Thursday, February 26, 2009

Where Were You When You Heard Margaret Thatcher Had Resigned?

In response to Iain Dale's Diary: Where Were You When You Heard Margaret Thatcher Had Resigned?, I was at school that day. My class heard the news from our Latin teacher when we went in after morning break - she had heard the infamous "Thatchy Pog" weather forecast on the radio.

My entire family was staunchly supporting Michael Heseltine - indeed my father had a letter published in the Daily Telegraph in support of him - but I can't remember feeling any particularly strong feelings about the news. Maybe we were all stunned - none of us had lived under any other Prime Minister - or not sufficiently following politics to care hugely (east Surrey was not a place where children were brought up from birth to blindly hate Thatcher).

And so there it is - not the most spectacular memory of that day. But as for some more recent resignations...

The final settlement for Wales?

An opinion poll has been published about opinions towards the constitutional set-up for Wales. (BBC News: Majority back law-making assembly) Whilst it seems doubtful that there will be a referendum just yet, the direction suggests opinion settling towards what could be the final settlement for Wales.

The figures are:
In favour of turning assembly into full law-making parliament: 52%
Against turning assembly into full law-making parliament: 39%
Don't know: 9%
And the breakdown:
Law-making Welsh parliament with tax powers in UK: 34%
Law-making Welsh parliament with no tax powers in UK: 10%
Independent Wales outside UK but in EU: 8%
Independent Wales outside UK and EU: 5%
Status quo: 21%
Abolish assembly 19%
Don't know: 4%
I don't know what is the bigger blow for Welsh separatists - only 13% supporting Wales leaving the UK or that figure being split between membership of the EU and Welsh independence. Another forlorn hope is anti-devolutionism. Just 19% want to abolish the Assembly. Those who still talk about "only 25% support" from the 1997 referendum have well and truly become Yesterday's Men.

The debate is now coming down to whether the Assembly should have legislative making powers or carry on as it is now. Anyone who wants to fight either the anti-devolutionist or separatist causes will be abdicating from the real debate.

At the moment I personally don't know where I stand on this one. So it's lucky I don't live in Wales! But if there is to be a referendum on legislative powers I think it is essential that the knock-on effects for Westminster are given due consideration beforehand, especially as options like cutting the number of MPs may be forthcoming and could prove decisive in a close referendum.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Ivan Cameron

I have just heard the shocking news that David Cameron's son Ivan has died.

Sometimes there are just no words that come,

My severe condolences to David, Samantha, Nancy and Arthur at this horrific time.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Labour stops being a British-only party

Another fantastic step for the politics of Northern Ireland took place today. The Labour Party has formally organised at last. (Belfast Telegraph: Labour Party to become official party in Northern Ireland) Congratulations to all those who have campaigned and argued for this over the years, finally overcoming the resistance there has been in the party. Now the Labour URL,, is finally accurate.

Some of you might be surprised that a Conservative is so welcoming of a new rival party. I will not deny that in part this only helps Conservatives who wish to move the politics of Northern Ireland onto a traditional right-left axis by providing the left of it. But I have also long felt that proper organisation of the main parties can only help the politics of the province. If that means a few extra seats go Labour then that's a price worth paying.

Of course it will be a while before the party stands - the members are cautious about the next general election and clashing with the SDLP. I have a suspicion that this will only prove a temporary issue.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

And I thought the Meacher bid was the biggest joke...

Harriet Harman for Labour Prime Minister?

Yes I know. Can we all stop howling with laughter?

Luke's Blog: Collective Responsibility notes the current noises emerging from the Harman camp and worries that Harman could become the Labour leader should a vacancy arise.

I don't think he's got anything to worry about. Harman only scraped victory in the Labour Deputy Leadership election through an appeal to sexism, arguing that she should hold the post just because she's a woman. And after all she was running to fill John Prescott's shoes and was in many ways perfectly qualified - see Yet another (deputy) leadership election.

Are even Labour Party members blind to the hopelessness of Harman to elect her as their next leader? Labour MPs clearly aren't and she won't be able to bank on an unopposed shot. I think Luke is over worried about this one and we can relegate her dreams to the joke bin of British politics, where also was found the bid by Michael Meacher!

Sunday, February 15, 2009

So has cheaper food arrived?

In the last week a new Tesco Express has opened literally just round the corner from me, in the old Woolworths. (Newham Recorder: New Tesco Express opens its doors to boost community - and you can win £50!) I hope that we will rapidly start to see real competition between the local supermarkets.

Ever since I arrived in Forest Gate the options for food shopping have been either Somerfield, some local individual shops or a bus ride out to a nearby big supermarket (with all the ensuing problems of getting the bags home in one piece). Somerfield is open from 0700 until 2200 on Mondays to Saturdays (but only 1100-1700 on Sundays) and its prices aren't the best; however for immediate stuff, particularly perishables, it's often the only available option.

The new Tesco is smaller, but should soon be able to adapt its stock precisely to fit the local demand. And I find the customer service much better, to say nothing of the longer opening hours. Now we have the prospect of real competition in the area, as neither store can get away with charging over inflated prices purely for the benefit of being locally accessible. And in these difficult economic times anything that reduces weekly shopping bills is welcome. Here's to some good old fashioned market competition!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

How to deny extremists publicity

If Geert Wilders had been allowed to enter the UK and show this film of his, hardly anyone would have battered an eyelid. Instead by denying him entry, the government has given him huge levels of publicity, turned him into a martyr for extremists and sent many people to watch his filth.

Here in the UK we seem to take a similar attitude to the British National Party and others. Time and time again we just give them publicity, reinforce their claim to be "the party with the answers the political establishment doesn't want You to hear" and make them ever more attractive to the politically alienated. As I blogged before in Time to end No Platform?, I think these methods are no longer working and can, if anything, be counter productive.

Instead let's provide constructive alternatives, stop providing favourable publicity and allow the extremism to wither and die. Freedom of speech is the freedom to say what you like. It does not mean anyone has to listen to you.

Another Obama appointment collapses

Following up on Obama fails to walk on water, the latest news is that Judd Gregg, Barack Obama's latest proposed Commerce Secretary, has withdrawn. (BBC News: Another Obama cabinet pick quits) At least this time it's because of policy differences, rather than personal taxes. But this is not shaping up to be the all-singing, all-dancing, all bipartisan administration promised.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

So how old did Titian live to be?

After Gordon Brown's recent comments and the exchange at Prime Minister's Questions it seems the big political question is "How old was Titian when he died?"

At the end of PMQs Andrew Neil announced that his Art Editor has emailed to say Brown is right - because said editor had checked Wikipedia! And this is not the first time I've noticed the BBC relying on Wikipedia for research! Naturally an edit war is now beginning there - see this edit, this one and this one. And no doubt by the time you read this there will be more changes at the revision history.

Indeed as I type this I heard that Conservative Central Office and the Art Editor (again) have both contacted Andrew Neil to add to the debate. So will Titiangate run and run?!

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

The upside down flag - a mistake or a subtle message?

Yesterday at the signing of a trade agreement with China the Union Jack (let's end this nonsense that that name is inaccurate) was displayed upside down. (BBC News: Flag mistake at UK-China ceremony) The government has since stated this was a mistake.

Now okay the flag is relatively easy to get the wrong way round but it's not as if the government doesn't use the flag regularly. And the agreement was signed by Peter Mandelson - a man notorious for both control freakery and sending out the right message. He is not someone one associates with casual errors of presentation.

So was this really a error or was the flag in fact being deliberately "flown" upside down as used in an old distress signal?

Obama fails to walk on water

If only this were the moment where the ridiculous overhyping of Obama ceased. But no-one ever pays much attention to the cock-ups of Cabinet appointments.

Obama has said "I screwed up" on two of his appointments - a would-be Health Secretary and a would-be budget watchdog who both withdrew because of investigations into their taxes. (BBC News: Obama admits errors over cabinet) There was also his (successful) nomination of a Treasury Secretary with tax problems. (BBC News: Obama's cabinet nomination crisis - no wonder the Barack Broadcasting Corporation is indexing that story under the alternative title "Honeymoon over?") So much for this glorious new era for the US - it's the same as ever! And then there was Obama's nominee as Commerce Secretary who had to pull out because of a contract given to campaign donors. Have all the years of being a Chicago politician made Obama blind to the problems of sleaze?

And then there's the appointments that have actually stuck. To shore up his limited foreign policy experience Obama's picked both Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton with inevitable potential for disagreement - how many foreign policies is this administration going to have? Or there's the new appointment as Commerce Secretary - a man who voted for his own department's abolition. (BBC News: Republican to join Obama cabinet)

Very little of this is actually going to affect public perceptions of Obama and it's doubtful any of this Cabinet are going to succeed him - the last Cabinet minister to successfully run was, if I recall correctly, Herbert Hoover. But it's not the best start. And combined with his failure to deliver the much trumpeted bipartisanship (BBC News: Bi-partisan hopes fail first test) Obama is rapidly proving to be not some glorious superhero putting the world to rights (hey not even his hero Spider-Man can do all that!) but just another US President. I hope more people come to realise this rather than continuing to harbour unrealistic expectations.

And cue outrage in the comments that anyone dares to cast a critical eye over Obama...

Monday, February 02, 2009

What's wrong with offering a prayer?

It is rare that I think the phrase "political correctness gone mad" has any useful value. But this story: Daily Mail: Persecuted for praying: Nurse who faces the sack after offering to pray for sick patient has made me wonder.

She offered to pray for one of her patients who politely declined. Nobody who was there was offended and yet some self-righteous person has initiated a formal complaint that has resulted in the nurse facing the sack for caring for people.

What kind of society are we living in today where such things can happen?


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