Monday, 31 March 2014
There are many things I could have written about today. The latest asinine predictions from the IPCC which are little better than guesswork and which nevertheless will be given bold headlines as their assertions are regarded as fact. They still can't explain the pause of course and still cannot actually link so called severe weather with so called climate change. Their predictions of what is to come are based on the same old computer models that are wrong and cannot account for the fact that the temperatures they say should be rising inexorably have stopped doing so. So why is their alarmism given credence. At least the Met Office stopped making its seasonal predictions when they kept getting them wrong. Last year, before the floods from which parts of the country have still not recovered they were predicting a drier than average winter.
It should also be noted that, even if these predictions turn out to be entirely accurate their link to human activity remains tenuous and unproven and just shows that our chaotic and unpredictable climate is something we have to adapt to rather than arrogantly believe we are capable of influencing it. Their predictions are actually nothing of the sort. They are just a range of possibilities designed to capture headlines. What are we supposed to do with the information that there could be more droughts but that there might be more floods too? People will be displaced? There will be wars? Refugees will be created by climate change? How do they know? This has no more scientific validity than the predictions of politicians when they argue about anything from welfare changes to changing taxes. That, ultimately, is why the IPCC is such a discredited organisation. Science is now a side issue.
Oh and today Labour have once again noted that something is not working terribly well and so have prescribed throwing more of our money at the problem. This time they have noted that the system for student fees and the loans systems created to pay for it is not working terribly well. Once again this is part of their ignominious legacy. They were the ones who wanted people to go to university in their tens of thousands and so encouraged them to get into debt for worthless degrees that qualify them for nothing and mean the jobs they manage to get are incapable of earning them enough to pay off their student debts. The system is not working and is costing public money it is absolutely true. But the solution is to only have excellent and worthwhile degrees rather than the Labour's usual anti elitist agenda which has created this chaos. Our best universities are falling behind their international competitors thanks to this idiocy.
Anyway it is much more interesting to talk about sheds. Here is my favourite in this year's Shed of the Year competition. Sheds are something in which we Brits still excel. No doubt Labour will put a stop to that any time now.
Sunday, 30 March 2014
In midweek the nerves showed when Liverpool struggled slightly to a nevertheless deserved victory against a team struggling against the drop. Today they were up against a team who should have represented a greater threat. They didn't. Liverpool swept Spurs aside, much as they did when they visited White Hart Lane. The two games have produced 9 goals against Spurs. Today's produced another Suarez classic as he became Liverpool's most successful striker in the Premier League era, surpassing Robbie Fowler. And this in a season in which he was suspended for the first five games.
This was Liverpool in their pomp, an appropriate display from the new league leaders after yesterday's surprise results and Mourinho's mind games that sounded too close to the truth, that his team are not going to be champions. The reason he may be right is that the Reds simply cannot stop scoring. Chelsea will have to spend big money this summer on strikers to emulate them.
The best aspect of these performances is that they are now real team displays with the likes of Sturridge, Coutinho and the ever more impressive Sterling making huge contributions. Gerrard was his steady impressive self and could even be withdrawn 20 minutes before the end to protect him from a suspension that a yellow card would produce. No matter the midfield was anchored by Lucas and Henderson who went on to score. Coutinho did the same with a superb strike from 25 yards.
The question will be levelled at Brendan Rodgers once again and ever more insistently, and no doubt his response will be the same as before, about taking each game as it comes. But its rather harder to stonewall the questions when your side sits proudly and deservedly at the top of the table. There are just six games to go until the end of this fascinating, enthralling season with a denouement more intriguing than any fiction writer could have dreamt of. Can a side go from finishing seventh to champions in just one year? We are about to find out. But they start April in top spot and nobody could possibly argue it's a fluke.
Saturday, 29 March 2014
Friday, 28 March 2014
There is, it seems, some momentum in the campaign to say yes to independence and Alex Salmond. This was probably always going to happen. The big lead for No has been ingrained in the system for some time but as the arguments are rehearsed and the Scots get chippy about being told what they can and cannot do they were always likely to say screw you and vote lemming like for Alex's fantasy independence.
But what happens if the gap keeps closing? What happens if the Scots do actually vote for independence?
Well for a start the Scots will have been sold a pup. How will they react when they really are, contrary to the assertions of Alex, told that they cannot have the pound? What will they do when they find themselves outside the EU and without a realistic chance of joining any time soon? What will they do when their bold new nation cannot borrow because it has reneged on its debt in a fit of Salmond pique? What will they do when their oil based promised land is not as bountiful as promised and they cannot afford all of the goodies Alex promised and indeed have to impose Tory style cuts? What will they do when they find themselves as foreigners in their own land if they happen to live south of the border? Will they demand another vote? Will they plead to be allowed back into the union?
And what happens this end of the country? Do the Scots get to vote in our upcoming general election before their independence is official? Who gets to form the next government? Who gets to negotiate for the rest of the UK? If Wallace leads the biggest party of the UK but not of the UK shorn of Scotland who is prime minister? Perhaps, given the way the polls are heading, we should be preparing answers for these questions.
This time last year, the Fat Leader was threatening the world with nuclear reprisals for laughing at him, threatening him, failing to copy his haircut or some other imagined slight. The rhetoric became hysterical, although not in the sense of that word he probably intended. We are still here. The righteous war failed to happen. South Korea, which the North refuses to admit even exists, has kept selling the world electronic goods and cars. The North has continued to starve whilst building a new ski resort to show the South how it should be done.
This week, just to remind us that they are still there and would welcome any spare food we happen to have lying about the place, they have fired off a few missiles and killed a few fish. This has been met with the usual ritual condemnations. Why? Why not just ignore them. Better yet why not issue a statement saying simply 'ho hum?'
Thursday, 27 March 2014
So there is not much point in my writing much about last week's Budget. I would have done of course had I been able to but that opportunity has now passed. In essence however Osborne produced a clever Budget which actually managed to give people money without actually spending any. That's clever by anyone's standards. Labour must be furious that they never thought of it.
But even had Labour thought of it such a bold move would have gone against their instincts. Their instincts last week were certainly to oppose. Some, while they were flailing around trying to come up with a response, actually gave the game away that they don't think the public should be trusted to manage their own money this way. Only once initial polling showed the move to be popular did they react favourably.
And Wallace undid what little progress he has made in the last few months by showing his true nature. His Budget response was not really about the Budget. This was just his response to all things Tory. Perhaps he thought he was at a remembrance service for Tony Benn. More likely he just decided that, given the state of our rapidly improving economy and a potential game changer from Osborne, this was all he had to say.
Because this is the state of Labour now. Their strategy has long been to say as little as possible, to just spout soundbites and rhetoric and slogans and hope that nobody notices the lacuna where their policies should be. They talk tough on welfare because it plays well but their instincts are very much the opposite. The same is true on pensions. The same is true on immigration. The same is true on the economy in which they are currently and conveniently engaged in a review so that they can say as little about spending as they can get away with. Labour are utterly empty because they don't dare endanger their electoral chances by telling us what they really think. And so they rant and rave as Wallace ranted and raved after last week's Budget. They have nothing to say and so that's what their leader says. It's his one real talent.
Wednesday, 26 March 2014
I didn't get to write about Liverpool's spectacular victory over Cardiff at the weekend owing to my latest hospital stay. It's a shame because, having watched it since, it was one of the games of an increasingly enthralling season. Wherever Liverpool end this season, and the odds are narrowing on a number of possibilities that would have seemed outlandish only 6 months ago, this game will be seen as a classic.
By contrast tonight's home performance was more workmanlike. It was nervy. This was the performance of a team that knew this was a potential banana skin against a team fighting for their survival and doing so with remarkable gusto, enterprise and spirit. Games against the strugglers are seldom comfortable at this part of the season and Liverpool knew it. This season, as we head into April, this was a game that really mattered. This was that game in hand we have been referring to for weeks as we looked at the table. This one had to count.
And count it did. Liverpool are now just a point behind league leaders Chelsea with Mourinho's men yet to come to Anfield. The title dream is alive and kicking and looking ever more likely. These are the games that deliver championships, these games you are expected to win but which are very far from easy against teams that can choose to defend in numbers, frustrate and hope to grab a goal. Sunderland grabbed their goal and threatened to do worse. They piled on the pressure but the Reds rode their luck, defended well and survived this ordeal of nerves and 20 year old hopes postponed. It was an uncomfortable experience and one they will be glad is behind them. Ultimately they played well enough to deserve the points. The nerves were on show but so was the class.
This Liverpool run that has created this title challenge has been exemplary in its timing. Since the turn of the year they have played 12 Premier League games, won 10 and drawn 2. The games lost column remains untouched. The goals scored column on the other hand looks like it has been taken over by gremlins so often has it changed. It could have been like that tonight. The Reds could have registered 3 goals in the opening few minutes. That they didn't meant those nervy last few minutes. But that is how champions are created. They must accept the slings and arrows of outrageous Premier League fortunes. This was another notable and impressive victory for very different reasons. They were expected to win. They should have won. They deserved to win. They did win. It just remains to be seen if the same is true of the whole season. The games are running out, the table is looking more than promising, the form table is very much in their favour. The belief and faith is now so strong it hurts.
Apologies for the recent lack of blogging. I have had another one of my protracted stays in hospital, this time entirely unscheduled and unexpected. I was just going for a check up. 7 days later I am finally out, with a beard and bed hair. My foot remains in a cast but thankfully no further toes have been removed.
Thanks to the staff of UCH in London who were brilliant as they usually are. The food is lousy - it takes a special kind of genius to do that to fish and chips - but that is all the criticism you will get from me. I can only apologise for the occasional rudeness and unthinking stupidity of some of my fellow patients. I can say without question that you don't deserve it.
Normal blogging will resume when I have caught up on events.
Sunday, 23 March 2014
Tuesday, 18 March 2014
It's the Budget tomorrow and George Osborne will be putting the final touches to it, probably this year without the aid of a burger given that he has been having some success with his 5:2 diet. It's appropriate really that the man serving up a diet of austerity has himself gone on a diet. The irony is that he has chosen to do so at a time when the economy is looking healthier and the temptation is there to indulge ourselves again. Perhaps this is his quiet message at a time of purdah.
As usual he has been receiving a great deal of unsolicited advice about what he should or should not be doing, advice to which he has not responded even through leaks or off the record briefings. It is the nature of our media that some are reading something into this. Does George have something up his sleeve? Is he going to produce something to shock and stun us with his brilliance and further add fuel to those rumours about ambitions for the leadership which now seem a little less ridiculous than a couple of years ago?
Personally I don't see the point of speculating about it. We'll know this time tomorrow. But this doesn't mean I cannot offer my own ideas for what he should be saying.
There has been much talk this last week of the need for tax cuts with many arguing, as I have done in the past, that it is time to do something about the 40% tax rate which is hitting people who are by no means rich or even in the middle income bracket if they happen to live in the south east. Indeed I argued that something should have been done about this at the same time as Osborne cut the 50% tax down to 45%. I agree that something needs to be done about the fiscal creep which has seen so many dragged into this tax bracket. Unfortunately it is likely that there just isn't the money to do anything about this in addition to raising the lower limit taking the very low paid out of tax altogether.
But this should not mean that Osborne cannot talk of his ambitions for tax cuts and indeed of tax reform to make our ridiculously complex system simpler and flatter. He could say that thus far he has only been able to help the very lowest paid (although raising the lower threshold helps everyone a little) but that the ambition will be to start at the bottom and work his way up until everyone is benefiting from the Tory instinct, alone among the major parties, of cutting taxes for all and shrinking the state. This government has demonstrated that cuts to government spending need not result in the carnage and misery so many including Labour and the BBC expected. Continued discipline on spending and cutting waste does not just have to be about reducing the deficit. It can also feed through to our wages and further the aim of making work pay making benefit dependency a thing of the past. It is a classic Tory philosophy and it works. Isn't it time they started talking about it again?
Monday, 17 March 2014
Is the BBC biased? Well no, not in a deliberate or institutional way in much the same way that the Metropolitan Police is not institutionally racist - which would imply that, as a matter of policy and in a systematic and culturally ingrained way, it doesn't much like people who are not white. No, the Met is not institutionally racist it is merely institutionally self serving and corrupt, which is of course much better.
But the BBC is definitively not representative of the wider population it broadcasts to. Few cultural institutions are. It's just that most ordinary people don't get to see other publicly subsidised cultural institutions, either because they aren't interested, can't afford to, don't want to, or don't live in London. Thus they do not see that all such institutions tend to have a metropolitan liberal bias and regard this as the natural state of being. They don't see it as bias. To them the north is a place full of quaint working class rituals, cloth caps and reliable safe constituencies. Just listen to the way they are depicted on Radio 4.
Nevertheless it is remarkably impolitic of the BBC to try and turn Newsnight into the Guardian of the airwaves. Surely that's what Channel 4 News is for.
I am one of the very few people who actually bother to watch Newsnight. Well, sometimes. It's format is tired and old fashioned, its presenters, except for Paxman, are dull and uninspiring (notwithstanding the welcome return of Laura Kuenssberg) and it lost its way some time ago. It is no secret that the BBC would dearly love to be rid of it and to use its prime slot for drama or films or something else funded by what they will save by abolishing BBC3. Maybe they could put Family Guy on in its slot.
But it is hard to defend their appointment of Duncan Weldon as their new economics editor when he has little journalistic experience and when he has been an adviser to Labour and the TUC. Nevertheless he would do well to be more left wing than his immediate predecessors in that role, Paul Mason and Stephanie Flanders, at least one of whom has in the past been even more intimately connected to the Labour Party than Weldon. Still, you can tell its a bad decision because only Little Owen Jones, he of the absurdist arguments, specious logic and a finger permanently poised over the block button on Twitter, has defended it. Little Owen even claims that the BBC is stacked full of right wingers and produces a list of them, which includes Chris Patten, John Humphries, Nick Robinson and Andrew Neil. We should note that if you are Little Owen Jones everyone probably looks right wing, including the entire staff of the BBC for not inviting him on to Question Time as often as that proto Hitlerian figure Ken Clarke.
I have another explanation for these increasingly bizarre appointments by Ian Katz, Newsnight's comparatively new editor and himself, like so many of the staff he works with, a refugee from the Guardian. Actually I have several explanations. Take your pick:
First, the audience for Newsnight is now so small it is very nearly as small as The Guardian's. When this happens it is generally assumed that such institutions are in need of subsidy and, like the National Theatre or the Old Vic, can become left orientated without anyone really noticing. In the case of The Guardian they use the profits, yes profits are not a dirty word so long as they are paying for Polly Toynbee or Little Owen Jones, from selling used cars and ignoring how purely capitalist and indeed environmentally questionable this trade is. In the case of Newsnight they have the TV Licence to pay for it all.
Second, perhaps Katz and the Beeb are trying to rediscover former glories by doing controversial things to raise the programme's profile. They probably can't get away with libelling a senior Tory again and investigations into former star paedophiles is old hat and maybe elements of their friends in the Labour Party disapprove. But incurring the wrath of the Daily Mail is a surefire way of attracting publicity because lots and lots of people read the Mail. How amusing to get them to tune into a programme almost entirely staffed by lefties and thus open to its soft propaganda dressed up as worthy but dull reporting.
Third, there is the age old tactic employed by the Beeb to get rid of old programmes long past their sell by date but which are still cherished or in some way regarded as essential. Usually they reschedule the programme, or shunt it off onto BBC2. They did it with Top of the Pops, are in the process of doing it to Blue Peter (now only available on a childrens' channel) and would dearly love to do it to The Sky at Night. Clearly neither is an option with Newsnight. Instead they are intent on so discrediting it, so shrinking its audience that the decision to abandon it will seem logical and indeed the kindest cut of all, like putting to sleep a beloved but smelly pet. Perhaps that's why Paxman grew that beard.
But fourth there is the possibility that, like all lefties, Katz just cannot understand that the rest of the world does not think like him. Thus he is incapable of appreciating that his bold and innovative appointments look safe and uninspiring and not unlike our prime minister surrounding himself with Old Etonians. Furthermore it does not seem to have occurred to him that recruiting from a failing newspaper or an economist with a record of failed predictions is hardly likely to produce ratings busting television. But that's what the BBC is for, eh. It's only a matter of time before it buys the Guardian and describes it as a rationalisation of its recruitment processes which will facilitate internal transfers - or attachments as they call them at the Beeb.
Sunday, 16 March 2014
Back at the start of the season Alex Ferguson, in his updated autobiography in which he settled scores at the end of his managerial career, opined that the old enemy, Liverpool, were 8 players short of winning the title. Well on this evidence, if Liverpool are to fall short of that dream this season, United are about 20 or 21 players short. They will have to build a new side around Shrek now that they are paying him £300,000 a week.
United were awful, Liverpool superb. The scoreline does not reflect their utter dominance and United's utter cluelessness. Where Liverpool were determined, vibrant, dynamic, imaginative and enterprising United were insipid, disorganised, slow, disjointed and sloppy. Belief flowed through this flowering Liverpool team. United looked like what they are, a team in decline and very very mid table. When Ferguson wrote that autobiography who would have thought that this would have been the position of these two famous clubs, these bitter rivals. Perhaps the old man himself did. He seems to have got out just in time. Perhaps in his time he might have been able to inspire a bolder, braver spirit. But the fact remains that this team is old and in dire need of an overhaul. Instead they were overhauled by a team in superb form and even finer confidence.
And the scoreline flatters United. This could as easily have been the sort of thrashing Liverpool handed out to the likes of Arsenal and Spurs. That it nearly happened at the Theatre of Dreams only reinforces their nightmare. Liverpool could and probably should have had five penalties. In the end they only had three and Steven Gerrard scored two of them. He only missed the third as he sent it the other way for the sake of variety and hit the post. The two other shouts for penalties looked just as nailed on, just as certain. Happily for this sorry United team, the referee Mark Clattenburg looked as though he was feeling sorry for them and denied the Mersey Reds their just desserts.
This ought to have been a stern test for a side with title aspirations. This year, for the first time in many, that team is Liverpool. This was as thorough a demolition of a team as you will see all season, and that team are currently champions. However and wherever Liverpool end this season, and a title still looks a little too far with the blue side of Manchester in prime position, Liverpool have signalled their intent. This is a very very good side with sky high confidence that today played ole football in the stadium of their bitterest rivals. If they do emerge top this season it will be no fluke. It will be thanks to performances like today's, and, it should be noted, the other Manchester side along with Chelsea have yet to visit Anfield this season.
Saturday, 15 March 2014
Friday, 14 March 2014
Perhaps it is easy for us to be so generous this morning about Tony Benn because happily he never achieved the power he so craved and thus never wreaked the havoc he would undoubtedly have created. His prescriptions for this country were almost always wrong and potentially disastrous. The fact that he became a kind of avuncular figure and national treasure was because we never doubted his sincerity, his principles even if we fundamentally disagreed with his policies and solutions to our nation's ills. It also helped of course that this most ardent of democrats could see how fundamentally undemocratic and unaccountable the EU is, and said so often. That alone endeared him to many on the right, myself included.
And of course he was at least partially responsible for consigning Labour to the political wilderness for the whole of the 1980s. That is something else for which we must all be eternally grateful. By making Labour unelectable and prompting the split that created the SDP and ultimately the Lib Dems, he helped Margaret Thatcher to her three election victories including very necessary landslide victories in 1983 and 1987 which helped her cement her revolution. Eventually that forced Labour to make an accommodation with this new reality and embrace it, or at least pretend to, by calling themselves New Labour.
But the main reason that many from across the political spectrum were saddened to hear of his death was that Tony Benn was the very opposite of a career politician who says what he thinks people want to hear or tries a bit of clever triangulation as Labour have done this week on the issue of Europe and a referendum. He had principles and beliefs which he stuck to rigidly. He tried, and thankfully failed, to convince the nation that he was right and his policies would deliver us some kind of socialist utopia. He believed in democracy even if he also, somewhat confusingly, also believed in nationalisation and state corporatism as the solution to the nation's ills. He was a fervent supporter of the union movement but the union movement created to improve the lot of the working classes and not the modern union movement which almost regards that as an afterthought. Indeed this rather summed him up. He was a romantic and an idealist. But he could never seem to see the reality. And so he was incapable of seeing the flaws in the socialist model he so trenchantly espoused. He was similarly incapable of seeing that his proposals for ever more powers to be given to the unions would lead to chaos, anarchy and the very corruption we saw in socialist states the world over. It turned him into at best a figure of fun and, for the tabloids, a cartoonish hate figure of the loony left.
But Benn was opposed to institutions like the House of Lords, the monarchy and Europe for the very good reason that they are undemocratic and unaccountable. This was why so many of us respected Tony Benn even whilst often fundamentally disagreeing with him or despairing at his credulous naivety. But it was made so much easier to respect him because he never got into power and was unable to implement some of his ruinous and crackpot ideas. His brand of socialism was extreme, deluded, frequently demented and downright dangerous. As Harold Wilson remarked: he immatured with age. We should never forget that, however much we now regret the passing of a great orator, parliamentarian and diarist.
Thursday, 13 March 2014
So, it's official. Labour have finally resolved to be irresolute on the issue of Europe. They have decided not to make a decision about a referendum whilst pretending to do the opposite, much as they did when they told us that they were reforming their links with the unions before handing them even more powers, and indeed when they tell us how tough they are being on spending and on welfare reform. The devil is in the detail and the details betray their true intent. It's more of the same with a lot more spin. Labour is the party that tells us what we want to hear before doing exactly what it wants to do from deep within its comfort zone.
On a referendum, Labour don't trust the British public to make the right choice as they see it - something we are seeing increasingly often from the elitist ranks of a party that so abhors elitism - but are confident that they can get away with it. The 35% strategy looks like working. They will sail back into government, only seven years after crashing the economy and nearly bankrupting us, and claim a mandate for more of the same, including much more of Europe. If indeed the EU does come back for more powers, which it will even if it is true that for now this is not on the agenda, Labour will pretend that it is nothing of the sort and deny us a referendum yet again. This after all is what they did on the constitution that became the Lisbon Treaty. And of course the EU has a remarkable ability to accrue powers to itself based on existing legislation and without the need for new treaties. This is why people like me object so strongly to it and call it undemocratic. The no new powers line is meaningless. The British public have never been consulted about the powers it has now and which it uses daily to increase those powers on an ad hoc basis. The last time we were consulted the Euro, the single market and the free movement of people were not even sparkles in the most ardent federalists eye. Now they are an undemocratic nightmarish reality and Labour says we should do nothing about it.
For now the EU is sitting back and watching what happens. If David Cameron were to get back in with a majority they might even have to give him a few fig leaf reforms to try and appease him and his party and stop us voting to get out. It might even work with the combined might of most of the left, many newspapers, businesses and the BBC behind it. If Cameron were to get back in but as part of a coalition again the EU would use their allies in government and offer a great deal less. If Labour get in then it is business as usual. Panic over. Democracy will once more have been seen seen off and the great Euro elite can carry on as before.
The usual suspects are saying that what Miliband did yesterday is very clever. It probably is in the narrow world of Westminster in which the people of this country and in particular the poorest that Labour claims to be standing up for are ignored and impoverished as a direct consequence of Labour and EU approved policy. Miliband has concocted a fudge and expects us to swallow it. But we are offering a referendum under some circumstances he will say ad nauseum between now and the election. But once again he is trying to be too clever by half. Once again, as when he saved us all from taking on Syria with more oh so clever double dealing, the British public will see through this ruse for what it is. This is the kind of machine politics, elitist back room dealing that we have all come to so despise. All we want is the right to decide who governs this country in a fair and open way via a referendum. Miliband yesterday said we can't have one. We'll see about that.
Wednesday, 12 March 2014
The latest dispute between the RMT and and the London Underground is a case in point. Crow wanted ticket offices that nobody uses any more kept open. It was a similar sort of argument as that deployed by his hero Arthur Scargill during the miners strike. Selfishness and self interest elevated to something noble by unions who refuse to move with the times and want to keep dipping their hands into the public purse.
To be fair to him, Crow was a simple old fashioned trade union leader who saw his job description as being to stand up for his members. It was not to play party politics or indeed to engage in the kind of chicanery we have seen at Unite where a narrow bunch of self selecting machine politicians claim to be speaking for the working man and woman based on a tiny vote before proceeding to advance policies which actively do those working men and women harm. Crow was popular because he did not despise the instincts of the members he represented. He understood them and probably shared them to a large extent. Materialism was not a dirty word to Crow as it is to many lefties nowadays. In many ways he was a capitalist. He was a paid an extremely good salary which he definitively deserved because he did a very very good job. It is a contrast to the kind of Labour politician with a privileged often elitist background that they then deny to working class people in the name of working class solidarity.
Yes Crow was supremely good at standing up for the interests of his union and its membership. But his was a peculiar, narrow kind of socialism, a 1960s socialism. His attitude was not noticeably different from the businessmen he and his ilk so despise. The profit motive is regarded as beyond the pale by so many socialists and yet they think nothing of imbibing deeply from the public teat they seem to regard as forever plentiful and unending. He famously lived in a council house which he saw as his right despite his high salary, high pension and ability to pay his own way. It's ironic in a way that he will not now benefit from the pension he paid into for so long. It's probably the most selfless thing he did in his entire career.
Tuesday, 11 March 2014
Apologies for my absence. I was in hospital having my toe amputated. The NHS, to be fair, did me proud. There are irritations as there are with all large and sometimes unwieldy organisations. But, when push comes to shove, and as long as you have the ability to point out the inconsistencies and the intelligence to ask questions, complain where necessary and the good manners to behave properly to staff who are usually doing their best (something apparently beyond a large number of patients) the NHS performs superbly. The highlight of my stay was when waiting for my operation and being in a cubicle next to a family who came, I am guessing from Essex. Indeed the whole of that county seemed to be visiting my neighbour such was the influx. They were not impressed with the food. 'Go and buy a sandwich or sum fink from Pret a Manger,' they said, pronouncing the last word the same way as the Japanese pronounce their famous animations.
Normal service resumes tomorrow, although since it is the Nick and Harriet show at PMQs, this may not be all we might hope.
Sunday, 9 March 2014
Saturday, 8 March 2014
I love this song, very funny. My abiding memory of it is driving to work at Television Centre one day when it came on the radio. The line about 'arse is the size of a small country' made me laugh so much I nearly ran over the security guard letting me in.
Friday, 7 March 2014
I am going into hospital today to have part or all of my toe amputated. If you want to catch up on the whole tortured story then this post from a couple of years ago is a good place to start. It's become a bit of a saga. Hopefully this is the denouement.
However Wi-fi is very hit and miss in hospital, even one as good as UCH which has generally been excellent (here is an opportunity for the NHS to raise some money incidentally by providing good and reliable wi-fi to the wards) and so blogging may be sparse or non-existent.
I shall be out next week, with only nine toes and my foot in plaster. Anyone wishing to visit me this weekend then please feel free. Bring grapes. I like grapes.
Truly he is the heir to Blair. This is our prime minister on the phone to his friend Barack discussing important international issues. So: adopt serious and concerned face, straight tie, grave countenance, get a photographer - don't make it a selfie. You can't tell from this picture but his top lip was quivering too as he thought of the poor people of Ukraine and the wasted opportunity of bombing Putin vicariously by shelling Assad in Syria.
And the world has joined in. Patrick Stewart is a man who used to save the universe for crying out loud. This is a man who can look grave at warp 5. This is a man who has appeared in Samuel Beckett plays and claims to understand what was going on. Try and spot the difference between him and Dave. Were it not for the fact that only one of them is actually using a phone they would be indistinguishable.
And this is why I would have made a lousy politician. I cannot look grave and serious. Today I shall be having my toe amputated. What happened when they told me I must go under the knife and make my limp worse? I made a joke. I'm just not prime ministerial material. Maybe there's still a chance of commanding the Enterprise though.
Thursday, 6 March 2014
The government was this week accused of trying to suppress a report that said that immigration is having no measurable effect on unemployment in this country. I suspect, if it is true that they were trying to suppress it, that they did so because this is patently a report scarcely worth the paper it is printed on.
Let's be clear, nobody is saying that immigration is actively causing unemployment. That would be to allege that British employers are actively sacking or making redundant British workers in order to then employ foreigners. That would be ridiculous. The report therefore asked, probably deliberately, the wrong question.
But you do not have to be a statistician, researcher or some kind of useless social scientist to make the following observation. Britain has a finite number of jobs, albeit in a market that is happily expanding. Into that market we have been importing hundreds of thousands of people given open access via the European Union. London in particular is chock full of French, Spanish and various eastern Europeans looking for work. If you doubt me then try to get a room in a low cost hotel or hostel at the moment. Given this correlation one does not need to commission a highly expensive report to conclude that this latest wave of immigration thanks to the woes of some of our neighbours must be having an impact on the ability of British people currently unemployed to find work. How could it be otherwise? If you add additional workers you make jobs more difficult to get for those they are competing with. Isn't that a statement of the obvious?
I think that the BBC is right to close down BBC3, and I speak as someone who has been known to watch some of its often inane or pointless output. I didn't watch the more egregiously inane programmes obviously. The ones about suspicious parents and their kids having teenage sex are not really my bag. But they have produced some decent comedy. BBC Three was a place for new comedies to be experimented with. But there is no reason why this should not still happen. It might make BBC Two stop making programmes about sewing and baking and the like and get back to what it should be doing.
The only real issues I have with this decision are with regard to the idea of BBC Three continuing as an online only channel. What's the point of that? Just cut the channel. Send the money this will save to the other channels and export the decent programmes that would otherwise be lost to BBC Two or the now inappropriately named BBC Four. And that shouldn't change. It should stay as BBC Four. Whenever anyone accuses the BBC of waste, as they will because it is fantastically wasteful, they can just point sadly to the gap where BBC Three used to be. BBC One, BBC Two, BBC Four they will say and smile smugly, until someone points out that they wasted a sum exactly the same as that this decision will save on an IT scheme that didn't work.
The money however can now be spent on other output, beefing up the existing channels. And it is right that BBC Four is saved. That is proper public service broadcasting, providing a service not found elsewhere. The same could definitively not be said of BBC Three, for all that I am a fan of Family Guy. But it's a lot of money for one imported, if very funny, animated show and a place to show a later repeat of EastEnders.
You can entirely see why the selfie of all of those Hollywood stars at the Oscars went around the world and broke records for retweets. It is actually a great photo. Professional photographers would kill for something that natural, that relaxed, that unworried about image and spinach teeth. And no, I haven't spotted any. Like all great moments in the zeitgeist it has quickly been parodied and even by The Simpsons, which shows how big it really is.
The selfie has caught on because it captures these moments and, thanks to the technology we all take for granted, it can be flashed around the world. And hey, it got Samsung such great publicity they donated a big wedge of cash to charity. My own picture you see below was taken on an iPhone by the way. It was stolen a few months later and I have to wait until my contract ends to get a new one. If anyone would like to donate one though......
Wednesday, 5 March 2014
It's interesting isn't it our differing attitudes to international crises. Only six months ago the British public and a large part of the body politic were dead set against any intervention whatsoever in Syria. It was a message sent loud and clear to David Cameron, a message he reluctantly, after some particularly egregious double dealing by Wallace, accepted. Dave had wanted to intervene once it was established that Assad had used chemical weapons. The country was not so sure. Wallace was sure that he had spotted an opportunity to deal a defeat to Dave. It didn't make him look statesmanlike.
Today Wallace got a new international crisis and tried again. Dave has been less engaged with this one. Yet the polls show that the British public have more sympathy with those poor Ukrainians worried about the mangy bear of Russia trying to show how big and tough it is again. Perhaps we only get sympathetic with countries being bullied by outsiders. To be fair it is hard to see in Syria which side is the nastier. Oh and it's in the middle east. Those conflicts have a habit of coming back to bite us here at home. It still might once all of those jihadists come home as we saw just last week. The Ukraine is something we can talk about, get pompously angry about, all safe in the knowledge that we will do precisely nothing about it. Although, as I mentioned in my previous post, we could always send in a symbolic cavalry charge for effect.
For those desperate for PMQs to be less rowdy, more dignified, less partisan they got what they have been asking for. God it was dull. Miliband asked a series of questions he knew Dave would agree with and Dave duly did so. They agreed Russia was wrong. They agreed something must be done. They agreed that trade sanctions should certainly be considered because they don't want to look weak. But we all know those sanctions won't amount to much. There's an election looming after all. They agreed there should be talks and everyone should be nice to one another. If they had been wearing bikinis it would have looked like Miss World wishing for world peace.
A little of normal service was resumed when Tories jeered Jack Straw, a resident of Oxfordshire, for asking a question about the frozen north. Jack looked rather hurt by the insinuations. And why did he need to ask Dave in the Commons anyway? He could have just popped around to Dave's constituency home for a coffee this weekend.
But the Commons just couldn't rouse itself to its normal levels of anger, finger pointing and jeering. Their hearts weren't in it. John Bercow has seldom had so little to shout about, well not since Sally's Twitter faux pas cost them a whole year's travel expenses. This was Britain pretending to be a world power once again. The silence was probably appropriate.
I have a solution to the crisis in Ukraine. Frankly it's genius. As we all know our forces are now so denuded that we haven't a hope in hell of doing anything about Russia's invasion of a sovereign country that would like to join the EU. Even the EU, which recently won a prize for bringing about peace, is incapable of standing up for it in any meaningful way.
But what we do have are lots of soldiers and horses ready for ceremonial duties at the drop of their big, fuzzy hats. We have men in shiny uniforms ready to pose for tourist photographs as London emerges from our winter and readies itself for that very modern day invasion - hordes of tourists, many of them Russian.
We also have modern media which can seemingly arrive in any troubleshot, erect all of its equipment and broadcast around the clock in just hours. This is a modern logistical miracle and one we should be every proud of.
So why not combine these two? We could send our modern cavalry more accustomed to riding around Horseguards' Parade or Birdcage Walk over to the Ukraine and re-stage the Charge of the Light Brigade live on TV. The original charge was of course annihilated by guns and cannons. But this would be on television. How would the invaders look if they fired on defenceless soldiers armed only with ceremonial swords, men who were there on a goodwill visit with various historians in tow? Is Russia, the country that has just staged an absurdly expensive sports event so as to show off how modern it is, ready to turn its guns on horses? They've already had their problems with Greenpeace, do they want to incur the wrath of the WWF and RSPCA?
Tuesday, 4 March 2014
I entirely accept that there probably isn't much we can do about Putin's plans to seize hold of as much of Ukraine as he sees fit. We are certainly not about to go marching in there, guns blazing, to defend a far off nation. Frankly we don't have the resources even if we were minded to do so.
It seems however that our electoral cycle and the fragility of our nascent economic recovery also means that even sanctions are a no no. We know this because yet another high ranking, highly educated official seems unaware that walking around with a document in full view of the world in the age of the camera phone and the telephoto lens is not a terribly good idea. Given that our highly educated officials seem to be unaware of this fact of modern life it is probably best that we are not entrusting them with planning a war.
And so Ukraine, it seems, is set to be abandoned to its fate. We will huff and puff and issue condemnations. Vlad the Botoxed will find himself a temporary pariah until it suits us to press the reset button again and welcome him back into the fold. Perhaps he will offer to host a summit or a major sporting spectacle from his newly re-appropriated territory. Given his rapacity for stuffing Russia's possessions into his and his pals' back pockets, perhaps he has his eye on Ukraine for a new holiday home or two.
Those defending this arrangement argue that Ukraine and in particular the Crimea are traditionally part of Russia anyway, or at least within their sphere of interest. This apparently entitles them to march in and take over when they vote the wrong way and thus somehow imperil the lives of anyone speaking Russian. It also speaks to Putin's view of himself and of his country. Russia is or ought to be a superpower and that means acquiring territory and using his army and navy before it rusts away entirely. Maybe it is also a clever ruse to make the oil price go back up again, something Russia needs if it is not to go bankrupt.
Maybe we in the West should learn the lesson of this ourselves, in particular with regard to Scottish independence. If the Ukraine is within Russia's sphere of interest then Scotland is clearly in England's. There are plenty of English speaking people living there. We can even understand a lot of them without subtitles. Clearly if that country disobliges us next year, appropriates all of the oil and refuses to take its fair share of the debt before telling us to remove our ships and submarines from its bases then we would be perfectly entitled to invade. It's good of Putin to set such a clear international precedent for us.
Monday, 3 March 2014
It was never clear to me why Russia, a chronically unbalanced, undemocratic, kleptocratic and corrupt country was indulged by being allowed into the G8. It remained unclear after their invasion of Georgia under similar convoluted and self serving pretexts why their membership was still tolerated. Why the Obama administration felt that they were deserving of pressing that famous reset button was similarly mysterious. I cannot be alone in being intensely suspicious of a regime that bent its own rules to permit Putin to regain a presidency he never really left and whose adherence to democracy is now less than skin deep. I cannot be alone in being frustrated that this vain proto dictator is being allowed to dictate to states he regards as his satellites and who have had the temerity to look west where they see greater prosperity, better government, respect for the rule of law and opportunity to release old Russian shackles.
Putin and many of his countrymen have failed to come to terms with the fact that the Soviet Union collapsed. Yet it still wants to throw its weight around on the world stage. It preaches non interference in states like Syria for entirely self serving reasons and yet marches into the Crimea on a pretext of which Hitler would have been proud. We of course are not about to go to war to defend Ukraine. But is a new cold war such a terrible prospect? Russia, for all of its bombast and vainglorious posturing, is in no position to throw its weight around if only we are united enough to stand up to them. Indeed, given the corruption of Putin and his cronies, all we really have to do is deny them access to London and our property market as a safe haven for their ill gotten gains and we will be dealing them an icy blow equivalent to those mass spy purges we used to engage in. Playing nice, trying a reset have not worked. Putin will only understand toughness and resolve. He has not got it from the west, and certainly not from President Obama. It is time he did before he really overreaches himself and we are forced to do what we were so anxious to avoid when we tried to reset what cannot be reset. Or have we learned nothing from history?
Sunday, 2 March 2014
Saturday, 1 March 2014
I know I keep saying it week after week, but this was another very significant victory for Liverpool. Not only did it see them pass last season's goal tally with another 10 games to come, not only did it see them rise to 2nd place after Arsenal's loss at Stoke, it was an emphatic and impressive win over a Southampton side that won at Anfield earlier in the season after the Reds excellent and impressive start to the season. This result will have raised hopes as much as the earlier one dampened them.
Southampton are a strong side, a side that plays quality passing football, and one of the tougher fixtures on the Premier League itinerary this season as Arsenal and Manchester City have discovered. Only Chelsea of the championship hopefuls have recorded such a victory at St Mary's - coincidentally by the same scoreline.
There can be no denying now that Liverpool are decidedly in the mix. If Arsenal remain in it despite today's and recent poor results then a resurgent and supremely confident Liverpool side with Luis Suarez, Daniel Sturridge and Raheem Sterling in superlative form have to be. Even the defence looked a little more assured today. In the end this was an emphatic, almost contemptuous sweeping aside of a most unfortunate Southampton side who often played excellent attacking football and were unlucky not to at least get a goal. In the end though the confidence and panache of this Liverpool side was what won one of their tougher remaining games. The way Steven Gerrard despatched the last gasp penalty high into the corner of the net spoke of his and his side's belief. But of course they are still just taking one game at a time. The thing is those games are running out and Liverpool are poised and ready.