Saturday, December 30, 2006

From Yesterday's Party to Tomorrow's Party

The leader of the future? Don't make me laugh!It really hasn't been the Liberal Democrats' year, has it? They started by brutally stabbing their leader in the chest, have had so many scandals surrounding leading figures that I've lost count and have since staggered about under their new leader, with many openly questioning whether they made the right choice and invariable speculation about a Kennedy restoration, whilst the party tries to find a direction and only gets the occasional good cheer from nasty, vicious, hypocritical local campaigning that had even some of their own ashamed of their campaign.

Not one half of a Dynamic DuoNow comes the news that three of their candidates from the last general election have joined the Conservatives. (BBC News: Lib Dem trio become Conservatives) Now the Lib Dems will try to write these three off as insignificant individuals. But amongst them is Richard Porter, who authored the Lib Dems' 2005 manifesto for the LGBT community. So do the Lib Dems consider LGBT issues to be insignificant or are they lying?

A truthful poster for the Lib DemsThe comments by the three no doubt say a lot for many still within the Liberal Democrats:

'[Richard Porter] described Lib Dem leader Menzies Campbell as a "has-been" who had put the party "in reverse gear".'

'Tariq Mahmood [said] ... the Tories "could make the NHS better". '

'John Barstow, a union steward, said his former party were "bland, formulaic and out of touch with real life".'
I'd like to welcome them all to the party and invite all Liberal Democrats who wish to be part of the real alternative to Labour to come aboard.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Livingstone vs Phillips round infinity

Ken Livingstone has attacked Trevor Phillips yet again. (BBC News: Mayor's fresh attack on Phillips) Yet again it stems from their differing views on the best way forward for equality.

Personally I find myself agreeing with Phillips the most. Multiculturalism seems to mean something different to everybody, but if policies pursued in it's name are driving communities apart and creating a divided nation then is it really helping?

A man who attacks people for media whorring and who routinely media whoresBut what really stands out is one of Livingstone's specific attacks:

"Trevor thinks he's doing his job as long as he's all over the media."
There is another politician in London whom that description fits far, far more.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Is Portillo out?

How many times has that question been asked? Well today it may need to be asked again. I just heard Portillo speaking on Radio 4 and he said that he was "not knowingly" still a member of the Conservative Party (though "there maybe a standing order somewhere").

So has the final end come for Michael Denzil Xavier Portillo? To borrow from a mispronounciation at his most infamous moment, has he proved not the Conservatives' saviour but merely their ex?

Who'll be getting this for Christmas?

I've just seen this on Mustafa Arif's blog:

Now who's going to be the first to explode with outrage?

Saturday, December 23, 2006

New twist in Loans for Lordships

An interesting article on BBC News (The Lords suitability question ) has highlighted the otherwise surprisingly overlooked point in the peerage scandal - three of the four Labour loaners nominated by Tony Blair were found to be unsuitable for peerages before the Commission found out about the loans. Meanwhile all six of the other Blair nominees were passed by the Commission.

The commission has two tests for political nominees: were they of good standing in the community, both in general terms and with regard to regulatory agencies; and would their presence in the Lords enhance or diminish the reputation of the Lords.
Is it any coincidence that every single one of the people nominated by Blair and found to be unsuitable was subsequently found to have made loans to the Labour Party? Just where was his character judgement?

And why has this point not received more media attention?

Friday, December 22, 2006

Merry Christmas!

I'm going to visit my parents over Christmas and so probably won't get a chance to update this blog until after then. So I'd like to wish all my readers a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Still no change at Oxford

A postal ballot of academics of the University of Oxford has rejected proposed changes that some claim will enable Oxford to dispel certain stereotypes. (BBC News: Oxford dons reject finance reform) So once again it's no change at Oxford.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Aren't university marketing departments fantastic? 2

My attitude to university marketing departments goes through various cycles - see my previous post Aren't university marketing departments fantastic?. Currently I'm feeling rather critical after learning that my alma mater the University of Kent is to change its logo to this:

The only good thing I can say is that at least they didn't arbitarily retitle it to "Kent University".

Thanks to Marksed - an education officer and his blog for tipping me off (see the post New Kent logo exclusive).

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Well that's the end for The Cheeky Girls!

Somehow I thought another Muppet would be more likely to end up with a pop starI never pretend to have the slightest clue about music, although I once heard The Cheeky Girls live and that was enough to last a lifetime. Why they've done so well is beyond me. But the recent news that Lembit Öpik has recently started dating Gabriela Irimia (Daily Mail: Party animal MP cheated on me with a Cheeky Girl) has left me wondering if this is the end for the pair. An association with Öpik is to success what the noise a strangled cat makes is to good music.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Is this the way to save foreign languages?

University College London has announced that it is making a GCSE in a language a compulsory requirement for all applicants from 2012. (BBC News: Languages made degree requirement) With languages no longer compulsory at GCSE the numbers taking them have plummeted. But is this really the way to try to encourage people to take them?

When I was choosing my GCSE subjects at the age of 13, the last thing on my mind was whether or not I would need a particular subject to get onto an otherwise unrelated university course at one particular university (even one that is almost within walking distance of my old school) in half a decade's time. Just who makes this choice on such a basis? Indeed who would even be aware of it?

As a last ditch attempt to save languages as a subject the motivation of UCL is laudable. But frankly this is completely the wrong level to make it at.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Can a monarch be vetoed?

Today is the seventieth anniversary of the Abdication of Edward VIII (unless you're in the Republic of Ireland, where it's tomorrow!). It was just the latest in a long line of actions that have shown that the monarchy can be flexible and overcome particularly problematic individuals that dates back to at least King Stephen and also includes King John, Henry IV, Henry VII, William III and Mary II and George I. The monarchy rapidly recovered (not least because of George VI's stand during the war) and it's only recently that the issues of the Abdication have become relevant once more.

It's often said that one of the basic points of a monarchy is that there is no choice whatsoever about the succession. But this overlooks a vast amount of precedent of both individuals and lines being passed over. Were one to follow a notion of strict male preference primogentiure then our current monarch would not be Elizabeth II but Francis II. Time and again a way has been found around a problematic individual, allowing the system on monarchy to survive.

Contrast this with France in the nineteenth century, where it wound up with a restoration putting on the throne die hards like Charles X. A legitimist succession to the Orleanist line (and ignore the Carlist line, as most legitimists did) before 1830 may have given the monarchy the stability and broader support it needed to survive, but ultimately the monarchists wound up supporting Henri, comte de Chambord, who made impossible conditions for taking the throne and ultimately wound up being the one man who made a France a permanent republic.

I rather doubt that Prince Charles will wind up being the UK's come de Chambord. But it's hard to deny that his accession is creating uncertainty. His marriage to Camilla is exactly what his great uncle was officially forced to give up the throne for (and wasn't "Duchess of Cornwall" precisely the title proposed for a non-Queen Wallis?). Now social attitudes have changed a lot in seventy years but the prospect of a Head of the Church of England being married to a divorcee is one that many find hard to accept. Traditionally the monarchy and the Established Church have reinforced one another. Could we see one bring the other down? And which?

Then there's the issue of public popularity. Whilst the newspapers seem to have restrained themselves in recent years in reporting the "Royal Soap Opera" (give or take the Daily Express obsession with Diana) the media does still retain the ability to break a public figure's credibility. Charles has fought a long battle for media, and thus public, approval and in many ways its not over yet. Can he successfully reign if he's constantly having to work like a politician to maintain popularity, in a job that is defined as not open to politicians?

But equally a lot of this would apply to William (although he also has to navigate the problems that the title "King William" will bring). A public debate and choice of "Charles or William" amounts to a limited choice republic and it would be hard to resist the logical consequence. Will the monarchy be able to weather a second storm? And what will happen to the Church of England?

Saturday, December 09, 2006

No more Labour Deputy Leaders?

It seems others share my scepticism expressed in my previous post "Is the Labour Deputy Leadership worth a pitcher of warm piss?" Several MPs are calling for the abolition of the post (BBC News: End Labour deputy post, MPs urge) arguing that the party can ill afford the election. Presumably they're also wondering just what the post does.

Oh and in case anyone's wondering why I've shifted the style of the links, it's because of a post about hyperlinks that I recently read on Mustafa Arif's blog which specifically mentioned this one. For his comments click here. ;)

Monday, December 04, 2006

Are the DUP becoming enlightened?

One of the searches that has brought someone to this blog is:

jeffrey donaldson gay

Given his outburst on Question Time last Thursday most people would seriously doubt it. But then while looking at the other results I saw a interesting post by and this image made me laugh:

Somehow I doubt Ian Paisley would approve...

Friday, December 01, 2006

November on this blog

Yes it's that time of the month again, time for a look at the stats for this blog. Once more earlier stats can be found at the pages for February, March, April, May, June, July, August, September and October.

First off the sites most people come from:

  1. GuardianUnlimitedBlogs (NEW)
  2. Google (-1)
  3. Mars Hill (-1)
  4. (+1)
  5. Educationet Messageboard (RE-ENTRY)
  6. Jo Salmon (-2)
  7. (NEW)
  8. Cllr Iain Lindley's Diary (-5)
  9. Cally's Kitchen (-1)
  10. Wikipedia (NEW)
Dropping out of the top ten are Ulster Young Unionist Council (at 12, down 6), Antonia Bance (at 13, down 4), Mark Clarke: Conservative Future Chairman (at 16, down 9) and Iain Dale's Diary (at 28, down 18). Compared to last month it's been quite a shake-up. No less than three of the new/re-entry sites have been linking direct to my post about the Christian Union/Students' Union controversies, which as you might guess has also been the single most read individual page on the site. (However I don't normally provide stats for individual page views because many people read the posts either on the front page or through Facebook.)

Then we have the top ten search engine requests that brought people here:

  1. what does your birthday say about you (-)
  2. tim roll-pickering (-)
  3. laura blomeley (-)
  4. 'john nye' radley (NEWish - he was somewhere at the bottom last time)
  5. mp before 1945 election, john profumo (NEW)
  6. london borough of sutton postcode change (NEW)
  7. cornwallis building collapse (NEW)
  8. millwall loonies rotterdam (RE-ENTRY)
  9. kennedy assassination and "caroline hunt" (RE-ENTRY)
  10. kish queen mary college (NEW)
As ever a mixture of brand new terms and some ongoing ones. Not many outright strange terms amongst the others though - only this raised an eyebrow:

Don't count on it!

Finally as ever we have a list of all the cities detected that people are in):


Thank you all for reading!

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Question Time live

As promised, here's a live blog of tonight's Question Time:

22:36: The show starts. David Dimbleby points out the show isn't just about Northern Irish politics. Presuambly the ratings normally dive for a show from there.

22:37: The Litvinenko poisoning and whether or not it's connected to the murder of a Russian journalist. It's an important issue but so far not one of controversy amongst the panelists. Peter Hain gets asked directly about whether his "a distinctly murky murder" comment was pointing to the Kremlin. There's strong support for ensuring Russia guarentees human rights. Trimble is suggesting that under Putin Russia is re-establishing its old sphere of influence across neighbouring countries. Can the rest of Europe sit back? He seems to be suggesting that Russia should be encouraged into the European Union.

Continuing at 22:44: And very quickly someone's linked it to the situation in Northern Ireland, comparing democracy in Russia to direct rule in Northern Ireland. At least the Russians get to have elections for governing bodies that aren't suspended by external forces. And someone else causes McGuinness a hypocrite and now Jeffrey Donaldson jumps in with a comparison to spy scandals. Does no-one in Northern Irish politics understand why Question Time tries to stay away as much as possible? Martin McGuinness responds to the hypocrisy charge by pointing out how many have voted for his party. The person who called him a hypocrite says she comes from "West Belfast" - is she a nationalist or unionist? (The Shankill is very much West Belfast - indeed that was the name of the Pals regiments from there.)

Continuing at 22:48: Mark Durkan finally gets to speak and starts with Russia. He calls for firmer pressure to brought on the country but points out that it has vast sources of energy that could be held hostage. Clearly that's going to take more than just telling Putin to stick to kissing children. Meanwhile the last audience member gets in a comment about the NHS failing Litvinenko.

22:52: The new law against homophobia is taking effect in Northern Ireland first. Jeffrey Donaldson tries to play the card that this is an attack on Christians. As a Christian I am sick to death of people trying to justify their right to express and pursue hatred in the name of their faith. It's not about "having a different opinion" it's about pushing hatred in the name of different opinion. The only point I agree with on is that Northern Ireland shouldn't be a test for the law - it should take effect everywhere at the same time. Mark Durkan is far more sensible that bed and breakfasts sould be there to be guests for all. Some idiot in the audience claims Christianity is anti-gay. He should go and reread his Bible. Peter Hain reminds us of the era of guest houses with "No Dogs, No Blacks, No Irish" signs. For once I find myself fiercely nodding with him.

Continuing at 22:56: And now we seem to have someone from Fathers for Justice in the audience. I bet Antonia is fuming.

Continuing at 22:57: A woman from Lagan Valley (Donaldson's seat) states how disgusted she is with her MP. Good on her! David Trimble makes the point I just did - that this should be the same throughout the United Kingdom. Dimbleby makes the interesting point that the Cabinet is divided but Peter Hain has the power to drive this through in Northern Ireland. Peter Hain is trying to hide Ruth Kelly's widely known opposition to equality. Donaldson tries to claim this is not about bigotry. What next Jeffrey? "No Catholics"? I find myself agreeing heaving with Martin McGuinness's point that if you offer a service to the public it must be open to all the public.

23:02: Is the peace process being rushed due to Blair's impending departure and desire for a legacy? Well since when has four years been a rush? Now for some fireworks... Trimble suggests the DUP and Sinn Fein have no real opposition to the basic agreement but are just dragging their heels. (And incidentally one bonus for the parties is that Peter Hain can impose anything harsh on the province that's needed whilst the local parties can escape blame for what they would have o do if they'd had responsibility anyway.) I'm sure someone is going to pick up on McGuinness's criticism of the loyalist terrorist as someone "who still thinks it's acceptable to kill people" for a political cause. Everyone seems to want speed and blame someone else for the delay. And apparently Ian Paisley was invited for the panel but refused to sit on the same panel as Matin McGuinness. That's going to be interesting when they're the First Minister and Deputy First Minister. Perhaps the Alliance Party can once more fulfil its role of providing neutral politicians and take on the role of official messenger. Someone in the audience tries to move the debate onto rates and water charges. Peter Hain rattles off some statistics to try to make the charges look fair. He seems confident about a restoration about devolution. Meanwhile an audience member asks about the shared community - but votes for cross community candidates are currently plumetting (unless they're single issue save the hospital candidates). Trimble makes the telling point - the DUP have basically accepted all the principles of the agreement that they bitterly denounced since 1998 (something Donaldson is not in a position to easily argue against, having been a fair weather friend of the DUP). Durkan sounds like the main voice of reason at the moment.

23:16: Is it right for Blair to apologise for slavery but not the Iraq War? From recollection the parties split down the Unionist-Nationalist divide at the time on this one - indeed the Unionist Parties seemed the most united in the UK on the war. Naturally McGuinness agrees there should be an apology, whilst Trimble thinks the slavery apology was wrong as the UK not only stopped the trade in its own jurisdiction but arbitarily enforced the ban on other countries. Donaldson and Trimble are "for once" in complete agreement, thinking it's good Saddam Hussein has gone. I'm not so sure that the end chapter on the Iraq War has been written yet and we could yet get a new strong man in power, maybe pushing active fundamentalism. Otherwise the discussion frankly feels like a rerun of the arguments of the last four years, with the same people taking the same positions each time. As for slavery, I'm not sure what I think. Can an apology for an act of history, that occurred centuries ago, actually have any real meaning? Today's government and Parliament contains not one person who was alive at the time of the slave trade.

23:27: Is Charles Clarke right about Trident? The panel was discussing the dangers of Russia drifting back towards its old position earlier! A nuclear deterrent is essential in an era when there are many potentially unstable states in the world. We cannot ensure that we will not face rogue countries with nuclear weapons when we have none. Unilateral disarmament would be madness. Is it any real surprise that an ex Home Secretary wants the money spent on threats the Home Office rather than the MoD normally handles? Finally Donaldson says something I strongly agree with when he makes the same point. Peter Hain is trying to take the credit for the forthcoming vote in Parliament and standing up for democracy rather than a firm position on whether or not he agrees with it.

23:34: If you could paint a slogan on Stormont what would it be? Some slightly humourous responses, although the sentiments are very predictable.

On the whole this was one of the better editions from Northern Ireland - Dimbleby didn't have to read the riot act this time. But as ever there was too often an attempt to drag international issues back to local affairs.

Question Time tonight

It's coming from Belfast and if my memory's correct the panel is almost identical to the last time the show was there - Donaldson, McGuinness, Durkan and Trimble from amongst the local politicians.

Indeed why is Trimble on the panel? The Ulster Unionists have been trying to move forwards so why are they represented on the panel by an elder statesperson rather than one of their current leading figures?

Look out for a live blog tonight.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Another petition

We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to Extend the Student Loans Scheme to cover those undertaking postgraduate study.

This is because:

Higher Education contributes to the development of individuals and society. We believe that extending the Student Loans Scheme to postgraduates, thereby allowing students to defer the current up-front cost of postgraduate study, will benefit those undertaking postgraduate study and society through those able to access funding. A deferred payment scheme would support those not able to obtain funding and support the completion of postgraduate study for those who wish to undertake it.
Currently this is one of the fastest growing petitions on the website. Please can you all sign it.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

No change at Oxford

It's almost like the lightbulb joke:

How many students does it take to change a lightbulb?
Oxford: Change?!?!
Oxford academics have rejected proposed reforms of the university's finances. Instead their votes will keep in place a 900 year old system.

Now I haven't kept up too well with the details. Often it's better for an institution to vote down a bad set of proposed changes rather than go with the mentality "something must change, this is a proposed change, we must make this change". But from what I've seen the basic principles of separating out the academic and financial side of the council and having external members of the financial council would be to the university's benefit, making it easier to raise private money to provide support for students from poorer backgrounds.

Here's hoping that good, constructive reforms for the benefit of all Oxford and beyond will be adopted (and proposed if needs be).

Well it made me laugh...

Courtesy of Contemplative Activist:

Friday, November 24, 2006

Paul Bristow for Hammersmith!

My friend and former national chairperson of Conservative Future Paul Bristow has recently set up The Bristow Blog to cover his work as a councillor in Hammersmith & Fulham.

With boundary changes taking effect at the next election, there is invariably much speculation about who will be the Conservative candidate in the new Hammersmith seat (current Hammersmith & Fulham MP Greg Hands is seeking the nomination for Chelsea & Fulham). And some have tipped Paul for the nomination. I sincerely hope he applies and is chosen - he will be a fantastic choice!

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Fantastic cartoon

I found this on a post that linked to my blog:

cartoon from

Cartoon by Dave Walker. Find more cartoons you can freely re-use on your blog at We Blog Cartoons.

Bishops jump on a bandwagon

In the latest development in the row about Christian Unions at universities, a group of bishops have signed a letter calling the Christian Unions to be reinstated.

I suspect that some of the bishops have not done their research on this. They might have taken into account the following comments from a student at Exter:

I find it incredibly saddening that the Catholic Church has opted for a quick 'PR' win, commenting on an issue that it hasn't bothered to research.

Had the Roman Catholic church's lead bishop on higher education spoken to the Student Catholic Society at Exeter (and many other of the other denominational societies) he would have learnt of thriving Christian societies on campus at Exeter, working together with other religions in a spirit of unity and peace.

Instead it has jumped on the growing media band wagon claiming that Christians are being ruthlessly suppressed.

How very ironic that on the day that murmurings from the Vatican suggest that the Roman Catholic church will take a more liberal view of contraception, Bishops in England clamour to defend a evangelical view of Christianity that even moderate Christians would find offensive.

Posted by alaindesmier on November 23, 2006 10:22 AM.
I've seen similar comments in various discussion forums, including a messageboard of Exeter students that has linked to this very blog (thanks for the link peeps). But all too many are jumping on a bandwagon and seeing persecution where there is none.

Perhaps all the people talking about the law can explain why Christian Unions should be exempt from Section 22-2-i (I don't know the formal way to cite laws) of the 1994 Education Act:

(i) the procedure for allocating resources to groups or clubs should be fair and should be set down in writing and freely accessible to all students;
How is it fair to require other societies to be open to all students and democratically run but give exemption to Christian Unions?

Or for that matter, why do many Christian Unions require people to sign a statement of beliefs to join? Since when has a Christian Union Membership Secretary been needed to judge an individual's personal relationship with God?

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Birthday Meme

I have been tagged to do the following by Mars Hill.

The instructions:

1) Go to Wikipedia
2) In the search box, type your birth month and day but not the year.
3) List three events that happened on your birthday
4) List two important birthdays and one death
5) One holiday or observance (if any)

Here are mine:

Three things that happened on my birthday

480 BC - Greco-Persian Wars: Battle of Thermopylae - Persians under Xerxes defeat Spartans under King Leonidas. The Spartans fought to the last man.

1919 - Constitution of Weimar Republic adopted

1984 - United States President Ronald Reagan, during a voice check for a radio broadcast remarks "My fellow Americans, I'm pleased to tell you today that I've signed legislation that will outlaw Russia forever. We begin bombing in five minutes".

Two important birthdays and one death

1897 - Enid Blyton, English author (d. 1968)

1943 - Pervez Musharraf, Pakistani general, 12th President of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan

1994 - Peter Cushing, British actor (b. 1913)

Holidays and Observations

Brazil - Student's Day, Lawyer's Day, Foundation of the Law Studies in Brazil

Taiwan - Valentine's Day

Zimbabwe - Heroes Day

Tagging: Everyone who reads my blog, whether at the original source or on Facebook.

More Downing Street petitions

Following on from my previous post, other notable petitions on the Downing Street website include:

*Repeal the Hunting Act 2004
*Scrap university tuition fees and stop the marketisation of higher education
*scrap the proposed introduction of ID cards
*create a new exception to copyright law that gives individuals the right to create a private copy of copyrighted materials for their own personal use, including back-ups, archiving and shifting format
*Offer the British people a referendum on continued membership of the European Union
*cease using the so called need for 'constructive engagement' as an excuse to give impunity to Israel to continue to violate international humanitarian law
*Abolish inheritance tax
*create a national railcard and make all train fares more affordable than the corresponding car journeys, for the sake of our environment
*Legalise Marriage for Same-Sex Couples
*Ban junk mail
*Allow and take part in an independent enquiry into the events leading to the war in Iraq
*reject any extension to the state funding of political parties
*Limit the early release of prisoners
*ensure the future of an independent British nuclear deterrent by working to replace the existing Trident ballistic missile system
*Move the UK fully onto the metric system
*Enforce Disability Rights and Make it illegal to misuse disabled parking spaces and make councils enforce easy wheelchair access to all shop and businesses & to improve pavement conditions to make it easier for wheelchair users
*Introduce the Tennants right to buy Housing Association Homes
*Accept that comprehensive education has failed and to reintroduce academic selection in schools
*condemn Nicaragua for outlawing all abortion
*support the retention of the present voting system and resist calls for proportional representation
*compel the post office to scrap its disproportionate handling fee for underpaid items

Please sign the ones you agree with.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Who killed Kennedy?

That time of year is approaching once again, the time when everyone starts speculating about the assassination of John F. Kennedy.

I've never been too sure what to think on this one. Whilst I think the evidence is pretty clear that Jack Ruby just happened to be in the right place when he killed Lee Harvey Oswald (who's transference was delayed and would have originally happened when Ruby was wiring money), I honestly don't know what to make of the seemingly infinite analyses that "prove" everything from the Warren Commission conclusion that Oswald was a lone nut to the theory that Oswald was set-up as a scapegoat and a whole posse of gunman were shooting at Kennedy.

But it's with some amusement that I noted the following search term had brought someone to this blog:

kennedy assassination and "caroline hunt"

So just what was Caroline doing in Dallas that day, many years before she was born? ;)

On Christian Unions and Students' Unions

As both a Christian and a Students' Union officer it was almost inevitable that I'd write something on the current row in the media and the blogosphere about the current clash between several university Christian Unions and their Student's Unions.

One of the things that stands out the most is that this issue has been very badly reported and I suspect some have misrepresented the position they are in to increase their apparent "victim status". I can't comment on the individual cases without further knowledge (although as a colleague and friend works at Birmingham I have heard some of the details of the situation there) but some of the issues are quite commonplace across the board.

First off these are not cases of "banning" but rather the Students' Unions are disaffiliating the Christian Unions from the union. Society affiliation is basically the formal means by which a society at a university applies and qualifies for access to students' union society resources, which variously include funding, cheap or free room bookings, the SU acting as a guarantor on booking rooms from the university, a website on the SU server, maybe a voting member of the Societies' Forum or Union Council (depending upon how the Students' Union governance is structured) and so forth. In order to qualify for this, there are often a number of requirements set down by the Students' Union that societies must meet. These invariably include:

*The society must be open to membership by all students
*Conformity to equal opportunities and non-discriminatory practices
*The society officers (who are the ones who will be determining how the students' union resources are being used) must be democratically elected by the members of the society
*A minimum number of members (sometimes more than one minimum, related to the levels of funding available)
*Not substantially duplicating another society already in existence

And often some or all of the first three cause problems for Christian Unions. If one comment I've seen on a blog today is true then for years the Universities and Colleges' Christian Fellowship (the national body for Christian Unions) used to have a policy that Christian Unions would not affiliate to Students' Unions. In a somewhat ironic position given the current row, the UCCF would disbar any Christian Union that did.

When I was at the University of Kent the Christian Union there was not affiliated to the Students' Union and, as far as I could see, had no intention to. Whether they had tried to in years past I do not know, but in my day the attitude of the CU was that affiliating would be incompatible as they did not wish to elect their officers, instead having the outgoing officers and some outsiders select the new ones, they would have to drop the requirement for members to sign the UCCF Doctrinal statement (see here for more details, albeit from a critical source) to be open to membership by all students and some other reasons relating to the way they raised and spent money. Also they weren't the only Christian group on campus - others such as the Anglican Society (later "Christian Focus") and the (Roman) Catholic Society were in strong existence and were open to membership by all students. Indeed there were a number of students (mainly reading Theology but also some with friends in several societies) who were members of both, as well as of the Islamic Society.

It seems the Kent problems weren't unique - at Reading it appears there were tensions between the SU and CU, not helped by some in the UCCF apparently spreading scare stories and encouraging confrontation. However an agreed relationship between the two bodies was worked out that is now praised by both UCCF staff members and the current Reading SU President.

Unfortunately not all have pursued a constructive policy and I suspect that much of the current uproar stems from confrontationalists once again spreading misleading advice and encouraging a hardline stance.

The other issue that comes up the most in clashes between CUs and SUs is equal opportunities. Many have felt the Christian Union is not always preaching tolerance - I can recall reports of moments when they have said "We pray against Muslims" and many have found their position on homosexuality to be deeply and proactively intolerant. This is a much harder issue to comment on without knowing the facts, but if true then the societies are promoting intolerance and it is right for the students' union to deny affiliation, funds and resources because of this.

One other point that has been raised is that the actions against Christian Unions are somehow "anti-Christian". But many critics of CUs are to be found amongst Christians. Indeed when the Warwick CU was disaffiliated from the SU some years ago, it was members of Christian Focus who were amongst the most prominent supporters of the move. Many Christians at universities find the CU to be very narrow in their doctrine, being only evangelical protestant but claiming to be a body for "all Christians".

Unfortunately much of the media seems to be spinning the story as one of secular fanatics persecuting innocent Christians. Will they ever get their facts straight?

Friday, November 17, 2006

All this for a few dozen?

The Dutch cabinet has backed a proposal to ban Muslim women from wearing the burqa in public places. Out of the approximately 5% inhabitants of the Netherlands it seems only a few dozen actually wear the burqa!

The issues of freedom of religious expression and integration are complicated subjects and sometimes I wonder if the huge debate and threatened bans have just encouraged more people to wear religious dress. Bans are a very confrontational approach, taking a "with us or against us?", "within the law or outside it?" attitude. They will do nothing to encourage integration. Society is an organic concept. It can't be simply surgically changed by taking on artificial constructs and expecting things to naturally adapt.

And whilst the proposed law would currently impact on only a handful, just what effect is it going to have? It may help the Dutch government win the forthcoming elections, but it's more likely to encourage the wearing of wear the burqa as a defiance of the law than encourage greater understanding and tolerance.

There used to be a stereotype of the Dutch as the most tolerant people in Europe. I wonder what happened to it?

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Is the Labour Deputy Leadership worth a pitcher of warm piss?

Antonia has declared her support for Jon Cruddas as Deputy Leader of the Labour Party. But why is this the contested post?

A good Daily Telegraph editorial on Saturday noticed that the last time a Labour Prime Minister announced he was retiring in government, no less than five candidates had declared to succeed him within a few hours. And these were not lightweights - they included the Foreign Secretary, the Home Secretary, the Employment Secretary, the Energy Secretary and the Environment Secretary. The Chancellor of the Exchequer soon threw his hat into the ring.

By contrast it is now two months since Tony Blair was forced to concede a timetable and there is only one candidate for the leadership. Meanwhile the Deputy Leadership race is getting crowded. But just what does a Deputy Leader actually do?

I'm reminded of the way that the Vice President of the United States is traditionally one of the most maligned positions in any democracy. Just think for a moment as to how many Vice Presidents you can name. I bet very few of them did not go on to become President.

Who can remember the Vice President who remarked that the post was "the most insignificant office that ever the invention of man contrived or his imagination conceived"? Well he was quite famous but for other things - he was John Adams. Or the one who said "Once there were two brothers. One went away to sea; the other was elected Vice President of the United States. And nothing was heard of either of them again." He was not so famous at all - Thomas R. Marshall. (He also said "Indiana is the mother of Vice Presidents, home of more second-class men than any other state." He was probably wrong - New York has produced no less than ten - though Indiana, which ties with Massachusetts for second place with four apiece, did go on to produce Dan Quayle.)

And then there's the one who called the job "not worth a bucket of warm piss". Otherwise the only thing John Nance Garner is notable for is living to just 15 days short of his 99th birthday - the record for any President or Vice President.

The office only really gained some significance under Richard Nixon, who had the benefit of both media attention and a President who wished to stand above partisan debate. Even then the post has risen and fallen - George H. W. Bush seemed to spend most of his time going to funerals and other dull diplomatic tasks.

What precise role does the Deputy Leader of the Labour Party serve? Gordon Brown does not hold the position, nor did Tony Blair. Indeed I can think of only two Deputies who became leader - Clement Attlee (and this was only because when George Lansbury insisted on resigning despite unanimous please by MPs for him to stay, most sitting Labour MPs believed Arthur Greenwood was unsuitable and Attlee was about the only viable person about) and Michael Foot (hardly a leadership career to aspire to repeat).

And so we're left with a situation where Gordon Brown looks set to take the real position all but uncontested (maybe a token challenge to force a ballot but that's about it) whilst numerous Labour politicians fall over the Deputy Leadership. Is it worth it?

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Come on 2008!

The next US President?It seems my hopes of seeing a New Yorker as the next US President (and no, a certain carpetbagger isn't one - when I visited New York during her first Senate race it seemed full of "Little Miss Arkansas" dolls) have come a step closer. Rudolph Giuliani has formed an "exploratory committee" - the first formal step for a bid. As you might guess from my past comments I'm very glad to see him enter the race. The US desperately needs to rebuild respect around the world after one President who attacked countries in the name of a crusade and another who attacked countries to cover up the misbehaviour of his penis.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

The Governator reigns supreme!

Just imagine... the Vice Presinator!Arnold Schwarzenegger has been re-elected in California, terminating all opposition. Here's to another four years postponing production of the next Terminator movie!

Sadly it seems doubtful that he could run for Vice President as I'd like to see.

Thoughts on the US midterms

I'm currently watching as the results of the US midterms come in. Given some of the exchanges between commentators and bitter concession speeches I feel ever more proud of UK politics.

As I write this the results are looking exciting. It seems likely the Democrats will gain control of the House of Representatives and finally put a brake on the excesses of the Bush Republicans. The Senate is looking tighter and could come down to a handful of precincts that have still to declare.

Amongst the individual results of note:

*Sadly Hilary Clinton has been re-elected in New York. Unlike many of my readers, I don't rate her highly at all and feel another Clinton in the White House would just be a disaster. Why anyone thinks she is an electable Presidential candidate is beyond me - the Democrats tried a New England liberal in 2004 and lost. Hilary Clinton is hardly the politician to make gains in the South (she didn't exactly hang around there to launch her own political career) or the mountains or other Red States. She may go down well on the coasts, but those are reliable Democrat bankers anyway.

*I think Bill Nelson has been re-elected in Florida. My former flatmate is over there and has an invitation to the party for Katherine Harris. It's probably the least wanted party invitation in the country - even the Bush brothers didn't want Harris on the Republican slate.

*Joseph Lieberman has won re-elected in Connecticut as an Independent, despite previously losing the Democratic primary. However I doubt this represents the beginning of a significant third party movement - this is really an opening up of the Democratic primary.

*Hilary Clinton has just started her speech. She thinks "democracy is great" - perhaps she could encourage the US to curb its anti-democratic gerrymanders and other restrictive practices. Otherwise it's a rather rambling "new beginning" style speech, trying to avoid her image as a staunch liberal. If she's not going to run for President I'll eat my socks.

I look forward to 2008 and hope we'll see a New Yorker elected President.

Doctor Who - The Invasion

As is now regular, following my previous postings for Inferno, The Hand of Fear, The Mark of the Rani and The Sontaran Experiment, here is my review from the Doctor Who Ratings Guide of this week's DVD release, The Invasion:

Fast paced and strong

This review almost rivals mine for The Crusade for strangeness because it is based on a combination of the BBC Video release and Michael Palmer's reconstruction of Episodes 1 and 4.

Right from the start this story is fast paced and rarely drags throughout its eight episodes. The Invasion works on several different levels, offering action, intrigue, comedy and conflict. As a test run for the UNIT format it works well since the organisation is presented with a strong level of sophistication rather than as just a bunch of soldiers for the action sequences. There are a few special effects that don't quite make it, such as the model work or a Cyberman falling off the factory roof in the final episode, but by and large these are easy to overlook.

Of all the Doctor Who stories set around familiar sites, The Invasion is the one I feel closest to because I spent four and a years at the City of London School which in its current location is just opposite the St. Paul's Cathedral steps that feature so prominently at the end of Episode 6 (although the steps themselves have since been rebuilt to be more disability friendly). Consequently the locations seen in those sequences are very familiar to me and thus make the threat seem a lot more real than even the shots of the Daleks in Trafalgar Square in The Dalek Invasion of Earth. Wisely the story doesn't focus on these moments and indeed the Cybermen themselves are little more than just another race of invading monsters. Although this means nothing new is learnt about them, this does not detract from the story which focuses its attention elsewhere.

Like The Daleks' Master Plan, the main villain of the story is a human, and as with the earlier epic Kevin Stoney gives an exceptionally strong and memorable performance that contrasts well with that of the Doctor. Tobias Vaughn is a ruthless businessman and as such very different from most other foes in the series. In many ways he can be seen as a precursor of the modern incarnation of Superman's long running foe, Lex Luthor. (Although Luthor has been around since about 1940, it was only in the 1980s that he was portrayed as a corporate head with a hidden agenda, prior to this he was a run-of-the-mill mad scientist.) Treading the fine line between genius and madman, Vaughn comes across as a competent schemer whose plans are only disrupted by the unforeseen intervention of the Doctor, thus making the latter central to the plot.

Equally strong is Nicholas Courtney, returning as the now-promoted Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart. His presence in the story helps to cut out what would otherwise have been a drawn out process of the Doctor seeking to establish his credentials with UNIT, which would undercut the pilot nature of the story. Many of the rest of the cast also turn in good performances, showing shrewd casting by director Douglas Camfield.

Both the design and direction of the story are very strong, with the script helping to cover up matters such as both of Vaughn's offices using the same set or the absence of the sequence in which UNIT rescue Professor Watkins. UNIT are truly a force to be reckoned with, as are the Cybermen, and so the whole story gels together due to strong and complementary production values.

All in all, The Invasion is one of the highlights of Doctor Who, both in previewing the major format change that was about to occur and also in telling a strong story in its own right. 10/10

Michael Palmer's reconstruction of the missing episodes is now four years old and shows its age through the lack of text captions to explain matters where the audio isn't necessarily clear. However it is very good considering the lack of telesnaps and manages to explain everything well. The one curiosity is a review of the story by Stephen Broome at the start of the tape which is notable for his statement that the incidental music wisely stays in the background - unlike on his review where some music is played so loudly in the background that at times it is difficult to hear what he is saying. The reconstruction itself is good, although likely to be superseded in the near future by one using text as well. 8/10

The BBC video release used simple narration by Nicholas Courtney to fill in the gaps. The links are good, but could contain more information such as why the TARDIS is invisible in Episode 8. With hindsight the absence of an audio tape containing the sound for the missing episodes is noticeable, but at the time it wasn't too much of a problem. The links are redundant now, but served their purpose adequately at the time. 7/10
The Invasion can be purchased from here.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

On Saddam's death sentence

I have always found capital punishment to be utterly repugnant. The idea that the state can have a right to take life feels like an abdication of the moral high ground and comes down to legalised killing. It is not done for defence but rather for vengeance, to sate a blood lust.

There can be no exceptions to such a position. Whatever Saddam Hussein has done, sentencing him to death is a state taking action to kill. It is declaring that people are potentially beyond redemption. That there is no hope in the world.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Are Fish & Chips doomed?

I have a confession to make. One of my favourite meals of all is Cod and Chips. And nothing brings home a danger than a threat to the stomach. So the news that we could run out of fish has me especially worried.

Somehow I doubt trying to turn fish into a luxury meal would have any effect. But what is the answer? A world without fish to eat will be a very sad place.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Michael Heseltine on top form

I'm just watching the start of Question Time. Michael Heseltine is on top form, pulling out all the quotes Charles Clarke made about Gordon Brown - '"he can't work with people" and the people of the electorate will have the say if he can work with them'!

Still not the man of the futureMeanwhile Sir Menzies Campbell has once more cocked up his attempt to present himself as a politician of the future, by appearing on a panel with former Cabinet Ministers, including one who joined his party's frontbench in Ted Heath's day! When are the Liberal Democrats going to publicly admit that "a safe pair of hands" is not what they need and bring in a leader who can give the party direction and make it look forwards?

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

How does one remove a Speaker?

Does anyone disagree that Speaker Michael Martin made a hash of it? But the question that no-one seems to be able to answer is how the Commons can remove an incompetent Speaker if it so desires.

In most meetings there exists the option to no-confidence the Chair, whether on a procedural motion raised from the floor or by formal resolution. But does this option exist anywhere in the rules of the House of Commons? And have any MPs the willingness to use it if needs be?

October on this blog

As ever, a look at the stats for this blog. Once more earlier stats can be found at the pages for February, March, April, May, June, July, August and September.

First off the sites most people come from:

  1. Google (-)
  2. Mars Hill (+1)
  3. Cllr Iain Lindley's Diary (+2)
  4. Jo Salmon (-2)
  5. (+1)
  6. Ulster Young Unionist Council (+1)
  7. Mark Clarke: Conservative Future Chairman (NEW)
  8. Cally's Kitchen (+1)
  9. Antonia Bance (-1)
  10. Iain Dale's Diary (-)
Dropping out of the top ten altogether is (at 18, down 14). Not a very exciting month with most sites moving at most two spots. The one notable new arrival is Mark Clarke.

Then we have the top ten search engine requests that brought people here:

  1. what does your birthday say about you (-)
  2. tim roll-pickering (-)
  3. laura blomeley (-)
  4. martin cakebread conservatives (NEW)
  5. when is iain paisley birthday? (NEW; and it's April 6th)
  6. question time panelists (NEW)
  7. aston university labour blog fiona (NEW)
  8. what are the names of the old grumpy muppets (NEW; and they are Statler and Waldorf or Ming and Vince)
  9. blog sutton surrey (NEW)
  10. end of charles kennedy (NEW)
As ever a mixture of brand new terms and some ongoing ones. Some of the stranger other terms include:

Not too many downright absurd terms this time though.

Finally as ever we have a list of all the cities detected that people are in):


Thank you all for reading!

Friday, October 20, 2006

Have I Got News For You tonight

I've currently watching Have I Got News For You which tonight has Alan Duncan on the show. So far he's tried doing some impressions but it would help if we knew who he was trying to mimic! Which makes me wonder - which MP from each party is the best on the show? I think we'll have to exempt Boris from this one as no other Conservative would get a look in!

Political junkie test!

Courtesy of Mars Hill...

The things that are true about me are in bold:

You're a political junkie if.......

1. The first thing you do in the morning is check the BBC’s politics website, followed by the broadsheets
2. You can name 10 Lib Dem MPs
3. The Today programme is as much a morning routine as brushing your teeth and taking a piss
4. You know the URLs for the Top Three political blogs from memory
5. In your briefcase is a copy of Private Eye, an iPod, and Alan Clarke's biography
6. You read Boris every week, even if its only to disagree
7. You record Question Time via Series Link on your SKY + box
8. You know the Huffington Post is not a newspaper from a town called Huffington
9. You know who Nicholas Sarkozy is
10. Your family never brings up politics in your presence
11. You have a complex opinion of Tony Blair
12. You actually know where the politics section is at your local Waterstones
13. You always vote
14. Your water cooler conversations usually revolve around a recent Westminster scandal,
15. You have given money to a political party, via either membership or a donation
16. Your dream is to appear on QT yourself
17. You read political blogs during your lunch hour
18. You see more of Iain Dale or Recess Monkey than your children, sadly (Not hard when I have no children)
19. You can name the last four foreign secretaries
20. You have a 'handle' at Labourhome.

No Short shock

Clare Short has left the Parliamentaty Labour Party. Given how she's been out of sync with Labour for so long now, including her call for a hung Parliament at the next election, the only surprising thing is that she stayed in the party for so long.

There was a time when Short was a serious force in the Labour Party one that could threaten to detrain the New Labour project. A decade ago as Shadow Transport Secretary she earned the wrath of Blair when during a tube strike she walked out of an interview on camera because she didn't want to say she supported the right to take the public hostage in industrial disputes. She was rapidly sidelined but could not be easily sacked.

Once she was seen as a probable future Deputy Leader - but her bizarre actions over the Iraq War put paid to that. One of the great ironies is that ten years ago it was Short who was one of the fiercest Shadow Cabinet critics of Harriet Harman's decision to send her son to a good school. Today it is Harman, not Short, who is the contender for the Deputy Leadership.

I doubt anyone in the Labour Party is losing sleep tonight over Short's departure. She has long alienated her support base and failed to replace it. She will join a long list of MPs who ended their days in Parliament whipless and forgotten.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

On the purpose of Conservative Future

The other night I attended the King's College London Conservatives' Freshers' Party - all in all an enjoyable night. Whilst there I met for the first time Mark Clarke the new chairperson of Conservative Future. I was stunned to see how candid he is about the problems facing the organisation and he impressed me well, even though I endorsed a different candidate in the election. (He did, however, make two mistakes by forgetting to get me a Corona at the bar - although he did his best to make this up - and since then referring to my university as "London University". Given the controversy about this at his own alma mater I wonder if I should let this one go...)

Amidst this Mark challenged me to post on my blog what I think are the three defining purposes of Conservative Future. This isn't the strangest request I've ever had in Soho at 0100 but here's what I came up with that night, in no particular order:

*To serve as a forum and network to engage younger members of the Conservative Party.
*To provide younger members with the opportunity to influence policy (but notably not to be a potential platform for any faction in the Party to try and seize).
*To support and encourage local branches.

Perhaps there should also be:

*To teach bloggers how to better answer this question in the small hours.

I'll give it another go soon but what do others think a political party's youth wing exists for?

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Doctor Who - The Sontaran Experiment

As is now regular, following my previous postings for Inferno, The Hand of Fear and The Mark of the Rani, here is my review from the Doctor Who Ratings Guide of this week's DVD release, The Sontaran Experiment:

A Time Filler

This story is a rarity in that it is set entirely on location but unfortunately it becomes all too obvious that virtually everything takes place in an immediate vicinity and so there's little sense of scale about the events. Furthermore the absence of shots of either the GalSec colonist's ship or the Sontaran battle fleet results in little sense of just how important matters are.

A strong attempt is made to give both Sarah and Harry something to do in this story but it is clear that Harry is there to perform an action role in the mould of Jamie, Ben, Steven or Ian and that this role is redundant given that the Doctor himself can perform such a role.

Part One foolishly spends all its time building up a sense of mystery that can only be resolved hurriedly in Part Two. This story is extremely light on character or incident and is wisely confined to only being a two-parter since it could never have supported anything longer. The plot is at least original but given that the story is set in the far future it is extremely difficult to accept that the Sontarans require such basic information about the human physical form. The use of the Sontarans is a good idea, since it provides a link with the last Jon Pertwee season and thus shows to the viewer that even though the Doctor has recently changed appearance, the adventures and adversaries remain the same. But given the length of time that has passed since the 11th century one has to wonder how the human race can have escaped the attention of the Sontarans for so long.

In contrast to his direction on the previous story, The Ark in Space, Rodney Bennett's direction is far less inspired on location and so there's very little suspense or terror. The effects are also weak, with Styre's robot best forgotten. Styre makes a strong physical impression but otherwise there's extremely little in this story that's visually memorable.

On the acting side none of the guest cast stand out in any particular way, though Kevin Lindsay brings a strong sadistic streak to Styre. Ultimately it is difficult to find very much in The Sontaran Experiment that stands out in any particular way. This is a story that at best fills up a gap and is fortunately over far sooner than many other time fillers. 4/10
The Sontaran Experiment can be purchased from here.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Why Trident should be replaced

Recently there's been a lot of debate about whether or not the UK should replaced Trident or just abandon nuclear when the system becomes obsolete. This week's news should, I hope, make the case for multi-lateralism absolutely clear.

No-one wants a nuclear war, but the idea of unilaterally disarming and leaving nuclear weapons in the control of states such as North Korea is a worrying thought. Many have made the case that the problems the world faces today stem from terrorism, against whom nuclear weapons are not much use. But our ancestors in the nineteenth century probably thought Europe was stable and that armies and weapons for grandscale wars were a thing of the past. The geopolitical situation is in constant flux. Today is a reminder of the power rogue states can yield.

I hope that this doubles the resolve to replace Trident.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

France calls time on smokers

Bravo France! Now there's something I don't often say! Smoking in public is to be banned there from January 2008. No longer will people have smoke forced upon them against their will. And smokers will find it easier to quit without reminders and temptation around.

This is not a freedom of choice issue as smoke does not recognise the individual's choice as to whether they wish to consume passive smoke or the smell. If individuals wish to consume smoke in private they will still be able to. But in public they will not be able to impose their smoke on others.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

From Vision to Reality

Recently whilst commuting to and from the campus I've been reading the history of my alma mater, From Vision to Reality: The Making of the University of Kent at Canterbury by Graham Martin (the University's first Dean of Natural Sciences and second Deputy Vice Chancellor). The book is a fascinating insight into the origins of the University and some of its distinctive ideas, several of which had either been modified or fallen away by the time I first started there (nearly a decade after it was published).

Much of the focus is understandably on the 1960s, showing how the plans came together, how Canterbury was one of several proposed sites, all with ardent backers and developing plans. When Martin writes that the proposal for a University of Thanet was "furthest along the road" my reaction is that so is Thanet! One of the reasons why I opted for Kent in the end is its location - the view of Canterbury is gorgeous (especially at night when the Cathedral is lit up) and I wonder if I would have wound up going to Thanet had it been sited there instead. The university's original strange name is also explained - at the time the practice in the UK was to name universities after the town whose boundaries they were located in, but the Canterbury campus straddled the border between the-then county borough (a unitary authority in case you're wondering) of Canterbury and the jurisdiction of Kent County Council. With sponsors of the project coming from both "town" and "county" there was much debate and the Executive Committee of the Sponsors was split 50:50 between "University of Canterbury" and "University of Kent at Canterbury". (The chairperson declined to use the casting vote as he was clearly from the county - I wonder if this is the origin of the cautious attitude to casting votes that is particularly strong at the University.) Then it became clear that it would not be possible to have the same name as another university in the Commonwealth. The name persisted for decades even when expansion opened up a site at Chatham, but was finally officially changed to the simpler "University of Kent" three years ago (I think my MA graduation was the last under the old name) when the Medway campus was established. By this time local government changes had replaced the county borough of Canterbury with a much larger district, but Medway is now within a unitary authority! One wonders if this caused any headscratching...

One of the more radical ideas that stands out is the original academic plan to have no Departments below the Faculties and to make all degrees to an extent inter-disciplinary, with the first year by and large being a faculty wide program of study. The idea soon fell to pieces because of problems in individual subjects - for instance new students reading Maths often hadn't taken Chemistry at A-Level and vice versa, meaning that a lot of catch-up work would be required - and eventually the drift towards individual Departments for each subjects and specialised first years developed. Martin speculates that it would take a fundamental restructuring of the way A-Levels are operated for such an inter-disciplinary approach to work. That said the idea is not totally dead - in my first year we were only required to pick half our modules in our subjects and encouraged to take wilds in the other half. And the Open University has a similar interdisciplinary drive in at least the Humanities with most of its BA degrees including the course An Introduction to the Humanities as a core element.

It's also interesting to note that the University's Classics and Theology teaching seems to have come about because of external decisions rather than a specific desire to offer those subjects at the outset. The man recruited to be the first Dean of Humanities, Guy Chilver, was a Classicist from Oxford and so that committed the university; whilst similarly the first appointed Master of Eliot College, Alec Whitehouse, was a Theologian from Durham. I found it surprising that there was ever any doubt about teaching Theology, given the location, but it seems that from the start there was a strong secular drive in certain quarters. The University's religious connections have never been great - the choice of the Archbishop of Canterbury as Visitor was more in mimic of Durham (the University that Kent seemed to copy the most) whilst the view of the Cathedral from Eliot and Rutherford dining halls that was once cited as "evidence" that the institution as anti-semitic by an article in the Jewish Chronicle was frankly the obvious only choice and clearly preferable to the alternative of a gasometer. Holding the graduation ceremonies in Canterbury Cathedral has provided their main redeeming feature.

One of the interesting, and at times controversial, aspects of Kent has been its "collegiate" system. Of all the UK universities that I'm aware of with "colleges" (the others being Wales, London, Cambridge, Oxford, Durham, Lancaster, York), Kent has always struck me as having the weakest. Reading this book it's easy to understand what went wrong. The original idea was to combine accommodation and teaching in single buildings as a means to cut down on dead space, and at the same time to create vibrant academic communities. As note above there were planned to be no Departments, so the College would be unrivaled as the right sized unit for students' loyalties. Each was expected to have about 600 students and equivalently proportioned staff, with about half living in the college itself (and the rest in local accommodation arranged by the university) and all eating and studying there. Every student would be allocated a tutor to oversee them (remember that in 1965 most undergraduates would be legally below the age of majority) and the Master of the College was expected to be a significant figure in their university lives. It also seems that the early view of the colleges was almost like a boarding school with separate houses. However the plan quickly fell apart.

The university's expansion was always planned to be one of the fastest for a new university, but funds for new colleges did not keep up and the result was that only four were ever built. In later years when there was further demand for student accommodation in Canterbury the solution was not to build further colleges but to build non college accommodation. As a result the proportion of students who actually live within the College walls is ever smaller. The hopes that students living out would stay on campus, studying in their colleges, until dinner rapidly proved to be futile. More and more operations and facilities have shifted from the Colleges to the central university over the years, whether alumni relations, the tutorial system, accommodation services, catering (with some dining halls closed and even completely dismantled) and so forth, whilst the abolition of College amenities fees has removed the student's direct stake in their College. With very few college wide activities or competitions, as well as the rise of the Departments, it is little wonder that very few students or later alumni feel much loyalty to their college. (And to make it even more absurd, many graduates who have returned for postgraduate study have been placed in a different college suggesting that even the University isn't too fussed.) Indeed I now understand that accommodation is allocated irregardless of one's college - one wonders what purpose the structure serves at all now.

(I do remember that in my MA year the Students' Union Executive were at one point asked by the University to write a report on what students felt about the collegiate system. It rapidly proved the point that the view a committee will reach can often be preguessed by its ex-officio membership - containing all of the Presidents of the Junior College Committees amongst others. The SU President (Alix Wolverson) was a former President of the JCC in the one College where some semblance of collegiate feeling still resided and where there was a big event put on by the JCC. So she decided at the outset that we would tell the University why colleges were a good thing and told dissenters - mainly myself - that we should be "constructive" - i.e. agree with her personal opinion.)

One other chapter of interest is the one on how the University has coped with crises. Starting with the collapse of the old Canterbury to Whitstable Railway tunnel, destroying part of the Cornwallis Building in the process, Martin proceeds to look at some of the poor press coverage the university has received and explain the problems (one stemmed from a return for league tables inadvertently giving the grades for graduate students not graduating students and this error proved impossible to correct in time). He also briefly looks at some of the student protests. There is a widespread myth of the 1960s and 1970s as being an era of student protest when students were seeking to change the world, yet the protests at Kent seem to have been by and large because of either university or government education policies. Given the paternalistic attitude that the University had in the early years one can well understand the protests as a consequence of broader clashes in society, and some of the issues would doubtless elicit support today (e.g. seemingly unfair expulsions, unreasonable financial charges) even if the vehicle for expressing dissent would be different. However some show the change in attitudes - who today would object to the idea that students should be prevented from graduating if they still have outstanding debts with the university?

Whilst this book never pretends to be an objective history, and as a UKC publication has the possible stigma of an "authorised account" it does nevertheless make for a fascinating and illuminating read.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Not another Jurassic Park!

Yesterday's beast?There's a real sense of deja vu about the "tax cuts row" stories in the media. In what is supposed to be a debate about the future direction of the party, who are the faces at the head of the calls for tax cuts?

So far I've seen Edward Leigh, Simon Heffer, John Redwood and Norman Tebbit.

Rather than Clash of the Titans this feels more like a stroll round a palaeontology exhibit. All that the "Old Conservatives" have achieved is to show ever more clearly that today's leadership is not driven by the obsessions of yesteryear.

As for tax cuts themselves, I've always been sceptical that this is the most pressing issue. Economic stability must be the keystone of government policy and that is not going to be achieved by reckless spending cut pledges made years earlier. It is more important to ensure the public are able to access high quality services than to run around cutting taxes.

(All that said, as one who calculates and writes salary cheques part of me would personally prefer a flat rate tax cute if for no other reason than it makes that job easier.)

Is Labour finally going to be a party for the whole country?

One story I missed last week, amidst all the Blair-Brown feuding and a string of Labour politicians declaring that they could be the next John Prescott, was the announcement that te Labour Party has agreed to allow organisation in Northern Ireland, allowing its members to have a role in the party. Many have criticised them for not doing so before but this is a good step. However it's unclear as to whether the local party members will be allowed to take the decision for themselves on whether or not to stand. But anything that can help move Northern Irish politics into a left-right direction is to be praised.

YouGov do pay out

I've just receieved my first cheque from YouGov for answering their surveys. So much for the naysayers!

If you want to join the YouGov panel and receive money for expressing your opinions, just follow this link.

September on this blog

Once again, a look at the stats for this blog. As ever earlier stats can be found at the pages for February, March, April, May, June, July and August.

First off the sites most people come from:

  1. Google (-)
  2. Jo Salmon (+2)
  3. Mars Hill (-1)
  4. (NEW)
  5. Cllr Iain Lindley's Diary (+1)
  6. (-1)
  7. Ulster Young Unionist Council (+3)
  8. Antonia Bance (-)
  9. Cally's Kitchen (-4)
  10. Iain Dale's Diary (RE-ENTRY)
Dropping out of the top ten altogether are Dizzy Thinks (disappearing altogether) and Conservative Mind (at 19, down 10).

Then we have the top ten search engine requests that brought people here:

  1. what does your birthday say about you (+3)
  2. tim roll-pickering (-1)
  3. laura blomeley (-1)
  4. shabina begun (NEW)
  5. argumentation or persuasion editoryal (NEW)
  6. myspace radley college (NEW)
  7. isabel klint ryan (NEW)
  8. david sammels university of york (NEW)
  9. "it's dd for me" (RE-ENTRY)
  10. piers morgan question time (NEW)
As ever a mixture of brand new terms and some ongoing ones. Some of the sillier other terms include:

The last one surprises me as I haven't written anything here about my brief time at Radley (to say I hated it isn't strong enough), where John Nye was my housemaster.

Finally as ever we have a list of all the cities detected that people are in):


Thank you all for reading!


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