...a blog by Richard Flowers

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Day 3070: Captain Clegg Clobbers Cameron and An Elephant Described by a Committee of Blind Men


A week ago, I was raising my fluffy foot for a REVOLUTION!

Guess what! We got one!

Two days ago, I was demanding that we make Mr Balloon come off the fence, stop posing as a reformer and put up or shut up.

Guess what! We have!

Today, the Leader of the Liberal Democrats, Captain Clegg, gets the front page splash in the Grauniad ,setting out a one hundred day plan to save British Democracy in an article that, just like when he called for the defenestration of Mr Speaker of the Housemartin, once again seizes back the initiative!

A referendum on voting reform!

An elected House of Lords Club!

An end to the corrupting influence of big donations to political parties!

A bill to enable recalls of MPs!

And all inside of one hundred days, presumably to be followed by a swift Autumn election.

People WANT a General Election now, and quite right too. But we HAVE to have the reforms in place first, or we'll just clear out one lot of crooks in order to let in a new lot. Remember how everyone felt in 1997, when the Conservatories were swept out and Lord Blairimort came in with promises to clean up politics and be white-than-white?

Can you REALLY face that sort of disappointment again?

Because that is all that Mr Balloon's call for a snap election is offering unless we make REAL CHANGE NOW.

One hundred days of reform, a swift Autumn election, and a real fresh start!

It's all too good to be true… so what are the problems?

Well, actually I'm NOT going to bang on about SINGLE TRUNK VOTING. I've already explained why STV is the BEST. So why put up with the Hard-Labour-inspired fudge that is AV+?

Politics is described as "the Art of the Possible".

(Admittedly, at the moment that "art" looks more like finger-paintings from a bunch of toddlers popped to the eyeballs on tartrazine-flavoured juice and throwing a tantrum 'cos the sweeties have been taken away. But never mind that right now.)

The POINT about Captain Clegg's PLAN is that – if the other two Parties are REALLY SERIOUS about reforming politics – it is a plan that could REALLY WORK.

No, seriously.

Just look at the campaign for justice for the Ghurkhas. We – and by "we" I mean Ms Joanna Lovely AND the Liberal Democrats (and the Conservatories tagging along at the end) – WE managed to get the Government to change its policy.

Most of the reforms in Captain Clegg's plan have ALREADY been discussed and agreed or very-nearly agreed:

The cap on Party funding was all ready to be signed off at fifty thousand pounds until Mr Balloon walked away from the table.

Elections to the House of Lords Club have been voted on and agreed by Parliament.

And, likewise, the Jenkins' Commission did all the work and came to a compromise on the reformation of the electoral system. All we need for a referendum is for Hard Labour to FULFIL their 1997 election promise. Ten years late, of course, but better late than never.

If we are to MAKE IT HAPPEN, and happen in one hundred days, then we need to be bringing people on board (not opening up new arguments).

But I might suggest that we want to bring in the Conservatories too! We should invite THEM to bring their Open Primaries suggestion to the table.

Open Primaries PLUS a proportional AV+ voting system, so the voters get to choose BETWEEN the candidates for the Parties AND get a vaguely proportional outcome… it almost sounds like the sort of idea that someone might come up with who has HEARD about STV but never SEEN it…

(Yes, that's An Elephant Described by a Committee of Blind Men!)

As a SALVE to the conscientious reformer, might I suggest a look at the Scottish model. There they have a Parliament elected with AV+… and that Parliament voted to implement STV at a LOCAL election level. So now the people in Scotland have had EXPERIENCE of STV, and know that it works, and that it actually worked rather well. Hopefully it means that people will be ready to accept STV at a national Parliament level too.

But I'm NOT going to bang on about that because that's not a problem.

So what is?

Well, firstly, where's our coverage?

The front page of the Grauniad is a GOOD START… but we want the BBC website and telly and radio to be shouting it out, just the way they did for the Conservatories.

Frankly I was SHOCKED by the meeja's kid-glove handling of Mr Balloon and his so-vague-it-can-hardly-be-called-a-policy of "oooh, I might CONSIDER restricting the powers of the PM" (no doubt to be followed six months after a General Election by "oooh, I CONSIDERED it but I decided NOT TO"). Seeing the SOFT SERVES offered up by the normally-excellent Mr Andy Marrmite, and the wall-to-wall love in that Mr Balloon got on Tuesday ("Representation of the People Act? What Representation of the People Act?"), I am only surprised we didn't get to the "…and is there anything else that you would like to share with a grateful nation, Prime Monster-in-Waiting?" question.

What do WE get? Nothing in the The Today Programme headlines at 6am; nothing again at 7am; our policy folded into the story about yet another Conservatory facing the sack for employing her family/using her second home allowance to build servants quarters for her brother; and some jokes about "oh it MUST be serious if they'd cancel their holidays" during the review of the papers.

Never have the BBC been more NAKEDLY the TOOLS of the Establishment, mocking the reforms we so urgently need. Shaming.

Captain Clegg has provided a REAL and PRACTICAL outline of just what a REAL REFORMER could and should do. We can't do it alone – but if the OTHER Parties want to claim the mantle of "reformer" then they are going to HAVE to answer the question: "why won't you go as far as the Liberal Democrats?"

We say "It can be done… and this is how!" so we need the meeja to be putting that to the other Parties. Are they going to join us or be ROADBLOCKS to REFORM…

…just like Mr Speaker was? And look what happened to HIM!

Which leads to the second problem, what do we do if – or more likely WHEN – the Tweedletories in the other two Parties ignore us?

Parliament will be back from another holiday recess on Monday, and that will be Day One. The very least we need is a BIG COUNTER on the Liberal Democrat websites saying:
ONE WASTED DAY – You could have had all-party agreement to accept the independent expenses system by now…


THREE, THREE WASTED DAYS… ah ha ha ha haaa {/Count von Count}…

FOUR WASTED DAYS – You could have had the ability to recall crooked MPs by now…

…and so on.
But what do we do when the next Parliamentary holiday comes round? On July 20th, Hard Labour and the Conservatories will be packing their trunks and saying goodbye to the circus. What do WE do?

"Bar the Gates!" is Captain Clegg's battle cry – and one of the respondents on Comment is Free asks "How exactly do you propose that 'we' 'bar the gates of Westminster and stop MPs leaving for their Summer holidays' without actually getting arrested? I'm quite prepared to chain myself to the gates as long as you and the rest of the Lib Dem MPs are chained up next to me."

Well, chaining Captain Clegg to the railings is certainly one idea, and perhaps we shouldn't too quickly dismiss the visual and outrageous!

Better still, could our Liberal Democrat MPs organise a SIT IN in Parliament itself? If the other two Parties are SCARED to fix the System, we can hold the debate ourselves. We might even win the debate! Er…

Or if you want a more PRACTICAL demonstration… how about an ACTUAL DEMONSTRATION – a million people marched to stop the War (which, OK, didn't actually stop the War) but the Liberal Democrats were a great big VISIBLE part of that. I am sure that LOTS of people would want to March on Parliament in order to make their feelings felt!

Let's do it!

Rise Up people and Fluffy Elephants of Great Britain!

Reclaim your Liberal Birthright and Take Back Power!


Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Day 3068: Mr Balloon versus Electoral Reform. He jumps on the bandwagon… but can we keep hold of the steering?


Mr Balloon writes for the Grauniad about his wish for "progressive conservatoryism", which is as bad an oxymoron as DYNAMIC INERTIA or CARING CANNIBALISM.

Mr Mark Reckons, supported by the Liberal Democrat Blogosphere and Mr Clogg in Parliament has really set a ball rolling. Like ALL the best ideas, it looks really simple and obvious once you see it:

Safe seats equal Sleazy Seats.

Mr Mark told Pollyanna who wrote it in the Grauniad, and Pollyanna told Minister Ben who said it on Questionable Time. And now there's real popular support for reform.

Hmmm, "popular", here comes Mr Balloon.

In his FULL STATEMENT (thought ODDLY, not – it appears – in his bit in the Grauniad) he says:
"But it is also why a Conservative Government will not consider introducing proportional representation."
He claims that his "principle" is "redistributing power… from the powerful to the powerless."

So why won't he address the MOST IMPORTANT issue? Conservatory voters in Hard Labour safe seats are POWERLESS – and Mr Balloon would IGNORE THEM.

All the things that he says he wants – an accountable Parliament, a curbing of the executive, power for the INDIVIDUALS – all these things DEPEND on the Government not having a GUARANTEED MAJORITY in Parliament.

The power of the individual voter means NOTHING if the Government has enough MPs to overrule the House without argument. If the individual voter is to HAVE power, then their representative in Parliament, the person they can write to and talk to, has to have the power to make a difference in a vote.

If you want Parliament to curb the power of the executive, then Parliament has GOT to have the power to say NO. The executive WON'T curb itself. Just look at the way Mr Oboe has said that local government will only get the money to freeze the Council Tax if they do exactly what he says.

If you want Parliament to be ACCOUNTABLE then people have to have a REAL choice; they have to know that when the vote their vote will be counted. And Parliament has to know that the way it votes will be counted in return, so people can make a judgement on how well Parliament has controlled the Government.

Mr Balloon claims that a proportional system would put power in the fluffy feet of "political elites" – "shadowy deals" where coalitions are sorted out in "smoke filled rooms". Exactly like what happens in Scotland… oh, hang on, that's an UTTER LIE, Mr Balloon. What he means is that a proportional system wouldn't put power in the fluffy feet of HIS political elite.

At the moment, voters have a choice of precisely TWO coalitions – either (a) the one between Lord Blairimort's Christian Autocrats, the old fashioned we'd-do-anything-for-power Socialists, and Mr Frown's Middle-Management Incompetence Party; or (b) the one between the Clean-My-Moat Aristocrats, the Planet Vulcan Neo-Cons and Mr Balloon's Playing Fields of Eton Incompetence Party.

A PROPORTIONAL system would break up the old Party MONOLITHS. It's no guarantee of a Liberal in the coalition (again see Scotland or Wales), but it IS a guarantee that the Government would have to LISTEN to Parliament again.

No one ACTUALLY voted for the Middle-Eastern War and Abolish Tuition Fees Party, but that's what we got. No one ACTUALLY voted for the Poll Tax Party, but that's what we got.

Our CURRENT system puts power in the fluffy feet of political elites; a system of OPEN HONEST coalitions, would provide a CHECK on the absolute power of the Government, because if you have to COMPROMISE with another party, there's less chance to do something BERSERK because your allies will be able to say "stop this!"

You can have STRONG GOVERNMENT, that can ride roughshod over the will of the voters or you can have a STRONG PEOPLE with the power to pick a Parliament that reflects their views and a Government that has to listen to them; you CANNOT have both.

But there is an OPPORTUNITY here.

Because Mr Balloon has ACCEPTED the NEED FOR REFORM, we now have the chance to bring him along with us. If he backs down, then he's a big fat fibber, only in it for the Duck Island brigade. If he REALLY means it, if he really WANTS to serve the will of the people, then he's GOT to TAKE PART.

Here are the things that we MUST get on the agenda, so that the meeja CHALLENGE Mr Balloon to "put up or shut up".

Safe seats equal Sleazy Seats, that's the real source of the crisis. If Mr Balloon is SERIOUS then he has got to agree that the system needs to change.

People have got to have their say. The Conservatories bang on about wanting to give people a referendum on Europe – so we need to get people demanding a REFERENDUM ON REFORM. How could the Conservatories REFUSE?

We need to be calling for ALL parties to come together NOW. Everyone who accepts the need for reform should QUICKLY agree to form a cross-party movement, perhaps to be led by the new Mr or Ms Speaker.

I would hope that we can persuade people to move on from the Jenkins commission – local government in Scotland is now elected by STV; I think that that proves it can work, and that it's not {patronising politician} "too complicated" {/patronising politician} for the voters. In fact, if Mr Balloon is SERIOUS about wanting power to the people, he ought to be willing to HELP us get STV instead of a Party List system.

Mr Balloon is nothing if he's not a POPULIST to his well-manicured fingertips. He wouldn't jump on this bandwagon if it wasn't going somewhere. It's up to US to make sure that it's going somewhere GOOD.


Saturday, May 23, 2009

Day 3065: DOCTOR WHO: Aliens of London


Well, since MPs' reputations are currently nose-diving faster than a Space-Pig in a Slitheen Battle Cruiser, and what with more damage having been done to Parliament than Big Ben getting clipped by a crash-landing spaceship, when has there been a better time to get out the old DVD of that story where Dr Woo discovers that the Cabinet have been replaced by a bunch of RAPACIOUS alien MONSTERS disguised as greedy, giggly human beans?

Who says SATIRE is DEAD?

Now, before I let Daddy Richard start his review, I'm just going to have to check his forehead for zips…

The farting aliens are, of course, a distraction. The story is even cheeky enough to say out loud that their whole plot is a bluff.

The important part of this, in spite of or perhaps because of the Time Lord's protestations that he "doesn't do domestics", is all the stuff that happens between Rose and Jackie and the Doctor. It's a great big dose of "they meet a new man, they leave home, they never call" all wrapped up in the stonking Doctor Who idea of "it's not twelve hours; it's twelve months. You've been gone a whole year. Sorry."

The episode itself is visually striking, full of huge vibrant colours – particularly noticeable in the scene with the Doctor and Rose on the roof of the Powell Estate. The episode begins in broad daylight for the spectacular spaceship crash-dive and slowly darkens into night as the story darkens with it. The tones inside Downing Street being noticeably more shadowed than the ones in Rose's home.

And it's incredibly funny. Nobody but me knows about aliens, moans Rose… and a dirty great spaceship roars overhead, honking at her to get out of its way.

The "Pig in Space" is brilliant, and at the same time the whole fake alien mermaid is a really interesting idea, one of many tossed into the mix. I love the way that the whole scene, the blue-lit mortuary, the white-coated technician, the unearthly hammering from inside the locked cabinet, it's all so obviously spoofing the (sensational) TV Movie with Paul McGann. And is it also worth mentioning that, when we see an alien that looks just like an Earth animal – something this series is going to do a lot more from now on – this first time we see it, it's a piss-take by other aliens?”

Eccleston, in particular, can do funny. Mostly it's his, often-exaggerated, reaction shots as Rose's world consistently refuses to behave like a world in a Doctor Who adventure ought to. Landing the TARDIS in a cupboard is a classic gag; and his face when he steps out straight into a dozen armed guards tells the story perfectly. Meanwhile, his childish spat with Mickey makes his seem very human. And then, just as he promises to go undercover, he's nabbed by the biggest army Doctor Who has ever seen. At least he gets to say "take me to your leader!"

But it's the impact of the Doctor's world colliding with real people's lives that is clearly at the heart of the Doctor Who that Russell Davies had been thinking of for sixteen years or more. It's clearly, and rightly, bugged him that the classic series would dodge the question of "what happens to those left behind?", or at best gloss over it with an "aww, she/he is a orphan" as though that meant there would be no aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters, cousins-who-visit-all-the-time or people-who-care-of-any-variety to miss the departed companions.

This idea of "being left behind" gets rolled around a number of permutations too.

Notice how even incidental character Dr Sato (before Torchwood retconning) finds herself talking to an empty room, not once but twice as first General Asquith strides off without answering her question about the Prime Minister, and then the Doctor disappear in the middle of her question about aliens faking aliens.

Seeing the Doctor in front of the telly trying to follow events is hilarious, but it's also his version of being left out. Then Rose is struck by paranoia that the Doctor is going to go off and leave her, and in fact he does just that. And Mickey gets to see that happen, which resonates with his own being left behind in "Rose". (Incidentally, and despite his slapstick running slap-bang into a wall, "Aliens of London" sees a huge leap in Mickey’s gaining a character.)

This tangle of emotions is what leads to the crucial dramatic moment of the story: where Jackie betrays her daughter to the authorities. It is Mickey's aggrieved sense of betrayal, and fair enough Rose treated him badly and Jackie treated him appallingly – Jackie’s mob mentality against Mickey is massively underplayed, and done for laughs, which is one of the moments when the tone feels wrong – that leaves him rather nastily telling Rose that the Doctor has abandoned her in turn, which leads Rose and of course Jackie outside to where the TARDIS re-materialises, which leads to her culture-shocked flight and to making that phone call.

(Sadly, nobody actually uses the word TARDIS in front of Jackie, so it's a shame that that is what triggers all the alarms, but ho hum.)

She'd probably say that she was thinking of Rose's safety, but really her actions are still being driven by that fear of being left behind again.

The irony, of course, is that the outcome of her call is that Rose and the Doctor get taken away (and Mickey runs away too, and that's another abandonment) and Jackie is left behind howling that "That’s my daughter!" – but she was the one who called up and sold them out. And there’ll be a much more sinister version of this in a couple of years at the end of Martha's story arc…

If there's a flaw here it's that the episode doesn't follow the emotional story and see the outcome for Jackie, but gets caught up in plot points, Rose and the Doctor being carried off to Downing Street and the more mundane business of alien invaders.

Well, I say mundane, but these aliens are rather magnificent. It's easy to dismiss the Slitheen as comic relief, but actually they're rather more unsettling than funny – they're unsettling because they find it funny, and the inappropriate giggling makes the serious more serious not less. And obviously they are written as psychotic five-year olds, which – like the burping bin in "Rose" – might be a possible take on the expected age of the audience, but being child-like doesn't necessarily make them childish.

Stand-in Prime Minister Joseph Green (David Verrey) is an absolute hoot. There's a sly nod to the media not seeing what's right under their noses when the BBC's Andy Marr dismisses Mr Green as merely chairman of the committee for sugar standards in confectionary exports. That's just his cover story; he's basically Secretary of State for Extraterrestrial Affairs, and under the circumstances, when the emergency protocols are activated, that's why that he ranks as deputy PM. He's not a nonentity.

Hugely enjoyable to watch as he revels in the carnage, he's able to turn sinister at the drop of a fart. "Would you prefer silent but deadly?" is a splendidly nasty riposte to the Doctor's put-down, and a challenge to the po-faced in the audience at the same time.

Rupert Vansittart clearly has a whale of a time too, playing first pompous General Asquith and then the much earthier Slitheen inside his now-vacated skin. Annette Badland gets to play Little Miss Psychopath, sweet and sinister in sugary spoonfuls, but we don't get to see enough of her – let's hope she's back later in the season, eh.

On the side of the angels, along with the regular cast, is Penelope Wilton as not-yet Prime Minister Harriet Jones. Actually, given her future re-involvement she probably qualifies as regular cast too.

She's marvellous, though a lot of the reason we love her character has to be down to the portrayal. Ever so slightly, Russell's writing lets him down here. Harriet's reason for hanging around in Downing Street is that she has thought of a way in which Cottage Hospitals need not be excluded from Centres of Excellence. Riiiight. So she's saying: "I have an idea how to modify some bureaucracy so that this category of hospital isn’t excluded from another set of bureaucracy". And her solution is to put it on the agenda for the next meeting. Whenever that might be.

There's something a bit wrong when you find yourself sympathetic to the villain as he shouts in her face: "By All the Saints, woman, get some perspective! I'm busy!" She sounds like she's got her own little hobbyhorse and won't be distracted by genuinely important events around her. In fact, she sounds not a little demented.

If the aim is to make an equivalence with Jackie and Rose's story – all these wonderful things happen, this brave or frightening new world, but people still have to be worried about their domestic lives and their nearest and dearest – it falls flat because we never see Harriet's old mum so we never have that human connection. If we're meant to sympathise with Harriet because of the beastly way the Slitheen treat her, it fails because they're right, this is more important and Harriet herself sounds as though she is completely blind to other people's needs and concerns especially in a time of crisis.

Worrying about a hospital for her mum is fine and humanising, but this is huge, and life-changing, and the threat to her mum's hospital is rubbish.

A simple redraft that, for example, said the cottage hospital in her constituency is about to be bulldozed, giving her an urgent reason for bothering the Prime Minister, would have hugely improved our sympathy for her. Instead we have her say, in a clear reference to the Iraq War, "well, I never voted for that" which is just crass.

And then she potters off and starts to read highly confidential Cabinet briefing papers! While still sat in the Cabinet room. Which makes her both nosey and stupid.

(In fact, compare Harriet to the journalist Penny from season four's opening "Partners in Crime" who has many of the same characteristics but is treated as foolish and slightly wicked.)

The Prime Minister – found dead in a cupboard, by the way – was clearly supposed to be Tony Blair, even if the hired looky-likey didn't look much like. Harriet refers to "the Babes" (she isn't one), and the portraits on the Downing Street stair (of every former Prime Minister) stop at Mr Major. 2005 was an election year (remember the RadioTimes award-winning "Vote Dalek" cover?) but because of the Doctor's temporal mishap, Rose has missed a year and, in this context more importantly, the election. So it wasn't impossible that the PM could have changed. Mind you, politics in the Whoniverse will only get weirder from here on in.

The other dialogue disaster is Rose's "you're so gay" response to the Doctor whinging about being slapped.

Russell has defended this by saying: it's how real people talk. Hmmm, realistic dialogue in a story that next week is going to expect us to cope with the word Raxacoricofallapatorius. Real people use the n-word as well, but if Rose referred to Mickey by that term the show would be off air faster than you can say "differential standards".

He then goes on to claim that having a person we know to be "good" use a term that is "bad" is to challenge the audience to think. Or, since no one on screen challenges this thinking, quite possibly it reinforces the use of "gay" as equivalent to "bad" by kids who justify themselves by comparison to hero Rose, and thus you help the entrenchment of homophobic bullying in schools.

The same scene gives us our first throwaway continuity error. Or maybe not.

In "Time and the Rani", the Doctor claims that his age is the same as the Rani's and that it is nine hundred and fifty-three. (And if you read the books, he allegedly passes one thousand during "Set Piece", and lives at least one hundred and probably two hundred years in his ninth incarnation.)

But in "Aliens of London", the Doctor says he is nine hundred years old. Or rather, he refers to nine hundred years of phone box travel, and Rose then asks if that's his age, which he confirms. Only, of course, he was already a few hundred years old when he first stole the TARDIS, so it doesn't have to be an error (yet); the Doctor is actually twelve hundred and something, but "rounds down" when Rose gives him the opportunity.

What's that you say? The man in a leather jacket lying about his age to impress a girl; mid-life crisis, what mid-life crisis?

(Mind you, a recent Big Finish has the McGann Doctor sojourning for six hundred years sans TARDIS on the planet Orbis. Which, frankly, is taking the Ricky.)

But these are niggles. They're minor quibbles that arise mostly because of the sheer volume of invention that has been thrown at the screen. There may be flaws but they're born out of enthusiasm and out of trying new things out, not from laziness or repetition. Later Doctor Who episodes will come to scrape on through with poor stories and reliance on the star's charisma; "Aliens of London" is really trying to present you with something totally new.

This looks different to anything else you might see on the telly and that is its job done. The bright colours catch your attention, the rocketing plot carries you along, and the story draws you in.

Then there's the cliff-hanger. Ah, the cliff-hanger. Even though Mark Gatiss has shown them how to use the pre-credit sequence to generate a mini-cliff-hanger, and arguably "Rose" finishes on a "the story continues…" type freeze-frame, this is the 2005 series' first attempt at doing a proper one. So you can't entirely blame them for going berserk and doing three cliff-hangers at once.

Three identical cliff-hangers at once, in fact, as a Slitheen reveals itself in flickering light effects to the cowering horror of one of our Downing Street-trapped regulars, followed by another doing the same and then, in a surprise twist, a third one doing likewise in the Tyler residence.

In one sense the triple cliff-hanger is saying "they're everywhere!", which is scary (if slightly exaggerated) Bodysnatchers territory. In another, though, it's saying "ah, you can't guess how the Doctor will get out of that because all his allies are in the same trouble."

But the producers are still very much learning here, as further evidenced by the "Next Time" trailer coming before the end credits and thus instantly blowing any sense of suspense. Will they survive? Ah, they have! But given time – and a strongly worded request from the Grand Moff – the BBC Wales people are going to work this out. At the time it seemed like overkill, but with the benefit of hindsight I find myself more indulgent of the over-enthusiasm.

Moreover, it is a genuinely biting piece of political satire as, in the hands of an untrustworthy Government, the "innocent seeming" I.D. cards turn out to have a sinister other purpose.

"Thank you all for wearing your ID cards! They’ll help to identify the bodies!"

This was the first Doctor Who line, credited it as such, that Alex used a in a speech to Federal Conference. It was Autumn 2005, in an ID cards debate. Hurrah for this!

Next Time…How can they possibly get out of that? Oh, all right… Rose and Harriet face the new series' first Scooby-Doo chase. Does it matter if the CGI doesn't match the prosthetics? Could anyone get away with that Massive Weapons of Destruction gag? Has Russell written himself into a box? And is it deliberately? The Doctor is trapped inside… Downing Street hang on, someone's changed the episode title!


Thursday, May 21, 2009

Day 3063: Why NOT Call a General Election?


Why shouldn't we hold a General Election?

Mr Frown says it would cause "CHAOS"! Well, that shouldn't stop us; as a naughty elephant on a sugar rush I might say CHAOS is GOOD!

Ms Harriet the Harminator appears on the The Today Programme and refuses to answer the question.

But why NOT?

Well, the answer that they are ducking is that IT WON'T SOLVE ANYTHING.

As with all of Mr Balloon's ideas it SOUNDS simple… but Mr Clogg said it to the Prime Monster's face:

"…all you get is a few new faces and the same old rotten rules."

Just swapping one load of numpties for ANOTHER load of numpties is action that only LOOKS like a solution: how typical of Mr Balloon!

Here's what we REALLY need to do:

We need to tell the VOTERS that they are in charge again.

So first, the new Mr (or Ms) Speaker needs to use their fresh authority to call a CONSTITUTIONAL CONVENTION where EVERYONE will be allowed to contribute to writing a NEW BRITISH CONSTITUTION.

We will want to have open Town Hall meetings and submissions over the Internet. We should get the BBC involved: Mr Graham Norton can host "How do you solve a Problem like DEMOCRACY?" in which members of the public can phone in to choose their own Royal Commission.

We should do everything we can to make this the BIGGEST exercise in participative democracy EVER.

I know what I want: STV or SINGLE TRUNK VOTING – and I think we have really GOT to go out and sell people on the idea, convince them that the BEST system is one where the Parties can put up a number of candidates, but the VOTERS choose amongst them. PEOPLE's choice, not PARTIES' choice. And it's just like Primaries, but without the fuss of having to vote twice! The Conservatories LIKE the idea of Open Primaries; but we know that people DON'T LIKE wasting their time with too many elections. So go STV which does the same job and is much more powerfully democratic!

I want Fixed Term Parliaments, with fewer MPs, maybe four-hundred from Multimember Seats elected by STV. I want a STRONGER Parliament with Committees that can hold the Government to account, a Parliament that can subpoena ministers (or ANYONE) and demand answers. I want MPs to have a better career path on the Committees: like US Senators, they should wield real power.

I want a SMALLER Government, fewer ministries means less wasted money; fewer ministers means less pointless patronage. I want an elected House of Lords, and if you want special seats for members of religious communities then they should be allowed to speak but not vote.

Politicians should get round the table and SORT IT OUT! And if they can't agree someone should tell them what to do… someone WISE… someone FLUFFY… no! hang on, I've come over all MANIKIN SKYWALKER! That's exactly what SHOULDN'T happen!

I know what I want… but what do YOU want? After all, it's YOUR Parliament too.

"The people" say that they want this cleaning up – well they have to understand that THEY are the ones who have to do the cleaning up.

And then in six or maybe nine months (that might be pushing people's patience) we will have a REFERENDUM to adopt the new Constitution.

And three weeks later we have a General Election under the NEW rules.

Mr Clogg says "Of course we need an election", and he's right.

We just need a REVOLUTION first!


Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Day 3061: Text Speak(R) - Cll LXion M8


Mr Speaker of the Housemartin's resignation speech in full then:

"Yer [badwords]! Ah'm off!"

In a private remark to the Prime Monster, he added:

"An' ye can tak tha' look of ye' face, ye great grinning ninny! Ye did nae support me, we'll I'll nae support ye's either! Ye can hae a by'elecshun, an' t'hell wi ye!"

Well, ONE election will be a START.

Meanwhile, and speaking of people letting their leadership dribble away, Mr Balloon was on the The Today Programme earlier this morning, and you could hear him getting more WEASELLY with every word that came out.

Would he call on Mr Speaker Housemartin to go?

"Ohh, um, er, no, no, it's not my job as leader of the opposition to, um, try to clean up Parliament. Have to leave that to others. I've got to appear above that sort of thing. Can't be seen to be breaking with tradition. Especially not traditions that keep Parliament an unaccountable box of secrets and dark practices. Goodness, can't have me 'letting the sun shine in' there. That would never do!"

Translation: he hadn't got the bottle.

Next question: hasn't he made a whopping profit on his million-pound pad in Notting Hill? Would he be returning the profits to the taxpayer?

"Look, I'm not thinking of selling it at the moment. No, I'm not selling it. I've told you, it's not for sale! Look, I'm not an idiot; the housing market is rotten and you'd all notice that I've made a socking great profit at your expense and… er… No, we should wait for the Kelly Commission on this. By the time the Kelly commission says that I have to, then I'll have had time for my tax lawyers to work out a way to… Look, I just meant what I said: the behaviour of some MPs has been appalling. I'm appalled that they got caught. But you can't have that Mr Clogg spoiling ALL our little earners, now can you?"

Translation: he's keeping the cash.

Contrast that with Mr Clogg's IMPRESSIVE performance on the Newsnight Show.

"No, Mr Housemartin wasn't a scapegoat; he'd been a roadblock to reform and only with a new Speaker could we start afresh. No, this wasn't about making excuses for other MPs; reform has to follow this, and all those MPs who've been bad have to face the music."

Mr Paxo's face was a PICTURE; he clearly DID NOT like being bested by the Leader of the Liberal Democrats.

Eager to get his own back, he came up with a SYNTHETIC question about whether the Lib Dems would support the Conservatories if they called a vote of no confidence in the Government.

Mr Clogg was quite clear that he WOULD vote against the Government in any confidence motion, so ALL of Mr Paxo's BLUSTER was ONLY over whether or not we would support the Conservatories… as though this made some kind of difference to the question? Perhaps they would support US?

But that DOES raise an interesting point: if Mr Balloon is SO KEEN on there being a General Election, why doesn't HE table a motion of no confidence in the Government?

Clearly we can't leave cleaning up Parliament in Mr Balloon's hands. Or should I say "sticky fingers"?

It is VERY IMPORTANT now that we make sure that this is a BEGINNING and not an end!

The new Mr Speaker… incidentally, could someone maybe SIT on Sir Mr the Merciless until the nonimations close. Or perhaps sit on a SCATTER CUSHION on Sir Mr the Merciless. No offence.

Anyhoo, the new Mr Speaker must work with the Kelly Commission and the House authorities to QUICKLY bring in a new set of rules BOTH for how the House is run AND for how our MPs get elected.

We have got to have SINGLE TRANSFERABLE VOTE: picking MPs has got to be the PEOPLE'S CHOICE and not the PARTY'S choice. Get RID of the FIX that is in the electoral system, and you'll go a long way to cleaning up the House of Commons.

And then as soon as possible, we should have a General Election.

Edited to add:
Auntie Alix is quite right that we have to address our own not-quite-as-white-as-white-ness if we are to convince a very angry group of people (namely EVERYBODY) that we deserve to be part of the solution.

A day after the FE (Federal Executioners) met, Daddy Alex fears that we are already FALLING BEHIND, letting our PROCEDURES get in the way of our PRINCIPLES. He has some EXPLOSIVE suggestions of how to move forwards.

I said it was a REVOLUTION, didn't I!


Day 3060: Source of Annoying Drone Traced to Faulty Speaker…


…and obscure Conservatory blogger recommends changing Cable.

It seems that Mr Speaker of the Housemartin is to go after all.

Presumably in his meeting with the Party Leaders Mr Clogg told him that the game was up, while Mr Frown and Mr Balloon looked at their feet and said "umm, probably."

Well, it's not a surprise. His performance yesterday was, more than anything else, DEEPLY EMBARRASSING. If his claim to stay was based on competence in his job, he did a very good demonstration of why he should go; if his determination to hang on was based on him being the man to clean up this mess, he gave every indication of being the man who's been trying to cover it all up.

I have no doubt that his apology to the House and for the House was heartfelt and painful for him to make. But it is not enough. And so it is going to be even more painful for him. He missed his opportunity to stand down with dignity. And so now he's having his fingers prised off the green leather one by one.

I am very sorry for him, because it's not good for anyone to get HUMILIATED like that. But it's the path that he chose for himself.

In other news, scientists claim to have discovered the source of "the Hum"; apparently that droning noise you can hear is the sound of goats being scaped…


Monday, May 18, 2009

Day 3059: So Now We've GOT the Political High Ground… what are we going to do with it?


Mr Clogg's direct call for the Speaker of the House of Commons to go has significantly changed the political landscape.


Last week, I was saying that people will only be satisfied with a SACRIFICIAL DEFENESTRATION. Sacking Mr Speaker of the Housemartin actually MIGHT DO THE JOB.

Or at least it will, so long as it happens quickly (no staying-on 'till the next election in a kind of Fred-the-Shred-esque pension arrangement) and so long as his replacement is someone VIGOROUSLY interested in REFORM.

I think there's only one obvious candidate, and that is our own Mr Stormin' Norman Baker.

He probably doesn't WANT the job, but TOUGH – the Speaker TRADITIONALLY has to be dragged to the chair anyway!

And giving the job to someone with an UNPARALLELED REPUTATION for probing into dark corners and badgering out the truth would be a sure and clear sign from Parliament that they WANT to put their own House in Order.

People used to say that Sir Mr The Merciless would be a good candidate, but I'm afraid he may have rather tossed the SCATTER CUSHION over that possibility. Even if he WASN'T looking like part of the problem for claiming ten grand's worth of interior design (no matter how defensible we might think that to be) one thing is true: Sir Mr the Merciless is very much the man of the ESTABLISHMENT. Which makes him the EXACT OPPOSITE of the sort of Speaker that we right now if Parliament is to stop looking like a gang of crooks.

What we want is someone who will be in a position to bash some heads together and implement WHOLESALE reform of our political system. Sorting out the MPs expenses scandal is merely swatting the mosquito – we need to be draining the whole rotten swamp.

Thanks to Mr Clogg's BOLDNESS, we may actually have a chance. Certainly Mr Balloon has boxed himself into a corner on this one – all his claims last week to be "leading" on the issue of reform will look HOLLOW and HYPOCRITICAL if his Conservatories now fail to act with us to get a new the Speaker.

Award-winning Auntie Alix has set out a seven-point plan for how we should USE our moment of advantage to really press home the REFORMS that are so desperately needed. This includes some rather painful self-examination as well. And quite right too. I hope that the FE will be FAIR but FIRM.

Mr Mark Reckons has done a very EXCELLENT piece of analysis that nonetheless produces the "no Sh-stuff Sherlock" response of: "the safer an MP's seat, the more likely he or she is to be on the FIDDLE."

Well paint me purple and call me stunned!

This is the VITAL EVIDENCE that we need to see in the headlines: the way we ELECT our MPs has got to change if we are to stop this kind of abuse.

A system of "recalls" won't be any use if there are "safe" seats: at best you'll just toss one time-server for another; at worst you'll just see them bounce straight back in. Meanwhile, you'll cause chaos in the marginals.

You need a system where people EVERYWHERE have power to choose not just between PARTIES but between party CANDIDATES – and that means multi-member seats and single transferable vote.

(Although GOODNESS it needs a better NAME – how about: the "Pick the Best" system instead of the "Pick One" system. Or the "People's Choice" system instead of the "Party's Choice" system that we've got.)

Sacking the Speaker would be a HUGE thing. It hasn't happened for three-hundred years! We need to draw a line under the expenses scandal, but we need to make it the STARTING LINE, not just the FINISH.

This needs to be the START of a REVOLUTION.

...and now, over to Daddy Alex with all the important questions that will help to FRAME the debate about what sort of Revolution we need!


Friday, May 15, 2009

Day 3050: Start Wreck


ooo EEEE ooo!

Open hailing frequencies and set phasers to POPCORN! We've been to see Star Trek, the latest big screen adaptation of the adventures of Captain Quirk and his crew. This movie is EASY to sneak into, so long as you have TRANSPORTER TECHNOLOGY to BEAM you into the FRONT ROW!

We even got me a STAR FLEET UNIFORM for the occasion!

Red Shirt! That's GOOD isn't it?
Posted by Picasa

Anyway, this film had produced universal happiness and positive responses everywhere, so I shall let Daddy Richard write a review.

What could POSSIBLY go wrong…?

(spoilers follow)

Why did I come out of JJ Abrams' cartoon space romp with a sense of dissatisfaction? I tried talking it over with Alex.

Was it the direction? No.

Reviewers of Star Trek seem to have a penchant for referencing Abrams' previous big-screen adaptation of a cult Sixties series, namely Mission Impossible III. There's a tendency to describe MI-III as "underrated". It isn't underrated; it's just bad. It starts off like a rocket (and the opening gags, both in the German wind-farm and the Vatican, are good and original) but it rapidly runs out of fizz, as Tom Cruise jumps off yet another tall building and the ending trails away like an afterthought, or a task on The Apprentice where they've left no time to complete the final reel.

Thankfully, Star Trek is nothing like that. It was pacey, interesting if occasionally a touch ADD frenetic, but more importantly it started with a bang, before grounding us in the relationships of these people and building to a satisfying conclusion.

Was it the acting? Certainly not.

Karl Urban is uncanny in the role of DeForest Kelly, capturing his spirit perfectly: brilliant, irascible, capable of great acts of friendship and human enough to make mistakes. Zachary Quinto is always a delight to watch, even if his Spock couldn't quite escape the shadow of his Sylar (the Vulcan should never, ever have a "hint of a smile" expression, particularly not when it's a superhuman serial killer's trademark). Leonard Nimoy, however, is perfect, almost Zen-like in his portrayal of the old Spock, who has been though it all and achieved a balance and inner peace between his human and Vulcan heritages. Zoe Saldana, while completely different to the incomparable Nichelle Nichols (Alex says he saw something of a similarity in the eyes, occasionally), brought a beautiful fresh strength to the character, and was granted substantial sub-plots around her relationships with both Kirk and Spock. Like Mat, I was pleasantly surprised to come out without wanting to kill Simon Pegg, although it's irresistible to imagine David Tennant's Doctor saying to him: "No, no, don't do that!" (And just when did Scotty become the comic relief, anyway?) Anton Yelchin does not have the charm of Walter Koenig. He has his own charm, and should be allowed to play more of that, and not get lumbered with the "Wictor Wictor" jokes. Likewise, John Cho does not have the charm of George Takai. In the absence of character, they gave him a sword fight. (A clue: that is not fencing.) And Chris Pine did perfectly well in the role of Ethan Hunt.

Did the recasting itself matter? Alex said that he had long since come to terms with the idea that this was Star Fleet Muppet Babies. I can understand that people might find this tricky. For years Star Trek has prospered by finding new crews to fill its starships, finding new combinations to explore. But that in itself becomes formulaic: the emotional one, the logical one, the captain in the middle – they've rung different changes on these through The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine and the rest. Another crew would just be Kirk, Spock and all in drag again.

And of course the idea of going back to the beginning is to reach out beyond the core audience. It's to tell a story for those with a vague memory that goes Star Trek/Kirk/Spock space stuff. That's what means that doing a Star Trek movie with another new crew, even one that had – say – George Takei as Captain of the Excelsior or Jonathan Franks commanding the Titan, wouldn't work. It wouldn't be in the sense of folk memory Star Trek.

Was it the visual effects, then? No, on the whole they were spiffy.

The shape of the Enterprise, allegedly more curvaceous than is seemly, didn't bother me in the slightest.

Having said that, all those different shaped starships, with wings and multiple nacelles and the rest, bugged me out enormously. There's no sense that this Star Fleet of ships have evolved with a history. The USS Kelvin, from 25 years earlier, looks right it looks like a less advanced design from which the Enterprise will later emerge. But the fleet that leaves for Vulcan with the Enterprise, they're just a mish-mash of designs as though someone took a look at the design board and said, "Let's do EVERYTHING!"

And it wasn't exactly a problem, but boy did the fleet going to warp look just like something out of Star Wars. With Ambassador Spock's flyer looking suspiciously like the Gungan Bongo Submarine from the Phantom Menace, of course.

The big spiky Romulan ship is a very nice big spiky Romulan ship, much nicer than the one in Nemesis and one that might vaguely have come from the same culture as the Romulan Warbirds of the Next Generation era. Vaguely. Its interior was rather "mysterious vast alien space", somewhat after V'ger, but it worked well enough for running and jumping around.

The transporter effect has a very nice feel to it, like little particles flying into place as they build you up from a giant jigsaw. Sulu's retractable sword was rather silly but the effect worked, in fact the whole diving onto the mining platform sequence was brilliantly done.

And Saturn was lovely. Even if ploughing into it (or possibly Titan) at warp speed ought to have made more of a "bang!"

Perhaps it was the plot? Hmmmm, that depends…

Back in the Twentieth Century, as radiation-powered super-turkey "Godzilla" (US abomination version) was hitting cinemas under the slogan "Size Matters", Lucasfilm, then putting the finishing touches to "Star Wars, Episode I, will this title never end, the Phantom Menace", briefly put up on their website the vainglorious response: "Plot Matters".

But look how well that turned out!

The Phantom Menace is, as any fule nose, the third movie from the Lucas' stable with the same plot as Return of the Jedi and Star Wars, just with first muppets and then CGI frogs standing in for the Rebel Alliance for the "blow up the spherical-spacecraft-in-orbit at the end" bit.

But to my mind "plot" just means the sequence of events that the characters have to pass through; story is the thing that you care about, it is, if you'll forgive the cliché, the journey that the characters go on, not just the places they visit (and, yes, I'm aware that E M Forster may have had it the other way around).

JJ Abrams has apparently never seen the immediately-preceding movie in the franchise, Star Trek: Nemesis. Which is a shame, or he'd have known that his plot – Romulan with big spiky ship plans to go Death Star on the Earth while riffing on The Wrath of Khan – was oddly familiar.

(It is, as I said, a very nice big spiky ship. But even so…)

But is that what is important? When, because they are telling different stories, the whole character of the two movies couldn't be more different.

Star Trek: Nemesis is all shades of grey – not the moral dilemmas, the colour palette. Grey uniforms and gloomy shadows are the order of the day. It's as if it's self-consciously trying to feel end-of-an-era; far from being a meditation on aging (as the similarly plotted Wrath of Khan) it sometimes seems like an attempt to just wrap everything up. With the cast all starting to get a little bit too old for this sort of thing and on television Enterprise bolding journeying to the bottom of the ratings, there was much talk of "too much Star Trek".

In contrast, Star Trek (2009) is full of primary colours and brightly lit, whether it's the stark whites of the bridge or sunlit Vulcan or also-sunlit San Francisco. Even the ice-planet Delta Vega is brilliant white with a dash of scarlet space-monster.

And it's all about beginnings, opening with Kirk's birth (in battle, no less) and his joining the Star Fleet Academy and Spock's decision to join Star Fleet, and then on to the "first mission". Everything is about the future opening up to these people, whether it's Spock's cautious, logical planning or Kirk's gung-ho barrelling into it.

Positivity suffuses this movie, and that's a good thing.

In fact, it's a bit of a laugh, even though the whole of the backstory is palpably dreadful: the galaxy being threatened by a supernova is pulp SF of the worst kind, shockingly misunderstanding the differences in scale between these two phenomena. If you are going to use real science terms, it is too much to ask the writer for a ten-second search on the Wikipedia?

And even Nimoy can't save exposition as dreadful as "suddenly, the worst happened… Romulus was destroyed!"

What? How? What? Was it Romulus' own star that was going supernova? You do know that a supernova is an exploding star, don't you, JJ? So this solution to save the galaxy by turning it into a black hole… not looking much good for Romulus anyway, was it? Also, you've forgotten Remus altogether, haven't you. (Which is ironic given that in part, Star Trek: Nemesis was about how pissed the Remans were that everyone kept forgetting about them.)

None of that really seems to matter, though, when were racing along with such glee.

Meanwhile, "Red Matter" scores huge marks on the "drive Lawrence Miles nuts" scale, being clearly drawn from the same well as the mysterious, all-powerful and probably imaginary "Red Uranium" macguffin from "This Town Will Never Let Us Go". "Nahhh," says Alex, "surely it's from Bugs' Red Mercury!"

And clearly someone has been using the Infinite Improbability Drive in this universe, because the chances of Spock marooning Kirk not merely on the same planet as but within walking distance of where Nero has marooned the time/dimension-warped Ambassador Spock has to measure in the "ooh, that's a bit unlikely" range.

(Also, we get a flashback of Spock looking up and seeing Vulcan implode in the sky above him which is clearly ripped off from staring up at the Death Star explosion at the end of Return of the Jedi. Now, I'm not much of an astronomer, but neither Mars nor Venus are that large in the Earth's sky… so we're basically saying that Delta Vega is Vulcan's moon. And therefore, very much likely to be heading into that same black hole any time now.)

(Of course, back in the "real" universe of classic Star Trek, in "The Man Trap", there's a lovely flirtatious scene between Spock and Uhura where she asks him if he's never gazed up at the moon. "Vulcan has no moon," states Spock unemotionally. I suppose now, instead of the classy "I'm not surprised, Mr Spock," Uhura will have to answer "No, you berk, because it got foomed with the rest of your stupid homeworld". Sigh.)

And there are some good sci-fi ideas, even "Star Trek" ideas, in the mix too. That the Romulan invader isn't an almighty warship from the future, merely a mining ship that came back in time by accident is really quite smart. Imagine a super-tanker from today finding itself confronting the Pirates of the Caribbean… yes, you're quite right, the pirates would have cannons and the super-tanker wouldn't. But the Romulans are a pretty piratical bunch themselves, maybe they're happy for their merchant fleet to carry torpedoes.

Similarly, when Spock starts behaving in a fashion that has Alex going, "er, er, I'm sure even Star Fleet wouldn't let him do that" (though remember, we've seen Star Fleet's "correctional planets") the film has an answer for him: he's quite right, and Kirk proving to Spock that the Vulcan is emotionally compromised is a key turning point.

Mind you, you would have thought that somebody could have mentioned to the director that time/space anomalies are not exactly the cutting-edge of "new" among the Star Trek stories of this world.

Add to that, they even "hang a lantern" on the whole cliché when young Kirk says to old Spock: "isn't going back in time to give yourself the answer cheating?"

Was it that it wasn't "Star Trek" enough?

Well, in the sense that Star Trek ought to be about exploration, new worlds, new civilisations rather than big space battles then that is true.

But it's also true of Star Trek's II and VI which are arguably the best of the breed.

Ironically, Star Trek, The Motionless Picture (new life form), Star Trek III, the Search for Plot (strange new world) and Star Trek V (where no one has gone before) are closer to what Star Trek ought to be about than the, er, good ones. I'll kind of let Star Trek IV get away with it because treating 1980s California as a "strange new world" is part of the joke.

What many people would say, though, is that Star Trek is about the human relationships of the crew. In that sense, The Wrath of Khan (Kirk deals with growing old, his own metaphorical Kobyashi Maru) and The Undiscovered County (Kirk faces his own prejudices) are very Star Trek.

Judged by that standard, this movie was a little hit-and-miss. The drawing together of the crew, Kirk's instant friendship with McCoy contrasted with Uhura's coolness and Spock's outright animosity, form a solid backbone, but it equally lacks a true emotional through-line. Kirk is a cocky bastard right from the start (especially in the Anakin Skywalker sulky-teenager scene – what exactly was that supposed to add?) and is still a cocky bastard at the end. He doesn't appear to learn anything, and the other crew members don't so much come to admire him as acquiesce to his Captaincy. No, that's unfair: the do come to admire him, just for no particularly obvious reason. Maybe they all have Stockholm Syndrome by the end.

Was it the pick'n'mix approach to continuity, then?

I have to admit that this may have left me irked. It's funny little things, things that are out of place, or rather in place for no reason other than to say "hey, I watched the DVD of The Wrath of Khan".

Young Spock gets to play Saavik to his (sort-of) older self when he complains "you lied" and Nimoy gets to find new ways of saying "moi?". Similarly, Spock gives the young Scotty the secret of his big discovery, just as Scotty gave the inventor of transparent aluminium the secret of his big discovery back in The Voyage Home. And when Sulu tries to put the Enterprise in gear for the first time he stalls her, just like the Excelsior did in The Search for Spock. And Romulan commander Nero (you're kidding, right? No, that is his name) tortures Captain Pike with those beetle/scorpion/bug things from Ceti Alpha Five that kept Khan amused.

Is this homage or just grinding lack of originality? Am I supposed to be impressed by these "kisses to the past" or just think that you're rummaging through the series' locker for the good bits to pilfer?

Returning to The Wrath of Khan, though, the recurring motif in the film is the Kobayashi Maru test, which Saavik takes at the start and Spock passes at the end. During the film it is revealed that Kirk took the test three times and on the third go, he beat it. He beat it by reprogramming the computer, by cheating, but nevertheless he beat the unbeatable test because – and this is the message of his life, but more importantly almost the whole point of Star Trek – he doesn't believe in the no-win scenario. Optimism wins.

As a key plot point in a movie about facing the inevitable and not giving up your optimism, about going through hell and feeling young at the end, that is a thing of legend.

It is crushingly banal to actually show us the test.

Worse than that, to show us a test where "cocky bastard" Kirk is completely cock-sure that he is going to win and doesn't bother to hide it and, worse, where his win is so blatantly a cheat. The simulator hiccoughs and the Klingon warbirds' shields are down. Excuse me? He might as well have just stood up and announced "Computer, execute Kirk Hack Code One!"

(And while we're on the subject, Klingon warships are called "battlecruisers"; it's Romulan warships that are called "Warbirds". Why does this bug me more than the similar error of calling the Klingon scout a "Bird of Prey" from Star Trek III onwards?)

Alex puts forward the idea that in the "real" Star Trek universe the "real" Kirk did beat the test with a solution that was worthy of a "commendation for original thinking". But this Kirk is different: he's had a different upbringing without the influence of his father. The George Kirk of this universe died on the USS Kelvin. So this Kirk is arrogant and cocky and responds aggressively and not necessarily wisely. And so, rather than beating the test, he's actually doing this so blatantly as a deliberate act of defiance, a massive "giving the finger" to the test he doesn’t believe in.

And this, I think, brings us to the answer we arrived at as to why this Star Trek, which I enjoyed, which amused me, entertained me, even moved me occasionally, left me with the feeling that it was hollow.

The problem for me is not the convoluted time travel / dimension jump to a parallel universe plotline. It's not that the approach to continuity is either slipshod or worse deliberately slipshod.

The answer that we settled on is slightly more subtle than that.

It's that the film makes a point of using its plot, in fact the entire point of its plot is to say: "hey folks, we're in a different Universe so the continuity doesn't apply to us!"

There is a point to watching The Wrath of Khan beyond seeing Enterprise and Reliant duke it out – brilliantly choreographed, and far better than anything here, though that space battle is.

There is no similar point to watching JJ Abrams' Star Trek.

Allow me to digress…

In the long twilight of Doctor Who, between the Paul McGann movie and the Russell Davies renaissance, there came a massive two-book story by Lawrence Miles called "Interference".

In the midst of an adventure where the eighth Doctor gets locked up interminably (again) and Faction Paradox kidnap his companions, where the better bits are in fact an extended adventure for K-9 and Company, seemingly incidentally the Doctor crosses his timeline with that of his third incarnation. And then at the end of the story, the third Doctor gets shot dead and regenerates. Without ever going near Metebelis III. With nary a whiff of a Giant Spider.

"Interference" is a story with… issues. Should it be mentioned in our flat, we will often immediately quote either Sutekh from "Pyramids of Mars" – "There is…[voice trembles with rage] …Interference!" – or Professor Bernice Summerfield from "The Shadow of the Scourge" – "Damn! Interference!"

Funny story: "Goddess, that Interference is awful" says I, loudly, at the Fitzroy Tavern surrounded by Who fans. "Oh yes, why?" says the terribly nice author standing immediately behind me who was, frankly, ever so good enough not to hit me for bad-mouthing his book…

My problem at the time with "Interference" centred on the fact that I was assuming that there was supposed to be a causal connection between the actions of the Doctor in his eighth self and the change to the fate of his third self. And there wasn't.

(Actually, apart from the Doctor appearing as a ghost to his earlier self, there is another connection, namely the eighth Doctor's companion Fitz who, by a route too ludicrously circuitous to describe, arrives a thousand years later in the third Doctor's adventure as the villain. But he doesn't cause the third Doctor to be there, nor does he materially affect the course of events nor make any use of foreknowledge to change things. So, as I say, the eighth Doctor's adventure doesn't cause the change in the third Doctor's story.)

But what Lawrence was trying to do, and what he patiently explained to me, was that he wanted to be able to write past Doctor stories where anything could happen because we were not constrained by "knowing how everyone died".

Well now, in part I would fault that because it slightly presupposes that the only merit in a book is in not knowing how it will end, which kind of negates the pleasure of re-reading something. And there's a great many tragedies written where you know what the ending is going to be. But really, I would say, if that's what you want to do, then just call it "Doctor Who Unbound" and do it! Don't lumber yourself, and all the rest of us, with a hundred and sixty thousand words of justification for why you are allowed to do it.

Furthermore, since nobody else was onboard with Larry's ideas, we were left with a great big lurching paradox (that wasn't an actual paradox, says Alex, because that nothing from the future caused it; it was merely a contradiction) that no one knew how to handle, eventually leading a year later to the range editor wiping all continuity and blowing up Gallifrey – a process known colloquially as "foom".

And that's pretty much what JJ Abrams has done in this movie. He has made it quite explicit that Ambassador Spock does not travel back in time; he travels to an alternative reality, one that is very similar to the Star Trek universe, but where everything is slightly different.

And, of course, he underlines his point by giving Vulcan the "foom" treatment. It is impossible for Ambassador Spock to come from the future of this universe because the black hole that brought him here was formed by Red Matter made at the Vulcan Science Academy. On Vulcan. Which no longer exists.

So basically, this isn't Star Trek… this is Star Trek: Interference.

To which again I say: that's nice, but did you really need a hundred and fifty million dollars to tell me that?

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Day 3055: MPs! Get your House (of Commons) in Order!


So… the Horse Manure has hit the Pool Cleaner. The Pergola has broken the Camel's back. The Housekeepers are coming home to roost. We are ALL up the MOAT without a PADDLE.

Hard Labour Ministers have been treating their expenses like MONOPOLY MONEY (speculating to accumulate) and Conservatory grandees have been having the state of their Stately Homes improved. On the other fluffy foot, Liberal Democrats have been, ooh, letting their daughters stay in their second homes and, gasp, overdoing the cushions and, shudders, slipping their Hob-Nobs into the Trouser Press (which is NOT as rude as it sounds!).

The behaviour of Liberal MPs appears to be defensible. But by the point we've got to "defensible", we've already failed.

The mood in the country has been dialled up to "baying mob" and BLOOD is being called for. It's almost IRONIC that if someone had done something ACTUALLY condemnable then Mr Nick could have FIRED their sorry bottoms, something that Mr Frown and Mr Balloon have obviously failed to do to the very real villains in their own (Shadow) Cabinets.

Without a RITUAL DEFENESTRATION, the wrath of the public is further compounded by a sense of "they've got away with it". Any amount of repayments only fuels the idea – real or imagined – that there is plenty more left to uncover, that MPs are SOOOOO loaded with ill-gotten expenses claims that they can easily cough up the refunds.

It is all very DEPRESSING.

You can understand the CROSSNESS of lovely Sarah Teather when she cries from the heart: "What planet were MPs living on?"

Mr Saint Stephen of Fry is both RIGHT and WRONG.

He's RIGHT that this witch-hunt is being led by hypocritical journalists who are paid far more than MPs, get far more generous expenses than MPs and are widely considered vastly more venal than MPs.

(And I for one would love to see how THEIR salaries and expenses stood up to public scrutiny. Her HONESTY does stand up, but do you believe that a News24 reader should be worth half as much again as an MP? Do you REALLY? If it's a question of public funding, then the BBC are just as responsible for handing out public cash as the House of Commons, and so at the very least the likes of Mr Paxo and Ms Waaaark on the Newsnight Show and Mr Humpy and Mr Naughty and Mr Evan on the Today Programme programme should be publishing their salaries and expenses alongside Mr Frown and Mr Balloon and Mr Clogg. But to be honest, all journalists, like the MPs, hold a public trust so why stop at the BBC? Everyone from Ms Pollyanna Toytown to Little Miss Jammy Clarkson to Bojo the Clown could do with a does of the "honesty"!)

And it's perfectly true that the Hellograph has an AGENDA. And promoting better democracy is not it. This isn't partisan – not entirely. They hosed the Horse Manure ALL AROUND – up to and including a LUDICROUS attempts to smear our own Stormin' Norman – in part because it hurts the Government MORE anyway, in part because it's easier for Mr Balloon to play the "let me clean it all up" card than the tired Hard Labour of Mr Frown, and in part to slap Mr Balloon around so he remembers who's boss too.

And remember, the Helograph have succeeded in smearing EVERY MP, even though their "full investigation" covers fewer than one hundred out of six-hundred and forty-six.

The powers of the MEEJA – in particular the deadwood press – are much reduced by openness like that created by the Wibbly Wobbly Web, and Freedom of Information and more people just being clued up. By spreading apathy, getting fewer people to vote, they WEAKEN our democracy, not strengthen it, and get a bit of their old power back.

But Saint Stephen is WRONG to say it is just fluff, that "everyone" fiddles their expenses and we shouldn't be so harsh on MPs.

People are deeply, deeply angry. It's being expressed in HOOTING OUTRAGE about some petty misdemeanours but it's rooted in REAL FEAR. Fear about the economy and jobs and losing houses: things that our MPs had kind of promised to protect.

This needs a SOLUTION and it needs one NOW.

It is NO USE to man nor fluffy beast that people keep tossing out ideas and no one will bring themselves to agree.

Mr Clogg puts forward proposals… and Mr Frown and Mr Balloon agree to ignore him.

Mr Frown goes on HootTube with a unilateral declaration – and he is UNANIMOUS in that! – and Mr Clogg and Mr Balloon agree that it's not good enough.

Let's just accept the Kelly Commission recommendations – better still, lets say we'll accept the Kelly Commission's recommendations as a BARE MINIMUM requirement. Mr Clogg and Mr Frown can agree to that… but now Mr Balloon is looking shifty and won’t sign up.

Mr Clogg puts forward NEW proposals… and Mr Frown and Mr Balloon agree to ignore him again.

And round and round it goes.

That's why people are looking for a PROTEST vote, and it doesn't help when the likes of Lord Norman Skinhead rise from the grave to urge people to vote BNP, cough, cough "not for the major parties".

The single most depressing thing EVER is to see the British Nasty Party conference getting coverage – any coverage at all – on the BBC, and thinking, well that's an extra point in the polls for them, right there.

THAT is the problem. To think, the Nasties, whose councillors when elected take your money and never, ever, ever do any work for you, might get away with a PANTOMIME involving three little pigs in red and blue and gold rosettes. And the BBC treats this as CREDIBLE.

THAT is how much of a FAIL this is.