Thursday, May 27, 2004

And more on Leicester South

A report from The Scotsman bigging up Liberal Democrat prospects.

More from Shropshire

One of the great headlines of our time: Controversial duck pond wins approval.

"A great parliamentarian and a close personal friend"

So it was not to be Birmingham Hodge Hill or Reading East. Jim Marshall, the Labour MP for Leicester South, died unexpectedly today. There is a report with tributes here.

Meanwhile, David Boothroyd has posted last year's local election results in the constituency to the uk.politics.electoral news group:

"South consists of the whole of Aylestone, Eyres Monsell, Freemen, Knighton, Spinney Hills and Stoneygate, most of Castle and part of Latimer wards.

Including Castle but excluding Latimer the vote totals were:

L Dem 10,838 42.2
Lab 6,996 27.2
C 5,205 20.2
GP 1,925 7.5
BNP 462 1.8
Ind 278 1.1"

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

News from Shropshire

Regular readers will know that this blog often relies on the Shropshire Star for its news. This can have its advantages as recent reports give unique insights into the flour bomb attack on the prime minister and Lembit Opik's engagement.

Saturday, May 22, 2004

Lord Bonkers' Diary

I have updated his lordship's website. It now includes his latest diary from Liberator magazine and my May House Points columns from Liberal Democrat News.

Monday, May 17, 2004

More by-election rumours

It is not just Birmingham Hodge Hill, reports the Guardian, it is Reading East too.

Mistaken identity

A public meeting on the government’s proposed national identity card will be held on Wednesday afternoon at the London School of Economics. Full details here or here.

More doubts

It seems that the 14-year-old was advised by a 21-year-old who has been variously described as a "counsellor" or an "outreach worker". I often moan about professionals, but a 21-year-old cannot possibly have the level of education or supervised practice to be called a professional.

It is never a good idea to make too much of one case reported in the newspapers. And there are hard questions here. Why didn't the daughter feel able to confide in her mother? Was the mother right to go to the newspapers?

Yet it worries me that most liberals and left-wingers will unhesitatingly side with the authorities here. Think of their attitude towards Victoria Gillick, who tried to uphold parental rights a few years ago. They did not just disagree with her - which is a perfectly defensible position - they ridiculed her.

But if we have such a low opinion of the average citizen that we doubt her ability to give sensible advice to her own daughter, where does that leave liberalism or even democracy?

Meanwhile, here are two good article from the Telegraph. (You will need to register, but it is worth it if only for the obituaries.) The first disagrees with everything I have just said rather convincingly, and the second shows how the authorities have been passing the buck:

"The next call was to Irene Kakoullis, the teenage pregnancy strategy manager for Nottingham city council. But a woman answering the telephone said we had to speak to a marketing and brand development company, Diva Creative, in Sheffield."

Iraq Body Count

An important resource.

The site currently estimates the number of civilian deaths in Iraq since the start of the invasion at somewhere between 9,148 and 11,005.

Sunday, May 16, 2004

Security news

Thameslink train services were at the centre of a major terrorist alert this week.

A driver spotted a passenger about to fire what he thought was a deadly grenade launcher.

In fact, he was playing a Rolf Harris-style didgeridoo.

Read on.

Thursday, May 13, 2004

Important political analysis

In these difficult times, this website is a great comfort.

"Welcome to the 'George W. Bush or Chimpanzee' webpage. This is a little project I decided to start once I realized how much George W. Bush looks like a chimpanzee. I'm not a member of any political party, and I have nothing in particular against the man. I just think he kind of looks like a chimpanzee" - Bill Feldspar.

Doubts

Perhaps it comes from reading the Daily Mail the other day, but I find myself disturbed by this report.

"A woman whose 14-year-old daughter had an abortion on the advice of a school health worker but without her knowledge launched a furious attack on the system after being left out of the decision-making process."

What disturbs me is the thoroughly modern assumption behind this that parents cannot be trusted to have their children's best interests at heart, but that professionals - any professionals - are always right.

We are told that:

"A spokesman for the school said that they had issued a letter to all parents in September to make them aware that community child health workers could be speaking to children."

Do you know what a "community child health worker" is? What training he or she will have? How you become one? What research there is to show whether or not they do a good job?

Me neither. But they must know best because they are professionals. Mustn't they?

By-election rumour

Courtesy of Anthony Wells' elegant blog:

"Rumours are afoot that Terry Davis, the MP for Birmingham Hodge Hill, will next month be elected Secretary General of the Council of Europe, causing a by-election."

Read the full story here. And the result last time in Hodge Hill here.

Monday, May 10, 2004

Melanie Phillips and torture

When you write a letter complaining about a reference to you in a newspaper you never admit to having bought a copy. You always it has been "drawn to my attention".

Similarly, no Liberal Democrat ever admits to having bought the Daily Mail. You always say you picked up a discarded copy on the train.

So it was that I read Melanie Phillips' column in the Mail this morning. (The newspaper does not have much of a site itself, but she has a comprehensive one of her own.)

Melanie Phillips is a hate figure for many on the left, but I rather admire her. I like her rather Victorian sensibility (and that is a compliment in my book) and her willingness to talk about heavy moral concepts.

As David Goodhart is quoted as saying in this Guardian profile:

"'I do admire her.' In her work, he sees 'debates we should be having' about the social and cultural loosenings since the 60s, about 'the bad side-effects of the freedom we want'."

But her effort this morning was dreadful.

Torture is not a good subject for a columnist. You can do more than say it is wrong. Or, in Phillips' words: "Torture is always wrong, and corrupts those who employ it."

Trouble is, editors expect you to write to length, so you have to say more than that. Which is why Phillips found herself writing: "Torture is always wrong, and corrupts those who employ it. But..."

The "But" turned out to be: "But the moral squeamishness of the west is also the hole in its defences. The digital camera on the belt of the western soldier is a devastating weapon against his own side."

So opposition to torture is moral squeamishness and a hole in our defences? I prefer to think of it as what distinguishes a civilised country from someone like Saddam Hussein.

On Phillips' analysis the problem at Abu Ghraib is not the dogs or the nakedness or the beatings. It is the digital cameras.

Saturday, May 08, 2004

A sign of the times

Three Albanian men found in the back of a lorry in Dover have been arrested on suspicion of trying to smuggle themselves out of the UK.

Thanks again, BBC.

Friday, May 07, 2004

Great headlines of our time

Ex-KGB man backs new MI6 chief

Thanks BBC.

Not saintly enough

I know there is stiff competition to get into church schools - chiefly because they have discipline, uniforms, high academic standards and all the things the left spent decades campaigning against, but this is ridiculous.

"A five-year-old boy has been barred from his local Roman Catholic school for being baptised "late" - despite being a descendant of a martyred saint.
Alexander Payne can boast an impeccable Catholic ancestry stretching back almost 1,000 years - his family tree includes Saint John Almond, who was hung, drawn and quartered in 1612 at the hands of Protestant persecutors.

His parents, Chris and Judith Payne, said St Bernadette's RC primary school in Brighton, six doors from their home, had refused him a place because he was baptised after the age of two."

Tuesday, May 04, 2004

Consignia

The good news is that Liberal Democrat News arrived today. The bad news is that it was delivered to the house next door. I am not surprised.

Shooting trainspotters in a barrel

This is why I have doubts about Simon Hoggart:

"On my way into work yesterday I passed some train spotters at Waterloo station. They were photographing the train I'd just arrived on, specifically the driver's cab and the number on the side.

'But they're all the same!' I wanted to yell. 'Only the numbers are different. You might as well photograph a range of Tesco loyalty cards!'

Nothing, I thought, could be more boring than that."

Attacking trainspotters, Simon? A brave and controversial view.

For a more balanced account of the subject, see Nicholas Whittaker's book Platform Souls.

Monday, May 03, 2004

House Points

The combined efforts of whatever Consignia calls itself these days and the Bank Holiday mean that I have not seen the latest Liberal Democrat News yet. But here is the new House Points. It can also be found here.

The parliamentary cycle

We need new legislation on cycling. Something that lays down stiff penalties for grown men who buy expensive bikes and funky Lycra gear, then ride on the pavement.

Unfortunately this is not what Eric Martlew put forward last Friday. Instead the MP for Carlisle gave us the Protective Headgear for Young Cyclists Bill. This would make it an offence to allow a child under 16 to ride a cycle without a helmet on the road or “in any park, garden or recreation ground to which the public have access without payment”.

You can imagine how well this plays on daytime television. “Well, Esther (sob), if it saves one child from injury I think it will be worth it.” “Wonderful, Eric. And in part two: ‘My grandmother stole my fiancĂ©’.”

Martlew, certainly, was convinced of his own righteousness. Anyone who opposed him had base motives. “The Association of Cycle Traders seems more interested in selling bicycles than in the safety of children.” Yet the debate reinforced the impression that no one is sure how great the safety benefits of helmets are.

The bill foundered when Eric Forth moved that the House should sit in private. He lost by 25 votes to nil but proved there were fewer than 40 MPs present. So the Commons moved on to next business.

People who oppose Martlew point out that where helmets have been made compulsory fewer children cycle to school. This is an odd thing to be advocating when childhood obesity in this year’s hot political issue.

They are right, but Martlew’s bill goes deeper into contemporary neuroses than that. It reinforces the idea that the outside world is a dangerous place. Better to stay at home, to watch it on television. And if you have to go out, then wear protection.

It also reflects our lack of confidence in ourselves as adults. No doubt children who cycle on busy roads should wear helmets. Equally, it is hard to believe that a child riding a fairy cycle in the park needs to wear one.

Who is to make this judgement? You might say parents, but they could get it wrong or think differently from the majority. Better to leave it to the likes of Eric Martlew and pass a law.

Crimewatch

From the Shropshire Star: "The owner of a south Shropshire cafe has today made a fresh appeal to a 12-strong stag party who made off with a stone fish from his restaurant on their way to Blackpool on Friday."

Saturday, May 01, 2004

More on Leicester council housing

In House Points a couple of weeks ago - see the entry below for 24 April - I mentioned the sinister camera towers that have sprung up in streets of council houses in Leicester.

They are not the half of it: "Former SAS soldiers are going undercover in city housing estates to spy on nuisance neighbours."