Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Bob Hoskins



Sad news that Bob Hoskins has died at the age of 71. Hoskins was one of the greatest actors of his generation. Not blessed with good looks or the body of an adonis, he nevertheless became a much loved star of first television and then cinema, making the transition to Hollywood and even becoming a leading man. A whole generation of men will always envy him for starring alongside Jessica Rabbitt. And yes, I know she wasn't really there.

Hoskins always claimed that he became an actor by mistake after being called for an audition when accompanying a friend. If true it was a classic case of serendipity because it brought the country and then the world an actor of huge talent, charm and great modesty. Audiences loved his portrayal of ordinary men in extraordinary situations. His brilliance in Dennis Potter's Pennies from Heaven is a television classic and his portrayal of the gangster Harold Shand in The Long Good Friday stands comparison with the greats of the genre like Robert De Niro, or his good friend Michael Caine with whom he appeared in another classic of the genre: Mona Lisa.



PMQs 30th April 2014 - The I Missed It Edition



Sorry, it had been my intention to watch and write about today's PMQs but I just missed it. For the record Wallace decided not to talk about GDP and the economy. I know!

Instead Wallace asked Dave about the privatisation of Royal Mail and the fact that some people seem to have got a bit of a bargain on the backs of we hard pressed taxpayers. Wallace in particular objects to the fact that hedge funds have made a killing on it when Royal Mail workers were given conditions on when they could sell their shares, although given that these shares to employees were free, gratis and for nothing, this hardly seems like a major imposition. Labour of course tried for years to sell off Royal Mail and failed, yet now they are angry because it was done on the cheap. Dave pointed out that they weren't so great at judging the market themselves when they sold off our gold reserves.

It's all a bit desperate for Labour isn't it. They can't talk about the economy and are reduced to levelling innuendo about Tories and fat cats in the city. Earlier this week St Vince, who is not a Tory but who was in charge of the Royal Mail sale, refused to apologise for it. And you have to say it has been a huge success. Judging the timing and pricing of these sales is very difficult and was done with full advice from those who are supposed to be experts. Look at what has happened with the likes of Facebook and Twitter when they came to market. Labour this week is complaining that Dave won't talk about the debates in the general election and that the sale of Royal Mail shares was too damned successful. All so that they don't have to talk about the economy and those GDP figures. Perhaps it's because Ed Balls can't think of a new hand gesture. The rest of us can though.

Oh, and at the end of his tussle with Wallace Dave had a bit of a run-in with the Speaker. The PM was in the middle of his peroration and was raising an unfortunate old quote from David Axelrod, the man brought in by Labour to turn water into wine, cure leprosy and, somewhat implausibly, make Wallace electable. He was interrupted mid joke by Bercow. But I haven't finished said Dave, as he reluctantly sat down, and to cheers from his Bercow hating backbenchers. 'Yes, you have' said the sanctimonious dwarf.



Farage Wimps Out



Nigel Farage has just wimped out of standing in the Newark by-election, an election whose date has not even been set yet since Patrick Mercer announced his decision to stand down after being suspended for six months for taking dodgy consultancy fees. Mercer has to resign by going through the formality of applying for the Chiltern Hundreds. The Conservative Party then has to move the writ for the election, something they could probably delay for a little while.

But now they might feel that they may as well get on with it. Farage looked at the electoral maths, at that whopping majority that Mercer enjoyed and bottled it. No more big momentum from Ukip then? This surely would have been the perfect opportunity to show that his party's surge is not just about Europe but that it is the new third party, even if it is full of loons, fruitcakes and racists coming out of the closet. Do leaders of insurgencies and a party that is breaking the mould, running against the Westminster cosy duopoly, worry about electoral maths or do they seize the opportunity? Farage says he doesn't want to look like an opportunist. This looks like he can't see an opportunity when it marches up to him, seizes him by the lapels and yells 'stand for Newark you wimp.' He also says he wants to concentrate on the European elections. But this is a man who wants us out of Europe. Surely he would make more of a point at Westminster? Even the Greens have a Westminster MP.

This has not been a good week for Ukip. Their various candidates are showing their true colours and now Farage is showing his. It is yellow.

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Debate? Labour Have Nothing to Say



The GDP figures came out today. Growth for the last quarter was 0.8%, meaning that he economy has grown by 3.1% since this time last year, the fastest growth in the G7.

This is clearly good news. This is why Labour are trying their best to ignore it. Ed Balls, as shadow chancellor, of course cannot really ignore it. He has issued the usual statement about it not being beneficial for all and how his plan will help deal with this. What plan you ask? Well, good point. He doesn't say since he doesn't have one. His plan was for the economy to head in precisely the opposite direction and for him to offer to ride to the rescue with lots of infrastructure and other spending pretending to be infrastructure spending. The performance of the economy has left him with nothing to say.

And this is why Wallace is today raising the vital subject of election debates. He wants to have a debate with the prime minister this time next year or thereabouts in the lead up to the election. Cameron, though not ruling them out, is reluctant, not because he thinks the debates last time handed too much publicity to the likes of Clegg, something the country may well agree with him about with the benefit of hindsight.

But here's a question for Wallace: if you can't even bring yourself to talk about the economy on the day when the latest GDP figures come out proving how utterly wrong you and your party have been now for 4 years - and that's not including when you were screwing things up in government - when you have no economic policy whatever other than a few promises on prices it is beyond your power to deliver and taxes to bash the rich which will mean less money coming into the Treasury just so you can grandstand to your party's paymasters and the usual delusional lefties, then what is there to debate?

Remember when Gordon Brown came to power and we were told he had a vision for us all? It never materialised. He had no vision, he just felt it his right to be prime minister because it was his turn, because he and Blair had done a deal and because he hates Tories. Wallace will have been leader of his party for four years this autumn, that's even longer than we had to endure Brown. Where is his vision? Where are the policies? What does he want to do in power other than a few vague promises about fairness, bashing the rich, taxing more and determinedly refusing to allow the British people a say on Europe? What would he actually talk about during these debates? Or is this more about what he doesn't want to talk about since it exposes how utterly empty and vacuous his party's offer to the country is?

A Thankfully Rare Classroom Murder



I hate to come over all psychoanalytical, but it sounds to me that the shocking stabbing of teacher Anne Maguire is the British equivalent of those mass shootings in America. Fortunately, because a knife was used thanks to our sensibly draconian gun laws, the death toll is, though tragic, minimal. The alleged perpetuator, who is only 15 and so cannot be named, comes from a broken family, albeit only recently, but was middle class, regarded as intelligent, a bit of a dweeb in fact, although recently sullen and uncommunicative. In other words if there is a pattern here it is hard to see, except where similarities to those mass gun massacres are concerned.

Quite what lessons we are supposed to learn from this incident is hard to see. Two teachers have now died in the last 20 years, only one of them in the classroom. This hardly suggests our classrooms are lawless hellholes however tough some schools may be. It looks like what it is, a random act of violence from someone who had issues that were not noticed or acted upon in time. They were probably mistaken, hardly surprisingly, for standard teenage angst allied to family problems. It is a random act of violence for sure, but there is little we can usefully learn from it.

Monday, 28 April 2014

Eds Balls Day



Today is Ed Balls day, the third anniversary since, new to Twitter, he tweeted his own name. As you do. He has never lived it down.

Why do we remind him of this every year? Well because Twitter and the internet is like that, and because he does so dislike having the piss taken out of him, however happy he is to dish it out. But most of all he still refuses to accept his culpability in crashing the economy or how wrong he has been about cutting expenditure and what would happen to that economy once he was despatched from power. This is the least he deserves really.



Do Lib Dems Suffer From Existential Doubt?



Do Lib Dems experience existential doubt? You would like to think so but I am not at all sure. They spent years earnestly telling us all kinds of lies which varied from place to place according to need in order to build up their support. They had moments of success, moments when they told us, without irony, that they were set to break the mould of politics, David Steel used to feel the surge coming on a regular basis and was not advised to go and see a doctor. They won by-elections, often very impressively. They would from time to time even run councils although they do not seem to have so excited their electorates by their competence and common sense as to make this anything permanent. They are just another party, a party full of very white, very middle class, overwhelmingly male career politicians who will do or say anything to get elected. They even look the other way when one of their own is engaged in activities like touching up women or little boys. This is a party, whatever they pretend, which is not encumbered by anything so inconvenient as principles. The only thing that they are certain about is their own moral superiority, something which requires a spectacular amount of sang froid as their continental friends call it. Here we call it cognitive dissonance, moral relativism, or double standards if you prefer to call a spade a spade.

After all this is the party that has liberal and democracy in its name and yet sided with Labour to defeat attempts to make our electoral system fairer and to equalise the size of constituencies so that everyone's vote would be equal, or at least as equal as possible.

This is the party that has liberal and democracy in its name and yet again sided with Labour to try and end centuries of press freedom all because a few celebs were unhappy about their extra marital shagging being written about. This happily now seems to be dying a death, but no thanks to the Lib Dems.

And yet there is one subject on which they are entirely unwilling and seemingly incapable of any of their usual flexibility. On Europe they are slavishly devoted to the Brussels' line. Their lies and evasions on this subject, particularly on the issue of letting the people decide but also when they trot out that ridiculous argument about 3 million jobs being dependent upon Europe, are just as egregious, just as mendacious. Yet they never resile from them. They never duck and dive as they do on everything else.



And this, I would argue, is why Britain is currently ignoring the travails of Ukip in a week when their idiocies and idiots have been revealed on a daily basis. Yes we know that they are a party of fruitcakes, loons and not so closet racists, yes we know that they are faintly ridiculous. But this is the European elections. Frankly it is an excellent way of signalling our contempt for the whole sorry enterprise that our political elite, the sort of people who find a natural home in the Lib Dems has foisted upon us and is now fighting like rats in a sack to prevent us from having any say on. Thus the British people will probably vote in their millions for this silly party, this bunch of monster raving loonies who are nothing like as funny. It is a straightforward protest vote, a two fingered salute to the establishment, a demand for a referendum, a demand for democracy.

Yet the Lib Dems still don't get it. Nick Clegg, oh so superior and confident, challenged Nigel Farage to a debate and got a good kicking. Does this make him doubt himself or his stance? It is being predicted that his party will be wiped out at the European elections. And yet they will tell themselves that this is nothing at all to do with their stance on Europe and everything to do with the incumbency factor.

And what of the Tories? Well they will get a kicking too and despite the fact that they have promised a referendum. People remember that they did that once before, on Lisbon, before Gordon Brown signed up to it anyway and let them off the hook. There was nothing to stop Cameron trying to change things and creating merry hell if Europe didn't play ball. Someone needed to because the whole EU Constitution Lisbon Treaty was a classic stitch up. Yet the whole EU train kept rolling and we were left once again without any say in the matter. People haven't forgotten that.

And I understand the desire to vote for Ukip. The establishment are turning all of their guns on them, accusing them of racism. It's probable that there are many people who have joined Ukip who should more appropriately be in the BNP. But the BNP has imploded thanks to its own contradictions and stupidity. Now they have turned to a new party, a new party defending Britain from foreign invaders. This is not necessarily racism. Many countries around Europe, firm believers in the European ideal, take a far most robust attitude to immigration, multiculturalism, moral relativism and benefit migration than we do without being called racist.

The people of this country are heartily sick of being called racist for wanting our politicians to stand up first for people who have lived here for years and paid taxes here. The people of this country have been remarkably tolerant as we have absorbed additional millions, putting pressure on services and housing and downward pressure on the wages of the low paid. This policy, foisted upon us by Labour without consultation or even acknowledgement that it existed as a policy, has created the kind of discontent and anger that Ukip is now benefiting from. Then Labour have the temerity to complain about a cost of living crisis.

It is this kind of cynicism and opportunism that is creating this protest vote for Ukip. The instincts and convictions of Tories on everything from immigration, Europe, education, benefits, taxes and spending are absolutely right and would accord with those of the British people if only they had the courage of them. Labour has abdicated its role as the spokesman and representative of the working classes. The Lib Dems are about to find out how far removed their instincts and convictions (even when they actually have some) are from the British people. This is a fantastic opportunity for conservatives to set out their vision for a fairer society. They should start, after the people give their verdict on the Lib Dems, by dumping them from government.

Sunday, 27 April 2014

Liverpool 0 Chelsea 2 - This Is What You'll Never Walk Alone Means



Let's be absolutely clear, this does not blow the Premier League wide open. It does not trash Liverpool's chances as some are saying. Look at the table - Chelsea remain two points behind, Manchester City, even if they can win all of their remaining four games can only draw level with Liverpool if they win their last two. They are playing very soon at the time of writing. This astonishing season has just taken another one of its characteristic twists. It could easily take another in another couple of hours.

Liverpool were going for their twelfth consecutive win this season, a season in which they started as 33 to 1 outsiders to be in the position they remain in regardless of this result. They came up against an organised and immensely stubborn Chelsea side playing in the way Mourinho only seems to know. It's not pretty, it is effective. Liverpool could not find a way through against this weakened side that still cost £60 million more than the team fielded by the Reds. But then the same was true of the other side still capable of winning this title, Man City. Jose did a number on them too.

Nobody is saying that this Liverpool side is the finished article. Today we saw that illustrated. But we saw it by a side that tries to win, can only really win, by attritional football. Yes they spoilt the party. For now. It may well have just been postponed.

So it is now out of the Reds hands. They must watch anxiously other games. But as recent weeks have shown nothing is certain in this remarkable season. Chelsea lose at home to Sunderland and then come away and score a win at a rocking Anfield. This amazing season may well go right down to the wire. It may even be decided by goal difference. Whoever wins it will definitely deserve it and, notwithstanding this result in which they huffed and puffed but for once could not find a way through to score, Liverpool remain as the favourites. They are still top you know.

24 Years of Hurt



Today is probably the biggest game of all of the big games for Liverpool I have been writing about these last few months. Mourinho is of course doing his best to ruin it with his grumpy interviews, talking about the goal that wasn't (will he ever shut up about it?) and the changes to the team. In the event, despite rumours, he didn't call in sick and has put out a reasonably strong team. It is shorn of a few players of course, mostly through injury, but this is a perfectly respectable team Chelsea are fielding today. And if this really is a second string eleven, how come Torres still can't get in?

Still all that negativity dressed up as mind games from a man who seems to be losing his mind is all grist to the Liverpool mill. We haven't been this close with it in our own hands at any point these last 24 years. We've had spells when it looked possible, but never this close to May. We can't win it today, but we can take another mighty step towards it, especially with City away at Palace today, a banana skin just waiting to happen. Come on Boys! Remember the last time we came out top as above? You can join these greats in the next week or two.

Interlude

Sunday Funnies

Interlude

Saturday, 26 April 2014

Is This The Real Life? Is This Just Fantasy?





Rewriting Recent History of Manchester United and David Moyes



I see that, in the wake of the sacking of David Moyes, history is now being rewritten by various sports writers who never knowingly admit that they are mistaken or have been in error in the past and that they could not, if asked, manage football better than any of those who have actually played the game and have done the job. Usually this takes place in the form of we told you so pieces telling us why a player or manager failed and how they all saw it coming and said so if only the world had listened. Fortunately for them few of us can be bothered to get out the old clipping to prove the opposite.

This morning this spectacularly sententious piece in The Telegraph is arguing that Moyes was not in fact the chosen one. He was merely the one they chose. I know!

Moyes was chosen, Paul Hayward writes, ahead of other big names in the game like Guardiola, Ancelotti, Mourinho  because it was felt he would stick around for a long time and build a team. In other words he was another Ferguson. So he was chosen then.

It is nonsense to pretend that this was not the case. It is also nonsense, as Ferguson's own career proves, to sack a manager after 10 months simply because the players, many of whom are nearing retirement, are unconvinced by him. Yes he probably made a mistake by bringing in his own coaches to replace Ferguson's team but then that is what managers do. It is standard practice. Any manager coming from outside would want to change things, do things differently. The same will be true of all of the big names now being linked with United. This is why the appointment of someone like Ryan Giggs, immersed in the United and Ferguson way, is not such a bad idea. It would be like United's version of Liverpool's boot room, a system that delivered continuity and success for a period longer even than the Ferguson era at United.

Nobody can possibly know that other managers would not have experienced the same problems that Moyes has done in replacing a football legend. Everyone could see that the team was in need of major surgery. They should have appointed their man and then given him the time and the resources to do the job. Instead they installed him, failed to bring in enough fresh faces to shake things up, and suffered the consequences.

And the fact is that Ferguson, whatever he may now be saying, did favour Moyes because of his background and record. And few demurred at the time. Moyes was regarded, perfectly justifiably, as a good manager who would probably struggle to match the legend at first but would eventually rise to the occasion and mould the club in his image. Ultimately he probably froze. But who is to know that he would not eventually, if backed by the owners against the players, have grown into the job? The fact is that, such is the expectation at United and such is the rapacious demand of the club's owners for cold, hard cash, they want instant success. Under Ferguson they got it. They have been spoilt. It doesn't matter who follows him and what they spend (plenty of clubs spend big and still struggle to emulate the success of United) those days are over.

Interlude



This is a later song from Aha, after the teens had moved on to the next big thing.  It is little known compared to the band's earlier bigger hits, which is a shame because it's a great song, probably their best.

Interlude

Friday, 25 April 2014

A Click Up The 80s



The above is the advertisement for the Austin Montego, a brave attempt to make a rather humdrum car look more exciting than it actually was. Unfortunately they had to feature the actual Montego in the advert. Svelte, sleek and sporty it was not as you can clearly see.

Nevertheless the Montego was a brave attempt by BL, as it was then, to make a decent car. I used to drive the estate version of the car for work. I can't say it ever won admiring glances, but then this advert was a ridiculous attempt by BL to make a family car look exciting. It was a turgid but decent attempt, an improvement on what had gone before in the form of the Marina and the Ital, a car which had a stupid name entirely in keeping with its bad design and build quality. If you want to know how awful it was just say Morris Ital in a Brummie accent.

The Montego was part of the new brave attempts by BL to make a go of things in the form of the Metro, Maestro and then the Montego. It showed that they could come up with decent if rather dull new cars, although of course they didn't look too bad at the time. This was the 1980s after all. It and its sister cars deserved better really. It was just that, as usual, they were let down by the ham fisted oafs who built them when they weren't on strike.

A Secular State?



Here is something that you will rarely read on this blog. I agree with Nick. No, really. He is absolutely right that the Church of England should be disestablished. It should no longer be constitutionally attached to the British state and it certainly shouldn't have bishops sitting in the House of Lords. The next Archbishop of Canterbury should be appointed just by the church with no input from politicians. The Queen should be just head of state. She should have no role as defender of the faith, a faith that the British public increasingly eschew. Her son and heir has already pondered out loud over whether he should instead be defender of faiths, plural. But why does he or she need to defend any faiths at all? Can they not look after themselves.

It is a ridiculous anachronism that the Church is officially recognised and plays a role in government and legislation. It ought really to make us a laughing stock. If one of those UN rapporteurs who come over from time to time and call us sexist, or register their disgust at the state of our housing system, were instead to report on the mess that is our constitution and wonder why the state has a religion they might get more of a hearing. And this has nothing to do with our multicultural status, or even anything to do with the fact that few of us go to church other than to attend weddings or funerals. This has everything to do with religious beliefs being protected by a constitution rather than incorporated within it. The state should be strictly secular, neutral if you prefer. In practice it is for all intents and purposes. It is just that nobody has yet got around to finishing off the process and taking it to its logical conclusion, the path to which Nick Clegg yesterday referred.



Not that any of this will happen. As Guido points out, disestablishment of the Church has been Liberal policy since the days of Gladstone when they used to govern alone after actually winning elections (although they lost the election after Gladstone announced his intentions). Nowadays, it is the sort of things that irritates the chattering classes of course (as we say in that letter just the other day) but most people don't give a damn and many probably don't even know that we have an official church of the state. It's not as if we are forced to attend. They never really have, it's just that there used to be more social pressure to attend church, pressure that even came from employers and landlords who had a stake in the churches. At least we don't have to pay tithes any more in order to give younger sons of the landed gentry a career to compensate for their being born second. It's not as if the bishops, for all that they sit in the House of Lords, are ruling over us all in a very wishy washy theocracy. They do however get to expound and indeed vote on issues like abortion, gay marriage, euthanasia and for years helped prevent us from shopping on Sundays.

But, as I say, nothing will happen about this; not even the eminently sensible step of removing the bishops from parliament. It will remain one of those issues that liberals and lefties and a few conservatives like me fulminate about from time to time without bothering too much about it because there are other fish to fry. After all it is just as ridiculous that we have a House of Lords at all and that our head of state can only come from one family. The C of E is a harmless enough institution when all is said and done. Much more harmless than Nick Clegg and his party anyway. And, like the Royals, they can always claim to be good for tourism.

Thursday, 24 April 2014

Muffled TV



It seems that the BBC has wasted yet more licence payers' money on a TV series that nobody could hear. Jamaica Inn was a lavish production with the now standard 'realistic' acting style which sees actors playing their parts so that their conversations come across as natural rather than mannered. And this would not represent a problem but for one thing. It's your fault dear viewer.

You see we have all gone out and bought these fancy flat screens with their wonderful HD pictures. Unfortunately the very fact that these TVs are so slim and sexy and easy to locate wherever you like means that they cannot possibly deliver decent sound. There's no room for a quality set of speakers and the amplification needed. Modern television programmes are made in state of the art surround sound as you would hear at the cinema. But we are not watching TV on state of the art systems, or rather we are, but we are not listening to them on the optimum equipment.

The trouble is that the people who make the programmes and then mix the sound do so, necessarily, on state of the art systems. Thus it sounds wonderful. The same is true in previews and indeed when the programme is broadcast in again state of the art premises just down the road from the old Television Centre. It seems that nobody actually watches these programmes prior to transmission on creaky sets with only the inbuilt speakers. If they did they would suffer the same as most viewers.

The solution is of course to persuade viewers to invest money in speakers sets and a good amplifier. There are also sound bars as a cheaper alternative. But of course this is expensive. It should be noted however that the BBC recently wasted £100 million on a digital initiative that never worked. They could have bought quite a lot of us sound bars for that money.

Chelsea Get Their Excuses In Early



I see that Chelsea are getting their excuses in early/ managing expectations/ pricing defeat into the market delete as appropriate by telling the world that, due to Premier League intransigence over the moving of fixtures, they will be putting out a weakened side this weekend to take on Liverpool in what is being dubbed the Premier League decider. It's nonsense of course. All sides have 25 player squads that they have to name and on which they can draw during the season. Chelsea have one of the best squads in the country, albeit probably not entirely to their manager's taste. They really ought to be able to cope with a couple of games, however huge, in a few days. It kind of goes with the territory. It should be noted by the way that Atletico, their Champions' League opponents, are playing on Sunday too.



Since Liverpool became involved in the title race this season, and particularly since we topped the pile a few weeks ago, we have been told regularly that part of the reason for this is that we have the luxury of rest time our competitors lack because of European competition. But that is why clubs have squads and rotate isn't it? That is the price of success. Now we are being told that Chelsea face an invidious choice of Premier League or Champions League. These are professional, highly paid athletes competing in two huge games. It's not as if this is the first time such fixtures have come in quick succession. Why all the fuss now? Perhaps it's those famous mind games. If it is we might reasonably conclude that the old master is in fact losing his mind. I am confident Liverpool can beat any team Chelsea choose to field this weekend, we were unlucky not to get a better result against them at Stamford Bridge at Christmas. Clearly the same is not true in reverse for the highly paid Chelsea manager. Or is he just losing the plot?

New Anfield, Old Way of Doing Things



It would be an exaggeration to say that Liverpool supporters have endured 20 or more years of hurt. During those years trophies have kept coming at regular intervals and the club has had some wonderful nights in Europe especially culminating in the miracle of Istanbul. But, thanks to the good, sensible and sensitive management of Fenway Sports Group, the club now really looks as though it has turned a corner. Not only did they appoint a manager who now looks increasingly likely to deliver our first ever Premier League Championship on top of the 18 previous champions' trophies, they are now announcing new plans to redevelop Anfield and add capacity over the coming years.



Not for Fenway the grandiose and ruinously expensive route of building a complete new stadium just across Stanley Park, a scheme, well schemes actually for there have been many of them, which would likely have bankrupted the club, or at least severely constrained them in the actual business of playing and winning football matches. They have decided to redevelop the perfectly good stadium Liverpool has right now, the stadium that generates that extraordinary atmosphere, the stadium incorporating the Kop. They will still eventually deliver a capacity of close to 60,000 and slash a 20 year waiting list for season tickets in addition to adding corporate hospitality venues to generate additional revenues. But they will do it without having to move, without the costs and will still deliver the state of the art facilities and additional revenues Liverpool needs to keep up. Sure it is disappointing that we will not have a stadium of the size of the old enemy at Old Trafford, but then they have the advantage of having a stadium surrounded by open spaces. Liverpool is at the heart of a community, like most football clubs, in a stadium built when people had no cars and so clubs were built amongst them, part of a working class community. It is what makes football clubs what they are. It would have been tragic to leave this old stadium with all of its memories behind.



Fenway are to be commended for the way they have come into Liverpool, have listened and been determined to respect the club's traditions. They have consulted the local community and local politicians, they have watched enthusiastically as Anfield does what Anfield does best and rouses itself on the great footballing occasions. They concluded for symbolic, sentimental and plain financial good sense reasons that Liverpool Football Club should stay where it is. They are absolutely right.



Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Manchester United in Disarray - Can This Season Get Any Better?



What a fantastic football season this has turned out to be. A Premier League championship race that is going right down to the wire but which may well see Liverpool emerge triumphant. And, at the same time, Manchester United are in turmoil and have now sacked their manager, the hapless David Moyes given the impossible task to follow Ferguson and then sacked when he inevitably failed. As ever the prima donnas in his team take no responsibility and at the same time probably delivered the coup de grace either in person or by means of that woeful, insipid performance at the weekend and through preceding weeks. How spectacularly unfair.

Moyes was left an ageing squad in dire need of revolutionary reform and a complete overhaul. But what did for him was the fact that he was an interloper into a famously tight group who resented his coming in and changing things. It was similar to when Brian Clough replaced the much loved Don Revie at Leeds. There was never going to be a happy outcome.

One thing that we have learned from this debacle of course is that if it is perfectly possible to take a club from champions to struggling to get 7th place, it is possible for Liverpool to do it in reverse. Should the Mersey Reds win their next 3 games they will finish on the same points total as United's last season. Maybe it is also firm proof of a strange and immutable law: there is not room for Liverpool and Manchester United at the top of the footballing tree. The time has come to switch. Moyes was just facilitating the natural order of things. Tell yourself that United fans as the season draws to its thrilling conclusion.

PS

Two of the favourite candidates to replace Moyes, Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp have both ruled themselves out of the running for the job. Meantime Ryan Giggs is to be caretaker for the last few games and will, we are told, revert to United's more gung ho approach to football in place of the pedestrian and cautious approach favoured by Moyes because he couldn't break the habits of a managerial lifetime. It might even work. Should United promote from within? It worked for Liverpool for many of years of course, and Giggs presumably has the respect of his colleagues because he has been there, seen it and done it and has the medals to prove it. But if United are looking to recruit from those schooled by Ferguson there are plenty of other candidates out there. Why are they not mentioned?

Monday, 21 April 2014

Fostering Division or Standing Up for the British Way?



I have a great deal of respect and indeed admiration for the likes of Terry Pratchett, Jim Al-Khalili, Simon Singh, Tim Minchin and Phillip Pullman. Like many of them I am an atheist and see the tide heading our way as belief in a supernatural fantasy becomes ever more of a minority pursuit.

But I cannot entirely agree with their letter to the Telegraph today in which they argue against David Cameron's article last week in which he said that Britain is a Christian country and their argument that this will somehow prove divisive and negative for politics and society. Why should it?

Even the most trenchant of atheists should acknowledge the part that the traditional faith of this country has played in forging our outlook, culture and ethos. It is much more than in 'the narrow constitutional sense' because we have an established church. We actually shouldn't have an established church, neither should we have church schools or bishops sitting in the House of Lords. Religion should be a personal choice, something we have the right to accept or reject according to our own conscience. The state should be strictly secular, not just because we are now a multicultural, multi-faith and increasingly no faith society, but because the state has no business taking sides or evangelising for one or the other via its institutions like schools.  In this respect I am sure I am in complete agreement with the authors of this letter and its signatories.

But there is no reason why any of this should be divisive. That is to fall into the mindset of those who used to ban Christmas in certain cities for fear of offending minorities. Britain is a country with a Christian tradition, albeit one that has been diluted and narrowed in recent decades as societal pressure to conform and adhere to that tradition has diminished. Nevertheless Christianity is a fundamental part of what makes Britain what it is. It is what makes Britain an attractive country to come to and so it is ironic that we are so keen to vandalise that for fear of being divisive.

I don't know why Cameron made the intervention that he did, although I have already advanced a theory about it. Politicians' motives are always suspect. Maybe he was just redressing the balance after the gay marriage debacle. Clearly his eye was on the forthcoming elections. But maybe he has also noticed that a certain fairly large section of the electorate are angry about this. This is not because they are strong believers themselves and is certainly not because they are racist or suspicious of those from different faiths, but because they don't understand why Britain must continually change and adapt to incoming faiths and world views. It's one thing to show tolerance and to be welcoming to immigration, it is quite another to change our own traditions as a consequence. Christianity, contrary to the opinions of the authors of this letter, has had a huge and lasting influence on the way this country is today, the reason why we have such a vibrant and successful economy, the reason why we respect the rule of law and are tolerant to the point of wishy washyness. In other words why would we want to change so much about our country to accommodate others when that is why people want to come here in the first place?

Sunday, 20 April 2014

Norwich 2 Liverpool 3 - The Reds Go Five Points Clear



Perhaps it is the pressure, perhaps it is the long grind of the season beginning to take its toll, perhaps the fickle finger of form is moving on but Liverpool are not playing with quite the same smoothness and panache that they were just a few weeks ago. Nevertheless they stormed into one of their now characteristic and even traditional first half leads this lunchtime with attacking and sometimes unplayable football. Yet against these strugglers, as with Chelsea and Manchester City this astonishing, topsy-turvy week and weekend, they often found themselves with their backs to the wall and defending like their lives depended on it.

It was another test, and it was a test they passed, if not with aplomb, certainly with great credit. They took their lead, conceded a goal, scored another, then conceded another and then hung on tenaciously. This was winning, not so much ugly because the goals were fantastic, but the defending was definitely not pretty. It was actually pretty agricultural.

But champions cannot always play the beautiful game beautifully. Sometimes their opponents won't let them. Norwich closed Liverpool down the way they have done so successfully against the top teams. They often pressed the Reds and even, towards the end of this thrilling encounter, pressed them back into their own half. Yet even when they did this Liverpool team can so quickly pass, pass, pass their way forward and threaten the opposition goal. Norwich were fighting for their lives just as we knew and neutrals hoped they would, just as Sunderland did in midweek and yesterday. But Liverpool were made of slightly sterner stuff. They are the only team in the top three to have beaten Sunderland in recent weeks, albeit by a similarly narrow margin as today. That was a hard fought, grind of a win. This one even more so.

Liverpool were shorn of a couple of players today thanks to an injury and a suspension, and in the latter stages their absence was perhaps significant. But a new double act was formed between a new SAS. Sterling and Suarez scored a couple of belters, Sterling in particular is the one player whose form has improved week by week even as the championship talk has got louder. It's not as if the other players have retreated into their shells though. It's just that Sterling is young enough to improve by leaps and bounds as each week goes by. He was brilliant today. His two goals were the result of running at a defence and letting fly, albeit with the aid of a deflection or two, his cross for Suarez's goal so perfect it could have been measured by slide rule. Then again Suarez's finish was class itself - a fitting goal to match Ian Rush's record, his 30th of a shortened season, although how long ago does it now seem since Suarez was being punished for being a bad boy.

But this is the stuff of champions. Taking each game as it comes remains the mantra, but the games are running out and the points are piling up while opponents drop away and moodily and sarcastically bemoan their bad luck. Liverpool are still doing their talking out on the pitch and will do so again next week against Mourinho's team. They are five points clear after this tumultuous weekend. They will indeed take the next game as it comes and try not to think of what it could mean. Today's performance showed that, though the thought of what might be is clearly intruding and nerves are occasionally jangling, they may be about to achieve something wonderful and in a wonderful, thrilling way.

Interlude

Sunday Funnies

Interlude

Thursday, 17 April 2014

Why Is Dave Doing God?



What are we to make of David Cameron suddenly 'doing God?' Well for a start of course it is Easter and Dave probably just wanted to talk to believers and assure them that he is on their side after all of the other things he has done recently which might have given them the opposite impression, like forcing through gay marriage for instance or the welfare reforms which have been denounced by many know-nothing men in frocks as cruel and heartless when they are the exact opposite.

Do we believe him when he says that he gets great comfort and peace from prayer and the Eucharist when in the past he has said that his faith is like the reception of Magic FM in the Chilterns - it comes in and out? No. I don't believe a word of it frankly, but then I don't believe in God and thus don't fear for his soul for telling porkies about it. He is just talking to another constituency at an important time in their calendar. If he could get away with it he would probably talk about the wise words of the Prophet and how Islam has led him to inner peace during Ramadan.

Certainly the newspapers seem to have taken a similarly cynical line since few have made much of Dave's alleged faith this morning.

I suspect that Dave's 'faith' is similar to that of most people's in this increasingly secular country. He was no doubt raised in the Anglican tradition, which is to say that he was nominally C of E, occasionally went to church, and certainly had to when at Eton we can assume. Thus, like so many, he has been brainwashed, albeit only in the wishy washy and ultra diluted C of E form of belief. This means that, most of the time, it doesn't really intrude in his life. But, from time to time, during periods of great stress or angst, or when life is getting him down, or when death intrudes such as when his father died or when, tragically, his son died at such a young age, he may occasionally turn to God, offer up a prayer, maybe ask him why he is such a bastard. But, at such times, what we might term non-believing believers may offer to do a deal. I'll believe in you if you make my life a little better, cure my son, save my Dad, stop the bastards in the Cabinet from plotting against me and maybe make Boris commit a really serious gaffe he can't laugh his way out of. I suppose, given the nature of his job, it's hardly surprising that Dave may at the moment be in the midst of a mild, very pragmatic form of epiphany.

This is the kind of faith that most people, at least most British people, follow. It's an easy form without all of that tedious churchgoing, praying, fasting or outright piety. It is a kind of a la carte belief - you can take the bits you like, the bits that give you succour, without worrying about the whole package, which would be altogether too time consuming.

Not that Dave could say any of this of course. He had to pretend that he believes and that this Easter he will be thinking of his saviour and how God sacrificed himself to himself to pay for all of our sins. It's odd that really isn't it? Jesus had to be born and die in order to create a religion that preaches forgiveness. So why didn't God just set the ball rolling by forgiving us all without the need for the blood sacrifice? An intelligent man like Dave probably knows that. But it wouldn't be very politic to point it out. Fortunately we atheists don't really mind if our PM professes to be a believer. We are very tolerant. We also know he, like most people, is selective in his belief. Unfortunately for all of us however, while this kind of belief is largely harmless it does mean that we still have to have religion intrude on all of our lives in more unacceptable ways. Faith schools for instance. But that's a whole other blog post.

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Labour's Quest For A New Crisis



Oh dear, times are hard if you are on the opposition benches, not because it is so much more difficult to fleece the taxpayer via your expenses claim - although a few like Ed Balls have done very flipping nicely anyway - but because they are running out of things to assail the government with.

In short, where is an opposition supposed to find a crisis these days?

Labour are fond of crises. They use the word in the absence of a decent soundbite. First of course there was the biggie, the crisis they said the government, notwithstanding their own contribution via Gordon Brown and Ed Balls, was inflicting on the nation by going too far and too fast.

Unfortunately this turned out to be wholly inaccurate. The economy stopped shrinking and so they told us it was flatlining. Then it started growing and so they said it wasn't growing enough to make up for all of that damage they had caused and thus we were having a cost of living crisis. Now it is the fastest growing economy in the G7 and wages are at last outpacing inflation. They have run out of crises. The best they can say is that it has taken the government a long time to sort out the mess they inherited. Labour you see, perhaps because they are led by a geek, seem to think that we live in a Harry Potter world in which crises can be averted with a wave of the magic wand - or at least a wave of the magic chequebook. They apparently haven't noticed that it was the magic chequebook which got us into this mess in the first place.

Remember how they used to complain about the savage Tory cuts and told us of the crises that would inevitably happen? Crises of unemployment, civil unrest, crime, homelessness? Last year they were talking about an A and E crisis in hospitals over the winter. It didn't happen. The NHS got through the winter entirely crisis free.

Labour, in addition to their Harry Potter fixation seem unaware that fixing things takes time. Labour seem unaware that the machinery of government creaks into action slowly. Change happens slowly. Difficulties occur as that change beds in and people get used to it. But no, it's a crisis, it is Tory heartlessness. It saves them having any policies of their own.

Now Labour are casting around for a new crisis. May I suggest the policy crisis, or the intellectual vacuity crisis, what about the learning the lessons of history crisis? This government, for all of its occasional bouts of incompetence and serial inability to get across a consistent line and message, is nevertheless presiding over real change and improvement. On education, welfare and in particular on the economy it has a record of real success born of brave and principled stances. Even its management of the NHS has confounded the doubters - it is getting along just fine, although it could do with radical and brave change to make it fit for purpose for the coming challenges. Labour offers nothing. It has only doubt and denial and constant crisis. The best they can hope for is that this government's economic bravery delivers the kind of strongly growing performance we last saw in 1997, a legacy Labour then proceeded to wreck. That way, if they actually manage to get elected, they could go on another spending spree we can't afford creating a real crisis for someone else to clear up. That, ultimately, is all Labour knows.

The Fat Leader's Bad Hair Day



A north London hair salon has been visited by North Korean agents who demanded that they take a poster of the fat leader next to a caption about a bad hair day out of their window because it is disrespectful. The salon owner, Karim Nabbach, refused since he lives in a free country. Of course if he were in North Korea they would be unaware that the haircut sported by the Fat Leader is a bad one because they have no frame of reference. Compared to the quiff sported by his father he looks like a fashion icon.

Police were called but at present no crime has been committed. They should be on their guard though; North Korea has a habit of kidnapping people - usually film makers or similar. But perhaps the Fat Leader is realising that his hair cut is something that does not suit a leader of millions who is now undisputed leader since he killed half of his family. Or is he now so sensitive that a poster 10,000 miles away needs to be avenged. Here's a hint though: if he's insulted by that poster he wants to see what is written about him on blogs like this one.

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

What Is Vlad's Game?



What, the world is asking, is Vlad the Botoxed up to? What are his aims? What will he do next? Well I am no diplomat or foreign affairs expert, but to me it seems obvious. He is testing the water. He is also using tried and tested methods dating back a century or more to try and provoke responses in order to get what he wants. What he wants changes according to what the responses are. Russians are fond of chess. Putin is playing a high stakes game with any number of potential outcomes. At the moment he cannot believe his luck.

This can all be dated back to Syria, or if you prefer to Iraq with a bit of Georgia for good measure. Vlad discovered that belligerence will not only be tolerated, it will be appeased. Even unreasonable, illogical and plain dishonest belligerence will be tolerated and in some ways rewarded. He found that the West is so keen on resetting its relations with Russia in the hope of a quiet life it is even willing to allow Russia to behave like it did in the good old days of the Cold War. He found that the sphere of interest of his mid ranking and systemically corrupt nation is not only recognised by the rest of the world, they are unwilling to challenge this antediluvian notion even when the peoples of the nations within that sphere want them to.

And so now Vlad can not only prop up the dictatorships of his friends and allies, possibly purely because it annoys the West, he can now turn his sphere of interest from a mere sphere into part of his own proto dictatorship. He does so cautiously of course, he does so in time honoured fashion by using propaganda and outright lies about as subtle as that of Goebbels. He inserts into new territory he has his gimlet eye on insurgents who take over buildings and effectively challenge legitimate governments to come and get them if they think they're hard enough. Then Vlad will, more in sorrow than in anger, go riding to the rescue to see off this terrorist threat. The West will watch on. They might, if they are really aroused, ban Vlad's cronies from shopping in New Bond Street this summer.



Because Vlad has also realised that the nuclear deterrent is a double edged sword. Yes it has kept the peace for the last 60 years, but it has only kept the peace in big countries we would have no choice to defend with our fingers shakily poised over the the big red button of doom and annihilation. Other, more peripheral countries which do not have nuclear weapons or do not shelter under the nuclear umbrella of one of the avuncular nations who got in first before banning proliferation, can be dealt with as mere pawns in a game. Vlad knows we can do nothing if he marches into Ukraine, although he ensures that he has a pretext to do so. He is calling our bluff, although only by playing a game of bluff himself.

But he also knows that, not only will we be unwilling to use the actual nuclear option, recent events have proven that we are unwilling, since Iraq, to use conventional weapons either. We are war weary. The mere threat of war makes us turn tail. And the recent existential threats to our economies also mean that we are now unwilling to even use economic weapons against Russia. Coordinated sanctions, real sanctions, would bring Russia to its knees in a matter of months. But they would also damage our own economies, cut GDP, pose a threat to our warm and cosy lifestyles and most importantly risk an electoral fallout.

So what is Putin's game? Putin's game is to see what he can get away with. He will keep pushing, keep testing, keep prodding us until our alleged leaders remember their history - more or less the only history we are taught these days at school level apart of course from the role of Mary Seacole in the Crimea - and do something about him. Who knows how much of eastern Europe Vlad will have gobbled up by then. But perhaps we should bear in mind that other nations, equally keen on gaining new territory and mineral rights, will be watching and learning the same lessons. A line will have to be drawn at some point. The earlier we draw it the less likely it is that the lights will go out across Europe, and more permanently than merely because Gazprom pull the plug.

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Liverpool 3 Manchester City 2 - And Now You're Going to Believe Us



10 straight wins. Even if that wasn't the form of champions, this was a performance of a team that deserves to be champions. This was a colossal performance. It was colossal because this Liverpool side came out of the traps early, scored and looked as good as they have done at any point since this tremendous run of form began. Then, when City came back and looked for a time as if they could come from behind and win, this Liverpool side did what they have been doing all season - they girded their loins, fought back and scored a winner. It was a terrific, exciting, pulsating game - a wonderful advertisement for the Premier League.

Even if the world and the Premier League hadn't sat up and taken notice of this Liverpool side before, they will have done now. Yes City gave a stern and at times worrying test. Yes Liverpool looked at times looked like they were under more pressure than they have done all season. But when it mattered they were not found wanting. At the end they were even reduced to ten men as Jordan Henderson's enthusiasm and commitment to the cause got the better of him and he was deservedly sent off. But this was another test that the Reds passed. It's as if this season, this glorious, thrilling season wants to test the eventual champions and ensure that they are worthy. Liverpool showed that they most assuredly are.

We're not quite preparing a space for the Premier League trophy yet. There are still 4 games to go including the small matter of that tie against Chelsea who, at the time of writing, are playing Swansea and attempting to bring the gap back down to 2 points. There are also games to come against Norwich, Crystal Palace and Newcastle, some of whom are fighting for their lives and other who are in a run of form nearly as impressive as Liverpool's.

But this looks like and is a pivotal win. This was the one we have been looking at for weeks with a mixture of excitement and trepidation. This was a win that says Liverpool can be champions and need no longer worry about City's games in hand. This was Liverpool's 10th successive win, a run that started with that devastating demolition of Arsenal. Looking back that was an announcement that this Liverpool team are back and can compete for the title. Now they have beaten the pre-season favourites. The emotion Steven Gerrard displayed to all the world as he gave his fist pumping pep talk at the end says it all. Liverpool are back and fear nobody. Four games to go before he completes his medal collection. Liverpool stay top and are determined to stay there to the very end. Who now would bet against it?

PS

Chelsea did indeed reduce the gap to 2 points. But Liverpool remain top with only four games to go and Chelsea still to come to Anfield. More importantly City are now 7 points behind the Reds. Those 2 games in hand no longer matter.

Interlude

Sunday Funnies

Interlude

Friday, 11 April 2014

Success Through Talent and Hard Work - Alien Concepts to the Party Still Called Labour



Following the long drawn out resignation of Maria Miller this week, attention has now switched to her replacement at the Department of Culture, although for my money Dave would have been much better off abolishing the whole pointless department and giving its responsibilities to others. Why in god's name do we need a whole department devoted to culture and the arts? Culture and arts by government diktat?

But there has been much comment this week on the elevation of a first British Asian to the Cabinet. Tories are proud that this happened in their party, the party of the first woman British party leader and prime minister. They might also point out that Javid is a Muslim. He is also bald, and this is supposed to be an impediment in politics - it certainly could be an impediment to his rising to the top of the slippery slope if the so called experts are to be believed. Perhaps this can be a new barrier he can work to get over.

For Labour he represents a problem. They were ready to criticise the removal of a woman from the top ranks only to be presented with a man who has struggled against much tougher barriers in just one generation. His father arrived here penniless and worked as a bus driver and market stall holder. Javid worked hard, got educated and worked in the city where he made a fortune. Say what you like about the City of London, but it is a meritocracy. If you work hard and have talent you will prosper. He then gave all of that up for an MPs salary, and, as we have seen this week, this is less than lavish.

This inspiring story hasn't stopped Labour attacking the Culture Secretary however. Labour is filled with people who are part of a self selecting elite. It is overwhelmingly middle class and white. It, whatever they may say, has plenty of privately educated people in its top ranks - just as many as the Tories. It is also quite astonishingly nepotistic in its selection processes, which is how the same identikit candidates keep being selected and how it ended up with Wallace as its less than inspiring leader. Would working class people like Sajid Javid stand a chance in the Labour Party? Probably not. They would be squeezed out by all of those people who went straight from university to work as special advisers, or the sons and daughters of ex leaders or ex ministers. The Labour Party, the LABOUR party for crying out loud, has been taken over by a narrow clique whose obsession with targets and notions of fairness blinds it to real examples of upward mobility before their very eyes. Labour no longer represents the working man. It represents people who don't work, either because they are trapped on the benefits their betters in the Labour Party say they should have, or people who run the party itself. It's hardly a proper job is it?

You would think then that they would welcome this man, this symbol of our modernity, this representative of the working class done good who also happens to be from an ethnic minority. The most they might object to about the MP for Bromsgrove is that he is a Thatcherite and a Euro sceptic. Hallelujah to that say the rest of us.

But that is not the way the modern Labour Party, which calls itself One Nation without irony thinks. Wallace, its leader, became rich by marrying into money, from the public purse having never had a real job and through inheritance from his Marxist father. His shadow chancellor and deputy were both privately educated. Yet they will still resent this new millionaire in the ranks of the Cabinet, even though he has earned every penny. Oh no, they say snidely, he didn't earn it, he was paid it.

It should be noted that Labour seems to have no objection to people becoming well off thanks to working for unions or in the public sector. Are the Kinnocks with their fabulous collection of public sector pensions regarded as persona non grata? Quite the opposite. Neil Kinnock is regarded as a party father figure for having earned so much despite being a dismal failure. Labour respect that. What about Gordon Brown who has set up his foundation for allowing the former PM to continue his now five year long sulk by lecturing around the world? They don't even object to the fact he is still drawing an MPs salary despite only appearing in parliament about twice a year. Union bosses who preach socialism while drawing six figure salaries and hold their jobs despite only being elected by a minority of members? That's all fine. The various Labour luvvies who earn fabulous livings by running quangos or indeed running the EU's new foreign office equivalent despite never being elected to office? All hunky dory. But a man who is the son of an immigrant who drove a bus, went to a comprehensive school, then to university and got on in life, became rich and then joined the Tory Party? He is an enemy of the people. The people of course get no say in the matter. That's not how Labour's definition of democracy works.

Tories should not make too much of this man who has worked hard to get where he is. This is the natural thing for Tories. People prosper through talent and hard work. That is our philosophy. Quite clearly, whatever the spin from Labour, they do not share this philosophy. They instead are obsessed with equality for equality's sake and regardless of talent. Their line about the Cabinet has changed so often these last two days it is difficult to know where it now is. But at one time they were actually claiming outrage because the Cabinet, shorn of Maria Miller, had no mothers in it. This was a line that, as you might expect, the BBC idiotically repeated. No mothers? Is creating a Cabinet now to be a tick box procedure to make it fully inclusive and regardless of ability to actually do the job? That would explain a great deal about how Labour govern.

Sajid Javid is now the equalities minister, a job you might imagine he is more than ably qualified to do. You might imagine he is much better qualified, with his background and career, than the various never had a proper job Labour MPs who will shadow him. He has got where he is on merit, and merit alone. This, quite clearly, is an alien concept to Labour. And we wonder why they made such a balls up of our economy and have no new ideas for if and when they enter government in just over a year's time.

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Don't Put Your John Hancock There!



Take a look at the picture above. What is the first thing you think of when you see the sexy, funny and beautiful Julia Louis-Dreyfus with no clothes on? It is probably something along the lines of Phwooaaar if you are a heterosexual male.

But apparently some people, noting that she has an excerpt of the constitution on her back, have erupted in fury. Why? Do they see this as some appalling constitutional blasphemy? No, they have noticed that it has the famously large signature of John Hancock at the end. And (at this point they probably turn red and poke their finger angrily on Fox News) he didn't sign the constitution, he signed the Declaration of Independence.

Now this, I would contend, marks you as a geek, a kind of real life Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory. It probably also marks you as gay. Who needs gaydar? Just carry a copy of this picture with you, although admittedly it might only be a test that works in America. Could we persuade Emma Watson to pose naked with the Magna Carta and the signature of Guy Fawkes?

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

PMQs 9th April 2014 - The Miller Lite Edition



Apologies for the absence of this review in the last couple of weeks. My many and various hospital stays and travels throughout our for the moment United Kingdom prevented my being able to watch PMQs other than after the fact. It is the long standing policy of this blog that I only review it when I get to see it live.

It's the end of term and it's probably not coming a moment too soon for Dave. His ill advised and not very convincing defence of Maria Miller came to an end this morning when she bowed to the inevitable and resigned. Dave had defended her, probably just because this is what Dave and indeed most prime ministers tend to do. They shouldn't, or at least not in a stubborn way just to prevent the press from getting a scalp. Yes if they genuinely believe that their minister has done nothing wrong then they should. Miller had. She had even apologised not very sincerely for her wrongdoing. She should have gone the moment it was felt necessary to demand an apology for her misuse of public funds. The PM is First Lord of the Treasury, he should have asked her to go or sacked her.

Miller went today of all days probably because Dave wanted to spare himself an uncomfortable last PMQs of this session. If only he had had the good sense to consider matters more maturely last week he could have spared himself an uncomfortable week. He could even have emerged with some credit, or at least no discredit. Instead his judgement is called into question.

But then the judgement of the entire political class is askew when it comes to MPs expenses. They still don't get it, or at least don't get it sufficiently to take robust action about it. This was a problem for the government but it is one that goes across the political spectrum. Yet would Wallace raise the matter today? Labour's record is worse if anything. Some of their MPs have been jailed after all and the whole dodgy episode emerged on their watch. Asked about it Wallace avoided talking about it as much as he possibly could and certainly didn't offer solutions. He's good at sitting on the fence and being indecisive. What an inspiring figure he is for his party.



And yet Wallace got to his feet and tried, in his usual brave and inspiring way, to show the country the way to go after spending the week saying precisely nothing about the matter while he waited for the opinion polls to be published. What a leader he will make in a year's time if we are unfortunate to elect him. If Vlad the Botoxed were to invade all of eastern Europe Wallace would dither and dally and wait to see which way the wind was blowing and how best he could look decisive without actually being decisive. Clearly this was an exercise designed to get him on to the evening news bulletins. Unfortunately for him he just does not get it. He does not get that the British public sees him as a nauseating and hypocritical weirdo who will do and say anything to get elected but cannot make his mind up about anything, least of all about policy. He couldn't even make his mind up about calling for a government minister to resign. Indeed yesterday he said that he wasn't calling for her to resign. Bear that in mind as you read what happened today and maybe watch the video if you don't believe me.

It didn't start well for Wallace from the off. His first question was to ask the PM what he had learnt from the whole Miller episode. Dave responded by saying that he had learnt not to over-react and instantly dismiss someone. You can agree and disagree about the lessons, although they are not bad for prime ministers in general in this 24 hour febrile news world. But they were clearly an answer. Wallace nevertheless, working from his script, said that Dave hadn't answered. The House and the nation scratched their heads. It was all downhill from there.

Dave was surrounded by many women having had to bow to the removal of one of them this morning. But he was clearly not in the mood to be lectured on this matter by the party opposite. He called Wallace opportunistic and wondered out loud why he was only opining on an issue after it was all settled. Wallace got to his feet and, in that voice he used to use when he was running away from the big kid who wanted to flush his head down the loo, said it wasn't his job to decide who was in the PM's cabinet. But then of course Dave never said that it was.

The PM was actually quite contrite about the whole matter and accepted the need for further reform, something his former minister might have tried to hang on to her job. But he successfully repulsed the pathetic attempts by the opposition to score points on this without ever pointing out their own culpability. He didn't even point out that nodding and gurning Ed Balls is a serial house flipper himself. He might have added that it was probably all that the opposition leader could talk about in a week when the IMF has predicted that Britain is to be the fastest growing economy in the G7. He even managed to make his own ill judged backing of Miller sound more principled than it had done initially which was quite an achievement. But then he was facing Wallace, Wallace the dithering opportunist. You have to wonder why he is so reluctant to hold debates in next year's election campaign. Up against Wallace even Nick Clegg would win and look like a principled great leader.



Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Dorries Should Stick To Her Day Job



In case you hadn't heard, Nadine Dorries has a book out. It is a novel. It is, by common consent, terrible. It makes the works of that other great Tory author, Jeffrey Archer, look like those of Dostoyevsky.

But I think the critics have it all wrong. Dorries wasn't trying to write a great work of literary fiction, although she has overdone it - this is a work so mawkish and melodramatic, at least in intent (she does not have the writing ability to pull it off), you half expect Little Nell or Tiny Tim to turn up in its pages, indeed it even has a character called Little Kitty. Kitty is abused by a priest, which is plain silly - we all know priests prefer boys.

No, I think the real intent of this novel was not so much to get the nation to tell her to concentrate on being an MP, or perhaps to squeeze the last drops of public recognition from her appearance on Who's A Celebrity, but to show how much she understands the travails of ordinary folk, unlike the posh boys who lead her party. She doesn't quite devote a chapter to Greggs' pasties, but she might as well have done. We can only wonder at the absence of a posh boy landlord or mill owner to send the book's children up chimneys or under working machinery to collect cotton fluff.

Perhaps Dorries did indeed come from the mean streets, although I rather doubt it. If she had she might be able to describe them better and not seek recourse in stereotypes. Instead she probably had a perfectly normal working class upbringing, the sort enjoyed by millions. We didn't suffer unduly. We didn't walk around in bare feet. Money was sometimes tight. It was categorically not as miserable as depicted in this lousy book. In fact it probably wasn't appreciably different to the upbringing enjoyed by posh boys, except we weren't shipped off to boarding school and didn't learn Latin. When we learnt to drive we did it in old bangers. It probably made us better drivers. I don't suppose it would make much of a novel but then neither does Dorries miserable make believe. We don't need a modern day Dickens, or a pale imitation of him because the world is a better place. Perhaps we should praise the MP for Mid Bedfordshire for inadvertently reminding us of this.

Jeremy For Maria



Jeremy Browne MP is a Lib Dem. I know! It's perplexing. And it's not just perplexing because Browne looks and sounds like a Tory, it's perplexing because, unlike other Lib Dems, he is not completely useless and does not define himself by telling us how awful the other parties are and what the righteous Lib Dems should block.

But read this interview with him in The Telegraph and it becomes ever more perplexing. Browne is sounding so much like a Tory he could be sitting next to Peter Bone. He bemoans the timidity of the Lib Dems which exists, he says, only to moderate the views of people who have views, calls for changes in education that might even make Michael Gove pause, is opposed to the living wage and other governmental interference in the market and sensibly wants to reduce the top rate of tax to 45p from 40p.

So why doesn't he just join the Tories? Well perhaps he should be given an incentive by Dave. Why not offer him Maria Miller's job? He would certainly be a safer pair of hands, is unlikely to want to shackle the press and it would infuriate the Lib Dems.

Monday, 7 April 2014

Miller Out



You sometimes have to wonder about our prime minister. Faced with a minister who isn't terribly good at her job and was facing accusations of incompetence, cack-handededness and arrogance even before last week's non-apology apology and criticism, he attempts to draw a veil over it and advise us all to move on. The man who once told us that politicians should be whiter than white over their expenses is left looking like some of his sleazy colleagues who somehow managed to acquit Maria Miller of almost all wrongdoing despite all of the evidence to the contrary in a classic Westminster fit-up.

What is most difficult to fathom about this is that Dave could have come out of it looking principled and decent. All he had to do was require her resignation or better yet sack her after that appalling 30 second apology more grudging than you would get from the average 5 year old. Miller's offence was every bit as egregious as that which did for Jacqui Smith during the last parliament and for which she was duly punished by her electorate at the last general election. Here was a chance for Dave to despatch her before her constituents did it for him.

But what of the women problem, namely Dave's difficulty over the lack of women in his Cabinet? Well why not appoint another one, and this time take the time to appoint one who is a decent and upstanding human being and good at her job? Might I suggest Esther McVey for instance?

The public are angry about this because yet again it is a case of the political class looking after their own. Thanks to the behaviour of some of their own MPs Labour have stayed remarkably quiet on the subject. But if this was a case of benefit fraud or some other case of taking money illicitly and dishonestly from the public purse we all know what would happen. Why doesn't it happen to MPs?

And yes we all know the arguments about how relatively poorly paid MPs are. I for one have sympathy for that. But that does not mean they should be allowed to bend the rules to make up for it. If there is a case for better pay then have the courage to make it. Had Miller done that last week as part of her apology she might have won more sympathy. As it was she used her position and influence to try and frustrate a legitimate inquiry and threats were issued to the press for having the temerity to make inquiries. This is the same woman who wants to regulate the press. Can anyone see why that might not be a very good idea?

The pressure is going to remain all of this week. Dave will no doubt be determined not to bend to it because that would make him look weak in the infantile world of politics. But it doesn't have to. Why not listen to public opinion and bend to it? We are after all a democracy. More than that if the PM stood up, admitted that he had been wrong with his initial support and decided a consistent approach would be for Miller to go he might even win some plaudits. Maria Miller should have been sacked months ago because she is a terrible minister and, it turns out, a not terribly nice human being. Best despatch her now. It's only a year until an election you know.

Sunday, 6 April 2014

West Ham 1 Liverpool 2 - The Reds Win Ugly



That was not a good Liverpool performance. Except it was because you can't play ole football all season. Sometimes you come up against the West Hams of this world. They were out to frustrate and Andy Carroll out to prove a point. He nearly did it by fouling Simon Mignolet and getting his new team an illegal goal. Liverpool went in half time undeservedly at 1 - 1.

Liverpool then got a second penalty of the game. It was probably the only way they were going to score because the ball wasn't falling for them, Sturridge and Suarez were struggling to find a way through and West Ham had parked the coach in front of their goal - although Suarez twice hit the crossbar. Liverpool had plenty of possession but couldn't find a way through in the final third.

But ultimately, thanks to a questionable second penalty despatched with aplomb by the ever excellent Steven Gerrard, Liverpool got a victory they just about deserved. That's 9 wins in succession taking them back to the top. Next it's Manchester City, a game in which a better performance will be a must. But this was Liverpool winning ugly. Teams that can do that and ride their luck tend to end up as champions. Five games to go.

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Sunday Funnies

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Saturday, 5 April 2014

Bye Bye Brucey



There has been a lot of fuss over the weekend because an over the hill television presenter has decided to bow to reality and retire from presenting a live television programme he regularly screwed up before an audience of 10 million. Quite why this has inspired such an orgy of angst is beyond me.

How can we replace Brucey said the newspapers over the weekend? Easy. Just find someone who can time a joke, read an autocue and not need a holiday half way through a 12 week run. Just find someone who isn't embarrassing and who wasn't past his peak 20 years ago. Bruce Forsyth was a great television presenter and game show host - in the 70s. Frankly anyone can replace him. I reckon that I, a former continuity announcer, could have a decent shot at it if I just turned up one weekend with a suit and a bow tie. I'm almost certainly cheaper too. Good riddance Brucey.

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