Friday, October 20, 2006

Have I Got News For You tonight

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

Political junkie test!

Courtesy of Mars Hill...

The things that are true about me are in bold:

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

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

No Short shock

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

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

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

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

Sunday, October 15, 2006

On the purpose of Conservative Future

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

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

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

Perhaps there should also be:

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

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

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Doctor Who - The Sontaran Experiment

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

A Time Filler

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 09, 2006

Why Trident should be replaced

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

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

I hope that this doubles the resolve to replace Trident.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

France calls time on smokers

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

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

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

From Vision to Reality

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Not another Jurassic Park!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

YouGov do pay out

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

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

September on this blog

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

First off the sites most people come from:

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

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

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

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

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


Thank you all for reading!


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