Sunday, September 27, 2009

Her Majesty's a pretty nice girl....

As a Republican and an avowed hater of men who go anywhere near a bottle of hair dye, I suppose I could have been nasty and written a title like "McCartney the Royal Toady". But that would have been uncalled for. Paul McCartney, when all's said and dyed, has, it seems, retained a wide-eyed innocence from his childhood. A laudatory essay on the Queen which he wrote when he was 10 years old has been unearthed.

It has interesting echoes with a tiny track on Abbey Road. Abbey Road has got a few interesting, very short tracks on it. One is "The End" which is part of a Medley just before the er....end of the album. It is interesting to reflect that if you listen to all the Beatles albums in the order they were recorded, "The End" is fittingly the last thing you will hear (it would be interesting to know if it was the last track they actually recorded), except for the tiny and simple track stuck on the end of "The End" called "Her Majesty". It's a wonderful little end to the album, complete with rather abrupt ending:

Her Majesty

(Lennon/McCartney)

Her Majesty's a pretty nice girl,
but she doesn't have a lot to say
Her Majesty's a pretty nice girl
but she changes from day to day

I want to tell her that I love her a lot
But I gotta get a belly full of wine
Her Majesty's a pretty nice girl
Someday I'm going to make her mine, oh yeah,
Someday I'm going to make her mine.

That track is so short and, I suppose, odd, that it is hardly ever played on the radio. In fact, I have only heard it played on the radio once. That was last week by the (now he's stop being silly like he was on Radio 1) excellent Chris Evans. Well done Mr Evans.

Not wishing to ride a complete coach and horses through copyright law, here's a great video by a young American lady featuring "Her Majesty" on the Ukulele (twice) plus some interesting nonsense in the middle. It's received 655,010 hits on You Tube so it must be relatively good:

(And yes - I couldn't sleep)

EXCLUSIVE: David Cameron is off gorgonzola and Rioja - ergo he is unfit for office

Well if you track back to the original story about Brown's health it seems to be based on a "long list of foods" which he is supposedly not meant to be served. Strangely, this "long list of foods" is so far, in the public domain, a short list of foods. In fact it is just two foods. "Cheese and chianti".

(The story also demands to know where Brown "runs daily" as if to suggest that such an assertion by his spokesperson is made up. Would suggesting that he runs in a private gym be terribly earth-shattering? A treadmill in the Number 11 flat? He doesn't need to go out in Hyde Park to actually run, stupid.)

I have a confession to make. I love cheese, but on two occasions in fifty years when I have gone over the top on the old fromage consumption I have had a headache the following day. On one of these occasions I had to lie down for an hour. So I have to be careful with my beloved cheese.

Once I had to avoid red wine for six months because I appeared to develop a temporary allergy to it. Happily, I can consume it freely these days.

At some stage in the past, if someone could be bothered to draw up a list of foods I should avoid, there might have been "cheese and red wine" on such a list.

When I was much younger (like 40 years ago) I used to throw tantrums when I was losing at "Risk" (a game involving the quest for world domination - it brought out the meglomaniac in me and when I was left owning just Australia I used to flip) and used to throw the board across the room. It was a running family joke for a long time.

I occasionally pick my nose. I do use my handkerchief though (mostly).

So this would put me in the Gordon Brown category it would seem, according to John Ward and Guido. I am one step away from the funny farm. Bring on the strait jacket.

This "cheese and chianti" "long list of foods" has been used to suggest that Brown may be on some very strong anti-depressants, except that "Dr John Crippen" (which is a nom de plume of an actual GP) says that such claims are nonsense.

So that rules out those strong anti-depressants. So what if Brown is on Prozac? As Stephen Tall points out in a comprehensive and typically sensible post, it's reckoned that 15% of the population will face a sever bout of depression at some point in their lives. Prozac is apparently so commonly used that it shows up as a trace element in the water supply.

We really shouldn't get so jumpy about mental health problems. People need to take care of their mental health. Making them jumpy about it will not help the situation.

Guido says Brown is clearly "on the edge" because he picked his nose once and was reported to have thrown a tantrum in the office etc etc. Well come on, he's Prime Minister. He's dealt reasonably well (in the sense of surviving) one of the greatest economic emergencies of our times. His poll ratings are in the toilet. He has every right to be "on the edge".

All this has made me feel: "Well, full marks to Brown for keeping going while all this manure is flying around".

As for Andrew Marr - should he have asked Brown about his health? Of course. It is a free country. But questions are not answers. As is the practice with some American office holders and potential office-holders, I do think that regular health reports for our leaders should be in the public domain. But often they are so edited that they ask more questions than they answer. On balance, I think we should know if our Prime Minister is on medication. However, it shouldn't be problem if he or she is on Prozac, that's for sure.

Is this a scam?

Yesterday I was walking along the street and a rather dodgy looking man walked up to some teenagers and, holding out his mobile phone, said, in tones of some desperation, "Lasses and lad, could you phone this number please?" One of the teenagers duly rang the number he gave them.

My first thought was that it would be insane for anyone to respond to the man's request because he would then have your number on his phone and could phone you whenever he likes.

But quite frankly, I was baffled by the incident. What bona fide reason would the man have for asking someone to phone his mobile? It is utterly perplexing. Any ideas from my reader?

Leopard changes spots: Mail venerates an alleged illegal immigrant

Wonders never cease.

I hesitate to say Baroness Scotland should resign. What do they think in Scotland? - I wonder. I have enormous admiration for the lady.

However. The Mail says that she allegedly did not ask her Tongan employee to show her passport during a ten minute employment interview. As Attorney-General, you would have thought Baroness Scotland would have more sense.

However, reading the Mail story (someone has to, I suppose) one wonders whether the housekeeper is the villain of the piece. She'd been allegedly working illegally here for four years and there is an alleged forged second passport at the heart of the investigations into her.

Scotland (the Baroness not the country) has been fined £5,000 for not carrying out the right checks. Fair dues. But come off it, is an employee, even the Attorney General, meant to be a one person investigation unit in addition to their legal requirements (for the non-performance of which, the Baroness has already fessed up and paid her fine)?

And does this really impact on Baroness Scotland's discharge of her governmental duties? If someone can come up with some evidence of incompetance in her role, that would be different. Perhaps she was too busy concentrating on her governmental role to faff about with paperwork.

Having said that, there appears to have been shocking ignorance of the law shown by the Attorney-General and for that I have great sympathy with the calls for her to resign. But the housekeeper has presumably been paid by the Mail and they are using her story as knocking copy with which to beat Scotland. This seems to be a very unusual, some might say uncomfortable, position for the the Mail. Just read the Mail story and its rosy picture of the housekeeper. It's an extraordinary turnaround for the Mail.

Could Brown snatch victory from the jaws of defeat?

No, actually. But seeing his determined face and his "I do not roll over" statement on the Beeb, one wonders if he might just do a John Major "soapbox" trick and get people's admiration for staying power. You never know, he could just snatch twenty seats for Labour at the next election.

At least, from his Beeb photo, he seems to have finally realised that it is a mistake for him to try to "smile". For that we can all be grateful, whatever our political persuasion.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Shocking Radio 1 ageism - they put on Greg James (23) but no sign of Tony Brandon (76) in the schedules

A confession first. I first listened to Radio 1 when Tony Brandon did the "bit in the middle" lunch time slot. Now, that is going back a bit.

Along with occasional flits round Radio 2, 4, Absolute (the radio not the vodka - which hasn't go an 'e' anyway), XFM, Heart etc, I still do listen to Radio 1, mainly because I am seduced into it by my offspring. Chris Moyles? A great talk show. Scott Mills? Very funny. But I do like Nihal and his 3.15 fact machine which often isn't a fact machine ("Walt Disney has the third largest navy in the world" - yes, of course, if nations go to war using log flume boats).

Unfortunately, Nihal's fact machine is no more at 3.15 because there's been an almighty shake up and Nihal has now been shuffled off to nights. (I'll say this for Radio 1, they certainly cater for lots of tastes in music in non-peak hours when I am not listening.)

So poor old Nihal - I really like the man. But, then again, I am still rather bemused as to why Spoony isn't still on Radio 1 on Saturday mornings. We used to like being official members of his "early doors" club as we ventured, bleary-eyed, to swimming at some ungodly hour.

Jo Whiley has been plonked onto the weekends. Not before time, if you ask me. She breathes too much. She's been replaced by the excellent Fearne Cotton who is much better than Whiley. This has brought forward accusations of ageism from the Daily Mail. Jo Whiley is 43. Come off it. It's Radio 1. There are only two people who have defied age to stay on Radio 1. John Peel and Annie Nightingale (and they never had regular peak weekday slots). Even Simon Bates had to be dragged physically out of the studio, after his fingers were prised forcibly from the desk using a crowbar, in the end.

Edith Bowman has also been shoved on to the weekends. I suspect her ratings weren't too good, darling. I like her. But Fearne Cotton is better. Fearne Cotton is the biz.

But Greg James replaces Edith. He's a bit too whilly-woffly for my liking. But the Daily Mail says he is only 23, so he's been put on to get young listeners. (Well they're doing well to keep fifty year-olds, if I am anything to go by.) (By the way, I have just had an awful thought. I was a radio dee-jay for a few years. But I have just realised that Greg James was born - actually physically born - a clear two years after I did my last radio show. For goodness sake, I've been married for longer than he's been alive! Blimey - I am old).

Ho hum.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Obama cardboard cut-out meets world leaders

This is hilarious. In a few seconds you can see 130 photographs of Obama meeting world leaders at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. He looks precisely the same in each one. Spooky!


Barack Obama's amazingly consistent smile from Eric Spiegelman on Vimeo.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The defrocking of Saint Vincent

James Graham has a brain the size of Asia and spends every waking moment thinking deeply and judiciously about politics (well not really, he also thinks about comics and things). He does the thinking so we don't have to.

I thoroughly recommend his latest offering: Our Vince: from Fred Astaire to Mr Bean? It is such a brilliant post that I struggle to find words to sufficiently describe its brilliance.

Most LibDem party members don't have degrees in politics. They spend most of their time doing a thing called "work" and "life" and only pick up the odd mention of party conference through the filter of the media and life events like blocked drains.

Well, this year I am one of those party members so described above.

As James set outs, our economic policy has been jerked about so much recently that, on the ground, I don't have a clue what it is. Do we want to cut taxes? Or increase taxes? Cut spending? Cut waste? Do we want a local income tax or have we finally gone all Tony Vickers and gone for Land Value taxation?

Or is our economic policy now basically: "What Vince says" ?

Friends come up to me and say "Vince Cable was great on Sky News". "Great" I reply - "I hope he was able to give you an idea of our latest policies, because I haven't got a clue".

Scrap scrapping tuition fees? Don't be silly. OK delay the scrappage a bit but it really is monstrous to ditch such a totemic policy. It removes one of the main reasons for having a Liberal Democrat party in the first place.

A mansion tax? Well, we get caned whenever we mention higher taxes for high earners. But how on earth can we seriously espouse a mansion tax when we are still, as I understand it (though I haven't checked for Vince's latest pronouncement on Sky News this morning) advocating local income tax? The problem with mixing the two is that one contradicts the other in terms of principle. Income tax is a progressive tax based on ability to pay (based on income). A mansion tax is a tax based on the property you happen to be fortunate enough to be living in.

I have to make a confession here. I have a problem with Land Value Taxation. I haven't a clue what it is. Whenever I have tried to understand it, my eyes have glazed over, I have felt the will to live seeping from my being and I have been overwhelmed with the urge to slit my wrists. But I now know that is vaguely associated with the Mansion tax. Great. Except didn't we ditch the rates system because it meant that little old ladies without much income but living in a big house got unfairly caned? Isn't the whole point of the local income tax to get around that problem - so that you only tax those with the ability to pay at the relevant level?

And before anyone asks how we are going to get the deficit down and pay for scrapping tuition fees let me say this: sooner or later politicians are going to have to do the fair and sensible thing and stick income tax up substantially. We can't wiggle around trying to avoid the issue any longer.

Overall, I don't have a problem having certain policies as long as there is evidence that they have been properly thought out and discussed thoroughly at all levels, and are sufficiently sensible and within the party's framework of beliefs to be accepted by members. I certainly don't think the scrap scrapping tuition fees announcement meets that criteria and I don't think the Mansion tax meets it either. We appear to have far too much leading from the front going on here. OK, Paddy did that quite a lot. But there was a point when, even with him, he looked around over his shoulder and found that he wasn't being blindly followed any longer.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Meningitis - the fight continues

We lost our son Toby, aged 16 months, to meningitis in 1993. All a long time ago, water under the bridge etc - you might say. One way of dealing with our grief, which we have always found helpful, is to be involved with the Meningitis Research Foundation. The charity is 20 years old this year. (When I was told that, I was then dumbfounded to realise that we have been members of the charity for all but four of its years.) Each year we put ourselves on the list to speak to the media about the illness during Meningitis week which, this year, is this week - at the height of incidences of the disease through the year.

You would have thought that our "story" would become less compelling for the media as the years go by. But I was extremely impressed by the depth with which Stacey Poole of Meridian Tonight approached the subject when she visited us today. There'll be a piece on Meridian Tonight tomorrow featuring three local families blighted by the disease. (I believe it's tomorrow, although we have put it on series link to be on the safe side.)

You can find out about meningitis here. It continues to be a serious killer, I am afraid. There are many types of the disease and vaccinations for only a few types. The symptoms often get confused with flu and it is wrong to only rely on the "tumbler test" for rashes - that often comes too late. Awareness of all the symptoms by young parents, and also fresher students (and everyone really), is essential. All the potential symptoms to look out for are explained and listed here.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

"Con-man" and Miriam's embarrassing straps

Ah! Glorious sort-of Indian summer! I could aactually just about feel some warmth from the sun today. As I read my Observer, lulled by the trickles from the Kennet and Avon Canal and seranaded by Testosterone-charged Big screen football fans, I could actually feel the pheromones surging through my veins as I read that the Cleggster has been berating the Camster for being a "con-man". Well done Cleggie. If you want evidence for that audacious charge - read through my blog posts for the last three and a bit years. But then again, don't. Unless you are suffering from chronic insomnia, that is.

I am not a fashion expert and I can feel a Lord Bonker's Diary piece coming on here. But straps, braces and suspenders are designed, are they not? - tell me if I am wrong - to keep things up. Otherwise they are useless. And if such straps, braces or suspenders are themselves falling down, they can't be doing a very good job of keeping up the thing they are employed to keep up.

So, by their falling down and needing to be hitched up again while being filmed by18 cameras, those straps of Miriam Gonzalez Durantez's ....um......er.......lower half garment (yes - I am so much not a fashion expert that I struggle with differentiating between skirts, dresses and trousers) were something of, dare I say it, a minor bijou fashion errorette, were they not?

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Live traffic reports site

I recommend having a look at Frixo.com which provides live traffic reports. You just stick in the area or road you are interested in it brings up the trouble spots. You can get it on your mobile as well. They've even got a wonderful widget (below) which I have stuck in my sidebar.




Widget by Frixo Travel Reports | Quick Report

Tories - Mary Whitehouse on speed?

I just wonder if the Tories are going to turn out to be micro-criticisers of the BBC, just like the late Mary Whitehouse. Shadow culture secretary Jeremy Hunt:

...criticised the BBC's decision to pitch Strictly Come Dancing against ITV's The X Factor on the Saturday night peak time schedule.
"It was an extraordinary decision to disappoint thousands of licence fee payers," he commented. "There will be thousands of viewers who are very angry at that decision."

I am not comfortable with a shadow minister interfering in minor scheduling spats between the BBC and ITV. Had Jeremy Hunt considered that many families have been eagerly awaiting the return of Merlin and are delighted that it is on an earlier time than X Factor?

No - he hadn't thought of that, had he?

(Anyway, we've got the whole blinking lot (plus The Cube) on series link.)

Hunt also took a swipe at BBC3 and BBC4.

Speaking yesterday at the Royal Television Society's Cambridge Convention, Hunt said that the two channels cost a lot of money to support but actually deliver relatively low audience figures in return.

I see. So the BBC is putting on programmes on BBC3 and BBC4 that not many people watch. That's wrong. And they are putting on a programme on BBC1 at the peak hour on Saturday that is one of the most popular programmes on British TV. That's wrong as well.

Ah. Anybody spot the flaw in Hunt's arguments?.... Der.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Yes, Clarkson talks manure, but that's no reason to invade his privacy

A load of manure has been dumped on Jeremy Clarkson's lawn. It was done by some Eco-protestors in protest at his "blasé" attitude to climate change.

I would never leap to Clarkson's defence on virtually anything save his entertainment value. He's got a very amusing stock-in-trade and I enjoy his programmes and books. But I recoil from his views on climate change. Of course I do. But, he is an entertainer. He entertains very well. He can get away with dodgy views because it's Clarkson.

So come on, you Eco-protesters. You're being silly. Clarkson and his family are entitled to their privacy. I am sure that Jeremy Clarkson himself will enjoy all this and write lots of amusing columns about it. But he's got a thing called a family. It's not on, invading his privacy and, I think I am safe in assuming, his family angst at night. "Is that sound someone in the garden with another load of shit manure?"

One point though. Consider these words from the Sky report:

The wrought-iron gates opened automatically and they proceeded to dump their bags of manure over the garden and driveway.

The gates opened automatically? What is the point of gates if they open automatically?

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Screwing up and bygones

Mark Oaten's autobiography "Screwing up" is published on 26th September and a large edited extract appeared in the Independent yesterday. From the extract, the book seems worth a read if only because it seems to have been approached from the viewpoint of searing honesty:

Yet in the end the harsh truth was that there was no-one else to blame. Not a male escort, not the News of the World, just me.

This is about the fifth iteration of all this. I was surprised, looking back in my archive, that it was actually June 2006 when Mark produced a Newsnight film about this fall from grace. That included a homage to Sigmund Freud's actual couch. (I kid you not) And now it's September 2009. "Will this damage the party?" - Is the hysterical cry. Of course not. Don't be silly. He didn't break the law. He didn't start a war under false pretences. Noone died. He didn't hurt anyone except his family and himself.

So, it's ancient history. Bygones which are well and truly bygoned. "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone..." etc etc. I wish Mark all the best with the book and his future, and I particularly hope the publication is of some benefit to his family. I feel sorry for them and for Mark.

There is a vibrant discussion about this on Liberal Democrat Voice. And Jonathan Calder and Mark Littlewood seem to be maneuvering their battleships on the matter.

Should we even discuss and speculate as to why he did it? Well, if you publish a book on a subject, it would seem perverse if you didn't want people to talk about the subject. After all, you don't publish a book just for one copy to be stuck on the shelf of the British Library to collect dust, do you? You want to actually sell the odd copy, don't you? And discussion sells the book.

So my two-penneth worth, or rather the eminent psychotherapist, Philip Hodson's two-penneth worth, is this:

Finally, the role of the unconscious mind in causing these very sad and destructive social unmaskings should not be underestimated. For many husbands, particularly in middle-age, there is a quiet and unexplained desperation to escape an existing pattern of life. Possibly they are attracted to power more than power is attracted to them, and this triggers depression. Perhaps their career no longer fits them at all but they cannot easily think about sloughing off its constricting skin. Part of them wants to play; part of them seeks attention; part wants to drop out; part wants to be young again; part wants to be mothered; part wants to be an artist; part wants to retire – but none of these is considered ‘rational’. Instead, they get themselves into a horrible public pickle – rather like the ex-Director of Public Prosecutions Sir Allan Green who of all people was caught kerb-crawling in King’s Cross in the early 1990s. Or like Mark Oaten in 2006 who was trapped in the headlights of the News of the World. Their tragedy is that secretly they must have wanted to be caught.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Trivia Quiz answer

Well done to Will and Rusty who got the right answer to the Trivia Quiz set on Sunday. The thing they have in common is that they have all studied a subject beginning with "psycho":

-Jimmy Lea studied psychotherapy.
-Connie Booth is a pyschotherapist.
-Pamela Stephenson is a doctor of psychology.






Derek Draper is 42.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Trivia Quiz

What do:

-Jimmy Lea, bass player of mega pop group Slade
-Pamela Stephenson of Not the Nine O'Clock News
and
-Connie Booth co-writer of Fawlty Towers

have in common?

Have a go on the comments and I'll post the answer in a day or so.

This woman was in one of John Madejski's bedrooms but he has now sold her


I don't think I have ever treasured my hum-drum life with my family more than when I watched Rich Man, Poor Man: A Knight's Tale about John Madejski. It's a fascinating film made brilliantly by Ian Denyer. This man, Madejski, has everything except a partner and/or family to share his home with. Sad? Well £250 million, 18 companies, the Madejski stadium, the Madejski Academy, the Madejski Fine Rooms at the Royal Academy of Art, the John Madejski Centre for Reputation, the Madejski Palazzo at the Victoria and Albert Museum, a kighthood, being Chancellor of Reading University and Deputy Lieutenant of Berkhire and having Cilla Black to give advice to on the phone seem to give him solace. Goodness knows why.
However, JM does come across as a genuinely nice chap, if a little misguided. (For example, he says getting his knighthood will make him fulfilled but it seemed that the only people accompanying him to the Palace to share this moment with him were a film crew.) He obviously works hard as Chair of Reading FC, using a very busy-looking office, rather than one of those prententious showy ones. And he and his mother seemed to have been genuinely tortured over the years by the circumstances of his birth and upbringing. This report outlines some of the facts revealed in the film.
What I learnt is that John Madejski does not, it seems, have any Polish blood in him, which is remarkable. It's because he took (or was given) the name of surname of his step-father. His biological father, from what I could make out from the film, was called "Adshead" or something that sounds like it.
There was one remarkable bit in the film and my view of it is rather echoed by John Madejski himself:
Sir John Madejski admitted a documentary about him aired on TV this week made him look “a bit pervy”.
He described the moment when he jokingly showed off an extraordinarily lifelike sculpture of The Sunbather by Duane Hanson (pictured above) as if it were a real woman sleeping in a bedroom.
He told getreading: “I bought it originally from Sotheby’s at Chatsworth.
“I intended to put it beside my pool in my new house. But when I got it, I decided it looked pretty tacky and so I have since sold it.
“But the way it was filmed made it looked a bit pervy.”
The bit of the film that made me laugh the most was when Madejski was driving through the Reading traffic and his new Bentley stalled. He got beeped from behind and swore as he tried to get the engine going again. It's nice to know the rich suffer the same as us mortals.

Grim denouement of Al-Megrahi episode

The brother of Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi says he ('the Lockerbie bomber') is on the "brink of death". Reports say his health has deteriorated "markedly" in the last few days. I take no pleasure whatsoever in that. However, in a grim way it tends to support the rationale behind the man's release.

I suspect that there were doubts in many people's minds as to whether Al Megrahi had pulled a fast one and would live for quite a long time in Libya. (He looked reasonably chipper coming off the plane in Tripoli and chatting with Colonel Gaddafi.) THose doubts may have added heat to the furore surrounding his release.

So these reports tend to dispel those doubts. The fact that his death may, it seems, come within a few days or weeks, will tend to support the judgment behind the release on compassionate grounds.

Again, it's a very grim thought, and I take no pleasure in it, but his death may well kill much of the controversy.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Two-faced Thatcher?

I always thought that Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan were meant to have achieved the fall of Communism in Eastern Europe and the collapse of the Berlin Wall.

It is quite a surprise, then, to read this in the Times:

Two months before the fall of the Berlin Wall, Margaret Thatcher told President Gorbachev that neither Britain nor Western Europe wanted the reunification of Germany and made clear that she wanted the Soviet leader to do what he could to stop it.
In an extraordinary frank meeting with Mr Gorbachev in Moscow in 1989 — never before fully reported — Mrs Thatcher said the destabilisation of Eastern Europe and the breakdown of the Warsaw Pact were also not in the West’s interests. She noted the huge changes happening across Eastern Europe, but she insisted that the West would not push for its decommunisation. Nor would it do anything to risk the security of the Soviet Union.

Richard Littlejohn: He does make it up

Liberal Democrat Voice have started an excellent feature called The Friday Five. Yesterday's selection included this absolute hoot from Tabloid Watch:

Today's Littlejohn column includes a story about Kate Pong in Shropshire, who gave birth to five babies who were named Beyone, Barack, Bobbi, Tyra and Earl. Here's the Mail's 'star' columnist:

"My first reaction was that this must be a wind-up, probably placed for a bet by someone at the swine flu hotline with nothing better to do.

We rang The Times advertising department and they assured us it was genuine.

There’s no mention of a Mr Pong, or any father’s name for that matter.

If true, which I still doubt, somewhere out there in Shropshire is a single mother called Kate Pong with quins, variously named after an American pop singer, a model and the U.S. President.

You couldn’t make it up."

There was one slight nuance, however, which made the whole Littlejohn piece a complete pile of unmitigated poo. "Kate Pong" is a dog.

An olfactory nightmare

A very funny post from The Futility Monster. My, how I laughed.

The taps at full flow at Newbury Real Ale Festival

Newbury Real Ale festival in full swing about an hour ago. It was great to see so many people - especially "young" people" - there. It was also good to see a large queue for the cider and perry. The throng spilled out onto Northcroft field, and many were watching the cricket. I watched a couple overs myself. I don't think I've seen such a defensive field.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Damning facts about our electoral system

Well done Mark Pack for highlighting an extraordinary series of facts about our cranky old electoral system. 29% of seats haven't changed hands since 1945. Half of the seats in England haven't changed hands since 1970. When you add this to the research by Mark Thompson (that showed that MPs in the safest seats were three times more likely to be involved in expenses scandals than those in the least safest seats) we are starting to get good solid evidence to support electoral reform.

Getting to the heart of the craaaaaazy US health care debate

I've done it. I have finally got some sort of clue about the health care debate in America. After months of looking foggy-eyed across the pond at the angry debates over labyrinthine health policies, I've cracked it.

The heart of the debate is this - in the words of Barack Obama as delivered to a joint meeting of Congress this week:

...an additional step we can take to keep insurance companies honest is by making a not-for-profit public option available in the insurance exchange. (Applause.) Now, let me be clear. Let me be clear. It would only be an option for those who don't have insurance. No one would be forced to choose it, and it would not impact those of you who already have insurance. In fact, based on Congressional Budget Office estimates, we believe that less than 5 percent of Americans would sign up.

Despite all this, the insurance companies and their allies don't like this idea. They argue that these private companies can't fairly compete with the government. And they'd be right if taxpayers were subsidizing this public insurance option. But they won't be. I've insisted that like any private insurance company, the public insurance option would have to be self-sufficient and rely on the premiums it collects.

Fairly harmless hey? Hardly plucked from the pages of 'Das Kapital'. But this is what is causing him to be called a "socialist" by his opponents.

It is interesting to hear the Republican response to Obama's speech from Rep. Boustany (transcript here, video here), who is a former heart surgeon. It includes this:

Replacing your family's current health care with government-run health care is not the answer.

From what I can make out, the only thing in Obama's plan which Boustany could be describing there is the option described in the quote from Obama at the top of this post. But how on earth could this be described as "replacing your family's current health care with government-run health care"? It's a marginal non-subsidised voluntary option. But old Boustany uses a sweeping statement as if the whole Obama plan is set to forcibly remove all families from their insurance policies and force them to take a government scheme.

Boustany's précis is precisely ludicrous. It is staggering that such a modest proposed solution (from Obama) for such a monumental moral and economic problem is being met with such an utterly stupid characterisation from the right wing. As Obama said twice:

...I will not sign a plan that adds one dime to our deficits -- either now or in the future.

I've watched the full video of the speech. As usual, there's great entertainment value from watching the Human Performing Seal, Nancy Pelosi, jumping up and down and clapping behind Obama. And watching the reluctant standing ovations from the Republicans, and when they are not quite sure whether to stand or sit, is fun. In an interesting example of anti-partisanship, Obama even gets a standing ovation from the Republicans (while most of the Democrats remain seated) for one point (his proposal to reform medical malpractice laws).

The moment when Rep Joe Wilson shouts out "You lie" is quite breathtaking. You can see it at 27:05 on the video below. Those two words may turn out to be fairly significant both in the health care debate and the career of Rep Wilson. His South Carolinan seat has now gone from relatively safe to very close overnight and his Democrat opponent has raised $700,000 in the couple of days since Wilson uttered those words.

Overall, the speech was in two halves. First, Obama very clearly and comprehensively outlined the plan in very attractive terms. Second, he did one of his oratorical soarings, invoking the words of the late Senator Ted Kennedy, whose prehumous letter he received recently. This bit towards the end is just sensational:

You see, our predecessors understood that government could not, and should not, solve every problem. They understood that there are instances when the gains in security from government action are not worth the added constraints on our freedom. But they also understood that the danger of too much government is matched by the perils of too little; that without the leavening hand of wise policy, markets can crash, monopolies can stifle competition, the vulnerable can be exploited. And they knew that when any government measure, no matter how carefully crafted or beneficial, is subject to scorn; when any efforts to help people in need are attacked as un-American; when facts and reason are thrown overboard and only timidity passes for wisdom, and we can no longer even engage in a civil conversation with each other over the things that truly matter -- that at that point we don't merely lose our capacity to solve big challenges. We lose something essential about ourselves. That was true then. It remains true today. I understand how difficult this health care debate has been. I know that many in this country are deeply skeptical that government is looking out for them. I understand that the politically safe move would be to kick the can further down the road -- to defer reform one more year, or one more election, or one more term. But that is not what the moment calls for. That's not what we came here to do. We did not come to fear the future. We came here to shape it. I still believe we can act even when it's hard. (Applause.) I still believe -- I still believe that we can act when it's hard. I still believe we can replace acrimony with civility, and gridlock with progress. I still believe we can do great things, and that here and now we will meet history's test.

All in all, a stunning speech which has met with significant improvements in both Obama's ratings and the public's perception of his health care plan.

Here is the full transcript of the Obama address and click below to see it in full on C-Span via YouTube:

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Tony Blair gets Letterman star treatment

Here's Tony Blair getting star attention outside the David Letterman Show yesterday (below). Here's a clip from his appearance. He supported the release of Al Meghari which, in front of an American audience, was big of him.


Tories: To hell with schools and hospitals but save General Election night!

So, first of all, Georgie Osbourne refuses, in April, to ring-fence schools spending from any cuts in any future Conservative government scenario. Schools spending will receive a "shake-up" he said. In other words, it's back to the bad old days of the 80s and 90s when school governors didn't have a penny to scratch their bums with. We can expect, with reasonable probability, cuts in schools spending by a future Conservative government.

Now Andrew Lansley says that the Conservatives will set a limit on future NHS spending - meaning only small increases, amid warnings from professionals that this will mean ward closures and will "feel like a cut".

So schools and the NHS will, in all probability, suffer under a Tory government.

But don't worry. There's good news for us anally retentive political nerds! Eric Pickles has effectively committed that a future Conservative government will spend extra money to ensure that all votes are counted straight away the night after the polls close on General Election.

Britain - safe in the Tories' hands!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Bob Monkhouse is now on Twitter

Yes, the Bob Monkhouse who died in 2003. Fortunately his tweets in answer to the standard Twitter question "What are you doing?" are a little more exciting than "I'm still dead". It's all for charidee - Prostate Research.

Spare us from the "It's traditional" war cry - please!

There's very little that gets my back up more than the cry of "It's traditional". Usually when you look into the subject of such supposedly unanswerable war cries the tradition in question has actually lasted five minutes in historical terms.

A case in point is the absolutely ridiculous "Save General Election Night" campaign. One of the arguments put forward by the Tories for this is, as written by Jonathan Isaby:

It's a tradition, dammit. The traditional British way of doing elections is to have people come out to vote and then count the ballot papers immediately afterwards. It's how we do it and what we're used to.

Complete, pompous, round spherical objects.

If you want to be really traditional about elections, they used to be held over three weeks. The 1868 general election started on November 17th. Gladstone didn't get his result in South Lancashire until November 24th.

Also, over the years, it has been quite normal for widespread constituencies and, particularly, Northern Irish constituencies, to be counted the day after polling.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Meanwhile in the US, the right wing flips its lid

One thing that has baffled me about American politics over the last nine months is the growth of the visceral and seething hatred for Barack Obama amongst foaming-at-the-mouth right wingnuts. It really has got quite astonishing and tends to coalesce around the word "socialist". But George Bush in his last seven months of office was twenty times more socialist than Obama has been in his first seven. Remember all that massive, sweeping, epic scale nationalisation old Dubya casually did as he polished up his cowboy boots to return to Texas? After that, it is almost inconceivable that Obama could exceed Bush's "socialism". Even his health plan is emphasising the benefits for the insured, rather than a "universal" plan for the uninsured.

But the latest sort of lightning rod for Obama hatred has been a plan for him to make a rather innocuous Presidential address to schoolkids. He'll be asking kids to work hard, do their homework, not to bunk off school, wash behind their ears...that sort of thing. And oh, it's an optional speech for schools to show to pupils.

But this has sent the wingnuts off into outer space with outrage. One Republican State chair said "the address is nothing more than a dastardly inculcation into socialism and a viral spread of liberal propaganda". A right wing commentator said "the republic is under attack".

There's been talk of the "fascist in chief" and parallels being made to the Hitler Youth - with Pink Floyd's "Leave our kids alone" refrain being brought into the debate.

Jason Links on Huffpo has a very amusing article about this:

Anyway, that's the state of the world today. If President Obama reminded people tomorrow to brush between meals, thousands of people would allow their teeth to rot right out of their heads, because OMGZ TEH SOCIALISM! The upside to all of this is that after Tuesday, every teacher in the world will know precisely what students are going to need remedial help.

The utter cobblers about general election night

The 2005 BBC coverage of the general election got 6 million viewers at its height. More people watched Waking the Dead last night. (It was a corker by the way - well worth watching the second episode tonight - Trevor Eve at his finest).

So let's get this all in perspective shall we? It's very easy to get all school boy/pollynerdy about this, but actually not many people were actually up for Portillo in 1997. (And, as a side point, let's face it, on the basis of their lamentably dire coverage of the American election last November, the BBC need to do some re-thinking).

OK, so the audience last time was larger when you look at the whole night and include the other broadcasters. But I would contend that it would be better to delay the whole thing until Saturdays when many people have a day off and could watch it all unfold on the telly.

But, going back to the Sunday Times, all this pollynerdy anally retentive self-righteous outrage has been caused by a will-of-the-wisp of a story. 1 in 4 councils are considering delaying the count until Friday. So what? The whole of Northern Ireland, several South West constituencies, Cumbria, the Highlands and Islands have counted on Friday for donkeys' years anyway. And if you want a decent quality of counting you need to do it properly in the day when people are fresh.

Putting aside council workers, the political volunteers who do the scrutinising and need to be ready for four recounts in some cases, ought to approach their work having had a good night's sleep. If they've done their job properly they should have worked their socks off on the Thursday, so it really is silly wanting everyone to stay up all night. If we're wanting STV we need to be ready for longer, daytime counts, when minds are fresh. The number of people who can still follow a STV count when tired at 3am must number about 0.0000000000000000000001% of the population.

Tradition? Cobblers to tradition, say I. Dimbleby says it would be a "pity". Cobblers to Dimblebore say I.

Anyway, I come back to the words/phrases "considering" and "1 in 4". The BBC reckon 10-25% of councils could count on a Friday next time. Well hold on a cotton picking second, about 10% do it now and have done for years anyway!

Save General Election night? Cobblers, say I.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Obama is learning the lessons of Clinton's ill-fated 1994 health care reform attempts

The New York Times has an excellent article on how Obama has learnt the main lessons of Bill Clinton's ill-fated early 1994 health care reform attempts, taking on board advice from key Clinton aides. In some cases, it notes, Obama has "over-learnt" the lessons. The main learnings are:

-Failure Is Not an Option.
-Know your audience -- insured taxpayers.
-Move before the honeymoon ends.
-Leave the details to Congress.
-Co-opt the opposition.
-Take what you can get.

Tory and Labour MPs earn up to 630 times more per hour than their constituents


The Mail on Sunday has an intriguing list (above - click on it to enlarge) of what MPs earn per hour on jobs outside parliament compared with the average hourly rate for their constituents. Patrick Cormack eat your heart out. The list shows the Top 40 who are all Labour and Tory MPs with one exception (Plaid Cymru). Take dear old Michael Gove. He earns £1437 an hour for four hours work writing articles - that 127 times the average hourly pay rate of his constituents. William Hague earns 114 times his constituents for advising a board meeting. John Gummer earns 630 times his constituents' hourly rate - £4,999 based on 20 minutes work on a conference call for which he was paid £1,666.

Also, surprise, surprise, Patrick Cormack is on the list! The very man who said recently that MPs pay should be doubled earns £191 an hour for advising a restoration firm - 21 times his average constiuent.

These figures do take hourly rates for very small lengths of activity and don't include preparation work, for example, for a board meeting.

But they certainly shoot the canard about MPs being hard done by (at least for this forty MPs and others like them with generously remunerated outside jobs)!

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Whatever happened to Barry Blue?

Goodness knows. But the question ought to be asked. He had a spurt of popularity in the Seventies with "Dancing on a Saturday night" (see video below with our Bazza in his signature blue silk cat suit and a remarkably unmoved audience behind him) and "Do you wanna dance" (see also below - this time with the attachment of blue and white frills on his catsuit) and other hits. He's been a producer and songwriter ("I eat cannibals") but goodness knows what he's doing now. I doubt whether he wears a blue silk catsuit any more, that's for sure. Here's the NME biog of him.

By the way, his real name is Barry Green. Barry Green - Barry Blue. Geddit?





The most important thing I'll ever write


When you strip away everything else, this is the most important thing I can say while I am lucky enough to be alive on this planet:

I am extremely lucky to be alive, to be able to enjoy life and be free to fire off my views into the ether.

As they say in Private Eye: ...er....that's it.

I'm moved to write that in the wake of the commemorations of the 70th anniversary of the Second World War.

My grandfather was involved in the First unpleasantness. In fact, he was lucky to survive one of the biggest culls of that war, one of Winston Churchill's much-forgotten and bloody boo-boos, namely the Gallipolli expedition. Many of my gradfather's comrades in the Royal Gloucestershire Hussars perished. Indeed, he gave a lift to a comrade who had lost his horse, on the back of his horse. The comrade was then shot in the back. Essentially, my grandfather's act to give a comrade a lift saved him from a bullet with his name on it.

In the Second unpleasantness, my uncle was killed. I've done quite a bit of research on his death on board SS Tregarthen (see above). It happened at dead of night in the middle of the Atlantic. U boat. Torpedo. They had high explosive on board the Tregarthen. Bang. Game over. From what I have been able to find out about him, my uncle was quite a lad. He was particularly prolific at catching rabbits.

My father was lucky in several respects. On one occasion on service in the Far East at the end of the war, he sat down on a toilet and had a "constitutional". When he got up and replaced the seat in its upright position (not many women around, obviously) he saw a scorpion which had been lurking under the seat while he did his business. Lucky. Could have been painful. And somewhat terminal. Both to my dad and my chances of existence.

And then there was my dad's bit of "luck" which has always led me to be emotionally ambivalent on the subject of nuclear weapons. Basically, I would probably not exist if it was not for the Atom Bomb. My dad was earmarked as one of the first wave of men who would have had to run up the beach of umpteen Pacific islands to painstakingly defeat the Japanese had it not been for Enola Gay and her Little Boy. The likely lifespan of said beach-up-running troops was measured in seconds. It's highly unlikely that my father would have lived to fire his first round off after hitting the sand with his boots.

So I am lucky to be alive. Also, it is easy to forget, as I pontificate daily, that two generations of my forbears had to go to war and, in the case of my Uncle Alan, die for our country, while I have luckily avoided the "call-up". So, it is tempting to neglect, as we blithely bandy words around the internet, the fact that our freedom to speak has not come cheaply.

Geeks' corner - Easy site for all file conversions

The question "Why are there so many different media formats?" would detain me for hours of ranting. However, I have recently found a website which is very useful for most file conversions.

media-convert.com really is an excellent little FREE site. It operates all on page. You browse to enter the file you want to convert, be it video, audio, image, document. Then you enter the format you want the file in. Hit the button. It takes a few seconds and then your file is ready to download in the format you want it.

After spending years downloading individual bits of trial software (some with annoying watermarks etc unless you hand over cash) it is great to find just one free site to cover most eventualities. I found the site yesterday when I was horrified to see that vidoes on my mobile were in "3gp" format - of which I had never heard. I tried various trial software packages to get the 3gp files into avi format but they all had watermarks or blacked out when inserted into Powerpoint. Then I found this site and "bingo". It even coverts pdf files back and forwards, an exercise with which I have often struggled.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Juicy contents of Ted Kennedy's memoirs

Ted Kennedy's memoirs, True Compass, will be published posthumously soon. The New York Times has taken a "sneaky peeky" at its contents and they are enticing. Kennedy:

-describes his actions around the Chappaquiddick accident as "inexcusable"

-says that he always accepted the findings of the official Warren Commission on his brother JFK's assassination.

-describes how his brother Bobbie came close to some sort of "tragedy" due to emotional problems following JFK's death.

-talks frankly of his own "self-destructive drinking"

-relates how John F Kennedy was close to embarking on a "non-military" solution to the Vietnam war when he died.

-says that his brother Bobbie offered President Johnson a deal which would have given Johnson a free ride to a second Presidential term if he gave Bobbie the authority to negotiate a peace treaty over Vietnam.

-describes his relationship with Jimmy Carter as "unhealthy" and says that Carter held an “inherently different view of America from mine.”

Cushion yourself...

Here's the latest "Airbag" advert from Ing Direct, which I feature for no better reason than it features the excellent comedian, Richard Thomson. Richard has brightened up many a performance at Newbury's Corn Exchange and New Greenham Arts centre.

EXCLUSIVE: EXTENDED VERSION - So. Farewell. Then. Irfan Ahmed.

-
-
-
So.
Farewell.
Then.
-
You
Were a
LibDem
Blogger.
-
Now
You
Are an
"Independent" blogger.
-
"I apologise,
It's my culture"
- That
Was
Your
Catchphrase.
-
Now
You don't
Have
To
Apologise
Any
More.
-
No.
Except
to
"Independent"
People.
-
Ho.
Hum.
...Er...
That's
It
-
-
(Whatever happened to Bob Shaw? - Ed)

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Rick Astley hits it big

"Official music videos" have returned to YouTube after an agreement with the Performing Rights Society. Excellent. Apparently, Pete Waterman only got paid £11 in 2008 for co-writing "Never gonna give you up" which was sung by Rick Astley and received 15 million hits on YouTube (described as "100 million" by Pete Waterman.). That helped to kick off the whole negotiation exercise, apparently, Pete Waterman not one to shrink into the background.

Anyway, after a piece reporting the above on BBC Breakfast this morning, Bill Turnbull turned to his co-presenter and remarked:

I wonder if that will somehow mean less homework done.

Astute man, that Bill Turnbull.

David Cameron - come again?

While I pound away at the gym at lunchtime I occasionally catch glimpses of the BBC News. Yesterday, David Cameron appeared live, looking like a right prat, as usual, and his opening comment on the Al Meghari fandangle was:

The double-dealing is quite straight-forward.

Well, that was enough to set me off into ripples of laughter.

Straight-forward double-dealing. Hilarious. Surely the one thing that double-dealing isn't is "straight-forward"?

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

US Health reform debate: confusion reigns

An interesting insight into the US Health reform debate from Political Wire:

American voters are not the only ones confused about health care reform.

On MSNBC, Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY) tried to explain to CNBC anchor Maria Bartiromo that there already is government-managed health care in the United States -- the Medicare system created for Americans 65 years and older. He claimed patients using it are very satisfied.

Said Bartiromo: "How come you don't use it? You don't have it. How come you don't have it?"

Weiner: "Because I'm not 65."

Bartiromo: "Yeah... c'mon!"


Here's the must-see clip:


Tuesday, September 1, 2009

"The most picked-over corpse in broadcasting history"

So said Bob Monkhouse of Simon Dee, long before the latter passed away. Well, I'll correct that. "Simon Dee" died about 39 years ago. It is perhaps more correct to record that Nicholas Henty-Dodd (known, apparently, as "Nicky" to his family and friends) recently, sadly, died.

I understand that the media are reporting the man's demise accurately, within the gambit of his achievements in public life. But, really, it is, in a sense, ridiculous to get all that Simon Dee "Icarus" nonsense all over again. The man lived for 77 years. For 8 per cent of that time - 6 years - he was known as "Simon Dee" the radio and TV star.

What did he do with the rest of his life? Judging from his three wives, four children and four grand-children, he had a very active family life. Also, looking at pictures (for example, right) of him at the 2004 Radio Caroline 40 year reunion, he looked very happy and healthy for a 72 year old. It seems that his family and friends found him endlessly lovable.

Roger Blackhouse, a friend who is a QC, said:

He was a national treasure and his passing is very sad. I have very fond memories of him. He was a good friend, great company and a pleasure to be around. Simon enjoyed his time as a celebrity and had a lot of fun but he never showed any bitterness about it coming to an end. Like a war veteran, he only spoke about his past when he was asked. He was very much living for the moment.

Doing a bit of digging, I found this interview with Brian Viner from 1999. It at least answers some of the questions I had, perhaps over-inquisitively, about the fellow - what he do with the 39 years after he was famous? How did he make ends meet?

And what has he done for income for the last 30 years? "I have had no income," he says. "When my father died in 1980 I inherited a vast sum of money, but it was taken from me by death duties." Financially, Dee depends on his third wife, a teacher, and spends his days looking after their four-year-old son, Cyril George.

(At the time he was living in Winchester, as he did for the final 15 years of his life). There is an excellent tribute to Simon Dee on the Pirate Radio Hall of Fame.

His old pirate radio theme tune was "On the sunny side of the street" (by the Tommy Dorsey orchestra). Perhaps that song title provides a better epitaph to Simon Dee/Nicholas Henty-Dodd than many of the inevitable media stories we've read.

As my little tribute to the man who made many people happy, provided an icon for the Sixties (indeed, the unrewarded model for Austin Powers) and set a standard for informal, cheery broadcasting which many followed, here is that theme tune from YouTube:

Clarkson's pathetic remarks about female presenters

Ruby Wax once said to someone who described one of her on-screen habits: "I think you are confusing me with my act". Sometimes I wonder whether we are hearing from Jeremy Clarkson the man, or "Jeremy Clarkson" the act.

Why, for example, did he have to open his mouth about the concept of a female Top Gear presenter being a "disaster"? Wants a bit more publicity does he? Book coming out, maybe?

He says:

If a girl came in and we started taking the piss out of her it may look like bullying.

What planet is he living on? He's flattering himself, isn't he? Doesn't he realise that there are umpteen female presenters who would give as good as they get, and take as patronising the idea that mickey-taking had to be toned down for their benefit?

Would Clare Balding or Sandi Toksvig take any nonsense from the three cretins? And how about excellent presenters who have thrived on techy programmes with male presenters such as the superb Suzi Perry on the Gadget Show?

And if numpty Clarkson wants to witness female driving (travel) presenters giving as good as they get, he should listen to Sally Bosman and Lynn Bowles on Radio Two. They end equal on points with Terry Wogan and Johnnie Walker, that's for sure.

Oh, and by the way, there used to be a female Top Gear presenter long before Clarkson came along. Angela Rippon - I can imagine her giving any schoolboy mickey taking short shrift.

And 82% of Mail readers want a female presenter, so up yours Clarkson.

I can think of many men who wouldn't work on Top Gear by the way. This isn't a gender thing.

Cameron's disgraceful point-scoring

While dear old Irfan seems to have disappeared up his own exhaust pipe on the issue, Caron's Musings continues to provide an excellent commentary on the Al Meghari episode. It is utter nonsense to suggest that Al Meghari was "set free for oil". The Prisoner Transfer Agreement was what it says on the tin. A Prisoner transfer agreement. Al Meghari would have been transferred to a Libyan jail under its terms. Not set free. And, in any case, as Caron points out, the application for transfer under that agreement was rejected by Kenny MacAskill.

I really am sick of this whole furore going on and on. David Cameron says Brown should express a view and says the release was wrong. Der. So he's going to revoke the Devolution Act when he comes into power is he, the disgraceful point-scoring numpty? Would he ditch all the UK's compassionate jail release rules when convenience and Daily Mail headlines suit him? Yes, it seems. What a disastrous Prime Minister he would be.

Jim Swire, who lost his daughter, Flora, in the Lockerbie crash, made the only remaining valid point of this whole sorry mess in a letter to the Times published today:

So al-Megrahi has gone home and questions surround the propriety of his going. What about the question of his guilt? The official UN observer of the trial, Professor Hans Koechler of Vienna, has described the trial as a travesty of justice and the verdict as untenable. Even the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission decided there might have been a miscarriage of justice. The questions that are important to UK relatives of the Lockerbie victims are these: who was really behind the bombing? How was it carried out? Why did the Thatcher Government of the day ignore all the warnings it got before Lockerbie? Why did it refuse even to meet us to discuss the setting up of an inquiry? Why was the information about the Heathrow break-in concealed for 12 years so that the trial court could not hear of it till after the verdict?

Nick Harvey on second homes - a damn disgrace

While generally admiring the man as an excellent LIbDem MP, I have long been rather perplexed by some statements by Nick Harvey. His role as spokesperson for the Commons Commission has often led to him defending rather uncomfortable positions. Defending what many see as House of Commons profligacy is a case in point. Now, Liberal Democrat Voice draws attention to Nick Harvey's statement, concerning MPs' second homes, to the Committee on Standards in Public Life. In summary, as the LDV headline puts it, Nick Harvey says that 'MPs should be able to profit from second homes'.

This leads me to ask: Has Nick Harvey gone native? Has a bit too much of the inherent self-righteous pomposity of parliament rubbed off on him?

He doesn't seem to get it, does he? I mean, the public's absolute disgust for the whole MPs' expenses scandal. On the specifics of his statement, he says:

The MP has borne all the risk, which may prove painful for some in the current market, and
maintained the property in marketable condition. The taxpayer could not be expected to bear any capital loss. The fair and equitable sharing of any capital gain is through the capital gain tax system.


But surely, if the taxpayer has actually paid the mortgage over years, the poor old taxpayer should see the benefit if there is any, should they not? And it doesn't take a genius to work out that, under Nick Clegg's plan, if the state takes the profit from a second home sale, then, logically, the state should also absorb the loss, if there is one.

But come off it, the likelihood of a loss forthcoming is fairly low.

I am inclined to sympathise with Andrew Duffield, commenter on LDV:

What risk? Even with the current downturn, anyone who bought a property 4 or more years ago has made money on it – from doing absolutely nothing.
The proportion of this unearned uplift on an MP’s second home that has been financed with public funds belongs wholly and completely to the taxpayer – all 100% of it. Nick Harvey’s assertion that it is ok for him to pay a mere 18% CGT on this value, while pocketing a massive 82% for himself, not only flies in the face of Nick Clegg’s line on the matter, but also 100 years of Liberal policy and any sense of moral decency. Harvey should be hung out to dry.


While I personally would like to see publicly owned MPs' accomodation, I have also re-read Nick Clegg's proposal, which I think I slightly misunderstood. It is an admirable proposal and should be supported by all LibDem MPs. Here's what it says on his website:

First, if an MP wants to own a second home they should pay for it themselves. Right now MPs can claim almost £25,000 a year to cover the mortgage interest payments on their second home and to furnish it. It’s true that MPs representing constituencies outside of Greater London need a base near Westminster so that they can do their job properly and attend late night votes. But it isn’t right that taxpayers foot the bill for properties that could potentially yield politicians huge capital gains.
The second homes allowance should be cut and restricted to rental properties and basic bills. Greater London MPs, and Ministers given ‘grace and favour’ accommodation, shouldn’t get the allowance at all.


The Times, quoted on Nick Clegg's website, added:

MPs who already have properties would be given 36 months before Parliament refused to fund their mortgage interest payments. MPs who then sold their second homes would be forced to return to the taxpayer a proportion of the mortgage interest they had claimed, out of the profit. The precise formula to determine how much MPs should return has yet to be finalised, with party officials still examining how best to deal with houses in negative equity.The Liberal Democrat leader is determined, however, to lay down the principle that MPs should not continue to profit from huge capital gains at the taxpayers’ expense. Research in 2006 by House of Commons authorities found that 485 MPs — three quarters of the total — claimed mortgage interest payments. MPs have benefited considerably from the tripling of property prices since 1997, which have pushed up the average price of a Westminster flat from £171,000 to £543,000 last year. Despite being able to claim more than £20,000 a year for mortgage interest payments, MPs can keep any profit from second home sales when they leave Parliament.

Quite frankly, it is a damn disgrace that Nick Harvey is not supporting our leader on this. It is clear that Nick Clegg's radical stance is needed both from a principled viewpoint but also from the point of view of public anger on this.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Superb eulogy to Ted Kennedy

I've just watched President Obama's eulogy at Senator Ted Kennedy's funeral. It's not often you see a standing ovation at a funeral, but on this occasion it was perfectly appropriate. Obama gave a moving, dignified and informative tribute which was superb in summing up the remarkable life of this towering figure.

Here it is on YouTube:

Friday, August 28, 2009

Isn't it great to have a open mind?

Here's a great quote from Oklahoman US Senator James Inhofe on the embryonic Health reform bill:

I don't have to read it, or know what's in it. I'm going to oppose it anyways.

From the Express-Star with a hat-tip to Tagean Goddard's Political Wire.

These exam results are the first for children educated solely under a Labour government

The exam results we are seeing come out at the moment are historic. The children who are getting their exam results this summer are the first set of children to be solely educated under a Labour government. They would have started school aged four (or shortly afterwards) in 1997 and are now sixteen.

That's the first time that has happened - a full school career under a Labour government.

I know. I am a member of the last generation which was largely (but not entirely) educated under a Labour government. I went to primary school aged five in 1964 when Wilson's government came to power. I left school in 1977 during Callaghan's government. Unfortunately, Heath's pesky Conservative government from 1970 to 1973 ruined everything, but did mean that I enjoyed school during the three-day week including black-outs from 8pm onwards. (So we had early cocoa and I ended up making friends with a boy who happened to have a torch - a useful alliance, that was.) I also ought to mention that I went to a public school for my secondary education, so the link to the Labour government was somewhat indirect perhaps. But then again, I think the Labour government in those days encouraged a generous "Direct grant" system for pupils whose parents could not afford the full fees, from which I benefited (as I also did from a jammy scholarship examination. My benevolent primary school Headmaster helped me out with the first question on longitudes and latitudes - which was nice of him. The lad who I beat into second place never let me forget that.).

Tributes to Ted Kennedy

The best tribute to Ted Kennedy I have read is this one from Michael Tomasky in the Guardian, entitled, simply, "Ted Kennedy made the US a better place":

There are and will be more Kennedys, but the Kennedy era is over now. Teddy was imperfect enough that some Americans will say amen to that. Let them. The rest of us know what a dramatically better place this country is because of him.

The Boston Globe has an excellent series of videos on You Tube which relate Ted Kennedy's life story. The series includes this video about the 1980 CBS interview with Roger Mudd, when Ted Kennedy had trouble answering the simple question: "Why do you want to be President?" It is perhaps an object lesson in how to get the truth out with a simple question:


Here also is the text of Kennedy's superb speech from the 1980 Democratic convention (thanks to Tony Ferguson for the link). You can hear the speech in two parts here , here, here and here. It is covered in a Boston Globe video here:

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Senator Ted Kennedy RIP

I was very sad to hear of the death of Senator Ted Kennedy. He achieved more as a Senator than some US Presidents achieved in office. A towering figure in the US. He was a benchmark "liberal". In the USA that term is often used an insult but Ted Kennedy gave it a proud respectability by doggedly but eloquently holding his views, while, most importantly, working "across the aisle" to achieve progress. His was a great example to us all of a life of distinguished public service based on rock-solidly held principles.

Daily Kos gives this excellent tribute:

Kennedy was a liberal fighter in the old mold. The plethora of legislation he helped pass made life better for children, for the poor, for African-Americans, for immigrants, for workers. He didn't just give lip service to the rights of workers, he stood in their corner. He fought for access to health care and for quality education. And he opposed the likes of Robert Bork and others who wanted to trash the gains American women, workers and minorities had made over the years.
He will be sorely missed.

The Financial Times has a obituary here.

On BBC Breakfast their US correspondent suggested that Kennedy lost the 1980 Democratic nomination race against Carter due to the spectre of the Cappaquiddick accident. However, the more immediate cause was Ted Kennedy's disastrous interview with Roger Mudd of CBS, which Kennedy embarked upon without aides. Even the easy question "Why do you want to be president?" met with a response which was variously described as "unprepared", "rambling", "incoherent", "vague" and "repetitive". After that interview, it was down hill all the way as far as Kennedy's battle against Carter was concerned.

Indeed, Wikipedia observes:

Broadcaster and blogger Hugh Hewitt and Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson have used the term "Roger Mudd moment" to describe a self-inflicted disastrous encounter with the press by a presidential candidate.

Monday, August 24, 2009

And finally Esther...#2

A couple of straws in the wind regarding Esther Rantzen:

Linda Jack tweeted at the weekend thus:

At Love Luton Hate Racism - Esther Rantzen spoke - vry short sed nothing at all, not even 2 condemn fascism!

And from last night's Jam and Jersualem comedy drama, spoken by David Mitchell as Dr James Vine (who is a budding Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate in the story):

If the only alternative to politicians is Esther Rantzen then God help us all.