Web Analytics Trust People (once an Englishman in Philly): 01/01/2006 - 02/01/2006

Monday, January 30, 2006

Free speech & the cartoon war

I've been "tagged" by Ken as part of the blogosphere's attempt to sway the Cartoon War. The "Cartoon War" itself involves criticism by Muslims that Denmark has allowed the publication of some cartoons. Unbelievably it involves Libya and Saudi Arabia breaking off diplomatic relations with Denmark, Danish flags being burned in the Mid East, Scandinavians being advised to leave Palestine and gunmen occupying a European Union office in Gaza demanding an apology. Sounds absurd doesn't it? In fact I found it truly incredible until I saw what the cartoons were. Then I understood.

The cartoons first appeared in September in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten and were later reprinted in a Norwegian paper. Islam prohibits any depiction of Muhammad or Allah.

Although I have to say I personally don't find the cartoons in the best taste, I am nevertheless delighted to be able to do something to show support for the Scandinavians and shall be drinking Carlsberg (with my nose clenched) and having two bacon sandwiches for breakfast as well as continuing the "tagging" tradition. There should be nothing illegal about being offensive: free expression should be defended to the hilt. Well done Anders Fogh Rasmussen for standing firm.

Seven things to do before I die

1) Get old.
2) Brew my own beer.
3) Visit the Mountain Gorillas of Rwanda.
4) Speak Cantonese or Arabic.
5) Climb Mount Everest.
6) Run a marathon.
7) Make a difference.

Seven things I cannot do

1) Speak Cantonese or Arabic.
2) Sing. In tune.
3) Give myself an easy time.
4) Avoid shouting at sporting events.
5) Take a back seat in conversations.
6) Take penicillin.
7) See very well.

Seven things that attract me to... a city

1) Residents who want to talk.
2) Good sports fans.
3) A history with many challenges.
4) A river.
5) Facilities with a small town feel.
6) Good beer.
7) A distinctive vibe.

Seven things I say
1) Keep you chin up.
2) Classic.
3) Champion.
4) Best of British.
5) Round the Wrekin.
6) I'll tell you what's put me off politics...that.
7) Can I ask you a question?

Seven books that I love

1) Les Miserables, by Victor Hugo.
2) Jude the Obscure, by Thomas Hardy.
3) Amsterdam, by Ian McEwan.
4) Great Expectations, by Charles Dickens.
5) The Count of Monte Cristo, by Alexandre Dumas.
6) The House at Pooh Corner, by A A Milne.
7) Shogun, by James Clavell.

Seven movies that I’ve loved

1) 12 Angry Men.
2) Casablanca.
3) Saving Private Ryan.
4) Citizen Kane.
5) The Godfather.
6) The Great Escape.
7) Rocky.

Seven people to tag

1) James Hellyer.
2) Laban Tall.
3) Richard.
4) TRP.
5) Free Democrat.
6) Tory Convert.
7) LT.

Wien, Mozart, socialism and Cameron

Back from a delightful weekend in Europe. I was lucky enough to be in Vienna for the celebrations of Mozart's 50th birthday on Friday. The atmosphere in the Stephansdom, in the very centre of Vienna was fantastic and it was great to catch up with old friends and meet new acquaintances at the same time...

Beyond my usual enjoyment of seeing more of Europe and marvelling at the delights of euro-integration (outside Britain!) the one thing which struck me more than any other was seeing the reconstruction of the breath-taking Stephansdom, above. I was surprised at how they were trying to fund it. No, not that they were actually doing it without a grant from the EU, but because they were selling space on the scaffolding for two large businesses to advertise. This, corporate names adorning the architecture which forms its centerpiece, in the city which has a red star built above the entrance to its Volkstheater as testament to its socialist traditions!

Having further enquired of my Vienna-resident freund, Simon, who assured me it was not the city authority but the Cathedral itself who were behind it (although permission was granted), it didn't seem a bad analogy for Cameron's Conservatives the more I thought of it. The slogan reads along the lines of "if you donate that will make three of us (two companies and an individual). The steeple needs your help." Isn't it a perfect example of individuals, local government, the corporate world and communities cooperating for the collective good? The companies, showing their caring aspect, get great exposure. Individuals may well be more likely to contribute due to the prominence of the appeals. The cathedral gets renovated. The community gets an even more spectacular centrepiece to bring in tourists.

And, ok, it's a bit of an eyesore for a few months, but scaffolding's never pretty and it gives British bloggers something to exercise their fingers when they've sobered up and returned...

Thursday, January 26, 2006

I shall be blogging-lite this weekend; I'm flying out to Vienna early tomorrow but I do promise you photos and stereotypes of the Austrians and Swiss on my return on Monday.

For now, I shall lament yet further dishonesty in the Lib Dems. Today's Standard headline was "I'm Gay says Lib-Dem Simon". Shurely some mishtake? I'm sure that now "I'm Lib-Dem says Gay Simon" would have somehow been more fitting.

Play nicely.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Save the Radio 4 theme!

Go here. Sign the petition. Help keep the UK theme at the beginning of the day's proceedings on Radio 4 and retain part of the fabric of Britain.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Tony should go

Well, obviously I thought this at the last election. And, come to think of it the one before that. Now I really do think is the time that, for everyone, Blair ought to call it curtains.

I've never been one to go in for the "Tony's more interested in jet-setting round the world than dealing with problems at home" school of thought before. Yes, he's taken a keen interest in foreign affairs, but equally there hasn't been too much to suggest a dereliction of duty at home (wrong decisions and cheap debating points momentarily aside, that is).

A couple of things in the last week or so have made me think that now he doesn't take matters as home as seriously as he has or should; that is a cause for real concern when it's the head of a government.

At PMQs last week he answered Dennis Skinner's question about coal mining with a riposte about everything being the fault of the Tories if it went wrong. At the time I thought he was being mildly ironic, and I chuckled and let it pass....

...but then I saw him in today's press conference, answering questions about Russian intelligence's supposed exposure of British spooks in Moscow. When prompted he said that he "only saw myself on Teletext this morning the business about Russia. I'm afraid you are going to get the old stock-in-trade 'We never comment on security matters'; except when we want to, obviously. I think the less said about that, the better"

Apart from the fact I am highly sceptical that anyone, let alone the PM, watches Teletext rather than specifically looking something up on it this is another flippant comment which, on its face, is amusing but which actually makes a mockery of our politics. Just as in PMQs I would think little more of it as a throwaway comment, but as an emerging pattern of behaviour it's more worrying. Doesn't it suggest a Prime Minister who is too confident of his position? Doesn't it suggest a disdain for what he has to do as PM, that he can do as he likes and get away with it, an unacceptable complacency?

That can't be good for government. Surely we can expect more episodes of oversight to follow the Kelly-sex offender affair. That can't be good for Labour. Blair should call it quits; before someone calls time on him.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

They think it's all over...

Well, the news on Mark Oaten came out of left field even despite Guido and Recess Monkey's podcast.

For me the tragic irony of the situation is summed up by the message on Oaten's website which he left after pulling out of the Lib Dem leadership race:

Finally can I thank everyone who has been so generous with their time in backing my campaign. I’m looking forward to a quiet weekend with my family before making any decisions on what the future may hold.


I'm not going to gloat at all - that would lower me and the party I am loosely associated with to the same levels the Lib Dems scraped after Stephen Milligan's death in bizarre circumstances during the Major Government. Portillo pulled off a bisexual career and I'm sure Oaten could have too - that shouldn't be the problem. Nevertheless, it's betraying his family which did for him, as lying did for Kennedy. It's always a tragedy when someone's private life becomes so public for reasons such as this, especially when it will have such a massive impact on his family - who it seems knew nothing about this until the paper knocked on the door. If you do preach family and go on to betray your own, however, greater scrutiny will certainly come your way.

Oh dear.

Simon Hughes beware.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Returning soon with a blog post on "chocolate" N'Orleans...

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Apparently I am a social moderate and (56% permissive)

whatever that means....

and an...

Economic Conservative
(70% permissive)

You are best described as a:


Link: The Politics Test on Ok Cupid
Also: The OkCupid Dating Persona Test

I suspect I'd like that Republican line to be drawn out a little closer toward me...McCain-Liebermann anyone?

Monday, January 16, 2006

Just let me take a note of that to pass on to Tony...

Another institution which helps give us something approaching a sense of Britishness undermined... This time it's the turn of confidentiality between lawyer and lay client.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Why Kelly should go

Ruth Kelly should resign - but it should not be the end of her political career.

I was irritated by the right-on whining of much of the panel on Question Time on the BBC last Thursday when the question arose of the Government authorising known child sex offenders to work in schools. There was much wringing of hands from many about responding to a "tabloid agenda". Now, often I could have some sympathy with a concern that the newspapers decide to have it in for someone, or that they drum up a story out of a very little and use it to hound Ministers they don't like and that this has a negative impact on our public life.

Where I have less sympathy is here and with the logic underpinning their response to their perception this is happening in this instance.

The reason Kelly should resign is not because this is a scandal greater than any which has gone before it - which does seem to be the reason with which many are trying to justify baying for her blood - but because she has stated several times to the Commons that she is responsible for her department. Her department have made mistakes and failed in instituting policy. The Secretary of State should bear responsibility for this failure and resign - albeit without being permanently and irredeemably discredited.

This view seems anathema to many though. Indeed one of the "learned" panelists on Thursday even questioned what would be served by her resignation. This is what really set my blood boiling since I believe a lot would be served.

If as a Secretary of State you know you will be held responsible for the failings of your department and those who serve in it - by which I mean truly, personally responsible, not just responsible for fobbing off Parliament for half an hour - your mind will automatically be more focussed on the efficacy, sense and value of the way your department or ministry is being run. The very process of being made to account, rather than just mouthing platitudes about accountability, makes one take the power being exercised that much more seriously. If you know you will be forced by convention to lose your job if you don't instigate within 18 months the measures you promise to instigate to prevent perverts working in schools maybe, just maybe, you might be more likely to make sure it happens, to focus your mind on the result.

What's more the lack of any real responsibility also plays a role in undermining legitimacy of public institutions. If there is no democratic representative who is really responsible for the operations of a department; if it can be fobbed off onto some lowly head behind a desk; if "there's nothing which could be done without knowledge of weaker procedures than we might desire" by the Secretary of State, then on what basis do these bureaucratic beasts preside and rule over our lives? What legitimacy do they have to take and spend our money? We are instead effectively told that these bodies exist because they do, always have and will in the future. This is surely unsustainable.

So Kelly should go. She says she is responsible for her department and should be held to account. Her department said policies should be put in place to prevent people such as this working in schools ages ago. Her department failed. She is responsible. She should go, as other Ministers should have for lesser misdemeanours. The only surprise for me in this is that, when Ministers are so irresponsible and unaccountable, we are so surprised that adminstrative bungling keeps on growing.

If Chris Huhne's so concerned about having meat on the bones, where's the beef?

I have to admit that as Chris Huhne's campaign for the Lib Dems begins to start up the runway its biggest blogosphere cheerleader has got me a little interested. He seems to at least talk the talk of what a proper liberal should be in my eyes, though if Guido is anything to go by why I find that's not a massive surprise. I am sure it's largely comfy rhetoric and am concerned by the ominous tone of some proclamations in relation to his environmental policies - what puts me off him the most, however, is the tendency he is showing to slip into traditional LibDem cheapshot zone. After all, it's easy to knock David Cameron when, new in Parliament, you're sitting in comfortable obscurity on the back benches. It's much harder to actually put your money where your mouth is. So in response to Mr Huhne's warm words, I think I'll quote him back some of his own:

keep on travelling! Rhetoric matters in politics, and your rhetoric is certainly improving. It will be great when you have more than a policy to have policy reviews.

If Chris Huhne's so concerned about having meat on the bones, where's the beef?

Friday, January 13, 2006

Lib Dems hypocrites?

Even in a leadership election the rampant opportunism of the so-called Liberal Democrats is staggering.

Today I've heard two pronouncements from the Minger.
(1) From the Guardian: "Some parts of my Presbyterianism have stuck; by their works shall ye know them. What people do; how they cast their votes - that's where they stand on the political spectrum. He's certainly not a liberal on immigration and asylum. He's not a liberal on the patients' passport. These things are now thrown away. Question is, if these things are so lightly cast aside, why were they ever adopted? They were adopted by a party which thought it was capable of forming a government ... You are entitled to assume that if it thought it was capable of forming a government, these are the policies it would have implemented. This conversion simply doesn't carry any credibility."

Applying that to his party, however, still shows they have no true concept of liberalism in relation to economics:
(2) From the Independent: "Sir Menzies Campbell will ditch the Liberal Democrats' policy of imposing a 50 per cent rate of income tax on incomes over £100,000 if he becomes party leader. Sir Menzies will back moves by Vince Cable, the party's Treasury spokesman, to shed its image as a "high-tax" party, which is believed to have blunted its impact at last year's general election."

At least there's no sign of the party trying to become truly national or of dropping their commitment to being all things to all people. In the Guardian Ming is "to the left of Labour", in the Indie he's economically liberal so he doesn't send a negative message to those with aspiration. Whatever...

Thursday, January 12, 2006

A new blog I've just picked up - Richard Huzzey - an old friend but a Liberal Democrat. Given recent events it's sure to be at least an amusing read.

Easy to crush, harder to replace

Laban Tall with a very thought-provoking and, I think, powerful post on the impact of progressive politics on the fabric of the nation. He rightly points out that it is much easier to destroy than to build or construct and we are seeing that now. Rightly, much of the deferential aspect of old Britain has been swept away, but with it we have lost much of the structure which did help to make us a strong and successful society with the leaders of all aspects of our society having a crisis of faith and confidence in the structures they were part.

Now the impact of this can be overstated and too much lamented, but I do believe we are still missing it to a greater or lesser degree. We don't have confidence in tools of our society which, although organic and often imprecise work fairly well overall and can help society achieve. We would rather focus on potential or perceived negative aspects on a few and use these to undermine the whole. Blair's Respec' can caricature and ridicule concepts such as civil liberties and due process, he can further weaken institutions and pillars of our society, but it is much harder to craft a truly effective replacement which actually works; that's why he's had to effectively soup up his anti-social behaviour powers repeatedly whilst being in power.

For an example, just look at the House of Lords. For all its faults pre-1997, can anyone honestly say its new structure is better for Britain?

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Respec' innit

Driving into the deepest, darkest realms of the Black Country to work today I was serenaded by the estuary tones of Our Tone as he bleated on about his Respect agenda.

Aside from the slightly pathos laden comedy of his speech, in which he tried to set out the "intellectual and philosophical" underpinnings of the so-called policy I found the central tenet of what he was saying slightly scary.

We can probably all agree that it actually amounts to not much and isn't going to have much impact. What I found unsettling, however, was not so much the meat of it as the way it betrayed the Prime Minister's view of the world.

He showed disdain for civil liberties, habeas corpus and the rule of law. I found it unbelievable. To label such concepts as "nineteenth and early twentieth century constructs" is staggering (though why I am so staggered after the debacle of detention without trial is beyond me). They have been the structure and underpinning of our society for centuries and continue to play a vital role - or so I thought. Obviously, with the onset of "Big Blair's" rule such outdated ideas should be jettisoned as they hold back the inevitable improvement of all us minions.

In particular I found what he said today a betrayal of his (allegedly) socialist roots. The answer to a denuded family and community structure is not to encourage new organic replacements, it's not to give them succour or acknowledge them as concepts with merits for society. It's instead to decide that the state knows best. Rather than trust people, Mr Blair, again, decides that he and his cronies are best placed to decide what "the people" want, and then demand the trust of the country to do it. This may not be quite such an appalling prospect had he got something approaching a significant majority of the vote and if in the process he recognised the valid fears many have of state power being abused.

More than anything, however, his speech told me one thing. He must be stopped. Let's just hope that Cameron is the man to do it. Let's hope he can represent a truly effective more libertarian balance.

Mr Blair, he who demands respect receives subservience. He who earns it, tries to nurture it and then trusts it will be returned, albeit not to a foolish degree, is often more fortunate.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Kennedy back on the booze?

You might have heard it here first....

It's sad that Kennedy has had to go in such an undignified fashion and I do feel terribly sorry for him. Politics, when he hasn't been on the booze, has been his life. Now that is denied to him. Let's hope that he does escape from his drink problems.

In the meantime what will be fascinating is just how long Hughes takes to announce he'll run and when Oaten decides whether now is his time to go for it or that he will be better served taking his chances against Clegg further down the line. Although in my view he'd be ill-advised to run the risk of that encounter, young popes do vote for old cardinals. Good job Ming has been quite so merciless...

As for yesterday's caption competition, perhaps Kennedy already knew the writing was on the wall and was looking upwards for this post!

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Caption Competition


Charity starts at home

Having exposed Dave Cameron's hypocrisy on Thursday I couldn't resist a quick dig around the LibDem website in order to be even-handed.

Simon Hughes: "The culture of binge drinking amongst young people, particularly amongst women is damaging their health. Much more needs to be done to alert people to the health risks of excessive drinking. The Government delayed their alcohol strategy for six years. The growing number of kids that are being admitted to hospital for alcohol related problems is deeply worrying.
Binge drinking is not just a major health concern, it is a crime and disorder concern. Kids need better information on how to drink responsibly before they damage themselves, their families and society

Except, Mr Hughes, mere knowledge clearly isn't enough, is it?

Mark Oaten sums up the situation at the headquarters of a political party perfectly:
"Duncan Smith’s no-show this morning demonstrates that a siege mentality is setting in around the Tory leader. When the leader of the Conservatives finds it impossible to carry out the routine business of opposition then it is clear that time is running out for IDS. It is now left to the Liberal Democrats to hold the Government to account. The Tories are becoming an irrelevant sideshow in British politics."

"These figures will come as an embarrassment to Mr Duncan Smith coming the day after such a high profile rebellion. The vultures are gathering outside Conservative Central Office."

We reap what we sow.

Mr Kennedy: "Consider by contrast the ineffective opposition, the Conservative Party. The problem isn't IDS. And IDS isn't the answer either. The problem is the Tory Party itself, which is psychologically incapable of being led. The Tories are lurching around all over the place at the moment. Some believe that they're stumbling onto our ground." Not IDS who's been lurching and stumbling....

Champagne Charlie

Well, Thursday night I thought I'd come up with an amusing little story about Dave Cameron and I'd rather hoped it'd run for a bit. Sadly one day is a long time in politics, and by the evening I found myself in one of the most surreal political experiences I've ever had. I still can barely believe Charles Kennedy's announcement about his alcoholism and desire for a confidence vote actually took place.

Firstly, I should say, as is probably obligatory, how sorry I feel for him. This is a true personal tragedy, and it is testament to his wife that his family has stayed strong beside him. Alcoholism is a terrible blight and I really do hope he has beaten the bottle for his sake, for his wife and his wider family, and for his little son.

Secondly, it is such a tragedy I'm not going to gloat or glory in the Liberals' misfortune.

On a political note, however, this really has driven a stake close to the heart of the party and has been appallingly handled. Great debate has been taking place between Oxford bloggers Ken and Richard over at Militant Moderate. Respect though I have for Richard, I can't bring myself to endorse much of what he says at all.

Kennedy only came clean when he knew he had to because he was being pressured by ITN. He had deceived the country and, apparently, many of his most senior colleagues repeatedly. It was Kennedy himself who said, during the election, that Mr Blair had "integrity issues". Sadly it is now Mr Kennedy himself who has such issues. Remember, he didn't say he wasn't going to talk about such issues and that they weren't important or relevant. He denied the truth. His mistake wasn't becoming addicted to alcohol - people sympathise with that - it was lying and failing to do his job as a result of it. What if he'd won the election?

As to the future, my view is that Kennedy may just cling on. Many in the grassroots will have great sympathy with his unfortunate position and will, I suspect back him over it. Tragically, however, I don't see any victory will be more than a hollow one. He has lost the support of his Parliamentary Party. This man knows the consequences of that. Yes, CK has the luxury of leap-frogging his mutinous MPs, but the writing is on the wall. As with Blair, it is now a matter not of if, but when. The longer it goes on, the more harm it inflicts on the fledgling party.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

A "me" as well as a "we" in politics, Dave

Well, it's finally happened. This is a rant about David Cameron.....

"Irresponsible" marketing techniques are being used to sell chocolate and fuel Britain's obesity problem, Tory leader David Cameron has said. This was in his speech about healthcare yesterday when he came out with such sterling rhetoric as "Try and buy a newspaper at the train station and, as you queue to pay, you're surrounded, you're inundated by cut price offers for giant chocolate bars."

Now, aside from the assertion that all obese people are obese solely because they are gluttons who will use any opportunity to gorge their faces - although this is undoubtedly true for some if not many - the principle which underpins this assertion has dangerous ramifications if misused and, in my view, really does place Mr Cameron on a disappointingly patrician wing of the party.

For example, wouldn't it be prudent to at least raise an eyebrow over such responsible corporate action as this....and then to ask whether one shouldn't practice what one preaches. Let's take just one company.

Typical promotions at the Urbium chain (subject of a recent takeover) of vertical drinking establishments include Happy House (5-7pm) cocktails for £2.85, champagne cocktails for £3.25 and spirits for £1.75.

A vital part of the Urbium stable was the notorious Tiger Tiger chain. They've been keeping the cash rolling in by paying incentives to their bar staff who meet sales targets. 50% on top of your regular salary seems a pretty good way of getting booze thrust upon bingeing drinkers.Even now, London Tiger Tiger has a two hour Happy Hour flogging cocktails for £3.10 , jugs for just £8.50 and £2 off doubles of spirits.

Then chairman John Conlan called Urbium "a highly reliable and substantial cash-generating machine".

One Urbium bar is Sugar Reef. Yes, that's it, the one drunken West Ham players were chucked out of after one urinated on a bar top and another was sick.

Urbium, even in its new incarnation, has what it almost endearingly terms "supremacy" of that most reputable area of drinking without violence....Soho.

Oh yes, and before I forget it was David Cameron was until recently receiving nearly £28,000 per year from Urbium as a director.

As the man himself said "Modern marketing techniques can be used to great effect to tackle the root causes of preventable ill-health... just as irresponsible marketing techniques can have the opposite effect." Of course, business has a shared responsibility to help improve public health - that shared responsibility is just not shared when it suits us. Perhaps there is a "me" as well as a "we" in politics.

Dave asks "As Britain faces an obesity crisis, why does WH Smith's promote half-price Chocolate Oranges at its checkouts instead of real oranges?"

Aside from questioning the scaremongering of "crisis", is it not blindingly obvious? WH Smith is there to satisfy niche needs of the market. It's what people choose.

To market or not to market

Just found a nice little blog by a London director. Today he's commenting on a hand-wringing article in the Guardian about problems of theatre in London, and he says this:

"For my own part, I think that the current New Labour orthodoxy encourages too many hand-wringing articles and conferences, too much talk of dramaturgy and stakeholders, and not enough rigour in the art itself. We are too soft on ourselves. There's not enough crisp, incisive, felt, thought-through, free, spirited, serious, playful work going on. We have the writers to do it but not the directors - that's the problem. When it should have punch, wit and verve, too often our work is silly, suburban and over-priced. There is a greater and greater gap between the laboured, otiose world of subsidised work and the shabby, preposterous vulgarity of the £55-a-ticket commercial world. The work of too many directors is intellectually weak and emotionally insipid; lazy, vain and crass. This has nothing to do with the differing strands of work around - physical, visual, new plays, revivals, devised work or musicals, they all fall victim to the same etiolation."

I've reproduced it here as I think it's spot on and couldn't hope to comment on it and add to it.

Best wishes for a prosperous 2006

Happy New Year loyal readers! Now the Christmas break is well and truly behind us I'm back to resume normal blogging service. In that time I was delighted the Tories were up in the polls, wincing when I was meant to wince at Maude's reforms and chuckling at an old friend (who now edits "The Liberal") being slagged off by an embattled party leader on BBC Radio 4. My Dad is recovering slowly but surely, although there's still been much for me to do and sort out in trying to help. One of the low points was a titanic struggle with a Black Country council over whether parking spaces should stop an empty factory being used - oh for wealth creation.

Anyway, back to normal service. Have a prosperous '06!