Tuesday, 29 April 2008

Labour's puzzling by-election tactics

I cannot fathom out why Labour would be wanting to call the Crewe and Nantwich by-election for the 22nd May.

First off, it risks adverse comments (and not just from Iain) about the haste - before the funeral has been held.

But most strange is what they hope to achieve from holding it so soon after the council polls and before any Henley by-election can be held (if Boris wins in London).

Because whatever benefit Labour might get by not allowing the Conservatives and Lib Dems to build any momentum in the seat will surely be more than lost as a result of the terrible headlines Brown and co will get from their undoubted trouncing on Thursday. Voters may have short term memories but they are not that short and he is giving them very little time to dissipate.

I believe that the Tories will try to hold any Henley contest as soon as possible - again to prevent a Lib Dem build up. Surely Labour's best tactic would be to try to tie up as many Conservative activists as possible in a Henley contest on the same day as Crewe. A delay of a week or two could well have played to their advantage.

And a further benefit of doubling up would have been the possibility that the Lib Dems could do well enough in Henley to dent any pro-Tory headlines arising out of Crewe. Surely it is in Brown's best interests to humble to Tories - even if it is the Lib Dems who're taking any plaudits.

Other opinions welcome as ever.

Maybe it's because I'm a dour Scot from Dunfermline

The PM has a piece in today's Mirror urging people in London not to vote for the BNP. The trouble is, he comes across as just so false.

Not in his opposition to the BNP. Although saying that they would have banned Kelly Holmes from winning Olympic Gold for Britain is surely missing the mark. The BNP win votes nowadays because they reach out to people who feel disenfranchised on issues like housing and jobs. Not because they want to ban people of a different skin colour from calling themselves British.

Where Brown really comes across as false is when he tries to appeal to Londoners as, well, almost a fellow Londoner.

"Its finest hour was its Blitz spirit."

Nooooooooooo!!!!!!!! Don't mention the war.

Any minute now he'll come over all 'cor blimey guvnor'.

"Londoners stood shoulder to shoulder to defeat fascism".

And he goes on. Raving about financial centre of the world (shortly to end under his watch), wonderful transport (and transport strikes) and then the pride and joy... the Olympics. Londoners split into two camps about the Olympics. There are those are paying a heck of a lot of money for Ken's self-confessed con trick to rebuild East London. And there are those trying to live through the rubble and the dust.

Actually, maybe that's the best reminder of the blitz spirit there is.

Yo Cameron. Dave gets diggy wid it.

Eton and Oxbridge. Check
Investment Banking. Check
Tory MP for safe Oxfordshire seat. Check
Bayswater pad. Check
Wife called Samantha. Check
Street cred..... oops

'Dave' Cameron got dahn wiv da kids this am on the Today Prog. Ya get me.

Da man was rappin wiv Humps an that. An he fessed up to losin it wiv da PM. He said dat callin' him a 'Loser' was well OTT.

Said he still did a bit of 'punch and judy'. But he could 'andle it.

Da man played dahn his gang membership. Said da Bully Boys was not somefink he was prahd of.

Tell you what. This dude is well street.

Wading in to the polling mess

Mark Pack over at Voice has had a dig or two at John Rentoul of the Indie concerning his commentary on Nick Clegg's leadership and the party's polling.

Of course, Mr Rentoul is entitled to his opinion. However wrong he is.

I perhaps shared the view that we aren't doing so well in the polls as I hoped we would. But then I looked at Political Betting's reminder of the latest polls from each firm:

  • ComRes C40: L26: LD20
  • ICM C39: L29: LD20
  • YouGov C44: L26: LD17
  • MORI C40: L31: LD19
  • Populus C40: L30: LD19

  • I don't know about you, but I'm fairly impressed. You Gov tends to poll us lower than the others and so I'm not too fussed about them being 2/3 points lower. But hitting the 19-20 point mark at this stage is not to shabby at all. Of course I'd like to be on 23, 28, 40, 98%. But I was there in the days of 6% and coming fourth behind the Greens.

    And I expect us to rise a little bit further after Thursday night. We won't get 19/20% on polling day. Being local elections we'll poll higher than that. And the relative coverage as well as the good news stories I know we'll get from Liverpool, Hull, Sheffield and so on will translate into another little poll hike.

    Pity the poor Labour Party. Set to lose London. Trounced in the North. Gordon Brown least popular Leader since Ethelred. I'm not as optimistic as Nich that we'll end up overtaking them in the opinion polls (ironically, we may just do so in the ballot box). It's a very long a low road from here on it.

    So let's raise a cheer for the people who have got us here. And that starts with Nick Clegg.

    Sunday, 27 April 2008

    All Blacks kneel before Saints and fall to Div 2

    The Cornish All Blacks were simply outclassed by Northampton yesterday on their second trip to Franklins Gardens in a month. But the expected loss was not the bitterest pill for the Launceston side. Wins by both Sedgeley Park and Pertemps Bees confirmed relegation in bottom slot and even the chance of a reprieve if Coventry go into administration has gone.

    The manner of the Northampton win was no fluke. They are not just a team which deserved to win the league title. But their 35 and 0 winning season demonstrates that they will be genuine contenders in the Premiership next year. And there couldn't be a more deserving bunch of fans in the game. Franklins Gardens was packed with more than 13,500 spectators who enjoyed the sunshine and the tries. Chris Ashton alone scored six of them to set a new League One record for tries in a season. And Bruce Reihana, the Saints captain, scored a further four and converted more than he missed.

    The Saints fans were superb with the visiting Cornish contingent throughout. From meeting us off the bus to take us to the pub, to drinking and dancing after the game, they couldn't have been more welcoming. There was no gloating and genuine sorrow that it was us who had fallen through the League One trapdoor.

    Of the game itself, the 81-0 scoreline is all your eally need to know. The All Blacks had little posession and every handling error was punished with another try. Matt Jess and Hamish Smales were completely engulfed every time they got the ball and the forwards reverted to one of their off days.

    So what now for the All Blacks? It fell to Joint Head Coach Chris Brown to break the news to the players that the team had been relegated. Matt Jess was inconsolable after hearing the news. We know he is off to pastures new (probably to Franklins Gardens if the rave reviews in the programme are anything to go by) but it is quite clear that his heart and sould were with Launceston this year. Also going are Wayne Sprangle, Neil Clarke, Hamish Smales and Tinus du Plessis for sure. We also know Wayne Reed is taking up a player coach role with Crediton. He has my complete admiration for his efforts - and for being a firm fans favourite. Of the rest, nothing is yeat certain. We can assume there will be more comings and goings than if we had held our place in League One but I hope that a few players are able to stay with us - particularly the likes of Steve Pape, Jon Fabian, Sam Alford and Josh Lord. I don't suppose we will be able to keep Larry Ovens, but Tim Collier is approaching the end of his career and reportedly loves life in Cornwall and so we may be able to persuade him to stay.

    Pictures: All Blacks fans give the team a noisy welcome; Josh Lord leads the team out; Wayne Sprangle is brought to earth by Alex Rae; Hamish Smales is tackled; Tinus du Plessis chases down Carlos Spencer; Tim Collier is distraught at the news of relegation; Matt Jess is consoled by Josh Lord; The team watches as the Saints lift the trophies and spray the champagne; Wayne Reed and Hamish Smales get 'close'. Sam Alford looks like he is auditioning for the role of best man!

    Thursday, 24 April 2008

    Hillary - biter bit

    So will Hillary now be promising to obliterate Israel? Of course not. And nor should she. But in the field of international relations you should never back yourself into a corner. She did so with her stupid comments over Iran and now it emerges that Israel bombed a nuclear plant in Syria - presumably spreading radioactive material far and wide and killing many innocent people for years to come.

    Yet to promise to obliterate a country for an unprovoked attack leads you into very dark and dangerous territory.

    Wednesday, 23 April 2008

    Hooray parents treat Police as baby sitters

    A warning today from Police in Cornwall to the parents of thousands of youngsters who regularly cause trouble on the beachs of the County over the summer. But we're not talking about 'the usual suspects'. Nope, the problems comes from the public school set - the hoorays or snob-yobs as they're known round here.

    Every summer, thousands of well off young people spend a goodly portion of their holidays in places such as Polzeath and Rock on the North Cornish coast. And every evening they congregate on the beaches with crates of beer and uncontrolled barbeques. It creates havoc for the local residents and no end of work for the local Police who end up having to escort drunk kids home. The Police have likened their role to creche leaders.

    Warnings in schools and dispersal zones have all been tried without great success and so the Police are now saying they will target the parents under the 1933 Children and Young Persons Act. However, this Act can only be used where a young person is exposed to danger by the parent and so seems a bit of a long shot to me.

    It's difficult to know what to do. Cornwall relies on tourism income and so does not want to portray an unwelcoming image, but there is no doubt that the loud and troublesome parties turn off some families and annoy the locals.

    Tuesday, 22 April 2008

    Gavin Webb - suspended for saying what he believes in?

    The Lib Dems are a broad church but at election time it seems that we become that little bit narrower. Stoke councillor Gavin Webb seems to have suspended from the party for advocating libertarian positions on guns, prostitution and drugs.

    Let's be clear. He is not misrepresenting the Party's policy. Nor is he either breaking the law on these matters or advocating that others should. No, he is simply stating what he believes should be the case.

    I recall, during my time on the LDYS executive, being responsible for policy and putting forward an amendment on the floor of conference for the abolition of the monarchy. At the same conference, my colleague Alex Wilcock argued for the decriminalisation of cannabis. Boy were we popular. But the point is this. We proposed a new policy and argued our case and, democratically, lost the vote. We accepted that and carried on seeking to persuade party members. Eventually we won the debate on cannabis and we are still working on the monarchy thing.

    I suspect that Gavin's positions might not to be the taste of some (possibly many) within our party. But they are liberal views and should be debated. Certainly we should not be in the business of suspending him for espousing them.

    Nobody denies the right of the most economically liberal within our party to push their case in policy form. Why should we seek to limit what can be discussed in terms of social liberalism.

    Gavin describes himself as a Liberal Democrat (Libertarian). It may ultimately be that he does not see his future within the Lib Dems. That is a matter for him. But suggesting a debate on matters such as this should not be cause for his suspension.

    Why Hillary is not fit to be President

    It'll win her votes, but absolutely no friends in the wider world. Hillary Clinton has announced that if Iran launches a nuclear attack on Israel then the US could obliterate the country.

    Let's not get into the rights and wrongs of what the President of the USA should do if such an attack were launched. We don't need to. In order to judge Hillary, just consider her decision to talk up an attack by Iran on Israel and the prospect of nuclear war.

    Why does she need to do so? For all that she has portrayed herself as ready to govern from day one, Hillary now seems to be casting herself in the role of comic book action hero. Talking and diplomacy is for wimps. What the world needs is a President ready to obliterate first and ask questions later.

    So what will happen if she wins? Iran will push and edge forward. Never doing anything that will unite the world (or even just the West) in opposition. And where does Hillary go? She's (over)played her trump card and has no stance at the table.

    Unfortunately, the pressure cooker of the US election system will always force candidates into making stupid statements about the rest of the world - statements more suited to school mock elections than the contest to lead the free world. The US public might like to know that their President is 'in charge' but what use is that if the rest of the world goes to hell in a handbasket.

    I hate The Sun (website)

    Can anyone explain why everytime I try to view the website of The Sun it crashes Firefox - my internet browser of choice? Is it some compatability issue or is it some Fayed-esque conspiracy?

    The Tory election tactic - see a problem, squash it

    I don't think the Tory high command will have any problem with the defection of Bob Spink to UKIP. On a practical level, UKIP will garner a few decent press mentions over the course of the next week but Spink has lost any claim to the moral high ground in his row with his local Conservative Association and, what is more, UKIP seem totally incapable of coherent organisation to make the most of the opportunity that has presented itself.

    (Why is that? UKIP have a lot of money and enough elected politicians to be able to build a significant movement. Yet they haven't. I know that voters only really turn to them during Euro elections but the party really ought to have done better in building a movement and spreading their electoral appeal. Yet at every chance they seem to blow it. I remember during the Bromley by-election all the UKIP MEPs and workers just hung out at a pub getting steadily more wasted. A number of us Lib Dem staffers even joked that we ought to take their money and organise a half decent campaign on their behalf. Note: JOKED)

    But Cameron is not concerned. He has learned from Blair and the New Labour machine of 1995-97. In order to win, discipline is key. Any sign of dissent (or, dare I say it, character) must be ruthlessley squashed or otherwise disposed of.

    Naturally, the party does not want to lose support or MPs. But sometimes the cost of maintaining the current standing is just too high a price to be paid. And so if you are going to cause a stink in public - Bob Spink - you are ushered out. If you have the taint of something dodgy - Derek Conway - then you are kicked out. If you want to go and join the sinking New Labour ship - Quentin Davies - then please close the door on your way out. After all, it doesn't matter in Parliamentary terms. No one is really going to notice that the Tories are light a few MPs. All except Davies will probably continue to vote the right way when push comes to shove and very few commentators will spot this strategy as really being to blame if the Government hangs on over the 10p rate by just a couple of votes.

    Not everyone is being quietly disposed of. Who reading this is surprised that Boris has not gaffed in his London campaign? I'm not. It was quite clear from the moment that he was picked that Central Office would sit on him to make sure that he didn't damage the brand with his loveable oafery. If he didn't make an impact on Ken then so be it. But the last thing that could be allowed was the implication that the Conservatives were not fit for purpose.

    Now that Boris is seen as a likely (or at least possible) winner, then the stakes are raised higher. Protect the image at all costs. And this tactic will continue after May 1st. If Boris thinks that all those heavies and minders will leave him alone to govern as Mayor then forget it. For at least the first two years he won't be allowed to squeak without permission from Dave or George.

    And that is why I wholeheartedly disagree with Jeremy Hargreaves who suggested that Boris as Mayor would prove to the country that the Conservatives are unfit to govern. It won't. We will simply have a crowd pleasing absence of Government for two years.

    (As an aside, look at how Labour treated Livingstone. They were happy to seek him sod off and run as an independent in 2000 when the Party had a commanding lead in the polls. Better out than in, as they say. But as soon as Blair's popularity started waning, they needed all hands on deck. No matter that they were smeared with Father Christmas's blood.)

    So what does this mean for the Lib Dems? In order to damage Cameron seriously we have to hit them in the ballot box. All eyes will be on Crewe which will be touted by the media as Dave's big test. The Lib Dems must prove that (even if we don't win) we are taking more votes off Labour than the Conservatives do. If we have a by-election in Henley then we must show Team Tory that they are not going to have it their own way. We must significantly erode any majority they have (both on terms of share and actual votes).

    And first of all, on May 1st, we must prove that the Tories have no hope of power by continuing to be the only alternative to Labour in the cities and the North.

    Sunday, 20 April 2008

    Nick visits smallest post office

    We all know that Lib Dems are campaigning hard on post office closures, but...

    Saturday, 19 April 2008

    All Blacks fall to frustrating Bedford but fight on

    The Cornish All Blacks suffered a frustrating loss to Bedford Blues today, but the fight goes on to the final week.

    Today's 22-18 loss was all the more annoying because the All Blacks trailed 14-0 and had fought back well with a Matt Jess try just before the half. After the break, the All Blacks camped down in the Bedford 22 and secured a penalty try as the Blues repeatedly stood up in the scrum.

    In the end, however, the Blues were disciplined enough to hold the ball in their pack within their 22 for a full seven minutes without conceding a penalty or possession more than once. On that rare occasion Launceston saw a strike against the head negate their chances.

    When all is said and done the All Blacks had enough chances to win today but missed touch from penalties, a couple of poor line out balls and the aforementioned scrum loss conspired to defeat them. They were by no means outplayed by one of the few teams in the league with a winning record but how much heart will it give them for next week?

    The final week of the season sees the All Blacks away at champions Northampton. They are still out of the relegation places, with rivals Sedgeley Park at home to Rotherham and Pertemps Bees at Bedford. Assuming Launceston lose (and the Saints will be going for a 100% record) then they will be relegated if either of their rivals win.

    Pics: Tim Collier and Keith Brookings work from the base of the ruck; Tim Collier feels the pain of a shoulder injury; Tinus Du Plessis on a head down charge; Wayne Reed on the charge; Reed sports an unusual hairdo on his final appearance at Polson Bridge; Try scorer Matt Jess leaves everyone in his wake

    Friday, 18 April 2008

    Snakes alive! Nick Clegg in Hull and Grimsby

    Nick Clegg was visiting the Humber area yesterday and went to both Grimsby and Hull.

    In the morning he was taken by Cllr Andrew DeFreitas, Lib Dem Leader of NE Lincs council, to see an area of Grimsby that is being completely redeveloped by the Council in co-operation with local residents. Large areas of sub-standard housing are beng replaced with modern homes. Nick met with residents to see how they had been involved in planning the scheme.

    Then it was on to a local youth project working with pupils who have been excluded from school as well as young people from the local area. The project focuses on responsibility and includes care for various fish and reptiles. Nick handled a five foot orange grass snake which is being cared for by one of the young people in the project.

    Then it was next door to see a dance performance by a group of local young girls.

    We then crossed the Humber to Hull to meet with Dennis Healy, PPC for Hull North and his colleagues who run Hull Council. Our visit coincided with two events which show the difference between Lib Dems and Labour. The Town Hall was playing host to a cutting crime conference - under the Lib Dems Hull has seen a 41% drop in crime - with top police officers and council officials from all over the country.

    At the same time, unions were holding a march to protest at the likely decision not to award a council contract for an integrated advice service to the local Citizens Advice Bureau. Councillors point out that the preferred bidder is capable of providing the same service at a much cheaper cost to council tax-payers. Whilst the final decision is yet to be taken it does seem incredible to me that Labour are in favour of spending more tax payers money on services which can be found cheaper.

    We returned to this theme later during Nick's Town Hall meeting (actually held at the University). Members of the University Labour Club asked why the Council was ending the entitlement of all local school children to free school meals. Nick pointed out that Hull was reverting to the national policy of free school meals for those who need them but not for everyone. After all, why should scarce education resources be spent on free meals for kids from wealthy backgrounds. Such assistance should be targeted on those who most need the help.

    Another great question came from one guy who asked Nick to support all strike action and show solidarity with all workers without question (I paraphrase only for the sake of brevity). He also claimed that the public do not care about issues such s crime and education, but only with jobs and pay levels and that politicians, because of their level of pay, could never relate to their constituents. Nick referred to this thinking as somewhat old fashined which got the angry reply 'It's not old fashioned, it's marxist'. Priceless.

    Pics, from top: Nick and Cllr Andrew DeFreitas outside houses which will be demolished as part of the Grimsby regeneration scheme; Nick and the five foot grass snake; Nick with the founder of the Shalom Youth Project Canon John Ellis; Nick sees a PE lesson at Thoresby Primary School; and visits the IT suite; Nick at the public meeting at Hull University.

    Angela Smith - rat

    No really. What did she think she was doing.

    First she let's it be know than she is going to resign over the 10p tax rate (despite having known about it for over a year AND voting for the budget that included these changes). Clearly, she also let it be known in such a way (possibly an embargoed interview?) that she could not later claim never to have considered the subject.

    Now she says that she has chatted to Gordon and everything is alright.

    Clearly she is a rat who forgot her waterwings and so is too petrified to jump from the sinking ship.

    Tuesday, 15 April 2008

    Poor diddums

    The hacks travelling to the USA with Gordon Brown are bewailing the loss of dignity of having to travel via a Titan Airways charter jet. Both Sam Coates of the Times and Andrew Porter of the Telegraph have complained online that neither BA nor Virgin had a plane available and so they have to travel in a charter jet.

    And Sam Coates complains that this is costing £2,200 a seat.

    Well just have a look at the Titan website to see what suffering the poor dears are having to put up with:
    • 96-100 sumptuous leather seats
    • Extensive leg room
    • Reclining seats with footrests
    • Audio and visual in-flight entertainment
    • Superb cuisine and fine wines
    • Exceptional personalised service
    • Attention to unique customer details
    • Bespoke in-flight service
    100 or fewer seats four abreast across the Atlantic - that sounds to me like Concorde. And Concorde cost a hell of a lot more than £2,200 return!

    Get over it moaners

    Why Ken might be right after all

    (Please note: content not quite as scary as the title!)

    Over at Political Betting, Mike Smithson is questioning why Ken Livingstone is putting so much emphasis on the environment when only 4% of voters nationally rate it as the most important issue and just 10% rate it as an important issue at all.

    There are a number of factors here.

    Many of the issues that voters rate as more important are not those that could possibly be winners for Livingstone. The number one issue - immigration - is one of those dog whistle issues. You only have to hear the word and you know what you think (and, by and large, that's not the same way Ken thinks).

    He also wants to stay clear of the number two issue - crime, law and order and so on. After all, he's up against an ex-copper and public perception doesn't play well for Ken (whatever he and the Government might say, people think crime has got worse recently).

    The number three and four issues are nothing to do with Ken - health and the NHS is at three and the economy is at four. Let's face it, no Labour candidate is going to be parading the economy at the moment.

    Ditto five - defence and terrorism.

    In fact, the number one issue for which Ken has some degree of competence is the environment. It just so happens that it ranks a lowly ninth with the punters.

    But in addition, I have to question Mike Smithson's reliance on that particular question. There are three questions you could ask when thinking as a political party about what to campaign on. You could simply campaign on the issues that matter to your party and its members. That's what the Lib Dems did up until about 1992 when we talked a lot about PR. It's what UKIP still does, as do the Tories occasionally when they only talk about Europe (only 1% rate it as the most important subject).

    You could base your campaign on the question asked in this poll - the perceived most important issue for the country as a whole. That rules the day in some elections - notably the 'Who Govern's Britain?' election of 1974 and, arguably, the 1997 advent of New Labour. But I think this type of election is less common.

    The final question you could ask, and the question that I think rules the day in most General elections, is 'What is the most important issue for you and your family in deciding how you vote?' This one is all about self-interest. It is about hospital waiting lists rather than NHS reform, about getting your child into your first choice school rather than reforming A-Levels into a baccalaureate, and it is about the pound in your pocket (as Harold Wilson would say) rather than trade imbalance with China. Issues such as Europe and defence really don't figure highly in this one, but local environmental factors (and local transport issues -another issue on which Ken is actively campaigning) do.

    Finally, finally. There is, of course, one more question that could be asked in relation to the Mayoral election. As Mike Smithson touches on, this is a national poll with national answers. Perhaps the results would be very different if the poll was confined to Londoners and directed them towards the London elections.

    Oh, and as an after-thought. If you were Ken, campaigning for a third term against Boris and Brian, what on earth would you campaign on?

    Monday, 14 April 2008

    Imposing my moral views on others

    Stephen Tall's report on Lib Dem Voice that deaf couples are to be allowed to choose to have a deaf baby has got me a little bit mad. Apparently the Government have caved into the lobbying of a small group of deaf activists who believe that deafness should not be viewed either as a disability or even as a serious medical condition and want the chance to screen embryos for children who would be deaf.

    Deafness, although in my view a disability, is not a debilitating condition whereby sufferers enjoy no quality of life. And therefore the idea that people would choose to get rid of (through abortion) or screen against (via embryo selection) a baby who would be deaf is, to my mind, totally wrong.

    But it is a condition which renders it more difficult for sufferers to function in the normal world. In my view, these activists want to make it more so. By demanding that we do not view deafness as a disability, they are presumably rejecting the additional protections and rights which people with a disability need to protect them both from prejudice and from organisations denying them access to services. I do not believe that it is right that we should deny protection to many people who feel they need it on the basis of the views of a few who do not.

    This is just my view. I don't believe in imposing my morals on others. But it would appear that these activists (and possibly now the Government) do.

    Sunday, 13 April 2008

    Bitter rivalry - baseball style

    This is what you get when two teams absolutely hate each other - and have done for more than 90 years. Think Wile E Coyote and Roadrunner.

    In this case it's baseball and the rivalry between the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox.

    Well, the Yankees are moving out of their home for the past 85 years and there is a new stadium being built just down the street. One of the construction workers on the new stadium just happened to be a Red Sox fan. A chance for a little fun and games perhaps? Certainly if your name is Gino Castignoli.

    The rumour went round that someone had buried a Red Sox jersey in the foundations of the new stadium. The Yanks of course denied this. But there was a nagging doubt. And in baseball that's enough. After all, the Red Sox went for 86 years without winning anything - a losing streak blamed on selling the game's best ever player, Babe Ruth, to the Yankees. This became known as 'the curse of the Bambino'. Could the buried shirt put a curse on the Yankees?

    So, despite denying that a jersey could have been buried, the Yankees undertook a little investigation and the evidence pointed to Mr Castignoli. And then they dug. And they dug. And they dug. And eventually they came up with a very battered and torn Red Sox jersey which they pulled out of the ground in front of the cameras and will now auction for charity.

    Has the potential curse been lifted? Only possibly. The rumours are circulating in Yankee fan circles (no doubt fuelled by Red Sox fans) that the 'find' was orchestrated by the club simply to appease fans. That the jersey is still buried and its curse will hang over the club for so long as they occupy the stadium.

    Now why didn't some enterprising Spurs fans think of this while the Emirates was being built?

    For more see here.

    All Blacks looking good into the stretch

    The Cornish All Blacks recorded only their second away victory yesterday, but it was their second in a row and the side has now climbed out of the relegation places for the first time this year.

    Yesterday's victory was all about defensive power. No fewer than four times, Moseley had the ball in the red zone for concerted efforts only to see try saving tackles, players held up over the line and simply no way through. Their one-dimensional offence was simply not good enough to beat the likes of Larry Ovens, Tinus du Plessis and, particularly, Tim Collier, the on-loan Worcester man who had a superb outing.

    On the offensive side, all the All Blacks had to show for their efforts were four penalties (out of four) by Jon Fabian. But these were enough when combined with their defensive might. Even the ever changeable weather failed to dampen spirits. Sunshine and showers might have been how the weathermen would put it, but bright sun, horrendous hail and freezing wind is what we were given.

    The opening few minutes were all Launceston. A rumbling rolling maul ambled down field only to fail on three occasions when about 15 yards shy of the Moseley line. Moseley responded but without looking threatening. Traded penalties were all the scoreboard showed at the half.

    The start of the second half was enlivened by the only try of the game. A fluffed Ryan Westren drop start (the first of two) was easily fielded by Moseley who put the ball wide to winger Bressington who beat a flailing dive from Matt Jess and skipped round under the posts. Would the floodgates open on the All Blacks?

    Well no actually. A penalty from Fabian immediately brought the All Blacks back within a score and solid forward power, together with Moseley indiscipline, did the rest. Two further penalties were enough to win 12-10.

    Sure there were scares at the end. Du Plessis was needed to stop the Moseley forwards on the All Black line and a try that could have been given was ruled to have been held up. Late on a penalty chance to regain a one point lead was barely missed. But the final whistle sounded with the All Blacks firmly in the Moseley half and the great escape is surely on track now.

    The key to this game was solid defence combined with Moseley's lack of discipline. They had one player sin-binned (it could easily have been more) and gave away four kickable penalties as well as more when they were near the All Black line.

    Nest up for Launceston are Bedford next Saturday. It's the last home game and the last chance of a victory (the final week sees us away at unbeaten Northampton). But an All Black win and the right result in the Pertemps vs Sedgeley match and Cornish eyes could really be smiling.

    Jon Fabian slots home one of four penalties; Josh Lord on the run; Prop Larry Ovens with the ball; Winger Matt Jess breaks a tackle; Ryan Westren and the team celebrate victory.

    Wednesday, 9 April 2008

    If backtracking were an Olympic event, Brown would win Gold

    Our Dear Leader today caved to pressure and agreed not to go to the Olympic Opening Ceremony. This despite promising he would be going as recently as his monthly press conference. In a bid to save face, he'll be going to the Closing Ceremony when the baton (please not the torch) is passed to London.

    Gordo claims that it would be wrong to make two trips - for the opening and closing ceremonies - and he never intended to go more than once. Apart from being a blatant lie, does this mean that Tessa Jowell, who will be going to the Opening, will not be there for the closing handover?

    Well done to Nick Clegg for his stand on this issue.

    Ken's ad - dissected

    Just been watching Ken Livingstone's election broadcast. I don't suppose he had any real place to go other than the relentlessly cheery. But just how much will people who live in the capital recognise as being real London?

    Here's some thoughts:

    3 seconds - A sprinkler hard at work. Bugger the environment.

    7 seconds - Clever cutting shows a jogger looking over to see... Ken! On his way to work in his flasher mac with scarf tight around his throat.

    10 seconds - A bike rider wearing proper safety gear clearly indicates and then obeys all traffic laws (so clearly not like Boris or Cameron then).

    22 seconds - That's the second boat race style rowing boat we've seen.

    32 seconds - Ken's still walking to work and he's still wearing that flasher mac

    43 seconds - He's on the tube wearing the mac and reading a paper (more on that later). Isn't it easy for the Mayor to get permission to film on the tube from TfL when they wouldn't give anyone else permission until nominations closed. Not favouritism, surely.

    50 seconds - "London is equal with New York as an economic power" - So that would be the New York currently entering a massive recession then.

    56 seconds - He's at Canary Wharf in the mac with the scarf.

    1 minute 06 - "25 years ago there wasn't a single job anywhere here" he says indicating models of the canary wharf area. Not strictly true. And then the Tories started the whole process of the Docklands redevelopment. Nothing to do with Labour and certainly nothing to do with Ken.

    1 minute 10 - "When Crossrail opens..." That should be if.

    1 minte 11-12 - Who's that in the background? Why, it's our Dear Prime Minister in a non-speaking role.

    1 minute 18 - He's back on the tube wearing the mac and the scarf.

    1 minute 20 - What paper is that he's reading. Couldn't be the Standard could it? Well, if it is, they've very deliberately made him drop the front page so you can't tell.

    1 minute 33 - A dodgy cut there. Someone has dubbed the words 'central London' into the mix. Either the originals were lost or else he said something else first time round.

    1 minute 38 - Gor' blimey guv'nor. Apples and pears. Luvly Jubbly.

    1 minute 40 - He's in the mac and scarf in a market and 'happens' to bump into a relentlessly cheery woman in a wheelchair.

    1 minute 52 - He's eating in a gresy spoon (in the mac and scarf, natch). Whatever happened to the champagne swilling lunches eh Ken?

    2 minutes 03 - Ken won the Olympics for London. Personally. No mention of the costs though.

    2 minutes 18 - "It is the best chance the East End has had to share in the propsperity of London for 40 years" - An admission that he did nothing for the area as Leader of the GLC and would have done nothing if Paris had won the Games then.

    2 minutes 25 - It's all the fault of the housing market. Ken's been given the cash to sort it out with lots of affordable homes. The trouble is that, in among all the nice schemes the film shows of 'affordable housing' is one in Southwark. Yet they don't show the affordable bit - only the very, very expensive flats with balconies and 'iconic' wooden panelling which have been built to pay for the (semi) affordable few. And Southwark is the Lib Dem run authority which Ken always seeks to criticise for failing to meet affordable homes targets (despite doing more than most Labour boroughs)

    2 minutes 40 - "There's more police on the streets and a real feeling of optimism" - That's his only mention of crime.

    2 minutes 42 - He's back on the streets, in the mac. But it's open and the scarf has gone!

    2 minutes 50 - Vote for Boris and the whole place will implode!

    2 minutes 55 - "I'm only the Mayor, I'm not royalty". Hmmm.

    3 minutes - "A budget of about £13 billion next year to spend" Only because you've more than doubled the amount of tax you take off hard working Londoners.

    3 minutes 04 - "If they don't make him Mayor I'm going to go mad" says old dear. No comment needed.

    3 minutes 12 - "The question of who is mayor might even be more important than who is going to run the Government" - I'm more important than Gordon Brown.

    3 minutes 28 - The coat has gone!

    A word on the mac and scarf combo. I presume he's wearing it because they filmed it over a number of days (or weeks) and he was wearing different shirts and ties underneath. Fair enough then, but it really is a horriblre flasher mac.

    Kevin Rudd is all that Gordon Brown isn't

    Australian PM Kevin Rudd seems to be belying all the previous images of him as a bit wet and boring.

    First he announced that there would be no shell-suited Chinese goons needed to guard the Olympic torch when it comes to Australia - and he wouldn't be posing with it any way.

    Then he goes directly to Beijing and gives a speech to a group of students in which he says that the Chinese authorities must grant human rights to Tibet.

    If Kevin Rudd can show such leadership then why the hell can't Gordon Brown?

    Brown has been humiliated recently by the Chinese. First he goes there and apparently fails to utter the phrase human rights in public (It'll damage trade you know) and then he takes part in a photo op where the Chinese make it clear that the torch is not even safe in Downing Street (but it's ok, cos he didn't touch it).

    Weak, weak, weak

    Tuesday, 8 April 2008

    Now this is summer!

    It may have been snowing here yesterday, but it feels like summer today.

    The Americans most definitely lead the world in how they cover sports and I'm taking full advantage with the new baseball season. Logging on to MLB.TV allows me to watch up to six baseball games at a time via the wonderful mosaic system. And the feed for each one is up to 1.2MB - so it's just about broadcast quality picture. With the current state of the dollar it costs me around £8 oer month. Fair enough - I don't expect everyone to like baseball the way I do, but it's on every day of the week and so I think it's great value.

    So at about 6pm every day the fun starts.

    At the moment I have the Red Sox beating Detroit, the damn Yankees winning 2-1 early against KC and the Orioles blowing out the Rangers 8-1. The Phillies have already done for the Mets.

    At the same time I was able to watch Liverpool beat the Arse 4-2 on my old as the hills tellybox.

    For all that Sky allow us to watch loads of games 'via the red button' there is nothing to compare with the ability to watch baseball in the way that MLB.TV does.

    Now why can't broadcasters in the UK manage anything of quite this quality?

    How to rig an election - your contributions welcome

    Up until September 2006, I worked for the Electoral Reform Society - sometimes known as the provisional wing of the Liberal Democrats. One of the major accomplishments whilst I worked there was the transformation from a very niche pressure group which only talked about STV to a well-respected organisation which was happy to provide neutral briefings on all aspects of elections and voting. Clearly our raison d'etre remained advocacy of a fairer method of election and STV in particular. But we were happy to give informed comment on any aspect of the process.

    One of the areas on which I led was electoral fraud. There had always been rumours of (and sometimes prosecutions for) attempts to illegally fix the polls. But during the period from around 2000 until now, there have been more and more cases where it appears as though elections have actually been rigged.

    Perhaps the most famous case was that in the Aston and Bordesley Green wards in Birmingham. This was the case where the judge described the UK system as being one which would shame a banana republic and which saw four Labour councillors convicted (one was subsequently cleared on appeal).

    However, this is not simply a matter where Labour are guilty. I was an expert witness in a case in London in which Lib Dem and Conservative candidates were accused.

    Whilst working for ERS, I proposed a seminar to point out just how open to abuse the UK system was - and still is. It was to run under the title of 'How to rig an election'. Perhaps unsurprisingly, my boss shied away from such an event (and certainly from the title). But as I don't work for ERS any more, I am going to revive the concept and write an essay showing just how easy it is for elections in the UK to be rigged. The essay will look at those areas we know about and those where we only suspect that things can go awry.

    Naturally this is a touchy subject. There are those who will suggest that an essay such as this will aid and abet criminal activity. Well, possibly. But I think I'll only be pulling together ideas which are already known about within political circles. And as the Government seems determined to avoid taking any action to really tackle the problem...

    So this is where you come in, dear reader. I would like your experiences and even conspiracy theories. Tell me how open to abuse you think that the UK electoral system is and give me practical examples of what could go wrong. Feel free to email me - alexfolkes at gmail dot com - all information I receive will be held in confidence. And if you wish to keep the names and parties of those involved in past activities secret then feel free to do so. This is not a witch hunt going after particular groups or parties. What I want to show is how the system is failing.

    Monday, 7 April 2008

    Peter Hain - Back Ken or the half hearted voting system that I have no power to give you gets it

    According to The Independent, Peter Hain has asked the Lib Dems to tell their voters in London to give their second choice votes to Ken Livingstone. He says that failure to do so will mean that Labour won't proceed with changing the voting system to AV.

    I hope that Brian Paddick tells the perma-tanned one where to get off.

    First of all, Hain no longer has any sort of power. He was laughed at by his Party's members when he stood for Leader and got sacked from the Cabinet by Gordon Brown. The idea that he could be a go-between between the PM and Lib Dems is just laughable.

    Second, Labour has been floating the idea of electoral reform to the Lib Dems since 1995 (and it's often been Peter Hain doing the floating). We're a bit tired of that old routine. They promised to set up a commission to look at voting reform but they failed to hold a referendum on changing the voting system as promised in their manifesto. They failed to complete a review of the voting system in their second Parliament and they failed to make it open and honest even when it was held. If Labour were at all serious about doing anything more than stringing the Lib Dems along then they would move unilaterally.

    Oh and they imposed a voting system for the Mayoral elections which creates huge amounts of tactical voting and spoilt ballots, ignored the Electoral Commission's demands for individual voter registration in order to combat fraud and reneged on the idea of a lower voting age.

    If Labour want Paddick's second preferences then they should do something to earn them. Ken Livingstone has doubled his tax take for very little noticeable result. He refuses to consult properly with Liberal Democrats on the GLA and spends much of his time slagging off Lib Dem led boroughs. That is all very well for someone content to be a political opponent, but hardly the action of someone asking for second preferences.

    If Labour really want our second votes then the least they could do is reciprocate. It may well be a token gesture if polls are to be believed, but if Labour were to openly tell all of their voters that their second preference should be cast for Brian Paddick and the Liberal Democrats then I think we could consider doing the same.

    Johann Hari - endearingly naive or pathetically schoolboy

    In the past I couldn't make up my mind about Johann Hari, the Independent's columnist without brain cell. Was he charmingly naive or was he actually just a schoolboy who got taken on by mistake and everybody's just too ashamed to sack him. Or is he just a Bel Littlejohn style spoof that no-one has yet sussed?

    Today he suggests that we shouldn't boycott the Olympics in Beijing but all the world's athletes should join together and demand that Beijong talk to the Dalai Lama, free political prisoners and allow a real peace-keeping force into Darfur. In return, they will compete without protest. Oh, and Beijing must also allow a website visible through the 'Great Firewall of China' (yep, nice one Johann) explaining to ordinary Chinese people about their Government's actions.

    I think I've made my mind up about him now. I've come down on the side of pathetically crap and out of touch with any sort of real politik.

    Yes, I'd like the Chinese Government to free all prisoners. I'd like their toadies in Khartoum to stop killing their fellow countrymen too. I'd even like them to begin the transition towards greater autonomy for the oppressed people of Tibet. While we're at it, let's demand that they explain to their citizens just why it is that their oppressive actions have been wrong for all these years. Oh, and perhaps an immediate set of free elections, declaration of the rule of law and a small cuddly toy for every child?

    But it isn't going to happen.

    You see, the great thing about athletes is that they are good at running fast, jumping, throwing or whatever. Very few disciplines require them to engage in macro-global diplomacy skills. The idea that all the athletes of the world are suddenly going to band together and decide that they should abandon their once in a career opportunity tom compete in the world's most prestigious sporting event in the vague hope that the Chinese Government will renounce 40+ years of totalitarian rule is just too incredible to even contemplate in a school debating club. Let alone in the pages of a national newspaper.

    I wish that the Games had never been given to Beijing. I believe that it was naive to hope that giving them the games would lead to radical political changes. Countries have always imposed their own national spirit on the event. The US in Atlanta had terrorism and commerciality. The Aussies had a laid back spirit and determination that sport was all. The Spaniards had art and opera. And the Greeks had history and smog. We just have to accept that the Beijing Games will be surrounded by a spirit of martial law and human growth hormone.

    In both 1980 and 1984 there were boycotts. Who remembers these as having any lasting effect on the Soviet Union or US?

    By all means demand that the politicians themselves stay away from sporting events - as Nick Clegg has done. But don't mess with the athletes.

    There is a reason why sport and politics shouldn't mix. It's because the public view their sporting events as more important than politics and look disapprovingly on those politicians who try to interfere.

    Welcome - Politics Home

    Politics Home has launched this morning. It's a sort of Bloomberg for the political classes (and yes, I realise everyone has made the same comparison).

    PH has very little original content. But that's not a bad thing. Instead, it brings together all the newspaper reports for the day with such stats as the number of column inches for each subject. Further, it use the 'top 100 blogs' and has a live feed from these in the manner of Lib Dem Blogs. Disappointingly, this feed only appears to be for the main nationals. We shall wait to see whether sectoral mags and regionals ever make it.

    It also has a news ticker. Well, I think that's what it is. It may just be party press releases slightly re-written. Oh, and a cull of some of the political videos and news reports.

    Finally, it does have some original content. They have a panel of 100 political experts (ok, 99 and Iain) who are asked certain questions such as which party will form the next Government, what is the future for our voting system etc etc. I think Iain had a report about the perceived effectiveness of the thre party press operations (and that of the Government) which ranked the Lib Dems as slightly lower than Labour and both well behind both the Government and Tories. That' sort of stuff is actually quite interesting, but we need to see how often they have new content and whether the 100 expertsreally are both expert and a fair cross section of the political classes.

    So what's my initial view? It's very black in its design. That makes it feel quite hard to navigate. It looks like it will repay fairly regular visitation during the day as a sort of first port of call to find out what's been going on. But I suspect that, unless the panel of 100 is very good indeed, the regular visits won't be for very long.

    Oh, and I would say this wouldn't I, but it needs more photos!

    As Prince once said...

    ... sometimes it snows in April. Even in Cornwall.

    We had snow in the garden yesterday, and it came back again overnight. It's even snowing lightly as I speak.

    So naturally I went up onto Bodmin Moor to take some pics. The snow there was very patchy but the sheep seem to be surviving.

    Sunday, 6 April 2008

    Olympic torch relay = farce

    The BBC has footage of a protestor grabbing the Olympic torch as it was being carried by former Blue Peter presenter Konnie Huq.

    Whatever the rights and wrongs of the torch relay - and I've blogged my views before - what a farce the whole thing is. Somebody has obviously taken the decision that this ought to be a low key sort of event. So there are no roads closed and little in the way of barriers for crowds to stand behind.

    So the torch is carried by a D-List celeb who in turn is surrounded by blue track-suited Chinese security guards. Around them are yellow vested police on bikes. Most hilariously, between all this and the crowds are uniformed police skipping sideways with their arms linked to form a makeshift barrier.

    And all this in the midst of typical London traffic jams on a snowy day with lots of rival protestors on the pavements.

    Whichever police officer or Government official thought up this event ought to be given a kick up the backside. If this thing were to happen at all then it should have been realised that there would be lots of demonstrations and proper security measures would need to be taken with road closures, full security, the lot.

    That is what Mayor Ken and Tessa Jowell are not telling us. They are trying to kid everybody that the Olympics can be run in 2012 as it was in 1948 - street parties, spam fritters and plucky British amateurs. Well today's relay is showing the strictly amateur way of organising a parade. They have flunked their first real test.

    I have no doubt that there would have been lots of annoyance if the torch parade had meant road closures. But that is the price to be paid for this event and Ken et al refuse to face up to it.

    Friday, 4 April 2008

    Sport and Politics - when they mix and when they don't

    Nick Clegg is absolutely right to call on the Prime Minister to boycott the Olympics. But it is still right for British athletes to go.

    Why the difference?

    Well, the Olympics are the pinnacle of athletic achievement. They are only every four years and the athletes themselves have no choice over where the event takes place. I wish that it wasn't in Beijing, but that decision is gone and so an athlete boycott would deprive many comnpetitors of their only chance to participate in a Games.

    But what of the politicians? The Olympics isn't an event for them. They attendance can be seen at best as a tax-payer funded jolly and at worst as an endorsement for the activities of the Chinese Government over Tibet, Darfur and human rights abuses.

    And don't let Brown claim that he is there to boost UK trade and businesses. As I posted previously, I am fed up of the hypocrisy of this Government demanding new nuclear power stations - 'for reasons of energy security' but happy to see blue chip companies flogged off to dodgy state investment arms.

    What about the Royals? I think Zara Phillips should go if chosen to compete, but the sports mad princes should avoid the event. Their mere presence gives implicit support to the regime.

    Well done Nick for taking a stand on this.

    Nick Clegg launches local election campaign - pictures

    I was in Sheffield yesterday as Nick Clegg launched the party's local election campaign.

    Nick spoke at an event at Sheffield Hallam University for student volunteers before travelling to the Gleadless Valley Estate in central Sheffield. Afterwards he spoke to asian community leaders in the city before a rally for local party activists.

    Pics: Nick speaking to student volunteers at Hallam University; Nick launching the party's campaign; Nick on the doorsteps and in Gleadless Valley estate; Nick drops by a hairdresser's shop; Nick with local asian community leaders; Nick speaks to activists