Sunday, May 27, 2007

Still disgruntled: Plus ca change.

One reason for my rush to London was to deliver some documents to LD HQ in Cowley Street. I well remember visiting the old Liberal HQ at Exchange Court off the Strand in 1974. I was in search of rosettes for an election meeting in the Albert Hall. I wandered through a labyrinth of small rooms until I found a staff member, a woman doing her nails. I asked for rosettes and without looking up she reprimanded me, "We don't have rosettes here. We've never had rosettes here. You should know that". I had just joined the party, but I stayed.

On Friday, I walked into the somewhat grander reception area at Cowley Street, where I was ignored by the man behind the desk who was reading his newspaper. When I tried to hand him documents, he looked up briefly, pointed me at the pidgeonholes and returned to his paper. Isn't it gratifying to know that after 33 years the party is now so professional that it can employ someone with the specific role of ignoring members ?


It may have been a quiet week in Lake Woebegone, but it's been hell in Chard. Friday was complicated. I caught an early train from Taunton to London for a business meeting. Unused to this line, I was not merely disgruntled but actually discombobulated (Don't bother, it's not in the OED but what do they know ?), yes discombobulated to be asked for £156 ! I could have gone to France, Scotland or even Italy. It was too late to make other plans so I had to pay. The train was fast but uncomfortable. It rocketed through Langport and Somerton, neither of which have stations any longer. The train was less than half full, not surprisingly given the price and the train's inability to stop where people live. We should extend the Liberal policy of taxing flights rather than air passengers to trains. In conclusion, bugger Beeching and murder Major, the combined architects of our mad transport system.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

The Northing of Harry*

So, they've finally decided that Prince Harry should not summon up the blood, stiffen the sinews nor imitate the action of a tiger, in short not go to Iraq.

Of course, none of us should have gone to Iraq.

Also, (pace Bernard Bresslaw, Alfie Bass and other ITV stars from 1960) the army is not a game. Specifically it is not Royal Tennis. I am not a pacifist. We need armed forces but we should not use them for the wrong purpose. They are not there to invade other countries at the behest of George Bush nor to occupy young royals.

*By Mrs Malaprop out of William the Conqueror

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Oh mother, oh Ming !

Last week Ming Campbell called for a general election to allow the British public to choose the next Prime Minister. Both Liberal England ( Liberal England: Do we really need a general election?) and Hug a Hoodie thought this a bad move.

I have two problems with it, substantial and procedural. The substantial one is that we have a parliamentary democracy on to which Tony Blair has grafted a West Wing Presidential system, thereby depriving us of the checks and balances of Westminster and Washington. Calling for an election to determine the next Prime Minister just confirms the quasi-presidential model which we should reject.

Secondly, Ming said, "Today my colleagues and I have submitted a motion to trigger a general election." The only motion I know of that can do this is a motion of no confidence. I have searched the Parliament website in vain. There seems to be no record of such a motion. Nor is it an EDM. Nor an adjournment motion. What is this trigger that the mother of parliaments will be invited to pull and when ?

Friday, May 11, 2007

Happy Birthday me !

Today is the birthday of Salvador Dali, Irving Berlin and me.

This is a picture of a happy young three-toed sloth celebrating his birthday. Sadly I am not young (but I am alive unlike Salvador and Irving) and currently I have five toes on each foot and he's obviously quite cheerful unlike me as I prepare for another battle with the Gestapo (CSA to new readers).
Otherwise we have a lot in common.

Blair had no Willie

Margaret Thatcher famously said, "Everybody needs a Willie" referring of course to the Deputy Prime Minister, Willie Whitelaw. She meant someone to steady the troops and restrain her from excess.

What did Blair get ?

John Prescott.

I rest my case.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Rejoice, rejoice ! He's going. But get out the sick bags.

So, farewell then, Tony Blair.

I do rejoice that he's going. This is not just because of the invasion of Iraq, which was immoral, illegal and in the less elevated terms of realpolitik just bad for Britain's position in the world, in fact a disaster for international relations, the rule of law and relations between Christians, humanists and Moslems which will poison our world for decades to come. It's also because he has undermined our democracy, replacing the cabinet by the sofa, parliament by media barons and substance by surface. He was far worse than Margaret Thatcher. I opposed her policies as well but she was basically honest.

Here come the sick bags. Today as usual, he said, "I did what I thought was right for our country". Applying the usual test of meaningfulness ( see Saying nothing in Scotland). Can you imagine anyone saying, "I did what I thought was wrong for our country" ? The whole point of our democracy crafted over centuries has been to save us from autocracy, from the judgement or prejudices of one man ignoring the opinions of his colleagues and the advice of those with more experience.

For light relief from the Blairfest turn to this animation of My Way.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

You can't beat the old ones

Some years ago Ian Paisley MEP wanted to buy stamps from the European Parliament's post office but found to his disgust that the only ones available had pictures of Pope John Paul II, commemorating his visit to Strasbourg. Paisley reluctantly bought them but then returned complaining that they would not stick. The stamp seller explained, "Monsieur Paisley, you're spitting on the wrong side".

A quick response

Thanks to Liberal England.

To smoke or not to smoke ?

This man's job is to enforce the smoking ban in Edinburgh's pubs. In his job he is helped by informers. Nice to know that nanny has created more opportunities in law enforcement and neighborhood watch.

I have never accepted that the state should tell me not to smoke in the company of other voluntary smokers. The problem of passive smoking could have been solved easily but requiring all public premises to provide smoke-free areas. "Ah", says the health fascist, "but we have to consider the health of people working in bars". Can we not find enough smokers who want to work in bars ? Parliament actually went further and banned smoking in private clubs, again justified on grounds of health and safety at work. I suggested to one of the civil servants who drafted these regulations (a Liberal forsooth) that clubs could have rooms to be cleaned by club members, in which no staff could be required to work. His response was that we couldn't trust people to do that. There speaks the authentic voice of the nanny-state. What are we going to do in the Smoking Room of the National Liberal Club now ?

Captions please

Moore of the same

Patrick Moore is reported as disliking modern television, for which I have some sympathy, but he blames it all on women. This is not an uncommon view amongst UKIP supporters like Moore and the UKIP MEP who complained in the European Parliament that women don't clean behind the fridge.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Saying nothing in Scotland

Reports of negotiations between Liberal Democrats and the SNP show that empty political rhetoric can be found north of the border as well as south.


"The Scottish Liberal Democrats will work constructively to promote our positive policies in the new parliament." Nicol Stephen


"Scotland voted for a new government last Thursday and I think it is now incumbent on all parties to see if we can put together that new progressive coalition to take the country forward." Nicola Sturgeon, SNP

The simple test of whether any political pronouncement contains any useful meaning is to ask yourself if anyone could support the opposite.


"The Scottish Liberal Democrats will work destructively to promote our negative policies in the new parliament." Any takers for that ?


"Scotland voted for a new government last Thursday and I think it is now incumbent on all parties to see if we can put together that old reactionary coalition to take the country backward." Not attractive, I think, even to a diehard Tory.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Mark Higson: another honest man

Radio 4's Friday play tonight Buried was the story of another Foreign Office man who wouldn't lie and broke the story of the UK's arms sales to Iraq, thus ruining his own career. You can still hear the play for the next seven days.

Craig Murray: An honest man sent to lie abroad for the good of his country*

I have just finished reading Murder in Samarkand by Craig Murray, former British ambassador who refused to lie for or to his country. The author's account of torture and oppression in Uzbekistan , sustained and supported by the USA and his denunciation of the regime of President Karimov and the attempts of the FCO to silence him have moved me to rage and tears. I urge everyone to read it. The Uzbek government is terrible, the American connivance is awful and the attitude of the Blair government, of Jack Straw and of the mandarins who manage our country's foreign policy is despicable.

*Attributed to Sir Henry Wotton, British Ambassador to Venice in the reign of James I.

These are the times that try men's souls

As I expected Greene King has bowed to the inevitable and re-admitted Harveys beer to the Lewes Arms. Congratulations to the Lewesians for a successful boycott !

A telling point

I was telling at a polling station in the evening sunshine yesterday. I was struck once again by the sheer normality and casualness of voting in the UK. Ballot papers were there on time, presiding officers were relaxed, chatty and trustworthy and there were no crowds of armed thugs to intimidate voters. And of course no parties banned from standing by the government.

People actually thanked me for taking down their numbers.