Saturday, October 06, 2007

Oh Me of Little Faith

Dead Wallaby
Inaccurate I know...Even in death,
this wallaby has secured possession.
England 12 - 10 Australia

I'm not eating humble pie on this particular outcome as even having looked at the prospect of England being on the plane home from the Rugby World Cup tonight, I know the game well enough never to completely write off an England team with its back against the wall. England had few options but played every one they had to the absolute best of their ability. It wasn't pretty, but it was exciting in its own brutal, tense, terrifying way.

Out in the Village I've never seen so much gold disappear so quickly since Brown's knock-down bullion sale, though much to his credit Doktor Doob has taken it on his chin even if his Australia shirt has too disappeared.

A fantastic effort by everyone from 1-15 but especially those in the single digits. I'm sure the outcome will have given a big boost to France in tonight's other game, given that a similar Aussie scrum gave the All Blacks a lot of trouble this year. It's still unlikely, but it's a timely reminder that anything is possible if you can do the basics right and give it 110%.

Even the what I have read so far of the Australian Press seems to admit the better team won after some of the mud slinging of the last week, galling though it must be to see England eject the Wallabies from the World cup for the third time in six World Cups and take, if my memory serves me rightly, a 3-1 lead in World Cup encounters.

For months I've been saying that getting to the semis would be a fantastic, if unlikely, defence of the world title for England, so obviously I'm pretty happy (not as in p***ed - it was too tense to drink!) right now.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Not as Red as People Think?

ECJ - Old Tricks?
One of Gordon's red lines that is.

I've been mulling over this piece from the EU Observer on and off all day.

Fundamentally it pertains to Brown's supposed red-line over judicial cooperation in criminal matters:
Britain won a concession in that the European Court of Justice will not have jurisdiction over EU legislation in the field of police cooperation and judicial cooperation in criminal matters for five years - but only for EU legislation agreed before the treaty comes into force, something expected in 2009.


However, the protocol also suggests that if the UK wants to extend the exclusion of the court for longer than the five years then it will be excluded from the legislation in this area that was in place before 2009.

Source: EU Observer

Now I don't claim for a minute to fully understand the implications of this, which is hardly surprising as this the whole point of the revamped constitution, but I don't like the sound of it.

I don't like it, not as a kneejerk reaction to all things EU, but surely if the mechanisms by which we will be governed that we might well have dumped upon us by Brown is right in 2009, it should also be right in 2019; five year windows seem just like a nice excuse for the old "we told you this when we signed the treaty, it was always going to be like this, no point complaining now" strategy.

Sunset clauses are fine, even a good idea, for normal legislation, but constitutional arrangements permanence and enduring principals are essential.

I suspect what the issue here is the worry that the ECJ will use its increasingly bizarre leaps of logic to bypass the opt-outs that have been secured, often simply by declaring that it is illogical to deny powers to the EU in area 'X' where they already have control of seemingly unrelated area 'Y'.

Brown would obviously take an enormous kicking if the ECJ showed one of his red lines proved to be worthless almost before the ink was dry on the treaty. Five years down the line with the provision not renewed? The electorate forget easily and it's just another issue where, shock horror, the government were conned by Brussels; shrug of the shoulders, "well if it could happen to Thatcher it could happen to anyone".

It is either right that that the ECJ has jurisdiction in these areas, or it is not right. The passing of five years, conveniently the maximum lifespan of a UK Parliament, should change nothing.

The article goes on to conclude that "In general, the provisional rules would make it harder to opt out of the laws in the first place", and this, in of itself cannot be good news, when you look at how hard it was to neutralise the ridiculous 'Swastika Ban' legislation.

I've never understood the mad rush to harmonise judicial procedures or criminal law anyway. We've lived quite happily in a union of states with different criminal law and different judicial systems since at least 1707. Scotland has differences from England's criminal law up to and including the treatment of various types of homicide; it's juries are different sizes and can return different verdicts. How many terrorists have gone unpunished because of this? When ever have the public clamoured for the simplicity of uniformity?

That said, the image of a British jury acquitting a defendant, simply because counsel for the defence revealed that the offence of which they were charged was not wanted by Westminster and was forced upon us by a cock-up in a morally illegitimate, unwanted treaty is quite appealing. The impotence of the EU machinery in face of a long-ignored people would we wonderful to behold.

Europhiles should be careful what they wish for.

Gone but not Forgotten

Rugby Leavers
Twelve down, eight to go
It's less than 24 hours before England's immediate fate at the Rugby World Cup is decided, with Scotland facing the axe on Sunday and in between these games the other remaining northern hemisphere team, France facing the unenviable task of facing the All Blacks in between on Saturday evening. Even if the form book is only half right it seems likely that all of the northern hemisphere teams will be eliminated by the time Fiji face their fate in the final quarter-final against South Africa on Sunday evening.

If this comes to pass, Scotland, along with Fiji, can feel very pleased with their efforts once the pain of defeat has subsided. For France and England, as well as already eliminated Wales, Ireland and Italy among the Six Nations 'elite' there is much to ponder about a game that once again seems to have moved forward and left them behind.

To an extent Ireland were a bit unlucky. A magic formula that had brought year on year improvements suddenly stopped working at just the wrong time. It was a disappointing end nonetheless for an always popular team, and their supporters who bring so much to any tournament. Nothing though can be taken away from the brilliance of Argentina who beat them to face Scotland at the weekend.

Wales possibly have to take more of a close look at themselves, with continuing political undercurrents and ill-will seeming to surround the team. For reasons I've touched on before, due to a tiny minority of Welsh supporters I shall miss them less than the Irish.

England, if they go out, will face the inevitable questions of how a country with so many financial resources, and the largest playing base in the world can produce such a mediocre team. 2003 should not be an exception, not as some god given right before I get Celtic complaints, but because we have so many things that should allow us to be challenging for the top spot every time.

France probably have the best chance of bucking the trend, and if they were playing in Paris or better still Marseilles you might even put a few quid on them causing an upset. How badly their bribe to the Welsh and Scottish unions to secure the hosting rights seems to have backfired, facing the might of the Kiwis at an away venue during their own World Cup.

Enough of the pessimism though!

For the so called 'minnows' the tournament has been a resounding success. Playing in front of decent crowds each and every one of them had something to crow about, right up to the final group stage game, where the USA scored a candidate for try of the tournament against the mighty Springboks. Only Canada and Japan may feel slightly disappointed, but these are teams trying to set their sights higher than some of the others.

I remember seeing the delight of a Georgia team who won the plate competition in the IRB Sevens series at Twickenham a couple of years ago. The way they paraded their trophy, and celebrated in front of an appreciative crowd was a portent of their reaction to their first ever cup win, and the story of how close they came to beating Ireland will echo round the clubhouses after games on the country's eight rugby pitches for many years.

For some there was no win, but there were tries scored against the games elite teams, and even without those they would still epitomise the spirit of it not being winning or loosing, but taking part that matters.

Anyone in the IRB still toying with the idea of reducing the tournament to 16 teams next time on the grounds of 'irrelevant' matches should now be taken out and shot, but with the nature of Rugby's administrators I really can't be too hopeful.

Not Folding Yet

Saracens Cap
Boiled? Roast? Fried?
Ok, I'm not quite throwing in the towel just yet, but as I'm out of humble pie I think it might be time to start marinading a hat.

My increasing confidence that Brown would not call an autumn election has taken a bit of a beating with the news that key Commons statements such as the Comprehensive Spending Review and the pre-budget review have been brought forward. Of all the positive signals suggesting an autumn election, this for me has been the most convincing especially in the context of the situation Gordon Brown now finds himself in.

About the only comfort I can find in the news is that if now Brown doesn't call an election, he will look like a complete and utter lunatic. To have been seen to have been playing silly games with the Labour Party machinery, such as putting agencies on standby, and provisionally booking advertising space, isn't something that would be likely to score many plus points for the grim one. To have actually messed around with the functioning of Parliament on the pretext of an election that did not in the end take place would make him look either terminally indecisive, or to be playing the most ridiculous of games with no outcome reflecting well on Brown.

The other, possibly related, worrying sign that I may be facing a meal of baseball cap au vin, came from a rare look at the BetFair market on the election date. Yesterday there was clear movement away from the autumn 2007, in favour of other options, especially my favourite of spring 2009. This morning, with no other relevant news coming through, other than positive media reaction to the opinion poll movement, the money went back on the snap election option, well before the announcement of the Commons rescheduling.

Perhaps they've worked out that those likely to be disenfranchised by the issues with the registration process, compounded by the postal dispute are more likely to be Tory voters?

No Joy

Joy Division
Joy Division
I have just been listening to Radio 4's 'The Film Programme', who have just covered the new film 'Control', about Joy Division's frontman, Ian Curtis, when by pure coincidence my news reader brought this from Digital Spy courtesy of the Devil.

For the benefit of a friend of mine who ends up in a fit of rage every time he visits the Devil's Kitchen:
The US distributors of Control have requested the late Ian Curtis performs at the premiere.


"[Ex-bandmate Peter Hook] replied, 'Well, the last I heard, the lead singer was dead but I’ll give them a ring and see if anything has changed'."

Source: Digital Spy

Oddly enough the subject didn't crop up on R4's more pretentiousworthy coverage of the film.

Learning the Lessons

Get out of jail free
Not too many of these available
Even as someone who is just a Conservative inclined voter rather than a card carrying member of the party, one of the best results from a good conference has been the sound of silence on some fronts.

Where were the defections, give or take a couple of councillors going in both directions? Where was the pointless mumbling into the beard about grammar schools? Where were the battles of EU policy? I'm sure there was a little going on in the fringe, but like 99% of the country I know little of what went on at these events, other than the drinking which has been well covered elsewhere, and the bulk of the media were fed enough substantial fare from the main stage to care.

Hopefully those that caused so much damage in the last couple of months are feeling a little ashamed of themselves, and those that may have been considering taking similar lines themselves will be thinking again.

Great, some of the opinion poll damage has been undone, but what might the numbers have been without some of the mindless point scoring. Was the Brown bounce really down to anything that inspirational that the dour one did? Personally, I very much doubt it - even most of his supporters tended to stick to 'solid' rather than 'scintillating'. Would this have damaged a Conservative party where it was prior to the pre-grammar school row even half so badly? I really can't imagine it would have done, but 'solid' will damage 'squabbling'.

Much of it, looking back in retrospect, seems to have been more a case of how some of the debate was conducted, rather than the fact that there was a debate, and as I hope that some people have learned this lesson, as I want to see the back of this appalling government.

When I reflected on the conference season, I'd forgotten one small moment that I found very positive from Blackpool. I've never understood why Ken Clarke gets such high approval ratings from the public, as nice a gentleman as he seems to be, and to be honest I didn't think his speech was especially significant either in terms of presentation or substance. He did though do one thing; he mentioned the 'E' word. I can't remember exactly what he said on Europe, but in those few words, the way he said it clearly conveyed 'Yes my views are not prevailing, I wish it was different, but this is still a party where on pretty much everything else I find my natural home, and the one I want to succeed'.

Cameron, and his front bench team have played a get out of jail free card, that required a lot of hard work, brilliance, and a little luck from Brown's ineptness in recent weeks to wield. Hopefully the the rapid fall and rise of Conservative fortunes will make it clear that while there will always be principled disagreements within a party, the way in which these are aired, if they are aired, can make the difference between a 'debate' and a 'split'. It is not always the media who make this distinction, sometimes they do just report what they see.

Currently the Conservatives are on the front foot, but it might just take the media to jump on one insignificant party figure, expressing a difference from party policy no larger than exists in any party of intelligent people, and expressing it in the wrong way for the good work to be undone.

The 'public word of advice' line that has been often used in recent months is not a helpful one. I'm sure Cameron welcomes advice, that he listens and considers its merits, but as last week proved he doesn't actually need it.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Posties Deliver for Gordon?

Pillar Box
Posties to the rescue?
It seems a lot less lonely at the moment being in the 'no autumn election' camp. Guido has a list of those who know a damn sight more than I do who are swinging behind the viewpoint that Gordon's small 'c' conservative instincts must be militating towards a later poll date, short of miraculous polling data in his favour.

There has been much talk about how his only real risk in this strategy is in looking either weak and indecisive, or like someone cynically playing with the media. There is some truth to this, especially as David Cameron is doing a pretty good job of boxing him into this corner. That said, the general consensus, which I'm inclined to agree with is that any damage to Brown over not calling the election would be pretty short lived, especially as he has studiously avoided making any significant comments on the timing of the election.

I actually think that he might even be able to do a little better than that, thanks to his brethren in union movement. With the postmen looking to disrupt postal services for weeks it would be very easy to present not holding an election as the responsible decision, especially in view of the well reported problems over electoral registration. I'm pretty sure that he'd almost certainly try the line that it would be 'irresponsible' to call for an election to be held in the current circumstances, though I don't think it's a jab that would carry all that much weight given the number of people on his own benches who have been making the same call.

It would be fascinating to hear some of the strategy discussions in Conservative high command at the moment. I find it hard to believe that they really do want to go to the polls just yet, but still the opportunity to keep up the pressure on Brown must be irresistible. There are clearly risks but reports such as that from the Guardian website today that Cameron is demanding the customary pre-election access to senior civil servants seem a pretty good way of keeping the Conservatives in the media spotlight in a way that makes them look to be very much on the front foot, which after all is half the battle.

According to the report:
"Given that you have allowed members of the cabinet to speculate openly that an election is to be called imminently, I am asking you today to give the necessary instructions for such meetings to begin immediately," wrote Mr Cameron.

"I would like this to start tomorrow, before the actual campaign begins, which would be consistent with past precedent."

In his letter, Mr Cameron disclosed that then prime minister Tony Blair wrote to the Tory leader in April last year authorising such talks to go ahead from January 1 2009, ahead of a possible election that year.

Source: Guardian Unlimited

While it appears that granting such access would still leave the Prime Minister a fair amount of leeway in when to call an election I've always felt that at hear he'd have wanted to go in the spring of 2009, with a good period at the helm under his belt and still a whole year of wiggle room if there were clouds on the horizon. I've wonder if this could precipitate an explicit public announcement on the matter if is decision is not to go to the polls now, as clearly he wouldn't want to afford Cameron's team that length of access.

In summary then, still with an extreme fear of egg on face, I'm sticking to the no autumn election line. I'd even be prepared to back the idea of a positive statement on the matter sometime early next week, putting the decision down to postal disputes and registration issues, rather than simply it fading off the agenda. I've no special sources of information; it's just the route that seems most consistent with the Brown I know and loathe.

Once again, I'm off to check the news feeds before posting!

Nolo Condere

EU Flag debate please
Dizzy has an interesting bit of gossip about Jon Worth allegedly refusing to take part in a radio debate with the Devil on the subject of the EU Reform Treaty.

If there is any truth to the story it could be simply a case of personal animus, in view of the Devil's memorable reference to Jon Worth on 18DS as "the screechy, whiny one", however, while it isn't a huge story even if true, it would also fit a general pattern of behaviour of extreme Europhiles when it comes to engaging with UKIP supporters.

When those speaking for UKIP were old fashioned, and dare I say it, slightly elderly gentlemen, relying on fairly bumptious appeals to patriotism and distrust of foreign influences the more avid pro-Europeans always seemed happy enough to engage in debate with them. Now they have figures like Farage, who regardless what you may think of him personally is very sharp, and can make a solid, reasoned case for his proposition, and the same people seem much less keen to engage in any form of discussion, preferring to squeal from the sidelines.

As it happens I have voted for UKIP once, in elections to the European parliament when the electoral maths seemed to suggest that the number of Conservatives to be returned from their list was pretty much a given, but a small swing to UKIP could help them win another seat at the expense of Labour or the Lib Dems. I am not though, in a UKIP supporter - I don't want full withdrawal, but I know that the current integrationist agenda tacitly supported by Labour and the Lib Dems is profoundly wrong too.

Just because I don't agree with the UKIP position though doesn't mean that it isn't useful to hear their position clearly explained and argued.

There are voices, like the Devil, who represent an articulate, reasoned Eurosceptic line, and to be fair to Worth, especially when on topics other than the EU, as much as I disagree with most of his positions, he can make a good reasoned argument for them too.

If there is any truth to Dizzy's rumour, it would be a shame. Those that believe in 'the project' should stand up and argue their case, even if it is against more challenging opposition than they have been used to in the past, rather than hoping that by avoiding debate their position will continue to prevail by default. They are losing the argument simply because they are not making their side of it.

Preaching, as so many do, the line of 'inevitability' and 'enormous' (but unquantified) benefits to audiences of the converted will not turn round public hostility to the EU, primarily because it comes over as just that, preaching.

As a postscript I should say that I know the person who e-mailed me in response to my Fantasy Blogging Rugby XV suggesting a fullback berth for Mr Worth, purely in the hope of seeing him creamed in a vicious tackle going for a high ball, and they are in no way connected to any known blogger.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

End of Season Review

Empty Podium
All over, including the shouting...for now
I've been working at home quite a lot recently so I've had the dubious pleasure of being able to catch a lot of the conference season. It's not that that I'm that much of a political anorak, but when the other option was the "make me rich from crap in the attic with cooking stars in their own eyes" stuff that passes as 'quality' daytime broadcasting on the main channels, there really was no contest.

Probably the last time I caught anything other than news highlights of the conferences was when I was a student, so I have to be honest and say the style of all of the major party conferences was quite a surprise, albeit, in general a pleasant one, when my abiding memory was still one of cliff-face platforms with the seating positions of dour-faced front-benchers in their massed ranks at the cliff top being the main subject of debate amongst the commentators.

I'm not really going to be able to avoid a personal bias entirely, but for me these were the highlights and lowlights, the hero's and villains of the few weeks:

Best Moment (Liberal Democrat)
The succession of speakers from the floor, setting out principled arguments against the surveillance society and the ridiculous 'nothing to hide, nothing to fear' arguments from those who would give away their entire liberty and they grandparents too for a little illusory safety.

Best Moment (Labour)
Dennis Skinner chuntering away to himself during Quentin Davies speech inviting other Conservatives to abandon their principles for a little personal gain and join him in the Supreme Leader's big tent of all the talentless. I must learn to lip read before next year.

A nicer one? There is something about Harriet Harman's delivery that I can't help liking even though much of what she says drives me up the wall.

Best Moment (Conservative)
This is a tough call for me with so many good front bench performances. For me Liam Fox just about edged his boss, Duncan-Smith, Hague and Letwin. I still think he would have been a pretty disastrous leader for the party, but the passion on a subject that he clearly cares so much shone through and I actually found myself warming to him for the first time.

Leaders Keynote Speeches

Cameron - 8/10
Very solid and impressive delivery. I'm not sure about winding up on the National Citizen Service, as I still can't quite envisage sixteen year olds buying into the concept. Perhaps I was hoping for a bit more of a barnstorming performance towards the end, but the personal note played pretty well.

Campbell - 7/10
As I explained in another post I still think Ming could have done better, but solid nonetheless.

Brown - 4*/10
Average and not especially inspiring even before it emerged that the good bits were the work of somebody else.

* Brown deducted two points for plagiarism

Slickest Presentation
I have to go for the Liberal Democrats for this one. The other parties made impressive efforts but they pulled off a couple of cock-ups to blot their copybook. Labour needed someone better qualified to operate a 'kill' switch for the microphone at times and the amount of procedural nonsense that seemed only to be able to be dealt with from the chair was excessive. The Conservatives had widely reported sound problems of the opposite variety to kick off proceedings and didn't always segue always that well between a series of start acts.

Best Non-Party Contribution
This is probably the least fair call of all as timing-wise I missed, I understand, the best efforts at the Lib Dems' and Labour conferences. I was though impressed (and ashamed not to be able to remember his name) by the bloke at the Conservative's conference who ran some kind of mentoring project in Liverpool. His delivery might have woken a few elderly delegates from their slumbers, but it was full of passion, personal commitment and common sense, and it says much for what Cameron has done that his Conservative party can engage with people like this.

Feel Good Moment
I might have enjoyed Liam Fox's speech more but the enthusiastic reception acclaim for Iain Duncan-Smith's performance represented a well deserved rehabilitation of a decent man in the eyes of a once harshly judgmental party. In some ways his contribution may actually have been of greater value at a party level as he was preaching to the not uniformly converted.

Best Blog Coverage
No individual awards here, but I'll go for some the main Labour Bloggers overall, though I will also admit that it may be because of some of those less comfortable with the party line.

The Lib Dem contributions were well written, but just a bit too loyal and predictable for my taste.

The Conservative bloggers, Guido apart, were entertaining, but perhaps a bit too much tittle-tattle focused at times. This isn't much of a criticism as I know I'd be exactly the same if I ever went to an event like that. Iain Dale did much better from the platform, with quite a moving speech on Rwanda, even if it will be better remembered for his introduction as a 'foremost political blagger'.

Winners and Losers
Probably for me it has to be Ming, as the consequences of a bad performance could have been very swift and very serious. I actually think David Cameron had a better speech and his party a better conference, but I was never convinced that the immediate threat to him was as bad as some of the press made it out to be, and the chance of a sub-par performance causing fallout was much lower.

Gordon Brown for all his opinion poll lead has to be the loser of the conference season looked at in microcosm, especially after he compounded his problems over his speech with a political stunt that seems to have left a bad taste in the mouths of friend and foe alike.

I'm sure Brown wants to beat Blair in every respect, but I think he would rather that the fact that this includes outdoing him in spin and dishonesty is something he would prefer was kept a little more quiet.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

The Blogging All-Star XV

Blogging XV
A team of all the talents?
As the Rugby World Cup moves into its knockout stages I thought it was a good idea to announce the line up of probably the strangest fantasy team that I will ever assemble. Let it not be said that I have too much spare time on my hands!

I know someone has probably done this theme before, more likely for soccer, and that people are probably a bit fed up of blog lists after Iain Dale's prodigious efforts in recent weeks. It seems to be the right time for this list though, and it does have the merit of being based on absolutely nothing sensible whatsoever.

So here are my picks to feature in the Blogosphere team at Rugby World Cup 2011. As many have chosen to remain behind the mask of anonymity the selections make no allowance for physical suitability to play in any particular position.

Props need to be tough and aggressive, often some of the most grizzled players on the field.

It's always handy to have a prop who can play at both sides of the scrum, so clearly a Lib Dem is called for, especially as I've opted someone in the other propping berth that would never play on the right side of the scrum regardless of whether he was playing tight head or loose head:
1 - Bob Piper
3 - Quaequam

Many of the same characteristics as props are required, with a greater mobility and a need to lead the pack. It's also a physically very uncomfortable position to play, so it's nice to award it to someone who wrote a somewhat scathing blog post about the sport:
2 - Iain Dale

The lock is the backbone of the scrum and the primary source of ball at the lineout. In the English game they are also tend to have a disciplinary problem that comes from single minded determination:
4 - John Redwood MP

I was a little bit stuck so I will also remind people that they are the tallest players on the pitch, so err…:
5 - Stephen Tall

Blindside Flanker
The blindside flanker is vital to the securing of ball at the breakdown, even if they have actually caused that breakdown themselves. They also need a solid tackling game to guard the blindside channel, and I can think of only one blogger who I've seen concrete video evidence in this department, even if he was playing the wrong sport at the time:
6 - Boris Johnson MP

Openside Flanker
The chief practitioner of the dark arts round the fringes. Just ask any Irishman his opinion of Neil Back. Someone who loves a bit of plotting and subterfuge then:
7 - Guido Fawkes

Number 8
Always one of the more vocal members of the pack, mainly because half them don't bind properly into the scrum these days leaving them free to hurl abuse at their team mates to get them moving. Plenty to chose from here:
8 - Mr Euginedes

Scrum Half
One of the more thinking positions on the pitch, and an ability to pass off both hands is a major advantage. Most important of all though these days seems to, how should I put it? The requirement to be the most image conscious of the team:
9 - Shane Greer

Fly Half
The most important role on the pitch to most minds. Looking at the team sheet we'd better have the only blogger that I know is currently actually playing the game then, especially when it is one skilled in use of the boot when called for:
10- A Very British Dude (Captain)

Inside Centre
Probably the hardest working position in the backline, often needing to put in a very high tackle rate while still looking for the smallest of gaps to sprint through:
12 - Thunder Dragon

Outside Centre
With a little bit more time and space to work with, the outside centre needs the ability to find the unexpected running lines to stun the opposition. A risky pick here, as I'm sure 10 minutes in the sin bin, alongside this team's number 8 for backchat to the referee is pretty much a certainty:
13 - The Devil

Left Wing
There are mixed strategies with wing selections, with some coaches favouring wings who can come off their own wing and pop up anywhere on the field. I am though going to stick with specialists:
11 - Dave's Part

Right Wing
I worry about the left wing's ability to remember to stay the right side of the touch line, the same applies to his counterpart over on the right, but I will go for the Jonah Lomu figure nonetheless, hoping to see some opponents trampled:
14 - Donal Blaney

The fullback needs to be able to take the ball wherever it comes from and put some pace on it, often finding dizzying running lines which pretty much gives the game away:
15 - Dizzy

With the likelihood of the entire front row being sent off in the first half for fighting amongst themselves and number 8 and outside centre both being sin-bin candidates replacements will be essential.

The front row replacements would need to have at least one common element that could bond them so I'll go for a thinking eurosceptic line-up of England Expects, Daily Referendum and An Englishman's Castle, with Tom Paine as loose forward cover.

Tim Montgomerie is always well turned out, so he can cover at scrum half. Norfolk Blogger shows an ability to cover a wide range of positions so comes into the team as a utility back, and while there is a lot of debate about webcameron counts as a blog, so can David Cameron, so he takes the final bench spot.

The coaching role would be a tough one, especially with the challenge of making your voice heard over that team. Unfortunately Yasmin Alibhai-Brown doesn't blog as she could probably handle the job, so I'll go for Helen Szamuely who from her 18DS performances seems able to able to make her voice heard in the same way, as well as being able to ensure team harmony, or erm…maybe not. At least the hair dryer performance at half-time should be impressive.

Raising the Ante

Poker Chips
Gordon set to fold?
It's going to be a fascinating week or two for those few who actually still care about the political landscape of the country. Will he or won't he? A poll in what is starting to look like a pretty stagnant Autumn, or wait till the thin sun of spring?

Here's a post that I will check my news feed before clicking 'Publish' but I am going to nail my colours to the mast and say no 2007 General Election. I know this will probably explode in my face in spectacular fashion in short order and that most others with better knowledge than I disagree, but I just can't see it happening. Iain Dale and others have pretty strong evidence from their ever fruitful grapevines to the contrary. For all of this I'm going to join with the minority, such as Guido and A Very British Dude in his latest 18DS outing. Like Guido, for all the frenetic activity from the Labour party, I can't help but sense the faintest and most inexplicable smell of a bluff.

In addition to this, the innate caution of Brown, and certain practical objections I've touched on earlier, last night I felt I spotted another potential fly in the ointment for Gordon.

Out of boredom I ended up reading a copy of the Sun down at the local. I normally don't go near the red tops, call it snobbish if you like but they truly are unmitigated crap, and the mid market tabloids are not a huge deal better. I quite enjoy all of the qualities, even those that sometimes make my blood boil; perhaps they don't quite have 'worthiness' of, say, their US cousins but they still feature quality journalism intelligent comment, even on rare occasion in the Independent, and leaven the mix with a moderate amount of entertainment.

For all that, you can't ignore the influence publications like the Sun, for better or worse, do have. The initial headlines did not look good for Cameron, as they ran with a 'Mission Impossible' theme for him with his '3 days to save the Conservative party'. Reading the whole coverage though left the distinct impression that the editorial line was that it was a mission the paper hoped he would succeed in.

Gone were the parroting of claims Cameron's supposed lack of substance, replaced with a focus on issues around which he could unite both party and, I presume, the Sun readership. Gone too was the half-hearted thin praise for the Prime Minister; true, it has rarely gone beyond a general sense of him being 'better the devil we know', but it was replaced with what often amounted to all out criticism.

It was still a long way from a Cameron endorsement, but combined with their campaign for a referendum on the EU Reform Treaty the Sun does seem to me manoeuvring into a position where it would be very hard for them to cheer on Brown in a snap election.

Were the mid-market tabloids to suddenly swing back to their traditional political bearings life could become very interesting for Brown, and perhaps the idea that he might risk loosing an ace from his hand might make the gamble too big for him to contemplate.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Return to Action

Ed Balls
Bit of a Balls up?
This has been a good weekend. True, my own life continues its inevitable course down the toilet bowl, but a combination of a birthday party for someone whose popularity is not based on spin, but on the fact that she is just naturally one of the world's 'good guys', coupled with the markers set down by some so-called minnows in the Rugby World Cup has more than compensated (more to follow).

I even thought that the weekend had got off to a good start when the BBC posted its pre-Conservative Conference piece on line, just as I went to celebrate with my new Fijian friends on Saturday.

Naturally it has been updated now but this is what I cut and pasted directly from Auntie before 40 hours of alcohol induced oblivion:
The Tories will propose an Airline Pollution Duty, designed to encourage airlines to fly with full planes and penalise them for flights with only a few passengers on board.

The government has dismissed the policies, saying Mr Cameron has to explain how the ideas are going to be paid for.

"It's not proper opposition politics, let alone government politics, to come along with billion-pound announcements which you can't show where the money's going to come from," said Schools and Families Secretary Ed Balls.

"The question, I think, in families' minds is 'will we be hit on our mortgage rates or on our taxes to pay for these kind of proposals'."
Source: BBC News
This was the only Conservative proposal raised in the article at the time I first read it, and, to be fair, I suspect that Balls was actually talking about something else, as clearly the idea that he would imagine that a new tax should somehow require yet more taxpayer money to fund it would be ridiculous (yes...even as I write it I'm wondering about that sentence), even for a sufferer of leftism.

Two issues do come to mind though. Firstly, why, on Saturday afternoon, was so much prominence (at the time pretty much half the article) being given to hostile government reaction to proposals that, good or bad, had not been formally made. Of course there are briefings on and off the record, but to allow ministerial critique to be made of what was effectively non-policy at the time had a bad smell about it.

Secondly, I wonder if we might see some action with Auntie for once, as for at least about 4 hours someone made a government minister, even incorrectly (in a journalistic sense at least), seem like a half-wit.

Perhaps for once a stern ticking off will be given, and it will be explained that slavish devotion to the cause and loyalty to the supreme leader is a necessary, but not in of itself sufficient basis for advancement within the national news team.