30 April 2013

Hearts on edge of insolvency

Years of financial doping appear to have finally caught up with Hearts.  Here's tonight's Edinburgh Evening News front page:

Scots Lib Dems lose plot on child car smoking ban

When a party loses two thirds of its Parliamentarians, more than half of its councillors and is struggling for a platform on the big issues of the day, one might think its spokespeople would use the limited opportunities that present themselves to promote some distinctive and well thought out proposals that might help reestablish the party.

Not so the Scottish Lib Dems who clearly think the 5% of liberal Scots who stuck by it in the last two years should be driven from the fold with an announcement by Health Spokesperson and nanny in chief, Jim Muir, to promote legislation to prosecute car drivers for smoking if they have children as passengers.

On first glance it may seem an attractive extension of tough anti-smoking laws to further dissuade the recalcitrant monority of smokers to give up and to protect children from second hand smoke.  Until you think about it that is.

There are a number of fundamental problems with this bizarre idea - notwithstanding its fundamental illiberalism and unacceptable increase in state intrusion into the private realm.  Firstly it is basically unenforcable - as anyone who has observed drivers chatting or texting on their mobile phones with impunity can testify. 

Secondly - even if it was enforceable (and it will be interesting to hear the police's view of the proposal) - it is aimed at the wrong target.  It isn't in cars that children of smokers are mainly exposed to second hand smoke - it is in their homes.  Car ownership in Scotland (like the rest of the UK) is very much more prevalent among higher earning households - the very groups where smoking rates are at their lowest.

According to Health Scotland (2007)  "In Scotland car ownership is highly related to social class and income. For example, 37% of households with an annual net income of under £10,000 own a
car, compared with 98% of those with an annual net household income of over £40,000; 40% of
households in the most deprived 20% of areas had access to a car compared with 86% in the least
deprived 20% of areas." 

Conversely, Public Health Information for Scotland (2008) report, "There is a strong gradient in smoking prevalence across deprivation deciles. In 2005/06, nearly 45% of Scottish adults smoked in the most deprived tenth of data-zones (as measured by the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation 2006) compared with just 13% of adults living in the least deprived tenth.

It is clear this proposal is a solution looking for a problem. And sadly for the Scots Lib Dems wasting time and effort on useless political gimmicks like this isn't a sensible way to get back in the political game. 

26 April 2013

Friday favourite 105

Fife's finest, KT Tunstall, on her first UK TV appearance - on Jools Holland - blowing away the rest of the show with Black Horse and the Cherry Tree:

It was 111 years ago today...

...that Hibs last won the Scottish Cup.  On April 26th 1902 they beat Celtic 1-0 with the goal scored by McGeechan.  Bizarrely the Scottish football authorities in an early example of bias toward the old firm insisted the game shoud be played at Celtic Park.

Next month Hibs play Celtic in their tenth attempt since then to win the trophy again.  The Edinburgh Reporter has more information about their last successful attempt.

25 April 2013

Farage claims UKIP standing in more seats than Lib Dems

So he says in tonight's London Evening Standard.

Interestingly his article opens with a distinctly liberal appeal:

"The great cliché — that all politics is local — will be played out next Thursday when all the shire counties of England, Anglesey and a tranche of urban boroughs go to the polls...The only way to get the entrenched political class to listen to the legitimate concerns of a disenfranchised electorate is to do the one thing career politicians cannot deal with: take away their votes, their jobs and their expenses."

22 April 2013

Are Scottish Tories falling further behind in panda stakes?

News that Edinburgh Zoo has artificially inseminated panda Tian Tian with the aim of producing some offspring at the end of the summer, means a rewrite for the Scottish Tories/panda joke.  No more will we be able to say there are twice as many pandas in Scotland as Tory MPs...

19 April 2013

Work starts on Waverley route reopening

Yesterday, south east of Edinburgh, workers started construction on the reopening of the Waverley rail line - or Borders Rail as it is now called.

The closure of the Waverley route mainline was probably the biggest mistake of the Beeching years - cutting off the Scottish borders from the rail network causing long term damage to its industry and agriculture sectors and even making a radical of its then MP - David Steel - who spent a night in the nick for his involvement in the protests against closure.

But this is a victory for a long term campaign by Borders (and Midlothian) residents - who will hopefully now see the whole line reinstated all the way to Carlisle.  Anyway here's some footage of the northern part of the route which shows quite how well preseved most of the route is.

Friday favourite 104

Oldham's Inspiral Carpets with 'This is how it feels' from the dying days of the Thatcher government.

18 April 2013

Gryff Rees Jones - why comedians shouldn't appear on Question Time

Jones began his first answer by saying I agree with everything that the panel has said and disagree with everything too.

Unsurprisingly his answer then went downhill from there.

QT should stick to having a panel of politicians (surely a fundamental requirement of a political question and answer show?) and if it can't manage that it really shouldn't bother at all. 

It's typical of the BBC's mindset that it thinks mixing light entertainment with heavyweight political debate adds a new and vibrant dimension - when in reality all it does is distract from both and cheapens the debate on what are matters deserving of grown up discussion.

17 April 2013

Lib Dem defamation u-turn farce

Yesterday Lib Dem MPs were going to support Conservative amendments to the Defamation Bill designed to protect large corporation's ability to threaten individuals with punative libel damages.  A party spokesman gave the Independent a bizarre quote, “Unfortunately we are in a Coalition and this was one of those areas where we could not get our Conservative colleagues to agree with us.”

Today Lib Dem Voice reports that Julian Huppert has pursuaded Conservative Ministers to put back in the bill the clauses that Lib Dem MPs voted to take out 24 hours earlier,

If this was an isolated incident of elbowarseitis then it probably wouldn't matter.  But it's not.  It follows in footsteps of Lib Dem MPs backing for secret courts in the teeth of opposition from the party (and manifesto commitments) and the internet snooping farce - which is soon to make an unwelcome return.

It is clear there are a cadre of advisers at the top of the party with a tin-ear for the key tenets of party beliefs and who take whatever nonsense the civil service tells them as gospel.  And they are allowed to get away with it by MPs who are enjoying the trappings of power too much and have suspended both their critical faculties and belief in the political nous of the party.

There were always going to be difficult decisions as a result of entering coalition with the Tories - but Clegg's strategy always was to use the experience of government as a platform to win new support - 'Clegg Lib Dems'.  So far all that has happened is that a large chunk of the party has been so disillusioned by MPs support for illiberal measures it has drifted off, preceded by many 2010 Lib Dem voters and much of the party's councillor base.  And so far there is precious little evidence of them being replaced by these 'Clegg Lib Dems'. 

Without significant change in attitudes (and almost certainly personnel) at the top of the party - there will be precious few left to fight the election in 2015.  Further seat losses in the county elections (and particularly slipping behind UKIP in the popular vote) will take the party one stage closer to the point where it ceases to be able to function as any sort of election fighting force.  The question is will what's left of the party allow that to continue?

12 April 2013

The left's sexism on Thatcher (and Friday favourite 103)

Politics in many Labour heartlands is a pretty brutal affair.  It's often signified by corruption, vote rigging nepotism and sexism.  Trades union and Labour clubs are often unwelcoming places for women and ethnic minorities.  So it's hardly surprising that a strong streak of sexism has (and continues to) run through the left's attitude towards Margaret Thatcher.  The success of the campaign to get 'Ding, dong the witch is dead' from the Wizard of Oz up the charts - no doubt organised by some twenty something trots whose only knowledge of Thatcher is gleaned from the pages of the Guardian or Socialist Worker - is just one example.

And if you don't think it is sexist - imagine juvenile right wingers doing the same on the death of Harriet Harman.  There would be outrage.

There's also a perverse jealousy that a reactionary party had a women leader and PM before the
supposedly progressive Labour party.  The sense of certainty that only the left can be progressive, fair and principled couldn't cope with the fact that the right had achieved something 'progressive' that to this day the left haven't.

Now I'm no fan of Margaret Thatcher.  She was essentially only destructive - she rightly broke the power of the union barons, but instead of using the sensible industrial conditions this created to create a modern, skilled manufacturing industry, she carried on ripping things up - destroying the physical and social infrastructure in much of the north of the UK.  There was no reason that places like Teeside or Clydeside couldn't have been like Germany's Ruhr valley - with a government committed to education and skills and adding value to production.  But instead we got a pile 'em high sell 'em cheap government that destroyed apprenticeships and industrial skills and used high unemployment to keep pay low.  And the rest is history.

Anyway if you are tempted to download a Thatcher tribute song I'd recommend the deeply ironic 'I'm in love with Margaret Thatcher', by Burnley's finest punks the Notsensibles.


County elections UKIP just 33 behind Lib Dems...

...in candidates that is.  The Vote UK forum statto - Mark Senior - a Sussex Lib Dem number cruncher has worked out from hundreds of council websites that the party nominations line up as below:

Con 2,249
Lab 2,165
LDem 1,760
UKIP 1,727
Green 877
BNP 100
TUSC 116
Liberal 11
Meb K 25
Others/Ind 782

All the conditions seem to be in place for the Lib Dems to finish in fourth place in vote share if not seats.  Last time around the estimated Tory share was 35%, Lib Dems 25%, Labour 22% and others 18%.  

It is difficult to see how the Lib Dems can poll anything like that level this time.  And combined with the nature of of the seats being fought - generally in Tory inclined shires - with effectively the same number of candidates as the Lib Dems UKIP could easily poll in the low twenties in the vast majority of the divisions being fought - giving them an estimated national share in the high teens - even if they don't win many seats.

Losing another 200 councillors along with coming fourth in the popular vote would be a firestorm for Nick Clegg's leadership which could fatally damage his ambition to lead the party into the 2015 elections.  We'll see in a few weeks.

11 April 2013

Happy birthday Tom Lehrer

He's apparently 85 today.  And with North Korea threatening nuclear anihilation, Lehrer's cold war satire seems somewhat appropriate:

8 April 2013

Death of Thatcher - a nation mourns

As someone brought up in Scotland in Margaret Thatcher 80s heyday it's difficult to join in the eulogies emanating from her political successors (on all sides) south of the border.  While acknowledging the grief of  her family, one can't help feeling the Daily Mash sums up the feeling of many Scots to her death.

6 April 2013

Will UKIP stand more candidates than the Lib Dems in May?

With nominations now closed for the county and unitary elections and statements of those nominated starting to be posted by local returning officers it is clear UKIP's boasts about standing large numbers of candidates have proven true.

Vote UK forum has comprehensive threads on the elections on a county by county (and unitary) basis including details of those nominated. And so far it looks like the Lib Dems will come fourth in the number of candidates nominated with UKIP standing more candidates than the party in Lancashire, Derbyshire and Norfolk - and  more worryingly for the the Lib Dems - in Dorset and Devon, traditional strongholds for the party (and where it has MPs).  In the Isle of Wight, where the Lib Dems held the seat until 2001 the party is standing in just seven out of 40 seats with UKIP standing in 29 and even Labour managing to find 23 candidates.

Two years of hollowing out has taken its toll and the collapse in membership means the pool of those able (let alone willing) to stand has been squashed.  Clegg and the leadership cannot ignore the party any more.  Issues like secret courts - while having almost no impact on the wider voting public - are touchstone issues for party members and activists.  If Lib Dem members are supposed to be 'on message, in volume, over time' then Clegg has to pay more attention to them.  It's a two way street.  Why should party members work to help get MPs elected (and win local elections) if the MPs ignore their views and do things totally at odds to the principles of the party?

While Clegg will no doubt point to the fact that the Lib Dems will return more county councillors than UKIP, the fact they have more candidates will boost UKIP's share of the popular vote and must make it possible the Lib Dems could come fourth in vote share - and that would be a result that shifted the tectonic plates of British politics.

Sandra Gidley to make return to front line politics?

According to the Statements of Persons Nominated for Hampshire County Council one Sandra Gidley is standing for the Lib Dems in the unusually named Romsey Extra division.

5 April 2013

Friday favourite 102

This summer the Rolling Stones are to play Hyde Park for the first time since 1969, but sadly unlike 1969 it won't be free.  So for those without £150 to stand in a muddy field here they are first time round...

4 April 2013

Clegg's secret courts stance claims another Lib Dem defectee

Islington Lib Dem councillor Greg Foxsmith has left the party over the party's support for secret courts. He told the Islington Tribune, "I have resigned because I have reluctantly come to the conclusion that the party leadership’s support for the 'Justice and Security' Act is at odds with the principal reason that I joined – namely support for a fair, free and open society."