Friday, December 23, 2005

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas
I'm about to go off to visit my parents and just want to wish all the readers of this blog a very Merry Christmas.

Thanks to I'm able to see the cities where this blog is being viewed for, so an especial greeting to all of you in:


Tuesday, December 20, 2005

A victory for common sense

A court in the US has ruled against the teaching of the theory of "intelligent design" alongside Darwinian evolution. A school board in Dover, Pennsylvania has been firmly told that their attempts to disguise their reasoning with secular arguments simply won't wash and that their attempts to impose a religious view through state education is illegal.

Now let's hope that in this country we can have an end to the attempt to impose the ghastly "one size fits all" philosophy of selection in our schools.

Monday, December 19, 2005

"Gay weddings" begin here

The first "gay weddings" in the UK took place today as the Civil Partnerships Act took effect.

I'm honestly not sure what I think of civil partnerships. It is indisputably good that same sex couples can have their partnership recognised in law, given how often they are locked out, but fundamentally they are not marriages. Legally they are transacted by contract, not public affirmation (although a public signing ceremony can take place), whilst also they can only be conducted by registrars and not by clergy. This is very much a two tier system and the calls for civil partnerships to be extended to heterosexual couples (who don't need them - they can get married) will only serve to undermine the institution of marriage. It would have been far simpler and a better step to equality to remove the gender distinctions in marriage law and to hell with the bigots who cling to ancient dictionaries.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Charles Kennedy in the last chance saloon

The turmoil in the Liberal Democrats continues to grow, following David Cameron's invitation to Liberal Democrats to switch to the real alternative to Labour and help build a modern, mainstream, and progressive opposition. Meanwhile Charles Kennedy has continued to offer the laid-back, uninspired leadership that has been the hallmark of his tenure and the voices of discontent have grown.

The Lib Dems have purported to be the "Real Alternative" to Labour. At the moment they are a squabbling party, with the front bench falling over backwards in public to make it clear they support the leader whilst sharpening the knives, and endless speculation about potential successors. Compared to the Tony Blair & Old Man Brown show that's not an alternative at all!

Friday, December 09, 2005

Boris gets a job

In another good appointment Boris Johnson rejoins the frontbench, in a portfolio that will bring him much contact with his greatest fanbase. I can think of no better position he could be appointed to.

William is back!

William Hague returns to the Conservative frontbench. Hague's stature has rocketed in the last four years, both for his statesmanlike contributions to political debate and for his brilliant biography of William Pitt the Younger. Now he's back as Shadow Foreign Secretary. But he's also been designated "Senior Member of the Shadow Cabinet." In the absence of a Deputy Leader, it will be Hague who stands in for Cameron at Prime Minister's Question Time.

William Hague vs John Prescott.

How long will Prezza last?

And now it's over

There's an interesting final post on the toryleadership blog about "How Cameron Won... And Davis Lost", putting the events of the last seven months in a new light.

At the time Howard's staggered resignation was greeted with astonishment, with many commentators and party members believing that he had made a great mistake, giving the party a seemingly eternal period with no full authoritive leadership and endless campaigning for the leadership. Many were angry with a sudden resignation announcement. Yet now we know it was a tactical move, designed to forestall an instant leadership election, instead allowing the party a time to reflect and really think through what it needs in a leader. And it has worked. There was no kneejerk charge for the candidate who seemed to fit the immediate mood or a dive to block any individual. Instead we've had a good contest that has allowed all the candidates to demonstrate their true potential and really shine. This time I think the party's done it right.

And so now to the future...

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Cameron wins!

The results:

DAVID CAMERON: 134,444 68%

DAVID DAVIS: 64,398 32%

Today the Conservative Party has made David Cameron its leader. Now let's make him the country's leader.

Truly a great day.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Two faced hypocrisy of the most naked kind

Gerry Adams has declared against plans to grant an amnesty to British soldiers and security agents on the fugitive bill. He states that this "will cause deep hurt to victims of their alleged crimes". Has he forgotten that the legislation also grants an amnesty to terrorists on the run? Where is his concern about the hurt that this bill is causing to their victims? Instead he welcomes the amnesty for IRA members.

Members of the armed and security forces operate in difficult circumstances and have no choice but to do what they do for the protection of the people and country. Sometimes the consequences are devastating to individuals and families, but to suggest that somehow the work they do is worse than those of terrorist scum is atrocious. The double standards of condemning an amnest for the security forces whilst supporting one for UDA, IRA and UVF terrorists shows Adams to be a pure two faced hypocrite.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Meanwhile over in Canada

Canadian affairs rarely feature in the British media, but the big story tonight is that the Canadian government has lost a Motion of No Confidence and there will soon be a general election. The margin was wide 171-133 and reflects the problems of a hung parliament and the Liberals losing the support of their New Democrat allies earlier this month. And so a general election looms.

I don't honestly know very much about Canadian politics and things are made even more complicated by the realignment on the centre and right in the last few years that has seen a succession of conservative parties first challenge the old Progressive Conservative Party and then merge with it to form the current Conservative Party. I suspect I would be a "Red Tory" but that's a major problem in itself as the Red Tories have found themselves scattered by the merger, with some joining the new party, some joining the Liberals, some retiring from politics and even a few trying to create a new PCP to claim the old mantle which frankly has as about as much chance of succeeding as the UK's "Not the Lib Dems Liberal Party" does here. The recent party change by Belinda Stronach shows that things haven't settled down yet.

Over the next few months we'll no doubt see more about the Canadian election in the media and maybe someone can explain what it's all about.

Monday, November 28, 2005

What does your birthday say about you?

Whilst doing a random Google blog search to see where my college has been mentioned I came across this post on The Talk of the Town. So I followed the link and found out the following about my birthday:

Your Birthdate: August 11

Spiritual and thoughtful, you tend to take a step back from the world.
You're very sensitive to what's going on around you, yet you remain calm.
Although you are brilliant, it may take you a while to find your niche.
Your creativity is supreme, but it sometimes makes it hard for you to get things done.

Your strength: Your inner peace

Your weakness: You get stuck in the clouds

Your power color: Emerald

Your power symbol: Leaf

Your power month: November

So for those of you who know me just how true is this?

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Council Tax exemption

As a doctoral student, I'm all too aware of how essential the student exemption from Council Tax is. However it seems not everyone has noticed it. It is especially shocking that the Liberal Democrats make a great virtue of being a student friendly party and yet their proposals for replacing the Council Tax would abolish the student exemption in the process! This whole matter just shows the true Liberal Democrat colours as a tax & spend party.

There are some Lib Dems who do not agree with the policy, such as Daniel Snowdon who argues against it. But will they be listened to?

This issue has not received much attention yet, not least because both main parties have not pledged to replace the Council Tax. But with both due to have new leaders by the next election if not much sooner, it is possible that this could happen much sooner.

Below is the motion I am submitting to the next general meeting of Queen Mary Students' Union next Thursday on this:

Students and Council Tax

This Union Notes

1. Local government elections for the London Boroughs are due to take place in May 2006.
2. Currently local government in Great Britain is financed by a combination of locally set Council Tax, centrally set business rates, grants from central government, local fines and other streams.(Hale, Rita and Associates "Who pays for local services? The balance of funding between government and councils" (Local Government Association, 2005), copy at accessed 2005-11-22)
3. Council Tax raises approximately 26% of local government income but is one of the few streams a local council can vary. Consequently, an increase in spending often requires a proportionally greater increase in council tax.
4. In recent years, the level of Council Tax has received much media attention and a high level of protest. Very recently, the Local Government Association of England and Wales predicted that Council Tax could rise by as much as £100 a year.
(Metro November 22, 2005, page 2 columns 3-4)
5. Full-time students are exempt from paying Council Tax until they have “completed their course.”
(Part 2 of Schedule 1 to the Council Tax (Discount Disregards) Order 1992 (SI 1992 No 548) (, as amended by the Council Tax (Discount Disregards) Amendment Order 1996 (SI 1996 No 636) ( , defines a full time student as:
“A person is to be regarded as undertaking a full time course of education on a particular day if-
(a) on the day he is enrolled for the purpose of attending such a course with a prescribed educational establishment within Part I of Schedule 2 to this Order, and
(b) the day falls within the period beginning with the day on which he begins the course and ending with the day on which he ceases to undertake it, and a person is to be regarded as ceasing to undertake a course of education for the purpose of this paragraph if he has completed it, abandoned it or is no longer permitted by the educational establishment to attend it.")
6. There is ambiguity over what exactly constitutes “completed their course” for research students in the writing up and beyond phase.
7. Currently the Council Tax is one of the most controversial charges of all and there are many calls for it to be amended or scrapped.
(E.g. IsItFair – The Campaign for the Reform of Council Tax at
8. One of the most common proposed alternatives is to have a Local Income Tax and some political parties have taken this up.
9. The exemption for students is not explicitly retained in some proposals for local government taxation reform.
10. The current weekly threshold for starting to pay income tax for most student jobs (approximately Tax Codes 471-500) is between £90 and £95.
(Tables A – Pay Adjustment Tables (Inland Revenue, 1993), Week 1 (Apr 6 – Apr 12))
11. Due to the way in which Free Pay works and the juxtaposition of the tax year and university vacation dates, the effective threshold is even lower for those only working during vacations.

This Union Believes

1. Students are presently financially overburdened and it would be monumentally unfair to give them the additional burden of local government taxation.
2. If the Council Tax is to be replaced, the alternative must include an explicit continuation of the student exemption.
3. The definition of a full-time student should be modified to explicitly incorporate research students in the writing up phase.

This Union Resolves

1. To lobby and campaign for the student exemption to be retained at all times, but to especially do this when there is high profile public debate on the future course of local government finance.
2. To write to relevant bodies and individuals, including but not limited to, the major political parties, the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister and any successor holding the Local Government portfolio, the Local Government Association, the Greater London Assembly, the Mayor of London, Tower Hamlets Borough Council and the local MP, setting out the Union’s position and concern.
3. To encourage a high level of registration and voting by students in the forthcoming local government elections to show that the student vote cannot be ignored.

Party member Archer again?

Over on Tory Convert's blog there's a post with the following note:

Also on the radio, apparently Jeffrey Archer wants to rejoin the Conservative Party and even re-enter the House of Lords; to which there can only be one response - PLEASE GOD, NO! STAY AWAY!
I have to admit this is a hard choice. On the one hand no-one is beyond redemption and Archer has now served his sentence (and I'm not sure of any rule the party has to prevent his membership). On the other hand this is Jeffrey Archer.

The only redeeming feature is that the time he's spent on this is time he's not spending writing books. I've never enjoyed any of his books. And his first children's book, Willy visits the Square World, is one of the most ridiculous things I've ever read. For those fortunate enough to have avoided it, this book tells the story of a little boy who has a talking teddy and a magic spacesuit that transports him to another planet to find their missing cat, who's been stolen from Cambridge by an evil ogre. Oh and they lose the spacesuit but get home with a lift by "Upside Down Bird". No, I'm not making any of that up.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Time to change the party's name?

Just noticed this post on optimates's blog about a potential name change for the "Tory Party". Quite rightly he suggests:

Our new name should be the "Conservative Party".
The two terms do not mean the same, despite the media's constant misuse of it, and it is telling that many Labour Party activists go on about some party that ceased to be in the nineteenth century. Get with the present people!

It's time to end the confusion. Let's finally put the "Tory" elements aside and go forwards.

Another political quiz

I've spotted this post on Mustafa Arif's blog about a new political quiz. My results show me as firmly on the centre-right, but curiously "likely to be fairly free-market and pro-war" when I opposed the war, albeit not on the same grounds as many on the left did, and am not fully convinced of the benefits of the free market (and even willing to contemplate protectionist tariffs to help the British economy). I'm also described as "slightly punitive and isolationist" when I'm really internationalist, but I suspect the quiz wasn't designed to distinguish between those with a true international outlook and those who seem to think everything revolves around the European Union.

Also the Daily Telegraph may be pleased to hear that I have the views of many of their readers. Now if only they would make it cheap enough I may buy it regularly. And I'm a natural Conservative voter. I wonder what gave that away?!

Thursday, November 24, 2005

The Government proves as evasive as ever

I wrote to Chris Grayling, my local MP about the proposal to reduce VAT on condoms. He wrote back to me very soon, but has now written to me again with the evasive response he has received from the Paymaster General, Dawn Primarolo. She acknowledges that whilst current EU provisions mean the tax cannot be abolished completely, there is the option available to reduce the tax as being on "a prescribed list of goods and services, as set out in Annex H of the Sixth VAT Directive." However she offer mere weasel words by stating:

To date, we have been sparing in our use of reduced rates and have only introduced them where we are convinced that they offer the best-targeted and most efficient support for our social objectives compared to other options.
The Government keeps taxes "under constant review" so apparently this may be reconsidered at a later date.

Louder voices are needed on this.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

It was forty two years ago today...

That the first ever episode of Doctor Who was transmitted. Forty two years on the series is one of the BBC's most popular shows, having astounded all the fans and pundits and attracted an audience that many television executives claied no longer existed.

Until this year I was arguably part of the final generation, cliched as it may now sound, who had first seen the series with the family as part of Saturday teatime entertainment. I can remember most of the Colin Baker years and despite the myths surrounding them I was never once turned off by supposed heavy levels of violence (which were actually quite tame), excessive continuity (would I have known what that was?!) or guady colours (I never noticed the coat). (However I would like to know just what were these "illegal video levels" on Vengeance on Varos that had to be amended for the VHS and DVD releases and just how they are supposed to have harmed me!) Apart from the removal of some music due to rights, this was the only edit made when that part of the series was released on video so clear the censors didn't have a problem.

The early 1990s were a depressing period for Doctor Who as we waited and waited for news of a new series and had to put up with numerous announcements and confusion. We had the excitement over the announcement of The Dark Dimension, the disappointment of the cancellation of The Dark Dimension (and the later revelation that this was perhaps a mercy killing), all the excitement and speculation about "the Paul McGann TV movie/Enemy Within/the US Telemovie with the Pertwee logo" or whatever it's called this week that ultimately only provided one night of a new show. But the VHS/DVD/tape/CD releases of the old stories, spin-offs and fan activites throughout the years kept everyone going.

And then this year it came true when the series was relaunched. The new series has been little short of fantastic and everyone is talking about it once more. It's no longer considered sad to be a fan of the series. Truly things have come full circle.

Bye bye justice

MPs are set to debate government plans to allow paramilitary fugitives to return to Northern Ireland without serving a prison sentence. It seems that all concepts of justice are being thrown out of the window. The fugitives will be allowed to return and not even have to appear in court.

The justification for this is especially sickening. Tony Blair has stated:

Under the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, people who were convicted and in prison for terrorist offences pre-1998 got released.

How can you possibly say they (on-the-runs) should be put in prison if the people already convicted have been let out.

That is why there is a symmetry if you like about dealing with prisoners and on-the-runs.
What Blair completely ignores is that those who were released had already served some time for their offences. And many found the prisoner releases to be an utterly sickening part of the Good Friday Agreement that was necessary as part of a broader reconciliation. This is nothing more than a caving in to the demands of Sinn Féin/IRA.

At the same time the Government is demanding the right to detain terror suspects for 90 days it sends this signal "to give the peace process new momentum". Will we see an amnesty for the terrorists involved in the July 7th bombings? Or will the Government continue its atrocious double standards?

Tony Blair needs to be brought back to reality by a severe slap to the face. Both of them.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

How can anyone oppose this?

A call has been made for free condoms to be made available in prisons, to help curb the spread of sexually transmitted diseases. Like the provision of contraceptive to minors or the providing of clean needles, this is an admission that illegal activity takes place. But as a means to prevent the spread of infections and improve health this should be supported by all.

So I find it particularly disgusting that a spokesperson for the so-called "Conservative Way Forward" stated:

Most people who've been victims of crime don't expect prisoners to be going into jail and having sex and getting involved in relationships.

I think it's entirely unacceptable and the encouragement of it is pretty wrong in the eyes of most right-thinking individuals.
Conservative Way Backwards, as it is perhaps more accurately described, was set up behind the idea that Thatcherism is a solution right for all time. Today Thatcherism is the ideology of the past and it is telling that no serious contender for the Conservative leadership has sought the kiss of death endorsement from Thatcher herself. CWF often pushes a "George W. Bush Republican" line that frankly has no place in UK politics. Comments such as these show how it is blinded by ideology - the very opposite of what conservatism is about.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Sunday, November 06, 2005

The past week

Things have been hectic and so I've missed several big events this week. In no particular order:

David Blunkett has resigned. Again. One has to wonder what on earth made Tony Blair reappoint him in the first place. Presumably when Peter Mandelson resigns next time Blunkett will be appointed as a European Commissioner. It would be a very appropriate appointment. One is repeatedly rocked by scandals and deeply unpopular with the British people and the other is a now resigned minister.

What's especially telling is the appointment of John Hutton as his replacement. This previously invisible man has been chosen, rather than one of the supposed rising stars of the Labour Party (or Mr Invisible himself, Alistair Darling). Why David Miliband was not offered the job, or if he was why he did not accept it, is a sign of weakness. Work and Pensions is a tough job and a minister who could get on top of it would show their abilities, enhance the strength of the government and potentially improve their chances of being an alternative to Gordon Brown. Instead Blair shows the government is full of weakling ministers and appoints a non-entity.

Question Time on Thursday saw David Cameron go head to head with David Davis in what I hope is the prelude to a head to head debate between the two main party leaders at the next general election. Although neither delivered a clear knock-out blow I think Davis came out slightly stronger than Cameron, but the real losers were the Davis supporters in the audience with their planted questions and jibes. The Davis campaign team must be desperate if it's resorting to such tactics.

Closer to home, students' union across the University of London have been reeling from the resignation of University of London Union President Stewart Halforty. Although Stewart's and my politics do not coincide, I've always got on with him and am very sorry to see that he feels forced out by forces of inertia and opposition. Whoever is elected to succeed him will need to have a firm mandate to radically reform the organisation and make it fully accountable to the students of the University of London. Otherwise successive officers will be unable to achieve anything due to forces working against them.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

The Loyalist Volunteer Force call it a day

Whilst here in Belfast the news has come that the Loyalist Volunteer Force are standing down. I'll be honest in that I can't remember what the LVF stands for that makes it distinctive from the Ulster Volunteer Force and the Ulster Defence Association. And the local press seems to think this action is motivated more by a desire to end a feud with the UVF than with concern for peace in the province.

Still it means that one less set of guns are firing. At a time when many in the Unionist community are growing increasingly restless, as shown by the LoveUlster movement, it is essential that loyalist terrorists do not begin a new bloodbath. Now let's hope the UVF and UDA follow the IRA and LVF and bring permanent peace a step closer.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

A break away

I'm taking a break away from London and spending the next few days in Belfast, enjoying all the wonders of the great city. I'll try to keep this blog updated as and when I can.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Young female Conservatives

At this year's Party Conference (which I didn't attend because of committments in London) there were many party activists campaigning for their preferred leadership candidates, including a number of women in T-Shirts with slogans like "Mine's a DD" or "It's DD for me". Whether or not this is a good thing (other than the fact of supporting David Davis!) has provoked two strong opinions on blogs that are linked from here.

First off Labour member Antonia Bance wrote:

I knew the week was going to be surreal when I was greeted at the door by a posse of telegenic young women in very tight t-shirts with the legend “Mine’s a DD” across their boobs: say what you will about our young Labour lovelies (and I do, often), but our women would never take part in such a demeaning stunt, even for a grateful glance or casual cuddle from a potential potentate. The Guardian photographer has evidence of this particular photo-op here.
However another viewpoint comes from Tory Convert:

Two possible tips for young female party members:

1. Read Jo-Anne Nadler's Too Nice to be a Tory conspicusouly on publiic transport - you'll be amazed how many double-takes you get.

2. Get some T-shirts printed with a cunning slogan like "It's DD for me" in "a prominent position". (For anyone who doesn't know what I'm talking about, this is what a female supporter of David Davis did at the party conference).

However, if you do the latter, be warned - some of the more po-faced journalists and Liberal Democrats will assume that those nasty old men are imposing their sexist will on you asking you to wear such a T-shirt. God forbid that a young woman might actually come up with a witty slogan all by herself and find her own way to the T-shirt printing shop.
She goes on to say:
So girls - ask yourselves - would you rather vote for or join a party which assumes that you've got you own mind and a sense of humour, or a party which assumes that you're a witless over-sensitive flower which needs protecting? And would you rather choose a party which assumes that men are all sexist pigs, or one that views British men for what (most) of them actually are - men whose everyday actions make Britain one of the least sexist countries on the planet.
So there we have it. Two radically different viewpoints from women on whether or not something is demeaning. Now which is closer to the truth? And which is the better party for women to join?

More support for Cameron

David Cameron has the backing of a majority of Conservative Members of the Scottish Parliament with the backing of ten, compared to two for David Davis, three undecided and three (including leader David McLetchie and deputy Annabel Goldie) refusing to say. At a time when the Conservative Party still has problems in Scotland, a leader of the UK party who has strong backing from the Scottish party and a real understanding of the needs of Scotland is essential. No party can seriously aspire to govern all the UK if it cannot offer something to all parts of the UK.

Cameron is the candidate to reach out to new voters

I missed this endorsement of David Cameron by

Young gay professionals are the perfect group of people to support the Conservatives at the next election. They are natural conservatives, they want low taxes, personal freedoms and the ability to shape their own destinies.

It is the bigoted social conservatives (note the small c) that make the Conservatives unattractive when they attempt to portray being gay as being immoral and against 'the natural order of things'.

David Cameron was just a baby of one when homosexuality was decriminalised in England and Wales. He has lived his entire life without the stigma of prejudice that blighted previous generations.

It must be admitted, however that David Davis, who Mr Cameron will face in final ballot has in the past demonstrated his gay rights agenda. He famously stood up for gay rights when he intervened in the torturing of a gay pupil by a gang of bullies at his tough inner London school.

Both candidates have their merits and both have promised to include gay rights in their agenda and work towards greater equality.

However, it is time for a change, a young leader who can force the party to engage with modern Britain. Party members should vote for Mr Cameron and urge Mr Davis to support him in a senior position in the shadow cabinet.

There are many natural conservatives in this country who currently do not vote for the Conservative Party. Many have been put off by the rhetoric that has come from certain quarters and by the party's whipped support or opposition for certain measures in the House of Commons. The defence of Section 28 and the three line whip opposing gay adoption were just two measures that served to portray the party as narrow minded and out of touch with the modern UK. We have reached the unfortunate point where the proof that society has accepted something is when a row about it breaks out in the Conservative Party. This must change.

If the Conservative Party is ever to win another election it will need many more people to vote for it, including many of those it has in the past been perceived as hostile to. David Cameron has won endorsements in many areas that are not the most fruitful for the party. This is something that cannot be ignored.

Time to end the taboo

Over on Xenon's blog there's the following post:

I was out the other night at a friends 'coming out' party.... Yup, you've guessed it he then 'came out' as a Tory. Well the gasp that went round the room followed by the tittering was unbelievable. I just find it so amusing that nowadays we can accept people of all sexualities and yet God help them if they are a Conservative...

Sadly this is still all too common. Many are reluctant to admit that they are Conservative inclined, as most obviously shown by the way opinion polls and exit polls are distorted by this effect. The title of Jo-Anne Nadler's book Too Nice to be a Tory: It's My Party and I'll Cry If I Want To says it all.

The result is that it is all too easy to stereotype Conservative Party members on the basis of a few. Many natural conservatives do not want to come near the party. This must change. More and more members should be willing to stand up and be proud. Only that way can we end this taboo.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

The man who most wants Davis to win

Increasingly people are talking about just how difficult Gordon Brown would find it to overcome David Cameron. This is a fast turnaround from a few weeks ago when everyone was asking if there was any Conservative available to take on Brown!

Brown is older than Blair and by the time the latter steps down Brown will have been running the economy for a decade, just as it enters the trouble most economists are forecasting. If Cameron wins then he would be facing a significantly younger man, offering the country "A Fresh Start". Brown would look tired, worn out and unable to shift blame for the country's economic problems.

Past elections suggests that the only way for a government to win re-election in economic crisis is to have an unelectable Leader of the Opposition. A few months ago many in the Labour Party believed that so long as Brown replaces Blair by the next election all will be fine. Now the tide is turning. Faced with Cameron, Labour may want a young fresh face as well.

Do not be surprised when the Davis campaign receives a letter of support and advice written on Treasury notepaper...

Cameron wins further support

David Cameron has received the backing of Michael Heseltine as his campaign continues to grow in size. Many others have also declared for Cameron, as Bloggers for Cameron shows. Iain Lindley declared for Cameron some time back and he has since been joined by Kevin Davis, TorySquire, Tory Convert, Martin Cakebread and Gavin Ayling. No doubt there are many others, so if you know if any I've missed, please email me and I'll add them to the list.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Row about abortion

I outlined my views on this subject in a post a few months ago but I have just been drawn into a discussion about it on another blog.

I won't use other people's words, but if anyone who reads here wants to see, here are some of my comments on the thread:

I agree that this is not an issue that should be dragged into the party political arena (and so condemn Liam Fox for trying to do so) but at the end of the day no-one who goes for an abortion at around 20 weeks does so lightly. Those who do so are not going to be put off by the legality - the evidence both from pre 1967 and from other countries shows that a woman who wants an abortion will try to get one by any means possible.

As to abortion, no woman should be forced to carry inside her something against her will. And the evidence shows that women who need an abortion will seek one by any means necessary. The question is not some philosophical point about whether abortion is right or not but about the degree of provision. The only possible positions that can be adopted are either to pretend it doesn't happen, to make a futile attempt to erect unnecessary and painful barriers to access or to seek to ensure that the women involved receive the best possible care and safe access.

I think it is a good thing that abortion is not a party political matter. To reuse a post on my own blog from a few months ago:

Given how the issue cuts across many personally held religious and philosophical viewpoints I feel rather uneasy about this. Preserving a woman's right to choose is essential, but one need only look at the US to see the dangers of allowing it to become a partisan issue. Repeated in this country we could risk the danger of availability depending upon whichever party was in power at the time, whilst both parties have a very wide range of opinion on the matter and would almost certainly be subjected to bitter internal struggles over policy. For the time being a free vote seems a better way to keep the issue out of the dangers of the partisan sphere.

We're lucky that in this country the right to choose requires a majority of a 646 member Parliament to overturn it. In the US it could require as few as five Supreme Court Justices legislating from the bench (or whatever the politically acceptable term is for when it's in favour of the Bush Agenda). Opinions on abortion are usually rooted in philosophical and religious positions that do not fit within the party political structure. The idea that someone's ability to choose what to do with their body should depend upon which party is in power at the time revolts me.

You cite public opinion. But public opinion is so fickle. We do not have the death penalty in this country - again something public opinion would have otherwise. Merely letting public opinion alone determine issues would have kept homosexuality illegal. MPs are elected to bring their judgement on matters, not stick their fingers in the wind.

If the current status quo was "never passed by Parliament" then every legal challenge for breach of what was passed would have been brought and upheld by now.

The UK does not traditionally decide matters by referendum, but by representative assembly. Other than changing the terms of representation, I'm not persuaded that legislation by referendum works. So it's not a case of should it be a "public choice" but a political choice - and there have been umpteenth Bills over the years that have sought to change the 1967 Act, often generating strong debate. This is an issue that is most definitely debated politically, albeit not through parliamentary parties and as an issue that does not conform to party ideology that is no bad thing.

"Informed public opinion" is a very ambiguous term. One need only look at the drugs debate to see how the definition of "informed" changes rapidly, with numerous studies and information easily coming to wildly differing conclusions. Sometimes our politicians have to give a lead on thorny issues and protect minorities from the tyranny of the so-called majority for a day. (On other controversial matters I oppose the foxhunting ban and the now-abolished Section 28, despite both having opinion poll support.)

I don't deny that the decision about whether or not to keep the pregnancy is the hardest one that most women (and sometimes their partners) will ever have to make. There are alternatives but consideration takes time. Restricting the time limit does not reduce the time to have an abortion but reduces the time to have a legal abortion. Many women go through self-denial or find it difficult to take a decision easily - you seem to want them to take it in pressured circumstances. Any fair objective analysis of the situation has to accept that a woman who needs a termination will obtain one. That must be the starting point on this matter. Legal provision is a necessary evil.

Time for a tax cut

Recently I learnt of a campaign by the Terrence Higgins Trust that makes so much sense I cannot understand why it has not been acted upon by the Government yet.

At the moment condoms in the UK are amongst the most expensive in the world. With a cost twice that of those in the US and exceeding the prices across Europe, access to safe sex costs. Whilst free condoms are theoretically available from the NHS, rationing limits supplies and many young people find it difficult to ask for them. The current high prices are a disincentive to use, especially amongst those in at risk groups.

At present the money raised by the VAT on condoms is miniscule compared to the ost of over £1 billion a year to treat sexually transmitted infections and the £350 million and rising cost of HIV care. Making it easier to access safe sex by cutting the VAT on condoms would be a wise investment that would more than pay for itself.

This is supported by experts such as the Government's own Independent Advisory Group on Sexual Health and HIV, who recommended the abolition of VAT on all over-the-counter contraceptives. Current EU regulations mean that the VAT could not be lowered below 5%, but this would be a worthwhile start.

Taking this action would not only help in the fight against STIs, but it would also be a dual step towards freeing individuals to take the action of their choice and a reduction in the burden of taxation on the individual.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Liam Fox is eliminated

Liam Fox is OUT OUT OUT!

This is fantastic news for the party. Now there is a clear choice of direction for the party - forwards or back.

David Cameron or David Davis? There really is no contest.


Why the last two should be Cameron and Davis

The Conservative Party needs a Clause 4 moment when it shows that it rejects all that holds it back. The party showing that it rejects arrogance and hard line policies would be that moment. Who would be better to be the flag bearer for all that the public hates about the party than David Davis?

My prediction for today

Earlier I thought David Davis would narrowly scrape through today. On reflection I no longer think that. I suspect that the only way he could survive would be for Cameron supporters to put their own preferred candidate at risk to engineer a three way photo finish. And that's about as likely as the Liberal Democrats ever becoming "the real Opposition".

At the moment David Davis may fight on. He may fight to win. But come this evening I doubt that will still be the case.

New desperation!

I've just seen this post on David Davis's blog:

Stuff and Nonsense

We've just put this out to the Press Association in response to rumours being fed to the press by our opponents.

"David Davis is fighting for every vote. He is confident of going through to the next round and intends to take the contest to the party membership and win."

This story is complete nonsense. Spread the word.

posted by Campaign Team @ 5:42 PM

What serious campaign team resorts to such blunt denials of heavy rumours and concessions of perceived weaknesses?

Where did David Davis find these people?!?!

Is anyone else reminded of the seven word press release issued by Margaret Thatcher through Bernard Ingham in 1990 at this stage?

I fight on. I fight to win.

And very shortly afterwards it was all over.

If there is an all member ballot I hope Davis will face off against Cameron. But I seriously doubt that even a mass tactical vote by the Cameron team could save him now!

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Could there be a new Conservative Leader by Friday???

Xenon is not alone in wondering if there could be a new Conservative Leader by Friday. The BBC News website is also reporting this and it has been a topic of key discussion on various Conservative forums and elsewhere.

I'll repeat my comments on Xenon's blog:

Frankly the way the Davis campaign team (sic) is disintegrating one has to wonder just what would be the point of a Davis vs Cameron contest other than to finish Davis off for good.

The party is not in good shape financially. An all member ballot will be expensive for both the party and both candidates. If the result is such a foregone conclusion then why not put that money towards keeping the party on an even keel and get on with the important task of exposing the Government's failings, rather than prolonging things for another two months merely for the sake of David Davis's more fanciful dreams?

There's the other possibility that with Davis's support hemorrhaging so badly that Liam Fox might just scrape past him with the supports of about a quarter of the Parliamentary Party. So much for this system ensuring that the leader has the backing of a majority of MPs! Fox is only still in this leadership election because of the tactical support of a handful of MPs with personal grudges against Ken Clarke. That's not a decent basis for starting a leadership or a good basis for a campaign in the country, especially given the way Fox has chased after hardline votes by pretending this is the United States and he's a Bush Republican.

Let it end sooner rather than later.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

And now it's down to three

Ken Clarke has been knocked out of the Conservative leadership election due to tactical voting, as admitted by a very smug and arrogant David Davis just after the announcement of the first ballot.

Of the three remaining contenders there really is no choice as to who it should be. The party needs a forward looking progressive leader who will bring vision and direction to the party. That man is David Cameron.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Who cares about what someone did decades ago?

The Conservative Party leadership election has become obsessed with drugs this week. Given that the media have never forced Tony Blair to answer the question of whether he took drugs in his youth one has to ask why so much pressure has been put on David Cameron. Hopefully this will now ease.

What I find particularly shocking is the way that many media commentators claim that anyone who's been a student at any point since the mid 1960s will have tried drugs. This is simply bollocks. These days an increasing number of students don't even smoke tobacco and many will have no truck with anything else. A lot wouldn't even know how exactly to take them. However the media carries on in ignorance of this - perhaps the ones who should be answering their question are rather closer to them than they make out?

Friday, September 30, 2005

Non voting in elections

The two by-elections yesterday have once more generated the usual discussion on the causes of non voting and leading to some to wonder whether democracy is facing extinction. As ever such a debate brings out the usual list of grievances against the political system - complaints about the voting system, complaints about the government's style, about the effectiveness of the opposition parties, calls for separates, attacks on "politicians" and so forth. And yet this ignores the decline in turnout across most western democracies. Is low turnout in the UK caused by local factors or is it a wider problem?

Someone reminded me that voting is a choice between different packages. A voter can be offered so many. In Sedgefield at the general election there were 15 candidates, not far behind the 1993 Newbury by-election that had the record at 19. In the US Presidential election approximately 1000 people contested it (and that's not including unregistered write-in candidates). And maybe that's the problem - nowadays people are used to far, far more choice than that.

As a random example, I have by my computer a leaflet for the Leytonstone Tandoori. It offers me a choice of a four course meal plus drink. Now I haven't done substantial statiscal maths of this kind since I was 17, but I reckon the number of possible meal combinations including a starter, a curry, rice, a nan and a soft drink (and that's an understatement of what I could order) works out as follows:

Starters: 20
Curries of all kinds: 100
Rice or equivalent: 8
Nans: 6
Soft drinks: 15

If I've got the formula right that works out as 1,440,000 different packages - and that's before we even get onto other side orders, sundries, deserts and the like. Now it's true that a lot of the curries are actually relatively similar, with subtle differences. But as the customer I have the option to decide exactly which one I would like. I do not simply look at a list of twenty different meal combinations made up of the above and decide which overall package I would like.

And it's not just food. Clothes are usually purchased on an individual basis. Many further and higher education courses are now modularised, allowing the student to chose the combination they like. Many may still buy package holidays, but many others now book travel and accommodation separately.

But politics hasn't developed in this way. It still offers packages that contain items that many voters find objectionable. Many claim that people are interested in politics but just don't see how political parties can achieve things. There have been many occasions when Parliament votes for something that opinion polls are against. Many ask how they can have their voice heard on this single issue.

I'm not sure what the solution is. Yet more elections and constant referendums on issues seem unlikely to attract sufficient turnouts to reverse the flow. Primary elections have the danger of allowing one party's candidates and policy to be influenced by extremist pressure groups. Government by opinion poll does not inspire much confidence. Truly political parties across the west need to find new ways to reengage with voters. But does anyone know how?

Monday, September 26, 2005

Ann Winterton, SHUT THE F*** UP!!!

Ann Winterton has once again demonstrated that her innards are mucked up, with stuff coming out of the wrong end. Can't someone sew her up to keep her quiet?

I feel so sorry for Congleton to have to be associated with her. The sooner she is expelled from the Conservative Party the better.

Is it over?

General John de Chastelain has announced that the IRA have decommissioned their weapons. It seems almost too good to be true. This has run for over a decade. Hopefully now these islands can get one step closer to peace.

Sadly Ian Paisley is determined to find something to say "No" to and continues to pour scepticism. However the less unbearable wing of the Democratic Unionist Party showed who's really running things when they 'accepted a significant amount of IRA weapons had been "put beyond use"'.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Go Ken Go!

Ken Clarke has announced he will contest the Conservative Party leadership. Now the contest begins in earnest. And Clarke is the man to bring fear to Blair and Brown, the man to revitalise the party and lead it to success.

Go Ken Go!

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Tim Yeo finally follows his own advice

Only two months and fifteen days after he declared that there were too many candidates for the Conservative leaderhsip, Tim Yeo has now followed his own advice and reduced the number in the field. Whilst I cannot fault his decision to back Kenneth Clarke, who everyday seems to defy critics who've written him off, I hope that whoever is elected leader will remember Yeo's advice and inaction when it comes to forming the Shadow Cabinet.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Gerry Fitt has died

Barely a week after the death of Mo Mowlam and now Gerry Fitt has died. Fitt was perhaps the first prominent Nationalist politician to realise that the problems of Northern Ireland needed to be solved by reconciliation between the communities rather than from some "victory" over the border. Fitt has been reviled by many Republicans for being seen as too British but he was one of the driving forces for the Sunningdale Agreement, the aborted forerunner of the Good Friday Agreement. By accepting the need for a power-sharing internal settlement, the Republicans who revile his name have accepted Fitt's argument completely. In years to come Fitt will be truly vindicated.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Mo Mowlam's health 'deteriorating'

BBC News is reporting Mo Mowlam's health as 'deteriorating' and the Evening Standard claims she is "near death".

Whatever the respective roles in bringing about the negotiation and partial implementation of the Good Friday Agreement, Mowlam has long been widely admired for her fight against a brain tumour and the way she refused to let it stop her from continuing working. Since leaving Parliament she has pursued a career in the media and will be especially remembered for the Greatest Britons series when she advocated the case for Winston Churchill who then won convincingly. She will be much missed.

Journalists find a story in the slowest news week of the year

And so once again there's debate about A-level results. If the results came out in the middle of October there would never be the amount of attention that they get in mid August when nothing else ever happens.

Once again people are claiming that A-levels are getting easier because more people are passing. Athletes are competing the 100 metres ever more faster - by the same logic does that mean 100 metres is getting shorter?

Rather than yet another upheaval of post 16 education, why don't we just stick to the current system and enhance it. It does schools and pupils no good to be constantly trying to undermine the value of their qualifications and constantly imposing new directions on them.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

One year older

And so today I turn twenty-five, clocking up a quarter of a century. Having a birthday in mid August has often felt anti-climactic due to everyone being all over the place. Often I've been away from home - spending birthdays in places such as Kenya, Tunisia, Yugoslavia (as it was - now Croatia), Austria, the Netherlands, Shropshire, Westmorland or right now Lanarkshire - and this can often split up celebrations even further.

August is also a rather dull time for anything happening in the wider world - once for a study task I looked up the newspapers from the week when I was born to find out the major news stories of the time. It was the battle between Jimmy Carter and Edward Kennedy for the 1980 Democratic Party nomination for the US Presidency. This is hardly exciting stuff at the best of times! The Sun this week has it even worse - a front cover devoted to astronomers discovered a bunch of stars that can have lines drawn between them to look like Victor Meldrew! BBC News's "On This Day" feature for August 11th usually highlights Edward Heath's greatest achievement as Prime Minister - leading the country to victory in the 1971 Admiral's Cup - and the Kray brothers being allowed to go to their mother's funeral. The other big story is the eclipse of the Sun in 1999 - but in the broad scheme of things this is not particularly distinct on an international scale. And a quick glance at the Wikipedia page for today shows a good number of people were born on this day but the only names I recognise are Jerry Falwell (the US televangelist), Pervez Musharraf (President of Pakistan), Ian McDiarmid (Emperor Palpatine in most Star Wars movies), Hulk Hogan (the wrestler), Sylvia Hermon (Ulster Unionist MP for North Down) and Jim Lee (the comic book artist).

To some twenty-five may not seem much at all. To others it seems like a great age! Personally I feel it's just another milestone on life. The past quarter of a century has had its ups and downs but it has in general been fun. And the future, well who knows? But it will be interesting finding out!

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Robin Cook has died

Robin Cook died today. It seems strange that he's gone so early - like Donald Dewar he died when many expected him to make further major contributions to British political life. There is now a big hole in his part of the Labour Party. For many Cook will be remembered as the first New Labour Cabinet minister to resign on a point of principle and for his Howe-like resignation speech that so devastated the government case for war in Iraq. He will be much missed.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

The most beautiful site in all the world

Recently I once again visited the site in the universe I believe to be the most beautiful above all others - Amersham Old Town. The view from Parsonage Wood over the old town is spectacular - the Buckinghamshire countryside at its best. There is something magical about the combination of rolling green hills, the large fields, the old church and old town around it that always makes me want to come back for more.

Maybe one day I'll earn enough to have a place up there. Until then I can but dream...

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

A radical new approach?

So far the Conservative Leadership Election has focused on MPs at Westminster. But unless I've missed a modification of the rules, candidates don't actually have to be MPs to stand.

At the moment politics needs a lot of new blood and dynamism. The Conservative Party needs a leader who can lead, who can inspire, who can motivate and who can deliver. Why not be really radical and search for a person outside Parliament or even outside party politics who can provide this?

My suggested candidate at this stage? Colonel Tim Collins.

What the heck is a county?

Today I received payment for an item I'd sold on eBay, together with a print out of the eBay payment details page. This included the payer's address, which is in "Swansea, Swansea"!

What had happened is that the form for address includes a compulsory option for "county" and this proforma isn't very good at handling large urban areas. I have often had to put "London" as both the "town/city" and "county" when filling out forms and I'm sure there are many other cases. But what county am I supposed to put?

Counties are a notoriously difficult beast to classify. For some bizarre reason the UK has traditional counties, administrative counties, ceremonial counties and postal counties, each with their own set of borders, identities and so forth. Many talk of Romford as being in Essex and Bexley as being in Kent, yet both come under the Greater London Authority. Or my hometown is Epsom. This should be simple - it has the postal address of Surrey, comes under the domain of Surrey County Council and the ceremonial county of Surrey (I think the two are the same - there are no unitary authorities there) and is historically identified as Surrey. So it should be simple. But within Surrey just where is it? Is it in north east Surrey (as the full name of NESCOT, the local Further Education college implies) or in mid Surrey? The home of Surrey County Cricket is the Oval, quite some way to the north, yet hardly anyone uses "Surrey" on addresses up there. And what about Spelthorne (Sunbury and Staines)? It is on the "Middlesex Bank" of the Thames not the "Surrey Bank", yet is in Surrey. The village of Poyle doesn't seem to know if it's in Middlesex, Surrey or Berkshire. And then people claim Westmorland doesn't exist as a county - so what is the Westmorland County Agricultural Show?

The traditional and administrative counties both have fierce advocates and idenfitications do differ across the country. Some try to claim that as "county" is only a unit of local government then only these should be used, even when the term is applied to Unitary Authorities. So does Northern Ireland have six counties, twenty-six "counties" or none at all? (Now there's one for the Republicans to mull over, especially as their stated objection to the term "Northern Ireland" is pedantically to do with a part of the Republic being even more north!) Also Rochester by this logic is not in Kent as it's not administered by Kent County Counil but instead by the Medway unitary authority.

Conversely we have the question of whether or not Birmingham is in Warwickshire, the West Midlands County or is just a big city in its own right (I go for the latter - it's easier and Birmingham is a place unto itself). Some of the modern administrative counties and urban areas have done a brilliant job of fostering loyalties and making it clear just where the current borders are. Others haven't - London is a mess (and the Post Office doesn't help by refusing to update the post codes).

At the moment I type this in Forest Gate, in the London Borough of Newham but formerly in the County Borough of West Ham (and there are still in use street signs proclaiming that!). So just what am I supposed to put in the "county" box on a form?

Who's running the Home Office?

Home Office Minister Hazel Blears has had to assert that she, not David Blunkett, is running the Home Office whilst Charles Clarke is on vacation. Once again we have the annual New Labour summer farce of ministers conducting a public turf war rather than getting on and running the country. Have they nothing better to do?

Sunday, July 31, 2005

The Tenth Planet?

BBC News is reporting that astronomers have detected a '10th planet' orbiting the Sun. So far this doesn't seem to be generating much attention - a sad reflection of the limited interest in the universe beyond this small little world these days.

The planet is about three times the further away than Pluto and it could be centuries before a space probe is sent there. At the moment it's being called 2003 UB313 - doesn't that name just roll off the tongue? A new name will be needed that is in line with the other planet names. So which of the following could work?

Apollo - but calling a world so far out after the god of the sun seems silly

Bacchus - the god of wine - would this say that drinkers must be kept at a distance?

Ceres - the goddess of the earth so this is about as silly as Apollo

Cupid - but the world would be so far from his mother Venus

Diana - really the goddess of the moon so again a bit far out

Fortuna - one of the ones everyone forgets - the goddess of luck so is it lucky to be so far out?

Janus - the god of doors - can we say for definite that this world is the doorway to the solar system?

Juno - the queen of the gods and the wife of Jupiter. It would be saying a lot about their marital issues that the two would be so far apart!

Maia - the goddess of growth - is there much of this on that world?

Minerva - the goddess of wisdom but does being a planet so far out strike you as wise?

Proserpina - the Queen of the underworld - and as Pluto is the king would this work?

Quirinus - the god of defense & the state - again not a name to be used lightly until we're sure there are no more worlds

Vesta - the goddess of hearth and similarly a bit far out

Vulcan - now this will get the vote of Star Trek fans. The problem is that Vulcan is traditionally a planet closer to the Sun than Mercury (the theory on this was popular in the 1960s hence a lot of science fiction from the time features a world called Vulcan), not a distant world at the extremes of the Solar System.

Alternatively, if we stick with the science fiction theme how about calling it Cassius, which is the name of a world beyond Pluto in Doctor Who?

Saturday, July 30, 2005

Vanitas continues to face the truth

Vanitas Deputy Leader Damian Hockney has resigned, ostensibly to clear the way for a new team to take the party forward. Sadly this does not generate the guffaws that Kilroy's exit did.

Hockney describes himself as "Leader of the Veritas-UKIP Group at the London Assembly". I was under the impression that both MLAs elected as UKIP had defected to Vanitas so how can there be a joint group?

Friday, July 29, 2005

Kilroy quits

Robert Kilroy-Silk has quit as leader of Vanitas claiming that he has to "face the truth" that no-one wants his party. Since he's realised people prefer established parties, here's hoping he'll now join Labour or the Liberal Democrats.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Past comments

I've just found the following piece I wrote over four months on the McCartney case:

End of the Road for the IRA?
Recent events in Northern Ireland have led to a noticeable sea-change in attitudes towards the Irish Republican Army. We may be on the verge of a major historic change that could have ramifications throughout these islands.

This evening I noticed that Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams has received further rebuffs in the USA, as normally staunch supporters such as Edward Kennedy and Peter King start cold shouldering the Northern Irish Republican movement, refusing to meet with Adams and calling for the IRA to be disbanded. The murder of Robert McCartney and the brave campaign for justice by his family has clearly influenced many. Have the IRA finally reached a turning point?

Back in in 1994 the IRA called a ceasefire and the much vaunted "peace process" began. Eleven years later it's a shock just how far things have come in many areas. Virtually all major political parties have signed up to some form of cross-community power sharing executive as the solution to the province's political problem (though there is disagreement about who should be included/excluded in such an executive). The right of the people of Northern Ireland to decide for themselves whether they wish to remain in the United Kingdom or join a United Ireland has been accepted by the main nationalist and republican parties and the Republic of Ireland has amended its constitution to remove its claim to the North. Sinn Fein members have taken their seats in a Northern Irish assembly, first doing so barely a year after fighting an election on a "No return to Stormont" line. The Ulster Unionists and even the Democratic Unionists have appeared on platforms and television programs with Sinn Fein members.

Yet we are still talking about the decommissioning of paramilitary weapons and the potential disbanding of the Provisional IRA. It's true they are not the only terrorist group and that more needs to be done about loyalist paramilitaries. But no loyalist paramilitary's political representatives are on the verge of entering the government of Northern Ireland and Progressive Unionist Party (the political wing of the Ulster Volunteer Force) leader David Ervine is a solitary figure in the suspended Assembly. By contrast Sinn Fein could claim the Deputy First Ministership and several key ministerial posts in a re-established Executive and many are worried about this whilst they retain weapons.

It's easy to forget just how many times the issue has been fudged before. There was a time when the British and Irish governments would not let Sinn Fein into all party talks on the future of the province until decommissioning had taken place, and the Unionist parties made it clear that if this bar was lifted then they would walk out and derail the process. Then the Good Friday Agreement was negotiated and voted for overwhelmingly in a referendum on the understanding that there would be decommissioning before the release of paramilitary prisoners and the establishment of an executive. But both the latter happened without it. Time and again the political system in Northern Ireland has ground to a halt as the Ulster Unionists have stood firm, then been forced by the government into a compromise. It is no wonder that electoral support for the Democratic Unionists has soared amidst this background.

The release of the paramilitary prisoners is now seen even by many who still support the Good Friday Agreement as a clear mistake on the government's behalf. Time and again the IRA has evaded what many want. However it's telling that up until now most of the calls have come from the Unionist community and the British government. Even the nationalist SDLP has evaded the issue of decommissioning in the past. Now we see many who have previously given support to the IRA now prepared to stand up and say it is time for them to decommission. The Westminster vote to deprive Sinn Fein of their parliamentary allowances was supported by all parts of the House, including many who are traditionally sympathetic to Republicans.

Why particular cases become cause celebres has always been unclear to me. Just as Albert Dreyfus was far from the only person to be wrongly sentenced for passing on state secrets, Robert McCartney is far from the only IRA victim from the nationalist community. For a long time it was a complete taboo to make the stand that his family is making. They have shown real bravery in refusing to accept the "normal" process, refusing to accept the IRA's offer to carry out an arbitrary execution and instead demanded justice. It is a stand that has made many question just why the IRA still needs to exist.

And yet the first electoral returns suggest it has not had much impact. Opinion polls traditionally underplay support for Sinn Fein, but they offer no indication of any collapse in support. A by-election in the Republic has seen the Sinn Fein vote hold steady, rising by 43 absolute votes from 6042 to 6087. Due to a fall in turnout their percentage share has risen by 3%. How Sinn Fein will perform in the forthcoming general election, when they will be fiercely defending their slender hold on Fermanagh & South Tyrone, whilst also hoping to gain Newry & Armagh and possibly Foyle (Derry) remains to be seen. But with the McCartney sisters threatening to stand on the single issue of justice for their brother (and also independent Doctor Kieran Deeney standing on the issue of hospital provision in Omagh in Sinn Fein held West Tyrone) there is a real danger that voters may decide that there is a better way to cast a vote for getting rid of the IRA than by trying to keep Sinn Fein in the democratic process.

Some cynics might argue that we've seen this all before. But I think we've seen for the first time in a very long while the drying up of grassroots support for the IRA. After current events no Unionist party is going to be prepared to make a fudged deal with Sinn Fein. The disbanding of the IRA has become an absolute requirement for Sinn Fein's participation in any future government. Even the British government seems to have accepted this. We may finally see a movement towards normality in Northern Ireland. It has been overdue too long.

Maybe the recent events have made me more cynical as my initial reaction showed. But if the IRA's support base has dried up then this move is less surprising. I've also now seen the footage of the statement being made - and that it was read out in person by a former prisoner is in itself an encouraging sign - and perhaps this truly is a step forward. But at the moment we can only have stronger peace of mind. The restoration of an acceptable political system that all can accept is still a major hurdle to come.

Sinn Fein's recent election results have been if anything consolidating - holding Fermanagh & South Tyrone amidst a Unionist struggle generating multiple candidates, gaining Newry & Armagh as everyone expected but failing to gain Foyle - indeed the survival of the SDLP is the overlooked story of the general election (many forget that before the election a common betting game was whether the SDLP or Ulster Unionists would suffer a greater defeat!). It's also forgotten that there has long been limited actual support in the Republic for a United Ireland and many believe the IRA has merely diminished this. Peace will bring a more stable society - ironically all international precedents suggest that this will reduced support further. I doubt there will be a United Ireland even in our grandchildren's time.

Is it over?

The IRA has formally ordered an end to its armed campaign and says it will pursue exclusively peaceful means according to the BBC. Many are seeing this as a sign that the Troubles are at last over.

Like many I'd like to believe that this truly is an ending. But the IRA have been on alleged ceasefire for a long time and that didn't stop the murder of Robert McCartney. I also remember the pledges at the time of the Good Friday Agreement that promised the IRA would decommission within a few years and before Sinn Fein entered government.

If this statement does bring real peace of mind and change then it is a great day throughout these islands. But after so many false dawns before I remain sceptical.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Aren't computers fantastic?

Due to technical difficulties I will not be online easily over the next week or so. Updates to this blog are going to have to be sporadic I'm afraid but don't worry - normal service will be resumed!

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Shoot to kill?

The media today is full of coverage of how the police shot dead an innocent man on Friday. At such times it is easy to bash the police. But one needs to imagine a reversal of the situation. The police followed leads derived from the bomb sites and found this man's address. A man comes out on a summer day wearing a winter coat. They follow him and when they confront him he bolts for the tube, jumping the barriers and hurtling towards the platform. Had he indeed been a suicide bomber, and given both recent events and the man's behavior the police clearly had strong grounds for believing that, then the consequences could have been catastrophic.

Armed police officers frequently have to make very difficult decisions in the heat of the moment. This incident is not like confronting someone they believe is carrying a gun. It is like confronting someone they believe does not care about their own life and who will not back down if confronted, but instead is more likely to detonate. The police have to act quickly to protect us. Sometimes they get it wrong and an innocent dies. But if they get it wrong and fail to stop a suicide bomber then the consequences escalate.

Many are already calling for a re-evaluation of police tactics. But some are being rash and demanding an end to a shoot to kill policy. I would like to know how one is supposed to stop a potential suicide bomber when confronted with one. Tackling the grievances that generate such monsters is all well and true but that is not a viable alternative solution at the apparent intended point of detonation.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Not again!

More blasts in Central London. We have some minor chaos but it's not major. It seems the bombers were incompetent and only exploded their detonators. They're not so much Kamikazes as Kamiclownies!

Soon this will be cleared. London is not a city to surrender. The terrorist vermin will never win.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Scotty has been beamed up

James Doohan, who played Scotty in Star Trek has died at the age of 85.

Although I've never been a Star Trek fan, finding the franchise to be ghastly overstretched and the various series to be ruined through excess money being spent on effects at the expense of decent scripts (and also burdened with far too much technobabble), Doohan has always stood out as one of the strongest performers, making the part of Scotty really come to life. Though the line "Beam me up Scotty" was never said, he will long be remembered for the series and no doubt much missed.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Crossrail gets a step closer.

MPs are debating the Bill to enact Crossrail. This project, whilst not now going to be finished in time for the Olympics, could transform transport in London, especially here in the east where Stratford and Liverpool Street are bursting at the seams. Sadly it seems that some are opposing it. Bethnal Green & Bow MP George Galloway said the following:

The residents and small businesses of my constituency will be paying the greatest price for a service designed to connect Canary Wharf to Heathrow Airport.

It will be like a major bombing raid on the East End: Three major tunneling sites, a two-metre wide conveyor belt, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for six years, carrying spoil from the digging of these three tunnel sites, going inches from people's windows.
Whilst it's good to see that George Glasgow occasionally remembers he has a constituency and where it now is, once again he has missed the point. Crossrail will do a lot to revitalise the whole of East London, allowing easy connections from the East End to suburbs such as Forest Gate, Ilford and beyond into the wider area. This can only benefit Bethnal Green & Bow as more people are able to reach it, helping the businesses.

Much has been made about the shafts to remove soil in the construction of the tunnels. But at the end of the day these have to be somewhere. Living in Forest Gate I would have no problem whatsoever with having the shafts here (although from a technical point of view it's way too far east - as a consolation the building I live in is literally on top of the Channel Tunnel Rail Link which will open long before Crossrail and the vibrations can be felt throughout our flat). "Not In My Back Yard" is not a reason to relocate somewhere - and I have yet to hear any objector state where they think the shaft should be. As ever Galloway goes in for a cheap dig at the project, claiming it's hurting the poor to benefit the rich and showing just why class warfare and disRESPECT is such a joke in today's politics.

2013 can't come soon enough, although I'm sure that something will come along to delay Crossrail even further. Still one can but hope...

Monday, July 18, 2005

Alan Duncan quits the Conservative leadership race

The Conservative leadership election narrowed today as Alan Duncan quits the race. However it's widen out again with Theresa May dropping the strongest hint yet that she will stand. Given his previous comments about wanting to see fewer leadership candidates, Tim Yeo must be feeling very confused.

Alan Duncan's withdrawal sadly deprives the contest of one of the more thoughtful and dynamic contenders, although I have to admit that in one or two areas he can be too liberal for my liking.

Edward Heath passes away

And so Sir Edward Heath has died. We have lost one of the political giants of post war era. And how many other Prime Ministers managed to personally lead their country to victory in an international sporting tournament whilst also running the country?

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Edward Heath 'getting weaker'

It seems that Edward Heath will not be with us much longer. It seems that in his long feud with Margaret Thatcher he is the one who has lost the final battle. And today's Conservative party is a far cry from the one that Heath led - now it stands for economic stability, democratic government, a sovereign nation, empowering the individual and standing up to extremist infiltrators who seek to bring down the government of the country.

There seem very few people who seek to defend the Heath government - about the only "achievement" anyone remembers is that of taking us into the "Common Market" (in the days when it was about enhancing trade). Otherwise governments since 1974 have for the most part sought to avoid a repeat of those dark days. The obituary writers and commentators will have difficulty placing Heath's legacy.

eBay can be surprising

Some readers may have noticed that amongst the many links on this page is one to the list of items I'm selling on eBay (or for international readers try here). Today several auctions ended and I was astounded at the way that every item sold ad some saw fierce bidding in the last few hours.

Whilst this often happens on eBay, it was especially shocking here as the items included old VHS cassettes and even some early feature free DVDs that have both been superseded by current DVD releases, including season boxsets. I originally put them up primarily to see if I could clear some space in my room, to refresh my eBay selling skills before big sales later on and to see if I could get some more feedback which again will help later sales.

I guess as someone who's had a DVD player for nearly four years and who only purchased a handful of VHSes after that, mainly a series that didn't switch to parallel releases, I'd rather taken the dominance of DVD for granted. By contrast I was one of the last to switch to CD, and even then had to be dragged into it (mainly because I was never particularly into music in the 1990s and so rather resented it when other areas of audio were seemingly forced into it - although a few do seem to continue to produce cassettes to this day - and also because for one reason or another I'd never wound up with a CD player by accident in a bigger unit). Yet it seems there are still a good number who haven't joined the DVD revolution. A lot of students are often amongst them - unsurprising given how many have traditionally inherited the family's old VCR when it gets replaced by a newer model and are unlikely to have received an integrated unit or an outdated DVD player yet. But there appear to be pockets of sales elsewhere and may be for some time to come (which I hope so - otherwise I'll have a huge number to put on eBay in a very short space of time!). The machines retain other uses - how many of us use them as an elaborate adaptor to get round the problem of other equipment having only a SCART connection and no direct way to connect to the television set's coaxial socket? (Oh and given that virtually everyone stores their VCRs, DVDs, TVs, decoders and everything else on top of one another, why are SCART cables a metre long?)

Looking back at eBay I see the bidding increasing. At the moment the Bond movies are all coming to close and the one getting the highest bids as I type this is For Your Eyes Only - bizarre as it's arguably the most forgotten of the official movies by the public at large (a pity as it's easily the best of the Roger Moore films). Mind you it's being substantially outbid by a copy of Never Say Never Again - wonders never cease.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Liberal Democrats start to lose confidence in Charles Kennedy

Just seen this, thanks to Liberal Democrat watch. Liberal Democrats start to lose confidence in Charles Kennedy.

As an article in the Liberal Democrat Youth and Students' magazine says:

The major problem with Charles Kennedy is that he doesn't inspire confidence in the electorate. Even a lot of our own supporters laugh at the idea of Charles Kennedy becoming Prime Minister.

If we are to convince the general public that we are the real alternative we need to present them with an alternative Prime Minister, who commands their general respect in a way Charles Kennedy does not.
So parts of the Liberal Democrats are willing to admit what many others have realised - Charles Kennedy is a bad leader for the party. Now how long will he try to cling on?

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Stephen Liars finally admits it

Stephen Byers has admitted tellings untruths on Railtrack. When he was Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government, the Regions and the Jo Moore Scandals, Byers occasionally tried to do things with the railways amidst everything else on his agenda. There was a time when politicians had honour and would resign if they lied to Parliament. Nowadays the Labour Party will just try to brush this one aside, respond with pointless rubbish about what happened under other governments, refuse to admit that this is why politicians are so distrusted and prepare for Byers' return to government at some later date.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Kilroy splits another party!

Yet another party is facing a leadership election! Does it never end?

It's particularly ironic as the main reason for creating Veritas in the first place was to allow Kilroy-Silk the chance to lead a micro party after UKIP rebuffed his ambition. Now it seems that Kilroy can't even keep his own vehicle in order! What has the man got (other than a orange tan)?

Why oh why couldn't the BBC have just let his show carry on where no-one was watching it, rather than inflicting him onto the rest of the world?

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Homegrown vermin

There have been some despicable comments by both George Galloway and the leader of the national Socialist Workers' Party, trying to use this atrocity to support their demands on foreign policy. Their so-called "RESPECT Unity Coalition" would be better renamed "Quislings," pure and simple.


That's the message loud and clear. If the pathetic excuses for humanity who pass for the terrorists who perpetuated this outrage honestly believe they have achieved anything for their cause then one must wonder just what universe they're in.

Today has been terrible for many. But it has also been a day that has shown the greatness of London. Our emergency services have been fantastic. The people of London have also done their bit, co-operating and bearing the problem. And the message of all is clear - this is not an attack on some philosophy or policy, but an attack on London, on the United Kingdom and on our way of life. We will not surrender to this vermin.

London's crisis

In case you haven't seen the news, multiple blasts have paralysed London. Sitting here in Forest Gate it's difficult to know what to say, with all my information coming from the media. However it's getting increasingly scarey and some Arab experts have finger Al-Quaeda as responsible.

On September 11 2001 I seem to have been one of the few who wasn't aware of what was going on for several hours - I was working in a shop and only first heard about the events some five hours later as I was walking home. Now instead I'm sitting watching all this on the television and seeing places I often go through - Liverpool Street station, Aldgate, Bloomsbury - all engulfed by the explosions and this is truly scarey. It always is when it's somewhere you know well.

The mobile phone network is very patchey and I'm unable to reach some friends in London. The reports on the three twenty-four hour news channels have been at some variance. MSN has been a relief, allowing me to converse and share information with several others.

I'll post again later if anything major happens.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

London beats Paris to 2012 Games

And so London will be hosting the 2012 Olympic Games. Much of the country is celebrating. Meanwhile Crossrail is still not running. If all the transport links are fully operational by 2012 I'll eat my words and buy the travelcard for the first person who reminds me of this.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

The London Olympic bid

And so Tony Blair is trying to get support for the London Olympic bid. The way in which nearly everyone in London at least seems to have jumped on the bandwagon is shocking, and has resulted in a number of home truths being overlooked.

Living in Newham, at the heart of the bid (Stratford station has "Back the Bid" signs everywhere and even an electronic countdown to the decision on the forecourt) one gets a rather different perspective on this. Perhaps the most obvious and truly daming is the pathetic state of public transport.

It's true that Stratford station has been transformed in the last decade or so, with the mainline and low level stations merged into a single complex (even if the street maps haven't noticed this) and with extensions to both the Docklands Light Railway and the Jubilee Line greatly enhancing the area's connections. There's also a good bus station integrated into the station forecourt. But despite this there are still major transport problems. The local commuter services are overflowing at peak hours and there simply isn't the capacity to add on more trains into Liverpool Street. The North London Line and its little brother the Gospel Oak-Barking Line are both extremely restricted in their capacity (some of the platforms can't handle more than three carriage trains). Despite talk for decades Hackney still has no tubes. And of course Crossrail still hasn't been built.

Okay the East London Line extensions have finally begun, but almost immediately they were delayed by a series of objections and will inevitably open late. The Jubilee Line Extension opened nearly three years later than scheduled - and even that was a hasty rush job and the consequences bedevil the line to this day. The Underground simply does not have a good track record in building extensions on time and within budget. One has to seriously question the claims that all the proposed transport links would be ready for a 2012 Games.

Perhaps the best comparison is with the Millenium Dome. It is often forgotten that the Dome was only sited in North Greenwich because the Jubilee Line Extension would be opening a new station there some two years before. But the extension dragged on and on and in the end London Underground were forced to start a shuttle service to North Greenwich from Stratford in the summer of 1999 to make up for the fact that key parts of the route still weren't ready. Had the committee that selected the site known from the outset that a through service would not begin until one week before the end of 1999 they would never have located it there.

If the Olympic Commission decides that London doesn't have what it takes to host the Games then don't be too surprised. As someone who regularly travels what is earmarked to be the Crossrail route I've long given up any dream of seeing the fantastic service the brouchures and websites promise. Soon this will be brought home to the rest of London one way or the other.

Thursday, June 30, 2005

The BMA rejects cutting the abortion time limit

Doctors at the British Medical Association conference in Manchester have voted against reducing the upper limit for abortion. Hopefully this will lead to a diminution of calls in other areas for a reduction in the time limit.

Abortion is one of the most heated issues imaginable. We're lucky in this country that the right to have an abortion is set down by a law and can only be removed by Parliament, unlike the US where it seems that a mere five Supreme Court Justices could do it. But it's still worrying when proposals to restrict availability come along.

I don't doubt that there many who support a reduction are driven by a genuine belief that the scientific evidence calls for it. However this is an issue to which there are no easy answers - indeed the famous US case Roe v. Wade notably states:

We need not resolve the difficult question of when life begins. When those trained in the respective disciplines of medicine, philosophy, and theology are unable to arrive at any consensus, the judiciary, at this point in the development of man's knowledge, is not in a position to speculate as to the answer.
Despite this there is a strong strand of opinion that is determined to seize upon anything that will support their case in order to move towards virtual abolition of legal abortion.

It's also important to dispel a few myths. No woman who goes for an abortion at twenty or more weeks does so lightly - this is not a "lifestyle choice". Those who do have very strong reasons and if they aren't able to get a legal abortion here then they will search for one by other means - and that takes longer. For evidence look at the number of women from both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland who travel to Great Britain to obtain an abortion (and they're disproportionately amongst the later abortions because of the time involved). Currently provision in this country needs improving - the reliance on the whims of two doctors (let alone the lack of legal provision in Northern Ireland) is a scandal.

There are some who have called for various major political parties to adopt a formal position on this. Given how the issue cuts across many personally held religious and philosophical viewpoints I feel rather uneasy about this. Preserving a woman's right to choose is essential, but one need only look at the US to see the dangers of allowing it to become a partisan issue. Repeated in this country we could risk the danger of availability depending upon whichever party was in power at the time, whilst both parties have a very wide range of opinion on the matter and would almost certainly be subjected to bitter internal struggles over policy. For the time being a free vote seems a better way to keep the issue out of the dangers of the partisan sphere.


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