Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Well done Shane Long!

..for a great brace of goals at Norwich and to the rest of the team for an excellent performance. Fingers, toes and everything crossed for Sunday...

Justice for the Gurkhas!

Lynne Featherstone has just tweeted to say the government has been defeated on the Gurkhas vote! Back of the net!! 267 for the Liberal Democrat motion, and 247 against were the scores on the doors.

Sky report the news here:

A Liberal Democrat motion - not binding on the Government - was supported by267 to 246, a majority of 21.
It came only hours after he (Brown) explained ministers' position that the right of residence should be restricted for Gurkhas who quit the service before 1997.
Sky's chief political correspondent Jon Craig said: "This is an embarrassing and humiliating defeat for the Government and a great victory for the Gurkhas and those campaigning on their behalf."

Happy Birthday Jeremy Thorpe

3000th post

Many, many happy returns to Jeremy Thorpe who is the grand age of 80 today.

Here's a great photo of him in the Sixties with Jimi Hendrix.


I am considerably bouyed up this morning. Indeed, one could say that my hoop is well and truly a-cock. I have received a communication from the Guardian Readers' Editor (which in itself is cause for celebration) saying that she has checked with the Picture Editor and that they say that Alistair Darling was indeed breakfasting in No 10 Downing Street (not No 11 as printed in the caption) in the photograph on the centre spread in last Saturday's Guardian. She will print a correction in the next few days - which will be the first time I have had a correction printed in the Guardian at my request!

Excitement, indeed.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Plane stupid

Here's Jon Stewart's hilarious and very cutting take on the Air Force One photo-shoot over Ground Zero in New York.

With a Homberg-doffment to Media Monkey.

The Daily Show With Jon StewartM - Th 11p / 10c
Mistakes on a Plane
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Economic CrisisFirst 100 Days

Democrats within reach of Senate veto proof majority - again

This has been a bit of a "will they? - won't they?" saga. That is, will the Democrats achieve a veto-proof (technically a "filibuster-proof") majority in the US Senate and thus have a sweeping hand to implement their laws?

Last time I blogged about this, there was a possibility of a Senate seat vacancy in New Hampshire that might have gone to a Democrat. That possibility was ruled out when the vacancy became a non-vacancy.

Now Senator Arlen Specter has defected to the Democrats, so, if Al Franken finally takes his seat for Minnesota (which seems likely-ish, but the legal process to, hopefully, confirm him is painfully slow), the Democrats will get their 60 seats and veto-proofery.

You couldn't make it up #957

Why on earth would you need some "file photos" of Air Force One anyway?

And if you wanted to show the plane flying over New York - why not photo-shop it?

Should US government money be used to involve a military jet and Air Force One on a major operation just to take a photo of it?

And if you are going to fly over New York, why the Sam Hill do it around the site of the former World Trade Center?

And if you tell the state and local authorities, why the heck wasn't a warning broadcast to New Yorkers?

This really does come under the heading of thundering stupidity of the highest order.

Woman jailed for too noisy sex

I kid you not.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Fist-waving Brown gets stroppy with opposition party leaders

A juicy account on that expenses meeting from Brendan Carlin:

Angry Gordon Brown shouted a ‘take it or leave it’ ultimatum at David Cameron over MPs’ expenses during an extraordinarily bad-tempered meeting between the party leaders last week.

The Prime Minister repeatedly waved his fist and stormed: ‘We have to get this sorted! We have to get this sorted!’

...Mr Brown’s outburst came at a strictly private meeting just hours after the Budget statement, attended by only the two leaders, Liberal Democrat Nick Clegg, and their respective Chief Whips.

To the Tory leader’s astonishment, Mr Brown said: ‘If you didn’t keep raising this at Prime Minister’s Questions, we wouldn’t be in this situation.’

According to sources, Mr Brown also tried to brand the Tory leader as a defender of the rich because he wants MPs to only get expenses for mortgage interest, rent and utility bills and not the infamous John Lewis list for furnishings.

Mr Brown told him several times: ‘Your proposals will only help people with big houses and big mortgages.’

Mr Cameron hit back by bluntly warning that giving MPs the same allowances but without any receipts was a disaster.

‘You will get slaughtered. You cannot propose giving people the same amount of money but with no receipts. You cannot take this to the country,’ the Tory leader replied.

After 35 minutes, to Mr Brown’s embarrassment, it was Mr Clegg who effectively called time on the meeting, saying: ‘We have been around this course enough times now – let’s stop.’

Mr Cameron left looking flushed and agitated. ‘Can you blame him? Gordon just wouldn’t listen,’ said a Tory source.

Lib Dem sources said that the Prime Minister’s manner had been ‘arrogant and bullying’.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Governor who called for independent Texas suddenly finds a good use for the USA

Recently Texas Governor Rick Perry was raising the possibility of the secssion of his state from the USA.

How endearing it is, therefore, that, only a mere two weeks later, Perry has found a good use for the USA. He wants federal help with the Swine Flu pandemic in his state.

Tories want us to see them as "heirs to Blair" again for some reason

In 2005 David Cameron announced "I am the heir to Blair". Then later, I think, he realised this was not a good thing to be and all talk of the Blair legacy project was abandoned.

It seems strange, then, that the Tories now seem to be once again flirting with the idea of being the "heirs to Blair", as evidenced by Dr Strangelove's Michael Gove's interview in the Guardian yesterday when he said: "We are carrying forward the Blair agenda" and added that he was intending to do with primary schools what Lord Adonis wanted to do but was stopped from doing by Gordon Brown (i.e turn about 20% of them into academy schools).

Result! James Blunt to become a tax exile

Triples all round!

Cameron enjoyed "sanctions busting jolly" in Apartheid South Africa

The Independent on Sunday has the story:

David Cameron accepted an all-expenses paid trip to apartheid South Africa while Nelson Mandela was still in prison, an updated biography of the Tory leader reveals today.

The trip by Mr Cameron in 1989, when he was a rising star of the Conservative Research Department, was a chance for him to "see for himself" and was funded by a firm that lobbied against the imposition of sanctions on the apartheid regime.
Critics described it as a "sanctions-busting jolly" that raised questions about the character of the man...

The significant thing about this revelation is that when Cameron met Nelson Mandela in 2006 he said:

The mistakes my party made in the past with respect to relations with the African National Congress and sanctions on South Africa make it all the more important to listen now.
The fact that there is so much to celebrate in the new South Africa is not in spite of Mandela and the ANC; it is because of them – and we Conservatives should say so clearly today.

One might be forgiven for assuming, when one heard this originally, that David Cameron was an innocent in nappies when the Tory party was opposing sanctions and Young Tories were wearing "Hang Mandela" T shirts. However, it is now clear that David Cameron was an enthusiastic supporter of the anti-sanctions policy - bearing in mind he made his trip at a time when civil servants and officials were being advised not to undertake such journies.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

As any fule kno...

In the Guardian centre spread today there's a photo of Alistair Darling having breakfast "in No 11 Downing Street". No sign of Gordon there in the kitchen. I thought Monsieur Brown and his family lived in the No. 11 flat...didn't Blair live in No 11 because of his family while Brown lived in No 10 because he didn't have a family when he was Chancellor? Then Brown became Prime Minister and moved out of Number ten (or at least the flat bit anyway) instead of into it, because he was then the one with the family, didn't he? Therefore, Alistair Darling was having breakfast in No. 10 Downing Street wasn't he?

Or have I not been keeping up?

Indeed, at the risk, or indeed the certainty, of being boring on this, the kitchen in the photograph of Darling is small - reminiscent of the photos of Thatcher in the Number 10 kitchen. But the kitchen in Number 11 is quite large - as we saw in that documentary featuring Cherie Blair getting orange juice out of the fridge. So my observation adds up logically.

I can feel a letter to the Guardian's Reader's Editor coming on.....

I have just found confirmation of all this from this news report from 18 July 2007 when Brown became Prime Minister:

Prime Minister Gordon Brown and his family have moved in to the flat above No 11 Downing Street, recently vacated by the Blairs, it was confirmed today.
Mr Brown and his wife Sarah, along with their young sons Fraser and John, have taken over the accommodation which was adapted for family life when the Blairs were in residence.
The sizeable flat also houses a nursery.
The "bachelor pad" flat above No 10 itself was considered too small for a young family.
Mr Brown's spokesman said: "I can confirm that he has now moved into the flat above No 11."
Asked if that was because it was better suited for families, the spokesman replied: "I think there are security considerations as well."

Friday, April 24, 2009

In praise of the Giant's Organ

The Giant's Causeway in Antrim, Northern Ireland is quite rightly a Mecca for tourists. In fact, the Causeway itself is quite microcosmic. When I recently visited there, I was more awestruck by the Giant's Organ. Here's a great picture of it from teatme67 on Webshots:

For sea-faring anoraks only

It was a surprise to myself, but I have, for a long time, had an ambition to visit Strangford Lough (Northern Ireland) and witness the extraordinary exchange of waters which happen at the "narrows" twice a day. It is apparently the largest exchange of tidal waters in Europe. It surprises me that I am interested in such things, but I put it down to some sort of inheritance from my grandfather, Randolph. He worked on a ferry and was a lifetime seafarer. He was shipwrecked nine times (or was it three? or two?). I imagine that if he had been with me a few weeks ago, as I stood at Portaferry and looked at the remarkable current with which the Strangford Lough ferry was having to negotiate, he would have been sucking on his pipe with glee and making that funny "Ghhhaaaaaaaaaaaawwwwww" noise which he used to make in moments of maritime excitement. (My interest in this maritime phenomenum could also be explained by the fact that my father was in the Royal Navy in the Second World War and was an RNLI coxswain and that my mother was in the WRNS and I was born within a couple of stones' throws of the sea.)

Anyway, I have now uploaded to YouTube my little anorakish video of the Strangford Lough Ferry leaving Portaferry on a very windy and reasonably choppy day.

Bushmills distillery

For whiskey fans, here are some photos of Bush Mills distillery, taken on my recent pilgrimage there.

Leaked email from Tory MP reveals true thoughts on expenses

From the Evening Standard:

A Tory frontbencher has defended MPs' pay and expenses - stressing he did "not intend to become personally poorer" at this stage of his career.
In a leaked email, Laurence Robertson also played down the controversy over
Derek Conway - who was sacked as a Tory MP after paying his son Freddie to "work" for him as a researcher while he was studying at Newcastle University.
The stance taken by Mr Robertson, 51, the shadow
Northern Ireland minister, could prove embarrassing for Tory leader David Cameron as he seeks the moral high ground over MPs' expenses. Mr Robertson has claimed £144,591 in second home allowance over seven years.
Separately, a senior Labour MP attacked
Gordon Brown, Mr Cameron and Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg over their plans to overhaul the discredited system of expenses.
Jimmy Hood, MP for Lanark and Hamilton East, says he finds the "spectacle of GB, DC & NC in the proverbial political auction, bidding and counter-bidding against each other embarrassing and unhelpful". The emails leaked to the Standard reveal the huge row going on in
Westminster over the second home allowance and other perks paid to MPs.
Mr Robertson's email said: "Perception in politics is almost everything so, yes, we must be seen to be cleaning up our act. But we should NOT be bounced into a system...simply because the Home Secretary mistakenly claimed less than £10 for a porn film or because another MP employed someone who did very little."

Thursday, April 23, 2009

BNP claims there is a "racial genocide" in Britain

Oh dear. Don't get me started.

The BNP's Language and Concepts Discipline Manual (the very title makes your skin crawl) says that the term used for black and Asian people in this country should be "racial foreigners".

BNP leader Nick Griffin added to the BBC:

" civic terms they are British, British also has a meaning as an ethnic description. These people are 'black residents' of the UK etc, and are no more British than an Englishman living in Hong Kong is Chinese."
We don't subscribe to the politically correct fiction that just because they happen to be born in Britain, a Pakistani is a Briton. They're not. They remain of Pakistani stock," he added.
"You can't say that especially large numbers of people can come from the rest of the world and assume an English identity without denying the English their own identity, and I would say that's wrong. In a very subtle way, it's a sort of bloodless genocide."

Nick Griffin, BNP chairman, spoke to the BBC to defend a party leaflet that said black and Asian Britons "do not exist", arguing that calling such people British denied indigenous people their own identity.


But the problem is that there is no indigenous group with Britain, unless you can find anyone descended from the Beaker folk. "Indigenous" refers to origination of a group. Anglo-Saxons originated form Saxony (presumably) and Celts originated from Northern Europe.

And by the way, the first Black people came to this country with the Romans to staff Hadrian's Wall, which was about 600 years before the first Anglo-Saxons came here.

The whole BNP's ethos is based on total ignorance of history.

Is the sight of John McCririck really going to encourage people to celebrate St George's Day?

Happy St George's Day! I am delighted to celebrate this day. After seeing John McCririck on BBC Breakfast encouraging people to celebrate this occasion, I would like to place on record that I do not need him to remind me or cajole me into celebrating it. Indeed, it is hard to imagine anyone more likely to put people off the whole idea!

Question for Boris: Why was the Q4 closed for nine hours due to a minor accident?

Given that the A4 is one of the main routes into London, it really is quite extraordinary that it was closed for a full nine hours due to a minor accident. Boris should be put on the spot about this.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

British Tamils - Respect!

Here below is my photo of British Srilankan Tamils protesting in Parliament Square on Monday afternoon:

I arrived at Westminster tube station on Monday afternoon and went to spend a penny (well, 50 of them actually). Then I noticed that the people in the subway etc seemed to contain an unusually high proportion of (what I later learned were) British Tamils. Emerging from the station, I realised why. Parliament Square was completely taken over by an almighty demonstration by British Tamils about the situation in Sri Lanka. It was an humongous demonstration containing families, including children. There must have been a high proportion of the British Tamil community there and it must have taken a huge amount of organisation and passion to put on. There was even a snack bar inside the demonstration and apparently it has been going on for over seven days!!

And I have to say it was a very peaceful demonstration including quite a lot of dancing and singing.

I have since read up on the Sri Lankan situation. I really take my hat off to those British Tamils. It is an awesome demonstration!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009


An almighty big fat penny has finally dropped in Brownland, causing a huge fat resonating CLUUNNNNNNKKKKKKKKKKKK!!!!

My flabber is well and truly gasted and I my hoop is a-cock. Gordon Brown is in serious danger of giving politics a good reputation.

The controversial second home allowance for MPs could be axed within days now Prime Minister Gordon Brown has demanded an urgent Commons vote on reforms.


In a bid to calm a growing storm over taxpayer-funded Westminster perks, he pre-empted a summit with other party leaders and an independent inquiry by calling for a vote as early as next week.
Mr Brown set out his proposals to make the system "simpler and less generous" in a video posted on the Number 10 website shortly before they were formally published for MPs by Commons leader Harriet Harman.
He said it was vital to take immediate action to restore confidence that MPs were there to "serve the public and not there to serve themselves" and warned MPs they needed to show "humility".

Under his proposals, the second homes allowance would be replaced by an independently-set flat rate daily allowance based on attendance.

HALLEJUJAH! (Post-script critical faculty alert: This could give MPs who turn up, sign and slop off each day more money than currently and it is much the same as the rather discredited model in the European Parliament).

Ministers who live in grace and favour homes and MPs living "within travelling distance" of Westminster would be banned from claiming it, though there will still be an allowance for London MPs.
Receipts would be required for every item claimed by MPs, however small, under the terms of the interim reforms - which could be in place by July 1.

Receipts for every item?! Crikey! Hallejujah!

There would also be "greater transparency" of earnings from MPs' second jobs, said Mr Brown - who wrote to Tory leader David Cameron and Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg offering to meet to discuss the proposals in the next week.

Under the proposals, all staff appointed by MPs would become direct employees of the House of Commons which would set their employment terms and pay.This measure is designed to address concerns over the employment of MPs' relatives.

Oh my sainted aunt! I can't take this! My cup runneth over! Hallejujah!

Breaking out the mineral water and rocket at Cowley Street

(Copyright: Morris Dancer)

It seems Nick Clegg just keeping schtum about Smeargate launched our MORI poll rating into the stratosphere - well, er, talking comparatively of course - up 8 points to 22%. Nose bleed territory for us.

Smearing: The Tories know how to do it

A fascinating excerpt from Paddy Ashdown's autobiography. After he admitted to an affair with his secretary:

Jane (his wife) received a string of most unpleasant letters and phone calls while, in my constituency, anonymous flyers were circulated purporting to be a message from an entirely mythical “love child”, saying I had abandoned her."All this made life for my family even more difficult and seriously undermined my self-confidence, too. That, it appears, was precisely what was supposed to happen – as we discovered after the election, when we learnt that some Tories had imported a group of US activists called “the Nerds”, whose job was to spread malign rumours and make unfounded personal accusations against senior opposition MPs."Perhaps this was done without official sanction from the top of the Conservative party. But after the election Kelvin MacKenzie, then editor of The Sun, revealed that at least one cabinet-level Tory minister had approached him seeking to retail scurrilous and untrue allegations against a number of senior opposition MPs.

A real Boy's Own hero

Me with my hero at last night's launch of "A Fortunate Life" - Paddy Ashdown's autobiography

WARNING: This post contains scenes of unctous and distressing sycophancy.
I was fortunate enough to be invited by the excellent Iain Dale to last night's Total Politics "Evening with Paddy Ashdown". It was held in a very swanky hotel off Millbank in London, and included a decent smattering of the LibDem peerage and that Living Legend and icon for political anoraks everywhere, Bob Worcester (for it was he).
You can buy the book here and read an extract from it here and a review by Rod Liddle here.
What is clear is that when the Almighty was ladling out the testosterone, he gave an unusually generous dollop to Paddy.

Think about it. This man was a real spy. A spy. Dead letter boxes, safe houses and "cut-outs" (whatever they are) were his stock in trade.

He was a Royal Marine and was told he was on the IRA death list while serving in Northern Ireland (when incidentally he was faced with a gang of Catholic womanhood, all breasts heaving, effing and blinding at him because he parked his armoured car across the entrance to their church on a "****ing SUNDAY" (but I digress)).

He was in the Special Boat Squadron and swam ashore for clandestine operations connected to a breathing tube leading to a submarine, so that if the submarine had hit a patch of fresh water it would have dived and killed him instantly.

And at the age of sixteen - SIXTEEN! - Paddy "shacked up with an actress", who presumably taught him which buttons to press in the eternal Ugandan discussion game.

Oh, and then he led Britain's third party and ran a country.

Compare all that to our humdrum "got up, went to work, rained, had tea" existence and you've really got to say that this is a real man.

Oooooooooh, I've gone all weak at the knees.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Clegg promises £700 tax cut

Well done to Nick Clegg for announcing a very clear income tax cut of £700 for lower and middle earners. It will be a refreshing relief to go into the next general election promising a tax cut rather than having to defend tax increases. And I am delighted that finally we are expressing these things in pounds rather than pence. If you to say to someone they will receive a 4p tax cut, they really think "so what?" even if they realise somewhere in their brain that it is "in the pound". It requires too much calculation for someone to work out what it means to them. So this change to expressing it in pounds per year terms is excellent.

I would also point out that the party's estimate of funds freed up by closing loop holes etc is at the conservative, lower end of estimates.

Pot-kettle turf war

Is it me or is Guido disappearing up his own proverbial? Calling this ongoing Smeargate episode "schoolboyish" is being extremely unfair to schoolboys.

It seems Guido's main gripe is that Draper/McBride etc weren't as good at doing what he (Guido) does very well. Sort of gossip under the radar type of thing. There is this classic from Guido yesterday:

Maguire was still peddling innuendo from them about “Cameron’s alleged embarrassing complaint of a highly personal nature”.

Peddling innuendo? Perish the thought. Guido would never do that, would he?

So its seems a journalist isn't allowed to peddle innuendo but a blogger like Guido is.


In essence, this seems to be a row over job descriptions. Guido can't get a job as a real journalist so he invents a job as a blogger, but he doesn't want journalists invading his turf.

It's a turf war, really, isn't it?

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Yet another G20 video emerges

The BBC reports:

A new video released by demonstrators shows a police officer beating a man in the head with a riot shield at the London G20 protest earlier this month.
The man is barged with a shield on the side of his head in the footage, shown on the Sunday Times website.

The video is embedded below.

At 4.50mins in to this clip an officer is clearly seen smacking a protestor across the head with his shield. At 7.49mins in an officer punches a protestor in the face.

Ed Balls ran No.10 dirty tricks unit - Sunday Times

With a homburg doff to the excellent Iain Dale, there is this quite explosive story in tomorrow's Sunday Times:

ED BALLS, the schools secretary, used Damian McBride, the disgraced spin doctor, to smear ministerial rivals and advance his own ambitions, a Downing Street whistleblower has claimed.In an explosive new twist to the e-mail affair, a No 10 insider has revealed that Balls was the mastermind behind a “dark arts” operation by McBride to undermine colleagues. He claims the education secretary is running a destabilising “shadow operation” inside Downing Street to clear his path for the party leadership if Labour loses the next election.

On the same subject, the News of the World claims there was a meeting between Mirror journalist Kevin Maguire and the Labour General Secretary about setting up the "Red Rag" website. Charlie Whelan and Derek Draper were also allegedly at the meeting, revealed via an email leak.

US torture issue

In its main leader article, the Guardian today provides an excellent view of the US torture issue, under the title Holding America to account, with which I wholeheartedly concur:

Barack Obama did the right thing by ending the abuses within hours of taking office. He did well to publish the legal memos too. In such ways Mr Obama makes clear that his administration is making a clean break with the discredited past, while at the same time graphically reminding the world why that past (and Britain's role in it) was so disgraceful.

On balance Mr Obama may also be right to assure CIA personnel that they will not face prosecution if they carried out their work in good faith based on the old legal advice. But an essential part of the rule of law is that those who break it must be answerable for their actions. The Bush administration crossed a fateful threshold after 9/11. Its officials, including its lawyers, must be accountable for that. It is understandable that Mr Obama does not want his first term to be dominated by a reliving of the past. Yet America will only ensure it does not embrace torture again by getting to the bottom of why it did so this time. A full congressional inquiry is in order, as Speaker Pelosi has hinted. One way or another, those who ordered the abuses, from the president and vice-president down, must answer for them.

Smeargate - politics for 12 year olds

I am wondering whether this excellent analysis of Smeargate by the Guardian's Lucy Mangan is an insult to 12 year olds. But it is the best summary of Smeargate that I have read (and I have read quite a few):

Damian McBride

Oh my God, right, yeah? There's this guy, right, and he was gonna help his mates that were, like, starting up this gossip blog for slagging off the Tories, so he emailed some bad stuff about them, right, that he'd heard in the lobby, right, even though it wasn't even new stuff, OK, but it was like totally bad and not true and it got leaked, yeah, and the Tories were all, like, "You've got to resign!" and "Your mate should say sorry to us," cos they reckon his mate, like, totally knew what was going on and just was like, "Whatever, just don't tell me because it's better if I don't know, yeah?" But, after ages his mate was, like, all "sorry or whatever" but they're still not happy. You get me?

Politics: not just show-business for ugly people, but for everyone's inner 12-year-old too.

Gordon Brown comments on the departure of Alice Mahon from the Labour Party

"Alice? Alice? Who the [expletive deleted] is Alice?"

Everything you need to know about about the current state of political blogging in the UK a smidgeon over a minute

A priceless musical animation from the excellent Tim Ireland.

Friday, April 17, 2009

In praise of a Cat

But it's not a fluffy kitten story. [Well it is really - Ed].

Cat Stevens. I mention him for no other reason than the fact that I have been listening to Oh Very Young and Peace Train regularly on my iPod recently (and before you start guffawing and saying 'he must be nearly fifty' I would say that I am nearly fifty and I also have on my iPod: Amy Winehouse, Biffy Clyro, Belle and Sebastian, Bodyrox, Eple, Dizzee Rascal....oh...I'm proving that I've got a chip on my shoulder about my age aren't I? - alright then - I've got Barry White and Abba on there as well [shut up - Ed]) and I have come to the conclusion that Cat Stevens, when he was Cat Stevens, achieved the most remarkable amount of musical accomplishments in a short space of time. A few samples are below. The first clip is a 1976 live performance of Oh Very Young and I have to say it is an absolutely knockout performance. It is described as a "beautiful" rendition and that about sums it up. What a singer!

From the same tour this is Peace Train. Crikey - what a performance. The band is brilliant and Stevens seems to enter a sort of inspired trance when he sings. Mindblowing!

And, lest we forget, here is Yusuf Islam (for it is he) doing the same song. It's less energetic than Cat, but no less passionate and enthralling:

I could go on, but I will finish with this version of Morning has broken which, vitally, has the genius of Rick Wakeman tinkling the ivories. Without our Rick, this tune is nothing! Nothing I tell you!

Oh Blimey! I nearly forgot. Tea for the Tillerman - used by dear old Readingonianonian Ricky Gervaisy as the end buffer for his Extras series:

Ooflu tajectory

What is it that makes me think that Guido, Iain Dale and Conservative Home are about 180 degrees around a course that will end up, at 360 degrees, with them disappearing up their own <turned out nice again> ?

Note: The legendary Ooflu bird flew round and round and eventually disappeared up its own orifice.

Obama's decision on CIA is pragmatic and sensible

When I saw the headline Obama rules out prosecution for CIA officials for interrogation tactics, my heart sank. 'Hello', I thought, 'the disenchantment starts here'. However, his decision not to prosecute operatives for doing what they had Presidential and Attorney General sign-off for seems sensible. I don't see any mileage in lining up CIA interrogators because they did, essentially, what their President at the time had approved.

Mark Valladares puts it much better than I could here:

I think that President Obama has displayed a sense of pragmatism here. Torture has no place in a civilised society, no matter how evil our opponents are, and I trust that such acts will be prohibited, regardless of the circumstances. The victims of torture must be compensated and rehabilitated where possible.

Hilary raffles Bill

Dear me. A busy day for "fluffy cat" stories.

Hilary Clinton is raffling off her husband to help pay off her campaign debts. For $5 you enter a draw (that is "you" being a registered Americanian personage of course) to meet Billy Boy and attending "several interesting events" with him - one of which presumably is a long session meeting several chicken enchiladas.

Over 30 million hits on You Tube for previously unknown singer

Something of a fluffy cat post...

Susan Boyle has now received well over 30 million hits on You Tube for her performance of "Dream a Dream" on Britain's Got Talent last Saturday.

The lady really is a phenomenumenumenum. I've watched the video several times now and it still sends a shiver down my spine.

A bad week for.......Policeman Plod

No, I'm not referring to the G20 or Bank of England demonstrations but this little nugget from Damian Green on Newsnight. He said that whole he was being grilled by the police during his period of arrest, they said that he was facing life in jail.

Life in jail? For receiving a couple embarrassing titbits about the Home Office!

It's difficult to know whether to laugh or cry.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Texas to break away from the USA?

This has to be a most amazing idea, but it has been raised as an issue by no less a personage than the Governor of Texas, Rick Perry. Mind-blowing. Of course, he would say the same if his own party was in power in Washington. Of course. This gives some idea of the remarkably partisan atmosphere in American politics at the moment. The fact that a State Governor, indeed the Governor of the second largest state, is raising the spectre of secession really is astonishing.

"Texas is a unique place," the governor told reporters in Austin. "When we came into the union in 1845, one of the issues was that we would be able to leave if we decided to do that.
"My hope is that America, and Washington in particular, pays attention," he said. "We’ve got a great union. There’s absolutely no reason to dissolve it. But if Washington continues to thumb their nose at the American people, you know, who knows what might come out of that? But Texas is a very unique place, and we’re a pretty independent lot, to boot."

It's dangerous territory for a Governor. It is a tack which suggests that there may be some sort of election coming up. ....And, indeed, there is.

I wonder what George W. Bush thinks of this wacky idea...

Yay! Paddy!

Old Tallie on LDV has come up with a devilishly attractive poll as to the best living Lib Dem orator. He's come up with an excellent list: Paddy Ashdown, Evan Harris, Simon Hughes, Lembit Opik, John Pardoe, Cyril Smith, Jeremy Thorpe, Shirley Williams.

I have had the honour of listening to all of those, bar Cyril Smith, speak in the flesh.

John Pardoe's oratory, performed via a bullhorn from the top of a Land Rover parked outside Lloyds Bank, Bude, first got me hooked on the Liberal party when I was still in short trousers. He is a big bear of a man and would really let rip about the inequities of the Tory/Labour governments.

I think some of the old Liberal party speakers became great orators because of the desperate position the party was in. Jo Grimond certainly had to sing for his supper. And Jeremy Thorpe had a real talent for "hooking" you. I think he particularly honed this speaking in the open air over the noise of livestock in North Devon.

Lembit Opik is a very passionate and enthralling speaker. He's come in for a fair amount of stick over the years. Indeed, I have put the boot into dear old Lembit on several occasions. But you have to hand it to him - he knows how to make a great, powerful speech.

For making my choice it was down to Shirl the Whirl or Paddy Pantsdown.

Shirley Williams is the most logically enticing speaker I have heard. She is so intellectually on top of every matter she addresses that she just blows you away with her assemblage of facts, logic and passion.

But I have cast my vote for Paddy. Sometimes when he was leader, some passages of his speeches were rather formulaic - the sort of Ikea of the leader's speech world - assemble by numbers. But my goodness, when he got going he could really work the conference up to the most almighty lather so that you walked out the hall on a cushion of air vowing to run over a cliff if Paddy told you to.

If I was to pick out one thing which Paddy said in the speeches he made over the years it would be his use of the Hughes Mearns quote to describe John Major in Downing Street:

Yesterday upon the stair I met a man who wasn't there. He wasn't there again today. I wish that man would go away.

This quote was used later about Tony Blair. But Paddy used it at a time when John Major really was looking absolutely pathetically hopeless and ineffective in Downing Street. He used the quote as the crescendo to a piece about the uselessness of the then Tory government and it perfectly and humourously summed up with the whole sordid mess. Oh how we laughed!

I'm delighted to report that Paddy has opened up a respectable lead in the poll but there's still time to vote.

Clement Freud's vital 12.5%

I don't think I could honestly include the word "Liberal" in the title of this blog if I didn't mark the passing of Clement Freud, once described as "one of nature's liberals". Liberal Democrat Voice carries a tribute to him. I would just like to add my own personal dimension to the tributes, from the point of view of a Liberal party supporter from 1970ish onwards.

It's very important to remember that there were just six Liberal MPs elected in 1970 at the general election. Count them. Six. Pardoe, Thorpe, Johnston, Hooson, Grimond, Steel. They were joined in October '72 by Cyril Smith and in December '72 by Graham Tope, meaning that Clement Freud and his colleague David Austick brought the numbers up to ten when they were elected on 26th July '73. So, Freud increased the size of the parliamentary Liberal party by 12.5% by taking his seat. I have posted a specimen-sized photo above (from here) from 4th August 1973 showing the whole (Commons) parliamentary Liberal party. It was quite an event that the Liberal MPs could no longer fit in the back of a taxi. For some reason Jeremy Thorpe chose to inspect his shoes at the moment the photo was taken. (Either that or he wanted to display his full head of hair.)

So, we should not underestimate the very large impact that Clement Freud had in helping, with his colleagues, to stop the complete elimination of the Liberal Party in the UK. In many ways, 1970 marked a turning point in that after that it was all "up" for the party! The fact that Clement Freud was a natural liberal and a genuine all-round good egg was a considerable bonus. We should be very grateful to him.

By the way, I would just mention one thing that probably won't get mentioned much in all the tributes. Clement Freud is on the cover of Paul McCartney and Wings' album "Band on the run" (below). Thought I'd just mention that.

We've lost a genuinely larger than life character who puts most of us to shame with the amount that he packed into his life.

I feel that Lord Bonkers and his fellow parishioners should consider erecting at least a small plaque in memory of the great man at St Asquith's.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Time to close down the Met's Territorial Support Groups?

Looking at the picture in the Guardian, it is quite noticeable that the officer involved (in the alleged fracas with the woman in the Bank of England protests about Ian Tomlinson) is not displaying his number while several of his colleagues are. It is quite frightening to see that the alleged officer looks about two feet taller that the lady concerned.

Apparently the alleged officer works in the Metropolitan Police's Territorial Support Group.


I remember footage of riot police from earlier times when the police just stood there and took any form of abuse from the protesters within batting an eyelid.

I do wonder whether it is time to rethink the Territorial Support groups completely. They have been implicated in a whole string of potential problematic incidents (to put it mildly) including the death of Ian Tomlinson.

In fact, one begins to wonder whether the groups should be closed down and have entirely new units formed in their place with a whole new set of training and guidelines.

The beauty of Ireland

We're just back from two weeks holiday in Ireland. We had three stop offs: Dublin, Killyleagh on Strangford Lough and Portstewart on the Antrim coast.

We went over on the ferry from Holyhead. We were informed on the PA system that the ferry was being steered by "me, Alan Jones, assisted by my colleague, Olwyn Jones". It was all very Welsh and almost like something out of Ivor the Engine.

I took part in the Great Dublin Run, which was 10 kilometres around Phoenix Park in Dublin. Phoenix Park is mind-blowingly B-I-G. I can vouch for that. I did a practice run round it and ended up getting lost. I ran for two hours in the end!

Here's a pic of the Wellington memorial in Phoenix Park. It is quite awesome:

Dublin Zoo in the park, also, was a great visit. Dublin, as usual, was a great place to wander around. It was wonderful to see horses being used. In fact (and I say this in a very admiring and affectionate way) Dublin must be one of the few, if only, European capital cities where you have to occasionally sidestep horse manure on the pavement. It also has an absolutely superb tram system. The trams are gleaming new.

We went to Killyleagh on the shores of Strangford Lough. I've wanted to see Strangford Lough for a long time and wasn't disappointed. The exchange of waters/currents at each tide, in the narrows, is quite awesome to witness. At Killyleagh we had much excitement. We stayed in this castle:

More accurately, we were in the battlements, pictured below (our apartment was in the turret on the right):

It certainly had novelty value and we thoroughly enjoyed our stay. Killyleagh is a wonderful town which sports a great Irish pub, the Dufferin Arms. While there, I was taken by how Belfast seems to be the place to go if you want a job in TV continuity (and have an Irish accent). Both BBC1 and BBC2 have all their continuity links between programmes voiced from Belfast, even during the daytime. As does UTV. In the case of UTV, they are the only TV channel I know of in the UK which still have on-screen continuity announcers. So Belfast certainly seems to be the TV continuity capital of the UK, that's for sure.

I was struck by how most people in Dublin had dark hair but when we visited Downpatrick, further north, there were quite a few people who had fair hair. I wondered whether this was something to do with the Vikings (who visited around Downpatrick quite a lot) but I seem to remember that Dublin was founded by Vikings, so that doesn't necessarily follow.

While we were at Killyleagh I realised that it is mentioned in Prince Andrew's title. You know how the Royals have long titles "Duke of this" and "Earl of that"? Well, Prince Andrew is the Baron of Killyleagh. (His full title is: HRH Prince Andrew Albert Christian Edward, The Duke of York, Earl of Inverness, Baron Killyleagh, KCVO, ADC). It was quite an experience to actually see one of these places mentioned in these long royal titles.

We moved on to Portstewart and the Antrim coast. It was a great thrill to visit Bush Mills distillery and have a tour round. I was interested to discover that Jamesons and Paddy is bottled at Bush Mills. Indeed, the same water is used in Bush Mills, Jamesons and Paddy whiskey. Not a lot of people know that.

The Antrim coast is quite rightly a UNESCO World Heritage site. There are so many wonderful sites along it. Dunluce Castle - pictured below - is quite magical:

Then, of course, there is the Giant's Causeway. It is a mecca for overseas tourists. Our hostel at Portstewart was over-flowing with backpackers of many and varied nationalities. In itself it is quite an exceptional geological phenomenum. But it is also surrounded by the most wonderfully picturesque coast, with breathtaking views of Rathlin Island and Jura, Islay and the Mull of Kintyre in the distance. Here below is a shot of the Giant's Causeway (far distance) and one of the bays along side it. The Causeway has its famous hexagonal rocks. When you get there you realise that Mother Nature made quite a lot of attempts before she got the hexagonals quite right. Either side of the causeway there are nearly hexagonal rocks, round ones, irregular ones etc etc.

We travelled north and visited the ruins of Bishop Hervey's pad including Mussenden Temple - below:

But our final destination was the most breathtaking for me. Lough Foyle (below). It really is exceptionally beautiful.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

VAT cut has caused "remarkable" boost to sales

The Centre for Economics and Business research says that the VAT cut has boosted sales by £2.1bn. I wonder if their report could be thrust in the faces of Messrs Clegg & Cameron, both of whom stupidly said that the cut was having no benefit.

Update: Here is the full text of the CEBR "Forecasting Eye" release:

Credit where credit’s due – the VAT cut is working

Prior to the Pre‐Budget Report in November, cebr called for a temporary reduction in the rate of Value Added Tax (VAT) of 5 per cent in order to encourage consumer spending and help limit the recession in 2009. Alistair Darling delivered half of what we suggested with a 2.5 per cent cut, citing restrictive EU legislation that precluded a bolder move. The cut of 2.5
per cent was set upon by critics. Opponents argued that it was too small to make a difference, it was overshadowed by the heavy retail discounting underway in any case, or that encouraging saving not consumption was required to rebalance the United Kingdom economy.

Now that we have retail figures from the Office for National Statistics for the first quarter of the cuts duration; it is time to take a view on whether the cut has helped the beleaguered retail sector so far. The figures are clear; the VAT cut is working. There was an immediate boost to the volume of retail sales after the cut was introduced on 1st December 2008. As
shown in the chart overleaf (below), annual growth in retail sales accelerated from 1.6 per cent in November 2008 to 2.6 per cent in December*. Sales growth accelerated further in January to 3.2 per cent, and registered a marginal decline in February to 3.0 per cent.

In our retail sector forecasts prior to November’s VAT cut, we expected to see retail sales continue to decline as the recession intensified, with growth reaching 0 per cent by February 2009. This is in‐line with the fall seen at the beginning of the 1990 recession. Assuming that reality would have followed our forecast in the absence of the policy measure, the VAT
cut has boosted retailers’ turnover by £2.1 billion over the first three months of its operation.

The current plan is to reverse the cut in January 2010 – this threatens to cause a consumer downturn and choke the fragile economic recovery. The Chancellor should extend the duration of the cut to July 2010 when the economy will be stronger. The rise in retail growth is even more remarkable given the economic context over this period. Following the intensification of the credit crunch in October and the bank bail‐out package the United Kingdom economy was in freefall. Indicators of business and consumer confidence declined markedly, interbank lending spreads rose to new record levels and lending
volumes fell to a trickle. We now know that the UK economy recorded its worst quarter since 1980, with a contraction of 1.6 per cent. Despite all of this, retail sales not only continued to grow, but growth accelerated.

The VAT cut boosts retail spend by £2.1 billion in first three months of operation – the Chancellor should extend it to July 2010
*Retail figures are expressed as the year-on-year change in the three month moving average of sales volume. This measure is considered the most representative by the Office for National Statistics due to the volatility of the retail sales index series

Oh dear. It's all kicking off in Palinworld

To go with the Easter chocolate I think we deserve a bit of nostalgia. Remember those halcyon days last August actually...when I could get thousands of hits just by mentioning the word "Palin"? Happy days....

Well come on, the lady hasn't gone into cold storage up there in Alaska. So why not indulge in a bit of nose-pokery into her world? Go on, you know you love it.

It's all been kicking off in Palinworld recently. Remember that she didn't/doesn't support explicit sex education programmes and backed "abstinence only" programmes?

And became known that her daughter - 17 years old and unmarried - was five months pregnant.

Could have happened to any family, eh? But perhaps of public interest given Palin's stand on sex education.

But never mind. The father (without a single shot gun in sight) was going to marry the lass. So everything would be okey dokey, hunky dorey. And there - look - didn't he look great (right,abovish) in a suit on the stage at the Republican Convention standing by his girl?

Only then there was a slight hiccough. Something of a fly in the ointment.

The boy and the girl had a bit of a barney. They then had a bit of a cooling off period away from each other.

But never mind - all would be well we were told. He'll come back into the fold.

Except he won't now because he's been on US national television dishing the dirt on Palin (twice, by my count) and an unholy public slanging match has broken out. See below.

It really is terrible. Most unedifying.

Gordon Brown needs to personally apologise to Cameron, Osborne & Dorries today


Since my last post, I have read the News of the World on the McBride emails.

My view of their gravity has increased considerably. I don't think Brown can ever recover from this debacle, which will now be an additional millstone around his neck, added to all the others. He's a dead man walking, now.

I am uncomfortable with how this has come about - through a medium that has carried so many "smears" about Labour. Sadie's Tavern clearly highlights the cynical side of this.

But that is a marginal point. Guido/Dale don't sit in Downing street. Brown does. McBride did when he wrote the emails. Despite reservations we might have about this as political activists who know many of the tricks and behind-the-scenes stuff, the public really don't want to hear "he did it first" type of schoolyard bleatings, especially when the emails were sent during work time by a highly paid employee of the crown, using government equipment and networks. Just look at the responses to Kevin Maguire when he tried to minimise the issues involved.

Iain Dale points to a very salient post from Labour MP Tom Harris. It's no good trying to diminish this. It was an almighty and horrendous mistake. It was an unforgiveable abuse of taxpayers money. Gordon Brown needs to come out today and personally apologise to all the people named in the emails. End of.

Saturday, April 11, 2009 amateurism a bad name

With great excitement I have read the McBride/Draper emails. We are being told they indicate a poisonous intent within Labour high command. To some extent that is true, but we have seen far more effective campaigns used against Labour (e.g. over J. Prescott). No, the point is the monumental, mind-shattering naivety and stupidity of it all. ....Boyishly enthusiastic emails sent from government computers...and this man earnt 6 figures as a specialist in ..wait for it...communications! The biggest laugh for me was that the stupid muppet didn&#39;t even know how to insert hyperlinks into text! That says it all!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Fisheries update

Coincidentally (given yesterday&#39;s post) , I was reviewing some fishing information today (as you do). There is already an alternative name for pollock (or pollack). It&#39;s &quot;lythe&quot;. So why the heck are Sainsbury&#39;s calling it &quot;colin&quot;, which is the French name for a different fish, hake, when they could use an existing alternative? The answer, no doubt, exists in the mind of some marketing expert somewhere....

Monday, April 6, 2009

A load of pollock

Sainburys have renamed the delicious and sustainable fish, pollock, &quot;colin&quot;. Customers were embarrassed to ask for pollock, apparently. So they&#39;re now using the French name for hake. Eh? Will they now rename cockaleekie soup &quot;pete&quot; after the latin word for stone? And presumably customers are not embarrassed to ask for the unsustainable and almost tasteless cod.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Yet another British human rights outrage

Is it me or has this country's record on human rights got worse in the last few years? As a loyal Guardian/Observer reader my grip on my newspaper, as I read it, has been turned very shaky by a long series of outrages in the last few years. The absolute scandal of the death of Jean Charles de Menezes was the tip of the iceberg. We've had the revoltingly supine attitude, and perhaps direct active involvement, of the British government to the US-led Iraq invasion, the Guantanamo jailings, rendition and torture. More recently we've had the uncovering of the brutal treatments allegedly meted out on an alleged regular basis by one of the Metropolitan Police's Territorial support units.

Now we hear that some poor sod ambled away from his job at a newsagent's and just happened to stumble into the middle of a riot and died of a heart attack following an apparent fall which has been allegedly attributed to an alleged 'assault' by police riot officers.

I don't have anything sensible to say about all this but I would like to register my utter disgust at this whole series of outrages.

Quite frankly, I'll send Jacqui Smith's husband a few tenners to watch a few more "adult movies". It matters not. What matters is that his wife and her colleagues appear to making a complete horlicks of their job. It appears that the "cure" they are giving us is worse than the disease.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

It's Russell Brand's company, Vanity Projects, which should pay the BBC/Ofcom fine

A couple of days ago I railed against the idea of the licence fee payers stumping up the £150,000 fine for the Ross/Brand affair which the BBC has been asked to pay Ofcom.

I am delighted to see that several MPs, including our own Don Foster, LibDem Shadow Culture, Media and Sport Secretary, have called for Jonathan Ross to pay the fine. Foster has said:

This money should come out of Jonathan Ross's salary, so that broadcasting does not suffer as a consequence of this error.

I might add that the Radio Two programme on which the offending calls were made, was produced by a company called Vanity Projects which is partly owned by Russell Brand. As far as I know, that company was paid in full by the BBC for all its Russell Brand radio shows including the offending ones.

Wouldn't it be poetic justice if Vanity Projects stumped up some of the fine? After all, it was because of editorial decisions made (or, indeed, not made) by that company (which were not subsequently overturned by sufficient compliance control actions within the BBC) that led to the fine in the first place.

The Jury team and independence

The Jury Team have launched a sort of graphic video attacking Jacqui Smith's expenses record.

It is accompanied, in part, by this script:

We think that it is disgusting that a politician should seek to maximise the cash they can claim, whilst voting to keep that information private.
We think it is wrong for politicians to feather their nests at our expense, protected by the hierarchies of the political parties.
We think that politics would be better and cleaner if real people from outside of the political class became our elected representatives.

The problem with this attack on Jacqui Smith is that the Jury Team are becoming their own political party. How can someone be "independent" if they are being sucked into an attack on Jacqui Smith which is, for example, unaccompanied by an attack on Michael Ancram or the Wintertons, who have been equally suspect in their use of the MP's second home allowance?

And really, this stuff about "real people from outside of the political class". What unadulterated bilge! Surely the whole point of the MP's expenses rows is that have been revealed as "real people"?! And are they really saying that there is a "political class" and all MPs are members of it? If so, they are bonkers.

Don't get me wrong. Of course, I want to see more women and more people from more disparate ethnic backgrounds in parliament. But starting yet another political party under the pretence of an "independent" one is not the way to do it.

When the Jury Team sponsors its first raving Communist to be elected, I'll believe that it is truly independent.


Has anyone else noticed the remarkable resemblance between Her Majesty the Queen and the late Barbara Cartland?

Weren't they allegedly related?

Friday, April 3, 2009

Fine for Ross/Brand affair - the public pay the public

The BBC have been fined £150,000 by Ofcom over the Brand/Ross/Sachs affair.

Just think about that for a moment.

The BBC is funded by licence payers. So licence payers will stump up £150K to pay the fine.

So far, so good (although bad for the licence payers).

That money will not go to Ofcom. They can't accept money, apparently.

So that £150,000 will go to the Treasury, apparently.

So effectively, the money will go from the public public.

One gigantic great circular monetary merry go round, in other words.

And the point is?

Danged if I know.

If you think about it, the public who pay licence fees are not the same public who pay tax - although a Venn diagram of the two populations would show two virtually covering, mutually inclusive, circles.

But I suppose that there are probably a small number of people who pay the licence fee but don't pay tax. (Off the top of my head I can't think what kind of people these would be). They theoretically will be losing out, I suppose. Poor them.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

I'm in the mood...

Coleen Nolan in search of the secret of eternal youth on ITV1 last night...I spent the first 30 minutes selecting a blunt, heavy object to throw at the telly as Ms Nolan toyed with the concepts of cosmetic surgery, laser butchery, botox etc.

Fortunately she came round at the end & plumped for (a) stop smoking and (b) be happy. The flat screen therefore survived until the next appearance by Piers Morgan (now there's a face I'd like to conduct surgery on...).

By the way, I think God was smiling on Coleen Nolan the day that squirt Shane Richie left her. Her new hubby seems a very good egg.