Saturday, June 30, 2007

Put that light out!

The ban on smoking in public in England is about to come in force soon. And I can't wait for it.

Many people have argued that they have the "right" to smoke, but I haven't seen them ever respect and enforce the equal "right" for others to not have to consume smoke. I've lost count of the number of times I've had smoke in my face and not been able to do anything about it. In crowds, queues, at bars... it is impossible to avoid the smoke. Where are the libertarians there?

Voluntary bans have proved unworkable. A nationwide ban can only be for everyone's benefit. And if people want to smoke they can do so where they will not harm others.

Siren voices

It was inevitable that there would be a boost in the opinion polls for Labour with the Brown accession. Equally inevitable are the calls from certain quarters of the Conservative Party to lurch to the right. (BBC News: Cameron urged to shift on policy) And what a surprise - the calls are being led by Edward Leigh, head of the Cornerstone Group.

These siren calls must be resisted. Past Conservative leaders have lurched to the right and it has got them nowhere. Cornerstone is not known as Tombstone for nothing.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Defecting doesn't pay?

An interesting entry on the Downing Street website full list of government ministers:

Secretary of State for Northern Ireland
The Rt Hon Shaun Woodward MP *

* Unpaid
Woodward, like Quentin Davies, defected to Labour some years ago. Until today he was Minister of State for Northern Ireland so it's a natural promotion, although as Gordon Brown has already publicly offered the job outside the party it's not as if Woodward is the first choice for the post.

And he won't be getting a ministerial salary. Not the best advert for potential defectors.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Government - a one-man show?

This is the full list of government ministers on the 10 Downing Street website:

Her Majesty's Government
We will publish the official list of Her Majesty's Government as soon as it becomes available from 27 May [sic] 2007.

Cabinet
Prime Minister, First Lord of the Treasury and Minister for the Civil Service
Rt Hon Gordon Brown MP
Deputy Prime Minister and First Secretary of State
To be confirmed
Other Ministers
To be confirmed
Truly this is a very Brown government!

But once the posts have all been filled there will be many more names. Somehow I doubt we'll ever see a government as small as the following Australian ministry which held ofice from December 5 1972 to December 19 1972:

Prime Minister - Gough Whitlam
Minister for Foreign Affairs - Gough Whitlam
Treasurer - Gough Whitlam
Attorney-General - Gough Whitlam
Minister for Customs and Excise - Gough Whitlam
Minister for Trade and Industry - Gough Whitlam
Minister for Shipping and Transport - Gough Whitlam
Minister for Education and Science - Gough Whitlam
Minister for Civil Aviation - Gough Whitlam
Minister for Housing - Gough Whitlam
Minister for Works - Gough Whitlam
Minister for External Territories - Gough Whitlam
Minister for Environment, Aborigines and the Arts - Gough Whitlam
Deputy Prime Minister - Lance Barnard
Minister for Defence - Lance Barnard
Minister for Supply - Lance Barnard
Minister for the Army - Lance Barnard
Minister for the Navy - Lance Barnard
Minister for Air - Lance Barnard
Postmaster-General - Lance Barnard
Minister for Labour and National Service - Lance Barnard
Minister for Social Services - Lance Barnard
Minister for Immigration - Lance Barnard
Minister for the Interior - Lance Barnard
Minister for Primary Industry - Lance Barnard
Minister for Repatriation - Lance Barnard
Minister for Health - Lance Barnard
Minister for National Development - Lance Barnard

(Source: Wikipedia: First Whitlam Ministry)
Can this be beaten for the smallest government ever?

Seals of Office

Quite a few in the media have spoken of how Tony Blair is supposed to return the Seals of Office, but that there aren't any seals for the Prime Minister. If I remember correctly this is because in legislation the premiership is technically a position not an office.

However aren't there seals for the First Lord of the Treasury? That is an office.

Goodbye Blair

And so it's the end of the Blair premiership.

Given all the comparisons with the end of the Thatcher years, I wanted to put up an appropriate Spitting Image clip from YouTube, but I can't load the site right now.

I noticed Cherie Blair shouting "I won't miss you" as she boarded the car. And the country won't miss her either.

So who'll be running things later today?

Amidst all the discussion about the end of the "Blair era" and the beginning of the Brown era, one point that isn't too clear is who will be running the country from the moment Blair tenders his resignation to the Queen and when Gordon Brown "kisses hands". (Somehow I just can't imagine Brown on his knee kissing the Queen's hand! Yes I know it's not supposed to be literal but that hasn't stopped some ministers giving a kiss anyway.)

This is hardly unprecedented - there have been many times in history when there have been gaps of days if not weeks between on Prime Minister leaving office (or dying) and another being appointed. A convention long existed that when a Prime Minister tended their resignation the entire government left office immediately even though it could take more days before new ministers had been appointed.And the United Kingdom is not alone in this - in the United States it was never very clear until 1937 whether a President's term of office formally ended at midnight or noon (and there's a story of a hungover Senator being President for one day - see Wikipedia: David Rice Atchison). But the modern world expects so much more precision look at the way that both Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush took steps to ensure that Presidential power was temporarily transferred for a few hours to their Vice Presidents whilst they were undergoing operations.

For example if there's an attack on this country between Blair and Brown, who has the authority to respond? Does David Miliband still have authority to deal with the flood emergency? Or does the response have to wait until Brown has appointed an Environment Secretary. And for that matter when does the appointment take effect and empower the minister - an announcement by Brown? An announcement by the relevant Department? A formal appointments ceremony? Does anyone know?

Is this the best way to run a country in the 21st century? Is there a better way to do it?

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Quentin Davies is still an MP?

News broke today that Quentin Davies has defected to the Labour Party. The biggest shock for me was that Davies was still an MP!

Davies was a regular Europhilliac bastard during the Major years and since then bumbled around in a series of shadow appointments, culminating in his less than effective two years as Shadow Northern Ireland Secretary. It emerged today that he was so highly regarded that David Trimble refused to have meetings with him. (Iain Dale's Diary: Tory Turncoat Joins Labour) References to Davies in Dean Godson's biography of Trimble are few and invariably negative - it seems he only got away with as much as he did because he was one of the few Shadow Cabinet Members unable to undermine Iain Duncan Smith. Even Paddy Ashdown would make a better Northern Ireland Secretary and that's saying a lot.

Since then he's been invisible. I saw him at a Conservative History Group meeting last week but there were also a number of Lords and many from outside Parliament in the room, so it meant nothing.

Yes there'll be Labour crooning over this recruit - although I'd advise Labour members to have a look at Davies' voting record to see if they like what they're getting. And it is not just his voting record that they may not wish to be associated with.

And amongst the reasons Davies gives in his resignation letter is this:

You are the first leader of the Conservative Party who (for different reasons) will not be received either by the President of the United States, or by the Chancellor of Germany (up to, and very much including, Iain Duncan Smith every one of your predecessors was most welcome both in the White House and in all the chancelleries of Europe).
...I have never done business with people who deliberately break contracts, and I knew last year that if you left the EPP-ED Group I could no longer remain in a party under your leadership.
I don't mind the party leader being unpopular in the George W. Bush White House. Or care about some grouping in the European Parliament that is contrary to the interests of the Conservative Party.

So don't think for one moment I'm shedding tears at this loss. Nor are many others - see ConservativeHome: Quentin Davies MP defects to Labour!. Who knows it may turn out for better. Sean Woodward's joining Labour contributed nothing to them. His leaving us contributed everything.

Does anyone else fancy raising a little leaving present for him? I think £1.50 in 5p pieces would be appropriate.

Monday, June 25, 2007

No change there then!

So what is one of the first announcements by the All New, All Different Gordon Brown the New Leader?

He's going to seek to reduce the role of trade unions in the Labour Party. (BBC News: Brown aim 'to reduce union power')

Just what Tony Blair did in his early days.

Nice to see such new ideas!

Sunday, June 24, 2007

The Harman impact bounce

I've long thought that "Harriet" is one of the loveliest female names going. So it's a pity that the most prominent person in politics with that name - in fact the only politician I can think of - is so awful.

And it seems I'm not alone in thinking this. Two of my favourite Labour blogs are also deeply sceptical that Harman's election has been wise - see Kerron Cross: You Are Joking, Right? and Mars Hill: Harriet the Deputy.

Of course one can ask if the post means anything - see my past post Is the Labour Deputy Leadership worth a pitcher of warm piss? Certainly Harman is qualified in some respects to succeed John Prescott - as I wrote over a year ago in Yet another (deputy) leadership election:

...I initially laughed.

But on reflection Harman is being stripped of key ministerial responsibilities, prone to making silly gaffes, has hit the headlines for her driving activities, can generate fierce political storms and is considered by some to be ignorant.

Would she really be such an unthinkable choice to step into John Prescott's shoes?
She's also been made Labour Party Chairman, or whatever the position is titled, and Gordon Brown will no doubt expect her to buck up her act - no more writing to Conservative councillors to ask them to support Labour politicians! (Where does New Labour find these ministers?!?!)

The big losers are the Old Labour Left. I don't mean the John McDonnells but rather those who John Prescott has spent the last thirteen years keeping happy with the New Labour Project. Now Old Labour has no voice at the top. This could be the beginning of the long expected fracture.

An end to the Oxbridge dominance of Downing Street?

Who was the last Prime Minister to go to a university that wasn't Oxford or Cambridge? I hear many of you rushing to Wikipedia to work this out. The answer (until Wednesday) is Neville Chamberlain (who went to Mason Science College, later the University of Birmingham). In fact he's the last university educated Prime Minister to have not gone to Oxford - the last from Cambridge was Stanley Baldwin. (The other graduate non Oxbridge Prime Ministers were the Earl of Bute who went to the University of Leiden, Lord John Russell who went to the University of Edinburgh and Ramsay MacDonald who went to Birkbeck College). There have of course been Prime Ministers who went to the "university of life" (John Major, James Callaghan, Winston Churchill and others) but the Oxbridge dominance has been there for a long time. But this week the numbers will change - Gordon Brown is an alumnus of the University of Edinburgh.

Now does this matter, many will ask? After all many non-Oxbridge graduates have headed both main parties for decades now. Gordon Brown is not known for walking away from a fight - even if he had been Oxbridge educated I suspect he would still be willing to take on the universities if the situation arises. This could have interesting ramifications for funding.

However anyone hoping that Brown will support the campaign to end Oxbridge using "MA" to sell degrees may be disappointed - Edinburgh uses "MA" for the first degree, but it is a substantial qualification, not one purchased with no academic work.

And Labour call this a dream ticket?!?!

Labour have elected as their Deputy Leader Harriet Harman. No I am not joking. (BBC News: Harman wins deputy leader contest)

Clearly the party has forgiven her for grammar schools, for being a weak Cabinet minister, for being a craven Brownite, for not even being able to remember who the Prime Minister is. And her speech was typical of the woman. Alongside Big Clunking Fists we have Little Rubber Fingers, unable to lay a blow.

This Brown/Harman ticket is less balanced than an anchor. Clearly Labour aren't serious about winning the next election.

Commiserations to Alan Johnson who cam so close to winning - he would have been my second choice. On my one meeting with the man when he was Higher Education Minister I found him refreshingly frank and reasonable. He is one of the best parts of this Cabinet and I hope he keeps a good post in Brown's government.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Don't menzion ze Var!

If the United Kingdom have taken this stance there would be uproar. But Poland has mentioned the unmentionable in the European Union - the effect of the Second World War. For all that we endured, the UK never suffered population losses on the scale of Poland. I wonder if anyone here can comprehend what it means to the Poles today.

I'll admit to not caring much about the details of this row - over the number of votes each state wields in the qualified majority voting system - as I'm so sceptical that it's in the UK's interests to even be in a European superstate at all that details like this don't excite me. That said, the proposed changes stand to benefit Germany and weaken Poland's position significantly.

Are the Poles over the top? I really don't think we can judge this well. Some wounds are very deep about what was lost during the war - on all sides. If the Poles continue on this course, how long before some of those ghosts raise their heads?

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Pots and kettles

The Liberal Democrats have accused Gordon Brown of "dirty tricks" over his offer of a job to Paddy Ashdown. (BBC News: Lib Dem anger over Brown 'tricks')

Let me repeat that. The Liberal Democrats are accusing someone else of dirty tricks! Hello Mr Pot.

Oh and why did Brown ever think Ashdown was suitable to be Secretary of State for Northern Ireland? The man makes no secret of his hatred of "tribalism"!

Still he could swap stories with Sammy Wilson...

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

The end of an era

Piara Khabra, MP for Ealing Southall, died last night at the age of 82. One fact that is slowly coming to the forefront is that he was the last MP in the Commons who was a veteran of the Second World War. With his death comes the passing of an era.

He was also one of the oldest MPs to enter the Commons, first being elected at the age of 67. Sadly today too many seem to think age is a disadvantage in politics.

My condolences to his family and constituents.

The more things stay the same...

The following advert was found in an old Queen Mary College student handbook from 1951:
Have you no firm political convictions?

Join the Liberal Society
When did they stop admitting this?

Embarrassing things to say at Prime Minister's Questions #94

The first Labour MP to speak mentioned Blair's campaigning "against anti-racism".

But somehow I doubt this will go down there with George (H.W.) Bush's comments that he stood for "anti-sexism, anti-racism & anti-semitism".

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Return of the Bonapartists?

I've just seen the news that in the forthcoming French legislative elections, the great great nephew of Napoleon Bonaparte is standing. (BBC News: Napoleon runs for parliament seat) My knowledge of the convoluted history of French politics isn't good enough to recall what exactly what happened to the Bonapartists but I thought they were considered to have been the predecessors to Gaullism or something. Napoleon is running for Francois Bayrou's new party - is this a natural home? Can any readers who know better explain?

Doctor Who - Blink

I've just seen Blink, the latest episode of Doctor Who and it was wonderful. I can't have been the only person to literally jump out of my seat!

Monday, June 04, 2007

Doctor Who - Robot

As is now regular, here is my review from the Doctor Who Ratings Guide of this month's DVD release, Robot:

A strong new start

Few new Doctors hit the ground running faster than Tom Baker does in this story. By the second episode it already seems as though he's been there for ages, such is his domination of the story. Wisely there's little substantial made of the Doctor's change in appearance in the story and instead it focuses on the task at hand.

From a production point of view, Robot has hardly aged at all. The use of video for the location scenes, combined with a robot that looks imposing and expensive, results in a look that remains as fresh and modern today as it did back in 1974. Chris Barry's direction is strong and only let down in a few areas such as the obvious use of a toy tank and a few problems with the CSO and modelwork in the final episode. The rest of the story remains vibrant and full of life.

On the acting side, Ian Marter makes a strong debut performance as Harry Sullivan, although his role in this story is more as a replacement for Mike Yates than as a new companion. Elizabeth Sladen, John Levene and Nicholas Courtney all give their usually strong performances, though UNIT is still being sent up at times such as in their initial assault on the bunker.

The guest cast are a mixture, from Patricia Maynard who brings a fierceness to Miss Winters to Edward Burnham whose Kettlewell is so confused that at times it is utterly unclear what side he is on.

On the scripting side, it is often noted that Robot is exactly the sort of story that was typical throughout the Jon Pertwee years. However it is also a strong sign of the future, being a reworking of a classic movie (in this case King Kong). The Doctor's role in the story is strong, dominating proceedings to the point of often being able to direct UNIT through the Brigadier. The main weaknesses of the story come from Kettlewell's confused position which doesn't add up upon consideration and from the repeated climaxes in Part Four as first the SRS are captured then the second countdown is aborted and then the Robot goes on the rampage.

The Robot itself is nothing short of impressive physically and a highly sympathetic character. It is hard not to feel sorry for it at the end, driven insane by the way it has been tampered with and then by killing its creator. A true victim of events it would have made an interesting addition to the regular UNIT team.

If there's one thing lacking in the story, it's a clear sign of the direction in which Tom Baker is to take his portrayal of the Doctor. He brings a highly manic attitude at times, whilst discreetly focusing on the issue at hand and thus confuses his enemies and the viewer. However he makes a strong performance and gives much hope for later tales. 8/10
Robot can be purchased from here.

Friday, June 01, 2007

May on this blog

Once again it's time for the monthly look at who's been visiting this blog. For those who wish to see stats for earlier months you can now click on one of the labels at the end of this post. Comparisons are with the stats for April.

First off the sites most people come from:

  1. Google (-)
  2. Blogger.com (-)
  3. Mars Hill (-)
  4. Antonia Bance (RE-ENTRY)
  5. Young Unionists (RE-ENTRY)
  6. MyBlogLog (-1)
  7. Peter Black AM (NEW)
  8. Cllr Iain Lindley's Diary (RE-ENTRY)
  9. Wikipedia (-3)
  10. Cally's Kitchen (-)
Dropping out of the top ten are Conservative Mind (at 12, down 5), Facebook (at 13, down 5), John Moorcraft (at 14, down 5) and ConservativeHome (at 16, down 12).

Quite a few re-entries but in some places things remain as static as ever!

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

  1. what does your birthday say about you (+1)
  2. doctor who tonight (+7)
  3. tim roll-pickering (-)
  4. no confidence laura purll (NEW)
  5. ming campbell future (NEW)
  6. abolition of college amenities fees (NEW)
  7. sutton surrey map (RE-ENTRY)
  8. laura blomeley (-3)
  9. fiona pinto conservative (NEW)
  10. david steel in spitting image (NEW)
Some interesting new ones, particularly the search for Ming Campbell's future! Meanwhile amongst the stranger searches are kent earthquake conspiracy and any alternatives to gordon brown for labour leader? (no there aren't).

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

AMSTERDAM, AUSTIN, BASILDON, BELFAST, BIRMINGHAM, BOURNEMOUTH, BRISTOL, BROOKLYN, CALGARY, CAMBRIDGE, CARDIFF, CHICAGO, CROYDON, DUBLIN, DULLES, DURHAM, EAST MEADOW, EDINBURGH, EMERYVILLE, FOREST PARK, HICKSVILLE, HORSHAM, LARCHMONT, LEEDS, LIVERPOOL, LONDON, LUTON, MANASSAS, MANCHESTER, MONTREAL, NEW YORK, NOTTINGHAM, NY, OXFORD, PALERMO, PARIS, PRESTON, REDMOND, RESTON, SACRAMENTO, SHEFFIELD, SOUTHAMPTON, SYDNEY, TACOMA, TORONTO, VANCOUVER, WARRINGTON, WASHINGTON, and "others".

Thank you all for reading!

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