30 October 2011

When Labour argued for constituency equalisation

ITN have recently released a load of news broadcasts on their website - including political and election coverage. Here is Michael Foot's Labour arguing for the equalisation of constituency electorates in the 1983 review.

This of course was completely principled and had nothing to do with party advantage at the time, just as their arguing of the complete opposite is now.

28 October 2011

Friday favourite 30

Returning to Scotland this week and another Edinburgh band - Finitribe. I'm not a huge fan of this style of music - but I was at school with Philip Pinsky - the one in this video who does most of the running.

I think they were most famous for writing the theme tune for the ITV chart show in the early 90s.

This video is graced on YouTube by the classic comment 'I always thought these guys were from Belgium but it turns out they were Scottish. Oh well, same difference.'

Is the Lib Dem Federal Exec police commissioner decision constitutional?

The decision by the Liberal Democrats' Federal Executive - the top decision making body in the party - to actively discourage Lib Dem candidates for police commissioner next year is insane.

The apparent reason is that the party doesn't wish policing to become a political football. The same of course could be argued about schools, hospitals, the army, navy and airforce or most of local government. So why aren't they arguing that local Lib Dem parties back ‘appropriate independents’ to run these services?

The decision has rightly met with opposition from the more sensible parts of the party - including Lord Bonkers and Eaten by Missionaries. The latter of course has masterminded more election victories in difficult circumstances for posts that the party is sceptical about than most in the party - and probably the entire FE put together.

The FE is also the guarantor of the Party's constitution - which I suspect they forgot in taking their decision. Article 1 is clear:

The objectives of the Party shall be:
(a) to be the successor to the Liberal Party and the Social Democratic Party (“the Former Parties”);
(b) to seek to achieve the objects set forth in the Preamble to this Constitution; and
(c) in order to achieve such objects, to secure the election of Liberal Democrats as Members of Parliament, UK Members of the European Parliament and members of local and other elected public authorities.

So how do they square this nonsensical decision with their own constitution that they are there to protect?

24 October 2011

Time for Lib Dems to stop playing into the SNP's hands

There's an old saying in American politics - run against things that are unpopular. And it's a lesson the Lib Dems need to learn urgently in Scotland.

As the SNP leave their annual conference to campaign for Scottish independence in a referendum at a time of their choosing and with questions of their own making - the odds are stacked in their favour.

In Alex Salmond the SNP have the most popular politician north of the border - by several furlongs. His administration governs with a sensitive and populist ear to Scots vaguely corporatist, leftist and self pitying desires. And he has the ability to turn any attack on the SNP into an attack on the Scottish nation itself.

So attacking the Salmond government seems to be about as likely to succeed as attacking the first Blair government. So why then are nine out of ten news items on the Scottish party's website attacks on this popular administration? All it does is reinforce the SNP's message that it is them against the unionist parties.

The Scottish Liberal Democrats have never been a unionist party - they have always supported the self determination of the Scottish people and if that means separation so be it. It is crass stupidity to be caught on the wrong side of the independence debate when there is no benefit from it and it is not where the party has historically been.

This analysis from the wonderful named (and astute) Scottish BBC political correspondent - Glen Campbell - shows that Lib Dem ministers are actively colluding with George Osborne - one of the least attractive Tories from a Scottish perspective - to examine whether to force the SNP's hand through pre-empting Salmond's referendum. This would be a foolish move - both for the Liberal Democrats and for defenders of the union who would simply bolster Salmond and the SNP by doing so.

21 October 2011

Friday favourite 29

Two seminal UK groups announced they were reforming this week. Steps and Stone Roses. One dominated the single charts for years, had two platinum number one albums (along with a greatest hits compilation) and have seen numerous spin off bands copying their style.

The other is the Stone Roses...

Is Derren Brown campaigning for the release of Sirhan Sirhan?

I've just finished watching the first of Derren Brown's new series - 'the experiments'. In it (without trying to spoil it for anyone who didn't catch it) he used hypnosis to try to see whether people could be trained to assassinate someone without knowing it. This was the defence used by Sirhan Sirhan - who is still behind bars for Bobby Kennedy's assassination and who has lost 14 parole appeals.

You can find more about it on Derren Brown's blog...

19 October 2011

Pickles booed at local authority recycling conference

I've just returned from a work conference about waste management, rubbish and recycling. Delegates came from across local government - professional recycling officers, politicians of all parties and some of the most well known contractors in the field.

Pickles obviously wasn't there - but his image was - and it was roundly booed. His £250 million bribe to have chicken tikka massallas thrown out on a weekly basis also received short shrift. The conference was told latest research shows that 80% of those whose rubbish is taken away every fortnight don't want to return to a weekly collection, because they like the priority such arrangments give to recycling.

Given Pickles is the local government minister one has to speculate how much longer he can continue given his lack of support from local councils and councillors?

17 October 2011

Hillsborough victory for fans (and open government)

The news that all the Hillsborough papers - possibly as many as 300,000 - are to be released to the families is a victory for football fans - particularly those who support Liverpool. Their 22 year wait for the facts about the tragedy has gone on far too long.

It's a campaign that has won wide polical support from all sides - including from Nick Clegg back in August as this blog reported.

Without taking away from the long campaign of the families and the 140,000 people who signed the e-petition one wonders if a majority government - rather than the more collegiate and open style of the coalition - would have been so easy to convince that releasing the files was the right thing to do?

15 October 2011

Lady Ga Ga's gaga gagging order

My reader may not be familiar with Moshi Monsters - but if you have young children you will be. Moshi Monsters is an internet phenonenom where kids can adopt pet monsters, play games and generally indulge in the sort of scatalogical silliness that more straight laced adults disapprove of. So it isn;t really surprising it has gained 50 million members in just three years.

It's cast of characters includes Lady Goo Goo, Dr Strangeglove, Coolio (an ice cream cone obviously) and you can shop in Horrods or play the Iscream game - you get the picture. The idea that anyone would take it seriously is frankly bizarre.

So it is somewhat surprising that Lady Ga Ga - who shot to fame wearing a dress made of bacon (how very Moshi Monsters) - has successfully launched an injunction against the monsters and had Lady Goo Goo's 'Moshi Dance' banned.

This is a total abuse of her fame and fortune and entirely counterproductive. Kids are not stupid - they understand the pun and mine were certainly drawn to Lady Ga Ga as a result. Once kids know who is responsible for reducing their enjoyment I'm sure they will be less enthused by Lady Ga Ga. Today's eight year olds are tomorrow's record buyers (or downloaders).

Anyway, just in case you haven't caught Lady Goo Goo and her Moshi Dance here it is (before it is taken down):

14 October 2011

Friday favourite 28

Hank Williams is one of the greatest songwriters of the 20th century. His songs are almost universally known about ten years after he wrote them - covered by Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, Jonny Cash and the Carpenters.

But he died in the back of a car on the way to a gig on New Year's Day 1953 of alcohol posining. He was 29.

Here is some YouTube footage of him on the Grand Ole' Oprey (probably in the 1940s) which deserves a wider viewing.

13 October 2011

Former Kingston councillor to become MEP

Right wing Tory MEP Roger Helmer has announced he is quitting the Conservative Party and the European Parliament at the end of the year.

Liberal England
reports that his place on the list will be taken up by one Rupert Matthews - an eccentric writer and self styled expert on alien abductions.

This Rupert Matthews is the same Rupert Matthews who was a councillor in Surbiton and managed to lose his seat twice in eight years to the Liberal Democrats.

Matthews was one of the young(ish) very right wing Tories who took over the Conservatives in Kingston and Surbiton in the early 1990s. Their extreme views and ousting of the moderate old guard meant that a 15,000 Conservative majority at the 1992 election was overturned by Edward Davey in 1997 by just 56 votes - despite the seat not being targeted by the Liberal Democrats centrally. Instead of learning the lesson Matthews and his cronies persisted in picking even more right wing candidates - resulting in Davey's massacre of former Tory MP David Shaw by 15,000 votes in 2001 and Kevin Davis by nearly 10,000 votes in 2005.

In the interim they split the local Conservatives in two - resulting in Matthews's ward colleagues resigning the party and the two factions ending up in the courts over plans to sell off their Surbiton HQ and club.

Matthews is a worthy successor to Helmer and shows that the old unacceptable face of the Tory party is alive and well - but worrying about imaginary aliens rather than European ones.

Incidently Matthews prodigy Kevin Davis - who lost to Ed Davey in 2005 - went on to be soundly beaten by David Laws in 2010.

10 October 2011

The unspeakable pursuing the untenable

Dr Liam Fox's future as a front line politican hangs by a very thin thread after the initial findings of the investigation into the access he granted Adam Werrity.

It is clear that Fox broke the ministerial code and his apology doesn't make his behaviour and lack of judgement go away.

Anyone watching Newsnight (sadly not yet available on iplayer) and seeing the usually sure footed Nick Boles sinking as he tried to defend the line, must realise that Fox's time is up.

Tomorrow's newspapers also make grim reading.

If Cameron and Clegg want to run a government that tries to restore standards in public life then they need to act decisively in this matter. The longer Fox stays the worse it will be for his and the government's reputation.

8 October 2011

In praise of Fox News and Ron Paul

YouTube have launched a politics channel to cover the 2012 US presidential elections. It uses the standard Youtube ratings system of views and likes and dislikes to see who are the most popular candidates.

So far this ad has a grand total of 6 views, but deserves a much wider showing for both the integrity of Ron Paul, the honesty in which Fox News covers the issue and the embarrassment factor for President Obama.

Edit 9/10 - I've just found this link which can be embedded:

7 October 2011

Friday favourite 27

This is clearly the best cover version ever. For many years I actually thought Jagger and Richards wrote this specifically for her (as they did for the ironically named Marianne Faithful)

Thoughts on another by-election in a Royal Borough...

Norland voters in the other London Royal Borough voted to return another Conservative councillor today. I went along to help for a few hours and had a great time. The junior London Royal Borough is incredibly posh and I met my first housekeeper on the doorstep.

The Tories won - but with a massively reduced share of the vote.

Kensington and Chelsea used to be simple - it had 42 Conservative councillors and 13 Labour councillors. For ever.

They even taught Labour Sunderland how to count the votes so fast. Their returning officer counted the votes for the non Tory parties and then subtracted these from the total vote to get the Tory majority.

And that's how Sunderland still does it.

The problem is that it is the wrong way to count votes - accuracy is far more important than speed.

6 October 2011

And in other news....

As an occasional cricket fan I was saddened to hear of the death at just 52 of Graham Dilley.

Dilley was integral in that amazing summer comeback by England in 1981 against the Aussies and as is usual on these occasions the Telegraph's obituary does the honours.

Jonathan Calder reckons the next Ashes series was his finest hour.

5 October 2011

Why Tim Farron was wrong and the Tories were right

So then that's the end of the conference season for another year.

And for this observer the most striking thing (apart from the irrelevence of Labour) was the contrast between the views expressed about the respective coalition partners at the Conservative and Lib Dem conferences.

The Lib Dem conference - led by party president Tim Farron - indulged in a multiplicity of often cheap attacks on their Conservative partners. In contrast this week's Conservative conference attacks on the Lib Dems were limited (and mainly on the fringe) and Conservative spokespeople dealt with the Lib Dems in a professional and respectful manner.

For this observer watching on the TV, the Conservatives came across the much better for it.

Earlier this year I carried out some market research for the Lib Dems. And people's views on the coalition were clear. They understood its necessity and liked the idea of political parties working together in difficult times in the public interest. Their concerns about the Lib Dems role in government were about practical achievements - not the rhetoric. The problem was defining distinctly liberal things that Clegg and the party could call their own.

Sadly, multifarious attacks on the Tories at party conference, talking about 'muscular liberalism', or standing up for 'alarm clock Britain' are all worthless (and often counter productive) if the party cannot annunciate a clear agenda for government and evidence its influence in public policy outcomes.

That is the challenge for the Lib Dems - not more easy laughs at their coalition partners expense.

4 October 2011

Amanda Knox freed

The news that Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito have won their appeal and will go free is a partial victory for justice.

Partial because the family of Meredith Kercher are still seeking justice and resolution for her loss. Hopefully the outcome means the Italian authorities will now properly investigate her murder.

A feature of the orginal trial and the appeal was the lurid denigration of Amanda Knox. And with her freedom you would expect it to end and a fairer picture of the young woman to emerge. But not from the Daily Mail who appear to think she is still guilty as Liberal England reports...

3 October 2011

Where the School Food Trust can stick their lunchbox...

An organisation called the School Food Trust has issued a report critising the content of the average school lunch box and by association the average parents who fill them.

Instead of sandwiches and a bag of crisps they suggest parents should include such delicacies as:

- Butternut squash soup with wholegrain bread
- Cous cous with roasted vegetables and chickpeas
- Wholegrain pasta salad with tomatoes, green beans and sweetcorn in green pesto sauce
- Low-fat cream cheese on wholegrain cracker with grapes

Now apart from the logistical problems of trying to get a six year old to safely transport soup to school, one wonders if those at the Schools Food Trust have actually tried to feed said child cous cous, chickpeas or wholegrain crackers?

This sort of out of touch nannying simply raises the hackles of hard pressed parents and turns the attention to the people and the organisation that can come up with this nonsense.

And being a publicly funded body they conveniently provide their statement of accounts on line.

And in it we find in 2010/11 the Schools Food Trust received more than £11.5 million from the public purse. Its Chief Executive, Judy Haragon, was paid £95,000 with a pension worth £143,000 - £35,000 more than 2010. In total its senior staff were paid a cool quarter of a million and they still found a £15,000 bung to retain the services of a celebrity chef.

Given the state of the public finances, cutting needless spending is a prerequisite. And it seems to me the Schools Food Trust is a pretty good place to start.