Monday, 27 April 2009

Swine Flu Fears In Scotland

Just out of sight in fact just a few miles over the next ridge from here lies Airdrie. In an isolation ward at Monklands hospital two Scots recently returned from Mexico who took ill on their return are under observation for the possibility of swine flu. Friends and family of the couple are also under observation and will be isolated if they show any flu like symptoms. There is a similar case of man in Stanwick, Northamptonshire who is also currently in isolation.

Medical experts are saying that it could be several months before an effective vaccine is available for this strain of flu. But the rapid spread of this flu which the World Heath Organisation says has 'pandemic possibility' shows one major difference from the 1918 Spanish Flu outbreak. In 2009 we are a much more global society, we travel far more widely in far greater numbers. The fact that it may already have travelled from Mexico, to the USA and to the UK is evidence of the speed with which such things can these days migrate.

Both the Scottish Cabinet and Westminster have had emergency meetings to discuss the situation. Scottish Health Minister Nicola Sturgeon saying:

"The Scottish Government, in conjunction with other administrations in the UK, is closely monitoring the situation and assessing the implications, if any, of this situation for Scotland."

A spokesperson for Westminster added:

"Cobra has met today. It involved people from different departments who are involved in planning for flu outbreaks, including people from devolved administrations.

"There will be an ongoing discussions and meetings while the threat of flu is there. The situation is also being monitored closely and assessed by the international organisations dealing with the prevention and control of infectious diseases."

The underlying message is that at present 3 isolated cases is not a cause for panic. However, the situation is under review and as ever when such things hit the headlines any worrying symptoms or even just normal flu-like symptoms should be taken a little more seriously than is normally the case.

Saturday, 25 April 2009

Time to 'straighten' out the erroneous teaching

I see that Joseph Nicolosi visit to London to speak to an Anglican group today to talk about curing homosexuality has already sparked response from Costigan Quist and Andrew Reeves. With someone revising for exams this week I've been getting the odd rant about somethings that are written in the core psychology texts for all students in the UK. I was waiting for him to get the citations for me as the books are loaned from a friend but I feel you need to see them now.

'psychotherary also deals with socially sensitive issues such as curing conditions
such as homosexuality'


'[aversion therapy's] potential to treat other conditions such as homosexuality'

First of all I applaud the British Medical Association, the Department of Health and British Psychological Society who are constantly reminding the misinformed that homosexuality is not an illness. As such it is not something that can be cured, though there are people who may need help in dealing with it in whatever way they chose that is not the same as a cure to homosexuality.

However, what we do need to do is rid the textbooks of our future mental health professions on cures or treatments for the 'condition' of homosexuality.

Friday, 24 April 2009

If You're Gonna Do It, Do it Right, Right

Gordon Brown is trying to rush through his plans for MP expenses reform so quickly that he intends to put it to a vote next Thursday. However, he has already lost the backing of the Conservatives and Lib Dems, not because they are wanting to protect the status quo but because they want the House of Commons and its Members to be accountable to the people who put them there.

The chair of the committee on standards in public life Sir Christopher Kelly has added his thoughts:

"There must be reform and it must be done properly. This is not something that should be left to politicians to sort out for themselves. If public confidence is to be restored, there needs to be an independent inquiry by people with no political agenda of their own."

He's right. The public aren't necessarily upset that MPs are given expenses to do their jobs. After all most of us who work in offices have a budget for the stationary we use which we have to process through the stationary ordering manager. Some of us are able to claim a reasonable travel allowance for performing our work related business (MPs have two places of work their constituency and Westminster after all). Most of us also if working away from home have some subsidence allowance, or if doing it on a long term basis get some help in finding suitable accommodation from our employer.

None of the above would possibly be begrudged a Member of Parliament. It is in the minutiae of the expense claims that MPs have made that lies the problems. Brown's scheme to give them an allowance for turning up at the office is laughable.

I'm currently writing this on my daily 20 mile commute into work, like a lot of people that does not entitle me to a nice flat in Edinburgh. This week has been a prime example of me not knowing the hours I will be working. Indeed on Wednesday out of necessity to have an urgent conference call the only time this could be had was scheduled to take my working day beyond 10 hours from start to finish. While I could have used my weekly ticket for a long meandering bus home I was too shattered but took the train. I didn't ask my boss to put me up at the Edinburgh Park Novotel.

So yes there needs to be a look at who claims a second homes allowance. But for those of our distant MPs they need to have somewhere permanent to lay their heads at the end of their working days.

But to restore public confidence Gordon you don't hide away everything that is being done by giving out a flat rate. Currently we have an idea of where that spending is divided. So we can challenge our representatives on just what they are spending on. In the Scottish Parliament the receipts for the expenses are made public. Just as I have to make a detailed claim for expenses to my employers the people are the employers of our MPs. We want, need and should know how our public money is being funded.

If you are going to do it Gordon, do it right, properly and transparently. Don't attempt to sweep it under the carpet is a swift move of damage limitation.

Stark Waving Starkey

I may come from a feeble nation and live in another according to David Starkey on BBC Question Time. But surely as an historian he should know that us Celts won't take such abush lying down.

Even if he thinks that the police action at the G20 protest was "shocking, disgraceful and totally un-English" it is no excuse for his own shocking, disgraceful and totally little Englander attitude. He came unto QT and tried to dominate. Maybe as he is so fund of Tudor governance he thought that he was holding court. But the king (played by David Dimbleby) from his throne chair at one point quite early on told his "David just shut up for a minute" but he didn't and later on in the show Conservative MP Philip Hammond added "Thanks David it was my go".

However, one thing that the Twitscoop cloud (on the right) shows is that a great many more people were watching QT and twitting that were using the #bbcqt tag. Both on on this snapshop taken at the end of the show. Starkey is the largest font on the screen and the hastag is just visible on normal font.

Thursday, 23 April 2009

Ruaraidh's 10 Questions

It's the eve of the Liberal Youth Scotland AGM, so I thought it would be an ideal time to post my own personal answers to Ruaraidh Dobson's 10 questions that he posed to all the candidates of the Federal Liberal Youth Elections.

So without further ado or fanfare here goes.

1. How long have you been a member of - and involved in - the party?

I first joined the party at the Social and Liberal Democrats stall at the freshers fayre at Kingston (then Polytechnic) University. This was the first freshers intake after the merger of the Liberal and Social Democratic Parties and therefore a little shy of 21 years.

2. Why did you join? Was there a specific policy or event?

I grew up with liberal politics in Northern Ireland. When I've voted there it has been first preference for the Alliance Party (except the first Assembly election when that went to the Northern Irish Woman's Coalition followed by Alliance 2,3). When I went to Kingston I was already keenly aware in environmental issues and human rights. I'd a choice of two parties, but being an economics student with my fresh A'level in the subject the Green's economics didn't add up.

3. When did you last go leafleting or canvassing?

That was Saturday last weekend in Edinburgh South. I'm currently working on a little post budget one to put out in my local seat, which I'll run off on my printer.

4. How often do you do so?

As often as I can do and often in by elections until my legs give in (like Livingston and Glenrothes)

5. How involved are you with your local party and local campaigns

I've been local party treasurer, secretary as well as a council and Westminster candidate. For two years I was also vice-chair of the Lothian Region Lib Dems. I've written local focuses, press releases, knocked on 1000s of doors and delivered to many more, taken on the MSP and MP in the local press as well as raising many local concerns in the local press or Scotsman. As well as attending many local meetings about a vast range of issues run by concerned citizens.

6. What do you think your biggest contribution to the Lib Dems has been?

Apart from standing in 2005, I say being a campaigning mountain goat. Feed me and watch me keep moving, whether that is Tenement mountaineering in Edinburgh or Glasgow or taking out a bag full of leaflets in West Lothian, Dunfermline and West Fife or Glenrothes to name but a few.

7. What’s your biggest campaigning weakness?

Not knowing when to stop. 2005 with a GE followed by a by election starting from my front door meant I may have lost the love of a good person to my mistress politics. I've learnt since then to get a little personal down time with a loved one in elections since.

8. Who’s your political hero? (Other than Obama, everyone says him )

Sir Oliver Napier the first leader of the Alliance party in Northern Ireland. Napier was the founding leader in 1972 a position he held for 12 years. He set up the party to offer an alternative to the sectarianism of the Ulster Unionist Party. In 1979 he was the closest any Alliance candidate has thus far come to securing a Westminster seat when he was within 1000 votes in East Belfast of beating the current Northern Ireland First Minister Peter Robinson.

9. …And who’s your political nemesis?

Would currently be the Save St. John's Hospital Group on West Lothian Council. The single issue group arose and possibly denied the people of West Lothian Lib Dem representation in the 2007 elections. Since then they have entered a coalition with the SNP and have overwhelmingly followed where the Nats have led.

(note: the main parties main players had at a public meeting in 2004 decided not to politicise the issue of St John's before one of the big two started to break that agreement)

10. The single transferable vote is introduced. Setting aside any personal relationship with candidates, where does your second vote go? If you say Green, you also have to give a third vote.

So as I'm likely to say Green two it is where will my third vote go. At the last election it would probably have been the SNP because with the exception of independence they wanted a lot of the same things as I do. However, having forsaken the things we have in common at the moment I'm not sure. The Tories haven't told us what they stand for, Labour using keeping Woolies alive with pick and mix (but far to much liquorice or aniseed for Stephen's taste) and as stated the Nats have abandoned my principles. Hand me the manifestos when they come out.

Wherefore Art Thou

Have to admit that turning on my computer this morning this made me giggle.

Yeah decided to rewrite mythology for St. George's day. Which this scene from St. George and Juliet to mark St. George's day and Shakespeare's birthday. St. Geroge's wooing of the dragon.

O St. George, St. George! wherefore art thou St. George?
Deny thy calling and refuse thy sword;
Or, if thou wilt not, be but sworn my love,
And I'll no longer be a fire, breathing pest.

The 3.5% Growth Myth 2: The IMF Deception

The below is exactly what Alistair Darling said about economic growth in his Budget speech yesterday. I make no apologies for quoting it at length as the whole point I wish to draw out of it is one of contextualisation. I've added parenthesis to draw out the key elements.

"Mr Deputy Speaker, the UK went into this global recession with employment at an all-time high, inflation, public debt and interest rates at low levels. But no country can insulate itself from this worldwide downturn. The position here, as in every country, deteriorated in the autumn. In the last few months, world trade fell at the sharpest rate since 1945. As an open economy, the world's sixth biggest exporter of goods and the second largest exporter of services, we are affected by the collapse in demand in other countries. The unexpected severity of the recession has led the IMF to
downgrade its own forecasts for the world economy
three times since
October. We, as well as other countries as diverse as Japan and France, India
and the US, have reduced our growth estimates.

"Mr Deputy Speaker, the UK economy contracted by 1.6 per cent in the last
quarter of 2008. For the first quarter of this year, I expect the economy will again contract by a similar amount. And my forecast for GDP growth for the year as a whole will be –3 ½ per cent – in line with other independent forecasts. But
because of our underlying strength, the measures we are taking, domestically and internationally, I expect to see growth resume towards the end of the year.

"The IMF forecasts published today confirm the problems that all countries will face this year. But they also show that the British economy will suffer less than Germany, less than Japan, less than Italy, and less than the euro area as a whole this year. The British economy is diverse, flexible and resilient – which is why we can be confident in recovery. Next year, because of the pick up in world demand, the continuing benefit of lower prices, and the substantial recovery measures put in place, I am forecasting growth of 1 ¼ per cent in 2010.

"In future, the sources of our growth will be more varied – and we need to ensure we play to our country's strengths. It will increasingly come from an expansion in investment by businesses in the industries of the future, such as low-carbon, advanced manufacturing and communications. These industries,
together, are as important to the British economy as the financial services
sector. That is why it has been so important that we have increased investment in Britain's science base by 88 per cent in real terms over the last ten years.
Growth will also be driven by the opportunities to export as the global economy doubles in size in the next two decades. From 2011, I am forecasting that the economy will continue to recover, with growth of 3 ½ per cent from then on."

He repeatedly refers the IMF predictions from their report for yesterday, it adds gravitas does it not? You think that he is drawing from a wealth of experience to make his predictions for the future. What did the IMF figures say 2009 -4.1% and 2019 -0.4%. The only bit of fact that Darling does extract from the IMF figures is that the 2009 figure is better than the Eurozone -4.2%, Japan -6.2%, and Germany of -5.6%. Of course he fails to mention USA who take all the blame for this recession only dipping by 2.8% and Canada most closely aligned at -2.5%.

So therefore who are these other independent forecasts that he speaks off. Having reviewed all of yesterdays papers the most optimistic forecast I was for 2010 was +0.5%, the Times had 0.3% but suggested Darling would say 1%. Where oh where has he squeezed the extra 0.25% out of what was even deemed an optimistic prediction yesterday.

Maybe be he has discovered the golden fleece, or sold the Downing Street cat to a stranger in the street from some beans which are are growing very well in the garden of Number 11. Fee fi fo fum I smell the lie of an Darling tongue.

The £2000 Car-Scrap Scheme Myth

In the Time Budget supplement Ben Webster points out the mythologies of the benefit to a car owner of the car-scrap scheme policy from the Darling budget.

The headline figure was that it would be worth £2000 per car or van aged over 10 years scrapped between 1 May 2009 and 1 March 2010 and replaced with a new car. However, only £1000 of that is coming from the Government the other thousand will be matched by the industry at the floor court. Thing is to try and encourage such sales most retailers are already offering at least that level of discount. Therefore will the price of cars on the forecourt go up to the real figure to allow the retailers to actually be seen to give this full £2000 benefit.

Also scraping cars over 10 years old irrelevant of condition is poor environmental move. Many cars just over this age are still environmental. The only reason that I got rid of my late father's car last year was that it had become too expensive to repair just after getting through it's 12 year MOT. Also the people most likely to be able to buy new cars anyway are the wealthy. Personally I have never owned a new car. Even many of my parents cars have been ex-hire cars, several of these serving a year on one of the channel islands before being sold on to them. While the tax is aimed at helping the car industry is does little for the poor and the environment.

There are also 9.5 millions vehicles that would be eligible for this scheme, Darling has earmarked £300m for this scheme, therefore it would be the first 300,000 people after May the first to take advantage who will benefit. Probably best if your old car still runs to keep it running folks.

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

The 3.5% Growth Myth

I've been trying to find historical data that would back up Alistair Darling and Yvette Cooper's claim that we can bounce back to a sustained level of 3.5% growth. What I did find was the OECD figures back to 1970. Firstly though lets look at the figures since Labour came to power.

Even with the dot com boom coinciding with the start of that period of growth 3,5% was never sustainable. Something that Darling seemed to indicate in his budget speech earlier. Indeed 2.5% seems to have been closer to the mean over this period of sustained growth. Taking out the first 3 1/2 years that coincided with that boom it was actually 2.58%. Over the first 10 years of Labour it averaged 2.95%.

However, the claim I heard from Yvette Cooper on Channel 4 News when I finally got in through the door was that after periods of recession we have often bounced back very strong. Looking at the data yes we have had times of recovery to 3.5% or above, but maybe for only a year or two. Darling this afternoon seemed to promise at least 4 years, if not more, of that level of growth. Also the other times that the woes of the world took our growth down we came out of it on the worldwide recovery to that level if it happened. It was outwith the control of the man carrying the Gladstone dispatch box.

Of course one country is sustaining that sort of level of economic growth, China. So maybe that is why the civil liberties in this country are being eroded so much we are going to follow the Chinese example in all things.

False Hope is No Hope

This is a quickie just an initial reaction on Alistair Darling's budget, I'll go into more depth later when I have time.

During his speech earlier he said boldly this is a budget to 'offer hope for the future'. Whoops. Sorry Alistair if you are going to nick phrases from Barack Obama I'd expect you to at least give us realistic hope of what can be achieved. You're not promised to but a man on Mars before the next decade is out but lets get real.

The Times this morning said that you may say that recovery in 2010 might get as high as 1%, despite the average city view being 0.3%. Darling 1.25% is plainly laughable. Nobody is expecting it. Just think what will happen in May next year when everyone realises just how laughable as they go to the ballot box. But worse you are expecting it to get to 3.5% in 2011, which is optimistic even if we weren't still recovering.

But to also say that the recovery will have started before the year is out. Of course this is to cover the fact that we are the only Western economy who has put all our economic stimulus into the 2009 basket instead of spreading it over 2009 and 2010.

As a result we come to the the level of borrowing you expect over the coming years. OK bravely you announced that 2009 you expect £5bn more that anticipated for 2009 at £175bn. But then £173bn, £140bn, £118bn and £97bn over the next 4 years. With PSBR at almost 12% this year it would need you to recoup over 50% of all the recovery you envision to get that borrowing down that fast.

Don't know who did the maths but the figures don't add up.

What I'll Be Doing When Our Darling Chancellor Speaks

Well this economics graduate and political blogger will not be watching the budget later and live blogging it. Sadly some of us will have to keep the economy turning (even if I work for a American multinational, supporting an American multinational client, our salaries do support the UK economy). However, as I have just turned off James Naughtie and the Today programme at my desk I may well be tuning my pocket FM tuner in to Radio 4 later.

I will however hope to leave work as soon as work allows and write up some analysis later on.

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Car Crash Policy Making on Expenses

I see that Iain Dale has done an excellent dissection on Gordon Brown's proposals for a vote on the issue of MPs expenses. Scheduled for a vote in 8 days time. In trying to do away with the smear and slime that is currently sticking to MPs and Labour high profile advisers Gordon Brown appears to have lost all sense of sensibility.

He thinks he has made moves that will be popular with the people but they certainly are not the best possible moves that can be made. Both Nick Clegg and David Cameron had invited Gordon to sit down with them to discuss what steps to take have been sidestepped as he will put his own proposals forward. Iain goes on to say "I have to say I think this is a deeply divisive political move by the Prime Minister. He is trying to force the other party leaders into a corner. They shouldn't fall for it. "

Well while Nick Clegg said the proposed attendance allowance was like "Bringing the Brussels gravy train to Westminster is not the way to fix our expenses system" sadly for Iain and for me David Cameron was going on about the bits of this he's asked Gordon for which he had initially said no and since changed his minds. It would be sad if the Tories had the wool pulled over their eyes or a clock pulled over their wallets instead of getting a far and transparent system for the diversity of MPs constituencies out there and the way that they will independently work.

A Leaky Chanter: SNP Attempt to Tartanise Smeargate Failure

Well The Times is running a story today about A Leaky Chanter being the Red Rag of Scotland. it even quotes a week old post by Iain Dale which calls them attack blogs.

But the Times is showing a bit off sloppy journalism when it says, "The respected Labour blogger Tom Harris MP has a link to A Leaky Chanter on his site" as if that was damning evidence that it was Labour run. But hang on a second thinks I the Scottish blogosphere is very incestuous when it comes to links so I checked out some of last years top Scottish Blogs in the Iain Dale love in. Well Jeff as top ranked SNP blog links there is his blogroll as do I. The Scottish Roundup will refer to it including this snigger at the Scottish Tories. So hang on if Leaky Chanter is meant only to be an attack blog against the Nats what is that story doing there. Admittedly most of the posts are anti-SNP but they are in Government.

But hang on Angus MacNeil, the SNP’s Scotland Office spokesman, said:

"With a senior blogger linking Leaky Chanter to Scottish Labour, and Welsh Labour finding themselves red-faced over the Aneurin Glyndwr blog, Labour must reveal who is running Leaky Chanter and what its relationship is to Labour’s blogging operations.

"There is a place for humour but we have Labour-linked blogs in Scotland branding neutral civil servants as SNP staff, making inaccurate allegations claiming ‘phantom houses’ and running fake sites as the First Minister — this is a dangerous path for any organisation to take."

Pardon? How does having a link to another blog link that to your own party. Tom Harris also links to Iain Dale, Guido and ConservativeHome does that make them Labour. Personally I agree with Tom's tweet that this is a pathetic attempt by the Nats to tartanise Smeargate.

There are a number of addition reasons that this rant from MacNeil is ill judged, first it comes so late in the day it cries out of attempting to steal some of the thunder. Although if he'd seen some of the polls at the weekend he may have seen that staying clear of the issue was the best course of action. Also Leaky Chanter does not fit into the modus operandi of a Labour backed attack blog, it is on blogspot not a purchased domain. It could be any manner of types that run it.

  • A disillusioned floating voter not necessarily pro-independence that voted SNP in 2007 and is sick of seeing broken promise after broken promise

  • It may be a disillusioned former Nat (there are a few of these one even sits in Holyrood)

  • Of course it may be a Labour sympathiser doing it off their own bat. Particular seeing the number of Nat propagating blogs out there.

So as well as being ill informed MacNeil's comments are also terribly blinkered as a Labour spokesperson correctly points out at least 12 anonymous pro-Nationalist and anti-Labour websites operating (some of them will also be found on my blogroll). "Angus MacNeil and the SNP need to take a long hard look at the actions of people associated with their own party . . . before making baseless allegations against others."

One thing that MacNeil's misunderstanding of the blogoshere does do in linking him to smeargate is that like Draper and McBride he doesn't get the concept, thinks he can just jump in and make statements without full understanding, grasp of the facts or checking his own house first.

Monday, 20 April 2009

Fairer Tax is Possible and Right for Now

One hundred years ago in 1909 David Lloyd George rose to the Liberal Government's dispatch box to present what was to go down in history as the people's budget. From the speculation of what Darling is going to announce of Wednesday the people aren't going to do too well out of the budget marking that centenary.

However, step forward Vince Cable alongside another Liberal leader Nick Clegg with the ideas that really do put the people first. This morning they announced plans that would effectively cut income tax bills for those on low and middle incomes by £700. This will be done by raising the personal tax allowance to £10,000 pounds.

How can this be afforded? Well it will merely be a tax switch, no additional revenue will be required to fund this initiative. The Labour Government already estimates that £10-40bn is lost though tax loops of the most wealthy, those who have led this country into the level of debt we are currently in. By targeting approximately £3-4bn of that lost taxes this aim of helping those on the lowest income can be achieved. By doing so it will lift 4 million out of income tax altogether.

Measures which the Liberal Democrats are proposing to use include:

  • Restricting tax relief on pension contributions to the basic rate (why should the top earners benefit proportionately more than those cleaning their offices, indeed normally their relief is just another perk)
  • Taxing Capital Gains at marginal income tax rates (basically closing once again one of the loopholes closed by Nigel Lawson that the rich had used to avoid paying the highest rates of income tax. A loophole reopened by Chancellor Gordon Brown)
  • Tackling Stamp Duty Land Tax Avoidance and Corporation Tax Avoidance (two of the ways that business have been robbing the hard working for years)
  • Subjecting benefits in kind to National Insurance Contributions as well as income tax and applying National Insurance to multiple jobs (why should the perks of the well paid not be taxed when the poorer have to scrimp and safe for some of the same things)
  • Switching aviation taxes from per person to per plane and increasing taxation on non-lifeline domestic flights (so those with no option but to fly don't need to worry but the cleaner services like the train, video conferencing, home working etc may become more attractive to those execs who fly weekly of course enough still will for this to still raise revenue)

But why bother, aren't we in a time of low inflation? Well yes the headline rate of inflation is at it's lowest for ages but this is not what those on the lowest incomes experience. Indeed the things that fill their spending at the things that are still going up faster that that headline rate.

Can we still be talking about cutting taxes when the Government are talking about cutting public expenditure? Yes we can. We're not actually talking about cutting the tax raised merely switching the attention from those who are disproportionately over taxed by making those who can afford to pay accountants (like my brother) to avoid paying their fair share at least in some easily to remedy areas. Also cutting public expenditure at this time is going the wrong way we need to start growing again first, although Darling may try and talk you into believing that it all that can be done on Wednesday, but we all see that the Labour Government has run out of ideas.

How much will people lose out and how much will people gain? Well the £700 is the headline figure. £10k will go some considerable way to lifting most of the income of those full time workers on minimum wage out of taxation which is far more than this Government tried to do last year by taxing them more by removing the 10p rate of tax. However, there is a fairness in helping those who can't afford to help themselves whereas looking at the businesses and high earners to burden a fairer share of their responsibility.

It Rumbles On

You know when something is bad for Labour when the biggest unions tell them to stop it. So with Unison taking the public stage and telling Gordon Brown to end the 'childish venom' of email smears you have to take note.

Two interesting things of note this first is that this message will be delivered by the General Secretary of the union. Not some spokesperson but the head honcho. Therefore this is a message for the top, ie the Prime Minister. Irrespective of what Gordon, Neil Kinnock. Peter Mandelson or anyone else with authority in Labour is saying about him being too busy to maintain his control freakishness over strategy for his own mandate. This message Gordon is for you.

The second is the language:

"The Government is losing us. It is losing the support and trust of health and public sector workers in their droves." The country was in a mess and "we look to the Government to come up with serious solutions, not to waste time in childish venom".

This is cutting stuff. Lose of support and trust of one of the largest unions covering a wide range of public sector employees is not a good thing for a Labour Prime Minister, this is the very heart of their support we're talking about. Also to use the term 'childish venom' shows how little respect there currently is for the recently exposed strategy that is still the talk of things at the start of budget week. Questions are still be asked about the emails of smeargate even if they are being tagged unto the end of questions about the budget almost everywhere you look or listen this past weekend.

Emerge from that Darling if you can.


Sunday, 19 April 2009

Statebook: The Government's Social Networking

I've been directed to this spoof of Facebook by the Open Rights Group. It is a powerful way to get the message across of just what the Government is trying to do.

Watch out if Big Ben starts to strike 13 o'clock before the month is out.

"Day by day and almost minute by minute the past was brought up to date. In this way every prediction made by the Party could be shown by documentary evidence to have been correct; nor was any item of news, or any expression of opinion, which conflicted with the needs of the moment, ever allowed to remain on record. All history was a palimpsest, scraped clean and reinscribed exactly as often as was necessary."

George Orwell 1984

Saturday, 18 April 2009

In Cyberspce Everyone Can Hear Gordon Scream

Oh dear. As if Alice Mahon's resignation from the Labour and the opinion polls in the Sundays wasn't enough smeargate hits a third strike courtesy of the News of the World (hat tip to Iain Dale).

The latest revelation that nobody in the Labour knew nothing about the emails, the line that has been peddled by Gordon Brown and all the ministers all week appears to not be true. It appears that Labour’s General Secretary Ray Collins chaired a meeting that was to set up the Red Rag website for which McBride prepared the smearing emails he sent to Derek Draper. In a new email that has surfaced written to the then head of Labour's Internet campaign Draper allegedly shows the who, when, where and what was on the the agenda of that meeting.

Who was there:

  • Ray Collins
  • Derek Draper
  • Charlie Whelan (Political Director of Unite, Labour's largest donor, and former Brown spin doctor)
  • Damian McBride
  • Andrew Dodgshon (Unite Press Officer)
  • Kevin Maguire (journalist and friend of Brown) although only in a private capacity

When: 1 December 2008 (7 weeks before McBride's emails)

Where: Charlie Whelan's Office, Unite London HQ, King’s Street, Westminster,

What: How to set up, run and work out how to finance the Red Rag site, which had been registered 4 weeks before on 4 November, from the Houses of Parliament.

Collins has stated that McBride and Draper were acting alone. Amazing how that was done in a minuted meeting with 6 attendees.

A shocked Labour party insider has finally spoken some truth on this issue

"It is devastating that Collins was there. It was a meeting called to set up, run and work out how to finance the Red Rag site.

"It’s no coincidence either that it wasn’t held at Labour Party HQ, or that it was at
Charlie Whelan’s offices in Unite.

"Whelan is back as Gordon Brown's unofficial Mr Fix-it, and he’s now so powerful that he’s effectively running the party.

"If anyone in the party was still daft enough to believe the Downing Street line about this being minor, this email finally exposes that lie."

Going to be another long week in politics for Labour I expect.

Smeargate Hits Gordon Where It Matters: In the Polls

Image from ConservativeHome

The Sunday Telegraph is going to run an ICM poll which shows Labour down 3% on 26, 17% behind the Tories on 43% though that in itself means that they are down 1%. However, in the first poll post smeargate the Lib Dems we are up 3%. Maybe as Stephen Tall speculated earlier this week the decision to stay away from directly commenting on this but keeping on the wider arc of cleaning up Government and fighting for civil liberties has seen some initial benefit. While Labour get drawn into the mire and the Tories appeared like spoilt kids demanding an apology.

Image from ConservativeHome

Elsewhere in the Mail on Sunday BPIX show Labour are down 8%. The Lib Dem figures are not yet known but it looks likes another gain for Nick and the team.

However, even on these figure the gross unfairness of our corrent electoral system shows it heads as even with the Lib Dems only 5% behind Labour in popular vote does not equate to the same result in the seats at Westmister just as it didn't at the time the SDP/Liberal Alliance peaked in the polls.

Just When Gordo Thought It Was Safe to Go Back into Cyperspace

"Unless there is a dramatic change in what [Labour] are proposing to the
electorate then [losing the General Election] could be the case."

Not the words of a right leaning blogger. Nor of a Tory shadow cabinet minister. These are the words of someone who'd been in the Labour party for over 50 years and served as Labour MP for Halifax for 18 years from 1987-2005 these are the words of Alice Mahon who has quit the party.

She said "I can no longer be a member of a party that at the leadership level has betrayed many of the values and principles that inspired me as a teenager to join." She opposed the leadership on the war with Iraq. Was unhappy with the direction Tony Blair had taken the party. Hoped that would change under Brown but said "I couldn’t have been more wrong". But as for the recent attempt to smear leading Tories, the straw that broke this particular camel's back, she added she was "shocked and absolutely scandalised".

So oops. Just when Gordon was hoping to but the genie back in the bottle we have another weekend of the fallout of smeargate. Only a maximum of 54 more weekends before a General Election though Gordon.

Surely they can't all be filled with Labour sleaze and its fallout?

Can they? 2009/10 can't be a deja vu of 1996/7 can it?

Four Who Should Face Investigation over Torture

Maybe the choice of the first family's dog having the word 'water' was more than a coincidence as Peter Brookes suggests above from today's Times. Of course the alternative did have the word 'poodle' in it so no matter what he'd gone for the half hearted use of the memos he has released would probably have led to a dog themed cartoon.

What is startling as the details of the legal positions on those memos is investigated is the detailed lengths to which the 'victims' can or cannot be exposed to these measures without it constituting torture. By the way the level before torture happens is defined in the memos as the 'interrogation' not causing intense, severe or lasting physical pain or psychological damage.

Issues such as:

  • the water should not be colder that 41F
  • exposure to water should not exceed 20 minutes "without drying and rewarming"
  • exposure to waterboarding should not be greater than 40 seconds at a time
It is the precision of these memos penned by Jay Bybee (Assistant Attorney General 2001-2003 now judge on the 9th Circuit), John Yoo (a colleague from the Justice Department now professor at Berkeley School of Law) and Stephen Bradbury (Head of the Justice Dept. Office of Legal Counsel now an attorney in Washington) that raises concern. These men knew that they were running right up next to the letter of the law, right up to the envelope of what actually would be entailed and correctly branded as torture. They were working on the margins, indeed defining the margins of what is legal.

How carefully did those carrying out the actually know the detail in those 100 plus pages of legal advise? Did the water temperature drop? Where the time limits exceeded? If by trying to hedge people in from something that is on the cusp of being legal with so much detail surely some of that was from time to time overlooked. In the heat of everyone's day to day job some small detail is almost certainly neglected, not intentionally, but in error on a regular basis.

Why did Bybee, Yoo and Bradbury not give advise to steer well clear of anything that could even be conceived as torture? Because they were acting under orders? Whose orders? George W. Bush that's who. Bradbury was the chief legal counsel for all of the Bush second term. If there are arguments for letting the agents executing the orders off then surely these are the names of the four men who set the definitions, limits and legal parlance of when a torture technique is or isn't actually torture. They were aware of the thin line to the extent that they were so meticulous is trying to prevent it being crossed knowing that what they were planning or setting down the precedents for was very close to the quick.

These four surely have questions to answer and should not be allowed to get of.

Friday, 17 April 2009

Friday Blog Love: Where I Agree with Tony Blair

Now the title of this piece may be somewhat of a revelation to any who didn’t see my Tweet from Wednesday evening. But I was talking about a particular article that featured from the first Prime Minister in the UK to give an interview to a gay publication, not just give an interview but be the cover man.

On the occasion of that publication, Attitude, celebrating its fifteenth birthday they had a little bit of a retrospective in all sorts of ways including having the former Prime Minister back for another interview. Having missed his first interview in 2005 I may have been too busy with one election or another, I found myself agreeing with him for quite a lot of what he said*. Thankfully before Ruaraidh Dobson accuses me of being dead wrong (again) I’d like to point out that the area under discussion was equality of sexuality which has seen robust advances under the Blair years; not the various policy areas that I and the rest of Liberal Democrats still vigorously oppose the Blairite doctrine.

Like Blair I find myself in a similar position in one way as a person of faith with an interest in the politics of sexuality, and the aim to improve things socially in that area as far as possible. However, of course and any who saw my last full speech at a Lib Dem conference will attest while he can remain objective in his viewpoint mine is a bit more subjective. For years I was like one of those that Blair described as having a dialogue within religious circles about sexuality and faith, although a lot of that debating from my teenage years into my middle to late twenties was going on in my own head.

While for many years I mulled over the option as being an either or in relation to my faith and who I found myself to be it took a lot of searching to find out that both was an actual option. One thing I hope that people like Iris Robinson can come to understand in the long-term. Blair says in the interview:

"For many people in the world of religion, they have found they’re facing the same challenge as everybody else is in changing times, when it comes to the role of women, the issues to do with sexuality, and so on. But the problem within the institutions of organised religion as opposed, for example, to those in politics, is that those attitudes get mixed up with those of doctrine. For something that is religious in nature, it can be far harder for them to break with the past. They’re hard – they’re really difficult. Because people are debating – what is the word of God? If something is expressed in a particular way in the Bible or the Koran or elsewhere, can you possibly contemplate a process of modernisation where attitudes change over time? But my own view is
that it’s better to have these views debated within religious circles than to pretend that they don’t exist.

"...also to treat religious thought and even religious texts as themselves capable of evolution over time. You have to understand the context and the society in which they were expressed. So, when people quote the passages in Leviticus condemning homosexuality, I say to them – if you read the whole of the Old Testament and took everything that was there in a literal way, as being what God and religion is about, you’d have some pretty tough policies across the whole of the piece."

If you just look at the raft of legislation that has come in under Labour since 1997 and consider if the 1997 brand of Conservatism that was on offer would have made such in roads. 1997 homosexuals weren't allowed to serve in the military, teachers were unable to defend gay pupils in the classroom, there was a status of legal homophobia in the workplace and in failing to recognise partners. So great strides were being made towards equality (despite at the same time the liberties of us all being eroded simultaneously).

Blair says the highpoint of the various pro-gay legislation that he oversaw come into being was the introduction of civil partnerships. However, these are separate arrangement and still not equal. The equal marriage campaign is seeking for Scotland to:

  1. Lift the ban on same-sex marriage and mixed-sex civil partners

  2. Allow religious and humanist celebrants to legally solemnise same-sex marriage

  3. Put an end to the discrimination faced by transgender people and their partners
As Ruaraidh said earlier this week that this is something that the Scottish Liberal Democrats could well take a lead. As Tony said in the interview we have come a long way from the 80s when if you campaigned for gay people expected that, well, that you were. The generation that make up LYS are the first generation that such a suggestion does not go hand in hand with campaigning. I'd be delighted to see them take this step forward backing up the Homophobia is Gay campaign and the policy they moved which got passed on the blood ban last month.

Is it doable? I think so. I think this statement of Tony shows that we are on an evolutionary trend where we can get this done.

"This process of evolution and change [in religious thought] carries on the whole time. Otherwise, you end up pitting religion against reason, and that is the single most dangerous thing you could ever do. Because in the end, if you force people to choose between religious faith and reason, they will choose reason. But that is not, in fact, what should happen. Religious faith and reason are actually in alignment, in my view – or, at least, that is the argument."
So while I'm quite certain that Ruaraidh would happily tell me I'm dead wrong in holding on to my religious faith, I'm sure he'd also the one of the first to ask me about the debates I've had with myself to deal with moving this debate on.

*You do have to register to read this link but it is free to do so.

We Resume You to Normal Blogging

Well earlier today just under one hour shy of 8 days after I sent it off I received my replacement Broadband dongle here at the office.

This means that no more will I be restricted to shouting at the news on the TV. No more trying to some up from my mobile in merely 140 characters my reactions via Twitter alone. Then trying to cram in what I want to post about into the limited time I have on the Internet stations down in the staff rest area. Especially as with more of using just three machines at this site you don't want to hog them too much.

So normal blogging should be resumed this evening. Indeed there are a couple of entries which have been on the back burner during the week that need a little tweaking and linkages added that should be up in the not too distant future.

Iain MacWhirter may been staring at his screen in disgust, if he reads this.

The Good, The Bad and the Ugly of the Torture Memorandae

Barack Obama has released the memos that shows the US Justice Department and the CIA arguing around the legality of torture. Good.

Barack Obama is going to spare every official complicit in preparing this position and carrying it through. Bad.

Of course the fact that one of his first executive acts was to end these practises was praised the fact that nobody is going to be held to account for them is a poor show. Yes if somebody was merely following orders at the low end there is a possible case for leniency but what about those who were issuing those orders.

The fact is that once you let torture be used by your own forces what happens when you send your own into combat situations? What happens should they be captured? Somebody somewhere in the USA has not only realised that certain International Treaties do no apply to them as they are not signatories but also that they can circumvent the laws of human decency for the excuse of expediency.

It's a shame that Obama is not going to take this further merely exposing the wart is not enough in the eyes of most of the world on this issue.

Thursday, 16 April 2009

Piers Morgan is a Snob

My cousin has drawn my attention to this story regarding the recording of Susan Boyle for her bit on Britain's Got Talent. What struck me most was the insult to Blackburn in West Lothian from Piers Morgan one of the judges.

JUDGE Piers Morgan has branded Susan Boyle's hometown of Blackburn, West
Lothian, "a dump".

A camera crew filming the Britain's Got Talent singer were ordered to shoot in nearby Bathgate instead after the area "appalled" Morgan.

Camera crews were supposed to visit the village and film in locations including the community centre and the run-down council estate.

Whilst crew members diplomatically described the views as being "too bland", Morgan announced "it's a dump".

One thing that the sudden shock that swept across the judges and the audience when Susan opened her voice on Saturday was that you can't judge a book by it's cover. Now Bathgate may have some more picturesque buildings from being the major town in the area. Blackburn largely grew up to accommodate workers for the nearby Leyland plant*. But to refuse to film there to show Susan Boyles story is a disgrace.

Camera's did something slightly similar with Leon Jackson when he won the X-Factor in 2007. They didn't film his particular estate in much detail but picked out some of the more affluent areas of Whitburn and took him to the multi-million pound MacArthur Glen Retail Centre in Livingston where he once worked for his pre-final performance.

Personally I'm proud of Susan, Leon and Kerry McGregor another West Lothian X-Factor Finalist from the year before Leon. They are fine examples of the talent within the county and irrespective of what sort of house they call home we are all proud that they have gone up in front of the cameras and shown the UK (even the world) just how much talent they have.

As for Piers Stefan Pughe-Morgan who is allegedly named after the brewery heir Piers Courage I say come up to Blackburn and spent some time with the people. Maybe go to the community centre and Susan's estate (if they'll let you) and find out just what sort of friendly people they really are. Just don't judge the book by its cover.

*One of the interesting facts I picked up while out postering at election times from the other local activists.

The Subject on the Card is Sir Clement Freud

I see today the sad news that Sir Clement Freud the former Liberal MP and panelist on Just a Minute has passed away aged 84. I shall attempt to pay tribute to the man in that length of time without deviation, repetition or hesitation as seems fitting so to do.

He was erudite in the extreme and looved* to fill the period against three others under Nicolas Parsons with lists. When he would rattle off compendia of foods, animals, places, things, people that were relevant to the subject on the card. His Grandfather of course was Sigmund Freud and what the great psychologist would make of his grandson's pursuant for revealing his encyclopedic knowledge is unknown.

He was at various stages a Member of Parliament for the party of my ilk, celebrity cook, journalist, amateur jockey, and Liaison Officer at the Nuremberg trials as well as the raconteur of note as mentioned previously.

I believe I was still typing as the whistle went. Do I deserve the bonus point?

Clement Freud 1924-2009
*By the way I've just spotted this typo but have decided to keep it in as a tribute to that other JAM raconteur the late Kenneth Williams.

The Failings of Andy Burnham

Just what was Andy Burnham playing at yesterday?

I didn't get to see the live coverage from Hillsborough yesterday and still being without Broadband at home* was unable to do more than throw up a few Tweets from my phone as I watched the news coverage. First off I would say that most of the people present at Anfield would have had no problems with the Sports Minister a lifelong Evertonian being present at yesterday's memorial service to the Hillsborough victims 20 years on. After all the grief engulfed the whole city as well as us fans not from Merseyside. The problem came when he opened his mouth on the platform.

In actuality the problem came from whatever clandestine invitation was sent to him to speak, as well as his acceptance of that offer when he had nothing new to add. In the build up to the event anybody who was watching coverage realised two things. First yesterday was supposed to be about remembrance of the 96 lives that were lost as a result of what happened on April 15th, 1989. But also underlying a lot of the coverage was that this anniversary was being used to make calls for an inquiry into what happened after 15:15 on that day, as well as the actual decisions made by individuals from 14:45 up to that point and beyond.

If the Sports Minister didn't have anything to add to that second issue, and he didn't, he should have sat there head bowed like 35,000 others. Then he went unto the News programmes afterwards and spent most of his Time ducking and diving behind the Taylor report. But as I said on Saturday though the Taylor report had gone some way it had not gone far enough.

There is the question of the vetted statements from junior police officers. There is the lies about just how Gate C came to be open which the Duty Officer told and the three letter titled red top took as gospel. There are the 40 ambulances equipped with oxygen that were denied entry to the pitch and may well have saved lives.

Andy Burnham may well have been trying to deflect attention from the email fall out, which I notice is still higher up the Times than Burnham managed today. It does however show that Labour are once again failing to listen to the people.

*Hopefully that will be resolved later today.

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

In Memorium

When you walkThrough a storm

Hold your head, up high

And don't be afraid, of the dark

'Coz at the end of the storm

Is a golden sky

And the sweet silver song

Of the lark

Walk on, through the wind

Walk on, through the rain

Though your dreams be tossed

And blown

Walk on, walk on

With hope, in your heart

And you'll never walk alone

You'll never walk alone


Walk on, walk on

With hope in your hearts

You'll never walk, alone

John Alfred Anderson (62)
Thomas Howard (39)
Colin Mark Ashcroft (19)
Thomas Anthony Howard (14)
James Gary Aspinall (18)
Eric George Hughes (42)
Kester Roger Marcus Ball (16)
Alan Johnston (29)
Gerard Bernard Patrick Baron (67)
Christine Anne Jones (27)
Simon Bell (17)
Gary Philip Jones (18)
Barry Sidney Bennett (26)
Richard Jones (25)
David John Benson (22)
Nicholas Peter Joynes (27)
David William Birtle (22)
Anthony Peter Kelly (29)
Tony Bland (22)
Michael David Kelly (38)
Paul David Brady (21)
Carl David Lewis (18)
Andrew Mark Brookes (26)
David William Mather (19)
Carl Brown (18)
Brian Christopher Mathews (38)
David Steven Brown (25)
Francis Joseph McAllister (27)
Henry Thomas Burke (47)
John McBrien (18)
Peter Andrew Burkett (24)
Marion Hazel McCabe (21)
Paul William Carlile (19)
Joseph Daniel McCarthy (21)
Raymond Thomas Chapman (50)
Peter McDonnell (21)
Gary Christopher Church (19)
Alan McGlone (28)
Joseph Clark (29)
Keith McGrath (17)
Paul Clark (18)
Paul Brian Murray (14)
Gary Collins (22)
Lee Nicol (14)
Stephen Paul Copoc (20)
Stephen Francis O'Neill (17)
Tracey Elizabeth Cox (23)
Jonathon Owens (18)
James Philip Delaney (19)
William Roy Pemberton (23)
Christopher Barry Devonside (18)
Carl William Rimmer (21)
Christopher Edwards (29)
David George Rimmer (38)
Vincent Michael Fitzsimmons (34)
Graham John Roberts (24)
Thomas Steven Fox (21)
Steven Joseph Robinson (17)
Jon-Paul Gilhooley (10)
Henry Charles Rogers (17)
Barry Glover (27)
Colin Andrew Hugh William Sefton (23)
Ian Thomas Glover (20)
Inger Shah (38)
Derrick George Godwin (24)
Paula Ann Smith (26)
Roy Harry Hamilton (34)
Adam Edward Spearritt (14)
Philip Hammond (14)
Philip John Steele (15)
Eric Hankin (33)
David Leonard Thomas (23)
Gary Harrison (27)
Patrik John Thompson (35)
Stephen Francis Harrison (31)
Peter Reuben Thompson (30)
Peter Andrew Harrison (15)
Stuart Paul William Thompson (17)
David Hawley (39)
Peter Francis Tootle (21)
James Robert Hennessy (29)
Christopher James Traynor (26)
Paul Anthony Hewitson (26)
Martin Kevin Traynor (16)
Carl Darren Hewitt (17)
Kevin Tyrrell (15)
Nicholas Michael Hewitt (16)
Colin Wafer (19)
Sarah Louise Hicks (19)
Ian David Whelan (19)
Victoria Jane Hicks (15)
Martin Kenneth Wild (29)
Gordon Rodney Horn (20)
Kevin Daniel Williams (15)
Arthur Horrocks (41)
Graham John Wright (17)

Step Forward Iain MacWhirter: Derek Draper Mark II

I see that Iain MacWhirter has decided to blog in response to his article. He opens by saying:

"Bullseye. I decided it was time to enter the ranks of the bloggers, so I penned an article in the Herald which I hoped would elicit some comment. I said that "bloggers don't write, they ejaculate" amongst other highly uncomplementary things, and added that "the blogosphere has been hijacked by sociopathic egos with extreme views who spend most of their time attacking each other". You can read the piece below this post.

"As expected, I was soundly bitch-slapped by the blogging fraternity. "

Well perhaps someone in the Herald offices should turn over MacWhirter's desk calander for the last fortnight as April the First is long past.

He also still fails to get it. Despite as a pointed out here many of the Scottish political blogging fraternity taking exception to his universal branding of us as conducting in ugly politics. He then of course decides to attack Guido, Iain Dale Tory Vers 1.0 and Alex Massie.

Now regular readers of any blogger with any sense will realise just where that blogger lies, which party they support and how extreme in that belief they are. One of the first lessons I was taught as a Economic first year at Uni was read a balance of political views to get the whole picture and never quote entirely from one viewpoint in my essays. I do the same with blogs and fortunately that applies to the technophobic old media where fortunately others have embraced the new forms.

Sadly in trying to justify himself MacWhirter either looks incompotent, a numpty of attempted to emulate Derek Draper who he attacked on Monday. Way to go Iain.

Update: Will has also taken up the point(lessness) about MacWhirter's response. Plus I notice he also got a letter (email I presume) published in the dead wood press as well in response.

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Why McWhirter is Wrong Seeing Pirates Everywhere on the Online Superhighway

You'd half expect us all to heave to and fly the skull and crossbones on our masthead looking at some of the comments from the MSM since the weekend about us bloggers. Will, Yousuf, Jeff, Malc and Alex Massie have already pointed out some misguided and sloppy generalisations in Iain McWhirter's piece in yesterday's Herald. The fact that I feel the need to add my voice should be one way of showing just how wrong he is when he says, "New frontier of the blog hijacked for ugly politics". Simply looking at the diverstiy of the opinion raised against his turn of phrase makes that self evident.

That diversity across Scottish blogosphere of those who have taken up keyboard in agreement against McWhirter will show him one thing. One bad apple, no matter how large, does not ruin the orchard. Like Will I've been around this blogging lark for many years, but Yousuf, Jeff, Malc et al have also caught one fundamental of the medium that Derek Draper and LabourList have failed to recognise, the blogopshere is a community. As Will put it " I can squabble with Caron on matters of policy one minute, then compare notes with her about Strictly Come Dancing the next?". Just like me and Jeff, or whoever, can dispute policy from different view points or from the same depending just what is the subject of the day and now he's on Twitter we may well settle down to an evening exchanging views on the sport or TV just like me and Malc.

A wee while ago I was having a very public spat with Iain Dale online about his use of language in a particular situation. While at the same time behind the scenes when we both realised enough was enough a friendly agreement was being hatched, to try and tune down the voice of others that was overtaking the dispute. The political blogopshere does indeed tend to have it's own sort of Privy Council terms at times.

Scottish Roundup is a prime example of this. There is a site where the various political hues in Scotland work together to round up the best of the political blogs on a weekly basis. The usual suspects aren't always being nominated by the usual suspects either. I have often nominated the counterpoint to the Lib Dem story of the week, sometimes breaking a new blog in the process, because it is about balance. I had to write up the week that Nicol Stephen resigned as leader, (bad) luck of the draw, I didn't shirk from including pieces that criticised him from elsewhere.

It's not all ugly in the world of political blogs and as the others have also pointed out it isn't all poorly written or badly analysed. It is only when someone refuses to engage with the rest of the blogosphere, wants to set up almost overnight a beacon and try and control its use that things can become ugly. This is what the McBride/Draper scenario attempted to achieve by foul and ugly means.

As for ugliness on the Internet perhaps Mr McWhirter is loathe to venture further away than the comments pages on the online editions of the MSM. Admittedly this is an ugly place where vitriol, sheer volume and anonymity can shield commenters from direct challenge. Debate is spurious at times and acid tongued often, it regularly roams far and wide from the subject matter at hand and often leads to insult trading from across the political divide. While this can occur in the Blogosphere is somehow seems to be better managed as the writer of the piece takes a direct concern in the comments posted, will answer back, and if needs must challenge an individual who is lowering the tone or taking things too far.

The blogopshere is far more hands on and the writer can decide just how nasty or clean they want to make and keep it. Once a bloggers baby is released to the Interweb is is more cared for by its parent than most pieces written by journalists in the MSM. Largely they tend to keep track on what is being said, both on their own blogs and on comments they post elsewhere. If anything the interconnectiveness and interaction on the blogopshere is more direct, more personal and more well Web 2.0 really than the 'dead wood press'.

Of course there are exceptions to that generalisation about the MSM journalists, just as the blogs McWhirter picks up are the exception rather than the rule, but Mr McWhirter would appear to not be one of them, yet.

Hands Off Our Emails

This isn't just the petulant cry of Derek Draper during the events or the weekend but is the opinion according to a poll on

The poll is in response to the EU directive requiring all phone calls, e-mails and Internet hits be stored for a year which came into effect last Monday. The survey also highlights that 56 per cent are worried about the possibility of a 'Big Brother state' and 63 per cent believe the government holds too much information already on individuals.

It shows how out of touch the Government are with public opinion about having so much of their personal data being cached. 58 per cent of those surveyed agree with the statement: 'There is no such thing as secure data storage. It inevitably gets into the wrong hands.'

Shami Chakrabarti, director of Liberty, said:

"This survey demonstrates what we have said for some time, that the government
has lost touch with public opinion on the importance of personal privacy. This is the clearest signal that it's high time the supertanker was turned around."

So with the public wakening up to the ineptitude of Government data storage and the sheer volume of data the Government is seeking to hold is starting to break through, even with Labour voters. It is the infringement into more or more of our personal space that is started to tip the public consciousness.

For a long time some of us have been warning that if we kept allowing the Government to move forward the line into our privacy we'd find it hard to stop when we woke up to the extent they had reached. Hoarding details on us after we may well have deleted them, securely stored them, or whatever, when we all know this Government's reputation for losing such things is what has finally made the public wake up.

Monday, 13 April 2009

Smeargate: The Depths

With Peter Brookes on Holiday Morten Moreland provides the above in this morning's Times.

Says it all really.

However, looking at some of the things that Damian McBride thought he could use against the Tories shows how stupid and grasping at straws Labour have become. Or at least some people in Labour as Alistair Campbell is startlingly the voice of reason.

A visit to a sexual health clinic by a single man in the late 1980's should be looked at in the context of the time. We were being feed the advertising 'Don't Die of Ignorance' at the start of the HIV/AIDS health awareness push. The fact that a heterosexual young man decided to go and get tested is not a sign that he had any sexually transmitted disease merely that he wanted to be sure possibly for that current partner or possibly after a previous partner of his own personal sexual MOT. Personally I think such an act should have been applauded not lowered to some level of there is something sleazy going on. If only more sexually active individuals followed that approach on a regular basis.

As for the emotional strains on someone close to the political fray I don't think that sort of scenario is something that any of us involved in politics are ever very far away from. The next 13 months are going to be a tough time on anybody seeking election and those around them. The time commitments to move into General Election mode are higher than those already felt by the elected representatives and it also gets manifest on those who are candidates and their teams as well. There will be fall out across the parties on all sorts of level after the elections. Those who are suddenly out of office, those who fought hard came close and just lost, those whose partners don't fully understand the demands of this period etc.

The dark arts have been part of this Downing Street for 12 years now. This time they have been exposed for just how treacherous they are. Far from being ludicrous and juvenile as the phrase was on Saturday these were being seriously aired as a strategy to win a fourth term. Clearly the sign of a Government not trusting being able to attack a party that is policy-lite with their own policies.

Saturday, 11 April 2009

Inappropriate and Immaturity Leads to Resignation

***Breaking News*** Damian McBride the advisor who has sent the immature and juvenile emails to Derek Draper has resigned.

The blogosphere has hit the main news headlines today over the news that Damian McBride had sent inappropriate and juvenile emails to Derek Draper to set up a new attack blog called Red Rag which looks like Draper was planning to set up the Sport type of blog to attack the Tories.

Derek Draper has since tried his best to distance himself from soliciting this sort of email, earlier today saying he had not received emails from McBride. However, even his apology throws up pre-meditation and others apart from him and Damian McBride appear to have sensibly steered clear of this:

"But I felt strongly that such gossip wasn´t suitable for LabourList and kicked around the idea of setting up another blog, Red Rag, where such stories might be published.

"I mentioned this idea to a few friends asking if they knew of any good gossip that was doing the rounds. Some of them said they weren't interested, but one of them, who works in Downing Street, responded by sending back some details of stories that were being gossiped about in Westminster."

Apparently the Prime Minister's Office has issued a statement saying there is "no space in politics for dissemination or publication of material of this kind".

Derek Draper has also just said on Sky that is a disgrace that anybody should wanted to read other people's emails. Maybe he should have a word with Jacqui Smith as surely this is exactly Labour policy. But maybe the point should be that you shouldn't be looking to receive such emails even if it is for an idea that fails to take off.

Sadly since Draper has come into the blogosphere the way his has acted means that this is not out of character. The fact that he has thus far failed to take this further doesn't mean that he may not in the future.

Derek Draper along with Damian McBride should be charged with attempting to bring the political blogosphere into disrepute. Yes in the past we have always had differences in political ideology but we largely had a friendly co-existence. In the post-Draper period there is sadly a new sense of suspicion in certain circles. The fact that today the blogosphere is dominating the news for all the wrong reasons is evidence of that.

Yabba Dabba Och Aye the Noo Time

Archaeologists have unearthed evidence of Scotland's earliest man in a field in South Lanarkshire.

Flint tools similar to those known to have been used in the Netherlands in 12,000 B.C. it predates the earliest evidence of human occupation in Scotland in sites such as Cramond by some 3,500 years. Stepping the MacFlintstones back in to the Mesolithic period from the Neolithic where the Cramond finds had resided.

The previous finds of this period in the UK had all previously been south of the Humber. Tom Ward of the Biggar Archaeology Group said:

"To push Scotland's human history back by nearly 4,000 years is remarkable.

"We didn't set out to do that. What we wanted to do was tell the story
of the landscape.

He warned that "a lot of people won't believe this. Not until they see
the hard evidence.

"But it'll be great fun proving them wrong. We've got the physical
objects, so we can just put them down on the table and say argue with that".

So Jock and Sheila MacFlintstone and Boab and Elsbeth Rumble may have been around for longer than we realised. Or at least where here in Scotland maybe for a bit some time before they were previously thought to have set up home.

Hillsborough (Doncaster Station) Twenty Years On (Almost)

At six minutes past three almost twenty years ago I was sitting in the pub on Doncaster station with a ticket for the Lepping Lane End of Hillsborough for the FA Cup Semi Final in my bag containing my athletics gear. A failure to delivery a timely urine sample after competing in an Athletics meet that morning meant I was still some distance away from my second sporting venue of the day; that time as a mere spectator and not a competitor.

The television in the pub went to the game I was at that time missing. But focused not on the football but on the fans. This was an age before mobile phones so I had no idea how the friends I was meant to have met up with in that terrace were. They also had no idea that I still wasn’t in the stadium, or Sheffield for that matter. We’re weren’t to know about each other until many hours later when we all returned to London to carry on our studies; unlike many others we were lucky. I saw fans being carried from the terraces on advertising hoardings by their fellow fans.
The train came for Sheffield but I still didn’t move: there was no point.

This the nearest Saturday to that match day twenty years ago I have been watching the build up to the game against Blackburn live on Football Focus the memories of that day are very fresh just now. Seeing the headlines from that paper, I still dare not mention by name nor do I read (unless I accidentally follow a link to the online edition), brought back some raw emotions to me as a fan who wasn’t even in Liverpool at the time. But a feeling that in the various times I have stood (officially sat) with my fellow Liverpool fans across London and other stadiums is that we are family, that we lost 96 brothers and sisters as a result of 20 years ago.

Football has moved on a lot from that day twenty years ago. We now compete in top stadia in all seater venues. But being a Livingston fan I still get a kick out of occasional trips to venues where I can stand, East Stirlingshire or Ross County with Livingston, or watching junior football at Bathgate or Linlithgow or somewhere.

Having been someone who should have been there that day I appreciate all that Lord Taylor did in his report as far as making it safer to visit a big match. Although in the tough financial circumstances it has forced many clubs into the meet minimum criteria in entry into the SPL hasn’t all been good news for football as a whole, the prerequisite for safety is sometimes coming ahead of the need for sustainability.

But still there are things that are not settled in Liverpool fans' eyes from that day. The things that were and weren’t done by the emergency services, when what they thought was mere hooliganism became something far beyond that and far more tragic; but even with fresh realisation the slowness to act. The lies propagated as ‘The Truth’ by a red top that still doesn’t sell well on Merseyside.

This Saturday is the hardest Saturday I’ve had in 10 years. This Saturday I should be supporting another team whose name begins with the letters ‘LIV’ but I just can’t bring myself to go. There will be chants that will start up that have emanated from Anfield.

Tuesday on the eve of the day itself see’s Britain most successful team in European club competition take on Chelsea. This set on Champion League fixtures were arranged around the request of the club not to play on the anniversary itself something that hasn’t happened in any of the 20 years since.

For the 96 you'll never walk alone.

Thanks to Caron for hosting my laptop this afternoon to allow me to post.

Friday, 10 April 2009

Temporarily Turning Out the Lights

As some of you who follow my Twitter feeds will know my poor Mobile Broadband Dongle is poorly and has gone off to the Docs. This means it is unlikely that I will posting anything new over the weekend either here, on Facebook or Twitter or anywhere in the known Interweb.

So have fun! Enjoy the weekend.

But in my risk assessor role I say don't hurt yourself rolling after too many eggs down too many hills.

Supreme DM has Rolled His Last Dice on this Spheroid

Dave Arneson one of the co-creators of Dungeons and Dragons has lost all his key ability scores and character levels and no magic will be able to restore him to the game of life. At least not on this board where you are reading this.

Having created the game that became the worldwide success and godfather and pinnacle of role playing in 1974 with Gary Gygax he sadly passed away to cancer in St. Paul, Minnesota on Tuesday.
In tribute his daughter, Malia Weinhagen, said:
"The biggest thing about my dad's world is he wanted people to have fun in life. I think we get distracted by the everyday things you have to do in life and we forget to enjoy life and have fun.

"But my dad never did. He just wanted people to have fun."
No doubt he'll either be rolling polyhedral dice with whatever celestial being you believe exists. But if you don't his dice will simply have stopped rolling although the millions of dice rolls either on tabletops on online will be a honour to live and D&D players will continue to have fun in his memory.
Dave Arneson 1947-2009

Thursday, 9 April 2009

Right Wing Bloggers Need Beauty Sleep? - Mr Eugenides

Mr Eugenides jumped to the defence of the Right Wing Blogpsphere's silence over the Guardian's Ian Tomlinson video. In response to James Graham he said that they all needed an early night, or were out drinking, or as I did read from the Blogfather Iain Dale was at the movies.

Now the 8 o'clock publication time hardly holds much water on most weekday evenings. I've seen the right wing blogosphere light up at that sort of time when something that Labour or indeed the Lib Dems have said has be highlighted by someone at around that time. Their blogrolls will have been telling them that this news was breaking and was breaking all over the blogosphere. At various times gauging on my own tracks I was listed on CNN, MSNBC and ABC in the States as a blog about this particular story. Though with so many stories about it I appear to have not been there long on any of them.

8pm is not particularly late especially on a day when there is Champions League football on. The Tories with David Davis, championed of course by Iain Dale have been trying to say they are standing up for civil liberties. The fact that none of them took the time to even pass comment the evening of that breaking news story does show how 'seriously' they are taking them.

After I posted my own comments I went to Lib Dem Blogs to see that already there were a number of stories up from our side about this. I admit I was watching the football and got to the news late 21:56 but I got there. None of the right wing football fans did. Oh the argument that none of them know is hogwash I saw several of them Twittering away after the news broke on applications that would have given them feeds from some of their followees which would have told them it was going on.

Brake on Kettling

Peter Brookes from the Times 9 April 2009

In the Times today this is further reporting on the policing of the G20 protests last week, in light of the new footage that is emerging of just what happened to Ian Tomlinson.

Tom Brake the Lib Dem MP for Carshalton and Wallington was there as an independent parliamentary observer. Having already read his note on Facebook and seen his pictures to see his thoughts being brought into the mainstream media was a welcome addition.

Tom himself was detained within the 'kettle' and saw for himself that the detention of the peaceful with those in minority who were out to cause trouble ended turning ugly.

"'Kettling' is a tactic that should come under review. At the first sign of difficulty, the police present a wall of riot shields and batons around protesters — the peaceful alongside the problematic — and slowly squeeze them into a tighter space. People are allowed in, but absolutely no one is allowed to leave.

"Slowly the number of inmates increases. No access to food. No water. Young trapped with the old. Journalists trapped with anarchists. People, like an elderly couple I spoke to, who simply did not want to be there at all.

"It is not surprising that under such conditions an otherwise overwhelmingly relaxed and peaceful crowd can become agitated, then angry, and then violent. The tactic proved misguided and counter-productive. It served to alienate a whole mass of peaceful protesters."

It may be right tactic to deal with the violent in the mob, indeed as a football fan I have often been effectively in a moving kettle being shepherded away from an away ground into my means of transportation. But there is a difference from being moved along and being penned in, as journalists, MPs and friends of people who ended up needing hospital treatment were on that day.

If the police lose their sense of proportion, fairness and justice as well as the means to control a situation. If their actions exacerbate and pour oil on the coals of what they were trying to snuff out then there clearly needs to be a rethink. If innocent people (and today's Times indicated multiple) were without provocation hit from behind by baton wielding men in uniforms, we need to do something.

We don't accept thugs on our streets. Just because they have Her Majesty's crest on their gang's uniform or colours they should not be treated any differently.

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Carry On Camping with Berlusconi

The Italian President has said of the victims of the Italian earthquake:

"They have everything they need, they have medical care, hot food...... Of course, their current lodgings are a bit temporary. but they should see it like a weekend of camping"

Well Silvio for starters when you go camping you generally have a home to head back to when you want to or get tired of it: with all the home conforts available.

Secondly if what the people of the towns and villages affected have been saying is right they are bing told they may be out for at least 3 months, hardly temporary if you want them to be camping though that all.

Best to think before engaging the tongue. Not very sensible way of putting it.

Not So "Quick"-witted of the Yard

Less haste more heed may well be the lesson learnt by Assistant Commissioner Bob Quick today. This morning he exited a car in Downing Street carry plans for an anti-terrorism raid. This evening, after the top sheet was photographed clearly giving far too much information, 10 suspects were arrested in raids.

The obvious conclusion to be drawn was that Quick was entering Downing Street to brief on the plans that were captured. However, as the details on the agency photograph were zoomed across the world the raid and arrests were moved up in Liverpool, Manchester and Lancashire. Evening raids of this sort are unusual so it is highly likely that as a result of the slow-wittedness and hasty exit of Quick from that car this operation was put under risk if it wasn't proceeded with immediately.

Whether the police were ready to make these arrests at this time we will no doubt find out if the suspects are in fact held. If they were still gathering information in preparation for it and were maybe waiting for some final piece to slot into place before going in, may well mean that what they could take is what had to be taken.

In a bad few days for the police this failure to protect operationally sensitive data is just another sign that our "police state" is simply not competent to deal with such sensitive data. Whether that is their own operational plans or our DNA or whatever they want to keep neither the police nor this Government seem capable to handling things with the trust they would want, which we should be unwilling to give them anyway.

****Breaking News**** Channel 4 News have just announced that the officer seen beating and flooring Ian Tomlinson, shortly before he died of a heart attack when he wasn't protesting at G20, has voluntarily come forward.

****Breaking Comment**** Still on Channel 4 News Shami Chakrabarti is right that is doesn't look good. Brain Paddick whilst trying to defend the enquiry and the process is not coming across strong enough against the evidence from the three cameras that captured the final minutes of Ian Tomlinson's existance.