Saturday, October 25, 2003

It's a rich man's party

Martin Kettle makes some interesting points about the influence of money on British politics in a Guardian column today, pointing out that much of this week's speculation about IDS' leadership has been driven by party donors, and speculating what the reaction would be to similar criticism from Labour donors. However, a counter-argument to his points would be that the Tories like to present themselves as the champions of the free market, so why should this not apply to the party leadership in the same way as they believe it should apply to everything else?

Friday, October 24, 2003

The slowed world

I've just been listening to and watching some of the coverage of Concorde's last transatlantic flights on the news and it all just sounds like something from a dystopian novel. Something by JG Ballard, perhaps, or a vignette from a John Wyndham novel. Any other suggestions?

Galloway's choice

So, the big political question is whether George Galloway will resign and force a by-election in Glasgow Kelvin. Aside from all the political questions, I want him to do it, just because it could be one of the most fascinating by-elections possible. Kelvin (and its predecessor seat, Hillhead) has been a Labour, SDP and Conservative seat over the last twenty or so years and at the last General Election the SSP (6.8%) and Greens (4.8%) got some of their highest shares of the vote in the constituency. OK, the story of the by-election will probably be presented as Labour candidate vs Galloway, but the performance of the other parties will be interesting to watch, and with the vote splitting up to0 seven different ways, who knows what the result may be?

And as a practical point, should Galloway resign, who would move the writ for the by-election in the Commons? It's normally the party who the retiring or deceased member belonged to, but as Galloway is now an independent, who will have the responsibility? I expect it will end up with the Labour Party, as he was elected as a Labour member, though I wonder whether it will end up the responsibility of Richard Taylor, the Independent MP for Wyre Forest.

Thursday, October 23, 2003

Now that's nasty

The route for next year's Tour de France has been announced. It's anti-clockwise, so the riders will be doing the Pyrenees before the Alps and it also includes a 15km time trial which must be one of the shortest in the Tour's history (except for prologues, obviously). However, it won't be that easy as it's 15km going up Alpe D'Huez. Ouch.

Somewhere beneath the silt

Just had an interesting afternoon meeting with an archaeologist who's dealing with the team that are investigating the possible final resting place of HMS Beagle, the ship that took Charles Darwin served on, and whose voyages helped inspire the theory of evolution. All very interesting, and I'm hoping to turn it into the basis for an article on Essex's forgotten coast - that huge stretch of the Thames Estuary that most people really know nothing about, but has some fascinating history surrounding it such as the Beagle which spent its final active years as a customs watch ship there.

Best-case/Worst-case

I've been thinking about the IDS leadership crisis and realised that, for all the talk of possible candidates for the leadership, there's been little talk of the first stage of any ladership challenge - the confidence vote which takes place if 25 Tory MPs send letters of no confidence to the Chairman of the 1922 Committee. Does the fact that this isn't being discussed indicate that the general perception is IDS wouldn't survive it, or are people guilty of jumping over that stage to get to the interesting 'next leader' speculation?

Just as a thought, wouldn't the worst-case scenario for the Tories (and the best-case for the rest of us) be IDS surviving that vote, should it take place? All he needs to do is get 84 votes to be kept on as leader and, given some of his own statements recently, one wonders if he would quit even if he did have a victory in that vote even narrower than Thatcher's over Heseltine in the first round of the 1990 contest.

Wednesday, October 22, 2003

The joy of Wednesday

I never used to like Wednesdays - probably because it was the day when we used to have double PE back in school, and the conditional memory lingered - but now it's a good day. There's usually a new edition of the Onion, a 50% chance of a new Private Eye, and Oliver Holt's wonderfully splenetic column in the Mirror. Annoyingly, though, I can't find this week's column on the Mirror website. Anybody?

The end of the world is...

Writing in The Guardian, scientist Bill McGuire wonders why we don't pay much attention to the threats that really could mean the end of the world as we know it:
Even now, it is all the rage to hold nanotechnology and exotic physics experiments gone wrong as harbingers of doom, while regarding the certain threat of natural catastrophes with either a snort of disdain or a bellow of laughter. Despite existing, and indeed thriving, on planet Earth purely as a consequence of nature's benign consent, it seems that humanity has a blind spot when it comes to addressing what will happen when that consent is withdrawn.

The Earth has been around for a very long time - something approaching 4.6 billion years. Business as usual involves serious pounding by asteroids and comets, the rending of the crust by gigantic outpourings of lava and the battering of the ocean-basin margins by enormous waves climbing to heights in excess of 100 metres.

In the blink of an eye that humans have been recording their experiences, it is hardly surprising that we have yet to witness one of these global geophysical events (or gee-gees, as they are known). But they are not going to stop happening.

Tuesday, October 21, 2003

The story of my life

So, I get mentioned in Web User magazine, thanks to my experience of being flashblogged but I've been metamorphosised into a 'Nick Brown'. No doubt this means something, not least that no fans of either the Labour MP or Survivor contestant have yet erected a site in his/their honour.

The end of the world as a personality test

So, which survivor of the impending nuclear holocaust are you? It's worth playing with the answers a bit to see the different answers. (via Tony's email friend)

Celebrity guests

President Bush might be attending the key Wales vs Italy match in the Rugby World Cup. I hadn't realised that he'd played it while at Yale (at full-back, not right wing, to quell the obvious joke) and it will be interesting to see if he could do anything to boost rugby's popularity in the US. Obviously, he has more important things to do with his time than spend it promoting an obscure sport, but who knows? Inspired by his example, the people of America could rise up and demand a real sport to replace the aberration they call 'football'...and with all that money and support they'd win the World Cup every time. Damn.

While I was out

I received email on the Wolves fans mailing list while I was gone that was quite interesting. It's simply just another way of looking at the Premiership table that gives a much quicker visual reference of how close or far apart teams are. Anyway, I thought I'd reproduce it here, in case anyone else finds it interesting - it's not just because it's a way of showing how Wolves have finally crawled off the bottom (GIH is 'game in hand'):

23 Arsenal
22 Man Utd
21
20 Chelsea
19
18
17
16 Birmingham
15 Man City, Fulham (GIH)
14 Charlton
13 Southampton
12 Portsmouth
11 Liverpool, Tottenham
10
9 Newcastle (GIH), Everton, Aston Villa
8 Blackburn, Bolton, Leeds
7 Middlesbro
6 Wolves
5 Leicester

Sunday, October 19, 2003

Booze Cruise

Off to France for the day tomorrow. Have fun without me.

(And no, I'm not leaving the country while Prescott's in charge, what with Tony taking a sickie and Gordon on paternity leave)

The Big Read

The Top 21 of the BBC's Big Read were announced last night. Given the rules (no more than one book by any author) and the books that were in the longlist of 100 it's probably pretty much what most people would have expected it to be, with no real surprises.

I was surprised by a couple of positions in the Top 100, though - I hadn't expected Midnight's Children to get a high position, but it came in at number 100. Bridget Jones' Diary was also a lot lower than I expected, and clearly Terry Pratchett and Roald Dahl's fans couldn't agree on which books of the 5 they each had in the list were their favourites so they were all scattered in the lower reaches of the 100.

One good thing is that there's not a clear favourite among the 21 which should make the actual competition between them very interesting. While the fans of the various authors will no doubt vote for their book, the advocacy by the various celebrities about each book could have a strong effect on the final vote, just as Jeremy Clarkson (and the students of Brunel University) did for Brunel in last year's Great Britons vote, taking him to a quite surprising second place.

My prediction for the top 10, in alphabetical order, is: Great Expectations, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, His Dark Materials, Hitch-hiker's Guide To The Galaxy, Jane Eyre,Lord Of The Rings, Nineteen Eighty-Four, To Kill A Mockingbird, Winnie The Pooh and Wuthering Heights. As for me, I'm still trying to decide whether to vote for His Dark Materials or Nineteen Eighty-Four. And if you want to vote, then click here to go and do it.

One moment from the last night's show that really stuck in the mind was when the panel were discussing His Dark Materials. All of them loved the book (including Andrew Davies, who's been the most negative about many of the books), then Armando Ianucci said he'd only just started reading it whixh a response of 'I envy you' from Tim Lott, which does sum up the attitude of most people I know who've read it - we lend the books out to others just so we can vicariously experience the thrill and magic of reading them for the first time.

Finally, one thought in the 'it'd be really nice, but it'll never happen' file inspired from last night. Seeing that Sanjeev Bhaskar is presenting Hitch-Hiker's in the series, I had the thought 'you know, he'd make a really good Arthur Dent.'