31 March 2009

Don't try to kid me

I was over at Steve Richards getting irate with his patronising and wrote a lengthy comment on expenses once again (sorry, it's news right now) - I didn't want to lose it so here it is:

While I agree that MPs need working expenses and the press are taking this too far, there is a fundamental issue beneath this and that is that MPs are milking the system - it's well known they were told to back in the 80s and 90s rather than announce massive pay rises

British politics is not *that* corrupt, I believe we are 16th out of 180 countries in some ranking system and better than the US, and obviously places like Italy - but that doesn't make it right

There are some good, conscientious MPs, mostly back-benchers, who want to behave with integrity - rather than the career politicians that probably come straight through the party machines - but many are not - there is no defence for Smith - her claiming her actual home as an expense is clearly as bent as a shepherd's crook - the porn is a nice, funny angle but the serious issue is that she has claimed furniture, appliances and fittings for the house we all know is the real home, while being paid umpteen times more than the average person who has to toil for that - in short she has benefited from expenses, and that's just not on - maybe she is a scape goat, but she is one of the three most powerful people in the government and her authoritarian policies are not liked - what do you expect? Surely we can expect some decency from the person with the job of protecting our borders and streets?

The rise of other parties (extremist or not) and independent MPs will be no bad thing - we cannot go on with the two party dictatorship - that is the problem with our MPs, the people do not choose them - so how do we get them to do what WE want?

So Steve, if you want to improve politics encourage people to start looking at who they vote for, not just marking X by the parties they've always voted for - if we actually elected our politicians and didn't make our only option to trust either Labour or the Tories to sort it out then we wouldn't be in this mess

30 March 2009

Generation Next?

With the retirement of 64 MPs at the next general election there will be a few new faces, or rather a few less really old faces with their eyes shut

And so the Independent, in an article that frankly contradicts its respected name, did a feature on a few of the political descendants of current politicians, including another generation of the Benns - you know, the Labour 'man of the people' (who was 2nd Viscount Stansgate)

The author criticises the critics for crying out 'nepotism' - after all, many people follow in their parent's professional footsteps - becoming lawyers, doctors and the like

Only I can see one glaring problem with this rebuttal - to be a lawyer, doctor etc. you need to pass exams - you need to actually have some skill - fine, your well-off parents have given you an advantage - but we all accept that life isn't fair to some degree

But politics does not work the same - there are no exams, only the electorate, who, in the case of Georgia Gould, will happily trudge in to send whoever has the red rosette on this time, probably without looking at who is spewing some politically correct nonsense - if this was the medical profession the equivalent would be being awarded your licence by your daddy

All she has had to do is let her dad, Baron Gould, get her into the party's inner circle and she is parachuted into a safe seat - please tell me how she has earnt that any more than any other 22 year old? (*I do not count 'being able to charm a few people in the inner party' as a worthy skill)

This is as much an abuse of the system as it is nepotism - if she was facing an electorate that weighed up the candidates (ie. real democracy) I wouldn't have such a problem with this, which is why I'm not picking on 18 year old Emily Benn, who is cannon-fodder this time round - but I'm sure won't be for long

I'm all for the young being represented (see archive - Baby-Boomers) and in some ways I'm glad it isn't someone who is a 30-something trained lawyer, but this surely isn't the right way to go about it - the only way a young person gets in is if they have help from the inside, who hold all the cards - not because the people want them - it is, as the article tries to lamely hint at, a further development of the political class - and from the very party that are supposed to represent the 'people....with its three generations of career politicians

Another bloody disgrace of our political system

Laugh or Cry?

This time I am leaning towards 'laugh'....a lot

Oh Jacqui, you are the gift that keeps on giving

Her husband (who is employed as her 40,000 pound a year aide) has been caught claiming for porn from subscription TV (I believe it was Virgin media) on her already much-questioned expenses

Now I personally see this as an oversight - even though I personally would not be stupid enough to 'accidentally' claim for my Internet-Phone-TV service bundle on expenses, I will give them the benefit of the doubt here - the porn itself was a tenner, and frankly its so brilliant I would pay for her husband's use myself

Normally I would be up in arms about a possible expense fiddle - but this is so much better than a fiddle, and I think a lot of people agree with me that this a big kick in the teeth for our authoritarian Home Sec

This is the woman who decided there were too many lap-dancing clubs and wanted to curb their growth because she, personally, felt there were too many out there, more recently she has been attacking 'sexualisation' in music and videos

It really could have only been better had her hubby been frequenting such clubs on the public purse, or maybe had a cannabis factory in the cellar, perhaps claiming the electricity bill

Previously her claims were dubious, a bit dodgy - now they are plain farcical, if not outrageous

She not only gets to claim utilities, council tax and furniture on the property where her husband (sorry, Office manager) and children live permanently, but has also claimed for a sofa bed, oven and even a bath plug

They really do think we're stupid to think we would see this as anything but feathering their own nests...or they foolishly thought they'd never get caught (probably the latter) - it's blatantly obvious that these are not business costs, but that she is financing her own home, conveniently we will never get to see how much she pays her sister in rent (but it should be over the maximum of 24,000 per year for cost-effectiveness)

What really bites at most people is that they have to run their home and furnish it from their own salary, and Smith is doing it on expenses when they get a combined salary of 180,000 a year (minimum) - where is all that going? Why can she not afford the interest on her mortgage on a pretty regular family home in the West Midlands, or her bills accumulated by her average size family?

But I have to agree with Michael Brown (yes, he's a Tory) on this - leave her in office, because she no longer has credibility as the stern, iron-fisted 'Jackboots' that people like me have come to loathe - she is now a joke and far more damaging if left to do her job and spout on about national security while we all roll around laughing, so I no longer want her gone (although I wasn't really interested in a sacking, more an election)

He also points out, she may as well be doing it, as she is the incumbent of one of the smallest Labour majorities and it is likely both her and her husband will be unemployed within a year - Happy day

In the interests of balance let us all mock Conservative boss-man Eric Pickles - I had assumed the main parties had picked their candidates for Question Time carefully and assumed Pickles would be reasonably upstanding, they clearly didn't think about his logistics that reasonably - while they aren't particularly dodgy, claiming you can't travel 37 miles to be at work for 9.30am is a joke to most people out there

27 March 2009

Time to get cocky

It's that time of year again - International Break!

Unfortunately all England get competitively is a home tie against Ukraine after a friendly against Slovakia (who ain't bad) - but the rest of the home nations and most of Europe are playing two real games

Well the Slovakia game should be pretty cut and dry, although they are the top of their group it is somewhat of an average group, and the Czechs are yet to play them - and it's only a friendly so who cares...

As for Ukraine - I'm imagining we'll be entirely focused on that, one single game with the intention of absolute victory - England are one of only three teams with a 100% win record and I expect that to hold up in what is only their second home game - it will surely cement England as at least second place, and the team is mostly fit: game no.5 = win no.5

While we're on Slovakia we might as well look at groupies Northern Ireland, currently second and with a fair chance of qualifying, two home ties against Poland and Slovenia will be crucial indicators of their chances this time round, they may even stand a chance of getting the automatic spot after holding the Czechs at home in this average group (though don't hold your breath, their away form is dire) - I'd go for a draw and a win for their two ties

Wales are next down in group 4 - with the pleasure of Germany and Russia for company, lucky them

Wales are pretty solid, but lack a goal threat - they will need to beat Finland to at least stand a chance, they can't hope for much from the German visit other than a 0-0, but with the two hardest away games done with (and lost) it is at least in their own hands, but I foresee a draw and a defeat, and consequently failure to progress

Then there's Ireland - in a very weak group, with Bulgaria the only real threat to the top two spots - we all know Italy are hardly worthy of their 'world champions' title, but they won't struggle with this group, there's a slim chance Ireland could pip them, but Italy invariably come through - should Ireland beat Bulgaria at home they will be very close to security, the trip to Italy won't mean much, all eyes on Bulgaria methinks - win and a loss

Then last, but not least - Scotland, surely worthy of a play-off place in a group that features Iceland, Norway and Macedonia (talk about mediocre, thank God for the play-off system this time)

The Netherlands are the only big boys and should walk this group, and their 100% record is testament to that. Meanwhile Scotland are not making it easy for themselves, held by Norway at home, losing to Macedonia away (although any England fan can tell you that's no easy game) - the win in Iceland was crucial and the size of this group means each game is more important here. Scotland are going to be flying by the seat of their pants once again I feel, except this time they have to be favourites for second, but it's going to be a hotchpotch group I think, if anything the Scots want the Dutch to win every single game (except against them obviously). I predict a defeat across the North Sea, and a crucial win at home.

All in all it's looking pretty good that we might get more than England into the cup itself, it will probably come down to a case of play-offs but you never know, Ireland and Scotland might draw each other...

In summary:

England v Ukraine
NI v Poland (draw)
NI v Slovenia
Wales v Finland (draw)
Wales v Germany
Ireland v Bulgaria
Italy v Ireland
Netherlands v Scotland
Scotland v Iceland

**Other selected games of interest:

Spain v Turkey, then Turkey v Spain in the space of a week - who drew up that one? These two matches will pretty much decide group 5, unless Belgium cause a shock - you've got to go for the best team in the world for both, or certainly 4 points

Germany v Lichenstein - they beat them 6-0 away, bet on 'other' for this scoreline from a team who regularly thump in goals against minnows

Czech Rep v Slovakia - interesting if you live in Ulster, a Czech win would be preferable

Group 2 is even more mediocre than Group 9

Portugal v Sweden - Portugal's 1 win out of 4 has come courtesy of mighty Malta, anything other than a home win here will really screw them over as Sweden are big threats

Lithuania v France, France v Lithuania - another double header, I'm being highly optimistic about France going out, but this is a crucial pair of games for a seriously pathetic French team. Yes that's right, Serbia, Lithuania, Austria and Romania are giving France serious problems (if you can be anything serious after only 3 games), let's hope France's usual away form provides much amusement - it's a tight group

Australia v Uzbekistan - Over to Asia (?) for this one, Australia should walk it and will be pretty much guaranteed qualification after the frankly bizarre qualification route (two knock out rounds followed by two group rounds, followed by a last-place play-off, then another play-off). Hell, Australia and Japan both pretty much got a bye into the finals. Also, watch out for North Korea - we may well see them or New Zealand actually in the finals.

26 March 2009

Ultimate bias

So the 'blogosphere' has been in overdrive the last day or two with Daniel Hannan's speech and here it is on the BBC

The BBC were of course too biased to show it when it first came to light, as every other media outlet did...

In fact I'm lying - nobody carried it, there was no editorial reason to publish it any more than any other speech, as Andrew Neil pointed out in his blog, its massive viral impact is what has made it newsworthy - and particularly relevant to the Daily Politics, who are currently obsessed with blogs, and rather conveniently had the grand debate between Guido and Derek Draper due today.

It has now gone stateside, thanks to Drudge and consequently Fox picked it up right away (See Guido, I'm not giving Fox a hit) - if you really want to know bias, you should take note of them - not even our most partisan of broadcasters come close to the asshattery of Fox News.

See Hannan's blog here - he also made a good point about how Americans seem to dominate the net readership, I noticed my own traffic shot up after I posted about the AIG bonuses

It's odd for a highly connected, densely populated country like ours to not have much blog presence, considering how far we have embraced internet shopping and business - I've always assumed we get drowned out by the vastly higher number of 'foreign' english speakers in America, but maybe we have just not embraced the political side of the internet yet

In the Interests of Fairness

Don't say I only focus on the mad ravings of the Right - oh no, the Gruniad can in fact piss me off before I even get to the bottom of an article

Take this from Zoe Williams about Chris Moyles and that 'gay' bit he did a few months ago

Now the irony is I actually agree with her sentiments - I don't like banning words, or giving protection to 'communities' who we draw a big line around

What I do have a problem with is her assumptions

"I think he probably is homophobic, in the broadest, most traditional sense of the word: that he esteems his own status more highly than that of gay men, presses them without conscience into his own hamfisted comic structures, makes the world a little bit meaner a place to be gay in."

Why does it always have to be some sort of unconscious prejudice with you peoople? People make jokes, we all get mocked at some time or another - usually it is for being different, say what you will about society from that - but don't accuse someone of sending up Will Young as subconsciously attempting to put gay people down, Moyles even has a gay producer with whom they talk about his relationships (and I'm sure that is somehow further proof of his prejudice..)

Meanwhile she is perfectly happy for Matt Lucas' gay/Welsh character Dafyd - because there isn't a victim involved, Lucas is of course gay himself - so it's ironic, not hurtful, apparently the Welsh are not yet a protected species

This is the same logic that allows only the Jews to mock Jews, and the Blacks to mock Blacks (and yet also Whites, Chris Rock)

Like I say - her analysis of the legal situation is fine, it is completely foolish to legislate hate speech - but her reasoning is all messed up and is typical of the many people who disapprove of 'louts' like Moyles

It is curious that he is often referred to as a 'lout' by the listeners of Radios 2 and 4, who I'm fairly certain have never heard much of him apart from the odd news story where he laughs a bit coarsely or might have said something rude and yet he remains popular with 7 million+ people

While he does drink quite heavily, I don't really see why he's a lout - he was quite impassioned over his latest Comic Relief adventure, and many of his songs are quite witty and appreciated by millions - of course the term 'lout' is subjective and one that is designed to pass judgement from the over-40s, but I've never seen any reason to call him a lout, far as I can tell he is a lout because he's a bit tubby, and gobby (all DJs are gobby, that's their job)

Isn't that fattist?

If you need any further proof of how out of step with reality people like Zoe are, here it is:

"It's certainly true that "gay" as a playground insult has taken off in the past five years, and I blame Moyles again, rather than the more ambiguous Little Britain taunting"

Is it? I left school over five years ago and believe me, 'gay' was a perjorative back in primary school in the early 90s - she clearly blames the one incident where Moyles called a ringtone 'a bit gay' in 2006 as some sort of flashpoint - truth is Moyles probably picked that up from school himself, it's a pretty common term for the under 35s

But no doubt having just heard her own precious snowflakes come back from school and call a certain TV show, or popular product, 'gay' she has placed the blame solely at the feet of current DJ Chris Moyles - I would love to know how she blames Moyles for making me and my classmates, who finished before he was even put on the show (we had Sara Cox, yawn), for making us go around calling everything 'gay'

Hypocrisy: Daily Fail style

Pregnancies are soaring - unacceptable, government's response is to free up abortion advertising - unacceptable

Also proposed were: increased sex education - unacceptable as 'namby-pamby, liberal hand wringing tripe' and complete segregating of the sexes in society - unacceptable as 'Stalinist'

I may be exaggerating somewhat, but the point stands - how can you whinge about a situation, and then whinge about the proposed solution as well? - the Mail are being as difficult as the Catholics on this

I mean what do they actually expect? The government to somehow prevent sexually active young people having sex? If they did it with force they would be condemned (quite rightly) - and anything else will either promote condoms or abortions, or be too soft

Let's face it, at the end of the day teenage sexual activity is down to their own control, their parents influence and more than likely - their socio-economic background

We all know the Mail are out to sell papers and condemn everything - I just don't get how people can buy into the blatant hypocrisy in that headline (let alone the article), I doubt it's even worth mentioning the proposals also extend to condoms, which elicit far less reaction and are conveniently omitted from the headline - "they're promoting sex they are!"

I know it's fruitless to complain, but it just angers me

meanwhile "Phyllis Bowman, of the anti-abortion Right to Life group, complained there are very strict rules preventing organisations like hers running their own campaigns"

Is it just me, or does the name 'Phyllis' conjure up the image of an 83-year old WI member? But let me enlighten you Phyllis: the reason is because your campaigns are based in religious doctrine and are effectively a protest against a law, the same reason you can't go on TV and tell the gay people to stop having sex because it spreads HIV

25 March 2009

Will Inheritance tax blow up in the Tories' face?

Never one to go for the obvious story, while everybody ponders over Brown's stimulus and King's proverbial bitchslap, I have taken a less obvious angle

Namely that this whole Tory inheritance tax thing is rumbling on. Now you may dismiss it as a flash in the pan too minor to keep Labour in the hot seat, but you never know - it's not as if the Tories are in a solid position with their lack of policies and unpopular front men

Now while Harman infuriated me immensely today at PMQs with her only response being that the Tories only want a tax cut for millionaires, it is somewhat of a better angle than 'do nothing Tories' - and the fact that there's obviously a bit of internal strife about it going on could put voters off

Honestly I think Clarke was trying to be wise by saying the cut wasn't a top priority - we weren't in a massive recession when they thought of it and it was quite popular with our inflated house prices at the time - it makes sense to say it wasn't that important any more

Unfortunately I would hazard a guess that the others aren't quite in agreement with good old Ken - whether it's to serve their own wealthy interests or they think their core of well-off middle-class voters quite like the idea, even if we are in recession

But it is a pickle - I don't think the class war aspect is a massive player, as Labour would like to think - but certainly had Ken not stirred the hornet's nest the Tories might have been a bit better off with a few ex-Labour voters

I think the real issue, however, is that the Tories have been made to look disorganised, and image is everything with politics - people don't want to see Osbourne and Clarke having a spat over such a small, unimportant issue

Clarke is probably right to describe it as media hysteria - this shouldn't be a crucial issue and the back down is more likely because the Tories are currently obsessed with keeping very quiet and letting Labour dig their own graves - but that doesn't mean people don't take note - media overreaction or not, people do read the media - that's kind of the point, and if they want to show the Tories as disagreeing, they will

The Tories don't have a cemented position as the inheritors as Blair did, with his hope and promises, back in 97 - they are the default, which means Labour will lose - not that Tories will get votes

This is of course, welcomed by me - the smaller the majority the better, in my opinion - but I have been warning that the Tories could throw away their loosely-held lead with a few little cock-ups and I wonder if this is one such slip-up

It is, of course, good for the LibDems, and democracy

Harriet Harman's disgusting show at PMQs however, was not. Seen here in a lovely pin-striped suitette (courtesy of BBC),
four times she answered a question about employment and fiscal stimuli with Tory inheritance cuts (although Hague put her in her place with her lineage at least). - There wasn't even a good old tractor list - just attacking the people who have been in opposition for 12 years - and then she even had a bloody planted question about the inheritance cut

A question, not about the government, but about the opposition's policy! That is completely against the point of PMQs - it is very typical of Labour to revert to attacking the Tories as they only ever think tribally, but that frankly shocked and disgusted me

I guess I should mention Daniel Hannan's video - currently doing the viral rounds as the mainstream media can't pick it up, but it is truly brilliant and I can't see any Brit disagreeing with it

Baby-Boomer Oppression

And so I was perusing the Daily Mail, as you do, looking for something a little offbeat, as all the major news stories revolve around economic blather (sorry, but why should I write on it when there are many more informed than I) or Jade Goody, and the rest of the Mail is taken up with 'shocking' pics of Girls Aloud, celebs on the beach and Jonathan Ross - so I headed over to the blogs section

And low and behold, Peter Hitchens is no longer a Tory

Yep he's an uber-uber-Tory, or a Conservative with a very big 'C'

Cameron isn't good enough for him and you may as well vote for Labour as the Majorite Cameronites, because they are all the same "liberal elite"

OK then, far be it for me to question the man from the right over this - I'm not in the mood

Instead what I picked up on was his description of the Tory front bench as "teenage"

Osbourne is known to be a little young, and it's definitely good satire to mock his baby-face, but is the Tory front bench really that young? It's been a long time since Hague was a teenager, Peter; he's bald now, and has already failed as leader in his own right, and drinks 14 pints in a session - surely he's a man now?

But you know what this needs backing up with? Mind-numbing statistics!

Not for you of course, but for me, as I check wikipedia to ascertain some ages

Now let's start by checking the Tory front bench - Osbourne is very young, at 37, practically in nappies. Baronness Warsi is next youngest, and those two alone make up the entire representation from those born in the 70s

So here's some averages:

Average age of the Tory front bench:
Average year of birth: 1958 (obviously)

Average age of Labour Cabinet: 49.95
Average year: 1958

Average age of an MP
: 50.6

yep they are as good as equal - I left the Labour figure unrounded to show that they are ever so slightly younger on average (the Tories were exact) - with a whole three members below 40 (all 39...)

So where exactly is this allegation of teenage front benchers coming from? Don't blame the over-retirement-age Ken Clarke - his omision takes off less than a year

In fact there's virtually nothing between the two, maybe Peter just doesn't like the under 45s, and merely looks at the youthful Cameron as an indicator of too many 'kids' on the front bench

I think Peter is getting at the fact that few of them have any governing experience - well unfortunately that's not going to happen after 12 years away from power and the fact that we never have senior politicians far below the age of 40, most of the governing Tories were old by 1997 and many have since retired - not to mention the fact that in 97 we were hardly likely to see members of the 1979 cabinet return - Blair, Brown, even Straw and Prescott were new to leading the country when they came in

So I don't quite know what he's getting at - he wants a bunch of pensioners like Lamont, Hurd and Heseltine back to lead them?

Utter drivel, the only place you will now find 'experience' is in the current government - and look where that is getting us

It just strikes me as a particularly low blow, leading the reader to assume the Tory frontbench is in some way young (yes I am aware it's a right-wing hate rag) - and why am I suddenly defending the Tories from it's own paper?

This does of course lead me to the debate over age - what exactly is wrong with having a young leader? - we're talking 30s here, let alone 20s - we currently have one MP born in the 80s, despite the fact that you only have to have been born before 1991 to be eligible vote, or be elected

So that's one MP to represent pretty much everyone below the age of 30, now I'm not saying we should expect a huge amount of younger people - experience does have some merit, but how do you expect young people to be engaged if they see no one from their own generation in the house?

One glaringly obvious example is tuition fees, not even Jo Swinson (our 29 year old baby of the house) has had to pay them, not that she would as a Scot, however most people under 24 or 25 would have paid them - nobody in the house that passed that bloody law back in 2004 experienced them - and yet they get to punish the young...thanks a lot (and considering an MP's wage can easily cover them I don't swallow the argument about them paying for their kids)

In fact most of our dear representatives would have benefitted from their free education between the sixties and the millenium, but they chose to financially cripple the next generation...so nice of them

I hark back to the American Revolution for what I think of that: 'No taxation without representation'

One can of course argue that as the young have a vote they are represented, once again showing how our electoral system has let people down

Politicians want ethnic minorities and women to be represented, somehow arriving at the logic that someone with differently coloured skin affects their views more than their age

Young people have their own experiences of life, and currently MPs are too far disconnected from them - they are typically out of touch with technology, haven't gone through the current education system, or many of the other things that affect young people, let's face it - different periods breed different attitudes and the way the system works it only gives the voice to people who grew up in the 70s, and 80s at best - meaning that politics is generally decades behind modern trends

It needs to change

24 March 2009

Bill of Rights II

It just won't go away - this whole idea of giving Britain a simple document a la American Bill of Rights instead of the multitude of parliamentary statutes and international human rights law that we currently enjoy

This is borne out of the general public disdain for the 1998 Human Rights Act, and partly from Labour's ideas for constitutional reform

Unfortunately Labour's constitutional reforms have been consistently half-hearted, and half-baked - they never bothered reforming the House of Commons as promised, because the flawed electoral system benefited them the most, their House of Lords reforms were a slight prod at the unelected chamber of hereditary peers - another baby step towards their demise, and devolution left the system even more unfair than it was before, (and don't forget cash-for-honours)

So forgive me for being a little sceptical - these are after all the people who introduced the blooming Human Rights Act in the first place, not that I'm taking issue with that here - but it is unpopular and I dislike passing massive constitutional change if it's not asked for by the majority

and that brings me to my main beef I guess - Labour have never held an absolute majority of voters, no party has - and to write a document that underpins a country's constitution based on the views of a minority is not a good idea - it needs at least a level of consensus from the politicians, letting Labour simply write it is not a wise move, and deeply unfair to the majority of people in this country (all the more so, when you consider Labour's polling stats)

Now what is wrong with letting them write "freedom of speech" and "freedom of assembly" etc? you may ask

Well, nothing - I could quite happily agree with that, if it was a very broad, simple document like the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) - only it isn't

Have you actually read this thing? Straw wants to make it a bill of 'rights and responsibilities' - right...

From the Gruniad:
By emphasising responsibilities, the green paper suggest it might be possible "to end a me society as opposed to a we society in which an unbridled focus on our own individual rights and liberties risks overtaking our collective security and well being". It suggests that responsibilities are entrenched in the British law, but not clearly expressed leading "to a selfish and aggressive assertion of rights in a way which may damage others enjoyment of their own rights".

What? So you want a statement of fundamental rights to attempt to influence people's behaviour? A child could see the ridiculous flaws in this - a right to free healthcare, the responsibility for parents to help a child's education.. etc etc

Now we may all agree on the free healthcare bit - but that's already broaching into dangerous areas of politics - something that's only come up in the past century and could cause all sorts of problems down the line, but "obey the law", "pay taxes" and 'not claiming benefits if you can work' (paraphrase) are all ludicrous - these aren't rights, they are expectations of behaviour - yet more nannying and telling us what to do - a Bill of Rights protects you with rights (the clue is in the name!)

Straw himself reckons there is a broad agreement in the country on 'progressive' (i.e. centre-left) politics - it is incredibly selfish to try and foist an ideology on the whole nation

Jack Straw has pretty much been the only person in Brown's government that I have ever had respect for - he is the only senior politician with any sort of 'constitutional conscience', if you will

and yet he does this - in effect the creation of a written constitution that solidifies left-wing principles into British law - not a simple statute (I presume, although the HRA is, so why not..?)

This is utterly daft - a Bill of Rights should contain the most fundamental of rights in it - no slavery, torture, detention without trial - freedom of speech, privacy, press etc etc - these protect us, this current proposal is just a rehash with a load of partisan politics thrown in

In fact it doesn't even include such things as right to a fair trial or habeus corpus - something which is no doubt down to Jackboots' little rebellion over it last year

That is of course the ultimate irony about this affair - Smith, and her predecessors (like John Reid) have never had much time for human rights and this government have done their level best to remove most of them - do I need to mention where they have broken the most fundamental of rights? Freedom of speech - a host of measures against hate speech, this rather handily worded article points out the most recent case

Then there's attempts to increase detention without trial in the name of terrorism, the invasion of privacy (CCTV and ID cards, not to mention increased powers for councils to enter your home), freedom of protest (with permission), being complicit in torture - need I go on?

So at least Jacqui Smith is consistent, she doesn't want to be held down by human rights, and yet is one of the head honchos of a party trying to give us a new version of a Bill of Rights - I mentioned I was sceptical at the start, I'm actually downright terrified now

Why can't we do that?

In the land where capitalism is king, you would think the big bosses swanning off with taxpayers' cash would be nigh impossible to stop - the American mantra of personal gain certainly seems to respect contractual obligations over moral ones

And yet, the Americans have pretty much succeeded in reining back their version of the fat cat bonuses - and mostly through voluntary actions as well

Wait a minute...what? Why didn't they just slither off the hook like their British counterparts?

Do the Americans have inherently better moral standards? Somehow I doubt the executives who preside over the stereotypically ruthless American business practice are saints

No, instead it probably has more to do with the reverse, in fact - the American obsession with wealth creation and disdain for the welfare state (or as they call it 'socialism'), or in fact any spending of their 'tax dollars' that isn't for killing dark-skinned people, has meant that their bail-out is particularly disliked - something that works against the fundamental free-market heart of every American, (for a British comparison, imagine when someone barges the queue at the post office)

These fat cats probably feared for their lives, and if TV is anything to go by they probably had a visit from people in unmarked suits and sunglasses carrying thumbscrews as well

They choose the appeasement option, even though they didn't really have to, unlike the British who seem to have no worries about buggering off with taxpayer money that prevented them going bankrupt - maybe it's a class thing, since when have the upper classes ever acted in anyone but their own interests? They are after all, well within the law, except for Harriet's 'special' court

I digress, I'm starting to sound like a rabid communist - I'm just surprised that the British rags haven't really hammered it home that the Americans are succeeding where we failed, after all, Sir Fred Goodwin is still on the loose

Of course were I a rational person I would note that the British press have a fixation on a select few and the Americans are nowhere near as biting when it comes to vilifying people, there will probably be people at AIG who don't return their bonuses, but the American press will be placated by what has been recouped - the truth is the British tabloid press are never happy

But that wouldn't be any fun would it?

23 March 2009

Jade will not have televised funeral

Thank the lords

I promise to never mention bloody Jade Goody ever again, I just thought this was worthy, I had half-expected her to get a state funeral

Skill vs Luck

Do you play Fantasy Football? - I do, and I love it

Think me sad all you will, but this year I have a little problem - they have introduced a head-to-head league format, run in conjunction with the normal league format (ie. where your players get points and whoever has more wins)

You are put in a league with 19 other teams and play one per gameweek - whoever 'scores' the most wins the match - sounds great doesn't it?

Well yes, but I have come to realise that it's little more than randomisation

Take my league - I am 7th, 10 points off the top (so I'm Arsenal...yay) - but I have the highest amount of points, ie. goals - well what's wrong with that you may ask? GD doesn't really matter in a league

But it does in this league - remember you are drawn against a team at random each week and whoever scores more wins, so even if you score really highly - you may lose to someone who isn't doing so well but does well one week

Obviously scoring the most pretty much guarantees you will be top ten or so - but winner - no, that is decided by who you play and when - you probably think this is sour grapes on my part, but think about it - you have no control over how much you concede

I have conceded 1385 points - this is in fact the second highest amount conceded (the guy with highest is in 12th with 1461) and guess who has conceded least? - yup, number 1 with 1176

A solid defence is a worthy attribute in football you may say - but that's just it - you have no say in how much your opponent scores - I have conceded the most through no fault of my own, simply when I have played each team has determined what I had to beat

This gives me a moral victory! But regardless it shows that this whole idea is flawed - you have to build a fantasy team to last over a whole season, that's the point of it - the head-to-head system is anathema to this - it requires you to change tactics each week, which you can't do because you only get one transfer per week (without penalties) - some weeks you have to suffer for the long-term glory

You cannot have both in the same system because they work differently - placing your virtually unchangeable squad against a different team each week is essentially creating a random result - obviously if you're useless then you won't do well, but if you do well you aren't guaranteed success

Take my current traditional league - me and the leader are within 5 points of each other - I am second, and have been for a while, but I have clawed back from a bigger deficit - meaning I have 'won' regularly for the past few weeks - looking at weekly results I've won 20, he has won 10 (indicating I'm consistent, and he's erratic) - but he has that five point lead - and that is right, because this game is all about the points - you can't simply translate those points into goals in a 'match'

The head-to-head league is basically whichever of the good teams gets the most favourable draws across the season - it's daft

Liverpool finally worthy of their position

That'd be second then...

No, being serious now, I mean the fact that they have finally clambered up the ladder to separate themselves from Chelsea and have a higher goal difference (even than United)

Goal difference has always intrigued me for it psychological value - despite the fact it's usually only useful at the bottom of the table, but when Liverpool were sat just a few weeks ago with an inferior goal diff to the mighty United, all hope was lost, but now they have made up about 10 it has given the Reds a massive boost

It's that potential, that IF United can just draw two games - Liverpool would have the upper hand by virtue of their goal difference - when you are facing an enemy higher up and with a better GD it seems like an insurmountable lead, but when you have more goals - they are reachable simply because you can be ahead if you draw level

That reminds me, I am not in agreement with McNulty, no not that McNulty - this one

Poor Phil, is as always leaping to conclusions - he may well be right, but unfortunately he is always bound to be right because he changes his mind every two weeks - unlike Hansen and Shearer who are rather comically pinned to predictions of Chelsea for the league, and Lawro who rather strangely said Stoke would be rock bottom (and yet he remains employed - is he just there so we can laugh at him?)

Yes Liverpool are now contenders - they need United to drop 4 points off 9 games, and there are definitely games where that'll happen, but Liverpool must keep up their form against teams who won't come at them, which is their major weakness

For some reason when United were on their latest winning streak nobody could foresee their downfall - any idiot could tell you that United weren't good enough to broach 90 points across a whole season - they were better last year and couldn't do it, they had to slip up somewhere and what I refer to as the 'holy trinity' of games (Liverpool, Fulham away, and Villa) was the perfect time to do it. Two of the best away sides and one of the most solid home sides against a team due a defeat, it was almost scripted (and this is why I put a tenner on Fulham to win at 7/1)

You may think I was being overly statistical, but football almost always sticks to form - United were due, and teams that are due almost always get their reward, it doesn't matter if United should beat Fulham - injuries, on-pitch incidents and referee errors always balance the universe out in the end - just because United had gone on a massive run doesn't mean they're particularly superior to Liverpool or Chelsea, Liverpool were dominating from August to the new year, it stands to reason that United would drop back after their run as well - take a look at the fixtures and you'll see they've been pretty favourable since january (makes sense if you believe Fergie's whinge at the difficult fixture list early in the season) - then they hit the big boys (yes Fulham are big boys...stop laughing)

This doesn't mean anyone is certain to win - United remain 4/11 favourites, while Liverpool have come back to 3/1 to win the title (they were 16/1 barely a week ago - even I didn't have the balls for that) - but it is a close fight, closer than people realise I think

United have the joy of welcoming Arsenal and Villa, as well as the likes of solid Everton - giving them a harder line-up than Liverpool, who have already drawn with Everton enough times this season - they will have to prove themselves against the likes of West Ham and Blackburn - and for them that is probably the biggest test - no more nil-nils, boys

Oh and as for McNulty's comment about Arsenal, who after a few easy games against Blackburn, Sunderland and Newcastle are now cemented in 4th with a three point lead - 'pillock' is all I can say

Villa are fatigued, he's right about that - they need some depth, but so do Arsenal! that's why they are down there and that's why I said they'd struggle this year, they win a few games while Villa play the two best teams in the country and he thinks 3 points is daylight...

Arsenal have still to play all of the big 3 and don't look like beating any of them (only Chelsea are travelling) - Villa may be tired but Arsenal are not walking this one home and those two are going to scrap it out til the end

oh and finally: shut up, Ferguson

St. Jade

As the news broke that the Prime Minister 'led' the tributes to St. Jade Goody I nearly wretched

A heartfelt gesture...to someone whose name he didn't even know a month ago, and I still doubt whether he knows why she is famous, or cares to

And you know what, Gordon? I would've actually finally found somewhere to respect you had you callously ignored the media furore around a woman was considered 'the stupidest woman in Britain' when she went on Big Brother in that fateful year of 2002

Your obvious politicking was made all the more shameful by your failure to get her bloody name right...at least if you had we could've believed you actually watched the news - and in my book switching off at that point would've gotten you respect, so well done for failing on both intellectual and populist fronts there, matey

People may call me callous and unsympathetic for my views, and I have begun to wonder if I am more naturally cold-hearted than many, but I am not passing judgement on the girl - which is exactly what all those tabloids have been doing for years. I don't care what she did with her life, but likewise why should I feel sympathy for someone I've never met and has never achieved anything of worth? I'm afraid we cannot feel pain for everyone's tragedies, if we did we'd be emotionally crippled - and why it should be any different for someone foisted on us by the media beats me

As I referred to, those tabloids currently leading the story of 'brave' Jade, were the original ones who poured vitriol right from the start; calling her a hippo, a baboon and most memorable of all, a pig

Then of course it got worse - she went from all round entertaining buffoon, to figure of hate over the Shilpa Shetty incident, and her 'career' was in tatters...but then she got cancer

As I said, I don't judge her - as a lot of people accuse the critics of doing, saying it's a class thing and they never did this to Diana - I'm not, and a lot of sensible people out there aren't either. If I was her I probably would've got as much money as I could out of it too, the fundamental issue is why is this woman considered worthy of our attention (I appreciate the irony of writing a lengthy post about it) and why is it considered acceptable for the people running the country to comment on it? To me it seems disrespectful for the leader of a nation to single out one person when they have no real claim to fame

But I suppose my real beef is with the tabloids - they are the architects, the ones who made her into a figure of ridicule and hate, and then of sympathy - all to sell their papers, and if people really respected her then they wouldn't buy the rags that originally demonised her

Goodbye Jade, you will always live on in our hearts as the symbol of Britain's celebrity-obsessed culture

Doesn't the news stop on weekends?

Honestly, I spend my weekend away from the computer screen and I come back to chaos, doesn't anybody else relax at home these days?

Oh yeah, Tony McNulty is! A little bit too much by the look of it - the 'employment minister' (clearly doing a great job) has been claiming for a second home, when he lives three miles from parliament...right

Compared to this rather brazen act, Jacqui Smith looks like an angel - she was merely playing the system, McNulty has simply been taking public money to finance his parents' home (he moved out seven years ago - you would think that was enough time to redirect the post) - now don't think I condone what Smith did, but at least she was living in her sister's house in London, McNulty has simply been claiming cash on a house he makes almost no pretense to live in and has no reason to finance

My initial reaction to this wasn't anger - it was despair, my head actually dropped as it became patently obvious that a lot of these MPs (especially the ministers) clearly have no regard for public money - if that was me I'd be constantly concerned if I rented a place in London, but these guys like to claim the full amount and gain an asset in the process - all on a salary three times the national average (at least)

I'm not going to condemn every MP - because there are a few, almost solely backbenchers, who claim nothing, kudos to "Tories Adam Afriyie and Robert Wilson and Labour's Martin Salter" as the Mail reported - the only greater London MPs to neither claim the second-home allowance nor the London allowance (which provides more salary due to London's massively inflated costs)

The allowances are there for a reason, so I don't mind the rest claiming them - most of the time I'm sure they are within the rules and justified but there seems to be a pretty recurrent theme appearing here - take as much as you can for personal gain - this is wrong.

You also do have to question the others who I mentioned are justified, if some MPs can do it on salary alone, why can't the rest? It's a very good salary that most of us would be lucky to try and live off - needing to finance a place in London is fair game, most employers would provide you with travel expenses (such as hotels), but these MPs in London don't seem to be being very considerate of the public.

I actually think there is some merit in McNulty's point about extending the range of constituencies where the allowance isn't available - I think he is a little excessive (60 miles extends to Cambridge, Henley and Bexhill) I would suggest those on the Underground network, rather than make those outside London suffer National Rail every day. But pointing out a flawed system when you have been the serious exploiter of it does not get you off the hook, Tony - just because it is there does not mean you use it! This is why MPs should not have the final say on their salary packages, and this is in fact one area where I appreciate the tabloid warmongering - even if it is over the top and they won't shut up until they aren't paid a penny

This whole situation is maddening and needs to be addressed by an independent body - and it's also linked to my whole rant the other day about our deeply flawed political system and why we should attempt to correct it

21 March 2009

Reality is biased

Something that really narks me about blogging is that frequently the BBC receive criticism for being biased, particularly towards Labour - this is something that gets on my tits a bit, as a person who reads pretty much every paper from the Mail to the Mirror, I feel I'm pretty good at spotting bias, whether it's in a right wing rag like the Mail or an upstanding broadsheet like The Times or The Independent

In pretty much every media outlet you notice a primary vein of opinion that runs through it, obviously the whole point of the newspapers is to provide information the owners want to provide, and the same goes for TV channels (like Sky, and even Channel 4) - the BBC, I have always felt, does not do this

Now while I can see certain examples of bias - Andrew Marr particularly annoys me; he's a well known leftie and has been very soft on Brown on occasion, although to his credit more recently he's been a bit better, possibly egged on by his bosses - and I've always wondered if his shifting from chief Political correspondent to Sunday morning political chit-chat host was a result of his sympathetic views

However this does not represent the whole BBC - it is an organisation that is supposed to reflect every aspect of British society and is a massive employer, I expect the odd show to involve a bit of lean to the right or left

The Andrew Marr bit is fair enough, but then his successor Nick Robinson is frequently accused of being a Labour tool - now while I admit he is a bit too tame these days, he has been the one who harassed Labour non-stop over the past decade - he openly criticised Labour's 2005 manifesto, argued with John Prescott and most recently asked Brown for an apology when he was in the presence of Obama - no Labour lackey would dare do such a thing

As Robinson himself has said, especially at the BBC, he has to report on the government (whoever that is) and can't lend weight to the critics as a newspaper can - he has to stick to the facts, he's a reporter - and considering I despise the current Labour government I don't regard his stories as biased towards them. He reports what has been said and allows the reader/viewer to draw conclusions - unfortunately this means that those on the right (who are the opposition these days) don't get the analysis they want - that's not bias, it's unbias, and it just annoys me that people who don't get their own partisan views endorsed regard anything that doesn't agree with them as biased

Then there's the case of the often-overlooked Mark Easton, who is the Home Affairs editor - one of the major reporters at the BBC, who seems to spend his life questioning Jacqui Smith and her dodgy crime stats, and criticising the government over drug policy - if anyone says he's a Labour stooge they are, quite frankly, insane - he does have a generally liberal view (which is in no way a Labour ideology), but if using reason and logic is bias then so be it

Or how about Andrew Neil on the Daily Politics? Who refers to Brown as the 'Dear Leader' - surely that alone proves this former Times editor, Sky chairman and mate of Rupert Murdoch, has disdain for Brown and his government, just watch one of his shows and you'll be hard pressed to accuse him of any sort of bias towards the Labour party

I was going to provide a list of researched examples but alas time is currently short so I'll hopefully be doing features on where the BBC is accused of bias, and how it plainly isn't - take this example of a Tory blog that claims the BBC is biased on the 'knife crime stats row' - even if they were (despite their coverage of a 'row' rather than just printing government information) one look at how a senior editor has devoted a lot of time to questioning those very stats right from the outset should at least provide some evidence to the contrary

As far as I'm concerned the BBC covers a massive area of news, and does a good job of being impartial, in some ways it demonstrates a lean to political correctness and multiculturalism, but I'm afraid that is something that I feel is a cultural aspect in Britain, and not some conscious attempt to prop up Labour

But anyway, I shall seek to question as many allegations as I can...

and all for free?? you'd think I could get a bloody job off them wouldn't you...

19 March 2009

Politics Without Parties?

I recently stumbled across (ok, found on the BBC, like the mainstream sheep I am) a new project called Jury Team that is aiming to bring independents into politics and break the shackles of our 2 party dictatorship

Now this is something I have long bemoaned - how politics has become dominated by the select few within the party machines, how individual MPs are nothing but numbers to follow the party line, how the first past the post (FPTP) system stifles any kind of change etc etc.... you have heard it all before...

How parliament is meant to work is that each individual constituency sends one representative to champion the concerns of (usually) his people - of course the idea of this person being elected by the people is pretty new in historical terms - previously it would have been the biggest landowner who either represented the borough or county, or his puppet

Now while this may, quite rightly, be seen as an antiquated and unfair system - it was at least realistic - think about it, if the majority of people are simple peasants, who probably cant read or write, then it stands to reason that the person with the most influence over them and the land should represent them

Sticking to this train of thought, the original way parliament operated was to debate between the various representatives - who, if they agreed on core issues of the time, would band together to form parties, but were free to vote how they wished, they could support the government or let it fall

This naturally led to a situation where real debate was fostered - MPs voted with their conscience, of course in reality they were acting in their (or their rich backer's) best interests - not for some namby-pamby concept of "the people", but anyway this is the principle

I am not saying we should return to the pre-nineteenth century system, far from it - but when you look at parliament it makes far more sense to view it from that perspective - whilst it does not fit with our modern ideas of equality and democracy, the basic concept of our parliament is still that - one constituency represented by one man

And now to return to my original point...despite turning Britain into a democracy and giving everyone an equal vote, this archaic debating chamber was left virtually unaltered - only now the representatives were chosen based on who got the most votes, they were the choice of the people

Sounds fair, right? Well, not entirely, as you see when the franchise was extended in 1867 to give the vote to every Tom, Dick and Harry, something happened - those loose parties realised that they could no longer simply buy the seats, or bribe the handful of voters, they now had thousands of people to make vote for them, and thus with new advances in communication technology the concept of the modern national party was truly born - parties, not the MPs, now had to represent a people

This meant that people across the land became accustomed to voting for their party, who the candidate was rarely mattered, just the colour of the rosette - and if the MP dared to do what he wanted he would incur the wrath of the party whip, who could remove him from the party and force the MP to rely on his charisma, or contacts, alone. In the first half of the twentieth century crossing the floor was still regularly practised (just look at Churchill) but particularly in recent decades, with the rise of better technologies, parties have had a stronger and stronger grip on us to the point where one of those thoughtful people who had their own ideas became a rarity in the Commons, the majority in the respective constituents were well trained to only look at the parties, and damn anyone else

And thus ends the incredibly brief, and patchy, history of British political development - but regardless of my simplistic analysis of about 400 years of our history, we are left in a situation where only the two main parties get to have a say about the country works

"Well what is so bad about that?" you may ask rhetorically - two parties, different viewpoints

Of course, but remember where the power lies - in the party HQs, millions of people are effectively governed by one of two small groups who have been alternating for the best part of a century - can you get into politics? Only if you work your way through one of these two groups, you stand no chance of getting elected if you simply stand as yourself, even against a political rookie whose been dropped into a safe seat - this nobody will win

And even if you do work your way through one of these parties, you probably become a backbencher - no more doing what your constituents wish, only what your party wishes - they may well have voted for that party, but remember that with the FPTP system all you need is the most votes - it can be as low as 20-something per cent, that is just one extra number for a party, based not even on a majority, who are often left unrepresented

So this is why Jury Team want there to be some independents - people who are free of party shackles, to criticise the government on an individual basis and to make decisions based not on pre-conceived ideologies but on their own conscience, why should there only be two (ok three, Lib-Dems) voices in the commons when you could probably find 20 different ones on any given high street?

Sounds pretty idealistic - but like I say, that was how parliament once worked, and while we have addressed the issue of voting rights, we have never addressed how the main debating chamber can best serve the people

Of course the problem here is Jury Team stand little chance of getting even one candidate into the real parliament - they would need to convince twenty or thirty thousand people in one very small area to vote for them, theoretically they could get a million votes nationally - but not a single seat

So they are planning to utilise the European parliament - which uses the proportional representation system (PR) - whereby the percentage of the vote dictates how many people a party send, this has resulted in us sending UKIP and Green members to Europe, but never to parliament

Where they plan to go from there is anyone's guess - MEPs are, I'm sorry to say, political nobodies - the Westminster parliament is sovereign and isn't going to be altered from Brussels or Strasbourg anytime soon

What it will provide is some extra funding and awareness - but I remain skeptical, no other small parties have succeeded in breaching Westminster (with the exception of the odd defected party MP, which is simply more proof of party hegemony)

But one must not give up hope - how else do we do it? Britain has yet to experience a violent revolution and I really don't advocate one...unless Brown refuses us an election

We must find a way to get thought back into politics, there is a possible chance right now - with Labour and the Tories unappealling to much of the population it may be possible to appeal to the Labour areas in particular - places where the BNP are doing well due to the lack of support for the major parties, where there is little hope and change is welcome

All I know is that few people in the commons appeal to me, and when they do it's a bloody miracle - despite the fact that I can often find decent opinion in the media, and the undemocratic House of Lords, odd huh

It's time for a change and I support anything that aims to improve this situation (peacefully)

"ooo, a blog! how 2008"

So, I did it, I finally made a blog...yay me

Fed up of posting comments on a multitude of blogs and forums under the usual guise of Tarquin, I decided to collate my rants into one easily-ignorable blog

This is of course the benefit of being unemployed - at least in this recession we all have something to do with our free time (until we can no longer pay the broadband bill, that is)

Whilst I have an obscure, oft-used personal blog already out there (mostly a combination of football and rants about various political issues) I have always avoided writing a proper blog, mainly because I expect no one to read it, but frankly right now seems the perfect time - and I have spent too long reading the various "real" blogs out there (like Guido, Dizzy, even John Prescott, as well as BBC and newspaper blogs) to not want to bleat on too

I have always been cynical of the "blogosphere" and its impact on politics as basically an extension of the so-called Westminster village - the internet may provide us with a new tool for the disemination of data but few real people out there (the ones whose votes carry the real power) engage with discussion, never have, and I wonder if they ever will - they are more likely to vote for Daz on the X factor than some bloke in a suit every five years, and I cannot really blame them

But that should not stop me, or anyone else, from doing something, for as Burke said - "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing"

Or did he?