Saturday, May 19, 2007

A Fitting Monument...

Chav CentralThe Killing Fields
I don't completely hate Football. When I was a kid I loved FA Cup Final day. It was one of those special days where Grandstand rolled different opening titles in the same way day they did for the Calcutta Cup match (yeaaaah), the Rugby League challenge cup final (coooool), the Boat Race (ok...pretty dull, especially when Cowley Poly win, but an event nonetheless) and the Grand National (No comment) and you knew it was something special. It didn't matter whether you liked the sport or not. In their own quirky way they appealed to the quirky people we are and the ridiculous became sublime.

Today, those that stayed awake witnessed what was, apparently, a pretty dull game. Ninety minutes of messing around wasn't enough for anything to happen, so I understand they had to sit through another half hour before the least disinterested team won (this was an analysis by a local Chelsea supporter freshly back from north London). I'm actually happy with the result. As a neutral I've got friends of all colours when it comes to kevball, but as a Yorkshireman I believe with a passion that the only good thing to come out of the other side of the Pennines is the M62. The only thing that pissed me off about the game was the endless parroting by the great and the good about how the return of the FA Cup to Wembley (at long last) was some kind of triumph for football.

HQThe Field of Dreams
It isn't. If you don't like the obvious Twickenham comparison, go and look at Croke Park in Dublin, an even larger stadium built around even less economically powerful sports. Arenas like these are a testament to the enduring passion within their respective sports, sensible (yes even the RFU manages it once in a while) private sector planning and funding, and, cliched as it may sound, a 'can do' attitude. Wembley is a monument to everything wrong about big government. An already rich sport blackmails government after government to underwrite their new national stadium. The contractors know that it's taxpayer's money underwriting the project so they know they have carte blanche to be as slow, sloppy and lazy as they like because they have tabloid ministers chasing tabloid headlines. You can read all the amazing statistic you like about this behemoth but at the end of the day it was delivered laughably late, under spec. and over budget, an international joke just like the centrepiece team that will play there. According to the BBC commentary at one point, the reason that it was such a crap game was because of the grass! How many millions and nobody realised that the playing surface might be important?

The malign influence of what is, at heart, a decent game is everywhere. Sky Sports is based not far from where I live and I once got seriously lashed with one of their finance guys. He effectively told me that the most efficient way for them to organise themselves would be to have two separate streams, a 'Sky Football' with three channels, and a single 'Sky Other Sports' channel, with padding like WWF, poker, and darts padding out each. The only problem about this model was that too many people might only subscribe to the latter offering when would make it harder to underwrite the obscene costs of their soccer coverage.

If you wanted quality cup final action today you needed to be at the other side of London. All credit to Bath, and their always creditable support, for their performance at the Stoop in the European Challenge Cup final. Despite supporting Saracens, who they unexpectedly dumped out of the competition at the semi-final stage, I've always had a certain respect for Bath rugby, even if getting engaged at the Recreation ground during an away game was perhaps going a step too far. At the end of the day though, I think the better team won today. That said, there was more 'bodies on the line' passion, guts and desire displayed by the whole Bath team in any one of the last twenty minutes than in the whole of NuWembley's moribund offering.

Friday, May 18, 2007

BBC Monkeys

BBC"This is what we do"
In the Village, though less in number then the French, past and current employees of the BBC and other broadcasters form another significant group around town. There are couple of them that I know well, both top blokes.

One of them had had a look at this attempt at a blog and last night in the Mother Ship, took me to task over a slight swipe I had made at the licence fee. The main line that he took was that without the licence fee that its news and current affairs coverage would end up dropping to tabloid standards.

He was not convinced by my arguments that there was perfectly good quality TV news produced without this tax, so I was forced to explain why, even disregarding any questions regarding bias, I wasn't convinced that the BBC entirely above the tabloid mindset itself. I was able to argue from personal experience.

A few years ago I was doing some work for MacMillan, publishers of the world's most prestigious scientific journal Nature, sitting not far from a senior editor. He stood up and asked if we could keep the noise levels down as he was about to do a telephone interview with someone on Radio 4's PM programme about some recent breakthrough in HIV research. They were quite often asked to do opinion pieces so I was pretty used to listening to half a radio interview and guessing what the questions were for the answers I could hear.

This one was no exception, and the most of it was taken up by a layman's overview of the nature and importance of the discovery. Towards the end the interviewer must have asked the obvious question about how long it would be before a usable treatment would be found. The following is what I think a pretty accurate version of what followed from the one side I could hear:
"Well it could be some time, for a start the work to date has all been done on SIV not HIV which means..."
"SIV, that's to say Simian Immunodeficiency Virus, as opposed to the human form HIV"
"Yes, Monkeys"
"Well its still useful information because the two viruses are very similar, in fact we are sure that HIV is a descendant of SIV, that at some point it passed from the monkey population to the human population."

At this point there was a longer pause than usual as the interviewer obviously was asking another question. I can only speculate on what the question was and who was asking it, all I know is that the interviewee's face clouded over and made an impression of bashing his head on his desk. Eventually he spoke again, more firmly, and slowly than before:
"No there are other ways it may have been transmitted. They may have eaten the monkey, or been bitten by the monkey, there is no evidence at all for what you suggest."

If only if this had fallen in the days of the 'listen again' service, I would love an mp3 file with both sides of the conversation, if only to identify which overpayed interviewer had the puerile mind.

Good News for Brown

Gordon BrownBrown: The nightmare soon to grow worse
At least it looks as though Brown is going to have a shoulder to lean on come the end of June when he takes up his new post. Obviously painfully aware of the chancellor's lack of confidence in his abilities President Bush has very decently offered to help him through this traumatic and unexpected change in his life.

I'm sure the President will have wise words for poor old Gordon on how do deal with the pressure of having power so unexpectedly thrust upon him. As the humble team player who has been prowling the media for the last few days would have been perfectly happy to quietly do his little bit for the side and would never actively seek such high office, so it must all come as quite a shock for him.

According to the President yesterday at a news conference with Blair:
"I hope to help him in office the way Tony Blair helped me. Newly elected President, Tony Blair came over and he reached out, he was gracious -- was able to converse in a way where our shared interests were the most important aspect of the relationship. I would hope I would provide the same opportunities for Gordon Brown. I met him, thought he was a good fellow."

Let's be honest though, I'm not a Bush Basher, but this little comment does show a little naivety, above and beyond the 'good fellow' comment. A sensible person taking up the role would seek all good advice he can get, unfortunately arrogant prats don't.

It is at least possible though that as his portfolio widens so much in the near future Brown might be seen to listen to more than the narrow group of people he currently keeps buried in the Treasury. His record suggests that the headline ministerial appointments won't be the whole picture of who's words he heeds, any more than who has ended up with junior ministerial positions in the treasury has done.

Once out of office, I doubt Blair would pick up the phone to tell Gord where the spare box of paperclips in the PM's office is, so it will be interesting to see who do end up having some influence on him. I do suspect suspect though that President Bush won't be among them.

The whole Blair/Bush session from the White House:

I'm far from a Blair, in fact I loathe him intensely, but I think moments like this do show why he goes down so well overseas. He doesn't need to go in for over-emoting to make a mark, in the same way as he does on the domestic stage. He handles the whole thing with real class from beginning to end, especially the Q&A where Bush, to be honest, stumbles quite badly and temporises.

On the specific issues I don't think anyone can hear his thoughts on Iraq and not realise he did what he did out of conviction. The idea that he only did it to suck up to Bush is ludicrous. There was though something less certain in his tone on other issues, especially climate change. It might be the audience he was addressing, but he seems to get less and less evangelical on the environmental stuff. Maybe he knows something Cameron doesn't yet.

They've Gone and Done It

Palace of Westminster
Soon to be no longer a public body as far as the FOI act is concerned
The image of parliament took another dent today as a valiant rearguard action to talk out the Freedom of Information (Amendment) Bill today failed and it passed its report stage and third reading.

In a naked act of self-interest, MPs decided to bring to an end the equal treatment of parliament under the FOI Act after just two years. Two years in which not a single case could be pointed to in which the work of parliament was damaged by the increased openness, unless you count some temporary embarrassment over MPs expenses. Cases were raised by the proponents of the bill, however not one was shown to have arisen because of the FOI act, or that could not have been dealt with under the data protection act.

The worst performance was undoubtedly during the third reading where only David Maclean, whose private members' bill this is, spoke in favour of the bill. He failed to address any of many points raised against the bill, preferring to concentrate on the fact there had been unanimity when it was considered in committee. This being a private members' bill of course Mr Maclean was entitled to, and did, appoint whichever 'politically reliable' members the committee he saw fit with no necessity for balance. Their 'detailed scrutiny' apparently was wrapped up in an hour.

I'm starting to tot up the numbers on who votes how on decisions that impact on the transparency and effectiveness of democracy in this country, or impinge on real civil liberties (as opposed to those concerned with non-senisical freedoms under the human rights act). Just like the league table after the first games of the season the figures are not a very interesting read at the moment. It's safe to say though, for using the very valuable opportunity of getting the chance to introduce a private members' bill to advance such a self-serving cause, it's safe to say on my scoring system Maclean is rock-bottom of the table and will need to play out of his skin for the rest of the season to avoid the wooden spoon.

Another dishonorable mention goes to Bridget Prentice, Parliamentary Under-Secretary at the Ministry of Justice, who stretched the definition of 'neutral' in describing the government's stance on the bill far beyond breaking point. I guess you could say the shadow front bench's performance this time was an improvement on the last time the bill was debated, in that they cowered in the trenches rather than give the same kind of neutral support as the government, as they did previously. At least John Redwood, as a senior figure, did stand up and argue against the bill.

Update: I have just learned via Conservative Home that Shadow Solicitor General Jonathan Djanogly did speak out to give the Conservative position:
"Let me say from the outset that the Conservative Party remains neutral on this bill."

I probably had my head down the toilet at the time. I won't comment further, not knowing if there was anything else in tone or substance that indicated the same tacit approval as the government gave. At the end of the day Maclean is one of theirs though and it's hard to believe some pressure could not have been brought to bear.

A valiant effort by the same team as at the last debate who all deserve the greatest of credit. Sadly, for me, they were dominated by Lib Dems (with honourable contributions from both government and Conservative benches), but sadly fell a few minutes short, thanks to some manipulation from the chair, of the 2:30PM deadline when this piece of legislation would have been consigned to the dustbin where it belongs.

As so often these days, it will be up to the unelected peers to try and put a spanner in the works. As we've seen over all manner of subjects, including the most odious of the lot, ID cards, I have every confidence they will try to do the right thing, where our elected representatives have failed us so badly.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

The Challenges of Branding

Leeds CarnegieI inherited the ability to appreciate both codes of Rugby from my father, and have no time for the bigots of one code who spend all their time slagging of the supporters of the other on various message boards. There so many easier targets in kevball, that the internecine warfare is a bit of an indulgence. I was talking to dad last night who was pleased to see the return of the Leeds Tykes Carnegie to the Rugby Union's Guinness Premiership, to fill in the voids when the slightly more illustrious Leeds Rhinos aren't displaying the art of the other code at Headingly. I left Leeds long before the then Tykes came into being, so I've no conflict of interest with my Saracens support and so I'm glad to see them back too.

The name change is a result of a link up with Carnegie Faculty of Sport at Leeds Metropolitan University, similar to Saracen's association with the sports facilities at the University of Hertfordshire and Oaklands college, though in the former case the college has taken a 51% share in the Leeds club. These are fantastic initiatives with the chance to benefit both the respective faculties and the clubs, in areas all the way from marketing to on-pitch performance.

I did have a slight concern over some of the branding though, especially when it comes to mascots, for the newly re-promoted club.

In most cases the associations are pretty obvious, Ronnie the Rhino is a firm favourite with Rhinos fans, Leicester Tigers have two rather soft looking Tigers, and Sale Sharks have, you've guessed it, a shark. Wasp's wasp always looks as if it has just crapped itself and the only time I saw the Newcastle falcon it was missing it's beak and looked like a walking turd, but the kids still love them.

Sometimes the link is a bit tenuous, but most people, for example, get the connection which dictates that Saracens have a demented camel called Sarrie. Sarrie is the undoubted star of the Rugby Union mascot world having allegedly already been reprimanded for 'showing disrespect to officials' and destroying the Sale Shark with a bone crushing tackle at Twickenham. I think he is probably inspired a lot by Ronnie, especially when it comes to lewd behaviour on the pitch with the cheerleaders.

Andrew CarnegieBut what are Leeds Carnegie to do? I really don't think someone dressed as a bearded, turn of the 19th Century philanthropist is really going to do it for the kids.

Oh well, if they managed to do a 'Tyke' without indulging in the dangerous passtime of parodying Yorkshiremen then I'm sure they'll manage a 'Carnegie' somehow. The things that can happen when you give marketing people a completely blank sheet of paper and tell them to be creative can be truly frightening.

Pigs Might Fly...

Galileo...but hopefully this white elephant won't. It's certainly looking as if it's going to need a huge booster rocket of tax payer's money to get it into orbit according to EU Observer.

According to the EU commission the only place the Galileo project is heading is rapidly up shit-creek rather than skywards. From EU Observer, the commission is:

'asking for full public coverage of the expenses after the chosen private investors failed to agree on financing the €4 billion, hugely-delayed project.'

The same old pattern repeats itself once more. A project where just a little public pump priming was meant to be required looks set to become the taxpayer's burden. The explanation offered by Jacques Barrot, the ethically-challenged transport commissioner, said private investors are:
"afraid to take risk at this early stage", but
'"impatient" to be able to use its services once it starts running.'

Of course they are. They know how these major Pan-European projects go by now. Hang around long enough and the state will stump up and save your R&D budget.

The delightful M Barrot points out:
"It's €400 million per year which equals about 400km of motorway."
"Or could we just give up Galileo?"

The correct answers of course are 'motorway please' and 'yes', but unfortunately, as the article points out, the two points from M Barrot are (1) an option not being offered and (2) a purely rhetorical question.
M Barrot offers his own 'right' answer:
"Our industry must be at the front of this technological revolution and therefore we must ensure there are no further delays."
"We're determined to assume the full responsibility for this major project."

Though of course we already know his definition of 'full responsibility' is somewhat different from that used by the general population.

Jaques BarrotThe motorway comparison is especially apt, considering one of the few ways that have been suggested of promoting it's use over the already widely available and increasingly cheap Navstar-GPS alternative is as the basis of a EU-wide road charging scheme. That's right, your taxpayer's money is used to pay for a system to make it possible to tax you in new ways, whilst simultaneously tracking you even more closely than cattle are already.

Some of the other justifications are more suspect, such it's ability to work indoors 'to help navigate within buildings', and there's silence on the potential military uses, especially by China and India.

Launched at the same time as Navstar-GPS it may have stood a chance. Now the existing system has an enormous benefit of incumbency, with a vast installed base of receivers and economies of scale that result, that can only be overcome now by methods that would violate the spirit of free trade. Whether it's by subsidising the whole project or legislatively punishing the competitor the taxpayer-consumer loses hands down.
"Build a better mousetrap, and the world will beat a path to your door"

said Ralph Waldo Emerson. Not if the mousetrap costs three times as much as the old one and only catches five percent more mice. Actually I'll take that back slightly. There will still be a small queue of people on the doorstep with taxpayer's cash in their hands.

The really tragedy are that there are many, many areas where there is truly innovative blue-sky thinking going on in Europe. The UK alone is still only beaten into second place, in terms of published scientific research, by the US. The problem is that they are smaller and less headline-grabbing than the ones governments tend to buy into, especially the EU with its penchant resurrecting the old Soviet idea of grand scale 'Hero' projects.

And joined-up government? Has anyone calculated the carbon dioxide impact of the thirty-plus Soyuz rockets needed to get this white elephant off the ground?

I've never understood the sobriquet Jacques 'Wheel' Barrot, before. I assumed it was something to do with spinning, but now I guess it's just that the 'reinventing the...' was dropped to make it more snappy.

Beating the Bookies

Hilary BennThere are two things you need to have in order to have a chance of beating the bookies. Firstly, you must know, or have better gut feel for the outcome of an event than most of the other punters. Secondly, the bookmaker in question mustn't know even more than you do.

On the latter point, when it comes to the likes of kevball or the horses it's unlikely that you'll be in the money. When it comes to politics perhaps things are not so clear cut. According to a Coral's spokesman:

"All the money today has been for Hilary Benn to win the Deputy Leader job and we have been forced to slash her odds dramatically."

Perhaps if they can't tell a filly from a colt in the NuLab deputy leadership donkey derby you might have half a chance.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

French Comings and Goings

SarkozyI've got a lot of time for France and the French. You have to where I live since the Village is knee deep in them. Perhaps it's the fact that the ones I meet every day are likely to be the more entrepreneurial type, given that they are in London, not France, but I don't think there really is the great a gulf between the English and the French that the tabloids would have us believe.

There is though a distinct bilateral distrust by both people and government of each of the government of the other, which is often well justified, especially in the EU state. Hopefully the inauguration of M. Sarkozy as 23rd President of France might put some of this to rest, even if his little jaunt to see Frau Merkel does raise worries about a right Royal shafting over EU constitutional arrangements.

It was quite interesting listening to Sarko on TF1. I got a reasonable 'A' level in French and worked in Paris for a while. It was however, a traditional English 'A' level in languages and the Paris office was pretty cosmopolitan so of course everyone spoke English, which means my ability to actually speak the language is pretty minimal and my understanding of spoken French not too much better. The only time the French 'A' level has been useful while in France was one conversation when I could explain (in English) why Molière was not in the same league as Shakespeare, and catching the odd snide remark from my French colleagues when they thought the use of their native tongue would offer a sufficient level of encryption to disguise it from English ears.

What I realised was just how powerful some skills in political oratory can be. When I listened to Sarko I didn't just get the gist of it, I'm pretty sure I got every word, every sentiment and every nuance in what he said. I'm not even sure I was understanding it via an English translation, an experience I've never had before except when I've drunk several bottles of red when my assessment of my language skills may have been suspect. OK, he would obviously be speaking clearly and more slowly than he would in general conversation, but I've listened to other speeches by French politicians and never become quite so immersed in the same way. Ségolène may have been easy on the eye, but was a damn sight harder on the ear on several levels.

So a cautious welcome for a new French arrival, but there have been a couple of sad French departures recently too.

Firstly, the (Mercurial) Thomas Castaignède, great servant of French and Saracens rugby. He'll be missed by all the supporters as a fantastic player and an all-round great bloke. His last game was probably the worst he had for the club, but that will be soon forgotten and only the many, many good games will remain. All the best for his retirement once he gets the little matter of the next world cup out of the way.

Secondly, closer to home Josquin, waiter and barman extraordinaire, first at the Mother Ship then later at Base Camp in the Village leaves for pastures new today. After extended leaving drinks last night he couldn't remember the name of his new venture, but if you live in Eastbourne and a new French Restaurant is opening near you soon, give it ago. I don't know the chef, but I know their new front of house man knows his stuff, he's a great bloke, and I doubt it any establishment he's fronting up would let you down.

Controversy of the Day...

New England my inbox at least, is not that which is provoking howls of protest about the speech from David Willetts, shadow education spokesman, regarding grammar schools, but rather yesterday's launch by the RFU of the new England Strip.

The reaction generally seems to be that it's only one small step away from the notorious Stade Français pink away strip. I think this is going a bit far, but it's certainly the first time I wouldn't call it an improvement on the old one. I am a bit worried that the replica versions will look decidedly dodgy in on the supporting community. I wonder if the RFU insist on trials of prototypes on the some of the thousands of supporters who will be buying them, be it the somewhat beer bellied or the rather attractive female supporters who frequent the Twickenham Tup on matchdays.

Some of the marketing blurb left me a little bit cold too, according to the RFU:

"Visually, the new kit is strikingly different; incorporating an asymmetric sash at a diagonal running across the front of the jersey and shorts creating a unique version of the St. George’s Cross. A new red away jersey is also being introduced for the first time."

Erm...aren't crosses meant to be kind of 'cross'-shaped as opposed to 'line' shaped.

According to Jim Allaker, General Manager, Nike UK & Ireland

"These jerseys represent all that is special about England and our excellent rugby team."

Well...let's be honest England aren't on a great run at the moment, sometimes pretty crap, and the shirt...

It's only nit-picking anyway, we only get a new one marketed at us every four years or so, and many of us opt for our oldest club shirt on matchdays anyway, if only to prove we didn't first discover the sport in 2003. It's not like we find out that the one we bought last week is now out of date because the 'FA Cup 3rd Round, Replay' version is now the latest thing, as happens in less blessed sports.

At least this season Saracens performed well enough that my superstition about not washing my preferred shirt until a losing streak is broken hasn't caused wrinkled noses.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Quote of the Day

If you can honestly say you bear this sentiment in mind every time the shit hits the fan, then you're already a better manager than any Harvard/Ashridge/Princeton/Cranfield/Wharton MBA will ever make you...

"Anyone can become angry - that is easy, but to be angry with the right person, to the right degree, at the right time, for the right purpose, and in the right way - that is not easy."

Aristotle (384-322BC) [FAO Lefties 'BC' = 'BCE' and nobody else cares]

Been there, done that, thankfully got the T-shirt a lot more often than the dunce's cap, hair shirt or a P45.

Stitch-up Going In

Again from the BBC, a reminder that the deadly silence, after the brief flurry of soundbites following the Phillips review of party funding had subsided, doesn't mean there's nothing to hear.

All three main parties are discussing the matter today and, despite the lack of any real comment of late from any one of them, it does appear that some progress has been made. Their reaction to the proposals in the review by Sir Hayden Phillips apropos taxpayer funding of parties was, at the time, quite muted and amounted to no more than that they were a 'basis for negotiation'. It now seems that whatever negotiations have taken place already, that handouts from the taxpayer are the one thing they all positively agree on.

It's actually only the reluctance to stand up publicly and justify their stance in public offends me greatly. Personally I would like to see a transition to a point where parties are funded through larger numbers of smaller, capped donations encouraged through tax incentives. I've got no ethical issue with larger, fully disclosed corporate donations, but in the real world we have to accept the feeling of distrust these raise. Actually, in my preferred model I believe an additional element of state funding would be required, albeit of a limited form. Above and beyond the existing Short money formula which is intended to counterbalance the benefits of incumbency, there should be further funding along the general Hayden Phillips lines. This second element though should though be strictly time limited, gradually dropping, perhaps from the levels proposed in the report to zero over a period of ten years or so. I think this second element is needed to allow honest and orderly change to take place; in the same way, I might dislike the BBC licence fee, but I don't think it's practical to eliminate it overnight. The legislation should make the amounts and timescales explicit. To restore trust, the act should explicitly not allow Orders in Council, quickie votes in the commons or any other device below the MSM radar, to increase or extend either.

Old cynic that I am, I have a suspicion that there will be some package agreed involving substantial handouts from the taxpayer without limit to timescale or amount. I further suspect that there will be some mechanism employed, as with the Freedom of Information (Amendment) bill, to avoid either front bench having to stand up and have their views counted.

18 Doughty Street on the subject...

(Semi)official Endorsement for Secrecy Bill

According to the BBC the PLP Committee is attempting to shepherd the NuLab flock into the aye lobby on Friday to back the Freedom of Information (Amendment) bill on Friday.

Martin Salter from the committee makes the usual pathetic argument that the change is necessary to:

"'plug the dangerous and unintended consequence' of private correspondence between an MP and a constituent being released."

As usual no attempt is made to rebut the argument of the opponents of the bill, that the Data Protection Act means that there is nothing whatsoever to plug in this area.

While both government and opposition front benches remain officially neutral, it's almost impossible to infer anything other than qui tacit consentire videtur. They want the bill, but are too spineless to stand up and justify their support. It's a mistake in my opinion, as they are now pretty clearly associated with the sentiment of the bill anyway.

What about their respective sheep? In the absence of any real rebuttal of the counterarguments, I can/would only like to think one of two things. Either they have been too lazy to try to understand the nature of the protection the DPA offers, or somehow try and imagine there is some infitesimily small chance of an infitesimily small hole in the existing legislation that they can't quite envisage. To the first group I would say that they are in the wrong job (see; to the second I would say that science teaches that there are many theoretical situations where there are infitesimily small chances of a myriad strange things happening, but we don't, for example see the 'Palace of Westminster, Spontaneous Appearance of African Elephants (Prohibition Of) Bill' mentioned in Hansard for the time being.

It will be unusual to be cheering on the likes of Simon Hughes but he and his LibDem colleague Norman Baker's work, along with principled support from other MPs of other parties, to block this bill and maintain both openness and the appearance of openness, is to be applauded.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Liberal Democrat MP Demands Radical Change or Withdrawal from Europe

According to Radio 4's PM programme this evening, Richard Younger-Ross, Liberal Democrat MP for Teignbridge, has strongly criticised the politicised nature of European voting systems which allow organised regional blocs to force their choices on Europe as a whole. According to the BBC he has called for the United Kingdom to demand radical change and, if this is not forthcoming, to withdraw entirely.

Unfortunately it transpires that this does not represent a damascene conversion on matters European for the Liberal Democrats, nor even a brief return to Planet Earth for Mr Younger-Ross, as the only democratic deficit which seems to concern him is that involved with the Eurovision Song Contest. He would do better to apply himself with the same vigour to the flawed or absent democratic processes by which decisions are made in the European Union that actually matter to this country. Perhaps then the LibDems might take one small step along a path back to a relevance they have lacked for more than a century. Maybe the inexcusably politicised malapportionment of seats in the European Parliament (with or without the provisions of the Constitutional Treaty in place) might be a place to start, even if he doesn't have the guts to go for the big issues like the illegitimacy of the Commission.

I wouldn't hold my breath though, I strongly suspect at heart he is at one with many fellow LibDem's, like the appalling Graham Watson MEP, in their intolerant views on the EU, their crusade to stifle any serious debate about the UK's place in Europe and explicit wish to kill off any chance for the people to make their own choices in the matter.

Down With Brown

I don't think the message is as catchy as some from the Conservative Home team but it's typically pretty well put together, and anything that gets on the case of our loathsome
future Prime Minister is just fine by me...

"...going down with Gordon Brown..."

Thank god for the flying toilets to explain exactly what type of "going down" we're talking about.

Quote of the Day

I really hope this explains the last ten years...

"Power does not corrupt men. Fools, however, if they get into a position of power, corrupt power."

George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950) seems to explain about 90% of NuLab but not the whole rotten machine sadly.

The Freedom of Information (About everyone but us) Bill Returns

David MacLean MP's objectionable private members' Freedom of Information (Amendment) bill returns to centre stage on Friday for it's delayed report stage. The ease with which time seems to find time in parliament's timetable can only be interpreted as de facto government support, and sadly the limited utterances from the opposition front bench suggests that they aren't exactly set against it. The argument that it's a matter for the house to decide is irrelevant the tone from the front benches is easily picked up by the public at large.

For those who haven't encountered this gem of a bill it's supposed purpose is to prevent Freedom of Information (FOI) Act requests forcing the disclosure of privileged communications between a Member of Parliament and his/her constituents or communications with third parties on the behalf of the constituent. It's mechanism for achieving this perfectly reasonable goal is to, uniquely among public bodies, remove both houses of Parliament from the scope of the Freedom of Information Act.

As it happens, should the bill pass into law, nothing whatsoever will change. House authorities, including the speaker himself, have committed themselves to continue to publish information in areas such as travel expenses that have already been subject to FOI requests. On the other side it is abundantly clear that the existing provisions of the Data Protection Act (DPA) already provides all the legal framework needed to protect the privacy of parliamentarian's communications. Even if there was a potential loophole in the protection offered by the DPA, something which I doubt, working in spheres often impacted by its provisions, it could be closed with amendments of narrower scope. It is not, for example, possible to use a FOI request to get hold of our medical records from the NHS. For this we will probably have to wait for the first security hole in the NHS computerised patient record which will, doubtlessly within weeks of the system's eventual launch, have all our medical secrets available to anyone with an Internet connection.

Despite the limited impact the amendments they nonetheless offend on several levels.

Firstly there's the contrast with the last time I recall MPs voting on matters that ultimately concerned the terms and conditions of their employment. We were told that they had 'no choice' about voting through a huge top up to their pensions pool because not to do so would have required amending the law which simply wasn't practical. I've got a suspicion that, should the parties hammer out a deal on state funding for their operations, then as with the FOI (Amendment) bill, time will be found in Westminster's busy calendar to get the legislation through.

There are also the questions raised by the fact that the DPA already performs the functions of the proposed amendments, if you accept the functions of the amendments are those publicly stated. I don't go in for conspiracy theories but it's easy to wonder if the FOI requests that worry Mr MacLean and his supporters are the ones that haven't been made yet. At a more trivial level I suppose the DPA would allow for statistical abstracts of communications to be made available under the FOI. Frankly I don't think it's a bad thing if this brought some honesty to the lazy rhetoric about their '...bulging mail bags...etc' during debates on a particular subject, with some bulging mail bags being shown to contain just a couple of letters. You could take this to the extreme of revealing the existence or non-existence of a single letter, however the Information Commissioner appears to have rubbished the idea that there is a usable loophole here.

Finally there is simply the image that bills like this present of Parliament. I think one of the most attractive features of the UK system of government is the relatively limited special privileges that our representatives award themselves. There are a few archaic boons associated with the status of the Palace of Westminster, a sensibly minimalistic concept of Parliamentary Privilege and a generally reasonable approach to remuneration and expenses, but I don't find, at the moment, anything that would offend a reasonable person greatly. We have seen, in limited numbers, our representatives as defendants in the courts of law, and seem able to contemplate prosecutions at the heart of government. The fact that this happens is a sign of a healthy attitude to such eventualities and our MPs don't rush through legislation to 'grant immunity in order to protect the dignity of....etc.' in the continental style is admirable. We've taken steps in the right direction in recent years, from televising of proceedings to the FOI act itself and it's sad to see regressive steps like the one proposed that separate Parliament from the rest of public life, or worse still doors for corruption like state party funding being opened.

As a Conservative voter by instinct I'm slightly disappointed to see Team Cameron at best having the inability to quietly have their former whip kick his bill into the long grass, or at worst giving tacit support to it. It is true that there are more positive signs, such as ideas on MP's pay, though here I would like to see an approach more akin to Amendment XXVII to the US constitution, to ensure that the matter isn't simply handed over to some tame quango simply to disclaim responsibility, and to ensure that the whatever is done that the remit does not stop at basic salary. Overall the effect, as with so many other areas of policy is to take the shine off what would otherwise be a very clear, consistent and appealing message.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

SNP Goodbye to Tony...

I might be an Anglo-Scot but I have no time at all for the policies of the SNP. That said they have some pretty effective advocates. It's hard to dislike the likes of Salmond, who come over with a passion and sincerity that seems a damn sight more genuine than most of their mainstream Westminster counterparts. Beyond these figureheads I'd probably disagree most political views held by the creator of this YouTube offering, other than a shared loathing of NuLab and Blair. It might be from a left wing, nationalist and republican perspective but it's a wittier and more talented slagging of both than I could ever manage.

It made me laugh anyway (and there's only one direct derogatory reference to 'tory')...

"...out-lefted by the Sunday Post."

"...a generation's waste of space."


Quote of the Day II

I've always thought there is a certain hypocrisy in the way a simple point is made in such a verbose way but...

"For it occurred to me that I should find much more truth in the reasonings of each individual with reference to the affairs in which he is personally interested, and the issue of which must presently punish him if he has judged amiss, than in those conducted by a man of letters in his study, regarding speculative matters that are of no practical moment, and followed by no consequences to himself, farther, perhaps, than that they foster his vanity the better the more remote they are from common sense; requiring, as they must in this case, the exercise of greater ingenuity and art to render them probable."

René Descartes (1596-1650)
Discours de la Méthode, 1637

...I still like it.

Quote of the Day I

"In science one tries to tell people, in such a way as to be understood by everyone, something that no one ever knew before.

But in poetry, it's the exact opposite."

Paul Dirac, OM, FRS (1902-1984)

What's it All About Then?


I will now fail miserably to answer my own question!

I've been aware of blogs for quite a long time, but for a long time dismissed them as either dull obsessive posturing at one end and people who think what their cat ate for breakfast is interesting at the other. Along the way though I started to come across a handful that were funny, moving, or thought provoking and gradually developed a small but, to me, important 'must read' list. Before you know it you are making the odd comment on them and eventually you end up here...

I don't exactly know what's going to end up here, I guess just whatever is amusing me or pissing me off right at the moment.

I'm not going to be able to improve on any of my favourite blogs but thought it would be interesting to put my thought on some similar topics in my own words. I've managed to make a complete pigs ear of my life for the last few months, so now the domestic rugby season has finished I need some new substitution activity to stop me concentrating on more important things anyway!

I guess since it was mainly the political blogs that got me interested there'll be a fair few rants (hopefully justified) in that field. I'm not sure that in the short term that new media will have the impact on the domestic political scene that some its evangelists might hope. On the other hand, the disengagement of the general public from the political process at the moment is both frightening and, on the basis much of the behaviour of our political parties, justified. Anything that can encourage 'normal' people to think again about what kind of country we want to live in has to be encouraged. I'm not going to set out my own views upfront, I don't feel I fit into any one box so I'll let the postings do the talking on that.

The blog title comes mainly from the political side. I'm not keen to start chucking around terms like 'Police State' because it belittles what those how lived or live in real police states experienced. That said, I feel that the broad thrust of politics of all flavours in Europe for the last twenty years has been, intentionally or otherwise, to limit the political colours we can choose to a series of pretty similar looking, standardised palettes. At the same time the outcomes of political process become ever more intrusive on our lives. Perhaps it used to be most noticeable at the local and European level, but increasingly the national scene and the behaviour of our representatives is becoming more akin to the arrogant managerialism of the EU. The less people think a change can me made, the more they will either give up and disengage completely or worse still be drawn to more extreme options. We can see this happening in real time in the United Kingdom today; it disheartens me more than words can say.

As I mentioned above, the domestic rugby union season has drawn to a close and I'm trying to pretend the upcoming England tour to South Africa is not actually happening. Similarly, the overpaid prima donnas of the round ball game will be soon hanging up their boots for the summer and I don't give a fuck about their or their wives brainless tabloid antics. Cricket....snore. Given all of this I don't think there will be much of a sports section until the autumn, barring some half-witted politicking by Baron or Cardinal Richelieu-Andrews at the RFU.

I work in IT, but that is the last thing that will appear here. It's dull enough even if you don't work in it all day. On the other hand, by degree I'm a scientist and you might see something there in response to events. It might me on the substance of the debate if I actually know anything about it (I've Genetically Modified a few Organisms in my time) or the way it is being conducted if I don't (Al Gore v. Climate Change Denial).

There's probably going to be a bit of local gossip to amuse a collection of friends, but I'll try to do it in a way that stops it just being clutter to those who don't know the people involved. Names will be changed to protect the innocent, and guilty.

I don't want to be too negative, but beyond footballers, socialists and anti-democratic europhiles there will be others who will probably attract the odd bit of ire, including but not limited to:

  • Climate change zealots

  • Animal libber's

  • Anti-GM tossers

  • The BBC

  • Bigotry of all kinds...

  • ...Including anti- Straight/White/Male/American/Scottish etc. bigotry

  • Reality TV

  • Alcopop drinkers

  • Religion and militant atheists

  • Esperanto militants on EU websites

  • Vegetarians and teetotalers

  • A couple of twats who bore for England down at the local

There will be a few quotations along the way. I know it's a bit passe, qotd having been there since the birth of the Internet, but I'm always impressed by the eloquence with which some people can express the same thoughts I have. I'm one of those people who could never do the 'About Me' essay in English lessons at school, so what's at the top left of the screen is all the biography there is ever going to be. Hopefully the quotations might say something about where I'm coming from to balance up some of the worse rantings!

I don't quite know all the etiquette of the blogosphere but there are a few rules I'm going to try to stick to, apologies if I accidentally break some of them from time to time:

  • No backdating of posts

  • All sources acknowledged at least by a link to the source material

  • Only typos and bad English will be changed after posting, everything substantive will go in as addenda/errata

  • Any complaints...just let me know...I'm a reasonable enough person and I'm not out to upset anyone outside the public sphere

  • There are a few home-grown bits of JavaScript, sorry for any cross browser issues but I only really know the IE DOM

  • Yes I do swear, I'm a northerner, it's what we do and at least its fuck or at worst fook, not feck

The first three do not apply to this post.

If you've stopped by, thanks, and I hope you found something that interested or outraged you.