Thursday 31 December 2009

My Top Ten Blogposts of 2009

This will now be my 800th 803rd Blog Post of 2009, indeed it is the 99th 102nd of this very productive month (of course I go a write three more while coming up with my shortlist). The leanest month was June when there were still 37 blogposts, may have been down to post election syndrome, but that still an average of just over one per day. December was the most productive. Even if it meant one particular Saturday scouring You Tube and coming up with posts for when I thought I might not be so readily online over the holiday period.

However with the Orwell Awards and the end of the year it is a good time to reflect on the best of that selection from this year. Not all of my best writing comes when I am happy, nothing like a good rant eh.

Speaking of Orwell of course 2010 sees the last time Big Brother will appear on our screens. So in the words of Davina McCall here are my best bits.

10. Friday Blog Love: Where I Agree with Tony Blair -taking a look at an interview with the former Prime Minister about the progress on gay issues in the 15 years that Attitude had been around.

9. The 3.5% Growth Myth - You know when something grates with you as not sounding right here is how I fisked the budget but I didn't do that just once, but twice because of one little phrase.

8. Letter to my Sixteen Year Old Self - A recent one from only the other week but one I though about for a while. Of this one Paul Walter said "Well done Stephen. This concept does my head in a bit, but when I read letters like yours it makes sense of the idea."

7. Votertragedyapproachesgordonisatrocious - Regular readers will of course know that down through the years I've messed around with songs and made the words topical, this one is the not the tune you are expecting from Mary Poppins but the title came to me after and had be laughing all the more.

6. West Lothian Question for Sky Election Debate - Being a political activist and candidate in this neck of the wood does mean that one giant and one intervention in Parliament always manages to seep in. So on a subject I believe I've blogger five times on a monthly basis this year two Linlithgow sons Tam and Alex both get a mention.

5. Secularism Shouldn't Cold Shoulder All People of Faith - When the National Secularist Society said that people of religion from our pluralist society shouldn't be allowed in the House of Commons I played devil's advocate, that is if a man of such staunch Ulster Protestant stock can take on such a Roman Catholic role.

4. The Hardest Word Lacking Feeling: Jan Moir has Spoken Again - Of course following the tragic loss of Stephen Gately I could have more or less filled a top ten of stories that mentioned Jan Moir. Not bad for just over 2 months on the public consciousness. This is where I fisk her unpology*.

3. It's Not the Champagne that is Story - David Cameron got himself into a right Pickle, when he was caught breaking campaign manager Eric's embargo on senior Tories being seen enjoying to much bubbly at conference. I said it wasn't so much the champagne in a recession that was the story but the control that the freedom this, freedom that Tory party wanted to exercise.

2. Tour of Argyll and Bute Take 2 - During the MPs expenses scandal the Torygraph did make a number of stupid statements. One was that Alan Reid the Lib Dem MP should not be allowed to claim expenses for staying at B&Bs in his constituency while visiting constituents during the summer recess. I took just one example of the alternative proposal of getting Alan back to his constitueny home at the end of the day. Take one was actually not me but Caron who was having all sorts of techy issues, so I just jazzed her point up with illustrations etc.

1. Why I Still Need to Go To Church - The title was to a counter point to Caron's piece but considering she opening admitted to this making her cry, each of the times she had to go back a read it, I think it stands up there as my blog post of 2009. It is actually the one I'm most delighted to have written.

* Surely this is the blogging word of the year and destined for the Oxford English Dictionary being used even outside Lib Dem circles I note. Wonder is any other word in the OED has its origins of usage from a felinophobic Elephant.

My Stating the Bleeding Obvious Predictions for 2010

1. There will be a General Election

2. The boat race will be won by Oxford....or of those two teams at any rate.

3. The ice and snow currently covering large swathes of Scotland will melt.

4. During the Football World Cup in South Africa there will descent from players against at least one official.

5. There will be new boxing world champions....what you want the divisions, belts etc?...hey these are the bleeding obvious predictions not Nostradamus or some Mayans.

6. Talking of Mayan's somebody somewhere during the year will point out that the end of the Mayan calendar has happened before, and if only some Mayan were creating new far reaching calendars the film 2012 might not have happened.

7. There will be 5 men and 5 women nominated for the best Actor and Actress awards for the 2010 Academy Awards.

8. David Cameron will smile, look pensive and wave.

9. Gordon Brown will look glum, look glummer and try not to smirk again.

10. The Earth will do a complete circuit of the Sun, the moon will make approximately 13.4 orbits of the earth and Vogon Constructor Ships will not demolish us to make way for a Hyperspace least not this year.

UPDATE: As people keep linking to this and not my actual considered predictions I thought I'd better had do that myself.

The Blank Dishonour List By Omission

The Queen's New Years Honour's list is out [link to PDF file] and there are some interesting honourees amongst them, from Sir Patrick Stewart, through Rick Parfitt and Francis Rossi of Status Quo (obviously for long term service to three chords) to many of the unsung heroes in mundane but important jobs. But it is the omission of some of the biggest sectors of honourees that speaks volumes for 2009.

First up this is the last Honour's list before the dissolution of Parliament, of course there may well be dissolution honours handed out by Gordon Brown, but often in the past these have been increased for some of those known to be stepping down being honoured before then. With 121 MPs already announcing they are stepping down there is not a single Member of Parliament on the list.

The other big sector noticeable in its almost total absence is the bankers. Last year at this time there were none worthy of inclusion. This year there is but a solitary man Dyfrig John the former chief executive of HSBC one of the banks that did not request a Government bail out. But unlike all those knights of the discredited banks who apologised before committee, he is only getting a CBE.

On with the new year then Ma'am and in the words of Jean Luc Picard "Make It So".

Footnote for history: Civil Servants of course miss the Honours Crunch and take up 13% of the honours on offer.

Union Backs Lib Dem Tax Policy

The Public and Commercial Services Union has said that to beat the recession the concentrating on tax avoidance, evasion and non-collection instead of making merely "savage" heavy cuts. They reckon that £70 billion was lost through tax evasion and £25 billion through avoidance, while uncollected tax increased by £2.7 billion to £27.7 billion this year.

Now where I have heard that message before?

Alistair Darling?


George Osbourne?


Vince Cable?

Absolutely and not just a random statement but an ongoing statement of intent.

Yes he did mention it in his conference speech in Bournemouth:

"Spending first. If public spending is cut in the usual way – slash and burn – there will be great damage to local and national services. Good will be cut with bad. Front line services will be butchered and lower paid workers will bear the brunt of cuts.....

"The Liberal Democrat approach to tax is also fundamentally different from the Tories. The Tories top priority is to cut taxes on millionaires. Our top priority is fairer taxes for those on lower and middle incomes.....

"So, my priority would be to cut income tax for those on low and middle incomes. Any such tax cut would be paid for by closing tax loopholes and privileges enjoyed by the relatively wealthy: the big differential between top rate income and capital gains tax; the exceptionally generous tax relief on large pension pots; and the blatant abuse of tax haven status including businesses paying stamp duty offshore. A programme due to be screened this evening will expose complicity on a large scale in tax dodging by Lloyds: a bank part owned by the tax payer. This must be stopped, now."

Oh yeah, Vince yet again looks at the big picture and sees a flaw in the perception of the other two parties in what to do. As I said this was far from an isolated statement. In June writing in the Independent he noted:

"The danger of allowing big differentials to arise between taxes on earnings and capital was clearly understood by Nigel Lawson and the last Conservative government, which taxed them at the same rate. This Government's enthusiasm for incentivising entrepreneurs led to a tapered rate, then widely abused and now abolished, leaving a gaping hole in the defences against tax avoidance.

"Another tax boost to bankers' bonuses is continuing higher rate relief on pension contributions. The Government has removed relief for earnings over £150,000 but that still leaves over £100,000 which enjoys the relief.

"And those with entitlement to non-dom status will also have calculated that it is worth paying the Government's poll tax of £30,000 if they can continue to channel income or capital gains offshore, outside UK tax.

"I am not a tax accountant and I am almost certainly underestimating the scale and scope of tax avoidance under the highly abusive, complex, structured arrangements designed by specialists for the banks' clients and staff. The Government has, in recent years, moved towards an Australian-style general anti-avoidance rule in order to help HMRC combat abuses and it is unclear whether these new bonus-related schemes have cleared that hurdle. If they have, someone in HMRC is being taken for a ride"

You see he is a man who has even noticed that current Government policy has made it easier to avoid paying full taxation, for those with the nous and resources to be able to take advantage of the system. Gordon is telling voters not to wreck the recovery but he and Darling have already wrecked the system in ways that has led to the tax gaps mentioned.

Back in February writing in the Guardian he also said:

"The evidence of systematic tax avoidance by rich individuals and UK-based companies strikes a particularly ugly note in these straitened times. There is an all-party consensus that non-domiciles should pay more (though the Conservative-backed government scheme makes no distinction between the super-rich and non-doms of more modest means). My own party wants to tackle more systematically the anomalies that make it possible to avoid paying even the top 40% rate, let alone 45% or more.

"The tax avoidance by corporations is, however, much greater and more difficult to identify. The simple point is that companies should be paying 28% of their UK profits in tax, while the evidence suggests that many high-profile British companies pay much less.

"Companies are, of course, not individuals but legal entities. Any corporate tax is ultimately passed on somewhere else - in reduced dividends or wages or in higher prices. Corporate profits may not be an ideal tax base. But there is surely some basic justice in the proposition that companies should pay the government of their host country for the infrastructure and other tax-financed services they receive: education, health, transport systems, policing"

Here is a man who has been talking about this all through 2009. Sure Darling and Osbourne may well take action based on the Public and Commercial Services Union's New Year Press release. But who do you want leading the economy as we run into the next general elections? The parties taking a knee jerk decision to follow last minute advise from the experts, or the party that has been talking the talk and making the decisions that have pre-empted that call?

The Lib Dems believe in fairness and getting the balance right between spending, tax rises and getting hold of what is rightfully HMRCs but has been overlooked or neglected.

Wednesday 30 December 2009

Drumroll Please....Announcing the Scotblog Awards

Duncan announced them last night on Scottish Round Up and then also posted about them on his blog, as have James and everyone's favourite Greek Baby.

What I hear you cry? Well keep you suspenders on. As many of us in Scotland are wisely keeping off the roads unless absolutely necessarily we'll all undoubtedly have some free time over the next few days to think, reminisce and think back over the last year. While your at it what have been the best blogs of that period.

As Duncan says:

"With the end of the year comes mild nostalgia, endless navel gazing and jumped-up awards ceremonies. In the past couple of months one or two people suggested to me that there should be an end-of-year Scottish Roundup awards ceremony. After canvassing opinions among some other bloggers, most agreed that it was a good idea.

"So here they are: the Scotblogs awards.

"I had originally planned on running this throughout December. But I have been quite busy so it has been pushed back to January. I figured that if it’s good enough for the Oscars to be held in March and the Mercury Music Prize to be held in September, holding the Scotblogs awards in January would be just fine!

"I should point out that the Scotblogs awards will not just be about patting each other on the back (though no doubt that will form a part of it). But primarily it is intended as a celebration of Scottish blogging as a whole, and a way to promote new and under-appreciated blogs."

He wants you're nominations (or you own opt out) in by 13 January, but is also looking for any suggestions of how to structure said awards. Having recently, while back home in Northern Ireland had a drink with some of the Slugger O'Toole mob who run a Northern Irish equivalent, which is quite an event. And being in the crush in Old Harry's Bar in August for the Lib Dem BOTYs I'm sure the Scots will come up with something to match them both eventually.

Rumours are that Tom Harris is going to be providing a red carpet for the occasion. However, after his generous outlay of a round at the August bloggers meet up it may end up only being a swatch of carpet.

Winter Olympics? No Just My Journey to Work

It may be day fourteen of the big freeze here in East Central Scotland but unlike Caron I don't suffer from chionophobia, so I've been out and about; mainly getting to work. But even with all my winter sports experience (skiing, skating and ice climbing) had a bit of a tough time of it today.

Firstly to fill you in weather wise while last night Bathgate has a further covering of snow it appears that Edinburgh, being slightly warmer, had either slight or light rain. When either melted some of the compacted snow which then froze, or froze itself forming an icy compote. Indeed no sooner had I sat on my bus and opened my laptop to read about Margaret Thatcher in the papers than it started to snow, maybe she ain't so much Iron Maiden as Ice Queen.

Anyway I got off my bus in Edinburgh late after a detour en route to the depot at Deans to fix one of the wipers, in time to follow the pavement gritter/plough as it made its way in the way I was walking. At least until it got along to the RBS building on Lochside Court. Then as I headed south he went north. He'd done as far as Lochside Way but beyond that to the station it started to get icy, even where it previously had been cleared in places. Time to put those times whizzing around the rink into practice, arms stretched out, to maintain an upright posture.

This was fine until through the other side the slight slope down towards the lights claimed me. Over I went unto my right wrist. Ow!

For those who know Edinburgh Park I then had to climb the hill up past the Royal Mail depot. While the pavement was ice there is a considerable grass verge which made the climb possible without risking life and limb on the road with delivery lorries, postal vans and early morning commuters.

Well at least I made it.

However, during the day the temperature rose above zero. There was a slight thaw before it dipped down below zero. So for the return trip the hill both the grass covering and the pavement was worse than in the morning. I remembered to bend the knees Pavel my ski instructor from Sinaia would have been proud. Lowering and moving the centre of gravity up the hill in this way allow be to avoid falling on my face, though there were a few slips and the presence of skis or crampons may have been a good idea rather than just my stout hiking boots.

Tomorrow is of course another day. But there is a chill in the air and the sky's are laden with clouds that look set to pour down more snow. Enough snow on the ice and it'll be passable, at least for tomorrow morning, but what about after that?

What If Alex Faced the Cameras on National TV

Ok it must be Alex's time of the month. Yeah you guessed it once again he his making headlines regarding the Prime Ministerial debates. The BBC are in a sit down chat with the man who not only has no aspirations to be Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, but who also at some point next year will no longer want to serve it from its Parliament.

I've mentioned before the different claims of other parties, UKIP the Green, the DUP and even the BNP on various factors over the man who leads the challenge in a mere 59 seats. But today I'm going to humour him and the SNP supporters and imagine that Alex Salmond actually gets to be in the debate. Now the format has not been set out for any of the three debates so questions may come the audience in attendance, a chairman or may come from the other leaders in the studio. So here we go here are some of the questions or supplementaries that Alex may have to answer.

When you become Prime Minister what would you party do for....?

I'm leaving the rest of this question blank. The only time any SNP leader becomes Prime Minister would be when they started to win seats in England, or if unfortunately after entering a coalition the SNP deputy leader took on the caretaker Prime Ministerial reigns while the larger partner went about the process of selecting the actual next Prime Minister. As this may well be the preamble to any number of questions in this debate how is Salmond or any other SNP spokesperson going to be able to play these with a straight bat without looking stupid.

Mr Salmond, you fought hard to get into this debate yet you are leaving the commons, what is the point?

It is bound to come up isn't it. Alex Salmond has been fighting long and hard to get into these debates yet is stepping down in the election. Indeed any press release from the SNP says that they want Alex Salmond in the debates so there are variations on this question. It may have the addition that many people cannot vote for you yet you have fought for your democratic right to represented (what about other UK wide parties etc).

You want a referendum on Independence but are going to have to join with the Conservative and Unionist Party to do so, is this a marriage or rather a divorce of convenience?

This could well be a question that makes both Salmond and Cameron squirm. Of course well now that such an Alliance is merely a convenience for both side. If a referendum passes the Conservative hold on power in Scotland increases, if it fails they would like like being the good guys in certain Scottish eyes and may be able to squeeze the odd nationalist vote in certain seats. For Salmond to admit that his fate lies in the hand of the Conservative and Unionist Party shows just what a level of inferiority he actually holds. He hasn't got the majority of seats or votes in Scotland that would force a hand he has to go begging bowl in hand to get the whole reason d'etre of his single issue party (let's face it there only one issue of their 2007 manifesto that is still standing in tact) moved upon.

The danger as any Lib Dem will happily tell you of appearing too eager for one specific side, other than your own, to succeed in an election but not by enough that they need your help always leads to trouble.

It leads to the follow up.

Suppose you get you referendum and it fails, will you remain in coalition and what will your party do for the people of the rest of the UK seeing as Mr Cameron won't let you vote on devolved issues?

The clash of the West Lothian answers will again have them both squirming. The Tories have suggested that they will stop Scottish MPs voting on English only matters. (I do wonder if the same will apply to only let Northern Irish, Welsh and Scottish MPs take votes on the future of their various devolved states). So shoring up a majority with the support of a Scottish only party surely defeats the object. Stopping maybe three of his own members and (I'll amuse the Nats further) 20 SNP MPs may not be enough to get any legislation through, including stopping Scottish MPs having a vote on English matters. Of course Salmond's answer to the West Lothian Question looks straight forward, do away with the Union. But thankfully most Scots are of the option that isn't the way to go.

However, the answer of what an SNP aligned with the Tories could possibly do could well harm not only the SNPs chances, and as for the Tories they will not want the Salmond claims of we can only do this with Dave's help to cause their own votes in marginals to do a wobbly and vote for the other guys. Salmond's grand plan to say Dave is our man may well unravel under the heat of the studio lights and lead onward to the ballot box.

Actually you know now that I think of all the booby traps of question for both Salmond and the leader of the Conservative and Nationalist government to answer the more I want to see Salmond in the debates. It will help the sitting Lib Dems in Tory marginal hopes. It could well lead to a hung parliament of even greater need for a strong third party to back it up, it could actually lead to Nick Clegg getting some fairness into a programme of Government. I think Salmond's persistence is going to be his undoing and in a good way with it that of Dave's agenda of words.

You know I just may have been wrong to want to steer Salmond away from the spotlight of the National stage. I do hope the questions are up to speed to show up the ludicrously of the SNP being there, their failure to keep their end of the bargain for Scotland, and makes them into a laughing stock on National TV.

Recession is Over....Apparently

Yeah the man who told us that boom and bust was over, before the bust came, is now to tell us the recession is over despite economic indicators pointing otherwise.

Yes Gordon Brown is bringing us his new years message this year from cloud cuckooland. In the same speech that he tells us that the recession is over he also tells us that the recovery is still fragile. He says he wants to help those who are worse off. He especially says he wants to help those who want a bit of help to own their own home, set up their own business and give their children the best start in life.

But hang on a bit those wanting to own their own home are those that currently can afford to gather together the deposit that the banks are requesting, a level of money that has now soared. Those who want to set up their own business aren't necessarily those in non-skilled minimum wage level or just above jobs. Indeed apart from giving their children the best start in life the aspirations of those on "modest incomes" they have more immediate aspirations. The ability to feed, house and heat their families as retail prices continue to rise, public transport costs are rising above the rate of inflation and pay increases for those lucky enough to still have them.

The other day David Cameron said:

"Let's be honest that whether you're Labour, Conservative or Liberal Democrat, you're motivated by pretty much the same progressive aims: a country that is safer, fairer, greener and where opportunity is more equal."

I've already pointed out that this ain't necessarily honesty, and also looked at one way that the Tories may set about dealing with the deficit. Cameron seems adamant that he isn't starting a class war, yet his taxation system is deepening that divide. He's even trying to 'love bomb' Lib Dem voters. Gordon Brown s saying that he doesn't want to alienate the middle classes, why? Because these are the people needed to keep him clinging unto power. Both are pandering to those whose votes they will be relying on whenever the general election comes.

Indeed Nick Clegg includes in his new year message a question:

"As the countdown to the next General Election finally begins, I have a simple question for the other party leaders: what do you believe, really believe? "

Because as pointed out above they are saying what they think people want to hear not what they need to hear. Only the Liberal Democrats are looking at the current situation, seeing the way out of it, and are standing by their conviction of fairness. The other two parties are showing just how shallow their convictions to fairness are, they are only fair to those most likely to vote for them. Nick goes on to say:

"Under my leadership the Liberal Democrats have been working on new ideas to make Britain the fair country I believe most people want it to be. We want to raise standards in all of our schools by giving specific help to the children most in need, and by making class sizes smaller. Soon we will be publishing new ideas to turn our economy away from its over dependence on the City of London to a new, green economy where hundreds of thousands of new jobs will be created as we rebuild our transport, energy and housing infrastructure. Above all, we are now the only party with a detailed plan to make taxes fair – removing all income tax on the first £10000 you earn, paid for by asking people at the top to pay a bit more.

"If we as Leaders want people to turn out to vote at all at the next General Election, we have got to show people our convictions, not just dividing lines, our beliefs, not just soundbites. "

Yes the road ahead is tough, it may well be far from over as the recovery is fragile. But are the people who are going to be in charge going to be looking at making a fair approach out of it, or only assisting those who give us a push up. I'm glad the Lib Dems are looking at how to deal with the mess that Brown, for let us not forget who got us here, got us into, but also do so by keeping our convictions of fairness and greeness. Not things we come to in words alone as a good idea of what people want to hear a la Dave but convictions that run through our essence like the work Blackpool through rock.

Tuesday 29 December 2009

Is Iain Dale Hinting At Cameron's "Fairness"?

Of course you probably wouldn't be a Lib Dem blogger, or a regular reader of Lib Dem blogs and escaped the news of David Cameron's love bomb New Year Message.

We there is an interesting possible proviso of what may lie ahead in Iain Dale's blog. In his ten predictions for 2010 he predicts that:

"VAT will go up to 20% at some point this year"

Now that is an interesting statement for someone who has recently looked at becoming a Conservative candidate. There are only three possible occasions that VAT could be raised next year, after it goes up on January 1st that is.

The first would be in the budget. The second would be if an incoming Conservative Chancellor wants to radically change things just after a splash and dash budget into General Election failure by Labour. The third would be in the Autumn Pre-Budget Report as Darling did last month.

So does this mean that the Tories are planning to lift the level of the regressive* VAT to 20%. Cameron is talking about fairness. The Lib Dems are promising to lift the income tax threshold closer to the level of the national minimum wage than any of the other main parties is prepared to go. The Lib Dems also recognise that VAT hurts most those on the lowest incomes. The raise in VAT would be vintage conservatism. Its very nature of being the same on all goods means that their wealthy donors don't feel that they are being hard done by.

But historically look at who has made the increases in VAT.

In Geoffrey Howe's first budget for Margaret Thatcher in 1979 the Tories almost doubled the standard rate from 8% to 15%, even the higher rate before then was only 12.5%. The only other Chancellor to take VAT to new heights was John Major in his 1991 budget taking it the 17.5% level. The Major increase was to help fund for a cut in that other regressive tax the Poll Tax, robbing Peter to pay Paul. Darling's cut in 2008 was only a temporary measure one which he felt would act as a stimulus.

Cameron as I said yesterday likes to think that we are more in common, but I don't think there is anything in common about how to raise the Government's finances in a fair way, which is kind of a major issue.

Embarrassing Update: No sooner do I post about the difference's between Lib Dems and Conservative than Sara Bedford points out one of our MP is following in an Anatidae nature.

* Yeah that was even my initial reaction as I live blogged the pre-budget report.

Here's a Little Series What I Wrote
Today being the 200th Annivesary of William Ewart Gladstone's birth here is a series of articles I wrote back in 2002 for H2G2:

Part one looking at his early life and election campaigns.

Part two looking at this time in Government both a Chancellor and Prime Minister.

Part three wrapping up a number of subjects, his relationship with the Queen, his speeches and campaigns, he personal life, writtings and reforms.

Looking at these again I may well have to do a little rewrite on these or a few more in depth articles on certain aspects.

The picture is of Mr and Mrs Gladstone at Glencorse Station during the Midlothian campaign. At that time a lot of what is now West Lothian was also part of the constituency that Gladstone was fighting.

If 42 is the Answer is General in March?

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy would have this to say about the Labour Party's attitude to by elections in their gift, had the editor on Alpha Centurii ever got around to amending the entry on Earth from 'Mostly Harmless' to something with a little more flesh.

The approach that Labour have to on of their members dying is confusing, no confusing that that. Think of the difficulties the male of the various species have had in pleasuring Eccentrica Gallumbits the triple breasted whore of Eroticon Six. Then, as rumour has it, the only person to give her the biggest bang since the big one had a extra arm fitted or the purpose. Of course the fact that said arm belonged to one time President of the Galaxy, and fugitive space joy Zaphod Bebblebrox and you might just get to the level of confusion required.

The Labour Party in the United Kingdom (a rather small sea locked mixture of islands at what was once erroneously considered to the be the North West corner of the world) actually change their mind on what is appropriate when one of their Members of Parliament dies or for that matter resigns.

There have been occasions when they rushed out a tribute leaflet within days of the funeral, and moved a writ to replace the deceased before the worms have even managed to get a sniff of the delights within the wooden casket, let alone been able to move into the vicinity of the meat counter. It is clear that on these occasions it is highly appropriate to have had discussions in private about the timing and actions to be taken. Indeed it is apparent that in the past their thoughts haven't always been "completely with" the family of the deceased.

However, there are times as the ape descended carbon based lifeform Mark Reckon's points out when they seem to want to hold off. However, as was later unearthed at the time of the second coming of the Great Green Arklesiezure this was because they did not heed the far larger death to come of the New Labour project itself.

As Mark points out with the exception of Glasgow North East 42 working days would be above average for the period from writ to by election. If Labour hold off beyond that expect a March election to negate the need to move the writ.

Ten for 2010

Last year the Blogosphere made their nine predictions for 2009 so here on New Year's Eve (I was going to post this on New Year's Eve but mixed up my 2 and 3 in postdating it) as Iain Dale is doing his today (according to Facebook at 23:30 on Monday) here are my pick of ten happenings for 2010.

1. Britain will take their best return ever in the Winter Olympics with 5 medals. We'll start with the local pair Sinead and John Kerr who will win their first Olympic medal. Zoe Gillings will snowboard her way to the podium and not to be outdone in form Chemmy Alcock will bring her best to the piste to also lift a medal. On the bobsleigh track two Britons Amy Williams and Shelly Rudman will stand on the podium in the women's skeleton bob.

2. The results of the General Election in Scotland give Labour 28, Lib Dems 16, SNP 13, Tories 2.

3. After the result and Gordon falling on his schian dubh, the Milliband brothers tie up most of the remaining Labour MPs nominations between them. Inspired by the Polish President and Prime Minister, or maybe Jedward they decide to run a joint leadership bid. They try to use the name Dedward Milliband, although rumours that Louis Walsh, or PM Cameron are going to either sue or use the 'deadwood' sounding name they decide on Edvid instead.

4. Andy Murray will win a Grand Slam this year....(I know I said that last year). If he hasn't won the Australian watch out for the US Open. He will reach the semi-finals in all four (if he is fit).

5. Michael Schumacher will win two of the first three races of the F1 season, but a shunt mid-season brings his comeback to an end when he aggravates old injuries.

6. Team Sky Rider Bradley Wiggins will ride along the Champs d'Elysee behind his Green Jerseyed compatriot Mark Cavendish to the best finish ever by a Brit in the Grand Tour when he podiums.

7. The Church of Scotland to stop the anti-gay grouping in the church continually breaking the moratorium of silence over homosexual ministers will bring forward a decision on the issue at this years General Assembly.

8. Russell T. Davis after bringing back Doctor Who announces that he is try it again. He plans to bring back to the small screen Charlie's Angels with a twist, Charlie is female and the angels are a mixture of male and female eye candy.

9. A small group of Premier League footballers hold a joint press conference to announce that they are gay. Football fans are surprisingly supportive with the news. Fans of both sets of fans drowning out the homophobic numpties who try and make something of it.

10. Strictly Come Dancing sees the return of Arlene Philips as a judge in the new five judges format.

Some Grand Old Sayings

In honour of the 200th Anniversary of the birth of the Grand Old Man, William Ewart Gladstone, who served 4 terms as Prime Minister when losing a vote was a matter of honour that called for a General Election here are some of his sayings.

"Liberalism is trust of the people tempered by prudence. Conservatism is distrust of the people tempered by fear."

"Be happy with what you have and are, be generous with both, and you won't have to hunt for happiness."

"Justice delayed is justice denied."

"No man ever became great or good except through many and great mistakes."

There is a rally at Gladstone's statue near Haymarket at 12:00 today where David Steel will be saying a few things about his predecessor. Sadly I won't be there but check out Caron's blog for more details.

The Case of the Paranoid Ayatollah

If you're going to take militaristic action and fire on those that oppose you the least you could do is allow the families of the dead to take away the corpse for burial. Not however in Iran, and not if you've just killed the nephew of the man who only 6 months before came close to bringing the change that the demonstrators wanted.

It is often a sign that the regime in charge has lost the plot when they know that they have created a martyr and don't want the funeral to become another outpouring of opposition against their actions. The fact that Seyed Ali Mousavi's corpse was ceased from the hospital by the authorities and even close trading Russia are urging restraint shows that the Iranians are on a loose footing.

The news that Mr Mousavi, whose uncle Mir Hossein Mousavi stood aside from the rerun of the June Presidential election, was shot in the chest suggests his shooting wasn't merely for crowd dispersal but an assassination. However, on Sunday forces ring fenced the hospital where Mr Mousavi and four others who were killed were taken before whisking the corpses of for an 'autopsy'. They used tear gas to disperse the crowds that gathered and are also alleging that foreign agents were responsible for the murders to bring discredit to the regime. However, as Mr Mousavi had in recent weeks received death threats, which have now been realised the finger most surely point to Iranian sources.

It is a scene of paranoia the likes of which we maybe haven't seen unfold like this since the last days of the Ceauşescu regime in Romania. We all know how that attempt to kept the people in place ended just over 20 years ago. The fact the the people of Iran after months of thinking about the previous slaughter are prepared once more to take to the streets knowing what fate may befall them is a sign that no amount of Government intervention is going to silence them until their goal is reached.

Monday 28 December 2009

Goodbye Mrs Robinson

So long, farewell, you're departures overdue.
She won't be missed by you, and you and you.

Yes Iris Robinson is to quit public life stating depression as the reason.

Now I wouldn't normally make like of anyone's mental health but Iris has hoisted a petard of her own making in her utterances on the subject of mental health. Remember back in 2008 when Iris said:

"I have a very lovely psychiatrist who works with me in my offices and his Christian background is that he tries to help homosexuals - trying to turn away from what they are engaged in."

I wonder if she is now working with him in his offices?

Of course as Iris points out she is just one in four of the population who "struggle with mental illnesses at one level or another". That is people with a genuine reason for going to see one. Not for the reason that is 2008 she advocated that about one in ten of the population needed to see one. He lovely psychiatrist friend would have had quite a healthy practice if that were the case.

She has said that "the stress and strain of public life comes at a cost and my health has suffered". The thing is that the stress and strain of living a gay life can lead to mental health issues, but majorly these are caused either by not accepting oneself for who you are, which is normally brought on by being surrounded by people around you who consider it to not be right.

As I said earlier I don't cast aspersions at anyone's mental health, regular readers who have read my letter to my sixteen year old self, have probably already put two and two together and I'll be awarding ticks later. So I do wish Iris a full recovery from her depression. I also hope that through this experience she may also learn that some of the things from her public life are utterances that may have led others to a similar state.

Update: In response to one message I have recieved already, depite being educated in Iris's Strangford constituency I will not be putting myself forward as an Alliance candidate to replace her.

Update 2: I see that Iain Dale has linked to this blog post and it is causing some misunderstanding, not from Iain, but from his blog readers. Therefore to verify I'm posting here the comment I have made on Iain's comments.

"I see that [some commenters] have taken my comments in the wrong way.

"As I do say on my own blog I don't take people's mental problems lightly, the reason as hinted at are that I did suffer depression at a young age due to the repression of my sexuality as one who grew up in the Northern Irish culture.

"I do genuinely wish that Iris makes a recovery, but I'm fully aware that recovery from a bout of depression and recovering from depression are two very different things. Indeed just like some people are recovering alcoholics so some people are aware and coping depressives.

"However, as I also know both the stresses of a live involved in politics and also of the stresses of a live being told you are abnormal because of what you feel. I wasn't handing out a scolding but pointing out the juxtoposition of Iris's public statements effect on others and the end of her public life."

David Through the Looking Glass

The Mad Hatter was heading to city hall. The Cheshire Cat had been and left the stage for the Duchess to take over the most prestigious address in Wonderland trying to agree with everyone and find a moral in everything.

It was surprising therefore that young David having found himself in this position wanted a bit of every one of them. He wanted the power that the Mad Hatter, a school boy acquaintance, had achieved only more so. He wanted to smile for everyone like the Cheshire Cat yet to know that there was also a time for sincerity. As for the Duchess, well he wanted that house, he thought he had to be nice to everyone to do so. He'd enjoy the view from the inside if he succeeded of Tweedledum and Tweedledee working out which of them was the Duchess, or indeed the Cheshire Cat's, natural successor.

"I don't think we should invent differences where there aren't differences," said David.

But then he went on to invent similarities when they were tenuous, "A hung Parliament would be bad for Britain, would be bad for the sort of strong united determined leadership that we need, but we shouldn't invent differences where they don't exist."

Yes as you tell this isn't from the pen of Lewis Carroll but a look at the wonderland, befundleland more like, of the Conservative leadership. They really think:
"There are many more areas where Liberal Democrats and Conservatives agree and that's a good thing but we need to have a decisive election."

Now I'm all for agreeing with my political opponents when we do agree but Dave, on this one I must protest. Senior Tories have apparently saying the the Cameron 'love bomb' is aimed at Lib Dem voters not our MPs, candidates etc. Hence the comment about a hung parliament being a bad thing. You see the Tories are talking about change but don't want to have to move to accommodate some of another parties agenda if there was a hung parliament. As they are aiming that statement at Lib Dems it should be apparent that Dave doesn't want the change that we behind Nick Clegg are offering. If he was prepared to do the things the Lib Dems wanted a hung parliament would be good for Britain if that were the case.

Indeed lets look at the three key areas that they say they are targeting: green issues, decentralisation, and less state interference.

Green Issues: Looking around at Conservative councils and activists around the country I've yet to be convinced that there really is a green heart beating behind a blue Rosette. Iain Dale their uberblogger led a denial-lite blogging strand that stretched across a number of Tory blogs recently over Copenhagen. Indeed did anyone spot an activist led Tory presence at the Wave recently. I know I didn't see one in Glasgow (where the Greens, Labour and Lib Dems were out at activist level) and I've heard the same in absentia approach to the climate happened in London. More likely to see Tory activist marching with the Countryside or Tax(non)Payers Alliance that an alliance of environmental concerned groups.

I remember the struggles we had getting better environmental provision through when the Tories controlled Kingston council. From what I see beneath the rhetoric even their own shadow cabinet are fully on board the green agenda. The Lib Dems have a few exceptions, but by in large are on board. We don't deny climate change, but will heartily debate how best to go about it.

Decentralisation: Actually seeing Annabel Goldie reverse over the horizon about Calman and hearing all the cutting of Westminster powers promised from the Tories, what they are doing is just that. They are not decentralising power they are cutting the public's ability of have it accountable to them. The Tories rather than moving power from the centre to publicly elected bodies are looking to sell parts of it off to commercial interests. Therefore not for profit will not be an incentive to take over certain aspects but it will another way to make money of those who are poorest, to line the pockets of Dave and Gideon's friends, whether resident or non-domiciled in the UK.

Less state interference: See the above whereas the Tories actually want less state period, the Lib Dems want certain powers devolved down to a more local level areas of health, policing, education being prime examples. The Lib Dems also recognise that there are some issues that need to have more co-ordination, even outwith our borders. Yes that does mean some decisions being made at European level. But the Tories wanted to pull us out of the European Convention on Human Rights, out of the international policing arrangements, don't want us to join the Euro ever. So don't want to protect you rights, your security or your shopping prices in a sensible way all in the cause of less 'interference'. Yes there is a time and a place for freedom but with that freedom there is also a need for responsibility, the Tories are prepared to negate as much responsibility as they can get away with. You don't think so, you may be too young to remember the last Conservative period of power then.

So David Cameron may well be thinking he is looking though a looking glass when he looks at Lib Dem policies compared to his own. He's actually just standing on the street looking through the window at the real change that is on over in the shop window, but he's so vain all he sees is his own reflection and the door to number 10 over his shoulder. Indeed he is already taking the voters and his victory for granted, thinking that those who vote Lib Dem can't see through what he says about difference and similarity.

Sunday 27 December 2009

More Death in Iran as People Want Change they can Believe In

Neda the Iranian who was shot dead when she wasn't even involved in the protests for democracy in June this year was last week named Times person of the year.

The news from Iran today is that eight more people have lost their lives protesting against the Government. Of the four shot dead in Tehran today one was the nephew of the former presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi. Mousavi stepped aside instead of contesting the run off election after many were killed over allegations that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had rigged the results in the elections.

In the worse day for deaths at the hands of the Iranian regime since June four others died at Tabriz. Last week the leading opposition cleric Grand Ayatollah Hoseyn Ali Montazeri died at the age of 87 nd tensions have been boiling under ever since. He had been a leading light in the 1979 revolution at at one time had been set to be Supreme Ruler of Iran.

As it is the crowds who took to the streets at the end of the Shia Muslim festival of Ashura were chanting "this is the month of blood" and "Khamenei will be toppled" in reference to the supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. On the anniversary of the start of Israeli attacks on Gaza last year and at the end of a religious festival the people are standing in defiance again.

Saturday 26 December 2009

To Cut or Not to Cut That Wasn't the Question...

...but if it was.

In a hour's time on BBC2 David Tennent will be starring in Hamlet with Patrick Stewart playing both his father's ghost and Claudius. Of course I'll be engrossed for all three hours 5 minutes. But Hamlet of course is rather a long play, even for its time when presented in full.

Just be glad that this conversation never actually took place.

My 9 for 2009: How I faired

Well here were my original predictions on the first of January, most of these can now be determined.

1. There will be a General Election. I expect it around April

Well we all know that didn't happen.

2. Liverpool will hold on to win the Premier League for the first time.

Those guys from the other end of the ship canal (Man. United) actually equalled Liverpool's record of 18 top flight titles.

3. The Nats will start to drop in the polls as Scottish notice that more and more of their promises are not being met, and blame is shifted to London for things even Holyrood has full control over.

Well they have but probably not as much as I expected. What is startling though is that those in favour of independence for Scotland has dropped quite considerably in the polls.

4. The next Doctor Who will be a black actor.

Well, the fact that we don't see the new Doctor appear until 1 January 2010 doesn't negate the fact that Matt Smith is most definitely WASPish.

5. Andy Murray will win the US Open.

Andy didn't make a Grand Slam final all year. But did win more top level tournaments than any other man on the circuit. I'm tempted to keep this prediction for next year.

6. We'll still be struggling to get out of this recession at the end of the year. Opposition parties will still be screaming at the government to take action that helps the people rather than helping big business, especially the banks which got us here in the first place.

Well I think we score on this one. The pre-budget report was another case of the Government running rough shod over some of the lowest paid.

7. Heath Ledger will be nominated and win posthumously the Best Actor Oscar for his performance in the Dark Knight.

Oh yus! Score!!

8. Barack Obama will lift the US embargo on trade with Cuba. The Govenator of California will celebrate by restocking his humidor with fine Habanas.

Well Obama has made the overtures, but Raul Castro is still making things tough. So I am claiming success on this America is seeking to lift the embargo, already allowing its citizens to travel and starting some forms of trade.

9. There will a major breakdown in the Internet which will lead to a major blackout of communications that will last for a considerable period and be widespread.

Now there were times that hackers did cause a considerable breakdown in some of the world leading sights this year. None of them were for a considerable period though but GMail, Twitter and Facebook were affected globally at times. Anyone remember August 6th.

Brown Outlook for Wenceslas

Inspired by Morten Morland's Cartoon in today's Times see above.

PM Gordon Brown looked out
On the feast of Stephen
But debt still lay round about
Deep and harsh unbeaten
Grimmly shone G. Brown that night
For the cuts were cruel
When his chanc'lor came in sight
Failing to lift the mood

"Hither, Darling stand by me
If thou know'st it, telling
Yonder voter, who is he?
And what his voting intention?"
"Sire, he votes across the fence
No party can count on.
Last time he felt Iraq make sense
Now he's not so certain."

"Raise the VAT with Auld Lang Syne
He'll be too drunk to bother
Thou and I will see him whine
But not let finance whither."
Darling's budget forth it went
Forth it went together
Through economy's wild lament
And the bitter voter

"Sire, the mood is darker now
The voters' mood is stranger
Fails my heart, I know not how,
We can go no longer."
"Read the polling, my good page
Cam'ron's doing badly
Losing the odd percentage
Tory lead less widely."

In his master's steps he trod
With glasses rose tinted
Everyone else thought it odd
After what the pre-budget hinted
Therefore, socialist men, be sure
Wealth or rank possessing
Ye who now will fleece the poor
On election day be stressing

Friday 25 December 2009

It's Christmas

I'm writing this well in advance. I do not intend to be writing any fresh blog entries today. However, if you have come across this blog I can understand. I have spent a couple of Christmases on my own because of not being able to get time of work to make travelling back and forth either worthwhile or practical.

So as you are here I'd better give you something worth looking at.

So over to Tim, Graeme and Bill. That is Brooke-Taylor, Garden and Oddie or the Goodies with thier 1973 send up of the Great British Pantomime.

If you like part one check out:
Have a good Christmas wherever you are and whoever you are with or missing.

Thursday 24 December 2009

Noughties Christmas Number Ones: Part Ten 2009

The final year of the decade and we are finally up to date. This may well go down as the year that people power fought the machine and won. One thing it does go down in history as is the first time that the UK number one was held by a record that was not physically available in any form in the shops, it was purely by download.

Yeah after last year trying to usurp the X-Factor and Simon Cowells stranglehold on the Christmas number one spot, this year the campaign started before the final winner was revealed. The record was chosen, a totally non-Yuletide song by Rage Against the Machine, Killing in the Name was the song that finally showed that people still decide who gets to number one not record executives.

But as it is so anti-Christmas I clearly have to balance it up with one of the Greatest Christmas number ones of all time. Take it away Noddy.

OK It's Only Thursday....but...

It is Christmas Eve.

So here are some variations of a theme. After all if Lord Lloyd Weber can do his Variations of a Theme by Paganini....what you mean you don't know this?

Then I can present some Variations of a seasonal 18th Century English, or is that French, classic. So here is the theme, so over to the Muppets 30 years ago in 1979 and John Denver. Personally I fell sorry for Mr and Mrs Bear for the performanace of their son Fuzzy during this.

First up of our friends we go to the land of Far Far Away where Shrek and friends give us this.

Here's one I was first introduced to 19 Christmases ago by my friend Rob Davis and all my Canadian friends really like this mikey take as well. If you haven't met a Canadian some of this may be no

As I'll not be having a curry for the next couple of days this one is just to keep the chaps at Four in One, Bathgate hope that I'll soon be back ordering a Biryani (most likely).

The Devil may want to return the Prada he is wearing if he sets eyes on this Janice Dickinson parody on our theme.

If you thought Fuzzy Bear was confused above check out this absolutely A Cappella version from Straight No Chaser. My awesome pick of the day.

Finally a little bit of Karaoke courtesy of the Llama's. I think you all know the tune so all together now.

Of course like my Friday weekend starting blogs this hasn't been blogged live. Indeed this was compiled a on the 4th. I have a nephew's birthday to attend to today. But may I wish all my readers a Merry Christmas and hope you've enjoyed at least some of the above.

Olive the Other Reindeer

At 12:40 on E4 Matt Groening's tale of the forgotten one of Santa's reindeer is being shown.

Rudolf of course gets all the attention, even getting that song sung about him by Johnny Marks based on the book of Rudolf the Red-nosed Reindeer that his brother in law Robert L. May produced in 1939. Plus most of the rest of us also know, Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Cupid, Donner and Blitzen since 1807 from the poem 'Twas the Night before Christmas by Major Henry Livingston, Jr.

With only a passing reference in Marks' song is the misspelt Olive the other reindeer. Here is a preview.

Meanwhile anyone with any spare glitter in the Livingston area like to pop it over to Caron as she has forgotten this important ingredient for reindeer food for tonight.

UPDATE: Caron now has this vital ingredient.

Council Fail, Community Pass II

It was on Tuesday of this week that I posted how the local council here back home were unable to respond to the chaos on residential streets in this area caused by the freeze of thawed snow.

Well today is bin day. However, I walked out to the shops to get some last minute messages, the the temperature was -9c here last night. So the frost was harsh again. The roads were still quite fierce as were the pavements.

Having gone downtown to get some wheaten bread and some other things I returned to find the road had miraculously become less icy than either pavement, in the same conditions of temperature and sunshine. Yes you guessed it the council work lorries were given a gritted road to get to and from their houses while for the last two days local residents have struggled and slipped and slid down the various slopes that make up our roads.

The refuge collectors however are being treated like the Queen with a freshly painted building, no ice on their route.

Wednesday 23 December 2009

Letter to My Sixteen Year Old Self

I first starting thinking about how I would write a letter to my sixteen year-old self when I first saw them in the Gay Times 25th Birthday issue half expected a meme to spring up out of it. It hadn't done until recently, so as Jennie Rigg was considerate enough earlier to tell me to consider myself tagged if I wanted to be. So as this was already 75% written since the meme appeared on my friends' blogs here you are.

Stephen Glenn

Stephen Glenn
Northern Ireland

Dear Stephen,

You may be only sixteen but already you are starting to struggle with things which all around seem to consider incompatible. Here’s some sage advice from 24 years in your future be yourself and let whatever unravels to unravel.

There are three things people tell you never to talk about in polite society. Religion, politics and sport. Guess what? Yeah you'll become quite adept at talking in and about all three.

Stop wondering why you are attracted to other men more than women, I know you've already started digging through your bible on the side of other studies to try and see what this means to you. One of your early take on things will be one I eventually came to accept so stop digging a hole for yourself. Trust me save yourself almost 12 years of worry and admit to yourself that you are who you are for a reason. As for those around you who you think will take offence if they ever find out. You’ll be surprised how little it phases most of them and many of those Christian friends you have yet to meet will also very much overwhelmingly be by you side. You just need to open up.

When I say open up there is no need to shout it from the rooftops just don't dodge the questions when they are asked. There will come a time when people turn to you on how to balance religion and sexuality, far better if you can do that far earlier and more openly that I could in my twenties, there are people you’ll meet then that need to know that.

As for sport, keep at it. You will succeed at what you put your mind to. There may be a few surprises along the way but you'll be more than capable of dealing with them as they come along. If you find yourself in a position where being the first Brit across the line or getting an Olympic qualifying time come head to head, be careful and who knows. The second is something that you may never be able to get again, but you could easily beat the other man as you are so closely matched on that day. If you follow that advice you’ll save yourself a lot of pain both physically and mentally. But never lose that winning edge that you have.

With that competitive spirit that runs through your genes remember humility and learn from those around you. There will be times in live that you know you know more than the people ahead of you, or alongside you. Bide your time your talent can shine through. Just sometimes we have to experience what it means to not be recognised for what we are so that when we do emerge it is all the greater reward.

As for where you are going to end up in live, you may be intrigued how we end up where we do from my mailing address. Go with the flow. On two three occasions in your life over the next 20 years you will find yourself going to places that you hadn't planned to and not going to several others that you did plan to. Don’t worry things will work out.

On that matter one final note. There will be times you consider ending it all. But you stare at the sea below or at the knife in your hand and remember the good in people that you would leave behind. Keep seeing the good in people and especially yourself. Learn one thing from my life, people will reject you over time, this is their loss, you can get over it.

We'll meet again in 24 years.


Your 40-year-old self.

As with Jennie consider yourself tagged if you wanna be.

* Yeah I know I'm actually posting this from the same house I lived in in 1995 but you know why I've kept the address.

Not All Seasonal Joy Up One Alley and Down One Street

Having been up to the graveyard yesterday on my father's birthday and seeing the diggers digging some fresh graves, it is horrible to think that at this time of year when some of us are celebrating having family together others are losing some of theirs.

Just now I opened the BBC entertainment page and found that two stars of my childhood have passed away, neither are big names that you would recognise straight off unless you are a Tele geek. The first is Alaina Reed Amini one of the black actresses from Sesame Street, who finally succumbed to a two year battle with breast cancer aged 63. The other big star is Arnold Strang, who was the voice of the most tip top Top Cat who passed away at 91.

So in tribute a little song for both:

Noughties Christmas Number Ones: Part Nine 2008

We only have two more years to cover of the noughties Christmas top selling singles. But 2008 saw the start of a campaign of anti-X-Factor domination.

In 2008 the Christmas Number One did go the the X-Factor winner Alexandra Burke with her Version of Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah.

However, Jeff Buckley's version was just behind it at number 2 (the first time any song had achieved this on the same week for 51 years) and Cohen's original was at 36.

Of course Hallelujah if not Leonard Cohen's song is a very traditional Christmas sentiment. Here is one of my favourite versions of Handel's original Hallelujah Chorus, from the Soulful Celebration album version.

While we're on the subject of choruses one of my favourite things about Christmas as a kid was sitting there reading the Albums, for me that was The Beano and Rupert the Bear. Therefore when Paul McCartney re-released this for the Christmas charts of 1984 and 1985 it brought back many memories. It is one of only three songs from Christmas 1984 to chart three times the others* have already been featured on this look back over the noughties.

* Band Aid Do They Now It's Christmas...? and Wham! Last Christmas

Tuesday 22 December 2009

Student Loan Directors Quit

The heads of customer services (Martin Herbert) and information & communication technology (Wallace Gray) at the Student Loans Company (SLC) have resigned.

In a report published at the start of this month it was revealed that only 5% of calls to the company were answered at the peak of the delays in payments earlier this term. Some of the board members of the SLC were apparently only finding out the extent of the issues that students were facing due to the SLC's failures through news reports or the Facebook Groups set up by students facing financial difficulties when their loan payments were not forthcoming.

Earlier this month, before the report was published, Liberal Youth Scotland (LYS) staged a protest outside the offices of the SLC in Glasgow. They called on Ralph Seymour-Jackson, Chief Executive of the SLC and Michael Hipkins, Director of Student Finance strategy for the government. It appears that the two people whose departments are at the heart of the fiasco of student finances these past three months have fallen on their swords, whereas the overseers who should have taken action sooner to step in to correct these issues are to escape scot-free and to oversee the next appointees in these positions.

It is small matter as many students have had to drop out of University. Either because of a direct effect of not getting their student loan in time at the start of term, or later on when having still failed to recieve it, thier University hardship fund was already used up in paying for others before them to cover the absence.

The apology from the deputy chief executive doesn't even go far enough. He promises:

"We are determined to do whatever it takes to ensure processing and payments are faster next year, so that we can deliver the service that students and their parents have every right to expect."

Going faster is not much of a promise considering the effects of this year. Students deserve a promise for next year that the SLC will ensure that processing and payments are made ON TIME next year, not merely faster. They have 9 months to be able to ensure that, six of which will be checking the errors in the current system and three of which will then be the processing of the actual requests and claims that are required. Anything less after this year will not be acceptable to anyone

Noughties Christmas Number Ones: Part Eight 2007

Christmas is getting closer you can almost imagine the sleigh bells are getting polished and the tack to hold Rudolph and chums in place in getting buffed. Yes there are three sleeps and three songs left that had been number one at Christmas in the decade.

So 2007 was the next act from the X-Factor and local lad Leon Jackson with When You Believe.

In 1985 Shakin' Stevens managed to conjure up a Christmas Number One with Merry Christmas Everyone.

Keeping up the Christmas theme, you can tell I'm getting in the mood now, lets have the St. Winifred's School Choir from the top spot in 1980 as well, with There's No-one Quite Like Grandma from 1980.

Council Fail, Community Pass

Once upon a time when I was the age of my nephews the local council here, and indeed the residents were more able to cope with the onset of quite treacherous wintry conditions. Over the past few days we have only had less than an inch of snow on three occasions.

On the previous two occasions this has usually thawed out totally and there have been no issues a couple of hours after even on the residential roads. Today however is different. The snow turned initially to slush, but the temperatures are sub zero later on and the slush has now turned to ice.

Next to my mum's house is a very steep short stretch of hill leading to a T-junction, it is only 2 doors down the road. Mum had already skidded coming round the bends to get here after a morning shopping. And the postman arriving with his second delivery of the day told up that some o the other nearby roads were have cars piled up. So we took the easiest route out to the cemetery to place a wreath on Dad's grave on his birthday.

On our way home we were getting flagged down not attempt to go down the hill. After parking up in driveway I headed straight back to see if there was anything I could do to help. As it was one car had skidded down two car lengths trying to make the junction, another had skidded trying to go around her.

On that hill every year up to this had been a grit bucket. And every year up to this, in these conditions the local residents had sprinkled grit on the top of this hill to enable people to make the junction. What happened just now was that from about four different households came sand, salt, fire ashes, and anything to help get traction under the stuck car, we did end up getting the car up and off the slope. But not before warning several other cars off trying to make their way up.

There are other ways that you can drive from the bottom section around to the area where we live, it was how me and my mother got back. The local police are stretched with so many accidents and so many dangerous roads, but what I saw just now was that the local community are prepared to do their bit to enable to roads to remain passable, if only the council had provided the tools to enable them to do so earlier. There are three hotspots within half a kilometre from here and presently all three have local residents crying out for why the council has removed the grit boxes.

There are times I'm prepared for the worst back in Bathgate, but I rarely have to use the measures I have taken. Our Scottish local councils prepare far better and more effectively than here, at least the community is kicking in to help out as best we can.

Monday 21 December 2009

Noughties Christmas Number Ones: Part Seven 2006

Moving onwards with our X-Factor Christmas countdown in is now just four sleeps off the big day. So we carry on with the Christmas countdown.

2006 saw the start of Britain's next big female vocalist when Leona Lewis had A Moment Like This. Buy Syco seem to have stopped all the video embeds.

In 1983 rather more of a surprise the Flying Pickets took a Capella to the top of the Christmas Charts for the only time in UK chart history with their cover of Yazoo's Only You.

It sounds quite Christmassy without having a Christmas theme. So I guess it is time for a little Cliff to set that right. In 1988 he combined two essential Christmas components to come up with the seasonal chart topped, Mistletoe and Wine.

Sunday 20 December 2009

Rage Against Stephen Green

I've just come back from Carols by Candlelight to hear two pieces of News, the first is that Rage Against the Machine have beaten X-Factor winner Joe McEllderry to Christmas number one. Earlier in the week Joe's mentor Cheryl Cole had said that the campaign wasn't fair to Joe, nothing personal against Joe but I think as he himself said tonight:

"It's more against the show than me and I think if any other person had have won, the same thing would have happened, because the petition was going on before the winner had been announced."

But some things are more important than the battle for the top of the charts at Christmas time and the other story that has got my attention really has my hackles up.

Stephen Green (who sometimes people mistype in blogposts instead of me) of Christian Voice has said the following:

"Gay people who have sex knowing they are HIV positive should be given the death penalty because they have 'committed murder';

"Capital punishment is acceptable because it is ordained by God in the Bible;

"Britain’s laws 'promote perversion' because they do not make homosexuality a criminal offence."

This is of course in reaction to the Ugandan Government's decision to give life sentences to anyone who has committed homosexual acts, and the death penalty. It shows the true colours of Christian Voice within this country they are not even speaking for the majority of Christians in this country. In this the season of goodwill to 'all' men Stephen Green is showing a total lack of goodwill not to mention ignorance of the issue of which he speaks.

For a start his is backing a campaign in Uganda that he believes will wipe out HIV/AIDS in the country. The actual rate of HIV in Uganda is currently 5.4% amongst adults, but is higher among women (7.5%) than men (5.0%). This is actually down on the peak so the claims that western gays are proselytising their life style and increasing the cases of HIV fly in the face of the facts.

Of course Green's comments only relate to gay people passing on knowingly HIV infection but like in most sub-Saharan countries the greater number of HIV sufferers is actually amongst the heterosexual community. Why doesn't he condone the death penalty for all HIV sufferers irrespective of sexuality? The answer is simple he has an anti-gay agenda and HIV is just in his eyes a handy excuse to exterminate the gay community. Therefore Hitler-like he wants to round up all homosexuals and place us in prison. He says as much in that he wants the UK to re-criminalise homosexuality. He'd then want to put to death those that knowingly pass on HIV; but only if they are gay.

He of course ignores the fact that some couples live with one member being HIV positive and follow safer sex practises to ensure that the other does not capture the disease. Therefore the act of sex is not as itself an act of 'murder' as he would have you believe, indeed with current advances in medical science it need not be the imminent death sentence it once was in the 80s.

So Stephen is advocating mass concentration camps and genocide. Christian Voice would be guilty of far greater crimes that those they seek to prosecute.

Chris Bryant MP for Rhondda as said of Green:

"Ignorance is one thing but deliberate ignorance is quite another. Aids is caused by a virus not by anybody’s sexuality and if people keep on propagating these myths then many more African people will die of Aids.

"It is comments like this that mean some people will grow up in Wales worrying about their sexuality and worrying that if they tell other people they will be verbally and physically assaulted."

Stephen Green flies inf the face of what it means to be a Christian to love one another as Christ loves the Church. He is upholding Old Testament law to the exclusion of New Testament forgiveness.

Noughties Christmas Number Ones: Part Six 2005

*Into the home stretch as we have only five more sleeps to Christmas day and our countdown of Christmas number ones enters. We also enter what must be known as the X-Factor zone. For the talent show ends the weekend before the last chart before Christmas and has dominated the seasonal top spot ever since, despite some concerted efforts to break the cycle in the last couple of years.

So in 2005 that was Shayne Ward with That's My Goal.

Now there have been a couple of Christmas Number Ones that have be at the top spot more than once. Yesterday we celebrated Band Aid, we also had Mary's Boy Child with both Henry Belefonte and Boney M. But only one song has hit the top spot twice for Christmas with the same line up singing it. It needs no introduction.

Having made the top spot first at Christmas 1975 it's re-release after Freddie's death in 1991 propelled it to the top for a second Christmas in 1991. Not really Christmassy. But as the Muppets are releasing a version* of it this year I think that links in to the 1955 song by Dickie Valentine Christmas Alphabet so here is the King of Christmas with his version.

* I also quite like the Lego version.