Saturday, October 02, 2004

Just a quick fact check

Because it's always fun to correct a Professor.

Anthony King writes in today's Telegraph:
In the European Parliament elections in June the UKIP won 19.8 per cent of the popular vote and captured one of the North East region's three Strasbourg seats.

Well, it took me hardly any time to check my memory wasn't failing me and to confirm that while UKIP did take 19.8% in Hartlepool Borough (which I presume coincides with the parliamentary constituency) they only got 12.2% in the North East as a whole which meant they won no seats there (it was one each for Labour, Conservatives and Liberal Democrats).

But then, corrections are what the Guardian does.

Plucked from the recycling bin of history

I've just discovered the By Elections Blog's main British Parliamentary By Elections site which has not just results from all the by-elections since 1945 but election literature from many of them. I'm sure everyone can find things to interest them there, but I quite like this leaflet from a young Bill Rodgers in the 1962 Stockton by-election that included 'A word from Mrs. Rodgers' and remembering the high and low points of the continuity SDP - running William Hague close in Richmond in 1989 and then coming below the Monster Raving Loonies in Bootle a year later. So, a useful resource, and an interesting way to waste hours by looking at the early days of the by-election victors who went on to greater things, wondering 'where are they now?' about some of the winners and 'what were they thinking?' about some of the minor candidates, like the nine days wonder that was the Earl of Burford's political prominence.

Is it time for a Grand Remonstrance yet?

If it wasn't about something serious - you know, that whole running the country thing - the latest machinations of the 'Labour Party civil war' (well, if the publication of a book is a 'Lib Dem civil war' according to some people then this must reach the - rather low - target for declaring it a war) would just be fun to watch:
Yesterday, some of those who want Mr Brown to succeed were speculating that Labour’s ruling National Executive Committee could hold a leadership ballot as early as next summer, allowing the party to anoint an official heir to inherit Mr Blair’s position whenever he did come to leave Downing Street.

By holding a leadership election early, Mr Brown’s supporters would hope to set in stone his status as favourite to succeed Mr Blair. The alternative, leaving the leadership contest until the end of the next parliament, would bring the risk that Mr Brown’s popularity may be eclipsed by another candidate.

"If you announce that you are stepping down five years in advance, you can decide who the successor is in advance as well," one Brownite insisted last night.

And as the truce between the two sides disappears faster than a pledge not introduce top up fees, people start braking the vows of omerta:

Yet, courtesy of the Brown camp, a few salient facts began to emerge.

Mr Blair had, in November 2003, told both the Chancellor and Mr Prescott that he would quit before this autumn.

This was, in a way, a second "pact" - it certainly led to a period of unprecedented harmony between the two.

And when Mr Blair was tempted to "pre-announce" his departure date, Mr Brown talked him out of the announcement, though not the intention of resigning. The Chancellor did not want the Labour Party to be put on notice of a leadership campaign in the far-distant future; he was concerned about the in-fighting that such a move could provoke.

In the event, Mr Blair rallied - and decided to fight the coming election campaign. The understanding was that he would quit after fighting, and presumably losing, a referendum campaign over the proposed European constitution.

And all this appearing in The Scotsman is probably nothing to do with a certain friend of Gordon's spending a lot of time north of the border nowdays, I'm sure.

Because this extraordinary rendition isn't a performance

Over at Obsidian Wings, Katherine has an update to her earlier post about 'extraordinary rendition' - or, in non-euphemism, the US sending people overseas to be tortured - so go read it then write to your Representative if you're an American. Or, if you're British, you can write to your MP to let them know what the other half of our 'special relationship' wants to make legal. In fact, wherever you are in the world, you can write to someone to protest. As the American Bar Association says, in a statement that's probably got their names on a list somewhere:
Extraordinary rendition not only violates all basic humanitarian and human rights standards, but violates U.S. treaty obligations which make clear that the U.S. government cannot avoid its obligations under international law by having other nations conduct unlawful interrogations in its stead. This practice not only violates our own cherished principles as a nation but also works to undermine our moral leadership in the eyes of the rest of the world.

Rejecting extraordinary rendition will demonstrate our respect for the rule of law and help protect American troops who may be detained by adversaries who may be disinclined to honor international obligations in light of the U.S. government's failure to honor its own.

Friday, October 01, 2004

UKIP - stopping the Netherlands from rotating more slowly

Via newish blogger Steve Guy, here's Britain in Europe finally getting off their arses and doing something with "25 things you didn't know when you voted for UKIP" (pdf, so those of you who want HTML will have to deal with just this short summary of it) a nice summation by Richard Corbett MEP of all their various bizarre and offensive statements and actions.

I love the smell of ewoks in the morning

Knowing the interests of some of my readers, I keep meaning to plug John Kovalic's excellent Dork Tower comic strip now that I've discovered it's available online (and as a Livejournal feed, if you like that sort of thing). And for those of you who have think the Ewoks ruined Return Of The Jedi then you particularly appreciate this strip.

Easy Rummy

Fafnir goes on the road with Donald Rumsfeld:
One thing about Donald Rumsfeld that you have to give him credit for is he always cuts through the crap to tell it like it is in his no-nonsense style. I am reminded of this when we hit the second moose.

"Moose happen," says Donald Rumsfeld. "There are moose, and we'll hit 'em. That's the way it goes. We've lost two tires and the brakes. That's life. I'm drunk, legally blind and have been charged with eight counts of vehicular manslaughter in the last three years. Gotta deal with it. Nothing's perfect."
"If you think about it the more moose get hit by us, the fewer moose there are to get hit by us!" says me.
"I like the way you think," says Donald Rumsfeld.

I'd say read the rest, but it's Fafnir, so you already have, even if you think you haven't.

A palpable hit

After watching the Bush/Kerry debate last night, I went to bed thinking that it was a win for Kerry. On points, not by a knockout, but a win nonetheless - and as the rules were pretty much like amateur boxing with the debating equivalent of headguards on, perhaps a points win is the best you can get.

Dave's got a good roundup and there's also an interesting summation of conservative reaction on Daily Kos - if your opponents are calling it a draw at best (besides those who'd probably spin Bush sacrificing goats to Satan as 'a bold move to open a dialogue with Hades') then you can probably call it a victory. Elsewhere, the Mighty Reason Man was liveblogging it, but thanks to his posting lethargy I missed seeing him in action, though unlike the results of many livebloggings it's still worth a look through after the event:
Jenna and Barbera onstage post-debate:

Ah, so that's what a "My daddy just got his ass whupped bad" expression looks like.

Atrios has poll numbers, and it seems the people concur with those opinions. Clearly, the people of America have a disturbing bias and need to be replaced. In short, though, Kerry looked Presidential last night while Bush spent a lot of the time sounding petulant, defensive and acting more like the challenger than the incumbent.

Anyway, to give you a bit of notice, I think I might liveblog the next debate next Friday night, so anyone else who's staying up to watch them in their 'Town Hall'-style discussion (is it just me, or does anyone else get images of British Town Hall meetings with Bush and Kerry arguing over the minutiae of the council's cleaning budget?) feel free to stop inand heckle.

Quote of the night

From Pandagon's excellent coverage of the Bush/Kerry debate:
According to Bush, leadership is standing on the deck of the Titanic and telling the passengers that they'll be in port in a few hours, they just need to move their luggage to less wet parts of the ship.

Hartlepool

Dave seems to be the first blogger to have blogged the projected result, but there's all sorts of strangeness going on there it seems. First, we hear Labour have won by around 2000 votes, with Simon Hughes (part of the BBC pundit panel) calculating a 22.5% swing. Then, all the attention switched to the Tory/UKIP battle for third with talk of a recount, but there's the question of whether you can have a recount when it's not to determine the winner or if someone's kept their deposit. Then the talks to a recount for first and second...and now Adam Boulton on Sky (I'm channel flicking) says the Tories are 150 votes behind UKIP.

And in the channel flicking, BBC Two's late night film is called Hoodlum Empire, which isn't a documentary about the streets of Hartlepool and one man's drive, powered solely by the forces of localism, to rid the town of yobs.

It seems the recount for third place is now underway. More when I hear it, but hopefully it'll be all over by 2am in time for the first Bush/Kerry debate.

Update: OK, here comes the result. Let's see if I can type fast enough to get it down.

Abrams 41 English Democrats
Allison 3193 UKIP
Berriman 90 Independent
Bloom 572 Respect
Carroll 45 Independent
Dunn 10719 Lib Dem
Watson 139 Fathers 4 Justice
Harriot 95 Socialist Labour
Hope 80 Monster Raving Loony
Middleton 3044 Conservative
Rogers 91 Common Good
Ryder 255 Green
Starkey 246 National Front
Wright 12752 Labour

Labour Majority 2033, UKIP 3rd, Tories 4th, swing about 20% I think.

Update 2: From a look at the previous result, and the swings as reported by Sky News (18.8%) the Tory vote does seem to have dropped from 20% to 10%, but that's almost entirely gone to UKIP rather than the Liberal Democrats, it seems.

I just missed it while flicking but it seems one of the F4J people has just thrown powder over Jody Dunn while she was making her speech. Twats.

Thursday, September 30, 2004

The Orange Book - Chapter 1: Reclaiming Liberalism (David Laws)

(As promised earlier this week, here's the first of - hopefully - ten posts summarising and discussing The Orange Book. It's intended as a basis of discussion for those who are also reading the book, or are interested in discussing the issues presented within it.)

The Orange Book basically has two introductions: the stated one by Paul Marshall, which serves pretty much as an executive summary of the ten chapters of the book, and this chapter by David Laws which starts out by setting out the general philosophical tone of the book - that the Liberal Democrats need to enshrine a consistent philosophy of Liberalism within their policies - and then uses its latter half to go over in brief the ideas laid out in the rest of the book. It makes it that Laws is the primary driving force behind this enterprise, which of course explains why many of the brickbats associated with it have been thrown at him.

However, it's not been this section of the book that has caused Laws the most trouble - it's his later section (Chapter 7) on health policy that's drawn the most attention. It's interesting to note, though, that out of ten chapters in the book, it's been just one that's attracted the headlines and opprobium which does help to show - at least, within the Party - how actually uncontroversial much of this book is. There are many parts, especially in this chapter, that one can quote out of context and present as controversial but the book's now been out for a few weeks and many of those who one would expect to be crawling over it with a fine tooth comb looking for things to complain about have been notably silent.

Anyway, to the book itself - what is the Liberalism that Laws thinks the Liberal Democrats should 'reclaim'? He breaks it down into four pillars: pesonal lberalism: 'the freedom of the individual from all forms of oppression', political liberalism: 'the belief that power should be exercised through accountable and democratic structures, as close to the people affected as possible', economic liberalism: 'the belief in the value of free trade, open competition, market mechanisms, and the effectiveness of the private sector...combined with opposition to monopolies and instinctive suspicion of state control and interference' and social liberalism: 'the insight that personal, political and economic liberalism are not by themselves an adequate basis for securing for each individual a deeper and more meaningful sense of freedom'. These four principles, coupled with a strong internationalism have been the basis of Liberalism back to the days of Gladstone and Lloyd George.

He goes on to look at 'how liberal are the Liberal Democrats?' and identifies that while the party has generally stuck to its principles, the persistent problem has been when different parts of liberalism appear to come into conflict with each other. The main problem is that social liberalism - the empowerment of the individual - is often played as a trump card in triumphing over the other three principles, allowing liberals to justify limitations of other forms of liberty in the name of social liberalism. While Laws judges that the Liberal Democrats (and the Liberals before them) have generally acted in accordance with the principles of liberalism he identifies, but there are times when a seeming conflict has ended with them taking the less liberal position, often in the name of the greater good:
the development of a well-meaning 'nanny-state liberalism', in whuch respect for personal rights and freedoms has at times been compromised by the pursuit of other, no doubt well-intentioned, objectives.

Laws refers to this as a 'Liberalism a la carte' where the Liberal Democrats are 'picking and choosing which liberal principles we will apply, based upon our view of whether the end objective is well-intentioned or not.'

In terms of political liberalism he generally lays out the ground for the next two chapters by Edward Davey (on localism) and Nick Clegg (on Europe), talking of how Liberal Democrats have a strong record on decentralising power within the UK, but don't apply the same principles at a European level. I'll come back to this issue in more depth when I get to those chapters.

On the issue of economic liberalism he notes that both the LIberals and the Liberal Democrats have tended to oscillate back and forth being economic liberalism and state socialism over the last century though he takes time to note that 'the belief in economic liberalism is now being strongly reasserted by the party, under the leadership of Charles Kennedy.' He does however note an interesting reason for moves away from economic liberalism in that there was the recognition that the Labour Party championed ideas that came close to those of social liberalism while the Tories, especially under Thatcher, may have championed economic liberalism, but that was coupled with a perceived rejection of other forms of liberalism. Again, he sees it as case of ends being used to justify means.

Finally, Laws turns to the issue of social liberalism, and this is where he starts to talk about the themes that will be discussed in greater detail throughout the rest of the book - the question of how Liberal Democrats can stick to their principles of personal, political and economic liberalism, but still deliver the social liberalism they aim for as an end. He's effectively used the main portion of this chapter to set up the principles of liberalism, then left the rest of the book to show how they can be delivered. As such, it's an interesting introduction to the wider themes of The Orange Book and a pretty strong refutation of the assertion that is a 'right wing coup' within the party. Yes, Laws is perhaps more of a free-marketeer than the stereotype of a Liberal Democrat, but he's clear that economic liberalism is not an end in itself, but just one of the principles of liberalism that needs to be kept in mind when calculating how to achieve the ultimate aim of a liberal society.

Under the radar

It's one of the strange ironies of this modern world, that some of the most interesting reporting comes from Popbitch. Two stories from today's issue, for example:
>> Dirty Lies <<
Radiation bombs are a government fantasy

Last week's BBC drama about a dirty bomb in London has helped keep everyone terrified about terrorism.

But a forthcoming documentary shows that dirty bombs are actually a fantasy. The Americans should know: the CIA tried for years to make one, before realising that blowing up radioactive material won't hurt anyone. Radioactive dust disperses so quickly you'd need to be exposed to it for about a year before any real damage occurred.

The documentary, The Power Of Nightmares, shows how politicians are using fake stories like the dirty bomb to keep people scared, and themselves in power. It also demonstrates that the claim that Al-Qaeda is a global, hidden, terror network is also a myth.

So what channel is this BBC-debunking documentary showing on? Er, BBC2.

The Power Of Nightmares. BBC2, 20th October, 9pm.

And then this:

One of the major "terrorists" arrested and proudly displayed by the British Government as an Al Qaeda
training operative was a north London fitness instructor. The only reason for his arrest: he called his martial arts class Ultimate Jihad Challenge.

Though if you want to refer to a more acceptable source for your information, Jason Burke's Al Qaeda is rather good.

Endorsements

Further to my discussion of who newspapers may back at the next election, today's Guardian leader backs Jody Dunn in Hartlepool:
Today the voters of Hartlepool have the chance to send a message about the kind of parliament this country really needs. Such chances do not come often. Today, though, their town is in the spotlight and their message can make a difference. If they want to elect a 407th Labour MP, to add to the 406 already on the Labour benches at Westminster, then that is their privilege. On the basis of the domestic policies promoted at Brighton this week, there would normally be logic in such a choice. But before they do that, do the voters of Hartlepool not need to ask themselves whether one more Labour MP will make a difference?

If this newspaper had a vote in Hartlepool today, it would go to the Liberal Democrats. It would go to them not because we have a view about the candidates' personalities. Nor because we think that Liberal Democrat policies for Hartlepool are demonstrably preferable to those of any other party. That is not the case either. Nor because we think that Britain should have a Liberal Democrat government. We still support most of the aims of this Labour government. The Liberal Democrats, though, are the one party to have consistently opposed the war and to have consistently tried to hold the executive to account. This election is about the effectiveness of parliament. Only the Lib Dems have provided any kind of effective opposition over Iraq. It would be a win they deserve. If you want a parliament that is a bit more worthy of this country, then Hartlepool should today send Jody Dunn to Westminster as its Liberal Democrat MP.

Of course, I'm sure Comical Tommy will tell us how the people of Hartlepool get all their information from the local voices in their heads, rather than disgustingly non-local 'newspapers'.

"Do you want Saddam back?"

Looks like the Iraqi people might get the chance to give us the answer to that question. But, as Jesse says:
Luckily, Bush may be saved from this debacle not by any bout of conscience or sense of propriety on Saddam's part, not even a change in the law before January, but that nothing even resembling a real election is likely to happen any time soon.

Ooh, shiny new technology!

I've finally got round to installing and trying out Firefox which seems rather good so far - as someone who often typed in addresses rather than using bookmarks, I like the way it not only gves you a list of suggestions, but paitles as well - any tips from people who've been using it for a while?

Of course, if the rumoured GBrowser does come about, we'll all be switching to that, though I wonder if a day will one day come when we break off from moaning about Google's dominance to reminisce about the days we all complained about Microsoft. (Those of you using Unix/Linux/Macintosh etc can keep your smug satisfaction to yourself, thankyou very much)

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Very thin on the ground

Now I know that it's probably quite hard to track down a Conservative voter in Hartlepool, and even harder to find one who'd want to be photographed, but is that really Peter Cuthbertson playing the role of 'Typical Hartlepool Voter' in the photograph here, as claimed by Guacamoleville?

Those of you intending to do a forensic analysis of the pictures may find these pictures of Peter on the campaign trail to be useful.

Update: Matt provides some more photographic evidence.

Please form an orderly queue at your nearest bookshop

Chris Brooke will probably enjoy this piece of news about Paul "The Thinker" Richards from today's Guardian Backbencher:
Word reaches the Backbencher of an ambitious new biographical project from Paul "The Thinker" Richards, the author of a pocketbook of Blairite wisdom (Tony Blair In His Own Words) which the Backbencher was disappointed not to find waiting in the drawer of her bedside table in Brighton this week. Now she hears that Paul is tackling a biography of Alan Milburn - not to mention tutoring a course at Labour's new Academy of Political Thought. (Highlights include "values versus policies", "socialist responses to war, poverty and globalisation", and "Labour's broad church": course fees and dates have yet to be announced.) Will the strategist himself authorise this brave new work? Will it be a multi-volume effort in the style of the LBJ biography ("Alan: The Postal Years")? There are rumours it will be titled "Days of Hope", but the Backbencher needs to talk to Paul to refute them.

More ways to waste time

Via Doctorvee, here's the quite fun Google Date, which gives you a kind of random approach to history. You input a date (and a keyword as well, if you want to restrict the search) and it finds the top three events from the Google database for that date. I suppose one could now have GoogleDateWhacking where you attempt to find a date on which nothing occurred.

Remind me, who are the good guys?

From Obsidian Wings, via Crooked Timber:
The Republican leadership of Congress is attempting to legalize extraordinary rendition. "Extraordinary rendition" is the euphemism we use for sending terrorism suspects to countries that practice torture for interrogation. As one intelligence official described it in the Washington Post, "We don't kick the sh*t out of them. We send them to other countries so they can kick the sh*t out of them.”...

Last month Edward Markey, a Massachusetts Congressman, introduced a bill that would clearly outlaw extraordinary rendition. But Markey only has 22 cosponsors, and now the House leadership is trying to legalize torture outsourcing--and hide it in the bill implementing the 9/11 Commission Report.

Go read the rest, and if you're in the US then write to your Representative or Senator and tell them that they're about to pass (under the banner of implementing the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission, of which this isn't one) a bill that would:

require the Secretary of Homeland Security to issue new regulations to exclude from the protection of the U.N. Convention Against Torture and Other Forms of Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, any suspected terrorist - thereby allowing them to be deported or transferred to a country that may engage in torture. The provision would put the burden of proof on the person being deported or rendered to establish "by clear and convincing evidence that he or she would be tortured," would bar the courts from having jurisdiction to review the Secretary's regulations, and would free the Secretary to deport or remove terrorist suspects to any country in the world at will - even countries other than the person's home country or the country in which they were born. The provision would also apply retroactively.

Justice, freedom, and all that - who cares, eh? If we can't do bad things to bad people (or, at least, people we believe to be bad, hopefully we'll actually prove that later) then the terrorists have won.

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Objectively pro-swords, or something

Jamie explains David Aaronovitch's latest argument in simple terms:
Now let’s look at the declensions of the decent left on Iraq as it suffers the consequences of the policies its members supported.

If Iraq is to be transformed, then we believe that people should get behind the transitional government and support their efforts to rebuild its physical and civic infrastructure. Let’s light a candle for the people of Iraq. If you have the relevant skills, we hope you will make them available to the Iraqi people in person. If you are kind enough to do so, we hope that you do not expose yourself to danger. If you do expose yourself to danger, we hope that you remain safe from kidnapping. If you do have the misfortune to be kidnapped, then we hope it’s not by a bunch of semi-psychotic head choppers. If you are kidnapped by a bunch of semi-psychotic head choppers, then, in the name of an indeterminable number of unnamed future victims, we think it better on the whole that you die, not that we actually want you to, of course. And if you have to die, surely it’s better not to make an embarrassing fuss.

And in the event of these things happening, tell your gobby scouse relatives in advance to shut the fuck up.

Beyond parody

We return to the Guardian's article about the Hartlepool by-election, part two of which wasn't available online this morning, clearly because the editors were checking Decca Aitkenhead hadn't accidentally filed Comical Tommy instead. First we have Fraser Kemp's confession to stalking Chris Rennard and timing his absences from the glory of Hartlepus:
"You need to be here 24 hours a day, living it, breathing it. Rennard says he's up here but he isn't; I know he got the 2.30 train yesterday, I saw him at Darlington, and today he's off again. And I know he was in Westminster last week because someone saw him in the Pugin room."

And then the Wrightbot shows off its fantastic programming:

Supposing he were elected on Thursday, I asked him what he thought he would be remembered for on the council.

"I think I'd say, being courteous and responsive to local issues. I've tried to be as local a councillor as possible."

But apart from being local, what else did he offer? The question seemed to throw him. "Well, I'm local-"

But so was the taxi driver outside - and many of the names rejected by the NEC. If he excluded being local, could he describe his other qualities?

"Well you see I don't think you can exclude it. You see, I'll live in the town." But Blair is seldom in Sedgefield, and presumably he didn't think the prime minister ought not be its MP. He looked blank.

"I think I'm bright." He paused. "I think I'm articulate. I've been to university. I can string a sentence together." Then he relapsed. "I think it's absolutely fantastic that one of our own could be going to parliament on Thursday."

Hero worship

Matt's already beaten me in linking to Marc Mulholland's excellent post about Christopher Hitchens, and even quoted the same paragraph from it that I would have done. So, have this one as your sample instead:
The core of Hitchen’s hastily spun confection, however, is to condemn the creeping fear amongst Democrats that Bush might produce Bin Laden (or some such other coup, though our gimlet eyed columnist doesn’t wish to concede the ‘for example’ verbalisation of this anxiety) as a pre-election ‘October Surprise’. This, it turns out, is an incredible slur on the dignity of the president, government and nation, evidence of the sick mentality of Kerry et al. ‘None dare call it treason’, but Hitchens, heroic contrarian (what an arrogant neologism), has got the balls.

I've never really understood the reverence certain people seem to hold for Hitchens, or the feelings of betrayal others seem to feel for him recently. But then again, I was never a member of 'the Left', that strange, amorphous movement that everyone either praises or denounces, but no one seems able to convincingly define beyond a temporary straw man, so maybe that explains it.

Marc mentions Johann Hari's interview-cum-Wayne's World-esque-audience with 'the Hitch' where Hitchens seems to be living out the phrase 'the road to hell is paved with good intentions'. While "He was similarly appalled by the American left's indulgence of Bill Clinton's crimes, including the execution of a mentally disabled black man", it seems that we ought to be glad that he hasn't "forgotten the 152 people George Bush executed in Texas" but don't expect him to, you know, do anything about it or complain about the new, improved, Iraqi government choosing to introduce it. But then, when you support an administration headed by a man who says Jesus is his favourite political philosopher and includes John "anointed by Crisco" Ashcroft as Attorney-General, you better have faith.

Quote of the day

From The Register:
An intrepid team from the the University of Queensland will shortly make its way to Malaysia's central highlands to answer a question which has baffled science for centuries: is bovine lesbianism in domesticated cattle a stress reaction caused by environmental pressures?

And next week, they'll attempt to discover whether the bulls like to watch. (found via The Poor Man)

Meeting every need

If you need a goalkeeper for your Sunday League or pub football side, then eBay is currently able to help, and at just 99p right now!

Explanations

It's probably just me having missed the point for the last couple of months, but reading Decca Aitkenhead's article about Hartlepool (found via Perfect), I've found an interesting reason why Labour called it for this Thursday (emphasis added):
The Conservatives finished second here in 2001. Two leaders later, even that lies beyond the hopes of all but the party's wildest optimists, but if they cannot hold on to third, Michael Howard will be facing a mutinous conference, and a crisis that could spiral beyond his control.

To be really cynical, one could argue that for Labour winning or losing Hartlepool isn't as important as whether the Conservatives come 3rd or 4th. Sure, a loss would be embarassing, and increase the long-term risk of the Liberal Democrats, but in the short term (the period to the next election) the Tories are the biggest threat, and if there last pre-election conference can be overshadowed by a disastrous 4th place in Hartlepool, there'll probably be smiles all round in Downing Street.

Monday, September 27, 2004

It's the arts

Chris Brooke reminded me that it's National Poetry Day on October 7th (a week on Thursday) and enquired if I'd be co-ordinating a similar effort to promote poetry on blogs as I did last year. The results of that can be seen here (scroll up from there for the rest of the day)

Well, I see no reason not to repeat the exercise, especially as this year you've got an extra week's notice this time around. Here's what I said last time around, though the theme this year is 'Food':
So, here's my idea - let's have a poetic blogburst on Thursday. I'm going to post a few poems by one of my favourite poets, and I invite you to do the same. Or, if you've written poetry yourself then see this as your chance to share them with the world. If you don't like poetry, write a post about why. Find sites that contain poems, or sites about poetry and tell us about them, even if it's just a collection of The Best Of Vogon Poetry. Whatever you want to do, if it's vaguely poetry-related then post it, tell me about and I'll link to it on Thursday.

Even though it's National Poetry Day, and is limited to Britain in the real world, I have no objection to anyone from beyond these shores taking part. The theme for the day is 'Britain' so you could choose a poem about Britain, or written by someone from Britain, or just something that reminds you of Britain, but I'm not going to impose any limits.

If you're interested, let me know either via the comments or email. If you want to know more about National Poetry Day and the other events that are going on that day, click on the link above to find out more. It won't take much time or effort to join in, and maybe we can make the world of blogging just a little poetic on Thursday. Whether it's poems you write, or just poems you like, it doesn't really matter. After all, even Donald Rumsfeld can have a book of poems published.

I'll try and do the same as last year - posting a few poems, and linking to anyone who wants to take part. You can either leave a message in the comments (I'll do an 'open thread' post on the day, so you don't have to track down this post) or email me.

Wildlife on web

Want the chance to see the lesser-spotted swivel-eyed loon in its natural habitat? Well, many of them can be spotted here. Be careful with your watching, though as they're easily scared.

Shooting across the Guardian's bows

I have to admit to being rather impressed by the Independent's new Media Weekly supplement this morning. I was expecting something on the lines of their property, motoring etc supplements that are just a few pages of editorial surrounding advertising, but this had a quite impressive range of articles in it, though they'd sensibly advertised the big names they've got for it as regular columnists - Greg Dyke, Kelvin Mackenzie and Matthew Norman. However like the Guardian, which has now hidden most of Media Guardian behind subscription, a lot of it doesn't seem to be available on the web. Or if it is, it's lost somewhere in the maze of the Indy's web site.

It certainly seems to be a well-aimed shot in the war between the Independent and the Guardian, taking on one of the Guardian's big supplements and delivering something that, to me, seems definitely superior in terms of editorial, though still obviously lagging behind in terms of job ads. However, that's not as much a weakness as it may seem in terms of attracting new readers as many of the Guardian's jobs are in other trade papers (Broadcast etc) or on their own jobs site and if the Indy can keep up this level of editorial content consistently, the gap between the two papers could be below 100,000 very soon and that would cause a lot of worries in Farringdon Road.

The new supplement did its job well in generating a headline for the main paper (and perhaps other papers as well) not only getting the first interview with Daily Mail chairman Viscount Rothermere (his own paper would have interviewed him, but he doesn't look too good in a dress, and he has no weight loss tips) but the statement from him that the Mail may not support the Tories at the next election. Of course, we all know it will, but it allows it to flirt with UKIP, try and Blunkettize Labour even more before saying 'vote Tory'.

Still, it got me thinking about who the papers will be backing at the next election. One can pretty much assume that the Telegraph (and, most likely, the Mail) will be backing the Tories while the Independent seems likely to back the Liberal Democrats (though it'll probably be in a Kelner-penned editorial that makes Peter Preston's old Guardian ones look like models of clear, decisive reasoning) but what of the others? Which way will Desmond push the Express and the Star? Will the Sun keep backing Labour (or just Tony Blair?)? Can a Piers Morgan-less Mirror back Labour? And what way will the Guardian go? Have your say in the comments and, should anyone be interested, we can come back to it at the next election and see if anyone got it right.

It takes eight questions to make this much on Millionaire

A few weeks ago, I mentioned the World's Shortest Blog which exists to try and get one question asked and answered:
How many times have you been arrested, Mr. President?

Back then, the reward for doing so was around $1000. Now it's up to a possible $8300 thanks to an extra $6000 offered by the Answer Bounty which, with Christmas and the end of the year approaching, must start to make it look like an attractive potential 'bonus' for any journalist.

Britain's top Nazi

No, it's not some new and rather tasteless talent show on ITV, but an appeal by blogger Harry Hutton to googlebomb British National Party.

Update: He's currently number 17 (up 6 places today it seems, as Dave noted him as 23rd). There's an interesting organisation currently at number 5 on the list, though.

Up, up, and away!

As Sir Richard Branson announces a deal to secure the first commercial flights into space through Virgin Galactic, I wonder if the proposed journeys will be similar to Virgin Atlantic or Virgin Trains. BY actually striking a deal to use the SpaceShipOne technology, some may claim it'll be more like the airline, but it's taken several years of using old BR rolling stock before Virgin Trains got around to bringing in their long-promised new Pendolino trains. I wonder if some of his early space passengers may find themselves being strapped into old Titan boosters with an apology for the inconvenience while the new models are tested?

Update: And it probably wasn't a good day for this to happen:
Passengers hoping to travel on the 5.28am between Holyhead, north Wales, and London were delayed by at least 30 minutes following technical problems.

And about 80 passengers were forced off Virgin Trains’ flagship Royal Scot 9.49am Glasgow to London train at Carlisle because of possible “wheel flattening“.

The Holyhead service developed technical problems with the electrical control system that links the carriages with the locomotive.

Annoying when you're 100km from Glasgow, but probably not the sort of thing you want happening 100km above the Earth.

Of dirty bombs and the like

Unfortunately, my video messed up last night and so didn't tape the BBC's Dirty Bomb special, so did any of you lot catch it? Any good and worth trying to get hold of a tape or waiting for a repeat? Or just bad scaremongering when we're all perfectly safe under the protection of the Blessed Tony?

And, most importantly, was narration provided by Brian Cox, the official BBC Voiceover Of Doom?

Sunday, September 26, 2004

Diverse viewing options

The BBC are really going out on a limb with their new drama:
Young now oversees the content of Holby City as well as EastEnders and is also quietly developing a new, big budget regular drama series for BBC1. Created in the style of Holby City, the latest drama off the production line will concern the relationships between a team of lawyers and the plotlines are already being drawn up behind closed doors.

Yep, because there just aren't enough series about lawyers, are there? They're almost as under-represented on TV as doctors and the police.

And now, your moment of Zen

O'REILLY: Puppets can't vote, but these dopey kids who watch you can.

STEWART: They actually can -- in Florida, they can.

O'REILLY: Puppets can vote in Florida.

STEWART: As long as they vote Republican.

O'REILLY: And they haven't committed a felony.

STEWART: And they haven't committed a felony, that's exactly right.

More of the same here. As for the assertion that 87% of The Daily Show's viewers are intoxicated, isn't that the same proportion of all statistics that are made up on the spot?

I've said it before, but I really wish a British channel (preferable one that's available on Freeview) would show The Daily Show. Comedy Central would probably sell the rights for about 50p an edition, so it's not beyond the budget of most of them.

Update: Today's special bonus discovery is that Jon Stewart and the Daily Show team now have a book out: America (The Book): A Citizen's Guide to Democracy Inaction and if you go to the American Amazon site for the book, you can find a rather amusing video sales pitch from Stewart himself.

Gladstone, Chamberlain, the New Liberals and the Orange Book

Richard Grayson, Charles Kennedy's former speechwriter (and now a lecture at Goldsmiths) has an interesting commentary piece in today's Independent (and for once, the Indy hasn't made it subscriber-only). He gives short shrift to those -both within and outside the party - who seem to think The Orange Book is a sign of 'civil war' in the Liberal Democrats:
There is a good case for being relaxed about The Orange Book. Its critics might reflect that parties of government are broad churches. Labour still includes both Tony Blair and Tony Benn. Edward Heath remained in Margaret Thatcher's party. Roy Jenkins, knowing all about the sectarianism of the left, warned against being a "right, tight little party": such parties do not govern. That sage advice is not always heeded by Liberal Democrat activists.

He then goes on to discuss how the Liberal Democrats need to be able to bring the strands of policy into one big idea that will help to explain the party and its aims better to voters:

Crucially, New Liberals did not set an absolute standard about how "big" government should be. Instead, they said that where government existed, it should be as local as possible. Government per se is not wrong, but there is plenty wrong with too much central government. Government can be a place where people come together to promote freedom, if decisions are made more locally.

That distinction is not heard enough from Liberal Democrats. Charles Kennedy has spoken of letting "local communities and the local doctors and local nurses make the decisions". Rather than scrapping government, that means refocusing it to local decision-making. What the Liberal Democrats are seeking to do is reshape government, yet the country doesn't know that. The Liberals did it in 1906; Labour did it in 1945, and the Conservatives did it in 1979. Each party persuaded people that they would revolutionise government. Yet the Liberal Democrats are today often too timid in advocating their new localism.

The thinkers of New Liberalism, and local government radicals such as Joseph Chamberlain, offer a guide for the future. An active government role in tackling poverty through a mixture of state-run redistribution and local initiatives (often voluntary) where possible is an attractive option. Britain's political tragedy is that social liberalism was sidelined as the Liberal Party fell apart. Now that we have three-party politics, the country has a second chance to choose social liberalism. But it can happen only if the Liberal Democrats persuade people that a change of government will mean a real change in the way the country is governed.

I haven't had time to do much more than skim through The Orange Book so far (I want to finish Martin Rees' Our Final Century first) but it seems as though it contains some interesting policy suggestions, in line with what Grayson suggests. Of course, going by media reports, it's amde to sound like David Laws' personal manifesto for privatising the NHS so he can then use banned medical technologies to turn himself into Margaret Thatcher. As far as I can see so far, that's just one chapter of a ten chapter book.

So, in order to try and do my bit to raise awareness of the other nine chapters of the book, as I read it I'm going to do a kind of summary/review of each one as I go along and hopefully provoke some discussion of the issues in the comments section. It's similar to what Chris Bertram did with Libertarianism and Inequality on Crooked Timber last year, though probably not with the same intellectual rigour or author participation. Hopefully, I'll have the first post on Chapter 1 (the Introduction's just a summary of the book, and not really of much interest in itself) up by Wednesday. Given that several of my readers probably picked up copies in Bournemouth last week, they should have had the chance to recover from Conference and start reading by then.