Saturday, September 22, 2007

Public Service Announcement

Newcastle Falcons
On the run
It has been very remiss of me not to mention that for any newcomer to the sport of Rugby Union, that this weekend has seen a fine Saturday of domestic action in the Guinness Premiership, with more great action to watch on Sunday too.

No ticket for any world cup games? Go and see occasionally higher level games at your local club, for the price of a burger at your local soccer club - you are even trusted to behave like a grown-up and drink beer in the stands.

I should though warn people in the Reading area who fancy watching London Irish take on the Newcastle Falcons to set off early, as apparently long queues are anticipated.

It's something to do with the Falcons' shirt sponsor I understand.

A Game of Two Hemispheres

England Rugby
Still down,
but still not out
OK, it was a bit of an improvement, but at the same time England's performance against Samoa was hardly sparkling. The forwards, who I didn't think performed too appallingly against the Boks last week again stood up to the task, the backline fired a little bit better but probably would not have frightened any of the better teams, and the tactical kicking remained truly abysmal. Still, a win is a win, and it sets up a winner takes all (or at least the second qualifying place) group finale against Tonga.

Overall though it remains a poor tournament for the northern hemisphere, with only France looking vaguely competitive, though not all that threatening, and of the home nations only Scotland over-delivering albeit from a relatively weak base. The gulf of a decade ago to southern hemisphere standards seems to have reopened. The only really praiseworthy effort by a European side would probably be Georgia's effort against an Ireland side who sadly look to be in danger of a premature exit from the tournament.

Nobody could actually say it was undeserved were the the semi-finals to consist of the southern hemisphere big three plus Argentina.

It's probably not a time to panic or make rash decisions though. At the top levels of the domestic game the academy systems at least in the English clubs have improved immeasurably in recent years, so despite some of the ridiculous politicking between club and country there is at least some cause for hope, though it may take some time before some of their already promising output to reach the highest levels.

One contribution of English rugby to the Rugby World Cup is worthy of some praise though. The refereeing performances of both Wayne Barnes and Chris White have been of the highest order, especially Barnes at his first World Cup.

Irish Coach Eddie O'Sullivan may not have been to happy with White's performance:
"Also we got blown off the park by the referee discipline-wise.

"I do not know what the penalty count was but it really killed us off and we lost field position in critical parts of the game."

Source: BBC News

It is noticeable though that he found it hard to point to any particular examples where he was actually in error. Despite the Irish invective thrown at him during the game, most more neutral commentators seemed to feel he had a good game. The key is the phrase "discipline-wise". White was calm and disciplined, the Irish, sad loss though they may be to any competion were not.

Compared to the inept performances of the likes of Honiss and today's effort the ever inconsistent Lewis, where the kindest thing you can say is that his errors balance themselves out over 80 minutes, they really got the balance right. In the likely event that very few northern hemisphere teams progress to the semifinal stage they should really be in the frame for the big games.

Yes, it's a small straw, but I shall clutch at it.

Return of the White Elephant

The Croydonian has found an interesting video from the EU sponsored area of YouTube in which appears to promote the idea that yet another core European value has been decided for us by our elders and betters.

I actually preferred one that popped up in the related clips section:

How apt that a film, doubtlessly produced with a nice chunk of taxpayer's cash, to celebrate the EU's 50th birthday should feature quite prominently the proposed Galileo satellite navigation system.

I should praise EU honesty in admitting the organisation's involvement in the project, now that it has been confirmed that commercial interest has ebbed away and the whole thing is set to become a millstone round European taxpayer's necks. Unfortunately, the indignation of being part of paying for this monument to politician's vanity is too strong for any form of kind words.

Too Merciless on Ming?

Sir Menzies Campbell
I didn't have much time to get online yesterday, but courtesy of the wonders of the Blackberry I did get a couple of e-mails questioning whether I had actually listened to Menzies Campbell's address to the Liberal Democrat conference.

Having a browse through some of the blogs I respect I did appear to be in a minority of one in my description of the performance as lacklustre, with commentators such as Shane Greer, at the time stand-in diarist for Iain Dale, lavishing praise on Ming's performance.

Well yes I did listen to the speech live, and concerned that I might have just been in a foul mood at the time I went and listened to it again, and I have to say I remain largely unmoved.

I suspect the difference in attitude comes down to expectation management. I've never been that convinced that Ming is such a terrible leader for the Lib Dems. It is true that some of his policy announcements of late have left me disappointed at best and pretty speechless at worst. This is hardly surprising coming from a very different political persuasion from the particular wing of Liberal Democrat that Ming represents, and is a wholly different issue from that of the fitness to lead.

I actually think Ming has shown a great deal of dignity in his leadership of the party, especially in view of the circumstance in which in inherited it. Some of the media labelling of him as being somehow older than his years is, in my opinion, just lazy journalism, reporting sheep like a consensus viewpoint that is just as insubstantial as the column inches of David Cameron's supposed lack of substance.

I expected nothing less from Ming's speech than a confidently delivered, often witty and, to the party faithful, inspiring effort. In my opinion that's what we got, but under the circumstances, both personal and for the party as a whole I was expecting something more, which for me simply was not there. Perhaps as is often the case for myself, when listening to Liberal Democrat leaders, the inability to link the generally admirable philosophy of liberalism to policies that always seem to militate towards an ever larger state consuming more of the countries resources.

Perhaps lacklustre was a little harsh, but I guess from my own standpoint there has always been something of a hole in the logic of the type of liberalism represented by the Liberal Democrats, and as such many of their great set piece speeches will always seem to be lacking something.

Moving on from one unfairly criticised from being to old, to one often unfairly criticised as being too young, it is great to see that the aforementioned Mr Greer has started his own blog. Always one of the more considered presenters on 18 Doughty Street, and seeming less focused on the minutiae of internal party politics than some, I'm sure it will be a great read. I might criticise some of his willingness sometimes to accept the argument of state necessity as justification for interference with personal freedoms, but overall I agree with much more of what he says than that which I take issue with.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Foul Language Alert

No, there are no links to, or quotes from Devil's Kitchen or any other swearblog today. It's just that the Thunder Dragon has been producing so much interesting material lately, including a good post on a similar theme to my previous post that I almost missed this...

...which would have been a shame.

Fighting the Real Enemy?

Lib Dems
One Redeeming Feature
If I was to be completely objective about what I've taken away from this weeks activities at the Liberal Democrats party conference, I'd be either full of a mixture of derision and disgust, or alternatively, considering the instincts of the Lib Dem voters who I know, just disheartened at the way the party is steering a course away from these very reasonable and principled people.

Obviously, I was never going to lavish praise on this weeks proceedings. At Westminster elections I have always voted Conservative, or not voted at all. For some time though I have paid close attention to Lib Dem positions as they were coming close to something that I could bring myself to bring myself, albeit half-heartedly, to support.

Orange book economics were not ideal, but could hardly be called lunacy, were better than those offered to us by our current lords and masters, and with one more step would at least be competitive with current Conservative thinking. More recently younger and more progressive voices in the party seemed to be in the ascendancy on matters European too. I'm sure their blind faith in the EU remained undimmed, but at least the understanding of the need for some form of consent from the people seemed to be emerging.

Sadly Ming's one real act of dynamism in his tenure at the head have the party seems to have been a dramatic handbrake turn on these issues, asserting an old and tired form of so-called libralism over those who seem to understand the changes that his party need to make. These changes will almost certainly be temporary however I cannot see them as a positive force in British policies as long these attitudes hold sway.

For all that though, I still have a strong respect for many in the party and those who support it so I will finish on a high note, in contrast to how their own proceedings wound up.

The debate preceding Mings lacklustre address on the broader issues of individual liberties was wonderful. Speaker after speaker, young and old, MP and activist, rose in intelligent, if sometimes nervous, denunciation of the casual disrespect for individual freedoms demonstrated by the administrations of both Brown and Blair.

Their contributions were not simply a regurgitation of the very true, but somewhat overused arguments against prevailing stupidy over DNA profiles, ID cards and the whole apparatus of the surveilance society. Each had a new insight, often a very personal one, and in some way mined a new seam of rational argument against the mindless arguments for those in favour of limitless extensions of these technologies.

This is an area where I have always admired Lib Dem attitudes completely, utterly and without reservation, and much as I may shake my head in bewilderment at some of the rest of their agenda.

It was a shame that Ming chose to hark back to the ancient history that Michael Howard once briefly toyed with the idea of an ID card scheme to claim the moral high ground. On these issues, whether it is politicaly comfortable or not for the Lib Dems, I get a strong feeling, albeit from outside the party that these issues are becoming key articles of faith reflecting as they do an assertion that the rights of the individual must, where possible, prevail over those of the state.

To a generally Conservative voter of my age, these are values that I believe are part of the core credo of modern Conservatism just as much as they have been, much to Liberalism's credit, always been part of their's.

These are not issues to split hairs over. These are issues where active concerted opposition to the government of the day is needed.

In or Out?

London 2012
Sorry No Offensive Images
In the shadow of Ming's suicidal tax policy of punishing the greedy rich, such as those with a combined household income of over £70,000, the remainder of the Lib Dem conference has been a relatively staid affair culminating in a very staid performance by Sir Menzies in his keynote address.

There was even one session that I am full of praise for, but I think that deserves a post of its own that shall follow anon. This therefore will be the final bit of Lib Dem bashing for their week in the spotlight.

It comes courtesy of their Scottish Liberal Democrats leader, Nicol Stephen from the BBC yesterday:
Scotland should be given a greater role in hosting events for the London 2012 Olympics, the Lib Dems have claimed.

[Mr Stephen said] "Also, Scotland needs to get wider benefits from the Olympics than are currently planned.

"Great opportunities in terms of tourism, business and sport, but at present they are simply not being delivered."

Source: BBC News

The report goes on to highlight that the only direct involvement that Scotland will have in the hosting of the games is the playing of a few games of the Soccer tournament at Hampden Park.

I've commented on Scottish issues several times on this blog and I don't think anyone could accuse me of having an anti-Scottish bias, I couldn't if I wanted anyway, as my Scottish mother still has a good right hook for her age.

I'm actually on balance a supporter of the 2012 games being in London too.

Yes, the costs are huge and I'm sure the ability of the current Government to break records in mismanagement of major projects will push them higher still. My low-tax, small state instincts baulk at this but for all that I'm still looking forward to the chance to live through the experience of living in an Olympic host city.

Yes, the logo is repellent and doesn't seem to be 'growing on' anyone yet, but I'll still be very proud to see the Queen and Mayor Johnson opening a games. I'm sorry that Rugby Sevens didn't get its chance to take its amazing successes at Commonwealth games levels to even greater heights, but I've also got every confidence as a country we can stage a truly memorable event. Memo to RFU…perhaps a little tinkering with the scheduling of the Twickenham round of the IRB sevens circuit could be arranged to demonstrate to the IOC the error of their ways?

Nicol Stephen
Nicol Stephen,
Selective Memories?
Despite my general support of many Scottish positions and of the London 2012, I have little time for Mr Stephen's position. Is this the same Scotland which is refusing to take part, along with the Welsh, in a British team for the Olympic soccer tournament, thereby possibly jeopardising public support for the host nation's own team at their own tournament? The home of the SFA whose justification of their stance is based on what, according to both FIFA and UEFA is a completely baseless assertion that their voting rights within both these organisations may be compromised if they ever played in a combined British team.

A survey suggested that two thirds of Scottish football supporters supported the idea of Scottish players taking part in the British Olympic team, yet the Scottish Football Association refused even to attend meetings at which the football assocations of the Home Nations were to discuss the possibility. As is so often the case both in sport and politics it appears that lions are once again being led by donkeys.

Under the circumstances some Scottish politicians and SFA should be making it clear that they understand it is no longer appropriate for even their limited role in hosting events, especially in the soccer tournament, to continue. They should really be voluntarily waiving their rights to stage games at Hampden, rather than demanding more.

Mr Stephen went on to criticise the way that so much lottery funding was being directed towards London 2012. In this, I have at least a little sympathy with him. It is certainly true that the current government has twisted and politicised the way lottery funding is used to such an extent that many of its original worthy aims are just a distant memory.

If, however, we consider the lottery as it now is, just another form of state funding, then Mr Stephen is on less firm ground. For years we have listened to, and at least in my case have understood, the need for unequal distribution of state funds, very often in Scotland's favour, on the grounds of special needs and situations. Now we have a case where the special need pertains to a situation in the south east of England.

There is certainly a case that less state money should go to the Olympics in total, but given that some would be required in even the most ideal of situations, the concept that the nation as a whole contributing to an events affecting just one region applies just as strongly to London as it does to Edinburgh. I'm sure there was significant central government funding when Edinburgh won the rights to host the Commonwealth games, and I don't recall any special local taxes being raised as is the case with London 2012, and it is only right that equal treatment be offered south of the border.

Perhaps the most glaring hole in Stephen's contribution though is the one fact he forgets to mention. These arrangements for hosting events were not made in the last year or so. They would have been made under the last Scottish government. As much as Mr Stephen and his colleagues may wish to pretend it was otherwise on so many matters, that Scottish government was a coalition of the Labour party and Mr Stephen's own Liberal Democrats.

Perhaps a little note of regret from Nicol Stephen on his own party's involvement in the settlement that he now criticises may have been appropriate, since I don't recall any real dissent over the actions of his own government's sports ministers at the time.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Reviews and Previews

I was keen to rant about the ludicrous idea proposed today that school children should set and mark their own coursework. This was not some idea from some lunatic fringe think-tank, but from the Government's own exams watchdog, the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA) who only report to the lunatic fringe. The story on state funded breast enhancements for sailors in the Australian Navy was also worthy of a good smutty comment or two.

Sadly though I've run out of energy and many others have had a good laugh at the expense of these half witted ideas already. If you think I've made those stories up, you can find both for the price of one at Thunder Dragon.

That's it for the review section, but just before I hit 'send' the news reader beeped and this came in from the Guardian's Comment is Free:
Hammer the rich? If only Ming, or Gordon, meant it

Lib Dem tax proposals are a blow for sanity in an era of excess. Labour should do better than try to trash them pointlessly

'Hammer the rich!' At last a political leader has the nerve to say what pollsters find most people think. Good for Menzies Campbell.

Source: The Guardian

Yes, who else could it be but the left's halfwit-in-chief Polly Toynbee.

As good as her writing style is, the typical Toynbee diatribe's intellectual argument can usually be picked apart by anyone who has half an idea of how the real world operates. That said, this looks like a juicy specimen and I'm too tired to do a good job so I shall go to bed anticipating how she will be ripped to shreds by more skilled dissectionits than myself.

Once again Polly raises the blood pressure, as she revels in the (largely groundless) fears of ordinary men and women caught up in the Northern Rock situation, but at the same time reassures me in my personal decision to reject the spiteful, hate-fueled wing of politics of which she is the media's standard bearer.

Party Games

Head in Hands
Give us a Break
Usually when you see a story with a claim of 'hypocrisy' in the title in the politics section of your daily paper you know you are to have a tough time identifying which of the parties to the story best merits the label. The word is a bellwether that almost always warns you of a tale of cheap party point scoring that leaves most adults from outside the Westminster bubble with our head in our hands seriously wondering about the calibre of those that seek to represent us.

Yesterday's offering by Carlin and Isaby in the Telegraph was a typical case in point.

The story centres about one of the less stupid ideas from the Conservatives "Quality of Life" review:
Ministers poured scorn last week on Tory proposals to combat global warming with a raft of new environmental levies — including a "showroom tax" on new cars.

The proposals, from the Tories' Quality of Life review, are now being considered by David Cameron.

They would add £2,000 to the cost of a conventional family saloon to persuade people to switch to environmentally-friendly cars.

Andy Burnham, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, condemned the Tories for unveiling a package of "swingeing green tax rises".

Source: The Daily Telegraph

As the story goes on to explain that it transpires that Labour is planning a tax on new cars that fall into the same 'non-green' bracket of about, erm, £2,000, while the Lib Dems vary the theme slightly by wanting to add the same £2,000 to the same vehicles every year.

This time it is a hapless NuLab moron who has put his foot in the man-trap, but it could just as easily have been either of the other two major parties (trying to make up for my anti-Lib Dem postings with that comment). The same or at least similar policies over which they bicker like kids in the playground, pretending every nuance makes the difference between saving the planet and causing economic meltdown, whilst any adult can see that there isn't a cigarette paper to put between them. The only thing worse is the threefold repetition of 'great for us, disaster for the other two' on every election results programme.

For f***'s sake grow up. Either have distinctive policies, or agree that you've all come to a similar sensible (at least in your minds) conclusion, or, if you lack the maturity to do either, you'll just have to accept that significant parts of the thinking adult population will wish a plague on all your houses and disengage from the debate. The perpetual attempts to score points out of nothing are just a complete turn-off from the political process.

Yes it is late, and yes I am getting grumpy.

The Slowest Man On Earth?

66 years old is fine, returning
to the politics of the 70s isn't
First of all I must apologise for to the many very decent Lib Dem supporters I know both personally and on-line because this being conference season I fear it will be your party that shall be attracting the bulk of my ire over the next few days, and, if I'm honest I do think there are signs of things going very wrong with the Lib Dems that go far beyond questions of leadership.

I was very disappointed to be working today at a site where nearly all on-line media access is banned, as I had hoped to catch up on some blood letting at the Lib Dem conference.

I have to admit to having some small sympathy for Menzies. Yes he is relatively elderly by the standards of recent party leaders, but that is no bar to high office. I don't think any have really claimed it is, but some of the cheap shots both in the mainstream media, and the online alternatives have left a bad taste in the mouth. It may even be true that his restrained, measured approach appeals to some segment of the electorate. It clearly didn't work for Iain Duncan-Smith and the polling data suggests it isn't working for him either, but it isn't, in of itself, a ridiculous proposition to put to the electorate.

It is in his attempts recently to raise his profile that my sympathy has started to dry up. His position on a referendum on the European report treaty stood in stark contrast to his ridiculous parroting of the 'real party of opposition line' on TV on Sunday, aping the government's discredited line poodle-fashion.

The Sunday attacks on the government had little substance and those against the Conservative party had none, being little more than ad hominem attacks on David Cameron. It was rather ironic to hear the standard 'lacking substance' line being trotted out against someone who is involved in a very substantial policy debate within one party, by a man who appears to be making his own parties policy up on the hoof.

I shall be kind about his suggestion for a referendum on the whole issue of the UK's continuing participation in the EU. Yes it is possible that it was just another knee-jerk, badly media managed response to the negative reaction to his earlier referendum position. Yes it is possible that he believes deep down that it was a safe line knowing that, as is allegedly the case with Blair on the same topic that, be it because of pressure from Brussels or the British Civil Service, that no such poll will ever take place anytime soon.

For all of that, it is now his position, on the record, period and he deserves the benefit of the doubt, and the assumption that he indeed does understand the need of the electorate to be consulted if we are ever to treat the open sore of our relationship with the EU.

Whatever credit that brought him though, must surely be wiped out entirely by his new idea that any household with a combined income of over £70,000 must be taxed until the pips squeak, as they have, apparently done 'rather too well' of late. In this we see the ravages of adult-onset leftism on the mind at their very worst. As ever, the hate and envy shone through first before any suggestion was made of what might be done with this new levy on hard working people, and what might be achieved by stripping them of yet more financial independence.

A rearguard attempt to wipe up the mess was made by an official spokesman, who pointed to a majority saying in a poll that they would support more taxes on the rich. Well, yes, but even leaving aside the fact that such polls always suffer from the 'Do you like clubbing baby seals?' syndrome, the one in question asked about those individuals earning more than £100,000, not say a middle ranking teacher married to a nurse who could easily fall in to Sir Menzies' definition of those who have done 'rather too well'.

It looks on the surface that Campbell has embarked on the writing of a suicide note to rival Neil Kinnock's in length. The key beneficiaries should by right be the Conservatives, but to harvest this windfall they will have to do a lot better job than in the past, of making plain at election time, the links between genial, reasonable sounding local Lib Dem candidates and disastrously wrong-headed national policy.

I have a Lib Dem front bencher for my local MP, he seems to be a genuinely nice man, and by all accounts a good local MP for all his party duties. If he should stand again and the current Campbell agenda becomes manifesto policy, I'm sorry but he must be tarred with it, for all that he may personally be of a different, and in my opinion truer, strand of liberalism.

The Lib Dems can put forward any policies they wish to the electorate, but they must expect their opponents to fight their chimeric presentation on the doorstep more strongly than ever before.

Spreading the Bad Word

Andrew Duff
True pan-European
Prat, Andrew Duff MEP
As many will know, the situation in the Netherlands apropos the method of ratification of the proposed European Reform Treaty (constitution) is somewhat up in the air at the moment. The position, or rather lack of one, on whether the proposed European Reform Treaty should be the subject of a popular vote, is one where confusion reigns to a degree that even the Lib Dems would find embarrassing.

Unlike President Sarkozy in France, who sought, and was given a clear mandate to approve the treaty in parliament, nobody it would seem, has a strong enough mandate to do anything. It seems even as though the Dutch parliament could split on the issue, where conventional wisdom forecasts a strong possibility of a pro-referendum vote in the lower house, being blocked by the differently composed upper house. At the executive level the lack of anything approaching a decision points to splits within the Dutch cabinet.

What is needed is a strong voice and leadership, and today it would seem they have got the first of these. Loud, persistent and annoying may be more apposite adjectives though as the voice in question is that of none other than that tireless campaigner to keep the people out of any decision involving the European Union, British Lib Dem democracy hating MEP Andrew Duff.

The EU Observer reports today on Duffs's ill-judged and inappropriate intervention into the internal affairs of another sovereign nation:
UK liberal MEP Andrew Duff last week released a statement on the Dutch Council of State report saying "The Treaty certainly deserves careful and informed scrutiny by the Dutch parliament, but I hope that the Dutch government and parliament now confirms that there will be no referendum in the Netherlands.

"This is not the first time in their history that the Dutch have taught the British a good constitutional lesson."

Source: EU Observer

I suppose I should really welcome his input. Most interventions by overseas politicians in purely domestic matters of another nation do have a bit of a habit of being spectacularly counter-productive.

I hope that those few Dutch voters who hear and give a damn about what Duff and his cronies like the equally unpleasant Mr Watson think about how they should run their affairs give him a swift language lesson in the meaning of 'Ga kots drinken ranzige smegmakegel'.

I suppose that it is largely the pompous arrogance and self-importance of Lib Dem MEPs that irks me so much, being just moderately large fish in the relativly small and very stagnant pond that is the ALDE group in the European parliament. These are not terms I would apply to the majority of Lib Dem supporters and MPs that I have seen, who I have generally found to be very pleasant people who simply hold different political views to myself, but their Brussels contingent really do show the institution they support at its very worst.

Mr Duff should really consider the strength of his own democratic mandate before lecturing others on how they should tread their own democratic path. Considering the general antipathy of the people of many of the people who he represents to the EU, does he really think that under any other electoral system than the appalling party-lists, that he would have even the chance of a very small snow ball in an especially fiery hell of ever holding elected office again were his personal positions to come under public scrutiny?

I've tried to lay off the EU, but with tossers like Duff around campaigning for ever less involvement of people across the continent in how they are governed it's just to big an ask.