Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Don't vote for me

For the second year running I'm asking Iain Dale of the Total Politics Blog awards and the organisers of the LibDem Blog awards to exclude this blog from consideration. I am delighted for people who find these awards fun. I don't. I blog for fun, I don't blog to not win awards. I find the whole apparatus of Blog awards completely odious. Blogging, for some reason, is the most overly awarded endeavour in the entire field of human activity. There's a whole tedious awards season which seems to last six months of the year. It's quite pathetic given the titchy readership of even the most overblown blogs. And the awards encourage the most silly preening and stupid egotism. They also leave many people feeling very disappointed.

So "round spherical objects" to blog awards, say I.

(And yes, before someone says so, I did organise a little exercise called the "Good Egg Awards" last year (sorry I didn't realise it was a racist phrase until this year) but the astute amongst you may have realised that these were "anti-awards" designed to reward people who flog away day and night at blogging but never get recognised.)

Cameron: Who's the tw*t?

It is interesting that David Cameron hams it up to try to please particular audiences. It so transparently contrived. Just after elected Tory leader, he appeared on a London community radio station for the "young". When asked to give a message to the audience he said "Keep it real".

Come off it. This man was brought up amidst antique family furntiure in one of the poshest parts of Berkhire -Leckhamsptead. I've been there several times. "Keep it real" is not a phrase you hear in the Stag pub there. "Yah", "Ew" and "Tally Ho" you might hear. "Keep it real" - no.

So today he tries it again. He's on with zoo radio expert Christian O'Connell, so he swears. "Tw*t" and "P****ed off", he says. Oh yes. He's really down with the kids. And Ew, marvellous, some excellent press emphasising his street cred.

Except there is a fly in the ointment:

Asked whether he used Twitter, Cameron said: "The trouble with Twitter, the instantness of it - too many twits might make a twat.

Do you see what he did there? He's a tw*t because he hasn't used Twitter and obviously has no idea what it is, and, let's face it, expecting him to use it would be like expecting Her Majesty the Queen to use the iPod that Bazza gave her and load it herself (I love to think that she has "God Save Oneself" loaded onto it, but I fear not).

But he's turned it round and called all us Tweeters tw*ts, effectively.

That will come back to haunt him.

The twit.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Obama's honeymoon ends in Cambridge

It's all a bit weird really. It is a gaffe from which Barack Obama is using his considerable reserves of "cool" ("Fancy a beer with Bazza, Sergeant?") to extract himself. But gaffe it, undeniably, is. And end of the 44th Presidential honeymoon it should be, but it's not as simple as that. Which makes it all the more fascinating. In fact, there are a number of fascinating aspects to this...and ironies (but perhaps not in the strictest sense - my offspring asked me what irony is the other day and I had to finally admit (after several attempts) that I really don't have a clue).

First, what on earth am I on about? - asks half of my reader.

Well, on July 16th a Harvard professor was coming home, in Cambridge Massachusetts, a stone's throw from Harvard square. His driver dropped him in front of his house and then assisted him in trying to get into his house because there was a problem with the door opening. A lady saw this and was alarmed. She called 911 for the police. A policeman arrived. Versions differ, but suffice it to say that it appears that said professor kicked up a bit of a fuss about being challenged for trying to enter his own home. Race was mentioned. Reports of the extent of that fuss vary (but, let's face it, professors generally are very good at kicking up fusses - particularly, I should imagine, Harvard ones - oops - sorry, prejudice and surmisal coming out there) but the policeman decided it was necessary to arrest the professor. Charges were later dropped.

(The incident is reported by the BBC here and Colin Powell reflects very sanely on it, from the point of view of a black man, here.)

The chain of command of the police in the USA is a bit different from the UK. After all, they fought and won a war to kick us out - so they're entitled to do things differently over there. However, it appears that police in Cambridge, Massachusetts come under the command of Comissioner Robert C Haas. He's a man with a very distinguished record of public service, who has been in post since April 2007. He's the man who should tackle any reports of misperformance by the police. Indeed, he has been so doing in this case.

My knowledge of US structures is a bit hazy after that. But I assume that the state police of Massachusetts comes under the control, eventually, of the Governor. Here's the first irony. Well actually it's probably not a true irony, but it is a little twist. The Governor of Massachusetts, Deval Patrick, is black. Indeed, he is one of the only four black Governors there have been in the history of the USA (New York Governor Patterson is one of the others, and he's also the second legally blind Governor in the US). There is nothing greatly significant there. It is just interesting that this episode has been ignited in a state with a Black governor and a country which now has its first Black President. I just mention it en passant.

So Deval Patrick is entitled to make some comment on this situation, I suppose. I am not quite sure why. These sorts of incidents happen all the time. Danders rise, charges are dropped, dogs bark and the caravan moves on.

So why on earth did President Obama get involved? It's a fascinating question. What he did was to say that police "acted stupidly". Why? I mean, why did he even comment on a very minor alleged neighbourhood infraction of the law?
A minor fracas, indeed. I realise the irony of me jumping to conclusions here, but Obama himself has now admitted that the professor may have over-reacted. Well, in an amateur photo (right) of the incident he has his mouth wide open and looks to be in the throes of a full-on diva strop - but that was after he was handcuffed - allegedly (and I hastily mention that, of course, having a diva strop, full-on or otherwise, is not necessarily against the law, nor should it be. And if you are arrested for entering your own home, it is fair to say that it is justifiable to throw a diva strop.). But, as I say, I am jumping to conclusions just like B. Obama, who I am criticising for that very reason - but then I am just a one-handed blogger, while he is the most powerful man in the world.

Here's another irony or twist (choose your own degree of lexicographic pedantry there) - Obama was editor of the Harvard Law Review. Wouldn't holding that post entail him taking a cautious approach to local incidents? Allowing due process and all that? Isn't that what they teach you at the most minor college in America, let alone Harvard, Alma Mater of virtually the entire senior legal profession in the USA?

And, my goodness me, I am pinching myself here, but can anyone remember....I can hardly write this....George Bush (there I wrote it) piling in on a minuscule neighbourhood incident like this? I can't. ...And I tend to remember anything George Bush did which I can hold against him. What I do remember is that Bush hated getting involved in any legal cases and restricted his pardons to a very small number. The mere fact that I am harking back to George Bush's presidency with something approaching a favourable tinge, is testament, if any is needed, that this Cambridge incident really is a serious one for Obama. The gilt has been well and truly knocked off his gingerbread.

And here's another twist/irony. WTF is Obama doing making a comment without an autocue? Remember, this is Mr Cool. This is Mr Autocue. He doesn't do unprepared comments much. Even his off-the-cuff remarks are scripted. So what the heck is he doing making any unprepared statements? And on Race?! It beats me.

And having said all that, I should say that the police did seem to overact here. Prof Gates provided his university ID card and his drivers licence but, even then, the police still handcuffed him - on his own front porch!

But anyway, Obama has belatedly switched on the cool override. He appeared unannounced at a press briefing and said he'd spoken to police officer involved and invited him and the professor (Professor Henry Gates, by the way, who is a personal friend of Obama - which partly explains the President's involvement - as does the involvement of Governor Patrick) for a beer at the White House at 6pm EST on Thursday. Discussions are currently taking place as to whether the event will be marked by one of those uber-cool Presidential behind-the-scenes still photos or whether there will be the full "Press Spray".

Which brings us to the nub of this. A few silly commentators in the UK (mainly) questioned whether Obama is the first black President of the US. 'He's mixed race" they said. Yes, they are right. In the UK we call someone with mixed race parents "mixed race". Obama's mother was white. Fine. But hang on. Those silly commentators were ignoring a massive Elephant sitting in the corner of US History (probably somewhere in Virginia). It's called the "one drop rule". Even if your great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandfather was black and the rest of your ancestors were white, you are "black" under the "one drop rule". (One drop of blood, that is). So OK, Obama could have gone round constantly telling people he was "mixed race" - just like Lewis Hamilton and Theo Walcott. But, spine chillingly, the "one drop rule" in the US means and meant that he is black.

So why did Obama comment on Prof Gates and his encounter with Sgt Crowley? I still don't know. Sorry. But it does confirm that those silly commentators were wrong. Obama is black. He knows, from experience, what it is like to attract undue suspicion and hostility just because of the colour of your skin. All of us who have built up Obama into a great calculating cool machine have had one thing confirmed. Barack Obama is human. He has passion. And good for him. On this occasion his passion is genuine and, on a general level, absolutely right. (There is ample evidence to suggest that black men tend to be disproportionately given the attention of the police in the USA.) It's just that he needs to remember he is President a bit more.

(And having said all that, I have a sneaking suspicion that Obama, apparently clumsily, may have done a bit of good. Should anyone be arrested on the basis of allegedly attempting to break into their own home, even after they provide ample evidence of their identity? If they kick up a bit of a fuss, is it really necessary to cart them off to the local nick, stick them in orange overalls and mug shot them? Are over-dramatic Harvard professors a threat to US peace and security? Shouldn't police officers in Cambridge, Massachusetts be ready to encounter the odd adacemic diva? Do real-life Inspector Morses in Oxford go about arresting professors who start spurting Latin at them in a bit of a strop?)

So, goodbye honeymoon. It was unrealistic to expect it to continue, anyway. For goodness sake, Obama is fighting the worst recession which any incoming US President has faced since FDR. He is currently trying to untangle the gordian knot of US Health Care. That, we should remember, is a task which completely, and dramatically defeated Bill Clinton, the biggest policy wonk and behind-the-scenes schmoozer ever to enter the White House. Our man Obama's ratings are going to travel south. That's inevitable. There was only one FDR.

Monday, July 27, 2009

It's a very good year indeed for cherry plums

Before today, I had never seen a cherry plum. Indeed, I was blissfully unaware of their existence on this planet. But, within the space of an hour today, our house has been inundated with several bucket loads of cherry plums coming from two different hauls from two different counties.

Here are just a few of them - from East Berkshire on the left, and from South Hampshire on the right:

So I think I can safely conclude that it is a very good year for cherry plums. Indeed, there appears to be a glut of them, as confirmed by this foodie blog. I don't know what climatic conditions or whatever have led to this.

They are the same size as cherries and look more or less like cherries, but they are plums. They are absolutely delicious and very easy to eat.

I am now on chutney making detail for tomorrow evening.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Thoughts on the LibDem blogosphere

Stephen Tall, Head Boy of the LibDem blogosphere, has asked for thoughts on the state of our little corner of the interweb. Here goes:

What are the greatest successes of the Lib Dem blogosphere?

1. The LibDem aggregator. It's simple and very effective and I am yet to see anything even approaching it from the other parties. In particular, the democratic egalitarian nature of it is a wonderful re-statement of the spirit of our party.

2. LibDemVoice is excellent

3. Lots of new blogs are starting all the time. Some go quiet, some suddenly have a growth spurt, but it all gets reflected in the aggregator. I see lots of youngish people blogging, which is good.

4. I think the greatest success of the LibDem blogosphere is to give like-minded people, scattered all over the country, and the world, a sense of community and identity. It is marvellously identity-reinforcing to be able to share views with people you know will broadly agree but also take issue as necessary.

What are we, collectively as bloggers, failing to achieve?

Well nothing really. It's crazy to see this as some sort of competition. We all have busy lives and families/partners. We shouldn't beat ourselves up about something which, in its proper place, is just a hobby.

How does the Lib Dem blogosphere compare with those of the Labour, Tories and other parties’?
I can't really say. I don't read them in large quantities.

How helpful is blogging as a campaigning tool (are there examples of it making a real impact)?

Unless you get up to the DailyKos levels, I don't think it has a great impact but it is important that it is there. It is a supplement to other forms of campaigning and can often spearhead campaigns.

What do you think the next year holds in store for the Lib Dem blogosphere?
More blogging. Very often blogging tends to get more exciting when there are exciting events happening - e.g the expenses scandal. With the election coming up, things should get interesting. I hope we can dissect the vacuum at the heart of the Tory party (if it is technically possible to dissect a vacuum, which I doubt) and display the truth of what is there (again, if that is possible). Cameron's statement that he would like to clear Parliament Square of protestors to make it look tidy suggests that a Tory government will be the opposite of liberal and allow plenty of mileage for exposure.

Friday, July 24, 2009

The glorious twitterfication of the Norfolk Blogger

Many congratulations to Nich Starling, the Norfolk Blogger, for his excellent coverage of the Norwich North by-election.

The by-election seemed to come as a remarkable piece of serendipity for the NB. You only have to go back to 16th April and he was thinking of knocking blogging on the head:

Oh I just can't be bothered

I am wondering if it really is time to knock this whole blogging business on the head. After 30 months, thousands of postings, lots of ranting, and lots of time wasted, I really am finding it very difficult to summon up the energy to write anything that is not only interesting to someone else, but is of interest to me...

But, along came the by-election, bang on cue, and the NB was on the spot at the right time...there followed a glorious stream of posts. Every piece of literature was photographed, every twitch of his letter box chronicled, every Tory car drawing up outside noted. Wonderful!

And what is even more wonderful is Nich's Pauline conversion on the Twitter front. As recently as February, the NB was referring to Twitter as "Tw*tter". I wrote at the time:

The dear old Norfolk Blogger really has got a starling in his hard drive over Twitter. His site now has a "Tw*tter" box in the sidebar with these updates:I am using my computer (1 day ago)I ate my tea and went to the toilet (3 days ago)Are you really that sad that you honestly want to keep track of everything I do ? (About 38 years ago).

Nich has also done a posting entitled Twitter? Get a life! When I suggested he would be using Twitter soon, Nich replied:"Paul, i won't be twittering for one very simple reason, I have a life ! All the reasons people have given for using it so far centre around the fact that they seem not to have a life an like knowing the laundry details and habits of people are really are unimportant"....You know, I think he's coming round....

Well, with the onset of the Norwich North by-election, the Norfolk Blogger is now a fully fledged Tweeter. It's a remarkable turnaround! He's now got 216 followers and has tweeted 68 times with such updates as:

Am sitting 3 yards from Anita anand and 5 from John pienaar. from TwitterBerry

And try as I might, I can't find a single Norfolk Blogger tweet about going to the toilet and having tea.

There's a wonderful tweet from Nich this evening:

The one big pautive of the campaign ? I am enjoying politics again and want to be politically active again.

Marvellous!

Those Captain Pugwash schoolboy urban myths

I note the sad passing of the highly talented John Ryan, who created the charming Captain Pugwash series. It is perhaps a good opportunity to repeat that the stories about smutty names in the series were completely untrue. As the BBC states today:

Contrary to popular myth there was no Master Bates or Seaman Staines and the cabin boy was called Tom, not Roger.

Wikipedia adds:

There is a persistent urban legend, repeated by the now-defunct UK newspaper the Sunday Correspondent, which ascribes sexually suggestive names – such as Master Bates, Seaman Staines, and Roger the Cabin Boy (meaning to have sex with) – to Captain Pugwash 's characters, and indicating that the captain's name was a slang Australian term for oral sex. John Ryan successfully sued both the Sunday Correspondent and The Guardian newspapers in 1991 for printing this legend as fact. [1]
In a stage show in Frome on 5 June 2009, Richard Digance claimed to have originated this urban legend in a 1970's sketch. A 25-year injunction preventing Digance making any further references to Captain Pugwash expired at the end of 2008 and the material is now part of his act.

Nostalgia blast: Soap

It's a long story but I alighted upon the following intro to "Soap" on YouTube today. It made me go all gooey, so here it is in case it causes some small pleasure somewhere in the world.

The intros to "Soap" were utterly hilarious. Like this one - narrated by the late Rod Roddy (who was a very famous voice-over man in the States - he did "The Price is Right" for many years) it weaves a maddeningly complex web of plot intricacies and then ends with the familiar line: "Confused? You won't be after this week's episode of Soap". As often is the case, the wonderful theme music makes the whole thing (and I have embedded the unadulterated theme music below the intro clip).

"Soap" was, of course, a spoof of daytime US soaps. It was the launchpad for Billy Crystal's career.




The conundrum behind the stocks rally

It's been heartening to see the rally in the stock market over the last week or so. Even the BBC have been giving it a bit of fanfare, as they did on BBC1's Breakfast this morning. Hurrah!

If you go to the heart of the recovery in the States, however, there is a bit of a conundrum at the centre of it.

As CNN's The Buzz explains, by enlarge, the shares are rising in response to good profit statements from companies such as AT&T and 3M. However, those profits are being obtained by companies reducing costs rather than increasing revenues. Indeed, sales are dramatically down, generally (with some notable exceptions such as Apple).

And there's the rub. You won't get a full recovery from recession until sales start rising. Companies are pushing share prices up by making profits through reducing costs. The main way they have reduced costs is by laying off staff. People are unlikely to go out and spend oodles of money if they have been laid off, or if their friends or neighbours have been laid off, frightening them into penny-pinching.

So, the rally is a bit deceptive and unlikely to be followed by a proper recovery until sales pick up and they won't pick up.....you get the picture.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

When a s**t sandwich finally comes unstuck

It's worth reading this Time article, which chronicles the last hours of the Bush administration in regard to Dick Cheney's obsession with getting a pardon for Scooter Libby. This is quite an historic thing. George Bush and Dick Cheney were stuck together like a .......ahem...s**t sandwich for eight years. And yet, George Bush, in this episode, finally proved himself capable of taking a decision without Dick Cheney's acquiescence. Incredible.

"Busting a gut" and other outlandishly disingenuous phrases

"Busting a gut"

That's what Her Britannic Majesty's Secretary of Defence, the Right Honourable Robert William Ainsworth MP is doing. He's doing it to try to get more helicopters in operation in Afghanistan.

But hey, wait a sec. Gordon Brown says there are enough helicopters there. So Bobby Boy, sit back and pour yourself a long lager. No gut busting required here, mate.

There are eight Chinooks waiting to go out there.

...says our Bob. Excellent. Well done all round. And how long have they been waiting?

Er............. since 2002 actually.

Ah!

Oh dear.

But let's not concern ourselves. Boys are dying out there. But the Secretary of Defence is "busting a gut".

So, that's all right then.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Do people actually visit Presidential libraries?

George Bush is spending his time raising millions for his Presidential Library.

It made me wonder. Who would want to take a day out of their life to visit the George Bush Presidential Library? OK, so quite a few people will do it out of grim fascination, for the next few years. But in forty years time?

And how many relatively useless Presidential Libraries are strewn over the USA?

Well, let's just take the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library. Hoover was one of the most unpopular US Presidents, blamed for the Great Depression. In 2004, only 66,000 visited his library. That's just under Manchester United's average gate per match.

And the most popular US Presidential Library? As of 2005, strangely enough, it was that of Lyndon Johnson. Obviously, it was attended by many people anxious to be inside the tent.....

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Sarah Palin's disastrous resignation speech writ large

This is a hoot. Vanity Fair asked their literary editor, their research department and their copy editor to go through Sarah Palin's resignation speech and correct it. What results is a sea of red, green and blue corrective ink all over the original speech transcript. I reproduce below just one page as an example (click on it to enlarge it) - Vanity Fair shows the rest here.

As Vanity Fair comments: "If you watched Sarah Palin’s resignation speech, you know one thing: her high-priced speechwriters moved back to the Beltway long ago."

Oh joy, oh rapture! A new Midsomer tomorrow



There are few things which bring such unalloyed joy to our humble household other than the prospect of a new Midsomer Murders episode. There's one on tomorrow night called "The Dogleg Murders". (It's even got Rupert Vansittart, who plays Lord Ashfordly in Heartbeat, in it!) Indeed, and I am trying to control my glee here, it is the start of a new series and there is another new episode called "Secrets & Spies" on 29th July!

I will have to lie down and apply a cold compress.

FT: Tory plans for FSA/Bank of England "unwise"

The leader in today's FT says that the Tory plans to close down the Financial Services Authority and give its powers to the Bank of England represent unnecessary and counter-productive butchery:

Under the Tory plans...an unchecked and unchallenged Bank may fall into groupthink about financial stability – as it did during the decade before the crisis. The Conservatives propose recruiting a handful of outsiders to sit on a financial policy committee to inject intellectual competition into the monetary authority. But it is unrealistic to expect these few people to spot and counter biases across the Bank’s domain.
All in all – and taking into account the disruption they will cause – these plans are unwise. They are also a distraction from the Tories’ better ideas, such as improving banking
competition policy. And they will make the FSA’s task more difficult over the coming year. A little keyhole surgery on the government’s proposals would yield better results than these plans for wholesale butchery.

Cameron's blunder over Ofcom

Philip Stephens in the FT says that David Cameron has made a basic error in promising to abolish Ofcom:

The problem is that in promising to transfer Ofcom’s work to Whitehall so it is more directly accountable to ministers and parliament, Mr Cameron has shown he has no clear idea of what it does.
The central charge seems to be that Ofcom’s views on public service broadcasting have strayed too far into realms better reserved for ministers. As it happens, I think Mr Cameron is mistaken, but the details of the argument are irrelevant beside the fact that broadcasting policy accounts for only about 5 per cent of Ofcom’s workload. Moving it to Whitehall would scarcely mean “that Ofcom, as we know it, will cease to exist”. Some 90 per cent of Ofcom’s remit comprises unglamorous work such as telecommunications regulation, upholding broadcasting standards, allocating spectrum, and, crucially, policing competition. All this can properly be done only at arms length from civil servants and ministers.
Unless Mr Cameron tears up the rules of independent regulation – or breaks up the organisation into the several quangos from which it was originally created – Ofcom will indeed survive in something much like its present form. It is curious that someone who once worked in broadcasting could miss this point.

Boris caught on the hop

An enjoyable little video of Boris being confronted, on his bicycle, about Rape crisis centres.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Mystery picture: Do you know where this is?

Some relatives were given this print of a painting by T.Waugh for Christmas. It's absorbed many hours of head-scratching because we can't decide the location of the place depicted. We've done lots of Googling to no avail.

My bet is Weymouth (I vaguely remember a multi-storey building near the dockside at Weymouth). Another hot bet is Dover (because of something which vaguely looks like a castle - but Dover castle is much higher up, so I don't think so). At one point I thought it was Falmouth but there isn't a multi-storey building in Falmouth that I can remember.

Or could it be Brixham? Torquay? Plymouth? Portsmouth?

Can anyone authoritatively put us out of our misery?
UPDATE: Many thanks to Bernard and El - it's Plymouth. I am deeply ashamed that my Google skills did not discover this.

Parliament Square: The disgusting side of the Tories in microcosm

I haven't met David Cameron. With age, I have decided to at least try not to hate people I have not met, although George Bush is naturally an exception. With a carefully contrived cocktail of alcohol and prescription drugs inside of me, I am sure I would enjoy an hour in a pub with David Cameron. I'd probably need to scream (and wash thoroughly) afterwards, though.

But, as regards Cameron's attitudes I find it very difficult to exaggerate the contempt I feel. His pronouncement on the protests in Parliament Square just sends me into waves of anger. I find it very difficult to restrain myself. I just feel profound hatred, emanating from deep down in my bone marrow, of the stupid stuck-up idiotic pillock Mr Cameron who said:

I am all in favour of free speech and the right to demonstrate and the right to protest.
But I think there are moments when our Parliament Square does look like a pretty poor place, with shanty town tents and the rest of it.
I am all for demonstrations, but my argument is `Enough is enough'.


What hypocrisy! How disingenuous can you get?! He's in favour of free speech but he is not in favour of free speech in one of the most important places we should have it - in front of Parliament!

AAAAAAAAAAaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaarrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrgggggggggggggggggggggghhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

And I should also put in a mention for Boris Johnson who cancelled the pedestrianisation of Parliament Square so that it is more difficult to fit in protests in the first place, due to the traffic flow.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Poll: 60% think Palin resignation was bad move

Oh dear. Only 16% of those polled in the US think that Sarah Palin's resignation as Alaskan governor is a good political move in respect of a future run for the Presidency.

Oh dear. Oh dear.

Dear me.

Placky bag use cut - was it the Mail wot did it?

The Mail front page photo of turtle ensnared in a plastic bag, which launched its 'Banish the bags' campaign
It is very heartening to note that plastic bag use at seven leading supermarkets has reduced by an amazing 48% comparing this May with May 2006.

Great. I remember when our groceries were delivered by a chap on a bicycle in a cardboard box and most the stuff was wrapped only in grease-proof paper or in paper bags. That was about forty years ago.

So, we've had this sort of madness over the last few years where packaging went crazy. Now, we can have a bit of optimism. The tide can be turned. It is particularly heart warming that it has all been done with quite a lot of carrots and not many sticks.

Stephen Robertson observes on Comment is Free:

This has been achieved by individual retailers using a range of schemes that they judge work best for their customers. They include loyalty points, free re-usable bags and simply taking bags out of display. Yes, some have introduced charging, and that's fine, but retailers must be left free to decide for themselves when that's appropriate.
Changing habits on this scale, this quickly, is a huge testament to customers, who've taken reducing and re-using on board in a big way. Hard-working retail staff also deserve a lot of credit – for helping and encouraging customers.

There is, however, one potential fly in this joyous ointment. It is possible for Associuated Newspapers to claim:

It's the Mail wot did it.
Oh well, ho hum. They did some good for a change. Well done Daily Mail. No - I can't bring myself to go that far. Sorry.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Texas Governor: Cutting his nose off to spite his face

Is there any greater indictment of the current utter stupidity of the US Republican party than this?

Rick Perry is the Republican Governor of the second most populous (and second largest) state of the Union, Texas. As CBS reports, he "was one of a handful of Republican governors who refused some federal stimulus funds from President Obama's economic recovery package on the grounds that there were too many strings attached to the money. Now that the state is dire straits, however, Perry is asking the federal government for a loan to cover the very expenses the rejected stimulus money would have paid for."

Derrrrr

Love and Liberty on the crazy new Tory European grouping

I was thinking of screwing myself up into a flurry of indignation over the Tories and their new European parliament grouping. But Alex has got there first so there's no point in "knocking out" (Boris phrase that) a flimsy "Me-too":

The big problem is that the “European Conservatives and Reformists Group” is made up of only 55 MEPs from eight countries, only just enough to qualify as a “Group” within European Parliament rules – by contrast, the major players that can actually get things done, the European Socialists, the European Liberals and the European People’s Party that the Conservatives have just flounced away from all each have between two and four times as many MEPs, from three times as many countries. This isn’t just a matter of voting strength and influence, though obviously that’s important: the unfortunate fact for Mr Cameron is that if one or two MEPs from the ‘wrong’ country drop out, he suddenly ceases to have a Group at all.

Unlike any of the three major groups, then, Mr Cameron’s new Conservative Group can be held to ransom by most of the crackpots within it. And guess what? It’s already happened. On its very first day, Mr Cameron’s extremist Polish partners threatened to pull the plug unless their man became leader. So the brave British Conservatives instantly surrendered. If that’s his idea of standing up to Europe, I’d be interested to see what difference he can find between that and complete collapse of all negotiating positions.

Who knows what demands the smaller parties can get the British Conservatives to cave in on, when almost any one of them can nuke his Group on a whim?

And how did Mr Cameron get himself into this corner in the first place? Because the promise was forced out of him in surrender to the most hardline anti-European extremists among the British Conservative MPs. If Mr Cameron becomes Prime Minister, how many of them will he be forced to surrender to, how often, and on what scarily right-wing policies, now that he’s proved that his instant response to being held to ransom is to give in completely?

Tory report recommends PR for Second Chamber

Just a few months ago, David Cameron was comprehensively (and wrongly) shredding the idea of proportional representation in the Evening Standard. So it is interesting that today two of his most senior MPs are advocating Proportional Representation for a mainly elected Second Chamber:

We favour a system of Proportional Representation for elections to the chamber. We
believe that the First past the post system, with its ability to deliver clear party majorities,
works well for the Commons and entrenches its role as the source of legitimacy for a
government; however, the second chamber requires a demonstrably different system

Elections for the chamber should be on the basis of the regions that are used for
European elections, although the electoral system should favour greater voter choice than
a pure party list approach. Large electoral areas, coupled with the use of a long, nonrenewable term, will reduce the danger of members of the second chamber encroaching
on MPs’ constituency work and thereby diluting their own revision and scrutiny role.
Oh dear. Only 16% of those polled in teh US think that Sarah Palin's resignation as Alaskan governor is a good move in respect of a future run foir the Presidency.




Oh dear. Oh dear.

Cameron tries to boost his green credentials: London to Norwich by helicopter

It's obvious really. You're going to a meeting on the greenest of green topics (bio-fuels). You obviously choose one of the most environmentally disastrous forms of transport (a helicopter) to get there don't you?

...And it's just a year or so since we were urged to "Vote Blue - go Green".

Is it any wonder why Labour's private polling shows that voters have little or no idea what the Tories stand for?

Brown: Incapacity losing the hand of Prudence

Sir Fred Goodwin was a guest of the PM's at Chequers no more than six months before being forced to quit as RBS' boss. Is there any greater demonstration that Gordon Brown did not have a clue what was going on with the banks until they fell around his ears?

The words of William Blake might be relevant here (then again they might not be and I just include them anyway because they're good): "Prudence is a rich, ugly, old maid courted by incapacity."

It seems that Gordon Brown's incapacity lost the courtship.

We have seen Lord Myners carrying the can for allowing Sir Fred to get away with a stupendous leaving package. Is it not clear from the Chequers guest list that Sir Fred's brownie point reservoir, in high places, was well and truly topped up when he needed it? Perhaps a tad more can-carrying should be done by G.Brown Esq.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

A whole lot of snipping going on in Ireland

The parallel Universe which is Ireland continues to whirl on. Via 252 RTE Radio 1 I enjoy all those wonderful lilting Irish accents and their wonderful home-spun phrases. Today, the talk of Dublin was the publication ( at last) of the Report by the McCarthy Commission looking into cutting squillions off the government's spending bill. They've certainly come up with a slew of radical recommendations. From the BBC:

The Irish government has published a report recommending 17,300 public service job cuts and a 5% reduction in social welfare payments.
A group chaired by a University College Dublin economist - dubbed An Bord Snip Nua - put forward recommendations aimed at achieving 5.3bn euros in savings.


Quite a "snip" then.

Isn't that....you know.....thingey.....?

I had a funny moment today. I've just had a busy week. On Tuesday I was all over London watching the exciting de-installation and re-installation of a tape library (oh - the stories I could tell!) and for the last two days I've been in Manchester. It sounds a bit cliched but Manchester really is an exceptionally exciting city. Walking through the streets at 1am was quite exhilarating. The architecture is a bit of a muddle but, somehow, it works. There are some wonderfully odd-ball buildings. One looks like a coat hanger.

Anyway - my funny moment. At Knutsford services I was just walking out after a cup of tea and stood in front of me (about four feet away) was a very trendy looking young man with a girl and another young man. They were looking for the toilets. I thought - "blimey, it's Lewis Hamilton". Then I thought "no it isn't. It's Theo Walcott" - then he was gone. (Well, you don't really expect to see a multi-million pound striker on his way to the toilets at Knutsford Services, do you?).

Or maybe it wasn't him? Oh, I am sure it was. Possibly. He has a flat screen TV in every room of his house, you know.

The Night they tried to kidnap the Prime Minister

I tend to groan whenever I alight on Radio Four's Afternoon Play while driving. However, yesterday's was superb. Written by Martin Jameson, it gave a fictionalised account of the (actual) 1964 attempt to kidnap the, then, Prime Minister, Sir Alec Douglas-Home. I thoroughly recommend listening to it on BBC iPlayer here. There's a particularly wonderful performance by Tim McInnerny (Captain/Archdeacon/Duke Darling and Lord Percy from Black Adder).

The playwright engineers a wonderful moment of vulnerability for the Prime Minister as he is menaced by spirited Aberdonian students. In the end, he foils the plot by plying the students with the collected delights of a Fortnum and Mason hamper and some excellent beer.

My favourite line is when Douglas-Home cries out plaintively:

What is the point of being Prime Minister if nobody takes any notice!

Indeed.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Boris: knocking one off on Sunday morning for alleged £250,000 "chicken feed"

Er.....A weekly article for the Telegraph, that is. From the BBC's Hard Talk:

It's chicken feed. I think that frankly there's absolutely no reason at all why I should not knock off an article as a way of relaxation. I write anyway, I happen to write extremely fast. I don't see why on a Sunday morning I shouldn't knock off an article - if someone wants to pay me for that article then that's their lookout and of course I make a substantial donation to charity.

Just while you're trying to stop your head spinning (understanding any outburst from Boris is a bit like having one's head stuck inside a washing machine while it's on fast spin) let me point out that the "chicken feed" he refers to is the alleged £250,000 a year he receives for his Telegraph articles on top of the, presumably "half chicken feed", £140,000 mayoral salary he gets.

I find this all very depressing. It is very tiresome indeed that the Mayor of London reckons that a quarter of a million pounds - more than ten times the UK average salary - is "chicken feed" and is, furthermore, happy to declare that to the public.

It is hard to decide what attitude brings forward such a statement. Is it the "I'm an arrogant toff with loads of dosh but at least I am honest and open about it and people love me don't they? - or at least they love my lovely hair don't they?" attitude?

Or is it the "I really don't know what I am saying: I just open my mouth and all sorts of nonsense falls out. I really couldn't care if anyone objects to it, because we've got the next few elections sewn up anyway" attitude?

Or...are there any other attitudes that could be behind this? I am genuinely anxious to find out.

Could it be the "look, of course it is lots of money, but if I call it 'chicken feed' people earning £20,000 a year won't start thinking I am a pompous arrogant twit because they will believe that it doesn't mean a lot to me and therefore they shouldn't worry about it" attitude? (Sorry that one is rather obscure, but I am hauling a whole variety of foreign objects up the flagpost here so stick with me and let's see if any of them get saluted). That is, the "Keep calm and carry on - nothing to see here attitude but oops it doesn't quite work but who gives a monkeys? - I certainly don't, I am not going to run for a second term and there's a cabinet job with my name on it and I've got the Camster by the short and wotsits" attitude?

I think we should be told. But we may never know.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Tribute to Denise Hendry

I'd like to pay tribute to Denise Hendry and express my great sympathy to her husband and family at this time. The BBC reports:

Denise Hendry, 43, died from a post-operative infection after spending 12 weeks at Salford Royal Hospital.

She contracted the infection following the latest in a series of operations to try to repair damage caused by a botched liposuction procedure in 2002.

Basically Denise Hendry went through hell and high water but kept on fighting:

Mrs Hendry went on to campaign about the dangers of cosmetic surgery, urging people to check their surgeon's credentials before going under the knife.

The danger of under-reaction

Normally, I over-react to something which appals me. That over-reaction lasts about one and a half seconds during which time I issue all sorts of interesting words under my breath and think all sorts of thoughts which, if enacted, would land me with a heavy jail sentence.

Often I am able to recover and perhaps I under-react as a reaction to my over-reaction. (One has to keep civilised after all, apparently).

I think that is what I did last Saturday. I wrote a post very quickly (within about ten minutes in fact) responding to a post from a regular blogger about women voting.

I would like to retract the elements of soft tone in that post.

Now here's what I really think:

I quite accept that such views about women exist in society (thank you, Asquith). If I heard them down the pub I would shrug my shoulders and move away from the speaker.

But the idea that anyone who is a member of the Liberal Democrats and blogs within the LibDem aggregator expresses such bigoted views about women is utterly appalling. Such views are completely in contravention with the whole spirit of the Liberal Democrats and the letter of our preamble to the Constitution.

I just think of some of the women I have admired and do admire in this party. Enid Lakeman. Baroness Nancy Seear. Baronesses Williams, Sharp, Barker etc etc. Then I re-read these words:

Many women don’t have a clue about politics so they need someone to make their decisions for them and for that reason its OK for the man to decide who the women votes or is it? I don’t see anything wrong with a man making the decision in the household to who everyone votes but then that is just me.

I'm sorry, Irfan. You have had enough yellow cards over gays, Israel and, even, incredibly, basic justice. This is a red card now.


The first British black group to have a number one

It's funny how you can think you heard someone saying something which they didn't. I thought I heard Simon Mayo saying on Radio Two' Drivetime that Real Thing's "You to me are everything" was the first UK number one by a black band (in 1976). After rifling through my reference books and finding Emile Ford and the Checkmates, the Tams, the Miracles, the Tymes and the Stylistics (all of whom had number ones before the Real Thing) I re-listened to the show and realised he actually said "first number one single by a black British band".

But it is a great shame that he didn't even mention the Equals (pictured - Number One in 1968 with "Baby Come back") . OK, they had three black members out of a total of five group members. But they were definitely British - three of them studied together at Acland Burghley School, North London and they first started rehearsing on a council estate at Hornsey Rise, North London.

And, let's face it, "Baby come back" was a half decent record and gave Eddy Grant one of his first public outings. "You to me are everything" is best forgotten, in my humble judgment.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Dame Ellen MacArthur and the superstitions of sailors

Aled Jones had a very good interview with Dame Ellen MacArthur on Radio Two's Good Morning Sunday today. She spoke about the work of her Trust in giving sailing experience to children suffering from cancer and leukaemia. She mentioned that she does not regard the sea as dangerous - it is the wind and the weather that is the problem, 'the sea supports you' she said. Quite logical, when you think about it.

But I was particularly interested in what she said about the superstitions of sailors - not starting a voyage on a Friday, for example. I'd heard the one about not having priests on board. But one she mentioned is particularly bizarre. You're not supposed to say the word "rabbit" on board a boat or ship. If you do say it, you have the scratch the mast, apparently.

There's an article here on such superstitions:

To some seamen the loss overboard of a bucket or a mop is an omen of misfortune, to others it is unlucky to repair a flag on a ship's quarterdeck or to hand a flag to a sailor between the rungs of a ladder. Black travelling bags bring misfortune, and to hear bells at sea is a sign of forthcoming death. It is also considered unlucky to wear a sailor's dress of someone who has died at sea while the voyage is in progress; though once it is over no calamity will follow.

...Another, equally well-known, seaman's superstition is that to whistle in a calm will bring a wind, but to whistle on board when the wind is blowing is to bring a gale. Another belief is that a wind can also be brought by throwing the head of an old broom overboard in the direction from which the wind is desired.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Milk

I know I'm slow on the uptake, but I've finally been able to watch the film Milk. A wonderful, inspiring film it is too. Sean Penn is brilliant in it, so brilliant that it is difficult to believe it is actually him. It is also difficult to believe that such an outrageous piece of legislation as Proposition No 6 was a serious proposal just thirty years ago.

Oh dear, Irfan

Bless him:

Many women don’t have a clue about politics so they need someone to make their decisions for them and for that reason its OK for the man to decide who the women votes or is it? I don’t see anything wrong with a man making the decision in the household to who everyone votes but then that is just me.

In fairness, he goes on to say that such an 'edict' may be defied.

But this is just patronising nonsense. OK, if someone says that they will take their lead from someone else, then that is their right. But let's not generalise. We should value everyone's free decision on how to vote and not second guess their credentials or knowledge. For goodness sake, many men don't have a clue about politics. The problem is that they often think they do have a clue.

A few weeks ago, Irfan democratically allowed his readers to decide not to rename his blog "Scrapbook". I would propose that an excellent new name or, at least, strapline for Irfan's blog would be "The grit in the LibDem oyster".

Can Sarah Teather see through the TV into my living room?

On Question Time (42:30 in) last Thursday, Sarah Teather said that "middle class people drinking wine at home are just as likely to poison their livers as young people out drinking at the weekend".

I didn't see this when it was first broadcast because I was slumped asleep in front of the telly having enjoyed a bottle of excellent Lindeman's Shiraz. So I do wonder whether she saw me there and that my comatose figure spurred her into her denunciation of middle class wine drinkers.

It was an excellent Shiraz though and I have taken a couple of days off alcohol since, to recover.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Sarah Palin stands relatively alone amongst quitting first term governors

A poster on Mudflats has looked at all the first term Governors in the USA since 1900 - all 1200 of them. They found that there have been only three who have resigned without being forced to do so:

Jim McGreevy, Eliot Spitzer and Sarah Palin.

Jim McGreevy "coupled the announcement of his decision to resign with a public declaration of his homosexuality and an admission to having had an extramarital affair with the man he had appointed homeland security adviser".

Eliot Spitzer was alleged to have been involved in a prostitution ring.

Sarah Palin resigned because.....um.............er....................ah yes, she didn't want to be a lame duck.

Photos from around Newbury

...Some photos I've snapped recently around Newbury. Click to enlarge. First, here's Newbury's embryonic Cinema at long last starting to look like one (a cinema).

A wonderful Chinese dragon from last Sunday's carnival:
St Mary's church, Shaw in glorious sunshine:
Shaw House:
Queen Victoria and her lions, again in glorious sunshine:

Thursday, July 9, 2009

The remarkable......er.....creativity of the insurance advertising industry

I've often wondered about the faces of reaction that met ideas for insurance (it particularly seems to be insurance, for some reason) adverts when first broached at meetings.

Just think...

"Let's have one of those old fashioned phones - not a new one - an old fashioned one, coloured red, with wheels on it, jumping up over a hill towards the camera playing the tune 'Dum de dum, de dum, de dum, de dah' "

or...

"Let's have a Meerkat in a red silk dressing gown pretending to be a web site owner for 'Comparethemeerkat.com' complaining that people keep on coming to his site instead of 'Comparethemarket.com'. We could even set up a real website called 'Comparethemeerkat.com' "

or...

"Everyone is confused about insurance so let's have a website called 'confused.com' "

or...

"I know - let's get one of the most passe´and ugly-as-sin popstars in the history of mankind, who has made a name for himself by being one of the most likely people never to even dream about insurance (let alone take it out), and get him to rant on about insurance while vomit-inducingly stripped to the waist"

Imagine the faces which greeted these ideas at first! Imagine the substances!

Simples. Eeek.

Cameron's brazen hypocrisy

It's good to see David Cameron sweating "relaxed" for a change today. I am utterly amazed that he thinks it's OK to try to deceive the public by saying, very narrowly, that Coulson wasn't in post when Gordon Taylor was paid off. Does Cameron think the public has a collective IQ of 30?
Is Cameron, indeed, saying (bizarrely, in a round about way) that the Editor of the News of the World at the time of the pay-offs should be sacked even though Coulson was in charge when it happened?!

I was very impressed by Chris Huhne's genuine anger shown about this in the Commons today (see him in interview form below).

Great minds think alike - I thought of the comparison of this to the McBride affair. Then I naturally took recourse to the Oracle, Mr Wilcock, and saw that, this morning, he saw the same parallel. A few dodgy emails about a website which never opened were milked to high heaven by David Cameron. Now, the little toe-rag has been revealed as having the most appalling judgment as to who to hire, and thinks he can brazen it out with his posh accent.

As my grandmother used to say: "He's so sharp, one day he'll cut himself".

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Norwich North - time to deliver

I hear from sources that the Labour vote in Norwich is proving 75% "soft" and amenable to voting for another party. We just have to persuade them. Please schedule in a trip to Norwich before polling day to help April Pond with some gentle delivery. It's a glorious city. Full details are here.

Letterman: Top ten messages on Sarah Palin's answering machine

A bit of a grudge settler. Best watched here but the list is below anyway.

10. "Hi, it's George W. Bush. Why didn't anyone tell me resigning was an option?"
9. "It's John McCain--Why did I call?"
8. "Mark Sanford here. Ever been to Argentina?"
7. "I'm calling from Geico to see if you want to renew your dogsled insurance"
6. "It's Letterman. We still cool?"
5. "McCain again. Still no idea why I called"
4. "Hi, it's the dry cleaner. Having trouble getting caribou blood out of your Prada jacket"
3. "Hi, it's Sarah...Oops...Dialed my own number"
2. "Schwarzenegger here. If you want a job, California could use a new governor"
1. "Hey, it's McCain. Who would've thought you'd retire before I did"

Nick Griffin wants to open fire on illegal immigrants' boats

Just when you think we're settling in for a relatively slow news week, up pops Nick Griffin to liven things up. He wants to sink boats carrying illegal immigrants from Africa towards the EU.

But he is in generous mood. Indeed, one could describe the following as the sentiments of a woolly liberal. He wants to throw them a liferaft before we sink them. Bless.

Perhaps it is no surprise that Nick Griffin and Andrew Brons of the BNP will sit in the "non-attached" section of the European Parliament. Not unhinged, mind - just unattached.

Paul Merton's Silent Clowns

It was a great pleasure to see Paul Merton's Silent Clowns show at Newbury's Corn Exchange last night. There was a full house to listen to Merton's enthusiastic introductions to a selection of excellent silent comedy films.

But the real star of the show (apart from Buster Keaton, that is) was Neil Brand who played the piano. It is easy to forget the role of the many improvisational pianists who accompanied millions of silent comedy films in their heyday. Neil Brand showed how it can be done brilliantly, adding to our great enjoyment of the films, particularly the feature showing, Buster Keaton's "Seven Chances".

It was a bit weird to be thoroughly enjoying a film made the year before my dad and, indeed, Her Majesty the Queen were born.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Tories: No decision yet on the Potato Board

I've just enjoyed this excellent clip of Philip Hammond from Daily Politics. Andrew Neil was a bit bullying with him, and Hammond kept his nerve. But Neil teased out a couple of key points:

1. The Tories have promised 17 new Quangoes but can only currently name 2 which they would get rid of, despite having been in opposition for twelve years and the concept of Quangoes having been around for 30+ years. So, in terms of named bodies, they are currently proposing to actually increase the number of Quangoes by a net total of 15.

2. The Tories quote an average of £658,000 annual salary for the Top 20 Quango executives but couldn't provide the Top 20 list yesterday. Now they have provided the list, it includes the BBC who even Philip Hammond, admittedly under leading questioning from Neil, admits is not a Quango. The list also includes executives of several bodies which are not even within the scope of the Tories own definition of a Quango.

My favourite quote from the interview from Hammond:

I can't promise you about the potato board, because we haven't looked at that in detail.

Tory embarrassment: Most of their Top 20 quangocrats don't work for quangoes

Most of them work for the BBC (8), Channel 4 (3), the Financial Services Authority and British Nuclear Fuels, none of which have been included in the scope of the recent Tory quango exercise (indeed Philip Hammond, Tory frontbencher, said on air on the Daily Politics show that he didn't think the BBC is a quango).

Andrew Neil explains.

You would have thought a full bells and whistles David Cameron event like this would have been a little better prepared.

When you represent Snowflake, I suppose you would think the world is 6,000 years old

With a hat-tip to the tweeting Asquith. What beats me is that this state Senator lives near the geological phenomenon which is the Grand Canyon, for goodness sake!

Monday, July 6, 2009

Maureen Dowd on nuttiness and battiness

I've just seen this beautifully written article on the Palin resignation from Maureen Dowd of the New York Times:

Sarah Palin showed on Friday that in one respect at least, she is qualified to be president.
Caribou Barbie is one nutty puppy.
Usually we don’t find that exquisite battiness in our leaders until they’ve been battered by sordid scandals like Watergate (Nixon), gnawing problems like Vietnam (L.B.J.), or scary threats like biological terrorism (Cheney).
When Lyndon Johnson was president, some of his staff began to think of him as “a sick man,” as Bill Moyers told Arthur Schlesinger Jr. Moyers and his fellow Johnson aide Dick Goodwin even began reading up on mental illness — Bill on manic depression and Dick on paranoia.
And so it was, Todd Purdum learned, as he traveled Alaska reporting on Palin for Vanity Fair, that the governor’s erratic and egoistic behavior has been a source of concern for people there.
“Several told me, independently of one another,” Purdum writes, “that they had consulted the definition of ‘narcissistic personality disorder’ in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders — ‘a pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behavior), need for admiration, and lack of empathy’ — and thought it fit her perfectly.”
The White House can drive its inhabitants loopy. So at least Sarah Palin is ahead of the curve on that one.
As Alaskans settled in to enjoy holiday salmon bakes and the post-solstice thaw, their governor had a solipsistic meltdown so strange it made Sparky Sanford look like a model of stability.
On the shore of Lake Lucille, with wild fowl honking and the First Dude smiling, with Piper in the foreground and their Piper Cub in the background, the woman who took the Republican Party by storm only 10 months ago gave an incoherent, breathless and prickly stream of consciousness to a small group in her Wasilla yard. Gobsmacked Alaska politicians, Republican big shots, the national press, her brother, the D.C. lawyer who helped create her political action committee and yes, even Fox News, played catch-up.
What looked like a secret wedding turned out to be a public unraveling as the G.O.P. implosion continued: Sarah wanted everyone to know that she’s not having fun and people are being mean to her and she doesn’t feel like finishing her first term as governor.
She can hunt wolves from the air and field-dress a moose, but she fears being a lame duck? Some brickbats over her ethics and diva turns as John McCain’s running mate, and that dewy skin turns awfully thin.

Lost cat found on Question Time


I kid you not. A friend of the owner saw the cat, Tango, on the screen when the programme was broadcast (see picture) last week and rang up the owner to report it. It happened in the wonderful county of Cornwall, of course.

Cameron turns both ways

It was excellent to see David Cameron doing a complete volte face within 10 seconds on Today. Firstly he said that Quangoes should be stringently reviewed, cut down, abolished etc. Then, when challenged to say whether he would freeze public sector pay, he generously sang the praises of independent pay review boards who are....ahem....quangoes.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Charlotte Gore martyrs herself

Mark Valladares has responded sensibly to a post from Charlotte Gore about standing as a parliamentary candidate.

First of all, it is utter and complete cobblers to say that blogging freely, even freely to the extent that Charlotte blogs, precludes winning elections. You only have to look at Boris Johnson. Now he really went to town over years publishing his dodgy, eccentric views to millions of people, not just the thousands (or indeed tens) that read blogs. And the Labour party went through his columns with a fine tooth comb and repeated the dodgy bits ad nauseam in the London mayoral campaign. Johnson still won. So, let's stop this nonsense that says that expressing policy views freely precludes running for office.

Putting that aside for a second, if we assume that Charlotte Gore's blog outpourings preclude her from office then you have to ask yourself: Well, why did she start blogging (with attitude) then? If she didn't realise that what she would write could rebound on her and require subsequent defending, then perhaps she is just not cut out for standing for election in any case. Or if she doesn't want to defend her views on a public election platform - ditto.

There is a remarkable air of strawman self-matyrdom about Charlotte's post. Her letter to electors sounds like a barnstroming election platform to me, rather than the electoral suicide pill she says it is.

Let's face it. If you conclude yourself that your campaigning skills are "terrible" and your ability to "connect with 'normal people' is non-existent" then those reasons, if they are true (which I suspect they are not, by the way) alone are enough not to stand for election. But let's have none of this utter rubbish about blogging precluding one from running. If you want to stand for office and you're any good, you'll have sufficient desire to stand up and explain anything you've written in your blog of the likes (i.e logical liberal policy stances) mentioned by Charlotte. Of course, if you start insulting the electorate, for example, by blogging about meeting electors who all seem to be drunk (a la the Hartlepool by-election), then that is another matter.

So join the rest of us 65 million people in this country, Charlotte, who don't want to stand for political office and drop the disingenuous claptrap about blogging being an obstacle.

Who wants to be an MP anyway? It's a pants job. And being a Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate is a fairly thankless task. Just read Paddy Ashdown's account of his desperate early days as a candidate - and he won eventually. Indeed, Charlotte herself recognises the key tasks for a candidate:

Then there’s standing for a party currently in 3rd place in a Tory target seat, in a town that’s pretty much in love with the BNP and has, according to Acorn data, about 500 people that would be classed as typical lib dem voters. Hmm. Then there’s the challenge of getting 20,000 people to vote for you in a year’s time. I did some rough maths and worked out I’d need to be pursuading something like 65 a day. I’d need to raise buckets of money and dazzle and beguile lots of people into delivering leaflets for me. I’d need to keep getting in the local paper, too.

Needing to get into the local paper? What an appalling imposition we put on our candidates! Starting from third place? Paddy never had to do that did he? (Well, he did, actually). Raising money? Persuading people to deliver leaflets? Heavens above! Whatever next! We really do put our candidates through the Twelve Labours of Hercules, don't we? It's a wonder we have any candidates at all.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Emperor Eccleston has no clothes

'Hitler got things done', says an admiring Bernie Eccleston.

Yes...er....well, that's the problem, isn't it? They were the wrong things. If killing twelve million people is getting things done then I think most people - presumably including our Bernie during his moments of clearer thought - would settle for a slough of despond on any day of the week.

The mess in Cameron's backyard

The Telegraph expenses machine grinds relentlessly onward.

It is taking me some time to overcome my distress at the news that Jeffrey Donaldson MP is having to repay £555 which he claimed for hotel pay-for-view films. Will he let us know the titles of these films? As taxpayers I think we are entitled to know, given that we have loaned him 555 quid for months. In the absence of such a list, we can only assume that dear Jeffrey watched the film "Room Service 2" multiple times. That it is the only itemisation which appeared on some of thebills. "Room Service 2" eh? Ooh missus!

Dear little Georgie Osbourne, all set to be the most utterly ill-equipped person to be Chancellor of the Exchequer in the history of the post, is being investigated the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards.

And, oh dear, Alan Duncan is in the limelight again for some barely comprehensible saga concerning his second home allowance, for which I'd better switch to strictly quoting from the Telegraph:

Alan Duncan, a senior Conservative MP, has claimed tens of thousands of pounds in mortgage interest on his designated second home – even though he had owned the property outright for more than a decade...

All in all, it's hard not to agree with Lord Oakeshott, who has said:

It is now crystal clear David Cameron cracks down on ordinary Tory MPs and smiles sweetly at the in-crowd in the shadow cabinet.

PS The title of this post refers to the last two-thirds. Jeffrey Donaldson is, of course, a Democratic Unionist Party MP, and therefore not in 'Cameron's backyard', or, indeed, his front yard.

Palin's bonkers moment - damage control or crash and burn?

Well, it's either bonkers or brilliant, but I suspect the former at the moment. To resign as Governor of Alaska completely undercuts the whole argument forwarded on her behalf for the last year - that she was a competent executive office holder. Her executive experience now looks threadbare and she looks as though she is abandoning the voters of Alaska to try to be President.

It really is one of the most insane, nutty political moves I have witnessed in many years.

"Only dead fish go with the flow" she says, in explanation. Ah but when the seagulls follow the trawler....

Perhaps this will precede a high-falluting shot at the Presidency but she's shot herself in the foot. She will, of course, get huge support from the Republican base. But independents and Democrats are not going to persuaded that she has suddenly become fit for public office by resigning from it.
Even Palin's Republican colleague, Sen Lisa Murkowski has criticised the move:

I am deeply disappointed that the Governor has decided to abandon the State and her constituents before her term has concluded.

As Bruce Reed reminds us, based on past history, quitters don't win.

The Huffpo reports that her allies are saying "She is out of politics, period...she doesn't like her life".

Whatever you say about Sarah Palin, she is never boring. Just imagine what would have happened if she had become Vice-President! A Veep quitting eight months after being elected for no apparent reason other than something to do with fish. It would initiate quite a national crisis.

The Palin resignation speech is worth watching below. It is positively stomach-churning.