30 September 2011

Friday favourite 26

Today's is another from OGWT. The Cult 'She sells sanctuary' from 1985. It was around this time I saw them live at the Capitol in Aberdeen. They messed this track up badly.

It's time to recycle Eric Pickles

I was going to comment on today's announcement from the local government department of a quarter of a billion pound bribe to local authorities to reintroduce weekly bin collections - but Eaten by Missionaries got there first.

But soon the real debate will surely move on to the role and purpose of the local government department itself. If councils are going to have autonomy to decide on the form and level of local services - why do they still have a man in Whitehall telling them that he knows best?

Abolition of the DCLG would free up local government from pointless interference and save a vast amount of cash in these austere times. Enough for a few chicken tikka masalas I'd imagine...

28 September 2011

Only Labour could say cutting tax for the low paid is regressive

Labour are determined to have a monopoly on progressive politics. That can be the only conclusion to be drawn from a frankly bizarre report by the IPPR (reported on Lib Dem Voice) that implies that raising the threshold when low paid workers start paying income tax is regressive. It appears to be based on the assumption that any further rises in the threshold don't benefit those already benefiting from the zero tax rate who by definition are the poorest of the working poor.

This is ludicrous sophistry of the highest order and the sort of rationale that led to Gordon Brown adding layer upon layer of complexity into the tax and benfits system in the name of being 'progressive'. The result is that now the highest effective rates of tax aren't paid by those at the top, but those at the very bottom, because of the steep tapers in the withdrawal of tax credits/benefits.

The IPPR are Labour's favourite think tank. And it's not hard to see why. This report's author was Kayte Lawton who is a regular contributor to Labour List, secretary of the Barnsbury ward Labour Party and the organiser of Islington South and Finsbury Labour Party’s policy forum.

Frankly, it's time Liberals abandoned the word 'progressive' and leave it to Labour and their friends on the left who can carry on in a futile exercise of trying to prove that only they are keepers of the faith. Meanwhile Lib Dems in government can get on with the job of making life better for people at the bottom of the heap and undo the 13 years of useless policy making - no doubt advised by the IPPR - that saw the gap between the richest and the poorest rise to record levels.

Hibs finally win at home

After a seven month wait Hibs finally win a league game at Easter Road 3-2 v St Johnstone. The match stats provided by the BBC make interesting reading - and it's not the fact that Hibs appear to have been comprehensively outplayed. It's because despite scoring three times, the stats say Hibs had just two shots on target...

27 September 2011

The fundamental flaw in Labour's message

Labour have been keen to repeat across the board at their conference that a complete recasting of British society and economy is needed and that the current government is simply defending this broken status quo.

Now if was leading a party that had overseen this 'broken status quo' for 13 out of the last 14 years and if I had been a been a cabinet member just 506 days ago who had been part of that 'broken status quo' I might just wonder how culpable I was personally for this 'broken status quo'.

It's this almost complete lack of self awareness that is the most striking thing about Labour this week. If Labour are going to widen the terms of the debate about wider societal and economic failings then a narrow apology on their failure to regulate the banks just won't do.

I suspect the message that the public will hear is Mili minor talking about radical change and his party booing Tony Blair and come to the obvious conclusion that he and his party are tacking to the anti market left.

26 September 2011

Amazon in infinite monkey Shakespeare stunt

A fantastic report features on the Beeb website tonight that a series of virtual monkeys have almost completed the works of Shakespeare at nine characters a time.

It's clearly a very good piece of publicity for Amazon - whose computers are hosting the event and the programmer concerned. But the best thing about the report is the fact that the Beeb shares with us the fact that 'Practical experiments show monkeys have poor keyboard skills'.

Balls in fantasy land

Shadow Chancellor, Ed Balls, is doing the rounds of Labour conference apologising for getting some things wrong on the economy while they were in power. He has also launched a vacuous and wrong slogan 'Building schools and hospitals did not create the deficit', by way of non-apology over the government's structural deficit.

Except that it did - and saddled the UK tax payer with expensive 'off book' PFI deals that transfer money out of public services and into the bottom lines of private construction companies for years to come. Estimates suggest that the tax payer will end up paying 10 times the value of the capital assets involved.

So when Balls asks people to take him and his party seriously on the economy I hope people remeber just how much of their money he wasted needlessly on PFI - among other failures such as IT.

And thanks to the BBC Politics Show archive you can still view the wonderful attack on Balls as 'a 27 year old researcher' by Michael Heseltine at the Tory conference in 1994.

Danny Alexander take note...

23 September 2011

Friday favourite 25

With BBC4 showing re-runs of the seminal Old Grey Whistle Test this evening I'd thought I'd dig out a very young David Byrne and Talking heads from the YouTube archive:

21 September 2011

BMA and NSPCC wrong over cage fight boy

The beeb reports that both the BMA and NSPCC have criticised the organisers of a childrens' cage fight in the Greenlands Labour Club in Preston.

The fight involved no punching or kicking and was licensed by the relevant authorities.

Now far be it from me to say, but if the bout had involved karate, judo or some other middle class pursuit and was held at Preston Grammar School would it even have registered with either of these organisations?

20 September 2011


Maverick Tory MP Peter Bone who has been doing the rounds of Lib Dem conference.

Former England manager, now managing Leicester City, Sven Goran Erickson

What Nick Clegg should say in his leader's speech

Fellow liberals. I'd like to start with an apology.

To all those hard working Lib Dem councillors who lost their seats in May and the campaigners who didn't win - I apologise for letting you down.

For all those campaigners for political reform - from all parties and none - who lost out in the AV referendum - I apologise for letting you down.

And most importantly to the millions of people who voted for our party last year in the hope of something different and better - I apologise for letting you down.

It is clear that many people up and down the country feel let down by us and in particular me. And in today's personality obsessed age it's right that as leader of the party I should be the focus for that discontent.

And I hold my hand up as I have been responsible for getting things wrong.

I have been too close to David Cameron.

I have enjoyed being in government a little too much - particularly as cuts begin to bite and the British people fear for their livelihoods and wellbeing.

And I haven't communicated the party's successes well enough to break the impression that this is a Tory government in everything but name.

And as a result the people spoke - and they comprehensively rejected our party in May. Let's not kid ourselves that this was simply a mid term election that will simply wind back automatically as we approach 2015.

It was a clear message from the people to get our act together in government and to prove we are delivering a distinctively Liberal Democrat agenda in that government.

At our last conference in Liverpool we started that process by outlining our opposition to many of the Conservatives' market obsessed proposals for the NHS.

This week we have carried on with radical proposals for dealing with the harm drugs do to our community, tackling the obscenity of Murdoch phone hacking and how we are breaking the link between a poor upbringing and poor exam results.

And most importantly Vince Cable outlined how Liberal Democrats are recasting our economy - with a focus on apprenticeships, investment in our infrastructure and how we will make sure the banks will never bring the economy down again through their incompetence and greed.

But I want to make be clear - to you here in the hall, to Liberal Democrats watching at home and to the country at large that I expect myself and the party to be judged in 2015 on our deeds - not fine words in conference halls.

Building the new politics - ending the red, blue, blue, red, blue duopoly that has brought the country to its knees - was always going to take time and I haven't forgotten the hope and sense of anticipation of something new that was so apparent in that spring of last year.

It is that hope that we can govern in a new way - putting aside the old tribal tit for tat politics - that is the glue behind the coalition. Two competing parties, with different outlooks and traditions, working together in an adult way for the good of the people. That's what we are trying to do in difficult times.

So I am making five clear commitments today for Liberal Democrats in government - our agenda if you will.

One, by 2015 a higher proportion of people from poorer backgrounds will get the opportunity to go to a good school and go on to a good university than under Labour in 2010.

Two, by 2015 our NHS will be more responsive to local people's needs with less central bureaucratic interference allowing doctors and nurses to carry out their calling, free at the point of use for the patient.

Three, by 2015 prisons will be a place only for those who are clear threat to society and communities that suffer from persistent low level crime and disorder will get pay back from the perpetrators who will put right what and who they wronged.

Four, by 2015 Britain's reputation in the world and our ability to influence our allies and deter our enemies is restored and the memory of Bush, Blair and illegal adventures in Iraq is replaced by a truly ethical foreign policy.

Five, by 2015, if the economy is growing strongly again and the government can start giving something back - it will be hard pressed families on low and middle incomes that get a break - not the Tories rich friends in the city or offshore.

I ask every Liberal Democrat in this hall to campaign with me and our ministerial team to make this agenda happen.

And for those watching and listening in the country outside this hall all I ask is for you to look and listen and judge us in 2015 on what we achieved in government that made Britain a better place.

Failed English fire centralisation offers stark warning to Nats

The Public Accounts Committee's findings that Labour wasted at least £469 million trying to centralise England's fire service control, is a stark warning to the SNP government in Edinburgh.

According to the beeb report the plan was 'flawed from the outset', 'a comprehensive failure' and failed to achieve any of its objectives.

It is in the very nature of these vanity centralisation projects - which are always justified on the grounds of greater efficiency - that they end in abject failure. This is because it is the nature of centralisation to drive out local accountability and reduce competition to a handful of big oligopolistic suppliers.

So when the bill for the SNP's fire and police centralisation lands on Scottish taxpayers doormats - and cuts are made to schools, hospitals (and yes the police and fire services) to pay for it - the SNP government will have no excuses. They were warned.

19 September 2011

Failing to face the future

I've just watched the debate at Lib Dem conference on the 'Facing the future' policy paper and am deeply uninspired. In a conference of grassroot rebellions, the one that mattered - overturning the timid 'Facing the future' document - was passed with ease (helped by an excellent summation from the underutilised Norman Lamb).

There is an iron law of British politics - everything connected to David Owen is inevitably overblown hype that ends in failure. So borrowing the name from the said Dr's book was probably a mistake, but more indicative of the contents than the authors might have wanted.

17 September 2011

Liberal Democrats have become deeply conservative about public services

Not my words, but those of David Boyle and Simon Titley who have co-authored an alternative policy paper called 'Really facing the future' which has been published through the offices of Liberator magazine. It's certainly an analysis I agree with and have blogged previously about in context of the Lib Dems' response to the current NHS reforms.

I don't agree with all of it - but it poses some significant questions for Liberal Democrats (and indeed all politicians) - this one is particularly apposite:
Because there is another problem here, which lies behind the policy vacuum. It is that the whole concept of political parties is beginning to unravel as membership and commitment shrinks. A sizeable proportion of the population is actively opposed to the whole idea of politics.
It deserves a wide circulation and I hope the party leadership and policy making bureaucracy take it seriously.

Friday favourite 24

Some interesting connections this week. Here are Bombay Bicycle Club at this year's Glastonbury with Shuffle - a strangely folksy evocation of the Rezillos 'Destination Venus' (which was my first Friday Favourite).

Bombay Bicycle Club feature Jamie McColl on guitar - Jamie is the late Kirsty McColl's son. Kirsty singing 'Days' featured in a post back in December last year about cover versions that are better than the originals.

I also wonder whether Bombay Bicycle Club are named after the Edinburgh Indian resaurant chain of the same name.

15 September 2011

Polls open in Surbiton by-election

At around midnight tonight we'll know who's won in the increasingly bitter fight for Surbiton Hill ward.

Unlike the anoraks at Vote 2007, this anorak won't be predicting the outcome. But all I will say is that the slump in the party's popularity from last year means anything other than a comfortable Conservative victory should be considered a respectable result for John Ayles and the team.

Miliband's posturing over pensions protest

Ed Miliband was right to tell trade union bosses that it was wrong to strike while negotiations were ongoing about how best to keep the public sector's very priviledged pension rights. The heckling from malingering trots showed nothing more than how out of touch they are and how they are so wedded to entrenching their own personal priviledges at the expense of low paid workers in the private sector.

But it is clearly a piece of political positioning by Mili minor who wants to distance himself from what will be deeply unpopular strikes. The heckling will have delighted his spin doctors as further evidence that he is not in the pockets of the union dinosaurs. However the reality is that Miliband won't really be credible on this issue until he and his party stop taking the union bosses millions.

One other interesting point of note was that the TUC has now become so small that it can hold its congress in its own offices in Westminster - rather than the in the delights of the traditional venues such as the Winter Gardens in Blackpool. But I guess the mainly middle class delegates prefer the catering and watering holes of SW1 to Yates Wine Lodge and Harry Ramsden's.

12 September 2011

Zac loses out in Boundary review

Zac Goldsmith's continued career as an MP looks in doubt as a result of draft proposals issued by the Boundary Commission. They suggest linking his Richmond Park seat with Vince Cable's Twickenham seat.

In 2010 Vince Cable had a majority of 12,140 and Zac Goldsmith 4,091.

Tories in Surbiton by-election turn to M'Learned friends

The Conservative candidate in the Surbiton Hill by-election has issued a legal summons to his Lib Dem opponent accusing him of misleading the electorate about his and his party's position on a new primary school.

The argument centres over whether Kilby has supported Lib Dem plans for a new school (now being built) on the disused Surbiton Hospital site.

The Surrey Comet carries the full report. In a carefully worded letter Kilby claims he has, 'consistently been in favour of the provision'. However he failed to mention where he has consistently said this provision should be.

The Surrey Comet also quotes Kilby in March 2010 (before he was booted out by Surbiton Hill voters) as saying, said: 'I think he (the Tory Education spokesperson) would be right to bring forward plans for the first executive to move forward with the King Charles Centre.' A move that would have delayed the opening of the school by three years.

In the words of the new Saturday night BBC1 light entertainment show - Epic Fail!

11 September 2011

Thoughts on a by election in Surbiton

This Thursday the voters of Surbiton Hill ward in Kingston Borough will vote to elect a new councillor. And it is shaping up to be an interesting contest.

It's probably the richest ward in Ed Davey's constituency and the Southborough area provides some of the moxt luxurious addresses in south west London. But it also contains a sizable chunk of a former Labour ward - Tolworth West - which was keenly fought between Lib Dems and Labour until it was abolished in 2002. The Tolworth roads are not poor - they contain solid Victorian and Edwardian villas and terraces like much of London and are populated by solid middle class intellegensia of mainly well heeled public sector professionals.

So in a way it's a microcosm of the challenges facing the Lib Dems at the moment. Can the party continue to appeal to an intelligent, urban, vaguely leftist, electorate who fear public sector cuts? Will the fact the party is in government with the Conservatives make it easier to attract vaguely rightist voters who have previously rejected the party because of its perceived (previous) closeness with Labour?

On the ground the Conservative campaign has been hampered by their candidate choice. The selection was basically between two former councillors - who lost out to the Lib Dems in 2010. This has allowed the Lib Dems to emphasise the good reasons for rejecting the Tories last year still apply, while causing the Conservatives to flip flop on the major issue of the campaign - the redevelopment of Surbiton Hospital.

Labour have run an agressive, but foolish campaign. They have tried to make it a binary choice between the 'coalition' and themselves - and are encouraging voters to send a message to the government about the 'cuts'. Their problem is that they are starting from 10%, so if enough voters switch to Labour to send the government a message it will mean that when David Cameron looks at the by-election results on Friday morning he'll see 'Conservative gain'. And I'm not sure that that's the message the Labour party wants to send.

The Lib Dems have picked an extraordinarily good candidate in John Ayles. He's the only party candidate who lives in the ward, he runs and education charity and his wife is the local GP. He is a pillar of the local community and has campaigned for more than 20 years on behalf of local people.

I don't want to predict the result, but given the outgoing Lib Dem councillor had a majority of just over 100, it will be close again. Labour ought to come third, but a very active and high profile campaign by the Christian Party in the Tolworth patch may mean they are under pressure for even that. My fear is that John Ayles will be let down by a lack of help from Lib Dem activists - particularly in the last few days. This is when close elections are won and lost and if every Lib Dem councillor and activist in South West London (and North Surrey) could commit to two evenings (or afternoons) in the next week I'd be much more confident of a Lib Dem win.

10 September 2011

The unbearable likelihood of Crouch at Stoke...

...the question is why did it take so long? They were always made for each other.

Friday favourite 23

Here's Seasick Steve on Jules Holland with Led Zepp's John Paul Jones on base.

7 September 2011

Single Scots police force moves closer

One of the consequences of an SNP majority at Holyrood was they would persist with plans to create a single police force north of the border. And indeed it (and the parallel creation of single fire brigade) is one of 16 bills outlined by Alex Salmond in an otherwise pretty uninspiring Scots legislative programme.

This blog's view is that it will prove to be an expensive, bureaucratic and ultimately damaging change. But now they have a majority, the SNP will have no excuses when Scots voters find out just how foolish this idea is.

Loopy Lorna's closure mystery

The beeb reports that Edinburgh's (if not the UK's) finest tearoom has closed suddenly in somewhat mysterious circumstances.

Loopy Lorna's was always a highight of our visits to Edinburgh.

4 September 2011

Labour's Libya links revealed

If today's Mail on Sunday is to be believed, documents found by the new regime in Tripoli make for extremely embarrassing reading for Labour.

It seems Mr Blair embraced more than just Colonel Gaddafi.

The ultimate gay kissing watershed barchart

With thanks to Stephen Glenn's blog I am delighted to report a YouGov survey shows Lib Dem supporters really don't care care who snogs who on the tellybox.

However Conservatives seem rather more keen on girl on girl action than a bit of man love, whereas the less said about Labour supporters' social attitudes the better...

3 September 2011

Lembit loses it in defeat

London Lib Dems have sent Lembit Opik a clear message. In coming last in the selection for the unenviable job of Lib Dem Mayoral candidate - on top of his humilation in the party's Presidential election - it is clear that ordinary Lib Dem members do not want him to represent them at any level.

And it's not difficult to see why: a constant stream of mid life crises played out in their full tacky technicolour in disreputable rags have made Lembit a minor celebrity but shredded his reputation as a serious political player.

And at the end of the day being an MP or Mayoral candidate (or indeed President of the Liberal Democrats) is a serious political job and one that Lembit's antics have now made him quite unsuited for.

His article in the Evening Standard on Friday shows quite how deluded he has become.

He is quoted as saying, "Ever since I was first enticed into entering the fray as a potential candidate, I've experienced a remarkable degree of antagonism and aggression from certain Lib Dems.

Most of it has occurred in the strange and self-styled environment of the 'blogosphere' - a parallel universe where some people who've never been elected to public office feel qualified to pronounce on those who have.

When one meets these people for real, their courage on the internet seems to desert them, replaced by excuses and a quick exit at the first opportunity."

As one of the 'self styled bloggers' who have been highly critical of his vanity candidature I wear his latest ramblings as a badge of pride. It's not bloggers, journalists or other commentators' fault that Lembit is seen as a joke - it's his fault - and the sooner he realises that the better.

PS - And the conceit of his quote comparing himself to the struggle of Nelson Mandela is just jaw-droppingly wrong.

Friday favourite 22

In celebration of the decision by the elders of Old Reekie to progress with the tram system, here's the (almost) official video:

PS - I have to say I hadn't ever realised how Soviet the National Gallery can look...

2 September 2011

Overblown hyperbole of the day 2

In the big news story today about salt in bread an organisation called 'Consensus Action on Salt and Health' - conveniently contrived/shortened to Cash were quoted in almost all media.

Their campaign director Katharine Jenner said: "Most people wouldn't realise that bread contains so much salt, as it doesn't taste salty. It is scandalous that there is no labelling on fresh bread. Without it, how are we supposed to know where salt is hidden and cut our intake to less than 6g a day?"

No it's not scandalous, it's at most inconvenient.

Some Edinburgh councillors see sense on trams

A u-turn today by Labour and SNP councillors in Edinburgh sees the city's tram project given the go ahead to the city centre.

Only Tory councillors continued with their posturing - despite being unable to explain who would foot the £160 million bill to tear up the existing contract - their preferred view.

Report here.

Delivering a sensible solution to the trams debacle - inherited from the previous administration - is a huge achievement for the Lib Dem led council. The outcry from Edinburgh people over last week's decision to cut the line short shows how badly the other parties got it wrong. Hopefully this will be reflected in how the Lib Dems are perceived when voters in Scotland's capital elect a new council next May.