Friday, June 30, 2006

Away for the weekend

With apologies to The Wonderful World Of Lola...

I'm going to be away this weekend so the monthly look at who's reading this blog will be delayed. But I'll be back soon.

Not all Lib Dems like their campaigns

Quaequam Blog! has an interesting post on the disgust he has about some typical Liberal Democrat by-election tactics:

Fortunately for me, the Bromley campaign team made it impossible for me to go back. They published the results of a "crime survey" which "proved" that 2/3rds of residents don't feel safe going out at night. Regular readers will know how my bete-noire is Lib Dems playing silly games with crime statistics and choosing between going to help the campaign and spending a day with my girlfriend suddenly became very easy indeed. The fact that so many Bromley residents seem to think they're living in a war zone rather than one of the most affluent parts of the country just made me realise I don’t actually want a Lib Dem in Parliament representing the morons.

This too, is frankly unacceptable. I can happily justify a lot of Lib Dem campaigning, most of which is simply effective marketing. Rival party activists who get precious about the use of "misleading" bar charts in our literature strangely don't get upset about Labour spending millions of pounds on advertising in the last general election making misleading claims about how a Lib Dem vote would help get Tories elected. Putting out literature that notionally looks like a local tabloid or a handwritten letter is about getting people's attention. I don’t see the same outcry over TV adverts that "look" like TV programmes or newspaper adverts that "look" like articles. It is a gross insult to the public to claim they are so stupid they can't tell the difference. What's more, to pretend we are any worse than the other parties is simply a lie.

But merely being as bad as the others is not good enough. I draw the line at dishonesty, I dislike ambulance chasing and I detest scaremongering. The photos of Ben Abbotts "cleaning up" graffiti that is then left is a disgrace. It is similarly a disgrace to go around taking photographs of every single piece of litter on every single street in the constituency in order to present a misleading picture of a constituency drowning in grot, as is now a standard by-election tactic.

I'm sorry if such negativity annoys some of my Lib Dem coleagues, but I am absolutely sick of it. It puts me off wanting to help in by-elections and I'm sure others feel the same. Is it too much to ask for us to follow a basic code of conduct? I'm sure we were better at not crossing the line five years ago. Perhaps I've just been blind to it all these years, but I can honestly say I've never done the same sort of thing myself in elections, with some modest success.

What do fellow Lib Dem activists think? Am I just whinging about nothing, or is it time we got our shit together? I'd like to think the former, but I’ve gone from loving campaigning to dreading it and I'm quite sure something's changed.

And the results are in...

Independents Trish Law and Dai Davies have won the two by-elections in Blaenau Gwent. Once again Not So Very New Labour has been given the two fingers in a very Old Labour seat. Could we be seeing the beginning of an Independent Fianna Fáil style effect?

(In the Republic of Ireland, Neil Blaney and other members of his family have almost consistently held onto a Dáil seat in County Donegal ever since Blaney was expelled from Fianna Fáil following his acquittal in the Arms Crisis in 1971. They, along with several successful local councillors, have used the label "Independent Fianna Fáil". Of course family members succeeding one another is far more commonplace across all Ireland than in the UK.)

A truthful poster for the Lib DemsMeanwhile in Bromley & Chislehurst the Lib Dems' campaign did better than anyone expected - nastiness and all. Just look at Ben Abbotts' opening remarks in the speech.

Bob Neil's comments bear much consideration:

The most vicious, unpleasant, underhanded exampled of cynical personal abuse that I have encountered in thirty years in politics.
If you sometimes wonder why it is that people in this country are sometimes turned off by politics, get a mirror and look at yourselves.
Labour have done badly, but many readers of my blog can take heart. Eleven years ago the Conservatives dropped from second to fifth in a by-election.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

The by-elections today

As I write this the results of by-elections in Blaenau Gwent and Bromley & Chislehurst are coming in.

It's going to be difficult to read much into the Blaenau Gwent result of relevance beyond that particular seat. Peter Law was elected basically on a single issue - an issue that is no longer present in the by-elections there. A Labour win for the Assembly seat would restore their majority in the Welsh Assembly - so are voters there going asking if Labour wants the seat for the people's sake or the party's sake. The recent revelation that Labour tried to buy Peter Law off with a peerage if he wouldn't stand against them cannot have helped Labour there. Nor can Labour's attempt to have a quick by-election or Peter Hain's transparently false "apology". But ultimately all this comes back to whether or not a very traditional Labour seat (this was a seat that Labour held uncontested in the 1931 election after all!) is being taken for granted by Not So Very New Labour.

As for Bromley & Chislehurst, plenty has been said about this by-election by many people. Now let's see what the voters have to say...

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Yay for the Lords

Once again the House of Lords has taken a stand for democracy and once again the Government is whining that it can't get its way. Today the Lords passed amendments to the Government of Wales Bill, one of the most significant being the proposed ban on dual candidatures.

For those fortunate not to have the Greater London Assembly, the National Assembly for Wales or the Scottish Parliament, they are elected by the Additional Member System, under which some members are elected in individual constituencies and then additional members are added from a "top-up" list based on parties' shares of the vote.

Currently it is possible for people to stand both in a constituency and on the party list for a region. And this frankly makes the most sense - the list is supposed to make up the party balance that the constituency element supposedly distorts. But the Labour party, who have very few list members, want to ban dual candidatures for naked self-interest.

Labour have come out with loads of whines about people "having two bites at the democratic cherry" and other such rubbish, but whatever happened to the right of the voters to decide? If they genuinely believed it to be wrong that this can arise, they would have included the provision in the original legislation.

The real reason is that Labour believes such a change will make it harder for other parties to win seats by forcing the best known members of parties onto the lists. And with parties in both Scotland and Wales having already selected both constituency and list candidates, such a law change will disrupt their plans.

What's the worst thing is that a proposed change to the electoral system is being forced through by a single party with no attempt at a consensus. The rules of the contest should be broadly agreed all round, not imposed by one single party's interests.

So what can we call this attempt to deform the voting system? A "Rhodrimander"? A "Tonymander"? A "Cowardmander"? My favourite is a "Petermander".

Will it be The Sun what wins it?

The media are reporting that Rupert Murdoch is flirting with the idea of backing the Conservatives at the next election. He's also been very critical of suggestions that there should be a snap election if Old Man Brown becomes Prime Minister. Murdoch's influence on newspaper readership is still substantial so no doubt many in Not So Very New Labour will start panicking. But I don't think the Liberal Democrats will have dashed hopes as I doubt they ever believed Murdoch could be won over.

Now will The Sun be backing the eventual winners of the next general election? We shall see...

It's over before it's started!

With the World Cup dominating the media it's been easy to miss the start of Wimbledon this year. And so for once the entire nation has been spared the annual round of Henmania (quite a short round this year) as we all pretend that the one Brit still in the tournament can pull off a miracle win. It's happened for years with Henman, it happened with Jeremy Bates before him and no doubt to several others as well.

If a UK player is to stand a serious chance of winning Wimbledon then we need more tennis players. But the game seems only a preserve of the upper middle classes (yes I know there are many exceptions to that sweeping generalisation, but I've hardly ever seen public tennis couts in use) and most of the nation only seems to take any interest during Wimbledon.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Charles Clarke - no dead sheep

Charles Clarke has given harsh interviews about his dismissal and controversies at the Home Office since then, directly attacking John Reid. I know I'm not alone in trying to think of such a harsh criticism of a minister by their immediate predecessor on their own side. Can anyone recall one?

But in scale it doesn't compare to Geoffrey Howe's famous denouncement of Margaret Thatcher, which rewrote the definition of a "dead sheep".

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Doctor Who - Inferno

This week saw the DVD release of my favourite Doctor Who story of all time, Inferno. To mark this, I've fished out a review I dashed off for the Doctor Who Ratings Guide half a decade ago:

Simply the best

There is probably no harder review to write than that of the reviewer's favourite story of all and Inferno is my favourite tale. There's little to fault in the entire production, give or take a few shots of the Pimords that make them seem too comical, and the picture quality of the NTSC transfer, which is an understandable by product of the means by which the story has survived at all in colour. Otherwise this is three hours of strong storytelling enhanced by excellent direction, design and casting that never once drags but instead propels the viewer towards its dramatic conclusion.

Inferno works by taking two very strong ideas, neither of which has been substantially used in the series so far, and combining them in a highly effective character and action piece. It's surprising that Doctor Who has only extremely rarely ventured into the realm of parallel universes given how strongly they have featured in many other science fiction series. What is so striking about this story is the way it turns the entire UNIT format on its head and once more allows a story in which the Doctor accidentally arrives in a semi-mysterious world where he has to fight to establish his right to tackle the emerging danger before it's too late. However on this occasion it is too late and the destruction of the alternate Earth at the end of Episode 6 is one of the most chilling cliffhangers in the series' history.

The cast is exceptionally strong in this story, particularly given that many of them have to play dual roles with subtle differences. Nicholas Courtney's portrayal as the Brigade Leader is especially sadistic and an immense contrast from the Brigadier, whilst Caroline John gets thrust into the role of a soldier rather than a scientist and so gets more of the action than usual. Of the guest cast Olaf Pooley shines especially as both versions of Stahlman whilst Derek Newark gives both Greg Suttons a strong presence. The camera work is especially good in the way that familiar sequences from one Earth are shown to happen in a subtly different way on the other, such as the Doctor encountering a mutated Bromley as he desperately moves around the complex. Equally good is the shot of Slocum battering to death a technician with a wrench that cuts to Benton hammering a nail into the wall.

UNIT and its counterpart, the Republican Security Force, come across as particularly effective here, being portrayed as though they are real soldiers. Douglas Camfield's direction in the location sequences is as strong as ever and even in the later studio scenes his influence is felt. The design work is also strong, even with the Primords who are only let down by a couple of shots that look cheesy due to their teeth being too obvious. Otherwise the design work is strong and it is supported by some good lighting which can often otherwise ruin a story's atmosphere. Equally supportive is the soundtrack, with the drill noise ever present whilst the incidental music is highly memorable. More so than any other Doctor Who story, Inferno represents a triumphant combination of all the elements of production to complement one another and thus present a strong story that can be enjoyed again and again and again (or at least until the videotapes wear out - unsubtle DVD hint). 10/10
Inferno can be purchased from here.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

To gate or not to gate?

Currently work is going on at the entrance to this residential complex to add a fence and gate across the road. (You can see the area on this map.) When completed it will be hard to access the complex without keys.

And I keep wondering if turning this place into a gated community is really such a good idea.

Despite all the recent media coverage of recent events (which frankly took place nearer to Upton Park than to the centre of Forest Gate) this isn't an area I've ever felt unsafe in. A few kids may play games in the car park at the end of Post Office Approach (not actually shown on the map) but they've never been a problem. If there is a problem with car park access, it's with people who use it as a free carpark for the shops on Woodgrange Road. But restoring the old car barrier that used to be here would deal with that. From a practical point of view there is a danger that a gate and fence will make it harder for couriers to deliver (they already have problems as there's no reception or letter box at the exterior) and possibly make it difficult for people to visit (or conversely put the entry phone far closer to the street than it is now).

But far more substantial is the question of the effect that gating up residential areas can have. There are approximately three hundred rooms in the two buildings here, containing many nurses, teachers, students, engineers and other key workers. Now many don't work/study in Forest Gate itself (we have very good transport links here as well as being next to Stratford) but do still shop locally, get local takeaways, go for walks on Wanstead Flats, worship and so forth. Will all this end if a fence is put up over the entrance to here? Of course it won't. But gating off the complex will slowly change the mentality. It won't be a true gated community as we lack the facilities and amenities this side of the gate that keep many behind fences. But with more and more stores and takeaways offering delivery services, plus the slow gentrification that the Olympics is going to bring to the area, there will be less and less reason for people to go out in the local area (even just on the north side of the Romford Road - and that's not a frivilous distinction) and become ever more withdrawn. It doesn't help any society to have large portions of the population sealed off.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Kennedy 1 Journalists 0

Once again we missed the chance to see himNick Assinder reports on the way Charles Kennedy took a small piece of revenge on the media for the destruction of his leadership. He was due to be campaigning in the Bromley & Chislehurst by-election and journalists flocked to the seat to see him in action, not least because of his recent comments suggesting a comeback but was unable to make it after attending a family function in Surrey and getting stuck in traffic.

Is this a decent substitute?As a substitute Vincent Cable stepped in. The journalists must have been jumping for joy.

We'd have to ask a local representativeAs noted in a comment on this blog, Charles Kennedy is due to be on the Question Time panel tomorrow, as the first major step towards rebuilding his political career. It's certainly a better start than Have I Got News For You and we'll see how far the comeback goes. Iain Dale is sceptical due to reports on Kennedy's health, but still groundwork could be laid. If Kennedy can give a better performance than Ming Campbell gave last month he will leave a lot of Lib Dem members renewing the questions about whether getting rid of Kennedy was a good move.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Protection for children or state aide for vigilantes?

A government minister has gone to the US to investigate the so-called 'Megan's Law' system, which allows the public to know the addresses of convicted sex offenders. Here in the UK there has been a campaign for a similar system, dubbed "Sarah's Law" after Sarah Payne. But I'm not convinced this would be a good move.

(As an aside, there's something about the way the law is named after a murder victim that sits very uneasily with me. I'm also not sure that such a law would have actually prevented the tragedy - neither the victim nor murderer were in their home area.)

What especially worries me is that I can go onto websites such as California Megan's Law website and within a few clicks I can find the home addresses of offenders. When The News of the World "named and shamed" alleged sex offenders several years ago there were vigilante mobs terrorising not just the convicted but also the alleged, the misaccused and innocent bystanders. Can releasing such information to the public really bring benefit?

And what difference would such a law make? Informing parents when a convicted sex offender moves into "the area" can encourage complacency when they are not informed. (And just what does "the area" actually mean? Would it be the neighbourhood, the ward, the town, the borough, the county or what? Or would it be something arbitrary like everyone within one mile of the address?) Most sexual abuse takes place within families - this is difficult to inform without breaking the victims' anonymity. And many sex offenders, especially those with convictions, would seek to minimise the risk by going out of "the area". Or they would go underground - the sex offenders register in the US is estimated to have about 80% compliance, compared to 97% in the UK. Is such a law really going to be to the benefit of protecting children?

The comeback Kennedy?

On his way back?Yellow Peril has noticed this story about Charles Kennedy on a visit to Devon. Amongst the comments he made was this:

I would have liked to contest the leadership election, because there is now a question mark in the air which members could have decided, had my name been on the ballot paper.
Hmm... a question mark over the incumbent (who has had no end of problems) and a sense of still being popular with the membership. The Lib Dems are desperately searching for a leader - could the answer be staring them in the past?

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Doctor Who tonight

Is it me or was tonight's Doctor Who the most out of the norm episode yet?

Still I enjoyed Who Killed Kennedy no end and it's always interesting to show a very different perspective on events. The ending was a shock too.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Do the Lib Dems believe in grammar schools?

Do I believe in grammar schools? Yeah, but no, but yeah, but...The Liberal Democrats are in a policy muddle. They had pledged that they would oppose government proposals to impose the abolition of grammar schools in Northern Ireland by voting against the Education Order in the House of Lords. Now they have changed their minds. Their apparent reasoning is that the passing of the order might spur the province's politicians into ending Groundhog Day and actually get devolution up and running in time to repeal the order. And pigs might fly.

Eric Forth famously believed in grammar schools - I wonder if the Lib Dems in Bromley & Chislehurst are campaigning against them there?

Can I do a Jonah?One thought strikes me - are the Lib Dems mad enough to try a risk strategy? The Liberal Democrat chief Northern Ireland spokesperson is none other than the backing of death, Lembit Öpik himself. This wouldn't be the Lib Dems wising up to his ability to curse every cause he backs? Or is that hope too far?

So who's your favourite Labour blogger?

Mike Ion is running a poll -Vote for your favourite Labour blogger. Now whatever our political differences, there are many Labour bloggers I get on well with. If you enjoy their blogs please follow the link and vote.

And no, I'm not saying who I voted for... yet.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Help needed!

Does anyone know how to reset Windows XP and IE 7 to recognise Outlook Express 6 as the default mail program? At the moment no mail program is recognised and any click on a "mailto:" link just causes chaos.

All help and advice would be much appreciated.

By-elections - the political blood sport

Not quite what he says he isIt's not been a good week in cyberspace for Ben Abbotts, Beckenham councillor and Liberal Democrat candidate in the Bromley and Chislehurst by-election. Guidoe Fawkes looks at Lib Dem Bromley Ben's Shady Secret noting that on the Lib Dem campaign website there is "no mention anywhere that he is a spin merchant".

Even by the low standards of spin-merchants his employers LLM are considered to be among the sleaziest, infamous for being founded by New Labour insiders who offered (and were caught offering) the prospect of access (for cash) to government ministers. To this day they are known to be the grubbier members of a pretty grubby profession. No wonder he describes himself merely as "a campaigner".
UPDATE : He apparently describes himself as a "political consultant". No Ben, you are a grubby lobbyist for one of the sleaziest firms in a sleazy business with clients that are unpopular with voters. That is why you hide the truth on your website.
Meanwhile Iain Dale has two posts about hypocrisy in Bromley. The first, More Hypocrisy from LibDems in Bromley looks at the way the Lib Dems are attacking Bob Neill as if elected he would have multiple jobs, yet many Lib Dem MPs and Assembly Members are in a similar situation. (And if Abbotts were elected he would have three jobs, even if he doesn't want to admit to one of them.) Then in Even More LibDem Hypocrisy in Bromley looks at the way they're attacking Bob Neil for not living in Bromley and Chislehurst. Ben Abbotts lives in Beckenham. (And Bob Neil has said that if elected he will move to Bromley and Chislehurst. Ben Abbotts has made no such pledge.)

Truly by-elections are the political blood sport.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Deja vu or what?

Not the most original creature to useI've just seen the following post on nicola's blog:

Here are a few lines from Philip Gould's The Unfinished Revolution.

"Thursday 24 April (1997)
.... Rather than let the issue die, the Tories kept attacking us, which poured petrol on the flames. They held a bizarre press conference, headed by Stephen Dorrell, with a picture of Tony Blair as a chameleon changing colour under the banner "You can't believe a word Blair says"."
So even in their attacks on David Cameron Labour haven't got an original way to attack him!

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

How do the controversial fare in death?

Former Irish Taoiseach Charles Haughey has died at the age of 80.

It may surprise many on this side of the Irish Sea, but opinions held about Haughey are if anything even stronger and far more directed at the person than those held about Margaret Thatcher. Take a look at some of the comments on Slugger O'Toole for some of this. But today perhaps the best comment I've seen so far comes from Dec's Rambling:

Even in death he will divide the nation. Some people who hated him in life will hate him in death and will not be able to let the opportunity pass to twist the knife one last time thereby gaining some press publicity for themselves. We all know the history but let us not allow the misdeeds of the past completely overshadow the achievements of the past. There will be years enough to savage his reputation, there are only a few days to bury the man with dignity.
For more about Haughey's career, take a look at the Wikipedia article about him.

One has to wonder if there will be a similar reaction in the UK when Margaret Thatcher dies.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Return of the hero?

Over the weekend I saw for the first time the film Robin and Marian, starring Sean Connery as an older Robin Hood returning from the Crusades to meet Marian (Audrey Hepburn) and face down the final threat of the Sheriff of Nottingham (Robert Shaw) and it left me wondering - just how many other films are there that tell the story of a famous character returning to their adventures in later life?

Off the top of my head I can think of:

*Hook - Peter Pan has grown up and forgotten Neverland - until his children are kidnapped...
*Never Say Never Again - the unofficial Bond movie that briefly brought Connery back to the role. Bond is middle-aged and little used by the new director of MI6 until SPECTRE's escaped forces M to recall the 00 section.
*Casino Royale - The 1967 spoof film version, in which Sir James Bond has retired and his name reassigned (to "a sexual acrobat who leaves a trail of beautiful dead women") but with secret agents disappearing around the world and M killed, Bond is forced back into service.

And that's it. But I'm sure there have been others - does anyone know of a good source of information on this?

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Grading systems for taught postgraduate courses

A rare post on matters relating to student representation, but I was wondering if any of you can help be with this:

I am seeking information on how different universities (and even different sections within the universities) grade their Masters and other taught postgraduate programmes. I would be grateful for as many responses (please email answers to me) as possible to the following questions:

1). In the marking scheme, what are the main bands for allocating marks?

2). In the final award scheme what possible outcomes exist? e.g. Fail, Pass, Good Pass, Merit, Distinction, A, B, C and so forth...

3). What are the numerical bandings and requirements for each of the various degree award levels?

Thanks in advance.

Will the Lib Dems make Ming pay local income tax?

He'll do anything to get centre stageThanks to Yellow Peril for this story. It seems that whilst Ming Campbell may have decided that the party still believes in local income tax, Liberal Democrats in Scotland are prepared to ditch the policy in order to secure a third coalition with Labour.
SCOTTISH Liberal Democrats are backtracking on plans to replace the council tax with an income-based alternative, the Sunday Herald can reveal.

Nicol Stephen's party is softening its support for abolishing the successor to the poll tax because it does not want to jeopardise a third coalition deal with Labour. Senior Lib Dems believe the policy, which could increase the bills of middle-class Scots, is not worth a huge political fight.
No local income tax for him?And if they succeed, if means that the Lib Dems would not be making their own leader pay the flagship tax he promotes. So once again the Lib Dems will say different things to get votes and power by whatever means. And one of the biggest consequences is that Liberal Democrats would not even be trying to to get this tax for their very own leader.

They'll be taking credit for rain next!

He'll be taking credit for rain nextIn the latest farce in the Bromley & Chislehurst by-election, Lib Dem Ben "Beckenham" Abbotts has sent a telegram to the England team and is claiming credit for getting Blair and Cameron to fly the England flag. The idea that they did so just because a candidate in a by-election did so is laughable. Next Abbotts will be claiming credit for when it rains.

Also the telegram was sent "on behalf of the people of Bromley & Chislehurst". One wonders by whose authority - Abbotts is not a local elected representative. Is he taking the election for granted?

One year on

Unfortunately I wasn't able to post this yesterday, but this blog is now a year old. Thanks to everyone who's been reading, commenting, linking and making suggestions.

I said in my first post:

I suppose it had to happen as everyone else seems to be getting a blog these days! This is my attempt to start one.

I'd like to promise that this will cover anything I happen to feel like writing about, but I suspect it will go unupdated for months on end!

Let's see...
Well it's not gone updated. Admittedly the blog has focused primarily on one sphere of interest but then that's not unusual, especially given the known readership and the links here.

One year up - and definitely not out!

So this is good weather?!?!

Currently a wave of sunshine and high temperatures is sweeping across the UK. Apparently this is "good weather".

But all I find is a relentless heat that makes indoors unbearable, that makes things either sticky or too hot to touch, that makes it hard to move and sometimes even think and which burns the skin. It's drying out places of beauty - Wanstead Flats always looks so much better when it's green - and increasing pollutants in the air.

Why do people call this "good weather"?

Peter Bowles joins the Conservative Party

Peter Bowles, a councillor on Down District Council and a current Ulster Unionist Party Officer (and a former chair of the Young Unionists) has joined the Conservative Party. He has responded to the party's links with the Progressive Unionist Party/Ulster Volunteer Force in light of continuing UVF violence. It seems he may not be the last person to leave the UUP and indeed speculation will only intensify about the position of Sylvia Hermon, the party's only MP.

To expect an immediate ceasefire and decommissioning would have been widely overoptimistic to say the least. But the nature of recent events has made it harder to sell the UUP-PUP deal as achieving anything more than the numbers game in the Assembly - hardly a point to justify being linked to a party linked to a paramilitary group. The UUP's past is not lillywhite (nor for that matter is the DUP's but it's hard to justify something just on the basis that another party did something) but if their recent action doesn't even convince a member of their own officer team, who will it convince?

By joining the Conservative party, Bowles becomes the first elected representative in the province in some years. Party membership in the province has increased significantly since David Cameron became leader and there have been growing calls for the party to step up its effort in the province with wholehearted central support. Whether anyone will try to join the Labour Party over this (and there are people in the UUP who would naturally fit on that side of the blue-red spectrum) remains to be seen (and what would Labour's response be?) but a stronger force concerned with issues such as taxation, health, education, the environment, the UK's place in the world and so forth can only help both Northern Ireland and the entire United Kingdom.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Big things happened in Forest Gate?

I've been tied up with things lately and so haven't had the chance to write much, particularly about the recent police raid here in Forest Gate.

Part of this is that for all the national media attention, the story hasn't been that noticeable here. Maybe it's because I live just off the main street and so don't often go down into the more residential roads, but walking around here the only signs of the incident have been the Evening Standard advertising boards mentioning it. Otherwise the whole thing could have happened in Gospel Oak (at the end of a railway line that runs through here) for all the difference it makes. Maybe that will change if any of the planned protests happen.

As for the raid itself, ultimately without knowing the full facts of the matter I feel I have no option but to trust the police's judgment. The police do sometimes make mistakes but I'd rather they were over cautious than ignored something that proved to be dangerous. At the end of the day only a full report can tell all the facts, but in the meantime it is worrying when people start calling for non-co-operation by Muslims with the police, as Yvonne Ridley has done. To his credit, George Galloway has disowned the remarks. But more is needed to rebuild confidence.

As for Forest Gate itself, this is an area full of surprises and I urge people to visit. The beautiful Wanstead Flats are adjacent, being the southern most tip of Epping Forest (hence the name), whilst the Gate itself is a vibrant mixed community. It has good transport links, with the main station on the railway line from Liverpool Street/Stratford to Ilford/Romford, as well as also Wanstead Park station on the Gospel Oak to Barking line, plus many buses converging including the 25 to 86.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

So Canadians have a sense of irony

Aren't Canadians wonderful people? They live in a country that has almost all the good things and very few of the bad things that their neighbour has. They're great to get on with (two years ago I shared a flat with a Canadian). Their country is simply beautiful (especially in the Yukon). And it seems that they beat the Americans hand down when it comes to a sense of irony. Iain Dale blogs about John Prescott's visit to Toronto where he was announced as the UK's "Vice Prime Minister".

Monday, June 05, 2006

Lib Dems forget their geography

On the Liberal Democrat by-election campaign website the Lib Dem candidate Ben Abbotts states:

This horse grazes elsewhere
As a local Councillor myself, I know and share the frustrations of Bromley & Chislehurst residents.
But Abbotts is not a local councillor in Bromley and Chislehurst but in Beckenham. (And after the new boundaries come into effect at the next general election he will be a councillor in Lewisham West & Penge.)

For that matter the UKIP candidate Nigel Farage is not a local Member of the European Parliament either - he is an MEP for the South East region, whilst Bromley & Chislehurst is in the London Region.

The only major candidate who is a local elected representative is Bob Neill, the local member of the Greater London Assembly.

The "two horse race" argument gets sillier

By his owner's arguments, this horse is not in the front twoThe Lib Dem "It's a two horse race" argument gets sillier and sillier. Yellow Peril notes that the current Betfair odds tell a different story:

The "bookies" at Betfair are indeed saying it's a two horse race in Bromley - punters on the site are currently offering shorter (2/1) odds on Labour than on the Lib Dems (3/1). So it looks like "Ming Campbell's candidate can't win here".

It's a straight choice.

It's a two horse race.

Our bar chart proves it.

Which is the oldest political party in the world?

I've just written a post on the Conservative History Journal blog asking just which is "The oldest party in the world?" in the hope of generating some debate on the issues involved. Please come and offer your thoughts in the comments section.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Bloggers Social last night

Several bloggers of mixed politics met up last night in the Coal Hole on the Strand. Amongst those present were Anyway, Andrew, Andrew, Malcolm and Paul. I was the only Conservative present but that did not prove a problem. Contrary to what many believe, most Conservative and Labour members have no problem whatsoever drinking together and we all had a great time.
You can read more about the night on Mars Hill: Bloggers Social - The Event or wongaBlog: Paul's meetup.

Reg Empey admits his past

I've just spotted this thread on Slugger O'Toole about Reg Empey admitting to past connections with loyalist paramilitaries:

Admitting to his past... where will this take his future?
Empey acknowledged the SDLP leader, remarkable in itself: "All of us - a lot of us - have not had an absolutely pristine record in terms of dealing with paramilitarism. There's a lot of truth in what Mark [Durkan] said." He thought unionist politicians had a responsibility now to "clear up the mess", because in the 1970s and '80s they had used paramilitary organisations for political purposes: "That's a fact." He recalled that the DUP and his own party had been in the same voting group in Belfast City Council for years with David Ervine's party and the UDA's representatives, "and that's when there was no ceasefire".

And finally:

It was a point that Ulster Unionists, like the DUP, were in the habit of dismissing angrily at the time, with much abuse of the journalists who put it to them.

Yes, he had been in Vanguard, Empey said, the umbrella group including politicians and paramilitaries which backed the 1974 loyalist strike, "and I think my attitude in 1974 was wrong". Sir Reg broke ranks, and tore up the pretences. The oddity is that he should have flouted such a tribal rule and had the courage to question his own past so soon after meriting universal scorn. But he did it.
Empey was indeed a leading member of the Vanguard Progressive Unionist Party and then, following a split, Deputy Leader of the United Ulster Unionist Party (irony is not a strong point in the names of a number of Northern Irish parties), but often pasts go unacknowledged. Vanguard at times flaunted its paramilitary links in a way that no major Unionist party would do now and there are no doubt photographs that some would rather not see again. Is Empey's action merely trying to see off any unearthing of such photos? Or is he trying to position the UUP as a party that is more honest about links with loyalists, in the hope of bringing about a ceasefire? Ultimately the ability to deliver a UVF ceasefire will be the mark of his leadership and one wonders if this is another step towards it.

Correction - the Lib Dems are making it up

His chances are far less than he'd like to claimContrary to my earlier post about the Liberal Democrats grasping at straws, Yellow Peril have now confirmed that the Lib Dems are just making things up when they claim "It's a two horse races" say bookies. The "bookies" they cite are not bookies at all:

Betfair don't run their own book on anything - they allow punters to swap bets.

It might sound like a small technical difference, but it is central to their claims in the byelection that Labour are out of the running. When bookmakers offer odds they have to make a decision about the likely outcome when they set the odds, no such process takes place at Betfair.

But there is another lie within the Lib Dem claim - as Betfair are a swap service they offer a range of odds. At this moment in time the best odds for Labour are indeed 100-1. But at the other end of the market the shortest odds offered for the Lib Dems - 3 - 1 - are the same as the shortest odds offered for Labour.

Bromley & Chiselhurst - Lib Dems grasp at straws

Just how solid are they?In the continuing saga of the Bromley & Chislehurst by-election, the Liberal Democrats have made their utterly predictable claim that "It's a two horse race". Every election they try to claim that only they can take the seat from the incumbents, citing some extremely dubious statistics, ranging from "most recent election in this area" (and not saying it's a parish council by-election thirty miles away) to "current political representation" (based on the number of councillors each party in a Conservative-Labour marginal ward held, after one of the three Conservatives defected to the Lib Dems). This time round it's based on what bookies giving Labour 100/1 odds on winning. Curiously the Lib Dem odds are not cited in the story. And I wouldn't put it past Lib Dems to be making bets themselves in the hope of bringing the odds down to support this dodgy propaganda. This is a classic case of Lib Dems grasping at straws.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

What do UKIP offer the people of Bromley & Chislehurst?

The real face of UKIP?The UK Independence Party has selected its candidate for the Bromley and Chislehurst by-election. It is to be Nigel Farage.

The same Nigel Farage who once declared:

"We will never win the nigger vote. The nig-nogs will never vote for us,"
To my knowledge Farage has never sued over these comments. No doubt UKIP will continue its focus on the far right.

Also looking at the Bromley & Chislehurst UKIP local branch website, the "local issues" on which UKIP intend to fight the by-election are:

Yes, literally nothing.

Once again this fruitcake party has nothing to offer the people of this country.

How much longer will the AUT/NATFHE/UCU marking boycott last?

There's an interesting article by Mike Baker on BBC News about the ongoing lecturers' marking boycott and the tangled web of issues involved. Sadly, as with so many disputes amongst academics, "the facts of the matter" are in bitter dispute, ranging from just what average pay is at the moment to when the dispute began. We've had the farce of one side arguing they tried to resolve the matter before the exam season and the other arguing that they tried to avoid the dispute until afterwards. Somehow I think students waiting for results aren't going to be too impressed. What's not noted so much is that there are several other unions representing staff in universities (mainly non-academic) who are on the same pay spine and so the University and Colleges' Employers' Association (UCEA) couldn't begin negotiations before all the unions had submitted their claims.

What isn't in dispute is this:

There is a lot of anger, bitterness, recrimination and lack of trust in this dispute.
Just when is this dispute going to end?

Friday, June 02, 2006

John Prescott is not irreplaceable

Would you rather the country was temporaily run by this person...Both nicola and Iain Dale have commented on the big story today that Alan Johnson is "interested" in becoming Deputy Leader of the Labour Party. The none too subtle message is that "John Prescott can be completely replaced". Given that Prescott has demonstrated a complete inability to extract himself from newspaper frontpages over the last month it's not surprising that many are writing him off for good.

...or this person?Assuming that whoever succeeds Prescott as Deputy Leader becomes Deputy Prime Minister as well, I have to say I'd prefer Johnson over Prescott continuing or for that matter Harriet "who actually is the Prime Minister?" Harman (though frankly it's clear even she doesn't see herself as a serious contender in a competitive field). A few years ago I met Johnson when he was Minister for Higher Education and he proved to be one of the best Labour ministers I've met. The country would be safer in his hands in Tony Blair's absence than it is in Prescott's.

Okay who did this?

Someone has created a Wikipedia page about me. Frankly if I merit inclusion in an encyclopedia then so does nearly everyone in the phonebook.

The article has been listed for deletion and I've voted to scrap it. I urge all other Wikipedia editors to do so as well.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

May on this blog

Yes it's the monthly look at who's been visiting this site in the past month, courtesy of Earlier stats have previously been covered for February, March and April.

First off the sites most people come from:

  1. (-)
  2. Google (-)
  3. Slugger O'Toole (NEW)
  4. Mars Hill (NEW)
  5. Educationet (+7)
  6. Jo Salmon (-1)
  7. Conservative Mind (-4)
  8. Iain Dale's Diary (+3)
  9. The Little Red Book of New Labour Sleaze (NEW)
  10. Take back the voice (-6)

Dropping out of the top ten altogether are Antonia Bance (at 12, down 6), Contemplative Activist (at 25, down 18), Vote 2006 Discussion Forum (which has disappeared from the listings altogether - well the local elections have now happened), A Tangled Web (also disappeared completely) and Adloyada (again completely gone).

For once Jo and her partner Antonia have not swapped order - just what is going on in the Salmon-Bance home?

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

  1. tim roll-pickering (+3)
  2. what does your birthday say about you (-)
  3. laura blomeley (-2)
  4. john ramsden don't mention the war (NEW)
  5. london local elections tower hamlets tim archer (NEW)
  6. hounslow conservative-control (NEW)
  7. councillors, pickering, scandal (NEW)
  8. tim roll pickering blog (NEW)
  9. millwall rotterdam loonies (NEW)
  10. barking and dagenham politic (NEW)
A bit of change from recent months, reflecting the passage of time. The searches are far more diverse now, though still many are looking for information about Laura Blomeley. The most read post this month is now Ervine in, Women out, in part because it was cited in a post on the much read Slugger O'Toole.

This time round few if any searches were for 'sutton labour manifesto', 'Kat Stark letter', 'edmonton bars without grumpy old men', 'arnold schwarzenegger in forest gate', 'stratford station protection from falling collision impact', 'labour in sutton' and 'james juggapah'.

Finally we have a list of all the cities detected that people are in (although many are listed as "other"):


(As ever this is not always perfect - for some reason readers at both the University of Kent and Canterbury Christ Church University are listed as being in London. Canterbury is not exactly next to London!)

Once more, thanks to everyone who's been reading and contributing to this blog!

What are Lib Dems like when they're dried out?

What do I do without water?Yet another Lib Dem is in trouble, only unlike some others, this one isn't under party pressure. This time David Heath, the parliamentary affairs spokesperson, is hitting the headlines because the village where he lives is facing the permanent ending of its water supply. Water has been supplied to Witham Friary since the nineteenth century from a reservoir owned by the Dukes of Somerset, but lately the water supply has been running low and the Duke's estate has announced the forthcoming termination of the arrangement. Legally no-one is responsible for supplying the villagers - it will be up to them to pay the costs of probably £10,000 per home to be connected to the mains network. There may be alternatives, but it could be that David Heath will be left high and dry.


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