30 May 2011

The saving of the Swans...

Swansea City fans have every reason to celebrate today (and for some time hence). In a few short years they have gone from avoiding relegation out of the football league, by the skin of their teeth, to the richest (but clearly not best) league in the world.

The club suffered at the hands of appalling off field management with various owners bringing the club to its knees. But supporters of the Swans weren't prepared to lie down and let a series of rich, uninterested businessmen use the club as a cash cow. They set up the one of the first supporters trusts in 2001 with the aim of securing the future of the club and gaining supporters' representation on the board.

One of the driving forces behind the trust in its early days was a friend - Richard Lillicrap - who was also a former Lib Dem councillor in Kingston, an accountant by profession and an all round good egg by custom and practice.

Richard and the trust won their battle and secured the future of Swansea City FC, won supporter representation on the board, facilitated the club's move to the brand new Liberty Stadium and saw the team begin to climb back up the leagues. A fuller history can be found on the Swan's Trust website.

Swansea's story has been replicated up and down the country (and now the globe) by thousands of football fans with the best interests of their communities at heart. It is a little reported, but inspiring example of the type of community action that Liberals have long sought - long before the phrase 'big society' spun into the political lexicon.

Sadly, Richard died on 1 June 2007 after suffering a massive heart attack aged just 55. Although he wasn't at Wembley today to see his team's deserved triumph, I'm sure he was there in spirit - and in the spirit of all those fans who remember football is a beautiful and simple game played by and for the people.

The corruption of FIFA and the big money of the behemoths in the Premiership, won't stop the peoples' game and the achievements of people like Richard will live long after the memories of crooks like Warner and Blatter have faded.

Hopefully any Swansea fans reading this will have a drink not just for their team's victory - but for Richard. It's what I'll be doing.

Booming railfreight calls on preserved diesel loco

The Beeb this morning carried a great story about a Deltic loco - which I remember hauling the Edinburgh London expresses at great speed in the 1970s - being called back into service to meet a boom in demand for railfreight.

It is good news that railfreight is booming - particularly as it is clearly switching trucks from the road. But only in the UK with its disastrous privatisation of rail (which remained basically unaddressed for 13 years under Labour) would the solution be to hire a preserved railway loco. It's a sign of how poorly the country's railways have been managed and how the separation of track, trains and infrastructure has meant long term planning has been neglected.

I recently blogged about how the state owned East Coast Trains had axed its dining cars - perhaps the recall of the Deltic means there's hope for a reintroduction of onboard dining - but hopefully it won't take 30 years.

Cheese rollers in snub to authorities

According to the Beeb the Brockworth cheese rollers defied the authorities once again by holding an unofficial cheese roll down Coopers Hill in Gloucestershire.

It seems a bizarre use of police and the 'elf n safety' commissars' time to try and prevent a couple of hundred grown men and women falling down a hill in pursuit of a cheese, but they clearly don't have anything better to do there and the Gloucestershire constabulary must be so flush with cash they can afford to send 'a large police presence' on a bank holiday to try and stop it.

Surely there must be better ways to spend public money than trying (and failing) to ban fun?

26 May 2011

The incredible shrinking credibility of Guido Fawkes

Chris Huhne is in trouble. There is an ongoing police investigation into allegations over his speeding penalties and whether someone else took the rap for them which will end his political career if proved accurate.

So why then is right wing smearmeister Paul Staines (AKA the self importantly monikered Guido Fawkes) trying desperately to pin allegations of election expenses misdeeds as well?

As Mark Pack has pointed out the lack of evidence for these bizarre allegations is now reaching the stage of hilarity as Staines and his sidekick, Harry Cole, continue to clutch at the smallest of straws of evidence - with ludicrous assertions that a council meeting about a cycle path represented some sort of crisis summit for Huhne.

Staines made his reputation as one of the earliest political bloggers - a sort of on-line Private Eye - exposing politicians who were on the take regardless of their politics - but soon descended into the right wing spleen venting and conspiracy theory promoting beloved of right wing US talk radio. His assertions that his blog is somehow apolitical and only concerned with corruption and the misdeeds of the rich and powerful of all political persuasions is given the lie by the labels he gives to the articles he publishes. By his own categorisation of articles he has 32 Labour politicians, six Liberal Democrats and just 12 Tories (which includes a gushing article - also in the 'tottywatch' category - about SamCam and various paeans to 'Maggie').

It's clear he's now just another right wing cheerleader. His conceit is to pretend he is somehow important or influential - when in reality he's just another muckraker.

Here's when it all became apparent. It's just a surprise he's been able to get away with it for so long.

Blair welcome for war criminal arrest...

Former PM Tony Blair said of today's Mladic arrest, “This is a huge moment for the principle that people who engage in genocide will eventually be brought to justice."

While unreservedly welcoming the bringing of him to justice one can't help wondering what Blair will say when another criminal finally receives his comeuppance...

24 May 2011

So it's Giggs...

...well John Hemming has used his Parliamentary privilege to tell us what we already know - that Ryan Giggs was one of the footballers with a super injunction to protect their philandering.

I'm frankly not interested in his (or his fellow footballer's) sex lives as it is difficult to argue any true public interest - other than prurience. But the wider principle is that super injunctions prevent a free press reporting not only on footballers pecadillos but on matters of true public concern - like Fred Goodwin's activities that led to the biggest bank failure in history.

It also means those people in positions of public trust - like Conservative MPs - cannot expect the same legal protection because they are not private citizens. So it's time for John Hemming and the other MPs, who know which publicly elected representative(s) have issued super injunctions, to use their Parliamentary privilege to expose their colleagues who are prepared to hide embarrasing issues from the people who elected them.

22 May 2011

Twitter begin to bust the superinjunctions

The response to the famous (and he is pretty famous) footballer who has tried to ban the internet with the help of an out of touch judge, Judge, should be welcomed by liberals.

It's a reminder of the power of what Cleggmania could have been. Ordinary (not well off) people getting their own back against the rich and powerful (and in most footballer's cases stupid) people who think they are better than the people who pay their wages.

The fact that so many people are prepared to say publicly who he is and Wikipedia are happy to carry it means for CTB the game is over.

Now all we need is for the other super-injunctions - particularly those that politicians are behind to be exposed in the same way. Where are you John Hemming or do we just let the internet get on with it?

Today superinjunctee Andrew Marr gets to interview President Obama showing that your career is not at threat if the allegations are made public...

21 May 2011

Dining car axe and the new elitism

News that from Monday the last dining cars on Britain's railways will be no more is a retrograde step.

One of the great things about travelling to Scotland on the East Coast Main Line was the opportunity of enjoying a fine meal over several hours. The hiatus so created transformed a four and half hour train journey into something far shorter and provided a welcome opportunity to find out more about your fellow travellers over a digestif.

The fact that you could do this on a cheap standard class ticket was an added bonus and one that meant the dining car was a more socially interesting place than other parts of the train. For example the last time I dined on board I sat opposite Dame Tani Grey Thompson.

It's clear the reason is financial - the east coast catering operation lost £20 million last year. But I can't help feeling if that's the case then they should simply increase prices. But the bigger reason is the space created allows them to cram even more paying passengers on board.

Travelling on an east coast train will be a more elitist experience as a result of this decision with only first class passengers enjoying a meal - which if it is anything like Virgin's fare will become indistinguishable from a microwaved airline meal within months.

It's funny that under all those years of the service being run by private sector operators the dining cars survived, but it took the now nationalised operator to wield the axe.

By way of conclusion - an east coast dining car features in probably the greatest film opening sequence ever (and greatest British gangster film) - Get Carter. I'm not sure it would work so well if Michael Caine wandered down and bought a sandwich from the buffet car...

20 May 2011

Friday favourite 8

Here are Rowan Atkinson, Gryff Rhys Jones, Mel Smith and Pamela Stephenson - with a superb parody of pretentious new romantic pop videos of the early 80s. So sit back and enjoy Lufthansa Terminal's biggest hit...

18 May 2011

Olympic torch nonsense

The second biggest news story of the day - after the unfortunate comments from Justice Secretary, Ken Clarke - is the announcement of the route of the Olympic torch. This entirely fictitious tradition will wind its tortuous way to that symbol of commercial agrandisement and drain on the public purse - the Olympic stadium - over what seems like an interminable number of weeks next summer.

The smug satisfaction that it will somehow bring the provinces into the Olympic dream as some sort of justification for their transfer payment to the capital is as bogus as it is insulting.

I hope the torch becomes the focus of public discontent at the waste and profligacy of governments that indulge ludicrous and corrupt organisations like the IOC. Sadly, I fear it won't and the olympian spin we appear to be swallowing mean the entire country outside of London will be glad of the scraps thrown at them by Lord Coe and Co.

16 May 2011

Chris Huhne - the new Gerald Nabarro?

With the Tory press doing their best to try and pin a driving offence identity swap on Lib Dem Energy Secretary, Chris Huhne, one can't help be reminded of a previous case involving an MP.

In this case the MP was outspoken Tory right winger (and Lord Bonkers lookalike) Gerald Nabarro. In 1971 a Daimler bearing the registration number 'NAB 1' was seen to be driving dangerously on the wrong side of the road in Totton Hampshire. An eye witness claimed a moustachioed man was behind the wheel and Nabarro was fined and banned, despite claiming his secretary was driving.

He appealed and new witnesses came forward to corroborate his story, but unfortunately he suffered two strokes and died shortly after. The Daily Echo has a good account of the story here.

In another twist his parliamentary secretary at the time was Christine Holman - better known now as Christine Hamilton.

I doubt whatever the outcome of the Huhne case - and it looks more and more like simply the fallout from his messy divorce - it is as unlikely to be anything like as colourful as the protagonists in the Nabarro case.

14 May 2011

Horrid Henry and the Lib Dem rout

This website (like many others) has been off line for a day or so. So my thoughts on last week's Lib Dem rout are probably a bit more irrelevant now than they were 48 hours ago.

Anyway the big question that still appears to be unanswered (or at least still being debated) is the differing performances of the two coalition partners. The Conservatives did well - their vote holding up and making gains in council seats - despite defending their 2007 high. The Lib Dems crashed spectacularly, losing 700 council seats and control of all the metropolitan councils it held.

The party's response has been to say that in swathes of the north of England there is no Tory party to give a kicking to, so it was the Lib Dems who got the anti-government kicking. But that's not true. The Tories held their seats in Salford for example, the Lib Dems were wiped out in Manchester. The Lib Dems lost seats to the Tories in Oldham and Rochdale - including Spotland - home of Rochdale FC and represented continuously by Liberals for 100 years. Sir Cyril will be spinning in his copious grave.

The best analysis I've come across hasn't been published on any blog or indeed any newspaper. It comes from 'she who must be obeyed' as John Mortimer would put it. She put it down to naughty children syndrome...

If parents have two children - one usually well behaved and one usually naughty - they will always come down harder on the well behaved one if they misbehave than they will with the naughty one, because of the shock.

That seems to me a perfect analogy for the respective coalition partners.

The Tories are the delinquent older brother - always getting into trouble, stealing and bullying the weak and vulnerable. The Lib Dems are the angelic, hard working and bookish little brother, who brings breakfast in bed on a Sunday to their parents. So when the little brother turns up on the doorstep with a police officer in tow, having stolen some student's beer money they get grounded for a year. The older brother rolls up several hours later (as usual) with not only a student's money but a couple of old ladies' purses, the parents simply shrug their shoulders as that's what they've come to expect.

So when Perfect Peter throws his lot in with Horrid Henry, Henry always gets off scot-free.

13 May 2011

Friday favourite 7

Alanis Morrisette earned herself a fortune with her 1995 hit 'Ironic' a catchy pop song famous for its lack of irony. It also made the name of comedian Ed Byrne who must also have earned a fortune from his routine ribbing its lack of irony.

Anyway I came across this earlier today and it proves that Americans can really do irony (Morrisette is Canadian by the way)...

9 May 2011

Final tribute to Eddie Turnbull

Eddie Turnbull's funeral took place at lunchtime in Edinburgh today. Here's some YouTube footage shot by fans outside Easter Road stadium.

Eddie Turnbull scored the first ever goal by a British footballer in Europe as well as as becoming a successful and innovative manager of both Aberdeen and Hibs. His death has sadly not received the coverage it ought to have done south of the border - possibly due to the deaths of Henry Cooper and Seve Ballesteros.

Edit - Michel Platini, President of UEFA issued the following tribute on Tuesday 10 May 2011: "It is with great sadness that we have learned of the passing away of Mr Eddie Turnbull. He was, among his other achievements, the first British player to score a goal in the European Champion Clubs' Cup – what is now the UEFA Champions League.

"We know he achieved much more as player, captain and manager,but for this reason alone he holds a special place in the heart of UEFA."

MP super injunction facade begins to crumble

With the news that a twitter account holder has started an account with the specific aim of leaking the names of those responsible for issuing super injunctions, it can't be long before the truth will out.

What is clear is that when the subjects of these injunctions do become public it won't thankfully involve indiscrete photos of Jeremy Clarkson and Jemima (Goldsmith) Khan. But one can't help feeling issues of real salience will be revealed. Will John Hemming MP reveal all before the interweb makes his role superfluous?

7 May 2011

Belated Friday favourite

Here in their pomp are the Who with 'Won't get fooled again'. It's for all Liberal Democrat ministers who as a result of the party's mauling at the polls will hopefully take a slightly more sceptical view into negotiations with the Tories. It's also for everyone who isn't bothered about how hard their MP works or if their seat is so safe they can fiddle their expenses with ease. Enjoy.

6 May 2011

What the AV referendum question should have been

Nearly all referendums ask whether voters support a particular piece of legislation or a proposition. It is highly unusual for them to be asked to vote on a whether they support bits of a bill.

Given the AV referendum was shoe-horned into a bill reducing the number of parliamentary constituencies, shouldn't we have been asked to vote on this question yesterday?

Do you support the introduction of the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill that reduces the number of MPs and introduces the alternative vote system for electing them?

Just a thought.

5 May 2011

We shall remember them

The announcement of the death today of Claude Choules - the last known great war combat veteran - means a piece of living history is no more. I cannot imagine what he and his comrades experienced in that conflict where industrial killing capacity met pre-industrial military tactics. But I do hope that his bravery and that of the many millions of his fellow combatants is never forgotten and mean that people will never again allow their governments to go to war over something as ultimately trivial as the assassination of an unpopular Balkan prince.

For the Fallen

With proud thanksgiving, a mother for her children,
England mourns for her dead across the sea.
Flesh of her flesh they were, spirit of her spirit,
Fallen in the cause of the free.

Solemn the drums thrill: Death August and royal
Sings sorrow up into immortal spheres.
There is music in the midst of desolation
And a glory that shines upon our tears.

They went with songs to the battle, they were young,
Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted:
They fell with their faces to the foe.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

They mingle not with their laughing comrades again;
They sit no more at familiar tables of home;
They have no lot in our labour of the day-time;
They sleep beyond England's foam.

But where our desires are and our hopes profound,
Felt as well-spring that is hidden from sight,
To the innermost heart of their own land they are known
As the stars are known to the Night;

As the starts that shall be bright when we are dust,
Moving in marches upon the heavenly plain;
As the stars that are starry in the time of our darkness,
To the end, to the end they remain.

Laurence Binyon (1869-1943)

AV - why the yes campaign deserves to lose

Later today people across the UK will decide whether they want to change the voting system for Westminster elections. And it looks like they will decisively vote to keep the current first past the post system.

This is despite the YES campaign leading in the polls for most of the campaign - until the last few weeks in fact - and it having the far stronger messages.

So why has the YES campaign so spectacularly crashed and burned? In my view there are two fundamental reasons. The first is the strategic decision to hold the referendum on local election polling day, particularly the polling day that sees the majority of shire districts up for election. These areas are the Tory heartlands with relatively high turnouts of elderly voters - those least likely to vote YES.

I remember talking to a senior Lib Dem official as the bill was pinging between the Lords and the Commons wondering why the party simply didn't call Labour's bluff and delay the referendum until the Autumn where a stand alone referendum would have been more winnable. I was told this would have meant internal coalition issues in terms of delivering Tory votes for the bill and that anyway the advice was that a joint council election and referendum was more winnable due to the likelihood of gaining Labour voters in the mets. That was a strategic mistake that made the task of winning for yes more difficult.

The second mistake was tactical. Despite what you might believe from the interweb and NO campaign, the YES campaign is in fact dominated by Labour - not the Lib Dems. (It was the main reason for Clegg taking a back seat and Mili minor trying to take over). So when the NO campaign used prominent Labour figures to go negative, the YES campaign didn't effectively rebut - mainly because the Labour figures wanted to avoid an internal row.

The YES campaign should have immediately rebutted the NO's assertion of the £250m cost of AV and gone on the offensive against some of the Labour dinosaurs in the no campaign - whose expenses were somewhat questionable - by way of illustration that the campaign could not be trusted. But once the YES team allowed the £250m to become established it was game over.

And this was all before the YES campaign fell apart with Chris Huhne's hissy fit over the NO campaign tactics. All it showed - as every good Lib Dem campaigner knows - was he was rattled and encouraged the Noes to ratchet up the pressure even more.

All in all it's a textbook case of how not to do it. And it's a shame as any alternative electoral reform is now probably impossible as a result.

I will be voting yes.

3 May 2011

Bin Laden assassination and the law of the wild west

The news that Osama Bin Laden has met a deserved untimely end at the hands of US special forces leaves me with bizarrely mixed feelings.

The spontaneous celebrations outside the Whitehouse at 3am local time appeared to me unseemly and vulgar. And the idea that the US and the west face some sort of closure as a result bizarre.

However, the world is (or will be) a better place without Bin Laden.

But as others have blogged elsewhere the assassination is likely to lead to an upturn in Al Quaeda inspired terrorism as a result.

I can't help thinking that it would have been far better if Bin Laden had been arrested and brought to trial to answer for his crimes. It would have sent a clear message that the modern west is better than the lynch mob justice of the old wild west (or the modern middle east).

However modern American isn't quite as easy to define. It has the death penalty (at least in certain states - including Obama's Illinois, but not Palin's Alaska), the state (or certain states in fact) murder around 35 people a year with three times as many on death row. The US has a huge level of personal firearm ownership and a constitutional right to form militias and culture that enjoys both gun ownership and vigilantism. So it is easy to see why a hit squad taking out Bin Laden with no questions asked will get widespread and unquestioning support, simply because it is part of the American zeitgeist.

But it feels to me after eight years of George W and ten years of Tony Blair the west has simply sunk to some old testament 'eye for an eye' level of international relations - where every international problem can be fixed by armed might. And John Wayne (or some poorer modern version) in a white hat can ride out and take out all the criminal masterminds in the black hats with ease.

The old democracies of Europe ruined themselves (at least twice) with this attitude and clever leaders should be using more discrete means to achieve their ends.

After all the UK Conservative party pledged (very interestingly) to use more soft power in international relations at last year's general election. Something that helped the party to coalesce with the UK Liberal party. It's clearly now time for this aspect of the UK coalition government foreign policy to come to the fore.