Monday, July 31, 2006

Who will be the next Mayor of London?

"The Tory mayoral selection makes as much sense as a Lyme Regis fish-slapping contest".

Are the Tories having a laugh? It is 21 months before Ken Livingstone has to submit himself to the good people of our capital for re-election. At yet, as Tim Hames points out in the Times today, nominations for the Conservative candidate expire on Friday "The declared candidates so far consist of two worthy but obscure councillors. There is the understandable suspicion that Ken Livingstone would eat either of them for breakfast. Hence the increasingly frantic search for an even faintly famous individual who might enter the frame on behalf of the Tories".

It is bizarre; this is an increasingly powerful position "The mayor has the largest direct mandate east of New York and west of Moscow, bar the president of France.". London is one of the world’s great ‘City States’ with huge wealth and influence far greater than many countries can command.

What is wrong with what was, until recently, widely thought of, even by its opponents, as the natural party of British government?

Read Tim’s piece to learn more about conger eels, outlawed fish slapping contests and how Labour supporters can help to choose the Tory candidate.......

My blogroll & elections open only to Labour members

I’ve got around to updating the Blogs I Read section of my fabulously original sidebar. I have resisted the urge to head it BlogUlike but it was a close run thing. Out go a few sadly defunct sites and in come a few I’ve recently discovered. They’re all fantastically spiffing reads but I particularly commend this fine piece by Gareth Davies on why he won’t be supporting John McDonnell MP is his bid to become the next leader of the British Labour Party.

I won’t be supporting John McDonnell MP for that important role either even if no one else stands. But I shouldn’t think that he’s bothered. And I’ve just discovered that I’ve missed the deadline to vote in the NEC elections; I thought it was midnight but it turns out to have been midday. Bother. Still, as the irritatingly smug multimillionaire Richard Stilgoe once put it on an election night BBC Radio Four show of the same name, ‘don’t vote, it only encourages them’.

If I’ve left out or inadvertently deleted your site and you’d like a mention (I can’t promise any new readers), please let me know.....

The end of start

‘General flies back to front’ was a favourite newspaper headline in the comedy era which included such gems as the goon show, that was the week that was and I’m sorry I’ll read that again; an era when WWII was still a recent memory for many (but not for me, I’m not that old). The title of this post is my feeble attempt at homage.

It marks the passing, happily only for its summer holidays, of Start the Week on BBC Radio Four. It was a particularly fine edition this morning and I urge you to download it, subscribe to the podcast, listen again to it (all these goodies are available for free on its web site, just follow my link) or listen to the shortened repeat on your wireless this evening.

Andrew Marr was joined by Roy Hattersley, Patrick Hannan, Stella Duffy and Julian Baggini. They spoke about George Bernard Shaw and socialism; Arthur Scargill, Margaret Thatcher and the miners’ strike; a satirical, Orwellian view of the 1st decade of the 21st century; and thinking about thinking and what we think.

Roy Hattersley has been fortunate enough to have been the subject of several of my letters to newspaper editors and the like over the years. Some of these have been published (including this and this) but many, alas, did not see the light of newsprint. He is, I think, a theoretician rather than a practical politician. Overall he’s probably an asset to the Labour Party but he still doesn’t seem to get why it’s important to get elected if you want to get things done. He seems content to talk about getting things done......

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Boris Johnson on the turn?

‘Political correctness gone mad’; you’d have heard the Conel Blimps cry had this been Labour’s higher education spokesman praising Media Studies degrees and such. But it was the Tory’s higher education spokesman.

Boris Johnson, for he is it, was on Test Match Special’s lunchtime chat yesterday. He declared that he’s had to think again about the value of such new degree subjects. He’s concluded that they can be jolly fine courses after all and that many of the people who take them are quite decent chaps who go on to hold down useful careers.
Thing is, are such conversions for real or just a tactic to alienate slightly fewer of the population and thus pick up a few more votes?

These must be troubling times for many ‘traditional’ Tory voters. All their core beliefs and saloon bar certainties being tossed aside by the new front bench. Being at 40% in the polls will bring much consolation but seeing Labour only just behind at around 35% will do nothing to calm their fluttering nerves.

It could be an interesting few months after all.....

Saturday, July 29, 2006

In praise of uncertainty

The usually sound Howard Jacobson’s piece in the Independent today is entitled “Life without certainties is good for your health - but don't take my word for it” (If you don’t subscribe to their portfolio service it’ll cost you a quid to read all but two paragraphs of it (or £1.40 to buy the paper))

With particular reference to “the extraordinarily convoluted and seemingly-intractable ongoing middle-eastern human tragedy” (as I put it in a comment on Iain Dale’s site) Jacobson writes about the dangers of certainty. Bad for the heart by all accounts.......

Provincial cab conundrum

Three weeks ago today my wife and I had our first ride for yonks in a black London taximeter cab. Actually it wasn’t black because it was advertising something that required another colour for a background. But it was the correct shape and we sat in the back; as you do. On our way to my godson’s wedding, since you ask, and rather overdressed, we felt, for a ride on the RV1 bus.

I saw such a cab coming down our road today as I wandered back from the butcher’s and baker’s (there is, no longer, a candlestick maker to visit at the Bath Road shops). It is one of only a handful of such vehicles in our little town and it made me think of the dilemma facing users of the more usual type of provincial taxi. These are ordinary saloon cars, often old and quite big. The traditional Zodiac may have been replaced by a Galaxy or some such but the problem for the lone traveller still remains.

We’ve lived in Gloucestershire for eighteen years and it’s nearly a quarter-of-a-century since we moved out of central London (if St John’s Wood can be so designated). But still the problem remains, do you sit in the front next to the driver or in the back in solitary splendour?

Friday, July 28, 2006

What’s to write about?

Not much. And it’s not just me. Perusal of other political blogs and Britain’s quality newspapers’ sites confirms that politics junkies are having a lean time.

The middle-east is far too complex, scary and unsettling for most to tackle. But, sadly and predictably, those simple-minded souls who believe that every fault in the Universe is the personal responsibility of Tony Blair and/or George W Bush see the misery in Lebanon as another excuse for ranting. Mick Hume in his Times Notebook notes that “It seems strange that almost the only people who still share Tony Blair’s egocentric belief in his own power to heal the world are members of the antiwar movement”. He’s right that it’s curious how so many of the PM’s critics haven’t woken up to the diminished influence that a British PM can command since the Empire went but he’s wrong to imply that Mr Blair hasn’t noticed!

Elsewhere rightwing journalists and bloggers scramble for feeble little gossipy stories which they think show sleaze. But they’re tediously repetitive and play largely to their own crowd and the sort of people who phone talk radio shows or think the Daily Mail’s a soft-hearted liberal rag.

Other journalists fall back on stuff about Tony Blair but there’s nothing new to read. What will they write about when he finally goes and is no longer ‘facing the worst week / crisis of his premiership’? Sound and fury signifying nothing.

The jouro-bloggers are struggling too; for example poor old Baron Rees-Mogg of Hinton Blewitt is reduced to writing about the outcome of the next general election even though it’s barely a year since the last one.

And what of Hughes Views / About Whose News? Spasmodic at best. Vaguely interesting that the site gets almost as many hits when I’m not writing as when I am. ‘Bertie bus’ and ‘whatever happened to bird flu’ seem the most popular Google searches which bring readers but Bob Neill’s also brought a few......

Thursday, July 27, 2006

It’s not often I agree with Lord Tebbitt

He was the subject of one of the more acidic e-mails of mine that have been read out on BBC Radio Four’s Today show (another, about Anne Atkins, was even more vindictive though; it even got a herumph out of John Humphrys).

But his lordship is as sound as the proverbial bell on the subject of Dave Cameron. According to the BBC’s website he said that “Tories treated favourable polls "like a baby grasps for a dummy"”. The story was about the Conservatives gaining 39% in an ICM poll – only a feeble 4% ahead of Labour as it happens.

This noble lord still probably speaks for millions of ‘traditional’ Tory voters with their squalid little views. Thing is, will they still vote Tory with DC in charge in the same way that some of the Labour faithful who can’t stand TB still vote Labour? Is DC right to aim just for those few hundred-thousand swing voters in marginal seats who decide our fate at general elections?

The other thing is do I now have to join Lord Tebbitt’s camp on the ‘my enemy’s enemy is my friend’ principle?

Life on the edge

I’m a rebel, me.

When I found the new registration certificate for my car today, I discovered that I’ve still got the old V5 document. This despite the bossy letter (that I’ve also kept), which accompanied the new certificate. It clearly said that I should have destroyed the V5 immediately. I just don’t care, I’m a rebel, me.

And I got a letter from the Inland Revenue a while back. On the envelope it said ‘open immediately’; I kept it for a month before I read it. Tough or what?

Life on the edge.....

Monday, July 24, 2006

Mr Blair and Mr Bush in conversation

There was an interesting observation towards the end of this morning’s ‘Start the Week’ programme on BBC Radio Four. Andrew Marr and his ‘guests’ were talking about friendship and one of them mentioned that many friendships nowadays flourish because of telecommunications.

As an example he said that Mr Blair and Mr Bush talk by telephone perhaps five times a day (or was it a week?) on average and have therefore developed the kind of verbal interaction that comes only with familiarity. He suggested that most of the so-called ‘analysis’ of their partially recorded conversation at the G8 meeting was pathetically wide of the mark because it overlooked this fairly-obvious-when-you-think-about-it information.

But conspiracy theorists, political correspondents with nothing better to do and all the Prime Minister’s haters will doubtless go on weaving their own funny little theories and putting their own uninformed spin on this and every other interaction between these two leaders....

I missed most of the programme this morning; must remember to use ‘listen again’ and/or sign up for the podcast from their web site. What a wonderful world we inhabit.....

How to avoid right-wing media bias.....

....has long been an obsession for people on the left, especially those who can't fathom why anyone can possible not support their cause. 'It's all a question of education', they sometimes opine, 'if only people knew the truth'.

Dangerous, patronosing theorising; it's the mindset that led, inter alia, to trendy teachers attempting to fill their charges' heads with dogma rather than educating them.

Tonight at 7, BBC2 is repeating the last in the BBC4 television series called Lefties. I mentioned this series in a post in February. This programme tells the story of the "News on Sunday, a disastrous attempt to launch a left-wing mass market Sunday newspaper". It might provide some food for thought especially for anyone who puts more faith in theory and dogma than they do in practice and experience. It is quite funny in a sad sort of way and would be funnier still if the buffoons hadn't lost so much money out of other people's pension funds....

Sunday, July 23, 2006

France to be ruled by a Royal again?

I first learnt about Sego Royal from this sometimes amusing site about France and its politics which I found thanks to Aunty Marianne.

Marie-Segolene Royal is rumoured to be favourite to become the next President of France (if the French left can avoid the mistake they made at the last election. Then they fielded so many candidates that none of them made it into the second round which thus became a run off between the right-winger M Chirac and the extreme right-winger M Le Pen). The Observer carries a piece about her but it’s awfully long so I’ve only speed-read it. And who in Britain really cares about foreign news? Hardly anyone to judge from the popular newspapers or TV news programmes.

She might be France’s version of Tony Blair; a centre-left leader prepared to challenge long-held dogma. Which would be nice. But the sun’s coming out so it’ll soon be too hot again to blog.......

Saturday, July 22, 2006

How to be happy

I don’t read many books; haven’t got the time; slow reader. But I love book reviews. In the Guardian’s Review section today there is a fine one by James Flint about Jonathon Haidt’s "The Happiness Hypothesis". I’m almost certain that I’ll never read the book but the review contains the bones of the thesis. "psychologists have only recently begun to realise: "that there are really two information processing systems at work in the mind at all times: controlled processes and automatic processes"....... Happy people are the ones in whom the interaction is smooth, in whom the gears mesh, in whom the different levels add up to a more or less coherent whole ...... I don't think I've ever read a book that laid out the contemporary understanding of the human condition with such simple clarity and sense"

I must try to incorporate this theory into my developing hypothesis about why right-wingers (and extreme left-wingers) seem so cross all the time......