Thursday, May 31, 2007

Stop looking at Dominic Grieve. It's David Shakespeare that did it.

Yesterday I did a post about the Shadow Northern Ireland Minister, David Lidington, who is the MP for Aylesbury Vale. He had been quoted in an article in the Bucks Herald supporting the leader of Buckinghamshire County Council, David Shakespeare, who had written to David Willets personally stating that Bucks CC would be building more Grammar schools, probably in Aylesbury, to keep pace with the housing demand in the town.

Aylesbury has grown massively in the past twenty years, and is still growing, and the three grammar schools, Aylesbury Grammar for Boys, Aylesbury High School for Girls, and the Sir Henry Floyd Grammar School (mixed) stating to creak at the seams. As he put it,
"We are clearly falling into the trap of focusing on school structure rather than concentrating on what really matters, the quality of teaching and learning, and the ability to offer a range of learning opportunities to meet the needs of all children. One size most definitely does not fit all. The new policy presents us with particular problems in terms of the need for additional school places to accommodate the housing growth imposed upon us by this Labour government".
Today we have learned that Dominic Grieve, the MP for Beaconsfield, has echoed the leader of Bucks County Council's position in the Buckinghamshire Advertiser and now there is talk of a U-Turn by the leadership.

What is interesting here is the Buckinghamshire connection. Right now everyone is looking at Dominic Grieve as the catalyst for the so-called "U-Turn". Actually I think they're looking in the wrong place. David Shakespeare is where this all kicked off. What's more, all the Buckinghamshire MPs have now issued a statement welcoming the move by the leadership.

Brit Awards 1989 repeat

Did anyone watch the repeat of the car crash 1989 Brit Awards the other night?

Oops. Wrong picture.

Talking about Africa always get you a headline

As many will be aware, Tony Blair is off galavanting around Africa on his farewell tour, and the BBC has in the last few moments published the headlines "Blair issues Africa action call".

Three years ago in 2004 the headline was "Blair launches Africa commission" accompanied by the wistful looking picture (right) of him close to tears after having said the state of Africa is a "scar on the world's conscience".

Step back another two years to 2002 and we have "Blair to call for Africa aid package". The year before we had "Blair promises to stand by Africa" and are told that the state of poverty in Africa is "a scar on our consciences" - sound familiar doesn't it?

At what point does someone step back and say. Blair? Africa? What a load of hot air and bollocks!

What a cheeky recess monkey!

Alex Hilton is tipping this young A-Level student from Basingtoke for the CF Chair. I have to admire Alex's piss-taking skills to be honest, especially seeing as he is doing it thanks to a freebie camera from 18 Doughty Street as well.

Yes, he really did just say it was a sweet and noble thing to kill for one's country. A video guaranteed to haunt a political career to be sure.

Government proposes "Teacher's a pervert" law?

So it seems schools are to be given the power to frisk pupils for knives. Who wants to bet that when it become law it will be accompanied by an increase in "that teacher touched me up" accusations. And they wonder why they have a problem recruting teachers?

Andy Coulson to start work at CCHQ

Pretty sensational headline over at Iain's blog if it is correct. Apparently. Andy Coulson, the former editor of the News of the World is to become the Director fo Communications for the Conservative Party. Given what seems like appaling news management around the grammar school issue it might not be before time.

However, what does it mean for the Conservative Party as a whole? We've seen what happens when a tabloid-style editor gets a foothold in political parties already with Alastair Campbell.

Conscience or Wallet: Which wins? You Decide!

Back when the Lib Dems were having their leadership contest (Round II coming soon), the fight came down, in the end, to Campbell versus Huhne. In Chris Huhne's manifesto he said that under his leadership the Lib Dems would promise, "to roll back [Labour's] security-obsessed surveillance state". He also cited Benjamin Franklin saying "any country that trades its freedoms for its security deserves neither".

Personally speaking I think these are both honourable and absolutely correct statements to be making. Whilst there is a myth perpetuated by - most often - the Lib Dems, that Tories are instinctively authoritarian, it is simply not so. As a Tory that writes often about the encroachments on our liberties that are being built with ongoing technology infrastructure I think I can honestly reject that accusation.

The reason I bring this up though is that I find it somewhat bizarre that Chris Huhne would make such pronouncements about the "surveillance state" whilst simultaneously declaring on the Register of Members' Interests that he has shareholdings in a UK company called IRISYS which specialises in security, monitoring and surveillance intergration technology.

Lord Falconer proves the Lord Chief Justice right?

Thanks to a journey that was extended by delays this morning I managed to read a lot more of the papers than I normally would, which led me to see a little announcement buried at the back of The Times about a comment that the Justice Minister, Lord Falconer had made.

With news of the ever-growing prison population, and the fact that he had taken over the proposed "prison building" programme (which if I recall correctly was actually going to be about building pre-fabs), Falconer said, "More offenders who are not considered a threat to the public and who would face a term of 12 months or less must be dealt with in the community".

Back when the Ministry of Justice was hastily formed, there was, and still is, an ongoing battle with the Lord Chief Justice about the conflict of interest that lies at the heart of the structure. The argument put forward was simple. Having judges who send people to prison under the same Minister who is responsible for prisons could lead to the Minister exerting undue pressure due to budgetary constraints on judges sentencing.

The Government has simply dismissed this argument. However, surely this latest comment by Lord Falconer simply proves the point perfectly? By making it clear that he think sending people to prison is no longer the solution, he is signalling political pressure on judges to apply the law for political, rather than legal reasons.

Put aside the reality that not sending a mugger to prison for 12 months and putting him on the street will most likely increase crime. It seems clear does it not that the Judicial independence from the politics of Government is under threat for precisely the reason the Lord Chief Justice has argued?

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Cohen and Alibhai-Brown go at it

When the man of the Left, Nick Cohen, decided to take on the inconsistent positioning of the arguments by his fellow lefties it was always a brave act in my view. The full show will be broadcast on 18 Doughty Street tomorrow night.
Hat Tip to Iain Dale

Big Brother 2007 Post

Like last year a live post as the contestant for the ritual humiliation on Channel4 begins, so here goes.

21:20 - Amanda and Sam, identical twins who I have instantly decided I want to die. They'll probably grow on me. Trouble telling the difference? One of them has a tattoo on the small of her back.
21:24 - Lesley, in her 60, ex-headhunter. Basically a headmistress. Dare I say it, she's a Tory. It's just a hunch like. She's apparently friends of Charles and Camilla. It's a bit like George and his
21:30 - Charley, a self-described "South-East London It girl", lap dancer, cousin of a footballer who looks a bit like a hooker (Divine Browne?)
21:40 - Tracy. Pillhead, cleaner, raver. Probably a member of Reclaim The Streets. Definitely a candidate for withdrawal symptoms.
21:45 - Chanele. Wants to be "famous and rich" or a "speech therapist in Spain". Based her look on Victoria Beckham. Talks like she's done a gram of speed. Lovely on the eyes.
21:47 - Shab, wears far too much make-up and is quite arrogant. Not as much as me though.
21:50 - Emily. What is there to say? She's a girl, another one (looks like the rumours were true). She thinks that there is a new type of music taking over in the UK called "indy". Ahh the young, it's so quaint. She's also a Tory, so I guess that's a saving grace.
22:00 - A welsh bird called Laura who's desire in life is to be an embalmer. Yes really. She wants to embalm the dead as an ideal job. She said she's a really good cock. No wait, that was cook but she's welsh so speaks funny like.
Note: definitely no geezers it seems.
22:10: Nicky. Heeeeello. Born in India and adopted from Mother Theresa's nursery as a child. Hates men at the moment and cannot tolerate them. Handy! Funny, last year, Nikki was the name of the gorgeous one too.
22:12: Carol. Oh my God. Crazy loony lefty 53 year anti-war campaigner. Bet she's a member of Respect. She's a "sexual health worker". Davina has just confirmed she is a member of Respect. So that makes her a fan of sexist, misogynist, racist, homophobe Islamists. Nice!

It appears that the rumours are true. So we just have woman until Friday when a single man will be put in the house. One man, in a house with ten woman who have cycles in union? Jesus wept.

Brown's cronies named

Gordon Brown has finally appeared on the Electoral Commission website as a regulated donnee. The coffers are looking good for his leadership fight where there isn't a fight. The total donations are, to date, £101,700.

Paul Myners, ex-M&S chairman, and someone who has been commissioned by Brown in the past to do work for him has donated just shy of £10,000. The life peer, and Treasury advisor, Lord Leitch chucked him five grand. Caparo Industries Plc gave £25,000. The Chairman of Caparo is Labour Peer, Lord Paul, a Brown financial backer since before 1997.

He also received another £2,000 from John Miskelly, who - according to the profile on the Treasury website in an announcement about his position on some panel - is Chairman of JM Management Services Ltd and Director of Blueprint Group Ltd (consultancy *ching ching*) and member of the Islington South and Finsbury Labour Party.

The others on the list can be seen on ePolitix. Who wants to make a bet that the donors will find themselves being part of a Government of "all the talents"?

Law professor sued over his blogroll?

A day of the wierd and the wonderful. This guy, Michael Gesist, who is a law professor in Canadian, is apparently being sued by the former leader of the Canadian Green Party because he linked to a site which linked to another site that said something he considered defamtory. The guy doing the suing is also currently trying to sue Google, Wikipedia and the rest of Internet.

Quote of the Day

From Hazel Blears Campaign Team to all her Facebook friends.
"Remember if you're a member of a Trade Union or any other socialist society - you can vote for Hazel more than once! A list of affiliated socialist societies can be found here."
Hat Tip: Iain Dale

Democracy - The Game

Just spotted this little game called Democracy via Comment Central. I sense a potential for one's real world life to slip away as world domination by democratic means calls.

Has Hazel Blears' money run out?

Whatever is going on at the little chipmunk's campaign website? All her videos bar one appear to be broken. Perhaps the money has run out and she's forgotten to pay the bill? Or maybe the dirty tricks have moved on a level to issuing delet commands?

As an aside, I bet the money wouldn't run out for Peter Hain, that champagne lefty has managed to blag himself £77,000 in donations from all sorts of good wealth distribution socialists!

Update: Interesting, Guido links to this post and within a matter of 40 minutes or so the badnwidth meter has been filled up with pennies. Normal service is resumed for the Little One.

Google, Yahoo and Facebook extensions for Firefox put millions at risk of attack

Everyone loves Firefox right? So much better than IE, so much more secure? However, this morning it has been revealed that literally millions of Firefox users are at risk from a remote vulnerability attack if they are using Google, Yahoo and Facebook extensions.

Firefox extensions allow you add a myriad of cool stuff to your browser, and when the products need to be updated Firefox tells you so and you click update if you want too. This is not the case for users of Google, Yahhoo and Facebook extension, along with a number of anti-phishing extensions. For these updates a non-encrypted connection is used to execute code without the users permission or even knowledge.

Independent security researcher, Christopher Soghoian, and Indiana University student published the vulnerability this morning after having waited 45 days from alerting software vendors in line with self-governing disclosure code. Currently none of the major corporations has issued a an update fix to close the security hole.

The problem stems from the potential for a "man in the middle" attack on any users who are connected to a untrusted network (for example public wifi) or where their router has been compromised because of failing to change default passwords. The vulnerabilty means that a malicious hacker could redirect traffic for extensions updates to their own malware and execute it on users local machines in the background in complete silence.

A Quicktime demo of the attack has been posted here.

The bizarre world of nuanced language

What exactly is going on in the Shadow Cabinet? A junior shadow minister leaps before - if the anonymous briefing are anything to go by - he was pushed, over a matter in which he was defending his consitituency. Irrespective of whether one considers what Graham Brady said to be correct or false, he did do what most would consider to be the role of an MP. To represent the views of his constituents.

What confuses me however is not, as some commentators have suggested, the difference between how Boris Johnson is treated when he speaks out of turn, but rather what doesn't happen when other frontbenchers defend their constituency on the same issue. Take for example, the MP for Aylesbury Vale, David Lidington. Currently he's the Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and represents a constituency in Buckinghamshire, a place with lots of grammar schools.

He told the local press that he "always supported the present system in Bucks and continue to do so". Now some may argue that because he hasn't directly questioned the single line about grammar schools not aiding social mobility as Brady did he's OK. However, surely by openly supporting and continuing to support the Buckinghamshire system of 12+ selection he is, in fact, tacitly saying the same thing as Brady, only not in such strong terms?

Asdmittedly the problem for the leadership seemed to be that it has backed itself into a corner on the subject, it doesn't want to be seen to U-turn because that would be weak, so its better to ride out the storm. Also, as has been correctly pointed out by so many, the policy hasn't really changed from previous announcements, the only difference this time was the single line which critics say undermined the existing grammar schools.

Arguably they actually have a point. It's perfectly reasonable to say that you support the existing grammar schools and won't close them, but you no longer believe the best way forward is to build lots of new ones. That is quite in keeping with conservative principles around the approach to change. However, to say that you support the existing grammar schools whilst also effectively saying they don't work isn't consistent at all, is it?

What this has resulted in is the leadership having a perceived showdown in a "row". Was it a master strategy to create a showdown with the Right? Or was it just a cock-up where a proof reading of a speech failed to spot a clanger? Who knows? But what we now have is a situation where different senior people are effectively say the same thing, but thanks to the bizzare world of nuanced language their punishment is handed out in startlingly different ways.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

If your arguments are sounds then why not?

I expect by posting this, with the title I've given it, that some will think it makes me a climate change denier. However, the way I see it, if someone is convinced of their argument they should not feel the need to refuse to debate something with someone. The following is a response to Iain Dale from a high up person at Greenpeace.

For me it exemplifies the problem with the environmental lobby these days. It is the policisation of science pure and simple. Science is not about proven realities, it's about testing hypotheses. Refusing to engage with someone who questions those hypotheses is, putting it simple, wrong.
We have a policy at Greenpeace that we no longer debate people who dont accept the scientific reality of anthropogenic climate change. Its similar to the policy undertaken by cancer specialists who used to debate the tobacco industry but discontinued doing so. To paraphrase Richard Dawkins, if we debated Dominic Lawson on climate change it would look great on his CV, not so good on ours.

I would make clear that that doesnt mean I dont think there should be freedom of speech for people with DLs view, there should be. He is welcome to write about it and speak on it all he wishes, even though I disagree. But by debating him and his fellow-travelers we perpetuate the myth that this is a he said/she said issue, a 50/50 where there is still a debate.

Id debate Bjorn Lomborg, who accepts the science but disagrees vehemently on the need to take action on climate change. But not Dominic Lawson.
They actually do themselves no favours I think.

Blears admits she may be sleazy in office?

How odd, the little chipmunk Blears has said that if she becomes the Deputy Leader of the Labour Party (and as some of them hope, Deputy Prime Minister) she will be spending most of her time making sure Salford gets all the goodies.

Glad to see she sees the nation as important! The simple message it seems is "Don't vote for Hazel if you don't live in Salford". I imagine her Salford supporters will be running Lowry-esque to the stadiums to see her speak.

Mind you, it would be difficult for her to do less well for the area. The ASBO/Respect policies have been so successful there that last year they managed to have an order breached once a week.

In total there were 56 breachs in 2006, and, at an approximate cost of £2,500 a time, that works out to about £140,000 spent for...err.. nothing. It will all be so much better if she's deputy though!

Iain Dale to appear on The Panel?

Rumours abound that Iain Dale will be appearing on the Irish version of HIGNFY called The Panel this week. I imagine his role will be that of the "Englishman to take the piss out of". I wonder how long it will take to appear on YouTube?

If you're wondering what it's like then you can watch the last show here.

Blears and Cruddas go at it together?

According to an Alan Johnson supporting blog, the Cruddas team is hitting back against what it believes was a smear by Team Blears. A source within the Cruddas campaign team has claimed that a source in Blears team reckons the little chipmunk was well aware that her t-shirt supplier was making her supporter clothes in sweatshops.

It's all becoming very "he said, she said" isn't it? Ironically, whilst reporting all the whispers and backbiting the Bloody Students blog also bemoans it all saying, "Shame we can't just get on with the task at hand and winning a fourth term." Someone's going to say "it's my ball and I'm going home" next.

Become a vegan, save the planet from doom

The so-called politics of behaviour is very fashionable at the moment. Last week we had the Government telling pregnant women not to drink a single drop of alcohol even though doctors don't think such warnings are necessary.

Ironically of course when it comes to abortion it is the woman's choice that is considered the key in the decision to kill her unborn. Yet here we have the womans choice to (potentially) kill her unborn being proscribed against. It's a major victory for policy consistency don't you think?

Then, over the weekend we learned that the Government had strong-armed the alcohol industry into putting wanrings on their products by threatening legislation if they didn't.The result is that we will now have health warnings that state the bleeding obvious, drinking gets you drunk and you might end up making a prat of yourself (been there, done that, got the t-shirt, don't care). "Know Your limits" we will be told, assuming we;re able to read it when we're drunk.

Then we move on to today, and a sory in the Daily Mail, which, if it is to be believed (and I stress that caveat), claims that someone at the Environment Agency sent an email to some Vegetarian group implying that DEFRA wants to drip, drip us all into becoming vegetarians at the least, and vegans at best.

Why? Well, according to the leaked email it's all because of that old chestnut climate change. We all know cows fart a lot, and we all know methane is a "bad" gas. We therefore need to reduce the number of cows. Additionally we expends lots of energy (read, CO2) growing food to feed them before we cook them with hot sauce on the barbie. Thus the environmental and food fascists have the perfect solution, we should all start having bland diets of tofu and quorn.

I guess we'll all have to wait and see whether the proposals ever get past the desk of someone of power. We'll know if we start to see Government sponsored adverts that encourage us to examine our "consumption of animal protein" (hasn't that already happens with the whole Mars Bar and rennet nonsense?).

The question though is what happens to all the cows and other animals we currently enjoy eating when we turn into planet svaing hippies? After all, they have "rights", right? We can't just kill them, and we couldn't possibly impinge on their right to procreate could we? The cows are trying to take over, I'm telling you it's true!

Monday, May 28, 2007

Lib Dem Voice to close down on June 19th

They may have a habit of over-egging the pudding and elevating non-entity members of local associations into "top tories" but Lib Dem Voice has at least provided their own membership with a place to discuss things.

Unfortunately for them it appears it is no longer workable, and according to this post the end is nigh. Rob Fenwick has posted saying,
"it’s been decided that the Lib Dem Voice blog will close to new contributions and comments on June 19th, and the forum will close on the same day. The blog will continue to be available as an archive for some time thereafter, forum posts will not - please ensure you take a copy of any posts that are valuable to you."
Oh well, another blog bites the dust.

New criminal asset recovery laws announced

It seems, whilst everyone else is talking about the new proposals for police powers the Government has also made announcements about how it's going to change the criminal asset recovery system. Sorry, did I say Government? I meant the Labour Party. You'll be hard pushed to find a press release about these changes from the Government, but the minister responsible has made a statement on the Labour Party website instead.

According to the press release, the Criminal Assets Recovery Agency has been a roaring success over the past five years. This is of course the most blatant load of bollocks since the last time they talked bollocks, but hey, the Labour Party faithful only want good news right? They should put aside the instinctive reaction that if it's been so great why the need for new powers?

The new powers are rather bizarre though. Firstly they want to extend powers "to include the seizure of cash and other assets such as cars or boats believed to have been used in crimes or are the proceeds of crime". 'Believed' to be, not proven to be? They also want to offer "citizens a percentage of assets seized for whistle-blowing on fraud committed against the Government". The grass on your family posters will appearing next.

The best proposals, and when I say best I do of course mean stupidest, is a plan to extend "the use of tax powers to target unexplainable criminal assets". Can you see the problem here? If the assets are unexplainable then they cannot subsequently be described as a particular sort of asset, in this case criminal. What they're actually proposing to do is say, irrespective of evidence, the Government will assume that assets are criminally sourced if someone cannot produce a receipt for them, which is just crazy.

Where is Gordon Brown on this?

At what point will Gordon Brown actually say something about these new police powers proposals? How can we have a Government that is working like this? We effectively have a new Prime Minister who is currently touring the country and going to hustings but who has now been silent for over 24 hours on a matter of policy that is leading pretty much every newspaper today.

Is it just a case of McCavity yet again wanting to avoid answering difficult questions? Or is he just sitting back and keeping his hands clean with no actually plans to change the policy anyway? The Cabinet is in open revolt on this (although clearly the Deputy leadership race is the reason for that as Hain tries to make some ground with the subject), and yet the man who wants to be King says nothing.

Does Brown support these draconian proposals or not? We should be told. Either he should say something, or the press should be forcing an answer out of him.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Not Lost Anymore

Ok, this is a little bit of a lie, but I've just finished watching the Season finale of Lost Season 3 (people who have Sky One will get to watch it in about 25 minutes). All I will say is that as series arc goes the route their clearly going in Season 4 is an interesting one.

There is resolution, and, in my head at least, a rough explanation of what is going on. Season 4 is in the making now and switching to flash forwards is a clever move. Anyway, Big Brother starts on Wednesday so that's 10+ weeks of brain chewing gum sorted whilst I wait for some new Sci-fi.

Revenge is a dish best served with a Big Bertha

Well Iain may have beaten me to winning that award, but I got my own back on the golf course*. Justice Revenge is served with a Callaway Big Bertha.

* We were both pretty poor though

Watford get new sponsorhip deal?

Must be a wind-up surely? Perhaps Kerron Cross knows? The players must be relieved though!

Hat Tip: Norfolk Blogger

Minister backs drive by shooting?

According to this morning's Sunday Telegraph, "Richard Caborn, the sports minister, has backed a drive by shooting". OK, OK, not really! What the report actually says is "Richard Caborn, the sports minister, has backed a drive by shooting groups to increase participation in the sport among children as young as 12."

What the title of this post should really be is "Government Minister performs U-turn on gun laws". As you'd expect though, the anti-gun lobby have come out against his statement saying it's wrong to encourage young people to become as good as possible in an Olympic sport.

Panorama, the BBC and Bad Science

Last week, BBC's Panorama ran a scare story piece about wi-fi, which followed hot on the heel of a scare story in the Independent on Sunday. There's an interesting take on it over at Bad Science including a response from Paul Kenyon.

Creation Museum opens with dinosaurs on the Ark?

Yes, it's true, honestly. A museum has opened in Kentucky dedicated to Creationism and in it's exhibition about Noah's Ark it has put dinosaurs on it. They also have an exhibit about how the Grand Canyon was formed in a matter of days during the flood of Noah.

What I find most interesting about this is that most evangelicals I've spoken too tell me that dinosaur fossil records are merely a test of faith from God. Whatever one thinks of that argument it is much better than denying the scientific analysis and thinking that dinosaurs walked the planet with human beings a mere 6000 years ago.

Al Qaeda torture manual images released by US DoD

According to Fox News the US Department of Defence has released the contents of an Al Qaeda torture handbook which was found after a raid in Iraq. There is a link in the story to the content and images which are quite graphic, including drawing of preferred techniques, the necessary tools required (such as screwdrivers, drills and a vice, along with some photographs of victims.

It's all pretty grim, and I imagine the default reaction to them on the Left would be say that we, that is the West, engage in so-called "water-boarding" so what is the difference. Obviously it's impossible to know really what we do and don't do, but I don't think we put people's heads in vices or use an iron on their chest.

The Fixed Threat Assessment Centre

Ever heard of the Fixated Threat Assessment Centre? Me either, but apparently it's a team that was set up last year and is part of Blair's draconian Police powers. The team works to stop stalkers attacking important people like the PM and Royal Family and makes full use of the mental health laws in the process.

Personally speaking I've never been a fan of the mental health laws that the Government has brought in. The idea that you can be detained on the basis that you might do something because someone deemed you a bit of a nutter seems to me to be way off the mark.

Take someone like John Nash for example and think of the implications. In his case he really was mentally ill, but the mental health laws that exist here are far more wide reaching, and, apparently the Government wants to cast their reach even wider including being able to declare someone mentally disorder on the grounds of their cultural, political or religious beliefs.

The Fixated Threat Assessment Centre is it seems, an organisation out of Scotland Yard that makes full use of these new laws to detain not just stalkers, but anyone that they think might pose a threat, especially a terrorist one. They may not have got 90 days detention without trial., but the mental health laws give them indefinite detention without trial instead.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Brown builds trust by avoiding transparency?

Following on from this, a quick update to say that Brown is still not registered with an Electoral Commission as a regulated donee. Also, according his entry on the Register of Members' Interests he's had nothing to declare since November 2005.

A little bird tells me that design cost of the website was paid for on delivery, and that it cost somewhere between £10,000 and £30,000. He's also been traveling all round the country as part of his leadership hustings tour, that will costing money too (or perhaps the taxpayer is paying for it?).

Either way, for a man that says he wants to gain people's trust, he seems to be being rather secretive about his funding sources. Maybe they're off balance sheet PFIs?

The Pot and Kettle Awards 2007

The other day was the ConservativeHome Blog awards. Nothing particularly unusual in a peer group having a back slapping session with itself, the music and football industry do it all the time (as do many others). Moaning left wingers like Justin McKeating from Chicken Yoghurt described it as "Best Tory Blog Run By A Tory Nominated By Tories Voted For By Tories And Awarded By Tories Award". A cutting and insightful critique of colossal intellectualism without a doubt.

However, in a quaintly amusing way, in one of his posts which just happens to appear directly above one about "doublethink" (beautiful!), Justin is praising his and others inclusion in the UK section of some other random blog awards (God there are so many dick measuring contests aren't there?) called the Fistful of Euros Satin Pajama Awards. You'll take note from the entries that where the blogs are political they're all on the Left. Hardly a surprise given that Fistful of Euros is pretty much a centre-left pro-European site*, I wouldn't expect anything less, and that's fine by me.

Having said this though I do find myself sniggering whilst the words pot, kettle and black ring around my head.

* I bet someone homes in on this statement and writes a boring long diatribe about it.
** Someone will probably link to this as well and call me a hypocrite for making an observation. That's how it works you see.
*** OK, that's enough blogging about blogging, it's boring.

Will this grammar school story ever go away?

I have to admit I'm utterly bored of all this grammar school business. This morning's Daily Mail has commissioned a poll leading to the headline "Voters tell Cameron: We DO want grammars". When you look at the poll data on the page, it's certainly true that respondants did agree in majority with the statement that some people say there should be a grammar school in every town.

However, when asked what influence a party pledging the policy would have on their voting intention the majority said it wouldn't make a difference. This suggests that, far from voters wanting grammar schools, they're actually quite indifferent to them. This doesn't surprise me because what's important is to make all schools worth going too.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Harry Potter and the Brokeback Goblet?

Clearly a YouTube night for me. Very clever editing.

The Problem with Social Networking

Whilst I do have a Facebook account for practical reasons, I'm not actually a big fan of online social networking. This is mainly because of the way it blurs the definition between real life and the online one, Mario and Luigi can explain it more lucidly than me though.

Let the Google Deputy Leadership Wars Commence!

Anyone remember the Lib Dem leadership battle where if you Googled for one candidate you got paid for sponsored links for another? New New Labour, New New postmodernism?

WOrks the same for every candidate. Team Benn is splashing out!

Pick Hillary's Campaign Song?

Last week Hillary Clinton asked for advice (she should have a chat with John Bracken)
The call was answered, and I guess you have to respect her willingness to laugh at herself whilst simultaneously taking the piss out of her critics

Return of the Chad

It didn't take long for the Chadster to return. The old address now redirects to his latest project, which seems to be playing a little on the Kubrick masterpiece, A Clockwork Orange.

Chad informs us that he's allowed his UKIP membership to expire. After going through his anti-tory, pro-ukip phase, he now seems to have decided to go into an anti-UKIP phase whilst still, apparently, maintaining that he supports them.

He'll be standing for election in a Droogie suit next with a glass of milk in his hand! That's all folks!

Vote John Bracken!

Just go here and press play. Now wouldn't it be great if we made it a requirement for every candidate over here to produce an individual election song? Separate the wheat from the chaff? Go on, you know it makes sense!

Cartoon heroes and villains!

Gotta love wedge issues huh?!

John McDonnell may be a socialist but....

EDM 1584
"That this House calls upon the Prime Minister and the Chancellor not to sign any treaty or agreement that affects the constitutional relationship between Great Britain and the EU at the EU Summit in Brussels on 21st and 22nd June 2007 without consulting the British people by means of a referendum."
Not sure how this sudden love for democracy sits comfortably with his ideology though.

Has Gillian Merron misled Parliament?

The Labour MP for Edinburgh North and Leith, Mark Lazarowicz, seems to be rather busy at the moment tabling questions to each department about what 0870 and 0845 numbers they have under their control, and whether alternative geographical numbers exists.

I'm not quite sure why he's chosen to include 0845 in questions as that is a non-geographic guaranteed local rate call number so is not particularly controversial. However, the 0870 prefix is important because it costs consumers a national rate charge to call.

What's interesting in the responses are the departments that claim there are no alternative numbers for some of their 0870 services. This is nonsense. Non-geographical phone numbers are always mapped across the PSTN to geographical ones, so if a department states they don't exist they're either lying, or they're simply unaware of what the mappings actually are.

Take for example, a response from the Transport Minister, Gillian Merron. She stated yesterday that the Driving Standards Agency has four 0870 numbers and that there were no alternative geographical numbers available. This is simply not true.

If you want to book a test with the DSA, the call centre number is 0870 010 1372. However, you could just ring 0161 8557421 and get the menu, or you could call 0161 8557410 and be dropped straight into the queue. For all the other stuff you could call 0115 9012500 and then wait for the operator to transfer you.

So, is Gillian Merron lying, or is it just the fact the she doesn't know? Either way her response is misleading. All you have to do is Say No to 0870, I'm surprised the civil servants that draw up responses didn't use it.

Sounds itchy!

Back in March, in response to a Parliamentary Question, the Ministry of Defence said that it had spent £4,702.52 on "maintenance" for the property of the General Officer Commanding Northern Ireland, who I think is Major General Phillip Trousdell unless someone can tell me otherwise.

Now I'm not going to moan about the amount of money spent, just under five grand isn't a lot in a year for generally maintaining a property. However, the MoD has now kindly provided a break down of the work that was included under the general title of maintenance and I couldn't help but giggle.

As you'd expect there's the usual stuff in the list, clearing guttering and downpipes to repairing leaks to buying a new dishwasher (an essential item in my opinion). Then, as you look down the list, there's £100 to treat "flea infestation"? I do hope it was his pet's fault!

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Have you been named after a politician?

Danny Finkelstein over at Comment Central has another one of his little competitions going, this time looking for people who have been, or know anyone who has been, named after a politician in some way.

As it happens, the reason I chose the name "dizzy" was because I had just read a book which for the most part was about Disraeli. Dizzy was the first thing that popped into my head when I was starring at the set-up screen.

Will Gordon go nuclear with EDF?

Whatever ones opinion on nuclear power, one thing that is known is that it's bloody expensive. This is largely why most nuclear energy programmes are backed by massive Government subsidy. When the Government tells us what it is going to do, it's almost guaranteed that it will cost us, the taxpayer, a fair penny. Would we expect any less from Gordon?

The question is who will run any potentially new nuclear power stations? Will it be British Energy? Or might Brown decide to have one of his favourite PFI schemes? In which case, might the UK arm of the French company EDF Energy find themselves getting a good deal? After all, they do run quite a few of the nuclear power stations in France so they have lots of experience. Purely coincidentally and a point of interest, they also have a Head of Media Relations by the name of Andrew Brown (who apparently has a famous brother).

This is just wrong

"Maintained schools have the power to collect pupils’ personal data, including biometric data without prior written consent of parents. Under paragraph 3(1) of Schedule 1 of the Education Act 2002 the governing body of a maintained school has the legal power to do anything which appears to them to be necessary or expedient for the purposes of, or in connection with, the conduct of the school." - Education Minister, Jim Knight
Jesus wept. Couple this with the Government's proposals for greater and easier information sharing across Whitehall and Local Government and it all just makes me shudder.

Prisons and playstations

It was a note of interest to some people a few months ago that the Ministry of Defence spent quite a lot of money on PlayStations for its service personnel on deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan. Personally I don't have a problem with a bit of spending on PlayStation for people that are willing to take bullets or roadside bombs on behalf of their country. Providing the means to p[lay a bit of Tekken for troops is not particularly scandalous.

However, what I did find a bit more of a concern was that the Prison Service buys PlayStations for prisoners, and it also has no idea how much it spends on games for them. What's wrong with a chess board, scrabble or a pack of cards though? Prison is the place you go where you broke the law, so why should you get lots of fancy electronic technology that many people who have not broken the law cannot afford to buy?

One saving grace at least is that the PS3 has been banned in prisons because it can send as well as receive radio signals. Personally I'd ban the others as well, prison is meant to be a punishment after all.

The privatisation of instant justice?

There is no escaping the camera it seems. It might only be in Salford at the moment, but these traffic wardens who work for NCP are also going to be given the power to issue 'on the spot' fines for anti-social behaviour. Yes indeed, a member of staff in a private company (NCP) is going to be given 'extra-judicial' powers on the street. Good init?

Picture from Manchester Evening News

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Incompetence should be measured over time

Who is the most incompetent Labour minister? asks Iain. That's a tough one, they've all been pretty shocking in their own little ways. The problem of course is distinguishing between sheer incompetence and sleazy tales. Poor old Ruth Kelly does seem quite out of her depth, and there was of course Estelle Morris who conceded herself that she was not up to the job (a rare moment of honesty).

Surely though John Reid has to take the prize? After all, he's managed to float around Whitehall over the past ten years leaving departments in bigger messes than when he was brought in to "fix" them. John Harvey-Jones he clearly ain't!

Being a sensible mum will get you more than respect

Yesterday, the Electoral Commission released details of party political donations for the first quarter of this year. Putting aside the three main parties, amusingly George Galloway's, Respect Unity Coalition, managed to gain even less in donations than the BNP (ironically they have more in common than they realise).

The anti-Western, pro-Islamist, homophobic, misogynist supporting Respect achieved a donation grand total of £4,636 compared to the BNPs' whopping £6,000. Both parties were beaten though by serious contender political parties like Mums Army who got £10,762, and Mum4Justice who managed £7,172.

None of the small parties came close to Captain Sensible's Blah Party though. The former Damned front man got a 'new rose' with donations totaling £35,350- which isn't bad considering the Blah Party has got over £200,000 in donations during the last year.

It gets funnier for the trotskyite women/gay haters in Respect though. Their £4,636 donation was deemed to be impermissible anyway because it came from a Dubai based company in the form of a US$ cheque. Gutted!

Have they really had no FoIs for eight months?

This is just a random observation, and I'm sure there is a perfectly reasonable explanation for it, but I can't help thinking it's odd that, according to the Cabinet Office website it hasn't published anything under the Freedom of Information Act since September 2006. Especially seeing as, to that point, they had published something every month since January 2005.

Of course, it may just be that no one has submitted a single FoI to the Cabinet Office since last September, but personally I find that a little unlikely. After all, their responsible for a quite large part of Government in terms of handling FoI.

Home Office spends £26,000 a day on train tickets

According to figures released under the Freedom of Information Act, in the last financial year the Home Office spent £9,645,550.94 on train travel. This equates to, assuming everyone works every day of the year, to a travel spend of approximately £26,462 each day. In fairness whilst the figure sounds staggering we all know that the railways cost an arm and leg to travel on, especially if you don't buy your ticket 14 years in advance. I wonder if they get a discount though given the Government "technically" owns the track again now?

Meanwhile, the amount the Home Office spent on taxis in the last financial year was £915,332.49. This is approximately £2,500 per day. I guess, seeing as the Home Office got split recently the figure should reduce dramatically during this financially year, we'll just have to wait a year to find out. I bet the odds would be low that they don't!

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Parliamentary IT services suck say MPs

It's not exactly a report that will make sysadmins, netadmins or helpdesk monkeys very happy. Aparently the feedback that the Committee drawing up the report received suggested that was a "significant undertone of dissatisfaction with the ICT services provided by Parliament".

As an aside, they still use HP-UX for alot of the big Parliamentary systems I think. There's nothing wrong with HP-UX per se of course, apart from when you log on to one and find that some crazy admin set it up to use csh by default.

Misrepresented by 'teh' Guardian

I guess you know you've arrived when the Guardian misrepresents something you've said. This morning I posted and defended the principle of academic selection, but said that more grammar schools was not the solution.

Instead of a system whereby you split kids up at 11 or 12 into different schools (grammar and secondary modern), we should have proper streaming of children based on academic ability in individual subjects within schools.

However, if you were to read the Guardian blog you'd probably assume that I was calling for a mass grammar school building programme. *shrugs*

Admissions of information security leaks at the DWP?

Apparently, the DWP has made no estimate of how many individuals have had their personal data stolen from their Department and its executive agencies over the last five years. It does however acknowledge that in 2004 approximately 8,800 members of staff had their personal data stolen from the department.

Putting aside the rather scary admission of failing security in 2004, might the reason they have made no other estimates have anything to do with the December 2005 news that potentially all 13,000 job centre staff had their personal data compromised after the total breakdown and security failure of the UK tax credit portal?

I imagine they're trying to forget that little cock-up!

Better Backs - what happened to the spandex?

Back in October last year, I spotted a campaign website by the Health and Safety Executive about a spoof rock band called Baackpain. At the same time I wondered about the fake eBay auction the HSE set up as well. A couple of days later the Times followed up on the story and discovered that the website was part of a £2.5 million campaign to make sure we all sat up properly at work.

According to resposne from the DWP in Parliament yesterday, there have been two specifc "Better Backs" websites over the past few years, and they have managed to get 182,191 visits in that time (that's about 250 visits a day if you were wondering). The total cost spent ont he websuite is £121,000 so we're looking at roughly 60p a visit, which, compared to some other websites is reasonable.

What I really want to know is whether the person that bid £2050 for the non-existent spandex on eBay was the HSE rigging the auction and breaking eBay's rules. After all, the HSE even boasts,/a> about the fake auction on their site. The public has a right to know what happened to the spandex goddamit!

NHS Spine to be MTAS all over again?

I'm currently in a bit of shock. Yesterday, Oliver Helad MP asked the Secretary of State for Health, "whether a privacy impact assessment (a) has been produced and (b) is planned for the NHS spine project." In an amazing moment of honesty, Carline Flint said, "No. We do not believe that such an assessment would serve any useful purpose at this stage of the project".

This is truly bizarre, given the complete and total failure of the MTAS system on grounds of security and information breach, you'd think that they'd learn wouldn't you? Now some people might see the statement and says "ahh but she says 'at this stage of the project'" thus implying that such an assessment will be made in the future.

Security and privacy is however something that should be considered at all steps of a development life cycle, something which Caroline Flint seems to acknowledge but then dismiss when she says,
The aim of a privacy impact assessment is to ensure that privacy is considered at every stage of a project involving the handling of information, and that action is taken to mitigate against identified risks to the privacy of individuals. While this is clearly a useful tool for many projects where these matters might otherwise be neglected, the need to safeguard privacy and confidentiality is a necessary deliverable of any health record system, and the management of risk in this area has been a core deliverable of the national health service care records service.
Making security and privacy a necessary deliverable is not a replacement for carrying out regular security impact assessment of changes. For a start, a non-operational development environment will invariably be radically different to a production one. Without full security and privacy reviews at regular steps on a large-scale projects you are increasing the risk of being presented with an information security fait accompli on delivery.

The Spine project is already one of the biggest disasters in IT project history, yet for some reason the Government just never seems to admit it.

An opinion on the grammar school stuff

My oh my there really is some furore in the papers this morning wondering whether the "grammar schools issue" is Cameron's "clause IV moment". Cameron has even penned an article for the Times which (in effect) attacks people like Tim Montgomerie on ConservativeHome for being a backward looking old reactionary on the issue.

Frankly I don't think using language like "delusional" is necessarily fair, it's far easier just to say that those wanting more grammar schools to be created are just wrong. What it all really boils down to is making all schools worth going too.

This is not to say that I regret academic selection of course. In fact I think there should be more of it within schools. Not setting, but real and proper streaming. The argument that gets made about how telling kids they are failures early psychologically damages them is nonsense.

We live in a competitive society, shielding children from the harsh reality of failure is neither sensible nor particular good. Failure makes you stronger. I should know, I failed my 12+, it took an expulsion from Secondary Modern to get me into a grammar school, but the failure didn't psychologically damage me at all.

A verbal reasoning test, which is all the 12+ in Buckinghamshire is, is not the be all and end all of ascertaining academic ability. Performance in subjects is where the true value of selection lies, and my entrance exam to Grammar was just that, a test of English, Maths and oddly, French.

Encouraging schools to properly stream their pupils into groups of roughly equal ability within core subjects is a far superior way of ending the one size fits all solution that panders to the lowest common denominator i.e. the thick kids.

Society is made up of clever people and not so clever people. Pretending it isn't within the structure and running of a school is what causes the real damage because when the kids leave they have hardly any experience of how tough life can actually be.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Can Tory Blogs do more to tackle "smears"?

Have just read an interesting piece by Watlington on the Social Affairs Unit blog called "The flaw of the Tory bloggers", I've been namechecked in it so I thought I would make a comment. Watlington suggests it seems that Tory bloggers like Iain Dale and ConservativeHome are in a way, too soft, with their critics, whichever direction those critics may come from.

Watlington goes on to say that the attacks they face (including attacks on me apparently) are smear campaigns, which we fail to tackle properly. Now, whilst Watlington does give some idea of how ConservativeHome could handle this, I'm not really sure what individual blogs like Iain or this one can or should do. Purely in relation to myself, I couldn't care less if I get attacked online, the flaming is half the reason I'm here, it's just a bit of fun.

However, if I, Iain, or any other political blogger for that matter was to engage in some sort of forceful rebuttal what you're going to end up with is a ping-pong match of flaming and quoting. If you take that route you end up spending your time "blogging about blogging", which, frankly, is boring. You'll also find yourself becoming obsessed with maybe one or two people who actually, in the wider scheme of things don't really matter very much.

Nationalised ISP to be launched in the Post Office?

The Post office has aparently cut a massive deal with BT Wholesale to start providing ISP services. Essentially they're going to become a Virtual ISP sitting off BT in a deal reported to worth £750 million over the next four years.

The Post Office already offers some telephony services to 4000,000 customers and its planning on upgrading them. Effectively what we're talking about here is a nationalised ISP. It will be interesting to see what they set their price at and whether they try to undercut the market by subsidising the business with our money.

Iggy Tebbit?

Norman Tebbit storms a Register poll to replace Elijah Wood as Iggy Pop in forthcoming biopic The Passenger.

How long will it before they formally announce Thinkpol?

If this morning's Times is correct then we about to see yet another tiny step forward in our ever increasing sleepwalk into an Orwellian state. According to their front page story, there are plans, as part of information sharing across Whitehall for local authority official to be issued guidelines about report people to the Police who they suspect might commit an offence.

It's a cliche to talk about the Thought Police, but at some point the dark dystopian fictional world of Airstrip One in 1984 will become a reality for us all without, so it seems, many of us seeing it coming. There is something scarily Stasi-esque about building a society where people are encouraged to report other people to the Police because they "think" they're a bit dodgy.

With the rise of doublespeak, or what is commonly known as "political correctness", we have already begun the journey of reshaping our language along those lines which fit an orthodoxy of "acceptability". We have outlaw3ed the use of certain words, and in some cases in fact, simple using them could already see you arrested.

To be arrested for speaking your mind, is to be arrested for thinking. And being arrested for thinking can only ever be called Thought Crime. Now with these new plans, should they come to fruition, we will not only have our thought limited through what we say, but we could potentially see our action limited but what someone thinks we might do based upon what we say.

The supporters of such changes will, as ever, argue for them on the basis of their supposed "benefit". The cultural questions about the metamorphosis of language and the introduction of orthodoxy, along with the political arguments about the pervasive nature of the state apparatus will be dismissed as mere paranoia. "Do you really think [insert politician here] would use it in that way?" will be the argument. The response should be straight forward as this.

It is not relevant whether we think a particularly politician or Government might use such changes in a negative way. What is relevant is that we cannot guarantee that someone with the desire to use such change will not find a way of seizing power. I don't deny that I might sound melodramatic, however the assault on language, thought and these changes to the apparatus of state power that are going on really aren't something we should simply shrug off.

Cutty Sark 100% ablaze

God this is so depressing. Apparently it's 100% ablaze. Don't know how, but if it turns out to be deliberate then frankly the death penalty should be brought back.

Update: The Times is reporting that it was "started deliberately" on their front page. Bloody tragedy.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Powell implicated in fresh corruption allegations?

According this morning Sunday Times, Tony Blair's Chief of Staff Jonathan Powell may be in some more trouble. They have said that he may be investigated in relation to corruption allegations about the BAE/Saudi Arabia arms trading. His brother, Charles Powell (former foreign policy adviser to Margaret Thatcher) is alleged to have acted a lobbying back channel to Blair via Powell. Lord Powell has said that he may well have discussed things with his brother but he cannot remember.

The fact that the Saudi issue has now led investigators to Downing Street at a time when the Police have already been inside investigating other allegations of corruption and attempts to pervert the course of justice is significant though. For Downing Street to find itself embroiled in two potential corruption cases brings the Office of the First Lord of the Treasury into serious disrepute.

It doesn't really matter whether the allegations are true or not really, the damage being done to the probity and integrity of the British state is, I'd say, unquestionable. The Blair/Brown era has been marred by sleaze scandals at almost every turn, and now it seems their culminating with some very serious allegations. The phrase "mud sticks" comes to mind.

The Saudi issue is an interesting one, especially given that Parliament has been told differing stories about why the fraud investigation was originally scrapped and who took the decision. Blair took responsibility, then the Attorney General said it was the Serious Fraud Office, whilst the Serious Fraud said they faced no political pressure to drop the fraud probe.

Does Tom Watson have any shame?

How strange, I've just read this on Iain's blog, and, as one his "chums" that equally expressed his disgust at the Friday's second reading passing of the Freedom of Information Amendment to exempt MPs from the Act, I feel compelled this morning to respond. If you go and look at Tom Watson's blog you will find his "four-point explanation" for why he voted in favour of the Bill to restrict the publics' freedom to information about the MPs they pay. Tom says,
1. If the speaker had not guaranteed that MP’s expenses will continue to be published, I would not have supported the Bill. I repeat - you will still be able to see the expense tables like you have been able to for the last three years.
This is disingenuous bollocks. For a start, the speaker's "guarantee" is worth shit. There is no legal obligation for his word to be kept, and if, as many expect the Speaker changes in the not too distant future, there is no legal obligation for his successor to maintain it either. Secondly, this is not just about expenses. By trying to paint it as such, Tom is illustrating just how much contempt he has for the publics' freedom to know what the people they vote for are doing.

Tom then links to the profile of the Lib Dem MP that brought the expenses thing all about, Norman Baker, and claims that the expense tables have been available for three years anyway and will remain so. What he doesn't say is that, on the specific issue of expenses, it was never about those limited expense tables that have been previously available.

The issue of expenses was about the detailed breakdown tables, for example on transport, which show us, the public (who are also the paymasters remember), just how much MPs are spending in detail and on what. Telling us that MP X spent £65,000 on travel is not the same as telling us that of that £62,000, he spent the £60,000 on taxis when say, he could have got on a bus or train like the rest of us proles do every day. Next up Tom says,
2. Despite people saying that there is protection under the Data Protection Act, public sector bodies are still revealing the private correspondence between them and MPs regarding constituents.
This is, frankly, a piss poor argument. He's basically conceding that the law exists to protect the people that MPs claim they want to protect with the amendment, it's just that public sector bodies are repeatedly breaking that law. This is a bit like deciding to rip down every house in the country to solve the problem of domestic burglary.

Here's a novel idea for you Tom, how about enforcing the bloody law? Yes, yes, I know it sounds a little radical, and I understand that it might mean the Home Office has to do some extra work on top of all the work it hasn't been doing (incidentally weren't you in the Home Office once?), but seriously, is it really too much to ask?
3. This Bill was put forward by the former Tory Chief Whip. Don’t be fooled by the disingenuous comments and synthetic outrage of Iain Dale and his chums. Incidentally, he seemed to know how many MPs from each party had voted on the Bill yesterday afternoon - before they are made available in Hansard. He can only have got this information from a source in one of the Whips offices (I’m certain the parliamentary clerks would not help him). This suggests to me that he is part of a Tory spin operation - understandable but fundamentally dishonest in regard to this piece of legislation.
Besides the fact that Iain himself has comprehensively dealt with the pointless and baseless ad hominen directed at him, what exactly is the point Tom is trying to make here? So it was a former Tory Chief Whip that put the Bill forward, shame on him. As it happens, a few months ago on the day that Maclean first proposed the Bill I was on 18 Doughty Street for the evening with Iain Dale, Karen Allen (ConservativeFuture) and Tim Barnes (Tory Reform Group) and the subject came up.

My initial response to it when I heard was simply to exclaim "well that's bollocks isn't it?". The four of us were in agreement that the Bill was way off the mark, and we went on to pontificate about how we didn't think it would ever reach second reading (how wrong we were!). For Tom to make claims of "synthetic outrage" is - and I mean this from the heart with love - bullshit.
4. Finally - If Menzies Campbell thought so strongly about this Bill, why wasn’t he there to speak and vote against it?
A reasonable point although utterly irrelevant to the fact that Tom voted for it. It was a decent attempt at final point diversion away from his own shameful deed of attempting to legislate out of existence our freedom to find out what (however much or little) the people we pay, and elect, are up too.

The bottom line is simple. Every single one of the MPs who voted for this Bill, be they Tory, Labour, Lib Dem, black, blue, white, pink or polka-dotted, should be ashamed of themselves. The ones who didn't turn up to vote may very well have had good reasons for not attending, however, if there was collusion between the different whips office to get it through without actively endorsing it then that's shameful as well.

N.B: I fully expect to be called Iain's sock puppet, flying monkey, or some such other new and enhanced monkier by Tom Watson's "web guru" Lassie having written this. I'm actually looking forward to it because it makes me chuckle.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

What a boring Cup Final

Don't know what more too say. Both sides canceled each other out. Totally boring, not a patch on last year.

Iraq isn't "too dangerous" for our troops

What exactly is "too dangerous" when it comes to soldiers engaged in military action? I ask this because Paul Flynn MP has tabled a motion which simply says, "That this House believes that Iraq is now too dangerous for any of our service personnel."

On face value I don't get it, how exactly do we define "too dangerous"? In the last 4 years we've lost 148 troops, of which 113 were killed in action - the rest dying as a result of illness, accident, or non-combat injuries. Even if we use the total figure, that's the equivalent of 0.1 soldier dying each day.

If danger is to be measured in the ultimate sacrifice, then we ought to have motions stating that "this House believes that the is too dangerous for the the public"? And anyway, isn't soldiering (in which ever service) automatically defined around the fact that you might die or perhaps get hurt?

Tory councillors hit "Reply-All" to Willetts?

David Willetts sounds like he's getting it in the neck from councillors this morning. Apparently he sent out an email to Tory councillors across the country defending his recent speech about grammar schools. From what I've heard, many of them have hit "Reply-All" and been exceptionally candid with him.

Update: Just to clarify, I didn't say "all" Tory councillors got it. From what I've heard it was people who have education responsibility locally that received it.

Cameron calls for TV Debate with Brown?

Every August in the UK, with startling regularity, there is a political meme that plays out in the press and the television media. Have exams got easier, or are the kids just getting cleverer, there are though other memes in the political space of the UK that occur with regularity, although maybe not every August, on such example is the "leadership tv debate".

Usually this meme shows it head during an election cycle where one side calls for it first, then the other sort of says yes, then a discussion occurs, the third party says "don't forget us", and then the even smaller parties start moaning about representation. Dates may get penciled into the diary at Shepherd Bush, and then something comes up, one side blinks, or forgets that that date was actually their kids school play, or whatever reason. The "TV debate" debate then gets shelved until the next time.

Yesterday, David Cameron kicked it off outside of the electoral cycle after writing on WebCameron that he hoped in "the next few days Gordon Brown will make clear that once he’s actually the Labour leader and Prime Minister, he’ll take part in proper TV debates that could really help bring politics to life." I cannot say that I disagree with David Cameron. Politics today, for most people, has become stale and soundbite driven. Unless you're a sad politico you're unlikely to watch the Commons, and even then the cut'n thrust adversarial style is not particularly appealing to many.

If we take look across the pond right now, the current TV debates that are going on - which are just for the Primaries for selecting a candidate - are having a massive impact on energising a debate. Even though turnout is historically low in the US, a quick look at the popularity of some of the debate videos on YouTube shows just what sort of appeal there is to seeing hopeful leaders discuss issues and flesh out their views.

The question is, will Brown go for it? So far, I can remember calls for television debates with every Tory leader and Blair since John Major. Yet they never actually happen. Is Brown different? We already know, during his time as Chancellor, that whenever something goes wrong he tends to disappear and let someone else take the wrap for the problem. Would he therefore be willing to engage in a TV debate where his tax credit fiasco, pensions, gold sell off, PFI et al, are challenged to his face on prime time?

In Parliament it is very easy for someone to be challenged on something, and then respond by not answering the question and simply attacking the person who criticised you instead. Hardly anyone is watching, and very few people read Hansard. The nature of news management and rolling news also means that it is rare that the minutiae about non-answer answers is reported in the press, but on prime-time TV you cannot get away with it so easily.

My gut tells me that Brown won't be up for it, at least not initially, they'll might be a few noises that sound positive, but then someone will discover that the diary has been double-booked. At that point we just sit and wait until the next time the suggestion of TV debates come up and watch the same process happen again.

Tory revival in Oxford?

Apparently, Oxford City Council now has two Tory councillors after they decided to defect from the Lib Dems. The seats themselves are up for re-election next year so there will be no by-election because of the cost to the taxpayer. This is, I think, actually a very good reason not to hold a by-election.

If the seats had been contested just a few weeks ago it wouldn't of course, but they weren't. Interestingly, and assuming the Oxford Mail is correct, these two councillors actually became Independents first, and then chose to become Tories.

The amusing thing in all this is that Rob Fenwick of Lib Dem Voice seems to consider the taxpayer cost of a by-election a "bollocks" argument, the implication being that their ought to be one. It should be noted that when defection traffic is in the direction of the Lib Dems do we hear implicit calls for by-elections from Lib Dem Voice? Of course we don't!

Does this represent a Tory revival in Oxford? Maybe, maybe not. It will all depend I guess on what sort of councillors these two are. I imagine that they will subjected to some pretty serious negative campaigning from the Lib Dems and be slagged off as bad councillors royally when the time comes. Let's hope they dig out all the quotes where the Lib Dems said how great they were for their counter-leaflets.

113 MPs should be ashamed of themselves

Even though it was heavily watered down thanks to pressure from the likes of Alastair Campbell, the Freedom of Information is, quite possibly, one of the only things the Labour Party has introduced that I agree with completely in principle. It would've been nice if it had been meatier, but there will always be the need for an element of secrecy by Government.

Last night, the MPs that voted to exempt themselves and peers from the Bill should, frankly,. be ashamed of themselves. The arguments that have been put forward, such as the nice emotive example of a constituent who'd been exposed to domestic abuse being exposed through a freedom of information request from a lawyer.

However this example does not illustrate a problem with the FoI Act. What it does do is show a failure to enforce the existing data protection laws which prevent the disclosure of personal information without consent.

The MPs that argued in favour of this bill on the grounds that they were protecting their constituents from disclosure are either (a) disingenuous liars, or (b) lacking the intellectual clout to understand their constituents are already protected by law (aka "a bit thick").

Sir Humphrey Appleby I think once said that the "Official Secrets Act is not to protect secrets, it's to protect officials." Likewise this private members bill is not about protecting constituents it's about protecting MPs.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Understanding reality

Will Brown maintain the Downing Street YouTube Channel

Now I may very well be a cynic, but given Brown hasn't done anything personally for the LabourVision YouTube channel, I can't help but think that he's highly unlikely to maintain the Downing Street channel.

Anyway, Blair has decided to give a message to all the people going to the Cup Final tomorrow on the Downing Street channel. Apparently he's sorry to not be able to be there. Shame, I'm sure people could come up with some new songs just for him.

Tommy Cooper lives!

My photoshop kung fu sucks though.

It is not a "simple fact" at all

Apparently, says the Government, it is a "simple fact" that raising the air passenger duty to a tenner from a fiver will "produce more carbon savings in a month than the Conservative proposals [of VAT on domestic flight] will in a year". This is because it will "save 2.75 million tonnes of carbon dioxide a year by 2010-11".

Now, I think I was pretty clear myself at the time that I thought the idea of VAT on domestic flights was loopy, however, how on earth can such authoritative statements be made by the Government about the reduction in carbon as a result of an increase of a fiver on the cost of flying? How can one state that as a "simple fact"?

Seriously, putting aside all the climate change arguments, the implication here is that the fiver increase will stop people flying. And what's more, the Government claims that it can know how many people will stop flying as a result of it over the next three years. It's total extrapolated bollocks based on assumptions of pure conjecture.

The bizarre thing is that Ian Pearson, the Minister for Climate Change (surely that should be Minister against Climate Change?), who said the above nonsense preceded his authoritative "simple fact" by saying he accepted that APD was not the "most effective policy instrument when it comes to influencing environmental behaviour".

Is the chair empty? Who knows!

Should the office of Deputy Prime Minister remain under Gordon Brown, I do hope the answers that he or she provides to Parliament in relation to their responsibilities are more substantial than John Prescott's have been.

Yesterday he was asked a pretty straightforward question of "how many occasions in the last 12 months he has chaired meetings to consider issues relating to the future of the Post Office network." The answer? "I meet regularly with colleagues to discuss a range of issues."

That's just crap. This guy is, according to him at least, chairing committees to justify his salary. It is neither an unreasonable nor unacceptable question to ask him how many committee meetings he has chaired over a period. Unless of course the answer might be zero?

Just you wait until flock wallpaper becomes fashionable again!

Not long ago the departmental headquarters of the Ministry of Defence started going through a refurbishment. The cost to the taxpayer of the refurb is, according to Derek Twigg, estimated to be £323 million exclusive of VAT. According to the MoD the refurbishment means that there will be no need for any more work in the building for at least 20 years.

Who believes that they (and by "they" I just mean Government in general not a specifc political party) won't refurb it again before 2027? Fashions change, styles change. I can hear the argument now.... "laminate flooring is soooo Twenty Naughties, lino is back and it's easier and cleaner, and flock wallpaper is so retro chic!"

Update: Going by the comments is someone telling porkies?

Thursday, May 17, 2007

The Hitch on Falwell

That's Chris Hitchens, not the other Hitch.

Phil Willis to stand down at next election

Apparently the Lib Dem MP for Harrogate and Knaresborough, Phil Willis, has announced he is standing down as an MP at the next election. In his resignation letter he said,
"After 19 years as Councillor, Leader of the Council and Member of Parliament I have made the decision that I will not be seeking re-election at the next General Election. It has always been my aim to bow out of front line politics at the top and when I am doing the job as I want to do it."
An interesting definition of what the "top" of front line politics is there methinks. Ming Campbell to step down next?

A tax credit cock-up tale that got a little lost in the news

What with all the fun and games of the past week or so, one story that got lost underneath the swell of "when will he resign?" chatter was one about yet another cock-up with the tax credit system.

Apparently, HMRC managed to send out the bank details of its claimant to the wrong people. It was then forced to apologise and had to advise each person's bank to be vigilant toward identity theft. A dodgy printer that had printed 42,000 letters all with errors was blamed.

Should anyone wonder what it's like to be at the receiving end of the cock-ups that have dogged Gordon Brown policy failure (oh wait, he made Dawn Pruimarolo face the music over it, I forgot!), then I strongly suggest reading this blog, called "Tax Credit Fiasco - How a hardworking family is treated by an agency supposed to help them".

The person was overpaid credits,;went through hell trying to pay something back; then was told they were not eligible for tax credits anymore and didn't owe anything; then got sent £3.5K in cheques because they apparently owed "back payments"!