Sunday, April 30, 2006

And now people stop believing in Ming

Clearly Dan's blog isn't convincing every single Lib Dem - Jeff Clarke, the former candidate for Wirral West, has joined the Conservative Party.

The arrival of David Cameron at the helm of the Tory party has precipitated a shift in the direction and political atmosphere within the party. Politics is suddenly dynamic and interesting again. Crucially, it now offers - arguably for the first time since 1997 - the only potentially achievable opportunity for 'regime change' at the next election.
That possibility would gather more credence if the joined-up forces of compassionate conservatism and genuine liberal democracy were to combine to ensure the departure of our current presidential, autocratic and authoritarian government
So despite stabbing Charles Kennedy in the front it's clear that the Lib Dems still need to raise their game. Are they all doomed?

Is this why Blair can't let any more Ministers go?

Iain Dale has posted a list of all the current Ministers of State, in theory the main source for new Cabinet appointments. And it's not a list to write home about:

Douglas Alexander (definite), Rosie Winterton (were it not for...), Yvette Cooper (too much of a Brown ally), Phil Woolas (erratic), Dawn Primarolo (thick), John Healey (boring but nice), Harriet Harman (thick and past failure), Kim Howells (rent a gob), Ian Pearson (no idea), Hazel Blears (unpopular with colleagues), Tony McNulty (hurt by current scandal), Elliot Morley (a permanent number two), Margaret Hodge (you have to be joking), Stephen Timms (boring and ugly), Stephen Ladyman (no idea), Jane Kennedy (no idea), David Hanson (boring), Adam Ingram (too old), Alun Michael (past failure), Malcolm Wicks (too old), Jacqui Smith (not up to it), Bill Rammell (no idea), Beverley Hughes (would have to be desperate), Richard Caborn (not up to it)
So apart from Douglas Alexander (only one person) who could Blair appoint to fill the current Cabinet vacancy and also replace Clarke, Hewitt and maybe also Prescott?

Sponsor Polly's Race For Life

Polly Mackwood is taking part in Race For Life on July 9th to raise money for Cancer Research UK. Please can you all take a look at her sponsorship page and consider donating.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Sutton is in London NOT Surrey !!!

Daniel Snowdon claims that "Sutton is in Surrey NOT London!!!" Yet Sutton Borough Council, which has been run by his own Liberal Democrats for twenty years, has a standing policy introduced by them to never to put "Surrey" on any mail it sends out. Perhaps he's like to point out where Sutton is on these modern maps of Surrey?

1,000's of Hotels and Guest Houses in the UK and Worldwide - Surrey Hotels: Surrey hotels and guest rooms:

National Allotment Register for Surrey:

Victim Support Surrey:

Seymours Estate Agents with Offices in Guildford, Ripley, Woking, Burpham and Byfleet:

Surrey Police:

The next one only shows one half of the county, but it's the half in contention. East Surrey Rural Transport Partnership:

And finally here's one showing how the borders of Surrey have changed over time, and how some places used to be in Surrey but are no longer. The Harry Potter Lexicon - Essays - Surrey: Showing the Location of Little Whinging

"The best team in the country"

The best team in the countryCongratulations to Chelsea who smashed Manchester United 3-0 today to clinch a second successive Premiership title.

In the words of Jose Mourinho:

It is a fantastic feeling, unbelievable.
This is my second in England and my fourth consecutive title if you include Porto. One day we'll lose but, for now, we are the best team in the country.
Once upon a time it seemed that Manchester United stood above all other clubs. Today that myth has been destroyed. Today it is Chelsea that stands tall.


"Home Pride" Prescott

'Home Pride' PrescottA politician's private life should remain their private life. But when they seek to utilise their home life for political benefit then the media have a right to expose hypocrisy.

In Hull a Labour leaflet has gone out showing John and Pauline Prescott together under the heading "Home Pride":

Labour councillor Phil Webster said a copy dropped through his letterbox, alongside the election leaflet of his colleague Peter Clark, who is standing for election in the Ings ward next week.
He said: "My exact words were unprintable - I think it's an ill-timed leaflet and I think a lot of people will say 'hypocritical' and bin it."
Once again Prescott tries to both have his cake and eat it. Let's remind ourselves of John Prescott's speech from a decade ago:

The two faces of John Prescott
They are up to their necks in sleaze. The best slogan he could think up for their conference next week is Life's better under the Tories. Sounds to me like one of Steven Norris's chat up lines. Can you believe that this lot is in charge? Not for long, eh? Then after 17 years of this Tory government, they have the audacity to talk about morality. Did you hear John Major on the Today programme? - calling for ethics to come back into the political debate? I'm told some Tory MPs think ethics is a county near Middlesex. It's a bit hard to take: John Major - ethics man. The Tories have redefined unemployment they have redefined poverty. Now they want to redefine morality. For too many Tories, morality means not getting caught. Morality is measured in more than just money. It's about right and wrong. We are a party of principle. We will earn the trust of the British people. We've had enough lies. Enough sleaze.

The impact of the AUT marking boycott

As more and more university students return for the exam period, the impact of the AUT/NATFHE marking boycott and the AUT only boycott of setting exams is starting to take effect. Here's one student's account of their experience:

Anyway, the AUT is continuing its action and students are being harmed as a result. I was due to be having an exam today, only after weeks of studying and much time cramming this week on my return to University to find out that my exam has actually been cancelled, postponed until further notice, probably re-scheduled for a couple of months time, that is of course if this whole thing gets sorted out by then, which us currently looking more and more unlikely.
The Petition against the AUT assessment boycott continues to grow in support and is influencing both the National Union of Students into slightly moving their position and upping pressure on the AUT.

So who planted what?

In the latest attempt to get Charles Clarke out of the headlines it has been announced that a small quantity of cannabis has been found at John Reid's home during a standard security sweep. The line given is that it could have been there for twenty years, so one has to wonder how it escaped every previous security sweep. If it had been an ordinary soldier's home there is no way they would get off as easily as Reid has.

One has to wonder who is responsible for planting this. Yet another Blairite cabinet minister could have spent some time on the frontpages whilst the government continues to drift. Indeed the combined resignations of Clarke, Hewitt and Reid would probably have finished off Blair's premiership even if Gordon Brown lacks the courage to wield the knife.

Welcome to the blogosphere

My friend and fellow Queen Mary student Daniel Snowdon has just started a blog. You can find more about Dan himself on his introductory posting. Unfortunately he's a Liberal Democrat, and is based in Tower Hamlets, so I'm sure many of the regular readers of this blog will enjoy debating with him!

A worrying trend

BBC News has a piece on the electoral battle in Tower Hamlets. This local authority contains, amongst other things, both my university (Queen Mary, University of London) and George Galloway's constituency (and very occasionally George Galloway himself).

What worries me the most is this comment:

Labour is pinning its hopes on getting white voters to the polls, to compensate for loss of Muslim support to Respect.
Turning elections into crude sectarian headcounts does nothing to improve democracy. There are many problems in Tower Hamlets but they are not going to be solved by a party being seen to owe its electoral success to one ethnic group. All it does is perpetuate the idea that the body meant to help the population as a whole is only going to support that group. This approach merely breeds political extremism as a reaction.

As the article also says:

Millwall, a ward which briefly elected a BNP councillor, Derek Beacon in the 1990s.
That was the first ever BNP victory in the country.

And they're standing candidates in the borough...

Friday, April 28, 2006

How to get a peerage the Labour way - stand against them?

Scotland Yard is examining claims that Labour offered the late Independent MP Peter Law a peerage if he refused to stand at the last election. Both Law's widow Trish and John Marek, another former Labour Assembly Member who went independent, have stated that Law told them he had been offered a seat in the Lords if he chose not to stand in Blaenau Gwent. One wonders if there's any end to the peerage scandals.

As Iain Dale points out this could be a criminal offence:
Just a reminder that such an offer would be illegal under the Honours (Prevention of Abuses) Act 1925, which says: "If any person accepts, obtains or agrees to accept or obtain from any person, for himself or for any other person, or for any purpose, any gift, money or valuable consideration as an inducement or reward for procuring or assisting or endeavouring to procure the grant of a dignity or title of honour to any person or otherwise in connection with such a grant, he shall be guilty of a misdemeanour."
So maybe someone in Not So Very New Labour will end up with some convictions at last!

So who's running Labour's election campaign?

David Miliband has said "Over the next week our priority is to make sure people do think local," as part of an attempt to focus the local elections on local issues. Has he not seen either of the two Labour Party Election Broadcasts?

If Labour wants to the local elections to be focused on local issues, why don't they run their campaign on them?

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Forty Eight hours to save John Prescott's career?

Iain Dale has an interesting post suggesting that there's more to come on John Prescott and that he will be out of office by the end of the weekend. One has to wonder if there'll be anyone left for Blair to make the scapegoat for Labour's results on Thursday.

Also an anonymous poster has left the following interesting comment:

A rule change to the Labour Party Constitution in 94 also rendered the Deputy Leader redundant if something happened to the PM. The rule change that year stipulated that should the leader become unavailable while the party is in office, (I paraphrase), 'the Cabinet, meeting in consultation with the NEC, shall elect one of its number'. So Brown or Straw.

As for who stands in for Blair at PMQs while he's abroad, there's nothing to stop a reversion to the old system, where the Leader of the House stands in.
I can only recall one appearance of Geoff Hoon at PMQs before and he got into a mess so I can't see anyone rushing to make him the regular substitute for Tony Blair!

So John Prescott is not at all "a heartbeat from the premiership". This can only relieve the country!

Crisis? What Crisis?

'Tony Blair has robustly defended his three under-fire Cabinet ministers and laughed off claims that he has suffered his own "Black Wednesday".'

Am I the only one reminded of the famous Sun headline about Jim Callaghan's dismissive attitude to major problems?

What has Labour got to say for itself?

Tonight Labour is running its next Party Political Broadcast. After a dreadful week with Cabinet Minister after Cabinet Minister hitting the headlines for all the wrong reasons, after crisis upon crisis, just what is Labour putting forward as its best reason for voting Labour in the local elections?

Dave the Chameleon. Again.

(You can download this rubbish for yourselves, but be warned that's a Quicktime file you'll be clicking on.)

And nearly all the broadcast seems to be reusing shots from last week. Hasn't Labour realised the adverts are not succeeding - if anything this negative campaigning is making the public like Cameron even more!

Iain Dale has an interesting suggestion:
I would have thought a 3 minute piece to camera by the Home Secretary or the Prime Minister apologising might have been more politically beneficial.
So why not try that instead? After all in the television studio there won't be audiences to heckle them.

The redundancy the NHS needs

Minister under firePatricia Hewitt must be thanking her lucky stars. Any other day and her reception at the Royal College of Nursing would have been the main political story, putting all pressure on her. Instead other events have made it partially buried bad news, a mere part of the wider story of the government's troubles, being upstaged by Charles Clarke.

This Health Secretary is convinced that the NHS has just had its best year ever despite having only visited thirteen hospitals during the last year. Yesterday she was confronted by one of the least militant trade unions of all, a union that has never gone on strike. These are not people who will jeer the government for the sake of it. Nurses know from first hand experience just what state the NHS is in.

A Health Secretary who denies reality about the state of the NHS, who has no clear grasp of the deficits in healthcare trusts and who fails to reassure the medical professions about potential job cuts does nothing to boost crucial morale. There is one redundancy that would give the NHS a morale boost and that is Hewitt's. But it would only be effective if her replacement will get a firm understanding and grip on the job, not live in some other reality.

Constituencies do not belong to parties, they belong to the voters

My flatmate is that exceptionally rare creature - a Conservative who comes from Blaenau Gwent. This was the constituency where in the last general election the party received its second lowest share of the vote in the entire country. Because of him I've been paying particular attention to events there following the death of Peter Law.

Law broke with the Labour Party in protest over the imposition of an all-women shortlist for selecting the parliamentary candidate upon the local Constituency Labour Party - a selection process in which approximately only 14% of the local party membership participated. Running as an independent Law's thumping victory was one of the high points of the night and a stark reminder to all political parties that there is no such thing as a "safe seat" and that no-one can take the voters for granted.

Shortly before Law's death it seemed he had been vindicated when it was announced that Labour would not impose such a shortlist on the selection of its candidate for the next general election. However it seems they are still trying to take the people of Blaenau Gwent for granted. As Peter Black AM notes, Labour has been trying to push for an early by-election. As Law was an independent MP there is no holding party in Parliament who would otherwise determine when the writ for the by-election would be moved. And so Labour try to force a fast poll to maximise their chances of regaining both seats - and winning Law's seat in the Welsh Assembly would give them an overall majority.

However they appear to have been thwarted. The by-election for the Welsh Assembly seat can only by called from the National Assembly and Presiding Officer Dafydd Elis-Thomas has refused to consider dates until after Law's funeral. Unless Labour were to try and hold the two by-elections apart (and the Welsh Assembly seat is the bigger target) this should stop them.

No party owns Blaenau Gwent. I hope that come the by-elections the voters will remember that Labour still hasn't learnt the lesson they were taught last May.

Check your tomatoes before you throw them!

Anyone know where I can get a reliable source of tomatoes?It's not been the best day for Sir Menzies Campbell. At Prime Minister's Questions he raised the specific case of a prisoner being released and made a direct demand for Charles Clarke's resignation but it subsequently emerged that the prisoner in question is still in custody.

I give full credit to Campbell for apologising to both the Commons and personally to Tony Blair and Charles Clarke, but one has to wonder why this story was not checked properly given the dangers of it backfiring. Surely the Liberal Democrats would never go so far as to make serious alarming claims without verifying them properly? Is Campbell's judgement slipping already? Maybe he should "raise his game..."

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Why ministers should be on top of their departments

No I don't want to talk about the details of John Prescott's appearance in the news today. It's clearly an attempt to bury bad news - though given the way that neither Prescott nor Charles Clarke have escaped it does suggest that even the Not So Very New Labour spin doctors are no longer as effective as they once were. Is no-one in the Labour Party performing properly?

More concerning is the fate of Charles Clarke. Yesterday he offered to resign if it was necessary. Today yet more revelations have led to those who previously did not want his resignation to call for it. At Prime Minister's Questions today it took only a glance at the government front bench to see how isolated Clarke is and Blair was visibly not comfortable defending his Home Secretary. He didn't even hang around in the Commons when Clarke gave a statement in the Commons immediately afterwards and instead gave a pathetic excuse for being elsewhere. Since Clarke's resignation offer was turned down, one has to wonder why Blair is keeping him in the post.

Two thoughts spring to mind. First off Clarke is an increasing rarity in the Cabinet - a heavyweight Blairite. Blairites have repeatedly proved to be the weakspot of the Cabinet - just look at resignations such as David Blunkett (twice), Peter Mandelson (twice), Stephen Byers and so forth. With Patricia Hewitt also under heavy fire over the poor handling of deficits in the National Health Service Blair must be fearing ever more isolation in his final days if he's forced to lose another of his supporters.

But there's also a tactical possibiliy. Labour is expecting to do badly in the local elections and many expect renewed calls for Tony Blair to resign after them. Keeping Clarke on until after polling day would allow him to take the flack for Labour's pasting and then his resignation could be accepted whilst Blair carries on.

Meanwhile the Home Office remains a mess and more criminals are on the street and the public is not reassured. What's more important - shoring up Tony Blair's position or having ministers who are on top of their departments?

Rearranging links

You may have noticed that I've started to overhaul the links on this blog and am trying to separate out political blogs by party.

To help save time, if any of the owners of the following blogs wish to chose which party they're listed under please speak up now:

A Big Stick and a Small Carrot
An Englishman's Castle
A Tangled Web
Bill's Comment Page
Conan Vancy - The Voice Of Treason
Fiona Pinto
Guido Fawkes' blog of plots, rumours and conspiracy
Ian Plumbley's Thoughts Blog
Michael McCafferty's World
Militant Moderate
The Nether-World
old enough...
Paul Leake
A Plague of Opinion!
Quaequam Blog!
Ridiculous Politics
Slugger O'Toole
UK free democrats

Also I'm always on the lookout for other blogs to add - if anyone has any good recommendations please use the comments section to add them.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Interesting links to here

Whilst looking at for details on where recent visitors to this site have come from I saw a couple of interesting links to here.

First off was a link from Bloggers4Labour! This site carries posts from many different Labour supporting blogs, something this blog could never be described as! On close examination it's because my earlier post about whether the Vatican will endorse condoms was linked to in a post on Paul Burgin's blog, Mars Hill.

The other link is a post by Kate on her blog itisi about "Sean Bean, Irish Cricket and Media Tips for Osama". Apparently she'd noticed my link to her in my round up of blog posts about Cherie Blair's hair and coming here she found out for the first time that there is an Irish Cricket Team. I'm glad to have helped spread knowledge, but don't look to me to try to explain cricket!

Will the Vatican endorse condoms?

The Pope's wardrope may be going backwards but are the Vatican's policies going forwards?BBC News reports that the Vatican 'may relax condom rules'. If this is true it will be the first great revolution of the Benedict XVI era. Only last year the Pope was opposing their use in Africa. The Roman Catholic Church has often been accused of using its influence to spread the belief that condoms do not block the spread of HIV, and using influence to prevent their distribution in the third world.

If the Roman Catholic Church is shifting its position then this is long overdue. Maybe the papcy of Benedict XVI will prove to be a bit more enlightened than many expected upon his election.

Is there (political) life after scandal?

Liberal England, Quaequam Blog! and Iain Dale have all been discussing reports that Mark Oaten is trying to rehabilitate himself by giving interviews about the scandal that engulfed him earlier this year. His wife is also going to write an article in Hello!.

He can't be to blame this time!All are in agreement that this is an absurd course of action and I have to agree. Oaten's leadership bid had already collapsed before the scandal originally broke - he had only managed to attract the support of one MP, the backing of death that is Lembit Öpik. An even worse backing of death came with the rumours that Charles Kennedy was discretely trying to drum up support for Oaten to stop Sir Menzies Campbell, and this failed to secure any more public endorsements. Since the previous leader had been brought down by his lack of support amongst his MPs it was a rather embarrassing position to be in when claiming to be able to unite the party and take it forward and so Oaten had been forced out of the contest already.

He performed acts that are too depraved to write aboutThen came the revelations that despite Oaten's attempts to portray himself as a family man, he had engaged in acts that even The News of the World felt were too disgusting to detail. Does the public, especially Oaten's constituents, really want to be reminded of all this? Do the Liberal Democrats really want to have to put up with cat calls of "coprophilliac"? Rather than bringing all this back into the public eye, Oaten would do better to put his nose down to his constituency work and only pop up in the media when standing up for his constituents. Or perhaps he could follow the example of John Profumo and seek redemption through philanthropic work.

Humiliating scandals have engulfed many a politician but no-one is beyond redemption and some, such as Cecil Parkinson, have returned to front line politics so it's not as though a return is unprecedented. But all went through a period of obscurity first, usually waiting until after another general election before returning to the front line. The sole notable exception was Peter Mandelson who came back so fast that he had time to resign again in that Parliament. Who wants to be like Peter Mandelson?

Monday, April 24, 2006

The university marking boycott

Here at Queen Mary, University of London exams don't start for another week and as a postgraduate researcher I'm not directly hit by the assessment boycott by the Association of University Teachers and the National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education. However from next week I will be working as an exam attendant - if there are any exams!

The two unions have called for an ongoing boycott of academic assessment as part of their campaign on pay, but it's now reaching the exam period and really starting to directly affect students. There's also a difference in methods between the two, as the Education Guardian explains:

The AUT has told members not to mark assessments or set exams, while Natfhe is encouraging members to set exams, but refrain from doing any marking until their demands for a pay increase are met.
The boycott has seen a clear division amongst students' unions:

The National Union of Students says it will continue to support the AUT and the lecturers' union Natfhe in their push for a 23% pay increase. But individual unions are increasingly calling for an end to the dispute, which involves a marking boycott.
But while more than 32 student unions have signed a letter to the AUT's general secretary, Sally Hunt, backing the strike action, the website has secured more than 300 signatures from students who are demanding an end of the marking ban.

The website says: "This action is extremely unfair to students as it may be highly disruptive and detrimental to students' educations. This website provides a petition where those opposed to this action can add the weight of their voice to the calls for this action to come to an end."

But the president of the University of Warwick's student union, Kat Stark, who sent the letter to Ms Hunt, was highly critical of student leaders who were not backing the lecturers.
Curiously the article fails to note that Kat Stark is also the NUS National Women's Officer-elect. Also, as noted before both here and elsewhere, the recent NUS Conference did not discuss the issue at all.

Something else that doesn't appear to be widely reported, though noted in an NUS press release today, is:

Last week, NUS sent a formal letter to AUT condemning their decision not to set exams and calling on them to urgently reconsider this tactic. This is the culmination of a series of meetings and conversations where NUS has voiced serious reservations about this decision.
The Petition against the AUT assessment boycott keeps on growing and it can be signed here.

Oh and Education Watch has noticed the following:

Keele University has privately admitted that scores of students could graduate this summer with degree classifications that they do not deserve under plans to beat the assessment boycott, writes Phil Baty. In a set of contingency plans designed to counter the assessment boycott by the Association of University Teachers, Keele's senate last week agreed to allow final-year students to graduate as long as they had completed about two thirds of their final year.

The senate will invoke an obscure part of the constitution that allows students to graduate under exceptional circumstances if they have obtained at least 75 of the 120 final-year credits they would normally be expected to achieve. This is the equivalent of obtaining a degree despite dropping up to three final-year exam papers.
Does anywhere else have this provision?

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Is this the end of the Liberal Democrats?

This could be like getting hit by an asteroid!Where's my Kermie? He'll know what to do!Thanks to Ridiculous Politics for highlighting this story.

The Lib Dems could now be facing bankruptcy. A former key donor has been arrested on charges including fraud and it's possible that his past donations may be ruled in breach of current party funding law.

We haven't worked out just which one is Kermit yetCurrently no-one can make an individual donation to a political party if they are not on the electoral roll. Despite this Michael Brown made donations of £2.4 million to the Liberal Democrats through an entity called 5th Avenue Partners. If the Electoral Commission rules that this entity was not "carrying on business" in the United Kingdom then the Lib Dems will have to repay all the money. This could send them into financial bankruptcy.

I think the leader is underperforming!
Before the current arrest, but when his donation was still under investigation, Menzies Campbell defended taking money from the controversial ex-pat businessman. Asked if he would take the money knowing when had been thrown up about his business dealings in October 2005, Sir Ming said on Channel 4: 'Well, now everything is out in the open, then the answer is probably yes. Why not? As far as I know, there is no intention to give the money back.'
This is awfulGet the tomatoes readyHow the Lib Dems can afford to repay all the money is unclear. And it's doubtful that Michael Brown will be willing to register to vote in the UK and donate them more money. His support for the party was based on his regard for Charles Kennedy but not for "the muppets who purport to serve him" and he was not happy when Kennedy was stabbed in the chest by them. So they may have to look elsewhere.

Could this be the straw that breaks the camel's back and brings the Liberal Democrats to extinction? Now that Kennedy's leadership is no more, what will "the muppets" do?

Saturday, April 22, 2006

On England

Tomorrow is St George's Day, normally the only time outside of sports matches when England ever seems to make an impact in its own right. But what does England mean?

Stanley BaldwinOne of the most famous answers came from Stanley Baldwin, considered to be one of the most "English" of Prime Ministers, in his classic speech On England, delivered to the Royal Society of St George in April 1924:

The sounds of England, the tinkle of the hammer on the anvil in the country smithy, the corncrake on a dewy morning the sound of the scythe against the whetstone, and the sight of a plough team coming over the brow of a hill, the sight that has been seen in England since England was a land, and may be seen in England long after the Empire has perished and every works in England has ceased to function.
And yet Baldwin's mother was half Welsh, half Scottish. Less than twenty years later George Orwell noted:
We call our islands by no fewer than six different names, England, Britain, Great Britain, the British Isles, the United Kingdom and, in very exalted moments, Albion.
For a long time many have claimed that England has taken over the rest of the United Kingdom. A glance at my bookshelf shows a number of books on the history of the country, such as the Oxford History of England. Perhaps it's not so much the case that England has taken over the rest of the United Kingdom but the United Kingdom has taken over England. "England" does not exist as a legal entity. There aren't really such things as "English only" laws, rather there are laws that don't apply to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. "Anglo-(say) German" relations means the relations between Germany and the United Kingdom, not England. Many foreigners call the state "England". The identity of England has been suppressed within the United Kingdom.

It's telling that about the only time England becomes an issue politically is in relation to proposals for solving the West Lothian question. The demand for a Scottish Parliament originated out of a desire to enhance Scotland and do things for that country. By contrast the desire for an English Parliament is a mere reaction to developments in Scotland, rather than any real desire to enhance England.

And so what are we left with? In my first year as an undergraduate I took a module on the British Home Front during the Second World War. One of the first things the lecturer said to us was, "I'm Scottish, so anyone who calls the country 'England' will automatically fail!" Later in one seminar we had a discussion about concepts of nationhood and we partook in a quick test - what was the first word we thought of when we heard the following words:

"Britain" - I came up with "Great".
"England" - I came up with "Football".
Yes football. This is one of the few times that England really does roar in its own right. In other sports the country either plays as the UK or the non-English teams are so invisible that "England" often becomes de facto the team for the entire country. How many of us actually know that the "English Cricket Team" covers England and Wales? Who's ever actually heard of the Scottish Cricket Team? And who knows just what the Irish Cricket Team covers?

'C'mon England!'But when the England football team is playing it's the one time when England truly roars. Every time there's a major international football tournament, football mania sweeps England and everyone starts dreaming of repeating the glory of the 1966 World Cup Final.

But is this all England is about? Baldwin's plough team was a increasingly rare feature even in his day - as Orwell noted during the Second World War:

The horse plough will give way to the tractor. . . but England will still be England.
St. George's Day itself is not celebrated much. Maybe that's because May Day is historically the day of celebration, and more recently the Bank Holiday, at this time of year, whilst Easter is nearby (and sometimes, as in 2000, falls on April 23rd). So there are none of the great parties and wild celebrations that mark every St. Patrick's Day. Without such great celebrations, is it any wonder that "Englishness" becomes harder to define?

There are often calls for a bank holiday on St. George's Day, but it could be messy. In 2000 Easter Monday wound up just one week before May Day - adding in a fourth bank holiday in what can be as little as three or four weeks would be overkill. It would be much better to have a new bank holiday in the autumn.

The flag of St. GeorgeIt may be invisible, it may be hard to define, but there is a clear spirit of England. Maybe in years to come more and more of what England is will be found. But for now let's raise a glass of warm beer to England.

Happy St. George's Day.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Are US elections free and fair?

Whilst glancing at the websites people have come from when visiting this site I came across this random post from the blog Tom Martin for US Senate from Pennsylvania about the difficulties one faces in standing for election in the United States.

In Pennsylvania the Republicans and Democrats parties only need 2,000 signatures for their state wide ballot access - In 2006 Libertarians, Constitution, Greens, Independents or any one else needs over 67,070 signatures -- more then 33 times as many signatures the incumbents need -- so much for the explicit Pennsylvania constitutional guarantee of Free and equal elections (article I Section V) - apparently the laws are only for the little people.
Does anyone want to defend such a biased system? What's wrong with a straightforward one rule for all approach?

No to state funding of hairdos

Our taxes should never pay for thisThe row about Cherie Blair's hair has caught the imagination of the blogosphere. Amongst the many points discussed, perhaps the most concerning are the continuing poor quality of the Labour Party's spokespersons and the current proposals for state funding of political parties.

The official Labour reaction to the story has been "So what? Mrs Blair worked fantastically hard during the election and visited more than 50 constituencies during the campaign. She is enormously popular with the party and, don't forget, we won the election." Does anyone honestly believe Labour was returned to power because of Cherie Blair's hair?!?! And is she really so popular with the Labour Party? Especially now?

Far more concerning are the proposals in current circulation for state funding of political parties. Is this really the sort of thing that tax payers' money should ultimately be spent? It's twice as much as Peter Kilfoyle (who nominated Tony Blair to be Labour leader in the first place) spent on his local election campaign. He also made the following comment:

This is the problem. We are almost accepting by stealth a First Lady.
There is only one First Lady in this country and today she is 80 years old. The way the Blair behave like a President and First Lady is a total embarrassment for the country. For the sake of us all they must go now.

Amongst the blogs discussing this story are Tom's Little Thoughts, alastair's heart monitor, A Big Stick and a Small Carrot, Ian Plumbley's Thoughts Blog, The Nether-World, On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing, old enough..., An Englishman's Castle, Earlsdon Greens 2006, A Tangled Web, »-(¯`v´¯)-».: Kita's Blog :.»-(¯`v´¯)-», The Officially Original Loch Ness Monster Blog, Charlton Hofie, Conan Vancy - The Voice Of Treason, donbert, Anorak: Voting Booth, Choice Cuts, Isabel and Ryan Klint and itisi.

Is this what the loans were needed for?

The official spending figures for the election campaign reveal that the Labour Party spent £275 a day on Cherie Blair's hair, coming to a total of £7,700. So is the culture of extravagance that generates spending like this one of the reasons why the Labour Party needed to borrow so much money?

Here's some advice for the Blairs in future: Use an ordinary hairdresser. At the same time as getting a good service for a much more reasonable rate, they might actually come in contact with ordinary people and understand how government policy is operating on the ground.

Still the Blairs could have been even more extravagant. Tony could have nominated his wife for a peerage. But no self-respecting political leader would ever do that would they?

Thursday, April 20, 2006

So how does the Supplementary Vote work again?

Today I received my ballot papers for the local elections here in Newham. Not only did I get a First Past The Post ballot paper for the three councilors for Forest Gate South ward but I also received a Supplementary Vote ballot paper for electing the Mayor.

Here in Newham the voter is asked to make three choices on one ballot paper, marking each choice with a cross, and two choices on the other ballot paper, numbering them in order of preference. I really don't think it's very workable to hold elections by different methods for the same authority. Two years ago a voter in London received a First Past The Post ballot paper for their constituency Greater London Assembly Member, an Additional Member System top-up lists ballot paper for the London wide Assembly Members, a Supplementary Vote for the Mayor of London and a Party List for the Members of the European Parliament. I'm sure there were lots of votes miscast by voters applying the rules for one system to another. Or people treating the top-up vote as a second preference - how far has this distorted the allocation of seats in the Assembly from the electorate's true desires?

And for comedy the sitting Mayor, Sir Robin Wales, states on his manifesto:

Please vote for me - No.5 on your ballot paper
Anyone who follows this advice to the letter will be casting a spoilt ballot! What's the point in using such a bizarre and confusing voting system when even the political party that introduced it can't understand it?

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Just where does Labour get its publicity people from?!?!?!

I've now had the chance to see Dave the Chameleon, a little cartoon that is Not So Very New Labour's pathetic excuse for a party election broadcast. And I have to wonder where on earth did Labour recruit the people who came up with this?

Let's get a core inaccuracy to one side first. As CashFromThinAir summarises:

As the NL divs don't seem to have an education, they won't know that chameleons don't change their colour to fit their surroundings as much as to reflect mood, the joke is technically a flat one too.
A former public school boyLet's look for a moment at some of the hypocrisy in this advert. It begins by attacking David Cameron for having gone to a public school, a line that seems to be a rather common Labour substitute for serious political argument. Having had the misfortune to briefly go to one myself (quite a horrible experience but more on that another time) I know all too well that virtually no public school pupil actually chooses whether or not they are registered for one. No baby gets up and says "Don't put me down on the list for a public school, I don't want it to affect me when I have a political career." If the Labour publicity department had a clue they could have checked this one out. They could have asked a former public school boy. Like Tony Blair.

Or should that be "Anthony Blair"? The film made the point about people calling Cameron "Dave" occasionally. Yet Blair has shortened his given name permanently! Now I personally don't think there's anything wrong with that (as my own URL shows!) but clearly the Labour publicity department does. Did they check this one with Blair?

But for a "Party Election Broadcast" for the local elections there was absolutely nothing about the local elections in them! Not one reason given for voting to have Labour run town halls on May 4th. As noted on this blog before, this isn't in anyone's real interest and can only help contribute to a pathetic turnout. There are Labour members who have made positive cases for voting for that party in May - see Take back the voice's general muses for one. But the central Labour Party doesn't seem to have any of this.

A few years ago I read for and graduated with a Masters of Art in Propaganda, Persuasion and History from the University of Kent. If anyone is looking for a new set of publicity people, I'd like to apply!

We must never forget

They made the ultimate sacrifice...
The government has expressed concern that it will be "difficult" to give the last survivor of the First World War a state funeral as some of the remaining veterans have indicated they do not want one and it may be hard to ascertain who the final survivor is. This would be a tragedy. A few years ago Australia held a state funeral for Alec Campbell, the last survivor of the Gallipoli campaign and it is only right that the United Kingdom makes a similar gesture. If a state funeral is not possible then there should be a national commeration. The generation who fought the First World War made a great sacrifice and it is essential that we should never forget them.

An Early Day Motion on this was tabled in the Commons two months ago by Iain Duncan Smith and here is the text:

That this House notes with enormous gratitude the sacrifice made by all United Kingdom Armed Forces through the ages in defence of this country and its values; notes particularly the very special nature of the sacrifice made by those who fought in the First World War in appalling conditions and with terrible loss of life; further notes that there are very few veterans of World War One still living in the United Kingdom; and urges the Prime Minister to recommend to Her Majesty that the particular nature of their sacrifice be acknowledged and celebrated by granting a state funeral to the last British veteran of the First World War at the time of his death.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Whatever happened to... VHS?

Recently while clearing out my old VHS cassettes I was struck with a thought - just when did VHS disappear off the radar?

Having brought my first DVD player in the summer of 2001, when they didn't appear to be commonplace - amongst my circle of friends I seemed to be the first to get one. Other than blank cassettes for recording, the only VHSes I've brought since then were the last of the Doctor Who releases (BBC Enterprises decided against simultaneous DVD releases and instead the Who DVD line developed separately). In early 2003 whilst staying with a friend no-one in their flat had a DVD player. Otherwise, apart from a brief comment here last year whilst selling some old tapes, I've not really stopped to look and see what's happened with VHS. Nowadays places like HMV seem to be almost trying to give away VHS boxed sets for only a few pounds (and not always succeeding - the two boxed sets that make up a season of Friends are between them almost as bulky as the DVD boxed set containing all ten seasons) and it's clear that as a prerecorded format VHS is almost extinct (though as a recording format it still has its uses; and I'm sure I'm not the only one using their VCR as an essential adaptor between SCART and coaxial sockets).

So just when did VHS die out as a commercial format? When did all the main stores start marginalising their VHS shelves and then phasing them out completely?

VHS has one or two advantages over DVD though. First off minor tape damage is concentrated and usually affects less of the material than the equivalent on DVD. Secondly one can stop the tape wherever they like and continue playing it in another machine. And thirdly you don't have to go through umpteen copyright notices, adverts against piracy and trailers everytime you play a tape - you can just fast forward a VHS whereas a lot of DVDs won't let you! Does anyone know of a good DVD player that can at least do the last function?

Monday, April 17, 2006

Whatever happened to... Dan Quayle?

He is still no Jack KennedyRemember James Danforth Quayle, Vice President to the better Bush? Quayle was a rarity amongst modern Vice Presidents, being one of the few you could never seriously envisage as President. Indeed the only other Vice Presidents from the last fifty years who have never been nominated for the Presidency were one who was forced to resign due to charges of tax evasion and money laundering and the incumbent. Quayle's own bid for the Republican nomination in 1999/2000 went absolutely nowhere and got about as much public attention.

This is not spelt 'potatoe'But there's one incident above all others for which Quayle will be remembered. He once attended a spelling bee and tried to correct the spelling of "P-O-T-A-T-O" to "P-O-T-A-T-O-E". Never has anyone generated so much concern for a US President's health!

So other than a brief shadowy appearance in a Presidential election what has Quayle been up to for the past thirteen years? And does anyone know if he's learnt to spell yet?

The rise of the British National Party

Adele is rejoicing that in some areas the British National Party is in electoral decline but today a report suggests one in four voters say they "might vote" for the party. It's also shocking to remember that the BNP came very close to getting elected to the Greater London Assembly in 2004 - had it not been for the rule requiring parties to get at least 5% of the vote (and as it was they were only about six thousand votes short of crossing that threhold) they would have received one top-up list member. It was the only time that the fruitcake has done the world any good.

All the main parties have tried to expose the dangers of voting BNP but I'm increasingly of the view that the standing methods are a flawed strategy. At the moment the standing of politics, especially "establishment" political parties, is incredibly low and these attacks just play into the BNP's claims to be an anti-establishment party with a message the political classes don't want to hear. Some believe that the BNP should be "starved of the oxygen of publicity" and that "No Platform" policies should be erected. I used to be inclined towards such a course but now I feel that all this does is to play into the BNP's hands by allowing them to portray themselves as martyrs. It would be much better to confront the BNP output head on and expose it as nothing more than incoherent hate driven lies. Many BNP activists and candidates have criminal convictions and few are able to express themselves coherently. Rather than throwing them a golden opportunity by pushing them to the margins where they can seek the support of those alienated from politics, it would be better to take them on directly.

Furthermore the mainstream parties need to do a lot more to tackle the issues that the BNP thrive on. And this is far from just issues relating to immigration, asylum and a multi-cultural society. Whether it's corruption in politics, a failure to maintain the streets, rising crime and so forth, the mainstream parties need to both have answers and take them directly to the people. It's in no way as easy as this paragraph may seem, but only by tackling and removing these sources of tinder will the BNP flames be extinguished. Also political parties and activists need to stop devaluing terms. Both "racist" and "extreme right wing" are bandied around for not only the BNP but other parties as well, to the point that they lose all value when trying to get a message across. (It's also a rather dubious claim - many of their policies are heavily statist.)

Rather than just creating yet further divides between the concerns of the people and politicians, pushing yet more towards a party of self-proclaimed "anti-politicians", let's stop dividing the nation and instead unite it. The disease in our politics is not the BNP's successes. It is the circumstances that lead to the BNP's successes.

Yet more Lib Dem confusion and inconsistency

I was under the impression the Liberal Democrats had made Local Income Tax a flagship of their current local election campaign but on the ground the impression is different. A leaflet received by Iain Dale talks about the problems with Council Tax but shies away from proposing an alternative.

Very few people know who this Muppet is either! (It's Clifford)So do the Lib Dems actually still believe in Local Income Tax? Or are we once again seeing the party have one policy nationally but another where it's more electorally convenient?

Does anyone even know for certain who the main Lib Dem local government spokesperson is? Or are they very unknown?

Friday, April 14, 2006

What does "love" mean?

Those of you who've known me a while are probably groaning, but I intend to write a post on this subject some day or other.

So for everyone reading this blog, what do you think "love" means? What is it, is there such a thing and what's the proof?

Is a Bank Holiday a "Saturday" or a "Sunday"?

After so many years of Bank Holidays (and Good Friday is usually treated only half heartedly as one) you'd think everyone would have worked out by now whether or not to apply Saturday or Sunday timetables. Yet taking a wander round London today revealed an utterly inconsistent pattern on this. The worst situation is on the trains, where timetables are often set to allow interchanges between companies and these are utterly useless when different companies use different day's timetables.

Let's have a consensus on this, and treat Bank Holidays as one or the other, rather than this ongoing mismash. Would it hurt the country to work this one out?


Take a look at one of the best blog posts I've ever seen.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

What are these elections for again?

Following on from the earlier question about whether the local elections are a chance to decide who runs local services or a referendum on the Prime Minister, we now return to the subject. The United Kingdom Independence Party launched its campaign for the local elections.

UKIP was formed as a single issue party devoted to pulling the United Kingdom out of the European Union. Exactly what this has to do with town halls is beyond me and the UKIP website doesn't give many answers.

(On first looking at it, I noticed that UKIP doesn't have a URL! Now inaccurate party web addresses are nothing new - the Scottish National Party were for a long time plagued by the joke of, whilst Not So Very New Labour similarly has a address despite not being a UK wide organisation. However this may be because of an unofficial UKIP website nicking the URL.)

At a glance the UKIP website doesn't really explain why they are contesting local government elections when the EU issue is an irrelevancy. There's a tiny mention at the bottom of their manifesto:

The UK Independence Party has 10 elected members of the European Parliament campaigning to take Britain out of the European Union – we do not think it right that most of UK law comes from Brussels and unelected EU bureaucrats. Likewise, we insist that local government in Britain must be returned from unelected Whitehall bureaucrats to local democrats. In 2006 we aim to raise the number of local UKIPcouncilorss, who will join the campaign for bringing representative democracy back to the British people.
So the party is no longer a single issue campaign! The manifesto contains hilarious pledges such as their position on local taxation:

Local Taxes

What's the problem? Council Tax has almost doubled in many areas over the past few years, hitting pensioners in particular. A vast amount of money is wasted on bureaucracy and politically correct jobs without the public ever being consulted.

What's the solution?

  • Reorganise national and local taxes to slash council tax by 50%

  • Return financial responsibility to councils by letting them keep local business rates

  • Cut the money wasted on politically - correct initiatives and appointments.
So all the problems of local government finance can be swept aside by transferring over the business rates and axing some jobs and initiatives. I wonder why no councils have achieved this?!

Is this the real face of UKIP?Given the recent row, it's interesting to note that a search for "fruitcake" on the UKIP website yields no results. Nor are there any hits on Nigel Farage's own website. Nor does the site contain any reference to Nigel Farage's alleged remarks, "We will never win the nigger vote. The nig-nogs will never vote for us".

And and for further hilarity, the UKIP list of branches can't decide if Croydon is in London or the South East, despite the Croydon branch's own website being clear that it is in London! One wonders if Nigel Farage and Gerard Batten know much at all about their constituencies.

This party isn't even the biggest joke in politics - that accolade goes to the Official Monster Raving Loony Party.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Lib Dems criticising the leadership - again!

Statler & Waldorf aren't big fans of him either!Thanks to Adele for highlighting this story. The Grauniad reports that Simon Hughes has caused a storm by that Menzies Campbell is underperforming. Once more we have the comedy of senior Liberal Democrats airing their dissatisfaction in public. It seems that there's more than one Groundhog Day.

What shall we do?Tomatoes at the ready!If the Liberal Democrats are ever to regain any credibility, someone had better put Simon Hughes in his place. This can't have gone down well with the grumpy old men so do they have tomatoes at the ready?

How much more of this must the country endure?

Iain Dale brings advance news on a Private Eye story showing that the damaging feud between Tony Blair and Old Man Brown is still going on despite attempts to disguise it:
Private Eye reports in its latest issue that Ian Kirby, political editor of the News of the World... was recently called in for an interview with Blair & Brown in an effort for them to demonstrate comradely unity. Kirby duly turned up at Number Ten and was heading for the room they were in when he heard David Hill, Blair's press spokesman say: "Okay, he's coming. Start talking now!" The door opened and, guess what, Kirby found the two talking warmly to each other as if they hadn't a care in the world.
How much more of this must the country endure?

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

What's Italian for "hanging chad"?

Romano Prodi has been declared the winner of the Italian election by a mere 25,000 votes but Silvio Berlusconi is disputing the outcome. There's about 500,000 contentious ballot papers so this could go on for a while. So just what is Italian for "hanging chad"?

A different beginning on offer

Comments on earlier posts have debated whether or not Northern Ireland has a Labour Party and just what the Social Democratic and Labour Party stands for, along with calls for a whole hearted effort in the province from the Conservatives and for Blair's Labour Party to drop their "Brits only" approach. Today I noticed on Slugger O'Toole that there are calls for Fianna Fáil to organise in Northern Ireland and some of these calls are coming from SDLP figures.

With regards Fianna Fáil organising, it is an entirely natural position to adopt for a party that wants to unite Northern Ireland with the Republic. In the past the Republic's Labour Party, Official Sinn Féin/the Workers' Party and Democratic Left (now merged into the Republic's Labour Party) have all organised and stood in the province, as does (provisional) Sinn Féin now. But it would help to settle the border question by referendum. If the province votes against a United Ireland (as all polls and studies suggest) then Fianna Fáil could remain in the province in line with the Republic's Constitution's declaration of affinity with the entire Irish nation. Perhaps it could lead to other parties from the Republic organising, undermining Sinn Féin. Indeed wouldn't having Michael McDowell rather than Martin McGuiness as the representative of nationalists in taking decision on policing prove more acceptable across the communities? Providing that the parties accept the settlement on the border question and the right of the electorate to decide it, it could prove a workable long term solution.

As for the SDLP, is this another admission by senior figures that the party has lost the plot? Also note that they highlighted on Fianna Fáil - a party that stands for, erm, erm, erm... (Does anyone actually know? Does Bertie Ahern?!) Well certainly not the Republic's Labour Party!

Monday, April 10, 2006

David Trimble - a true statesman

On the eighth anniversary of the signing of the Good Friday Agreement comes the news that David Trimble is to be made a peer. History will be kinder to Trimble than the electorate. In the long run it will be realised that the Agreement has made Northern Ireland and the wider British Isles a better and more stable place to live. Most of the guns are silent, emigration from the province is slowing down, the communities are more relaxed, the Anglo-Irish Agreement has been ended, the principle that the people of Northern Ireland will decide their fate has been agreed by all major parties in the province, the Republic has removed the claims to the province from its constitution and there is a greater understanding of the Unionist community. Ultimately the Good Friday Agreement has been a victory for Unionism. Sadly some parts of it, especially accepting that the elected representatives of a significant portion of the nationalist community are who they have elected, have proved controversial time and again. All agreements involve difficult compromises (something Ian Paisley would understand if he'd ever actually made some agreements in his long career) and this, along with the fate of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, have been difficult ones. But ultimately the best deal that could be obtained has been achieved. Contrast this with Ian Paisley's approach of repeatedly saying no which seems likely to achieve only the restoration of the Anglo-Irish Agreement in all but name.David Trimble and the authorAnd now Trimble is going to the House of Lords. No doubt he will continue to make a significant contribution to UK politics. Might we even see him as a minister in the next Conservative government?

What does one call the husband of a life peer?

Mr Lady Paisley?Four new peers from Northern Ireland are to be created, including Eileen Paisley. Although she has had a political career in her own right as a councilor and regional assembly member, she is undoubtedly best known as the wife of Ian Paisley. So what is the correct title for the husband of a life peer? I can't think we'll formally have to call him "Mr Lady Paisley"!

Does the Alliance Party have any point to it?

Alliance Party of Northern Ireland assembly member and former deputy leader Eileen Bell has been named as the new speaker of the Northern Ireland Assembly by the Northern Ireland Office. Whether or not the appointment will be upheld when/if the assembly starts sitting again in the next attempt to form an executive remains to be seen. But Alliance leader David Ford was not informed about this!
Alliance leader David Ford said it would have been "appropriate and good manners" for him to have been informed in advance of the decision.
So either the Alliance is in such a mess that its assembly members are not talking to one another or the Northern Ireland Office has realised that the party is of such insignificance there is no need to pander to it anymore. Which is it?

Close the door on your way out

A Conservative council candidate has caused a storm over her opposition to running ethnic minority candidates in her area and has been told she is in "the wrong party" by David Cameron. Unfortunately due to current election laws Joan Howarth cannot be removed as a Conservative candidate now that nominations have closed but beyond that she can go.

The Conservatives are not a party for everyone and do not seek every vote. There are some for whom there is no place in the party. And there are votes any self-respecting party should take it as a matter of pride not to receive.

Belief in Labour crumbles further

Following former candidate Rehman Chishti's decision to join the Conservative Party the news has now come through that former Labour Assembly Member Alison Halford has now joined, stating:
I left the Labour Party over the issue of cronyism when Peter Mandelson was given yet another chance by being appointed a European Commissioner.

Trust in politicians is important and I have lost all faith in the prime minister.
Alison's own musings can be found elsewhere on the internet. Typically the Liberal Democrats have once more tried to use the story to claim there's no difference between the two parties.

Now how many more will leave Labour? And will Tony Blair heed her words and go soon?

Friday, April 07, 2006

So do the Liberal Democrats still believe in Local Income Tax?

Are the Lib Dems targetting this voter?And this one?Amidst all the recent events I missed the Liberal Democrats launching their local election campaign. What's notable is that after months of umming and ahhing about the proposal to replace Council Tax with a Local Income Tax and many senior Lib Dems wanting a review, yet the policy has been made a flagship for the election. Presumably the Liberal Democrats have decided to stop pretending to be a student friendly party, given how the proposals would be damaging for students. Instead they seem to be focusing on the pensioner vote. So some people will be impressed. Is Ian Paisley one of them? What about Waldorf and Statler?

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Eighty years of Ian Paisley

An even older man than Old Man BrownIf Old Man Brown does ever get to be Prime Minister, there's a figure he'll have to deal with who really will make him look like a fresh face. Today is Ian Paisley's 80th birthday. Paisley has been a permanent fixture in UK politics since the late 1960s, and may one day become Father of the House (something that a previous MP for North Antrim, Hugh O'Neill also achieved).

In all this time one would think Paisley has been consistent, always opposing any involvement by terrorist groups in politics (apart from those such as Ulster Resistance and the Loyalist groups who partook in the 1970s strikes that brought down the powersharing executive), opposing Unionists who advocate powersharing with constitutional nationalists like Willie Craig in the 1970s (except for later, when the DUP strategy is precisely what Craig advocated in the 1970s) and showing loyalty to the British state (apart from when he doesn't agree with it). Sadly for him he hasn't yet become Mr Baroness Paisley as his attempt to nominate his wife Eileen to the House of Lords has been put on hold due to the current cash for peerages scandal. (Although I seriously doubt Paisley's been asked to pay any fee - were there any requirement then the government would almost certainly have made it the restoration of devolution.)

Perhaps as part of the birthday celebrations Paisley could set out once and for all for the world who is really running the DUP - himself or Peter Robinson?

No means No Peter

Peter Mandelson has called for the EU Constitution to be revised and a fresh attempt to impose it on the EU's citizens. This is despite the constitution being widely rejected by the public and the French burying the idea last year.

What part of NO doesn't Mandelson understand?

By the way since Tony Blair once famously declared, "My project will be complete when the Labour Party learns to love Peter Mandelson," can any of the Labour members reading this blog say they do so we can hurry up and end the farce.

Will one murder destroy the peace process?

It's difficult to know what to say about the murder of Denis Donaldson, the former Sinn Féin/IRA double-agent. Sinn Féin have condemned the murder but "The DUP leader Ian Paisley suggested he gave no credence to denials from republicans, including Gerry Adams." Others are suspecting a British conspiracy

Before this week the process seemed destined for the same old chain of events ending in failure. Now it becomes much, much harder to sell powersharing to politicians and voters across the divide. Where will it end?

UKIP by their founder

Seemingly not noticed much in the current furor about David Cameron accusing the UK Independence Party of containing fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists mostly" has been the supporting comments of Alan Sked who founded UKIP before leaving it:

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme he agreed with Mr Cameron's assessment of UKIP, adding: "There is a trend of this party to the far right. After I left it became much, much more in evidence and it is in evidence today."
Sked is not popular with today's UKIP politicians and it's easy to see why, given his observation as to why UKIP MEPs seem so keen to take their seats:

"Given that there is little reason to occupy seats and then vote No to everything, one could easily conclude that UKIP candidates are in effect standing for the money - salaries, pensions and expenses."
UKIP's Nigel Farage is currently saber rattling about suing both Cameron and Sked for libel. Has he also sued over past coverage like this from The Grauniad?

But Mr Farage has struggled to shake off his xenophobic image. He is currently embroiled in a row over Martyn Heale, the Ukip branch chairman in Thanet, who once had links with the far right. Many UKIP members want to know how Mr Heale, a former prison officer who was once the National Front branch organiser in Hammersmith, was allowed into the party. In the row Mr Farage is backing Mr Heale.
So has Farage put his money where his mouth is and sued over such comments and coverage in the past? Or does he feel he would lose a libel case?

Just what are the priorities of the National Union of Students?

Due to illness I wasn't able to be in Blackpool last week to help man a stall at the National Union of Students' annual conference. Thanks to Jo I've seen a number of blogs about the event. One in particular caught my eye:

James Dixon, Deputy President of De Montfort University Students' Union writes about his severe dissatisfaction with the priorities of the conference:

NUS Annual Conference failed to discuss the single biggest educational issue of the day.

Emergency Motions regarding the industrial action being currently taken by the AUT and NATFHE were not allowed to be discussed.

Despite having no policy on the matter and many Students' Unions calling for NUS President Kat Fletcher to change her stance on the matter, no time was found for the debate.

The issue of industrial action came top of the delegates Emergency Motions Priority Ballot, ahead of other big contemporary issues such as suspended University of Leeds lecturer Frank Ellis.
Conference, however, spent hours discussing whether or not to boycott Coca-Cola and if Hizb-ut Tahrir, an Islamic Group that the government wants to make a proscribed organisation, should be welcome within NUS.

I ask you to consider whether the priorities of NUS match that of Students' Unions or students on UK campuses?
There is a clear division of opinion on this matter amongst students' unions but the NUS has not actually debated its position on the matter. Instead those speaking to the media and sending out briefings have adopted the rather bizarre position of telling any students concerned about the strike to complain to their universities! But it isn't the universities who are striking!

And why on earth is the NUS even considering patronising students and telling them what they can and can't drink in union bars? Do the advocates of a boycott seriously believe that institutional boycotts work? The Nestle boycott has just resulted in students being frustrated that they can't buy Nestle in campus shops without a proper explanation being given as to why. All it does is encourage them to go elsewhere to buy not just Nestle but everything else, impacting on the campus shop profits but making little impact on Nestle.

If a campaign to boycott of Coca Cola is to be effective (and I don't know if it should - I've not seen anyone make a strong case for this), it should aim to get individuals to boycott Coca Cola everywhere. Rather than just taking away my opportunity to have a Coca Cola in the students' union bar without telling me why (and I seriously doubt the cash strapped NUS would ever pay for people to be in every SU bar across the country to explain to customers at the point of no sale why Coca Cola has been withdrawn), the boycott campaign should aim to get me to boycott Coca Cola everywhere, whether in the SU bar, in pubs, in restaurants, in supermarkets, at vending machines and so forth. That is the way to impact on Coca Cola's profits. The approach of getting NUS and its purchasing consortium NUSSL to boycott Coca Cola is just going to impact on students' union bar income, at a time when many unions are deeply strapped for finances.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

A chance to decide who runs local services or a referendum on the Prime Minister?

A discussion on Antonia's blog about the forthcoming local elections has brought up the question of whether or not there will be a national swing or local factors, and whether the Labour vote will be affected by the conduct of the Blair Government.

About a decade ago I remember a Labour Party Election Broadcast for the local elections whose message was very simple - "If you want to tell the Prime Minister he's doing a bad job, you can't just walk into 10 Downing Street and speak to him. But you can vote against his party in the local elections."

(A special prize to anyone who can remember which year this Party Election Broadcast was made.)

Is anyone surprised by the rotten turnouts and complete apathy towards local government when even party election campaigns focus on issues other than their ability to run our town halls.

Lib Dems ignore the basic rules of child safety

As ever thanks to Iain for flagging Lib Dems in 'Sweets from Strangers' Storm. The Liberal Democrats' official election handbook recommends:
shout at all the local kids you can see and hear... then proceed Pied Piper like round the estate doling out badges and toffees and leaflets.
A complaint has been lodged by Eric Pickles, Deputy Chairman of the Conservative Party & Shadow Minister for Local Government:
Political parties have to be responsible and not encourage children to get in potentially dangerous situations. No responsible adult should ever entice unsupervised children to take sweets from strangers. This election manual is completely oblivious to common sense. At a time of heightened concern about the safety of children, I do not believe that the public will tolerate such reckless electioneering by the Liberal Democrats.
Does anyone wish to defend the Lib Dems over this?


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