Wednesday, May 31, 2006

W(h)ither newspapers?

The Guardian's main leader today is about the relative rise of the internet and decline of newspapers. In Britain this year it is estimated that the net will carry a slightly higher proportion (about 13%) of total advertising spending than will national newspapers. Interestingly regional and local papers continue to carry more than either at around 20%. I've long maintained at election campaigns that local newspapers have far more reach and influence than national ones do and advertiser seem to agree.

It's easy to get carried away about the Internet as the dot com bubble proved. The CEO of the company I worked for got over-excited about it and his enthusiasm led indirectly to thousands of redundancies including mine as we paid the price for his costly dabbling. He got kicked out as well but on rather better terms than the rest of us! But it is exciting that Google's founders started off with no real idea of how they were going to make money. As the leader writer puts it "Just as Lord Reith could not have predicted either Big Brother or News 24, so few can predict what this new medium will give us in the future.".

But bloggers shouldn't get too excited; when even the popular 'political' sites in the UK are getting only a few thousand hits a day and the rest of us managing with low hundreds or fewer, we're a long way from influencing many of the UK's sixty million inhabitants or even their 'opinion formers'. In contrast a local paper is liable to be read by at least a third of the population it serves. So keep those pro-Labour letters to your local editor flowing......

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Polly, Labour, the Arts and Tory forked-tongues

Polly Toynbee writing in the Guardian has some nice things to say about Labour and the flourishing ‘arts’ in Britain. She’s right that Labour has increased donations to artistic bodies especially in the quantity of small grants to small organisations. In contrast Conservative councils up and down the land are wont to cut arts funding to shave a few pence off the council tax.

Polly writes about such initiatives: “But they all cost money. David Cameron is unlikely to pledge extra arts funding in pursuit of happiness: his one firm promise is that his tax-and-spend will be "dramatically different after five years". Labour has a good enough story to tell on the arts - up 64% in cash and more in impact.”

It’s a similar story with the ‘voluntary’ or ‘third’ sector upon which Mr Cameron sets so much store to revive local communities. In practice these too have seen cuts imposed on them by Tory local authorities. In Gloucester, for example, the highly successful Neighbourhood Projects that were just starting to make a real impact have had to shed staff because the Tories have taken over at Shire Hall and cut their grants. Their buddies on the City council are threatening to close the Guildhall Arts Centre, the only real place in the County where anything vaguely ‘alternative’ can be staged. If they don’t close it no doubt they’ll try to emasculate it in the same way that their colleagues in Cheltenham did for the Everyman Theatre which now stages little other than ‘respectable’ stuff for ‘decent’ people.

But it’s hard to see Labour winning many votes through these incremental improvements to the sum of human happiness because, as Polly notes, “the press never reports [them]”. Hey hum. But it’s nice to have her article as a little counterbalance to Max Hastings’ one in which, as Councillor Piper puts it, the ex-Telegraph editor “dribbles and drools unashamedly over the boy Cameron.” . Nicely put Bob......

Monday, May 29, 2006

Not many hurt in cheese race

The BBC web site reports that "A teenager who knocked himself out while chasing a Double Gloucester cheese down a hill was among 25 people hurt in a Cheese Rolling competition. Chris Anderson, 18, won one of the five races ..... [he] said: "I just ran, fell and hit my head. I feel sore but it was definitely worth it."

Jim Jones, St John Ambulance operations training manager, said 12 spectators and 13 competitors had been injured during the event. "It was quite a reasonable year, not too bad at all," he said. "We usually average around 30-40 people who need treatment.

What are we like in Gloucestershire, eh?

Messrs Blair, Bush and Clinton

Tim Hames has a thoughtful* piece in the Times about the PM's relationship with American presidents. Many people, especially those somewhat left of centre in their political outlook, tend to regard the Clinton era as a golden one. They perhaps forget, amongst many other things, the difficulties Mr Blair had in engaging him in Kosovo; an intervention which is now widely accepted as being rather successful.

The article debunks the golden era myth suggesting that "Mr Clinton’s approach to international relations was rather like his attitude to women: he either wanted his hands everywhere or he ignored the body concerned entirely. .... Too often, Mr Clinton ... spoke with a forked tongue. Whatever Mr Bush’s faults may be, as the Prime Minister has frequently observed, you do know where he stands and where you stand with him."

Mr Blair's foreign policy critics often greatly overestimate Britain's present influence in the world. With less than 1% of the global population and being no longer a super-power even the influence we do have amounts to 'punching above our weight'. The strategy of trying to maintain something of the 'special relationship' with our 'oldest ally' isn't an entirely dishonourable one. It's a complex world.

Mr Hames goes on: "Thoughtful critics of Mr Blair from within his own ranks ..... accept that his room for policy manoeuvre was limited and assert that the liberal interventionism that he espouses .... is right. The tragedy of Iraq, they say, is that it devalued the cause that he champions. ... [but] The idea that there can ever be such a thing as Fairy Liquid warfare — conflict that leaves your hands feeling cleaner and smoother afterwards — is an illusion."

Can't argue with that last sentence.....

* thoughtful piece - blogger speak for one agreed with a bit but not entirely.

The Daily Mail is really Very Cross

Gosh they’re in a state! Righteous indignation drips off their web site and, I expect, their pages. They really should learn to relax or else their blood pressure may well do for them. (Thanks Harry's Place for pointing me at this lovely little story).

It’s relaxation that’s got the Mail going this time. Mr Prescott has not only been seen relaxing he’s been playing what they probably regards as a toffs’ only game and also looking at cows. Shocking, eh? Croquet isn’t really all that posh; as long ago as the 1950s there was a public court (?) / pitch (?) at Brighton where, for a few pennies, even the riffraff could knock hired balls around with hired mallets. Actually it was in Hove now I come to think of it, so a bit on the genteel side if not exactly posh.

The founder of the Daily Mail is reputed to have said that he wanted his paper to deliver something to enrage the lower middle classes every day. Paul Dacre, the Mail’s present editor, seems to be doing the founder proud for his million or so English pounds a year.....

The Great British Press

Peter Mandelson was on the wireless this morning talking about The Royal Festival Hall. At least that’s what he was booked to talk about and that’s what the Today ‘listen again’ site claims he was talking about. But naughty James Naughtie couldn’t resist wasting most of the interview on the topic of the Millennium Dome.

Peter’s grandfather, Herbert Morrison, had led the project for the 1951 Festival of Britain of which the Hall is the only survivor. Like the Dome project it had had its many detractors in the press and the Conservatives destroyed all traces except the Hall when they returned to power after the 1951 general election. Many people forget that the Dome project was started by the Tories and that the flamboyant Michael Heseltine had led the project until Labour came to power in 1997.

I wonder if the media would have been so hostile if the Conservatives had still been in power in 2000? Of course many journalists were mightily hacked (ho ho) off on the night of 31st December 1999 because they were held up at Strafford Station on their way to the Dome’s opening night by trouble on t’Jubilee line. This will have added fuel to their usual downbeat assessment of any large project in Britain.

I never set foot inside the place but my family had a wonderful day in the Dome. I was due to collect them outside it in the late afternoon but I kept getting text-messages telling me to arrive later than planned. They eventually emerged about eight in the evening.

But the media was determined it was to be a flop. How they love to run down anything new especially, but not exclusively as the Wembley Stadium saga shows, if it’s a government project. Why do they do it? Probably forthe same reason that they hype alarmist stories; as Political Teenager points out in the comments box on my post about Bird Flu, “Fear sells papers...” and so, they must hope, does gloomy pessimism........

Beware of mud

Today is Cheese Rolling day at Cooper's Hill but the organisers are warning that the only car park is waterlogged and are advising people "to park some distance away and walk to the event, or even postpone your visit and come next year". Oh dear.

Cooper's Hill is on the sharp edge of the Cotswold Hills a couple of miles east of the City of Gloucester. Most of it is wooded but there are occasional fine views between the tress up the Severn Vale towards the Malvern Hills and across Gloucester (with its Cathedral which boasts the finest tower of its type in the world) towards May Hill and the Black Mountains in Wales. Normally the hill's peace is disturbed only by a few strollers on the many paths which cross its slopes or by more serious walkers on the Cotswold Way which passes through. But for one day a year it's noisier as it's taken over by the cheese rollers on its steepest and clearest slope. Why do they do it? Because they do......

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Grimsby nil Cheltenham one (won)

Hurrah. Even though we didn't join the exodus to Cardiff as we did in 2002, our boys done us proud. Let's hope they can stay up for at least two seasons this time. It must have been a good money spinner for the club which still lacks a major sponsor and apparently has to get by on a wages bill of just thirteen thousand pounds a week. From the description on Radio Five Live it wasn't a very pretty game but, so what, we won......

Dave Cameron’s on Desert Island Discs.....

..... this morning on BBC Radio Four. But don’t panic; more wholesome entertainment is available at the same time on Radio Four Long Wave. Test Match Special is guaranteed to provide more good humour and a wider range of views than its FM counterpart will......

Whatever happened to Bird Flu?

News journalism is a naughty business trading on our desire to live risk-free lives. Journalists are herd animals* and eagerly follow each other towards sensational stories and, equally quickly, dash away when the story-well seems to have run dry.

I worked in the IT department of an insurance company for a while and got to understand something of the trade. Insurance is essentially about sharing risk and insurance companies have become pretty adept at understanding risk. So they know, for example, how many two hundred thousand pound homes will be completely destroyed each year and therefore know how much to charge to insure against the risk.

But individuals are generally hopeless at assessing risk. Therefore stories of murderous villains, especially if they're foreigners, will stop people going out for evening strolls for fear of becoming a victim. Yet they'll happily jump in their car without giving a thought to the risk of dying in a car crash being about sixty times higher than that of being murdered by a stranger.

So Bird Flu was a gift to journalists for a while, the prospect of a plague on its way apparently to wipe most of us out (actually to increase the number of flu deaths by a few percentage points) made for wonderful stories. All sorts of 'instant experts' are on hand to expostulate, for a fee, about this (or any other) subject. But the caravan has moved on. No doubt unfortunate birds are still dying as are a tiny number of poultry workers overseas. But do we hear about it? Of course we don't.....

* radio journalists are also heard animals, ho ho.

Friday, May 26, 2006

French politics is different

It doesn't seem to take much to bring the French onto the streets in protest but their decision-making processes remain highly centralised and there is little argument about some issues that cause British radicals huge angst. For example, as Mary Ann Sieghart notes in the Times today "the nuclear deterrent is part of [France's national] identity. Even though it is far more expensive than the British one, it remains universally popular". She describes the decision to replace Britain's ageing Trident system as "a bomb ticking under Labour".

Similarly there seems to be virtually no debate in France about nuclear energy which supplies about 75% of their electricity needs. But in Britain it is a cause célèbre for the allegedly radical left. Central concentration of power has also enabled the French to construct an impressive network of high-speed railway lines and motorways without having to go through the rigmarole of local planning processes or public enquiries which bedevil such projects in Britain.

On holiday there in March and April I was impressed by the demonstrations against the relatively mild reforms in their employment laws in the CPE proposals. Even in the little town we spent a Monday night in there were dozens of banner-waving people out on the streets on Tuesday morning. And the other little towns we walked through had evidence of similar demonstrations such as banners discarded on roundabouts. At Annecy our hosts showed us a video of the huge demo which had passed through the streets beneath their apartment. Shades of revolting students in 1968.

The CPE bit the dust but motorway construction continues apace, vive la différence.....

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Tory leader fails to bash bureaucrats shock!

The big story (yawn) in Cheltenham is the banning of St George's flags on local taxis. The Gloucestershire Echo declares that "Barmy bureaucrats at the borough council outlawed St George's Cross flags in case they confuse the passengers."

But, speaking on local wireless this morning, the new leader of the Borough Council and my near neighbour, Duncan Smith, said that he was sure that council staff had interpreted the rules correctly and were doing a grand job. Heck, are the Tories perhaps learning that many of their potential voters are administrators who are fed up with being told that everything's 'their fault'? Mr Smith (no relation to Iain) wants the licensing committee to re-think the rules.

Meanwhile in nearby Gloucester, the Citizen reports that its "council has not gone as far as its neighbour Cheltenham Borough Council, which has banned the flags from appearing on taxis. Gloucester City Council says cabbies can apply to have their licence amended. This means they may be granted written permission to fly the England flags. But there is the possibility the request will be denied."

Of course the really big footie story is the excitement of Cheltenham's visit to Cardiff on Sunday, they're going there today so that they'll be used to the Millennium Stadium. Bless.......

Monday, May 22, 2006

Cliché watch

The continuing stories about the Home Office provide lovers of clichés with plenty of fun today. (I'm sorry if the e-acute at the end of cliché doesn't display correctly on your computer's screen; if British spelling correctly did its job (of providing a written form of the way we speak) we would probably spell it kleeshay.)

The Telegraph does well in its leader, it even has one in the headline. In the text it manages to include: floundering regime, fiasco, EU budget surrender and the absolutely spiffing power-hungry shysters.

The Indy tries hard with gems such as: fiasco, beleaguered department, lucrative government contracts and dysfunctional department but they have to resort to quotations from David Davis, the Shadow Home Secretary, for "perpetuate a serial injustice." and Nick Clegg, home affairs spokesman for the Liberal Democrats, who managed a "dangerous criminals are allowed to walk freely in our communities" and a "latest fiasco".

And the Times has: innocent lives .. being ruined, branded as criminals and blunders also tapping Nick Clegg for "absurd levels of incompetence" and including David Davis's "perpetuate a serial injustice.”

I haven't dared look in the Mail yet....

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Eurovision Sentimentality

I can't stand the singing in this great contest but I do love the voting. It was somewhat speeded up this year but still we had a chance to see TV presenters from all over the place. It's rude, but amusing, of Mr Wogan to mock them; I wonder how he'd do if he was presenting in a language which wasn't his first.

What makes me a bit weepy is seeing all those countries joining in that were behind the Iron Curtain, and some which barely existed, when I was a lad. And I love the way that the Balkan countries, whose leaders apparently think they hate each other, regularly giving high points to their neighbours.

Israel is a bit of an anomaly but has been for decades. Will the Palestinians one day be let in and, if so, would they be likely to vote for each other? And what's happened to Luxembourg? 'Here are the votes of the Luxembourg jury' was always one of the phrases used by people mocking this extraordinary event.....

Friday, May 19, 2006

Cheltenham Nil, Wycombe Nil

Clinging onto their 2-1 lead from the first leg, Cheltenham Town held on for a draw with Wycombe Wanderers yesterday evening at Whaddon Road. The match was described by BBC Radio Gloucestershire as 'nail biting' which may mean 'very dull' but it has ensured the team a match at Cardiff's Millennium Stadium against Grimsby on Sunday week. It should be a thriller.

With Cheltenham's renewed success and Nailsworth's last minute escape from Conference relegation (again), this has been a classic year for footie in Gloucestershire - some compensation for the County's cricket team now having to play in the lower league in both the one and four day games and for Gloucester RFC apparently having forgotten how to play.

More sports news soon including a special 'why it's all Margaret Thatcher's fault' feature.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Whatever's happened to the Guardian?

We live in odd times. Over the last few weeks the supposedly radical Guardian has told us that the only things standing between us and a tyrannical government determined to ruin our public services and have us all locked up forever are the civil service and judiciary. In saner times these great institutions were rightly viewed and frequently ridiculed as the bastions of reaction that they unfortunately so often behave as though they were.

Today its leader writer confesses to "sounding like one of the Conservatives' 2005 general election posters" whilst writing about immigration control. Having conceded that "it is in the nature of illegal immigration that the numbers are hard to discover" (well doh!) the rant thunders on declaring that the situation "is not acceptable" but offering precious little in the way of workable solutions.

In common with a few noisy members of the Labour Party, the Guardian, and even more so the Independent, really don't know how to cope with a Labour government and the harsh realities of power. I bet they can't wait for the Tories to get back in; then their clever solutions to all our alleged ills won't face the risk of ever being put to the test. Herumph!

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Water Blues

I was never wholly convinced that water privatisation was a Good Thing but that doesn’t imply that I think it was a Bad Thing. There is certainly a good case for keeping the nation’s key infrastructure in government ownership. Even Adam Smith, the man most misquoted by the privatisation fundamentalists, thought that HMG should own the roads. There wasn’t much other infrastructure in his day, I wonder what he’d have thought about water pipes?

Mind you the nationalisation zealots have some questions to answer. For example, why, when it was publicly owned, did the industry do so little to renew its infrastructure? A lot of the current leaks in the system would have been prevented had there been a proper rolling programme of renewal. And where would the government now find funds to renew the pipes? It’s no good moaning that the public sector borrowing obsession is silly, it may well be but it’s still a harsh fact of economic life in the real world. If the government borrows too much the whole economy becomes unstable. This may just be because the world’s investors are collectively daft but that doesn’t prevent it happening. Hence PFI and all the difficulties that can bring.

It’s odd to find the Daily Telegraph, usually in the vanguard of the denationalisers, railing against the water companies in its leader column thus: “This "drought" is a myth, put about by greedy monopolies to serve their own ends.”, coo! The Independent, more predictably, also seems convinced that it’s mainly the water companies’ fault “Figures from Ofwat, the water regulator, reveal that the privatised water companies are losing 3.6 billion litres a day - up to 500 pints per home per day”.

The Guardian opts for nostalgia getting the amiable Martin Wainwright to reminisce about the long hot summer of 1976 and its water shortages: “For children of the 60s, in particular, the bonus was that the weather only seemed to discomfort the right sort of victims. It was a nightmare for Saturday car-washers, for example”.

Meanwhile even the Daily Mail took a pop at the private water companies yesterday “They are very profitable, but show no urgency in repairing our Victorian pipelines. Instead they preside over the worst wastage in Europe - Bulgaria apart - while issuing ever-higher bills.”. But, of course it couldn’t resist also having a clichéd go at the government: which, they claim “is hell-bent on carpeting the South with a million new houses, while pulling down perfectly good houses in the North”. Hmmm

Monday, May 15, 2006

A list fails to impress some Tories

William Rees-Mogg has joined those Tories declaring themselves less than impressed by the Party’s A List of candidates. The list, of just over 100 people, shows the people most likely to be picked for allegedly winnable Tory seats at the next UK general election.

Under the headline "Too narrow, too wet, too dim", Baron Rees-Mogg of Hinton Blewitt writing in the Times today seems unimpressed by the concept of the list, by the party’s secrecy about the names on it or by the names that have appeared on the Conservative Home blog site. (His Lordship has also recently started a blog on which he is described as “a cross-bench member of the House of Lords” but to judge by most of his writing my suspicion that he's a Tory seems justified).

Iain Dale, the famous Tory blogger, didn’t make it onto the list and is understandably disappointed. Rees Mogg makes a similar point to one of Iain’s when he writes: “In choosing 100 priority candidates, the party is disappointing at least 400 experienced candidates who have fought council or parliamentary seats. The 400 rather than the A-list are the party’s core of workers.” He concludes that: “Francis Maude’s grand strategy is beginning to look like a failure.”

One of the ladies on the list is apparently a committed Thatcherite. Those of you eagerly awaiting the next episode of my occasional memories of life under the Iron Lady might in the meantime like to read what Bloggers4Labour wrote about Maria Hutchings who’s made it onto the list. Sample quote “Mr Blair has got to stop focusing on issues around the world such as Afghanistan and Aids in Africa and concentrate on the issues that affect the people of Middle England, like myself who pay the taxes which keep the country going .... I don't care about refugees. I care about my little boy and I want the treatment he deserves.”

Poor grammar and a nasty ‘I’m all right, Jack’ attitude; a self-confessed classic Essex Tory girl. I bet she’s unimpressed by Gordon Brown’s efforts to achieve our 0.7% of GDP going to overseas aid. Same old Tories.....

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Winning with Winnometers

Five's new test cricket highlight programmes are splendid. They're made by Sunset + Vine Productions, the company that did the Channel 4 cricket coverage and which was responsible for a heap of innovations. At 45 minutes the programmes are 50% longer than the highlights were on Channel 4 and they seem to contain a better play to analysis ratio. Perhaps they're aware that fewer viewers will have been able to watch the live action now it's on Sky.

This year's innovation, the winnometer (or is it win-o-meter?), is a classic. It's like the swingometer in its 1970s' heydays. We're busy building one for use in the comfort of our own home.......

Rescuing Adam Smith

The Adam Smith Institute seems concerned that its hijacking of the name of the 'father of modern economics' is under threat. On its blog today it has a piece ("Chancellor leads second kidnap attempt on Adam Smith") attacking what Gordon Brown has written in the forward to a book on Adam Smith. The Scotsman wrote about it last month: "Mr Brown makes it clear he believes the economist had a strong social conscience that would make him a political ally .... In the book, Prof McLean .... [writes] "I think he can only be classed as an egalitarian and left-wing philosopher."".

Good! For too long right-wingers have been getting away with selective and narrow quotations from Smith. They have overlooked his calls for decent wages and his assertions that government has a role in the provision of infrastructure such as roads (there wasn't much else in that category in his pre-railway, sewerage, electricity or water-supply days).

Well done Gordon......

Saturday, May 13, 2006

The inevitability of gradualness......

...... is a phrase made famous by Sidney Webb who said it in an address to the Labour Party Conference in 1923. I was reminded of it when reading an article about inequality in the Business Section of today’s Guardian. Skipper has also spotted it and comments that “it really annoys [him] when critics of Labour claim inequality is greater currently under Blair, than at any other time”. In fact, since Labour moved on from the Major Government’s tax and spending plans, the pendulum has started to swing back.

The Guardian notes that “tax and benefit changes in the past few years have reduced income inequality between the richest and poorest people in Britain .... the Office for National Statistics said inequality had narrowed since 2001/02, reversing the rises of the late 1990s”. Unhappily “inequality remains high by historical standards” but the UK is now moving in the correct direction.

I’m sure that many people hoped that Labour would have instantly reversed all the damage which eighteen years of uninhibited radical-Tory government had done to the fabric of society. But there was no revolution in 1997 for which we should all be grateful. Instead we have a government that is acutely aware of the limitations of its powers as it steers a careful course between the many powerful forces which have influence over life in Britain.

It’s slow and, sometimes, painful progress but much to be preferred to the only real alternatives viz a return to a Tory government or a hung parliament that would probably further slow progress.

Friday, May 12, 2006

What it was like under Thatcher’s regime (2)

The worse thing about the Thatcher era was my car radio. The other worse thing was pretty much everything else. Especially her certainty; I think she did perhaps believe her infamous words: 'there is no alternative'.

Living in our wonderfully complex and bewildering universe, I find absolute certainty and simplistic solutions very unsettling. But these were her stock in trade. I know that politicians must sometimes sound more confident than they really are about their position but she pushed it to the limit. And the strident voice in which she explained everything to us lesser mortals was awful; patronising doesn't even start to describe her tone!

And that car radio; it would only receive long-wave so driving home I had a choice between Radio Four, some French stations or silence. I should have chosen the latter but I used to listen to PM instead. Only recently had sound broadcasting from Parliament been permitted; it wasn't yet on TV. So nearly every evening there were extracts from the day's business.

Prime Minister's Questions was on twice a week then (let no one tell you that Tony Blair has contempt for Parliament because he only does it once a week. His half-hour slot is far more effective than her two fifteen minute ones were. No one else could get a word in as she hardly needed to draw breath in those!). So at least twice a week I had to listen as she explained in that ghastly simpering voice how incredibly simple everything was and how wonderfully well her government was coping. And people believed her! How ever did I keep the car on the road in my fury?

In the next episode: what happened to compassion......

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Thirty years on

Timothy Garton Ash writes about Harold Wilson's resignation today in the Guardian. I recommend it especially to anyone nostalgic for 'old Labour' or for Britain in the 1970s. "Britain was in much worse shape than it is today. "The past 12 years," wrote the Times on the occasion of Wilson's departure, "have been a period of palpable decline for the United Kingdom: absolute decline in respect of external relations and relative decline in respect of living standards." Later that year, the sterling crisis became so acute that the British government had to go begging to the IMF for a stand-by facility. The previous year, inflation had exceeded 24% and the Wall Street Journal ran the headline "Goodbye Great Britain" .... Britain was "the sick man of Europe"."

"So when the media have finally claimed Blair's scalp .... perhaps we can see ourselves for what we are: a not too badly governed, reasonably prosperous, moderately secure, not too bitterly divided society, facing all the problems of a dangerous world .... but facing them with a degree of confidence unimaginable 30 years ago."

Nicely put - sorry about this lazy cut-and-paste blog but the sun's shinning, there's a test match on the wireless (too mean to get Sky TV) and nothing much in the news....

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Jonathan Freedland: snob and nit

Last week Mr Freedland revealed himself as a snob who looks down on anyone in trade. Wealth producers are obviously the scum of the earth to him. He prefers to move in that more elevated zone inhabited by academics and professionals such as journalists. Quite how these good folk could maintain their positions without anyone creating wealth for the nation he didn't explain.

On Saturday he demonstrated his poor skills as a political pundit and today he's again showing that he just doesn't get it. The 'it' being that private companies offer public services a dynamism that is often lacking from enormous public enterprises. That wages and profit are what drive most people to work. Perhaps he does his Guardian column for nothing and waives his fee when he's on the telly.

He's probably never been employed by a nationalised industry or by a large private one for that matter. If he had he might understand that both are less than perfect. An ideal society would use the best of each. But he wants us to return to pre-1979 Britain. Fine, except we were in terminal decline then......

Query: Is 'nit' still used by anyone as an insult these days? When I was in junior school it was the stinging jibe of first choice.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

He turns a lovely phrase does......

..... that David Aaronovitch. Writing in the Times today he gently lampoons the well-intentioned* "Compass pressure group. This organisation [is] a sort of think-tank-cum-faction, where sane leftists can get together and think about better lives, and ... a vehicle for the pronouncements of its chairman and founder."

On the way he describes other political journalists, the sort who can make an overheard casual conversation involving a Labour MP into a conspiracy or mini-crisis faster than I can write a blog entry, as "unembarrassable fellow scribblers". Ouch!

The meat of the article is about people giving unwanted and, usually, unhelpful advice to political parties and/or government. Apparently Compass is "writing an entire manifesto, with the help of academics and activists". Now I’ve nothing against academics or activists in fact I’m one of the latter myself (and could have been one of the former if I’d had the Latin). But most of them known approximately the square root of hardly anything at all about how things really get done.

The Labour Party, as are the other mainstream ones, is awash with people with far more experience and far better track records. They should construct the manifestos. Certainly ideas can work their way up from the grassroots but we grassroots wouldn’t be grassroots if we knew how to make all our well-intentioned* schemes into a whole set of policies that work both individually and collectively.

Still Compass and the like give at least one valuable service. They provide useful safety valves for many folk who think they know best. And so does blogging....

*is there any adjective more damning than this compound?

Times / Populus poll

A tongue in cheek view of the poll is that it shows Labour starting to recover from the low point of last week's elections. At 30% they are a point or so higher and at 38% the Tories a couple of points lower. But of course what it really demonstrates that, within their 3% margin of error, this is an accurate poll.

Sometimes it seems to me that getting accurate results from asking 1,500 people how they will vote to predict how 12 - 34 million people will vote is a bit depressing. Perhaps we don't all have as much free will as we think and are merely herd animals. If I were French I would write a philosophical piece about this thought. But I'm not so I'll just remind you that they chose the 1,500 or so people with great care.

The message to Labour supporters must be 'don't panic'. With 37 months to go until the likely date of the next general election and nearly 48 until it must be held, there's plenty of time to recover. The Tories are nowhere near the 45% comfort zone they would need to be on at this stage of the election cycle to be confident of victory.....

Monday, May 08, 2006

What it was like under Thatcher’s regime (1)

Living in Britain in the 1980s often felt like being trapped with a bunch of grade A bores in the bar of a suburban golf club. There used to be an expression 'saloon-bar bore' to describe the attitudes which became commonplace in those terrible days. But I guess that many people are too young to have heard of a saloon bar let alone been in one.

Saloon bar bores would be proud of their views and would expect everyone else to hold similar ones. They'd be casually racist, think nothing of ridiculing 'cripples', ‘women’, 'loonies' or ‘the poor’ and would like to boast about speeding or evading tax. In the 1980s this Tebbit-like mindset infected a large proportion of the population and it was difficult not to go along with it without seeming prudish. It was the zeitgeist. I well remember my boss's boss's boss complaining to me about a BT engineer but adding that his incompetence was no surprise as he should have been swinging through the trees rather than fixing telephones (the engineer was British and of West Indian origin).

I was reminded of those dismal days when commenting on a crass blog about the NHS on the Adam Smith Institute’s site. It's a shame that members of this august body seem only to have read half of Mr Smith's great works. They've picked up on free markets but cheerfully overlooked the stuff about paying fair wages or the government's duty to provide a decent environment and infrastructure....

Historical note: Until sometime probably in the 1960s British pubs, by law, had to have a public bar where ordinary people could drink. Beer was usually a few (old) pence cheaper in these and the decor was much more basic. The alternative, often called the saloon bar, became the haunt of wealthier drinkers. The stereotypical customer was a small-minded, old-fashioned Tory 'self made man'. When saloon bars ceased to exist and the riffraff started to invade all areas of pubs, these types had to retreat to private clubs. Golf clubs for example, especially those which think themselves posher than they really are, nowadays provide havens for these feeble people who are often too uncertain of their own social status and/or frightened of mixing with people who are not clones of themselves.

This may be the first of a series of reminiscences designed to remind / inform voters why we must never let the Tories back into government! Or perhaps it won’t be.

Solving the election turnout problem

Low voter turnout is generally considered to be a Bad Thing by those who claim to know about such matters. This is a debatable proposition but for the purposes of this post let's assume it's correct.

Various proposals have been made about how to increase turnout; compulsory voting seems to be back in favour with some at the moment. I have a better proposition which would remove the need to send non-voters to gaol or even jail. If the system assumes that everyone wants to vote Labour then the only people who need to vote will be those eccentrics who don't agree.

It seems quite fair to me, what's the problem?

Alternatively, why do we vote on Thursdays; is it a typical British tradition the origin of which no one can recall? Moving the voting day from Thursday to Saturday and Sunday might help. Increasing the number of polling stations and putting them in more attractive locations would also be good as would making the postal voting system a bit easier to understand.

The present system seems to favour the Tories; their voters are more likely to have free time on a Thursday, less likely to do physical jobs which make them too tired to go out to vote and more likely to have access to cars to take them to remote polling stations. When I stood for the County Council in Barnwood, Gloucester last year one area was about a mile away from its polling station which was on the other side of the busy ring road and up a hill. It's an area full of Labour supporters but I can't blame them for not turning out.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Yer'll never get nowhere if yer too 'asty

There's an Observer leader about Labour's leadership today. If Mr Blair stands down too soon his successor could justifiably be accused of having no mandate because the general election last year was won on the basis that Mr Blair would serve 'a full term'. I've been bleating on to anyone who'll listen (ie virtually no one) about the battering from the opposition and the hostile media that the new leader would face under such circumstances.

As the Observer puts it: "those calling for resignations should consider the question of democracy. Just a year ago, Labour was re-elected with a good majority, Tony Blair having declared that he would serve another term (but not fight the next election). Is it right, then, for his internal opponents to subvert the electorate's choice?".

Mr Brown on the Andrew Marr show this morning said that the situation was unique and that an orderly and stable transition was needed. He refused to be drawn on a date for things to happen; he said this was a matter for Mr Blair and the party. He also spoke about broadening the coalition of support for Labour, about increasing the confidence of the British population in the face of globalisation and about ensuring that extremist couldn't seize control of the party. One day he'll make a fine Prime Minister.

Btw the title of this post comes (loosely) from a 1962 song called "Right said Fred" which we thought was jolly good. The sixties wasn't quite such an exciting decade, especially in its early stages, as some would have you believe.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Well done Parmjit

Gloucester's energetic young MP Parmjit Dhanda has been promoted out of the whips' office to be a junior minister in the Department for Education and Skills. Since being elected in 2001 he's made a major impact both in Gloucester, where he's helped to bring in millions of pounds for regeneration, and at Westminster. He was one of a handful of Labour MPs to increase his majority in 2005. He's been promoted in spite of voting against sending British troops to Iraq.

He's also a new dad; his son Zac was born on 1st Jan in the new bit of the Gloucestershire Royal Hospital which is just across the road from the Labour Party office in Gloucester. The Gloucester Citizen reports that he "had been upstairs at home changing his son's nappy when the call came at 5.30pm yesterday. But with his hands full, he missed the call and then received a pager message asking him to ring number 10. He was put through to Tony Blair, who gave him the news." Ah bless......

A Panglossian take on the election results

Tony Blair has managed to drive analysis of the UK's local election results off the front pages and out of TV or Radio bulletins. His reshuffle was impeccably timed to divert the Westminster Village after another scent. Love them or loath them, no-one can honestly say that he and his team of advisors are not immensely skilful politicians. They've kept Mr Cameron's moment of tiny glory quite well buried.

Thousands of words will be written and spoken about the ministerial changes. Most will be rubbish. Every commentator will be desperate to get an angle on the story and will seek out evidence to support their (usually crackpot) theories about what's going on.

Some bored backbenchers will try to get themselves on telly or, more importantly, into their local papers by muttering about over-throwing Mr Blair. But it will be sound and fury signifying nothing as Bill Shakespeare might have written.

Meanwhile the election results are wonderful. The Tories made enough progress to dampen down the Tebbit tendency in their party but not enough to suppress it completely. Outside London they did woefully badly for the main opposition party nine years into the other party's term of office. The LibDems did badly, perhaps their negative campaigning is no longer fooling the voters.

So Labour has a sturdy platform on which to build for the general election on 11th June 2009.

Dr Pangloss is an absurdly optimistic character from Voltaire’s satire Candide written in 1759 hence Panglossian. He was lampooned for saying that everything's for the best in this the best of all possible worlds. It's not a bad philosophy imho. I expect the reader of this blog who can read tricky books in French will tell me that I, or the translators I've read, have got Monsieur V's intentions all wrong. Watch the comments box.....

Friday, May 05, 2006

More than a thousand days until the election

If my hunch and calculations are correct there are 1,133 days to get through before the next General Election in Britain. Plenty of time for all the topics currently dominating our news to be forgotten. I hope this might give some comfort to disappointed Labour activists and the councillors who lost their seats last night.

In Cheltenham we lost the one seat we were defending and are now down to just one, in Stroud we lost two. Better news from Gloucester where we held the four we were defending. The LibDem leader in Gloucester will have to eat his words, he had declared that his party would gain seats from Labour. In fact there were no changes in Gloucester but the LibDems suffered losses in both Cheltenham and Stroud.

Onwards and upwards......

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Please remember to vote for Labour today

Last year I got gently mocked for ensuring that all my leaflets included the word 'please' before the appeals to 'vote Labour' or 'support Labour'. But, as grown ups used to say in their annoyingly smug and patronising way when I was young, 'courtesy costs nothing'.

For many good reasons for choosing Labour please see my preceding post and/or several earlier ones.

To overseas visitors who perhaps find all this a bit parochial, you're right but that won't stop us enjoying our local elections......

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Nine years done, two plus many to go.....

It's nine years today since we woke up after a long night of watching election results come in. It hadn't been until about 3am that I finally began to accept that we weren't heading for a 1992-style disappointment and that Labour would, indeed, form the next government. I believe that the BBC's video of the night is the best selling ever for such an event and it includes the famous Enfield Southgate declaration at which Michael Portillo's political fate started to be sealed.

We were right to be optimistic that morning. Lead by Tony Blair, Labour has done wonders in its nine years. But people forget, incremental change and gradual improvements are easy to overlook. Numbers such as 600,000 children no longer living in poverty mean little when the pavements turn out not to be paved with gold after all and life goes on seemingly much as before.

I've sometimes been called a 'new Labour apologist'; it's meant to be an insult. But do we really need to apologise, for example, to:

those children no longer poverty;
the patients who wait only a couple of months instead of 18 for treatment;
people no longer plagued by yobs who've been brought under control thru ASBOs and the like;
the young families with places at SureStart centres;
the pupils in schools that now have books, computers and teaching assistants instead of leaking roofs;
the million or so pensioners who are nearly fifty pounds a week better off thanks to pension credit;
the people getting the minimum wage which the Tories said would bankrupt the nation;
or those employed in the record number of new jobs in the UK?

Just think where we might be now if the Tories had won. Mr Portillo might be PM! In two years time Mr Blair will step down to be replaced, probably, by Gordon Brown. So the next really interesting election should be in 2020 to determine who will follow him.......

Monday, May 01, 2006

Cameron’s driver facing sack?

Further to this little story, Camden Lady has found a solution for David Cameron’s problem with the size of his panniers. Now why couldn’t one of his army of allegedly clever researchers have found it? It surely couldn’t be that they weren’t really looking.........