...a blog by Richard Flowers

Monday, March 31, 2008

Day 2643: Terminated


Heathrow, and CHAOS descends on the opening day of shiny new Terminal Five, with "technical glitches" leaving passengers unable to get to planes and baggage unable to get anywhere!

It's a RELIEF that they'd been told NOT to use the BIG-BROTHER fingerprint taking system or things might have gone from UNMANAGEABLE to completely ANARCHIC!

If this is what happens when they open a new terminal, I dread to think what they could achieve if they opened a new runway!

Of course, all the candidates for London Mayor have united against the third runway…

…giving me a DAYTIME TV link to the Mayoral campaign!

The Labour (and by extension their allies in this campaign, the Greens) actually SUPPORT a third runway. Mr Balloon and the Conservatories are against it one day and for it the next depending on whether it's a sunshine and quality of life day or an economic competence and big business day.

This leaves Mr Brian and the Liberal Democrats as the one Party not sending out MIXED MESSAGES.

The INTERESTING thing about the London Mayor election is that you get to vote TWICE, once for the candidate you like and once as a back-up.

I am indebted to Mr Julian of Orange By Name for going to the trouble of asking the other three parties to send him articles explaining why THEY deserve our second preferences. I think that not only is this the LIBERAL thing to do, it is also a GOOD IDEA for us not to become so PARTISAN that we become ISOLATED and disappear up our own thinking.

But it is also interesting to compare the three different STYLES that they use for their appeal.

First up were the Greens who, having already shot their own credibility dead by saying that their own supporters should vote for Mr Mayor Ken, were trying the INTERESTING tactic of begging OUR supporters to vote for them.

Telling the Liberal Party that the VERY Liberal Mr Brian isn't a Liberal is a bit of a DUMB STUNT anyway, even if your arguments don't all get totally shot to pieces by Citizen Alix!

In contrast, the Labour actually seem to have understood what the second preference vote MEANS, and make a pitch based on "why Mr Ken is like you". Although their clear aim is to build a London-wide coalition on the grounds of "Keep Bonkers Boris Out", they also try to make a positive case.

On the other fluffy foot, bringing up Iraq and the Environment just emphasises what a HYPOCRITE Mr Ken was to put returning to the Labour above his so-called principles. And suggesting that the Mayor who has treated the London Assembly with such contempt is an advocate for London Democracy… is probably just bunged in at the end as a joke.

Still, marks for trying.

The Conservatories though, really DON'T get this idea of reaching out to other people AT ALL, with an article steeped in typical Conservatory arrogance:

"We're going to win, so you'd better join us in giving the Labour a real kicking 'cos then you might stand a chance at the General Election of winning some seats off them to make up for the seats we're going to take off you. So ner!"

Quite apart from alienating people their supposed to be appealing to, casually dismissing the huge policy gulf between Bonkers Boris and reality (never mind the Liberal Democrats) and making no attempt to make a positive case for their own candidate seems to accept that Bozza is basically un-sellable.

Mr Brian himself, on Any Questionables, was pitched the "who would you vote for second" question and did VERY well explaining that people who tell him they WANT to vote Liberal Democrat but feel it will be a wasted vote CAN vote for the candidate that they want first because they have a second vote to fall back on for their arty loyalty. Top marks for an answer that could have been scripted by My Daddy Alex… in fact, it WAS!

Ah, countered the junior Mr Dimbledonkey thinking he sensed an ELEPHANT TRAP, but why won't YOU be using YOUR second vote?

Mr Brian recovered brilliantly: because for me, my conscience and my party loyalty coincide, he said smartly, and I'm not allowed to vote for myself twice.

Huge applause covered the sound of Dimbledonkey slinking away tail between legs.

I should also add that Mr Brian had a very good answer to the last question (bringing me back to where I started): if you were trapped at Terminal Five, how would you drown your sorrows?

Mr B said he couldn't drown his sorrows because he is in TRAINING for the London Marathon, though jogging around the Terminal might be good exercise. And he got in QUALITY name-checks for the three charities causes that he is supporting in his run: Downs Syndrome, Strokes and Mr Elton John's AIDS foundation.

Londoners, clearly if you want to fly, you want to fly Liberal Democrat!

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Day 2642: France One; England Nil


A nice slap-up dinner for Mrs the Queen when French President Monsieur Sarcastic [A: Surely he has now become Monsieur So-Cosy?] came along to visit telling us how he wants to be our bestest friends now.

But then Mr Frown gets lost somewhere in the castle.
I believe this is called a Win-Win situation.


It is no wonder that Mr Frown and M So-Cosy got along so well… after all they are both THATCHERITES, aren't they.

Day 2640: On Expenses


The House of Commons continues to do itself NO FAVOURS over the business of MPs' expenses. Even as we learn that MPs can spend £23,000 on a second home (or £700,000 if you happen to be Mr Speaker Housemartin), the Speaker's committee are off to the High Court (more expense) to prevent Freedom of Information being told about the expenses of 14 top MPs including Mr Frown, Mr Balloon, Sir Mr the Merciless and, er, Mr Mark Oatcake.

The STICKING point is, apparently, revealing the addresses of these MPs' second homes but surely the AMOUNTS involved would be okay? After all, it is how much public money they are spending that is the important question. No one REALLY wants to know that Mr Frown lives at No 1, The Bunker, Much Glowering, State of Denial… or Mr Balloon lives at The Fairy Castle, Silver-on-the-Spoons, Cloud-cuckoo-land… oops! A good thing they don’t have to declare that on the electoral ballot then.

I'm HAPPY to say that Mr Clogg agrees with me, and is calling for the fullest disclosure as soon as possible.

It's not like the MPs in question even WANT the Speaker's Committee to go round wasting public money and making them look sneaky for wanting to keep their expenses secret. According to Mr Oatcakes, he hadn't even been CONSULTED before being dropped in it.

MPs ARE paid quite a lot when you compare it to the national average. And the scheme for expenses seems very generous.

But then we expect quite a lot of them – not only do they have to be on top of all the new legislation that the government pumps out like a sausage machine, they also have to be the social services, citizens' advice and fourth emergency service for fifty to a hundred thousand constituents, week in week out. AND they have to campaign hard to keep their job every four or five years. They don't get to go off on a long holiday just because Parliament is closed and it's the UNRELENTING, UNGLAMOROUS work that doesn't get reported.

And the expenses system is a legacy of the days when only the gentry were expected to go into politics: it's really about ENABLING ordinary working people, or even unemployed people, to be able to provide the same service as some super-rich toff who's inherited a third of the Home Counties.

If you want TOP PEOPLE you have to pay TOP DOLLAR. Looking at the people who work for US and have loads of responsibility (unlike the "Captains" of Industry who pay themselves SILLY MONEY): we pay the forty thousand-some GPs an average salary of one hundred thousand pounds; there are upwards of twenty-five thousand schools' head teachers who we pay on a scale up to one hundred thousand pounds; and the five-hundred-some backbench MPs earn sixty-five thousand pounds.

Properly disclosing all of the pay and perks and expenses paid to MPs is absolutely the right way forwards. Confidence in our public representatives is low and getting lower with every new bad apple that is uncovered. And it's OUR money.

But let's make it a PROPER level playing field: I'd ALSO like to see published the pay and expenses of the JOURNALISTS who spend so much time commenting on – and sneering at – our MPs.

The likes of Mr "Mate of Dave" Robinson, Mr Paxo and Mr Humpy actually have a much BIGGER soap box to address the public on a nearly daily basis and they constantly get to put their point of view across. Oh, it might not be PARTY-POLITICAL but they HAVE a point of view, that sinister sneering point of view that says all MPs are rogues only in it for the money.

I am SURE that these CRUSADERS for honesty and not-being-in-it-for-the-cash would not object to telling us what they get paid, and revealing that they could do so much better if they were "greedy" MPs rather than poorly paid journalists.

Oh do you think?

And remember, all of the researchers and production staff on the shows that they appear on quite naturally count as part of their expenses too, just like MPs' researchers and staff count on theirs.

Of course, I don’t think it should stop with the BBC staffers: the editors of the Torygraph and Grauniad and Windy and especially the Scum all ought to be fair game too, as is Mr Adam Boulton at Sky and whoever it is at ITN if they even still HAVE a political editor. Of course, it is trickier to FOI those people working, ostensibly, for private concerns… but they should be held to account too.

It is the old principle of "who gave them power and how can it be taken it away?"

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Day 2641: Millennium Elephant meets Ron the Dinosaur (oh, and Mr Danny Alexander and some other people)


This week we WERE going to be interviewing Mr Clogg to find out if he still wanted to be Liberal Leader after 100 days in the job.

Unfortunately, when we got to the Leader's Office in Mrs the Queen's Palace of Westminster (yes, I FINALLY got my fluffy feet behind the Leader's Desk… it felt very natural, actually) we got there only to discover that Mr Clogg had been KIDNAPPED by LIBERAL YOOF, the new paramilitary wing of the Girl Guides.

Fortunately, Mr Clogg had left Mr Danny Alexander in charge and we were delighted to talk to him!

Soft Toys Storm Leader's Office!
Posted by Picasa

Joining me today, along with Daddy Richard and Daddy Alex, were two NEW people: Ms Jo Crispy-Strips, a winner of the Gender Balancing Act Awards Bloggers of the Year; and Ms Helen Duffitt and Ron, her dinosaur. Neither Ms Helen nor Ron HAVE a blog yet (UPDATE: oh yes she does!), but we are all keen to encourage more people to start and so Ms Helen will be writing our interview up for Lib Dem Voice!

(And speaking of encouragement – don't forget that these Interviews are open to EVERYONE: you don't need a special invitation, just look out for the announcements on the Voice! More news soon!)

Mr Danny has FIVE important jobs: as well as being MP for the Scottish constituency of Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch & Strathspey (only Mr John Deadwood has a more REMOTE constituency, and that is because HE is from VULCAN ROMULUS which is in OUTER SPACE!), Mr Danny is also the Liberal Democrats' Work and Pensions spokesperson, and new Vice-Chair of the FPC, and Mr Clogg's Chief-of-Staff AND he is now in charge of writing our next General Election Manifesto.

So, (once Daddy Alex had handed round the Easter Eggs) I started off by asking him how long he thought he'd got to write it!

It's really not clear, he said, and the Labour aren't helping any. Only recently there has been briefing in the newspapers suggesting that Mr Frown might still be thinking of going to the country next year, say May 2009. But really, judging from the deepening of the economic crisis, the scale of which is only just becoming clear, AND the deepening of the GLOOM that has settled over the mood of most of the Labour's MPs, we may well be in for "the long haul" to 2010.

But that's not to say that Mr Danny is going to let himself TAKE all that time, he's keen to press on, and even though it's at an early stage has already outlined his plans for the manifesto process.

There was, of course, a lot of work done last September for the "election that never was" and, even if it was done in a hurry, it's a good solid foundation for the manifesto. Then there are the themes that Mr Clogg has been developing over the course of his first 100 days: in particular, the ideas that politics is "broken" and that Liberal Democrats are the "anti-establishment" Party.

I was keen for us to play up the COSY CONSENSUS between the Blue Labour and the Conservatories, for example in the way the Budget was handled with both sides sticking to the line of "sorry, nothing WE can do, guv."

Not just "nothing can be done," said Mr Danny, but also "not our fault". They were QUICK to take the credit for success when the World Economy was FAVOURABLE, but now they can't blame everyone else fast enough.

But how well does that anti-establishment label play, Daddy Alex wanted to know, when we have Mr Harvey Nicks popping up on behalf of Mr Speaker as the "voice of the establishment" not telling anyone what Mr Balloon's expenses are?

Mr Danny smoothly avoided that, talking instead about how the evidence was showing that Mr Clogg was taking some quite difficult positions, like his conference speech, like the walking out of Parliament – and there's been a certain amount of criticism; Mr Danny's even read some on some BLOGS! (no, never!) – but that people are accepting that, embracing it even.

And if that sort of thing is what it takes, then we can expect to see more of it.

Returning to the manifesto, Ms Jo wanted to know what we are doing about developing a NARRATIVE.

Mr Danny explained his slight reluctance to answer: basically, the AIM of the manifesto process that he's just starting is to end up with the "NARRATIVE" in our Pre-Manifesto that will go to Federal Conference in the Autumn. The intention is for that document to be much more about "narrative" than ever before, rather than our "traditional" big barrel of policies. So, clearly, he doesn't want to go treading on fluffy toes and pre-announcing anything that hasn't been thought about QUITE CAREFULLY yet.

That said, it will obviously be development of the themes that Nick has been setting out as already mentioned.

Mr Balloon fond of referring to a "broken society" (with precious little by way of how to heal it) but for Mr Danny the breakdown comes from a SYSTEM that is incapable of listening to or responding to the needs of people.

So much is driven instead by the needs of VESTED INTERESTS, in politics, yes, but also, for example, in the City as evidenced by the recent banking crisis.

Mr Danny's Liberalism is about challenging concentrations of power (I could have cheered!): from MPs' allowances to how parties are funded to opening up quangos to scrutinizing the goings-on in the City

Ms Jo pressed him for an answer: what I'm looking for, she asked, is the feel of the thing, what's the pot of gold? Mmm, yes, says Mr Danny, handing round the Easter Egg.

Daddy Alex asked a long question for a short answer, not – he insists – because he waffles on… which he doesn't… ever… stop looking at me funny, Daddy!… but in fact because he wanted to DIFFERENTIATE what he was asking from Mr Jo's question. In summary, though, Ms Jo asked about the story; Daddy asked about the headline: in a sentence why are we different?

Mr Danny able summarised the preceding discussion of narrative, précising it down to: "People's lives are controlled by vested interests; Liberal Democrats exist to put power back into people's hands."

Daddy thought that this was a good answer (and, for the record, did NOT name anyone who might have given him a BAD answer to the same question. And, also for the record, nobody guffawed).

However Daddy wasn't going to let anyone get away with as short an answer as that, no matter HOW satisfactory! So he broadened the question out by asking about Scotland and Wales where the Nationalists have many policy positions that are similar to ours, (and, annoyingly, are more popular so people vote for them over us): how do we spell out that we are different there?

Mr Danny reminded Daddy of something which Daddy had praised him for when he first said it: Nationalists are about building barriers; Liberals are about tearing them down.

But then he grew thoughtful. Speaking as a Highlander and MP for one of the most Northerly constituencies in the UK, even power in the Scottish Holyrood Parliament is remote for his constituents.

For him it is clear that the SNP with their "one Scotland" policy are NOT interested in letting Mr Danny's constituents make the decisions about their own lives. They are just like the Labour and Conservatories: a CENTRALIZING force.

Ms Jo wanted to know how we are going to use the manifesto to market ourselves to lady voters. She said that she's been watching the American elections with interest, particularly the developing role of women in the nonimation process. BUT the Conservatories have clearly been watching TOO, and Mr Balloon did an impressive turn on Women's Hour recently. Ms Jo was concerned that we are up to eighteen months behind in our thinking on these issues.

In a similar vein, Daddy Alex would ask about minorities, saying how in the last couple of elections we've done disproportionately better amongst gay voters and ethnic minorities, largely due to our support for KEY ISSUES, namely EQUALITY legislation (that the Labour has – often with gritted teeth – now largely passed, or been forced to pass by the European Courts) and, of course, Iraq (which, even with the fifth anniversary, is clearly becoming less of a "hot button" issue). How, in that case, do we maintain our position with these important groups?

Addressing Ms Jo, Mr Danny said that our first concern ought to be getting our own gender balance right, and we know that Mr Clogg has made plans for a special effort to deal with this.

In policy terms he felt that women are, in practice, just as concerned as men about the "bread-and-butter" issues: rising cost of food, of fuel, education, health care.

But then he also said that perhaps there was room to sharpen our focus on "family friendly" policies, perhaps looking at how to improve the workplace and people's experience of work, and taking account of the lack of affordable childcare as the biggest barrier to women returning to work.

Ms Helen was prompted to interject about pregnancy care, and wondered if there was a chance that we might look at the reintroduction of funding for anti-natal classes. Mr Balloon, she said, has gained a lot of good coverage with his talk of having (unfunded) care-workers visit every mother AFTER their new child is born, but almost more important is proper preparation for birth and it is now very difficult in many areas to get access to classes.

In honesty, said Mr Danny, he didn't know. It was a matter for consideration by the Health team in their development of policy. He DID use it as an excuse to segue seamlessly into discussion of the importance of early years support, and how at the moment – as Mr Clogg says – a bright but poor kid is overtaken at school by a dumber but richer one by the age of six.

His reply to Daddy was less CERTAIN. We have strong representative groups within the party, he said, and we will be talking to them and getting their input into the early stages of the manifesto process, but beyond that it's too early to say.

He spoke again of talking to the groups within the party when Daddy probed about PRACTICAL methods to open up the manifesto progress. He suggested making more use of wibbly wobbly web to engage with people and gather ideas, like the Party website that had received a very positive response in the run up to the Autumn non-election, but which has fallen a little FALLOW over the course of the leadership election.

He was also keen to gather opinions from OUTSIDE the Party, which is a GOOD idea really otherwise we'll not be serving up the policies that people want.

Obviously it IS early in the process – certainly since Mr Danny came on board – so I hope that he sees this as a TWO-WAY conversation and takes into account Daddy's and Ms Jo's concerns.

Moving on from manifesto business, I asked question suggested by Mr Lord Deputy Stephen: how does he see the role of "Chief of Staff"; is it like being Leo McGarry from the West Wing?

Mr Danny laughed, and stated flatly that the Liberal Democrats have a staff that he thinks are BETTER than the ones in the West Wing (no, we didn't ask them to prove they could do a walk-and-talk around Mrs the Queen's Palace of Westminster).

The essence of the role as he sees it is in making sure that the leader's office is doing the "right sort of things". It's too easy to get blown off course by the day-to-day tussle of politics, he thought, and he's got to see that we keep on course for the long-term goals. Basically, he has to make sure that Nick's decisions actually happen; on top of that, he's got to administrate and offer advice.

e.g. today he'd been coordinating with some party members who are also influential City economists to make sure that the Party's policy for dealing with the unfolding economic crisis remains, forgive me, on the money.

Actually that DOES all sound like Leo McGarry!

Ms Helen asked if Liberal Democrats could pick up the votes from the "Stay-at-home Party".

She'd earlier asked how serious the Labour are about voting reforms, but (again) Mr Danny found it impossible to say what they were thinking. At the moment there's not more to go on than a few kites being flown by some VERY junior minister. We need to wait as see what – if anything – Mr Jack Man O'Straw comes up with by way of real proposals.

It may be that they are actually watching US, for some clue as to what their best strategy is for a possible future where they cannot get a majority under First Pass the Port. It would hardly be the first time that we've done all the work preparing policy only for the government to go and nick it!

But on reaching out to the "stay-at-home" voter, you'll not be surprised to hear that Mr Danny said that he agreed with Mr Clogg that there IS a Liberal majority in our country… they just don't come out to vote for the Liberal Democrats.

On the other fluffy foot, he reminded us of the statistic that in 1952, only 2% of people voted for a Party that WASN'T the Labour or the Conservatories; by 2005 that was 32% voting for a better answer. Or sometimes a worse one. But mostly better.

The idea of ENGAGEMENT is clearly very BIG in the Leader's office, and Mr Danny was passionate in his support and admiration for Mr Clogg's "Town Hall" meetings, how he is being incredible in reaching out and making himself available to people, not just in the Party but in the wider community to make the reconnect to politics.

Touching on his OTHER other job, Ms Helen (showing she'd done her homework) also asked about PENSIONS. With the launch of Liberal Yoof, weren't young people more concerned with getting a foot on the property ladder or just paying the rent than starting a pension?

The government, said Mr Danny, has managed to grasp ONE of our key ideas: automatic enrolment. INERTIA is very powerful, he said, and by making it that people have to CHOOSE to opt OUT rather than choose to opt IN we put that power on the side of making sure that more people do start a pension, rather than being a force holding them back from getting on with it.

BUT the Labour have MISSED the other key idea: people who save need to feel the actual benefit of their saving. All of Mr Frown's obsession with means-testing benefits means that if you HAVE saved up, those savings mean you lose some of the benefits – it's a real disincentive. Hence our policy of a citizen's pension for EVERYONE and at a higher level so that ALL the money that you save goes to you rather than to cutting Mr Frown's Pension Tax Credit bill.

And the other other key point missed by the government is that there is a generally low level of financial literacy…

"The Chancellor has a low level of financial literacy," mutters Ms Helen. "You many very well say that…" says Danny "…and it's quite good so you might hear me say it too!"

Speaking more speculatively, Mr Danny thought about developing a national network, starting from the sort of work already done by Citizens' Advice Bureaus, for helping people make the BEST financial decisions for them. Finance can seem very complicated – mainly because it IS very complicated – and you get BOMBARDED by "advice" in the form of ADVERTS… like the ones trying to convince you to consolidate all of your debts with one loan shark. Having a genuinely independent source of advice would be a GOOD way to help people cut through all the muddle and confusion and put their finances on a less wobbly footing.

My last question was – and I did admit it at the time – the really OBVIOUS one: what's gone well for Mr Clogg in his first hundred days… and what (not including that Europe thing) has gone badly?

By now, I do not think it will come as a shock that Mr Danny concentrated on answering the first part of my question. The Liberal Democrats have, as a Party, really united behind Mr Clogg, for example in the way there has been strong, enthusiastic support for his conference speech, even the more "challenging" parts of it.

Mr Danny says he's been really inspired by the way people have grasped Mr Clogg's setting out a goal of more than doubling our number of seats in Parliament to 150 seats – people are really starting to think what a DIFFERENCE having a Liberal presence like that would make (and, thinks I, isn't it amazing that it's CREDIBLE: no one is ridiculing this idea, which tells you a lot about how ACHIEVABLE it is… namely that it really, really IS achievable!)

I DID press him on "the Europe thing", saying that (even if it WAS the best choice from a bad lot) a whipped abstention still looked, er, a little bit silly. The thing is, it's important to know that this wasn't some whim imposed by the Leadership. Whether it was easy or difficult, it was a decision taken by the Parliamentary Party.

And now is a time when we will HAVE to be disciplined and united, in Parliament and as a Party. The two Blue Parties are now looking at us with FEAR! Yes it's true – you can tell from the increased VITRIOL of their attacks on us and on Mr Clogg in particular. And you can tell from the "lovebombing" of Liberal voters that both Mr Frown and Mr Balloon are engaged in. They realise that the cosy consensus of their tired old status quo is being challenged by a revitalised Liberal message from a revitalised Liberal Democrats.

The biggest positive from the first hundred days, thinks Mr Danny, is that we have a sense of direction.

We had a really good interview with Mr Danny, he is a charming and friendly guy who is, and I mean this in a really good way, not yet turned into a total politician – ironically while this means he's still willing to admit to gaps in his knowledge or it being too early to say something, it also means that he sticks like glue to the party line. Still, gee, that IS his job. But he's not a ROBOT: he talked to us about his new daughter; he shared his Easter Eggs with us; he reminisced about watching "Star Trek" with his Dad. (And he mentioned that he somehow STILL finds time to enjoy watching "Torchwood" – I hope he reads all Daddy Richard's reviews!)

Maybe in six months or so we will come back and talk to him more about how that Pre-Manifesto and narrative worked out!

In the meantime, we have managed to raise the RANSOM demanded by Liberal Yoof ("Grand Theft Auto" for the PS3 and a crate of alcopops, since you ask) and bought back Mr Clogg. We've sent him off to campaign for the local elections, but well be interviewing him next time (fluffy feet crossed) on May 7th.

And don't forget: you CAN get involved too!

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Day2639: "A Lie that Lurks in the Appeal"


This is what the Cardinal Arch-Bigot of Westminster has to say:

"Atheistic secularism ultimately diminishes us; it kills the human spirit under the pretence of liberating it."

"It says that this is all we are, this is it! We have no significant purpose; we're merely chance products of material processes."

Quite simply, this is NOT TRUE.

It is CHILD'S PLAY to reverse the accusation:

"We have no significant purpose… because omnipotent Mr God has already decided it for us; we're merely chance products of… the WHIM of a supernatural creator."

Does this get us any nearer the "TRUTH"? No!

We can find significant purpose for ourselves WITH OR WITHOUT the need for intervention from a father/god figure; we can be inspired OR rendered purposeless BY the existence or non-existence of an omnipotent overbeing who has decided our fate from the beginning of time.

Ms Linda calls me a RASCAL for saying that the Cardinal of Scotland is wrong to whip up opposition to the Fertilization and Embryology Bill by FRIGHTENING people who don't understand with talk about MONSTERS.

Well, maybe I AM a bit of a rascal, but what does that make the Cardinal?

(And Professor Winston Moustache, not un-famous as a believer in Mr God, has gone a GOOD BIT further than me in calling the Cardinal a FIBBER!)

I am a militant atheist baby elephant because I do not believe that Mr God is real; your personal mileage may vary.

But DOUBT is very important. You cannot be a proper LIBERAL if you are not willing to listen to what the other side has to say.

That means I will NOT dogmatically refuse to believe that Mr God COULD exist: it means that I have had a SERIOUS think about the evidence and decided, on balance, that at the moment it is NOT SUFFICIENT to convince me.

The main form of evidence for Mr God has got to be the – very large numbers of – personal testimonies, witness statements if you like, from people who feel "touched by Mr God", either moved emotionally or even spoken to in words.

However, and I do NOT mean this insultingly, there are also people who genuinely believe that they have been contacted by ALIENS.

Equally, is it not surprising that people ascribe these events to the version of Mr God with whom they are familiar? Relatively few people of CofE background feel the touch of Mr Krishna in answer to their prayers.

This leads me to find it MORE PLAUSIBLE that people are making an ERROR in understanding where these feelings/convictions/messages are coming from. I believe that they are putting the "culturally accepted" explanation of "it's Mr God" on something that comes from INSIDE us, not from a supernatural source OUTSIDE. Brains are really smart but also really DUMB, and the classic "seeing patterns that aren't there" is an explanation that I believe.

Does any of this make a difference?

Yes: if people like Mr Cardinal O'Conman are going to insist that coming to my conclusions means that I am AUTOMATICALLY WRONG, not just about this but about everything else.

That's not respect for beliefs; that is PREJUDICE and that I why I keep calling him the Arch-BIGOT.

I do not think that I am claiming any "special rights" when I say that he should NOT be allowed to get away with calling me "Evil" just because I don't believe and he does.

I would HOPE that you would consider my diaries on their own merits, and not just dismiss EVERYTHING that I say just because you come to a different conclusion.

I think that we are all the result of a long (and still unfinished) process of natural selection shaping us to be a better and better fit for our environment. I think that there is STRONG evidence to support this, both in the physical history of the Earth, its rocks and fossils, and in the biology that is going on all around us.

Furthermore, I think that this is MORE inspiring: we can have, not just a set of rules to follow, but a GOAL of making a still better future for ourselves and our inheritors.

So the purpose that I pick for myself is (part one) to improve myself (in the old-fashioned and frightfully paternalistic sense of the word "improving" meaning through learning and through experiencing art and music) AND (part two) to improve the world for other people (so long as it is with informed consent, by solving problems where I am able to).

The Cardinal says that he believes: "that freedom of belief, openness to its arguments and respect for the insights it brings is a critical resource for our society."

I would AGREE… so long as you remember: the Freedom to Believe MUST INCLUDE the Freedom to Not Believe.


Lesson for today, your eminence: SECULAR ≠ ATHEIST

Day 2637: TOYCHWUD: Adrift

Good Friday (again)

So Torchwood has jumped to a Friday, cunningly doubling up the episodes this week in order to finish before (one day before) the 5th of April.

Still, if you can't wait that long to watch some new Doctor Who…

…here's Daddy's review to tide you over!
What I found interesting was the way that "Adrift" touched on so many similar plot points to "From Out of the Rain" – the supernatural force that takes people away; the secrets from Jack's past; the following of the investigation – and yet seems to have so much more take place over the course of its forty-five minutes.

It begins as, apparently, a simple, single missing person case when Gwen's old chum from her proper police days PC Andy (and charmingly he's in the credits as "PC Andy") asks for her help and she discovers – to her surprise – that in one way the missing person is herself. Gwen needed to be reminded that she use to care, indeed that she was recruited to Torchwood because she cared, and only when Andy nags her into seeing single mum Nikki Bevan who has lost her son Jonah does she begin to reconnect. But then the story expands into something rather epic as we discover that the Rift has been snatching hundreds of innocent victims off the streets of Cardiff and casting them into time and space. And that Jack clearly knows something about it.

The episode actually does a rather good job of turning what we think we know about Captain Jack upside down for a while before it all turns out as before. John Barrowman plays a great "sinister" Jack, apparently not caring – though as we later learn it's because he cares too much and doesn't want Gwen hurting people by exposing them to what Jack knows.

And the story succeeds in becoming larger still, as Gwen discovers Jonah – returned by the Rift but scarred and aged – along with dozens of other victims that Jack has in care, but hidden away. And through Jonah we get a glimpse of a much, much larger story, the solar system burning and the heart of a black star.

I'm fascinated – and it's the sort of fascination that H P Lovecraft would use to draw me into a doom of insanity, just as it has done to Jonah – to know where and more importantly when Jonah went. It can't be "The End of the World" as that was all over in an instant, certainly no time for a ship to rescue a timelost boy from the planet's surface. I did wonder if it wasn't sideways in time to the Inferno Earth that was destroyed in fire, but that was just the Earth and not the whole Solar System. So I infer that it might be the time of the Solar Flares, which ravage the Earth some time after the year 5000 A.D. and from which the humans take shelter on the Ark in Space.

The last twist, expected but powerfully delivered, is the brilliant horror of the form taken by Jonah's madness (even if it is surely impossible to scream continuously for twenty hours). It is a both totally alien and yet a very human nightmare.

Ruth Jones, perhaps better known as writer and actor for "Gavin and Stacey", delivers a deep and moving performance as Nikki, first coming to terms with the loss, almost positive about her plans for a support group and then confronted with the truth, first rejecting then determined to take care and then faced with the reality of final horror, blankly devastated. Robert Pugh is also moving in the role of the older broken Jonah, as seen in his saner moments.

Jennie has, not unreasonably, pointed out that Gwen is wrong to extrapolate from one tragedy that all the others with lost ones would be better off not knowing. I think this overlooks the implication that Jack has trod this road before and that Nikki's reaction doesn't on its own make Gwen's decision but prompts her to at last accept what Jack has learned from (much more) experience. Nevertheless, she's right: in spite of the pain that knowing causes, it also releases Nikki finally to grieve and move on, as we see from her putting away Jonah's old room. She has been arrested, frozen and unable to get on with her life, obsessing over video tapes – now what's that all about! – and in many ways her obsession with finding Jonah has replaced her life. Now she's free to move on. That can be really hard. But also necessary.

This was another episode from the pen of Chris Chibnall. That's Chris Chibnall spelled R.U.S.S… well, it's either that or a total brain transplant since series one!

Next time… We're still haunted by the past when an old friend (look, there's really only one possible returning villain) comes calling and Team Torchwood go to pieces in "Fragments".

[A: Woo hoo! It's the return of Iblis Manger and his army of kitten-heeled Cyber-sexisms!]

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Day 2637: Mr God's Busy-Bods and Monsters

Good Friday

The GOOD thing about bank holidays is that you get a LIE IN; the BAD thing is when you wake up in time to hear the Cardinal Arch-bigot of Westminster blowing off his Fart for Today.

So we woke up to hear Cardinal Carpark Mary-O'Conman opining that whenever he met people who thought religion was a bit RUBBISH these days he was always struck by how FIXED in their opinion they were, compared to the people of FAITH he met who were willing to confess their DOUBTS to him. Not that he admitted to having any doubts himself!

He then went on to say that Mr Jesus had had doubts too ("Mr God, Mr God why've you forsaken me!"), so that was ok, but that before he died he committed himself fully to faith ("Daddy, into your hands I deliver my spirit!")

Sooooo, total faith is BAD when it is for non-believers but GOOD when it is for believers?

Mr God is supposed to come in three persons, but it seems that the Cardinal will have to make do with just the TWO FACES.

Anyway, this all reminds me of the fact that Mr O'Conman's church is currently running another campaign to tell MPs what to think.

It started with Cardinal O'Conman's Scottish counterpart, Cardinal Keith O'Binman, saying that this Easter his sermon would be about peace, love, forgiveness and the need to take up pitchforks and blazing torches against the Freaky Frankensteins of the current Embryology Bill in Parliament.

He'll be saying: "With so many people worried about banks failing, the cost of food or petrol, or about climate change and global warming, I think that the REAL threat is doctors trying to cure diseases!"

"Don't they know Mr God put those diseases there to punish evil-doers!" he'll probably not be adding. It's an explanation that's a little out of VOGUE these days, now that we know that disease is caused by GERMS and not SINS, though obviously that's what's at the back of all this: how dare SCIENCE try and put right some of Mr God's greatest mistakes?

In particular, the Cardinal's beef is with allowing research scientists to experiment with mixing human DNA with DNA from other animals in order to find new treatments for illness.

"Monstrous" is what he'll call it, and the monster he is thinking of is the CHIMERA. A mix of snake, goat and cat-monster is a Greek recipe for EITHER a really scary fire-breathing monster… or a really dodgy stew.

This is a bit of a tricky issue, and you can see why MPs would want to think HARD about which way they should vote. Taking nice, fluffy animal DNA and mixing it up with horrible humans… well, it could easily give you the creeps. So you would need to understand the process involved, and how carefully it will be done and what sort of supervision will be in place. All the sorts of careful consideration that an MP SHOULD be doing… but not the sort of thing that people are going to think about in such depth and detail when an Arch-bigot stands up and says: "ooooh, they be makin' MONSTERS!!!!"

IF he's thought about this carefully and in detail (which is possible) and IF he's talking privately to the MPs in question, as a concerned citizen (which he could do) THEN that's fine, and they can add his opinion to the other opinions that they hear in order to weigh their decision. But this is just RABBLE-ROUSING, and whipping up the public with scare stories suggests that he doesn’t think he CAN win the argument properly.

On the OTHER side of the debate, Mr Frown wants his MPs whipped… which isn't unusual, er, but aside from that he thinks that they ought to be told to vote for the government's bill. But a number of the Labour MPs are thinking of rebelling on the issue if they are not given a free vote.

Ms Geraldine Smith is one of them and fully backs the Cardinal Arch-Bigot. We listened to the end of the World at One (No, not the End of the World… at One) and she was on, saying that she wouldn't abstain: she never liked to abstain because it was as sign of weakness, she said. It is GOOD to know she is making up her mind on the basis of careful moral consideration and not just to get good PR, do you not think? But wait! A quick check of reveals that Ms Smith may not LIKE to abstain but nevertheless has done so in 48% of votes, rather more than average among MPs – Hmmm, I think that means it's her ARGUMENT that's rather weak.

Now the Arch-bigot of Cardiff has joined in, coming on the radio to – in a very public way – tell everyone that he's only talking to MPs in private. Not that he would think of telling them which way they should vote – that would be WRONG – but that he would be telling them that they most certainly would burn in hell for all eternity if they voted for the bill. But it was their choice.

MPs should ALWAYS vote with their conscience: they should properly understand what they are voting for of course, and have given consideration to both sides of the debate, but if they think something is WRONG then it is WRONG for them to vote for it. In fact, people would have more respect for their politicians if they voted like that more often.

But the Cardinal ISN'T asking MPs to vote with their consciences; he's TELLING them to vote with HIS. And then he's threatening them – with fire and brimstone in the hereafter or (if that doesn't work) with an angry mob in the present – to do what he wants.

News flash: Great Britain NOT a theocracy. Butt out bish!

Day 2636: Someone trying to make a fast buck in the city?


Who'd have thunk it?!

Friday, March 21, 2008

Day 2635: TOYCHWUD: From Out of the Rain


Drugs, terrorism, nuclear weapons, cyber-attack… and that's just Mr Frown's new security plan!

Goodness knows what he'd do if he had to cope with the perils of, er, a small circus. Fortunately, the Torchwood CLOWNS know what to do!

Here is Daddy Richard's review of the latest episode.

Don't forget: Torchwood moves to FRIDAYS from TONIGHT!

(So the last episode, sorry, "Season Finale" will be on April 4th. This MAY – nod, wink – have something to do with the start of the new series of Doctor Who!)
Can I say this was a weaker episode? It almost seems blasphemous to suggest that an episode from the pen of the mighty PJ Hammond isn't one of the strongest of the season. Crammed with style and haunting ideas, and yet somehow the story seemed as thin as one of the Ghostmaker's ghosts: they come out of the film, they take some lives, Jack defeats them, job done.

Seven people die here, but the story seems not to care. We know they're dead as all the victims are dead except one little boy, and while I can see why Jack would want his team to focus on the "we saved one" aspect, the story does so to such an extent that the other seven are forgotten. This is particularly hurtful about Jonathan's parents, the owners of the Electro Cinema, after we've seen him distraught to find them propped up as a toy audience in their own theatre and then never see them, or indeed him, again. Whatever happened to "closure"?

The story almost seems more interested in making oblique references to Jack's – and Ianto's – past. The introduction that Ianto gives us to the Electro, the childlike expressing of his remembered happiness and his prissy shushing of Gwen and Owen as they – most irritatingly – chat through the feature, all speak to Ianto's character and background and a fundamental loneliness which is both endearing and rather sad. He's captivated by the pictures of the past, even before he's astonished to see Jack appear in the movie. Yes, John Barrowman gets to be a Silver-Screen Idol.

A tale of turn-of-the-century Jack joining a travelling show to investigate the Night Travellers seems calculated to be much more interesting than anything we get see on screen. Who sent him – probably Torchwood 1900 – and what did he find out? And, it seems bizarre that he clearly remembers his own investigation but never tells us what happened, not even that the Travellers disappeared before he could find them. Why go looking for witnesses when clearly he ought to be one himself?

And of course this plays directly into the plot: what happened to the original Night Travellers? Were they, incidentally, supernatural to begin with? But anyway, did they actually turn themselves into celluloid to escape the ending of the travelling shows, or are these, their ghosts animated from the film, just some kind of echo? The heavily clichéd ending – I'm sorry but it is – strongly implies that the Travellers could be raised from another film, so it would seem that the latter is the correct explanation, in which case what did happen to them to stop them stalking the Welsh villages?

The lead villains, or ghosts, Pearl and the Ghostmaker – it's almost irresistible to call him "Dean" – make a visually impressive impact wherever they appear, and kudos to Julian Bleach and Camilla Power for making them so memorable from a performance that is often reduced to mime. They do have dialogue… but it's not very interesting, apart from the creepy line "make her cry; I want to drink her tears" and even that's not very informative. What they say never really tells us much about them: they're killing for an audience, but why do they even want one? What is their motivation to perform?

They spend entirely too much time just wandering around. Arresting as the initial image of them in the rain at the bus stop is, when the writer presents to us two, or even three, distinctly interesting locations – the rebuilt-from-derelict Cinema and of course the Travelling Show itself… and the abandoned outdoor baths is another haunted locale but that too is merely a waypoint – it seems almost wilfully perverse to spend so little time in either, and instead trawl the Cardiff Streets.

And their ambition seems oddly small compared to what they're supposed to be capable of. When we hear the folk tales of them taking whole villages, an audience of eight seems a little… restrained. Where was the scene within the Electro with every seat filled with a ghostly audience member? The scale of their threat seems wholly disproportional to all the Torchwood team's talk of "they could do this to the whole world". Well, yes, dears, but very very slowly, it would seem.

The Show itself – all shot beautifully, in a wistful, almost elegiac style that captures the feel of film from that time at the same time as selling its beautiful and sinister mystery – appears mainly in flashbacks and in film clips and in the deliciously promising pre-credit teaser.

But what does that pre-credit scene have to do with the rest of the plot, anyway? It suggests a tale of stolen children and a sinister Brigadoon-esque Circus, one that vanishes between breaths… and then the main story is actually all about ghosts coming out of old film. It seems completely disconnected. And frankly, the teaser promised a more interesting story – how do you find the vanishing circus, what goes on once you are there and how do you ever leave?

It's almost as though there were two completely different episodes here vying to get onto our screens: the one of Jack and the original circus that follows on from the pre-credit sequence, and a sequel featuring the return of the Ghostmaker's ghost from the celluloid. And that might have been more interesting for us to see, a Torchwood two-parter that fleshes out the plot and doesn't disappoint.

Because the real problem here is that one episode of Torchwood is about a hundred minutes too short for a "Sapphire and Steel" Adventure.

One last question, why isn't Gwen on her honeymoon?

(Yes, yes, I know that the time can have passed and all that, but wouldn't it have been a nice nod to continuity – and a nice week off for Eve Myles – to recognise her life outside the team?)

Next time… Gwen should beware of digging up Captain Jack's buried secrets when she goes looking for those who've been cast "Adrift".

Day 2634: "Race" for the "White" House: It is because He is Black?


Race: It's been the ELEPHANT in the ROOM for most of the Presidential Primary campaign, but now it's turned into the BULL in the CHINA SHOP.

First one of Senator Hillary-Billary's top supporters, Ms Geraldine Ferrero-Rocher, had to quit for whinging that "Barry's only winning 'cos Barry is Black"!

But then the news got hold of Senator Barry O's former pastor, the Reverend Jeremiah Oh-So-Wrong, saying "Mr God Damn America".

The EASIEST thing would be to CONDEMN them both… but instead, Barry chooses the DIFFICULT path of FORGIVENESS, and breaks your heart with this, perhaps his most important speech.

THIS is the speech that a "Black JFK" would make.

(Regardless of whether you think that being the inheritor of JFK makes you an iconic and tragic hero or a womanising warmongering loony, you've gotta admit he had CLASS when it came to public oratory.)

But just the POSSIBILITY that this guy might be for REAL, surely that has got to be worth something.

Race is the wound in the heart of America.

You can blame Aristotle for the stupid idea that some people DESERVE to be slaves while others deserve to be free; or you can blame Pope Gregory the Great for deciding that it was OK for Christians to have slaves so long as the slaves weren't Christians; or you can blame the British – goodness knows EVERYONE blames the British – for shipping ten million easily colour-coded black people to America as slaves in chains; or you can blame the founding fathers for not spotting the clue in the "all men are created equal".

You can blame the South for never getting over the fact that they lost the civil war; you can blame the North for overcompensating for never forgiving themselves for winning; you can blame the rich for building a new Nation off the back of the cheapest possible labour; you can blame the poor for blaming their poverty on everyone else.

In the end, the cycle of blame has got to STOP.

That time may not have come; the words of Rev Wrong may have permanently derailed the Senator's campaign. But at the very least this is the speech of someone who WANTS that cycle to stop.

And you know what? It turns out that Senator Barry is RIGHT: America needs a healer more than it needs another warrior; so, perhaps America needs a black man more than it needs a white woman.

I usually finish these American-flavour diaries with a cheery "Mr God Bless Amnesia"… but I think this one wants remembering.

Barry O… good luck, and may your god go with you.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Day 2633: Bear (Sterns) Market


Bear Sterns was Wall Street's fifth largest bank and, a year ago, it was worth eighteen BILLION dollars. Which is a LOT even in devalued dollars.

This week it was sold for one-quarter of a billion dollars and a promise of a lot of love from the Federal Reserve.

Quite simply, the bank ran out of cash.

They had invested heavily in the distinctly dodgy "capital instruments" that supposedly turned sub-prime mortgages into Triple-A quality assets. Their depositors no longer trusted them, wanted their money back and that, as they say, was that.

Does any of this sound familiar?

Yes, it's the Northern Rock saga all over again. At least it'll stop young Master Gideon braying that "only Britain has had a run on a major bank" as though he knows ANYTHING about money.

Just as in the case of Northern Rock, the so-called "credit crunch", which means banks are no longer willing to lend money to each other, meant that Bear Sterns didn't have access to enough ready funds – and when they had to go and ask the government for an emergency loan to bail them out, it immediately panicked everyone else with money deposited there.

In fact, Bear Sterns' losses of $3 billion are CHICKEN FEED compared to the amount of money that America's biggest banks, Citigroup and Merrill Lynch, have had to write off - $18 billion and £14 billion respectively.

But once a RUMOUR had taken flight that they were sinking, the rats could not have been quicker in grabbing any CHEESE they could and trading it in for a GOLDEN life raft.

The only difference is that the American central bank cut its (or rather Bear Sterns') losses, nationalised the worthless debt and found a new private buyer without all of that shilly-shallying that Mr Frown and Sooty have done leaving the British public as joint owners of a bank.

The underlying problem remains the same.

The Monkey-in-Chief went on a massive spending spree subsidised by cheap loans from abroad and a whole load of not-very-well-off Americans were persuaded to do likewise. The banks thought that they had the magic formula for never losing and as money kept rolling in they congratulated themselves with triple bonuses all round. But as with all good things it had to come to an end and, one nasty oil shock later, end the good times did. (And conducting a WAR on top of a third of the World's oil reserves is hardly a good way to keep the oil price stable!) Suddenly the Chinese want to spend their money on oil and wheat for their own economy rather than funding America's ongoing CAVALCADE of WHIMSY and – ooh dear – borrowing gets just that little bit more sticky and – oops – all of those "sub-prime" mortgages that are coming up for refinancing are now out of reach of the people living in those homes. Welcome to default city.

And now people who've GOT money don't trust the banks. People don't trust their investments – they don't put their money into stocks or deposit it – instead they are buying commodities (oil, gold, orange juice and the like). So there is less money in the banks, but that money – or LIQUIDITY – is the LUBRICATION that keeps the economy going: banks loan it out to people to buy houses, (which means that there are jobs in building and in making furnishings and paint and stuff) or to businesses to fund expansion (which means that there are more jobs doing whatever it is that the business does, or making the machinery or producing the raw materials that they want to buy). No money keeping the wheels turning: no new jobs, homes, businesses, etc.

Basically, the US economy is tanking.

The Monkey-in-Chief's Treasury Secretary has admitted as much saying that they now face a "sharp decline" but that he is hopeful of recovery before the year is out.

Translation: I'm hoping that I learn to fly before I have to learn to bounce.

Speaking of bounces, the Fed cut interest rates again to cheer up the economy and indeed the Dow Jones bounced back from earlier losses.

Not a CLASSIC "dead cat-monster bounce" (based on the principle that even a dead cat-monster will bounce if it crashes HARD ENOUGH!) since this was a response to intervention. But there is only so much further that the Fed CAN cut interest – they're down to 2¼% now which obviously leaves them less and less room for manoeuvre.

Not that WE'RE so much better off. Our interest rates are higher here in Great Britain, but that's nothing to gloat about: our mortgages and borrowing cost us more but it doesn't necessarily give the Bank of England more freedom to act. For us, high interest rates are a bulwark against rising inflation; the bank won't want to cut them as they'd risk losing the battle to hold inflation under the Prime Monster's 2% target. Well, actually they've ALREADY lost that battle, but they'd REALLY be giving up if they let low interest loans fuel yet another consumer spending boom.

What CAN we do?

It often seems that we are POWERLESS in the face of these huge global economic events. Chancellor Sooty certainly seems to think so, and it might be worth REMEMBERING that next time you come to vote for who is supposedly in charge of the country's cashbox. But we are NOT.
  • Try to spend just a little bit less and save just a little bit more – every penny in a savings account is just that little bit more liquidity for the banking system and we'll be that little bit closer to getting through this.
  • Now might be the time to see how much money you can save by taking some Green economy measures around the house – check out your insulation and your low energy light bulbs.
  • And if you think your finances are in trouble, try to get some help – the fewer people there are in difficulty the sounder the economy will be.
It is the old Liberal adage "Think Global; Act Local" in action. It may be that you can only give a little bit of help, but if lots of us do it then it really does add up.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Day 2632: Bendy Buses Banned – Barracked By Bonkers Boris Braying Boisterous Boastful Bombast


Oh fluffy dear: this looks like a bit of a surrender from Mr Mayor Ken, sneaking out the news that he's ending his fleet of spontaneously-combusting mobile road-blocks on the day before the Mayoral election officially gets under weigh.

This comes on top of a YouGov/Evening Standard opinion poll that gives Bonkers Boris a SIZEABLE lead in first preferences of 49% over Mr Mayor Ken's 37%. (Mr Brian, the only SERIOUS choice, starts the race on 12%.)

This means that the actual result is either going to be very embarrassing for YouGov or really FANTASTICALLY embarrassing for London!

Mayor Ken seems to think that he can get away with criticising Boris's transport policies and then stealing the centrepiece of his plan!

But that does not so much rob Boris of his platform as make Mayor Ken look desperate and out of ideas AND make Boris look CREDIBLE. Yes, that IS hard to believe, isn't it!

"I…yi….yi…yi… I should say something REALLY crazy and…and…and see if he does that too," said Boris, speaking at the launch of his new proposal to abolish Tuesdays.

Why are people STILL being fed a false choice between this berk who barks at bendy-buses and that creep who covers-up for crooks?

Day 2631: Mr Balloon Gets High (in the Polls, that is)


It's a good weekend to be that well-known not-using-them-for-his-own-political-ends family-guy Mr Balloon.

While little Mr Vague is reduced to trying to WOO the North of England with promises of a NEW ROAD (all VERY Royston Vasey), Mr Balloon is riding high upon a new series of opinion polls.

YouGov/Sunday Times have the Conservatories on 43%, the Labour on 27% and the Liberal Democrats on a typically-for-YouGov suppressed 16%.

Meanwhile, ICM/Guardian are showing the Conservatories with 42%, the Labour 29% and the Liberal Democrats a more inspiring 21%.

It's hard to know what has inspired this leap in Conservatory fortunes since, short of saying that the Budget was "a bit wet" it's difficult to think what they've actually been DOING.

It's certainly not their Tax Cuts Policy, since they've announced this weekend that they definitely, definitely, DEFINITELY won't be cutting taxes in the next Parliament. Unless they decide that they will.

And surely it's not Mr Balloon's new CRUSADE for FAMILY VALUES – as backed by his totally-up-to-the-minute not-at-all-Mary-Whitehouse campaign to stop Woolworths calling a kiddie's bed "The Lolita". I mean trés tasteful, there, Woollies, but is this SERIOUSLY what Mr Balloon hopes to achieve out of politics?

I can only think that it is their ongoing policy of "Not Being the Labour" that is finally paying dividends. Because of course THAT is the real significance of these polls: not Mr Balloon at all, but that the Labour have fallen into the 20's not just once but twice.
As the Grey Cloud of Despond™ (aka. Chancellor Sooty) settles over the Labour's waning star, Mr Balloon rises once more without visible panty line, or indeed means of support. What brave new dawn is this? Well… it's probably the same one that they had in 2006 when all the papers were trumpeting "Biggest Ever Conservatory Lead", "Balloon to be Next PM" and "Gideon Osborne out of Short Trousers by Christmas". All of those headlines proved wrong, of course, because the Labour ditched their horribly unpopular Prime Monster and replaced him with a shiny new one for a brave new era (cancelled).

I guess what I am saying is that voters are kind of FICKLE at the moment, and Mr Balloon might find once again that he is not as LOVED by the voters as much as he is by, er, himself.

Or, as Mr Martin says over on The Voice, "There is EVERYTHING to play for!"

Day 2630: Tibet


China threatens "harsh" treatment if the Buddhist monks don't stop damaging the Chinese troops' batons and boots by, er, throwing themselves against them.

"Harsh"!?!?! How are they going to get MORE harsh than SHOOTING people?

Are they going to shoot them, wait for them to be REINCARNATED, hunt them down and shoot them AGAIN?!?!

Day 2628: TORCHWOOD: Something Borrowed

Wednesday (again):

An immaculate conception; a supernatural baby; a birth in stable… just in time for Easter, Torchwood have they very own FAIRY TALE WEDDING story. (Someone should tell them that Winterval was three months ago!)
It was about time we shed a little light into the darkness of Torchwood. Moving as last week's "A Day in the Death" was, it really was putting the tin hat on a dark time for the series what with Owen being dead and not loving it. Slapstick comedy may be a handbrake turn, but it was about time we had some more fun.

The series opening with "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang" lifted it up to a place where Torchwood was a cool and funny series about people we liked and wanted to be with. Trading off that high start enabled them to go to the dark places again and not leave us behind and although we've stepped back towards the "death, death and more death" themes that pervaded series one, we've seen it leavened with much stronger humour and more positive feelings, particularly from Ianto, Gwen and guesting Martha Jones. Even so, another comic episode – yes, especially one with death by blow-job, a killer Captain Jack and the mother-in-law from Hell – is the kind of relief that we could do with at this stage in series two, before things get seriously weird in next week's PJ Hammond-written tale after which we face the joy of a Chibnall-fest for the final three episodes.

We've been building up towards this wedding for most of the season, from the engagement ring in "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang" though "Meat" and the side note in "Adam". Obviously it was going to be a disaster in the way that only Torchwood – and "Buffy, the Vampire Slayer" – could manage. You could make more comparisons with "Buffy's" "Hells Bells"; Rhys as Xander, Gwen as Anya, she even goes back to her "demonic" job at the end, but at least this time the couple do end up hitched! So there's no unnecessary heartbreak to ruin what is a very, very funny episode.

It's set up with a great pre-title sequence: one alien shape-shifter, one instant alien pregnancy (that is such a plastic bun-in-the-oven tummy, by the way), and the music is silenced just long enough for one of Eve Myles' trademark hoots: this time just a perfect little "Oh…"

It's a great episode for Eve – at last – as she gets to do funny, pathos, steely determination, bloody-mindedness, and outright terror (at Rhys wielding the singularity scalpel). Through it all you never lose sight of the fact that she's absolutely determined to wed her Rhys, who she loves lots, even though she loves Jack too – although the closest she comes to admitting it, is, unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately) to "Mommy-dearest Jack" rather than the real thing. Even so, the episode takes that running theme of unrequited love between them and makes a joke of it when Jack bursts in to stop the wedding at just the right moment. (You know… "Does any one know of any just cause etc…")

They toy with it some more when Jack gets to be the one who saves the day, but also insists that it is Rhys who is the hero, and the hero gets the girl. He's "doing the noble thing" so much that you want to slap him. Although Jack gets to be witty, he's mainly the straight-man here: the joke being that he's in a completely different genre to the Rom-Com wedding that he's crashed into. That's probably why his more noble moments all play like deadpan. It makes for a strong episode for John Barrowman, as well, as he gets to carry on action-hero style for a lot of it, plus the aforementioned cameo as the shape-shifter that's pretending to be him. That's a surprisingly subtle turn for a bloke in fangs with black veins and venom all over his face.

The dance, post-nuptials, seems to have provoked some difference of perspective, which is in itself interesting. Some people see Jack wearing his secret smile and warmly embracing Ianto; while others see Ianto as threatened and Jack as distanced, more interested in the "forbidden" love of Gwen. What are we to make of the coda where Jack opens up his box of memories and takes out the picture of, transparently, his own wedding day? Does his heart move towards commitment with Ianto, or to a fantasy of romance with Gwen? We have to remember that Jack is going to live on. Like the Doctor's explanation of his feelings in "School Reunion", Jack's going to be leaving a lot of relationships behind him.

It's an odd ambiguity, perhaps the most genuinely grown up thing Torchwood has managed yet. I confess I come down on the side that finds it uncomfortable, and I worry that Ianto, who – let's face it – really commits to his relationships, is going to get hurt by Jack's wandering polyamorous eye (and indeed the wandering rest of him).

I think we can anticipate more developments around Jack, Ianto and maybe that box of photos when we come to the season's penultimate episode, "Fragments".

Writer Phil Ford has written for indestructible captains before, of course, doing the scripts for most of the episodes (and all of the good episodes) of the recent CG Captain Scarlet as well as writing some Sarah Jane Adventures. He's really rather good, and dextrously mixes the humour and the more serious moments, and juggles a decent amount of screen time for everyone.

So there's quite a nice meaty role for Tosh too: getting to the wedding ahead of the rest of the team she proves that she's really quite capable, taking out Rhys's best man with some well timed moves, and almost getting the drop on the villainess. Of course, the episode would end there if she did, but instead "Banana Boat" blunders in and the super-fast alien gains the upper hand, leading to more great comedy as Tosh finds herself trussed up with the hapless (and excessively keen) Welshman.

And there are smaller but still memorable parts for Owen and Ianto, especially as they try to work out a way to work together. Ianto is very defensive of his relationship with Jack, a counterpoint to the dance scene at the end. And interestingly Ianto is clearly much more sympathetic towards Owen now that the latter is dead. Not that he might be remembering his "dead but still alive" girlfriend, Lisa the eponymous (and infamously kitten-heeled) "Cyberwoman".

Unusually for Torchwood there's quite a big supporting cast too, with Gwen and Rhys's families – obviously they're chalk and cheese – and the bridesmaids, like a Greek chorus commenting on each unbelievable twist of the plot, and a best man and a (doomed) DJ not to mention several iterations of each shape-shifter.

And there's Nerys Hughes, for goodness sake, playing Rhys's mother. And playing a killer alien shape-shifter disguised as Rhys's mother. And now she's in full-on fangs and black blood make-up!

"I'm not an alien!" is such a great line. As is "Get away from her, you ugly bitch!" Hooray for Rhys for defending his mother's honour by punching Jack.

It's also a great episode to look at: it's a lovely setting for a wedding (oh dear, how many fans are going to be booking theirs there?); the frocks are gorgeous; and the "look I'm evil" shape-shifter make-up is well-judged: outrageous enough to be funny without being so over-the-top as to become intrusive. It's all very-slightly over-directed by Ashley Way – who also stylishly directed "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang" and, and this is hopeful, will be up for season finale "Exit Wounds" – and I mean that in a good way: using show-off-y camera moves, ramping, under-cranking, zooms and the like, in the same way that "Boston Legal" would, to emphasise the artifice of it all. It's knowing, of course, but what it knows is that too much cod-John Woo looks silly… and silly is exactly what is called for when you have Rhys threatening Nerys Hughes with a chainsaw.

You really shouldn't find yourself laughing at Rhys's big moment, but by then you've already been laughing for the last half hour. And it is a really funny "oh fuck" moment.

Next time… An old cinema reopens and an old can of film plays scenes from the last tour of a lost travelling show. Time has broken though and Sapphire and Steel are busy. All irregularities will have to be handled: Tupperware and Torchwood have been assigned. Now who's coming "From Out of the Rain"?

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Day 2628: Sooty's Budget: Izzy Whizzy Let's… not do anything


Today's BIG news was, obviously, the GREEN LIGHT for latest in the long-running and much-loved series of Carry On Films.

But never mind THAT, we have the long-running and NOT much-loved Whitehall Farce to talk about instead.

It's funny how Sooty's budget seems to have fallen through the news agenda like a grey cloud through a sieve. The reason that it's become OLD NEWS so fast is that everyone knew what was in it because Mr Frown presented it all LAST year, so that – if things had gone to plan – we'd now be four weeks from a General Election.

Of course, even if things HADN'T got a bit ahead of themselves last Autumn, the plan didn't ever involve going to the country against a background of imminent American recession and consequent global economic implosion.

The main impact of the budget is, you will remember, the abolition of the starting rate of tax, raising tax from the lowest earners to pay for a tax cut in the basic rate for the better off.

I'll just remind you of that again: Mr Frown robbed the poor to pay to the rich.

The extra "help" for the less well off that Sooty offered in return amounts to little more than shaking a finger at the energy companies and saying "play nice!"

Similarly, the Chancellor's idea of tackling green issues is to wheedle at the supermarkets: "pleeeeese sort out the plastic bags problem!"

"It's been a cop-out on Green issues," said Mr Clogg.

Meanwhile, Sooty's extra "fun" taxes – on cigarettes and alcohol and cars – are all SMALL BEER (or cheroots or Smart cars), designed to do no more than plug a few of the gaps in the accounts. They're certainly NOT going to be an efficient way of changing anybody's behaviour.

I suppose you know what ELASTICITY of DEMAND means? That is, when you can stretch the price quite a LOT before people start looking somewhere else for their goodies. Alcohol, tobacco and petrol are all pretty darned elastic – choosing to do without them is a lot of trouble for people so mostly they just grimace and pay up.

But even if that WASN'T the case, you still have to think about what kind of CHOICE you are giving people. And in Sooty's case, it's no choice at all. Instead of a Green Tax Switch, giving people BACK their own money so that they can then SAVE it if they make the right green choices, Sooty is just ADDING to the tax burden.

So, given that Mr Frown wrote most of the Budget a year in advance, and that the rather dicey economy leaves no room for cutting taxes or increasing spending, and the fact that all the government credit cards are already maxed out… was there really nothing that Sooty could have done?

Well, and this is a clue, Master Gideon Osborne doesn't think so.

Rather oddly, he spent most of the week proclaiming that the Conservatories would match the Labour's taxing and spending plans… and at the same time saying that all Sooty's predictions were wrong and that things were much worse than the Treasury were claiming.

Which of course OUGHT to have begged the question: if you think that the economy is in a worse state than the Chancellor says, then HOW can you afford to match his tax and spend plans? If you say there is a BLACK HOLE in his plans… doesn't that mean there is a much BIGGER one in YOURS?

The Treasury really DOES have a record of being quite GOOD at predicting how well the economy is going to grow. Where they are RUBBISH is at working out how much more tax this means they are going to collect, and that means there is a shortfall every time and THAT is why borrowing keeps jumping ahead of predictions.

And that is going to be a problem for Sooty, because one of the government's "rules" is that they are NOT to borrow more than 40% of the Country's Gross Domestic Product.

Which is why ALARM bells ought to be ringing loudly at the news that Sooty intends to be borrowing a total of 39.8% of GDP by 2010.

This isn't just SKATING on thin ice… this is taking a POGO STICK out there and jumping up and down while DARING the ice to break!

There is every likelihood that we'll find ourselves with an even BIGGER borrowing requirement, though – being the Labour – they'll probably just change the rules at the last minute and claim they've not broken them.

It would all be a lot easier if Mr Frown hadn't ALREADY borrowed so much money to fill in the gaps between his spending SPLURGE and the revenue he was receiving.

Of course, young Master Gideon was all over that one too, criticising Mr Frown for not saving in the GOOD years now that we face the LEAN ones. Obviously, this would have been more credible if he'd been saying that AT THE TIME.

They really SHOULD have taken some advice from Mr Vince.
Our Dr Vince "the Power" Cable has been warning for YEARS that borrowing – personal debt as well as the government's – was spiralling out of control and that there was great danger of the banking sector getting itself mired in trouble through runaway greed.

But if Sooty is saying he'll do nothing, and Gideon is saying there's nothing that can be done, is that REALLY the case?

Of course not.

There are plenty of ways that you can improve the tax system while still remaining broadly neutral in the amount of tax that you raise. Mr Vince has thought up lots of them!

The most obvious method is to shift the burden of tax from the less well off to the super rich, and to move the tax you raise from Income to Green Taxes. You can make the tax system FAIRER so that people at the bottom end are not paying a higher percentage of their income in taxes than the people at the very top. And making the Green Tax Switch puts the power to help the planet into people's hands and rewards them for making good choices.

You can also SIMPLIFY the tax system – close all the loopholes that let very rich people pay very little tax on their property wealth, raise allowances so people pay less tax on their income at the bottom end and do away with the insanely complicated Tax Credits that take people's money and give it back to them and then take it away AGAIN because the Revenue overestimated how much they were supposed to give back.

In fact, giving people an income tax cut can help to stimulate demand in the economy, especially if people go out spending money on new environmentally friendly replacement goods.

And that's why it is such a CRYING SHAME that the news don't want to talk about the budget anymore, just because the Tweedle-Tories have a JOINT policy of SHAN'T and CAN'T.

We need a BETTER ANSWER than "can't be done". We need a RADICAL and REFORMING budget. We need the Liberal Democrats!

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Day 2627: Please Do NOT Swear!


I will do my best to do my duty to Mr God and Mrs the Queen…

(namely to tell you that HE's not real and SHE deserves to retire quietly.)

and to obey the Law

(except the bit about I.D.iot cards, obviously);

To help BLAME other people at all times

(In particular the government, kids today, the foreigners, the BBC, the gay daddies for getting married, or just plain Political Correctness Gone Maaaaaaad!) ;

To keep myself physically strong

(subject to Health and Safety),

mentally awake

(subject to Unintelligent Design),

and morally straight

(you have GOT to be kidding).

© the government department of whingeing about the weather, cussing the congestion charge and swearing stupid pointless Oaths of Allegiance.

Day 2626: New Seven Deadly Sins


Hello Pope-pickers and welcome to "Top of the Nots" with the all new Vatican Hit List.

Der dahh dahh de de derrr…

At seven… it's out with "Lust" and in with "Violation of fundamental rights of human nature": catchy title, crazy sin! Call me cynical but this just sounds like a scratch mix of the old tune "no to abortion, no to gay marriage" covered with a crude sample of fundamental rights to mean the exact opposite. Never mind freedom of the individual… burn, baby, burn!

At six… it's a new entry for "Morally debatable experiments". Seems a bit harsh to roast in hell for eternity if the experiment was "debatable" to me, but that's the Pope for you – his idea of a debate means you listen when he excommunicates you.

At five… it's a rise of one place for "Gluttony", now trading under the name of "Drug trafficking and consumption". But when cannabis brownies are less harmful than communion wine which drugs? Harder to argue with heroin, though, but it does seem to put the sinners though hell in this world without waiting for the next. What happened to Christian Compassion?

At four… turning the Old Testament number two "Envy" on its head we have a new entry for "Inflicting poverty". This also knocks old "Sloth" out of the charts; I guess we just couldn't be bothered to keep that one in, eh! And there's no place in the new list for the one sin I really would call DEADLY: "Anger" – I guess that doing violence against people (unless it's economic violence) just isn't sexy any more.

At three… it's another riser, up two places for the old classic "Avarice" with "Accumulating excessive wealth". Of course all those old sins always had the loophole of "excessive" built in – love is good, but too much love (of food, or money or other people) is BAAAAD because apparently it's taking away your love for Mr God. So, excessive love of imaginary friends then, where does that go?

Moving on…

At two… falling this week, it's a cover version of "Playing God" for the old-time "Pride" with "Genetic manipulation" showing that once again the ol' Mother Church is setting her face against progress in Science.

But that means we have a new number one and it's…

At one… a new entry for Gaia and the sin of "Environmental pollution". Never let it be said that the Catholics can't spot a new band (wagon)!

So there you have it, hipsters, a new top seven and a new number one.

Those old sins lasted for a thousand years; will anyone remember the new ones in a week? Tune in again next time to find out, PLUS hear if there's be a new entry for Richard Dawkins and the Doubters with "Ain't Necessarily So"!

…der dahh dahh de de derrr… dum dum dum derrrrrr.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Day 2625: Mysteries of Doctor Who #15: What the TRUNK is going on at Dr Who's Trial? (The Third One)


We spent Sunday chatting with Mr Nick… NO, not THAT Mr Nick... THIS Mr Nick! (I'll be chatting to t'other one soon though!)

We were talking Doctor Who!

Now, as you all remember, Dr Who was ALWAYS getting put on trial by his own people, the Time Lords. The first time was in "The War Games" when they caught up with Mr Dr Pat; the second time was in "The Deadly Assassin" when Mr Dr Tom gets framed for murrrrrrrder*; but the really really biggie is of course "The Trial of a Time Lord". Three guesses WHICH Time Lord!

[*only if Castellan Spangle had been played by Mr Mark McManus!]

Dr Who is dragged out of Time to meet Mrs the Inquisitor (aka the Oxo Mum) and Dr Valeyard who is VERY cross-patchy and keeps insisting that Dr Who deserves to be EXECUTED. And to prove it he shows some of Dr Who's most deadly dull adventures.

To cut a long story short, it SEEMS to turn out that Dr Valeyard is REALLY Dr Who from the FUTURE gone EVIL, and he has faked all the evidence in order to get his earlier self's lives.

Or does it?

Because… well… there are some things that are really rather ODD about all this, even if you can ACCEPT Mrs Oxo in a funny hat as a top Time Lady.

You see, the obvious problem is that the evidence is all presented the WRONG WAY AROUND.

Let's imagine how it MIGHT have been…

Mr Tat, in About Time 6, has a jolly good idea that ACTUALLY not only Dr Valeyard, but also Mrs Oxo, the Supreme Court, the High Council and all of this come from Dr Who's FUTURE.

Think about it: on the OTHER occasions when Dr Who meets himself – especially "The Three Doctors" and "The Five Doctors" – there are USUALLY Time Lords involved and they ALWAYS come from the same era as the LATEST Dr Who. i.e. the Time Lords have the power to reach BACKWARDS in Time along Dr Who's life and grab his earlier selves.

(Mr Tat also argues that this would make more sense of "The Two Doctors" if it is the Time Lords of Mr Dr Colin's time who have made a deal with Mr Dr Pat to be their unofficial ambassador, what with the Time Lords of Mr Dr Pat's time supposedly not being able to FIND him!)

Of course that is breaking the FIRST LAW of TIME™ (except when the "First Law" gets changed to being "interference"). But they CAN do it in emergencies.

Hence if Dr Valeyard is from Dr Who's future then ALL of the Trial is from Dr Who's future.

(This would also explain why Mrs Oxo tells Mr Dr Colin that he isn't President of the High Council any more – because in HER time, in HIS future he has been deposed, possibly by this Trial – while Mr Dr Sylv seems to think that he still IS President-Elect of the High Council of Gallifrey, Keeper of the Legacy of Rassilon, Bestest Buddy of the Hand of Omega and all-round Top Banana of the Universe.)

Mind you, all this hangs on the idea that Dr Valeyard is a FUTURE incarnation of Dr Who.

What I'm NOT going to do is go into that old business of whose faces do we see in "The Brain of Morbius", because that would mean explaining that they AREN'T Morbius's (he is WINNING the Brain Fight) but in fact "earlier" faces of Dr Who going back before Mr Dr Billy. We see eight faces, which means that Mr Dr Tom isn't the FOURTH Dr Who but the TWELFTH. Remember that this is the top team of Hinchcliffe and Holmes and they want to SHAKE UP the continuity, and of course they're going to say (in "The Deadly Assassin") that Time Lords only GET thirteen lives, so they're trying to make it all seem a lot more DANGEROUS (and therefore DRAMATIC!) for Dr Who, what with him only having ONE LIFE LEFT. But of course that makes Mr Dr Peter the THIRTEENTH Dr Who… so it is THE WATCHER who comes "somewhere between your twelfth and final incarnation" as Mr the Master puts it; and perhaps if Dr Watcher is the GOOD half of Dr Who then – like some horrible Star Trek effect – Dr Valeyard is the EVIL half split off. That would be why Mr Dr Peter doesn't expect to regenerate ("is this death?" he asks) and thinks it "feels different this time". It might even be why Mr Dr Colin is so, er, unstable, not to mention rather surprised at even being alive at all, and of course, why Dr Valeyard would want to claim Mr Dr Colin's lives (since if he WAS from the future he'd have had those lives already and nicking them would mean disappearing up his own TEMPORAL ANOMALY). But I'm NOT going to mention any of that. No, everyone can SAFELY assume that The Giggling One is counting Mr Dr Billy as Dr Who Number 1, Mr Dr Pat as Dr Who Number 2 and so on, up to Mr Dr Colin: he is Number 6 – Mr Dr Pat is the new number 2. Who is number 1? No, I'm getting confused… Dr Valeyard comes from the FUTURE.

So, Dr Valeyard has them grab Mr Dr Colin by the Time Tunnels and yank him forwards in time to their Massive Space Station Effect Shot™. Dr Who is confused and wants to know what's happened to Peri, but Dr Valeyard says:

"Ah ha! You are a criminal! We here in the future know that you are going to commit GENOCIDE, and in order to PREVENT that happening we have taken you out of time."

And then Dr Valeyard is the one who shows us "Terror of the Vervoids" (an adventure from Mr Dr Colin's future wherein he exterminates an artificial race of embarrassing flowers). Because that is GOOD evidence for the Prosecution (and it doesn't make any sense for Mr Dr Colin to show that if he gets let go he's going to go on a Rampage of Slaughter™!).

Instead, Mr Dr Colin demands that the Time Lords reveal what has happened to Peri, and so Dr Valeyard gloatingly shows "Mindwarp", revealing that Dr Who betrayed his companion and it lead to her getting killed!

But Mr Dr Colin does not BELIEVE that, so he starts to think that the evidence against him is being FAKED. He then does some research and thinks that he can show that the Matrix has been HACKED – and that is when he shows us "The Mysterious Planet" (which isn't very "Mysterious" really: see Mysteries of Dr Who #1!). Because THIS is great for the Defence's case: not only does it demonstrate that the Matrix can be broken into and tampered with, it also proves that Dr Who managed to (yet again) save the ENTIRE UNIVERSE.

But the VITAL evidence has been bleeped out by the High Council, and Dr Who cannot prove that his version is true without witnesses… which leads nicely into "The Ultimate Foe" where Mr the Master turns up and reveals what Dr Valeyard has been doing all along!

Except, of course, that ISN'T what happened AT ALL. In fact it is Dr Valeyard who presents the case that blows open the High Council's conspiracy while Dr Who is the one to prove himself going-to-be-guilty of genocide.

Which is just plain NUTS!

So, the only possible explanation is that both sides in the Trial are TRYING TO LOSE!

Dr Who, obviously, wants to lose because he is doing what he usually does which is to walk into the villain's plans and spring their traps so that he can work out what is going on and then stop them by being terribly clever. Here, he thinks that Dr Valeyard is the villain, so he wants to get convicted 'cos that will spring Dr Valeyard's trap.

EXCEPT… who says that Dr Valeyard IS the villain?

The answer is that it is… Mr the Master. Because he's ALWAYS been a reliable witness, hasn't he. As Mr Dr Colin himself says: "Now I really AM in trouble!"

Now admittedly Dr Valeyard does dress up in BLACK all the time, and SNARLS at Dr Who and argues with him (though really when DON'T two different versions of Dr Who argue with each other?) and is really, really MEAN a lot. But isn't all that a bit OVER THE TOP? A little bit OVER-ACTED? Almost like this is Dr Who PRETENDING to be a villain because hammy and over-the-top is what he thinks villains are LIKE? Again, Mr Dr Colin reminds himself: he's never been able to resist the Grand Guignol.

But, let's face it, doesn't Dr Valeyard try to KILL a lot of people? Well, DOES he? Because it seems that his total body count by the end of the story is, er, nil.

(Unless he's bumped off the Keeper of the Matrix, but that might have been him all along anyway!)

For all that he throws exploding quills at Mr the Master, launches a harpoon at Mr Glitz (stopped by his patent Postideon Life Preserver) and later tries to shoot him, and variously tries to drown, incinerate, gas and quicksand Dr Who, he actually manages not to kill ANY of them.

In fact, that attempt to shoot Mr Glitz is particularly telling: Mr Tat includes is as a "thing that does not make sense" because they are in the Matrix, where what Dr Valeyard THINKS is what controls reality. So it shouldn't MATTER that Mr Glitz secretly removes the round from his pistol – so long as Dr Valeyard THINKS that the gun is still loaded it should still be lethal. Unless, of course Dr Valeyard DOESN'T WANT it to be lethal.

OK, you say, that's all very well, but what about the enormous great DEATH TRAP that Dr Valeyard has built, his "particle disseminator" (or "megabyte modem" as Mel thinks it to be – clearly the Matrix can't get broadband).

But once again, I have to say, are you SURE that Dr Valeyard is the one who built it? Because if it is, it does seem very odd that he stands there giving his earlier self cryptic clues as to what it is – "disseminate the news" – rather than just pulling the "kill everyone now" lever.

Therefore, this is what seems more LIKELY to me:

Dr Valeyard, the future Dr Who, knows that the High Council of Gallifrey has gotten corrupt to the point where they are casually wiping out civilisations like the Earth just to keep their dirty secrets secret. But in order to EXPOSE them he needs to get into the Matrix to find the evidence (and/or the leak). So he PRETENDS to be an evil version of himself, just the sort of person that they might cosy up to, in order to INFILTRATE their conspiracy.

Then, under cover of putting his earlier self on Trial, he ACTUALLY broadcasts the truth about Ravalox to the Court.

Only the High Council have got a BACK-UP PLAN – a dirty great death-o-gram built into the back of the Matrix screen so that if Mrs Oxo and the court learn too much then can all be disseminated back to their constituent particles. Dr Valeyard finds the disseminator but can't remember how his earlier self HORLICKS-ED it up… but remembers that he DID, so he stands their quipping out clues until Mr Dr Colin is provoked into spanner-ing the works and saving the day.

But if we're assuming that this IS all from the future, then the other REALLY interesting question is HOW FAR into the future do Dr Valeyard, Mrs Oxo and the Trial come from?

Funnily enough, we HAVE seen a Gallifrey that descended into corruption and badness… in Mr "Mad" Larry's "Book of the War". In that future War, where Mr Dr Paul bumps into Faction Paradox and the rest, years of fighting against the (** cough cough ** Daleks ** cough cough **) enemy have made the High Council, er, somewhat brutal and pragmatic. Oh, and after having him all captured, there's a sudden revolution and they put Mr the Master in charge. Which, also funnily enough, seems to have been referenced in "Last of the Time Lords".

So is it possible that the ONLY bit of the Last Great Time War™ that we have ever seen is ACTUALLY the bit that takes place on the Massive Space Station Effect Shot™ during "The Trial of a Time Lord"?