31 December 2011

Living on words review of the year

It's Hogmanay, so it's time to look back on 2011. So in the tradition of all good topical TV and radio programmes (and cos it's cheap and requires little creative input), here's my review of 2011.

In January I had lunch with Cicero and we discussed Estonia's flat tax and what it might mean if introduced in the UK. The post recieved more comments than any other during the year.

In February some misguided Lib Dems decided to work with Labour - here was my response

In March I suggested an alternative to Lembit Opik as Lib Dem candidate for London Mayor - only to be rebuffed two weeks later.

April saw the death of one of the country's finest footballers of the 40s and 50s - Eddie Turnbull - remembered here and also by the BBC on the oxymoronic Sports Personality of the Year.

There was a glimmer of hope for British liberalism in May - despite the Lib Dem rout at the local elections and the catastrophic failure of the AV campaign. In Brockworth, Glos, the cheese rollers went ahead with their annual festival despite the attentions of the local constabulary.

In June it was no surprise that the MP who had issued a superinjunction was litigious chip off the old block - Zac Goldsmith.

July saw reactionary blogger, Guido Fawkes, lose what little credibility as a serious political player evaporate as he promoted a pro-hanging petition.

In August Edinburgh's tram project was on, then it was off and then it was on again.

September saw the party conference season and my advice to Nick Clegg was, needless to say, not taken up.

In October the Libyan uprising reached its grisly conclusion, despite some high profile support for the ex-dictator.

As the campaign for the Coombe Vale by-election hotted up in November, this blog wondered whether Zac Goldsmith would make good his promises to the Electoral Commission to reuse items he'd failed to declare the full cost for at the general election.

In December Ed Miliband received a verbal dagger, that would have made him wonder who his friends were.

Happy New Year and see you all again in 2012.

30 December 2011

Friday favourite 39

Well as it's nearly new year - I suppose there was only one choice. Here's a young (and somewhat podgy) Bono and U2 at a distinctly unfestive live performance in California from May 1983.

28 December 2011

The theory and practice of community politics revisited

David Cameron's 'Big Society' is an oft used phrase, but its meaning and policy effects remain vague - wrapped up with localism and a rolling back of the central state. Last December Nick Clegg even suggested it was the same as community politics.

Clegg is wrong about community politics - and I suspect his understanding of it is purely through its status within party circles - much like the vague understanding that Keynes or Beveridge were liberals. If he did know any of its detail he wouldn't have compared community politics to the Big Society and would have heeded its Hitchhiker's Guide like warning that 'Community Politics is not a technique for the winning of Loca1 government elections'

It prompted me to revisit the 1980 booklet 'The Theory and Practice of Community Politics' by Greaves (the other one) and Lishman. It stands up remarkably well with one of the key sections stating:

It involves working simultaneously within and outside the established political system. The fusion of the two approaches creates a strategy distinctively, new and different when allied to the ideas of community politics.

We work through the established political structures not to win and exercise power but to remodel that structure itself; to create a new generation of political institutions corresponding to the reality of the pattern of communities that exist within society; to break down the centralised power structure of our society so that no single person or group possesses disproportionate power and all people and groups share the responsibility for controlling their own affairs.

To subvert and destroy the political establishment in such a radical way requires a powerful political movement based outside the political system. We work outside the political system, not to create confrontation or to foment revolution. It is indeed a more radical process than revolution.

The aim, by promoting joint community action directly in society, is to create the very structures of community organisation which we wish to see emerge as the new political structure. We mobilise people to take control of their own affairs, to take power and to use it.

I'd say that sounds like a relevant strategy for rebuilding the party in and outside of the coalition today.

23 December 2011

Friday favourite 38

It's Christmas, so to get you into the spirit of all things yule, here's Tom Lehrer with A Christmas Carol from 1959:

22 December 2011

Remembering David Penhaligon

Twenty five years ago today David Penhaligon was killed on his way to visit Truro postmen before they set off to deliver the Christmas mail.

His untimely death robbed the party of one of its great communicators and almost certainly a future leader. David's great skill was to to be able to argue often complex points in a down to earth way while engaging the viewer or listener with his lyrical Cornish tones. And as a result he was often underestimated by opponents and media alike.

Finding footage of him is remarkably difficult - but here is a clip from the ITN archive of his declaration in October 1974 - his was the only Liberal gain of that election.

21 December 2011

Solar subsidy ruling rap for Huhne

The DECC should have known better when it announced a halving of the subsidy for domestic solar panels, while still consulting on the change.

It's a pretty basic rule of public consultation (as well as common sense), not to pre-empt its the outcome by implementing a decision while still asking for the public's views. The Judicial Review could only have one possible outcome as a result of the actions of the department.

In a way this result is reflective of the way Chris Huhne operates - take the big decisions, drive through a clear media line - even if it means hectoring your opponents, stay on message until people get bored. But Chris has a vein of arrogance and hubris running through him and someone with a subtler attitude and more finely tuned ear would have clearly seen the foolishnes of going ahead with the change to the subsidy so quickly.

19 December 2011

So farewell then Kim Jong Il...

The murderous socialist psychopath that was Kim Jong Il has died and there won't be many (real) tears shed for the man responsible for the death of millions while amassing several fortunes on the back of famine and oppression.

So by way of celebration and in hope his son is less evil here is Kim Jong Il as portrayed in the wonderful Team America.

Kim Jung Il was reportedly a fan of western movies - I wonder if he ever saw it?

By contrast Cicero has a moving tribute to Vaclav Havel - who deserves remembering for all the right reasons. I heartily recommend it.

18 December 2011

Northern whippet airport escape story of the day...

The report on the beeb says the following:

"The racing pedigree dog stole away during a walk and slipped past a manned access point into a cargo area.

Gary Brown, the airport's duty manager, told the Manchester Evening News: "It took some time to catch it."

One would have hoped so.

16 December 2011

13,500 Olympic troops - not needed

Two pieces of related news reach L.o.w.a towers. One - that the public purse is to stump up another £270 million to feed the insatiable apetite of the security industry (and its private 'consultants') and - two - more than 13,000 military personnel and equipment are to be deployed to 'protect the Olympics' at unknown cost.

The idea that people will be safer with a load of squaddies in Trafalgar Square or a naval launch in the River Lea is the sort of vain Bush/Blairite willy waving power show that promotes the country at its worst not its best. It is good intelligence, information and undercover operations that deal with the sort of terrorism directed at the west by non-state players. But that's neither glamourous or headline grabbing.

If Lib Dem ministers had any say on this decision (and I suspect they did not) I'd have hoped they would have pointed out two things. One - in times of austerity the country should not be stumping a single further penny for the Olympics when the IOC - one of the richest (and corrupt) organisations in the world - could easily pay for any security measures or ceremonies they see fit. And - two - a western liberal democracy does not routinely deploy armed troops on its streets regardless of what foreign jamboree is taking place on its shores at any time.

Has the Apprentice's Nick Hewer ended Ed Mili's career?

In a quip on tonight's 'Have I Got News For You', the Apprentice's Nick Hewer claimed he'd met Ed Miliband. He described him as, 'Tall, arrogant, weak handshake'.

When a British institution describes you thus, it can only be a matter of time...

Friday favourite 37

This was always a favourite on Thursday night cheap drink nights in the Neil Lounge at Aberdeen University Students' Union when I was an undergraduate. And it has aged well (unlike my good self).

Tories hold Coombe Vale with increased majority

In an election they really should have lost, the Tories have held both their seats in Coombe Vale with much increased majorities.

Con 1340 & 1308
Lib Dem 908 & 778
Lab 526 & 502
Green 122 & 108
CPA 94 & 76

This breaks a 24 year duck for Kingston Conservatives who have failed to win any by-election in Kingston Borough since 1987. Hopefully it will shake the complacency of the local Lib Dems - particularly among the now long in the tooth council group whose presence on the doorstep in this and previous elections has apparently been somewhat intermittent.

15 December 2011

Coombe Vale voters go to the polls

It's polling day in the other London by-election that will get no media coverage regardless of the result. With the media trained on Feltham and Heston - a seat Labour won comfortably in one of their worst years, with a scandal ridden candidate - the only question can be the scale of their majority.

Coombe Vale should be far more interesting, a by-election caused by the resignation of an absentee Tory councillor who was working in the states while claiming thousands in local taxpayers' money and the swift resignation of his colleague a few days later. A double vacancy in a marginal ward in a marginal constituency.

It was an opportunity - apparently so far unfulfilled - for MP Zac Goldsmith to make good his implied commitment to the Electoral Commission about reuse of general election campaign material that his agent claimed could be used for other elections.

All in all about as interesting set of circumstances you could imagine. So good luck to Lib Dem candidates Kamala Kugan and Rupert Nichol. The result should be known this side of midnight, given the expected low turnout.

12 December 2011

Putin gained just 10% support from UK Russian exiles

The fall out from last week's (note the apostrophe Nick) fixed elections in Russia continues with the announcement that another oligarch, Mikhail Prokhorov, is to challenge Putin for President next March.

But in trying to find out more about him I stumbled across this article that gives a breakdown of votes cast in the Duma election from Russian exiles. In it is revealed that Yabloko - the Russian Liberals - received 41% from UK based voters with Putin's discredited United Russia receiving just 10.6%.

Good show I say.

Clegg's isolation bad for the coalition

One too often wonders if there is any strategy guiding Nick Clegg and the Lib Dem leadership. Today ought to have provided an opportunity for Clegg and the Lib Dems to show that the coalition is simply a business relationship and the two parties involved are not joined at the hip.

Backing Cameron's actions on the Friday was bad enough and appearing to say the complete opposite over the weekend - while nuanced - was always going to be presented as a flip flop. And the tabloid press were always going to jump at the chance - see today's Sun for example.

Clegg should have sat next to Cameron - laughed off the inevitable jibes that would have headed his way - and in the unlikely event he was allowed to make an intervention used the opportunity to explain why he disagreed with the PM and the Euro-loony tunes behind him. But also made it clear that disagreement was healthy and the in the nature of a coalition between two different parties. Instead he comes across as weak, two faced and out of the inner circle of decision making. Which I suppose is where the Tory press want him.

9 December 2011

Friday favourite 36

Thanks to Caron Lindsay I came across this wonderful video. Here are The Sensational Alex Salmond Gastric Band with a topical ditty about the recent Scottish storm - which is now known colloquially as 'Hurrican Bawbag'.

And if anyone doesn't know what a 'bawbag' is - they can always find out (if they dare) here.

Forth Bridge finally painted...

...but what do we do now for the metaphor?

Hibs training session succumbs to Scottish storm

At one point this afternoon this clip was the second most watched video on the Beeb website. The unanswered question is has the player trying to catch up with the ball stopped running yet?

8 December 2011

Conservative eurosceptics should be careful what they wish for

Conservative eurosceptics are arguing that any new Euro treaty that leads to a closer economic union for the Eurozone should be vetoed by the British PM if it doesn't include unspecified protection for the City of London. Or if there is no veto it should be subject to a referendum - with the clear assumption that the UK electorate would reject any treaty.

Boris Johnson, who should know better, told the Beeb, the UK should oppose any change which created a "very dominant economic government" across Europe.

"If Britain was asked to sign up to such a thing within the 27 (all the members of the EU), it would be right to veto it and if we felt unable to veto it, I certainly think that it should be put to a referendum,"

In common parlance this is called cutting off your nose to spite your face. Vetoing a Eurozone bailout would be an act of extreme foolishness. The economic consequences for the UK and, yes, the City of London of a Eurozone collapse would be devastating.

With the European economies - whether they use the Euro or not - tetering on the brink those that are opposed to all things European would appear to prefer economic meltdown than to agree a sensible package of emergency measures which may help to alleviate the current crisis. Failure to agree a deal not only brings down the Eurozone it also destroys the large chunk of the UK economy that does its business with the zone.

6 December 2011

When Socrates scored for Greece...

With the death of Socrates Brasileiro Sampaio de Sousa Vieira de Oliveira - better known as just Socrates - the football world has lost one of the finest footballers of the last 30 years and the captain of the fine Brazil team that everyone thought would win the 1982 world cup but didn't.

I don't know whether Socrates was a fan of Monty Python - but as Liberal England reports he wasn't averse to turning out for teams at the less serious end of the game.

And here is the Python sketch where the Greek philosophers take on the Germans and win 1-0 and guess who scores?

Benn v McLennan

Just finished watching a superb documentary on ITV about the Nigel Benn v Gerald McLennan world title fight in February 1995.

It was a brutal fight that left both boxers in hospital and McLennan fighting for his life with permanently disabling brain damage. The focus wasn't just on the fight, but on the rivalry and consequences for both boxers' lives. Benn and the McLennan family carried on the feud for 12 years before Benn (now a born again Christian) organised a fundraiser for McLennan - raising £200,000 for the bills for his contining care.

It's just a shame that ITV couldn't make space for it on ITV player in among the soaps, celebrities and Jeremy Kyle - but this article from a few years ago from the Observer Sports Monthly gives a comprehensive account of the characters and consequences of that brutal night.

2 December 2011

1 December 2011

Coombe Vale Conservatives - an apology...

In a post I wrote last month I published a figure that an absent Conservative councillor in Coombe Vale ward in Kingston had claimed in expenses while working in the USA and not attending any meetings.

Sadly, I appear to have been misinformed about the amount claimed and feel duty bound to publish the correct figure, as confirmed by the council.

Former Conservative councillor Robert-John Tasker claimed £4,440.04 from the public purse between July and October 2011 - not the £2,500 I orginally claimed.