Friday, September 28, 2007

Timing is Everything

World Clocks
Timezones apt to confuse
Writing my last post left me feeling the need to do a bit of a mea culpa over an earlier Australian general election.

With Australia's compulsory voting rules I managed to cause panic in the Village, by reminding the Australian contingent of the day at the Mother Ship that polling day was upon them, causing hasty travel plans to Australia's busiest polling station, at Australia House in the Strand, to be arranged. I guess I could have pointed out that other Aussies had told me that the Federal Government didn't waste too much time chasing people overseas. I certainly should have pointed out that due to the vagaries of time zones the poll had, erm, actually already closed.

Me bad.

If they had happened to be American I might have felt less guilty, in view of the number of work related telephone conferences I've ended up participating in, in bed, usually at around 1AM. You'd think in a country with several internal time zones that the idea of this trend continuing across the Atlantic wouldn't be too much of an intellectual leap.

Crossing Continents

John Howard
Down and out down under?
I've ended up in quite a few conversations over the last week about the prospects for a general election in the near future where the Labour party looks to be in the ascendancy. No surprise there, except that all but one of them have been with Australians and related to their own forthcoming election which must be held no later than January 19th.

Things are not looking good for John Howard's Liberal/National coalition with Kevin Rudd's Australian Labour Party in the ascendancy, despite eleven years of economic growth and a generally positive feeling about the state of the country.

Howard supporters point to the fact that he has bounced back from worse positions in the past, and in this I do hope their optimism is justified. For a long time Howard has been the one Conservative leaning world leader who has had any real stature on the world stage. Sure it's a country with a small population, but under Howard they have punched above their weight on the world stage despite their own involvement in issues like Iraq. Also, he's been far too astute a politician to allow the type of cheap shots, so beloved of the left, that have plagued the likes of George W Bush, to land on him.

Only of late have the likes of Sarkozy emerged who may be able to challenge to be the face of the international centre-right, and even in Sarko's case it depends on him not being led astray by the likes of Merkel with their old fashioned Christian Democratic Conservative traditions.

What I found interesting in the discussions was that every time I've heard the state of Australian politics is mentioned in the British media, the same list of reasons for Howard's poor poll showings is trotted out, especially by the BBC. It is all down to Iraq, immigration and climate change apparently. It is certain that my own polling is unscientific but I've got a feeling certain outlets are reporting the news as they would like it to be rather than as it is, and some polling data supports this.

Iraq was mentioned by the people I spoke to as was occasionally climate change, but they seemed to very low down the list, and not issues that counted entirely against Howard. Immigration policy actually seemed to be generally thought of as a plus point for the Liberals, perhaps somewhat ironically as much of Australia's controversial immigration control was a legacy of the last Labour administration. Other issues were raised, but the overriding sentiment was simply that it was time for a change, with no particular issues of ill-will towards Howard policies. Even those that declared themselves anti-Howard seemed to be so more on issues of personality than policy.

More scientific polling of the issues in play seems to suggest that the traditional big three, of economy, health care and education are what are exercising Australian minds most, along with a controversial industrial relations act. A quick look at this latter item, locally called WorkChoices, reveals a fairly sensible set of laws, such as mandating secret ballots for industrial action, akin to the changes in this country in the eighties which though controversial at the time are now pretty much mainstream thought no matter what Bob Crowe may fantasise. Only the Environment, of the British media's key issues, features highly as an issue, and then only at the same level as national security, an area where Howard scores well.

It should be also be noted that the media's top issues are all classic 'seal clubbing' issues where poll numbers are likely to be overstated, but ones where I'm sure when the election is called, our own media's antipodean outposts will be able to find plenty of 'typical Aussies' to put these issues at the top of the agenda.

As to why there has been no discussions locally about election matters closer to home, sadly there just seems to be stunningly little interest beyond the odd expression of loathing for Brown, disappointment with Cameron and derision for Ming.

While I'm sure where I live is no more typical than any other place I do know people of quite a cross-section of political views, and perhaps the most remarkable thing I've noticed is that I haven't met a single person who does not detest the Prime Minister. Where are the masses of the Gordon Brown fan club who give him such high poll ratings? Or are the alternatives really that bad?

Phase II Complete

Boris Johnson
Just Ken to go now
I've been a bit distracted by other matters for the last couple of days and somehow missed the announcement that Boris had won the primary to be Conservative candidate in next year's election for London Mayor. Naturally I am unsurprised but pleased nonetheless.

As I posted some time ago, not only do I think that Boris is a good candidate in his own right, more than capable of transcending his current image of amiably buffoonery and delivering a victory over Ken, but also that the campaign which is likely to be at arm's length from conventional party politics might well capture the public imagination and bring much needed engagement with the political process. The BBC however are not pleased, devoting most coverage of reaction to the result to the usual suspects making the usual clumsy, simplistic attacks on Boris' character.

I hope that Boris took notice of the campaigns of at least two of his defeated opponents, and at least considers the possibility of including them in his own mayoral campaign in some way. I thought runner-up, Victoria Borwick's presentation and delivery was excellent, even if her website campaign video did leave me feeling slightly sea-sick. I couldn't say I agreed with all of Andrew Boff's policy suggestions but he certainly showed his quality as an independent thinker and would definitely be an asset in a policy think tank, providing he understood it was in a role where not his entire agenda would prevail. It seems unkind to exclude Warwick Lightfoot, who I'm sure worked very hard, and has the interests of London at heart, but I'm afraid he just never captured my imagination.

While at least on this one front things seem to going the right way for the Conservatives, things seem a little less positive over in the yellow/orange corner. The general line from their leading contender as Mayoral candidate, Brian Paddick seems to have been that he was always a Liberal Democrat supporter, but that it was inappropriate in view of his senior policing role to reveal these political sympathies while still serving on the force. The Sun last week though revealed that he didn't know any Lib Dem policies until after joining the Mayoral contest.

Apparently, once he learned of them he thought they were 'brilliant'. That's a bit of luck for you then Brian. I'm not sure what it says for your decision making process though, but it might explain how some of the more suspect policies of the Met in recent years came about.

Roast Chipmunk

Guido has, in my opinion, had a very fine week. I couldn't agree more with his comments regarding the anti-authoritarian common ground between the Conservatives and Lib Dems, and the difficulties in exploiting it.

Most of all though I did enjoy this YouTube gem.

As a way to sum up a week of reheated policies at the Labour party conference it really take the biscuit, if the very weak pun can be excused.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

People in Glass Houses...

Pope Benedict XVI
Get your own house in order
Some times a message will carry no authority simply because those delivering it have lost all credibility on the subject if they had any in the first place. The last couple of days have featured several cases in point.

Jack Straw's damascene conversion to the cause of protecting those who intervene in criminal situations from prosecution is a good case in point. It is truly an act of rank hypocrisy to try and milk political capital from an issue where his party have claimed so long that opponents where simply following a populist agenda, and no change was required.

This particular case has been well covered elsewhere, as have the other cases of Labour espousing yet more of former Conservative policies that they once ridiculed, so I'll take aim at another authoritarian, centralising body, with a tendency to treat everyone like children, the Roman Catholic Church.

MSNBC had this wonderful story today:
VATICAN CITY - The Vatican on Thursday lamented the lack of women in leadership positions in the tourism industry and called for equal work and pay for women in the sector.


[Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone] called for governments, tour companies, agencies and organizations like the World Tourism Organization to dedicate money and other resources to protect women’s rights and allow them to advance professionally.

“One must work for an effective equality in the rights of women, guaranteeing them parity in work ... and the corresponding equal salary,” he wrote.

Source: MSNBC

Considering the position of the Vatican, as an employer, on equality of opportunity for women, Cardinal Betone may have missed a valuable opportunity to keep his mouth shut.

Charles Darwin
Darwin doesn't need the help
There are, of course, other cases where a message is right, but it simply doesn't need saying as it sometimes gives some form of succour to those who promote the opposite point of view.

Probably the most persistent culprit in this regard has to be the CRE, whose obsession with attempting to find racism in every facet of British life has left them largely discredited, even before Trevor Phillips' rather worrying suggestion that history be rewritten to make it more 'inclusive' even to the extent of including a fictitious contribution of Islam to the defeat of the Spanish Armada.

Almost everyone accepts that racism is a terrible thing, but by making ridiculous contributions like this, and by their attempts to attach the stain of racism to anyone who differs in the very slightest way from their own agenda, they distract from those very serious cases which do still exist and brings an unhealthy reputation to a worthy cause.

On a slightly more trivial level, I was interested to see the latest flurry of political activity at the European level, albeit from the Council of Europe, now fundamentally just a human rights watchdog, rather than more irritating issuer of politically correct half-wittedness, the EU.

Again from MSNBC:
The Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly will debate a resolution saying attacks on the theory of evolution were rooted "in forms of religious extremism" and amounted to a dangerous assault on science and human rights.

The resolution, on the agenda for October 4, says European schools should "resist presentation of creationist ideas in any discipline other than religion." It describes the "intelligent design" argument as an updated version of creationism.

Source: MSNBC

Now I come from a genetics background, have no religious convictions and think that creationism and its partner in crime, the ironically named intelligent design, are pretty ludicrous theories.

Is there any form of human rights issue at stake though? Let's be honest, it's simply a bit of pointless political posturing. No school would seriously consider mentioning these concepts outside of a religion lesson. The works of Darwin and his successors can stand confidently on their own merits without any help from politicians who probably at heart are simply having a bit of a dig at the US were, sadly, these views carry more undeserved weight.

Sometimes the best thing politicians can do is to do nothing, but sadly this would go against their every instinct.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Something or Nothing?

Gordon Brown
Gordon Brown, hmmm...
Having found myself a little out of step with the consensus on other party conference speeches I was a little reluctant to comment on Gordon Brown's offering to party and nation yesterday, but that would be a bit lily-livered.

With Gordon I seem to be more in the mainstream of not knowing exactly what to make of it. Despite a valiant attempt by the Today programme to portray it as a triumph, appealing to Guardian and Telegraph readers alike, even reading these particular publications themselves reveals a much more equivocal response to the speech from their particular political standpoints.

On a personal level, despite my personal disagreement with Brown's self image of honesty and probity, I was reasonably moved by the more personal aspects of the speech, which did give some sense of the foundations of his personal political philosophy. The relatively low key, and occasionally faltering delivery if anything enhanced these aspects of the speech in a way that a totally stage managed, barnstorming effort might not have done.

The goals Brown committed to himself were, I am sure in the eyes of any reasonable person regardless of their politics, perfectly laudable. This was obviously the key message Brown wanted to be taken away from the speech, but naturally as a Conservative leaning voter the scream of "but you've had ten years, not two months Gordon" went up in my head.

The occasional foray into more concrete policy was more disappointing, and probably explains the general apathy in the media, other than the Independent, about it. Most of the claims that it was simply reheated existing Labour policy mixed in with a little microwaved ex-Conservative manifesto fare seem pretty well founded.

What it did not come over as is as an election rallying cry, and my personal gut instinct on an October poll shifted quite a lot towards the 'no' side.

Despite the many good reasons for Brown to go to the country as soon as possible I just can't get past two main obstacles as I see them.

Firstly there is the innate caution of the man and the underlying fear there must be of the possibility, however remote, of something beyond his control derailing his bandwagon. The way expectations are currently set, anything other than a very substantial majority would probably be painted as a failure, and after such a short time in office after so long a wait, I doubt this is a possibility that Brown's ego would risk opening up.

I think a second factor though is much more significant and much more concrete. The fly in the ointment for Gordon, as for so many other UK Prime Ministers surveying their election prospects, is the EU, this time in the form of the reform treaty.

It's so often tempting to draw parallels between Gordon Brown and John Major in their respective positions in following a more charismatic but more divisive leader. Some of these are pretty superficial, but in this case their problem is similar and I suspect the experience of Major will way heavily on the current Prime Minister.

Both had a document on the table, the Maastricht treaty in Major's case, that for better or worse they felt and feel to be the best deal they could get. As is the case with Brown today, Major was desperate to get the document signed off, and off the political agenda, but faced considerable voices, including from a significant section of his own party and the country as a whole, either wholly against the treaty, or at least saying that it should be put to the country to decide on.

The lesson from history that I suspect will weigh on Brown's mind is that John Major did sign the unpopular treaty, two months before going to the country in an election which he ultimately managed to win, without making fundamental concessions over the ratification process for the treaty during the election. It is true that that in the subsequent parliament the ratification process was damaging to the Conservative party, but in Major's mind was probably the least bad option open too him. As far as Europe was an issue in 1997 it was more the perception that the party was split on the issue that was damaging, rather than that a bad treaty had been passed into law, and in any case other issues were more dominant.

My suspicion is that Brown will see a similar pattern as being the 'least bad' option for him too, and will wager, probably correctly, that any splits in the Labour party will be far more superficial as the numbers against the treaty in principle are relatively small.

In essence, there are two scenarios. If Gordon fights an election in October the EU will be a very hot issue, especially with an IGC scheduled to address the treaty just before a likely polling day. The Conservatives are much more in tune with the country as a whole on this issue and could probably land some very heavy blows, with a huge risk in Brown's eyes that people may 'lend' Cameron votes on the issue, regardless of headline opinion poll numbers. It is questionable whether Brown could now neutralise the issue by offering a referendum, as it would cause too many shock waves with the EU as a whole, would seem terribly opportunistic, and it is doubtful whether trust levels over such a promise would be sufficient to see the issue killed stone dead.

The alternative is to wait, sign the treaty if and when it is ready, then face the flak of going through a parliamentary ratification process. Yes there would be political damage, but how much? As much as many dislike the current proposals, the cry of "look what he is going to do" is in many ways stronger than "look what he did". Conservative claims to be able to turn the clock back at a subsequent election would be, probably rightly, ridiculed and, being the pragmatic type of people we are, many would probably take a "what's done is done" attitude and move on to other issues.

I don't like it, in any way, shape or form, but this seems to me to be the least risky strategy for a long tenure in Number 10 for Brown, and being the kind of person he is I'm sure it's a line he is considering.

So there it is, colours nailed firmly to the mast, no October election. On my current form though, I'd suggest you circle October the 25th in your diaries!

The Sin of Silence

Free Speech
I still feel like a complete newcomer to this whole blogging thing and, if I'm honest, feel a little bit backward at coming forward when others of greater experience, and often greater insight, have already expressed their own very proper rage at a particular event.

Sometimes though the very obvious 'me too' has to be said, and albeit very belatedly I do, over the case of Alisher Usamov's use of a large potential legal fees budget to intimidate a hosting provider into shutting down the sites not only of his immediate target Craig Murray, but also those of such diverse characters as Boris Johnson and Bob Piper.

You can read the story, expressed much better than I can on nearly any other blog that I've ever linked to. I'll pick Iain Dale not for once as a voice of authority, but in view of Mr Dale's somewhat strained relationships with Tim Ireland, who was among the sites affected, to emphasise the uniformity of the chorus of disapproval.

I would perhaps have slightly more sympathy for the company hosting the sites, having once been the victim of an attempt to play the 'our lawyers are bigger than yours' game on a different subject. In my own case, my colleagues and I decided to fight it, and we did, and we won without it ever going to court. It actually didn't cost that much, but in that we were lucky and perhaps on reflection it was a pretty reckless course of action to have taken with all risks considered.

I woke up every morning with an ingrained feeling of fear and foreboding even before the conscious mind had switched on, and I'm not sure I've ever been quite the same person since, and I'm certainly not sure I'd fight in the same way again, no matter how strong the sense of personal indignation was.

Also on the underlying rights and wrongs of how the legal process can be used and abused I would suggest that the Devil's comments on the workings of Libel law on 18DS are very thought provoking. We are rightly proud of much of how our system of law works, but the situation as outlined in this arena, and it seems very much in line with my own understanding, flies in the face of some of the underlying principles of fairness that underpin the system.

It's a little late in the day, but I'm proud to align myself with all of the following no matter how strongly I might disagree with some on nearly everything else:

Curious Hamster, Pickled Politics, Harry’s Place, Tim Worstall, Dizzy, Iain Dale, Ten Percent, Blairwatch, Davide Simonetti, Earthquake Cove, Turbulent Cleric (who suggests dropping a line to the FA about Mr Usmanov), Mike Power, Jailhouse Lawyer, Suesam, Devil’s Kitchen, The Cartoonist, Falco, Casualty Monitor, Forever Expat, Arseblog, Drink-soaked Trots (and another), Pitch Invasion, Wonko’s World, Roll A Monkey, Caroline Hunt, Westminster Wisdom, Chris K, Anorak, Mediawatchwatch, Norfolk Blogger, Chris Paul, Indymedia (with a list of Craig Murray’s articles that are currently unavailable), Obsolete, Tom Watson, Cynical Chatter, Reactionary Snob, Mr Eugenides, Matthew Sinclair, The Select Society, Liberal England, Davblog, Peter Gasston Pitch Perfect, Adelaide Green Porridge Cafe, Lunartalks, Tygerland, The Crossed Pond, Our Kingdom, Big Daddy Merk, Daily Mail Watch, Graeme’s, Random Thoughts, Nosemonkey, Matt Wardman, Politics in the Zeros, Love and Garbage, The Huntsman, Conservative Party Reptile, Ellee Seymour, Sabretache, Not A Sheep, Bartholomew’s Notes on Religion, The People’s Republic Of Newport, Life, the Universe & Everything, Arsenal Transfer Rumour Mill, The Green Ribbon, Blood & Treasure, The Last Ditch, Areopagitica, Football in Finland, An Englishman’s Castle, Freeborn John, Eursoc, The Back Four, Rebellion Suck!, Ministry of Truth, ModernityBlog, Beau Bo D’Or, Scots and Independent, The Splund, Bill Cameron, Podnosh, Dodgeblogium, Moving Target, Serious Golmal, Goonerholic, The Spine, Zero Point Nine, Lenin’s Tomb, The Durruti Column, The Bristol Blogger, ArseNews, David Lindsay, Quaequam Blog!, On A Quiet Day…, Kathz’s Blog, England Expects, Theo Spark, Duncan Borrowman, Senn’s Blog, Katykins, Jewcy, Kevin Maguire, Stumbling and Mumbling, Famous for 15 megapixels, Ordovicius, Tom Morris, AOL Fanhouse, Doctor Vee, The Curmudgeonly, The Poor Mouth, 1820, Hangbitch, Crooked Timber, ArseNole, Identity Unknown, Liberty Alone, Amused Cynicism, Clairwil, The Lone Voice, Tampon Teabag, Unoriginalname38, Special/Blown It, The Remittance Man, 18 Doughty Street, Laban Tall, Martin Bright, Spy Blog The Exile, poons, Jangliss, Who Knows Where Thoughts Come From?, Imagined Community, A Pint of Unionist Lite, Poldraw, Disillusioned And Bored, Error Gorilla, Indigo Jo, Swiss Metablog, Kate Garnwen Truemors, Asn14, D-Notice, The Judge, Political Penguin, Miserable Old Fart, Jottings, fridgemagnet, Blah Blah Flowers, J. Arthur MacNumpty, Tony Hatfield, Grendel, Charlie Whitaker, Matt Buck, The Waendel Journal, Marginalized Action Dinosaur, SoccerLens, Toblog, John Brissenden East Lower, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Peter Black AM, Boing Boing, BLTP, Gunnerblog, LFB UK, Liberal Revolution, Wombles, Focus on Sodbury…, Follow The Money, Freedom and Whisky, Melting Man, PoliticalHackUK, Simon Says…, Daily EM, From The Barrel of a Gun, The Fourth Place, The Armchair News Blog, Journalist und Optimist, Bristol Indymedia, Dave Weeden, Up North John, Gizmonaut, Spin and Spinners, Marginalia, Arnique, Heather Yaxley, The Whiskey Priest, On The Beat, Paul Canning, Martin Stabe, Mat Bowles, Pigdogfucker, Rachel North, B3TA board, Naqniq, Yorkshire Ranter, The Home Of Football, UFO Breakfast Recipients, Moninski , Kerching, e-clectig, Mediocracy, Sicily Scene, Samizdata, I blog, they blog, weblog, Colcam, Some Random Thoughts, Bel is thinking, Vino S, Simply Jews, Atlantic Free Press, Registan, Filasteen, Britblog Roundup #136, Scientific Misconduct Blog, Adam Bowie, Duncan at Abcol, Camera Anguish, A Very British Dude, Whatever, Central News, Green Gathering, Leighton Cooke (224), , Skuds’ Sister’s Brother, Contrast News, Poliblog Perspective, Parish Pump, El Gales, Noodle, Curly’s Corner Shop, Freunde der offenen Gesellschaft, otromundoesposible, Richard Stacy, Looking For A Voice, News Dissector, Kateshomeblog, Writes Like She Talks, Extra! Extra!, Committee To Protect Bloggers, Liberty’s Requiem, American Samizdat, The Thunder Dragon, Cybersoc, Achievable Life, Paperholic, Creative-i, Raedwald, Nobody’s Friend, Lobster Blogster, Panchromatica (251), Back off, man…, Dan Hardie, Krusenstern, Brendadada, Freace, Boriswatch, Fork Handles, Chris Applegate, Christopher Glamorgan, West Virginia Rebel’s Blog, Instapundit, Powerpymes, iDiligence Forum, Gizmotastic, Demos, Gary Andrews, Neweurasia , Never Trust a Hippy, sub specie aeternitatis, Bananas in the Falklands, The Sharpener, Virtual Light, Stu News, Scraps of Moscow, Danivon, As A Dodo, La Russophobe, PJC Journal, Mick Fealty’s Brassneck, dead brains don’t dance, A Comfortable Place, Bamblog, Robert Amsterdam, The Customer, No Longer at Ease, Rachel-Catherine, Humaniform, Mike Rouse, Chesus Yuste, anticapitalista, Aderyn Cân, Ulla’s Amazing Wee Blog, Ross200, Disruptive,, The Obscurer, A Lefty Down Under, Things I Learned or Made Up, Pickled Bushman, Persons Unknown (302).

Update 11AM: Yes, I did pick up a couple of innacuracies in the story somewhere down the line. I guess when something spreads this fast there are bound to be a few cases of Chinese whispers.

Monday, September 24, 2007

The Wrong Numbers

Hazel Blears
Chipmunk Racing - Still Legal
Hazel Blears' eagle eyes have spotted yet another case of 'under representation'. This time it is the composition of local government that is the alleged problem.

I shall be fair to Ms Blears and say that she does not make the usual accusations of some form of discrimination being in play, or try to lie the problems, if they be so, of the minorities at the feet of what I guess we must call 'the majority'. For the time being she seems to prefer encouraging these communities to come forward in greater numbers, but as we know to often a NuLab carrot very quickly can become a stick to beat the majority with.

Yet again we are presented with the usual list of small percentages of different minority groups in town halls up and down the country. As usual, there are no numbers for those who stood as candidates, or those who applied to one or the other of the major parties to stand for them, so it's not entirely clear what the true scale of any problem might be, or identify where it may lie.

In one sense I think it is a good thing that there is as broad a mix of people at all levels of elected office, but I still struggle with the idea that certain communities can only be represented by one of their own.

Naturally, as a generally Conservative leaning voter I had many reasons to dislike the result of the recent Ealing Southall bye-election. From my point of view though, the most distasteful aspects was the ruthless exploitation of almost tribal divisions by all major parties. What they all seemed to forget is that there will always be a minority and by allowing certain ethnic issues an unwarranted prominence over most other areas of policy debate, anyone not part of the 'winning' community are likely to feel more alienated than before from British political life.

It might be said that it's easy to say this as a white, native British male, but personally, I just want to be represented by someone who backs the right policies, regardless of age, race, gender or sexual preference. I just feel that the obsession with the make up of our representatives is more likely to divide than unite us, and distract our eyes from more important issues.

More Tough Choices

Two Pumps
Green or Ethical? Not always the same thing
Generally when I find a screwed up piece of torn-out newspaper in a trouser pocket it means it was something that I meant to write about until something beer or rugby related intervened.

This piece from the Sunday Times was no exception. The story is an interesting look at the claims and counter claims over a piece of basic manual pumping technology that is being promoted over modern diesel pumps in the developing world as a lower carbon and lower cost alternative. In many cases the funding for the equipment has come from we in the west paying carbon offsetting fees to assuage our guilt over our long haul holiday flights.

What the article shows is that the more ethical position may not always be fully aligned with the most environmentally sound one. Everyone would welcome the fact that these manually operated pumps represent a significant cost saving to the families which opt to replace their costly hired diesel pumps, and even most of those who remain to be convinced whether there is any certainty in man made cause of any climate change still tend to accept that reducing fossil fuel usage is, in principle, a good thing.

Where the dilemma emerges is that frequently the children of the family are pressed into service to keep the pump going. I'd agree with the claim by the spokesman of the company promoting the pumps that the use of the phase 'child labour' is a bit emotive, but felt less comfortable with his assertion everything was alright because:
"It's a different way of life."

Source: The Sunday Times

This is all too typical of the thinking of the green lobby in general, imagining some more traditional ways of life as being representing some kind of pastoral ideal and raising the notion that any form of what would conventionally be called progress must be a threat to this ideal.

Would the same people suggest that we should also revert to older and less efficient forms of agriculture and industry if that was at the price that the human labour requirements dictated that, for all but the rich, schooling beyond the most basic primary education would generally become an unaffordable luxury?

I doubt it, and that being the case it's an ethically very questionable proposition whether we should be actively promoting the freezing in time of development in other parts of the world. It's easy to forget how rapidly our own society evolved in the matter of a few generations over the course of the industrial revolution. True, these innovations had their own downsides too, but overall few would claim the outcomes were anything other but a good thing. To suggest that others should not seek the same transformations is frankly wrong.

Perhaps if the funding was going towards the development of a super efficient solar powered pump I'd have less of an issue, but I suspect this would be a little too close to the US/Australian belief in technology as the way forward for the hard core Green lobby's liking.

As for the funding basis, I must have to admit that even though there are, doubtlessly other less controversial carbon offsetting schemes, there is still something about them that makes me feel uneasy about them.

There is something, even coming from a very much free trade background, about the 'you can always get away with paying' attitude that sticks in the throat.

I'd have thought that, for any true believer, that there must these schemes, though a little more practical in value, that must surely make them feel like sinful 16th century Catholics buying an indulgence.

Unspeakable Addresses the Unmentionable

Quentin Davis
Yeuch, sorry...Quentin Davis
I'd hoped never again to mention the name of that slug in human form, Quentin Davis. Unfortunately he has just delivered a truly nauseating speech to his new found brothers and sisters at the Labour party conference.

Referring to himself as a 'prodigal son', he launched into a typically vacuous attack on the supposed lack of substance of David Cameron. Perhaps the most ridiculous claim of all was that Cameron flip-flopped on issues of tolerance. Cameron has been pretty consistent on these issues as far as I can see, and while it is true that Mr Davis has held and, in the absence of evidence to the contrary, continues to hold some very firm positions on matters of some aspects of tolerance, these positions have often been very contrary to those of his new-found family.

Davis should tread carefully. As the relatively subdued applause for his own effort and for what was actually a very good speech on Northern Ireland affairs by fellow turncoat, Shaun Woodward, the Labour party at large has a long and often vindictive collective memory. Simply showing an willingness to act the shaved performing monkey for the dour organ master won't buy Quentin all that much grass-root goodwill.

Dizzy also noticed my other candidate for most ridiculous contribution to the debate where Wendy Alexander, the Scottish Labour leader suggested that Conservative Party is driven by the "politics of envy". It's a charge which after Ming's contribution last week, is one where the Conservatives are the only major party with no case to answer.

Dizzy also makes a good point on Harriet Harmans's inability to count, but maths has never really been Harperson's strong point.

Overall though, Woodward's piece apart, it's been pretty dull fare. How I long for the days of Derek Hatton and his ilk.

Update 5:00pm: The Telegraph describes the reaction to Davis's speech as a standing ovation, and yes, technically they are right, but looking at some of the faces it seemed to be as heartfelt as much of the Conservative standing ovation for Blair's final Commons' performance.

I seem to be seeing party conference season events differently from most. I suspect that this is something to do with my increasingly cynical view of mainstream politics. Frankly the whole of it is becoming a pile of insubstantial, stage managed drivel. To an extent, it has always been the case, but the triumph of form ovr function is now almost complete and this is not a good thing.

For once, I actually felt some sympathy with the Beast of Bolsover as he listened to Quentin drivel on.

Jealous at Last?

For once I suspect that the great clunking clumsy fist will be crashing down on a Downing Street desk in a fit of pique.

Yes I apologise to those who cannot follow the dialogue, as there are no subtitles for the French, but in a way it doesn't really matter as its pretty easy to follow the sentiment anyway, at least when you understand that it pertains to a real event. If you don't recall it, it doesn't surprise me, yet it is based on a very real story as detailed in the Sunday Times.

It's not that I'm trying to claim that Sarko is the real life John McLean, and, in fact the original Times article points out that he did milk it a bit at the end, but it did show a sense of knowing what the right thing to do was.

Even given the NuLab spin machines ability to ignore, modify or perform wholesale rewrites of recent history, I suspect they know they cannot top this one. I vaguely remember the original story first time around, but even having followed the French presidential elections quite closely I don't remember it getting that much of a revisiting of it by either side, other than vague allusions.

I suspect that Sarko was confident enough to keep his powder dry, and let's be honest, Ségolène had a snowball's chance in hell anyway, with her Kinnockesque ability to turn every silk purse into a sow's ear.

I can't envisage Team Bullshit's efforts being quite as convincing, in their attempts to present Broon's attempts to stamp out the evil of people saving enough to give themselves a dignified old age without state assistance, in the same faux-superhero style.

That said, given the inability of any serious contender to land a punch on someone for whom any claim to probity, honesty or good-old fashioned decency lies only in comparison to his forebears, means that they really don't have to try that hard.

Gordon got a fairly easy ride yesterday with Marr, yet I won't scream 'BBC Bias'. Lib Dems and Tories alike have allowed him, to an extent more freedom than holding the top job should allow, to dominate the agenda. I'm 95% in agreement with the Conservative agenda, maybe 75% with that of the Lib Dems, but the NuNuLab machine plays so cleverly on the 40% of NuNuLab policy which I either agree with, or at least find hard to be offended about that I find it easy to understand the current 'Brown Bounce'.

I don't want a return to unalloyed 'Punch and Judy Politics' but there are real questions over Brown's abilities and judgement. Even his basic honesty is open to question, not simply over the issue of an EU referendum, but in other ways too, such as the ways he mislead everyone, Parliament included, over the advice he received over the impact of his policies on pension provision.

I have a feeling until the undeserved 'trust me, I'm not Tony' bubble is burst the battle against the Labour Juggernaut will be a losing one. At the moment the heady mixture of cheap ad hominem attacks, statistics twisted to breaking point, and worthy sounding but ineffective policy is working well for Brown, but all the opposition parties seem to doing is to wait for the whole thing to collapse under its own weight.

It almost certainly will but, as many precedents tell us, it could take a bloody long time.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Turning Back the Clock

Early Memories
Thunder Dragon has been a cheeky young fire breather, by inviting some us more advanced in years to embarrass ourselves by revealing our earliest political memories.

I'm not that sensitive about age, unless someone points out that by scrapping into the sixties by a few months I am now living in my fifth decade, so I'm happy to have my attempt at the meme, but I'll have to follow the sub-meme of several others by cheating with several offerings. So here we go in rough chronological order:

Earliest Memory of Politicians

I actually do remember something very early on of politicians. It must have been towards the end of the Heath government, and there was some kind of 'Buy British' campaign, kind of thing that would now cause apoplectic fits in Brussels. It sticks in the memory probably because it was launched when I was visiting my grandparents in Scotland, and the local shop was soon bedecked in the appropriate stickers.

It was just one of those places that stick in your memory, something, even then, from another era, where my grandmother would meet friends she had known since she was a schoolgirl, always greeting each other as Mrs This, Mrs That and Mrs The Other as they had done since the day each had got married.

I'm fairly sure it had to be the Heath government, as the main topic of conversation was how meat had crossed the 'pound per pound' barrier which a dull trawling of historical RPI figures suggests happens sometime in the first half of the seventies.

It was also memorable because some of the political promotion on the campaign came, I'm pretty sure, from a figure who was to become a familiar figure in later years. It was certainly off the Education brief, but I guess Mrs Thatcher could do a better impersonation of a concerned housewife than any of her cabinet colleagues.

Earliest Election

I remember elections well as our school was often closed for use as a polling station from around when I was 9. I've got a vague recollection of people talking about the Wilson/Callaghan handover, but the first election I do recall fairly well was 1979 and the arrival of the Thatcher era.

It was a big talking point at school, mainly because a malicious rumour was circulating that Maggie would make us go to school on Saturdays.

The first big event with political connotations that I remember quite clearly was the murder of Airey Neave by the INLA, a few months earlier. Somehow the killing of a senior politician in the very precincts of the Houses of Parliament made a mark, even on a 10 year old, perhaps even more so than the IRA's slaying of Lord Mountbatten earlier that year.

There were other memories from earlier that year, though the political nature of them only became apparent with a fair measure of hindsight. We had a non-teaching assistant who was everyone's favourite 'teacher'. He played the guitar, told stories better than anyone else, and was an all round nice guy. He also told us scare stories about near-accidents in nuclear command and control procedures that had taken us to the point of the UK within seconds of launching an all-out nuclear strike on the Soviet Union. I don't even recall CND, whose lapel badge he proudly sported, making some of the claims he did. He also was somewhat less than enthusiastic about the fact that I picked the USA for a 'countries around the world' project. At least just before I left for the local comprehensive, he had the honesty to accept the state the country was in in those days when he told me to study hard, go to university, and then head accross the Atlantic as there was no real hope for the UK.

First Issue

I suspect the first issue I really felt strongly about at the time it arose centered around the protests against cruise missiles, most notably at Greenham Common. Even at 12/13 unilateral nuclear disarmament seemed, as it still does to me today, simple lunacy. As time progressed the dangers in 'zero option' multilateralism also became clear to me, no matter how sensible it may seem on the surface.

I guess I identify this most concretely as my first real interest in politics, as for the first time it became possible to see that the 'nice' and the 'obvious' thing to do is not always the right thing to do.

This is my first posting in response to a meme, and I know the tradition is to pass it on to others to have their stab at it. I'm afraid thought that I'm one of those people who won't even make a friend request on Facebook until I've checked down the pub with them that it's OK, so shy and retiring I am with such things.

I must admit that I would like to see what his grace would have to say on the matter, especially as in his non-corporeal state he would be able to beat even the oldest of us by over four hundred years, thereby restoring the dignity of we relative youngsters.