subtitle

...a blog by Richard Flowers

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Day 2768: The Millipede Code

Wednesday:


Well, it's not VERY coded!

Mr Millipede writes in the Grauniad:

"Make ME Prime Monster!!!!"

Okay, he doesn't ACTUALLY say that, but he does say:

"…in government, unless you choose sides, you get found out. New Labour won three elections by offering real change, not just in policy but in the way we do politics. We must do so again."

Now he's covered his bottom by putting that after a big go at the Conservatories… and yet… look at that emphasis on "NEW Labour"; look at that emphasis on "REAL change"; look at that emphasis on "getting FOUND OUT".

You don't need to be Mr Dan Brown to figure out what the CRYPTIC CLUES add up to. And it's NOT numberwang.

The article is very CAREFULLY worded to be both completely supportive and totally without mention of Mr Frown. THAT'S telling all on its own.

Added to that is the implicit criticism of the current regime's approach to, er, criticism… "When people hear exaggerated claims, either about failure or success, they switch off" …all collectively phrased so as pointedly NOT to point the finger.

And then, just to show up the Prime Monster further, there is a critique of the Conservatories that easily outplays Mr Frown's usual style.

Where Mr Frown responds to Conservatory attack with clunking fists of statistics – what Mr Andrew Rawnsley often refers to as the Prime Monster's "tractor production in Ukraine" technique – here Mr Millipede takes each Conservatory nostrum in turn – crime, unemployment, asylum seekers – and says "no, they are wrong and we have dealt with it". It's actually rather depressing that he can go through the Conservatories' wish list saying "done that, done that, definitely done that…", but you've got to admit it is DEFTLY done.

Mr Millipede isn't STUPID.

No, don't LAUGH. I realise that he wants to run the Labour Party so he might seem a little ODD, but taking that into account he must still realise what he's doing.


Of course he's taken the DENY EVERYTHING option NOW, but, I mean, what did he THINK it would look like?

Try THIS scenario on for size…

Let us assume that Mr Frown is out of the picture. The Millipede goes into a leadership campaign promising a FRESH New NuLabour AND a general election immediately (or by immediately he means within six months). He gets to be Prime Monster (for a bit) and it stops the rot in the Labour's core support. They lose a hundred seats rather than two hundred and Mr Millipede gets to stay on as leader because losing was inevitable by this point and Mr Frown still gets the blame. Mr Balloon flounders through a four-year term beset by economic woes and Mr Millipede promises to ride to the rescue in 2014.

Well, it is a BIT far-fetched… but it might be convincing ENOUGH to get the Labour backbenchers onside…

That's why everyone's in a pre-Silly Season tizzy. It's just credible enough that they're all getting excited at the prospect that he just might do it.


But don't bet the farm on another Labour Prime Monster JUST YET.

What is rather more likely is that Mr Millipede has just taken UMBRAGE at Mr Frown. In particular, the Prime Monster's return to his old Secret Stalin form, using the "Black Arts" (or "briefing Michael White of the Grauniad" as it's called these days) to put the HEX on those he sees as rivals.


Obviously Mr White is a COMPLETELY INDEPENDENT journalist but if Mr Frown wants a quiet KICKING to be delivered then, quicker than you can say "Grant Shapps", Mr White is willing to SOCK-PUPPET for Downing Street.

Watch out for the sucker-punches halfway through:

"Jack Man O'Straw is mistrusted and did not risk a run for deputy leader last year."

That's ONE…

"David Millipede, so it is claimed, finds the burden of the Foreign Office heavy enough to have contemplated resignation, not a coup."

…that's TWO…

"Realistically, they are the only options."

…and THREE is a low blow to Ms Harriet Harpy!

(Mind you, some people think that Postman Pat Alan Johnson is surely the more dangerous one!)

These are the sort of tactics that Mr Frown employed last year to make sure that 313 out of 353 Labour drones nailed themselves to his mast, closing off the possibility of a leadership contest.

And last year, Mr Millipede knuckled under and was a GOOD BOY. This year, it would appear, he is a bit less willing to take a rap on the knuckles for something that is basically the Prime Monster's fault (i.e. Mr Frown being a rubbish Prime Monster).

So it's not a Cabinet Coup, it's a GIRLY SPAT.

Mr Alistair Henchman used to say that if a story ran for more than three days you were in trouble. This is day FIVE of the "Gordo Gotta Go Show" and the ghost of INEVITABLE DESTINY looks to be lurking around the door to Number 10.

On the other fluffy foot, the LAST time that the press all got this excited about the prospect of an election… Mr Frown let them down. A salutary lesson for Mr Millipede there: if he wants to march them all up to the top of the hill he had better – to mix my metaphor – have something on his flagpole for them to salute when they get there. Or else they will be calling this Millipede's "Portillo Moment". (It sounds like a continental chocolate, but it's actually the precise point where your order for a bank of telephones reveals how far you got ahead of yourself.)




Incidentally, Mr Millipede opens his article with the remark:

"In the aftermath of Labour's third successive defeat at the 1959 election…"

I have to point out that the Labour only suffered ONE defeat AT the 1959 election. (Having suffered one defeat in 1955 and another in 1951, this WAS the third successive election in which they were defeated. But there were NOT three successive elections IN 1959.)

Now it MAY just be me being excessively picky, but is it REALLY too much to expect the FOREIGN SECRETARY to be able to write in good English?

Day 2767: Death of Doha

Tuesday (again):


The World Trade round comes to a grinding halt as America refuses to compromise over agricultural subsidies.

For once I am in agreement with Mr Mandy Mandelbrot: it is heartbreaking.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Day 2767: NASA Gold

Tuesday:


We announce an album of all their greatest hits, including: Money Money Money (is what it costs to build a space station); Take a Chance on Me (aboard Apollo 13); and Dancing (Martian) Queen!

Mama Mia! It's SURE to be the basis of a hit musical and film staring Mr Pierce!


But really, HOORAY for the Fiftieth Anniversary of the American Space Agency!

Day 2765: Knighty-Knight

Sunday:


Adopting the SECRET IDENTITY of a BILLIONAIRE PLAY-ELEPHANT, I managed to sneak both of my daddies into a crowded screening of the new Batman movie: The Dark Knight.

Holy Brilliant Movies, Batman; it was GREAT!

Some people have complained that the movie is too long or that the other performances do not live up to that of the late Mr Heath Ledger.

They are WRONG.

The only thing wrong with this movie is that they blow up the BAT CAR and replace it with a BICYCLE!

…mind you, it IS pretty cool what he does to the Joker's TRUCK.

"S/Laughter," as it says on the side, "it's the best medicine!"

Okay, obviously there IS enough material here for TWO movies, but why sit around waiting for a sequel, I say!

And Mr Heath IS very good, but so are Mr Christian as Bruce "Bat Loose" Wayne and Mr Aaron Eckhart as Harvey Dent and also Mr Aaron and a fleet of CGI artists as Two-Face.


If Mr Christopher Nolan's first Batman film, "Batman Begins", was his "audition piece" then "The Dark Knight" is what he was applying to do. It's a much more LINEAR film than "Batman Begins" without any of the signature flashback within flashback time-twisting story-telling. But the convolutions of the plot mean you have to keep THINKING your way back to earlier events and revaluating them.

"Batman Begins" posed a very definite question: can you do good by evil means? "The Dark Knight" takes that further, with the more complicated puzzle of "where do you draw the line?" (And notice how much of Gotham is shot in CONTRASTS: day and night, Bruce and Harvey, Batman and Joker, the two sides of Two-Face. It's not as… BLATANT as the dualism of "Batman Forever", but it's there.)


Where "Batman Begins" was thematically similar to the classic comic book "Batman: Year One" by Mr Frank Miller, THIS film – in spite of seemingly taking its name from Mr Miller's "Batman: The Dark Knight Returns" – is much reminiscent of 1988's Alan-Moore-scripted "The Killing Joke" which sees the Joker kidnap Commissioner Gordon and subject him to humiliation and torture and the shooting of his daughter Barbara all in an attempt to prove his point that the line between sanity and madness is "one bad day".

This influential comic book was among those that ushered in the darker, more PSYCHOLOGICAL tone to the Batman world, and is cited by Mr Tim Burton as among the influences on his own take on the Batman and Joker.

Themes drawn from the comic include the Joker as unreliable narrator, redefining his "classic" origin story, but then also announcing that he prefers his personal history to be "multiple choice". "The Dark Knight" eschews an origin for the Joker, instead having him tell contradictory versions of his own story, leaving us without even knowing his real name. If he can be said to HAVE a real name that isn't "Joker".

"The Killing Joke" also sees the idea that the Joker and Batman DEFINE each other: Batman coming to realise that their conflict cannot ever stop and they will eventually end up killing one another. It's an idea that develops in other comic books, that the Joker doesn't see Batman as an enemy, but as almost his only friend.

But in "The Killing Joke", the Joker fails and Gordon remains both sane and convinced Batman should catch the villain "by the book" (although the ending is ambiguous enough to suggest that the Joker may have driven Batman to kill him). "The Dark Knight" sees a very similar scenario played out but, by cleverly reworking the origin story of "Two-Face", allows the Joker to SUCCEED. District Attorney Harvey Dent has one really bad day and goes cuckoo.

And then, in a twist on Doctor Who's "The Deadly Assassin", the "truth" is deemed not to "do", so the authorities conspire with the renegade in a cover-up to make-over the villain into a hero.

The PRICE of this posthumous beatification is that Batman must become the villain who takes the blame for the killing of Harvey's victims.

More subtle is what Batman GAINS from this ending of the movie. Earlier, he discovered from Boss Maroni that people will not fear him as much as they fear the Joker, because they know that he has limits that the Joker does not. They know that he will not kill. Here, Batman overcomes that weakness – at least for a while – by having people believe that he is a killer without Bruce Wayne having to break his own rule.

Like the "White Knight" Dent, the "Dark Knight" is also a necessary lie.

Actually, it was quite surprising how central to the story Harvey Two-Face proved to be. We had, probably like many people, assumed that Harvey was in it for this movie as good-guy DA Dent while being set up to play the villain for a possible third instalment. But no! Here we see the beginning middle and apparently end of Two-Face.

In a way, Harvey is seen as an "heir" by both Batman and the Joker. Bruce sees Harvey's good side, his campaign to fight crime but out in the open in a way that Batman can never do; the Joker sees his inner madness, his willingness to act without limits. The irony is that Harvey never DOES choose between them, remaining forever bifurcated, and letting his coin make the decisions.

Of course the Joker lies to Harvey – but then he tends to do that – when he claims that he's not a schemer. In fact his plans are indecently well drawn, as seemingly his entire plan to kill innocent people until Batman surrenders himself seems to be a set-up to get himself arrested and inside Gotham police HQ so that he can get to the mob's money man.

One reviewer has said "I lost track of the number of times Gordon said 'The Joker WANTED us to do this'." Since the number of times is TWICE I am not sure what this says about the state of our numeracy classes. Nevertheless, it is true that each successive set piece is another toppling domino in the Joker's crazed design: a plan ultimately to return Gotham to the state it was in before the Batman gave people hope and criminals fear.

On the other fluffy foot, you would have thought that someone would have started to spot the way that he was working: driving people to REACT, rather than letting them think and ACT. For example, he blows up a hospital – having THREATENED to blow up a hospital. He then IMPLIES that he might blow up bridges and tunnels – result, the authorities (and everyone else) turn to the ferries as the only way out of Gotham. Guess where the Joker's NEXT bombs are.

(Is it worth mentioning that for all the supposed "realism" of this vision of Batman, the Joker seems to be able to place enormous numbers of gasoline barrels at any location of his choosing merely by it being expedient to the plot?)

The Joker's "social experiment" is a delirious spin on the Prisoner's Dilemma: two ferries loaded with passengers and explosives – blow up the other boat by midnight or I blow you up.

Whatever happens in this zero-sum game, though, the Joker wins: if the criminals blow up the innocent, he's given power back to the criminals; if the innocent blow up the criminals then he's destroyed their innocence; if he has to blow them both up himself then he's made himself god of his own little domain.

That neither ferry explodes is a testament to the difference that Batman HAS made to Gotham City.

If there's a bleak side to this thoughtful film's philosophy it is that it seems to have little time for DEMOCRACY, with a clear preference for MIGHT is RIGHT. Democracy, as shown by the vote on the boat, can both choose to do the wrong thing AND be too cowardly to go through with it; in contrast the criminals come across as BETTER because they have a CODE.

Though I must just add that: "I'll do what you should have done ten minutes ago" is one of the best lines of the film.

This code may be WHY Batman fits in to the hierarchies of Gotham's underworld, like a "good" feudal overlord imposing law on the robber barons within his demesne.

The Joker is the ultimate arch-enemy for Batman here because he stands outside that code, that order and thinks that he should rule BECAUSE he himself HAS no rules.

The Joker is dishonestly honest, but honestly believes that the world is evil and that his response to it is the only honest one; Batman uses dishonesty to achieve a more noble outcome. In a way, they BOTH want an end to the criminal chaos of Gotham – it's just that the Joker wants to put himself in charge of the chaos, while Batman just longs to make himself redundant.

In another key scene, the Joker tries to turn Batman to his side, even as Batman tries to pummel him into "good", by telling him that the people who tolerate him in the extreme circumstances of a reign of terror will tear him down should he ever succeed.

But Batman, for all his feudal overtones, actually recognises that in the end his only success can be to put his own power to an end and surrender to the democratic process. Ironically this makes Batman the better ANARCHIST. (In the TRUE sense, where anarchy means without RULERS not without RULES.)

Wisely (although real life makes it tragically) Mr Nolan does NOT kill of the Joker at the end of the movie – although his giggling plunge off a high building is naughtily similar to Mr Burton's conclusion.

In a way, "The Dark Knight" is ENTIRELY a conversation between Batman and the Joker, two figures driven to extremity by the circumstances of Gotham, about where do you draw the line.

The Joker puts it explicitly when he says: "you won't kill me because you have your limits; and I won't kill you because that would be boring! We're going to be at this FOREVER!"

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Day 2764: Gladstone Bagged

Saturday


An auction of the GREAT MAN'S books sees them raise £65,000!

There's to be another in October, if you think you've missed out!

Day 2763: Now the Wings Have Fallen Off

Friday:


No, not another QANTAS airliner; it's the Prime Monster and the Labour's Glasgow East by-election campaign.

(Probably NOT in the best of TASTE.)


Now we'll see whether the unnecessarily rushed timing of this by-election was strategic genius or MADNESS. With MPs off on their hols, will this be a case of removing them from the FEBRILE hothouse of the Westminster BUBBLE, putting it all behind them; or will it actually be letting the issue FESTER as they BROOD and DWELL on their misery, storing up disaster for when they return?

Feverish speculation over the weekend suggests the LATTER!


For all that there are many articles jovially reporting that a 22% swing would see all but two of the Cabinet – including the Prime Monster himself – unceremoniously ejected from Parliament, no one is SERIOUSLY expecting to see the Glasgow East result reproduced across the country in a General Election.

But then, no one was SERIOUSLY expecting the Labour to lose the seat that is widely reported as their "third safest in Scotland" or possibly their "twenty-fifth safest seat in the country".


What's going to happen? Well these are the possibilities:

Mr Frown returns from his holiday and announces that for the good of the country/the Labour/his sanity (*delete according to taste for hubris vs credibility) he will step down with immediate effect, leading to a short campaign that will see a new leader elected by the Autumn conference followed by a general election.

The Labour would still lose that election, but it would put a stop-loss on the number of seats that go as people would view the new leader with some sympathy and be slightly more forgiving of Mr Frown for his "doing the noble thing".

But it's not going to happen because Mr Frown does not want to stop being Prime Monster and indeed seems incapable of realising that he really SHOULD stop being Prime Monster.

The second option is that Mr Frown comes back from his holiday and announces that he's going to carry on much the same, only to find a half-a-dozen DAGGERS in his back "Et tu… Sooty…?" and the Cabinet replace him by force.

But THAT'S not going to happen either.

Former Deputy Prime Minister for TACT, Mr Prescott, suggests that this is because "none of them have anywhere near the skills and experience to run the country" That's not the reason, even though it happens to be true. It happens to be true about Mr Frown as well and it didn't stop HIM wanting the job.

No, the reason there won't be a putsch is because none of them want to be the patsy who replaces him. Or – more accurately – none of them want to be the one who replaces him YET. Neither the Sinister Minister nor Ms Harriet Harpy want to be tarred with the blame of leading the Labour into the election. They want someone else to carry the can when the Party goes down to inevitable defeat so that they can be the White Knight not the caretaker. That is why despite the old maxim of "never believe anything in politics until it's been officially denied" the fact that both of them have officially denied plotting against Mr Frown probably DOESN'T mean that they both actually ARE. Meanwhile Mr Millipede remains as Prince in Waiting Across the Water.


So the third and most likely possibility is that Mr Frown clings on to power by his chewed finger-nails hoping to be saved by an economic recovery that isn't going to come in time. In fact the economic reality is almost BESIDE THE POINT: just as the credit boom was suspended more on hope than on facts, so the credit crunch is more because people now know fear – fear that house prices will fall much further than they have (even though they are more likely to recover soon); fear that food and fuel prices will rise further than they have (even though the petrol price has actually eased very slightly). The Labour's death agonies will be dragged out over the course of eighteen horrible months and the defeat will be deeper and more profound, more in keeping with 1979 or the Conservatories losses of 1997 when the losers were out for a generation.

Also, since Mr Balloon has pretty much GOADED him to go to the country soon, that is another reason Mr Frown will do exactly the opposite. Of course, it's transparently, almost PAINFULLY obvious that Mr Balloon is using REVERSE-PSYCHOLOGY: the Conservatories WANT the Labour to carry on burying itself and so they urge an election NOW knowing that Mr Frown can't help but refuse.

Funnily enough they did EXACTLY this at their conference last year and Mr Frown fell for it then too!

Day 2762: The WORST News

Thursday:

How to tell if you have stolen Mr Balloon's BICYCLE:

1: It keeps pulling to the right

2: The back wheel seems to want to go in the opposite direction to the front wheel

3: this Lexus keeps following you around with your shoes…


Seriously, though, this is pretty dreadful. The pie-faced PR-merchant will be using it ALL the bleedin' TIME to claim that he's just like the rest of us and that crime is rampant.

The rampancy of crime is questionable, but most of us DON'T have chums on the radio offering rewards for return of our property (however swiftly retracted).

I have to admit it must be horrible and frustrating to have your bike stolen, but Mr Balloon is one of the few people actually in a position to say "we shall make it a policy to have proper bicycle parking outside all supermarkets and in places on local high streets"

Oh look, he's got it back. Do you think that he'll be adding a bit to his "broken society" routine that says "but actually, if you get the community on side you CAN get things made better?"

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Day 2761: Ich Bin Ein Obama

Wednesday:


Barry O meets Ms Angular Meercat… and two-hundred thousand of her closest personal friends.


Senator Oven Chip counterattacks by suggesting to the most celebrity-obsessed culture on the planet that Barry O is a bit like Britney.


Riiiiight, you really ARE from another Century, aren't you, Senator.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Day 2759: Liberal Youths: Millennium Elephant (8*) talks to Ali Wood (15) and George Duffett (12). And of course Ms Jo Swinson (28)

Monday:


First: Big thank yous to Ms Helen Duffet for organising this Interview.

You see, you don't need to be an Elephant of INTERNATIONAL REPUTATION to organise one; any ordinary MULTI-TALENTED SUPERSTAR of the Liberal Democrat firmament can do it!

Ms Helen and I were joined by Mr Alasdair, Ms Linda, Mr George, a large box of doughnuts and my Daddy Richard to interview the Liberal Democrats' (and indeed the House of Commons'!) youngest MP, Ms Jo Winsome. Ms Jo represents Dunbartonshire East and is Shadow Minister for Abroad. She is also a key figure in the gender balance taskforce.


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Mr George seemed to be trying to attract my attention by shaking his head and pointing at Alasdair, so I asked him to go first.

Does age matter?

It does and it doesn't. The way it was used to treat Sir Mr the Merciless and indeed the way it is sometimes used against Senator Oven-Chip is WRONG.

And Ms Jo has been on the receiving end of remarks in the House of Commons that people would not get away with if they had been about her race or gender. Well, maybe her gender…

"Surely you don't remember the poll tax," one Conservatory Heckler had called out when she had referred to debate. HE got taken to task by fellow members. And besides, she may only have been ten but it was a big thing and had a big impact on all the people she knew so yes actually she DID remember the poll tax.

Similarly, when making a speech she talked about the fifty THOUSAND young people in Scotland who get a lower minimum wage just because of their age, a Scottish Office Minister (a MINISTER!) interjected with: "Are you one of them?"

On the other fluffy foot, diversity is a GOOD thing, and it is RIGHT that the House of Commons should reflect the opinions of people of all ages: young people like Ms Jo, still facing repayments of their student loans (she's JUST paid hers off, with great relief!); people starting families trying to get on the housing ladder; people with children in schools; people whose children are going to university; people approaching retirement.

(So basically, from MODERN Liberal Democrats to PALAEOLITHIC Conservatories to Labour DINOSAURS.)

It gives a range of perspectives, fresh and traditional, and allows people who are concerned by an issue and for those who are dispassionate to have a say in the debate.


Mr Alasdair's question then followed on the same theme: how do we engage young people in politics, particularly people aged fifteen to eighteen who, unlike older younger-people, don't have student organisations.

Ms Jo thought that there were two questions involved here: getting young people more involved in politics GENERALLY and then getting them into the Liberal Democrats.

On the general engagement front, Ms Jo acknowledged that the CITIZENSHIP classes introduced by the Labour would be a good place to start, though she also thought that they could be a lot BETTER.

She also wanted to see the Party's elected officials – from councillors to MPs, MSPs and MEPs too – spending more time getting into schools to address young people and answer their questions, not necessarily from a partisan point of view, but just to encourage them to ask questions and to know that their voices and opinions ARE being listened to.

Young people have CONCERNS – will the buses run on time… or at all… what will I get paid for my weekend job… will I EVER see my SATS results – and yet they often don't realise that this IS politics and they can do something about it.

In the Liberal Democrats, Ms Jo agreed that most local Liberal parties might not have enough young people to be viable just for them. But she wanted to emphasise that there ARE roles for people of any age – Lord Rennard, apparently, was treasurer of his local party aged 14… but then he IS a genius! And just because you cannot stand for election until you are eighteen, that does not mean that you cannot get APPROVED as a candidate. People who are sixteen or seventeen NOW will certainly be eligible to stand when Mr Frown has to call an election in two years time.


Moving round the table, Ms Linda then asked about DIVERSITY representation, and how we seem to be a bit rubbish at it. The Conservatories, she was upset to recall, have even been pretty BLATANT about how they are CYNICALLY recruiting just enough Lady Conservatories and Black or Brown Conservatories to meet their targets and then they don't need to allow in any more. We've just GOT to be better than that!

Ms Jo admitted that we have not done very well in providing the same encouragement and practical support to minority ethnic candidates that we have put in place for gender balance.

We ARE managing to get more ladies placed, and in fact we are doing BETTER in target seats: overall, about 29% of Lib Dem candidates chosen so far are ladies; but that rises to 40% in more winnable targets. And remembering that the "good" seats tend to pick earlier, that should remain a good sign.

The main difference, Ms Jo thought, was that the Party has appointed a gender balance OFFICER, who is responsible for going out there, being PRO-ACTIVE and pretty much getting things done. Rather than appointing a BME officer, the Party chose to employ a BME ADVISOR – Ms Jo emphasised that the advisor is very GOOD at advising, but it is a different role.

As a result, although we have the "Diversity Fund" money available, that depends on ALREADY BEING SELECTED and so, so far, only one person has qualified.

What we need is more assistance for good candidates to GET to the selection stage through training and support.

It was also raised that the Party's existing membership profile tends to mean that there are certain attitudes that prevail, for good or bad. Though EVERYONE was shocked to hear from Linda that one of her friends at a meeting supposedly to encourage minority candidates was told that he "had a chip on his shoulder". Ms Jo recommended that anyone saying such a thing was in need of a swift "quiet word", and that an apology to Linda's friend wouldn't go amiss either!

Ms Helen's question was linked to this, as she asked what were the BARRIERS to getting elected.

The main ones, thought Ms Jo, are CARING RESPONSIBILITIES – whether for elderly parents or for young children – which still, these days, tend to fall more on women than on men.

It is probably NOT a coincidence, she thought, that of the Liberal Democrats' elected women MPs, five have children who are over sixteen and the other four have no children at all.

(Though she pointed out candidates Ms Sarah Carr and Ms Sarah Kelsey who show that it doesn't HAVE to be a RULE.)

The wage gap also has its effect, and there are other costs, like clothes for example where a lady candidate cannot get away with just two suits.

There are times when NOT looking like a stereotypical MP is a positive advantage. Though Ms Jo did admit that when going up for selection she would adopt "the uniform" of suit and limited jewellery. It is about meeting people's expectations, and having the right image, looking the part, so that they are comfortable with you representing them. Mind you, she also mentioned how Mr Jeremy Browne has said that he had the REVERSE problem: he has no problem looking like he fits in in the House of Commons, it was looking like he was part of the community he wanted to represent that taxed him.

And of course, running for Parliament is expensive and time-consuming for either gender. In a development seat you can manage to put in the work around your commitments to having a job, but in seats where you might actually win, most candidates have to at least go part-time and many take a sabbatical or give up work altogether.

There USED to be support from the Nancy Seear Fund… but sadly that has FOLDED because it was better at giving out money than at raising it.

And childcare is difficult to address unless you have really rather a LOT of money to throw at the problem.

The REAL thing that the Party can provide is CONFIDENCE. That is something that we can do something about. It's about getting over the CULTURAL barrier.

Ms Jo remarked on one of the questions on one of the candidates' questionnaires: do you feel confident addressing large groups of people.

It doesn't MATTER whether you FEEL confident – you just have to DO IT.

There IS some sexism… but it seems to work BOTH WAYS: while there are some people reluctant to support a lady candidate, there are equally those who would prefer a lady regardless.

In fact, being YOUNG is more of a barrier.

Ms Jo remembers being challenged on the grounds of "what if you want to start a family, then". Of course, they wouldn't get away with that at hustings, but in the privacy of their own homes… and you can't protect people from EVERY question that might get thrown at them. They will certainly encounter them in the real campaign too. What we can do is give candidates advice and confidence to DEAL with difficult questions and bias.

And things got EASIER after the Brent East by-election, where lovely Sarah Teather showed everyone that being young and female was no barrier to winning.


Then it was MY turn. I decided to ask for a Scottish perspective on the Scottish by-election this week. I suggested that in spite of Mr Frown, the Labour would probably still manage to win.

Ms Jo obviously didn't want to get too ahead of herself, but thought that that was the most likely outcome (subject to being proved wrong by the time my diary is published), but the Labour's majority would be much reduced and that the Scottish Nasty Party would claim a moral victory anyway. She's been out there campaigning and been followed about by the SNP poster van, which is equipped with loudspeakers that blare continuous panpipe music. People will be DELIGHTED when it's all over just to SHUT THEM UP!

But she didn't want us to get too excited about the positive responses she'd been getting, because we have mostly been targeting the areas that strongly support the Liberal Democrats anyway. The main aim for us (and the Conservatories) is not to get squeezed too much.

Turnout, though, only 40% at the General Election, will probably be even lower because it is the Glasgow Fair and everyone is away on holiday. And that could make things completely unpredictable.

Nevertheless, Ms Jo thought that the Labour's Ms Margaret Curran was a good candidate and in many ways – in spite of the Labour having to try four times to arrive at the answer – the OBVIOUS candidate because her constituency is being abolished.

She also said that she had been strong-armed into was very much looking forward to joining the commentators for the all-night by-election coverage on the telly. We wished her GREAT JOY of that!


For our second turn round the table, we turned to FOREIGN AFFAIRS. Mr George passed, so we moved on to Mr Alasdair again, whose question was about the Government's attitude towards the United States: should they not have acted sooner to condemn Guantánamo Bay and the practice of TORTURE?

Ms Jo's answers was OF COURSE! Of course they should have acted sooner; it took them an AGE even to acknowledge that Guantánamo should be closed and they couldn't even say that it was WRONG – some kind of "aberration" was Lord Blairimort's weasel-worded way round it.

For the Liberal Democrats it's been a policy going back certainly as far as Mr Charles that we in Great Britain should be a CANDID FRIEND to Americaland. If we are to have a SPECIAL RELATIONSHIP then we should be able to make USE of that to tell them when we think they are going wrong.

Torture is so obviously wrong, and not just because it is clearly morally wrong, but also for the entirely practical reason that it is totally counter-productive. People will and do say ANYTHING just to make it stop. So the information you get might well be FICTION rather than useful intelligence.

(I shall resist pointing out that that "being fiction" didn't stop Lord Blarimort's use of "intelligence".)

Nor should we allow the Government to get away with "outsourcing" torture to less fastidious regimes through the contemptible practice of "rendition".

The Liberal Democrats were pooh-poohed as a nuisance when Sir Mr the Merciless raised the question of whether the Labour Government was permitting this ILLEGAL ACTIVITY to pass through British airspace on the SLY.

And what happened? The Foreign Office had to issue an APOLOGY for misleading everyone when it turned out that allowing the Americans to "render" people though our airspace was exactly what they had been doing! The European Union report on the practice was VERY CRITICAL!


Possibly prompted by this mention of the Union, Ms Linda asked: what should be our message on Europe?

Ms Jo's answer was interesting and I think wise. While restating that we should be loudly Pro-European, she said that she thought it was time that the Union stopped TINKERING with the details of how many seats at the Brussels drinks cabinet each country gets and starts addressing some REAL issues.

There comes a time when you just have to learn to live with what you've got and make the situation you are in work. All the talk about qualified majority voting or numbers of commissioners or changing how decisions should be agreed does nothing but turn everyone off.

We need to point out the real and urgent things that Europe should be addressing:

  • Energy security, particularly with regards to importing fuels from Russia
  • Diplomacy with Iran, where Europe is leading the way to reaching a compromise over their atomic ambitions
  • The fight against international terrorism, and how to improve security WITHOUT compromising civil liberties
  • And above all climate change, reducing our dependence on fossil fuels that cause CO2 emissions.
On our own, we don't have the voice to address these issues, but together in Europe we do and that is what we need to be telling people.

Jumping ahead a bit, Iran was the subject of Mr Alasdair's next (and last) question. With Israel not far away, and with Israel having a policy of pre-emptively bombing and invading their neighbours and with Israel allegedly have "the BOMB"… could we understand the Iranians' defensive perspective.

Ms Jo pondered aloud about a policy of "we can have it and you can't" – clearly some hypocrisy there, she thought.

The Iranians, she told us, want to go nuclear as a matter of national pride; they see themselves as a nation of "authority" and that they deserve the recognition – and weaponry – that goes with their status.

But that doesn't mean that letting them have one would be A GOOD IDEA.

This is where that European Diplomacy comes in and may in fact WORK. Because the Iranians want a relationship with the West, with America in particular in fact – ironically unbelievable as it may sound – a relationship that they haven't HAD for decades, ever since the hostage crisis of 1979.

And let's face it, the alternatives – an American Invasion? an implicit American backing of an Israeli attack, with much the same consequences? – these are just UNTHINKABLE.

So diplomacy has GOT to work.

And there are alternatives to letting them have the atomic technology they desire. One possibility would be allowing them to develop the peaceful exploitation of atomic energy, but having the uranium enrichment done somewhere else. Another might be the German "nuclear option" option, where they have the KNOWLEDGE but decide that they have no need to make use of it.

It's worth remembering that although outspoken President Armageddonjab is always making threatening speeches and swearing fiery oaths, he's not the ULTIMATE authority in Iran. That position goes to the supreme leader and there are several other authorities in the country who have very different and less populist (i.e. rabble-rousing) agendas.

Iran can and should play a part in the region and the world and it's important that we continue to make the effort to rebuild that relationship.


I asked what if anything we could do about Mr Mugabe and – particularly with Mr Frown's habit of breaking everything he touches – whether we (meaning Great Britain) shouldn't just shut up about Zimbabwe.

Ms Jo admitted that there was a case for waiting to see what happens (and indeed within minutes we had received news by text from Daddy Alex of the historic handshake between Mr Mugabe and Mr Tsvangirai).

But the Liberal Democrats can do BETTER than that, and Ms Jo told us that she and Mr Ed were to meet with representatives of the Movement for Democratic Change on Tuesday this week and one of their key questions would be what is it that we can say and do that will be helpful.

But also, Ms Jo felt that we DO have a moral obligation to speak up, especially if the African states remain silent. (To be fair, she added, nations like Botswana and Tanzania DID speak out too, but we needed the South Africans to do their part if it were to make a difference. That may change after the South African elections when it looks like Mr Zuma will replace Mr Mbeki as President.)

There IS a chink of light at the end of this tunnel, Ms Jo assured us, difficult though it is to see at the moment. In the elections, the MDC won the largest number of seats and – even though many of those MPs have now fled in fear for their lives – that is still a basis for finding a way to cooperate. Given that Ms Mugabe ISN'T going to surrender his hold on power, finding a way to work together is the least worst solution.

And even if they do, the country is sadly still in a terrible mess.


I've skipped over a question from Ms Helen, but the last question asked was from Ms Linda about Palestine. With Mr Frown out in the Middle East saying his thing, has there been any movement on the motion at the last Autumn Conference?

On the specifics of that motion, Jo said, no there hasn't. But on the Israel/Palestine issue, Ms Jo has had meetings with both the Council for Arab-British Understanding and the Israeli Ambassador. Mr Ed is hoping to visit and lovely Sarah has been there already, speaking of the terrifying levels of poverty.

It isn't possible to separate the POLITICAL disputes from that issue of POVERTY. And although it wouldn't SOLVE the other disagreements, lifting the Palestinian people out of poverty would certainly take out some of the STING. And if people lives are WORTH living, then it makes it less likely that they will turn to violence as a solution.

There may be some cause for optimism from the negotiations between Mr Omelette (for all that he is mired in SLEAZE allegations) and Mr Abbas.

Obviously, Jerusalem is the most difficult sticking point… so don't start from there!

It's possible that there may be some positive developments about the Gaza blockade following recent events that have seen the exchange of prisoners for the return of soldiers' remains.


Finally I need to mention that question from Ms Helen: are we going to Make It Happen?

Ms Jo's answer: Yes!

Okay, there was a BIT more to it than that – she told us how she liked the LANGUAGE, that it was readable and, if you didn't want to read all of it, there were handy pull-out quotes; how it was NON-CONFRONTATIONAL, and certainly not as daunting as one of our policy papers.

Inflation and taxation: how the everyday costs of getting along are going up, and how the government's spending can make it just a bit harder for everyone – these are the key issues that people are talking and worrying about now that they are feeling the pinch.

And "Make It Happen" goes straight to the heart of these issues, and talks about them in language that people can understand. We know that times are tight and so the Government ought to be tightening ITS belt too; and if we can make things a little easier for those who are worst off, the lowest paid, then that should STRENGTHEN the economy in the downturn, and maybe avoid the WORSE costs of unemployment, repossessions and homelessness.

Mr Alasdair remarked that HE was impressed by Mr Clogg's idea that while the Conservatories still cling to the failed notion of tax cuts for the superrich helping the country by a process of "trickle-down", a Liberal tax policy should be based on trickle UP.

After all that I have to confess that I was quite exhausted! Ms Jo definitely wins the prize for giving us the FASTEST answers of any of our MPs to date! Writing it all down as we went, my flappy feet could barely keep up. So I helped myself to an EXTRA doughnut!

Once again, very many thanks to Ms Helen for doing the organising. Daddy Richard is TRYING to pin Mr Clogg down to a date in Sheffield, but it's trickier than you would think – for some reason he thinks he deserves a HOLIDAY! I shall let you know when there is news.

[*R: of course, he's actually 7]

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Day 2757: ETS and SATS – "Excuses for Testing Shambles" that "Send All Teachers Sobbing"

Saturday:


As if it wasn't bad enough that the Government have abandoned TEACHING the children of Britain in favour of having them drilled through so many centrally set tests that they might as well be turning them into a string of sausages…

Now, they can't even tell them whether they've passed or failed!

They admit that 29% of tests for 14 year olds are delayed but claim that they may take a little longer but the quality of the marking will be much higher.

Then the questions about quality are raised.

And then we discover instances where pupils papers are returned unmarked and the pupils are marked as ABSENT!


I'm pleased to say that ETS subsequently got the sack that they so richly deserved!

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Day 2756: Lovely Sarah and the Secrets

Friday:


My HERO, lovely Sarah Teather has uncovered the ALARMING number of laptops and memory sticks carrying top secret Ministry of Defence Data that have, er, been misplaced

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Day 2754: Petrol Tanks as the Economy Tanks

Wednesday:


Mr Clogg foretells a "winter of economic misery" for the Prime Monster as inflation hits an 11-year high, nearly DOUBLE Mr Frown's target; as schools and libraries across the country close because council workers are on strike for a pay rise that will let them go on EATING; and as Sooty performs a TOTALLY UNSURPRISING U-Turn on green tax.

So, surprisingly, it's all going rather well for the man who claims to have written all the Government's economic policies: Master Gideon Oboe.

Really: you keep claiming they've nicked your policies; we're going to notice that those policies are RUBBISH!

And this is in spite of him being totally sliced to pieces by the URBANE Mr Gavin Essler on the Newsnight Show last night. (You can tell just HOW badly Master Oboe came unstuck from the fact that he actually had to use the "I couldn't disagree with you more" cliché. Sad.)

The Conservatory claim to economic competence relies on the FALLIBILITY of MEMORY.

It's not JUST that they hope people will forget (and people DO forget) how truly terribly they HORLICKSED up the economy with the recessions of the Eighties and Nineties, the Lawson Boom-and-Bust, Black Wednesday (with Mr Balloon in the shadows), or the Poll Tax debacle. But they also want to MAKE people misremember how history happened through constantly repeating (BIG LIE style) the totally false claim that the Labour's "economic golden era" was built on the foundations laid by the Conservatories.

That is TOTAL HONK!

The Conservatories left the economy in TATTERS in 1997. They had tripled the national debt to cover the fact that they had no way of making the economy work. They left in place plans for tax and spending that they themselves have admitted they could not have followed.

Everyone (and this is what revisionist Conservatory historians rely on) seems to have forgotten the STRINGENT and PRUDENT first term of the Labour, when Mr Frown actually EARNED his reputation. It was jolly painful for a lot of people then, but with a lot of perseverance (and a great deal of luck from the Dot-Com Boom and a whopping great raid on the nation's pensions) Mr Frown managed to pull the economy back from the brink of the GRAVE where the Conservatories' carelessness and incompetence had left it.

THAT is where the last decade of "good times" came from, not from ANYTHING that the last Conservatory government did.

Unfortunately, "spendaholics" are like alcoholics: you're never really CURED. So Mr Frown lost his mind and started spending with GAY ABANDON like money was going out of fashion – as apparently, it turns out, it has done! – and we should not have been at all surprised.

It was those MIDDLE years, those "please love us" years, those let's fight a pointless war in the Middle-East years that really blew the kitty. Ironically, if Mr Frown had LISTENED when people said he should start to spend money SOONER, then he could have spent LESS, not needing to splurge to make up for so many lean years, and then we would be in a more stable position now.

So Mr Frown earned his reputation in the PRUDENT years, but then threw it away when he abandoned prudence.

The Conservatories NEVER had that reputation to start with!

The so-called policy announcements (they're not REALLY policies since they STILL all get expressed as "aspirations" and "ambitions" and "at the appropriate juncture, in the fullness of times-es") that come dribbling out of Mr Oboe's office are all just so many populist mantras:

inheritance tax cut (big cheer from the Hate Mail) no matter that it's only for the toppermost six percent of the population;

let's fiddle with fuel duty so petrol never gets more expensive (big cheer from Jeremy "von" Clarkson) no matter how high oil goes or how much it might cost the exchequer and buggbad-word the green agenda;

let's import Americaland's get-out-of-bankruptcy-free-card Chapter Eleven for companies in trouble (big cheer from the good chaps in the City) no matter that Chapter Eleven is a parachute for incompetent management rescuing them from the consequences of bad decisions while still costing the workers plenty, that it DISTORTS the whole idea behind a FREE MARKET where failure is a painfully necessary part of the process, or for that matter whether Chapter Eleven actually makes ANY SENSE AT ALL in British Law where we already HAVE administration practice before insolvency!

Frankly, the only thing more TERRIFYING than Mr Oboe's LUDICROUS suggestions is that there is every appearance that, with Mr Frown apparently drunk-in-charge, Sooty really is implementing them!

No wonder it's all gone a bit PETE TONG!

Day 2753: Surely it can't be THAT difficult to elect the House of Lords Club?

Tuesday:


So, the Sinister Minister has laid out his plans for the Upper Chamber. It's going to be DEATHTRAPS isn't it…

Well, no, it is (once again!) a decision to put off making a decision.

The announcement that there WILL be an elected House of Lords Club… IF the Labour wins the next General Election is actually only to say that there MIGHT be, not to say that they are going to include some weird trigger clause in current legislation.

And why NOT leave it until 2011? After all, 100 years of waiting for reform is a good round number.


I hardly need to explain to Liberals what is OUGHT to be: elections by single transferable vote with large multi-member constituencies, perhaps approximating to counties, elected by thirds, once only for a single term equivalent to three (fixed term) Parliaments.

Why?

Single transferable vote: because it's the fairest way to put people not politicians in charge of who they choose to represent them. Anything involving lists (and that includes alternative votes and tops ups) is a recipe for Party Fixers.

Large multi-member constituencies: to ensure a spread of representation, so that the most possible people can feel that they have succeeded in getting THEIR representative elected.

Elected by thirds: ironically to weaken the mandate of the upper chamber – two thirds of the members will always be "out of date" compared to the House of Commons, but equally to slow the way that power is shifted from one party to another to improve the quality of reflection that the Upper Chamber is supposed to bring.

Once only: so that there is no question of their Lordships being beholden to vested interests and party machinery, no reason for them to pander to populism just to retain their seat, 'cos they know from the start that they ain't gonna.


Of course, this may be obvious to US, but the other Parties are too interested in maintaining their COSY CONSENSUS to do it.

Governments come in full of fire with a strong mandate, just when they COULD deliver real earn-your-place-in-history changes. And then MYSTERIOUSLY they DON'T! Of course they'll SAY that they have "more important" things to do like changing the headed notepaper or banning something, but the truth is that at the moment of being elected, that's when the STATUS QUO has just delivered them everything they want, so if it ain't broke why fix it? And so what if the House of Lords Club is a bit of a pain from time to time. They can always clobber them with a Parliament Act to get stuff through. By the time they reach the DYING DAYS of their administration, when they realise that BUGGINS TURN is inevitably going to be the other fella, they are too weak and dithering to do anything anyway.

One or other of them, the Tweedle-Tories, may talk about "the loss of community" or "a broken society" but the heart of our community is a BROKEN POLITICS, one that is built on foundations of patronage and unearned privilege.

That is why you need a LIBERAL DEMOCRAT Government, because unlike the other Parties we TRUST PEOPLE, so we don't want a system fixed in favour of anyone EXCEPT you.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Day 2752: Government Knife Policy has an Accident and Emergency

Monday:


We're in the middle of this year's MORAL PANIC and it's about knives. So OBVIOUSLY the person you want in charge is our half-human half-potato half-baked Hopeless Secretary, Ms Jacqui Spliff, the one-woman Corporal Jones tribute act, with her catchphrase:

"Don't Moral Panic! Don't Moral Panic!"

On Sunday she's all ready to reveal that her BIG PLAN is to start wheeling horrible hoodies (no offence, Mr Jonny) through casualty on a Saturday evening… whether the patients getting stitched back together want her to or not. Then Mr Huhney-Monster shows this is bonkers, so on Monday it's "deny everything" time.


There is no reason to be COMPLACENT – everyone must realise that knife injuries are VERY HORRID, even when not fatal. And we should take all reasonable measures to try and reduce crime.

But we also should not get carried away on a TIDE of FEAR.

A DISPASSIONATE look at the statistics would tell us that violent crime is at an historically LOW point. And, terrible though it is for ANYONE to be murdered, the number of murders is not actually wildly increasing. In fact, what SEEMS to be happening is that there has been a big rise in knife crime (that is making all the papers) and an equally big FALL in GUN crime (which is mysteriously omitted from the headlines). This suggests that ACTUALLY, the police have been making successful progress against LAST YEAR'S big moral panic (i.e. guns, remember those) and are now getting a kicking because this year's "weapon du jour" is the more-obtainable knife. It seems like the poor bobbies can't win!

The OTHER thing to remember is that there are about four million teenagers in Great Britain, and – according to the Prime Monster himself – about 0.11 million are responsible for most of the "youth crime". So that's about 98% of young people who are NOT violent psychopaths roaming the streets in gangs of one or two… (©The League of Gentlemen)

Young people are DOUBLY the victims here: not only is it mostly young people getting wounded and horribly murdered, they then get BLAMED by all the adults too. How fair is THAT?

Of course, it's not as SIMPLISTIC as just saying kids would be "OK" if only we all got off their case, but constant vilification of the hard-working majority of young people who've DONE NOTHING WRONG can only add to the alienation of those on the margins.

And speaking of SIMPLISTIC, if the Labour's plans for gimmicks and shocks are in DISARRAY, what about the Conservatories?

Well, Mr Balloon's new policy is to chop their goolies off bang up anyone caught carrying a knife.

How STRANGE to find him echoing the Sinister Minister of Justice Mr Jack Man O'Straw, who also announced a new policy to chop their goolies off bang up anyone caught carrying a knife.

(I particularly like that Mr Balloon wants a special exemption for angler's penknives, people bringing kitchen knives home from the shops and – presumably – the ceremonial silver dagger carried by all Conservatories for BACK-STABBING.)

So, remembering that even though crime is at pretty much an all time low, our prisons are now fuller than ever before …and before some right-wing nut suggests that those statistics are related (a) they aren't, crime is low throughout the Western world, regardless of the level of prison population, it's much more to do with economic success, better education and lower birth rates; (b) the jails are now stuffed full of more people on trivial charges like not paying their TV licence, things that should be dealt with by community sentencing not prison time; and (c) do we really WANT to be competing with Iran and China in the "most people held in prison" Olympics… where was I? oh yes… in spite of all that, Mr Balloon wants to send EVEN MORE young people into a system that is already too stretched to cope resulting in them getting into more violence and drug abuse IN prison!

So THAT was well thought out, wasn't it?

Apparently this is called "saying the things other people wouldn't dare to". I call it Mr Balloon jumping on the nearest and most populist band-wagon and flapping his lips in time to whatever he hears.


So is there a better answer? As it happens, there IS.

Liberal Democrats recognise that there are TWO SIDES to this problem: yes, we need a justice system that can catch and punish criminals, and we want to put ten-thousand more policepeople on the beat to help make people FEEL safer. But we also realise that most kids don't WANT to get into crime, and the way out of that is to help them to help themselves, with encouragement and resources for young people to work in their own communities to make things better.

You might almost call this being TOUGH ON CRIME and being TOUGH ON THE CAUSES OF CRIME. Or you could if some fatuous fibber hadn't already well and truly burned THAT soundbite.

Day 2751: One Lone Heckler

Sunday:


Bishop Gene Roddenberry (not to be confused with Star Trek's Tom Robinson!) is the ONLY gay bishop in the WORLD. Because there has never, ever, EVER been a gay bishop before, oooh no, and certainly none of the eight or nine hundred OTHER Anglican bishops could possible sing with the other choir, no, not a single one.

He is also the ONLY bishop to be excluded from the Beardy-Weirdy of Canterbury's big religious meeting.

IRONIC then, that he came along uninvited to speak anyway… only for a mental-fundieist to come along to HIS religious meeting uninvited and try to speak anyway?

Here's the DIFFERENCE, though.

After the hard-liners heard that Bishop Roddenberry wasn't even invited to Lambeth… they refused to come anyway because the Archpillock hadn't excommunicated and/or burned him.

After the young protester had been persuaded to leave, his heckles drowned out by the congregation SINGING, Bishop Roddenberry, moved to tears by the support of his flock, asked them to pray for him.

Of course, you know what THEY are thinking: crying in church… how GAY is that.


Earlier in the day, Bishop Roddenberry had been on Mr Andy Marrmite's sofa with Dame Ian McKellen.


Asked about the way the Church was getting its knickers in a twist, the bishop admitted that he thought it was probably a MISTAKE for them to talk about gay ISSUES and deliberately exclude the one openly gay VOICE.

He also told the story of how he'd met with a group of young people troubled by sexuality, and how although only one of them was a person of faith, every single one of them knew about that bit in LEVITICUS – you know, where the Bible compares gay daddies to a prawn cocktail. Or something. Seriously, though, how is Bishop Roddenberry supposed to tell them that Mr God is the "god of love" when they all "know" that "He" is going round saying people are abominations?

"Religious people, Muslim, Jews, Christians, we are responsible for that," confessed the Bishop, "And it's going to take religious voices to undo the hatred that comes from those words."
And it was interesting to hear the way HE wanted the Church to bring people of diverse backgrounds TOGETHER, whether they are different genders or colours or sexualities, compared with the way the other side want to use it to keep people APART.

But it took Dame Ian to diagnose the problem:

"Just looking at it from the outside, the church thinks it's got a particular problem with some articles, perhaps not of faith but of, written in the Bible that they refer to. And I can remember the armed forces not that long ago saying they had a particular problem - it was all to do with discipline. Well it's just been discovered there is no discipline problems when you let gay people into the military. And schools too. Well we've got a particular problem.

"The particular problem they've all got and share is HOMOPHOBIA.
"
And he quoted Mr Thomas Jefferson who said "One might as well require a man to wear still this jacket which fitted him when a boy as for civilised society to suffer under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors".

"And you know," said Dame Ian, "we DO have barbarous ancestors, in politics, in religion, in the military, in every part of our lives."

Never mind Bishop Roddenberry, I think GANDALF should be head of the Church of England. He even has his own BEARD. (NB: NOT a Mrs Gandalf!)

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Day 2749: Halting Price and Howdoo

Friday:


Well Done to Mr Davis David for winning his seat back with only five-hundred-and-sixty-three votes FEWER than the Liberal Democrats got at the last proper election.

In fact, the total turnout was only about a thousand higher than Mr Davis David's own vote last time. So it's POSSIBLE – in spite of (or because of) the long string of LOONIES and less serious candidates – that Conservatories were the ONLY people out voting.

It is a bit SAD, though, that Mr David's magnificent gesture has become rather muted thanks to the Labour giving him quite another sort of Great British Gesture.

"Vanity" says Mr Tony McNutty, the Labour Minister for Bravely Mouthing Off From the Sidelines rather than Facing the Test of Public Opinion.


The FT claims that Liberal Democrats, by not standing, allowed the Labour to duck out too.

But this is obviously to overlook the fact that there probably wouldn't have BEEN a by-election if we'd said that we would stand.

The Greens, with only just over a TENTH of Mr David's total, did not make much of a fight of it. And anyway they were standing on a platform of "he's not Liberal ENOUGH!"

The announcement of the result has not made much of a SPLASH. Not least because, without the Liberal Democrats standing this is a very safe Conservatory seat. "Mr Davis David elected" therefore isn't even in the "dog bites man" league of newsworthyness. And besides, the Labour have very successfully moved the news agenda on from "42 Days" to a whole NEW raft of policy disasters and backbench rebellions. Er…

So while it is quite TRUE that Mr David has a big new mandate to campaign for civil liberties, will he be in any position to capitalise on it?

Mr Balloon has described Mr David as "a strong figure" (the bas…bad-word) who may "contribute in the future" (to the foundations of a motorway overpass).

So clearly, Mr B has plans for Mr David to be side-lined up for head of one of those "commissions" that go away to think about policy and don't come back are given SERIOUS consideration when they have proposals to ignore consider. This will leave Mr Balloon free to indulge in some BACK-SLIDING on this issue (or more accurately a return to form for the Thatcherite Poster Boy) in line with his new policy of TACKING to the RIGHT.

As Mr Clogg puts it:
"The Conservatories are a long way from being defenders of liberty."

Day 2748: Religious Right trumps Gay Rights

Thursday:


Or do they?

The news that the Registrar who won't marry gay daddies because of her religion, Ms Lillian Ladle, has won her case should be treated with a little bit of caution.

She CLAIMS that this is a "victory for religious liberty". But is it?

It is important to recognise that Ms Ladle's complaint was that she had been BULLIED about her refusal to comply with the terms of her job (namely, provide marriage for anyone who asks).

Would things have turned out the same way if the council had merely politely required her to do her job?

(It should be said that the Council denied abusing Ms Ladle, indeed said that some of her gay co-workers felt abused by HER, but that was not the finding of the Tribunal.)

We should also notice that her job has recently CHANGED, from being effectively freelance – where she could do swapsies to avoid doing her job if it involved the no-doubt onerous task of pronouncing two gay daddies husband and husband – to working directly for the council where she was forced to make a direct refusal. So it's not completely fair to say that she should just lump it, when she previously had a legitimate loophole that didn't DENY anyone a marriage while allowing her to get on with finding it ICKY.

We might want to remember, though, that people CHOOSING the registry office for their marriage have DECIDED that they do not want religion sticking its oar into their big day. Is this in fact the sort of job that a person with "religious objections" is really cut out for?

"Gay rights should not be used as an excuse to bully and harass people over their religious beliefs," she says, and this is TRUE.

But equally, religious freedoms should not be used as an excuse to deny people equal treatment just because you have a personal prejudice.

And we can't get around the fact that refusing to treat gay daddies equally for no other reason than BECAUSE they are gay daddies IS a prejudice. Ms Ladle might not like being TOLD that she is homophobic, but unfortunately that is exactly what she IS.

Day 2747: Ms Harpy – the economy will be fine so long as the Opposition don't keep talking it down

Wednesday:


The BBC news may be focussing on Ms Harriet Harpy's assertion that Mr Frown has "true grit*" or that she has Bats in her Belfry, or at least Daddies for Justice on her roof

(You know, it USED to be the case that the Prime Monster said he had full confidence in his ministers just before he sacked them for incompetence; now here is Mr Harpy saying she has full confidence in HIM…)

…but what you may have missed was her reply to our own Dr Vince "the Power" Cable, asking her about the crisis in house-building.

Here is the record in Hansard.
"Can the Government not get their priorities right?" asked Dr Vince. "Instead of the Prime Minister lecturing us on what we should eat for dinner, and competing with the leader of the Conservative party to be the country’s weight watcher-in-chief, should he not acknowledge that we have a deep crisis in the British housing market—probably the worst in our lifetime—which is leading into a serious recession? It is time that the Government accepted responsibility for dealing with it."
Ms Harpy replied:
"…I do not agree that it is like it was in the 1990s. The hon. Gentleman should acknowledge that it is important that we keep employment rates high and that we keep interest rates low. Those who are working hard in the construction industry, and in small and big businesses across the country, do not want the official Opposition, or any Opposition Members, to be talking the economy down at this point. Confidence is important."
As my Daddy Alex asked: just how fine IS an economy that might topple over if Dr Vince breathes on it?


*other Westerns that Mr Frown may consider include…

"The Magnificent Seven… percent inflation"

"A Fistful of Dollars… is all that's left in the Treasury"

and

"The Searchers… for a new Leader of the Labour"

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Day 2746: Mr Frown – adding fule to the fire?

Tuesday


The Conservatories are making a fuss about whether Mr Frown "misled" the House of Commons by claiming to be a competent Chancellor, er no, claiming that a "majority" would be better off under changes to car tax.

I don't think this was a deliberate FIB; he merely FORGOT that his briefing notes said "better… or no worse… off".

Similarly, I think that he was not trying to claim that he was like Ms Bronte's brooding anti-hero when he said he was like Heathcliff. I think he just got the WRONG CARTOON CAT since it's obvious that he is GARFIELD!

Just think about it: brooding sarcastic presence who demands loyalty from those whose lives he makes a misery, and insists on eating up all the food. Next time you see his googly-eyed idiot sidekick Sooty Odie standing up to make a Treasury apology statement just see if you can't imagine Mr Frown pushing him face first into a pie!


The Labour can't seem to get their head around the idea that you should give people some INCENTIVE to make a difficult change. Typically they prefer to ban things and punish people.

Here, the idea is to encourage you to buy a new and LESS-POLLUTING car. But cars are VERY expensive; it's not a casual decision to go out and buy one.

Because it is SUCH a big purchase, the decision to get a new car is NOT very influenced by outside factors. In other words, a bit more extra pain in tax – even quite a LOT more pain in fact – won't influence people to get a new car.

So it isn't a very good idea to PUNISH people with higher taxes just because they don't want to spend LOTS of money on a new car. Especially since you've just wrecked the economy.

Plus, if you take more of people's money in tax, they'll have LESS for going out and buying that new car you want them to!

You would stand a BETTER chance of success by giving people EXTRA HELP for trading in an older car for a cleaner, greener one.



The real problem for the Government is its lack of FLEXIBILITY in responding to changes in the world outside of the Treasury. As is typical for a work by Mr Frown, they've come up with a rather-too-complicated method of inflicting penalties and rewards and it's blown up in their faces because now is not a good time to be putting up ANY taxes.

What they need to say is something like: "well, it takes a lot of planning for us to work out the budget and while we were working on it obviously we were mostly concerned about global warming, but since then the wheels have come off the economy. Sorry."

Obviously there are several reasons why they CAN'T do that – though sadly I suspect that saving face is more important to them than pointing out that global warming hasn't gone away just because everyone is going to be unemployed, homeless and poor now.

Plus there's the whole business of Mr Frown claiming to be MASTER of the ECONOMY for ten years. So it's red faces all round to admit that it's gone base over apex.


All of which leaves the Conservatories with their favourite target: the open goal.

Of course, this ties in to Mr Gideon Oboe's latest populist tax wheeze too, where he claims that he'll lower fuel taxes whenever fuel prices go up.

Unlike the OTHER of Mr Oboe's new wheezes: paying people for recycling (which I COULD approve of, even though it is a BIT naughty of him to say people hate that their Council is going to fortnightly bin collections when there are lots of CONSERVATORY Councils that are doing this!), I am not so sure that this is a good idea.

I mean superficially it is appealing: to keep fuel prices stable in a time of economic uncertainty makes a certain amount of sense. And it never looks good for the taxman to look like he's PROFITEERING, raking in lots of extra taxes just because fuel prices have risen.

But on the other fluffy foot, where is Mr Oboe going to get the money from? He's essentially suggesting an unfunded cut in revenue (and it's a tax cut that no one will NOTICE as their petrol doesn't get cheaper). You might be able to afford it for a penny or two, but remember oil prices have DOUBLED in a year.

And aren't we forgetting that there really IS a real cost to keeping on using petrol, and shouldn't we be encouraging people to switch to alternatives instead? Ideally before petrol actually runs out altogether.

Day 2745: Food Glorious Food

Monday:


Our Prime Monster, First Lord of the Treasury and King of IRONY has warned us not to waste food… before nipping in for a quick eight course dinner. Mmmm, tasty, but maybe not Tasteful.

But ALAS: we have a left-over slice of PIZZA. Clearly, Mr Frown's needs are greater than mine so… how many stamps to post this to Downing Street?


Less appetising than Mr Frown?
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Day 2744: Sarky v Mandy

Sunday:


There appears to have been "un peut d'un spat", as they would say En Français, between President Sarcastic of France and Mr Mandy "Mandy" Mandelbrot, one time Prince of Darkness and now Trade Commissioner of the European Union.

First, Monsieur Sarcastic appeared to blame Mandy for the Irish "No" to the Lisbon treaty.

Then Mr Mandy slapped down Monsieur Sarcastic for being a PROTECTIONIST.

This actually goes a bit deeper than the French being peeved about their Presidency of the Union being Royally Republicly shafted by the Irish. It goes to how we respond to the darkening economic clouds.

Monsieur Sarcastic and the French are merely at the forefront of people who say it is time to look out for our own interests and hike tariffs on imports to make sure that European – by which they mean FRENCH – Farmers can continue to prosper.

And this is just as worrying as the rumblings coming from the campaign trail in Americaland – fortunately not so loudly as in the early part of the year – about protecting American farmers and industry too.

This is a very BAD idea.

Everyone should remember that the Great Depression of the 1930s was caused not by the Daleks in Manhattan but by everyone reacting to the Wall Street Crash by slamming up trade barriers. And world trade grinding to a halt caused a LOT more damage to jobs in all the countries that put up trade barriers than ever the crash did. Because once you put up trade barriers, then everyone else reacts by putting up barriers to you too. So you can't sell your exports meaning that they are wasted and other people can't buy them so they have to go without. It makes a bad situation worse.

To his credit, Mr Mandy is resisting the pressure from the French Presidency.

"No one's going to bully me!" he says.

Liberals have ALWAYS supported moves for freer trade. Trade spreads economic well-being as well as binding the world closer together in ties of friendship and co-operation. You only have to LOOK at the European Union to see how SUCCESSFUL this policy is – not only have we not had a WAR in absolutely ages, but all the countries of Europe are getting better off.

Look at China too, where freer trade with the West has led to growth in prosperity. Ironically, this has fed into our current problem because now more people in China can afford to eat MEAT, which means there is a need for more grain to feed COWS and SHEEPS and CHICKENS, which all compounds the shortages due to drought and biofuels.

But equally these shortages are driving UP food prices, so farmers should be BETTER OFF even without protectionism.

Higher food prices also make economically viable more projects to recover agricultural land from desertification and encroaching seas. AND it increases the pressure to end the destructive civil wars in Africa that are stopping farmers from farming. But only so long as it is possible for those farmers to get their products to a market to sell them. Hence we need more free trade, not less.

It is all too easy to play to the HOME CROWD, promising to keep people's jobs safe. What is HARDER is actually to explain to them that the only REAL way to keep jobs safe is to be more open to trading fairly and freely with the rest of the world.

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Monday, July 07, 2008

Day 2743: DOCTOR WHO: I Can, I Caan’t

Saturday:


What a BRILLIANT episode of Doctor Who!

Dr David regenerating into Dr Ewan;

Donna using the magic Christmas energy to make a new Dr David;

Davros's reality bomb CREATING the rift in the Medusa Cascade;

The "Most Faithful Companion" being the TARDIS, sacrificing herself to seal the Daleks into the rift!

Davros escaping in his black saucer;

Rose going to the other universe with Dr Ewan, leaving Dr David alone AGAIN!

And that surprise ending where he fell through time to a Victorian Christmas...

Still, that is what happened in PARALLEL EARTH - how was YOUR Doctor Who?


Ooh, Mr the Supreme Dalek; it's all gone a bit... floppy
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As dear friend Nick points out: beginnings are much easier than endings. The weight of expectation was certainly too much for the series finale to bear; the thought that they might have pulled off the biggest surprise coup in television history, to regenerate David Tennant without news leaking… even so, can anyone watching really, really have wanted the resolution to be “phew, that was close”?

Nor did they even have to. With a second David Tennant growing out of that old lopped off hand, where’s the downside in having the “first” him turn into someone else?

This means that, from the perspective of someone who was completely awestruck by the cliffhanger at the end of “The Stolen Earth”, “Journey’s End” is saddled with an opening that is the biggest let down since, oooh, “The Age of Steel” began with the Doctor just arbitrarily deciding that all those menacing Cybermen should be dead. That’s the sort of deflation that is difficult to get over.


So let’s remember that there were a lot of things here that were good.

Davros’ plan actually makes sense. The Daleks think that they are the only creatures in all creation deserving of existence, so it makes sense to wipe out everything else. Admittedly disintegrating all the stars and planets that you may at some future point want to occupy with your Dalek progeny seems a little wasteful.

Davros recognising Sarah (and vice versa) was a superb moment, so well played by both of them, and such a weight of Doctor Who history conveyed so simply.

And it was a great idea that Davros had – once again – found himself as no better than a slave of the Daleks that he himself had created. It led to the – sadly unfulfilled – expectation that he was actually manipulating the Doctor into rescuing him. That honour, as it turned out, went to Dalek Caan, so not a completely wasted idea.

(Mind you, on the subject of Dalek Caan: crashing through the barriers of time sends you mad and gives you the power of prophecy I think we can buy; crashing into the Time War gives you magic powers to manipulate destiny… er, we’ll let you know. Or is this another “he gazed into the heart of the time vortex” thing? Isn’t that supposed to make your head blow up? Maybe that’s why he’s all exploded.)

German Daleks: brilliant. No, never mind German Daleks, the little old German lady with her quote from “The Dalek Invasion of Earth”.

The charming, perfect throwaway reference to using the Dalek’s Magnetron – one for the fans, that, being a reference to the “Trial of a Time Lord” when the Time Lords used a Magnetron to move the Earth.

Having the companions pull various deus-ex-machina solutions out of their backsides only to have the Daleks go: “nahh, we’ll just gotcha you” was an amusing reversal of expectations.

Captain Jack, incidentally, appears to have an immortal coat since it survives incineration along with him. Mind you, if you were Captain Jack you’d probably need one to avoid ending up naked a lot of the time. Mind you, if you were Captain Jack you’d want to end up naked a lot of the time. Ladies, your viewing figures just went up.

Bernard Cribbins, Great Uncle Bulgaria himself, was completely brilliant. Learning from last week’s commentary that not only the line “do you want to swap” but the whole scene with the Dalek and the paint gun was his idea left us just in awe of him. And here, his farewell salutation to the Doctor, his promise to keep watch on Donna’s behalf, was one of the most moving things we’ve seen.

Having the TARDIS tow the Earth back though space was just the most magnificently loopy thing; and seeing the TARDIS properly crewed, all the companions united around that console, was a completely vindicated tribute to four years of Russell Davies’ vision and stewardship of this show.

And it may have been a huge cop-out but wasn’t it just such a David Tennant moment: “I’m not changing. Why would I want to?” I think that’s that question answered then.

…Even so, what we get is “Parting of the Ways” redux. Dalek Empire built from carefully nurtured single cells, check. Invasion of Earth, check. Doctor builds super-weapon but fails to use it, check. Companion gets upgraded by Time Lord technology/biology and saves the day for him, check. Companion then has to have it sucked out by the Doctor so her head doesn’t explode, check. Dalek mothership explodes with a fiery vengeance, all Daleks killed off yet again, Emperor/Davros fails to get on-screen death (like that means it doesn’t count), check.

What we don’t get, it would appear, is the great big mind-wipe for the population of Earth. Ironically, it would seem that the one thing Russell has left us with is an Earth that irrefutably knows that there are aliens and has experienced being dragged across space. At the very least, someone is going to have to rebuild New York.

In fact – and it’s almost an exact inverse of “Last of the Time Lords” – while the whole of the rest of the World remembers, it’s the companion at the centre of the story who forgets.

Donna’s fate is deeply cruel. It’s worse even that the end of “The War Games”; at least the Time Lords left Jamie and Zoë with one adventure with the Doctor. To take away all of her potential, her spirit, her evolution like that… it feels wrong. And if you’re borrowing plot twists from “Bugs” – mention Cyberax to Ros and her head blows up, too – then you know something’s gone wrong somewhere.

She begs him not to. She says “No, please, no.” And she, by definition, knows what’s she’s saying.

So we know the Doctor’s attitude to suicide, euthanasia, turning off the life-support… She begs him to let her die rather than go into a vegetative state. And he takes the decision and enforces it on her – on another Time Lord, in effect.

I liked Donna. Yes, Catherine Tate could pull some goddawful faces at times – particularly that “ohmygod” one. But she could also be vulnerable and kind. I even liked her David Tennant impression (and very much his Catherine Tate impression – finally using that “duckling imprinting” idea that was to explain his Rose-inspired Mockerney accent). Admittedly, reducing the climatic defeat of the Daleks to high-speed technobabble and dancing remote controlled Daleks was probably a little silly, but the beautiful warmth of the TARDIS scene with Doctor, Doctor and Doctor-Donna watching over their family as they fly the Earth home surely overcame that.

It would almost have been better if she’d died for real. But even better if Donnahad regenerated. Yes, Catherine Tate is leaving, she was only here for a season, but why not have her character become someone new? In fact, why not go all the way and really blow the fanboys’ minds (never mind stuffing up Mr Moffat’s future continuity) by having the Doctor actually leave with Rose, and bequeath his TARDIS to the new Doctor/Donna?

Because Rose is treated almost as badly as Donna. Stuck with a literally second-hand Doctor. Here you go, love, have a clone of me, ta-ra! Never mind “you only tell me you love me when you’re drunk”; this is “you only tell me you love me when you’re a half-human hybrid biological meta-crisis in an alternative universe”! I mean, what does a girl have to do?

Seriously, being with Rose is all that the Doctor wants in the universes. At the end of “Doomsday” he can’t get to her without smashing the Universe. That is his only reason for letting her go. But this time he’s right there on the beach with her and instead he gives her the genocide-twin to look after? This doesn’t make any sense at all. Worse, it doesn’t make emotional sense.

Rose wants to stay with the “real” Doctor but will apparently settle for one who’ll snog her. The Doctor wants to stay with Rose but, er, apparently doesn’t. You can say it’s for the greater good but… where’s the greater good here? In fact, why strand the poor girl in the parallel universe again? (Presumably it’s because Jackie wants to return to Parallel-Pete and his pots of money. Not that the money matters… how rich?)

What we needed was a reason for Rose to prefer the Doctor that she gets to stay with. Preferably before she’s obviously committed to the one who’s leaving. Again, this is where regenerating him properly could have been a big plus. Either she stays with clone David because “you’re not my Doctor”. Or she stays with “real” number eleven because “you’re not the real Doctor” (cue Tennant trademark “vulnerable” acting.)

For goodness’ sake, even with two Tennants, you could still have her stay with the “right” one rather than the spare – just don’t have him commit genocide, or even just don’t let the “real” Doctor see that his clone has genocided the Daleks. Then you’ve got a really morally-compromised Doctor to play with for the next year.

Instead, we end up with our too too perfect hero essentially dumping his girlfriend and dropping a genocidal maniac in her lap. At least said maniac appears to be a decent squeeze.

And we’ve only got here because, Russell, you chose to put him there.

Likewise, it’s no good giving Davros all the good lines. Or even the stupidly mediocre lines and just having the Doctor look a bit shamefaced. Eric Saward went there, and frankly mined that barren furrow dry. “I name you Destroyer of Worlds” – oh for goodness’ sake, Davros, what were you just trying to do? It wasn’t some light housework was it? And this whole business of “you take people and teach them to die for you”. The Doctor teaches people to live not to die. There is a world of difference between being willing to live and fight and even sacrifice and die and just sitting in your dungeon-cum-Death Star pressing the big doomsday button. And besides, Dave “my children are the best killers ever” Ross is in no position to talk. The Master might have been able to get away with a line like that, but not Davros. His entire life is about turning people into monsters; what the Doctor may inspire his companions to become isn’t even in the same league!



We had thought that “Journey’s End” and “most faithful companion” meant that, as Millennium says above, it was going to be the TARDIS that died. A complete shock and a total rebooting of the series. What I wanted to see, especially with it apparently set up with that line about him having been at the Medusa Cascade before, was a young Doctor arriving in his TARDIS – with the classic white console room! – to seal the rift that Davros’ reality bomb creates. The Master said that he sealed it single-handed but of course he would have had the help of one or, lord help us, two of his future selves. Hence “three-fold man” (and none of this Doctor-Donna business). With the tenth/eleventh Doctor’s TARDIS sealing the rift, all the first has to do is take everyone home to Earth.

(And have I mentioned my idea that – sphinx-like – the Doctor uses his own name as the key to lock the rift closed: if he tells anyone, then they might be able to release the Daleks and their reality bomb and hence destroy the Universe.

The Doctor, Tennant or regenerated form, thinks that he’s going to have to spend the rest of his life on Earth, though at least he’ll be with Rose. And then, again as above, he’s jarringly removed through time.

Alternatively, Donna – as the last source of magic Christmas Huon particles in the Universe – can allow him to grow a new TARDIS. Possibly at the risk of legal action from Lawrence Miles.

After such a brilliant build-up, disappointment was perhaps inevitable. But it’s hard not to think that if I can knock up a half-way acceptable conclusion to that cliffhanger in half-an-hour, then Russell might not have been better off passing the finish over to some other professional along with a stack of notes. He could even have told Confidential the truth when he claimed to have no idea how it would finish.

This isn’t really the end of the Russell Davies era, although it surely feels like it. We have the Christmas Special with Cybermen. That may or may not be called “Return of the Cybermen”; boo for not treating us to the title as has been traditional. We have the 2009 specials. On the plus side, that probably means no story arc to trouble the scorers; on the down side it probably means each one will be designed as “event television” rather than part of an ongoing series – Doctor Who works as a series, not as a movie, because it’s always about the Doctor moving on to somewhere new. The sense of “where are we this week” is important to what makes it work.

Nevertheless, there is hope for a positive change of direction. Russell’s formula – past, present future, two-parter on Earth, couple of fillers, deeper two-parter, big finish – has been great, but it’s beginning to look like a formula now, and that’s only a step away from formulaic. It’s time to mix things up a little.

Next time… our traditional review of the year.


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