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.

8 September 2012

Rail news exposes Branson's bluster

Rail News has published a well researched comparison of the two leading bids for west coast rail services. 

It makes it clear that much of the bearded one's publicity about his loss is bluster and hyperbole...

7 September 2012

Friday favourite 75

Just finished reading 'the Complaints' - the first non-Rebus Rankin crime novel.  It features a dodgy cop called Billy Giles.  So by some very circuitous logic today's Friday favourite is Tribe of Toffs 'John Kettley is a weatherman' which features the only reference (that I know of) to 'Billy Giles' in pop music...


The song - something of a novelty in its day - actually stands up quite well.

Laws' return is old politics

The return of David Laws to ministerial office is a bad move by Nick Clegg and the Lib Dem leadership.  It is a triumph of hope over political reality and demonstrates (sadly once again) the naive political judgement of Clegg.

Here's just some of the images posted on the web over the last few days on the issue:

Whatever the merits of Laws (and his reasons for not telling the truth about his expenses) - he is severely damaged goods.  His return to government is just another reminder that the Lib Dems say one thing in opposition and do the opposite in government. 

It also demostrates that all the hopes that were invested in Clegg in the spring of 2010 that he was a new kind of politician with a new way of doing things were simply wishful thinking.

It's not as if Laws undoubted talents couldn't have been used in an unpaid way - as DPM Clegg surely has powers to appoint almost anyone he wants as an unpaid 'enforcer'.  There has been no explanation of why he had to come back on to the ministerial payrole to do the job - or what his job actually involves outside of the Education ministry.

If this is Clegg's answer to the increasing number of open critics within the party then he is in more trouble than he and his team cares to admit. 

6 September 2012

Reshuffle reflections

With the dust settled on the cabinet reshuffle it is clear that the 'refreshed' cabinet makes two policy changes more likely.  Firstly, the Tories are in the process of u-turning on a third Heathrow runway and the moving of Justine Greening makes this much easier.  The sacking of Lib Dem Nick Harvey - leaving defence a Tory only department - will surely mean stopping a replacement for trident becomes almost impossible.

What these two policy issues show, however, is a fundamental failing in the way the coalition operates.  In normal circumstances the Lib Dems would surely be campaigning on these issues and using the opportunity of motions in the Commons to flush out supporters of both propositions - on Tory and Labour benches.

But the coaltion agreement doesn't allow the party to do so - it is for House of Commons business purposes effectively a single party. 

In council chambers up and down the country where two or more parties share administration normal competitive politics isn't put on hold between coalition partners.  Council meetings are used to expose weaknesses in opponents stances and promote distinctive positions of individual parties. 

A similar change in the rules of engagement for the coalition parties is now desperately needed - moving a few indentikit politicians between portfolios doesn't address the need for a more flexible working arrangement between the Lib Dems and the Tories.

1 September 2012

Interesting US presidential election fact of the day...

The last time the Republicans won the presidency without a Bush or a Nixon on the ticket was 1928.