Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Europhobes waking up to Cameron's failure

The Independent reports that David Cameron has now pulled off the remarkable feat of alienating both our European partners and his own party's Europhobes. Brilliant ! In December he managed to isolate the UK and fail to get anything he wanted out of the summit other than the temporary admiration of the europhobic press and MPs. Now the consequences of his incompetent negotiating are becoming clear, the same little Englanders are angry with him for not behaving like an idiot at this week's summit as well.

Even Douglas Carswell, one of the Tory nationalist pygmies, is beginning to understand: "I don't see how the veto is really a veto if we allow the fiscal union to form, and then find ourselves subject to the EU institutions being used to govern that. In effect we will find that for all the talk of a veto, we find ourselves hauled into this process.". Well done, Douglas ! Beginning to dawn on you now, is it ?

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Coalition continues without new agreement

This is the good news in the Independent. It confirms what I have thought since last October. For the minority party in a coalition, it is better not to have your hands tied too tightly. Liberal Democrat MPs have marched through the lobbies so often for illiberal policies since the coalition was formed that the public now has little idea of what the party stands for. Ministers have honoured collective responsibility defending policies they never campaigned for. The hard business of negotiation behind the scenes will continue but I believe that our ministers will have more clout if their agreement has to be sought case by case. Perhaps some of the messy business of compromise will become more visible and not a moment too soon. Voters need to see what Liberals stand for and to understand that the compromises are inevitably not the same.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

On joining the party !

I am told that the Liberal Democrats were overwhelmed by people wanting to join the party after Nick Clegg's appearance in the first of the leaders' debates. Sadly the party was not geared up to enrol them and by the time many of them were contacted after the election, they had changed their minds. This may be a Labour-inspired myth, but verily the party has always been rather hard to join.

My friend Andrew, in Exeter, tried to join in the 1970s and got no response. One night out walking he saw a Liberal sticker in a car parked outside the cinema, lit a cigarette and waited. When the couple whose car it was arrived, he appeared out of the gloom frightening them. Thinking to reassure him about membership, they said he was welcome to join but that they weren’t very political. “I am”, he said.

I was luckier. I noticed that a Liberal leaflet came from the other side of the square so went and called on the deliverer. He was so amazed that anyone wanted to join the party, he took me to dinner at the National Liberal Club.

Mark Pack's mystery shopper exercise reveals that it is still difficult to join now with a third of the time applicants getting no reply !!

Jonathan Meades on France - the best television for years

If you haven't yet, watch Jonathan Meades on France. If you have, watch it again. You will need more than one look to absorb the pith of his eloquence and admire the eccentricity of his televisual imagination.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

"Conference maketh a ready man" (and a poorer one).

Given the prejudices of his era, Francis Bacon probably didn't mean women as well when he wrote that but I'm not aware that he had anything against young people, male or female. (Indeed his essay, "Of Youth and Age" finds good and bad in both.) Nevertheless that is the problem today. Young people, it seems, are less likely to confer. As Susan Gaszczak points out, 40% of Liberal Democrat conference representatives are 60+ and 70% 40+. Long gone are the days when, as in 1970, the Young Liberal Conference had more delegates than the party conference. I don't have figures for the Conservative and Labour conferences, but I suspect they are worse.

The causes are political and financial. Politics has always been a minority sport but today is of less interest to young people than in those halcyon days when I was young. Politicians either lack ideology or are scared to express it so that political debate has diminished to a bathetic "We can manage things better than them". The media avoids any clash of ideals that may by chance appear, preferring to harp on the personal and procedural trivia of who tweeted what and when, between sleeping with whom. Party managers strive to avoid conflict at conferences. Small wonder that neither politics nor political conferences attract the young.

If some ardent spirit overcomes the discouragement of modern political dialogue, he or she now faces the financial barrier. Attending a party conference is an expensive business involving conference fees, travel, accommodation and meals and not all drinks are to be had free at fringe events. I doubt that any local party considers paying expenses for its representatives, regarding the conference as a jolly, remote from the important daily business of winning council elections.

We can all improve the political dialogue and lift it above trivial personalia and technocratic policy wonkdom. The conference committee should turn its collective and extensive grey matter to the question of cost. Nor is it a problem only for the young. We don't want policy decided exclusively by the well-heeled.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Not a lot of people know that (no.1)

Thinking of watching 55 Days at Peking. According to the Radio Times "The film became notorious for closing down Chinese restaurants all over Europe since all their staff were in Spain as extras for the huge action scenes.".

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Fitzsimmons defends Israel's lebensraum

As soon as you see an article has been written by an ex-President of NUS, you know there's a fair chance it's bollocks. OK, that's my prejudice but it's born out by experience of this group of people which includes Jack Straw, Charles Clarke, Sue Slipman and David Aaronovitch all of whom supported the Iraq War. What is it about NUS ? In this case, Lorna Fitzsimmons condemns Nick Clegg for describing Israeli settlement building as "a deliberate act of vandalism". She argues "...the demand for a complete halt to all Israeli construction over the Green Line is now a road-block preventing the commencement of bilateral talks." which is a remarkable piece of doublethink. How about "Israeli construction over the Green Line is now a road-block preventing the commencement of bilateral talks" ? She wouldn't say that would she ? After all she is CEO of BICOM (the Britain Israel Communications & Research Centre),so clearly whatever Israel does is right.

Her article even argues that Palestinians must accept that Israeli settlement blocks will remain on the West Bank. After all President Bush agreed with Israeli that "natural growth" could continue. How kind of him to decide that Israel could continue to grab Palestinian land, but then he never took much notice of international law. In any case, what the fuck has it to do with him ? Pardon me, "What right does an American president have to give away other people's land ?". Better now ?

She also states, as if no-one could possibly disagree, "No Israeli government has ever enforced a complete 'freeze' on settlements, i.e. a freeze on all building not just in the West Bank but even those parts of East Jerusalem that are not even seen as 'settlements' in Israel. It is impossible politically, for coalition governments. But it is also impossible in human terms; existing communities, which have typically young and growing populations, cannot freeze their natural growth." This amounts to saying to the Palestinians that having occupied your land, taken your water, destroyed your houses, divided you from your crops and animals, obviously we must be allowed to take more and more ! Not much problem about freezing the growth of Palestinian communities then !

You would think that Israel of all nations would understand the immorality of a policy of lebensraum !!!

Saturday, January 14, 2012

The price of Cameron's "Veto"

As Myles Neligan's article in Reuters shows, the UK is already beginning to pay the price for David Cameron's Brussels histrionics last month. After the EU Summit in December Cameron returned home to a hero's welcome in the popular press and the House of Commons. This was always a bizarre combination of xenophobia and myopia.

Forget how you feel about Europe for a moment. You are a member of a cricket club which is part of a league. Your captain or manager goes off to the league committee meeting, where he presents a list of demands expressly designed to give advantages to your club, based on the characteristics of your ground and your players' skills. The other clubs ask him if he is willing to negotiate on any point and he refuses. The league then decides to change the way it works leaving your club technically still a member but with no fixtures for the coming season. Do you welcome your chap back with applause or do you call him a blithering idiot who has relegated your team even before they have played a single match ?

As the debate on Solvency II regulation for the insurance industry shows,Cameron has failed to protect the financial sector he loves so much and isolated the UK in the process. So much so usual for Tory blinkered nationalism, but for me the shame is that Nick Clegg let it get to this point.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Blair, Straw and torture

I was pleased to read the Independent's report that the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Metropolitan Police Service are launching an investigation into "allegations raised ...concerning the alleged rendition of named individuals to Libya and the alleged ill-treatment of them in Libya...".

I was delighted to read that "Former ministers in Tony Blair's government are expected to be questioned by police over their alleged role in human rights abuses".

I shall be transported with joy if the investigation leads to a successful prosecution of Jack Straw and/or Tony Blair. For information on their government's collusion with Uzbekistan and the torture conducted by the Uzbek dictator Karimov, read Craig Murray's "Murder in Samarkand" or watch his evidence to the Lords and Commons Joint Committee on Human Rights available on his website here.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Well done, Jenny Tonge

Well said, Jenny, and well voted. Jenny Tonge on World at One today explaining why she voted against the government last night on benefit cuts. If you missed it, it's on I-Player here at 19 minutes 27 seconds in.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012


This pack of sausages had to be withdrawn from sale and redesigned. What do they pay these marketing people ?

The Green thing

The following e-mail arrived today and needs wider circulation.

Checking out at Tesco, the young cashier suggested to the older woman that she should bring her own grocery bags because plastic bags weren't good for the environment.

The woman apologized and explained, "We didn't have this green thing back in my earlier days."

The clerk responded, "That's our problem today. Your generation did not care enough to save our environment for future generations." She was right -- our generation didn't have the green thing in its day.

Back then, we returned milk bottles, pop bottles and beer bottles to the shop. The shop sent them back to the plant to be washed and sterilized and refilled, so it could use the same bottles over and over. So they really were re cycled. But we didn't have the green thing back in our day.

We walked up stairs, because we didn't have an escalator in every store and office building. We walked to the grocers and didn't climb into a 200-horsepower machine every time we had to go two blocks. But she was right. We didn't have the green thing in our day.

Back then, we washed the baby's nappies because we didn't have the throw-away kind. We dried clothes on a line, not in an energy gobbling machine burning up 2000 watts -- wind and solar power really did dry our clothes back in our early days. Kids got hand-me-down clothes from their brothers or sisters, not always brand-new clothing. But that young lady is right. We didn't have the green thing back in our day.

Back then, we had one TV, or radio, in the house -- not a TV in every room. And the TV had a small screen the size of a handkerchief (remember them?), not a screen the size of Yorkshire. In the kitchen, we blended and stirred by hand because we didn't have electric machines to do everything for us. When we packaged a fragile item to send in the post, we used wadded up old newspapers to cushion it, not Styrofoam or plastic bubble wrap. Back then, we didn't fire up an engine and burn petrol just to cut the lawn. We used a push mower that ran on human power. We exercised by working so we didn't need to go to a health club to run on treadmills that operate on electricity. But she's right. We didn't have the green thing back then.

When we were thirsty we drank from a tap instead of drinking from a plastic bottle of water shipped from the other side of the world. We refilled writing pens with ink instead of buying a new pen, and we replaced the razor blades in a razor instead of throwing away the whole razor just because the blade got dull. But we didn't have the green thing back then.

Back then, people took the bus and kids rode their bikes to school or walked instead of turning their mums into a 24-hour taxi service. We had one electrical socket in a room, not an entire bank of sockets to power a dozen appliances. And we didn't need a computerized gadget to receive a signal beamed from satellites 2,000 miles out in space in order to find the nearest fish and chip shop.

But isn't it sad the current generation laments how wasteful we old folks were just because we didn't have the green thing back then?

Please forward this on to another selfish, grumpy old git who needs a lesson in conservation from a smartass young person.

Remember: Don't make old people mad.

We don't like being old in the first place, so it doesn't take much to piss us off."

Monday, January 09, 2012

Reforming the Lords: Festina lente

The great work of reforming the House of Lords, started by the last Liberal government in 1911,grinds slowly onwards. Paul Tyler, a member of the Joint Committee on Lords Reform, has posted telling arguments for more than 300 senators today. He also raise the question of the role of the reformed chamber. Here's a suggestion.

Some years ago one of the think tanks, DEMOS I believe, suggested a pre-legislative scrutiny stage for all bills using select committees and taking evidence from the public. One of the reasons for this was to ensure that everyone would have a chance to influence legislation and not just professional lobbyists hired by vested interests. I can imagine that governments would not generally welcome delay in processing bills and I don't expect the Commons to adopt such a plan any time soon. However, I note that David Cameron has called for less but better legislation. Perhaps a reformed House of Lords could provide the ideal forum for such pre-legislative scrutiny.

Sunday, January 08, 2012


Borgen is wonderful ! The party names are a little confusing but so are they in real life. One of the Danish Liberal parties is called Venstre which translates as Left but is actually right-wing and was part of the last right-wing coalition whereas the other Liberals are Radikale Venstre (Radical Left obviously) and now part of the left-wing coalition.

To hell with reality. Watch Borgen.

Saturday night's all right

I have recently discovered Google Earth's Street Level function. It's dangerously addictive as you spend hours looking for the photos of friends' houses or, as I did last night, searching for the rock in Cheddar Gorge in the cleft of which the Rev Augustus Toplady sheltered from a storm and composed Rock of Ages. I didn't find it because it turns out it was a few miles away at Burrington Coombe and he probably didn't write it there anyway.. I did find the Google Earth You Tube layer which embeds little videos. When I looked up the small cottage in Market Rasen (known to friends as the hovel) where I lived as PPC in the eighties, I found a video about Bernie Taupin's teenage drinking habits on which he based the lyrics for Elton John's Saturday Night's all right. Bernie drank in the Aston Arms over the road. I drank in the George next door to the hovel.

Thursday, January 05, 2012

Elementary, my dear OR Is it possible that I agree with the Daily Mail ?

Watching the first episode of the new series of Sherlock on New year's Day I did note with surprise that we saw a nude dominatrix before the watershed of 9 pm. The excitement has proved too much for the Daily Mail whose classic prudery was displayed in an article attacking the BBC accompanied by pictures of the nude Ms Pulver (see above) playing Irene Adler. Strangely the series co-creator Steven Moffat's defence was that he had given Holmes an overtly heterosexual sparring partner to scotch speculation about a homosexual undercurrent to the relationship between him and Dr John Watson. This reminded me of the 1970 film The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes in which Holmes defended his virtue against a passionate ballerina by suggesting that Dr Watson was his cup of tea. Wouldn't Conan Doyle have been surprised ? But I digress.

Whilst having no personal objection to nude dominatrices in my sitting room (After all, there is such a thing as a channel-changer or even an off-switch; TV is NOT compulsory, one could read a book or visit a dominatrix if such a person exists in Chard) for once I do feel the Mail has a point, albeit a hypocritical one. Sherlock Holmes is a widely known character whose exploits do appeal to well-read children and young teenagers who could have been expected to be watching on New Year's Day. If the watershed has any point, surely it is to help parents who want to protect their children ? I don't think nudity is a problem but the more disturbing image was Lara Pulver's rear view in stockings and suspenders carrying what I believe is called a spanker as she goes to attend on a princess. "Daddy, what's a dominatrix ?" You might want to choose your own moment to explain sado-masochism to your children (if at all).