Thursday, November 23, 2006

304th post - a brief review of British political blogs, blogging & AWN

Some that were once in my list of political blogs worth reading have now sadly departed, become sporadic or, like my own, grown repetitive and predictable. I started reading the things about a year ago but soon grew weary of the gossipy / muckraking sites which serve little purpose other than to denigrate politicians, amuse a few foolish fans and polish their authors' egos. Like talk radio and many message boards they provide hobbies primarily for ranters and dimwits.

But there is also much good, thoughtful stuff around. For example probably at least a quater of the posts featured every day on Bloggers for Labour are worth more than a glance. Too much football though.

It's about 330 days since this blog was launched so I'm about 9% down on my 'one post a day average' target. I'm pleased to have attracted hundreds of comments from scores of people and that very few of them have been abusive. Many of them have raised interesting counter-arguments and some have led me to modify my own position a tad.

I've never made it above 100,000th on Technorati's rating, although I got very close once, and total readership is difficult to assess. But I can be confident that I have fewer regular readers than the popular / populist political blogs. They, in turn, have fewer than the least popular quality UK daily newspaper and even it reaches regularly only about one voter in a hundred.

Although Jon Snow did read my post about his birthday, claims for the influence of political blogging on either 'opinion formers' or uncommitted voters are highly suspect. Close to nil would be my estimate.

Blogging provides a good way of letting off some steam, testing one's arguments and discovering a few like-minded and some unlike-minded people around the world. It's made me admire a little more the commentators who can churn out quality stuff week after week even when there's very little of interest around to comment on. But, in a curious reversal of conventional journalism, there seem to be more writers than readers in the blogosphere.

As Eddie Warring used to say at the end of his idiosyncratic summaries of Saturday afternoon's rugby league on Grandstand: 'and that's all yer getting'...

Global warming is caused mainly by electricity generation, not transport...

... writes Anatole Kaletsky in the Times today. Attacking Chelsea Tractor drivers and frequent flyers may bring a nice warm glow to the hearts of some in the environmental movement but it doesn’t really help to address the issue. In practice it probably has the reverse effect because such campaigners, seen more as envious and anti-business than pro-climate, make themselves more likely to be ignored.

He writes about the go-ahead being giving "to build the world’s first nuclear fusion reactor [which] could pave the way to commercial availability of electricity from nuclear fusion by around 2045". So too late for me then, malheuresment. But, as he says, that still leaves the issue of what to do in the shorter term.

Noting that "the rational response to global warming is not to find ways of stifling economic growth or curbing travel. It is to accelerate technological advance" he identifies that "the top priority should ... be to develop less-polluting methods of power generation". Quite right, slowing down the world economy would guarantee far more premature death and suffering than even the most alarmist predictions about climate change anticipate.

Renewables alone can’t, alas, bridge the electricity gap but they could meet about a fifth of our needs. The rest will have to come from "nuclear [fision] or more expensive clean coal technologies". But clean coal needs more research and development funding. This would be something really worth demonstrating about but probably isn’t sexy enough to draw the crowds...

Gloucester's Christmas lights switch-on ceremony to go ahead although the lights aren’t there yet

Oh dear. "Some of the lights are still being manufactured in Slovakia" and others have only got as far as Lancashire. But "an illuminated snowman and polar bear [will be supplied] as a gesture of goodwill". So that should cheer things up a tad.

If only there was a way to pin the blame on the penny-pinching Tories now in charge of the City...

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

The Independent abandons paid for Internet content – good news or another sign of doom?

The Independent newspaper’s web site seems quietly to have dropped its ‘Portfolio’ service which restricted access to most of its comment and editorial pieces. The access fee was a fairly modest fifty pounds a year but I guess it wasn’t generating enough revenue to justify the additional complexity.

I get the Indy’s daily e-mail and this week the little p symbol that showed the restricted content has disappeared. But I’ve not found any announcements to explain its absence.

Thing is, is this good or bad news? In the short term it’s good for freeloaders like me who could never quite bring themselves to subscribe. My logic was that there was too much good stuff on three other quality papers’ sites for me to read for free in a day anyway.

But what about the longer term? The Indy’s pretty adept at spinning news into doom and gloom if it suits its editorial stance so how about this viewpoint? If no one can make money out of putting quality writing onto the Internet won’t the quantity of quality writing inevitably reduce? Newspaper finances are pretty shaky already and getting worse as conventional readership and advertising declines. All Britain’s quality papers rely to some extent on the largess of their proprietors.

The chances of another quality paper being successfully launched are vanishingly close to zero, much more likely is the demise of one or more of the existing titles. We could be in for an accelerating decline in quality as the remaining papers position themselves to attract more readers. Optimists will point to all the stuff writen in the blogosphere but the quality of it would be rated as highly as ‘variable’ only by a kindly soul; the truth is most of it is garbage. And why should it be otherwise? How can a bunch of generally ill-informed amateurs hope to compete with people who do it for a living?

We may end up with much more choice but nothing worth choosing; a bit like multi-channel TV some gloom-mongers might opine....

Monday, November 20, 2006

Why is it so difficult even for EU passport holders to enter the UK?

It’s incredibly easy to get from France to Switzerland; you hardly even have to slow down driving past the border posts. It’s even easier to get from France to Spain, Italy or any of the fourteen other countries that are part of the Schengen agreement.

Yet entering Britain from France can consume lodsa time. Is there any evidence that the ‘jobsworth’ style checks at our ports and airports do any good? Given that the carriers will already have checked all the passengers’ passports is it really essential that someone British repeats the process? Couldn’t these people be better (and, for them, more interestingly) employed on other border control tasks?

All the pre-2004 members of the EU except Britain and Ireland are members of the Schengen agreement which gives people freedom of movement once they’re inside the area. Iceland and Norway have also signed up. Switzerland isn’t a member but still seems to survive despite border controls that allow thousands of people to pass freely each day.

Is it something to do with being an Island nation or another example of our not quite whole-hearted approach to Europe? Perhaps we just like creating employment opportunities for petty bureaucrats! The photograph shows me with one foot (probably) in France and the other (possibly) in Spain. Note the French footpath signs to my left and the Spanish ones to my right. I’m pictured astride the GR10 atop the Pyrenees and there isn’t a uniformed official to be seen...

When there’s nothing to fret about, we fret about nothing. Surveillance, am I bothered?

We live in easy times at least in comparison with earlier generations and if we’re lucky enough to live in the prosperous third of the world. Yet, if you believe some reports, people have never before been so worried.

There’s a good evolutionary case to explain why, as a species, we’re slightly pessimistic and cautious. Our ancestors would have had a better chance of survival with these characteristics than their more gung-ho cousins who would have gone rushing out only to be eaten by lions or suchlike. Of course the real pessimists would never have left the cave and would have starved before getting much chance to pass on their genes.

Now, thanks to the wonders of a liberal market economy, entrepreneurial writers can make a fairly comfortable living out of being gloomy. Professional pessimists such as Henry Porter, to name but a few, are well rewarded for filling comment columns and our airwaves with dismal stories.

He was at it again in the Observer yesterday and today his agent got him onto Radio Four’s Start the Week programme to plug his programme on More 4 (not Channel 4 as Andrew Marr seemed to think) this evening.

What a lot of fuss about not very much! Do we care if the ‘authorities’ know where we are? Is it a worry that someone could read an electronic passport with a scanner? Does it matter that Tesco knows my choice in wine, soap powder or ham? Not really, actually not at all...

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Google and the like, liberators or agents of the forces of darkness?

No question, the Internet is the best thing that's happened to the World in my lifetime. That IP is now dominant is a particular satisfaction as I was told by the strategists at 'head office' (who suffered horribly from the 'not invented here' syndrome) that it had no future when we started running it on our huge Local Area Network in the mid 1980s. Helped to reinforce my prejudice that strategists, like political pundits, are a fine bunch of people as long as you don't want to know about the future.

Will Hutton writes about Google, Wikipedia and all that sort of stuff today in the Observer. Although he lists dangers such as "it becomes easier to find information that suits your prejudices" I think he's an optimist like me about the liberating and democratising effect of widespread availability of knowledge and varying opinion. Most people are sane enough to be able to wade through the vast array of views and 'facts' on offer.

It's amazing that it now frustrates me if it takes more than a couple of minutes to find information that would have taken several fruitless trips to libraries and endless phone calls to establish even just ten years ago. I can find the lyrics to obscure songs that have been rattling around my brain since the 1950s; how can you put a value on that?!

I'm delighted that people from every continent have accessed this little blog. The most searched for things that have brought readers fleetingly my way are: Sego Royal (to a 23rd July post), Jack Dee BBC2 (19th October), JG Ballard on the South Bank Show (19th September) and two bits of hyped up hysteria which I mocked: whatever happened to Bird Flu (28th May) and 24 hour drinking law (25th January). I wonder why so few of the people have ever returned for more of my wisdom?

Talking of reinforcing prejudices, there was a lively little debate in the comments area of my previous post about political blogging. As I've mentioned before, one reason I'm relaxed about the alleged 'success' of rightwing gossipy blogs is that all they do is to reinforce a tiny group's peculiar views. If they go on thinking that their opinions are mainstream because ' all the commenters on Guido's blog agree with me', they'll go on turning off the vast bulk of voters. These sorts of sites are like extended suburban golf club barrooms...

Friday, November 17, 2006

Strategy adviser's critique of political blogs hits the mark

BBC News reports that Matthew Taylor is unimpressed with political blogging and suggests that it is adding to the "shrill discourse of demands" that dominates politics today. "We have a citizenry which can be caricatured as being increasingly unwilling to be governed but not yet capable of self-government," he said.

Depressingly he's correct to say that 'political' blogs "are hostile and, generally speaking, basically see their job as every day exposing how venal, stupid, mendacious politicians are."

It's certainly true that the more visited political blogs seem to feed only a sort of school playground need for gossip and to reassure the sort of people who lack influence or achievement that those more successful than they are are 'in it only for themselves'. As a part of grown-up political discourse they are about as useful as a beer glass in an earthquake.

How will you be celebrating fifty years of European Union?

By any objective measure the European Union must rate as a success. Despite its vocal, usually elderly, opponents (especially in England) there is little doubt that it has helped to boost Europe's economy and to keep the peace amongst countries with a history of being at war with each other on a regular basis.

It evolved from the EEC which started with just six countries in 1957 and had to wait until 1973 to become nine. Before it became the EU in 1992 three others had joined one in 1981 and two in 1986. Three more joined in 1995 and then ten in 2004. By the time the fiftieth anniversary is reached next year another two will have joined to make a grand total of 27.

It must be hard for anyone who wasn't alive then to imagine just how run down Europe was in the 1950s. Ravaged by war and by a dismal lack of investment before it, the industry and infrastructure were on their proverbial last legs. There was still much post-war suspicion between nations. Even in 1964 I remember seeing a poster of Labour's leader Harold Wilson declaring 'No German finger on the nuclear trigger'. He was anxious to convince the electorate that he was as tough as the Tories on 'foreign' policy.

Before it joined in 1973, Britain's economy was in a right old state. Of course it's not only being in the EU that has rescued our prosperity but it's certainly helped. It has, for example and contrary to popular prejudice, removed much of the multiple bureaucracies that bedevilled trade with our near neighbours.

It's a shame that so many powerful media moguls are against the EU. It's easy to see why they are though; they know that individual nations can't regulate multinational company activities on their own. But the EU is more powerful. United We Stand (as it used to say on the backs of some wartime playing cards I had when I was young (but I read it as 'until we stand' - oh dear) and all that type of thing.

Even though the ECSC had been set up in 1951, it is the EEC's formation that really marked the start of the European Union and it is that which will be celebrated next year. Of course there's a little row. Charles Bremner, The Times's splendid Paris Correspondent, reports how cross the French are about the logo (above) that has been selected - mainly because it's in English but they and others have managed to find lots of other niggles with it.

It took about 100 years for the USA to bed in and about the same time for its single currency, the mighty dollar, to become accepted. In comparison Europe seems to be doing rather well...

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Reducing greenhouse gas emissions is an international challenge; you can't just blame Blair!

Naive green campaigners calling for Britain to restrict flights or to close power stations such as Drax are seeking simplistic solutions to a spectacularly complex problem. Returning Britain to medieval levels of energy consumption, which is what the Green Party is, perhaps unwittingly, suggesting, would have a minimal effect on global levels of greenhouse gas but would lead to misery and millions of premature deaths.

There are some encouraging signs emerging within the EU. Today the Times reports on a proposal to impose charges on airlines that use European airports. This would be much more sensible that Britain taking unilateral action which would merely drive aircraft to other European airports. But, as the article makes clear, even this proposal won't be easy to implement.

Politics is difficult; joining a pressure group or fringe party is easy...

Changing ISP

Do any of my faithful readers have any experience of changing broadband ISPs that they're willing to share with me? Is it a painful process? I use an ADSL connection via a BT telephone line but I'm growing weary of my current provider mainly because of expense.

Any recommendations and/or warnings about ISP performance and/or price (including support costs)?

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

The environmental fundamentalist's battle with the climate change denier is like two religious zealots fighting

There’s a nice little spat running between George Monbiot and Christopher Monckton which again demonstrates how the climate-change argument has acquired the characteristics of a bust up between religious fundamentalists.

Yesterday the ever pompous Monbiot rubbished Monckton’s articles in the Sunday Telegraph (to which the admirable (apart from his views!) cassilis first drew my attention). Today Monckton, whom Monbiot sneeringly reminds us is a Viscount, replies in the Guardian.

I’m not a scientist but donkeys’ years ago I got a degree in electronic engineering (with Honours) from a (fairly) reputable university. Electronic engineering is basically maths with knobs on plus a bit of science. So I guess I’d be fairly high up any league table of the population’s scientific knowledge.

And I can spot some pretty basic hogwash in both Monbiot and Monckton’s writings. But I haven’t any real way of knowing which, if either, of them is right. My engineering training tells me to look for scientific concusses, the problem with these two chaps is that they look mainly at extreme results. I suspect the truth is somewhere between their positions.

As with religion people must latch onto a seemingly reliable person to guide them through unknowable complexities. But environmental writers are, like priests, highly selective in the texts they choose to interpret and jolly good at spinning them to produce the results that suit their flock’s desires and/or prejudices.

There are many in the ‘green’ movement who take a great delight in anything that seems to show ‘big business’ or the US in a bad light. Equally there are many deniers who prefer to bury their heads because they don’t want their comfortably selfish pleasures interfered with.

But, as any geologist could tell you, our planet is in no danger from mankind's activities. Some species, including our own, may be at risk but extinction is an essential component of evolution. It is only human vanity that leads us to speak about saving the planet rather than our own skins. If we were all wiped out tomorrow we’d leave hardly a trace in the fossil record because we’ve been around for such a short time. As John Maynard Keynes put it 'In the long run we’re all dead'; it’s being so cheery that keeps me going...

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Why do we respect actors, comedians and film stars but hold politicians in contempt?

David Aaronovitch is on good form today. He’s taking a pop at self-important satirists such as Armando Iannucci. And they certainly deserve it!

He quotes Iannucci pontificating thus: “I find myself stepping into that gap” – that gap being the one left by stupid or mendacious politicians and our allegedly craven press. Similarly Alan Bennett rails against student fees but has no clue about how else universal higher education (as distinct from the higher education only for an elite 3% like what he got) might be funded. He apparently declared that “... it’s morally wrong to expect students to get into debt.” The inference being that it’s fine for people on low wages to get into debt at loan shark rates but for someone who might actually be able to afford the repayments to be forced to take out a loan (at amazingly advantageous rates and knowing that it’ll be written off if their income remains low) is not.

But, best of all, Aaronovitch lays into Sir David Hare’s play about deaths on the railways. Called “The Permanent Way” it was performed at the National Theatre where I went (by train) to see it. I have never felt more like shouting “rubbish”! The bit that really got to me was the claim that ‘nothing works’ in Britain. The truth is that pretty well everything does. But my comment on the theatre’s message-board failed to bring the luvvies to their senses. And, going to find that link, I notice that the NT is giving a platform (and a nice dollop of taxpayers cash) to Clare Short no doubt so she can further rubbish the Party that gave her her fame – arrrg!

It’s terribly easy to latch onto a supposed ill in our comfortable society and to puff it up into a shocking scandal. And so difficult to suggest a workable solution or to change anything. ‘Bring me solutions, not problems’ may be a tired cliché but that doesn’t mean it’s not sometimes apt.

It’s good that satire exists, and is allowed to exist. It helps prevent our politicians becoming too full of themselves. But when satirists become as smug and pompous and so much part of the mainstream as today’s have, perhaps we should start to fret a little...

Monday, November 13, 2006

Parliament – seeing the bigger picture

Hooray – BBC Parliament is now full screen on freeview. No more quarter screen misery.

Now, if we could persuade them to get rid of all the ‘branding’ including the DOG* and the huge red band that carries the titles and crest across the bottom of the screen, how lovely it all would be.

* DOG = digital on-screen graphic. Those annoying little things that remind you which channel you’re viewing on many digital TV services. Particularly irksome are the BBC ones which aren’t as transparent as most. The BBC hierarchy apparently believes that the riffraff who watch their output are too thick to remember which channel they’ve selected. Herumph...

Sunday, November 12, 2006

How to survive the Today programme’s nihilism and the Independent’s gloom and glaring inconsistencies

I’ve been shouting at the wireless again. My wife tells me I should imagine it was an overheard conversation in a restaurant and blot it out. But, if Humprys were siting at a nearby table, I wouldn’t be able to resist thumping him. Not fisticuffs you’ll realise but verbal, or more likely, visual lashing. The hard stare - lethal at five hundred paces.

For more than a quarter of a century our alarm has been awakening us to the BBC Radio 4 Today programme. Why it still is can be explained by inertia and the even-more-awfulness of the alternatives. It’s common for middle-aged and elderly folk to complain that things aren’t what they used to be. Although the moaner will rarely admit it, usually they’re Far Better. However Today is Quite A Bit Worse than it was.

Its heyday was the Brian Redhead / John Timpson era. They were tenacious interviewers, especially Redhead, but both had a twinkle in their dispositions. The sort of twinkle that John Sergeant exudes. Because he’s on the telly you can see as well as hear his. Radio folk must project it through their voice and demeanour. Much of it is to do with not taking oneself too seriously.

Yesterday John Humprys was going through his usual routine. He was herumphing about how little HMG has committed to the safe-sex campaign. Trouble is we all know that he would have been doing the reverse herumphing had a lot been spent on it. It’s just too easy being him.

And the Independent! Why do I still buy it every Saturday? Doom-mongering is its stock in trade, often about the environment. But its inside pages are filled with exotic holidays in far-away places and unnecessary gadgets designed primarily it seems to consume energy in their production, use or both.

I buy it for its writers. Howard Jacobson ,for example, who was on fine form yesterday. Under the title "Tony Blair can't help but look both ways in the matter of Saddam Hussein's execution" he urged us to "grant him, if nothing else, the privilege of ambivalence".

But ambivalence is a luxury apparently not permitted to politicians if you’re the editor of Independent or the Today programme...

Friday, November 10, 2006

The left shouldn’t get too excited about the US mid-term election results

There is much jubilation in left wing circles over the gains made by the Democrats in the US. But the Democratic Party can’t really be considered ‘leftwing’ in a sense that would be understood in Europe. Many of the newly elected Democrats would have found comfortable homes in John Major’s administration had they been English.

As Gerard Baker points out today in the Times “the elections endorsed a shift in the Democratic Party. A remarkable number of the Democrats elected this week are anti-abortion and pro-military”.

So these elections shouldn’t act as a ‘wake up call to Brown and Blair’ as some of their more vociferous critics have suggested (in that quaintly clichéd way beloved by so many self-righteous political extremists). In fact they represent a return towards the centre ground in American politics; probably more centre-right than centre-left and certainly not the dawn of a socialist people’s republic in the world’s only remaining super-power...

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Donald Rumsfeld's departure may herald a change of tone in the US and some new hope for Iraq

The significance of the ‘tone’ of an administration is often overlooked. One of the nicest changes in Britain on 1st May 1997 was the move from the brash, heartless Thatcher/Major eras to the more gentle, compassionate Blair-led one. For example, it made a real difference to the way people spoke and acted; racist jokes, boasting about speeding or tax evasion, dissing the poor as worthless scroungers etc. quite quickly became less acceptable in ‘normal’ society.

Perhaps a similar change will happen in the US as a result of the mid-term elections which are, of course, widely discussed in editorial and comment pieces from newspapers all over the world. I’m sure you don’t need links from this site to find them.

Let’s hope the arrogant certainties that have characterised the Bush era will make way for a calmer, more reflective tone. Donald Rumsfeld seems to be a master of arrogant certainties. Although he’s not alone in being responsible for the disastrous post-invasion policies that the Americans have pursued in Iraq, he has certainly driven them forward with a deeply unpleasant vigour.

His departure must be a sign of hope.

Further evidence of confusion between recycling, greenhouse gas emissions and climate change in the public’s ‘green’ mindset

The responses to a local consultation exercise demonstrate the confusion in people’s minds about recycling and climate change. I’ve long worried that, because both attract the green label, some people think that if they recycle they’ve done their bit for the climate.

It’s taking place in Gloucestershire’s little greenish enclave of Stroud which is home to high numbers of ‘middle-aged-hippie’ types and is an interesting mixture of urban and rural. A picturesque, post-industrial area on the edge of the Cotswolds, it’s also known as the ‘Five Valleys’. The Cotswold-stone mills on the streams in these valleys, which were at the heart of the textile industry that once flourished here, are now derelict or converted into potteries, offices, workshops, warehouses, pubs, restaurants and the like.

The District Council’s area is a bit bigger than the Parliamentary seat’s (which is held, just, by David Drew for Labour & the Co-op) and takes in some additional affluent rural bits. So it’s unsurprising that it’s held by the Conservatives with 29 seats against 21 for the rest (including 5 Greens).

The public has been asked to contribute ideas to the council’s process for producing a twenty-year environmental strategy. Apparently you can watch the council’s debate today live tonight but I think I might find some paint to watch drying instead! The ideas are a muddle of a lot of recycling, some woolly electricity generation schemes and too few energy-reduction measures.

Recycling is primarily about reducing the demand for landfill sites and is probably at best only greenhouse gas neutral. Some will even claim that it contributes to greenhouse gas emissions because so many of the processes are very energy intensive.

One thing should be made clear; recycling your rubbish doesn’t compensate for the flights, car or other journeys you make!

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

The unacceptable face of capitalism*

The Farepak collapse, in which more than 150,000 people have lost their Christmas savings, is a surprisingly-little-reported scandal. If the allegations that were made in Parliament are true, it appears to be a case worthy of Edward Heath’s famous phrase*. The Commons debate was reported on the Times Online site but in few other places that I could find.

It seems extraordinary that a savings scheme such as this wasn’t covered by the regulations that cover conventional banking and savings accounts.

There is some brighter news today as the company’s bankers and many supermarkets rally round to try to provide a little compensation for the unfortunate thrifty (and probably poor) families who face a fairly bleak Christmas.

A balance has to be struck between burdensome regulation that ties business’s hands unnecessarily and a free for all in which hapless consumers suffer. In this case it’s clear the right balance wasn’t struck.

And why has this sad story had such little coverage?

* Ted Heath, of whom we should perhaps forgive a lot because he took Britain into the EEC, made his remark in 1973 in connection with the Tiny Rowland / Lonrho affair

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Censored by the Indy perhaps unwilling to upset its earnestly green readership

Censored is putting it a bit strongly; they didn’t use my letter in which I gently chided those who had a day out in London on Saturday to demonstrate about Climate Change. It wasn’t one of my best letters to an editor but it could have been a lot ruder.

I haven’t a clue what the demonstrators hoped to achieve other than a worthy glow of self-satisfaction. It reminded me slightly of an anti-capitalist demo in which one of the banners read ‘replace capitalism with something nicer’. Hmm that’s really helpful.

Here’s what the Independent’s readers missed: ‘It’s odd that ‘green’ demonstrators should have chosen to travel to London (Green Power on the march: - 4th November) to support their cause. A more environmentally friendly event would surely have set a better example.

In this age of abundant telecommunications, linked rallies could have been held with, perhaps, one in each parliamentary constituency. Nearly all the participants could then have walked from their homes to take part.

Apart from the handful who live in central London, all the demonstrators will have been responsible for some unnecessary greenhouse gas emissions as they travelled to the capital. Even cyclists puff out excess Carbon Dioxide.

Or do they, in common it seems with almost all of humanity, believe that their own travel is somehow more justified than anyone else’s is?’

Monday, November 06, 2006


Tony Blair used the first twelve minutes of his monthly news conference today to set out the case for a secure identity system in our modern, open world. You can watch him via the BBC news web site.

Like blogger ‘on the knocker’ I really don’t understand the objections to the proposed system. I also don’t understand the objections to a DNA database, speed cameras, CCTV surveillance or systems for tracking mobile phones, cars or users of Oyster cards. Most such objections seem to come from the ‘little Englander’ school of philosophy and/or from people reluctant to understand and/or admit how uninteresting their small lives are to themselves, let alone to ‘the authorities’...

Tariq Ali still keeping the leftish dream alive, Clive James still self-deprecating his own existance. What more could a middle-aged Englishman want?

Tariq Ali is a few years older than I am and was already established as a revolutionary leftwing thinker by the time I went to University. He was an influential figure in those heady days of the early 1970s which I maintain were really part of the sixties; that iconic decade not having really got up steam until around 1963.

Then it was more than fashionable to be young and radical. As I’ve mentioned before, there were causes around which it was simple to unite and protest. The Vietnam War and, especially, the situation in apartheid-ridden South Africa seemed so obviously wrong that banner-waving became pretty-well obligatory.

And the British establishment, still near the height of its powers, provided another easy target for those of us dreaming of a socialist utopia. It had received a few bad shocks: Suez, the Lady Chatterley case and the Profumo affair to name but a few, but it wasn’t yet in full retreat. It was even, just about, still possible to believe the communist dream. Although by 1970 it was becoming increasingly obvious that the Soviet and East European system had some major flaws, there was so little information coming out of China that we could comfort ourselves that they’d got the model right where the Russians had failed.

I admire Tariq Ali in a way for keeping ‘the faith’ all these years. He was on Radio Four’s Start the Week programme this morning advertising his new book “Pirates of the Caribbean: Axis of Hope”. His dream has now shifted to South America.

Another participant asked him the question I’d liked to have asked, sort of relating to the ‘test’ that I mentioned in a post on Friday. He asked if Tariq could name one country in which his ideals were being successfully practised, like me, hoping that one could be produced. But it couldn’t.

Clive James was next up on Radio Four reading the first of five extracts from his ‘Unreliable Memoirs’ sequence of autobiographical musings. This book is called “The North Face of Soho” and today’s episode covered his marriage, clothes and his attempts to bring his Cambridge Footlights review into the West End in the 1960s. As our French friends might say ‘très drôle’...

Sunday, November 05, 2006

We need the rich but should learn to laugh at rather than envy them

Even though the way he said it was crass, Peter Mandelson was right when he said that Labour should be relaxed about people becoming rich. It’s an inevitable part of an entrepreneurial liberal economy in which ability is judged more highly than breeding.

Without incentives many with the flair necessary to drive businesses forward just wouldn’t bother and our economy would suffer. There can be little doubt that money is a great motivator for these sorts of people. One of the reasons that many of us will never become millionaire businessmen is that we can’t understand why anyone who’s made a million or two would bother to carry on working.

It’s curious that, even in leftwing circles, ‘self-made’ people seem to be regarded with much greater suspicion than those who have inherited ‘old-money’ are. Somehow these types who were born rich seem so much less brash and more at ease with their wealth. But their ancestors were probably robber barons, royal sycophants or the thrusting entrepreneurs of their day so they’ve no reason to feel superior. Nor we to troop around their ancestral homes in reverent admiration for their family’s good taste. I wonder if in 100 years time the National Trust will own Alan Sugar's or the Beckhams’ places and our descendants will be dragging their unwilling offspring around it when they can’t think of anything else to do?

In the Observer today Will Hutton uses the classic journalistic trick of using one rotten apple to condemn the whole bunch. He refers to Tom Bower’s book about Conrad Black’s rise and fall. But, as he points out, "The very rich ... are like the rest of us: they don't want to be left behind by their social equals" which is why they compete for status symbols like private jets or monstrous pensions.

He rather unpicks his own tirade though by pointing out that "great companies, paradoxically, are about common purpose, shared endeavour and a fair distribution of rewards". Sure the amounts some people pay themselves (sometimes just because they can) are obscene but there is little that can be done about it. Tax for the super rich in this globalised world is largely voluntary.

So we'll do better to smile at the foibles of the wealthy than to get bitter and twisted about the ever widening gap between the richest and poorest. Every society has had its winners and losers, the important thing for Labour is to ensure that the losers can lead decent lives...

Friday, November 03, 2006

Jenkins all moast rite shok - butt hees stil stuk inn thee passed.

At first glance I thought that I agreed with Simon Jenkins’s piece in the Guardian today. This was A Bit Of A Shock because, as Hughes Views’s many fans will know, I usually find his writing to be borderline sentimental nonsense.

However even today’s piece harks back to a bygone age. He writes about English spelling, its difficulties, illogicality and the pedantry it can induce. Being a dreadful speller I might be expected to agree. Spelling ability depends on a certain sort of memory that I don’t posses a lot of. So I was always hopeless at school spelling tests.

School spelling tests are about a useful way of judging overall intelligence and ability as history or science exams were in the bad old days when being able to remember dates, the names of Kings, the periodic table or ohms law was pretty much all that was needed to pass. So they’re not very useful.

But technology has come to our rescue. Spell checker revolutionised my life. I can type garbage like this and be confident that any spelling mistakes it contains are ones that I’ve included deliberately for comic or dramatic effect or affect (even tho I can spell both these words I can never really remember their different meanings).

So sorry Simon, you’re ten years out of date. Not bad for you though, it’s usually at least fifty..

Thundering about faith schools

Regular readers of About Whose News will be aware that I’m pretty content with our government. Its pragmatic centrist approach seems to me to be about the best we can hope for in a liberal democracy. And liberal democracy seems to be miles better than any other system of government that has ever been implemented in our world.

I’ve grown weary of the idealised theories put forward both by those on the left and right. They all fail the basic test; ‘if it’s so wonderful how come no country has successfully used it?’ Such theoretical forms of government come close to being religions – things that people follow through faith rather than evidence.

There are some things our government seems keen on however with concern me. The question of faith schools is one. As I said in my last but one letter in the Guardian "[it’s] curious ... that some state schools are allowed to discriminate not merely on pupils' religious beliefs but on those professed by their parents". Curious being the sort of understatement typical of the letter’s mild-mannered author.

I’ve discussed the issue with someone who is now a junior minister in the education department. He was quite keen on a proposal to turn a failing local secondary school over to the Church of England. I wasn’t. If I understood him correctly his enthusiasm was based at least in part on pragmatism – it would win the school some more cash and get some good people onto the board of governors.

My own children went to a C of E primary school because it’s our local school. Fortunately the C of E locally still maintains (or did when they were there) its fine old Edwardian traditions; so jam and cake making and the length of the grass on the rector’s lawn were far more important issues than fundamentalism. My favourite joke about the C of E goes something like: ‘its great strength is that it allows its followers to believe in almost anything but of course hardly any of them do’.

But fundamentalism is on the rise especially as the established church’s role as the centre of English lives has vanished. The cosy old image of English church-based schools to which parents of all faiths and none can happily send their children isn’t sustainable in multi-faith Britain.

Sean O'Neill writes in today’s Thunderer column in the Times about his childhood education in Northern Ireland. "Northern Ireland should stand as a stark lesson that segregating children breeds distrust, hatred and violence. ... there should be no truck with those who want to isolate five-year-olds in opposing religious camps."

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Au sujet à qui de nouvelles ?

How very exciting. Someone’s used Google to translate my blog’s January archive into French. When I’ve nothing better to do I sometimes have a look at the statistics which Statcounter kindly provides me for free. But this is the first time I’ve discovered that someone has found my blog as a result of a Google search (in English) and then used the translation facility.

Above is what it made of the tittle and this the subheading: "Les vues de Hughes sur la vie, la politique britannique, l'Europe et la marche implacable du temps ......"

I wonder if the rest made much sense to a French speaker. It makes very little to most English ones...

Another PR blunder by environmentalists?

Some people in the green movement really don’t seem to understand how to influence the Great British Public. When they’re not turning us off their message by haranguing us like puritanical preachers they’re producing reports which may have unintended consequences.

Hard on the heels (cliché alert) of predictions that African countries will be the ones that will really suffer as the climate changes comes one saying that South West England will have a climate like Portugal’s.

On a cold November morning I wonder if the readers of the report in today's Gloucester Citizen will really regard this as a bad news story?

I don’t think such stories will do much to dissuade the notoriously self-centred British population to produce less greenhouse gas, probably do the reverse in fact...

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Attacked from right and left, HMG’s decision not to have another Iraq enquiry must be sound.

On the basis that the centre ground of politics is the most sensible place to be, today’s newspaper leader columns suggest that MPs made the correct decision when they rejected the call for another enquiry into the Iraq War whilst our soldiers are still engaged in its aftermath.

The Guardian and Telegraph leader writers are worryingly united in writing that the wrong decision was made. Working on a similar basis to the one that the BBC apparently uses when accused of political bias (weigh the complaints of leftwing bias and those of rightwing bias – if they’re about equal then that’s ok) should lead a rational man to conclude that, on the contrary, it is the writers of those leaders who are incorrect. (the waffle meter has gone off the scale after than sentence – sorry).

More sensible is the Times (wo)man who writes of "those who moved the motion": "Their ambition was not to empower a committee of seven distinguished individuals to conduct a forensic examination but to embarrass and, if possible, humiliate the Prime Minister."

The leader goes on: "So what on earth was Mr Cameron doing yesterday standing shoulder to shoulder with such bizarre allies [as the likes of Plaid Cymru and the Scottish Nationalist Party]? The same Mr Cameron who at the Conservative Party conference a month ago affirmed his stance that "when the Government is right, we will support it"? The Mr Cameron who, in his several previous opportunities to make a statement on Iraq, saw no need to ask for any inquiry on any timescale? The Mr Cameron who seeks to be seen to have the qualities of a prime minister?

The simple, shameful truth of the debate yesterday is that it was driven by spectacularly shallow opportunism."