31 December 2012

Review of the year 2012

It's the last day of the year, so it's time to look back on the events that have caught the attention of this blog over the past 12 months...

In January I suggested that Lib Dem Scottish secretary, Michael Moore should stop trying to impede Alex Salmond from holding a referendum of his choosing.

In February a group called Liberal Left was set up.  I wasn't impressed.

March saw the sad deaths of Lib Dem stalwarts Viv Bingham and David Walter along with former darts champion Jocky Wilson.

In April, former Liberal leader David Steel said some very foolish things about Lords' reform on national TV.

May saw the climax of the football season (or anti-climax if you are a Hibs fan) and the final implosion of Glasgow Rangers.  In politics a local by-election in North Richmond saw some very dodgy tactics by anti-Lib Dem elements.

In June Jeremy Hunt's ministerial career was on the line and the abstention by Lib Dem MPs on a crucial vote suggested to me that it was time to change the rules of government collective responsibility to better reflect the nature of coalition.

In July I highlighted the bizarre behaviour of Kingston's Tories who backed (and continue to back) benefit fraud probe councillor, Tim Dennen.

August saw the spotlight on the future of Nick Clegg and his political strategy with the departure of his so-called strategist Richard Reeves.  Polling evidence contradicted them both.

In September, David Laws returned to government, the Lib Dems caved into ludicrous security demands for their annual conference and Nick Clegg's conference speech began to unravel in the blogosphere.

In October I gave some advice to the Guardian that might have dealt with some of their financial woes.  But there seemed to nothing that could deal with the self inflicted financial crisis at Edinburgh's second football team - Hearts.

November was a month for elections with the re-election of President Obama and the first votes for police and crime commissioners in the UK.  And it also saw a welcome - if belated - development with the Lib Dems reversing their support for more internet snooping powers.

And this brings us to December - and the news that income inequality had fallen under the coaltion in contrast to the rises under Labour.

So that's it for another year - and I wish you all a happy 2013.

28 December 2012

Friday favourite 91 - remembering Gerry Anderson

With the news that Gerry Anderson died earlier this week I guess there was only one song that would fit.  So here are Fuzz box with their strangely Barberella style International rescue:

Sadly guitarist Jo Dunne died in October of cancer.

IFS report shows income inequality falling

The ever excellent Richard Kemp highlights a new report from the Institute of Fiscal Studies - Living standards, poverty and inequality in the UK: 2012 - which shows that income inequality is falling under the coalition.

The salient passage is:
Income inequality in the UK fell sharply in 2010–11. The widely-used Gini coefficient fell from 0.36 to 0.34. This is the largest one-year fall since at least 1962, returning the Gini coefficient to below its level in 1997–98. Although this reverses the increase in this measure of income inequality that occurred under the previous Labour government, it still leaves it much higher than before the substantial increases that occurred during the 1980s.
Driving this drop in income inequality, the falls in real incomes in 2010–11 were smallest towards the bottom of the income distribution and largest towards the top. In the UK, real incomes fell by 1.1% at the 10th percentile, 3.1% at the median and 5.1% at the 90th percentile.
So there you have it - income inequality rose under Labour - and is falling under a Liberal Democrat influenced government.

Given the lack of any government minister publicising the fact one can only assume this is a source of embarrassment for the more strident Conservatives in the coalition.  But you would have thought that Lib Dem ministers might wish to highlight the fact.  But perhaps reducing inequality is just too left wing for a party committed to 'governing from the centre' (whatever that is)...

23 December 2012

Football beats London olympics in Google zeitgeist

Every year Google publishes an analysis of what people are searching for on the internet - last year amounting to 1.2 trillion searches.

Interestingly for UK googlers (if there is such a verb) the European football championship proved of more interest than the Olympics.

And the top ten most googled politicians makes interesting - if grim - reading for the three party leaders:
  1. Jeremy Hunt
  2. Boris Johnson
  3. Justine Greening
  4. Alex Salmond
  5. Michael Gove
  6. George Osborne
  7. Louise Mensch
  8. Nadine Dorries
  9. Keith Vaz
  10. Ed Vaizey

22 December 2012

Remembering Joe Strummer ten years on

Unbelieviably it's been ten years since Joe Strummer died.  So by way of tribute here he is reunited with Mick Jones just a month before his death with White riot and London's burning.

21 December 2012

Friday favourite 90 - apocalypse

So the world hasn't ended today (well not yet anyway), so the obvious choice was REM It's the end of the world as we know it (and I feel fine).  But that would be too easy - so instead here is Elvis Costello and the Attractions wth Waiting for the end of the world...

20 December 2012

Are the right always going to be less creative than the left?

A really interesting thought piece from Alexis Madrigal, Senior Editor, The Atlantic from LinkedIn suggests the Republicans are always likely to be disadvantaged in attracting the most creative types because of their social attitudes and policies.

There are clearly parallels that can be drawn on this side of the pond where the failure of the Tories to 'detoxify' is still a barrier for creative urban types in engaging with them.  And of course now, by association, for the Lib Dems too.

Tories come fourth in Surrey by-election

According to Vote UK, the Tories have managed to come fourth (out of four) in a rare Wednesday by-election in true blue Surrey.

The Lib Dems held the Sunbury Common ward with 46.3%, UKIP were second with 23.2%, Labour third with 16.1% and the Tories trailed in last with just 14.3%.

Needless to say the Spelthorne Council website still hasn't published the result. 

16 December 2012

The futility of sports personality of the year

Bradley Wiggins is no doubt a worthy winner of the BBC's sports personality of the year 2012.  He is both a successful sportsperson and has a personality to boot.  But he is the exception as this list of previous winners shows.

The fact that previous winners include Ryan Giggs, Zara Phillips, David Beckham, Michael Owen and Greg Rudeski shows that in unexception years (unlike 2012) it goes to either the most well known sportsperson (usually a footballer) or someone with a fleeting association with sporting success. 

It might be better (and cheaper) if it stopped being an annual jamboree and instead was held less frequently to allow for more real sporting achievements by real sporting personalities.

14 December 2012

Friday favourite 89

Here's the Motors - better known for their hit 'Airport' on TOGWT in 1978 with Dancing the Night Away.

13 December 2012

Russia signals end for Assad

The news that Russia thinks Syrian dictator Bashar al Assad may face defeat is surely the end.  Assad has only been able to cling on so long with the support of Moscow and withdrawal of their personnel would be terminal. 

Assad is one of the last of the unreformed soviet dictators who tools of repression, state murder and torture have kept his grip on power while other middle eastern leaders were feeling the cold blast of popular democracy.  But it's not just in Moscow where Assad found support - he always had his fans in the west too - those who in the name of socialism and equality conveniently ignored assad and his ilk's anti social actions and personal agrandizement. 

Assad will no doubt be offered safe passage and asylum somewhere out of Syria where he can spend some more time with his ill gotten gains and guilty conscience.  The question is who will support him then?

12 December 2012

Happy 12/12/12

Not for another 88 years and 20 days will we have a similar date - so enjoy it while you can!

10 December 2012

Unionist caution needed on Barosso EU entry comments

I'm sure the champagne corks are popping in the 'Better Together' HQ after European President Jose Manuel Barosso said that newly independent states would have to reapply for EU membership.

I'm sure he is right that states created by that secession from a larger entity would have to apply to join the EU.  But that's not the case if Scotland votes for independence.

The United Kingdom is the entity that has EU membership and it was created by the Act of Union in 1707. If Scotland votes for independence then it is surely arguable that both remaining parts - Scotland and the rump state (as it were) are new states and both either remain EU members or neither do.  Scotland is an equal part of the union - as is England - and there can be no UK without both parts.

Now I'm not a lawyer, but I can imagine the legal wrangles over this issue going on for years.  And at the end of the day they are diversion from the main debate.  And that is as much a 'heart' issue as it is one based on logic or legal argument.  So the Better Together campaign shouldn't celebrate too soon - they need to make a case for maintaining the union based on values and positive principles - which so far they have struggled to do.

9 December 2012

Patrick Moore - great scientist, lousy politician

With the death of Patrick Moore Britain has lost one of its great eccentrics and a man who popularised astronomy - presenting The Sky at Night for more than 50 years.

What was less well known was Moore's dabbling in right wing politics.  In the 1970s he co-founded the anti immigration United Country Party, which later merged with the New Britain Party. 

The New Britain Party supported apartheid and called for a complete ban on non-white immigration.  They stood in the Bermondsey by-election in 1983 coming eighth with just 62 votes.  And following the winding up of  Jimmy Goldsmith's referendum party several current leading lights in UKIP joined - including MEPs Mike Nattrass and Jeffery Titford.

The party folded in 2008.

7 December 2012

Friday favourite 88 - Apollo 17

Forty years ago today Apollo 17 launched the last manned moon mission.  Commander Gene Cernan was the last man to walk on the moon and one of only three to go to the moon twice (he was also part of the Apollo 10 crew who flew round the moon).  Apparently he left his camera on the moon to be picked up at a later date...

6 December 2012

Chump Trump takes hump over Scots champ

The news that Michael Forbes - long suffering neighbour of Donald Trump's vandals and bullies at his Aberdeenshire golf course - has won the Glenfiddich Scot of the Year award has been almost universally  welcomed.

But not in Trump Towers needless to say.  Forbes's well deserved recognition has led to Trump to 'lose the heid' as his long lost Scottish grandmother might have once said. 

According to the Guardian Trump has attacked Glennfiddich's owner William Grant and removed all their brands from his hotels and resorts, claiming the award was an 'insult to Scotland' and that Grant's were jealous of his own single malt whisky brand.

Given Trump is seeking a planning application for a second golf course one can only wonder whether this latest unhinged outburst might actually make the councillors of Aberdeenshire see sense and send him packing.  Sadly, given their supine craving to him so far - supported by First Minister and local MSP Alex Salmond - I suspect he will once again get what he wants. 

The problem with Osborne...

...is that he is just too concerned with political point scoring as this response to a perfectly reasonable question from David Miliband on the Autumn statement shows. (The full debate and exchanges can be downloaded from the Hansard website). 
David Miliband (South Shields) (Lab):

This time last year, the Chancellor told me not to worry about youth unemployment on the grounds that his Youth Contract would take care of it. Now we know that 450,000 young people have been unemployed for more than six months and that 179,000 have gone on to the Work programme but only 5,920 have got a job as a result. That is 3% of those going on the Work programme and less than 2% of the long-term youth unemployed. Will he now agree, without point scoring, to look at the level of the wage subsidy to incentivise take-up, at the structure of the Work programme, so that voluntary organisations are not squeezed out, and at the role of a part-time job guarantee to give hope to these young people?

Mr Osborne:
The right hon. Gentleman often has interesting and intelligent things to say about welfare to work programmes, and I am happy to consider the points he makes. I read some of his work earlier this year—it was quite a good job application for being shadow Chancellor.

Osborne's credibility as Chancellor is reduced by this undergraduate debating style and his use of political beartraps in his proposals.  He should take a leaf out of Vince Cable's book and play it straight and grown up.

5 December 2012

Tim Farron in Richmond Park

Something interesting is happening in Richmond Park politics - certainly for a seat won by multi-millionaire Tory Zac Goldsmith two and a bit years ago by a slightly too comfortable 4,000 votes.

Given the current languishing of the Lib Dems, Goldsmith is probably expecting a relatively comfortable ride next time with the Lib Dems concentrating their limited fire elsewhere.

But that's not the case - the Lib Dems are in the middle of selecting a PPC and are getting large numbes of activists out on the streets - including this evening Party President Tim Farron - pictured here giving a post canvas pep talk in the Dog and Fox pub, just round the corner from the Goldsmith family pile..

3 December 2012

Unbuilt London: a treasure trove of impossible plans

This image of a railway built on stilts in the middle of the Thames is taken from 'Unbuilt London' which is publishing a series of articles looking at the various schemes dreamt up but never implemented.

Their first article looks at the transport schemes that never happened including this mad railway scheme and an airport over the Thames at the Houses of Parliament among many bizarre others... 

30 November 2012

Friday favourite 87

To somewhat belatedly celebrate St Andrew's day here is one of Scotland's finest comedians - Chic Murray live in Aberdeen in 1984.  Despite being at university in Aberdeen at the time, this performance completely passed me by - even though me and my classmates had frequented his pub on Bruntsfield Links in Edinburgh in six form a year or so earlier.

This must have been one of his last performances as he died in January the following year.

29 November 2012

Lib Dems to finally oppose internet snooping bill?

According to the Beeb, Nick Clegg is now 'non-commital' about the Communications Data Bill and is likely to use a Parliamentary report into it as a reason to withdraw support.  The joint MP/Peers committee apparently states, 'The Home Office has failed to make the case for the new laws' among other criticisms.

If so this is good news - but why has it taken so long for Clegg to make the right decision?  Is there no-one around him with the right liberal instincts and political antennae to have seen this many months ago?

26 November 2012

23 November 2012

Friday favourite 86 - a tribute to James Blunt

Here's one half of the Rubber Bishops paying homage...

Is Simon Danczuk deliberately smearing Cyril Smith?

Rochdale's abrasive Labour MP, Simon Danczuk has been pursuing allegations of child abuse by former Rochdale Liberal MP Cyril Smith.  Most recently at Wednesday's Prime Minister's questions.

These allegations (or at least some of them) are not new - Smith was investigated by the police in the early 70s (unlike Jimmy Savile) and the allegations were dismissed.  Now I'm not defending Smith if there is new evidence or the old police investigation turns out to be flawed and I hope anyone who does have information indicting Smith makes it available to the police.  But at the moment these allegations seem pretty thin on facts - however often Danczuk uses his parliamentary priviledge to raise them.

The thing is Danczuk is friends with disgraced former Labour MP, Phil Woolas - the man who invented damaging racist lies about his Lib Dem opponent.  Danczuk paid Woolas the following glowing tribute in his maiden speech...

"I also want to pay tribute to my hon. Friend Mr Woolas, who had Milnrow and New Hey within his constituency boundaries until general election day. He is an exceptionally good MP, and I consider him to be a good friend."

This close relationship with the crook Woolas makes me suspicious that Danczuk is simply using the Woolas playbook and the cover that parliamentary priviledge brings to smear his political rivals.  If so, then Labour will truly have scraped the bottom of a very dark barrel.

21 November 2012

Lords defeat for secret courts shows government needs rethink

With the Lords showing common sense and rejecting the government's plans for secret courts the BBC reckons the government will not accept defeat and 'go on the offensive'.

They shouldn't and Lib Dem ministers need to advise Conservative colleagues that attacking a fundamental tenet of western liberal democracy would be a deal breaker for many Lib Dem members and activists - just like the Home Office's ill advised proposals to increase internet snooping powers.

The breath of opposition to secret courts can be judged at their campaign website - and if you haven't added your name to the petition I recommend you do so now.

19 November 2012

CIPR elections descend into farce

The Chartered Institute of Public Relations is the professional body for tens of thousands of people working in the PR, communications and lobbying industries.  It has had a troubled recent past, including six figure financial losses and relocation of its HQ.

Its recent presidential election was won by Lionel Zetter who stood on a platform of merger with other similar bodies.  But it appears now that this election is null and void and will have to be re-run as a result of one of the two candidates for President submitting their nomination late.

Here's an extract of the email I received earlier this evening:
"Under CIPR regulations on the conduct of elections, there is a one week period after the results are published when complaints can be received.  In the week following the elections, a complaint was made about a decision by the CIPR to allow one candidate’s nomination to be received after the deadline for submissions had passed.

In line with CIPR regulations governing complaints about election processes, a report was commissioned into the conduct of the elections for consideration by CIPR Council at a meeting on 19 November.

The CIPR Council has today considered the report.  It has voted that the acceptance of a late nomination has invalidated the result of the election and that the CIPR should take action in line with Article 8 of the Election Regulations.  This states that Council can order a fresh election.

CIPR will today inform both candidates and all CIPR members of the Council’s decision and further information on a fresh election will follow.

The report also contained recommendations for procedural improvements for the conduct of CIPR elections and any required regulatory changes will be considered and voted upon at the next scheduled Council meeting before a new election is called."
For an organisation representing those who are supposed to protect other people's reputations one would have thought someone might have foreseen this inevitable consequence of allowing a late nomination to stand - unless, of course, there was an ulterior motive for accepting it?

16 November 2012

Friday favourite 85

This week's favourite is for the man who enlivened up the 2001 general election with a punch and earlier today failed to get elected as Humberside's police commissioner.

Is it conceivable Prescott could lose the Hull police commissioner election?

Rumours abound of glum Labour faces at the Hull and Humberside count...

Expenses cheat is Labour's first police and crime commissioner

Earlier today Vera Baird - a former Solicitor General in the Brown Government - became the first Labour elected Police and Crime Commissioner - winning the Northumbria election.

Baird had been MP for the previously safe Labour seat of Redcar since 2001, but two and a bit years ago she was rejected by the good people of that borough - following a series of scandals over her expenses including the purchase of two artificial Christmas trees and attempting to spend a ludicrous £29.97 on snowflake lights and baubles and a further £5.48 on decorations.  Baird earned more than £120,000 a year as Solicitor General.

But she didn't leave it at that - having lost her seat she showed no contrition whatsoever and in 2011 cashed in to the tune of £109,000 by selling her publicly funded second home.

One hopes the Northumbria Police Authority finance department understand what they are letting themselves in for and do not let their new commissioner anywhere near the corporate credit card.

Israel's security is weakened by its belicosity

Israel is one of the world's military powers - a nuclear armed state - with huge conventional military resources and powerful supporters in diplomatic and influential circles across the globe.

It's a beacon of democracy in a part of the world where tyrants traditionally have misruled over their benighted people.  Witness the appalling slaughter in next door Syria where Soviet era supremo Bashar al Assad is directing a brutal and - no doubt - ultimately futile attempt to cling onto power.

The fact that everyone expects Assad to fail in his attempt to stay in control because this brutality simply drives people into the arms of his opponents seems to have no impact on their view of Israel's impending crackdown on the benighted residents of Gaza.

Cracking down on all the people of Gaza to pursue the organised militants who have been rocket bombing Israeli civilians is stupid military tactics and even worse politics.  It will simply engender even more anger among the Palestinians and be the best recruiting sergeant for the militant groups determined to destroy Israel.

Israel needs critical friends now more than ever.  Britain could take the lead - but there is no evidence that current foreign secretary, William Hague, wants to do anything other than ape the platitudes eminating from Washington.  So here is an opportunity for the Lib Dems in government that proves they are not just in the Tories pockets. Clegg is an expert at foreign affairs and he has a team of special advisers (supposedly) pursuing liberal solutions in areas without Lib Dem ministers - so what's holding them back?

13 November 2012

A history of London telephone codes...

I occasionally see the old alpha-numeric phone numbers on old shopfronts - you know the sort of thing 'Whitehall 1212'.  So when I stumbled across this obscure website at work today (don't ask why) I thought it was too good an historical source not to publicise.  And if you can fill any of the gaps in terms of naming conventions so much the better...

12 November 2012

BBC journalism needs radical shake up

With the news that the BBC's DG has quit - with an unneccessarily large pay-off - the focus of attention is on how the corporation continues to report the fall out of the Savile case.

But the risk is if the focus is solely on child protection the underlying weakness of some of the BBC's day-to-day journalism will escape the attention it deserves.  Attention that so far none of the 124 senior managers who are paid well over £100k each has spotted.

The BBC newsroom is the political wing of the Labour Party.  It has a metropolitan elitist bias that finds it inconceivable that the left can do no wrong.  After all the Beeb once employed Polly Toynbee as a serious journalist.  And the fact that Newsnight is produced by BBC Scotland - a place where the right is even more frowned upon - might explain the alacrity with which they published untrue (and unchecked) allegations of child abuse about a Tory peer. 

And it's not just in the political world where the BBC (and particularly BBC Scotland) falls down on the job of basic journalism.  The inbuilt BBC bias to Labour is mirrored with their inbuilt old firm bias in Scottish football.

BBC Scotland Sport continues to employ people like Jim Traynor and Billy Dodds - people who compromised themselves completely over the collapse of Rangers.  Traynor was fingered by Alex Thomson of channel 4 as one of the reporters who simply regurgitated what they were told over lunch (but hopefully not their actual lunch) with senior Rangers execs.  Dodds was employed by Rangers and benefitted from their illegal tax-evading employee benefit trust (EBT). 

And today the BBC website's match report of Hibs v Dundee Utd contained the following opening sentence: "Hibernian moved temporarily back to the top of the Scottish Premier League after their first victory over Dundee United in seven attempts ..."

The word 'temporarily' was later removed during the succeeding Celtic v St Johnstone game - but the expectation was clear that Celtic would win.  Happily they didn't and now are two points behind leaders Hibs.

You would have thought with hundreds of senior managers and editors that they might actually do their job of employing people who are actually good journalists and casting an editorial eye over their output.  One can live in hope that whatever happens to the BBC as a result of this shambles they use it as an opportunity to have a truly radical shake up of their organisation - but I won't hold my breath.

9 November 2012

Friday favourite 84 - the end

With Hearts facing liquidation next Thursday and clear evidence that they have been systematically cheating by failing to pay tax (like Rangers) their end cannot be far away.  So here's the Doors with 'This is the end' - the Apocalypse Now version.

7 November 2012

Trump makes fool of himself over Obama tweets

It was bad night for US conservatives with the comfortable reelection of Barack Obama - with or without Florida.

Obama's success clearly got to follicularly challenged right wing tycoon Donald Trump - the man whose pastimes include bullying Scottish pensioners.

According to the Daily Mail Trump tweeted that Obama's reelection was a 'disgusting injustice' and claimed the world was 'laughing at us'.  No Donald they are laughing at you:

Ohio looks like it's Obama's

CNN reporting exit poll that 59% support auto bailout with 39% against.  It also reports that more Dems than GOP registered voters turned out.

Edit - VI exit suggest Obama wins Ohio by 3%

US election result update

I'm refusing to watch the taxpayer junket that is the BBC coverage of the US elections.  So I started with Sky News and soon switched to Al Jazerra UK - because it is low budget has no adverts (so far) and means it has to rely on expert opinion rather than celebrity flannel.

But I fancied seeing what Fox News might be saying - but sadly wasn't allowed to view by my Sky box as I hadn't subscribed to their 'entertainment' package!

6 November 2012

US election exit poll suggests Obama victory

Sky News reports some interesting background issues from the US national exit poll.

The economy is the the most important issue for 60% of voters (with healthcare rating just 17%) and crucially 39% think things are getting better with 31% saying things are getting worse.

These sort of polling figures would normally suggest incumbents would do enough to resist the 'time for a change' calls that see them turfed out of office.

Interesting football related statistic of the day

Victoria Park, Dingwall - home of Ross County FC - holds 6,300 spectators.  Which is 1,220 more than the population of Dingwall itself (5,080).

5 November 2012

3 November 2012

Dennis McShane was no anti-fascist

Don't take my word for it.  Take that of (former) Tory blogging supremo Iain Dale in 2009:

McShane has invoked basically a Godwin's Law defence to hide his own greed and excess.  He was one of the least likeable Labour ministers, smug, arrogant and detached in equal measure.  A man that made Cameron and Osborne look like the tribunes of the ordinary and the poor.

McShane was a cheer leader for the worst elements of the Blair/Brown years - the 'relaxed about extreme wealth', the ones who hobnobbed with the rich and famous in a desperate attempt to deflect from their own contradictions and betrayals.

McShane should follow his south Yorkshire ex-neighbour, the former Barnsley MP, Eric Illsley - to jail.

2 November 2012

Romney's zombie apocalypse

According to Buffy creator, Joss Whedon.  Enjoy...

Friday favourite 83

Here's Robert Plant from an obscure Spanish TV show in the days before his voice 'went' with a fantastic accoustic version of 'Whole lotta love'.

31 October 2012

Time to cut the EU budget

The news that Tory rebels and opportunistic Labour MPs have defeated the coalition by calling for a cut in the EU budget means it is time for Lib Dems to rethink their atitiude to the EU.

With austerity across Europe it seems bizarre the political elite that is calling for belt tightening in Greece, Italy, Spain and Portugal among others is incapable of practising what it preaches.

The line used by opponents of a budget cut (including Lib Dems) is that it will be impossible to agree budget cuts, so the best that can be hoped for is a freeze or small increase - so there is no point in trying.  And by not backing Cameron they are making it more difficult for him to negotiate.

This is pragmatism taken to a ludicrous degree which tells the people in the UK and across Europe that the man in Brussels is not one of us.  Because the EU won't refom itself or its policies such as the ludicrously overblown CAP it makes it more likely the only recourse is for people to pursuade their government that withdrawal is the only option.

So instead of ignoring this vote - the coalition should use it to strengthen their diplomacy - particularly among those governments facing tough EU backed austerity measures.  Showing the poorest in Europe that even the most priviledged Brussels bureaucrat is 'all in this together' may be the only way of keeping the EU together and curbing the rise of right wing isolatist parties like UKIP.

30 October 2012

Mitt Romney does a Fred Picker

News that Mitt Romney transformed a campaign rally in Ohio to a fundraiser for Hurricane Sandy relief efforts seems spookily familiar.

Yes it's Florida governor, Jim Fricker's (Larry Hagman), call to give blood to help stricken candidate governor Harris from Mike Nichols 1998 political satire Primary Colors:

"What I have thought about is the best way I can help Senator Harris.
As I know him as a man of action rather than words...
the best action is for me to go down and donate a pint of blood,...
because that's what he needs now.
If you want to come with me and donate a pint,...
Mrs. Harris would appreciate it."

29 October 2012

Hearts ask fans to pay tax bill

The financial crisis at Hearts - who failed to pay their players again last month - has surely reached its penultimate stage before they go bust.  They face a tax bill of £1.75m and have asked their supporters to cough up through buying £100 or more of their worthless shares.

Despite claims of cost cutting director Sergejus Fedotovas - one of the Russian/Lithuanians running the club under the ownership of Vladimir Romanov - admitted they were still spending much more than their income.  He told the BBC "The cost of the squad that won silverware last season is £8m and our income is just short of £7m".  And this excludes non-wage running costs which were running at a further £8m in their last set of accounts - now nearly two years out of date.

It is becoming increasingly clear that the behaviour of the owners of Hearts has been to deliberately cheat - by spending money they didn't have and had no realistic way of earning - so cheating the taxman and the rest of Scottish football.  Exactly like Glasgow Rangers.  Given the SFA are looking at stripping the now defunct Rangers of some of their titles won while cheating - will they do the same for the two Scottish cups Hearts won under the now ill fated Romanove regime?

26 October 2012

Friday favourite 82

With tickets going on sale for the Simple Minds 2013 tour today, here's a reminder of how good they were before they discovered stadium rock...

25 October 2012

Alex Salmond finally acts over Trump policing

After more than two years Alex Salmond has finally responded to his own constituents complaints about police tactics at the Trump golf course at Balmedie - including the bogus arrest of film maker Anthony Baxter. 

In a hard hitting statement statement Montrose Pictures accuse Salmond of 'deliberate silence and inaction' on the issue.  Interestingly Salmond is both a huge supporter of Trump and of nationalising Scotland's police force into one megaforce - meaning there would be no independent investigation of police wrongdoing.

And Salmond's complicity with Trump doesn't appear to end at policing.  In this piece by the excellent BBC film critic Mark Kermode - Baxter reveals that the Scottish government funded Edinburgh International Film Festival refused to show You've Been Trumped. 

So did Salmond try to censor a film that shows him in a poor light?

23 October 2012

Two departures show how far we've come

Two sad departures today that reinforce the march of time.

Firstly the news that the BBC's Ceefax is no more - due to the final switch from analogue to digital TV.  Ceefax was a technical wonder of the 1970s - an era of teleprinter and punched card.  It survived all the way into the internet age - teaching web editors how to keep copy short and to the point.

The other sad loss is of Flight Lieutenant William Walker - the last of the few.  As is usual on these occasions the Telegraph provides an excellent obituary.

His poem 'Our wall' adorns the memorial to the 2,937 aircrew who died during the Battle of Britain - helping to defeat tyranny and ensuring that innovations like Ceefax would be put to peaceful use in future years.

21 October 2012

Save the Guardian - sack Toynbee

An interesting article from this week's Press Gazette.  In it the Guardian NUJ chapel calls for massive pay cuts for senior execs and marquee journalists instead of axing 70 odd editorial staff.

The Guardian is in trouble - losing more than £44 million last year.  Yet it pays editor, Alan Rushbridger £400,000 per year.

It also employs patronising, hand-wringing, state aggrandising, poverty crocodile tear crying, socialist atrocity denying, Lib Dem flip flopping, top rate tax cut benefitting, lip quivering, septic - Polly Toynbee.  She admits to be paid more than £100,000 per year by the Graun - and no doubt thousands more from her contracts with other media outlets such as the BBC.

Her wrongheadedness can no better be expressed by this article from 2004 entitled 'Why isn't New Labour proud to be the nation's nanny?'

In it she boasts:
"The nanny state is the good state. A nanny is what every well-off family hires if it can afford it. So why do the nanny-employing Tories use the word as an insult? In the Commons and in their press, they bray like a bunch of prep-school bullies calling anyone a cissy if they do what nanny says."
What La Toynbee forgets (or probably never knew in the first place) - as the ever excellent Eaten by Missionaries reminded me at party conference - is that nannies are for children.

So here's a thought - by getting rid of the awful Toynbee the Graun could save itself a large sum of cash - enough to employ several young hungry journos and possibly increase its sliding sales figures by seeing the return of the many Lib Dems who have stopped buying the paper due to its kneejerk antipathy to the party since 2010.

19 October 2012

Friday favourite 81

Some classic early 80s ska from the archive of TOGWT.

Romney's seven point Gallup lead - don't panic!

US political watchers are getting particularly excited by Gallup's post debate poll showing Romney with a seven point margin over Obama - surely enough to propel him to the Whitehouse in  19 days time.

But this interesting analysis from the Huffington Post suggests some reasons why national polls - such as this Gallup one - are apparently at odds with state polling that shows Obama with leads in key swing states

18 October 2012

Cameron's crazy energy pledge needs disconnecting

I was glad to hear that Energy Secretary, Ed Davey, had distanced himself from David Cameron's idea that the government will legislate to force energy companies to put all their customers on the lowest tariff.

The only result of this would be to raise the cost of the cheapest energy deals across the board.

The fundamental problem in the energy sector is the fact that the big six companies act as a cartel - squeezing out any real competition, rigging prices and delivering super profits as a result.

What the energy bill should contain instead is a statutory cap of 10% of the market for any energy company - opening up the market to real competition and ending the oligopoly of the 'big six'.

16 October 2012

Beeb to air 'You've been trumped'

News from the Tripping up Trump campaign arrives in my in box saying their award winning documentary about the stand off between local people and ludicrous US golf magnate Donald Trump will be aired by the BBC on Sunday 21 October at 10pm on BBC2.  

You can watch the trailer here.

15 October 2012

Exclusive: That Scottish independence referendum question

News has reached LOWA Towers from my sources in the SNP of the draft wording of the question Scots voters may be asked in the 2014 referendum.  I have also been given a sneek preview of the rushes of the first SNP broadcast.  However I am wondering whether either will get past the electoral authorities.

"Do you agree with Scottish first minister Alex Salmond that Scotland should throw off the English yolk or do you agree with English, Eton educated toff David Cameron that they should continue to lord it over us?"

12 October 2012

Friday favourite 80

It's the X-factor finals with the usual smattering of real talent hidden among the wannabee dross.  So it's time for some real music...

Davey needs to act on energy bills

NPower has now joined the UK's largest energy supplier - British Gas - in hiking its energy tariffs just as winter hoves into view.  The fact that there are just six main players in the market means these suppiers act as a cartel with no real competitors to act as a brake on their corporate avarice.

It's clear now that these energy giants - whose annual profits run into billions - need to be broken up and the pitch cleared for proper competition in the market.

Over to you Ed...

10 October 2012

Obama hits back at Romney...

Following his underwhelming debate performance Barack Obama has hit back with this fabulous attack ad on Romney's priorities:

It appears to have ruffled sufficient feathers for the (non-partizan) Sesame Workshop to ask for it to be taken down.

9 October 2012

Did Boris Johnson really call Jeremy Hunt a 'wanker?'

It appears so...

At last night's rally Boris Johnson suggested a politicians' Olympics, including "Jeremy Hunt banging the bell-end"- so says the Gruaniad.

Sadly this section of his speech doesn't appear to be available on YouTube or (unsurprisingly) on the Conservative's official website.

8 October 2012

Making sick jokes should not be a criminal offence

A 19 year old has been jailed for drunkenly posting some sick jokes on the internet about April Jones. 

Matthew Woods is currently serving three months at her majesty's pleasure for being stupid, insensitive and crass - convicted for sending 'grossly offensive public electronic communication' under some bizarre clause of New Labour's Communications Act 2003. 

My problem with this sort of law beloved by the Daily Mail and authoritarian Labour Home Secretaries is that it relies on generalised terms such as 'grossly offensive' which are purely subjective - one person's offence is another person's humour.

In a liberal democracy the state is not there to bolster the will of the majority - it is there to protect the minority - however unpopular and however moronic. 

It's time for the Lib Dems (at least) to take a stand on issues like this.  There is a whole raft of mainly useless Labour crime legislation - made in haste to play to the tabloid gallery - that simply criminalises people for their views.  They should be repealed and the Lib Dems should lead the charge.

5 October 2012

Friday favourite 79

It was fifty years ago today that Sergeant Pepper taught the band to play...

4 October 2012

Semaphore signals and successful franchises

In all the furore about the cock up over the refranchising of the west coast main line, it might be easy to imagine rail services in the UK are generally overpriced, unpunctual and unclean.

Well I had to go to Banbury today and I did it by the excellent Chiltern railways - running out of London's best railway terminal (and John Betjeman's favourite) - Marylebone.  Chiltern run fast, frequent, clean and reasonably priced services - taking just over an hour to get to Banbury - far quicker than the traditional Great Western route via Oxford and Reading.

And my experience was made even better by the very rare sight of working semaphore signals.  There can't be many left anywhere on the rail network - let alone on busy commuter routes around London.

3 October 2012

Ed Miliband's lack of self awareness

With the plaudits from pundits across the political spectrum ringing in his ears, Ed Miliband must be pretty pleased with his conference platform speech.  Interestingly, I listened to it on the radio and it came across much less well - the confidence was missing and the oratory more faltering.

But whether you saw it on the telly box or listened to it on the wireless, what did come across was a complete lack of awareness of the culpability of Labour (and Mili minor) for most of the issues which came under his criticism.

A widening gap between rich and poor, failure to regulate the banks (or separate consumer from investment banking), high energy bills and kowtowing to the Murdoch press were all hallmarks of the last Labour government.  A government that let's not forget Miliband was either a senior adviser to or a minister in.

But most interestingly in Miliband's monologue was his reference to his mother's escape from totalitarianism and arrival in the UK (having been smuggled in by some nuns). 

Unfortunately for Mili minor on the very same day Mohammed Rafi Hottak - an Afghani interpreter who served with UK forces and was injured in a bomb blast - was told by the UK Border Agency - a creation of Miliband's government - that his claim for asylum was being refused because he had entered the country unofficially without papers (ie smuggled in).

So much for the embracing of the dispossessed and those fleeing oppression under Labour's asylum and immigration policies - policies the coalition need now urgently to revisit.

1 October 2012

Ed Miliband praises holocaust apologist

The Grauniad reports... the Labour leader, Ed Miliband, led tributes to the Marxist historian and academic Eric Hobsbawm, who died on Monday , calling him "an extraordinary historian, a man passionate about his politics and a great friend of my family".

Liberal England carries more details of Hobsbawm's support for Soviet mass murder including this most egregious exchange with Michael Ignatieff:
Ignatieff: What that comes down to is saying that had the radiant tomorrow actually been created, the loss of fifteen, twenty million people might have been justified? 
Hobsbawm: Yes.
If nazi non-historian David Irving had said similar (and he probably has) he would have rightly been attacked.  But the left always gets away with it - witness the fawning tributes to him on tonight's Newsnight.

30 September 2012

The Ryder Cup lesson for Clegg?

With Europe's last minute come back from the dead to win the Ryder Cup one cannot help thinking perhaps it's not Paddy Ashdown Clegg needs to captain his 2015 election campaign team - it's José María Olazábal...

Remembering Keith Floyd

Keith Floyd's funeral was three years ago today.  Floyd was a punk chef - mates with the Stranglers - and his posh demenour betrayed his humble origins.  Which is probably why he was able to get on and annoy with equal measure a wide variety of people.

But he was a genius - and the man who taught me to cook - or at least throw ingredients in a pot while having a 'slurp'.  Here he is at his best - exploring artisan cuisine in humble surroundings (in the black country)...

On his death the other punk chef Marco Pierre White said, "The thing which is very sad is a little piece of Britain today died which will never be replaced. He was a beautiful man, his ability to inspire people to cook just with his words and the way he did things was extraordinary. If you look at TV chefs today they don't have his magic. It's a very, very, very sad day for my industry and secondly for a nation."

28 September 2012

Friday favourite 78

APB are a band from Ellon, Aberdeenshire who formed in 1979.  I was recently reminded of their existence by a chum from university on Facebook.  Anyway, they are still going and have an album out available here.

One assumes the Red Hot Chillie Peppers are fans:

Clegg's Cornish pasty conference speech

There's an old saying about budgets that prove popular on the day, become unpopular in time.  And that was certainly true of this year's offering - shredding the credibilty of the Chancellor with every Cornish pasty sold in bakeries.  Sadly, the various economic and presentational gaffes also meant that its one big liberal success - the increasing of the personal allowance - was buried in an avalanche of negative headlines.

It looks like the same unravelling could be happening with Wednesday's Clegg speech.  Lord Bonker's estimable confidant - Jonathan Calder - being the first to break cover with some measured (and valid) criticisms of Clegg's position.

My problem with the speech was that the dead hand of the world's worst political strategist - Richard Reeves -  was clearly behind it.  Clegg's view is still there are votes to be gained by being 'a party of government' - despite the idea being tested to destruction by the last two and half years of coalition.

Clegg's assertion that, "...The past is gone and it isn’t coming back. If voters want a party of opposition – a “stop the world I want to get off” party – they’ve got plenty of options, but we are not one of them..." conveniently ignores the long term political dissillusionment with party politics - and particularly governments.

In 1951 the two 'parties of government' got 95% of all the votes cast in the UK - in 2010 it was just 65%.  Clegg now wants the party to ignore this growing third of the electorate, in favour of focussing on a shrinking two thirds of the electorate - many of whom have long held partisan loyalties.

It's a crazy strategy.  Many of the people who voted Lib Dem in 2010 (and before) didn't want to 'stop the world' - they wanted a strong Liberal voice to speak up for them in government.  They wanted to take on the vested interests - in politics, business, the media and organised labour - who are responsible for the economic and political crisis in this country.

The reason why these voters have turned against the Lib Dems is that they appear to have joined the vested interests instead of attacking them from a position of power.  Unless Clegg sees the error of his ways they will find other - no doubt more illiberal voices - to take up the mantle of fighting for the little guy against the powerful.

Edit 29.9.12 - the ever excellent Andrew Page has also waded into the debate in similar terms.

26 September 2012

Lembit Opik for Richmond Park?

Now Lembit Opik is not a man who takes himself particularly seriously - even if that is still more seriously than the rest of us.  But what to make of his claim that he now wants to be the Lib Dem candidate for the marginal seat of Richmond Park?

He was certainly happy to promote the idea to anyone that would listen in Brighton.  But the prospect (however unlikely) of  him matching up against Zac Goldsmith and his well oiled negative campaign machine really wouldn't fill me with a lot of hope for Lib Dem prospects.

25 September 2012

Some conference reflections...

Just returned from a couple of days in Brighton where it was good to catch up with some old friends.  The biggest talking point was not in fact the future of Nick Clegg but the appalling weather.

But the conference was noticeable for the extremely high ratio of non-representative to representatives - either an indication of the party's decline in membership or the attraction of commerce to lobbying ministers.

The sight that greeted you on arrival at Brighton station - an advert for an appropriately named play at the Theatre Royale

The angry sea and remains of the West Pier from the Brighton Centre

Chief Secretary, Danny Alexander, speaks in the dark at the Infrastructure Alliance fringe meeting after the venue turned off the lights!

21 September 2012

Friday favourite 77

With the European competition commissioner's green light for the take over of EMI there really is no alternative (as it were)...

20 September 2012

Lib Dems should back Martin Lewis' campaign

The ever excellent MoneySavingExpert - Martin Lewis - has launched a campaign to rename student loans - graduate contributions.  For two years he has been trying to explain the new student finance system and keeps coming across young people who are being put off university becauseof fears of going into debt.

Martin Lewis says of the new system: 
"Labour and the National Union of Students (NUS) on the other hand want a graduate tax. Frankly, in reality, that’s close to what we have now, as the repayments are more like a tax than a loan."
Perhaps if Clegg and the Parliamentary party had been a bit more bullish about the changes - instead of the defensive dithering that ended up with Clegg's mea culpa - then Lewis' campaign would be unneccessary.

But Lewis is right - the name is important - and a formal change to 'graduate contribution' should be made as soon as possible.  Over to you Vince.

19 September 2012

Clegg's mea culpa...

Hot off the (email) presses:



'Shock' as team 14 places below opponent loses cup tie

Rangers made a shock exit in the Ramsdens Cup say the beeb

The last time I looked Queen of the South were top of division 2 and Rangers were 4th in division 3 - a mere 14 places below. 

18 September 2012

Lib Dem conference - advice for terrorists

I am now likely to be heading to Brighton for a couple of days work during the party's conference.  I have reluctantly accepted that I need to be vetted by the police if I wish to gain access to the 'inner sanctum' as it were.

However, in addition to the general opening of the party's books to Sussex Police, the party will not now allow an individual party member to attend as a day visitor for more than a single day.  I phoned the party's conference office to explain that I was happy to pay 2x £35 for two days visitors passes - but was told for 'security reasons' this was not possible.  When pressed it was to 'avoid two records of the same person' - ie bureacratic convenience. Result - I am paying for 1x £35 for a single day pass and not going to the 'inner sanctum' on the first day.  The consequence for the cash strapped party is lower income and more dissatisfied activists.

It is also unconstitutional under para 6.5 of the Lib Dem constitution which says:

"The Standing Orders of the Conference shall provide for consultative sessions of the Conference at which any member of the Party may speak, and for members who are not representatives to address other sessions of the Conference, but such provisions shall not prejudice the right of the chair of a session to select speakers."

So there you are terrorists - don't bother trying to recce Nick Clegg on day 1 - just blow yourself up at the first opportunity.  (Or go to the Metropole Hotel - which is outside the secure zone and venue for many of the fringe events).

17 September 2012

English Baccalaureate Certificates - a camel by any other name

Today's announcement by England's education secretary, Michael Gove, of a new qualification to replace the GCSE has all the hallmarks of a hastily cobbled together compromise designed to try and overcome two diametrically opposed views about what the exam system should be about. At the one end there is the Govian view of an elitist system designed around the brightest kids. At the other there is the producer interest - strongly represented in Lib Dem ranks - backing a one size fits all system designed give those the bottom end academically something to show for their years of compulsory schooling.

So it is no surprise that the email that arrived at Living on Words towers from the Rt Hon David Laws MP - is full of warm words and glib cliches - in an effort to paper over the obvious cracks in the design.

Here is some of its ever so slightly contradictory content:
"Our proposals will restore rigour to the exam system, allow us to compete on the international stage, and end years of grade inflation under Labour.

Liberal Democrats will never accept a return to an unfair, two-tier system that divides children into winners and losers at a young age.

That’s why Nick negotiated with the Conservatives over the summer to ensure that the exam system will be more rigorous, but will also have Liberal Democrat ideas of fairness and social mobility at its heart. Our new qualification will:
  • Be designed for the same children who currently sit GCSEs – whatever their ability level;
  • Stretch those at the top while ending the cap on aspiration that means some children sit exam papers which don’t allow them to achieve more than a grade C;
  • Reward children for their individual aptitude and ability – unlike the O-Level there will be no cap on top grades;
  • Include new provision for the very small number of children, including those with special educational needs, who don’t sit GCSEs at the moment.
....the first teaching for these new exams, which we propose calling English Baccalaureate Certificates, will begin in 2015.

By working together in coalition Liberal Democrats have been able to secure a new qualification fit for the future, that will benefit all students and not just the privileged few."
The idea that you can design something that 'restores rigour', 'stretch those at the top', 'reward individual ability' and at the same time design something 'for ...children whatever their ability level' and has 'no cap on top grades' or 'aspiration' sounds far fetched (or indeed exactly like the now clearly unlamented ...er GCSE).

14 September 2012

Friday favourite 76

With the controversy over an american amateur video that has led to a deliberate over reaction from organised Islamic militants and the sad (and unacceptable death) of the US ambassador to Libya - this week's favourite concentrates on religious intolerance.

So here is NTNOCN with the General Synod's life of Mohammed Christ:

Time for a (Lib Dem) presidential election...

It's that time again - when nominations are sought for the post of Lib Dem party president - the most important elected post in the 'voluntary' party.

The elections for the job have, sadly, usually ended up being won by a 'professional' Parliamentarian - sometimes as a stepping stone to the leadership.

The current incumbent - Tim Farron - is widely respected and the expectation is he will be returned unopposed.  But he shouldn't and Gareth Epps makes the strong case for both an election and the return of a non-Parliamentarian to the job.

12 September 2012

Justice at last for Hillsborough families?

Today's long awaited release of the Hillsborough files and apology from David Cameron is hopefully the beginning of the end of a long road for the families of the 96 fans who died.   It is clear the police and emergency services engaged in a process of backside covering - including influencing the inquests.

It is hard to see anything other than criminal charges for those involved.

Nick Clegg first demanded the release of the documents over a year ago and I pondered later that their release may have only happened as a result of the more open style of government resulting from coalition - making it easier for the public to influence political leaders.

If so, let's hope it continues with a more open attitude by public officials across government in future - whoever is in power.