...a blog by Richard Flowers

Friday, November 30, 2007

Day 2524: Could Gordon Go?


Cash Under the Counter continues to spiral OUT OF CONTROL today, with Ms Harriet Harpy pointing the finger at Mr Frown, and Mr Huhney-Monster dialling 999!

Mr Frown has called up the old hatchet man Mr Jack Man O'Straw to issue another round of denials.

"Mr Frown has no idea what's going on," said Mr Man O'Straw, not completely reassuringly.

The police are going to investigate and no doubt they will work DILIGENTLY until the find the proof that Mr Frown is COMPLETELY INNOCENT.

But there is actually a BIGGER question. Can Mr Frown SURVIVE as Prime Monster?

Further TRIVIAL IRREGULARITIES have hit the headlines: sepia stained stool-pigeon Mr Peter Vain "accidentally" overlooked the need to declare a five-thousand pound receipt that just HAPPENED to come from the man at the centre of the affair, Mr Jon Meddlesome; a Labour MSP has resigned because he obtained an illegal donation to Ms Wendy Alexander's leadership campaign of £950.

In the NORMAL course of events, these would be silly mistakes that would be forgotten with yesterdays CHIP PAPER. But added together, they begin to look like a PATTERN – nothing deliberate, but certainly ENDEMIC: the Labour don't think the RULES apply to THEM.

According to Mr Man O'Straw, Mr Frown would DEFINITELY have put a stop to THIS SORT OF THING if he'd had a SNIFF of it – which reminds me ALL TO DISTURBINGLY of a dodgy reverend in Boston Legal (series two, episode four: "A Whiff and a Prayer").

Of course, you MIGHT remember that Mr Frown's leadership campaign – the one where he successfully campaigned to defeat, er, no one – TURNED DOWN the offer of a five grand slice from one of Mr Abrahams front ladies. Why do that if there was no WHIFF of what was up?

Well, obviously, there IS a perfectly natural explanation. It's just that – understandably – that ISN'T the one that the Prime Monster's campaign co-ordinator can use.

It all begins to add up: coming on top of the Northern Rock disaster and the calamitous incompetence at Mrs the Queen's Customs and Revenue – and indeed after weathering all the crises of the summer, one after the other – it begins to look like Mr Frown is a bit of a DISASTER MAGNET.

It has its impact on the opinion polls too, with the Conservatories racking up their biggest lead since Queen Maggie was on the throne!

(Though before the Conservatories get TOO arrogant, it's not like THEY'VE done anything – and if you judge by the BBC's Questionable Time audience response (which IS questionable, obviously) then there is no great love for the "Two Tory Toffs". Mr Balloon's failings and follies of the summer haven't gone away, they just aren't as newsworthy as the ongoing DOG'S BREAKFAST that Mr Frown is serving daily form the Downing Street bunker's canteen. The Conservatories, now, are just the LESSER of two RUBBISHES.)

Everyone remembers what Mr Frown's REAL plan was: get rid of Lord Blairimort, nice little 2p tax cut, snap election in Spring '08, home and dry for five years and then retire to grow English roses. Unfortunately, things got a LITTLE ahead of themselves – people talked up an EVEN EARLIER election this Autumn, Mr Frown got Frit and… let's call the whole thing off.

Since then, the media have PUNISHED him incessantly for what was – basically – THEIR mistake. THEY got their knickers in a twist with excitement and then he let them down. And they are NOT going to forgive him. This is NOT, as the Labour keep trying to sell it, a passing fancy. The media have made their choice: Mr Frown is a FLOP. They will hound him for the rest of his term, just as they did when Mr Major Minor flopped out of the Exchange Rate Mechanism.

(And just as it was Mr Frown who saved the Conservatories, so it is Mr Balloon alone now who could save Mr Frown from our BI-POLAR MEDIA if HE managed to p…disappoint them off more.)

But, despite being DREADFUL, the Labour these days are not STUPID. Blind to their own faults, yes, insanely convinced of their own self-righteousness, true, but not actually DUMB. NuLabour is a MACHINE for getting ROBOTS elected, and it isn't programmed for failure. So how long is it going to be before the GREY ROBOTS come for Mr Frown with the equivalent of the old Conservatory PEARL HANDLED REVOLVER – some sort of REBOOT disk, probably?

Who, if anyone, could replace him? Queen Maggie wrecked the Conservatories by eliminating all competition and leaving them with a generation of PYGMIES. Between them, Lord Blairimort and Mr Frown have almost done the same to the Labour. Almost, but not quite, because in amongst all the grey technocrats there is a BIT of a new crop of potential leaders in waiting.

So, has the HOUR of the MILLIPEDE come upon us? Well, obviously not YET. Our esteemed Secretary of State for Looking Uncomfortable When Innocent Teachers Are Banged Up For NO GOOD REASON is barely out of SHORT TROUSERS and still cannot grow a proper BEARD.

And of course, Mr Millipede may be thinking: "I'll just let YOU lose the next election, Gordo."

Nevertheless, the Blairimort faction of the Labour grows RESTIVE. If they thought it would pull their collective Secretary of State for Education out of the fire, they would dump Mr Frown in an INSTANT. It is probably Mr Frown's one stroke of luck that Lord B couldn't be bothered to stick around in the Commons, or there would already be a campaign to have him – oh, reluctantly – take back the PANTS of POWER.

Both the Conservatories AND the Liberal Democrats have been seen to replace their leader after only two years. Of course, Sir Mr the Merciless took the honourable path and went BEFORE he damaged the party – Mr Iain Drunken-Swerve clung on by his finger nails and had to be dragged out screaming (very quietly).

Which option will Mr Frown choose? Dignity and quiet humility or an embarrassing coup? Or the Mr Major Minor SUICIDE FLOP?

Thursday, November 29, 2007



After all the FUSS caused by the Bernie Ecclestone BUNG, Mr Mandy Mandleson's MORTGAGE, the Hinduja Brother's Passports and of course Lord Blairimort's CASH FOR CORONETS you would have thought that the Labour would have put its financial house in order.

Not so, as it turns out.

Hold onto your hats because the latest goings on are going to get a bit twisty-turny, and developments are still developing! And the money involved, like some kind of out of control roll-over lottery keeps going up and up: first it was £400,000, then £500,000, then £600,000. Latest: a devilish £666,000.

It all starts with a newspaper investigation of some of the biggest donors to Mr Frown's Labour Party: Mr Ray Ruddock, an itinerant builder, and Ms Janet Kidd, a secretary. They deny everything…

…then they change their story. Ms Kidd works for a North-Eastern Business Man with a, well if not "shady" reputation, at least a reputation that is, shall we say, not without shade, Mr David Abrahams. Mr Ruddock occasionally does some building work for him. Yes, they admit that he gave them the money in order that they might pay it to the Labour for him and thus keep his name off of the list of donors that goes to the Electoral Register. Mr Abrahams denies everything…

…then he changes his story and admits that he is the mystery donor. But this is against the law; the Labour has broken electoral law by hiding the true identity of their donor. The General Secretary of the Labour, Mr Peter Watt QUITS.

Mr Watt clearly has not been replaced by an energy saving light bulb and looks rather DIM. Perhaps he saved energy by not switching on his computer! Otherwise he might have read the e-mails from the Electoral Commission explaining the law WHICH HE WAS IN CHARGE OF MAKING SURE THE LABOUR FOLLOWED. He says that he and he alone knew about the SPECIAL donation. Everyone else denies everything…

…then they change their story. It turns out that some other people in the Labour DID know what was going on. More fake donors emerge. The amount of money gets larger. Mr Abrahams – clearly not satisfied with dropping one Labour supremo in it, goes for another one and reveals a LETTER from Mr Frown's new chief fundraiser, Mr Mendelsohn that shows that HE knew about the scam. Mr Mendelsohn denies…

…well, actually he admits knowing it but claims he was trying to fix the problem on the quiet before anyone found out. Although THAT may not stack up as he appears to have sent the letter in question AFTER the newspaper investigation began.

Meanwhile, the scandal reaches CABINET LEVEL when it is revealed that Minister for LANDFILL, Mr Benny Hill, was offered a donation to his deputy leadership fund on the same would-you-take-some-dirty-money-from-me-via-my-unknowing-chums basis. Tipped off by Lady Jay, he turns it down. Not so cautious is the victorious but unwise Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, Ms Harriet Harpic, who pockets five grand from Ms Kidd. Ms Harpic defends her actions as "in good faith".

…but she still admits she's going to have to give the cash back.

Mr Frown faces the press and is repeatedly asked to give her his full support. The Prime Monster denies everything…

It is no wonder that Mr Frown was under fire in today's Prime Monster's Questionable Time: the fire was coming from HIS PANTS!

The Prime Monster – only last summer the MASTER of all CRISES – seems to have totally lost control.

As Mr Power Cable puts it:

"Mr Frown has gone from SECRET STALIN to BLATANT Mr BEAN in a matter of weeks!"

Not only does the left hand not know what the right hand is doing, it clearly doesn't realise that it DOES know what the right hand is doing and tipped the right hand off that the coppers were on to it, only to conveniently FORGET everything and look I plead the FIFTH!

Mr Frown has set up an inquiry, headed up by Lord McCluskey, a retired judge and close personal friend of, er, the late Labour leader Mr John Smith. Still at least he's got the former Bishop of Oxford on board to keep him honest.

There are several questions that they could do with answering:

  • Who knew what and when?
  • Why didn't any of the people who DID know DO anything about it?
  • How come none of the people who work for the Prime Monster thought it was worth TELLING the Prime Monster what was going on?
  • And, most importantly, are we ABSOLUTELY SURE that this is the ONLY time that this has happened?

The man at the CENTRE of this affair, Mr Abrahams, complains that these events have CRIMINALISED HIM – well duh! That is because you are a CRIMINAL!

You broke the law about disclosing his identity… mainly on the grounds that you really didn't feel like disclosing your identity.

It is quite simple: the law says that you have to declare the ORIGINAL source of the money, not just the last person to handle the lolly. Let us think about WHY. The POINT of declaring who the donors to a Political Party ARE is so that the public can easily SEE if the Party is trading favours for funds.

It is in people's INTEREST to know if, just for example, a person made a LARGE donation and then had, say, a controversial PLANNING APPLICATION to which the objections were suddenly dropped; or if they got selected for a SEAT in PARLIAMENT – or the House of Lords Club, remember that!

People OUGHT to be able to trust that decisions are made for the RIGHT REASONS and NOT because their supposed representatives have received a FIGURATIVE "brown envelope". They OUGHT to be able to, but SADLY years of GOINGS ON from the Poulson Buildings Scandal to Cash for Questions have tarnished that trust.

Because of this, the Labour – quite rightly – brought in more rules for political parties about the money that they receive. Unfortunately they KEEP on reminding people of this as though it is some sort of EXCUSE for immediately going out and finding a whole load of ways AROUND their own rules!

Just because they SAID it was wrong does not make it impossible for them to DO IT ANYWAY.

I mean, I think that stealing STICKY BUNS is BAD – but that is NOT proof that I wouldn't yum them up if I got my fluffy feet on them!

All political parties – including the Liberal Democrats… even the Conservatories – struggle with this. They are all always in need of more funds, and short of staff and under pressure the requirements of open democracy make if difficult to get it right every single time. People do the best they can, yet still mistakes can be made. But some people seem to go OUT OF THEIR WAY to make "mistakes".

Loans instead of donations; hiding donors behind stolen identities. It is possible that the Labour's motives really ARE pure… but you have to wonder why they KEEP ON looking for underhand, under-the-counter ways of receiving the cash.

Democratic accountability RELIES on the people being able to SEE what goes on so that they can make FULLY INFORMED decisions. It isn't good enough just to CLAIM that you are whiter than white – people also have to be able to do the doorstep challenge on you!

(Though, when the POLICE do the doorstep challenge on THEM the Labour complain that it is unfair victimisation!)

From everything that has happened, it seems that the Labour quite simply DO NOT UNDERSTAND this simple truth.

Which ought to be FUNNY coming from the "if you've nothing to hide you have nothing to fear" people!

Even after I took them along to the London Hustings, my Daddies STILL cannot choose between the excellent Mr Clogg and the excellent Mr Huhney-Monster.

Making speeches
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Clearly the PROBLEM with the Liberal Democrat Leadership contest is that there has been a TRANSPORTER ACCIDENT and Captain Kirk has been split into his AGGRESSIVE KILLER side and his FLUFFY BUNNY side.

An elephant with the answers
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The ANSWER is obviously that we need Mr Scotty to FIX it so that we can RE-COMBINE him.

A vote for the best candidate!
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Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Day 2522: Just Who ARE the Fascists Here?

Tuesday (again):

This one's for Mr Jonny who reports LIVE, and thankfully still ALIVE, from the scene of the Oxford tussle.

Almost all of the people going to the Oxford Union last night were going in order to refute, denounce and generally take a stand against the policies of the British Nasty Party and the stories of Mr Irving that deny the horror of the holocaust.

Almost all of the people shouting and screaming and intimidating outside were trying to stop them from doing that.

So you have to ask: which side were "Unite Against Fascism" actually on?

What is FASCISM, anyway?

That turns out to be a much more VERY difficult question than you would have thought.

Let me ask someone VERY CLEVER: Mr Doctor Umberto Eco, the famous author and thinker. Because he was born in Italy in 1932 he is just old enough to have had a bit of PERSONAL EXPERIENCE of REAL Fascists.

Writing for the New York Review of Books in 1995, Dr Eco presented his SPOTTERS’ GUIDE to Fascist Regimes. (God Save the Queen, etc.)

The thing about Fascism, argues Dr Eco, is not that it is INTELLECTUALLY COHERENT – because it is SERIOUSLY not – but that it is sufficiently FUZZY to cover a number of brands of totalitarianism.

So Dr Eco sets out, in fourteen steps, how Fascism works. You start with NOSTALGIA for a better past and ASSERT that this gives you the ANSWERS to the problems of the present. Rejection of the "modern" means turning your back on REASON and INTELLECTUALISM. You draw a power base from the FRUSTRATED lower middle class by exploiting their FEAR of anything DIFFERENT. To exploit that FEAR you need to pin the blame on an ENEMY.

What you end up with, then, looks like Fascism. In simple terms, it is an authoritarian movement, characterised by (a) making an excessive virtue of traditional national identity and (b) putting the blame for national ills on some token group who are responsible for some "plot" against the nation, see (a). They are often, but not always, based around a charismatic leader figure who uses a mass of organised "foot soldiers" to participate in intimidation tactics – verbal or physical – to silence any alternative views. Typically strength and unity are valued ABOVE individual rights and freedoms.

Being based on UN-reason and ANTI-intellectualism means that most of your ideas don't stand up to INQUIRY. So intolerance of argument comes fitted AS STANDARD. Furthermore, opposing the brain means worshipping the body, and emphasis is placed on the PHYSICAL over the INTELLECTUAL. Hence the use of force to prevent dissent.

It could also be said that ever since World War Part Two, the word "FASCISTS" has been a convenient universal shorthand for "THE BADDIES".

"Unite Against Fascism" – which is, frankly, the same as saying as "Fascists Against Unity" – identify the elements of "extreme nationalism" (i.e. Mr British Nasty Nick Griffin) and "sinister imaginary conspiracy" (i.e. Mr Storyteller Irving). These crucial features certainly could identify Nasty Nick and the Idiot Irving as WANNABE Fascists IF they were the ones with a massed rabble bullying other students and storming the Union building.

BUT under these circumstances, Nasty Nick and the Idiot Irving ALSO serve as the scapegoats, the "enemy" with their "imaginary plot" against all our "traditional national virtues".

The key factor here is: "DISAGREEMENT = TREASON". Anyone, anyone at all, who disagrees with the protesting League Against Fascism is identified as THE ENEMY.

Mr Nietzsche – and THERE was a man who sailed too close to the Fascist wind – Nietzsche said: "If you're going to fight with MONSTERS watch out that you don't BECOME a monster. And when you gaze into an abyss the abyss also gazes into you."

If you are going to use FORCE to stop people disagreeing with you… what have you become?

Having said all that, the downside is that all my definitions also appear to describe Communist Russia… or for that matter, Mr Frown and the Labour.

(You don't believe me? Check out "British Jobs for British Workers" and tell me that's NOT an appeal to the frustrated lower middle class by exploiting their fear of anything different AND making an excessive virtue of traditional national identity all in one!)

In fact, the ONLY thing that REALLY seems to differentiate Fascists from other dictatorships is the use of MILITARY CHIC! Communist dictators might parade the enormous size of their… MISSILES, but it takes yer genuine Fascist to, as Mr Mad Larry might very well put it, FETISHISE that military machismo. Uniforms in grey and tan and khaki just don't cut it; it's not until you pull on the thigh high boots, armbands and black, black leather that you can say you've REALLY made it.

REAL Fascism is a very VISUAL ideology. Sad anoraks like Nasty Nick and Irving sneaking in and out simply do not measure up.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Day 2522: Soft Toy Founds Religion


A Teddy Bear has been named "Muhammad". Apparently this is a CRIME!

The kindly British schoolteacher who introduced the bear to her class has been arrested and charged with insulting Islam by making an image of their Prophet.

This is INSANE. This could ONLY be true if the people who have arrested her are ASSERTING that their Prophet was (and I shudder to even suggest it) a CUDDLY BEAR. Because surely, surely it cannot be enough just to give the NAME Muhammad to a small, cute person… or they would have to arrest almost EVERY Muslim parent on Earth!

This is why religions should not be allowed to have ANYTHING to do with making laws. The very idea that you can base some kind of JUST legal system – never mind a moral framework – on a scheme that lends itself to HYSTERICAL prejudices is totally beyond comprehension.

The situation would be LUDICROUS if it were not also so FRIGHTENING.

Ms Gillian Gibbons, the innocent teacher involved, risks being sentenced to FORTY LASHES. This is BARBARIC and EVIL! It is not like she even NAMED the bear herself – it was the choice of the schoolchildren as their FAVOURITE NAME!

Get that: this is a Teddy Bear who HAPPENS to have the same name as MILLIONS of children across the world. He is NOT supposed to represent ANYONE other than himself.

This arrest is TOTALLY unacceptable. Ms Gibbons has GOT to be RELEASED UNHARMED. And I bet that there are literally millions of Muslims out there who agree with me: this lady has done NOTHING WRONG.

For all the undeniable GOOD that is done in the name of religions up and down the planet, a whole lot of NEEDLESS suffering is done too, because people will insist on treating dogma as more important than real suffering in the here and now.

Also, while I like to think that people out there take me SERIOUSLY, I would be VERY ALARMED to think that you might make a RELIGION out of ME! It would be DREADFUL to think that, in a thousand years, lunatics might wage war in my name against the Cultists of Cuddly Cthulhu!


Soft Toys make GOOD cuddly friends but VERY BAD deities!

If you really DO think that you have to worship me as a GOD, please leave your prayers in the comments section, and I will ignore them just like every other god in the history of the world does.

Day 2521: The Lost Boy


Oh very fluffy dear, we Liberal Democrats seem to have had a bit of a "lost boy" ourselves, with no coverage at all for one of our MEPs for the North West, Mr Sad Kareer, careeming off to join the Conservatories.

I don't think that he will be very happy in a party that goes to such lengths to support one of their councillors' rights to BIG UP a white supremacist. And jumping from the Liberal ALDE group in the European Parliament to the FAR-RIGHT, homophobe-friendly alliance that Mr Balloon proposes will also be a bit of a wrench.

No doubt he is facing this choice BRAVELY because he has had a look at the electoral maths and decided that coming ninth out of nine for the Liberal Democrats when the European Union's musical chairs are reducing the number of seats to eight may mean it is time to change partners before the music stops. He probably thinks that he can do more good for his constituents as an elected Conservatory than an unlucky Liberal Democrat.

Mind you, I am not QUITE sure I see how Mr Kareer squares being a member of the Facebook Group "Am I the only one who hates Mr Balloon" with saying he was convinced by the "vision" of Mr Balloon – or "Chameleon Dave", as Mr Kareer, being a personal friend, is allowed to call him.

I hope that he continues to serve his constituents well, though it will be interesting to see if all of those Conservatories who demanded that Mr Quentin Davis should resign his seat immediately will ALSO call on their new best friend to give up HIS. After all, Mr Davis has a better claim to hold his seat personally as it was his name on the ballot, whereas the people of the North West definitely decided that they wanted two Liberal Democrats. What a shame that they are being denied their democratic choice.

Anyway, while Mr Kareer's career comes to an end, so too does the first season of the Sarah Jane Adventures. On the other fluffy foot, we can be hopeful that Ms Sarah WILL be back next year.

Here is what Daddy Richard thought of the final story…
This would be what Russell T Davies (and the trailer) would call the season finale, and everyone's back for the climax: in the evil corner, the Slitheen – out for revenge for their defeat in, er, "Revenge of the Slitheen" – and in the good corner, hooray, it's the Dog!

Continuity is therefore understandably quite heavy in this story.

For the second time in two stories, someone is planning to smash the Earth into rubble with a cosmic collision. This week, it's Sarah's previously benevolent alien computer "Mr Smith" – in fact composed of a bit of Xyloc crystal welded to a heap of Microsoft and a Dalek cannon – who has decided go in for a spot of planet cracking, to allow the rest of his crystal race to break out. This has been – as he tells us at every opportunity – his "purpose" all along.

His plan is to double-cross the Slitheen, having them bring an alien telekinetic device to Earth, and make use of Luke's Bane-designed mental powers to drag the Moon out of orbit and sledgehammer open the planet.

Since we are getting continuity heavy, you do have to wonder why he didn't just let the asteroid from "Whatever Happened…" do the job for him. Let's be generous and assume that he'd calculated that the asteroid would be insufficient to serve his purpose. (After all, the Earth has survived gigatonne-level impacts before without the Xyloc escaping – Adric and a freighter full of Cybermen spring instantly to mind.)

And along with the Racnoss you have to ask how much else is buried down in the middle of the Earth underneath all those Silurians and the Stahlman's Gas. (Or whatever the Primord-making green gunge really is.)

The first episode is genuinely disturbing television at times. Maria and her Dad are already reeling from the end of the previous story where he was dragged bodily into Sarah's world of aliens and demons. The discovery that Luke is apparently a missing teenager called Ashley throws everyone into further confusion, with Sarah trying to do the right thing for her adopted son and Maria's mother Chrissie showing a really nasty side and turning Sarah and Luke in to the police. There are some serious questions of what is the right thing to do here – Luke is devastated to be taken away from Sarah, but under the circumstances she could easily be seen as the one responsible for his brain-washed condition. Just how easily did she accept that he had been created by the Bane? When "Ashley's" supposed mother challenges her with "And did you think the fairies left him?" this is actually quite near to the knuckle – substitute "aliens" for "fairies" and yes, that is exactly what Sarah thought.

The return of evil child-Slitheen, Carl also raises some difficult ideas. Clearly he is a psychotic murderer – he lusts for the "kill" that he thinks he has been denied. No, let's be fair, by his culture he has been denied. But he's also a boy orphaned by the violent death of his father. That's really not as funny as the giggling, farting, joke monsters that the Slitheen started out as.

Actually, there's some recognition that the joke had gone as far as it could be taken, with the introduction of new skinsuits – to explain quickly how the Raxacoracophalatorians can fit into bodies of any size while also writing out the farting – that go a long way towards making the Slitheen more threatening monsters. In fact, of course, it turns them fully into the Zygons.

Then there's a delightfully unexpected cameo for Floella Benjamin, turning up as director of the Pharos Institute (almost certainly named for but no relation to the Pharos Project in Logopolis – though ironically, this Pharos has had more success in attracting alien intelligences.) Actually, she's a little bit mannered in her performance, but it was lovely to see her nonetheless.

It's also a story for unexpected new talents. Clyde gets a TRON moment, zapped inside Mr Smith and using his previously unheard-of powers to communicate with the outside world, specifically Maria's dad, Alan. And Alan himself turns out to have what he refers to as "mysterious contacts", implicitly in the FBI.

(You have to wonder if we're supposed to infer that Maria's dad really is a spy… though it's probably a coincidence that we've seen him working with Daniel Craig's James Bond in the Madagascar scenes at the start of "Casino Royale"!)

This is actually a bit naughty: random talents coming out of nowhere just when they are needed is a bit of a cheat on the audience – it breaks the old Chekhov's gun rule. You can just about get away with it with Alan, but there is just no acceptable reason for Clyde suddenly to be able to do the one thing that the plot needs him to do.

These flaws tend to undermine the second episode a little, which is much less a creepy psycho-drama and more of a stop-the-evil-computer action adventure. It's got great pace and energy – and good effects: the Moon falling towards the Earth is rather beautifully realised – and you can't not raise a cheer when Sarah pulls her secret weapon out of the hat.

This is actually another interesting point – clearly Mr Smith cannot realise what Sarah keeps in that safe on the opposite wall. I mean he's hardly likely to conceive that it's a portable black hole with a robot dog stuck in it, but it is interesting that Sarah has never talked to both of her synthetic friends simultaneously, nor introduced them before her – admitted dialogue triumph of – "meet my dog!"

Checking back to the DVD of "Invasion of the Bane", though, she does indeed only call on Mr Smith after she has bid K-9 a fond au revoir.

In the end, I think the joy at getting K-9 back, and in action, even for only a minute or two more than outweighs the slight downsides.

It's been a terrific first series, and heavily hinted in the CBBC broom-cupboard that it isn't the last.

Next Time… so what has the Doctor been up in the meantime? He's caught the Flight of the Darned* sorry, the Voyage of the Damned.

* Hat tip, Daddy Alex.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Day 2519: Why the Oxford Union is Right about Free Speech


Mr Jonny makes the case for Freedom of Speech applying to people we would rather not hear. But I want to go further.

Free Speech is not, and cannot, JUST be about the right to say things that other people find objectionable; it must ALSO include our right to HEAR what is said, so that we can REBUT it.

When something is PARTICULARLY POISONOUS, it is more important than ever that it BE rebutted. But how can you make a COUNTER ARGUMENT if you pretend that it doesn’t exist? Worse, how will anyone even THINK of a counter argument it if you stop them from knowing what is being said?

A case in point takes place at the Oxford Union this week.

The Oxford Union – a students’ junior House of Commons debating club, not to be confused with the Oxford University Students’ Union – are hosting a Free Speech Forum. The guests include leader of the British Nasty Party, Mr Nick Griffin, and Mr David Irving who can best be described as a “storyteller” (since the word “historian” is usually used to describe people who describe events that are true). These invites have been triggered outrage and protests from the University’s Jewish Society and the Oxford University Students’ Union – a students’ welfare organisation not to be confused with the Oxford Union.

The policies of the British Nasty Party – that all the ills of the country can be blamed on the immigration of people from other countries, especially if they are of a different colour – are not just wrong, they are stupid and short sighted and amazingly ill-thought out and people need very much to know what they ARE.

And not least because we should be able to spot it when, sometimes, more ELECTABLE parties might try to hint at policies from that agenda too.

Making up a version of the past where the German Nasty Party somehow did not set out deliberately to murder millions of Jews and gypsies and gay daddies and Slavs and disabled people and pretty much anyone else they thought were looking at them funny, is just AMAZINGLY offensive, and people need to know that attempts to airbrush genocide out of history are being made.

And not least because we should be able to spot it when, sometimes, more RESPECTABLE organisations might try to forget some of the people on that list too.

The call to “just not invite” these people overlooks the obvious: even it WE refuse to listen to them, SOME people will. Forcing them “underground” and making “martyrs” of them only ADDS to their sinister CACHET.

Rather than sticking our fingers in our ears, we should be using them to POINT and LAUGH.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Day 2518: Mysteries of Doctor Who #13: What's Wrong with Calling them Silurians?


The especially SPLENDID thing about "Doctor Who and the Silurians" is the way that the title misnames both.

Obviously it was never anyone's intention that the Target Book-esque "and the" should end up on the caption roller. But more importantly, the titular monsters get lumbered with the moniker "Silurians", which has a snakey, lizardy feel to it but is scientific COBBLERS.

The Silurian Period, GEOLOGICALLY speaking, is an era of time from about 440 million years ago to about 415 million years ago. Life on Earth at that time was mainly GIANT SEA SCORPIONS, like this almost cute example, in the sea competing with early FISH.

On land, plants were just discovering the joys of having xylem and phloem to pump water and nutrients around, but animal life hadn't really got beyond your basic centipede.

Reptiles – and certainly not the walking, talking, radiophonic-kazoo-playing variety – didn't arrive until a HUNDRED million years, or two whole geological ages later (the Devonian Period and most of the Carboniferous Period if you're asking).

Of course, many Doctor Who books have tried to put this right – starting with Mr Mac Hulke's own novelisation "Doctor Who and the Cave Monsters" which called them simply Reptile People – including such formulations as "Earth Reptiles" (ER!) and "Indigenous Terrans" (IT!). Though they didn't QUITE go so far as suggesting "Earth Life Forms" and "Prehistoric Indigenous Xenomorphs Interred Entire Species.

Dr Who himself had a go at putting it right when they – or rather their fishy cousins – turned up in "The Sea Devils", saying that the person who came up with the name "Silurian" was a complete idiot.

(This is either a FREUDIAN SLIP or he has forgotten that his first words to a Reptile Person are: "Are you a Silurian?". Mind you, the Reptile Person in question then punches his lights out, so it’s possible that he quickly realised this was quite RUDE!)

In spite of that, for most of the story, the Reptile People are then referred to as Sea Devils, a name which MAY be in the title (again) but is coined by a human, Mr Alan Clark, a sea-fort maintenance worker scared out of his wits and trying to describe what he has seen. (Unless you want to believe that they call THEMSELVES "Sea Devils" and the worker is having an attack of the RACE MEMORIES!)

And Dr Who himself is back to calling them Silurians by the time he is Mr Dr Peter in "The Warriors on the Cheap". Which is hardly unfair, since they refer to EACH OTHER as Silurians and Sea Devils too!

What Mr Dr Jon SAID (back in "The Sea Devils") is that the Reptile People ought to have been called Eocenes.

Although to be PROPERLY consistent, Dr Who OUGHT to have said that they OUGHT to have been called Paleogenes, because the Eocene Epoch, from about 56 million years ago to about 34 million years ago, is the middle third of the Paleogene Period. (Just as the name Silurian refers to the Silurian PERIOD rather than the constituent Landovery, Wenlock or Ludlow Epochs.)

But this DOES fit quite PLAUSIBLY into history as we know it (complete absence of archaeological evidence notwithstanding).

The Eocene Epoch began and ended with an Extinction Event. (Not quite as dramatic as one of the Five Mass Extinctions – the End of the Ordovician, the End of the Devonian, the End of the Permian, the end of the Triassic and the End of the Cretaceous, aka the End of the Dinosaurs – or SIX Mass Extinctions if you include what's going on TODAY!)

The first was caused by what looks like RUNAWAY GLOBAL WARMING! In a very short geological time, the planet heated up by at least seven degrees and the weather was to remain WARM and SUNNY from the equator to the poles for the rest of the epoch, making it a GOOD time for REPTILES!

That temperature spiral was ARRESTED by a bloom of freshwater Azolla ferns in the Arctic Ocean – called THE AZOLLA EVENT – which locked up SO MUCH carbon-dioxide that it reversed the warming; eventually causing the ICE AGES we've been having for the last couple of million years!

The extinction at the end of the Epoch is called the Grande Coupre or "great break" when a whole lot of European fauna were wiped out and after that, recognisable modern mammals start to move in from Asia.

Either of those would fit quite nicely with a supposed civilisation of intelligent Reptiles: either the global warming caused by their early industry, fixed when the planet was nice and warm for them, or when they figured out carbon capture in a big way; or the Grande Coupre was caused by the environmental catastrophe that sent them into hibernation.

This epoch also sees the evolution of early primates which would certainly fit the Reptile People's history of apes raiding their crops better than any Giant Silurian Centipedes!

So – in spite of what the Wikipedia might say – it looks like Dr Who could be RIGHT and the Reptile People DO come from the Eocene Epoch.

The question then is why would a scientist like Dr Quinn (medicine woman) decide to call the Reptile People "Silurians"? Well, the obvious – but unsatisfying – answer is that he is a nuclear engineer and wouldn't know one end of a Paleobiologist from the other. But that's a bit insulting to his intelligence (even if it IS the reason that Mr Hulke the writer got it wrong in the first place!).

But how about this: he names them Silurians after the STRATA OF ROCK in which he discovers their hibernation units.

Silurian rock strata certainly exist in Great Britain, first identified in WALES actually, down beneath all the coal-bearing Carboniferous strata (why do you think it's called CARBON-iferous). And in fact the story's WENLEY Moor sounds SUSPICIOUSLY like the WENLOCK Edge – actually in Shropshire – that gives its name to the middle Silurian epoch.

As a pot-holer, as well as a scientist, Dr Quinn (medicine woman) could well be familiar with the classification of the rock strata. And he might make the obvious, erroneous assumption of associating the Reptile People with the strata in which he finds them.

Of course, it IS erroneous because the Reptile People built their shelters DEEP UNDERGROUND. i.e. they DUG DOWN to those Silurian Period strata – just like the humans THEMSELVES have dug down into the caves to build their Research Institute – in order to find a nice safe retreat to, er, hide from the arrival of the Moon.

(Okay, sorry, people USED to believe that the Moon was a rogue planet that came into Earth's orbit quite recently – analysis of MOON ROCK, though, now tells us that the moon and Earth are so similar that it's most likely the Moon is a large chunk of the Earth blasted off in some ancient interplanetary collision.)

It might be a BIT rude to use the name of a twenty-five million year slice of history during which oodles of species lived and died to name just ONE sort of creature, but it is a SMALL fig leaf to cover Dr Quinn (medicine woman)'s scientific dignity.

Still, at least it's not as DUMB as assuming that Silurians are aliens from the planet Siluria!

Today was the 44th Anniversary of the beginning of Doctor Who. Very sadly, today was also the day we learned of the death of the lady who very much made that beginning happen, Ms Verity Lambert.

Daddy Alex and Mr Will have written some lovely words of tribute to this marvellous person.

Ms Verity shaped the way that British Television looked for most of the last forty years. With an uncompromising commitment to drama and comedy of quality and diversity and imagination, she oversaw, not only the creation of Doctor Who, but such landmarks as “The Naked Civil Servant” and “Widows” as well as much loved series such as “Minder” and “Jonathan Creek”. She was in charge of Euston Films when they were redefining what the British police drama looked like through “The Sweeney”.

Through attending a party hosted by John Nathan Turner to celebrate Doctor Who’s twentieth anniversary she rediscovered a joy in the series that had been her first success at the BBC – even though she disagreed with a lot of what Mr JNT was doing. Because of that, through the nineteen-nineties she lobbied the BBC to let her company, Cinema Verity, take up production of the series. Although unsuccessful – the BBC turned instead to an American production with Mr Philip Segal that eventually became Mr Dr Paul’s adventure, Time Waits for No Man – the interest of one of the most important ladies in television was one of the things that kept the IDEA of Doctor Who alive at the BBC in the years before 2005. When the series eventually did return, Ms Verity was delighted to give it her endorsement, and said that – finally – it was all she had wanted it to be.

Mr Paul Cornell was able to pay tribute to Ms Verity this year when, in his story “Human Nature”, Dr Who’s human alter ego Mr John Smith names his parents as Sydney (for Sydney Newman, the series creator) and Verity.

But I find myself remembering an exchange between Dr Who and Mr Charles Dickens in the third new series episode: “The Unquiet Dead” by Mr Mark Gatiss.

Dickens: “There is one thing I must ask: Doctor, do my books last?

Dr Who: “Oh, yes!

Dickens: “For how long?

Dr Who: “Forever.

Be it so for Ms Verity

Farewell, and thanks.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Day 2517: Fly Me to the Moon


Today's paper was full of pictures of Mr Sir Richard Branston-Pickle's new base for his Virgin Galactic rockets: TRACEY ISLAND.

[R: it says Spaceport America on this press release, Millennium!]

Up, up and away!
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Like all good BLUE PETER PLAYSETS, this one comes with detachable roof:

Here's one we made earlier!
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Set course for SPACE, I say!

Day 2516: Conservatory and Labour Show their True Colours… They have Red Faces Not Green Credentials


Hilarity at the end of Prime Monster's Questionable Time as Conservatory Mr David Half-cocked Amoral demands a stop to windmills… like the one on Mr Balloon's roof.

But the SERIOUS damage is to be done by the Secretary of State for Ruining Everyone's Environment, Mr Ruth Kelly, who is going to give the go-ahead to a THIRD runway and a SIXTH terminal at Britain's Busiest Noise Polluter: Heathrow Airport.

"These plans could see the number of flights from Heathrow rise to 800,000 per year, making a mockery of any attempts to tackle climate change," said Ms Susan Kramer-vs-Kramer, Liberal Democrat Transport Spokesperson.

The Labour and Conservatories both back these proposals – involving the BULLDOZING of two local villages – leaving only the Liberal Democrats to stick up for local people and future generations.

The argument for ever-increasing air travel into Heathrow is surely very weak.

From a climate change point of view we NEED to be looking at keeping increases in air travel to a minimum. And there are two PERFECTLY LOGICAL alternatives available to us, neither of which need to impose more on a Heathrow already stretched to capacity.

Firstly, we need to look at reducing the number of INTERNAL air flights, and the answer to that is surely to make our RAILWAYS work properly. High speed rail links from the capital to the regions would be the environmentally friendly alternative, and would ease the overcrowding on those Heathrow runways.

Liberal Democrats already have plans to Get Britain Back on Track
and THAT is where we should be spending money, not on making things worse in West London.

Secondly, if more air-travel really IS necessary, we should be looking at using the available capacity in regional airports, like Manchester or Bristol or Glasgow. Instead of having EVERYTHING fly into Heathrow – in order to be packed onto lorries and driven round the motorways causing more congestion and pollution – and instead of having EVERYONE fly off out of Heathrow – packing themselves and their kids into cars to try and drive there on motorways already congested with lorries. We should be looking at SMARTER thinking about routes in and out of the country.

And we all know that one of the big PROBLEMS of the British economy is the INEQUALITY caused by most of the businesses and work being drawn to London while the regions are left behind. Expanding Heathrow at the expense of everywhere else is only going to EXACERBATE that!

Mr Kelly's promises that the development must meet strict NOISE POLLUTION tests do not carry much weight either when the Government is apparently trying to SIDELINE its own report into the PROBLEM of Airport Noise. What is the use of the Government insisting that airports do not exceed the limit of 57 decibels when their own experts are saying that noise becomes intrusive at an average of just 50 decibels?

We cannot just carry on agreeing to the endless expansion of Heathrow's concrete. We need a BETTER ANSWER!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Day 2515: Alistair Darling – A Great Big Northern Rock Up… and then ANOTHER one!


Déjà vu for Sooty, Mr Frown's Chancellor of the Blank Chequer, who was at the despatch box for his second emergency in two days.

The sheer SCALE of the numbers involved just blows the imagination: twenty-four BILLION pounds loaned to a busted bank on the increasingly shaky gamble that he'll be able to get it back; twenty-five MILLION people exposed to identity theft and old fashioned bank robbery thanks to the Labour's OBSESSION with gathering up people's data and their CARELESSNESS about it once they've got it.

You almost expect him to announce today the disappearance of twenty-SIX trillion gallons of correcting fluid somewhere in the vicinity of his HAIR…

Crazy as the situation at the Northern Rock bank is, where the Government has a hundred billion pounds of assets to sell but we can't even be sure of getting back the twenty-four billion pounds of OUR MONEY that they have already advanced, the biggest data breach in history (…SO FAR!) knocks it into a cocked hat.

And the IRONY-METER is on OVERLOAD today, with Sooty ordering the Customs Men to use their UNPARALLELED powers of entry and search to break into their own offices to try and find a couple of lost CDs!

Rare as it is for me to agree with Conservatory Junior Bean-counting Champ Master Gideon Oboe, you have to say he was SPOT ON when he said that this has GOT to be the end for the Labour's LUNATIC I.D.iot card scheme.

The dangers involved cannot be understated. The information that they've ALREADY lost – more than a month ago, by the way, without a peep out of them – covers the names, addresses and dates of birth of EVERY child in the country and the bank and national insurance details of their families… this includes the sisters of both of my daddies, along with – we can but presume – the details of the Prime Monster, Mr Frown; the leader of the Opposition, Mr Balloon; and both of the contenders to be leader of the Liberal Democrats, Mr Clogg and Mr Huhney-Monster.

And basically, someone somewhere now has all they could possibly want in order to steal almost everybody's money!

Mr Richard Jeavons is director of IT implementation at the Department of Health, and the man in charge of setting up the NEXT TEMPTING TARGET: the NHS database. Even HE thinks that it is at risk.

Already he said: "there were instances where staff 'abuse their privileges'."

After this, how can we possibly, POSSIBLY think that the Labour's scheme to feed all of our personal and private info into a MAD COMPUTER in return for a plastic I.D.iot card is REMOTELY safe?

Information is VALUABLE and people will be ACTIVELY trying to get hold of it… but these revelations show that it doesn't even need MALICE: ordinary, everyday idiocy is enough to compromise every family in the nation!

People must wake up to the fact that large, bureaucratic organisations quite simply WILL make mistakes, take short-cuts, overlook procedure and in the end accidentally lose control of data in EXACTLY this sort of calamitous way. Like the Bishop of Southwark loosing control and hurling presents from the back of a Mercedes in a drunken stupor, IT'S WHAT THEY DO.

But just putting the blame on some junior nobody IS NOT GOOD ENOUGH. If your security procedure relies on your staff FOLLOWING the procedure, then it's simply NOT SECURE.

(And clearly, the head of Mrs Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs recognises this and with honour resigned.)

For the Liberal Democrats, Mr Power Cable has challenged the Government to say where the BUCK stops. After all, Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs is a CREATION of the Labour Government, in fact directly under the charge of PREVIOUS Chancellor… whose name escapes me for the moment.

Merging the Inland Revenue with HM Customs and Excise, while not necessarily a bad idea, was always going to be a tricky operation. Trying to do so while simultaneously engineering a quadrupling in the complexity of tax legislation seems recklessly abandoned. And cutting a quarter of their staff at the same time is just plain BONKERS!

"Clearly if officials are being asked to do more and more with fewer staff then mistakes will be made," said Mr Power Cable.

We need to take the challenge right to the very top. Or, as my Daddy Alex puts it:

"How can Mr Frown take his own livelihood less seriously than the tens of millions of people he’s recklessly endangered?"

Still, with everybody's EXISTING bank accounts compromised, perhaps now is the time to open a new NORTHERN ROCK account… er…

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Day 2514: The Leadership Interview… Nick Clegg meets Millennium (and some other people)


Both candidates for the Leadership of the Liberal Democrats have kindly agreed to an interview with a panel of Liberal Democrat diarists*.

Today was the turn of Shadow Home Secretary and MP for Sheffield, Mr Nick Clogg and once again your TOP Liberal Democrat elephant was there to ask the questions!

Team Millennium
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In many ways this was the Mr Clogg that we have been WAITING TO SEE ever since the campaign began: relaxed, fluent, comfortable to talk knowledgeably and wide-rangingly around the issues, and with answers based in clear Liberal Philosophy. And, and this was a REAL winner, he actually ANSWERED the questions!

Perhaps the most TELLING moment was when, about halfway in, Mr Clogg confessed the WE made HIM nervous, maybe MORE nervous than an interview with a journalist, because while ostensibly ON SIDE we're also on the INSIDE, with different knowledge, understandings and agenda. It was charming and disarming, and finally I think I understand what people say about Mr Clogg being a "HUMAN BEING".

His answers also showed a good bit of the PASSION which we wanted to see as well as depth and breadth of understanding. Perhaps TOO MUCH breadth, in fact, as – for those who are counting – we probably got fewer questions in.

I think that the KEY to understanding Mr Clogg's campaign is that it isn't "strategy WHAT" but "strategy HOW". The SPECIFICS of policy are that we already HAVE the right policies, but – as he said – if it was just about POLICIES we would have won every election since World War Part II. What we need is JOINED UP THINKING on how we put across what we want to talk about, but ALSO – and in fact even MORE importantly – a recognition of what it is that the general public want us to be talking about.

My own first question was a good example of the MISUNDERSTANDING of this agenda. I said that he began the campaign saying we needed to move beyond our comfort zone – which is GOOD – but that his first announcement was his willingness to go to prison rather than surrender his data to the I.Diot card computer – ALSO GOOD, but hardly not tickling the Party's comfort zone.

Mr Paul Burblings also hopped in, foregoing his prepared question on the economy, wanting to pin Mr Clogg down on two policy examples that would be outside the comfort zone.

BUT, Mr Clogg's idea of moving out of that "comfort zone" is not about adopting this or that POLICY – the "strategy WHAT" approach – but about changing our STATE OF MIND, and rediscovering the ability to talk to people about the issues that matter to THEM not just the ones that are important to us.

When he was a teenager, politics was all about macroeconomics and nothing else – the only choice, crudely categorised as left or right, was "are you an economic illiterate with a social conscience or financially competent with a heart of stone". That old order has TOTALLY COLLAPSED… though the other two Parties seem not to have noticed it!

Mr Clogg, though, wants to look to the future, to the five issues that he thinks will come to dominate the politics of the next decades:
  • powerlessness
  • social stagnation
  • the politics of fear
  • the environment, and why it is only the most important issue for 6% of people
  • globalisation
Above all, he stressed the powerlessness that people feel as a result of the DISCONNECTION between them and the people controlling the organisations, companies and government, that are meant to serve them.

Although that seemed like a long digression, in fact it was amazing to hear him spell out the philosophical underpinning to his thinking.

(If ANYONE still thinks there's a comparison between Mr Clogg and Mr Balloon, just try to imagine Mr Balloon HAVING a philosophical underpinning to his thinking. Or even imagine Mr Balloon just THINKING!)

But then he continued with how he wants to take that thinking and go forward with it.

At the risk of upsetting his colleagues, he suggested that the Party in Parliament has become too obsessed with playing the Westminster GAME: sitting on Green Benches, working in committees, getting that perfect bon mot for a speech at quarter-to-midnight with four other people in the chamber.

What we SHOULD be, says Mr Clogg, is an outward-facing, CAMPAIGNING organisation. At a LOCAL level, we are BRILLIANT at this. We find the things that matter to people, the things that they need or that they need saving and we organise a campaign to get things done. Somehow, at a national level it all falls apart.

Too often, it seems that efforts get focussed on getting a policy passed by conference. Quickly Mr Clogg emphasised that this was NOT a hint that he might want to change the policy-making process; indeed he was proud of and valued the democratic institutions of the party. But it should NOT be the end of the process – get to conference, convince the reps, hooray! – but the BEGINNING.

Equally there is too much COMPARTMENTALISING of responsibilities and TERRITORIALISM: too much not saying anything for fear of treading on toes.

In the most mild criticism of Sir Mr the Merciless, Mr Clogg suggests that he was, in actual fact, NOT MERCILESS ENOUGH! Sir M was too much of a GENTLEMAN to tread on anybody's toes and, in his time – nor in Mr Charles' time either – Mr Clogg does not remember a single time when an instruction came from the Leader's Office saying "this week we are going all guns blazing" on health or on the economy or on policing or anything else. Neither was there ever a time when he was told to really ramp up an issue that he had initiated.

Clearly what is needed is for everyone to all pull together instead of all pulling apart.

As a quick example of what we SHOULD do, Mr Clogg talked MEDIA. We all know that the national media are a bunch of… gentlemen and ladies who don't talk about us. But the LOCAL media – radio, newspapers, local TV – are a much more direct way to get through to people and one where the local MP will have an established strong relationship. What we need is, sometimes, to coordinate our communications – have 64 MPs all pushing the SAME agenda all across the country in the same week and we can start to build up a head of steam. Goodness, the disinterested nationals might even take notice!

(In fact, we know that Mr Frown has tried an end run around the local media but without any actual local action, because Mr David "I am the" Laws spotted him "at it"!)

To return to Mr Paul's question, he did pick out policies: we should have moved EARLIER and more FORCEFULLY on HOUSING, he said, and – coming back at the end – he also said that IMMIGRATION is an area that we MUST talk about. It may be UNcomfortable for US, but all the polling shows that it is up at the TOP of most people's concerns. We do not need to have the SAME answers as the Tweedle-Tory Parties just because we have to address the same questions.

But we DO need to be aware of the map of people's opinions and that it is – often – different from ours. It is not good enough to be winning the debate on the Environment – even though we should and we do! – when it is sixteenth on people's list of concerns and everyone is talking about Immigration.

Speaking of DIFFERENT OPINIONS we could hardly NOT mention the little CONTRETEMPS that occurred on the BBC's Polly-tricks Show.

Mr James asked if Mr Clogg now felt that his "Opportunism Knocks" article for the Grauniad had been justified. Also with us was Ms Linda Jack: Daddy Alex assured us all that as she was here in person this was NICE Ms Linda, as opposed to her FEARSOME online alter ego – sort of a Ms Linda Jack-yl and Blogger Hyde! Ms Linda offered Mr Clogg the opportunity finally to draw a line under the questions of schools vouchers and health insurance. Mr Clogg sighed.

Answering Mr James first, he said that he was not interested in disinterring the past. There is, he said, no point in a Leadership based on winning an argument that is wholly unintelligible to the public. He accepted that there has to be a balance between the inward-looking and the outward-looking in any internal election, but also said that a semantic debate about words he never said anyway was a waste of everybody's time.

Speaking about schools, he talked of what he WAS interested in discussing: finding the two-and-a-half billion pounds RIGHT NOW, not in a couple of years, to really make that investment in education for the poorest.

The premium goes to the SCHOOL, not the pupil or their mummies and daddies. It's not portable so it's not a "voucher".

(Look, this is as boring for you as it was for him, but so that there is no mistake, he DID first made it clear – probably, for him, for the umpteenth time – that he only ever referred to the Pupil Premium, which is Party Policy, and it was the journalist who used the term "vouchers" and has since agreed that Mr Clogg never said the word.)

On insurance, he wanted to be clear that his priority is getting the best outcome, and that he doesn't see why British people should put up with a second best service compared to Europe. For that reason, he remains open-minded about the way that Europe delivers. But that doesn't mean just translating OUTCOMES.

He was wary of any simple answers, and for him JUST saying let's localise power to the Town Hall WAS a simple answer. We need to prove that handing power back to the council actually EMPOWERS people, not just puts a different bunch of bureaucrats in charge. He called for the URGENT transfer to a democratic body the functions of primary care trusts, speaking of his experiences in Sheffield of the ARROGANCE of bureaucrats, deciding whether or not his constituents get health care they need.

This happened to tie in nicely with the next question which was from Ms Mary. She asked – as she had with Mr Huhney-Monster – how Liberal Democrat councils could create a distinctive Liberal Democrat approach.

Our best councils lead the way, he said confidently, citing INNOVATIVE Liberal Democrat councils like Liverpool using IT to improve services to their constituents; providing an all-day telephone service so that the council remains in touch to answer questions.

But he also talked about being the party that REALLY believes in devolution, devolving power further from the Town Hall to people. He spoke appreciatively of Mr Charlie (not a relation of Margo) Leadbeater who has written about user participation in public services.

There is no place, said Mr Clogg, for another party defending the status quo. The agenda of personal empowerment should be and has to be a Liberal agenda.

Daddy Alex threatened to ask two "comfort zone" questions that most leaders find UNcomfortable.

First, with it being Mrs the Queen's Sixtieth Wedding Anniversary (Gawdblesseww Ma'am!) he asked if, in Britain's Liberal Future, the top job should only be open to one family.

Mr Clogg said he would agree IF he thought that it was the top job. But while it remains powerfully SYMBOLIC, the monarchy has EVOLVED over the years and is by now GUTTED of all meaningful political authority.

There is an argument that this makes Mrs the Queen no more than a billionaire bauble, but your idea of value for money may vary.

There would be no merit, that Mr Clogg saw, in launching a broadside against an institution that is now "mostly harmless".

Daddy's second question was perhaps more IMPORTANT, going to the heart of Liberalism.

"We have a habit of paying lip-service to freedom, and then as soon as something comes up saying 'ew, how horrid; let's ban it!' What would you ban and what would you unban and would you follow party policy and work long term to unbanning cannabis?"

"Whoopee!" replied Mr Clogg.

Okay, after giving it some thought, he decided that there WAS something he would ban. He has young children and they watch a television channel called Teeny Pops (or something). He is repeatedly ASTONISHED and REALLY UNSETTLED by his three-year-old remembering the ADVERTS more than the programmes and asking him for some plastic present or other. He feels – and fears – that their innocence is being encroached upon by an insidious campaign. Admitting that it was a difficult debate, he decided that he would give advertising to children the Room 101 treatment.

Unbanning, was more a question of not knowing where to start, and he said he would want to fetch his list of things in the Freedom Bill, rattling off protesting outside Parliament, rights to a fair trial, detention without charge and I.Diot cards straight away. Actually, I think he means he would ban not unban I.D.iot cards and detention without trial, but I am sure that you get his meaning: he is determined to roll back the Labour's anti-civil rights laws.

With a SMALL reminder, he also answered the cannabis question. He began by saying that it's not a debate that can be had in the same terms as a few years ago, because of the established link between new powerful "skunk" cannabis and CRIME.

This is different from the claims that "skunk" is more powerful than used to be, and he is aware that some people are saying that the police raise FALSE FEARS about this, but equally the once pro-legalisation "Independent on Sunday" newspaper has changed their position.

(See also Dr Ben and the Bad Science for some more questions about the validity of this.)

Mr Clogg's answer was that as a party we need to radically reinvent the categorisation of drugs, both illegal AND legal – such as alcohol and nicotine. We need to put the categorisation in the hands of an authority with greater power and independence, and with a statutory obligation to REDUCE HARM.

We should step back and let them examine all the evidence and draw their conclusions.

Daddy Alex pressed him: if they recommended moving a currently legal drug to illegal, or a currently illegal drug to legal, would he legislate? Yes, said Mr Clogg, you would have to follow through the logic of the recommendation.

For further further reading, Mr Clogg suggested the report of the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee into drug classification.

By the end of this, Daddy was urgently waving a NOTE at me to say I should suggest SHORTER ANSWERS. Unfortunately I did not see him before I asked about foreign policy, triggering another seventeen minute discursion!

On the other fluffy foot, I am still GLAD that I did. Not only would it have seemed inappropriate not to on a day when all of us were thinking about the DEVASTATING cyclone in Bangladesh, but also because Mr Clogg seemed to relish the opportunity to get his teeth into a subject that clearly FASCINATES him. No doubt it is the legacy of Sir Mr the Merciless reputation in this area, but I feel very DUMB for forgetting Mr Clogg's long experience in Europe and in negotiation with Russia and beyond.

With the Iraq war fading as an issue, I wanted to know how Mr Clogg would define a Liberal Democratic foreign policy in future, also taking the opportunity to mention – even though she sort of works for the other feller – Ms Lynne Featherweight's discovery of Mr Douglas-Fir's secret slashing of a billion pounds from the overseas aid budget.

Mr Clogg identified A NUMBER of developing AXES in our foreign relations. He mentioned the rise of China and of India and reminded us not to forget regional powers like Brazil. But in particular, he talked about the TENSION between Atlanticism, which he identified as ENDEMIC in the British "establishment", crossing both the other Parties, and the actual and pressing geopolitical situation in which we find ourselves.

If it short-changed us in the past – I wonder to which Middle Eastern war he could have been referring? – it is now in danger of completely undermining us.

The idea is TOTALLY FALSE that all we need for a foreign policy is the LIMPET-LIKE strategy of being a… (Daddy Richard suggests "airstrip") …VASSAL STATE (finished Mr Clogg, and I think that might even be WORSE!)

The CONCEIT that we can be a "bridge" between Europe and America is just NOT TRUE.

And it leads to such STUPID policies as going along with the Monkey-in-Chief's "Son of Star Wars" plan to put anti-missile-missiles in Britain to protect America. It is STUPID because it signs us up to a technologically unproven system that destabilises regional and global politics.

Mr President Putin of Russia is – forgive the pun, it was Mr Clogg's too! – going BALLISTIC!

And STUPIDLY the Labour tried to slip out the announcement without scrutiny in a written reply to the Commons' library. Mr Clogg promised that – if there's been no scrutiny before then – he'll challenge Mr Frown about it in Prime Monster's Questionable Time.

He also talked warmly of the SUCCESS of the European Union in exporting liberal and democratic principles to Eastern Europe, and how we should go further. I said that I HAVE talked about this in my diary, but he said that we do not talk about this ENOUGH!

We should be looking at how we take this to the next level, doing properly what Mr Millipede only half-heartedly hinted at, and looking at North Africa and the Middle East and to Russia too. It shouldn't be all about MEMBERSHIP, he said, we're not IMPOSING ideology like Lord Blairimort tried (and failed) to do, but PROJECTING our ideals.

And, he added, Mr Balloon is completely flaky on foreign affairs – just look at the mess he's got himself into over Europe, making silly promises to his Europhobic Conservatories for short-term advantage and now trying to get out of it by cosying up to Ms Angular Merecat for more photo opportunities.

Mr James got in with another question, this time about DIVERSITY and the idea of an Academy to give the best chances to candidates from minority and female backgrounds. How are we going to pay for it and how are we going to make sure that it gets done.

Well, Mr Clogg admitted, we REALLY need to get this right, because if we don't then pretty soon the advocates for quotas – and he doesn't believe in quotas – are going to have a pretty UNANSWERABLE case. Because if we want to represent the country we really HAVE to be representative of the Country. He said that, as leader, he would be willing to "roll up his sleeves and get his hands dirty" to make sure that this works. He said he's lined up one-and-a-half MAJOR donors already who are willing, indeed KEEN, that their funding be specifically earmarked for the Academy, and there is a physical location – at least for three or four days a week (I THINK that this means time-share, and not that it is in BRIGADOON!) – where the Academy can provide training courses.

But then we were told that it was time to STOP because it was two minutes until we bumped the Independent.

But Mr Clogg still made time for our group photo and I slipped in my LAST question about JAMES BOND: which James Bond are you, Mr Clogg, I wanted to know, Mr Sean, Mr Daniel… or Mr George Lazenby? Well he chose, and he admitted that it would be the conventional answer, to be Mr Sean – though he did ask why no Mr Roger in my list (to be fair, because I wanted a PUNCHY "rule of three") and someone else suggested that he should be "Housewife's Favourite Mr Pierce"!

Mr Clogg doesn't stop for doughnuts
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Mr Clogg left us all on a terrific high. (Subject to taking expert evidence for reclassification: I'll have to see what the other diarists make of it!) Yesterday's FUSS and NONSENSE had left us feeling DOWN about the Leadership Contest, and he managed to restore our POSITIVE ATTITUDE. I think that my Daddies and I had had some QUESTIONS about Mr Clogg's performance in the campaign to date – all that PROMISE and yet never quite delivering… until now. Today he MORE THAN SUCCEEDED in answering those questions.

Of course, this ACTUALLY makes it much MORE difficult for us. BOTH candidates are completely excellent (minor tiff overlooked) and EITHER would do really jolly well as Leader of the Liberal Democrats. What would be MOST ideal is to have a combination of BOTH of them – Mr Huhney-Monster has the ability to pick the right ways to make some noise and get noticed; Mr Clogg has the ability to reach out and connect to people. BOTH of them have strategy – and philosophy – to take the Party forwards.

But really that is HAPPY-MAKING isn't it. Whoever WINS it will be a WIN for the Liberal Democrats.

*The invited diarists were the five people short-listed in the Liberal Democrat Blogger of the Year together with double winner Ms Mary Reid whose diary was both Best Blog by an Elected Liberal Democrat and Best Designed Blog. Mr Jonny, Winner of the Best New Blog award could not be with us today but instead we were joined by Ms Linda Jack, 'cos she asked.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Day 2511: World's Biggest Liar Appears on the The Today Programme


A survey for the National Consumer Council reveals that most restaurants "push costly bottled water just to make a quick profit."

Isn't that DREADFUL.

Meanwhile, homeopathy is in the news again.

They claiming that, just because there is NO EVIDENCE WHATSOEVER that their potions have any beneficial effect, scientists are organising a CONSPIRACY to stop homeopaths from defrauding the NHS of dirty great wodges of cash on the entirely SPURIOUS grounds that spending the money on some medicine that actually does some good might be better value for money.

At the risk of confusing you, the BOTTLED WATER INDUSTRY spokesperson claimed:

"Homeopathy never harmed anybody."

This is, I am VERY SORRY to say, completely untrue.

A homeopathic doctor, Dr Marisa Viegas, has been struck off by the General Medical Council for advising a lady patient (no longer her own patient, either) who was suffering from serious heart disease that she should stop taking all medicines and then recommending a course of homeopathic treatments for her liver instead.

Tragically, APPALLINGLY, the lady patient had a massive coronary and DIED.

Another case has seen a Dutch doctor struck off and two others suspended following the equally tragic death of another lady patient, this time from cancer.

Perhaps WORST, is the SICK decision to choose WORLD AIDS DAY to hold a conference on the homeopathic treatment of AIDS… which ought to be BRIEF because there IS NO SUCH TREATMENT!

There are, however, genuine drug-based treatments. Those WILL help to prolong people's lives. Not to mention a very, very effective way of not even getting AIDS in the first place called the CONDOM. Taking money – of which there is VERY LITTLE in Africa – away from prevention and treatment programmes in order to spend it on BOTTLED WATER is tantamount to MASS MURDER!

The homeopaths put the blame on Dr Ben Goldacre, most excellent writer of the Grauniad's BAD SCIENCE column, who has written this piece for the Lancet, the medical journal that two years ago published a HUGE and AUTHORITATIVE study showing that homeopathy had no more benefit than a placebo.

In fact, Dr Ben – as he explains in more detail here – is AMBIVALENT about homeopathy and thinks that, if they could bring themselves to be TRULY complementary then there may be some benefit to be had in cases where scientific medicine has – so far – no answers.

Anyway, the "World's Biggest Liar" competition is held annually in November at the Bridge Inn in Cumbria.

This year's winner is a Mr J Graham (no relation) for a story about submarines and digital television and his prize is a thousand year's supply of bottled water. Although I could be lying.

Day 2510: How DO you answer the HUNG PARLIAMENT question?


It's actually REALLY easy!

The BBC's Questionable Time show brought us the BIG DEBATE, Mr Nick Clogg in a pink tie against the blue background versus Mr Chris Huhney-Monster in a blue-check tie against the red background. Your host was Mr David Dimbledonkey with ANOTHER pink tie, though his had gold highlights…the ONLY Liberal Democrat gold on show!

Already, the debate has sparked a LOT of chatter, and not a little HEATED banter, in the Liberal Blogosphere, but the BIGGEST and MOST IMPORTANT question remains to be answered:

Why wasn't I on telly facing the other two leadership candidates?*

No, sorry, that's not it. It's:

If there was a hung parliament, which of the other parties would we support?

We need a SIMPLE answer, a DIRECT answer and an answer that is CONSISTENT with our philosophy and message.

This is it:

If there was a hung parliament TODAY, then we would choose NEITHER of them. If THEY change, then we would listen.

Two sentences; job done.

If the media person challenges you with, "yes but what about AFTER the next election", you can come back with: "the opinion polls ask people how they would vote if there was an election today, not how they might vote in two years' time. And today, we could support neither of them."

It is, of course, a REALLY STUPID question. A "when did you stop beating your wife?" type question, because almost every answer is BAD. The media LIKE asking that sort of question because they think that it makes THEM look clever and the politician look SHIFTY. (They like it even more if they can choose some member of the public to play patsy and ask the question for them, as happened on Thursday.)

Just suppose that the media were to do what they NEVER do and ask Mr Balloon: well, all the polls show that you still CANNOT GET A MAJORITY at the next election, so which of the other parties would you support in a coalition?

Suppose that Mr Balloon says: "well, obviously we support the Thatcherite agenda so we'd back Mr Frown and the Labour."

But that is stupid, because he immediately alienates all the Liberal and centre-right voters who want rid of the Labour and their CRUSHING AUTHORITARIAN POLICIES, a large part of the electorate, and indeed a large part of his own party.

Let's SIMPLIFY and say that there are just six sorts of people: ones who always vote for the Labour, ones who always vote for the Liberal Democrats and ones who always vote for the Conservatories PLUS people who might choose the Labour OR the Liberal Democrats, people who might choose the Labour OR the Conservatories and people who might choose the Liberal Democrats or the Conservatories.

Three of those groups, HALF, might vote for Mr Balloon, and his job is about balancing the interests of the three different groups that might favour HIM. BUT if he says that he'd support the Labour, then not only do the people who might choose Liberal or Conservatory (and so don't like the Labour) choose to vote Liberal, but the voters who swing between the Labour and the Conservatories will vote for the Labour since that is who they would get anyway!

It is a LOSE:LOSE situation. He is giving up the possibility of persuading TWO-THIRDS of those people who might do so to choose him rather than the Liberal Democrats or the Labour.

So instead Mr Balloon is going to HAVE to try and explain that it DEPENDS… on the outcome of the election, the deals that are on offer, the mood of the country… he's BOUND to look like he's ducking it.

Of course, Mr Balloon isn't going to get ASKED the question.

Mr Huhney-Monster was quite right to point out that people never CONSIDER a "grand coalition" of the Labour with the Conservatories, even though it happens all the time in Council Chambers across the country and even though they have practically the same policies.

But it wouldn't happen because Mr Huhney-Monster is ALSO quite right to say that it would soon be defeated and replaced by the Liberal Democrats (not least, because we would finally have the coverage of being the Official Opposition).

Instead, the Labour and the Conservatories are happy to have a BUGGINS' TURN COALITION, where the Ministerial Limousines have different bottoms on their shiny seats but the policies ALL STAY THE SAME.

From 1987 onwards, the Labour were just waiting for THEIR go at running the same policies. And now the Conservatories are only hanging around because they expect that THEY will get to deliver the same policies again soon.

That is why we could not support EITHER of them.

THEY have to change. They have to accept proper Liberal policies. They have to have a FAIR electoral system. Then we will listen.

We need a SIMPLE answer, a DIRECT answer and an answer that is CONSISTENT with our philosophy and message.

This is it: if there was a hung parliament TODAY, then we would choose NEITHER of them. If THEY change, then we would listen.

Oh, and the answer to "when did you stop beating your wife?" is "I have NEVER beaten my wife, and only a toerag like you would even THINK of beating his wife! You disgust me, sir, GOOD DAY!"

[*] Well, it's embarrassingly obvious really: in order to make sure that there was a FAIR CONTEST, I asked half of my Parliamentary supporters to nonimate Mr Clogg and half of them to nonimate Mr Huhney-Monster and half of them to nonimate ME.

Yes, I know! Daddy Richard has now explained to me all about ADDING FRACTIONS and I THINK I see where I went wrong… I left Daddy in charge of the nonimations!

Never mind. I had a chat with Mr Charlie and he explained that being leader would be nothing but a bother as the press would be all over checking on how many sticky buns I'd had every day, going through our bins looking for croissant wrappings and quizzing Ms Sandy Toksvig about my Danish. And when Sir Mr the Merciless told me that the Leader of the Liberal Democrats does not AUTOMATICALLY get to go to the Royal Première of the next JAMES BOND film… well I decided I would be better off on my sofa, watching!

The TROUBLE is that this means that I have to decide between Mr Huhney-Monster and Mr Clogg.

I have already met Mr Huhney-Monster, but I should probably not decide until I have met Mr Clogg too. (Yes, this is a HINT about next week's diary!)

Friday, November 16, 2007

Day 2509: Gone West


Simple Sailor or Silly Sausage?

ALMOST the most worrying thing about the case of Mr Lord Admiral West is that he is credited as a former head of the Intelligence Staff. It makes you worry for the security of our agents if "M" himself cannot stand up to a five-minute grilling from Mr Frown. I mean what are they going to do when Mr Goldfinger has them strapped to the table with the industrial laser pointed at their "handwash only" labels? Assuming Mr Frown DOESN'T have an industrial laser set up in Downing Street for this very purpose…

But what is REALLY the MOST worrying thing is that Mr Frown does not want to listen to the advice about terrorism from the very person he hired to advise him. He would rather be all SECRET STALIN and have the poor man eat his own words on live television than admit that it might be worth THINKING for a bit before doing ANOTHER stupid slash and burn of our once precious liberties.

Mr Frown says that he is looking for a "new consensus" on terror.

He cannot be looking very hard: as Liberal Democrat acting leader Mr Power Cable said:

"Yoo hoo, Mr Frown, the consensus is over here saying 'not one day longer'."

Anyway, it seems to me that the way the law is set up here is that if you think that someone is QUITE LIKELY to try to explode people then you arrest them and charge them and bring them to trial and if you can prove it convict them.

But if you are NOT SO SURE then you lock them up without charge or trial and if they are innocent – which is MORE LIKELY than in case #1 – then you seriously p… annoy them off.

What kind of a law is FAIRER to the BADDIES than the potentially innocent?

Of course the POINT of Habeas Corpus – oh yes, THAT old thing – is that NO ONE should be randomly locked up AT ALL. And we seemed to do perfectly well for many, many years with the police only able to pick someone up and hold them for not a MONTH but a DAY.

Of course, things WERE different back then – in those days we had the I.R.A. armed not with sugar and fertiliser but with semtex and aiming to explode large London landmarks backed by the oil billions of Libya (and a lot of dollars from America too). Oh, and they were QUITE GOOD at their EVIL job, and very rarely set themselves on fire instead of their targets.

Nor do I buy all of this "oh it's SOOOOOO difficult to track them down now that they can use the Internet and laptops and Xbox 360s and stuff". It is hardly like the technological advances are all ONE WAY, is it, what with us being the non-dictatorship (daddy, please check that we ARE still a non-dictatorship) that is MOST SPIED ON in all the WORLD.

(Note how Germany has put the Nazi and Stasi days behind it to become the LEAST spied on nation in the world. How did THAT happen?!)

And our government having the LARGEST DNA database of its citizens on the planet BAR NONE. (Be the envy of Damascus, Phnom Penh and SPECTRE Island; impress your friends, cow your enemies, or vice versa; free PIRANHA POOL with every million DNA subscribers!)

In fact, mobile phones and Internet laptops – which leave mucky I.P. address fingers all over their connections – should make it EASIER to track people, especially if the government isn't too fussy about observing its own data protection laws.

Besides which, the Labour have BROADENED the definition of "terrorist" so much that even having the VAGUEST idea of how to do some harm – do NOT for goodness sake Google how to start a FIRE with two TWIGS!!! – can get you locked up for "acts preparatory to explodingness".

No doubt Mr Frown REMINDED Lord "trained killer" West of this during their (possibly laser-armed) chat!