Monday, 29 December 2008

Christmas - it's all about the telly

Try as I might, I didn't go out for lots of bracing walks over the Christmas period. In fact, the most exercise I took was when I went to watch boxing day rugby match and ended up running the line.

Instead, most of the time seems to have been spent watching as much TV in four days as I normally watch in an entire year.

Highlight to date was probably the Gavin and Stacey special which was completely nuts and very funny. The Royle Family was a welcome return - especially for the 'Cup a Soup in a bowl' line.

Most ill-advised viewing was the double bill of Eastenders. Partly because I thought I had successfully kicked the 'stenders habit and partly because I was persuaded by my brother into taking part in an Eastenders Drinking Game. The rules are simple - each time one of the characters wishes another a 'merry christmas' you have to have a drink. The Nick Cotton pay off line at the end required us to finish up.

Worst viewing was the thing on last night about the celebrity chef who spent close on a million pounds on a car and then raced it in the Mille Miglia in Italy only for it to break down only 150 miles in. The bloke at the focus of the film was somebody I completely turned off from. He is a podgy Yorkshireman who has made a mint as a chef and lives with his model girlfriend and his collection of historic cars in a gorgeous house. I ended up actually wishing for the outcome that happened - his car broke down and instead of being worth a mint it was worth far less than he spent on it. He then threw his toys and consoled himself by buying motoring books at £1000 a pop. So clearly he still has a few quid left.

Various DVD presents have successfully filled in the weak points in the TV schedule including the wonderful Mad Men.

Monday, 22 December 2008

A bit gay

Iain Dale has a post about having to deal with some thirteen year olds who were trying to disrupt a TV interview he was recording in a park in Tunbridge Wells.

Iain says that the reporter told the kids to go away because they were a disgrace for burping while he was trying to record. As Iain says, perhaps not the wisest move.

But what really struck me about the blog were two things:

- Iain felt that because the 13 year olds were happy to engage in a shouting match with the reporter (reporter called them a disgrace, they called him a fucking prick) that they would naturally gravitate to stealing his phone or 'very expensive' Christmas present.

- Iain felt it appropriate to abuse a 13 year old by telling him that his clothes looked 'a bit gay'. Let's forget completely about Iain's sexuality here. Does any serious political operator want to pander to homophobic abuse by using it himself. On a thirteen year old.

Saturday, 20 December 2008

Not in his job description

Since when was it Gordon Brown's job to appoint football managers?

No, seriously. Amidst all the talk about a GB football team to compete in the 2012 Olympics, when did it become the job of the Prime Minister to decide who should be the manager?

Friday, 19 December 2008

Government proposals on blogger libel

Iain Dale has a story about possible Government proposals to change the law with regard to bloggers and libel. Bridget Prentice apparently wants to make it easier to sue bloggers for what they say and, crucially, what commenters to their site say.

To my mind, libel law should be the same whatever the medium. If something defamatory is published online, it should be as actionable as if it is written in, say, Private Eye. The difference comes in assessing damages and small scale bloggers should not be punished too heavily - especially if the defamation came in the form of a comment which they removed as soon as it was pointed out to them.

I can't be the only one who gets a bit fed up with Guido's comments section. I would heartily recommend some form of registration for the big sites. My site allows free comments because I get so few. I remove the defamatory ones asap and also those advertising dodgy financial services. If I started getting more then I should think I would move to a registration system fairly quickly.

Perhaps as soon as they get a serious libel suit the bloggers might stop their willy waving over the number of site visits they get. Proving you get more readers than a national newspaper will only up your damages.

At first sight, the proposal to introduce a small claims style system for libel can only be good news. Libel actions at the moment are not the even contest they should be. A Russian oligarch, for example, can bully many small publishers and bloggers into submission. For very small instances of possible libel, it should be possible to resolve matters in front of a judge for little or no costs and without specialist libel lawyers leeching every penny from both sides.

A day at the races

Yesterday I was at Exeter races to take photos for the Racing Post. I managed to get through the day without having a bet (good decision - the two horses I thought about backng both lost).

Not the most prestigious day's racing in the calendar, but good to blow the cobwebs away (trans. it was a bit chilly)

Boris manages biggest waste of cash yet

The Mayor of London has managed to waste a ton of taxpayers' money on a competition to design a new version of the Routemaster bus.

We all love the Routemaster. It is the iconic image of London. But it was gloriously unsafe and impractical. I don't know how many people were killed or injured getting off the back, but it must have been a load. The seats were too narrow for today's well-bodied types and the ceilings upstairs were so low as to cause serious damage to anyone over oompa loompa height.

But, having decided to get rid of the horrible bendy buses (although with an ever-slipping timetable), Boris has gone one further and decided to seek a 'new' Routemaster.

All the winning designs remind me of BMW's 'new' Mini. They have something of the original about them but are clearly not the real thing. And I say that as someone who drives one.

But, whilst the new Mini is a very good car in its own right, I have doubts about whether any new Routemaster will be Most of the designs seem to have the old style open access at the rear and have some form of wheelchair ramp in new centre doors. Most have the front engine and scalloped nose so that the driver's cab sits alone in the lead. But they simply look like a design student has fed the old Routemaster drawings into a computer and pressed 'update' (disclaimer - I'm sure a lot more work has gone into the designs than this, but it is not apparent from the competition website). None appear to have realistically solved the problems of the old bus.

The winners of this design competition got £25000. They probably spent this and more on the project, but how valuable is it if there is little or no chance of the designs ever being built. I don't want to decry fun for kids, but offering thousands of pounds in prizes to children to draw 'new' Routemasters hardly seems like value for money either.

With no real chance of getting new Routemasters designed and built, it seems to me that the only option is to keep the old ones on the road on a few select routes and to acknowledge the fact that they are cramped and dangerous - but also very lovely. Perhaps that is why Ken Livingstone decided to do exactly that...

Befuddled Brown Battered by El-Badri

Gordon Brown gave a speech this morning where he said that oil price volatility would continue to be a problem for the coming year. Rapicly changing oil prices hit motorists in the summer and continues to affect people in the form of their utility bills. Electricity and gas companies seem to have a bewildering way of pricing their products and failing to pass on oil price cuts claiming that they have had to pre-buy at earlier prices (which didn't seem to stop them hoiking the price up as soon as it started rising).

Now the Secretary General of OPEC - the fluffy people who rule the world - has hit back. Abdalla Salem El-Badri has said that Gordon Brown is 'confused' over the issue and ought to look to his own country and Government first. Mr El Badri reckons that Brown made billions out of the high oil prices through the huge government petrol taxes and should be looking to cut petrol prices here before he starts having a go at OPEC.

Brown and OPEC have previous, as they say. Brown slagged off the oil producers back when prices started to fall when they said that they might cut production to 'stabilise' prices (ie keep them high).

It's one of those spats where you have little sympathy for either side. Clearly lower oil prices are in the interest of most people and both OPEC and the UK Government have a responsibility in this area. Long term, of course, we need to reduce our reliance on oil and that means:

- more investment in home insulation (see my budget post last March for my response to the Government's efforts in this area);
- more investment and better conditions for non oil based motoring;
- significant investment in renewable enrgy sources (and I don't mean nuclear)

Cameron's Spin Doctor - A bully

The Guardian reports that Andy Coulson, David Cameron's spin doctor and former Editor of the News of the World, has been found by an industrial tribunal to have overseen a culture of bullying in his old job.

Not only did he oversee it, but he also led it, according to the paper.

So, whilst everyone is entitled to redemption, is Cameron sure that Mr Coulson is quite the person to have at the heart of the cuddly Conservative machine?

Monday, 15 December 2008

Krispy Kreme bargain (readers in the sticks need not apply)

According to a post on Hot UK Deals, if you buy Cristmas cards from Krispy Kreme Donuts then each card contains a voucher for a dozen free donuts. £5.95 for five Xmas cards is a horrendous price, but under £6 for 60 donuts is a bargain.

Shame is that the nearest store is 131.5 miles from me.

And that I'm on a donut denying self-ordinance.

(No guarantee is given for the validity of this offer - I just read it here)

Do I want to win the Euro lottery?

Apparently this is possible thanks to someone who works for the Euro lottery and has emailed me to say that he can fix the draw in my favour in return for 35% of the take.

How very generous of him

February Election - Pros and cons

Iain Dale reports that the Labour Party is booking up advertising hoardings for January and February. He speculates that this is one more sign of a possible snap election.

I blogged previously about the reason why Brown will favour an early poll:

- Cameron may be the darling of the media and the punters but he still has no policies and it is difficult to fight an election without them;
- Gordon proved he can win in Glenrothes and will think he can do it again
- The economy might be down the tubes but it will only get worse and the 'Brown plan to save the world' is still relatively current
- the Tories still have problems of their own and Mandelson can create more

the biggie

- Barack Obama is sworn in at the end of January. Not only will Brown manage to stage a photo op just before the election (or during it), but the public works on 'Democrats = Labour' thinking and this will boost Brown.

And let's throw a new reason in there - talk of an election brings a party together. Brown can bring (most of) his rebels back on board for a short time to fight against the Tories.

But there is one new reason why Brown might want to hold off. That is the planned Irish EU referendum. If he thinks the Irish can see it through, it allows the Lisbon Treaty to be ratified and put finally to bed. Once this has happened the Tories cannot undo it. But until then, Cameron can campaign on a ticket that says that hewill unpick Britain's ratification and allow a referendum here. That would be bad for the UK's relationship with the EU (in Brown's view) and would be a popular campaign message for the Tories.

For the Lib Dems, there is a pivotal moment in such a campaign. Do we say (as Brown will) that the Lisbon Treaty is a thing of the past as far as the UK is concerned and that it is not a valid subject for a general election. Or do we side with the Tories and promise a referendum if we have influence. I suspect the former but would prefer the latter.

Sunday, 14 December 2008

Chris Hoy is Sports Personality of the Year (brought to you by Robinsons)

Oops, just been a plug for Robinsons as the supporters of the BBC Sports Personality of the Year Awards. Surely not the BBC resorting to sponsorship for one of its prestige events?

Oh, and congratulations to Chris Hoy

Friday, 12 December 2008

In praise of Dr Max

A long, long time ago, I worked for Paddy. I was in my gap year and he was Liberal Education Spokesman. I wanted to work in Parliament for the experience (or, as my mother put it, to do something other than lie in bed seeing as how I had taken a year off) and Olly Grender, who worked for my own MP, Matthew Taylor, managed to get me a place with a really interesting MP (I'm sure she didn't mean it as a dig against MT).

As these things go, halfway through my time there, the merger happened and the new Party was in search of it's first leader. Paddy duly stood and the office expanded rather alarmingly. Having been myself, Alison (now Mrs Adrian Sanders) and a wonderful bloke called Tony who worked for the teaching union AMMA and who did research on the Education Bill, there were now lots of others. These included the late, great Harriet Smith, Tim Clement-Jones, Virginia Morck, Cathy Bakewell - who went on to lead Somerset CC - and several American interns.

Also on the scene, although not in the office, were the two people who helped Paddy with his speeches. They were Liz Lynne - who helped with the vocal side of things - and Max Atkinson. Max is a truly wonderful speechwriter. Not only are his speeches fantastic, but he had a great way of explaining why one thing would work and another wouldn't. He was the exact opposite of the 'because I say so' person who is all too prevalent in politics.

Fast forward a few years and I was asked by a company to present a training course on speechwriting. In the course of bringing together my own thoughts and researching what others had written, I came across Max's book Lend Me Your Ears. It is one of the best guides to how to put together a speech and why some things work and others don't that I have come across. Particularly strong is the section on rhetoric. Max explains that rhetoric is not a dirty word but the science of crafting speeches that appeal to the listener. In ancient greek times, rhetoric was taught as a subject to students (so it really ought to be an -ology). In simple language, it's about how to put together soundbites (except that this too is now a dirty word).

So I would advise any politician, aspiring or existing, to do two things:

First, read Lend Me Your Ears - it's quite cheap and available on Amazon (don't forget to go there via the LD link)

Second, read Max's blog. It's a fascinating dip into the science (and art) of speechwriting and speech making.

De Menezes - the most damning verdict the Coroner would allow

The jury's verdict in the inquest of Jean Charles de Menezes is about as damning for the Police as it is possible to get. Not only have they returned an Open verdict (as opposed to one of lawful killing) but their answers to the 12 specific questions posed by the Coroner are (with a single exception) utterly damning of the Met Police and their methods.

In simple terms, I think it is quite clear from this verdict and the answers given that the Coroner was wrong to rule out the option of unlawful killing. No one can say that this is what the jury would have decided, but their verdict and answers show that this should at least have been allowed to be discussed.

On the questions surrounding whether Jean Charles de Menezes moved towards the firearms officers, the jury have accepted that he stood up, but rejected the idea that he moved towards the guns - in direct contradiction to what one officer told the inquest. The jury also rejected an officer's claim that they shouted a warning.

On the matter of police procedures, the jury found that communications didn't work, that the Police had failed to give officers decent photos of the real suspect, that they had failed to stop de Menezes earlier and that the firearms officers were in the wrong place. All of these, said the jury, contributed to the death.

So the Met faces huge problems on two levels:

- first, they were institutionally ill-equipped to deal with this situation. That, essentially, is why they were found guilty of the health and safety case. At the time, that verdict was played down to such an extent that nobody had to resign. Now the Met and the Government are making it quite clear that everything has now changed and the Police are able to cope. Hypocrisy - surely not.

- Second, what happens with the firearms officers and other individuals concerned. At the top, most people seem to have gone for one reason or another (but none because of the killing itself). Only Cressida Dick remains. At the bottom, the firearms officers have been disbelieved by the jury over crucial issues and yet will not face any charges. The Met Police Federation are harping on about the extremely troubled times surrounding this incident and how officers were under extreme pressure. I do appreciate this, but surely we have to be able to rely on our Police Forces to uphold the law properly at ALL times. They cannot be allowed to give up on the rule of law and such things as shooting innocent people at times of stress.

It might sound cheesy, but it's true, if we start renouncing the rule of law in response to terrorism then the terrorists have won.

That is why the Government and the Met cannot simply walk past this verdict and claim that they have made everything better. It's not simply a matter of better radios, it is a matter of attitude. Until the public truly believe that the Met don't think in the way they did on 22nd July 2005, then nothing will have changed and there will still be a fundamental lack of trust in the officer meant to protect us.

Friday, 5 December 2008

Hain cleared

Peter Hain is not going to be prosecuted for late declarations to his Labour Deputy Leadership campaign. Apparently the CPS could not prove that it was he who had the duty to report the donations and, therefore, he is not responsible for the late reporting.

Apparently, just because the funds were given to his campaign, does not mean that he (or anyone else, it appears) had any responsibility for them or the campaign.

If we accept this ruling, then it drives a coach and horses through the legislation passed by this Government to regulate party funding. This instance may have revolved around an internal Labour election, but who is to say that the same circumstances could not be used in a national election.

Expect to see Hain back on the front bench in the next reshuffle and some junior minister promise a review of the legislation that never comes to anything.

An early election would be hypocritical and anti-democratic

Whilst GB has sought to play down talk of an April or May General Election, the fact remains that it is still a possibility.

What has not been explored is the fact that it would be massively hypocritical.

How so?

Well, the Government has decided to delay the fixed term elections to local councils from the first Thursday in May to June so that they align with the European elections. Their reasoning is that holding two sets of elections will confuse voters, cause voter fatigue and cost lots of money.

And yet they now whisper about the possibility of having a General Election on the very day that the May elections were moved from.

To my mind this is massively hypocritical and also anti-democratic. It will certainly mean that a wide array of ministers who stood up in the Commons to say that delaying the May elections was the only fair thing were talking out of their arse.

Draft boundaries published

The Boundary Committee has now published their draft boundaries for the new Cornwall Unitary Council. The Committee has accepted the case for 123 members of the new body and the first elections should be held in October.

This brings two thoughts:

First, in my view 123 is too many councillors. Each will represent an average of just 3,200 electors. I hardly wish to see wards of 18,000 plus as in Birmingham (albeit with three councillors for each ward), but I think the new Council could become unweildy with so many members. It will also be difficult for them to know what their role is. If there were just 80-90 (the old County Council has 82) then backbenchers could be effectively half-time. Many might event make it a full-time role. But with 123 members there can be no question of that.

Second - how has it come to pass that we should have to wait until October for the elections. This is six months after the scheduled date. It is bad enough that the May elections have been postponed until June, but to delay elections for six months seems totally wrong. I accept that, from where we are now, it might not be possible to hold elections for the new Council in June. But I want to know why this delay has happened and what is being done to make sure it cannot happen again.

There will be some consternation about the line drawing that has been done by the Boundary Committee. Whilst they have made the (quite reasonable) case that a ward in Bodmin should not consist of two areas of housing, unconnected by roads and with a massive hill in the middle, they have then proposed a similar set-up for a ward here in Launceston. I hope that they can be persuaded of a more reasonable case before the lines are inked in.

Honda leaving Formula One

According to the BBC, Honda are to quit Formula One. It costs the company £300 million per year to compete and they managed a poxy 14 points last season - well off the pace in all but the wet British Grand Prix.

Clearly in the current economic climate, the company could not justify spending so much on failure - particularly as they are cutting back on working hours and on jobs.

I have an on-off relationship with F1. When it is competitive it is great to watch. But during periods of dominance by a single team or, worse, driver, it is so routine as to be boring.

And that is why the F1 bosses have to get a grip on the sport and to make it more interesting. They need to level the playing field and even up the racing. There is not point having a sport where only four cars can win a race (and of these, two may be subject to team orders and told to let their mate win). Racing is interesting where it is competitive and close. Yes we like bumps and crashes, but we would happily settle for lots of overtaking and a close championship.

There have been proposals to introduce a common engine and gear box which would cost the teams about £4.5 million a season. Still a huge amount, but far less than the hundreds of millions spent at the moment. But the big teams object. They are happy to throw money at the sport if they think it helps them win.

But if Honda cannot be sold then there will only be 18 cars on the grid in 2009. And who is to say that Force India and both Red Bull teams will make it to Australia at the end of March.

It is definitely time for Bernie et al to shake things up and bring us back decent sport.

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Speaker gets away with it as MPs plan for pomposity parade

Guido is distinctly underwhelmed at the Speaker's statement. Iain seems to think he is on his last legs and MPs took pity on him.

For my part, I think that he has got away with it. He has announced a debate on Monday which I fear will be dominated by the Sir Patrick Cormacks of this world. It will be lots of MPs saying how important they are and that the Police were bang out of order. It will be a parade of pomposity. David Winnick started the ball rolling today by demanding that a Policeman be called to the Bar of the House to explain himself. If MPs insist on making themselves appear so different to the rest of us then they will continue to lose favour with the public. The rest of us don't have a 'Bar of the House' to call people to, and most people cannot relate to MPs when they talk in this language. And, let's face it, it's not as if Mr Winnick's call will be heeded.

The real issue for me is twofold:

- was Damian Green doing his job in publishing the leaks? I think he was and the Speaker was right to say just this. It is this acknowledgement that is most to Speaker Martin's credit and the reason he will hangmon to his job;
- were the Police justified in searching his office without a warrant and jeopardising the confidential information held there? The answer is clearly no.

So how come the Police did conduct such a search without a warrant? Mr Speaker makes clear that he wasn't asked and didn't advise the Serjeant to demand a warrant. Perhaps he should have done so. If it is true that the Police should have advised the Serjeant that she did not have to agree and that they failed to do so then they are clearly in the wrong. She is also clearly wrong in not knowing the rules she is paid to enforce (albeit that she is new to the job). She had the time to double check and could have asked both the Speaker and Clerk if she were unsure.

So what will happen now?

Well a forgettable debate featuring Sir Bufton Tufton will take place on Monday. It will reassert the importance of MPs and the sancitity of the Palace of Westminster. It will reinforce the Speaker's statement that only he should be allowed to consent to a search and that a warrant will be needed in future. But as this situation has not arisen for hundreds of years, who's to say that it will come up again. This whole protocol is likely to be a complete waste of time as is the investigation by seven wise MPs (insert joke here).

The Speaker is further damaged but not in such a way that he will be forced out before the General Election.

The new Serjeant will be made the sacrificial lamb over the whole issue but Harriet Harman and the wimmin's brigade will not want to see the first female Serjeant lose her job and so she will survive - but she will be utterly powerless.

The Police will admit their mistakes but claim that no one is above the law and that they asked for and got consent to the search. They will be overjoyed that they got one over the politicians.

Monday, 1 December 2008

Spooks - it's almost over

If you want to maintain the most vital network of undercover secret agents in a foreign country, clearly the first thing you get them to do is to get a very recognisable tattoo.

It's good fun though.

The Front Bench ARE all crap

The Party Leader has it right. Most of the front benchers simply aren't up to it and need to be replaced. There are some talented people outside the Shadow Cabinet and the time servers need to make way for them. Better to have a reshuffle now rather than later.

It's unfortunate that the Leader was heard bad mouthing his colleagues, but most people would rather see a leader who is prepared to weild the axe than one who keeps time servers in their posts.

Oh, it's David Cameron and the Tories I'm talking about. But of course you knew that...

Welcome to the world of hypocrisy

Item one - The Government's apparent consent to the arrest of Damien Green for receiving leaked documents when they have all done it and continue to do it.

Item two - Ryanair. They have blasted Cornwall County Council and the RAF because Newquay Airport is having to close for three weeks as it is handed over from military to civilian control. Clearly this is not perfect, but Ryanair are the last people who should be moaning. They had already cancelled two routes out of the airport for three months each for no apparent reason and have failed to repay the fares of passengers who had booked on these flights. This is the airline that dumps people hundreds of miles away from their destination with no means of onwards transport in cases of bad weather.

Friday, 28 November 2008

The Leaky Cauldron (with apologies to J K Rowling)

Damian Green has made it clear that he thinks that it is the business of opposition MPs to publicise information that the Government tries to sit on.

The Government (and the Police) clearly think that it isn't.

But the Goverment is, of course, not so lily white on this issue. Much has been made of the fact that lots of the Pre-Budget Report was leaked to the media before the Chancellor made his statement to the Commons. Some may have been put out there by the famed Treasury Mole, but it is quite clear that other information was leaked by, or with the tacit consent of Ministers themselves. Surely this is sensitive information which should not be in the public domain until the proper time. Has anyone asked the Police to look into this?

And what about the media. They could be said to be complicit in the leaking process because they receive much of the information and gleefully publish it.

Without a hint of irony, this BBC story contains the words
The BBC understands that a junior Home Office official was suspended from duty 10 days ago over a number of leaks and the matter was referred to police. He was arrested but not charged.
'the BBC understands' - that sounds to me like it came from an off the record briefing - a leak.

And what about this story?

Downing Street sources say there will almost certainly be some discussion of the pre-Budget report, and ministers will finalise the detail of their next legislative programme, which the Queen will set out before Parliament on Wednesday.

There will also be an update from Foreign Office Minister Lord Malloch-Brown on the situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which he has just returned from.

Ooh - looks to me like someone disclosed the Cabinet's agenda to the press. Surely a leak inquiry will be held.

Thursday, 27 November 2008

Why anti-terrorism police?

Why was it that up to nine police from the anti-terrorism unit were used to arrest Damian Green? Is he really thought to have been committing terrorist acts or was it Brownian Labour edging ever closer to the tactics of a certain Soviet leader of the middle of the last century?

First Iceland, now a Tory MP. Next thing you know they'll be carting off Felicity Kendall.

Tory MP Damian Green arrested

This breaking story has been getting Westminster excited this evening. It started as a rumour that SOMETHING had happened and then resolved itself to the story that has appeared best in the Telegraph.

It appears that Mr Green has been arrested on suspicion of being involved with the leaking of sensitive documents from the Home Office - he is Shadow Immigration Minister and has embarrassed the Government recently with revelations. It is suspected that he is somehow linked to the civil servant arrested about 10 days ago - the assumption being leaker and leakee.

The Conservatives will claim that if Mr Green is simply raising matters of public concern - particularly matters that the Government was seeking to hide or inappropriate behaviour by the Home Office - then this is his job. And, with a few caveats, I agree. Providing it is not damaging national security and on the assumption that he was not paying whoever leaked the documents or extorting them in some way (and absolutely no suggestion of this has come to my ears) then so be it. It is the job of the opposition to raise questions about Government policy - particularly any malfeasance.

Hide behind the sofa time

As an 11 year old, I should never have been allowed to watch the 1981 version of this.

Mind you, I suspect that nobody over that age would have found the waddling plants remotely frightening.

But I'm looking forward to it being back on.

Political Haircuts

Watching Gordon Brown on BBC News just now I notice that he has had a trim.

Meanwhile, Lib Dem Leader Nick Clegg has had a fairly drastic haircut. Gone is the Hugh Grant floppy look and in has come a much shorter style.

Dare I say, it makes him look older and more serious?

Over to you Dave...

Sajj Karim among Britons caught in Mumbai terror attacks

According to the BBC, British MEP Sajj Karim is among the Britons who escaped from the Taj Hotel in Mumbai.

British MEP Sajjad Karim, who spent the night barricaded in the basement of the Taj Mahal Palace hotel, tells BBC World News TV that guests had fled one gunmen at the hotel's entrance only to be confronted by another at the back. "He had quite a large machine gun in his hand and simply pointed it towards the crowd and started to use it. Pure instinct takes over. As soon as the first shots were fired, I saw a few people go down and I, along with everyone else, turned and fled," he says. Mr Karim says the streets of central Mumbai are now "incredibly quiet".


I bought my first ever record in Woolies. It was by the Thomson Twins.

MFI fails to rate so high in my childhood recollections

Monday, 24 November 2008

PBR - it's just a bit crap isn't it

Funny how the Pre Budget Report seems to have overtaken the Budget itself in importance in the political calendar. Is this because of timing - autumn being a more feral political season?

Or is it because the traditions of purdah don't apply to the PBR and so the Chancellor can get away with leaking whole chunks of what he is going to announce.

Or perhaps it is just that it is treated as a statement and so there is much less time for speeches and for opposition comment.

Anyway, the meat and drink of the statement seems to be dividing political opinion purely along party lines. George Osborne in particular ramped up the rhetoric as though this was the beginning of the election campaign. I suppose the Tories are deliberately behaving as though it is. They believe (probably with good reason) that the later the election is, the worse the economy will be and so the better they will do. Brown might be tempted to cut and run if things look good in the spring (as I argued here before). Alternatively, he will hang on and just hope that his plans actually start to bear fruit.

They won't. Particularly if this is anything to go by.

The usual Brownian mish mash of tax credits for 'hard working families' are in there but the major plank is the cut in VAT. As many have said before, and many more will say in the future - just how many businesses will go around cutting prices by pennies? Not so many - particularly at the cheaper end of the market.

For the genuinely poorest there will be little respite. Food and so on is not subject to VAT. Most places are already so desperate for custom that they are knocking 20% off in pre-Crimbo sales. They won't use the VAT cut to trim any more off.

For the middle incomes there is also little. They may spend a little more in the shops as a result of this, but it's hardly enough to start compensating them for the higher credit card bills or negative equity.

The top earners, of course, will be hit hardest by the tax hikes - 45p tax for the richest 1%.

But all of us - including all firms - will also have to stump up with the ludicrous rise in NI comntributions. NI is a form of income tax and corporation tax rolled into one. It is the worst possible tax rate to change if you want people to be richer.

There is apparently a public sector spending splurge coming. But it is coming from a standing start in almost all cases and so will take ages to get off the ground. Building lots of new social housing is welcome, but it will still need planning permission, tendering and so on and so the houses are not likely to start coming on stream for three years and the Polish builders won't see any more work for a year or so.

I'm glad to see the Tories pointing out some of the more obvious flaws in the plan, but they really haven't said what they would do instead. Perhaps doing nothing is better than this, but I think they need something more than their plan to give incentives to employers to ditch long-standing workers and take on the long-term unemployed.

The Lib Dems, from what I've read, have stuck to their guns and said that income tax cuts should be the priority - starting at the lowest end and for good, not just for 13 months. I would have preferred a cut in NI (for both employers and workers), but this is almost there. Let's allow people to keep a little more of the money they earn and allow them to save it or spend it as they think best for themselves. Brown's package seems to be based on the notion that only spenders gain (and even then only if they spend on the right things and in the right places). Under the Lib Dems every worker would be a winner.

Only 77% male - perhaps it's time to rename this blog?

According to the amusement de jour, this blog is 77% likely to be written by a male. Could they not have got a bit more of a clue from the name?

Saturday, 22 November 2008

Introducing: The Lembit Opik Pitta Heater

Was driving to do some photos at Exeter races yesterday (tough life ;-p) when I heard an episode of the Radio 4 Comedy Fags, Mags and Bags. It's a sit com based in an Indian run corner shop.

Yesterday included a plot about the upwardly mobile son inventing his own version of the George Foreman Grill. He created the Lembit Opik Pitta Heater - 'because Lembit Opik is not just a Liberal Democrat, he's Everyman (and he's deceptively tall).'

Utterly brilliant.

I urge you to listen again

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Carry on Charles

I'm not a monarchist. I once proposed a motion on the abolition of the monarchy at conference. But I'm fully in favour of Prince Charles being able to say whatever the heck he wants (subject to the normal constraints of the law, natch).

I really cannot see why Lord Taverne wants to muzzle Charles (and has been pontificating across to airwaves to this effect).

From my republican point of view, if Charles is busy spouting off left and right then people will agree or disagree with him as they see fit. But the more that they do so, the more Charles comes across as just another bloke with a view. No longer will he - either as heir or monarch - be seen as any more special than that bloke at the bar who can't shut up about bin collections.

Even monarchists should be happy. Why do they want a figurehead who is so remote that they never appear to have a view on anything. I can understand an individual decision to remain silent - as our current monarch appears to have made. But why should this be forced upon her heir? Especially as he is renowned for his outspoken-ness.

Monarchy purdah is a new invention in any case. In previous centuries citizens have known exactly what their rulers have thought about just about ever key topic. Perhaps the move towards a representative democracy has changed matters but let's not try to make Charles something he isn't.

Been busy...

It's been a busy week in Lanson Boy's life. I was up in Cambridge on Saturday to watch the mighty Cornish All blacks defeat one of the strongest teams in League Two with a last minute try and conversion.

Being Cambridge, I also had the chance to stay with my randmother and meet up with two cousins who were in town at the time.

Then it was off to Kent to do a couple of days photography with PPCs and county candidates - first of all in Shepway and then in Canterbury. It was great to meet up with Neil and with Guy, our excellent PPCs for the two seats. It was also good to see the hard work that is going into the county campaign there. The Lib Dems have not done so well in Kent recently but I think that it is almost certain that we will make huge gains on our six county seats in June.

This week will now involve catching up although I plan to be in London on Thursday for the gurkha event. Stay tuned for pics...

Pics - Jon Brandling Harris in action for the Cornish All Blacks against Cambridge; Catherine Bearder and Guy Voizey in Whitstable harbour; Shepway

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

I thought the Tories were meant to be the low tax party

There's a danger that, come the end of the day, it will be the Tories who are being least adventurous in their plans for cutting taxes in order to help beat the recession. That, to me at least seems a bit against the grain.

First we have the Lib Dems who have plans to cut up to £20bn and target these tax cuts at low to middle income earners and pay for it by closing tax loopholes for the rich.

Now we have the Tories who are restricting their promises to cutting NI payments for employers who take on people who have been jobless for more than 3 months.

I suspect that, in about an hour's time, we will get the usual blizzard of credit system proposals from Labour which will benefit some of the lowest earners, particularly families, but cost more in paperwork than they manage to give out to real people.

Let's look at the Tory proposals for a moment. They seem perfectly worthy to me. But just so very, well, timid. They almost seem like something that Gordon would propose. Tories don't do this sort of fiddling about at the edges. They do big bold gestures. Except now they haven't.

I think that when it comes to public understanding, the Tory proposals are going to seem very small beer indeed.

Sunday, 9 November 2008

But Dale is also an arse...

Despite what I said below, Iain Dale is being a bit of an arse in his post about prisoners voting rights. Quite apart from the pointless mischaracterisation of Lib Dem policy (he seems to imply that the Lib Dems want the judges to force prisoner voting rights on the UK), he seems to be oblivious of the concept of how a democracy works.

First - any democracy needs to have a judiciary whose role is to make sure that the constitution is complied with. In the US that job is much easier because there is a written constitution and a strict separation of powers which sets out the duty of the judiciary to overrule the other two branches of government where they believe that the law is unjust. But even in the UK, there is a place for judges who are prepared to say that the system is unfair. The Courts did so recently when they said that gurkhas who had served the UK should have the right to stay in the country.

So for Dale to say that judges making law is a bad thing is to misunderstand the way democracy works. Where Parliament is unfair, it is the job of judges to act.

Now I am happy to accept that many people think that prisoner voting is a bad thing. But I disagree with them. I believe that the task of prisons is to rehabilitate prisoners. If we strip them of their voting rights then we send them (yet another) message that they are not part of society. I believe that allowing prisoners the right to vote (by post for the constituency they were living in before sentencing) could be beneficial for rehabilitation. Almost half the countries of Europe allow prisoners to vote and I have seen how it works in practice when I was an election observer in Ukraine. With small modifications (prisoners had no choice about when to vote - only whether), prisoner voting works in even the newest democracies and in person.

I do believe that judges should have the right to strip prisoners of their right to vote as an extra punishment. Personally, I would only do so for people who had committed electoral fraud. But I accept that this is a matter worthy of debate.

Dale is not engaging in debate but using the subject as a means of beating up Euro judges. And that is why he is being an arse.

Iain Dale is right...

Dale is right that it is ridiculous to cheapen the concept of democracy by having celebrities sitting in our legislatures simply because of how many photos they have in Hello!

(And Mark Pack is also right that it is stupid to give people lottery tickets for voting. We need to make voting something people actually want to do.)

Friday, 7 November 2008

Politicians 1 Punters 0 (and why Brown will call the election soon)

Political Betting identified a massive split between the politicians and the punters over who would win Glenrothes. The politicians mainly believed that Brown had turned things around and could pull it off. The punters felt that the Nats would walk it. Of course the politicians were right and Labour secured a massive majority. Even Guido is having second thoughts about 'Jonah' Brown.

What is also interesting to note tho is that the political commentators also got it spectacularly wrong. They were all (at least, according to Politics Home) calling Glenrothes for the SNP.

I have a strong aversion to the so-called expertise of the broadcast political editors in particular. I don't think that an ability to buy lunch for someone who then gives you a couple of tidbits on a no-names basis is a particularly worthwhile skill. They aren't reading the runes at all, simply repeating what others tell them. And, with a couple of honourable exceptions, there is a herd mentality among the whole of the Westminster media. Once a thought develops then the papers and TV all run with it no matter the evidence to the contrary. And all too often they are wrong (and even when they are right it is because they have pushed the story).

So they got their comeuppance with Glenrothes (not that they will admit it. Heck, most probably won't even notice).

And what does this mean for the timing of the General Election? Brown has to give serious thought now to calling the election early. Of course he is still behind in the polls but look at the evidence:

- Cameron still has high approval ratings but all on the basis of sounding good. He still has no policies because policies take time to develop. If an election were called now then I suspect that the Tory manifesto might be full of holes and certainly not everyone would yet be singing from the same hymnsheet. Plenty of splits for Mandelson to exploit;
- The economy is going to hell in a handbasket, but it won't get any better between now and the last moment for calling the election. At the moment Brown is riding high on his plan to save the world. Pretty soon people will start to realise that the plan was not all that magnificent; hasn't helped their pockets at all and wasn't even his to start off with.
- He's actually enjoying himself;
- The Obama effect. For all that Cameron is the new, inexperienced one, the UK public will see Obama as a Democrat as more akin to Labour and McCain as a Republican as more akin to the Tories;
- The Tories are falling apart over stupid little thing like George Osborne and Caroline Spelman. (Ok, 'falling apart' is too strong, perhaps 'occasionally forgetting to concentrate on the big stuff' is about the right level).

It's not a given, of course, and Brown still has to contend with an election in winter, but it is my guess that he will think in one of two ways. Either he will be arrogant enough to think he really is this good and can turn anything round and can afford to wait, or he will realise that this is a happy coincidence, that things will go down hill again and to seize the moment.

And what Brown will have to do above all else is to keep a lid on his own Party bickerings. He has squashed Miliband (D) and is under no real threat at the moment, but he needs to keep Mandelson in the back room where he does good and not all over the front pages. He needs to hide the useless ones and (dare I say it) adopt a Lib Dem image. We only ever get two or three people on the media (because they don't know who anyone else is), perhaps Brown should seek to make sure that only he and a couple of the other (public approved) ministers ever make it onto TV.

Thursday, 6 November 2008

The return of 'brisk'

Old election hacks like me remember the days when news reports on polling day would only ever describe turnout in two ways. It would either be 'brisk' or steady'. Regrettably, nowadays we also have to resort to the word 'slow'.

But it is good to see that the Times at least is upholding the old traditions.

via Darrell G

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Bloody BBC

For all that Auntie is the nation's favourite, I've got to add my voice to those, including Iain Dale and Mark Pack on LDV, who have criticised their coverage of the US elections last night.

I don't disagree with the decision to send so many staff over for the coverage. I think that it was justified given the importance of the US, the historic nature of the election due to Obama's candidacy and the excitement about the result. In fact, I think that the BBC should be putting more effort (not quite as much as this, but significantly more than they do at the moment) into covering the elections of our other major partners - France, Germany, Japan and so on. People accuse the UK of being too US-minded. I think the understanding that comes from following elections, and in particular the debates over policy, informs the UK public about those countries and increases both their understanding and their sympathies.

But what a disaster the coverage was. Jeremy Vine couldn't remember how to get his screen to work and at times ended up prodding wildly at it. He had clearly got a crib sheet to tell him where to press when he wanted to highlight a particular county on the map but the insight we gained was minimal. He never explained why we should see this little bit of Ohio as being more significant than that little bit of Ohio. As ever, the BBC demanded 45 second segments and so we never got into the meat of it.

The studio guests were largely terrible. Larry the psephologist was ok, but most of the others had so little to add as to be a waste of space. Christopher Hitchens and John Bolton both made me want to throw stuff at the TV but as it was my brother's new 32 inch plasma I restrained myself. But at least they said something vaguely interesting and better than the blandness of most of the others.

The outside broadcasts were the worst. What is the BBC fascination with talking to ordinary people? You never hear from enough of them to make it worthwhile as a scientific poll and, because they are not Brits, we have little chance of feeling empathy for them. Better to stick with experts on the ground. But even these were strictly mediocre. It was good to hear Jesse Jackson - I presume the US networks wouldn't touch him - but most of the rest were so 'toe the line' partisan as to be not worthwhile. I don't want to hear that the Chair of the Bumfuck, Oklahoma Democratic Party thinks that Obama is great - I think I could have guessed that this would be their view. And it is historic that the US has elected its first non-white President. But we learn nothing from hearing endless African-American (or indeed white) voters simply telling us that it is so. We need more depth than that.

The bloggers were so useless and uninteresting as to provide a chance to go and get another beer. There are many great US bloggers out there and I'm guessing that they weren't all (if any?) taken up by the US networks. Why couldn't the BBC find a couple who knew how to string a sentence together and had something to say. Even if they represented fairly singular points of view they would have added something. I don't have a clue what the two bottle blondes were supposed to be doing. Were they meant to be giving their own opinions or reporting what others were saying. We certainly never knew from the 20 seconds an hour each was given to speak.

I felt it was fair enough for much of the concentration to be on what an Obama Presidency will be like once it became clear he would win - even before he got 270. Some people were using these discussions to accuse the BBC of bias. But various reporters were embarrassingly over the top well before that. I heard Richard Bacon on 5Live watching Obama vote and the screams he emitted when the guy's car came within 15 feet of him would have done a 60's Beatle fan proud. Get a grip man - you're supposed to be a professional.

And the producers should be shot. Not just for the failure to link properly - and that was bad enough. But it was always going to be the case that the first couple of hours would need filler discussions. So where was the in depth discussion of how the Electoral College system works. Better to do something once and well than take 20 seconds explaining it badly every hour. What about the fact that the US is a two party system. Let's discuss why the third party candidates are a sideshow this time (and also about the time Ross Perot wasn't) and what the two party system means for the way the election works.

And, fundamentally, let's have proper discussions about what each result means and a proper debate between people from each camp. Interrupt if there is genuinely something useful or new to say, but otherwise why not let a debate or segment run on for 5-10 minutes. You've got the tickers to keep people up to speed on the nuts and bolts of what has already happened.

I was lucky enough to have my laptop with me while watching and kept up to date with Dale's live chat (and thus what the different networks were saying) and with the Betfair markets (although I wasn't betting). These provided blessed relief from the most inane segments of Auntie.

The whole 'calling' thing was the subject of much debate on Dale. The BBC took the difficult decision to go with what ABC said (or AP and one other network) and I think, on balance, that was fair enough. It would have got a tad confusing if they had simply taken what the first network said about any state and there was no way they could justify seeking to put in the infrastructure to call for themselves. But they managed to foul up royally with the whole Fox/Ohio thing. They mentioned that Fox had called the state for Obama but failed to note that this was a mistake and Fox immediately retracted. Instead they simply kept schtum until the state was actually called for Obama some 20 minutes later - clearly they just made the assumption that it would come good in the end. Isn't that a form of misinformation of the kind that the BBC are supposed to be stamping out?

Side note - I await the first politician or commentator to bemoan the fact that in the UK we don't have 3 hour queues outside polling stations, isn't it terrible etc etc. Well if you cut the number of polling stations in half and have 25+ contests on the ballot we might well do so!

Friday, 24 October 2008

This All Blacks thing seems to be taking off

We've been inundated with media requests as a result of the threat by the New Zealand RFU to sue us for using the name Cornish All Blacks. We've also had many messages of support.

As well as a story in the Sun (can't link, it crashes my computer still), we've been in the Mail, Telegraph and on the Beeb as well as interviews with various outlets in New Zealand (which our Club President loved as they all had to be done at about 4am). Their attitude is particularly telling describing the NZ RFU as being completely OTT.

The stupidity of Tesco

This story, and my own experiences lead me to think that Tesco are being ridiculous when it comes to interpreting the law as regards underage alcohol sales.

In the linked story, a 39 year old mother is not allowed to buy a bottle of vodka because her 13 year old son is woth her. Twenty minutes later, her husband goes to buy the drink (which is for them, not the child) and is also refused.

I have had a similar experience when I was buying beer in Tescos and someone I was with was asked for ID. When they could not produce it, I was refused service. In this case, the person was 22.

I am fully in favour of proper enforcement of the law on underage sales, but this is ridiculous. If taken to a perfectly logical extreme, the couple in the linked story should not be allowed to buy alcohol for another 9 years because it might be for their children.

And yet the law is also confused. It is perfectly legal for parents to give alcohol to their children at home. Indeed, many argue it is perfectly sensible for parents to teach children about safe alcohol consumption in this way. So how to define the difference between buying alcohol for them and giving some to them? Is there a set proportion defined in law?

Whatever happens, Tesco need to get their act together if they don't want to lose more customers.

Thursday, 23 October 2008

We're being sued by New Zealand

Apparently Launceston Rugby Football Club (I do their press and photography on a voluntary basis) are being sued by New Zealand!

It all stems from the use of the words 'All Blacks'.

LRFC have been known as the Cornish All Blacks since they were formed in 1948.
In those days of austerity, finding complete matching sets of rugby kit was very difficult and expensive. The players of the newly formed club therefore sought to produce matching kit from whatever was available. Some players took other kits and dyed them to a uniform colour and black was the easiest to match. Others made kit out of blackout curtains. The nickname Cornish All Blacks was coined at that time and has been the nickname of the club ever since. I have yet to come across anyone who has mistaken the two teams but the New Zealand RFU are objecting to LRFC's move to trademark the 'Cornish All Blacks' name to stop people from counterfeiting our kit. They have threatened to sue us.

It's interesting to note that the New Zealand national team became known as the ‘New Zealand All Blacks’ during a tour to the UK and a match in Cornwall when a pressman mistakenly referred to the visitors as the ‘All Blacks’ rather than the intended ‘All Backs’ in reference to all their points being scored by their back division.

The Cornish All Blacks are a community based club in Cornwall who play in National Division 2. As part of our activities, we work in schools and community groups around the County to build the profile of rugby and to develop new talent. We are also keen to raise funding for our chosen charity – Cancer Research UK - and our away kit this season is all pink. We believe that our activities in this area may be threatened if we are no longer allowed to use the nickname Cornish All Blacks as many hundreds of replica kits which raise thousands of pounds for charity will have to be disposed of.

It's really disappointing that we have not had any direct contact on this matter from the New Zealand RFU and we believe that, should they get in contact with us, they will soon appreciate that we are no commercial threat to them whatsoever. In order to show our goodwill towards the New Zealand RFU, we would welcome the New Zealand national team down to Polson Bridge at any time for match.

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Celebs and their 'habits' - perhaps double standards from the Beeb?

There was concern this morning about the appearance by Atomic Kitten singer (and face of Iceland) Kerry Katona on ITV's This Morning programme. (link is BBC story about it)

Katona was repeatedly asked by host Philip Schofield about her slurred speech.

A week ago, Jonathan Ross interviewed actor Colin Farrell on his Friday night show. Farrell looked to me as though he was as high as a kite, twitching and jumping and failing to keep up his end of the conversation.

Whilst the BBC seems happy to run 'news' stories questioning whether ITV should have allowed Katona to appear in the state she was, they seem not to have noticed Farrell's appearance.

The new MORI poll and why it doesn't make sense

Lib Dem Voice a few days ago assessed the crop of polls and argued that the ICM poll that had the Lib Dems on 21% was more accurate than those that had us on the mid teens. All based on sound psephological reasons, natch.

I'm now going to have a dig at the MORI poll out today which shows a 13% swing between Labour and Conservatives. Last month - Tory 52, Labour 24. This month - Tory 45, Labour 30. As PB argues - still a massive Tory lead, but a huge shift.

The reason why there should be such a shift is sort of understandable. A month ago Labour was in no end of turmoil. Brown had not yet has his successful conference and he had yet to usurp Sarkozy and the Swedes as the man with the plan for saving the world. So perfectly normal that people should change their minds you would think.

But here is what is bothering me. The MORI polling method includes just people who are certain to vote. To my mind, that would tend to narrow down the number of switchers. People who are less certain to vote, so my argument goes, are more likely to be flexible about which party to support and more likely to persuasion by political fortunes. Sure, there will be some for whom the civic duty of voting is absolute, but I feel there are many more who are certain to vote because they are certain they will always vote for a certain party.

Which brings me onto my biggest gripe with pollsters. Their refusal ever to say sorry. Every poll they have ever carried out is right, they will argue. You and I know that this cannot be right. Polls on the same day point to wildly different vote shares. Yet the pollsters, even in retrospect, will argue that their own poll showed what people were thinking at the time (no possibility of discovering the truth of course).

Of course the methodology suggests that 95% of polls should be accurate to within 3% (depending on sample size, but this figure is based on the usual size of just over a thousand). That means that one in twenty will be out by more than 3%. They are 'rogue polls'. Yet to ever infer that a particular poll might be a rogue is to invite threats of legal action (I know, I've been there). Yet you will never hear pollsters admitting which of their polls might have fallen into this category. Even when you look back the accumulated polls of all firms stretching back over a considerable period and see an unexplained outlier. Nope, says the pollster, that was wht people were thinking at the time. They just changed their minds straight after.

I'm not, of course, suggesting that the current or previous MORI polls are rogues. But it would be nice occasionally to hear pollsters admitting which they got wrong.

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

The questions Lembit DOESN'T have to answer

James Graham's anti-Lembit crusade is becoming a bit silly.

So you don't think he is the best person to become Lib Dem President. Ok - your opinion.

So you want to write (occasionally) amusing stories on the ineptness of the start of his campaign. Once again, fair enough.

But it is perhaps a little over the top to castigate the man for failing to answer your questions.

First - the questions aren't exactly neutrally phrased. And Lembit could probably expect that the answers would be brutally fisked. Solution - don't offer up ammunition.

Second - you have shown you're not entirely pro Lembit. You don't have to be, of course, but I can think of far better things for Team Lembit to do with their time than spend it answering your questions.

I'm not on anyone's campaign team and haven't publicly declared who I have voted for (and I won't). I happen the think that any of the three candidates could offer something positive. I'm not really in a position to bemoan negative campaigning, but I do get a ittle hacked off with a blog which is becoming more hatchet job than anything else as regards the Presidential election.

Monday, 20 October 2008

Just supposing... (Conspiracy theory of the week - Mandelson edition)

Guido, in his blog about Peter Mandelson being interviewed by Sophie Raworth, set me thinking.

What if Gordon Brown has not buried the hatchet with Mandelson?

What if he has not brought the twice resigned Prince of Darkness back into the Cabinet because of his desperate need to appeal to Blairites, his need to have the best talents and biggest names on board and a desire to have Mandy in place for the election campaign?

What if, instead, the move is actually part of a very clever revenge plot?

Mandelson has resigned twice from the Cabinet already, both times for 'scandals'. He is hardly in a position to resign again and keep any credibility whatsoever (yeah, I know that's what people thought last time but bear with me). And if he did resign again then he could hardly expect Brown to give him an important job overseas like his mate Tony did. And Cameron is even less likely.

So Mandelson is in a bit of a parlous position. Just the sort of position that Brown wants him to be in. Let's call that position 'The Stocks'. Why? Well what happened to people in the Stocks? People threw all sorts of shit at them. That's what. And I nominate Gordo and his proxies as those with the biggest piles of shit that they need to get rid of. So why not chuck them at the bloke in the stocks who you all detest anyway - no matter that he is supposedly on your side.

Actually, I don't think Brown is positively aiming to get Mandy to resign - at least not immediately - but he won't shed too many tears if and when he does go. 'Couldn't cut it' will be the refrain. But while Mandelson is there, then he is bound by collective responsibility and he'll have to take the flak for all that is going wrong with the business world.

Note that Brown is trying to separate the economy from business. The economy was doing perfectly fine, masterminded by the greatest brains in the world. People were enjoying the good times with their wealth (on paper) skyrocketing because of the house price inflation bubble. Why, even people north of Watford were benefitting to some degree. But those nasty business people - short sellers and bonus culture bankers, particularly in the USA - ruined it for everybody.

So the rescue plan from the world's saviour shows that our PM is back to his economic brilliant best (never mind that the rest of the world calls it the Sarkozy plan and it actually originated in Sweden). And all the continuing problems are to ba associated with 'business' and laid squarely at the door of the Business Secretary to answer.

Just supposing

Sunday, 19 October 2008

The far too rough Stephen Fry

Just been watching the second programme in the series featuring Stephen Fry's trip round the USA. I agree with others that it is disappointing. Not bad, simply incredibly frustrating. The entire series is only going to be a few episodes and so some states, even the interesting ones, are being dismissed in just four or five minutes.

The people, like last week's hunters in New Hampshire and this week's dancing gigolos in Florida are fun and deserve far more space to show themselves off.

And just how rough did Mr Fry look today?

Thursday, 16 October 2008

Jennie fisks the Presidential manifestos

Big thumbs up to the Yorsher Gob for her fisking of the Presidential manifestos (although she refuses to call them that).

Read he effort here

Wednesday, 8 October 2008

Cornwall Council loses £5m in Landsbanki

Like a number of authorities, Cornwall Council has invested some money in Landsbanki, the Icelandic Bank that has either gone bust or gone into receivership depending on who you listen to.

It now appears that as 'informed investors' local authorities will not have their deposits guaranteed in the same way that individuals will. So Cornwall is set to possibly lose £5 million and other counciles the same or more.

Should Cornwall and other authorities be putting money into banks like Landsbanki?

Well, they should certainly be putting their money somewhere. They get huge amounts of council tax money and government funding paid to them and it then trickles out through the course of the year. Far better to put it in the bank earning interest than stuff it under the proverbial mattress.

They should also be looking to earn a decent return rather than simply settling for the lowest rate of interest on the high street. But here is the crux. With higher rates of return comes an element of risk. I suppose, at least theoreticlly, they could play with these funds on the money markets. But the risk that they might lose the lot and not be able to pay for services is clearly one that no sensible council could take.

Ironically, it is by spreading the risk through putting the funds into a range of different financial institutions that they opened themselves up to this loss.

But equally, if they had put all their money in one particular high street bank - HBOS - then they could be seen as playing safe and yet still lose the lot.

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

All together now

Geta ÉG hafa minn peningar bak

June elections

Local Government Minister John Healey has just told the Commons that there will be no local elections in May, they will be in June to coincide with the Euro vote instead. Apparently it is to avoid voter fatigue and to cut costs.

I have a real problem with this decision for a number of reasons:

- I think democracy is worth paying for. The Government's view that all money must be scrimped and saved is wrong-headed. Sure, let's cut back on un-necessary spending, but it is worth spending a few extra quid on ballot safety, for example. It is also worth paying to avoid...

- Voter confusion. If you combine Euro and local elections onto the same day then what messages are people going to receive about the campaign? Through their doors they may receive a modicum of Euro literature and quite a bit of local election stuff, but only if they live in a target ward. The TV and radio will only be talking about the Euro polls and so the debate will be on the duo of misleading subjects - straight bananas and a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty (a treaty that is already dead as other have pointed out). I would like to see people voting on the basis of the elections that are actually happening. This is difficult enough when many people just want to give Brown a kicking, but almost impossible when UKIP - who are likely to stand virtually no local election candidates - are part of every debate and there is no reference to local polls. In Cornwall, we will have elections for the new Unitary Council. These are going to be tricky enough (for both voters and parties) without being muddled with the EU elections.

- Extended terms. I'm a believer in fixed term parliaments. I am also therefore in favour of fixed council terms. The ability of the Government to mess around with polling days at a whim (this is NOT the same as the foot and mouth postponement) runs contrary to that principle.

- By moving local election date to June, they appear to dismiss local elections as being of minor importance. This appears especially to be the case for County (and unitary) elections. County councils have not taken priority in terms of elections for the past 15 years. On every occasion since then the Government has decided that the General Election should fall on the same day. Fair enough in those cases because we do not have fixed terms Parliaments. But to arbitrarily subjugate the County elections yet again makes a mockery of these polls. It's a silly point, but did they ever think about the possibility of asking the EU to bring forward the Euro-polls?

- This decision will allow developers and others to get away with murder. It is bad enough during normal elections, but in early April the County and all six district councils will simply cease to be. The new Unitary Authority in Cornwall will take over responsibility with no democratic control. Canny developers and licensees will time their applications so that the Council will have to make a decision when there can be no oversight by elected people. The default option for the council officers will have to be to allow anything dubious or risk huge costs awards from the courts. Although not likely to be hit by this hiatus, there are set to be applications in the near future for a speedway track in Bodmin and for vast developments in Newquay (as well as the potential for lap-dancing applications). I'm not saying any of these are necessarily good or bad, but they should have democratic oversight.

It's a bad decision and the Liberal Democrats should vote against it.

Dodgy photo use - courtesy of the BBC

So, the BBC website wants to illustrate a story about a Qantas airliner which has made an emergency landing.

They have a picture on file of a Qantas jet, but how to make it more dramatic?

Easy. Crop the picture so you just have the tail section with the distinctive kangaroo and then tilt it so it looks like the jet has crash landed.

The only giveaway is the building in the background which also appears to be on a dramatic slope.

Get your act together Auntie.

(As readers will know, I only use photos here which I have taken or which I have specific permission to publish. As this is a case of direct critique, the use is justified under copyright law)

Breaking News: The EU rebels are back

According to the BBC, the three Lib Dem MPs who voted against Nick Clegg's line on the EU referendum have won back front bench posts.

Tim Farron, Alistair Carmichael and David Heath all fell out with the Party line when they were told to abstain on the EU referendum vote but voted in favour of a referendum - alongside 12 of their colleagues. They were forced to resign from the shadow cabinet as a result.

With the recent cabinet changes announced by Gordon Brown, this gave Nick Clegg the chance to reshuffle his team. Steve Webb has moved to cover the new Energy and Climate Changeministry and Tim Farron takes on the farming and Environment brief. Alistair Carmichael returns to voer Scotland and Northern Ireland and David Heath will head up a new Commission on Privacy - presumably looking at ID cards, data loss and so on.

In other changes, Sarah Teather moves from BERR to Housing - superficially perhaps a demotion, but Housing is a key campaigning area for the Party whereas BERR is not - especially when you are always having to play second fiddle to Vince. So I reckon she has gone up in the world (insert height related joke here). John Thurso will take over the Business brief.

I have to say that I am very glad that this has happened. I declare an interest in that I have been a friend of Tim Farron since long before he became an MP and think that he will rise far in the Party (so long as he holds off those pesky Tories).

Friday, 3 October 2008

Mystic Nick does it again

Nick Robinson assured us all yesterday that the reshuffle would merely be minor tinkering and finding someone to replace Ruth Kelly.

Nice one Nick. Your reputation is safe.

Hat-tip Gavin Whenman

Brown admits - I'm a terrible PM

Ok, so he didn't actually say that. But having to turn back to the old guard, including the uber-Blairite Peter Mandelson, cannot really be read any other way.

Some will see this reshuffle as shifting the deckchairs on the Titanic. My view is that he wants to prove that the overall situation is so bad that it is not his fault that the Economy is going down the tubes. By bringing in the likes of Beckett and Mandelson he is aiming to show that even the Blairites could do no better. One question is - did he try to convince Prezza to come back?

One line from Des Browne that stands out is this (quote from the BBC):

Mr Browne is to leave the government, the BBC has learned. He was offered another job but he felt it would be an insult to the armed forces to leave as defence secretary but take another job.
Hmm. Nice spin but perhaps the armed forces are delighted to see the back of yet another Defence Secretary who failed to provide them with the vision and the quipment to allow them to do their job properly. To be sacked from the Defence job - even if offered another - is a comdenation of the individual and not of the services. I really don't think they would have viewed it as worse if he had taken whatever role was offered to him.

Thursday, 2 October 2008

Good riddance

Not going to add much to my earlier posts about Sir Ian Blair. But London should be a far better and safer place without him in charge of policing the capital.

Is it bye-bye for Blair?

According to the BBC, a statement is due this afternoon on the future of Sir Ian Blair, Met Police Commissioner and the most senior (and useless) copper in the UK. Apparently it is on the issue of paying a close friend from public funds to advise him.

Apparently this might be serious enough to see him suspended (we will wait with bated breath). But your force refusing to investigate arson, burglary, theft, muggings, threats of rape and so on is not. Neither is officers running round the streets shooting unarmed and innocent by-standers.

Beggars can't be choosers. So long as he goes.

Wednesday, 1 October 2008

Do the Tories really believe that the Police should be able to shoot first and never answer questions?

A big hat tip to Anthony Hook for drawing our attention to Dominic Grieve's speech to Tory conference.

What Grieve appears to say is that the Police should not have had to face a Health and Safety prosecution for the de Menezes case.

In a way, I agree. I think that the use of Health and Safety law appears a bit desperate when you are dealing with something as serious as the killing by the State of a completely innocent man. I would far rather see the prosecution of the officers who pulled the triggers if they are culpable or (as appears more the case here) the prosecution of Police Commanders personally for negligence.

The 'breach of Health and Safety' route was clearly not seen as a major failure by the Met as absolutely no-one has had to go as a result of their guilty verdict. It is quite clear that they see this matter as nothing serious.

(However, as they also appear to feel that burglary, theft, threats of rape, assault and arson are not serious enough to be worth investigating it's a wonder we bother with them at all.)

So I think that the Health and Safety prosecution route should be changed.

But I suspect that Mr Grieve has other reasons for wishing to see a change in the system. I imagine that his piece of populist rubbish was actually seeking to make the case for not subjecting the Police to any of the controls of the law where they can bring the word 'terrorism' into play.

After all, if you are innocent, you have nothing to worry about, have you?

Geek question

Can anybody explain why the Sun website always crashes Firefox on my computer? (Am running sh*tty-Vista)?

Tried to go from Stephen's Linlithgow Journal to his link to the Sun story about Lembit and, as ever, it crashed.

All help appreciated

Tuesday, 30 September 2008

Gurkha justice - the right result, credit for the Lib Dems and humiliation for Brown

I'm delighted that the gurkhas have won their court case and all will have the right to remain in the UK when they finish their service, including those who left the army before 1997.

I have been present at a number of events (sadly not outside the court today) where the gurkhas have sought to highlight their plight. Fundamentally it is about this country doing the right thing for those who serve it.

Credit must go as well to Nick Clegg and Ming Campbell before him who have backed the gurkhas to the hilt. Whilst some saw this as a fringe issue and not one to be bothering with, but Ming and Nick have given up a lot of time (including at PMQs) for a cause that they believe is so obviously one of justice.

Congratulations too the Peter Carroll, Lib Dem PPC for Maidstone (and Folkestone before that) who has been behind this campaign and has helped the gurkhas to this magnificent victory.

But what a humiliation for Gordon Brown. He refused point blank to meet the gurkhas and refused to even accept a token medal when they wanted to hand them back in protest. Why on earth he thought it was the right decision to deny the right of about 2000 former British Army soldiers to settle here I do not know. Well he has got his comeuppance.

Post Office admits consultation failings, but there's nothing anyone can do to stop closures

The Post Office will get away with its sham consultation on the closure of 48 branches in Cornwall, the downgrading of others and the ending of a number of mobile services.

Cornwall County Council has had to withdraw its judicial review application after lawyers told them they had little chance of winning in court.

This is in spite of admissions by the Post Office that:

- they got Cornwall's population wrong in their consultation document;
- they have no idea how their plan for an outreach service in Altarnun will work;
- their facts and figures for the mobile service serving villages in East Cornwall are based on a period when it was not able to offer anything like the full range of services;
- representatives at meetings with residents had no idea about local services and situations.

If the Post Office can get away with such a sham consultation, quite frankly, what is the point?

Europe - saving the UK from over-regulation

A little known ruling from Europe is actually cutting the amount of pointless regulation in the UK.

Ever wondered why bread only comes in loaves of 400 or 800 grammes? It's because the 'Assize of Bread and Ale Act' of 1266 stipulated that all bread other than 'small buns and morning pastries' must be sold in weights of 400gm or multiples thereof (I'm guessing that it wasn't grammes when the law was originally passed).

So every bakery and supermarket you ever go to will sell loaves in these weights and nothing else.

Until now. The European Commission - that bastion of zealous regulation - has told the UK to repeal this Act and allow bakers to sell their wares in whatever weights they want.

Hooray for liberal Europe and a bit of a dilemma for the anti-Europeans.

The Cameron gambit

Step one: Offer to work on a cross-party basis with the Government to help turn round the economy. Gain credit from public for such selflessness when in fact you don't have a clue what you are doing.

Step two: Work with Government but establish clear dividing line so that they will not sign up to 'your rescue idea'.

Step three: Pull the plug at the last minute claiming that Labour are a bunch of incompetents.

Sunday, 28 September 2008

Nationalisation of failing businesses

A private business which is part of the community and on which many tens or hundreds of thousands of people rely is suffering a very poor run. The people are concerned. If this business fails then, apart from the job losses, there will be a loss of confidence in the rest of the industry. The owners and directors, who have been accused of mismanagement by some, are keen to sell. But there is no white knight willing to ride to the rescue. Potential suitors are worried about what they might uncover when they arrive and what the costs of turning around the operation might be.

So is the answer to nationalise Newcastle United?

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

The perils of settling for AV

Next Left, via Jonathan Calder reports a fringe meting at the Labour conference at which Norman Lamb said that the Lib Dems would settle for AV if offered by Labour.

Here is why Norman, and anyone else who takes the same view is wrong.

Let's face it, the Lib Dems are unlikely to be in a position of overall majority after the next election. So any electoral reform is going to come about either because of Labour deciding to do the right thing or because they are forced to do so as the price of co-operation with the Lib Dems after the next election.

We might, of course, be in the same position with David Cameron in which case I think we can rule out the principled decision option.

But I think we can also rule out the principled route with Labour as well. There is enough visceral hatred of both electoral reform and the Lib Dems within the Labour ranks that the likes of Peter Hain (who genuinely wants AV) will not rule the day. So change will only happen as a result of the Lib Dems setting it as a pre-condition of co-operation.

As the Scottish Lib Dems discovered when doing a deal in 1999, the junior partner has the right to make 3-4 demands. They must accept the manifesto of the larger party on all other matters. And the larger party can expect to get its way on most things, but has to give ground on three to four key issues. Labour will force the Lib Dems to use up one of these bargaining points on electoral reform. We cannot expect them to throw it in for free both because enough are opposed to change and because they would like, for tactical reasons, to restrict the number of other demands that the Lib Dems can make.

I have long argued that such demands as the Lib Dems might be able to make should be focussed more on systemic change rather than policies. That is because once made, constitutional changes such as the voting system are far harder to unpick. They result in a genuine change of culture which, in turn, results in it being easier to produce sensible policies. Policy changes in themselves may result in fairer and better services, but time moves on and there will be a need for new legislation in these same areas within the a few years and so it is easy to unpick any advances that have been made. If you want to have lasting impact as a junior partner then the changes you demand must be far-reaching. (Having said that, if I were involved in coalition talks then scrapping ID cards would have to be on my shopping list.)

Based solely on history, the UK only experiences a period of minority or coalition government once every thirty or so years. So those who argue for the incremental change model (take AV now and people will soon realise that proper reform - STV - is a logical step), are accepting that it will be another generation before we get where we want to be.

So if the Lib Dems find themselves in a position of strength, it would be lunacy for any who genuinely want fairer votes to accept the compromise of AV.

But there is another reason why neither Norman Lamb nor anyone else should not be seeking to make agreement on AV now. That is the tactical one. Labour has a history of reneging on deals over PR. The Cook Maclennan talks in the mid 90s produced an agreement over a referendum on PR. Labour carried this into their 97 manifesto. The Jenkins Commission duly reported recommending a complete mish mash of a system. Labour forgot to hold the promised referendum on change. They again made a promise in their 2001 manifesto but again failed to deliver. So the Lib Dems need to go into any talks with as strong a bargaining hand as possible. If you have strength you do not concede any advantage. If the only deal that can be done is for AV then we would have to take that, but as a straight change within a 5 year Parliament announced in the first Queen's Speech. Giving any sort of ground now would mean having to concede in talks to a referendum and to delay that would mean that change did not happen until after the next election (and therefore possibly never).

If, like Lembit and others, you genuinely favour AV, then feel free to discuss it. But bear in mind that you do not represent the Party or the majority of its members and that you are talking yourself into a weaker negotiating position even for that which you want.

Brown - no boom, no bust

Just listened to the PM being interviewed by James Naughtie on the Today Programme. Put to him that Labour's (his) promise of ending the cycle of boom and but, Brown denied that we were in such a situation. The guy is clearly either in denial or lying through his teeth.

His answer included the claim that the UK had enjoyed periods of high growth despite recession in other countries.

Does he not understand that massive growth is part and parcel of the culture of boom and bust? If you truly want to end boom and bust then you need to accept as a consequence that growth will be severely limited.

Oh and he also claimed that Ruth Kelly had resigned for purely family reasons. So that cannot be the real reason then.

The endlessly cheery Richard Mackenzie (you know, that bloke who stood for Labour in Henley)

Via Jane Griffiths and her wondrous anti-Salter campaign, comes this video of Richard Mackenzie, last seen coming fifth behind the BNP in the Henley by-election. To all those who came across him there... enjoy

Kelly resigns to spend more time with her family... Yeah right

So Ruth Kelly is to leave her job as Transport Secretary. She claims it is to spend more time with her family. Of course, she has four young children and she will no doubt want to spend time with them. She is clearly not one of those who has children simply as props (hello Dave) or to abandon to her constituency so that she can claim to live there (hello Caroline) But she seems to have managed to cope with a Cabinet job and the kids for some time now.

Perhaps the real reason, as the Beeb claims, is her opposition to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill. Clearly she objects to it on religious grounds, but wouldn't she have gone now if that had been the reason?

What about her demotion from Communities to the graveyard of Transport? Perhaps Gordon told her she was not being promoted next time?

Perhaps she thought Brown was a gonner and would be out soon, but his speech being good enough to save him for the moment she thought she was better out than in?

Or even that she simply cannot stand the infighting and wanted out of it?

Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps.

Norman Fowler really does have a lot to answer for!