Sunday, March 30, 2008

Don't count your chickens before your votes!

I've just seen the news that the Zimbabwean opposition Movement for Democratic Change is claiming victory in the Presidential elections. But the vote counting is very slow and there are widespread fears of rigging. (BBC News: Warning on Zimbabwe victory claim)

I hope that Robert Mugabe has lost. But I fear that when the final results come through that will not prove to be the case.

Fingers crossed...

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Young Liberals abandon students and democracy

It's official today. The Lib Dems' youth & students wing, Liberal Democrat Youth & Students, has relaunched itself under the new name "Liberal Youth". As I've blogged before (Young Lib Dems to become a lie?), both students and democracy have been dropped from the title. It also means the young Lib Dems are using a name that evokes a different party, the Liberal Party, so the Lib Dems can no longer whine about voters being confused by the other party.

Then there's the new Liberal Youth website. Yes that really is their website, not an imitation. What were they thinking?!

But, at the risk of triggering Godwin's Law, I'm surprised very few people have yet picked up that the name has a similarity to that of a rather famous youth movement from the last century. Well some have - see this comment on Liberal Democrat Voice. The excuse that "Youth" was in the old name just doesn't wash as it was watered down by other elements.

In the launch press release (see Liberal Democrat Voice: Nick Clegg launches Liberal Youth) Nick Clegg declared "Britain has a liberal youth. We'll make it Liberal Democrat." And if you believe that you'll believe pigs could fly. Or that there could be a Liberal Democrat government.

Oh and a Google search for "Liberal Youth" currently brings up the following as the top entry: - LIBERAL YOUTH (not a f***in political party ...
MySpace music profile for LIBERAL YOUTH (not af***in political party) with tour dates, songs, videos, pictures, blogs, band information, downloads and more. - 181k - Cached - Similar pages - Note this
It's not the best start is it?

Sunday, March 23, 2008

A Cathedral is no place for a disruption

A place of worship, not a political platformI've just come back from a pleasant trip to Canterbury Cathedral for the Easter Day Sung Eucharist. As ever it was a wonderful service that I first started attending when I was an undergraduate in Canterbury. Today, despite snow and rain, a huge congregation attended.

But there was one unfortunate note, though so far I'm only aware of the Press Association picking up on the story. Just as Rowan Williams entered his pulpit to deliver his sermon, two men jumped up with placards and started disrupting things, claiming that the Archbishop has never spoken out about the persecution of Christians around the world and against his misreported comments about Sharia Law. They were soon escorted away (see The Press Association: Two held over cathedral protest) and the Archbishop told us all how he does frequently speak out about the persecution around the world. It does not surprise me that you won't find his response in the Press Association's story and for that matter the Archbishop is often ignored when he's speaking out on these matters. Much of the media is only interested in rows within the Church.

The incident brought back memories of the disgraceful protest by Peter Tatchell ten years ago. I doubt there was anyone who was more convinced of his cause because of it, whilst many were turned against it. A church or cathedral is a place for coming together to worship and to follow the Word. Services are a time for reflection and contemplation. Disrupting the service to make a point is highly offensive and never going to win adherents to a cause. There is a place to make a protest - and the grounds of Canterbury Cathedral offer plenty of places to make it outside - but during a service is disgraceful. I hope that we will not see repeats of this behaviour.

Friday, March 21, 2008

On roaming Easters

In my previous post Time to stabilise the date of Easter? I mentioned the Easter Act 1928 which sought to stabilise the date of Easter in the UK to the Sunday after the second Saturday in April (as April 7th is the traditional date for the Crucifixion) but which has never been brought into force. The main reason is that the Churches have been unable to reach agreement on a single date, leaving us with the current situation whereby Easter roams across the months of March and April with little regard for the impact on calendars.

I can remember back in 2000 when Easter fell as late as April 23. The result was we had two Bank Holiday Mondays (Easter Monday and May Day) in a row, schools and universities found that they either had to start the summer term rather later than they'd have liked or incorporate yet another holiday early on. This year we're seeing the same problem at the other end, with the result that many children are still at school and so consequently families have a much shorter period in which they can go away for Easter. In turn this has just compounded the travel chaos this weekend.

Having a fixed date has done no harm to Christmas, but fixing a date for Easter would require agreement amongst the churches (and detaching the holy day from the holiday would be an unwise move) and that may be some way off. However individual churches and states could at least make an effort by encouraging discussion on potential dates and generating pressure for a settlement.

One minor problem that could be solved is the current bunching of holidays in the spring. By replacing the May Day bank holiday with one in the autumn it would better balance holidays across the year, bring some much needed relief in the autumn and reduce the disruption in the spring.

Odd uses of Labour blogs

The other night I was in a pub quiz where one of the questions was "what number links [a couple of things I didn't know about and can't remember] and the district surrounding Rickmansworth?" It was one to stump people but luckily only thanks to Kerron Cross's blog I was aware of the existence of Three Rivers District Council. And that question proved decisive.

Has anyone got any even more obscure uses of political blogs?

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Brian Wilde

I've just heard the news that Brian Wilde, famous as Mr Barrowclough in Porridge and Foggy Dewhurst in Last of the Summer Wine, has died. (BBC News: Summer Wine actor Wilde, 86, dies)

Both sitcoms were fantastic, and Porridge is rightly considered one of the all time best that this country has ever produced. Ironically of the four main cast members in Porridge he was the earliest born and lived the longest.

Monday, March 17, 2008

The end of Ken?

The Evening Standard have commissioned another poll about the forthcoming Mayoral election and it's not looking good for Ken Livingstone. (Evening Standard: Boris races ahead in mayor poll) And it never looked good for Brian Paddick, whilst Siân Berry's attempts to pretend she's a serious challenger have been met not by not even placing in the results! So with further adieu, here are the figures:

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Another blow for foreign languages

A while ago I blogged about how University College London was introducing a requirement that all applicants must have taken a modern language at GCSE in the battle to prevent their decline (Is this the way to save foreign languages?). It seems that the University of Cambridge already had this requirement in place, but has found it to be a barrier to its admission targets and is now dropping it. (BBC News: Cambridge drops language demand) As the requirement to take a language at GCSE was only dropped from 2004 it's only now that that will be hitting university entrance rates, but their reasoning seems sound.

As I wrote before, I seriously doubt a requirement for entry to a particular university has any impact on 13 year olds choosing their GCSE options, and if their school doesn't even offer them the option it's especially unfair on them. The way to tackle the decline in foreign language uptake, if it needs tackling at all, is to focus much earlier, rather than trying a stick that doesn't take effect for several years. Why not instead consider whether or not we're even teaching the right languages? In the modern era distance is not an issue, so the predominance of teaching French just because it's a neighbouring country could do with a rethink. Why not German or Russian or Chinese?

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Doctor Who - The Five Doctors

And now for my old reviews of the latest Doctor Who stories released on DVD from the Doctor Who Ratings Guide.

It's yet another bumper one this time, as the latest release is The Five Doctors in both its original and Special edition forms. First off the original version:

A wonderful anniversary present

In the days before virtually every existing episode and clip was available on video the series' twentieth anniversary came along. This could have been merely marked quietly perhaps with a documentary or even maybe with a special 'episode' that featured the-then current regulars talking to provide in-character links for a series of clips. But instead it was decided to create a special anniversary story featuring as many elements from the past as possible, whilst at the same time telling a new story. This was perhaps the best anniversary present the series could get and it was worth it.

Many commentators bemoan the absence of Tom Baker from The Five Doctors and criticise Richard Hurndall's performance as the original Doctor. But it would be difficult if not impossible to accurately recreate Hartnell's performance and so Hurndall instead wisely develops the performance to give his own take on it. The result may not please the purists but it works well enough. Tom Baker's absence was more unfortunate but there are at least a couple of clips of him in it. Whilst the two scenes seem a little strange and disconnected, they are successful in allowing the viewer to see Tom Baker for a bit. Furthermore Baker's absence prevents the production from becoming over-heavy and thus allows all four of the other Doctors to play a substantial role in the story.

The title itself is reminiscent of the earlier The Three Doctors and there are some similar elements shared by the two tales such as the various Doctors and companions being transported off to another strange dimension where they encounter one of the key figures from Time Lord history. Even the location for UNIT HQ is the same. But The Five Doctors is no mere imitation of its predecessor. The plot may be a relatively straightforward affair that allows for the available cast to be mixed and matched but at the same time we get to see many homages paid to the series' history. This story is a celebration of twenty years and is in no way ashamed of it.

In a clear throwback to the traditions of the Hartnell years, the first scene of the story is set in the TARDIS console room, showing the Doctor and his companion discussing things before the adventure begins rather than with a scene establishing the setting for the story. Along the way there are many other such scenes that remind the viewer of times past, such as Jon Pertwee's Doctor driving Bessie and taking an action role, Patrick Troughton's Doctor showing a complete disrespect for authority or the Master ruthlessly exploiting events for his own advantage. Even the scene where Susan trips and twists her ankle is entirely appropriate for this story since it reminds us of the way female companions were used in the show's earlier years. Then there's the scene with the booby trapped board that is very similar to a scene from Death to the Daleks. There's a good plot as well and whilst it may involve yet another member of the High Council of the Time Lords turning traitor for their own ends, there is at least an attempt to keep the viewer guessing through hints that either the Master or Rassilon may be behind the scheme. The story's resolution may be a bit deus ex machina but it shows how the original Doctor was always one step ahead of the rest and how defeat and victory often go hand in hand, as is the norm for many stories in the Davison era. The story begins with a brief clip of one of William Hartnell's finest scenes as he promises 'One day I shall come back' and then ends with the Davison Doctor once more fleeing Gallifrey and reminding us that this is how it all began. Thus ends one of the best stories in the programme's history.

There's loads of continuity in this story and I spotted: the William Hartnell/Richard Hurndall Doctor, the Brigadier, UNIT & its HQ, the Patrick Troughton Doctor, the Jon Pertwee Doctor, Bessie, Sarah Jane, K9, the Tom Baker Doctor, the Lalla Ward Romana, Borusa, the Castellan from Arc of Infinity, Gallifrey, the Master, Susan, a Dalek, Cybermen, the Cyberleader, a Yeti and Rassilon all competing for attention. But it all works and many of the cast slip effortlessly back into their old roles with Patrick Troughton giving perhaps the finest performance of all. There's also some new ideas in the story as well, most obviously the Raston Warrior Robot, and the result is a story that is milking the past shamelessly but also finding new ideas as well and so doesn't feel at all dated in any way.

Productionwise The Five Doctors features some good location filming for the Death Zone scenes, whilst the studio sets are either nostalgic reminders of Gallifrey or good at enhancing a downbeat setting for the Dark Tower. There are many action scenes in the story such as the various massacres of the Cybermen and these scenes give plenty of action. Indeed it is hard to find much in this story to disagree with since it casts such a good mood. This story set out to summarise the series' history and gave it a truly fine celebration in the process.
And now The Five Doctors Special Edition:

How good an alternative?

The original version of The Five Doctors is one of the strongest stories in the entire history of the series so an alternative version is a very dangerous move as it runs the risk of alienating the fans of the original whilst at the same time not satisfying those who found the original disappointing. Fortunately this is not the case with The Five Doctors Special Edition. The extended scenes, alternate order and occasional trims do significantly alter the tone at times - for instance the original opens with a TARDIS scene like many a Hartnell adventure but the new version now has a 'tease' of what lies ahead by starting with the Dark Tower. Throughout the story these additional little touches surprise and delight, offering an alternative take on events. It's clear that someone involved has read the novelisation for ideas - for example when the scene showing that Tom Baker's Doctor has been released is a return to the river Cam as in the novelisation rather than a scene of the Doctor lying by the TARDIS as in the original. It's been some years since I read the novelisation and haven't got it to hand so I can't tell if the scenes involving the various Doctors being timescooped, the Player putting pieces on the board and the Peter Davison Doctor reacting are now in the same order as in the book but this new order generally works better since we wonder what has happened to the earlier incarnations and then how long the current Doctor will survive before cutting to the next Doctor being captured. The extensions to scenes rarely feel like they are in any way dragging out the story or giving away key moments. Of special note is the shot of Peter Davison's Doctor smiling at Susan before Richard Hurndall's Doctor disapprovingly interrupts. It is easy to see how this shot has generated much speculation.

Peter Howell returns to the story to enhance the music and somehow manages to improve upon what was an already impressive score. The flute theme for Patrick Troughton's Doctor as he moves through the wilderness is especially memorable, whilst the extension of the music to accommodate extensions to scenes, such as the one where the Doctor uses the Master's transmat recall to escape the Cybermen, makes it seem as though the music was always written like that. The stereo version of the theme music is highly memorable, whilst the use of a piece of the opening music reversed to accompany the Special Edition credits is a clever move and creates a highly effective sound.

The story's video effects have also been updated, with the result that the thunderbolts and lightning on the chessboard now look a lot more realistic than the BBC Micro Computer efforts of the original. The new timescoop is especially effective, although why the original has been included at the start of the UK VHS release where the BBC logo is timescooped is beyond me. There are even some little additions such as the Cybermen firing their weapons in battle against the Raston Warrior Robot. Unfortunately there are a few lapses towards the end. It does indeed make sense for Rassilon to use the timescoop to send everyone home, so why the Master just fades away is a mystery. Also the recorded material of the various Doctors and companions trooping into the TARDIS makes little sense now that the timescoop is being used to get everyone home. And just what is the Doctor's line about 'temporal fission' supposed to mean?

Although there are a few points where the changes are questionable in general this updating works because it enhances the story no end and makes it highly viable for watching again and again. The more subtle work that has gone into improving the quality of the original film and videotape is generally unnoticeable - a sign of how effective it has been - and the result is a strong special that was a good choice to launch the DVD releases. 10/10
Doctor Who - The Five Doctors can be purchased from

And so continues the Lib Dem Muppet Show

So many Muppets!When Sir Menzies Campbell was forced out many Lib Dems were privately rejoicing at the prospects of a firmer leader and a more organised party. Yesterday those hopes were well and truly shattered.

Not a particularly memorable MuppetOver 20% of the parliamentary party rebelled on a three line whip and three members of the most senior part of the frontbench team resigned over the issue. The only reasons there weren't more resignations is apparently due to some rule that allows junior spokespersons to rebel and keep their post. Well the Liberal Democrats are a party that like to pretend you can have your cake and eat it.

A rather more effective oneIt's strange because the Lib Dems are the party for whom all the arguments over whether or not the Lisbon Treaty is pretty much the same thing as the EU Constitution should be utterly irrelevant. They called for a referendum on the Maastricht Treaty and have long called for government to trust the people. Then they turned round and decided that the people can't be trusted.

Is it any surprise that the Liberal Democrat blogosphere is now in uproar? (Dizzy Thinks: Is the Lib Dem blogosphere rebelling too?, Norfolk Blogger: Suddenly you realise you are not so different after all, New Model Army: Send in the clowns... and more.) On this first major test of Nick Clegg's leadership he has flunked it and shown that he is more concerned with promoting European centralism than in leadership. The EU is not known for being the most democratic of organisations and is it unsurprising that an ex MEP seeks to block the people having a say and instead makes only tokenistic gestures trying to divide the referendum movement?

Has the media ever liked any archbishop?

Anyone who thinks Rowan Williams's recent controversies raise questions about the Archbishop's ability to perform in the media age might like to consider that his predecessors also came in for a bit of criticism. Here are Robert Runcie and George Carey being lampooned in a Spitting Image sketch from YouTube:

And Rowan Williams hasn't fared much better at the hands of satirists:

Not much has changed has it? Why not focus on his ability to be a spiritual leader rather than on whether or not he can satisfy tabloid journalists or escape satirists?

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Bye bye Ian Paisley

Just as I was about to head out I've just seen the news that Ian Paisley is stepping down as First Minister of Northern Ireland and leader of the Democratic Unionist Party in May. BBC News: Paisley to quit as first minister) An age is finally passing. Paisley is the longest serving party leader in the UK - I think he's been succeeded in this by Gerry Adams!

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Not so classic Kilroy

Oh and since we don't actually hear much about Kilroy these days, here's one of his less classic moments:

More classic Spitting Image

Here are a few more classic Spitting Image sketches courtesy of YouTube. First we have another with the two Davids:

However it wasn't all joy for the Alliance or its one leader who found himself in a phone box party:

And finally his reputation for changing parties reached the ultimate extent:

One has to wonder what David Owen would do if he were in active politics today. But it's not too late - he could team up with Robert Kilroy-Silk, Robert McCartney and George Galloway to form the first ever 4 in 1 Micro Party! That's right, no end of fractionalism, breakaways and one man ego trips, all from one single (*) grouping! Vote for it now! Because no-one else will!

(* Single at the point of formation. We cannot gurantee continued adherence.)

February on this blog

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

First off the sites most people come from:

  1. Google (-)
  2. BBC (NEW)
  3. (-1)
  4. Mars Hill (+3)
  5. Vote 2007 (RE-ENTRY)
  6. ConservativeHome (-)
  7. Live Search (NEW)
  8. Facebook (+2)
  9. Yahoo (RE-ENTRY)
  10. Cllr Iain Lindley's Diary (+9)
Dropping out of the top ten are Wikipedia (at 11, down 6), The Doctor Who Forum (at 13, down 5), Iain Dale's Diary (at 16, down 7), educationet (at 18, down 15) and Liberal Democrat Youth & Students (disappearing altogether before the name does).

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

  1. what does your birthday say about you (-)
  2. educationet (RE-ENTRY)
  3. tim roll-pickering (+1)
  4. what president am i like? (-2)
  5. plural of referendum (NEW and it's "referendums")
  6. grange hill (NEW)
  7. laura blomeley (-)
  8. moral politics test (NEW)
  9. oldest political party (-3)
  10. what harms the environment (-7)
Some of usual regulars, some interesting new ones, mostly stemming from various elections people may or may not be involved in.

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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