Sunday, August 31, 2008


...with a "Two peoples separated by a common language" twist.

Stephen Tall writes about the McCain choice of Palin in a LibDem Voice article entitled: "The importance of a good number 2" (My English teacher used to tell a story about a colonel in his army regiment in Africa who used to base all his pep talks, invariably, on that theme).

Meanwhile, in a Time article about the candidates' "vices", John Weaver, McCain's former chief strategist, talks about McCain "enjoying craps".

....sorry for lowering the tone...but it's a British thing isn't it?

Prayers for Louisiana

The US national Hurricane Center have an excellent site. I use it frequently as I have a friend on Florida's coast. By my reading of the maps, Hurricane Gustav is going to hit the coast of Louisiana about 30 miles west of New Orleans at 1pm tomorrow GMT (7am CDT). This is possibly the worst scenario for New Orleans as hurricanes travelling north often inflict their worst hit on northeastern areas. Gustav is currently category 3 and forecast to upgrade to category 5.

Sky News reports:

Hurricane Gustav is strong, packing winds of up to 150 mph. It is huge, with storm force winds extending out 175 miles from the eye of the storm and it also threatens frightening storm surges, the like of which will obliterate even the rebuilt levees of the bruised and battered New Orleans.

So, once again, it appears that the people of the Gulf coast, Louisiana and New Orleans in particular, need our prayers.

I note that George Bush and Dick Cheney have cancelled visits to the Republican National Convention in St Paul, Minnesota, which is scheduled to start tomorrow.

I would have thought that the start will be delayed for at least a day, if not more.

You can hardly have political festivities at the time of such danger for a large part of the USA.

It's good to see the preparations which have been put in place for this Hurricane. I have just watched Mayor Ray Nagin talking. He surprised me at one point when he said, very forthrightly, that any looters would be sent "directly to Angola". This seemed a bit drastic - a return to transportation for looters. Has the African state of Angola agreed to this? It turns out that he meant "Angola Prison", which is the Louisiana state penitentiary.

Sarah Palin and the Hail Mary Pass

I've learnt something new today. I now know what a "Hail Mary Pass" is. I'd heard the phrase used twice to describe McCain's pick of Sarah Palin:

A Hail Mary pass or Hail Mary play in American football is a forward pass made in desperation, with only a small chance of success. The typical Hail Mary is a very long forward pass thrown near the end of a half or end of a game where there is no probability for any other play to score points. This play is unlikely to be successful, because of the general inaccuracy of the pass and the defensive team's preparedness for the play makes it likely that it can intercept or knock down the ball.

Votemaster on uses the phrase in a little playlet which posits the reason for McCain's choice of the Moose-eater:

Schmidt: Yeah, but now Obama is just 5 EVs short of a tie (which means it goes to the House and he'll win there) and 6 EVs short of a clean win. Look, there are six swing states this time: Florida, Virginia, Ohio, Missouri, Colorado, and Nevada. We have to win all six of them. Can't lose a single state or we're dead meat.

McCain: I'm a fighter. You know that. The gooks couldn't break me. I'll campaign like hell in all six. Don't worry.

Schmidt: I'm worried. We're 50-50 on all six. It's like flipping a coin six times and getting six heads. One chance in 64, roughly 2%. We have to do something dramatic. Something that will throw all calculations out the window. Something that completely shakes up everything. Something that gives us a fresh start. Gotta hit the RESET button. carries the latest "scores on the doors" for the Electoral College based on the latest polls. The latest report shows Obama on 278 electoral votes* (he needs 270 to win). This might explain the desperation behind McCain's Hail Mary Pass.

However, my calculations based on the Cook Report 9 "toss-up" states and a more conservative look at the last few polls, gives Obama 264 votes:

Eric Pickles' time has come - anti-fat exemplar

Catherine Bennett in the Observer singles out Eric Pickles as the Tory most needed to "set an example", as Andrew Lansley and David Cameron have said, in the ground-breaking Tory war on fat.

Polling: Scepticism about Palin's qualifications, enthusisam about Obama's speech

As we approach the US Presidential Election day, I am starting again to trawl the polling sites of the likes of Ruy Teixeira (my favourite political scientist and a tough one to spell but I am helped by the fact that the people we bought our house from were of the same name), Charlie Cook and Polling Report.

Polling Report carries some latest polling from USA Today/Gallup done on 29th August. Asking 898 registered voters about Sarah Palin, 19% thought she was an excellent choice, 27% said pretty good, 19% only fair, 18% poor and 17% were unsure. 18% said her choice would make them more likely to vote for the McCain ticket. 67% said the choice would not have much effect on their voting choice. 39% thought she is qualified to be Veep, 33% said she was not qualified and 29% were unsure. Compare this with a similar poll about the Joe Biden choice when 63% said he was qualified to be Veep.

The same organisation polled 1,016 adults on the same day about Obama's big speech. A healthy 43% said the speech would make them more likely to vote for him. 35% said it was excellent, 23% said it was good and 15% said "just okay".

An everyday story of biking folk...

David Cameron's travails with his bike could be turned into a soap opera or a comic strip: the trips to work trailed by the media, the shoe chauffeur in the supporting role, running red lights, going the wrong way up one way streets, getting his bike nicked, then getting it returned courtesy of Ernest Theophile and some local youths.....there's endless material there.

And now, the brakes fail:

"I got on the bike to go to work for the first time after it was returned to me, rode off at speed and hit the brakes at the end of the road," he said last week. "To my horror, the brakes didn’t work and I flew out across an adjoining road. Luckily there were no cars coming towards me, but it was a very close call."

Cameron sidelines Boris

David Cameron has sidelined Boris Johnson amid fears the maverick Tory could steal the limelight at the party's annual conference next month.

London mayor Mr Johnson has been relegated to a brief 15-minute slot during "snooze time" after Sunday lunch.

The move will be a bitter blow for the outspoken politician who dreams of succeeding Mr Cameron and becoming Prime Minister.

Tory Party chiefs are determined he will not upstage Mr Cameron despite his huge popularity in the party.

They have denied him the chance to make a keynote speech at the Birmingham conference.

A Tory source said: "He will not be the darling of the conference. There will only be one star of the show and that's going to be David Cameron."

Sunday Mirror
David Cameron's travails with his bike could be turned into a soap opera or a comic strip: the shoe chauffeur

Saturday, August 30, 2008

If you had any lingering thoughts that Sarah Palin might be fit to be Vice-President of the US......

Listen to this radio recording (below) from Anchorage radio KWHL's "The Bob and Mark Show". The hosts describe the Alaskan Senate President Lyda Green (who is a cancer survivor) variously as a "jealous woman", "a cancer" and a "bitch" while Governor Palin laughs girlishly, repeatedly.

Hat-tip: Daily Kos

MMR scare: It's the media's fault

Ben Goldacre continues to be one of my favourite journalists. Not having a science background, I reach to him for a bit of sanity on controversial science-based issues.

It is worth reading his article in the Guardian today. It is about the history of the MMR/autism scare and it is a stonker. He basically says that the MMR scare was the fault of the media, and, in particular, their propensity to use general journalists to comment on what was essentially a scientific matter, rather than science journalists. One particular passage relates the story behind a couple of MMR scare stories in 2006:

.."US scientists back autism link to MMR” said the Telegraph. “Scientists fear MMR link to autism” squealed the Mail.

What was this frightening new data? These scare stories were based on a poster presentation, at a conference yet to occur, on research not yet completed, by a man with a well-documented track record of announcing research that never subsequently appears in an academic journal. This time Dr Arthur Krigsman was claiming he had found genetic material from vaccine-strain measles virus in some gut samples from children with autism and bowel problems. If true, this would have bolstered Wakefield’s theory, which by 2006 was lying in tatters. We might also mention that Wakefield and Krigsman are doctors together at Thoughtful House, a private autism clinic in the US.

Two years after making these claims, the study remains unpublished.

Nobody can read what Krigsman did in his experiment, what he measured, or replicate it.

Should anyone be surprised by this? No. Krigsman was claiming in 2002 that he had performed colonoscopy studies on children with autism and found evidence of harm from MMR, to universal jubilation in the media, and this work remains entirely unpublished as well. Until we can see exactly what he did, we can’t see whether there may be flaws in his methods, as there are in all scientific papers, to a greater or lesser extent: maybe he didn’t select the subjects properly, maybe he measured the wrong things. If he doesn’t write it up formally, we can never know, because that is what scientists do: write papers, and pull them apart to see if their findings are robust.

McCain is 'out of his mind'

Paul Begala on CNN writes an excoriating criticism of McCain's choice of Sarah Plain as his running mate. He makes the key point that, for months, McCain's supporters have said that he is running on judgment and experience as his key attributes but now "in his first presidential decision, John McCain has shown that he is willing to endanger his country, potentially leaving it in the hands of someone who simply has no business being a heartbeat away from the most powerful, complicated, difficult job in human history."

I do wonder whether McCain's choice was an extremely short-term (like 12 hours) gambit to knock Obama off the top slot on the news programmes.

Here's Begala's analysis:

John McCain needs what Kinky Friedman calls "a checkup from the neck up."

In choosing Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin to be his running mate, he is not thinking "outside the box," as some have said. More like out of his mind.

Palin a first-term governor of a state with more reindeer than people, will have to put on a few pounds just to be a lightweight. Her personal story is impressive: former fisherman, mother of five. But that hardly qualifies her to be a heartbeat away from the presidency.

For a man who is 72 years old and has had four bouts with cancer to have chosen someone so completely unqualified to become president is shockingly irresponsible. Suddenly, McCain's age and health become central issues in the campaign, as does his judgment.

In choosing this featherweight, McCain passed over Tom Ridge, a decorated combat hero, a Cabinet secretary and the former two-term governor of the large, complex state of Pennsylvania. 'McCain pick might be a gimmick'

He passed over Mitt Romney, who ran a big state, Massachusetts; a big company, Bain Capital; and a big event, the Olympics.

He passed over Kay Bailey Hutchison, the Texas senator who is knowledgeable about the military, good on television and -- obviously -- a woman.

He passed over Joe Lieberman, his best friend in the Senate and fellow Iraq Kool-Aid drinker.

He passed over former congressman, trade negotiator and budget director Rob Portman.

And he also passed over Mike Huckabee, the governor of Arkansas.

For months, the McCainiacs have said they will run on his judgment and experience. In his first presidential decision, John McCain has shown that he is willing to endanger his country, potentially leaving it in the hands of someone who simply has no business being a heartbeat away from the most powerful, complicated, difficult job in human history.

Ethics investigation into Sarah Palin

Here from Newser are the details of the ethics investigation into Sarah Palin, which is currently ongoing:

John McCain’s running mate comes to the national campaign embroiled in a scandal back home, Talking Points Memo reports. Alaska’s legislative council has appointed a special commission to investigate Gov. Sarah Palin, who’s accused of pressuring the state’s department of public safety to fire her former brother-in-law, state trooper Mike Wooten—who is battling Palin’s sister in a messy custody suit.

Palin denies the charges but has admitted that someone in her administration played a role in “Wooten-gate.” She’s distanced herself from the staffer, but phone recordings suggest he was acting with her consent. “This is a governor who was almost impervious to error,” a Democratic state senator tells the Wall Street Journal. “Now she could face impeachment, in a worst-case scenario.”

The Washington Post has more:

..the 44-year-old Palin, who was selected as Sen. John McCain's running mate today, is now the focus of her own state ethics investigation as part of the so-called "Troopergate" scandal, a bizarre controversy involving the firing of a state police chief and his reluctance to fire an Alaska state trooper, Palin's former brother-in-law who has been involved in a bitter custody fight with her younger sister.

Just two weeks ago, Palin
revealed an audio recording of an aide pressuring the state's Public Safety Department to fire trooper Mike Wooten, the Anchorage Daily News reported.

Palin also acknowledged that her staff had contacted Public Safety Commissioner Walt Monegan about two dozen times about Wooten. Monegan himself was fired July 11 (the dismissal was "out of the blue," he told reporters) and he later said that he was pressured by Palin's staff and family to get rid of Wooten, a trooper based in Palmer, Alaska.

(To counter the "Troopergate" tag, the alternative-weekly Anchorage Press has dubbed the firing scandal "Wootengate")

The accusations first surfaced via the blog of former Alaska state rep. Andrew Halcro, who unsuccessfully ran against Palin in 2006.

(On Palin's selection as McCain's vice-presidential pick, Halcro wrote that "this shocking choice says more about McCain's desparation than it does about Palin's qualifications.")

In July, Palin came under a state ethics investigation and critics have said Palin's claim that she did not know of the political pressure being placed on Monegan was a "little too convenient." One fellow lawmaker, state Sen. Hollis French, a Democrat, told The Wall Street Journal that Palin could face impeachment. After French's comments, Palin ordered the investigation into Monegan's firing and told CNBC last month that lawmakers were unfairly targeting her.

"It's cool. I want them to ask me the questions. I don't have anything to hide," she said during the interview. "Didn't do anything wrong there."

The investigation is expected to cost about $100,000 and last at least three months, according to The Associated Press.

The Daily News reports the Palins' fight with Wooten has been especially nasty and public, with the family accusing Wooten of drunken driving, illegal hunting and child abuse, among other charges, based on information culled from private investigators. Wooten and Palin's sister, Molly McCann, divorced in 2005.

The governor's husband, Todd Palin, told the Daily News that his family was also concerned about the governor's safety, saying Wooten threatened to kill the governor's father and made vague threats to her that he would bring Palin down.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Darling: Apocalypse Now

Vince Cable wittily sums up Alistair Darling's dire predictions about the economy:

I worry about the government lurching from one extreme to the other. Until very recently there was no problem, there was a state of denial, Britain was the strongest country in the western world, any problems we had were from overseas. Now suddenly we've lurched into Apocalypse Now, the return of the Great Depression.

Oh dear, dear, dear

Oh dear me.

Sarah Palin speaking only last month:

As for that VP talk all the time, I'll tell you, I still can't answer that question until somebody answers for me what is it exactly that the VP does every day? I'm used to being very productive and working real hard in an administration.

And I thought Joe Biden was the gaffe-machine!

Taegan Goddard comments:

She's completely unknown and has even less experience than Obama. Just a year and a half ago she was mayor of a town with just over 5,000 people. By picking her, McCain undercuts his argument that Obama's not ready. Another wildcard is the ongoing ethics investigation against her administration.

Michael Palin is historic choice as US Republican Veep candidate

Well it's about time they had a good old down-to-earth Yorkshireman with a sense of humour at the top in Washington.

Oh all right then, I'll be sensible. It's Sarah.

Dear young Stephen Tall asks on LDV: Will this spike the Dems' Denver guns? Well there is always a DNC then a RNC bounce. This choice is, in many ways, obvious, in terms of it being a young, fresh, "change" Veep candidate. The two tickets are now perfectly symmetrical. Age and experience in one slot, and relative youth and "change" in the other.

I was becoming increasingly convinced McCain would choose a woman - but I thought it would be Carly Fiorina and then Kay Bailey Hutchinson. After the event, with the benefit of hindsight, the Veep choices look a quite predictable. But of course, they were, infuriatingly and emphatically, not predicatable before they were announced!
However, James Shaddock on LDV makes a good point. The debates:

McCain versus Obama
I'll eat my hat if Obama doesn't wipe the floor with McCain in all the debates.
Biden versus Palin
Well, having seen Joe Biden in action at the DNC and in various debates, I think Michael Palin would do better than Sarah against him. It's going to be eye-watering car crash TV.

Boris jacket button storm

It is fascinating that Boris Johnson reckons he 'took a stand' by looking untidy at the Olympic flag handover ceremony:

Chinese officials ordered Boris Johnson to smarten up at the Olympic handover ceremony, he revealed yesterday.
The Mayor has faced criticism from Chinese commentators for leaving his jacket button undone at the event, an oversight which they say is disrespectful at a formal occasion.
He hits back in an article yesterday and says that officials had pointed at him to follow other VIPs and do up his jacket.
But after checking there was no protocol, Mr Johnson decided against it.

Two caveats to this story:

Johnson wrote his article in the Spectator - presumably for money - so there was an element of singing for his (multiple) supper here.

...and perhaps this story should be taken in the same light as Boris' revelations about a huge secret stash of wine at City Hall, which eventually turned out to be a modest consignment from Peter Dominics.

Obama: Not a tear jerker, but a Presidential speech

Barack Obama grandmother, Madelyn Dunham, is on the right in this photo

I promise I didn't watch it live. Although, as I was up late watching "There will be blood", I did see some of the run-up to it. I have to mention that Jennifer Hudson really "kicked butt" with her redition of "The Star Spangled Banner" at the opening of the last session Democratic National Convention (DNC). I presume that American singers like her spend most of their lives rehearsing or performing that beautiful song. But that didn't change the fact that it really was an absolute humdinger of a performance. A real belter. You can click on it below.

One thing that is coming out loud and clear from all the DNC speeches is a respect for John McCain's service for his country. This is in sharp contrast to the attitude of a certain faction to John Kerry last time, and it is refreshing.

But by complimenting McCain's service, Obama emphasises, all the more, his attacks on McCain's support for Bush. McCain's description of the States as a "nation of whiners" for example. Also, his support of the "ownership society" - what Obama called: "You're on your own".

In his acceptance speech (which you can watch here and the full text, as delivered, is here), Obama did some great stuff in laying into McCain and linking him to Republican failure.

It was great that Obama went on at length about the struggles of his grandmother, Madelyn Dunham (above right).

There was lots of good stuff on oildrilling, global warming, education, tax cuts for 95% of working families, healthcare, pensions etc. He has also had quite a strong message on getting rid of needless "bureaucracy".

I liked the fact that Obama took McCain head-on on national security:

If John McCain wants to have a debate about who has the temperament and judgment to serve as the next commander-in-chief, that's a debate I'm ready to have.

...and there was this great, great line:

You know, John McCain likes to say that he'll follow bin Laden to the gates of Hell, but he won't even follow him to the cave where he lives.

...mind-blowingly fantastic.

There was a great passage about non-partisanship. It really was great:

But what I will not do is suggest that the senator takes his positions for political purposes, because one of the things that we have to change in our politics is the idea that people cannot disagree without challenging each other's character and each other's patriotism.

The times are too serious, the stakes are too high for this same partisan playbook. So let us agree that patriotism has no party. I love this country, and so do you, and so does John McCain.

The men and women who serve in our battlefields may be Democrats and Republicans and independents, but they have fought together, and bled together, and some died together under the same proud flag. They have not served a red America or a blue America; they have served the United States of America.

So I've got news for you, John McCain: We all put our country first.

I loved this line, which was beautifully delivered:

What the naysayers don't understand is that this election has never been about me; it's about you.

It's about you.

This was also a corker of a passage:

You know, this country of ours has more wealth than any nation, but that's not what makes us rich. We have the most powerful military on Earth, but that's not what makes us strong.

Our universities and our culture are the envy of the world, but that's not what keeps the world coming to our shores.

Instead, it is that American spirit, that American promise, that pushes us forward even when the path is uncertain; that binds us together in spite of our differences; that makes us fix our eye not on what is seen, but what is unseen, that better place around the bend.

That promise is our greatest inheritance. It's a promise I make to my daughters when I tuck them in at night and a promise that you make to yours, a promise that has led immigrants to cross oceans and pioneers to travel west, a promise that led workers to picket lines and women to reach for the ballot.

It is interesting that Obama said "we are the country of Roosevelt...of John Kennedy". Both of those had similar outside convention acceptance speeches in 1936 and 1960 respectively. Some commentators feared a "Kinnock NEC roar," or a "Dean Scream" from Obama in the huge theatre of the Invesco Field stadium in Denver. But they reckoned without his huge and natural gravitas.

This wasn't a speech that brought a tear to my eye - as did the DNC speeches of Ted Kennedy and Bill Clinton. But it was, above all, a Presidential speech.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Bill makes me go all gooey

I really am a great big quivering weapy old woolly Liberal Hector, I know.

Last night, it was Kleenex time when I watched Ted Kennedy at the DNC. Tonight I've watched Bill Clinton at the same love-fest (click below). His speech had me enthralled. As usual, he combined a folksy way with words, with technical brilliance in dissecting the world's problems.

If you want an example of his fantastic speaking skill, you only need to look at this phrase:

People the world over have always been more impressed by the power of our example than by the example of our power.

Yes, it's simplistic and even a little trite. Like something a old fashioned school mistress would say. But, my goodness, it's powerful and had them on their feet in Denver.

One little doubt at the back of my mind, though: Call me an old cynic, but poor old Barack Obama has a lot resting on his shoulders. It's almost as if dear old Billy boy was saying: "The Republicans have mucked things up so much - this boy can't lose, can he?"

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Well done Ted!

The US political conventions can often seem rather strange affairs to British eyes. All that frothy hysteria and those balloons dropping from the roof. But this week there was a speech which cut through all that. Given the state of his health, it was remarkable that Senator Edward Kennedy even made it to Denver. It was even more remarkable that he made a barnstorming and passionate speech which raised the roof. Click below to see it in full. It's great to see him in full voice!

Most of the Tory front bench are obese

Andrew Lansley says that the Tories shouldn't go on about obesity but makes the second speech by a senior Tory in two months about it!

Could Lansley actually define what he means by obesity? Technically it is 25%+ Body Fat ratio for men and 32%+ for women.

Now let's see how many Tory shadow cabinet members are above that.

Certainly N.Soames. But many besides.

Can David Cameron honestly say he is below 25% body fat ratio? He looks a bit blobby on holiday (left).

Lansley himself? He's got quite a double chin on him (above).

Seriously, I have spent years measuring my Body Fat Ratio and, although I look like a beanstalk, I often go above 25%. Lansley talks about "no excuses" for obesity - so let's see him taking a lead and releasing his body fat ratio numbers!
The only Tory front benchers I've seen who look under 25% are William Hague and Dominic Grieve.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

"I've a feeling we're not in Kansas any more"

Daddy Obama smiling from ear to ear on the big screen, while his kids point and squeal excitedly.

It's a PR man's wet dream.

"Daddy, What city are you in?"

"I'm in Kansas City, Sweetie".

Monday, August 25, 2008

Democrats - urgent need for Unity

On the eve of the Democratic National Convention it is a great relief that:

(a) The Florida and Michigan delegations have had their full voting rights restored.


(b) Hillary Clinton is set to release her voting delegates to Obama.

Both these things should go some way to further restoring the unity of the Democrats. They urgently need that unity. Polls show that there are a significant number of Clinton supporters (21% in one poll) say they will vote for McCain.

John McCain is a formidable foe for Obama. I very much doubt that any Democrat actually wants another four or eight years of a Bush look-a-like in the White House. There is therefore an urgent need for the Democrats to stop playing silly wotsits and show real unity this week.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Cameron's real holiday

The prancing about with a frisbee at Padstow was just for show. Now he's getting down to a real holiday on a luxury yacht. Bless him.

Cameron deconstructed

In the Observer, Carole Cadwalladr mounts a very skilful deconstruction of David Cameron. He tries to be "one of the people" by harping on about his love for Gavin and Stacey. However, the characters in the programme are the very antithesis of the perfect family which Cameron strives to encourage:

What's occurring, Dave, is that you're unable to spot a bandwagon without leaping on board it and your attempt to parlay a cultural star's populist appeal into political capital is both pathetic and obvious, only this time around, butt, you're out of your depth.

...David Cameron's problem isn't with his reading of Gavin and Stacey, it's with his reading of everything else. Examine the facts. Nessa is a single mother whose baby is the accidental product of a one-night stand and who is no longer with the child's father. Stacey's mother appears to have no means of support and her uncle is an unemployed homosexual. How do they fit into Tory policies on the family?

Glenrothes MP was suing his own government

In a disclosure it says will be "acutely embarrassing" for Prime Minister, The Independent reports:

The Labour MP whose death forced the latest by-election to threaten Gordon Brown's premiership was suing the Government over its refusal to pay compensation for the illness that killed him.

10% of Labour people would vote Liberal Democrat

An interesting polling snippet via the unusual source of Teletext:

More than 10% of voters who "generally speaking" think of themselves as Labour have said they would vote Liberal Democrat, and 8% would vote Tory.

That's from a ComRes poll for the Independent on Sunday.

That Ocado moment

Janet Street-Porter has a go at Nick Clegg in the Independent:

Nick reveals that his wife is "gravitating towards Sainsbury's from Ocado" in order to save money. WAKE UP LOVE! Haven't the Cleggs heard that Netto, Aldi and Lidl are the shopping destinations of thousands of voters who can't even afford Sainsbury's, let alone Waitrose?

Nick Clegg seems have started something. The Telegraph reckons that his revelation that he has, amongst other belt tightening measures, switched from Ocado to Sainsburys for his weekly shop, "must have resonated with families across the country".

The paper compares prices and finds that Nick Clegg's family could get even better bargains elsewhere:

Analysis of 30 popular items from a range of stores, however, reveals he could have saved even more. A typical weekly basket, worth £76.86 at Ocado, costs £70.69 at Sainsbury's, £69.43 at Tesco and £65.67 at Asda.

I am very disappointed that they didn't include Lidl or Aldi, or indeed using the local market for some items, in their survey. Despite having a name for the place that, allegedly, "chavs shop", Lidl is popular with "foodies". Their buying strategy seems to be misunderstood. Rather than selling cheap produce cheaply, Lidl seem to keep their prices down by bulk buying reasonably quality items across Europe in single lines. So, you might only have one choice of sliced meat, for example, there and the label is in German, but by golly it is cheap. Over at Ocado/Waitrose you have 53 choices of different sliced meat but you pay through the nose to shop where Mrs Bucket shops.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Joe Biden is Obama's running mate

And it'll be announced this afternoon our time.

(Unless of course I'm wrong!!)

That seems the inevitable, though not 100% certain, conclusion from reading the runes on Tagean Goddard's Political Wire.

Come off it, which unsuccssef

Joe Biden is Obama's running mate

Update 9.02: It's now officially on Obama's web site and the relevant text message has been sent to supporters.

Sen. Barack Obama has picked Delaware Sen. Joe Biden to be his running mate, two Democratic sources tell CNN.

Biden brings huge foreign policy experience to the ticket, as well as some grey hairs and gravitas. He will also make an excellent "attack dog" in the campaign.

His disadvantages are large:

1. He shows up Obama as inexperienced in foreign affairs, perhaps emphasising that inexperience

2. It seems that Biden makes some sort of gaffe during every campaign he's involved in.

3. Biden must surely rate as a "Washington insider" and therefore detracts from Obama's "Change" message.

Is Biden it?

(For Obama's running mate, that is.)

But then again, may be it's possibly Chet Edwards (which would be a laugh - he's George Bush's House representative).

Then again, it could be anyone of 98 other people.

Biden is gathering his family. And this article nicely argues his pros and cons.

But he is a Washington insider - so the Obama change message might take a hit. But I am sure that has been thought through - as has Biden's crhonic foot and mouth disease.

Oh, and by the way, I've lost £30 on this nonsense. Richardson! Phah! Gore! Phah! Nunn! Phah!

'Tories not ready for office' - FT leader

The Financial Times leader today uses Boris Johnson's record to ask whether the Tories are ready for office nationally. The verdict is not entirely favourable:

...Boris Johnson’s first few weeks in City Hall have raised disturbing questions about the fitness of the Tories for office....For most voters there has been little to show for Mr Johnson’s seismic victory. Despite his masterful election campaign, his administration appears to lack what political consultants call “a narrative” – a vision that ordinary voters can identify with. Together with the disarray over his appointments, it suggests a lack of readiness for office.

'Hard Times' by Nicholas Clegg

The Independent relates how La Famille Clegg is having to tighten its belt:

-No more Waitrose - it's Lidl Sainsburys for the Cleggs now
-Belt tightening caused by a "painful" move from a fixed rate mortgage
-Turning down the heating
-No more hotels abroad for hols - it's shacking up with the in-laws
-An Electric moped used instead of a car ("Hurrah!" on the green front)

It is good to see that our PR girls and boys are bringing this sort of human story into the media.

Overall, I can see people generally being sympathetic to this Clegg story. However, I think the sympathy will be more heartfelt in the Home Counties and the more salubrious parts of the country, than elsewhere.

Having to change from Ocado (the web arm of Waitrose) to Sainsburys is likely to be laughed at in some quarters. We're not exactly talking Skid Row here are we? If Nick Clegg was skulking along on Friday evenings to Lidls to scrape up "passed sell-by date" bargains at Lidl's "reduced for a quickie" shelf, then it might indicate a serious situation.

That said, this Clegg picture comes across as human and sincere. But they are still sitting on some fairly decent equity for a house in one of the most prestigious parts of Putney, with two way-above-average salaries coming in.

So I doubt whether this article is going to excite buckets of tears of sympathy. But I suspect Team Clegg knows that. This does at least bring a little human dimension to the Cleggster.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

A really tricky question for politicians

Let's be honest, for politicians, there are difficult questions like:

-How would you solve world hunger?

-How would you solve the West Lothian question?

-What target would you set for carbon emissions for 2025?

....and then there are really, really tough questions like:

-How many houses do you own?

....And of course, US Presidential candidate John McCain couldn't answer such a tricky poser, so, when asked, he said to Politico:

I think — I'll have my staff get to you. It's condominiums where — I'll have them get to you.

Give him a break. It's a really difficult question. And he's only running for President of the USA.

Cripes! Stone the crows!

You can see Boris Johnson discovering his family history (or at least the interesting part of it) here. Last night's episode of "Who do think you are" on BBC1 was very entertaining. Yes, Boris is a caricature of himself in real life - it has been confirmed.

As usual the BBC were very choosy in the lines of Boris' family which were followed up.

Apparently Boris had a mother. You wouldn't have guessed it from the programme, which entirely focussed on the ancestry of his paternal grandparents.

Boris' great-grandfather was lynched. And his grandmother was descended from George II (along with several thousand other people) via a German King with a very swanky palace.

Boris was interested in discovering the history of the de Pfeffel silver. Just say "Piffle silver" - it's much easier. (He is Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson, after all) It turned out that the silver was given to a great-grandmother, who was the illegitimate daughter of a German prince via an actress, by a German King. It was then passed down the family until Boris' grandparents sold it to pay for the holiday of a lifetime in Australia. Mind you, they had spent their lives farming amongst the lichen on Exmoor, so I think they deserved it.

So Boris, who should have inherited the silver by virtue of his "De Pfeffel/Piffle" surname, is silverless. Poor thing.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

A body blow for Boris

Although lacking the drama of the Ray Lewis resignation, Tim Parker's departure from the London City Hall team is perhaps more of a blow to the Boris project.

The media storm created by this news has been limited. I agree with Jeremy Hargreaves that Londoners are unlikely to be shocked to the core by it. Taxes going up, traffic stopping or rubbish piling up in the street might cause Boris' poll ratings to plummet. But 'bums on seats' shifting around are unlikely to trouble the man on the Clapham omnibus.

But if I was in Boris' shoes, I would be feeling pretty shocked. I doubt whether he will be that shocked. But he ought to be.

It all goes back to an old theory about Ronald Reagan. Let me say up front that I was no fan of Reagan's politics. Of course, not. But he was a charming fellow. He managed to glide through his presidency, glad-handing all who came before him. The theory was that he knew how to delegate. He knew which decisions to take himself, which to delegate, how to keep the right distance from those he delegated to and, above all, he chose his appointees well. That was the theory. So he could be nice Mr Reagan, spending his time making sure his tie was perfectly tied and charming all before him, while the dirty work was done by a highly talented team. I might mention in passing, however, that Ronald Reagan was Governor of California for eight years before he was President. So he had top-notch experience of running what would be the tenth largest economy in the world, if it were a country.

So when Boris walked into City Hall, his first choice seemed to be to follow the Reagan route, no doubt aided by some helpful suggestions from Team Cameron. He started bringing in a talented team and delegated, albeit in way.

Beginners to the art of delegation often think that it involves simply choosing experienced staff and telling them to do tasks. Of course, it is devilishly more difficult than that. It involves endless subtlety and judgment.

For example, it is a good thing to be extremely familiar with the tasks you are delegating. So, when Boris delegated planning to someone (Simon Milton? Ian Clement?) he did it knowing not the first thing about planning. Oh, I take that back. He knew that it involved balsa-wood models.

So Boris broke the first rule of delegation. Know what you are delegating. That is, really know it. Never delegate anything you don't understand. It will end up biting you in the proverbial.

Boris then broke the second rule of delegating. Know what you have delegated and to whom. And make sure they know what you have delegated to them. It has to be crystal clear. Written down. Worked through in detail. No wishy-washiness.

Look at this for an example of classic wishy-washiness of the first order courtesy of a Labour group press release quoted in Dave Hill's write-up of Boris' first Assembly question time:

The new Mayor of London Boris Johnson appeared today not to know who is making critically important decisions on his behalf. When asked if it was appropriate that he should delegate strategic planning decisions to an unelected, unaccountable adviser, Mayor Johnson insisted he had not. Yet since he was appointed two weeks ago, Ian Clement - one of Boris Johnson's deputy mayors - has been writing to London Assembly Members saying 'the Mayor has delegated his planning decisions to me'.

Planning is a fiendishly complex business. To simply toss this key role over to someone in the first few days of an administration, without knowing the first thing about the subject, is utter madness.

The Tim Parker departure really does blow a major hole in the whole Boris delegation strategy. Parker was meant to become London's "Chief Executive". The idea was, no doubt, that Boris would swan about charming everyone, while Tim Parker would get on with the heavy lifting in the background.

But now he has gone. Oh dear. And his departure has allegedly been put down to, among other things, a bit of a faux pas by Boris. That faux pas was in the area of, you guessed it, the art of delegation. Oh dear.

Boris thought he would delegate chairmanship of Transport for London to Parker. Then, he belatedly had second thoughts (which is absolutely infuriating for anyone who looks for some form of order in the administration of London). Presumably, Boris realised that (a) he'd be leaving himself (Boris) with very little to do and (b) Parker would run Transport for London like a business. After all, Parker is a businessman who amassed a multi-million fortune by making tough cost-cutting decisions. They don't call him the "Prince of Darkness" for nothing. Sadly, the thing about running public services, as opposed to a business, is that your "shareholders" are also your customers. So if you cut costs in all but benign ways or ways beneficial to the customer, you end up being voted down at the next shareholders' meeting (in this case an election).

So, to sum up, Boris' attempt to be Ronald Reagan has failed. He has, in simple terms, completely and utterly bolloxed up his first attempt at delegation.

If this were a computer game called "Delegator", the large words "GAME OVER" would now illuminate the face of Boris as he stares blinkingly into the console. A total wipe out.

So what is left? Well, dear old Boris can now start again. Hire some people with a little more experience of public services and make sure they are properly vetted.

But all these lessons for Boris are being learnt at the expense of London's taxpayers.

The other choice for Boris, and one which I think he will inevitably have to make, to a large extent, is to actually get his hands dirty. Yes, actually get involved in the detail of transport and planning himself. He'll enjoy it. But I forsee some mistakes along the line. They will, no doubt, be entertaining for Boris watchers, but sooner or later, Londoners will stop laughing.

Everybody wants to find a loyal LibDem in their ward....Mark Thatcher RIP

We all battle away at trying, often successfully, to interest new supporters of the LibDems.

So, it is like "manna from heaven" when a ready-made loyal and experienced LibDem activist "drops into one's lap" and moves to one's ward. For a LibDem activist, it is a bit like Christmas. Someone who knows the ropes, has shown proven loyalty to the cause...great!

So it was with great delight a few years ago that we found out that an active LibDem from Islington had moved into our ward. He had been a council candidate and was an experienced campaigner. Trebles all round! But, more relevantly, take round a bundle of Focuses immediately. That we did and the said golden find, Mark Thatcher, was a loyal deliverer for years. He progressed to being very actively involved in our campaigning and then served as Chair of Newbury Liberal Democrats for several years. (He had previously been Chair of Islington LibDems). He was particularly keen on canvassing and surveying. He was a key component in several of our election successes, in particular a series of Thatcham by-election successes last year.

It was clear that Mark was a totally committed Liberal Democrat (well, he'd have to be to patiently take all the predictable jibes about his baroneted namesake). I also noticed that he "walked the talk" with his work for a charity and travelling to work by train and bike. But, mostly, Mark was a gentle, unassuming and faultlessly patient and affable man. It was a pleasure to work with him.

It is therefore very distressing to mention that Mark has passed away after a battle with cancer. Details of an event being held in his memory on Friday in Newbury are here. That link is to a participative site set up by Mark's family during his illness.

My sincere thoughts and prayers are with Mark's family.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Real Tory party revealed - again

It is always fascinating when the true Tory party jumps out of the box. Alan Duncan, Tory frontbencher, has condemned Brian Haw's protest outside parliament as a "vulgar and pointless display" serving "no justifiable democratic purpose".

I wonder if he checked this with David Davis.

A lot of protest is vulgar. That is what happens in a democracy. As for "pointless", surely that is up to Brian Haw and his colleagues? It's a free country. As for serving "no democratic purpose", again that is up to Haw and colleagues. Surely displays of free speech and protest are a sign of a healthy democracy. Brian Haw serves as much of a democratic purpose as the rest of us when we express our views in public - and that includes Mr Duncan.

I do not condone law-breaking (the article arises from a court case involving the protesters and Duncan).

The protest is not "demeaning" to parliament. Quite the opposite. It is a reassuring reminder that our country is free.

The attack by Duncan is nauseatingly arrogant. But we should be grateful that, once again, the true Tory party is revealed. He sees protest as inconvenient and one can imagine him ordering the water hoses into Parliament Square to wash out the protesters.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Cameron the historic epoch-making social reformer: doggy not catty

Gilderoy Lockhart, author of "Magical Me" from Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
Over a short break in Tunbridge Wells, I pledged to myself, with inverse appropriateness, to be less angry. Less of a ticker-tape machine, knee-jerkingly condemning every utterance from David Cameron, par exemple. Well, I did very well. I managed to breathe in and out for half a day before pressing "create" on the subject of the Camshaft.

Today he's had a major launch of his book "Cameron on Cameron". (One might even call it "Cam squared") It's a series of interviews with the editor of GQ magazine (arguably a "lads' mag", which may be why Michael Gove has rowed back on his condemnation of the said publicational genre and invited them to tea at the House of Commons). Cameron uses the book as a keynote re-launch of his social reform agenda, which he says will be as historic as Margaret Thatcher's economic reform agenda (presumably he will be picking a fight with some unfortunate echelon of society such as she did with the miners). He says he wants to take on the mantle of Disraeli.

So let's briefly recap:
  • "Cameron on Cameron"

  • "Style magazine" editor

  • Aspirations to equal the achievements of Thatcher and Disraeli

  • Social reform

Ummm. Something doesn't quite add up does it? I was expecting Mr Cameron to, at last, demonstrate a bit of seriousness. Something weighty.

For a kick-off, the title of the book is not auspicious. Who writes a book about themselves and calls it basically "Me on Me"? It reminds me of the character Gilderoy Lockhart (above), played by Kenneth Branagh in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. Lockhart is uber-smug (indeed one feels that one has to don sunglasses to deflect the glare coming from his nether regions) and talks about himself somewhat, plugging his auto-biography, which is called "Magical Me".

I have great respect for Dylan Jones, editor of GQ. But he seems a strange choice to co-author a book which is meant to lay the foundations of a political thesis similar to that worked up by the likes of Keith Joseph and Airey Neave for Thatcher. One would have expected such a co-author to have done something like politics at Oxford, rather than being a graduate of Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design. Don't get me wrong. That college has my huge respect. Jarvis Cocker, one of its alumni, is one of my heroes.

Disreali? Forgive me, but I have not read a book on Disraeli. I have read Jenkin's brilliant biography of one of his contemporaries, Gladstone. Disreali's main achievement appears to have been to stitch together the Conservative party after the schism caused by the Corn Laws, which also led to the creation of the Liberal Party. Disraeli was also winner of the "Order of the Brown Nose" for his relations with Queen Victoria. This was in contrast to Gladstone, who was not one of Victoria's favourites, to put it mildly. Disreali co-engineered the 1867 Reform Bill with Lord Derby, mainly on the rebound from a similar Gladstone measure which failed to get through parliament. There were some foreign successes with the Suez Canal and the Congress of Berlin in 1878.

So, someone will have to explain. Why does Cameron see Disraeli as someone to aspire to? What vast achievements did Disraeli attain that Cameron aspires to equaling? It is baffling. Presumably, stitching back the Conservative party after its 1997 defeat would be the main thing he has in mind. I don't know.

I am considering ordering this Cameron on Cameron book from by library. I am certainly not going to buy it. So I will reserve judgment on the vast social reform agenda which apparently is meant to be within the covers of this mighty tome.

The BBC have been kind enough to offer some tasty morselettes from the oevre:

-Cameron sees himself as more doggy than catty.
-His wife was a Goth.
-They row about "arrangements".
-"William Hague once said to me, 'Being leader of the Conservative Party and wearing a hat are incompatible'."
-Asked for his favourite political joke: "[Lib Dem leader] Nick Clegg, at the moment." I am on my knees with mirth.

I like this quote:

(Blair) wasn't tough enough with his team. They kept saying, I am sorry I'm not going to accept this, I don't want to go. Well, I'm sorry but in my position when I want someone to go I simply tell them, and then that's that. You have to be tough about it.

That'll come back to haunt him!

Anyway, to give Cameron a chance I turned to Andrew Sparrow and a recently updated Comment is Free piece. He summarised Cameron's philosophy via one of Cameron's quotes:

We want to respond to what should be a new post-bureaucratic age, by decentralising power, by giving people more opportunity and control over their lives, by making families stronger and society more responsible.

The problem with this statement is that it sounds like a cop-out. What measures will Cameron introduce, other than nanny-knows-best lectures from himself, to facilitate his goal? Well, he's announced a tax benefit for married couples. I really have not seen anything yet which suggests that this is anything other than a vote-buying give-away which will do absolutely nothing to achieve what it pretends to aim to achieve. Couples don't break up for want of a couple of tenners a week. And any married couple which comes together or stays together due to the incentive of £20 a week would not appear to have what it takes to stay together long-term.

Sparrow quotes Richard Reeves, recently appointed director of Demos, giving another example where a "solid" Cameron proposal is not promising:

Cameron verges on hypocrisy on the issue of state action. He has set up a Young Adult Trust, which he says is 'working in partnership with many of Britain's leading youth organisations to develop plans for all 16-year-olds that help teach them the responsibilities of adulthood'. A national programme to teach adulthood? If Ed Balls announced it, the Tories would be turning it into a piece of 'nanny state gone mad' propaganda. Cameron is quite right that Labour is very often guilty of knee-jerk statism, but he is equally at risk of unthinking anti-statism.

So the jury is still out. As Dylan Jones explains via video on Amazon, this book helps to explain who Cameron is and that he is earnest and genuine.

The problem is that I am yet to see anything to convince me that David Cameron actually understands the true scope of problems in the UK today, in their true perspective. I am not convinced he actually wants to solve anything other than the dilemma of his own job title. And I am not convinced he has any idea of a programme to solve whatever it is he thinks he wants to solve.

Indulging in a hagiographic book which discusses his pet preferences, is not an auspicious way in which to launch what is supposed to be an historic movement for social reform.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

GB are third in the Olympics medals table

Well done to our girls and boys. We seem to be doing particularly well
at anything that involves water or bikes.

Friday, August 15, 2008

"Cities unlimited" report editor speaks

Oliver Marc Hartwich, editor of the report on urban regeneration which caused such a storm, has written an explanatory piece on Conservative Home's platform. I do have great sympathy for Tim Leunig. He has been receiving abusive emails after his address was published in the local press in Liverpool. I hope he is able to get back to normal life soon. The report is an earnest and academically valid one, and it is ridiculous that it received such an unjustified furore (much to do with the timing - silly season/Cameron visit to the north). I apologise for being part of the "jumping to conclusions" mob myself. The full report is here.

That Bones report in full!!

Well, I felt there was a need to re-familiarise ourselves with the full lyrics of "Dry Bones" or "Dem Bones" or "Dem Dry Bones". Lyrics inspired by the words of the prophet Ezekiel, written in 571 BC, as sung (among many other artists) by the Delta Rhythm Boys (below from YouTube):

Ezekiel connected dem dry bones
Ezekiel connected dem dry bones
Ezekiel connected dem dry bones
Now I hear the word of the Lord

Well, your toe bone connected to your foot bone
Your foot bone connected to your heel bone
Your heel bone connected to your ankle bone
Your ankle bone connected to your leg bone
Your leg bone connected to your knee bone
Your knee bone connected to your thigh bone
Your thigh bone connected to your hip bone
Your hip bone connected to your back bone
Your back bone connected to your shoulder bone
Your shoulder bone connected to your neck bone
Your neck bone connected to your head bone
I hear the word of the Lord!

A dem bones, dem bones gonna walk around
A dem bones, dem bones, gonna walk around
A dem bones, dem bones, gonna walk around
I hear the word of the Lord!

Disconnect dem bones, dem dry bones
Disconnect dem bones, dem dry bones
Disconnect dem bones, dem dry bones
An' I hear the word of the Lord!

Well, your head bone connected from your neck bone
Your neck bone connected from your shoulder bone
Your shoulder bone connected from your back bone
Your back bone connected from your hip bone
Your hip bone connected from your thigh bone
Your thigh bone connected from your knee bone
Your knee bone connected from your leg bone
Your leg bone connected from your ankle bone
Your ankle bone connected from your heel bone
Your heel bone connected from your foot bone
Your foot bone connected from your toe bone
An' I hear the word of the Lord! Oh well

A dem bones, dem bones, dem dry bones
A dem bones, dem bones, dem dry bones
A dem bones, dem bones, dem dry bones
An' I hear the word of the Lord! Mmmh

A dem bones, dem bones, dem dry bones
A dem bones, dem bones, dem dry bones
A dem bones, dem bones, dem dry bones
An' I hear the word of the Lord!

Littlebrain has a downer on Obama

If you want a good reason to want Obama to win the US presidential election, here it is.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Bones - let's stop messing about and get on with it

Many thanks indeed to Ryan Cullen for whipping up a link to the Bones Comission Report pdf.

Thank goodness this report, albeit a summary, has now been released. It really is a classic lesson. The more information you release and the earlier you release it, the less furore/conspiracy theories whip up.

Generally the report is written in sensible terms and I agree with the overall proposition: that professional managers should manage and democratically elected people should set direction and question execution at appropriate intervals. Think of a school governing body. It's exactly the same. The headteacher does the business day-to-day. The governors set direction and question occasionally.

I also agree that it is a bit ridiculous that only 10% of the party's budget is controlled at federal level.

By the way, I like the way that this report is very much geared towards doubling our MPs. I note also that there are some interesting rumbles in it about "wholesale constitutional overhaul". Although it says that this can't be done two years before an election, it appears to leave hanging in the air the question as to whether this is needed - with the apparent implication that it is. That should lead to some interesting debates!

Realign regional parties to fit European constituencies. A brilliant idea! Why didn't I think of that? (Or anyone else for that matter?...they probably did somewhere in the debates on this subject. I remember the protracted heart-searching about the future of the former Chilterns region, for example). It would nice to give the European constituencies some sort of relevance other than for every five years.

Radically, the report recommends doubling the size of the campaigns department! Wonderful! Got for it!

I see that there are comments that we do not extract best value from our parliamentary staff. I can quite believe that, given that they are employed by many separate MPs of differing levels of management skill.

A radical overhaul of fundraising is recommended. Excellent.

The idea of emphasising specific "packages" for donors to support is excellent.

I am glad that the report emphasises the need to uphold the highest standards in public life.

The COG/management board seems to me to be entirely proper and required. Let's stop messing about and get on with it.

I am all for the suggestions to treat our members better. I used to push the idea of monthly contact with members via handing them their latest Focus or whatever. A few words go a long way.

Embracing the supporter network (in addition to the member network) is absolutely right.

Thanking and rewarding members and supporters?! Crikey! Just what I used to harp on about when I was a membership secretary!

Create a Techonology Board? Excellent idea!

Organise bloggers and commenters? Superb.

"...ensure that...all elected Liberal Democrats tithe to the party...". Quite biblical that and something I entirely applaud.

New forms of communication to attack the general election after next. Excellent.

A £10K "diversity premium" for seats which select a BME candidate. Excellent.

There followed a whole series of reasonable and exciting ideas.

What holds us back is not our policies, nor our values. It is our structures, our culture and our decision-making processes.

I agree with that and the whole report. Now let's get on with it and here is some light relief:

The joys of Reading

Reading, Berkshire, is a wonderful town. Tim Leunig says that it is hugely successful, whereas he says that the "raison d'etre" for places like Liverpool has "gone away".

I first moved to Reading in 1977 and have lived or worked in or around it for 30 years. It is a super place.

How can I say this without upsetting the excellent residents of excellent Reading?

A word of advice to anyone thinking of leaving Liverpool to live in Reading.


McCain: Statesmanship by Wikipedia

Although unable to use a computer (though he is learning), it is reassuring that it seems that John McCain can use Wikipedia on which to base passages of his speech on the Gerogia crisis.

Various reactions to this news are here.

McCain aides said "that there are only so many ways to state basic historical facts and dates and that any similarities to Wikipedia were only coincidental. But they wouldn't say outright that it wasn't consulted."

Prescott boosts croquet

The last laugh?

Sales of croquet equipment have gone up 40% since John Prescott was pictured playing the game. That was an incident which caused him embarrassment then, because he was in charge of the country at the time. Well, Macmillan read Trollope. Prescott played croquet.

Presco's been awarded a sort of "golden mallet" for services to the sport, having given it a new classless appeal.

I hope he's careful where he swings that mallet. He doesn't want to swipe any mullet haired countryside alliance folks, does he?

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The Camshaft's excruciation

There is something exquisite about this. Policy Exchange was set up by Nicholas Boles, who David Cameron pushed into London's City Hall to keep Boris on the straight and narrow, and Michael Gove, Cameron's chief right-hand greaser.

Dear old Policy Exchange, albeit aided and abetted by our own Tim Leunig, decided to issue a report telling all northerners to get on the M1/M6 immediately and set up shop in Cambridge or Oxford or areas in London to be made available as and when (before which time no doubt transit camps just outside Maidenhead (Terry Wogan's garden?) will be used). But they issued the report on the very day that Dear Old Cameron, fresh from blowing himself out on Ricky Stein's fish and chips, commenced a regal three day tour of northern cities.

So now the poor old Camshaft is well and and has to spend the first minute of every interview fending off questions about the report.

And, oh look, he's actually had to turn round and call the report "insane" (which it isn't really - it has some sound rationales running through it in an academic sort of way, but is, in a normal way, a little bit on the crrrrraaaaaaaazeeee side).

You have to laugh. Perhaps by the end of his three days, Camshaft might end up ruefully remembering the song below. However, for a roll call of towns north of the Watford gap, I prefer "Letter to America" (also included below for your delectation, and indeed, "Lochaber no more" perhaps as a populist and poignant goodbye to Dear old Russell Johnston, who represented that fine area).

Policy Exchange report in full - not so barmy but still pretty crazy

Update: Tim Leunig was talking about this report on the BBC London lunchtime news. He said that the "rationale" (i.e. their inductrial basis) behind cities in the north had "gone away". He was standing in London saying that. I'd like to see him say that in Manchester on North West regional television. While he may be right in a detached academic sense, if you ignore the invention of computer networking, he has the stark reality to answer. The North-West has 5.5% unemployment. London has 7.3% unemployment overall, plus a higher cost of living, traffic problems, schools shortages and, above all, a staggeringly high cost of housing. And let's be clear: the vast majority of jobs in London are in business services. Manufacturing is declining. So, if people are encouraged successfully to move from the north to London, the chances are that many of them will be travelling to an office to sit in front of a computer. They could do that in Manchester (or indeed their home in the north of England) via cabling which already exists!!!!!
By the way, the report does also say that there should be traffic of business the other way - ie. from London/South-East to the north.


The Policy Exchange report "Cities Unlimited - making urban regeneration work" can be read in full here. It is perhaps well summed up by this passage from the executive summary:

There is no realistic prospect that our
regeneration towns and cities can converge
with London and the South East. There is,
however, a very real prospect of encouraging
significant numbers of people to move
from those towns to London and the
South East. We know that the capital and
its region are economic powerhouses that
can grow and create new high-skilled,
high-wage service sector hubs. At the same
time market mechanisms can be used to
induce some firms to move out of the
South East.

Whatever happened to encouraging high tech solutions - for example things like tele-working? The report alludes briefly to clusters of new industries in places like Manchester and Newcastle. But it's overall conclusion is rather depressing, if, in the overall sense, reflecting an overwhelming south-east-centric economic pull. What I would like to see is a defiance of this "pull" and the shifting of certain functions out of London and the south east. For example. the Liberal Democrat proposal to move civil service functions out of London and the South East has much to recommend it.

It really is daft to be moving people into the already over-crowded and hyper-house priced South-East (although I acknowledge the report demonstrates ways unused land can be used in London) when they could be staying where they are and using computer networks to connect with the South East and the rest of the world. Big corporations are now so spread out across the world that geography has become meaningless. You can have a conference call with people from Hungary, Ireland, Scotland, England, Australia, India, US etc etc with networked "virtual conference rooms" - and you don't even think about where people are.

What I would like to see is more encouragement of this type of working than what seems to be a very old-fashioned attitude of moving people around the country. It's crazy.

Liver cancer and its aftermath

This article is contributed by Sarah Scrafford, who regularly writes on the subject of Midwife Degree Programs. She invites your questions, comments and freelancing job inquiries at her email address: .

Cancer is a deadly disease, but we do not realize how it can affect us unless one of our loved ones has been diagnosed with it. Liver cancer, which is the fifth most common cancer in the world, is of two types – one that originates in the liver and the other that spreads from other parts of the body. The first one is known as hepatocellular carcinoma. The second one, metastatic liver cancer is more common.

When someone is diagnosed with liver cancer, it’s an unbelievable shock; but what’s even harder to take is when the prognosis is not good. When doctors are not able to find out where your cancer is originating from, there’s very little hope of treating the disease successfully. Even the most intense chemotherapy works in curing the cancer only when you can identify the source of the cancerous growth.

An early diagnosis offers hope for both the patient and his/her family. At least you can prevent the spread of the growth and stop it from eating away your still healthy organs. If your oncologist can identify the origin of the cancer as the liver, then a transplant is a possibility, providing you are able to find a donor in time.

When cancer strikes, and if you’re able to trace it at an early stage, doctors remove the affected part to prevent it from spreading. The problem with liver cancer (one that originates at the liver) is that you cannot just remove the liver from the body without replacing it with a suitable alternative.

Depending on how advanced the cancer is, patients are offered the choice between aggressive and palliative treatment. While the former is an all-out effort to fight the cancer, the latter focuses on keeping the patient comfortable and free of pain till the end comes. Opting for chemotherapy is an expensive and painful procedure – the patient suffers the side effects of both the disease and the treatment. Loss of appetite, vomiting, tiredness and fatigue, hair loss and other symptoms take a toll on both the body and mind. Palliative care is equally painful; waiting to die knowing that you can do nothing to stop the impending end is a strain on both the patient and his/her family and loved ones.

Very often the patient withdraws into a depression and finds no incentive to go about his/her daily work even on the days they feel good. Family and friends must be there to offer support, but when you know someone you love is slowly dying, it’s hard to control your grief and put on a brave face day after day. Seeing a loved one in unbearable pain is extremely hard to take, knowing that there’s nothing you can do to help them except offer moral support.

Cancer has caused havoc in the lives of two people I love, and if I had one wish, I would pray that God prevented this deadly disease from attacking mankind.