Wednesday, February 28, 2007
Iain Sharpe suggests that it contains an evaluation of Lord Bonkers' thought by Karl Popper. Not quite, but it does include my entry on Sir Karl.
My reward for contributing is the opportunity to purchase as many copies as I like at a discount. If, as Iain Sharpe believes, every home needs at least three, that could prove rather expensive.
I hear that Mark Oaten - the MP for Winchester and one-time Lib Dem leadership hopeful - was spotted poring over polling data with Bob Worcester of Mori in Portcullis House the other day.Jonathan Isaby goes on to ask:
Oaten's book may be uncomfortable reading for some
Intrigued as to what he was up to, I have just called Oaten and discovered that he is working on a rather interesting project: a book about coalition governments past... and future.
With a hung parliament more likely at the next election than at any point for a generation, the issue of coalitions and cross-party alliances is going to be increasingly a matter for discussion amongst political observers and participants alike.
And few are more interested in the subject than the Lib Dems, who are most likely to be power-brokers if neither Labour or the Tories manage to get an overall majority in the Commons.
So is Oaten - one of the so-called Orange Book Lib Dems, on the free market wing of the party - on the verge of suggesting that Ming Campbell should be doing business with David Cameron?An important contribution to political history or an embarrassment just before Conference? We shall see.
"The conclusions are yet to be written," he insists. "But I want the book to be informative and it might not be comfortable reading for everybody."
He has signed a deal with publisher Harriman House and the book - provisionally titled Coalition - is due out on September 7.
I wrote at length about the great radio comedian and his father - who was a Liberal MP - in an earlier posting.
Romanian witches are carving out a lucrative new business - concocting spells to help locals get EU grants.Thanks to Recess Monkey.
Until now the country's witches have confined themselves to love potions and spells to get cows to produce more milk.
But the EU expansion has seen funding for new projects flood into the country and now locals hoping to gain a slice of the action are turning to witches to boost their chances.
Witch Florica, from Pitesti in southern Romania, said: "It's a new type of spell that we had to work out of course.
"You cannot pretend you are a real witch if you cannot help a businessman get the European Union funds he wants.
Tuesday, February 27, 2007
Monday, February 26, 2007
Reading only a little way between the lines, it is clear to Alex that everyone knows that FPC's discussion take place under the Chatham House Rule and there can be no excuse for ignoring this.
But I was a member of FPC for several years and cannot recall the question of confidentiality ever being discussed. It seems that Linda Jack and Peter Black have the same memories. Given that I never received any written guidance on the committee's standing orders or anything like that either, it is hard to know where this certainty that the Chatham House Rule applies at FPC comes from.
A more interesting question is whether Chatham House Rules should apply to party committees. After all, we Liberal Democrats spend a lot of time campaigning to open up other people's deliberations to public scrutiny. Why should our own be treated differently?
The argument Alex uses is:
I thought it best to make it clear the terms on which ... reports should be made of meetings so that the FPC as a whole can be held to account but individuals are not intimidated into mistrustful silence or circumspection.But are the peers, parliamentarians and others who get themselves elected to FPC really the sort to be intimidated. If they aren't prepared to put their name to what they believe, are they the sort of people we want there?
I recall attempting to remove some of the more anti-libertarian elements from our animal welfare policy a few years ago - don't worry, I failed - and was aware that this was a controversial thing to do. It would have seemed to me quite fair that the people who elected me should know how what I said and how I voted, just as they had done when I was a member of Harborough District Council. At one time it was a criminal offence to report proceedings at Westminster, but we have moved on since then.
A stronger argument might be along the lines that there would be a danger in the press and opposing parting finding out about debates and disagreements within our own party. In particular, if one of our shadow ministers made a strong case for something at FPC and later settled for a compromise, it might be personally embarrassing.
But then MPs spend most of their time trying to get into the newspapers with their views; FPC would hardly be the only place they expressed them. If you can't make a plausible defence when you change your mind about something, you won't last long in politics.
Another, more depressing, argument is that FPC's deliberations have a limited effect on party policy. Our policy-making process is so ponderous, and the political and media worlds are so fast-moving, that it is inevitable that our shadow minsters are forced to react to developments without reference to FPC. Richard Kemp recognises this in another Liberator article and calls for the process to be streamlined to make it at once more effective and more democratic.
And if you do think something like the Chatham House Rule should apply to FPC, is the committee itself the right body to decide exactly what its terms of operation should be. Once we have been elected to a committee we are always prone to believe that other people lack the ability to fully appreciate its proceedings - best not to confuse them with too much information.
I have no strong feelings on this, beyond a basic preference for free debate over censorship, but I think these questions are worth asking.
One thing however is clear. If you want to know what is going on in the party, subscribe to Liberator.
Clegg’s background isn’t traditionally Liberal. He was born in Amersham, Buckinghamshire, in 1967. His father was a City banker and his mother, a teacher, is Dutch and arrived in Britain via a Japanese prisoner of war camp in Indonesia. Clegg is only a quarter British as his father is half Russian, Clegg’s aristocratic grandmother having fled St Petersburg after the tsar was ousted.
Blogging for the Guardian, Germaine Greer paints a grim picture of life in Britain's most famous artistic double act:
Gilbert Proesch apparently still has Italian nationality, but every word spoken or written by Gilbert and George is in English, which Gilbert still cannot speak fluently. What did Gilbert know of Flanagan and Allen before George had him singing Underneath the Arches in 1970? Before he came to England, Gilbert's education at three different colleges of art was all in German; English is likely to be not his second language but his fourth, after Ladinian, Italian and German. For 40 years, he has been condemned to replicate the narrow range of George's English habits, to drink what he drinks, eat what he eats, wear what he wears. George has not learned or replicated a single behaviour of Gilbert's, as far as we can tell. If it were to become known that Gilbert Proesch and his friend George Passmore occasionally escape from the gloom of Fournier Street to go yodelling and langlaufing through the Gadertal, I for one would find their art less disturbing. Something about their scaled-down life and rigid routine reads like a suicide pact.Ladinian, incidentally, turns out to be a minority language spoken in the Italian Alps.
Sunday, February 25, 2007
Still, here is a link to Rowena Thursby's blog for those of you who want to read more on the case.
Mr Baker, who has spent a year investigating the case, believes there is enough evidence to suggest that the scientist did not kill himself.Paranoid nonsense? Remember the wise words of Matthew Parris quoted on Norman's own website:
The Liberal Democrat MP said toxicology reports suggested there was not enough painkiller in Dr Kelly's system to kill him, and the method he had apparently chosen to commit suicide was not a recognised or effective one.
"I'm satisfied it was not suicide. And after that you're left with the conclusion that his life was deliberately taken by others," he tells The Conspiracy Files.
He tells the programme it has been suggested to him that the weapons scientist was assassinated.
Speaking last week on BBC Radio 5 Live, Mr Baker said he was not ready to reveal all the evidence he has unearthed, but would consider passing a file to the police in due course.
"You underestimate him at your peril... He has a habit of being right. He sticks to his guns and I think his constituents are very lucky to have him."Thanks to Iain Dale.
Saturday, February 24, 2007
Mark Oaten has turned down offers to appear on reality shows such as Big Brother a year after a tabloid scandal wrecked his life as a senior Lib Dem.
The disgraced Winchester MP revealed that TV bosses wanted to sign him and wife Belinda for the celebrity version of the show.
But the man who went into hiding after a Sunday paper revealed his affair with a rent boy, turned them down because he did not want to become a laughing stock.
Friday, February 23, 2007
Despite your pleas, I seldom quote old House Points columns. But this observation from last May seems pertinent this week:
Governments increasingly resemble spoilt teenagers. Look at the state of this bedroom. New laws piled on top of each other. Some have not even been taken out of their boxes, but you will still demand the latest model next year.Think of the government's reaction to the recent shootings in South London. Tony Blair went on television to announce that he wanted to lower the age at which there is a mandatory five-year jail term for carrying a gun from 21 to 17.
It soon turned out that the government had already lowered the minimum age to 18 in the 2003 Criminal Justice Act. But this had been found by the courts to conflict with the Powers of Criminal Court Act of 2000.
So we already have too many laws in this field. Yet the government’s instinctive reaction is to call for even more.
News management was always central to the New Labour project, but these days it is all there is to it. All that matters is countering this morning’s bad headlines. As to governing he country… that takes too long and there just isn’t time.
The South London shootings were tragic, but the process can be farcical too. Because Gordon Brown was embarrassed by the media furore over Jade Goody and Celebrity Big Brother on a trip to India, Alan Johnson decided he had to be seen to act.
"The current debate over Big Brother has highlighted the need to make sure our schools focus on the core British values of justice and tolerance," he said, and announced that, while children must be taught about British history, they should also have an understanding of cultural diversity.
Whether this means anything, I am not sure. But I am perfectly certain that it will be lost in the hundred other education initiatives announced this month.
It may well be that the shootings and way our culture exalts and then vilifies a poor sap like Jade have common roots in our lack of confidence in our own values. But examining that would require some hard thinking. It is far easier to announce a new law.
Thursday, February 22, 2007
That is fine as far as it goes, but surely it is time to end the insulting anachronism of having separate men's and women's championships?
Wednesday, February 21, 2007
Miners from Wales are helping to save hundreds of homes from collapse in one of England's most picturesque cities.
They cross the Severn Bridge each day to stabilise stone mines underneath Bath, amid fears for houses above its historic Combe Down mines.
Miles of mining tunnels run beneath the city, some of them only about 2m (6ft) below the surface.
In direct response to me during consideration of the Identity Cards Bill, the Minister for Policing, Security and Community Safety, the hon. Member for Harrow, East [Mr. McNulty] gave me and all of us on the Committee an undertaking that the police would not be permitted to trawl through the national identity register. Yesterday the Prime Minister ripped up that undertaking. Why?
I do not believe that we have gone back on any of the undertakings that we have given. What is extremely important, however, is that we have such a register, because not only will it help us to tackle crime, terrorism and illegal immigration, but an identity card scheme, with the new technology available— and the vast bulk of the cost will be spent on passports, anyway—will allow consumers to access better private sector services as well. The Tory opposition to ID cards is regressive, old-fashioned and out of date.
Except that there is nothing modern about Blair and his inner circle. Here is what the BBC reported last year:
Mr Blair's former right hand man, Mr Campbell has also painted a picture of a computer-illiterate Downing Street machine.
"New Labour's so-called spin machine was reported to be carving out a new role for strategic communications in politics," he told a website in January.
"But the reality is the person directing that communications strategy was in the Dark Ages when it came to technology."
Mr Campbell said his aides would sift emails for him and type up handwritten replies.
"I should add that the prime minister is not much better," he added.
"He too is at heart a pen and paper man, the computer on his desk almost as idle as the one I used to have on mine."
Auden was the first poet writing in English who felt at home in the twentieth century. He welcomed into his poetry all the disordered conditions of his time, all its variety of language and event. In this, as in almost everything else, he differed from his modernists predecessors such as Yeats, Lawrence, Eliot or Pound, who had turned nostalgically away from a flawed present to some lost illusory Eden where life was unified, hierarchy secure, and the grand style a natural extension of the vernacular. All of this Auden rejected.A good introduction to Auden's poetic landscape is the article "Auden in the North". No authors are given, but I believe it to be by Alan Myers and Robert Forsythe.
And as an example of his work, try this chorus from The Dog Beneath the Skin - a play he wrote with Christopher Isherwood:
Now through night's caressing gripAuden died in 1973, but it is worth recording that another literary figure of the 1930s who also collaborated with Isherwood, Edward Upward, is still alive at the age of 103.
Earth and all her oceans slip,
Capes of China slide away
From her fingers into day
And the Americas incline
Coasts towards her shadow line.
Now the ragged vagrants creep
Into crooked holes to sleep:
Just and unjust, worst and best,
Change their places as they rest:
Awkward lovers lie in fields
Where disdainful beauty yields:
While the splendid and the proud
Naked stand before the crowd
And the losing gambler gains
And the beggar entertains:
May sleep's healing power extend
Through these hours to our friend.
Unpursued by hostile force,
Traction engine, bull or horse
Or revolting succubus;
Calmly till the morning break
Let him lie, then gently wake.
Tuesday, February 20, 2007
Whenever someone criticizes agricultural practices of America’s farmers and ranchers as I often do, supporters of the industry respond with the same old familiar excuses about how farmers and ranchers earn little money (never considering how overproduction fueled by subsidies or loss in productivity due to poor practices are reasons for the low return on investment), are stewards of the land (more like abusers of the land), and whatever other myths and rationales they can marshal to deflect critical examination of the industry’s impacts on the land and people.Incidentally, Wuerthner is also a photographer.
At the end of this litany of supposed excuses or rationales, they always deliver their coup de grace to silence critics: Cheap Food. Don’t criticize farmers and ranchers, they tell us, because they are producing America’s cheap food.
But who and what are paying the price for the rationale behind their argument? Let’s look at the facts.
Biologists are concerned about orange roughy, grenadier, deep-sea rockfish, oreo and Patagonian toothfish among others.But there is a clear winner:
The orange roughy is so slow growing that it is not sexually mature until 34 years old. It can live to 150.
Monday, February 19, 2007
A family has been forced to flee after a gaping hole opened up in the ground next to their home in Powys.This will come as no surprise to anyone familiar with this old mining country, which was once known as "The Land of Desolation". What is rather amusing is that, judging by the report, neither Powys nor Shropshire is keen to claim the hole.
Concerns have been raised about the structure of the chalet after an old mine shaft collapsed close to an unclassified road between White Grit and Priest Weston, near Montgomery - opening up a hole 50ft across and 20ft deep.
Police have now sealed off the area amid fears of a further collapse. There are old lead and silver mine workings in the area which are thought to date back to the 1800s.
Priest Weston is a pleasant little village with an unspoilt pub, naturally called The Miners Arms. It is in England, but White Grit, which lies to the East but by a quirk of local geography is in Wales, is another matter.
It now consists mainly of modern bungalows - presumably because it was possible to get planning permission there as they replaced old miners' dwellings. It also has a little corrugated iron church of the sort that was generally sent out in flat-pack form to the furthest reaches of the Empire. I doubt the Church of England had much joy here amongst the staunchly Nonconformist miners, many of whom came up from Cornwall when the tin mines began to close.
I was once bitten by a Jack Russell in White Grit. I later complained to Lembit about it, but he seemed singularly unconcerned.
When I do, I find the rather alarming paragraph:
We need a prison system that works. Prisoners should work to pay compensation to their victims, and to cut reoffending. A life sentence should mean life.A life sentence should mean life? And in bold type too? Is that really Liberal Democrat policy.
A little research suggests it is, but not in the way most people reading the quotation above would imagine. The BBC report of the launch of this campaign quotes Menzies Campbell:
"Life will mean life: only those that judges believe should stay in prison forever will be given a life sentence.This suggests that there would be many fewer life sentences under a Liberal Democrat government. In particular, it suggests that the standard tariff for murder will no longer be a life sentence.
This may well be a sensible policy, but it cannot be a good idea to present it in a way that suggests we are proposing its precise opposite.
Labour Watch has this:
This piece originates from the Evening Standard [actually the Daily Mail] on Saturday; although foreign papers have picked up the story, it hasn't received widespread coverage here yet.
Blair to be named in police file over cash for peerages Published: Saturday, 17 February, 2007.
LONDON: Tony Blair will be named in a police file to prosecutors on the cash for peerages affair, the Standard revealed.He remains one of four suspects at the heart of government who are at the centre of the Scotland Yard investigation.
Detectives are believed to have compelling evidence against individuals and are preparing to submit an evidence file to the Crown Prosecution Service which they believe is "110% strong". They realise the inquiry will come under intense scrutiny if it goes to court and the case against any suspects has to be watertight.
The revelations partly explain the lengthy delay in bringing the investigation to a conclusion. Insiders say it is now almost inevitable that police will bring charges against individuals. Detectives are focusing on the so-called Gang of Four they believe to be at the heart of the inquiry.
They are the prime minister, his chief of staff Jonathan Powell, Labour's chief fundraiser Lord Levy and key Downing Street aide Ruth Turner. Significantly, all four are referred to as "suspects" by sources close to the investigation.
Sunday, February 18, 2007
The story quotes an unnamed MP as saying:
“All this stuff coming out now at this time is great for Peter ... After all, it reminds everyone of the antiapartheid hero he was. Shame he has turned into such a boring bastard now.”It will also remind people that Hain used to be a Liberal - something that has been rather airbrushed from the record.
Organisers of a Mid Wales village show have decided to spice up the annual event - with a spot of nudity.
Villagers behind the Trefeglwys Show have put out a call for “tasteful” photographs featuring nudity to make this year’s craft competitions more interesting.
The event is on August 4 at Glangwden Fields, with a full programme of events starting at 1pm. And the committee are hoping the new category will bring in a “few bare bottoms”.
To those of us who were lucky enough to grow up during the Golden Age of Blue Peter, the Chinese New Year will always mean Val, John and Peter introducing the dancing dragon.
The only problem is: I swear that the dragon came on more than once a year. I have a dark suspicion that if Biddy Baxter found herself short of an item she decided to pretend that it was the Chinese New Year again.
In those less multicultural days, there were few viewers who would have known any better, and the dragon did make good television.
Saturday, February 17, 2007
Some observers believe Sir Menzies has privately agreed with Labour ministers, particularly Gordon Brown, whose constituency in Fife borders his own, to maintain a centre-left coalition between the two parties in the Scottish parliament.No doubt the Scottish Lib Dems can look after themselves, but it is interesting to speculate what might happen in the event of a hung parliament at Westminster after the next election.
Despite his patrician mien - and despite Lady Elspeth - most of Ming's close political friendships are with members of the Scottish Labour establishment. It is likely that his first instinct will be too form a Lib-Lab coalition at Westminster too.
Whether the Bright Young Things who supported Ming during the leadership election will see things the same way is an interesting question.
Tomorrow's Mail on Sunday reports:
The Government was hit by a second legal marital scandal last night after it was revealed that Attorney General Lord Goldsmith had an affair with Britain’s leading Asian woman barrister.
Friday, February 16, 2007
A row between past and present members of a hall committee deepened this week after one group was alleged to have chopped down trees and bushes at a children’s play area through fear of paedophiles hiding behind them.What is snuggery? Explanation here.
According to the Daily Mail, George Osborne has been trying to persuade senior Liberal Democrats to defect to the Tories. The paper has claimed that no fewer than three MPs have been the subject of these approaches.
The way the Mail tells it, our MPs hardly dare enter their offices for fear of the shadow chancellor leaping out from behind the umbrella stand and trying to suborn them. “We’ll find you a safe seat,” he cries. “I can even arrange for you to meet Malcolm Rifkind.”
And it’s getting worse. Only this morning I found Osborne crouching amongst the yoghurts in my fridge. To be brutally frank, gentle reader, if you have not been approached by him, you are not quite such an important member of the Liberal Democrats as you thought.
But do not worry. The Tory press was full of stories about Lib Dem MPs changing parties a year ago when we were having our - how shall I put it? - eventful leadership contest. They turned out to be nonsense then. I am sure they are nonsense now.
So let’s forget these rumours and think instead about one of the great English novels. William Thackeray’s Vanity Fair was published in instalments in 1847-8. One of its central characters is a certain George Osborne. And there is something familiar about him:
“He would say it was a warm evening , or ask his partner to take an ice, with a tone as sad and confidential as if he were breaking her mother’s death to her, or preluding a declaration of love. He trampled over all the young bucks of his father’s circle, and was the hero among those third-rate men.”Young George is not irredeemably bad, but he is snobbish and far too pleased with himself. He lusts after the spirited Becky Sharp but is married to the soapy Amelia Sedley. An army office, he fights at Waterloo and Thackeray ends his account of the aftermath of the battle with the shocking words:
“Amelia was praying for George, who was lying on his face, dead, with a bullet through his heart.”Perhaps he had been trying to persuade one of Napoleon’s generals to defect to Wellington’s side?
Labour chairman Hazel Blears will announce "soon" whether she intends to stand for the party's deputy leadership, the BBC has learned.I love that "the BBC has learned" to make it sound like an exclusive.
What did the BBC imagine Blears would do? Wait until after the contest? Forget to make an announcement at all?
Thursday, February 15, 2007
I can see that Lewis would be an incredible place for a wind farm ... But some places simply are not meant for development. They are too wild, too elemental. I cannot say that I enjoyed my time on Lewis. It was cold, difficult, dangerous, bleak. But it left me with a a great gift of this experience that I will not find elsewhere (and another great gift that I have not mentioned on my blog). How will the sacred landscape of Callanish adapt to dozens of giant turbines? It will become industrialised.Mind you, if they get their tunnel the Outer Hebrides will really change.
Wednesday, February 14, 2007
For reasons I explained a year ago, this would be a thoroughly good thing.
Later. There is more in the Swindon Advertiser.
Later still. A sensible local Liberal Democrat view:
We have always maintained that whilst Coate is the exact wrong location for a University campus, the town would greatly benefit from having one.
"I just want him to do the best possible job he can, although my prime concern is that he stays healthy. But you know, if the polls result in a hung Parliament, he could be a significant player come the election. People are beginning to recognise that fact."
It also provides links to the majority and minority reports from the working group set up to consider the future of Trident.
The question then becomes not who is owed the leadership, but who by their very presence shouts at the electorate that New Labour has already moved on to the next stage of its life. Will that be best achieved by a candidate whose hands have been on the steering wheel for the last decade? Or will it come from the younger generation, in a candidate who is not linked in the public mind with what will soon be seen as stage one of New Labour's journey? Step forward, David Miliband.Paul Linford takes a dim view of this:
The sad truth about Frank Field is that he is an embittered man who blames Brown for the failure of his welfare reform green paper in 1998 when he was challenged to "think the unthinkable," and for his subsequent sacking from the Government.But he should not be so quick to condemn. Field is only following the counsel of Rutland's most famous peer.
I hate to speak ill of a fellow Christian, but this article ought to ensure that the process of estrangement from the Labour Party, which has been going on ever since that abrupt dismissal, is now complete.
Writing in September last year (see Saturday) Lord Bonkers said:
A word of advice to the New Party: if you do succeed in tipping Blair out of the window, don’t replace him with that dour Brown fellow. Try someone younger and fresher like Tony Benn’s charming daughter Hilary or one of the Millipede brothers.
It was a difficult and drawn out consultation process involving viewers, bloggers and in-house experts.Anyway, here is that list in full:
- Julie Kirkbride. 46. Bromsgrove, Conservative
- Caroline Flint. 45. Don Valley, Labour
- Nick Clegg. 39. Sheffield Hallam, Lib Dem
- Theresa May. 50. Maidenhead, Conservative
- Shahid Malik. 39. Dewsbury, Labour
- Dawn Butler. 37. Brent South, Labour
- Lynne Featherstone. 55. Hornsey & Wood Green, Lib Dem
- Angus MacNeil. 36. Na h-Eileanan An Iar, SNP
- Nadine Dorries. 48. Mid Bedfordshire, Conservative
- Ed Vaizey. 37. Wantage, Conservative
Tuesday, February 13, 2007
God's never heard of Belgium,
But loves it just the same,
For God is kind
And doesn't mind -
He's not impressed with fame.
Monday, February 12, 2007
On Monday David Davis wrote to the cabinet secretary saying a Conservative government would scrap the ID card project. He asked what had been done to protect public funds against the costs of early cancellation. He also wrote to likely major contractors warning them of the Tories’ intentions.The story has moved on, according to The Register, with this remarkable exchange:
The IT industry has found itself in a handbagging spat with shadow home secretary David Davis over the Conservative party's plans to ditch ID cards should they win power from Labour.Faced with a spat between big business and a democratically elected government of any colour, we Liberal Democrats should feel inclined to back the government, but it does show the uncharted waters the Tories are now sailing into.
Davis' "official warning" to government said a democratic clause should be written into contracts with ID system suppliers so they could be scrapped if the electorate demanded so.
John Higgins, chairman of IT trade body Intellect, promptly wrote to Davis warning him that the IT industry held such sway over the British economy that the Conservatives would be foolish to mess with them.
Davis's response, sent yesterday, upbraided industry over its creepy anticipation that it would get lashings of gravy from a government project designed to encroach on people's civil liberties.
Higgins had argued that the interests of big business should take precedent over the will of the British electorate.
"It is highly likely that the manner of this intervention will undermine the confidence of the supplier community in any future Conservative government honouring other contractual commitments which may have been entered into by previous administrations."
In other words, should the Conservatives win an election on a promise to ditch ID cards, the previous government's contractual obligations to the IT industry should prevent the new manifesto from being implemented.
Davis retorted: "Your claim to be neither for or against the policy of introducing ID cards in the UK, given the clear commercial interest of a number of your members, is simply disingenuous."
A couple of days ago the Daily Mail claimed:
Tory MP James Gray is at the centre of a fresh controversy with the revelation that he is using his Commons expenses to support the cancer-stricken wife he dumped for his mistress instead of paying her out of his wages.Particularly diverting is this detail:
The Wiltshire North MP is paying his wife Sarah £2,400 a month from his Commons staff allowance even though she ceased to work as his secretary two years ago. In that time he has paid her a total of nearly £60,000 from his expenses.
a senior Conservative at Westminster said Mr Gray could find himself in the bizarre position of facing a claim for unfair dismissal from his wife, even though it is alleged she has not worked for him for two years despite being paid.Ludwig Wittgenstein writes: My brain hurts.
Sunday, February 11, 2007
There is more news on the Wyre Forest Liberals site and Tom Watson, the Labour MP, pays him a notably magnanimous tribute:
The title “great man” is overused in this age of easy tributes and casual sentiment but for Mike, it’s application is properly applied.
A Liberal - not Liberal Democrat, a Polish Consul, the greatest community campaigner I have ever met and probably ever will, he stood up for what he believed in. At various points in time, he drove nearly every member of Wyre Forest Labour Party into incandescent rages such was his genius, but my God did they admire him. They’ll all miss him too. I’ll miss him.
Julian, a former editor of Liberator, was the first Liberal candidate I ever worked for. This was in the council elections in York in 1980 when he narrowly failed to take a seat from Labour.
He was later a councillor in Leeds and the Liberal Alliance candidate for Pudsey in the general elections of 1983 and 1987.
Later. There is more about Julian on the Yorkshire and Humberside Lib Dems site.
Saturday, February 10, 2007
Last autumn, George Osborne, the shadow chancellor, invited himself into the office of a leading figure in the LibDem Party. Then, without so much as a preamble, he got down to business and presented him with a dramatic proposition, which he made clear had been sanctioned by David Cameron.A year ago Tory websites were confidently predicting that at least one Lib Dem MPs was about to defect, but nothing happened. I trust that nothing more will come of these rumours either, but I thought I would pass the gossip on to you.
Osborne suggested to David Laws, LibDem work and pensions spokesman, that he should consider defecting to the Conservative Party. In return, he would be offered a shadow cabinet job. At this point, Laws politely and thoughtfully explained that he was not a Tory.
David Laws was targeted because he is regarded by Conservatives as the ablest of all LibDems. He is a former banker and stands on the free-market wing of his party, so much so that some of his ideas on the economy would be regarded as dangerously Right-wing by centre-ground Conservatives.
So it is easy to see why he personally should be courted. But the Tory high command is ambitious for the dramatic capture of a senior LibDem and has other key lieutenants of Sir Menzies Campbell in mind.
Veiled approaches have been made to Jeremy Browne, one of the brightest of the latest parliamentary intake, while LibDem health spokesman Norman Lamb is also seen as an interesting proposition.
Friday, February 09, 2007
Bette Davis made two Hammer films at Elstree in the mid-1960s, entitled The Nanny and The Anniversary and, at the time, she stayed at The Chantry, in Barnet Lane.
Popstar maker Simon Cowell told me that as a child he was a neighbour and remembers being bounced on the actresses (sic) knee.
While House Points was taking a break, the prime minister was twice interviewed by police, Lembit Öpik took up with a Cheeky Girl and the Conservatives came out against identity cards. We shall return to Tony Blair’s adventures – though perhaps not Lembit’s – another day, so let’s look at the Tories.
On Monday David Davis wrote to the cabinet secretary saying a Conservative government would scrap the ID card project. He asked what had been done to protect public funds against the costs of early cancellation. He also wrote to likely major contractors warning them of the Tories’ intentions.
At last: a policy from the Tories. And it’s one Liberal Democrats should welcome unreservedly, even if it only catches up with a position we have held for years.
But the interesting question is how it will play with Conservative members. They may not be as keen on watering down Tory authoritarianism as we are.
In the early 1990s I was walking the South-West coast and spent a night in Kingsand -- a village across the Tamar from Plymouth. It was one of those magical evenings when you make friends with the locals and people keep buying you drinks.
Towards closing time, the local Conservatives came in from a meeting and I got talking to them too. They had been discussing identity cards and asked what I thought. I said (a little pretentiously) that I didn't see why, as a freeborn Englishman, I should have to carry a card to show my right to be in my own country.
Yes, they said, there was someone at the meeting who thought that, but the rest of us were firmly in favour of cards. It turned out this was chiefly because of their fears about illegal immigration.
Political activists will put up with anything from their leaders if they think they are being marched to victory. Labour members allowed Blair to discard their traditional policies. Liberals agreed to stand down in half the seats in the country to support David Steel’s "Alliance" project.
But they soon change if success does not arrive. There will be plenty of Tories eager to round on David Cameron if he does not improve his party’s performance markedly at the next election.
Thursday, February 08, 2007
Peter Black has gone further, suggesting that Rees-Mogg's appearance on Newsnight (he provides a link to a video of it) is the reason why Liberal Democrats should never countenance working with the Tories. However silly Rees-Mogg's views (and they are very silly), that seems a bit strong. After all, we do run councils like Leicester and Birmingham together.
But if we delve a little further into Rees-Mogg's life some fascinating connections with great Liberal names of the past appear. For, as this website tells us, he is head of global emerging markets and a director of Lloyd George Management.
Lloyd George? Yes, there is a connection with David Lloyd George. The company was founded by Robert Lloyd George, and it turns out that he is the great grandson of the Liberal leader and the author of the book David and Winston: How a friendship changed history, which I reviewed in Liberator last year.
There is more. Lloyd George Management's expert on Latin American markets is one Mark Asquith. Is there another connection? More research shows shows that he is indeed the great great grandson of the last Liberal prime minister.
Wednesday, February 07, 2007
Gordon Brown comes out of Iraq better than Peter Hain. It is a very long time since British politics has witnessed anything quite as abject and contemptible as Hain's recent interview in the New Statesman.
"The neocon mission has failed," Hain proclaims - now. "People have forgotten about [the government's achievements] because of the Iraq conflict," the Northern Ireland secretary tells us - now. The government found itself working with "the most rightwing American administration, if not ever, then in living memory", he observes - now, in the year 2007, just as he happens to be running for the Labour deputy leadership.
But really, what an utter wretch this man is! What a dismal, slippery poltroon! Like Molière's Monsieur Jourdain learning that he had been speaking prose all his life, Hain suddenly discovers that George Bush is a rightwing politician, something he evidently never noticed in the years when Bush was governor of Texas, and presided over the execution of 153 people - on one occasion publicly mocking a woman he had put to death - or indeed when he reached the White House.
It's quite true that we took part in the Iraq war in order to demonstrate our - or Blair's - absolute loyalty to that American administration. Like Brown, Hain was a member of the cabinet when the war began. Like him, he could have resigned. Like him, he decided, in Lloyd George's phrase, to perish with his drawn salary in his hands.
In fact, Hain went further. Two years ago he was still defending the case for regime change, or insisting that "an Iraq moving into democracy provides a better future for the Iraqi people". And he sneered at what he called the "tired old attack" which "questions the prime minister's integrity" - over the dossiers and claims about weapons of mass destruction, that is.
Until the 1960s, turkeys - like chicken - were mostly reared on mixed farms. Their feed was grown on the farm, and many were allowed to roam over pastures and corn stubbles.On an Overgrown Path has some photographs from Holton in Suffolk, where the outbreak of avian flu took place.
Given the opportunity, turkeys will eat significant amounts of vegetation as well as the insects and worms they find in their general foraging. It's now known that poultry meat produced this way contains higher levels of B vitamins, fat-soluble vitamins such as A and D, and essential omega-3 fatty acids than the meat of birds kept in sheds.
This kind of extensive poultry-keeping has other benefits. Free-ranging birds enrich the soil with their droppings, providing fertility to grow the following crop. The enriched soil is better able to sequester carbon, taking carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and locking it up in organic matter. These benefits were largely lost when we started keeping birds in sheds.
Violent storms this winter which disrupted ferries to the Western Isles, and fears that climate change will make the situation worse, have inspired a campaign to build a road tunnel between the Outer Hebrides and mainland Scotland.This seems a good place to add today's Pleasing Trivial Fact. As this story confirms, Donald Trump's mother, Mary Anne MacLeod, grew up on the Isle of Lewis and her first language was Gaelic.
Local councillors, business leaders and residents are proposing an undersea link, which would be the longest road tunnel in the world. The Channel Tunnel, which opened in 1994, is 31 miles long, with just 23 miles under the sea, while the Western Isles road tunnel would be 41 miles long and almost entirely beneath the waves.
The project's supporters are considering two alternatives. The first is a 25-mile crossing from Benbecula to the northern tip of Skye, which already has a bridge to the mainland. The second is a 41-mile link between Stornoway on Lewis to Ullapool, Wester Ross. Either option would cost considerably more than the £10bn it took to build the Channel Tunnel.
Tuesday, February 06, 2007
I was particularly struck by the following:
Second subject, and Lib Dem Phil Willis, the chair of the science and technology committee, leading the questioning.Granted, it is the job of members of this committee (who are the chairs of other select committees) to ask awkward questions. Granted, it is the job of members of opposition parties to oppose.
What evidence is there that patient choice in health drives up quality? he wants to know.
Mr Blair points to reduced waiting lists. No, you're going off on a tangent, says Mr Willis. What about quality, not waiting times?
The prime minister says that in 1997 the key issue was waiting times; a few months rather than a few years for cataract operations is an improvement in health care.
But how meaningful is choice if the hospital you attend is not chosen by the patient or even the GP, but faceless bureaucrats at the primary care trust?
Choice is an illusion, says the Harrogate MP. I don't agree, says Mr Blair; payment by results will mean that money follows the patient.
But Phil Willis here seems not just to be pointing out all the practical problems in implementing the government's choice agenda. He seems to be questioning the very concept of choice itself. And that seems to me an odd thing for a Liberal to be doing.
I stand by what I wrote on the Guardian politics pages in April last year:
If liberalism is to amount to something more than socialism without the identity cards, respect for individual difference must be central to it.Perhaps there are ways of respecting individual differences that do not involve giving people more choice. But opponents of choice do not talk about them. Too often - in the Liberal Democrats and beyond - they sound like the voice of public sector professionals and almost contemptuous of the views and interests of the wider public.
This reminds me of one of my favourite parliamentary by-elections: Brecon & Radnor in 1985. I spent polling day in Cwmtwrch-isaf. The polling station was at the local community centre and tellers from all the parties were provided with a table and chair. There was also free tea and Welsh cakes for all comers. No doubt this was against all sorts of electoral laws, but it did make things more enjoyable.
Incidentally, I travelled down to Brecon with the Liberals' East Midlands regional agent, a young man by the name of Chris Rennard. Does anyone know what happened to him?
Monday, February 05, 2007
The LibDems seem to take great delight in asserting that they are the only Party which is totally opposed to ID cards. Well they won't be able to trot out that old canard again.Why?
Today David Davis, has today written to the Cabinet Secretary, Sir Gus O'Donnell giving formal notice that an incoming Conservative Government would scrap the Government's ID card project and asking what provision, if any, has been made in the relevant contractual arrangements to protect the Government - and public funds - against the costs that would be incurred as a result of early cancellation of the scheme. A similar letter has also been sent to the likely major contractors warning them of our intentions.This is good news and the Conservatives are to be commended. But I wonder how this will play with the membership.
I remember one of my walking holidays around the South-West coast from the early 1990s. I spent the night in Kingsand - a charming village across the Tamar from Plymouth. It was one of those magical evenings where you make friends with the locals and people keep buying you drinks.
Towards closing time, the local Conservatives came in from a meeting and I got talking to them too. They had been talking about identity cards and asked what I thought. I said (a little pretentiously) that I didn't see why, as a freeborn Englishman, I should have to carry a card to show my right to be in my own country.
Yes, they said, there was one person at the meeting who had said that, but the rest of us are all in favour of cards. There major reason for supporting them was their belief that the country was overrun with illegal immigrants.
Perhaps none of us can be quite so sceptical about that as I was in those days, but this anecdote does serve a reminder of just how far the Tory rank and file will have to travel if they are to embrace Cameron's attempt to bring the party back into the mainstream.
I wish Cameron well, but a lot of people will pounce on him gleefully if he fails to improve the Tory performance markedly at the next election.
DUP assembly election candidates have received a contract asking them to sign a resignation letter, which could be triggered if they breach party policy.
The contract was described as "draconian" by one member.
The member told the BBC DUP assembly members could find themselves out of a job without even being consulted.
A DUP spokesman said he was not aware of any contract at this stage, but said it was normal practice for candidates to sign one.
A two-page contract with a letter of resignation attached has been received by a number of candidates standing in the election.
BBC Northern Ireland political correspondent Martina Purdy said one of the clauses imposed a £20,000 fine on members as a form of discipline.
The UK Independence Party is today preparing to change its name as part of a re-branding exercise designed to woo large numbers of Conservatives disaffected with David Cameron.
Nigel Farage is confident that a change of name will help his party win seats in local elections and gain a foothold in the Commons
As part of an assault on the Tories, the ruling executive of the anti-Brussels party is expected to approve plans to promote itself as the Independence Party for the local elections on May 3.
Sunday, February 04, 2007
Let's hope he doesn't hurry to go on A Question of Sport or take up ballroom dancing.
Shock admissions by one of Tony Blair's closest aides are set to lead to three people being charged in the Cash For Honours scandal.
The News of the World can reveal that the Prime Minister's political secretary John McTernan "started the dominos falling" when quizzed by cops.
These dominos are expected to come crashing down around Blair, who yesterday pleaded with the Labour Party to be allowed to stay on in Downing Street. We can reveal:
- The new evidence led to two arrests and Mr Blair being questioned by detectives.
- Now three people, including two of the PM's closest aides, the Prime Minister's fundraiser Lord Levy and his head of government relations Ruth Turner, are set to be charged.
- Substantial new evidence, including McTernan's diaries, has now been disclosed to the Crown Prosecution Service.
- Mr Blair may now be questioned again, possibly even under caution, after he failed to give satisfactory answers to police.
Saturday, February 03, 2007
Liberal Democrat Voice quotes Steve Webb, as saying:
Unlike the other parties, we want a genuine conversation, and the manifesto we produce will be better as a result.Whether the people traditionally excluded from the political process have easy access to personal computers, I rather doubt. Still, it is an exciting initiative.
The days of the mass-produced print manifesto are over. Our manifesto for the next election will embrace new technology designed to reach people who have been excluded from the political process for too long.
Just how bad an idea it may be can be seen from an article in yesterday's Daily Telegraph:
Of course, you have to enter caveats when discussing Telegraph stories on Europe. Does anyone know any more about this? Is it just another scare?
People who question the official history of recent conflicts in Africa and the Balkans could be jailed for up to three years for "genocide denial", under proposed EU legislation.
Germany, current holder of the EU's rotating presidency, will table new legislation to outlaw "racism and xenophobia" this spring.
Included in the draft EU directive are plans to outlaw Holocaust denial, creating an offence that does not exist in British law.
But the proposals, seen by The Daily Telegraph, go much further and would criminalise those who question the extent of war crimes that have taken place in the past 20 years.
The legislation will trigger a major row across Europe over free speech and academic freedom.
On a lighter note, I liked the observation of England Expects:
If Turkey joins the EU then we will have the comedy situation that denial of the Armenian Holocaust is a criminal offence in France, whilst mentioning it is a criminal offence in Turkey.Thanks to Tim Worstall for the links.
Friday, February 02, 2007
Thursday, February 01, 2007
Which famous feline are you?
You're Hobbes. First of all, the makers of this quiz would like to congratulate you. You have our seal of approval. You are kind, intelligent, loving, and good-humoredly practical. You're proud of who you are. At the same time, you're tolerant of those who lack your clearsightedness. You're always playful, but never annoying. For these traits, you are well-loved, and with good cause.
Take this quiz!
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It's not that often I take issue with Guido Fawkes but I was surprised to see him advising punters today to back a July departure, admittedly before news of the second interview broke.
I honestly think the very best he can hope for now is a March announcement on a formal departure just after the local elections in May. That way he still gets to do his 10 years, while at the same time lancing the boil ahead of those elections to limit the damage to Labour.
Of course, Blair himself remains in denial about the degree of damage he is doing by hanging on, but the man who has run Britain like an elected president is about to be reminded that we live in a parliamentary democracy after all.
To put it bluntly, I don't think Labour MPs are going to put up with another five or six months of this. It will be a plain, old-fashioned backbench revolt that gets him in the end.
The process for getting the bubbles into Aero bars was invented by the novelist Nigel Balchin. This fact is referred to in passing by Gilbert Adair and you can learn all about Balchin's work for Rowntree's in an article from The Psychologist (.pdf file).
Balchin is probably best remembered today as the author of the novel The Small Back Room, which was filmed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger.
The problem with today’s world is not that terrorists believe in their cause so strongly: it’s that the democracies’ belief in theirs is so weak.In today's Guardian Timothy Garton Ash quotes a 22-year-old Muslim woman from Leeds to similar effect:
"The bad thing, and I don't know how we can solve this, is that they [the British] don't really know what their values are. So when they are attacked they kind of seem to be making it up."