sort of administrative act has happened regularly over the years - particularly during the Irish troubles. It really is daft for Gordon Brown to ask forces people to wear their uniforms off duty anyway. Do nurses wear their uniform off duty?

And we have motor mouth Dr Fox weighing in with "there should be no no-go areas for our armed forces".

What utter, over-inflated nonsense! This is typical of the ridiculous twaddle which passes for "national debate" in our country.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Well done Jo Swinson !

I thought I would do my bit in preparation for International Women's Day on March 8th by watching some of the debate in parliament about the event. Jo Swinson is giving a remarkably articulate and engaging speech. For the youngest member of the House of Commons, she is a far far more skilled speaker than many people who have been there for donkeys' years.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Will McCain storm it?

I was very impressed by Hillary Clinton's win in Texas/Ohio/Rhode Island. Her victory soundbite is one which I suspect be remembered for many years:

for everyone who has stumbled but stood right back up, and for everyone...
... who works hard and never gives up, this one is for you.

I am beginning to take a shine to the lady. A real bare knuckle fighter....

In retrospect, I revise my view of the '3am red phon'e ad. It was a valid criticism to launch, but I think Obama dealt with it very well.

Goodness knows what will happen now. We're into a real, historic "slugfest". The actual campaign will seem like an anti-climax after this.

I am thinking more and more that McCain will win whoever the Democrat nominee is. The Democrat contest will drag on for weeks or months and then the winner and her/his team will be standing on the winning podium, head spinning, thinking "now how will I beat McCain ?". By then they'll be half beat.

Well done Nick Clegg

I think Nick Clegg has had a good day. He did well to face down lots of jeers in the Commons at PMQs. He has just made an excellent appearance on Channel 4 News. Good for him. [Dodges to miss well directed rotten tomatoes from numerous bloggers]

I applaud the honourable actions of the three front benchers who disobeyed the three line whip. They were right to resign. They are entitled to their views but they should be expressed outside of the shadow cabinet. They would undermine the party if they continued on the front bench. I am glad that it didn't come to "pushing" rather than "jumping".

I think Nick has taken the right course. It is a course that Chris Huhne, I strongly suspect, would have taken - had the 511 votes swung the other way. And it was the course of Ming as leader.

The rebels who broke the three-liner are quite entitled to their view but Nick Clegg has to lead and he has done so. It is quite clear that the Lisbon treaty is not a constitution. If any of the rebels are contradicting that, then it is a dangerous undermining of a completely valid point being made by Ed Davey, Nick Clegg, Chris Huhne and the rest.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Monday, March 3, 2008

Obama wins the internet war

Fortune, via CNN Money describes how the Obama campaign have displayed a mastery of the internet which is helping them to outmanoevre the Clinton campaign:

Fortune: Who is using media more effectively in the Democratic primary - Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama?

Rishad Tobaccowala (chief innovation officer of the media buying division of Publicis, the French advertising giant) : Definitely, Obama. He is a digital candidate while she is the analog candidate. Don't misunderstand me. They both primarily use traditional media. In fact, he's outspent her in traditional media. But his Web site is amazing. It's completely and continually updated. It feels alive and energetic.
His campaign also actively uses e-mail to keep you totally informed. Like if Obama is debating live, they say go watch him. They also created these challenges - when Clinton donated $5 million to her campaign, the Obama campaign sent out a note saying we have to match this quickly. In 24 hours, people donated $8 million to Obama.

Sign up for a real referendum on Europe

There's a petition here for a real referendum on Europe.

Full marks to Nick Clegg for going on the offensive on this one - particularly with the MORI poll which shows 2:1 in favour of our approach versus the Tories' sham policy.

I fully respect the stance of those like James Graham who want a referendum on the Lisbon treaty while accepting that it is not a (or the) constitution (see James's excellent graphic).

However, the party is quite right to continue to emphasise that the only real referendum on Europe is an in/out plebiscite. A referendum on the Lisbon treaty would be a complete sham which would lead us, several years later (no doubt after much painful debate), to the need for a proper in/out referendum anyway.

Hillary goes down (?) shooting her own foot

Hillary Clinton is reported as 'going for Obama's jugular' with her campaign ad about children sleeping and a call to the White House at 3m (watch it here).

If anything the video shows up her own lack of experience.

It implies that she is someone who "already knows the world's leaders". Well, she couldn't pronounce the new Russian leader's name last week and said "Whatever" after she failed to do so. And it implies she has already "been tested". No, she hasn't. She hasn't actually held a single executive post.

The one time you could perhaps argue that she has been tested was on the vote to give Bush the powers to go to war. She made the wrong call. That wasn't a decision to be made in the middle of the night. She had plenty of time to think about it.

The Obama campaign have shown themselves extremely adept at quick rebuttals and quite rightly, they have replied to the Clinton attack ad with their own "children sleeping" ad (do the campaigns keep stock footage of babies sleeping ready to launch on the US populace at a moment's notice?).

This was why, no doubt, Rahm Emmanuel said he would "hide under his desk" if Obama and Clinton took each other on.

The Russian President and Dolly the sheep

Has anyone else noticed the remarkable resemblance between the new Russian President, Dmitry Medvedev and Dolly the sheep?

Are their respective methods of conception related?

I think we should be told...

Dmitry and Dolly - how they are related
Dolly's mum = Microscope
Dolly = Boris Johnson
Dolly Parton = Boris Yeltsin
Premier Dmitry Kisov (from Dr Strangelove) = Peter Sellers
Natalia Brezhnev = Ras Putin (Geddit?!!!)
Vladimir Putin = Microscope
Dmitry Medvedev = Russian Electorate

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Harry's return - round spherical objects

Ingrid Seward of "Majesty" magazine

Harry's return from Afghanistan demonstrates the problem with 24 hour news channels.
When there is something significant going on, like an election, then 24 hour news channels are relatively interesting. But then you get something like the Harry's return and they plaster it all over the shop.
I employ what I call the "Seward" rule" on these occasions.
The moment that BBC News 24 wheel out Ingrid Seward, gushing editor-in-chief of "Majesty" magazine (as they did this morning), is the moment I switch off the telly and get a life.

Iain Dale faces both ways on Lisbon treaty

Oh dear

Chris Huhne supports Clegg on walk-out and EU poisition

In tomorrow's GMTV Sunday programme, Chris Huhne strongly supports Nick Clegg's Commons walk-out:

I think Nick has been absolutely right on this and we entirely agree both on the European issue and on the way in which we protested over the ruling that our vote would not be called because, frankly, for a major opposition party with more than a fifth of the votes in the country, to be denied the chance to put, to the votes in the House of Commons, an issue that was a manifesto promise for us is frankly outrageous, and if you look at the normal Commons procedures they're already stacked massively against us, so David Cameron for example gets six questions at Prime Minister's questions, Nick gets two questions at Prime Minister's questions, but even if you look at that sort of ration in terms of votes on amendments coming up we've been through more than six days of debate on this EU Lisbon treaty in which every single day it was a Tory amendment that was called, and for the first time we said 'we want a Liberal Democrat amendment to be called so that we can vote on it precisely because it was a matter in our manifesto. In my view the speaker was extremely ill-judged to refuse that.

It is also good to see Chris robustly defending the party's stance on the EU Reform treaty:

I think that one of the issues that comes up with my constituency is that they actually want, even if they're pro-European as I am, to have a chance to reach a judgement about all of the changes that we've had over time, not just the recent EU reform treaty, but the much more major changes such as the Maastrict treaty, the Single European Act, which the last Conservative government pushed through without a referendum even though we weren't pushing for it, and one of the reasons why we promised in the General Election that we should have a referendum on the constitutional treaty is precisely because the constitutional treaty re-wrote everything, it summed up all of the previous treaties, it was a 157,00 words long whereas the reform treaty is a mere sliver of a thing at 44,000 words long, so these are very different animals and the nearest thing to the promise we made at the General Election that we would have a referendum on the constitutional treaty is a referendum on whether we stay in or out….

Chris also makes it clear that there is a fundamental difference between the Reform treaty and the previously intended constitution:

...the constitutional concept has disappeared, the complete new writing has disappeared and we've got, by the way, substantial changes in our opt-outs on justice and home affairs, we can now opt in or opt out almost like going into a restaurant and choosing from the menu, so we've had very different arrangements to what we had then. So, for all of those reasons, we think that the right referendum, without question to have a referendum, is whether we should stay in or out, and, by the way, the reform treaty, also, for the first time in article 49A says that a member state secede, so this is an appropriate referendum given the Reform treaty's new provisions for a member state to get out.

Hillary's double bind

Shirley Williams makes some very pithy comments about Hillary Clinton in a special report in the Guardian by Emma Brockes:

German culture, for example, welcomes the idea of there being a somewhat different, feminine leadership style, and likes the fact that Angela Merkel is a peacemaker and is always seeking consensus; it's what they expect from her. Americans might expect it and see it as womanly, but they don't like it. Which is why Hillary has had to try a style of leadership that is very male. And then she disappoints those who thought that having a woman would make a difference

It's an interesting comparison with Mrs Thatcher who came across as very tough. But she also had if you remember - like Hillary Clinton's tear - these uncalculated moments. Like 'rejoice rejoice rejoice!' After we won the Falklands, she came out and said that very passionately. She was like an extraordinarily emotional headmistress.

The article also quotes Melanne Verveer, who was Clinton's chief of staff when she was first lady and thinks that she can't win, whatever tone she adopts:

She has made it to a point that no previous woman has made it to in our country, in terms of being a really viable candidate for president. But I think in the process of demonstrating that one is competent and tough enough to be commander-in-chief, in the process of presenting that image, the reaction is 'well, perhaps in doing that she's not likable', yet if one presents herself as soft and likable, which she also is, the perception is she's not tough enough. So it's this double bind.