You may have noticed that I have kept on posting all night tonight while others are out partying. Is this because I am sad, a bit of a geek and addicted to blogging? Well, partially. But don't worry, my social life is not a complete washout. I am out and revelling as the tabloids would no doubt call it. It's just that I have written these pieces in advance and set them to be posted in my absence. In some ways this is worse of course but it leaves me feeling contented and able to go out in to the wider, non blogging world.
Now here's a good idea: The Mail reports that the Conservatives are considering plans to fine drinkers whose state of inebriation is so bad that they end up hospitalized either because of injuries or simply their incapacity. Quite right too.
The NHS, when it was created, was supposed to be a system to improve the nation's health, the costs of which would slowly decrease as we all became fitter and healthier. It hasn't happened like that. Now all too often people turn up at hospital with minor ailments demanding attention or drink so much that they require medical attention. In so doing they cost the nation billions and divert resources from those who are ill through no fault of their own.
The binge drinking epidemic in this country is getting worse. I hold my hands up and admit that I am not innocent of often drinking more than I should, although I refuse to join the New Labour killjoys and condemn all boozing, I enjoy it too much. And anyway I may have frequently made a fool of myself and done bad impersonations of everyone from Frank Sinatra to John Travolta when tipsy, but I have never yet ended up in hospital as a consequence. I knew a girl however (who shall remain nameless) who regularly used to go out, drink around a dozen pints and think nothing of it. On one occasion, whilst on the way home after such a session, she was climbing around some derelict buildings, fell through a skylight and broke her back. The cost of her misadventure must have been in the tens of thousands.
Politicians need to get real about the NHS and tell the public to do the same. The principle of free at the point of use is being abused and is costing us all, and more than in mere financial terms. In an NHS which is forced to make choices about drugs which literally prolong life, it is unacceptable for us to be paying out needlessly for those who think they have the right to do what they like and let someone else pick up the bill. Such behaviour ought to be socially unacceptable, but in the rights based society that politicians and in particular this government have encouraged, there are no consequences for this kind of antisocial behaviour.
As a matter of course, all patients being admitted into hospital should be identified through their National Insurance number and fined if they are found to have behaved recklessly or are using the service excessively for no good reason. That would be fair and equitable. Such a system would also help to check the health tourism which is going on, enabling foreigners to come to Britain specifically to get free treatment for ailments they either couldn't get treated at home or which would cost them tens of thousands. Our coming period of austerity is going to be bad enough without us offering a free ride to the feckless or foreign freeloaders.
As we enter a New Year, this authoritarian government still persists in defending the indefensible and the police's retention of innocent people's DNA files. Next year, in their last blast at our freedoms after 13 years spent chipping away at them with their various new laws and innovations, they are proposing yet another new law, the Crime and Security Bill. This, they tell us, will balance the public's concerns on the issue with the operational needs of the police.
The operational needs of the police? How are the details of innocent people any concern of the police, or are we now guilty until proven innocent?
This is where this government has got it all wrong. The same government that sacks an adviser for telling them what they don't want to hear with regard to drugs seems intent upon acting on every plea for new powers from the police and security services. The job of government is to balance the requirements of those who seek to protect us with our hard won and too easily lost freedoms and rights. The police and security services naturally want more and more powers. But in a free society they should not always get what they want just because it makes their jobs easier.
Damian Green, the Conservative MP who was arrested last year over leaked information from the Home Office, has had his DNA details destroyed by an embarrassed Metropolitan Police force. The same would almost certainly not be true of the rest of us. It should be. The police do not have the right to retain personal information about us without our consent unless we have been convicted of a crime. Indeed there is some evidence that they are actively going out and arresting people solely to get their DNA to help them with their inquiries. There is no operational need for them to retain this. Convenience and the desire to catalogue us all is not the same as an operational requirement. Come election time this issue will be one I shall want to raise with anyone asking for my vote.
Back on the 1st of January of this year I trod the perilous path of trying to predict what lay ahead. You can read what I thought would happen here. Did I turn out to be an all knowing sage with my finger on the pulse of economics, world affairs and politics? Well, no. But neither was I hopelessly wrong. Indeed some of my economics predictions were better than the professionals. At the time my prediction of a 4% contraction of the economy was way out of step with the others, none of which thought it would shrink by more than 3.2%. I was notably more pessmistic. In fact I was not pessimistic enough. The eventual figure was economic contraction of 4.75% and we are still not out of it.
Unemployment on the other hand has not turned out to be as bad as feared. I was wrong here. This is largely down to the flexible and sensible approach taken by employers and employees rather than down to government action, whatever they now say.
I was a little too pessimistic about the pound against the euro but not outlandishly so. It is now more or less where I said it would be. And I was absolutely right that the government would have to ride once more to the rescue of the banks. I was even partially right that they would enter the market themselves through Northern Rock, a policy they should have pursued further and may still have to if we get another crisis next year.
I was wrong about there being an election this year. Brown's mini bounce in the polls did not last, although it should give us perspective this year when a similar thing has happened.
The euro has not had the rough ride predicted with some countries being forced out. However my timing may have been out here. It could still happen.
I was wrong about what Obama would do to address the recession. His package was not tax cuts but the vast spending on various projects which has not worked. It was, as I wrote at the time, a bad and hideously expensive package of measures which were really just subterfuge for getting much cherished Democrat policies through. It was a bad start.
I was wrong about China which bounced back from the recession remarkably well. I was also wrong about the battle of the currencies, although this was down to Obama's refusal to take anyone on in the diplomatic sphere. He rolled over for China and was rolled over by Russia and Iran. He is in the process of rolling over for North Korea. It's been a poor year for the new president, even though he won the Nobel Peace Prize for reasons that elude the rest of us.
I was wrong about Russia. Putin is not yet president again. But again this may be about timing rather than the prediction itself which I stand by. He has been making presidential noises of late and will certainly be back. He is even talking about taking on America with more weapons which is startling considering Obama recently agreed not to site that missiles system near to Russia. Perhaps the president will learn a lesson here about the duplicity of Russia and China.
Sadly I was also wrong about Robert Mugabe who remains in power. Things have changed a little in that benighted country and Mugabe has been forced to share power, so I was partially right. It remains to be seen how this will turn out, especially when elections come around.
I was spot on about climate change starting to unravel, although even I would never have dared to predict that it would do so in such a profound way. Of course many are refusing to acknowledge what has happened but this year was a watershed. I was absolutely right about politicians, under economic pressure, backtracking on measures to contain it as we saw just last week.
And sadly my personal prediction was way out. Leah is not at my side and I am blogging more than ever as a consequence. I'll try again this year. One thing that has changed is that I am now blogging from a different location. This, I can predict with absolute certainty, will be changing again in the next few weeks. Watch this space.
So, a mixed success rate. Will this stop me having another go this year? Oh no. I'm going to go further out on a limb than ever. Next year's predictions will be here next year - tomorrow.
Another New Year's honours list has come out and my name is curiously absent. I mean these days one does not seem to have to do much to get on to it and so frankly my omission seems odd to say the least. I've always thought that Sir Paul Owen has a nice ring to it, and it would be a good way of distinguishing me from all of the other Paul Owens out there whose mentions on Google are clearly confusing you all and driving away my internet traffic. I should get a knighthood just to promote freedom of speech.
Or perhaps it is because I have from time to time expressed sentiments that are of a republican nature and may from time to time have called our royals, who do precisely nothing to earn their titles after all, a bunch of hopeless parasitic nonentities. Yes, that must be the reason.
There is still hope for me however. I may still get the nod even if they worry about what I might say to whatever parasitical royal hands me my gong. After all Francis Rossi, the Status Quo rocker and newly appointed OBE, reacted thus: 'I'm not sure we deserve it but fuck it.' The shades of Buckingham Palace will be thus polluted. Excellent!
None of the above should detract from Patrick Stewart's knighthood which is very well deserved. After all, as Jean Luc Picard he has saved the universe several times.
I think we're all aware by now that Gordon Brown lives in his own little fantasy world which he has of course saved. This is a world in which Britain, through no fault of its government of course, was dragged into a recession, despite the fact that we were best prepared for it and from which we have still not emerged despite all of our competitor less well prepared nations having done so months ago.
Now, in his new year message, Gordon tells us that the Conservatives would wreck the recovery which has not yet happened and that our recovery is solely down to him. So we went into a recession which was not his fault but solely down to international factors. We are now emerging, albeit much slower than anyone else, from that recession and this, rather than international factors and our weakened currency, is entirely down to SuperGord and his brilliant economic strategies. It an interesting interpretation to say the least of the way things work.
Those of us who live in the real world thought of course that we are probably emerging from this recession despite rather than because of our dear leader. We thought that we are being dragged from recession by the rest of the world's recovery and the fact that we are now rather cheap compared to the rest of the world thanks to the involuntary devaluation of the pound, a devaluation greater even than the one imposed on us by that other great fantasist and liar, Gordon's predecessor, Harold Wilson. It must be something about Labour prime ministers. They certainly have a disconcerting habit of buggering up our economy.
We are of course wrong about all of this just as we were wrong when we thought we heard Gordon announce the abolition of boom and bust. Similarly the markets are wrong when they worry that Britain is running up too much debt, the Conservatives and leading economists are wrong when they worry that the government, despite promising a law, has still not explained how it will cut that debt (maybe SuperGord will swoop down and whisk it off out of harm's way into space) and employers are wrong when they predict another year of frozen wages, redundancies and slow business. It is of course wrong to suggest that it is barmy to keep spending money we don't have thus making our debt repayments ever larger far into the future. Oh and John Maynard Keynes was wrong when he said that you should save during the good years so that spending can increase during recessions. He may have been one of our greatest ever economists but Gordon knows best. Or at least he does now. He said something completely different about government debt in 1989. But the younger version of him was completely wrong because he had no idea what a balls up he would make if we were ever stupid enough to allow him into power.
Never mind, in a few month's time Gordon will be able to go off and spend a lot more time with his delusions. I still wonder who is going to be delegated the task of telling him he has lost and can't be prime minister any more. It will be the mother of all temper tantrums and will of course be because the British people are wrong. I wonder if he will just decide to ignore the result just as he ignores manifesto commitments and the laws of economics. We will find out next year. I can't wait.
Whatever you think about the climate change debate, and I think my views on the subject should be pretty well known to you by now, it is hard to argue that railways, especially European and Japanese style high speed railways should not be a major part of our transport infrastructure. Going back to the Beeching cuts of the 1960s which seemed sensible at the time, Britain has had a terrible record in investing in a form of transport which we invented and pioneered. We were still using steam long after Europe had switched to diesel and electrification and our sole high speed line to date is the only recently completed line linking London to the Channel Tunnel.
Lord Adonis will today receive a report from a commission looking into a high speed line linking London with the major cities of the north, a line which will cost billions but will ultimately enhance our infrastructure and competitiveness and reduce the need for the misery of flying over the comparatively short distances required for domestic journeys. London to Birmingham, a journey only currently possible by road or rail, could be completed in less than an hour. London to Edinburgh in just two hours forty minutes, a time comparable or better than air once commuting to airports and going through baggage and security checks is factored in.
The channel link has been a huge success. The tunnel now takes nearly three quarters of all traffic to the continent, notwithstanding last week's debacle. A new and better railway linking our major cities would be seized with enthusiasm by the British public, who would use railways far more if they were more competitively priced and there were more capacity. I enjoy travelling between Birmingham and London already on the current, much slower, West Coast Mainline. A new service as proposed is long overdue and precisely what the country needs.
Those of us who question the AGW case are not necessarily against plans such as these. Indeed I warmly welcome the idea and hope it can go forward with all party support. We ought to be finding alternative and more efficient forms of transport. We ought to be finding ways to wean ourselves off fossil fuels or at least to reduce their use. It's the need to do so immediately by carbon trading, massive draconian cuts and building wind turbines I question.
Britain is way behind on this kind of investment and now, thanks to the stupidity and irresponsibility of this prime minister, such schemes will require some tough decisions if they are to be affordable. But this, if it goes ahead, is real investment. Gordon Brown should look hard at it and try to understand the real meaning of the word.
And one further point about Lord Adonis. He is one of the quieter and most undemonstrative ministers in this government, possibly because he is not a career politician. He has just got on with his job, providing good administration and often building consensus with the opposition such as over this scheme. He is a fine example of what good ministers can achieve when they govern for the good of the country and forget about dividing lines and petty party politics. His leader would do well to change the habits of these last twelve years and emulate him. David Cameron ought to persuade him to stay in post and carry on the good work.
And now the first part of an occasional series about the words which are only ever used by journalists rather than those of us in the real world.
Today: Revellers. As in 'New Year Revellers will face sub zero temperatures as they see in 2010.'
Does anyone ever use this word in normal parlance? Have you ever gone to a party and turned to your partner saying: 'I wonder how many revellers will be there tonight,' or 'gosh, this party is severely lacking in revellers, it's really rather dull,' or 'I don't feel much like being a reveller tonight, if you want me I'll be in the kitchen,' or 'look at all of these revellers, thank god for global warming or else we would all have had to stay home.'
Revellers, a word created for use exclusively by the media.
It is sad but inevitable that this morning we woke to the news that China has treated one of our own the way it treats its own people. Akhmal Shaikh, a man who was mentally ill and unbalanced, was duped into carrying a huge amount of heroin into the country. Just the amounts involved would give any normal system of justice pause for thought. He was carrying 8.8 pounds of the drug. Who in their right mind would do such a thing into any country, but let alone China?
Mr Shaikh was given a half hour trial last year and then sentenced. The authorities did not bother investigating his mental health first, they just dispensed what they call justice and that was that. Their response to criticism this morning is typical. 'Nobody has the right to speak ill of China's judicial sovereignty,' they say. And then come the scarcely veiled threats: 'We urge the British side to mend its errors and avoid damaging China-British relations.'
We all know what that means. But why do we care? because of the size of the Chinese economy? It has become that size thanks to us. We could reduce it to where it was by simply switching trade elsewhere. Why for instance do we favour Chinese trade over Indian? India is just as populous, just as in need of our investment. Yet India, for all of its problems and faults is a functioning and vibrant democracy. Could it be that we favour trade with an autocracy because it is cheaper and easier and thus more profitable? It is another example of the Chinese using our own hypocrisy against us.
When are western governments going to wake up with regard to this appalling regime and start treating them with the contempt they deserve? Engagement and trade is not working. It is actually making matters worse, and the Chinese government more confident and arrogant. We have it in our power to bring them to heel, to hit them where it hurts. Yet we still do not do so.
It is already the second largest economy on the planet and growing exponentially. It is doing so thanks to its low costs, but also because it shamelessly holds down the value of its own currency to give it an even greater competitive advantage. And yet our politicians watch and say nothing, terrified that they might get left behind in the great rush to trade with an evil superpower in the making.
If we had had the opportunity to stop the Soviet Union in its tracks before it became the monster of the late twentieth century would we have taken that chance? Well we have it again now. China can and should be a major world power and a driver of the world economy. But not under its present regime. Why do we trade and do business with such regimes? Trade is a hugely powerful diplomatic weapon and yet we squander it for our own selfish but short term ends. If we set up a free trade association which all nations were free to join so long as they were democratic and respected human rights it would be a greater force for good than all of the sanctions and diplomatic protests that have ever been issued. It would be so simple to do and would reward and encourage good, fair and accountable governance around the world.
The last couple of weeks, at Copenhagen and now with this unjustifiable execution of an ill man, have shown once again what kind of regime we are trading with and enriching whilst beggaring ourselves and more deserving nations. More than that, China frustrates our attempts to rein in other nations too, nations which are a threat to peace and stability for the whole world. China is laughing at our weakness and short termism. If only politicians would show some real leadership and bravery we could free billions of people and make the world a better and safer place at a stroke.
Sometimes you know it is a toss up as to who is stupider, the cretinous terrorists who try to blow themselves up in the name of their omnipotent god but only succeed in scorching their scrotums, or the journalists who write about them. This morning it's not looking good for the journalists.
A number of today's papers are running banner front page headlines proclaiming the alleged words of sore scrotum man, otherwise known as Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab. 'There are many more like me,' the headlines scream. Who knows whether or not this is the case. If it is one can only fear for the human race, not because we should all fear for our lives thanks to these morons trying to kill us, but because it is clear evidence that we have stopped evolving.
But how much better are the journalists and their editors? Ask yourselves the question chaps, what effect do you think that kind of headline and publicity will have on some idiot with a chip on his shoulder who is currently in the process of being brainwashed. One does not have to be a psychologist to see it may well gird his loins to shove the explosives down his pants. These are damaged and rather stupid young men. They crave glory. They desire some kind of nobility and they imagine this will give it to them. Then you go ahead and give them an extra shove.
Suicide bombers are similar psychologically to the sort of outcasts and geeks who avail themselves of firearms and go on a shooting spree or who murder rock stars. What drives them to do it? Publicity. Public shock and outrage. They can't see themselves ever achieving anything in life and so they seek revenge on those who are better looking, more successful with girls, more successful full stop. Most teenagers and young men go through a rebellious phase, these twerps just take it to the ultimate.
For years psychologists have been telling us that the way to prevent further Columbine type shootings is to stop reporting them. Take away the oxygen of publicity and you take away the glory and the whole point of doing it. I'm not saying we should not report these incidents altogether but do we really have to have in depth analysis of the hopeless inadequates who perpetrate them? Similarly do we have to report the deranged ravings of this lunatic who tried to blow himself up on a plane? No we don't. Let's talk more about the hero who prevented him. Let's write about how utterly useless these people are. Let's mock them. Let's expose the ridiculous way they seek to justify themselves. When they talk about all of their brothers lining up to join them let's point out that they should be easy to spot since they will clearly be dribbling uncontrollably and dragging their knuckles on the ground.
At the risk of repeating myself, we take these morons too seriously. They are just kids with chips on their shoulders who can't be bothered to work hard, study hard and achieve things the hard way. They're dangerous of course and we have to be on our guard. But they are not frightening, they are pathetic losers. I see that picture on the front page of my paper this morning and it does not send a shiver down my spine. It makes me roll my eyes and turn the page. It's the only sensible response to a man who is going to spend the rest of his life in jail and whose big gesture for his god was to set fire to his bollocks. His brother Muslims think it's okay just to pray a few times a day as it means you will still be able to walk home afterwards.
I am happy to accept for the most part the predictions of our often confused Met Office when it comes to the weather of the next day or two. As often as not, given all of their satellites, weather balloons and super computers, they get such forecasting right.
This of course is not the case with their more long range forecasts. Barbecue summer? Mild winter? No.
Now the Met Office always protests at this juncture that such forecasts are not set in stone, that they are just a statement of probabilities. Well even on that basis I think I could probably beat their recent success rate. Winter? It will be mild or bloody cold. Summer? Either hot and glorious, if a little too much for some, or grey, wet and miserable as better suits our national temperament. That's 50/50 isn't it? So why do they keep getting it wrong?
I'll tell you why. You knew that I would. They keep making these daft predictions so that one day, if they actually manage to get it right, they will be able to say aha, we told you so. Now, let's look at our long term predictions about climate change. Except of course we won't. Nice guess we will reply. Now, what's going to win the 3 O Clock at Epsom?
And whisper it quietly but we seem to be having another cold and rather nasty winter, not just here but across Europe and across the pond too where the snow has been heavy, the temperatures frigid and chaos has reigned. And it's still only December. Furthermore, this is the third winter in succession that we have been shivering rather than basking in balmy mild weather. Weather is not climate as we often point out. But three years in succession starts to look like a pattern I would suggest, in my no doubt unscientific way.
And one further observation, again unscientific. The sun has now been remarkably quiet for some time. Cold weather? Quiet sun? I'll let you figure it out for yourselves. No supercomputer required.
It's the big question of our times and of times. And we have to decide in the next few days. Is next year going to be called Twenty Ten, or is it Two Thousand and Ten? As a personal preference I believe Twenty Ten is better. It's nice and succinct and rolls off the tongue. On the other hand, in twelve months time, I believe we should be calling 2011 Two thousand and Eleven. Twenty Eleven doesn't sound right. It sounds as though it's pre-decimal coinage.
So that will be the policy of this blog. I have held a committee meeting (it's so much easier when I'm the only attendee) and that is my determination. We are about to enter Twenty Ten. Let's hope it's a good one.
Oh and we also have to decide what to call the next decade. The teenies? That sounds like a pre-school television programme. I'm going to have to think about that one and convene another meeting.
One of the most haunting and enduring images of this year will be the video footage of the death of the beautiful and brave Neda Soltan, a young Iranian who had the temerity in that vicious theocracy to want and demonstrate for freedom.
The brutal crackdown on their own people by the illegitimate Iranian regime should be a shock to us all. Sadly it comes as no surprise. Indeed all of the bluff and bluster coming from the man who calls himself president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, about nuclear weapons research is probably down to his taking the usual dictator's route of trying to find some outside enemy to blame so as to unite his people.
It isn't working.
Today there are more reports of unrest in Tehran and across the country. The authorities are cracking down viciously and there are reports of deaths. The authorities will of course be mindful that the revolution which brought them to power in 1979 was also a slow burning affair, that the people's resentment simmered until it finally exploded just as it is threatening to do now. They have not forgotten the events and murders of the summer as the government turned on their own people so as to maintain their power.
It is to be hoped that Barack Obama, who offered the hand of friendship to Iran which has been spurned, now gives loud support to those who are challenging the mullahs and their puppet president. We are fast approaching a crisis with Iran over their nuclear weapons. But it isn't the weapons that are the problem. It is the government that is trying to get hold of them we worry about. After a rather poor initial year diplomatically Obama should now withdraw that hand and condemn this foul and dangerous regime giving every encouragement to those who are so bravely challenging it. That would be the right thing to do under any circumstances. But given the current state of relations and the political problems he will soon be facing, it seems to me to be a no brainer. Speak out, Mr President. The leader of the free world sometimes has to lead.
The more I read about the attempted downing of that plane from the Netherlands to Detroit the more it sounds like something from a screwball comedy. Abdul Farouk Umar Abdullah may have imagined himself as some great avenger for some terrible wrongs inflicted, but in fact, like so often, he is a stupid, credulous, dimwit who doesn't even have the brain capacity to blow himself up properly. I mean seriously, how hard can it be?
As we come to the end of a decade that will always be defined by the awful events of 9/11, we remain in danger of taking these halfwits altogether too seriously. Yes we have to remain on our guard against them because people deranged enough to strap explosives to themselves are clearly dangerous. But they are only dangerous in the same way that someone who dribbles and talks to himself but is six feet tall and carrying a knife is dangerous. You cross the street from him but you do not imagine that civilization is about to fall.
These are people who worship an all powerful and apparently merciful god and yet think that his omnipotence requires them to blow themselves up for his greater glory. A child can see through this line of reasoning. One suicide bomber a while ago pushed a bomb up his arse. I kid you not. The bomb on this occasion did actually go off and sprayed his innards all over his intended target who was otherwise unharmed. Oh and the assailants arm was embedded in the ceiling. It's grisly of course but it's also hilarious in an admittedly dark way. Is that what the glorious Allah wants you credulous, deranged fuckwits? And if you really think that's what the great one wants then what kind of sick god is it you are worshipping?
And what exactly is it that they are killing for? What grieves them? They don't really know. The great fruitcake in the cave, Osama bin Laden, started out by objecting to the American presence in his holy land. But these days it can be anything and everything, from Israel to Iraq, Afghanistan to some imagined persecution and evil conspiracy against Islam. Every once in a while, disgusted of Helmand sends out his thoughts via a cassette or video tape and we all make the mistake of paying attention instead of yawning and changing channels. He's hiding in a cave for god's sake. How seriously does he deserve to be taken? He's like Hitler in his bunker, pontificating about his new world order and telling his followers to fight to the death on his behalf. Where's Allah when you need him eh? You'd think he'd pay a bit more attention to a war being fought for his glory and to bring to heel all of we non believers.
The jihad has no war aims. They have no clue what they want anymore even if they ever really did. They just know they hate 'the west' for some reason they can't quite put their finger on. It's why they tend to recruit to their cause people who are not exactly multi taskers and so have difficulty doing anything so complicated as setting fire to themselves.
I have said it before and I will say it again, these people are not worthy of our fear. They are comical and pathetic. Think of them as like the crack suicide squads in Monty Python's Life of Brian who run up and immediately fall on their swords croaking with their dying breath, 'that showed them huh?'
Every time we go about our daily business we laugh in their faces. Every time we go shopping, dance in nightclubs in clothing they regard as unseemly we thumb our noses at them. Every time we catch a flight and only grumble about the extra security measures, we show them how insignificant they are.
None of this is to diminish the heroism of Mr Schuringa who leapt on the jihadi dimwit and put out his flaming balls. Neither is it to argue that we should let down our guard. It is to argue that we must not fall into the trap of taking the idiots too seriously. Humanity always produces those who think their cause is divine, self righteous zealots who haven't the intelligence or the self awareness to ask themselves some awkward questions. We forgot that they exist at the beginning of this century and reaped the whirlwind. Now we know about them it would be just as well to laugh at them .They do so hate it when we don't take them seriously.
Apparently there was yet another festive contretemps in EastEnders yesterday drawing 11 million viewers to see someone called Archie get murdered. I have no idea who Archie is except, judging by pictures in the press, he appears to be the actor Larry Lamb who has clearly fallen on hard times. Presumably things are about to get worse because they've just killed him off - possibly at the hands of someone wielding deadly daffodils - it's a long story.
Why do people watch this miserable, badly acted, badly written, far-fetched tripe? It's a serious question. I genuinely don't understand why anyone would want to subject themselves to it, especially at Christmas when there is actually quite a lot of decent programming on offer.
And speaking as someone who dabbles in script writing myself, how is it that this drivel manages to pass muster? More than that, soap writers are extremely well paid. The characterization is dreadful with them changing according to the needs of the story, the dialogue would make Dick Van Dyke blush and the storylines are absurd. And as for the acting, well that's why, almost without exception, soap actors are never heard from again once they leave and try to exploit their new found fame. Oh some of the better looking women do okay for a while. But eventually, as their fleeting fame fades and they have to rely on actual talent, producers suddenly realise that very few of them actually have any.
So if you are one of the 11 million who sat enthralled by this unremitting festival of misery and bad acting please get in touch and try to explain the appeal. I'm genuinely interested.
They say that anyone who goes to the gym, jogs or otherwise works out should build into their regime regular days of rest. It's good for you, allows the muscles and metabolism to recover and aids greater fitness over time.
The same seems to be true for shoppers. Yesterday Britain rested from its favourite pastime, settled in front of the tele, ate, drank and relaxed.
But all of the time those pin number punching index fingers were itching, indeed in some cases the turkey was accompanied by shopping cold turkey and so many had to avail themselves of the internet shops to keep themselves warmed up. The muscles were twitching.
Today they were let loose once again for real on the high street as this queue outside a Louis Vuitton shop illustrates. There were bigger and more impressive queues at Birmingham's Bull Ring, some starting at 4 am apparently, but I was damned if I was going to get up that early to take pictures of them. Nevetheless, the sales notices are out and we are out in force. And there is still Sunday and a bank holiday on Monday to come. The hordes are doing what they do best. It's the true meaning of Christmas.
The news that a man - FBI sources have named him as a Nigerian, Abdul Farouk Abdulmutallab, a 23 year old engineering student who claims to be connected with Al Qaeda - tried and failed to explode a bomb attached to himself on a Northwest airlines flight from Amsterdam, should I supposed be greeted with weary resignation. The fact that the attempt seems to have been incompetent and unlikely to have succeeded, even if his fellow passengers hadn't intervened will be cold comfort. These cretins do not have to be blessed with great intellect for their stupidity to succeed. Indeed they still seem to be trying to find some kind of explosive formula which is benign enough so that it can be smuggled on to aircraft but which can then cause sufficient mayhem for their purposes. This was another failure, but, as we are constantly reminded, they only have to get lucky once. The authorities have to be lucky all of the time.
The real worry of course is that, yet again, this was someone based in Britain who tried to carry out this facile act, no doubt deliberately at Christmas. Yet again, while our troops fight and die in Afghanistan, supposedly to defend us from these morons, our government is at the same time waving thousands of immigrants in to the country without any proper checks. Only a few days ago it was revealed that students are being lent money so that they can 'prove' that they can pay for their studies. They then give the money back once safely in the country. Now most are coming here to work. But what students desperate for work can do....... It's another example of Labour's famous joined up government.
Furthermore, as Fraser Nelson writes in The Spectator, thanks to our ridiculous judge made libel laws, our press are prevented from properly reporting what is happening and who might be involved. These two issues need to be urgently addressed during the coming election and by our next government. The libel issue in particular, given that our MPs have nothing much to do at present, could and should be addressed as a matter of urgency and our outdated laws updated by elected politicians rather than by judges. These are fundamental issues at the root of Britain's security and basic human rights. After a year in which our politicians have been in unprecedented disrepute, here is an opportunity for this parliament to do the right thing and redeem itself a little. I have written to my MP on the issue and she, to her credit, quickly responded to say that she supported the proposed reforms. Everyone should do the same.
Would people please stop being mean about Alesha Dixon. She may for all I know be a hopeless judge on Strictly and inferior to Arlene Phillips (I don't watch it so couldn't say), she may mangle her syntax and be all of the things that she is accused of. But ultimately she is utterly gorgeous and that is enough for me. Yes, I'm that shallow - otherwise known as a red-blooded, heterosexual male. Thus certain women can do no wrong in my eyes. Alesha is one of them along with Beyonce, Cameron Diaz, Lily Allen......well you get the picture. So lay off. And Alesha, I am available at all times to say nice soothing things, take you out to dinner and make you look even more glamorous and beautiful by just standing next to you. And I will even try not to wince at your bad grammar.
As the love of my life is currently not speaking to me (are you Leah?) I am available. It can only do your career good to be seen with such a prominent and erudite blogger as myself.
There was an occasion, many many years ago, when the world was simpler, people called the radio the wireless and women wearing trousers was seen as being profoundly shocking; on this occasion the BBC announced that there had been no news that day and so there would be no news bulletin. Now of course there probably was news it was just that it had not come to the attention of the BBC. Presumably the next day there were still newspapers. Perhaps they reflected long and hard and over several pages upon the paucity of anything decent to report.
These days of course it just wouldn't happen. There is always news because there are so many sources for it and information can be transmitted so quickly. And if the worst comes to the worst they can always call Katie Price. A newsless day for her would be a godsend - a chasm for her to fill by doing or saying something outrageous, or just going about her normal day to day business as she prefers to think of it.
The closest we get to newsless days in this age of celebrity, trivia and the internet is today, Christmas Day. Most of the news revolves around the thoughts of various people: prime ministers, queens, popes, bishops, archbishops, Katie Price (sorry she just slipped in there as she so often does) and others who feel it timely to opine on the issues of the day and express hopes for the year to come.
And it is for days like today that we have the royal family it would seem. Today the media are reporting that they all trooped off to church this morning - perhaps the only family in the nation who still bother - and will then spend the day at Sandringham. So, that's them doing more or less what they do every year. But then that's the glamorous and exciting world of royalty for you. Yet this is reported every year. Do you think they send a reporter to check? They certainly send a camera crew to show them turning up to church cheered on by a crowd of nearly a dozen people who are always referred to as well wishers. If I turned up I would still be called a well wisher, even if I were carrying, as I almost certainly would, a placard saying 'get a real job you useless bunch of parasitical nonentities.'
But that's Christmas Day for you. The Queen's speech is on the tele, even though very few bother to watch it or pay any attention to what she says, it is still dutifully reported as if it was written into our unwritten constitution. The same goes for the thoughts of the Pope, Archbishop of Canterbury and all of those others called upon to step into the news breach.
There was no news today, so here is some we made up earlier. Happy Christmas.
As we enjoy ourselves this Christmas with family and friends and the simple pleasures that this time of year affords, we ought at the same time to spare a thought for those who do not enjoy our liberties and freedoms. Around the world right now millions are starving, struggling to take in enough calories for survival let alone worrying about how much weight they are about to gain through over indulgence.
And we should spare a thought for those whose only crime is thought and for having the temerity to give voice to those thoughts. There are plenty of evil regimes around the world which imprison people for daring to speak out about injustice, who call for democracy or greater accountability. People like Liu Xiabao a Chinese dissident whose only crime is to challenge the government, and who has just been sentenced to 11 years imprisonment for 'inciting subversion of state power,' the sort of crime which only exists in totalitarian regimes whose only true beliefs are the right to perpetual and self perpetuating power for a self selecting elite.
Perhaps in the coming year our leaders will start to face reality about China, especially now that they have had their eyes opened after Copenhagen. China of course has the right to consider its own interests with regard to climate change, but their resistance to measures to curtail CO2 are entirely self regarding and entirely different to those of us who doubt the science. They know that their hold on power will only be maintained so long as they keep delivering economic growth and to hell with what the rest of the world thinks.
Our indulgence of this evil and tyrannical regime is dangerous and becoming ever more so as it becomes ever more powerful. This is a nation which resists all interference in its own affairs as intolerable and yet is becoming an ever greater power on the world stage, preventing our attempts to bring to heel other regimes such as Iran, North Korea and Burma which are dangerous or merely evil. It's why I always laugh at the idea of international law. It's an idealist's fantasy so long as we tolerate and indulge this Chinese government. More than that we even flatter them and ask them to invest. This is Gordon Brown's grand strategy for our economic travails. Are we mad?
China needs us. We don't particularly need China but that will rapidly change. It is already spending its cash on buying strategic stakes in western companies and even buying whole companies along with their intellectual property. China is responsible for cyber espionage on a vast scale and yet our net companies allow it to sensor its own content. America in particular and other western states have allowed themselves to become China's debtors, yet China still refuses to allow its currency to float giving it a double advantage in addition to its already low costs. It's been nice being able to buy our products cheaply but there are alternatives. Frankly, rather than support a regime that can imprison someone for asking for democracy, I would rather pay a little more. But more than that China is a crisis waiting to happen. As you opened your Christmas presents this morning did you pay attention to where they were made? Have a look now. China?
We are all contributing to the burgeoning power of this evil monolith and we can and should stop it in its tracks. Furthermore we must. We must do this before it is too late. Ultimately, as history has demonstrated repeatedly, such regimes must be confronted and forced to behave in a civilized manner for the good of us all. We have it in our power to force them through purely economic means at the moment. Let's for once have the good sense to force change while there is still chance to do it without bloodshed.
I'm not sure how much I shall be posting over the Christmas period - that's apart from my 10 part series of pictures of Birmingham celebrating Christmas rather than a Winterval - something well worth celebrating. It altogether depends if anything inspires me to do so during a period of no news. Let's hope we have no news anyway. Think how much we enjoyed it when Gordon Brown kept a low profile over the summer. And clearly we want no natural disasters like the Boxing Day tsunami of a few years ago. Boxing Day, for my foreign readers, is what we call the day after Christmas Day. There is a reason for this. I expect Wikipedia can tell you.
Thanks to those of you who have become regular readers of my various trenchant opinions. Thanks to those who have commented. Thanks to those who have featured me on their websites or put me on the radio. It's much appreciated. 2010 is going to be a fascinating year and an exciting one for me personally. Read about it here first.
Anyway, have a Merry Christmas wherever you are, even if you are in a part of the world which doesn't usually celebrate it. Try it, you might enjoy it - it's just an excuse for a party really. Even we atheists are not immune to the joys of Christmas, and anyway it annoys the religionists.
There are more stories in the papers about the widening rift between Gordon Brown and Peter Mandelson, including this one in The Telegraph. These stories are almost certainly coming from the Mandelson camp. But to what end? What does he want?
Well he wants his influence back. Brown used him when his position was at its most precarious. Now he feels more secure and so that influence has diminished. The man whom everyone was calling the real deputy PM has been demoted again and Brown is talking to his more trusted allies.
Of course, that this has happened to the prince of darkness and heir to Machiavelli himself is endlessly amusing. And why is anyone surprised? Brown has always been just as capable of deceit and duplicity as Mandy as he showed during his long campaign to get his present job. Bringing back his old enemy was really rather clever I am forced to admit. Now, with the election just around the corner rendering talk of more leadership intrigues highly unlikely, Brown feels secure and no longer in need of support. Suddenly the great political sage and communicator of a few months ago is surplus to requirements and Brown is following his own instincts. This of course is a recipe for electoral disaster but who is left to tell him that?
All Labour governments seem to end up this way. Of course this one has been like it for some time it's just that they were somehow able to keep going regardless. It's all remarkably similar to the infighting and backstabbing that happened under Wilson and Callaghan back in the 70s and not just because the economy is starting to look similar to those days too.
Will it lead to more talk about toppling Brown? Probably not. Mandelson for the moment is just making trouble so as to try and regain some of his former influence. But the closer we get to an election which Labour are resigned to losing the discipline may start to fray. The man of many titles and departments has already tried to jump ship back to Europe. Electorally he has nothing to lose either. This may just be a shot across Brown's bows. But the relative calm of the last few months within the government may be about to come to an end. The Tories will be hoping so. It may put an end to their recent jitters too.
Take a look at these 10 questions from Fraser Nelson. These are questions we should be asking of our Prime Minister about his involvement in his present and previous posts with regard to Iraq and which are now being postponed until after the election for fear of it being 'too political.'
We all doubted that the Chilcot Inquiry would amount to much and this decision has confirmed this even more than their remarkably low key, polite and unobtrusive questioning. This area of the way we do government in this country is overdue for reform. It won't be of course because turkeys don't vote for Christmas. After the MPs expenses scandal of the summer it is now very much business as usual which means not very much at all if it might lead to a Prime Minister and former Chancellor having to account for his reckless stupidity and breathtaking arrogance all of which has cost lives.
For the past few weeks the streets of Birmingham City Centre have been host to a Frankfurt Christmas Fayre, selling all kinds of German goods and delicacies along with local Birmingham items in a craft fair. In addition there have been a few fairground rides, Christmas trees obviously and a giant ferris wheel along the lines of the London Eye.
The whole thing has been hugely popular, particularly the stalls selling beer and wine as you might expect. But the streets, particularly at weekends have been packed.
So I went out with my camera and captured a few pictures of it all. I shall post some of them here over Christmas.
If you want proof that the integration of Human Rights law into our legal system, allied to a judiciary who frequently seem to operate on another planet, it is the case of Aso Mohammed Ibrahim, an Iraqi Kurd who claimed asylum here and proceeded to ignore those laws which he found inconvenient, such as the need to have a driving licence, insurance. He then killed a 12 year old girl and fled the scene.
Now, after marrying here and fathering children, all paid for by us of course, he has won the right to stay here after claiming his right to respect for a family life.
Is it much to ask that those who come to this country respect our laws? Is it much to ask that if they fail to do so that this should trump any notions of their rights?
This whole area of the law has become an appalling mess and needs to be addressed urgently. Ibrahim can ignore one set of laws whilst relying on another set to ensure his behaviour is not adequately punished. He could and should be deported and it is the fault of this government's flawed legislation whilst at the same time imposing all manner of draconian rules and invasions of privacy on the rest of us that is directly to blame. Tough on crime and the causes of crime they said when they came to power. Now we should be tough on them. Their policies are the cause of a great deal of crime and the reason why so many are carrying on regardless.
The Chilcot Inquiry into the Iraq War, it's build up and aftermath, has announced that it will question Gordon Brown - but not until after the election. So it will wait until after an election that hasn't been called yet and which may well not take place until May or June. Independent? Fearless seeker after truth under any circumstances?
The inquiry has already been criticized for failure to press certain rather obvious questions with relations to decisions made and dossiers sexed up. But this is the most egregious example of it lack of rigour or backbone. The inquiry, it is said, should not be used for political purposes. Then what exactly is the point of it? Gordon Brown has been accused of sending our troops into a war without the proper funding necessary. The British public might regard that as pertinent during an election campaign to choose our next Prime Minister. Instead we must wait until afterwards, presumably in the hope that it will confirm we made the right choice. Ridiculous, scandalous and sadly typical of this government's attitude to democracy and accountability. After all of that pious talk about the need for change to our politics over the summer this is the true nature of Gordon Brown.
Alex Salmond once stood down from the leadership of the SNP. Then, such was the shallowness of the talent pool available to the nationalists, they begged him to come back. Then, on the back of an unpopular Labour government, he became Scottish First Minister (albeit of a minority government) now his smug, irritating face seems to be everywhere, constantly complaining, constantly finding some cause to imagine that Scots are being hard done by and constantly having to be reminded that he is in fact in government and no longer the opposition.
Now he is even arguing that he should be involved in the TV debate to be held prior to the general election despite the fact that he is not standing in that election, his party is only contesting seats north of the border and he would be the only one of the three participants who did not aspire to be our Prime Minister. His argument is of course ridiculous and presumably he is aware of this. It would make as much sense to include Boris Johnson in the debates as he is the leader of London and represents an area of the country with a larger population and greater GDP. Yet the great chancer of British politics has seen an opportunity for more cheap publicity, more fake grievance. How can the Scots bear the man?
Perhaps Salmond is in danger of overplaying his hand though. His poll ratings have been on the slide of late. Scots are also very clear that they do not want independence and he has no chance of getting the referendum he wants to even ask the question. His best policy would be to keep his head down, govern quietly and wait to see what happens in that election. If the Tories get in he might have a chance given his country's antipathy to that party.
Or perhaps his strategy is to so irritate and enrage the English with his piteous and illogical whinging that we start calling for our independence from Scotland and a separate broadcaster so that we don't have to see or hear him on the BBC constantly. If so it's a strategy that's working on me.
I've just been reading a post on A Very Public Sociologist's blog and his tips for building an audience. He makes some interesting observations.
For my part I find that writing a title implying the presence of porn or references to Britney Spears with no clothes on drives an audience very successfully. But whether they come back again is another matter of course.
Interestingly many of the people searching for such items come from parts of the world that tend to take a dim view of such things. There's one for sociologists and indeed psychologists to ponder.
And now, as a contrast to my occasional series 'I really want to like David Cameron but....' here is a very good reason for liking the man, that is apart from the fact that he is not Gordon Brown. It's that the Daily Mail doesn't seem desperately keen on Mr Cameron. That counts as a recommendation in my book.
In its editorial today, The Mail condemns Cameron for getting the jitters about his austere message of late and turning sunnier once more. The Mail you see rather likes austerity and being miserable. If there were Cromwellian puritans around today, the sort of people who suspect that someone somewhere is enjoying themselves and instinctively disapprove, then they would almost certainly be Daily Mail readers.
The Mail, characteristically, disapproves of Cameron's PR background. Most of us may find it a little irritating but accept it as part of modern politics. And the Mail's yearning for austerity is also wrong. Austerity in itself is not something to yearn for. Yes we need to cut back on public spending, we need to be realistic about what the nation can and cannot afford. But is it wrong for Cameron also to talk optimistically about the future? That austerity is not a means in itself. Parsimony now will mean a better tomorrow surely?
Cameron is quite right to be changing his emphasis in the coming months. This is not to say he is backtracking on being tough on public spending. But he is saying that we can spend money more wisely than has been the case under Brown's scattergun approach. The Labour approach has been to throw money at everything as a panacea for the nation's ills. Even if we could afford it, it has been demonstrated that money will not cure the problems with the NHS and our schools. In that respect Labour has done us a favour. Their philosophy has failed, even during the times of plenty. Now it is for Cameron to make a virtue of the necessity of wiser spending in the same way that straitened times often create leaner and more efficient businesses. What is needed is not a famine or feast as Labour argues, but for the public sector to go on a diet so that we can trim all of the fat after the years of excess. That is the healthier option.
Cameron should be arguing that we need to slim down the state urgently, to make the economy fitter and leaner so that growth will return. That can be aided by tax cuts. Labour's tax and spend approach just sucks money out of the economy and ultimately impoverishes us all. Yet apparently Labour have failed to learn this basic lesson of the last 50 years. The Daily Mail advocates the opposite extreme. We need smart spending not lavish spending or wartime austerity to make us feel pure again.
Let's hope that David Cameron ignores the Daily Mail as most right thinking people do instinctively. The nation is in a mess and we need some judicious cuts and wiser spending. But austerity for austerity's sake is not the answer either, even if some people perversely rather like the idea for reasons peculiar to them.
And continuing the religious theme from my last post, or at least the theme of some of the stupid things that religious people say and then wonder why we don't take them seriously now that they're not allowed to burn us at the stake any more:
Here is something I just found on The Onion site: Sumerians look on in confusion as God creates world. It made me laugh. I expect it makes John Sentamu and various Creationists very very angry. And that makes me laugh too. You see? Sarcasm is definitively not the lowest form of wit.
The Archbishop of York says that atheists are aiding the systematic erosion of Christianity by sending non Christian Christmas cards. Berk! Why would someone who doesn't believe in Christ or God send a Christian Christmas card? Yet this is illiberal of us apparently. How so?
Christmas, as is widely known, is a festival that started out as pagan and was appropriated by Christians several centuries after the birth of the man they regard as their saviour. But these days, however much John Sentamu may object, for most people, certainly in this country, Christmas is just a nice time at the end of the year when we wind down for a few days, celebrate the end of one year, the beginning of another, meet up with family and friends and have a good time. It's Christian connotations are irrelevant.
A friend of mine, from a Hindu background, is coming back to the UK for Christmas. But he's not coming back for a mass for Christ, he's coming back to see family and friends and have a good time. Christmas is just a shorthand for a time when we get together and are a bit nicer to each other than usual. The religious aspect has become a sideshow. That is not the doing of we illiberal atheists, it is just reality. Get over it.
If there is one central, uniting fact about this recession it is that the so called experts, the economists, analysts and various commentators have been almost completely wrong about it from start to finish. In fact more than that. Most said it wasn't going to happen at all, that we would have a slowdown but not a recession. So they have been wrong from before the start to the finish.
And now they are wrong about the finish. And here I must admit that I too have been wrong, although I don't claim to be an expert. I thought things were getting better months ago. They were up to a point but nothing like enough.
Latest figures, confounding the experts once again, have confirmed that Britain, alone amongst major economies, remained in recession in the 3rd quarter. Impossible said the experts when the provisional figures were released. They'll be revised they told us. They were wrong. Again.
And keep this in mind when they tell us that there is no danger of inflation. Keep this in mind when the government tries to take credit for us coming out of recession. Keep this in mind when we are told that cutting spending now would endanger the recovery. Keep this in mind when they prescribe quantitative easing and dismiss criticisms that it makes no difference, creates inflationary pressures and is an easy way for the government to keep the spending taps open.
Even the so called experts say that 2010 is going to be a rough ride. Considering that they seem to be a bunch of inveterate optimists whose forecasts are made through rose tinted spectacles we should probably be very afraid.
If in doubt or any kind of political difficulty set up a quango or an independent inquiry or some kind of regulator. It's Gordon Brown's prescription for more or less everything. It's a nice way of avoiding having to be decisive, or at least it gives him someone else to blame for those decisions. It's why politicians love talking about 'the science'. Don't blame us, they say, it's the science that told us to do it, that is unless of course the scientists tell them to do something they don't want to do. Then they sack them.
Now, fresh from failing to save the world, Gordon wants to set up some kind of supra national body, an international regulator for the environment. This would ensure that the will of the majority, never something that has worried this unelected Prime Minister before, would prevail at international conferences such as Copenhagen.
The will of the majority? Actually the will of the majority did prevail at the weekend. The reason that no deal was done was because China, not usually a country which worries too much about democracy, had the interests of their people at heart. Those interests lie in continued growth. The interests of the leadership, on this occasion, are in accord. Similarly Barack Obama was shackled by what he could do according to what he can push through Congress. This of course infuriates the likes of Polly Toynbee and George Monbiot. That's the trouble with democracy, it tends to come up against the wishes of the lumpen masses who should really be doing what they are told rather than having the temerity to form their own opinions.
Just because our supine and useless mother of parliaments is treated as a rubber stamp by Gordon does not mean that he is speaking for the majority. The majority of British people are unconvinced by the need for his draconian measures. That's why he calls us all Flat Earthers - somewhat impolitic of him really given that he will shortly be asking us if he can keep his job.
And how exactly would this new body of Gordon's work? How would they give expression to the will of the majority? Is it going to be like the old days of the union block vote? Gordon would go off to these conferences and vote 60 million on behalf of the British people having not bothered to consult us. The obvious flaw to that plan is that he would still be outvoted by the Chinese and Indians under these circumstances and their selfish desire to do what is right for their own people.
No, Gordon's idea of the will of the majority is a very European one. It's the will of the majority of the self selecting ruling elite who get together at summits, meet in secret and do deals to legislate for the rest of us for our own good. Happily of course, Brown's membership of that elite is about to come up for renewal and he's unlikely to be back at the top table any time soon.
Indeed, perhaps this is Gordon trying to create a nice job for himself in a proto world government of the future. We Flat Earthers cannot be trusted to do the right thing and so he plans to create some international body to circumvent mere inconvenient democracy and do the kind of cosy deals he so enjoys. Brown is supposed to have found his niche in these international deal making forums. We're told he is very good at it. Perhaps they could find a way for him to go along anyway once he has lost power. He never listens to anyone else anyway and dismisses other people's opinions (those who aren't powerful leaders anyway) so having no actual democratic legitimacy would make no difference to him. He doesn't have much now. It will give him something to do in retirement. What's Gordon doing here? Oh just indulge him. We haven't got the heart to ask him to leave, anyway he might throw a phone at us.
Finally, as we enter the second decade of the 21st century (let's not go down the usual, it doesn't really start until 2011 route) Britain is going to be allowed to join the rest of the world in seeing and hearing our leader and potential leaders debate on television. Whether we would be having this if Labour were ahead in the polls is doubtful. We certainly never did under Blair.
Gordon Brown and his team will be hoping desperately that he can pull off a great performance in these debates and make them into a game changer. Saving the world has not worked, dividing lines aren't divisive enough and blatant bribes seem to have been a damp squib. He has, it is true, recently performed better in the bear pit of PMQs. But a television debate is different entirely. It will play much better to Cameron and Clegg's strengths than to Brown's, they are much more personable and TV friendly than Brown. Anyone doubting this just has to remember that gurning video of him released by Downing Street last year in which someone had clearly told him to smile more often. Please god don't do that again.
Ultimately, unless there is a major gaffe or Gordon loses that legendary temper, I doubt that these debates will make much difference. They probably will get a decent audience though, if only for the curiosity value. They are certainly a welcome innovation in this supposed democracy and in the wake of all of that pious talk about reforming politics and making politicians more accountable. What may turn these into more than just a sanitized and unremarkable affair may well be, as so often, the intervention of a member of the public in one of the audiences. One cunningly deployed exocet of a question could well make things more interesting. As the incumbent and the man most given to spin and statistical sleight of hand, Brown will have most to fear from someone challenging him or asking something awkward but it will be a fear for all three, it is after all the nature of politics to conceal from us what they would really rather not talk about. An already fascinating electoral contest just became a little more compelling and that has to be good for our damaged democracy.
Further to my last post, I have just been reading about the latest sad sap who just over a week ago won the opportunity to be further exploited, chewed up and spat out by the Simon Cowell money making machine. His name is, as you will no doubt be aware, Joe McElderry and he seems the usual ingenue and pretty boy with a talent, albeit hardly an extraordinary one, who is about to be thrown into the bearpit of pop music.
I just find the whole thing extraordinarily sad. They are all heading inexorably towards disappointment and disenchantment while Cowell sucks out their few months of money making ability before casting them to the wind. And did you know that the much vaunted £1 million recording contract they are given actually only gives them £150,000 in their hand? The rest is spent on promotion. So Cowell is giving them a prize which he actually spends effectively on himself and maximising his investment. He probably makes more during the series from the phone votes alone. I bet this is a one-way only option too. Contestants are no doubt obliged to accept this 'prize' so that Cowell can make money from them fast. Why else does the series always finish a couple of weeks prior to Christmas? So that they can rush out the inevitable single.
Of course such manipulation and cynicism has always been a part of pop music. It's just that now the string puller in chief has become as big or a bigger star than the poor unfortunates he is exploiting. It remains the same however. He takes some pretty boy or girl, makes them as anodyne and non threatening as possible and waits for the public to get bored. If these stars have anything about them they become proper artists who want more control over their careers and material, wanting to say something meaningful rather than just belt out another ballad dressed in all of their finery. Maybe just maybe they then manage to become more than mere singing ciphers. Most just don't have what it takes other than a pleasant enough singing voice.
X Factor is a nasty, manipulative circus for freaks, show offs and wannabes in our fame obsessed age. The people who benefit are Cowell and ITV. The pop world is ruthless enough without making the process itself into entertainment. It's a wonder Cowell hasn't tried to turn it into a soap opera. Once in a while, admittedly, they find a Leona Lewis who may well have the talent and indeed the looks to last the course and have a long career. She would be best advised, as soon as legally possible, to find herself a decent manager sharpish, someone with her best long term interests at heart. That is not Cowell. Most contestants however will have their fifteen minutes of fame and then fade back into obscurity. If they're lucky they might end up singing on a cruise ship. For most its back to karaoke.
Cowell is about a fast buck and exploitation. He's very good at it. But you can see why people are starting to ask questions and rebel.
Do people really care these days about the Christmas Number One? It used to be such a big deal in the days when I used to dream of one day being a Radio One DJ and playing that Top 40. Back then records sold in their millions, the charts were announced on Tuesday lunchtimes as we all gathered around the trannie (that's a transistor radio, children, not what you're thinking) and the festive top slot was the absolute pinnacle.
And we all used to go out at weekends and buy our favourite singles at WH Smith or somewhere similar. Now you don't even have to leave home and it's just computer code rather than a real piece of vinyl with a colourful sleeve. It's not the same somehow.
It all started to go downhill after BandAid to my mind. After that it was always some charity single or Cliff bleeding Richard or Mr Blobby. What happened to those proper Christmas songs like Slade, Wizzard, Mud, Greg Lake, The Pogues and Kirsty McColl, John Lennon and the always out of tune Yoko?
And these last few years we have had the Simon Cowell empire ruling what is left of the chart with his latest one hit wonder. Until today. The backlash has begun. The internet has triumphed. Rage Against The Machine are Number One spraying expletives over the latest pretty boy from the Cowell hit factory. Oh Simon has been magnanimous in defeat, but I bet he's spitting blood. What with all of the snow and this vindictive desire to knock a celebrity down a peg or two, it's making me feel quite Christmassy.
It's embarrassing isn't it. Last week (and maybe this week too) it was British Airways and their cabin crew determined to be the party poopers of the season by denying a million people their festive fun. Now this week, owing to the wrong sort of weather, those letting the train take the strain are sitting around and wishing they had flown.
The problems at Eurostar, we are told, are down to trains going from very cold weather into the warmer confines of the tunnel and the melting snow dripping and shorting out the electrics. Now I know we are said to be in a warmer climate these days but I'm pretty sure that this cannot be the first time that we have had weather this cold. So something basic and seemingly prosaic has gone wrong.
Perhaps it is just down to the fact that winter has come early and Eurostar has been caught unawares. Blame the Green Meanies that's what I say. If they didn't keep telling us we were getting warmer the engineers would have been on the lookout for ice in winter. For once we really can blame this all on climate change. It's just that this time it hasn't changed enough.
I've not been watching much TV lately and so completely missed that Outnumbered, the brilliant family sitcom I have written about here a few times, won three awards at the British Comedy Awards last week. Quite right too, and richly deserved. More than that, the utterly delightful and adorable Ramona Marquez, who plays Karen, won best female newcomer.
Outnumbered has been a slow burner as far as audiences are concerned. It was dismissed by the critics at first, but then what do they know? I admit that I didn't bother with it when I first saw it advertised. Then, one night, I happened upon it by accident and was transfixed. It won me over immediately. It was clever, original and actually featured child actors who seemed natural by virtue of the fact that they were improvising, an innovation by the writers and directors Andy Hamilton and Guy Jenkin which, like all great ideas, seems so obvious in retrospect.
Of course the choice of those kids matters too. Frankly the kids should get a writing credit they are that good. Little Ramona in particular had some of the stand out funny lines in television last year when she buried her mouse murdered by Mummy and dismissed the stupidity of Islamic terrorism in a single line.
There's a Christmas special of Outnumbered next weekend. Make sure you don't miss it and if you haven't seen this wonderful series get the DVDs immediately. It's that good.
I feel I should just point out, through my flu ridden and foggy head, that winter starts officially tomorrow. Yes, it hasn't even started yet. And even though our leaders have failed to save the world from catastrophic climate change, the weather is, with its usual wonderful timing, dumping huge amounts of snow and ice on eastern America, buggering up our transport system and contriving to strand even those who chose to go by eco-friendly train across to Europe.
And it's only December.
Perhaps that will cheer up those leaders heading back from snowy Copenhagen who are being roundly abused by the Green Meanies and Polly Toynbee. I don't count Polly as a GM. Given how wrong she is about more or less everything and not just environmental issues, she deserves a whole category of her own.
Anyway, as far as I'm concerned, all of this has been a better tonic for my flu (swine or otherwise) than several doses of Paracetamol, Lemsip and a whole bottle of Night Nurse. The papers have been full of bitter recrimination or the likes of me exulting in the uselessness of our politicians. Because make no mistake, although they did the right thing by doing more or less nothing this weekend, they did so inadvertently. And this weekend has also brought a reality check for our politicians about the intentions of China. They will go their own way. We cannot allow them to. The next test will follow very shortly as we attempt to deal with Iran. We have the economic clout collectively to rein them in. When are we going to start using it, when it is too late as usual?
I think I may have the flu. I ache all over, have gone through half a forest's worth of tissues in the last six hours, have lips more chapped than those of an eskimo and feel like death. I also can't sleep hence this post in the small hours.
I am however going to try and keep blogging as far as possible. This is because I find it passes the time between sneezes quite acceptably but mostly because I have written many times about the stupid amount of fuss being made over Swine Flu. I don't know which variety of the disease I have but I shall not be calling any hotlines or any doctors. I shall be taking normal remedies and shivering in bed just to prove a point.
If I die however or end up being hospitalized, feel free to point out that I was wrong.