...a blog by Richard Flowers

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Day 3005: Voters of Brent - Which MP Costs YOU More?


Lovely Sarah Teather or Ms Dawn Butler, Ms Dawn Butler or Lovely Sarah Teather.

Both MPs are in the HEADLINES this week:

In Bent East, Millennium-Elephant-sized Liberal Democrat Sarah is demanding that London MPs Second Home Allowance must be ABOLISHED.

Meanwhile Bent South electors find Ms Dawn Butler MP, under fire over her expense claims.

Like Minister McNumpty, SCOURGE of all BENEFIT CHEATS, she's been, er, BENEFITING from the Second Home Allowance, and costing her constituents an extra £37,245 over the last two years*!

So, who is BETTER? There's only one way to decide…


When Mr Frown FINALLY screws his nerve up to the sticking point (or he just plain runs out of time) the next Election, following changes by the Boundary Commission, will see the London seats of Bent South and Bent East combined into ONE seat called Bent Double (with three wards from Bent East becoming part of Hampstead and Kilburn).

This means Lovely Sarah and Hard Labour whip Ms Dawn will be facing off in a difficult contest.

So if you ARE thinking of choosing between them, then you too can compare Hard Labour Dawn's travel times to see if she's worth it, and then remember that Lovely Liberal Sarah – like ALL the Lib Dem London MPs – saves you money by NOT ripping you off for a Second Home Allowance.

*A comparison of seven North London MPs shows that Ms Dawn's claim of £18,622 per year is second only to Mr Harry "Man of the People" Cohen who's been trousering £20,940 a year for the last five years.

(Interestingly, that means that the voters of Leyton and Wanstead could have saved themselves over a hundred thousand pounds if they had elected my Daddy Alex in 2001 instead of returning Mr Harry.)

Of course, the WHOLE question of MPs getting paid for an extra home raises a great deal of RESENTMENT, even more so now at a time when people are getting repossessed (and by the very banks that we all now own!).

Fragrant Mary Reidmyday has the very sensible suggestion that the allowance should be pegged to a much more REALISTIC figure, based on renting a typical flat in suburbia. In Surbiton, in fact, for full GOOD LIFE irony.

Alternatively, there is Ms Susan Gaszczak's ALSO very sensible idea that the Government should simply BUY some nice blocks of flats in Westminster and kit out six-hundred-and-fifty bijou home-from-homes on a one each basis. This would be nice and advantageous for security too – with all the MPs in one place it would be much easier for the police to stop them getting out. Er.


Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Day 3003: No, Minister McNumpty. It might not be ILLEGAL but it is WRONG


Don't you just get TIRED of hearing Hard Labour hacks and their APOLOGISTS trotting out the same old SPIN?

"Minister McNumpty has done nothing wrong. He followed the rules. He's done nothing wrong."

It must be a VERY strange state of affairs if things are only WRONG if they are ILLEGAL. After all, why have the Hard Labour Government been working like navvies to make more and more and more things illegal if they were not wrong BEFORE the Government MADE them illegal?

The reverse is ALSO true: just because it IS illegal, does not make it necessarily WRONG. For example, it USED to be illegal to be a gay daddy. Or a Catholic. Or take PROTESTING outside PARLIAMENT: some people – and at least one FLUFFY ELEPHANT! – would say that it is WRONG to make protesting illegal when these people are supposed to represent us and work for us and at the very least LISTEN to us.

RIGHT and WRONG are questions of MORAL balance. We have to make up our minds about them and if we are good fluffy elephants/monkey-people try to do RIGHT.

I think that most ORDINARY people would say that taking the SALARY OF A JUNIOR NURSE in return for NOTHING is on the WRONG side of the ethical equation.


Day 3001: Mr Balloon's Sorry Policy


Even before the weekend's slightly public SPAT between Mr Ken "Fat Duck" Clarke and Mr Gideon "Tuck Shop" Oboe (over whether spending three billion quid on a bung for DEAD MILLIONAIRES was their most completely useful and important spending priority) it was dawning on people that Conservatory tax policy didn't make any sense.

If the GOOD times mean we get to "share the proceeds of growth", Mr Balloon and Mr Oboe seemed unusually RETICENT about admitting that the BAD times mean "sharing the PAIN of recession".

The Conservatories are caught in a CLEFT STICK. On the one fluffy foot, it is PAINFULLY OBVIOUS to everyone in the country how they FAILED to see the banking crisis and the recession bearing down on them like a cartload of manure labelled "DOOM!" But on the other fluffy foot they have absolutely no idea how you run an economy even when the wheels HAVEN'T fallen off.

Writing a typically BREEZY piece for the Windypendant, Mr Balloon put it like this:
"In the long term, we will control spending by reducing the demands that the broken society makes on the state… That's why far from retreating from our plans for school reform, welfare reform and strengthening families, we are as committed to them as we have ever been."
So, essentially, Mr Balloon's position reduces to "things have CHANGED MASSIVELY; that's why we're going to EXACTLY THE SAME as we said before."

This is not just economic illiteracy, this is MADNESS.

Patching together a couple of soundbites that are simple enough for Mr Oboe to remember them together with a figleaf of a Daily Hate Mail-pleasing tax cut is EMBARRASSING when the finances are SOUND; in the depths of a crisis it looks INSANELY DANGEROUS.

Mr Oboe himself slipped over the wall behind the bike-sheds again over the weekend, only to be caught on the The Today Programme by economic super-guru Mr Evan Davis.

"I get bombarded by paper planes from your desk with press releases scrawled on them," said Mr Evan, "and they're all pretty negative about the Government having done this wrong and made that mistake… do you actually HAVE any plans of your own?"

"Oh yes!" said Mr Oboe. "Everything's going to be lovely. That's MY plan!"

"But how are you going to pay back all of this debt? Won't you have to cut spending?"

"Don't ask me about THAT! I'm copying my answer from Fatty Clarke and he's not finished thinking it up yet!"

The Conservatories claim that they want some HONESTY about the economy. Well, they could START by being honest THEMSELVES. For example, less of this "we left Mr Frown a golden legacy" when in actual fact, they did EXACTLY the same as he is doing: borrowed a mountain of debt and came up with unbelievable made-up spending plans… which to everyone's HORROR, Mr Frown actually followed for five years until the debt was paid off. THAT was "fixing the roof while the sun shone"; and remember, it was the Conservatories who blew the roof off in the first place.

Mr Frown was saved by three pieces of luck: a windfall tax; a raid on the pensions (from which they've never recovered); and auctioning off the 3G telephone licences for so much money that is caused the dot-com crash. Where does Mr Oboe (Fatty Clarke!) say that THEIR luck is going to come from?

It is NO BALLY USE the Conservatories issuing self-serving mealy-mouthed APOLOGIES for "not warning enough about the dangers of light-touch regulation and borrowing"; they were not warning AT ALL about borrowing, and everyone knows they were positively pressing for MORE light-touch regulation (aka light-THE-BLUE-TOUCHPAPER regulation) not less!

An apology requires saying what you got WRONG and then saying what you are going to CHANGE to put it RIGHT.

Saying "we're going to do just the same" means the Conservatories may be a SORRY BUNCH but they aren't ANY kind of sorry for their part in this DISASTER.

And then Mr Balloon was back with a fresh bout of "THE SAME BUT MORE SO!" in the Spectacularlyrightwing , launching his new wheeze: "the post-bureaucratic age".

Because everyone knows that the BANKERS would have been FINE if they hadn't had all those BUREAUCRATS holding them back and trying to, you know, REGULATE them and stuff.

Anyway, it's REALLY important to him. You can tell because it's a short article and he mentions it nine times in seventeen parpagraphs.

He's not TERRIBLY big on detail, of course. I mean he spends the whole first page TELLING us he's had a brilliant idea. Again.

Then he spends the whole second page telling us why only Conservatories HAVE brilliant ideas. And by the way, isn't the Internet WHIZZY!

And his third page is how Hard Labour have failed to improve social mobility and failed to clean up the environment.

And his fourth page says "…so there you have it!"

Hmmm, I think the DOG may have eaten some of his HOMEWORK…

So, Mr Balloon's FAIRY-TALE vision is of a society where modern technology MAGICALLY means that everyone is WELL-INFORMED and EMPOWERED to make their own decisions. Quite how everyone GETS this information WITHOUT an army of bureaucrats to collect, sort, input and maintain it all seems to have been trimmed for space. Quite how "modern technology" does NOT mean yet another MASSIVE, EXPENSIVE, and ultimately FUTILE Government IT programme seems not to have made the cut either.

Mind you, he did find room to try and recapture the spirit of his old near-forgotten "Let the Sun Shine In" days:
"While those on the political Left are essentially pessimists, believing that people will do the wrong thing unless told what to do by government, we on the centre-Right are optimists: we have faith that most people are good and will do the right thing if only you trust them"
Oh, I SEE!

THAT is why the Conservatories want to lay out rigidly defined rules with which local government must comply if they are to receive CENTRALLY-DICTATED support for freezing their council tax – or else punitive local tax rises will soon see them kicked out or the ungrateful locals reduced to beggary.

THAT is why the Conservatories intend to BRIBE people to stay in loveless marriages – they TRUST that GREED and a few quid will work like a sticking plaster and they don't trust that people know whether staying married is right for them.

And THAT is why the Conservatories keep banging on and on and on about BROKEN BRITAIN, because only their NATURAL OPTIMISM enables them to see a knife-wielding hoodie lurking in every doorway or a binge-drinking benefit scrounger collapsed on every village green. If only they could liberate these people to behave the way MR BALLOON THINKS THEY OUGHT TO!

Mr Balloon is talking total bollards! Conservatism has always, always, ALWAYS been fearful of human nature! Was it not Mr Gladstone, the Prime Monster who invented the BAG, who once said:
"The principle of LIBERALISM is trust in the people, tempered by prudence;
"The principle of Conervatoryism is MISTRUST of the people, tempered by FEAR.
Finally, Mr Balloon links his two thoughts in one sentence that GIVES HIMSELF AWAY:
"Just giving people more information, more power and more control over their lives makes them more responsible."
Responsible TO WHOM?

Responsible to THEMSELVES? Or to Mr Balloon and his ideas of right and wrong, of right and responsibility?

Because we KNOW that Mr Balloon believes you should take away the "rights" of people he says don’t behave "responsibly" – you know, those who are irresponsibly too sick to work, or irresponsibly too poor to live in the right catchment area.

Mr Balloon, you give power BACK to the people to make THE GOVERNMENT more responsible – and more responsive – to THEM. NOT THE OTHER WAY AROUND.

It's all too clear that Mr Balloon cannot get out of the old AUTHORITARIAN mindset. He JUST DOES NOT GET IT.

In his mind, Conservatory AUTHORITARIANISM is the opposite of Hard Labour AUTHORITARIANISM. In REALITY they are just two sides of the same BLUDGEON.

Because basically the Conservatories are JUST THE SAME as Hard Labour. And how can you trust people like THAT with the economy… again?

Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Day MMM: Rather Quiet

Day 2999: Nick versus Barclays


Mr Clogg battles on behalf of all citizens who pay our taxes and (nowadays) own our banks.

Yesterday, the Grauniad published a secret document from Barclays Bank on how best to AVOID TAX. They then UNPUBLISHED it when Barclays obtained a GAGGING ORDER on the grounds that revealing how they AVOID TAX might be commercially prejudicial.

Mr Clogg went into a meeting with the Barclays boss, Mr John Vastley, and gave him what for!

"It didn't come to a stand-up row," Mr Clogg told the The Today Programme, "because I used my JEDI POWERS to subdue him first. Ahem."

Mr Vince "The Power" Cable, Liberal Democrat Shadow Chancellor also weighed in.

"At a time when banks are receiving massive support from the Government, the public has a right to know if those same banks are also trying to avoid paying their tax bills," he said, pointing out that Barclays are looking for BIG BIG government guarantees at the same time as they are short-changing the Exchequer.

Personally, I think that any bank that has substantial support from the public purse, whether it is nationalised or just getting its loan book held afloat, should be subject to the same Freedom of Information laws as any other department that is spending public money. After all, WE OWN YOU NOW, Mr Bankers.

Of course, this news comes on the same day that Lord Airhead Turner, head of the banking regulator the FSA (Fully Subservient Authority), announced plans for tighter regulation.

Lord Airhead, and forgive me if this gets a bit technical, thinks that the rules should be: don't lend every last penny you've got to people who can never, ever pay it back.

But I'd like to make my own suggestion: DO NOT CHEAT THE TAXPAYING PUBLIC.

And that goes DOUBLE in the week you are asking them to pull your nuts out of the fire!


Day 2998: Gravity of the Situation


The European Space Agency have launched a new GRAVITY-MAPPING satellite called Goce.

(Not to be confused with the PASTA-mapping satellite called Gnocchi!)

Allegedly sensitive enough to measure the impact of a snowflake on a super-tanker, Goce will be on the frontline in monitoring CLIMATE CHANGE, tracking every butterfly on Earth and predicting the HURRICANES that they are going to cause… er, maybe.


Day 2997: Credit Crunch – Russia do their bit


Announcing their own SPECIAL kind of "fiscal stimulus", Russian President Dimity Mediocre said:

"We have learned lessons of history. Cure for Depression is MASSIVE REARMAMENT followed by WORLD WAR… Dos vedanya, Tovarisch!"


Day 2995: DOCTOR WHO: The Unquiet Dead


We could have done this one last week too, you know! Daddy has got DOCTOR WOO on my iPhant, so at conference, late at night, we were able to snuggle round the telephone and watch tiny little Dr Who and tiny little Rose and tiny little Mr Dickens…

But then we got our copy from the Doctor Woo DVD files so we watched it again this week too. Honestly, with all this watching Doctor Woo all the time we are starting to look like BBC3's target audience. BBC4 will get JEALOUS!

Of course, they never expected to do Christmas, so this is the ninth Doctor's Christmas special, three months late.

And for all that it's dressed up with pseudo-scientific explanations, this is very much a ghost story, in the traditions of the BBC's MR James adaptations and, dare I say it, Dickens himself. Now, admittedly, I was less impressed by writer Mark Gatiss's "Crooked House" pretentions over Christmas 2008 than certain Grauniad previewers – who gave him pick of the day three days running – but earlier work such as New Adventure "Nightshade" and "The League of Gentlemen's Christmas Special" show that it's certainly a genre in which he can excel.

Ironically, though, the most "ghostly" sequence has nothing at all to do with the plot, because it's this week's "Bad Wolf" reference, the point at which people started to go "aye, aye, there may be something to this", expressed as Gwyneth's disturbing premonition. It's an incredibly effective scene and unusually long for what is no more than two people standing and talking. And then the Doctor pops up at the end and makes you jump!

The episode also looks very different. After the warm colour palette of "The End of the World", Euros Lyn, who directed both episodes and will go on to be a behind-the-camera star of 21st Century Who, choose to emphasise the ghostliness with lots of blues and even green lighting in the TARDIS console room, and contrast it with vibrant living reds in the theatre, say, or Sneed's parlour. Notice also the way that the morgue feels like it's in the depths of the Earth so cold is the light, and the purple feet of one corpse just add to it. And then the Gelth Ambassador turns from ethereal blue to infernal flame… The whole piece comes across as a visual fanfare.

And opening with a whopping great close up of the gas being lit is great visual clue too.

Being as it's Euros, TARDIS travel is much choppier, with the Doctor and Rose ending up flat on their backs, though laughing about it. He does the same thing again in "Tooth and Claw", though shows them actually falling over that time, so it's much less, er, post-coital. However, the Mill's special effects of the TARDIS in the time tunnel are, rather marvellously, done so as to show the Police Box looping the loop just before we cut back to the Doctor and Rose on the floor. So obviously that's what they're doing down there.

This is, incidentally, the point at which we should realise that the time tunnel is colour coded: red for forwards in time, blue for backwards. This is a lovely touch and very nearly right. But, unfortunately, backwards.

Travelling forwards in time is effectively slowing yourself down relative to everyone else – one second for you equals a hundred years for the rest of the universe. The effect would compress or shorten the wavelengths of light waves as you perceive them reaching the TARDIS because more of the waves have time to arrive (from their point of view) in the time (from yours). Because more waves have time to arrive, this shortens the distance between the waves, i.e. the wavelength, turning red into blue.

I think this works in "real" physics too. If you actually wanted to travel into the future (faster than you would anyway), one way would be to take advantage of relativity. Travelling close to (though never faster than) the speed of light has the time dilation effect known as the twin paradox where the rest of the Universe ages more than you do because of the way that time and space bend. At the same time length contraction foreshortens all the wavelengths, blue-shifting all the light.

Travelling backwards in time would, of course, have some very peculiar effects, but assuming you still can experience visible light then in all likelihood it would also be blue-shifted as you go backwards because it's not the direction but the temporal velocity that would affect the colour. You would want to be going backwards at a rate faster than one second per second so, again, more light waves have "time" to reach you than "normal", and getting more waves means a shorter wavelength which is the same as bluer light.

To get redder light you would have to be travelling through time "faster" than normal, that is to say you be in "Blink of an Eye" accelerated territory.

Having said all that, the TARDIS travels though an engineered dimension called the Vortex so for all I know it comes with built-in traffic signals courtesy of the "Fairy-Lights of Rassilon".

There's also a tiny blooper in the opening TARDIS scene, incidentally, but it comes so soon in the episode that it gets me every time.

"Hold that one down," says the Doctor.

"I'm holding this one down," replies Rose.

"Then hold them both down," snaps the Doctor.

What Billie should have said was: "I'm holding this one down".

(i.e. the way she says it, it sounds like her reply is "I am holding down the button you want me to" rather than "I can't because I'm holding a different button down".)

Think of it as the grain of sand in the oyster though, because Billie's performance is so lovely in this episode it's hard to criticise. The perfect delivery of her first step into the past; the wild-child sauciness of her conversation with Gwyneth; her delivery of the word "gazebo". It's easy to forget just how good Billie was as Rose in these opening episodes and how much of the series' subsequent success hung on that. As the (ghastly phrase) audience identification figure, she is the one who draws us into this series, convinces us that this story is going somewhere and binds us to it.

"The Unquiet Dead" is also the first episode with a genuine "guest star", in the person of Mr Simon Callow as, of course, Charles Dickens. Obviously everyone wants to be a guest star in Who now, but then it was a big thing to get an actual "name" and the press made a lot of it. It's a lovely understated performance, all soft regrets and blustering insistence on his certainties, only becoming hootingly Dickensian when Dickens is on stage "in character" as it were. The moment in his carriage where the Doctor, on finally realising who he is, goes all fanboy and he is flattered into assisting this stranger is both hilarious and charming. And the way that, as the evening goes on, he gets gradually more drunk as his way of coping with each new revelation is a nice and also credible touch.

That's not to say that you should overlook Alan David as the ungodly Mr Sneed, whose black sense of humour– "the stiffs are getting lively" or "maybe the bishop will do us an exorcism on the cheap" – carries much of the early part of the episode. He's one of those characters with a modern sensibility dropped into a past era so as to comment on the conventions of the time. He's also really good fun, and if you watch his scenes with Chris Eccleston, you can see that the Doctor really enjoys his company too, even though he has effectively just tried to murder Rose.

One thing that strikes you about the first (television) series of Doctor Who this millennium is the distinctive voice of each of the other writers. This is clearly before Doctor Who mutates into "Russell T Davies Doctor Who", and it's much the better for it. The writers who are chosen to contribute are all steeped in the lore of the series, but also with their own TV credentials and the cohunes to stick their ground.

Now in his big book of Doctor Who, "How I Did It!", Russell asserts that he could have claimed a co-writer credit on many of the "non-Russell" stories, and "The Unquiet Dead" in particular. And yet the story is so distinctly un-Russell that you have to say Mark deserves his name in lights this week. There's a much darker humour, just enough of a whiff of Royston Vasey to be enjoyable without being overpowering. There's an interest in Dickens as a person, not just as a celebrity (I'm looking at you, "The Shakespeare Code" and "The Unicorn and the Wasp"). There's an interest in the mechanics of Time Travel, without it being in the geeky Steven Moffat way, with the Doctor explaining both that time can be flexible, rewritten, and that Rose is wrong in the (surprisingly common) misconception that she can't die just because she's time-travelled to before she was born. There's an obvious love for the story implicit in Doctor Who continuity. Throwaway references to "The Myth Makers" and "The Talons of Weng-Chiang" rub shoulders with directions to the TARDIS wardrobe that could come from "The Invasion of Time" or "Shada". And, of course, there's a very trad Doctor Who explanation for "the sight", casually slipped in alongside the "ghosts are aliens" malarkey, which sets up a whole lot of future continuity too. Russell, it has to be said, probably wouldn't bother with an explanation at all… which is fine as far as it goes but just look at the storytelling opportunities – not to mention career for Eve Myles – that have arisen out of that explanation.

All of which means that the creator credit for Torchwood really goes to… well, Nigel Kneale, actually, because if the whole "rift" idea is chloroformed and stuffed into a hearse from "Image of the Fendahl", then Chris Boucher was himself just lifting his explanations of ghosts and psychic phenomena and hitching a lift in the dead body of Kneale's earlier "The Stone Tape".

Alex has pointed out another way in which it is different, though, and that is in its attitude to strangers. A theme that runs though the first season – through Rose's mixed-race relationship with Mickey; to the way that her DNA mixes with the Dalek's to make it morally "better"; to Captain Jack's "dancing"; to Margaret Slitheen "going native" in Cardiff – it's implicit that mingling is good. The Doctor expressly notices that something is wrong with the Fourth Great and Bountiful Human Empire because it's just humans and no mixing with aliens.

In this episode, offering to share the planet with aliens turns out very, very badly.

This, of course, would be the point where Lawrence Miles infamously went off the deep end. To be fair to him, the Gelth do claim to be seeking asylum; their claim is bogus. This makes them entirely literally "bogus asylum seekers" in the ugly headline hate-figure tag especially current at the time.

But to be fair to Mark Gatiss too, this is Doctor Who so the Gelth have almost got to turn out to be monsters or there's no dramatic last act. In fact, aliens are invading Earth all the time in this series, but they usually go for brute force or some over-complicated scheme to try and seize the planet. Or, in "The Sontaran Stratagem" both. It's rare – and therefore more original and interesting – for them to lie to get their way.

And the whole moral debate – the Doctor comparing giving the Gelth dead human bodies to recycling – would be much less interesting without that lie.

What's interesting too, is that no one is entirely proved right in this story. The Doctor admits it's all gone a bit wrong when the Gelth betray him, but Rose also gets taken down a peg or two when Gwyneth tells her it's clear in her mind that she thinks the maid is stupid.

Besides, the Gelth are, obviously, "Gas" mixed with "Stealth". And "angels" that "descend" are demons.

How much of the Gelth's story is true? It looks very likely that the answer is none of it. Through Gwyneth, they can read the Doctor's mind – we see that she can read his mind in the moment when she offers him tea "with three sugars, just how you like it" – and the whole of that extended "Bad Wolf" scene helps to set this up. They've told Gwyneth that they are angels. They tell the Doctor that they are victims of the Time War – you know, that Time War that he's feeling god-rendingly guilty about. Neither claim is any more credible. They are just pushing exactly the buttons that they know will play upon the sympathies of whomever they are talking to.

Which means we don't actually learn more about the Time War.

What we have is a piece where characters have different facets to them and actually develop, even though a lot of them still end up dead; where the plot is actually as important as the people in it, rather than just being a shop window for Russell's trademark character-shtick; where there's an actual science-y fiction-y explanation rather than "it's aliens/the future so we can do whatever we want". In short, one accidental political lapse aside, it's close to a perfect episode of Doctor Who.

In summary: when the TARDIS dematerialises there is a CGI swirl of displaced snow that had gathered on its Police Box exterior. Never mind thousands of flying Daleks or the Devil, that should be the definitive effect of new Doctor Who.

God bless us every one.

Next time: Harriet Jones, Flydale North… nope, no idea who you are. Time for the first really controversial episode. Farting aliens take over the government of Britain and restage "Pigs in Space". BONG! It's "Aliens of London"


Day 2994: Vote Mr Balloon to be In Europe but Sitting At the Back with the Nutters


Mr Andy writes a timely reminder of just what kind of FRUIT-LOOP it is that Mr Balloon is getting into bed with (though obviously NOT in the way that "will lead to the downfall of civilization")

Currently, Mr Balloon's Conservatories are members of the centre-right or "Christian-Autocrat" aligned European People's Party, motto: "Europe's Driving Force". But Mr Balloon doesn't WANT to be a "driving force" in Europe. In fact he wants to climb OUT of the driving seat and into the back with the MAD OLD GRANNY who keeps shouting "it's all the fault of those {delete as applicables}…"

European President, Mr Manual Barometer, has spoken of his regret that Mr Balloon is leading his men into the WILDERNESS.

And Liberal Democrat equalities spokesperson Ms Lynne Featherweight has written to the Conservatories asking them to reconsider whether they really, really, REALLY want to be allied to these sort of opinions.

The European People's Party is, currently, the largest bloc in the Union Parliament having, at least until the elections in June, 288 of the 785 members (or 37%).

For a bit of perspective, the EPP comes ahead of the Party of European Socialists (including the VERY not-Socialist Hard Labour Party) with 215 seats (27%) and the group that the Liberal Democrats belong to, the Rebel Alliance. Er, sorry, the Alliance for Liberals and Democrats in Europe, with 101 MEPs (13%).

The remaining seats are held by the Greens, the ironically-named United Left splinter party and the National Conservatives with about forty seats each. And Mr Robert Killjoy-Sulk sitting on his own at the back.

27 MEPs are British Conservatories, by no means all of whom are eager to leave the EPP. Depending on how many of the LUNATIC FRINGE he can persuade to join his gang (and how many of his OWN Conservatories he can carry with him), Mr Balloon will probably be joining the FRINGE PARTIES on about forty seats too.

So Mr Balloon is planning on moving from the LARGEST party in the Union to being the SMALLEST.

For a man who CLAIMS to be "ready for power", he certainly seems to be BACKING AWAY from the centre of the action going, "ooh no, don't ask me to actually take responsibility for leading".

And what sort of a MANIFESTO is he going to offer to the British People at the European Elections this year, anyway? A DISHONEST ONE, that's for sure.

After all, he can hardly spell out the TRUTH can he:

"Dear Voter, I'm currently the leader of the Party with MOST British MEPs and we're a BIG PART of the group that's been DRIVING the European Union, even though I keep telling you that I'm against everything that the Union are doing and that I am therefore supporting. Er.

"But give me your vote and I'll SURRENDER any influence and guarantee NO CHANGE to European policy because I'd rather hang out with a bunch of HOMOPHOBES than step up to the task of actually making a difference. And as for Global Warming… just remember, as they say in Poland, Vote Blue; Deny Green.

"Luv from Mr Balloon."


Day 2992: Mysteries of Doctor Who #18: Do the Cybermen have invisible planets?


Because on the face of it, they certainly seem to.

Planet #1: Mondas, aka Blowy-uppy-world.

Mondas, I don't like Mondas, I'm going to burn the whole planet down. Though, ironically, that's what they try to do to Telos, and only blow up Mondas by mistake.

In "The Tenth Planet", astronomers from Earth SUDDENLY spot a ruddy great planet barrelling down on us. Now, even though this was set in the DISTANT FUTURE of, er, 1986, and therefore before Mr Lembit had got all shouty about asteroids, a planet the size of Earth (which, by definition, Earth's TWIN planet would be) ought to be visible for millions of kilometres. You know, like Mars and Venus are. And yet this comes as a total surprise to people who are running a SPACE PROGRAMME and therefore jolly well ought to know. Flying a rocket isn't just Mirror, Signal, Manoeuvre, you know.

And yet somehow, Mondas just "appears" from nowhere.

Planet #2: Telos, aka Freezer Empire (catchy advert: "Mum's Gone to Telos")

Although Dr Who returns there in the DISTANT, er, PRESENT DAY of 1985 for the "Attack of the Cybermen", the Cybermen's home from home – or rather tomb from tomb – is first visited in "The Mummy". Er, what? No, you see, "The Tomb of the Cybermen" is basically a retelling of the Mummy legend, with Telos as the Egyptian desert and Cyber-control as the lost pyramid. The hieroglyphs, sorry "logic-symbols", are the big give away. Oh, and the lumbering Undead rising from the tomb to exact their curse on whomsoever should disturb their eternal slumber. Anyway, this, in and of itself, relies on Telos being a "lost planet", somehow difficult to find. Invisible even.

But then to compound that, there's the evidence that Telos is actually IN our own Solar System. To reprise the whole Planet 14 debate: all of the mighty Trout, Mr Dr Pat's, adventures with the Cybermen are set in the Solar System and in the 21st Century (or late 20th), and all of them make it pretty clear that the Cybermen do NOT have interstellar technology and desperately need to conquer the Earth as their only hope of survival. Well, they all do so long as you accept the allowances you have to make if you're to make ANY sense of that one written by Mr David "I wouldn't know the difference between a Galaxy and a Finger of Fudge" Whitaker. Given that going cryo is their very-last-throw-of-the-dice option, that would suggest that the oh-so-difficult-to-find Telos is right here in the Solar System. Which would have to make it even more difficult to detect.

So ARE they invisible?

Well, there IS another possible explanation, although it's a bit "Star Trek".

The alternative is that there is some kind of WORMHOLE near to where the Earth orbits the Sun. And Mondas fell through it.

This isn't QUITE as unlikely as it sounds, at least not in the Doctor Woo universe. There's at least one occasion when a pretty ordinary Earth spaceship (i.e. one of the ones that THAT stock-footage from NASA can double for) manages to accidentally get lost in another star system. Admittedly that's "The Android Invasion" aka "The One with the Spoiler in the Title" (or more precisely "The One with the Spoiler in the Title that doesn't have Daleks in it"). Nor is it unknown for planets to apparently wander in and out of the Solar System – Voga in "Revenge of the Cybermen", Vulcan in "Power of the Daleks", arguably the Moon in "…and the Silurians" – so there's a least a chance that trans-galactic billiards is on the cards.

And of course, the whole of Torchwood is based on the idea that there is this space-time rift to anywhere that just happens to have a back door in Cardiff.

Actually, the Torchwood Rift (or GIANT ANTI-PLOTHOLE as it is called) ought to be a tiny wee crack in the Universe (what with the Gelth specifically NOT able to come through in numbers) rather than the bleedin' enormous demon-disgorging dimensional doorway that it is used as whenever the plot calls for it to be the Hellmouth this week, but N E Waaaaaay.

It's been put forwards by others that the REASON the Earth keeps getting invaded in the 1970s and/or 1980s (your UNIT-dating mileage may vary) is because there is some STRATEGIC value to the planet beyond the prettiness of its oceans and the nice view towards Alpha Centauri. A convenient hyper-space by-pass to the Oseidon system (or wherever) would certainly be that.

Mondas popping back thorough the rift would satisfy the "suddenly appearing from nowhere" criterion that "The Tenth Planet" sets up; and if Telos is at the other end of the rift, especially if the other end isn't fixed (yes, just like that one with the Ferengi) then that would make it the "lost city/planet/tomb" for which Professor Parry's team had to scour the universe. (Even though they seem ill-equipped to scour a BATHTUB!)

But that's not really "drifting to the edge of space" is it. It's rather more "blimey, where did the sun go?" and "where's parallel Professor Richard to tell us that WE'VE moved and not all these new planets" to be honest.

No, the wormhole explanation won't do.

Instead, let's pretend that the Cybermen behave logically like they claim they do (but DON'T!) and look at this that way.

This whole problem starts with Mondas becoming increasingly uninhabitable as it drifts away from the Sun. The Mondassians have got time and technology on their side, but otherwise they're more STUFFED than I am.

We know that their EVENTUAL solution was to turn themselves into friends of Dorothy. (OK, so the straw cybermen and the cowardly cat-monster Mondassians were even less successful…) But what else might they have considered?

Well, large scale INSULATION of the planet might be a good idea. Your main needs are to keep the atmosphere in and to keep it warm: what you want is some sort of dome over much if not all of the planet, an artificial sky that is reflective on the inside to retain as much heat as possible and is totally black on the outside to absorb any warming sunlight that manages to fall upon it.

Entirely as a BY-PRODUCT of that technology, you've built a great big NINJA COSTUME for your planet, rendering it difficult if not impossible to see.

Of course, returning to the environs of the Earth, such a shroud would result in the REVERSE problem, runaway global warming. And we already know that Mondas suffers from overheating. The Cybermen would need to pretty quickly disassemble their planetary blanket… hence apparently materialising out of nowhere!

That's Mondas explained… what about Telos?

Well, ask yourself about the native Telosians, the Cryons who we meet in "Attack of the Cybermen", a species so evolved for sub-zero conditions that they VAPORISE at room temperature. And yet, humans appear able to wander about on the surface of their home planet without instantly turning to popsicles. So, what, the Cryons invented the freezer BEFORE they evolved? It seems a little unlikely. Obviously, something has happened to CHANGE their planet – and what more obvious a change than the invasion of the Cybermen.

Actually, even this doesn't really make total sense. We're supposed to believe that the Cybermen invaded Telos to take advantage of the Tombs… so the giant fridges must have been there before them… so they can't have been built BECAUSE of the Cybermen. But let's take a little CREATIVE licence. Say the Cybermen invade Telos just because. After all, it's a planet and their own world, Mondas, is currently on an apparently one-way trip to deep space doom. But the Telosian weather is routinely what we call "a bit nippy" or even "quite brisk". And yet fortunately the Cybermen just HAPPEN to HAVE the technology to hand for exactly these circumstances: they adapt same techniques they used on Mondas and set about adjusting the Telosian climate to be a bit more to their liking. And, as the temperature rises, the Cryons are forced to build refrigerated cities just to survive the Global Warming.

In this sense, Telos is twin-of-terraformed into a planet with Earth-like surface conditions (and quarries) encased in a black light-absorbing suit making it vanish. The only way to detect it would be by calculating the effect that its gravity has on the surrounding system… enter the Brotherhood of Logicians with their "mass intelligence" able to put in the thousands of man hours of calculations needed to locate the lost planet.

On the other fluffy foot, ASTROLOGY rather than astronomy would be more in keeping with the whole "ancient curse" vibes. And the Cybermen ARE the astrologers of the Doctor Who Universe.

After all, their plans begin with the movement of the planets ("The Tenth Planet"), before progressing to the Moon ("The Moonbase"), a nova in another galaxy(!)… oh all right, meteorites ("The Wheel in Space"), a planet of gold ("Revenge of the Cybermen") and finally turning into a falling star themselves ("Earthshock"), even if they wind up chasing a "magic comet" ("Silly Nemesis").

Of course an INVISIBLE planet would turn an astrological chart to gibberish… if it wasn't gibberish ALREADY! Maybe that is why all of the Cybermen's schemes go wrong.

"Your Stars for Today. Telos: a tall/short dark/fair young/old stranger will be important to your plans. Maybe don't bother going out."


Day 2990: How I bottled out of asking Mr Vince if he was going to slash higher education and the army


As I said, I was LATE for my interview with President Ros because I was in the main hall listening to the speech of our Treasury Spokesperson, Mr Vince "the Power" Cable, and could not tear myself away.

I came away with the distinct impression that our SAINTED Shadow Chancellor was carefully and quietly laying the groundwork for announcing strategic cuts in government spending. Or more bluntly, warming up the sacrificial knife and letting some of the sacred cows know they have an appointment…

Specifically mentioned were higher education and the armed forces.

The suggestion that we cut the size of the army is quite BOLD. "Courageous", Sir Humphrey would say. It is certainly a stick that the Conservatories, with their jingoistic hats on, would use to beat us with.

It is certainly the case that we have been asking ridiculously too much of our armed forces. Hard Labour got us into one completely unnecessary war that has made the other possibly necessary war much, much harder to fight.

The difficult question here is one of RESPONSIBILITY. Mr Clogg has spoken of a world where intervention is possible. But who's going to do the intervening – for all that it should be under a blue flag with a UN mandate, SOMEONE has to provide the boots on the ground. And if Great Britain is going to do less, that means either we're asking someone else to do MORE (and see how difficult it is to do that even among friends in Europe), or LESS is going to be done. We – the civilised world – are already walking on by while Darfur and Zimbabwe go to hell in a handcart. How many other places will we let slide into anarchy or, worse, the grip of someone like the Taliban who we end up having to fight in the end anyway?

I'm not against us bringing home our troops, putting right the shocking state of their homes here in the UK and using our army to defend us rather than supporting the failed policies of a President who is now history.

But it's never as easy as JUST saying: "right we'll come home now".

Mind you, for a Liberal Party, particularly a big soft fluffy liberal party like ours, saying "less war" is going to be much, much less of a problem than saying "less education".

Even raising the QUESTION of whether sending 50% of all young people to university is a good idea could be seen as retrograde, anti-opportunity, even… CONSERVATIVE.

But let's just try and look at this PRAGMATICALLY for a moment. We USED to have a system where we offered a free university education of exceptional standard to a smaller number of people, ideally those who would benefit from it the most, though in practice this was mixed to a greater or lesser extent with those who could afford to buy their way in too. A university education BECAUSE it was rare offered you a step up into the best opportunities.

By vastly expanding the pool of graduates you also reduce the SCARCITY value of BEING a graduate – you transform the degree from a course of study for those who it will benefit into a pass/fail test that divides the nation into two: those who'll get the jobs and the rest. Because if a degree is no longer the passport to top earnings, it has become – even worse – a necessary hurdle to ANY earnings. Congratulations, you've just re-invented the 11+ as the 18+.

And then you've got to PAY for it all, for all those extra places studying, which needs more lecturers and accommodation and facilities, and you're talking two three times as much money, so where's it going to come from? Well, you end up mortgaging your children's future in order to have THEM pay for what you got for free. And for how much? Three thousand pounds? Five thousand? Ten thousand? So now only those who can AFFORD it will take the chance and that means the ones who's parents are already in the well off half and social mobility is killed stone dead. Well done, Hard Labour, good luck with pulling that ladder after you.

But… but, but, but. Who am I to say that it ISN'T an opportunity, and people ARE still clamouring to get in to university, even if it means taking up the offer of eternal debt in exchange for a graduate salary.

I THINK we would be better off with a RANGE of opportunities, founded on a good education to 18 but with different paths after. But that's merely what I think.

Anyway, we did an INTERVIEW with St Vince, and THAT is what I SHOULD have asked Mr Vince about when I had the chance. But I bottled it. Come on, this is Saint Vince and we are very much on the same side – I don’t want to be putting my big fluffy foot in it asking something awkward about fundamental policy changes.

So I asked him about the Euros and about the Post Office instead. These were clearly less stupid questions than last time we interviewed him and I asked if he wanted to carry on being Deputy Leader (answer: yes) even if they weren't the real questions I should have asked.

The point about the Euro is that the currency MAY get blown to pieces if PROTECTIONIST pressures get too great; however it MAY end up being stronger if it becomes a reserve currency – which isn't one you keep on the bench just in case but is actually one that people buy up to shore up their OWN reserves. I had hoped that St Vince would use his FAMOUS POWERS of PROGNOSTICATION but he was not to be drawn so easily.

Admitting that either of those things COULD happen, he did say that the single currency would come under a lot of pressure as the recession affected countries, especially Portugal, Italy, Greece and Spain which are known to have weaker economies, compared to Germany. (Mind you, we're ALL weaker economies compared to Deutschland!) This was the first SERIOUS test of the new currency, he pointed out, and the first time in a decade that the Eurozone has faced a recession. Fortunately, he felt that it was UNLIKELY to break the currency.

On the other fluffy foot, he also thought that a very serious currency crisis like this revealed to people just how VULNERABLE we have let ourselves become by staying outside.

On a more positive note, after the crisis has passed he thinks that that will be a good time to reassess our entry into monetary union. Obviously, he restated all the usual caveats about "at a rate that is sustainable" and "not without a referendum". But he clearly felt that a good part of the case FOR the Euro would have been made if it weathers the banking apocalypse (and another good part will be made if it weathers it BETTER than the New Pound, the noble traditional currency of Great Britain since, er, 1971).

Post Offices are topical, thanks to Lord Mandelbrot, and also of great interest to any local community where their Post Office is threatened with closure. And also Daddy had written some really good questions about them earlier.

So I asked whether the bottom of a huge stock market crash wasn't a STUPID time to be considering a privatisation, and shouldn't we be trying to get some more competition into the business rather than just an under the counter deal with one private firm?

Mr Vince agreed that now was, as he put it, perhaps not the best time to get best value for the shares.

Though he slightly evaded the rest of the question, not actually dodged more of a weave past: he said that as liberals we supported the idea of liberalisation in the postal industry, but that it shouldn't be reduced to "cherry picking" the best bits and leaving the universal delivery to the state. But he moved quickly on to critiquing Lord Mandelbrot's proposals, saying that we have laid out a number of key tests for the legislation when it appears – will private companies have to contribute to the universal service obligation; will postal workers participate in a John Lewis-like workers partnership; will the Royal Mail be kept as a public body; will the private investment be used to support the Post Office network. He reckoned that actually Lord M will fail one or more or all of these tests and that we will be opposing the legislation. Still, it is good to keep an open mind first.

He also suggested that competition is difficult because the sorting and distribution is a natural monopoly, though for myself I am not sure that that is true, or at least not any more true than it is for the supply of telephone services because the wires form a natural monopoly. Unless I'm wrong, wasn't British Telecom one of the more SUCCESSFUL privatisations introducing competition into the whole telecom industry?

Anyway, those were my questions.

Far more interesting was the conversation we got into about BLOGGING, and why Mr Vince doesn't do it – mainly time – which also linked up with Auntie Alix's questions about targeting, and the advice he had for Jo Crispy-Strips about how to get elected. (Which was: keep on slogging, you'll soon learn that a few good speeches aren't remotely enough and you'll need a lot of hard work and a lot of good canvassing information and most importantly a team). AND then Lady Mark went on to talk about how Mr Vince had been doing a lot of visits to local parties and "not just the glamorous ones". (The trick is to ASK, folks!)

Lovely Jenny asked a much more interesting question about bees; the Lady Mark asked for investment advice; fragrant Mary asked about the unfairness of the local government grant to "leafy suburbs"; the Tin Man asked for a Heart; Daddy Richard asked for a Brain and you were there and you were there and oh! It was such a strange dream…

For better accounts than mine, look to our other star panellists:

Award Winning Auntie Alix

Deeply diverse Ms Jo Crispy-Strips

Trembling Fangirl Jennie

The Honourable Lady Mark (parts one and two)

Fragrant Ms Mary Reidmyday

And Scarier Mr Andy Hinton (parts one, two and impressively three)

Star Prize, though, goes to Auntie Helen for the World’s longest 12 second video.

Cable Guys (and Gals)
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Day 2988: If your local party is a bit rubbish… who you gonna call? – Millennium Elephant meets President Ros Scott

Saturday (again):

All right, so I arrived LATE for this interview. It's a LONG way up that spiral ramp to the auditorium in the Harrogate Centre and my fluffy legs are only LITTLE, so it takes AGES to get all the way back!

Anyway, the Fragrant Ms Mary Reidmyday and Mr Costigan Quist have already given you the low down on what happened when they along with lovely Jenny and Auntie Helen and (yes, yes EVENTUALLY) my fluffy self got together for an interview with Ms Baroness Ros Scott, who looked resplendent in the newly minted Presidential diamante conference-badge lanyard. (Apparently Mr Hugs has yet to hand over the Presidential Tiara.)

The Committee for the Return of the Presidential Tiara
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So, I am talking instead about one thing that came up, but that seems to have been a growing notion that spread over the course of the conference from our meeting with Governor Dean and into our conversation with St Vince of Cable too – in a word: targeting.

In slightly more words: because we have limited resources we have to chose most carefully where to put them, therefore we lend our support to places where we have the best chance of winning, whether at local or parliamentary or even European level. It's a strategy known as Rennardism and Lord Rennard, the Party's Chief Executioner Executive has been renamed after it. Er, I think. It has had, as Mr Vince pointed out, enormous success, resulting in the best Liberal representation in Parliament in a Century.

On the other fluffy foot, Governor Dean's whole strategy, the Fifty State Strategy, is about reaching out to BEYOND the places where you can win. The reasons are TWOFOLD.

Firstly, your support does NOT end at the boundaries of your winnable constituencies. Targeting, though, abandons those voters, leaves them out in the cold almost. A Fifty-State Strategy lets them feel a part of the victory, and more than that it lets them know that they are not alone out there. By empowering small networks in places where you are not strong, you provide not just comfort to your own supporters but visibility among supporters of other parties and of none. The more people who at least KNOW someone who will say "I'm a Liberal Democrat! I'll have a Babycham!" the more CREDIBILITY you have when you claim to be a NATIONAL PARTY.

Secondly, for new members, at the moment, it's a LOTTERY. If you are lucky, you find a local party that is a strong and coherent group, where you can make friends, have fun, a good old chin-wag and learn about liberal democracy and feel supported. If, however, your scratch-card comes up blank, then you find little more than a stack of Focuses and a begging letter signed by Lord R.

Mr Vince said himself that the BEST thing about the Liberal Democrats is the REALLY EXCEPTIONAL PEOPLE.

BUT… you need to FIND those people. Getting elected is DIFFICULT and HARD WORK. Governor Dean told us that the PERSONAL CONNECTION was the most important factor in winning an election. But you need to be making that connection to several thousand homes just to be a councillor. That needs a TEAM effort.

So the VITAL question that seemed to be coming through from the conference was this: Are we, as Liberal Democrats, losing vital support because the people who WANT to find us, can't?

And what do we do about it?

President Ros certainly seemed AWARE of the question, and had SOME answers – she talked about developing a policy network that could involve people more directly in formulation of policy; while at the same time saying that Cowley St couldn't (and SHOULDN'T do it all) and that regional parties had to take some responsibilities.

We want to use our resources SMARTER. Obviously we want MORE resources too – Mr Costigan asked Ms Ros about that, and she said that we need to ask. We need to act more like a CAUSE or CAMPAIGN rather than a political party. We need to ask for money FOR something, not just "the Party". And we need to be less EMBARRASSED about asking. But basically we need to ask.

But President Ros also thought that we should be using our resources BETTER – we have a smaller membership than the other two parties, but often a better educated and more motivated one: the skills are out there if we can find them. (Another "find the people".) And there is a good deal of unnecessary duplication of effort that we should try, where possible, to trim.

But that's not the answer to the question, is it. It's the BEGINNING of an answer, it's at least a recognition that there IS a question to answer, but it's not getting us all the way there.

How do we, without compromising the investment in target seats, reach out to our own "Fifty State Solution"?

If only there were some NETWORK or connection that we could make… hang on…

If you are READING this then you and I are connected via the Wibbly Wobbly Web. You are an Internet Person, and probably a bit of a Liberal One too. And therefore QUITE SMART.

But the Internet alone can't do it. At the Lib Dem Voice fringe event, Ms Karen from the Obamamaniacs (or Barry O for America Campaign as it was formally called) talked about the success of the Internet in the Presidential Election, but also said how they never wanted it to be too good – they didn't want the voter to think "well, I've really enjoyed the website and now I've 'done' Barry O for President". They wanted the voter to get up from behind the screen and go out and DO something. Vote, mainly, but delivering would be nice too.

So think. How do we capitalise on the connection that we already have? How do we build on it to make a Liberal Network that CAN reach those liberals out there, and how do we get them MOVING?

How do we find them, the ones Mr Vince called the REALLY EXCEPTIONAL PEOPLE.

Don't just sit there! Get on with it!!!


Saturday, March 07, 2009

Day 2988: For the Purposes of this Interview, I shall be a Donkey - Millennium "Donkey" Meets Howard Dean


You cannot have helped but notice that the Democrats of America have recently won a significant victory. The Internet plaid a big, big role in this victory, with Barry O drawing in 13 million supporters and over five-hundred million dollars through his website.

So we were very privileged to ask the advice of the man who very much led the way with his own campaign grass-roots campaign in 2003 and as chair of the Democratic National Committee: Mr Governor Howard Dean.

Howard Dean, pictured here with Lib Dem Bloggers and a "Donkey". Yes, I'm a Donkey.
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I was joined for the interview by Ms Helen and Ms Alix, along with Daddies Alex and Richard.

To warm up, I welcomed Mr Howard to the Liberal Conference and asked what the word "Liberal" meant to him.

Ms Helen asked about the Internet and campaigning. Describing the Internet as "the most democracy oriented invention since Gutenberg", Mr Howard was quite modest, and when he talked about how the Internet has changed people's engagement with politics in America, he said that it was the people writing the blogs and the websites that had done the changing – he and President Obama were just the ones who were quick to recognise that change and to adapt to it.

He spoke of the Internet as the tool that is EMPOWERING a new generation: "Where we had a million people march on Washington, you can send a million e-mails to congress (and crash their mail-server!)" he said. At the same time it opens up new ways to COMMUNITY politics, forming new links between local people and groups.

But more than that, the Net is also the best possible way to reach out to people in authoritarian regimes, in places like China or Iran, and bring them a fresh take on democracy.

Should we be talking to activists or to undecided voters, Ms Helen wanted to know.

"Neither," said Mr Howard, "You need to be CREATING activists."

Many more young people are travelling and serving their country in diverse ways today but what they don't do is connect that to POLITICS. Politics MATTERS, said Mr Howard, and not just to old Fuddy-duddies. It is the role of bloggers – that's ME and YOU! – to get our generation engaged and involved in politics.

Daddy Alex asked his "how are you different in one line" question. In an interesting reply-that-wasn't-entirely-a-reply, Mr Howard put forward the idea that the message relates more to the CAMPAIGN rather than the PARTY: for instance "change" was their message this time, and very successfully.

But far more important than MESSAGE was making a CONNECTION to the voters. It's important to go knocking on doors, but it's even more important to go back again and again. An activist knocking on a hundred doors in a weekend is only so good unless they are going to go back the weekend after and the weekend after that and knock on all those doors AGAIN.

That is how you build up the relationship. It doesn't have to be the candidate in person, so long as it is the same face popping up so that the voters can see a relationship, and see how that leads to RESULTS.

Ms Alix talked to Mr Howard about the Fifty-State Strategy. To her, that seemed the exact opposite of the way Liberal Democrat targeting seems to work.

Mr Howard agreed that too much targeting could be a MISTAKE. You risk writing off whole sections of the nation or, as he put it in the most CRUCIAL remark:

"You cannot be a national party if you don't campaign everywhere in the nation. You'll never get someone's vote if you don't ask."

It doesn't mean devoting EQUAL resources, but it does mean devoting SOME resources to places where you are not (yet!) going to win. For what might be a relatively small investment you can have regional co-ordinators to link up activists and give people a "go to" place to find Liberal Democrats.

Speaking from the American perspective, he said how important it was that through President Obama's campaign people had become able to stand up and say "actually, I'm a Democrat" throughout all of America. We Liberal Democrats need to achieve the same thing here, so that peole can stand up and say "I'm a Liberal Democrat" and their friends will think, well actually it's okay to be a Liberal, and maybe the Liberals AREN'T all bad/irrelevant/gone the way of the dodo.

It was a real pleasure to meet the man who could have been the man who could have been the President. And he gave us a lot to think about.

And now we must dash away to hear him speak in the main hall!

We DID try to tempt him into telling us what he thought about the OTHER political parties in Great Britain. But he was very DIPLOMATIC.


Friday, March 06, 2009

Day 2986: A Quantum of Easing


Now, pay attention, 007! If you press this button, you’ll engage and then fire the Economic Ejector Seat, blowing the top off the Bank of England and shooting seventy-five billion pounds up your… fiscal rectitude…

So, how does this “Quantitative Easing” thing work?

Well, imagine you’ve got seventy-five billion pounds… THAT’S how it works.

But this ISN’T like Zimbabwe or the Weimar Republic where they just printed money in order to pay its bills. Oh no! Here, the Bank of England is printing money to buy back the government’s I.O.U.s that they issued in order to pay their bills. Hang on, how does this work again?

Suppose you had ALL the sticky buns in Great Britain. Just suppose. [Sighs] Sorry. Back with you. Let’s say that all those sticky buns cost a billion pounds. Then suppose the Government creates a billion pounds out of nothing, just to spend on sticky buns. But you’ve still got THE SAME NUMBER of sticky buns. So now your sticky buns cost TWO billion pounds and you’ve invented HYPER-INFLATION.

On the other fluffy foot, people OUTSIDE Great Britain looking in will see this billion pound mountain of sticky buns and say, ah ha! That is worth quite a lot of Euros or a bit of a stack of Dollars or two-thirds of a Triganic Pu! But then the Government says abracadabra it’s now a two-billion pound mountain of sticky buns. And everyone else says, er no that’s still quite a lot of Euros or a bit of a stack of Dollars or two-thirds of a Triganic Pu; we’re just going to give you LESS of OUR currency for YOURS thank you very much. And you’ve invented a RUN ON THE POUND as well.

Good going, so far.

Fortunately, however, the REAL value of Great Britain is quite a lot MORE than a billion or even seventy-five billion pounds. In fact, the Bank is only magicking up a bit under 4% of our GDP (which is how you measure total sticky bun production).

That MIGHT cause a little bit of inflation… but that might just cancel out the DEFLATION that’s threatening at the moment. And anyway, Government’s think they know how to DEAL with INflation: they put the interest rates back up.

It MIGHT cause a bit of a fall in the pound. But the pound is already quite suppressed because there’s a CYCLE to this. The way the VULTURES circle the World Economy began with Americaland, and the dollar fell – remember that from early LAST year? – and then came to Great Britain and the Pound fell, and it will probably be the Eurozone next and the Euro will shift down in value, cancelling out it’s previous gains over the pound. And a falling pound HELPS our exports, as we found after the ERM fiasco. Though that is dangerously close to PROTECTIONIST thinking; remember it HURTS imports too, and world trade depends on BOTH import and export to really work.

So it’s SORT OF borrowing from the FUTURE. The Bank invents money NOW to buy the Government bonds; but when the economy is right again, they SELL the bonds back and vaporise the money again. We pay “interest” in the form of inflation and the cost is our money becoming worth a bit less.

But is it going to work?

No. Because it’s a sort of short term CONJURING TRICK, and you can’t keep doing it or the economy goes completely Mugabe.

We need to stop BORROWING to patch up the failed economy of the last few years and start BUILDING the economy of tomorrow.
Now, we’re off to Lib Dem Spring Conference. I wonder what Mr Clogg and Mr Cable will have to say about that…


Thursday, March 05, 2009

Day 2985: Humility or Humiliation?


So, it was Mr Frown's big day. He got to address a joint session of both houses of Americaland's congress. This is, apparently, an honour previously only bestowed on two MANIACS, a NOTORIOUS DRUNK and the man who managed to lose a general election despite polling the most votes Hard Labour has ever won.

So he was understandably PEEVED that Chancellor Sooty had another of his inconvenient bouts of HONESTY and said that maybe a little HUMILITY was called for, and maybe the Government should admit to getting a few things WRONG.

"Will I ARSE!" was Mr Frown's reply.

…I PARAPHRASE! Speaking on the The Today Programme, what the Prime Monster ACTUALLY said: "There's always a need for humility and there's always a need to accept collective responsibility."

Before going on to say: "I'm just not going to accept that any of this is MY responsibility." Okay, I made that up too, but it was the ESSENCE of his reply.

"I don't think I would run away from responsibility for what happens," he asserted. Before doing EXACTLY that, blaming the banks, the world economy, the Secret Conspiracy of the Illuminati and the DOG for eating his homework.

"No, no, the sub-prime mortgage lending happened in America, not here," said Mr Frown; "and I think you'll find that ABM Amrose, that was in Holland, not in Great Britain at all. You're not pinning THIS one on me, sonny."

Well, I seem to recall that the Northern Rock – or Northern On the Rocks – managed to gamble and lose on the money markets with no help from anyone. Their business plan relied on cheep lending always being available, overlooking the most basic "interest rates can go up as well as down" rule of banking. And the Halifax managed to get quite heavily into its own sort of sub-prime lending, as the British property market went through the stratosphere like an overheated balloon… right up to the point where the bubble, and the balloon, burst.

But setting aside the geographical quibbles, is it not the case that Mr Frown WAS the man in charge of the economy for the last DECADE? Wasn't he terribly, terribly PROUD of this fact? More to the point, didn't he spend much of that time courting, wooing, positively sucking-up-to and encouraging the banking sector to do pretty much all of the things that got it into so much trouble?

The CULTURE of banking in Great Britain is defined from the top down. It's a culture FERMENTED by the Hard Labour attitude of "being intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich". And it leads to the sort of WILLY-WAVING where "Fred the Shred" is egged on to buy a busted bank just so that he can shout: "Phwoar! Just look at the size of my… pension!"

Later Lord Mandlebrot appeared on the Newsnight show. He was in Washington at the Ambassador's reception – mmm, nice chocolates – but his shadow was able to join Mr Paxo in the studio to defend the Hard Labour record on regulation. Great Britain, he told us, had had excellent regulation, but it was overwhelmed by an unprecedented event. And the airbags worked perfectly until the car crashed too.

Mr Frown does not suffer from an excess of humility. HUBRIS, on the other fluffy foot…

It we are going to LEARN anything from where we've got to after the last ten years, if we are going to build a BETTER FUTURE from the rubble of the economy, then we've got to face up to the mistakes that were made. Too much easy borrowing; too little restraint; too much money spent on useless things, from management consultants to middle-eastern wars; too little investment in returning opportunity to ordinary folks.

It's no good living in DENIAL – you only get BITTEN by de CROCODILES.

It's a pity Mr Frown didn't say THAT to the US Congress.


Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Day 2983: …then Get Off your Fluffy Bottom and DO something, Mr Brooker!


It seems that the Grauniad's resident misanthropic television critic has reached the limits of human endurance with the Hard Labour Government, resulting in THIS warmly-received splenetic diatribe against the politicos of the ruling classes. Or rather against ALL politicians of every stripe.

But here's my problem: if you're fed up with the way things are, you've got two choices. Either, one: play by the rules, join a political party that WILL make a difference and change the system; or, two: organise a revolution.

Anything else is just "shootin the breeze" as the ELEPHANTS of EVIL in America would put it.

Do not get me wrong, we love Mr Charlie. And it is a GREAT rant. And, frankly, who amongst us could read Mr Jack Man O'Straw, the Sinister Minister, claiming that BLACK IS WHITE without wanting to run him down on the next ZEBRA CROSSING.

But if you don't follow through with action, it doesn't achieve a single darn thing.

Let's diagnose the problem.

Symptom: politicians don't need to pay any attention to what the general public want.

Cause: we have a political system that hands 100% absolute power to the winner of a very small number of marginal seats, meaning that the parties are forced to converge on very narrow policies to satisfy the voters in those marginals and so long as they do that can do any other darn thing they like.

Solution: change the system. Change it so that more or at least most of the seats have a meaningful contest. Make it so that MPs have to DO SOMETHING to justify the vote of their electors.

Snag: but that's so BOOOOOOORING, much easier to wail and yell and throw our dummies out of the pram about how corrupt and venal and just so HUMAN our representatives are.

If you say all politicians are the same, that ANYONE who goes into politics is therefore the same… then no one is going to go into politics to CHANGE things. And that only helps the BAD ones.

Let's just take a moment to compare the reception in Chatter-ista-land of two articles about British Freedom: Mr Huhney-Monster's FREEDOM BILL, and the Sinister Minister's DOUBLETHINK. Clearly, not ALL politicians are the same.

Look, if the Liberal Democrats actually WON an election, I really cannot GUARANTEE that we would be better than Hard Labour or the Conservatories. I know that we wouldn't be corrupt or venal in the same way… but I'm sure we could find new and exciting ways of our own to be corrupt and venal. That's the problem with absolute power, after all.

But we WOULD put a system in place that would change the balance of power between people and politics. We WOULD be the answer Mr Charlie's problem.

Here is the problem for the Liberal Democrats. We WANT to be different. We WANT to be iconoclastic, to change the system, break apart the old cosy consensus where a pathetic "opposition" permits Hard Labour ministers to block legitimate inquiries into disastrous and unjust policies that resulted in literally murderous repercussions with a casual "well we're not telling, so ner".

On the other fluffy foot, we ALSO want to be ELECTED. It's kind of NECESSARY if you want to stick within the rules of our democracy, even if your aim is to win the power to CHANGE those rules.

But playing by the rules means being part of the system. And that means that we're going to get slandered with the "oh, you're just like all the other politicians" label. Because otherwise, we get slandered with the "gaffe" label.

If you step outside the conventional – even SLIGHTLY, by maybe suggesting it's okay to not believe in Mr God, or that aspiring to virginity until marriage is a tiny touch out of date, or that maybe asteroids are worth thinking about – then you are "gaffe prone" or "a figure of fun". (And goodness knows how the meeja would cope with someone who had a REALLY alternative lifestyle – polyamory, anyone? Transvestism? Nudism? Train-spotting?)

In fact it's true of the WHOLE PARTY. We're a bit UNCONVENTIONAL – so we're told we lack CREDIBILITY.

The MEEJA is the key to this – and, I'm sorry to say, Mr Charlie works in the media.

I do so WANT to think: "well, Mr Charlie is great and it's his JOB to write articles, so this is his way of doing his bit. And the problem is the droning mass of the do-nothing brigade, all those fawning midges on Comment-is-Free-ish-subject-to-moderation, you might call them the INSECT-IGENSIA."

But the Grauniad SUPPORTS this Government. They urged people to VOTE for it at the last election, even AFTER we all knew that Iraq was a LIE. They will probably urge people to vote for it again.

(It has been suggested that they might switch their support to Mr Balloon's Conservatories. Which is even WORSE. Because it is just another run around the game of BUGGINS' TURN, that keeps the Tweedle-Tories, Dum-and-Dumber, in power.)

The Grauniad runs SPIN for this Government, the Grauniad undermines alternatives and lives in DENIAL about the true depths of Hard Labour's crimes.

They are like all those increasingly-desperate Labour backbenchers who pretty much campaign on the slogan: isn't this government dreadful – vote Labour; it's the only way to stop these bad-words!

So how CAN you be against the LYING LIARS when you are a PART of the very system that keeps them there?

If you mean it, Mr Charlie, if you really, really mean it, then you're going to have to say to the QUISLING bosses of the Grauniad, I'm sorry it's Labour or me. Tell them that either they unequivocally denounce the Government, the Labour party, Ms Pollyanna Toytown, Ms Jacuie Hashley and all the rest. Or quit.

Otherwise… you're just another politician.