Monday, 30 August 2010

The Ryder Cup Selection Process Needs An Overhaul

Paul Casey should be in the European Ryder Cup team.

He is one of the best players in the world (world number 9) and has shown that he is capable of handling the unique pressure of the big occasions.

He has committed most of his time to taking on the best in the world on the PGA Tour.  Pretty much the same could be said about Justin Rose.

However, neither player will be in the Ryder Cup squad this year, making way for players who have concentrated on playing in the less cash rich European Tour.

I understand why the European Tour want to protect their own tour.  However, the Ryder Cup captain should be able to pick the strongest possible squad to take on the American team.  That is simply not the case at the moment.  The system is badly in need of reform.

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

The GOP Should Distance Itself From The Absurd Conspiracy Theories

I posted on Platform 10 a few months ago about how the Republican fringe was becoming the Republican mainstream in the States.

Obama's election has provoked a fair few conspiracy theories about the man who could prove to be the greatest domestic reformer in the US since LBJ.  Obama is, according to the conspiracy theorist you are talking to, a 'Socialist' (this normally removes any respect of the conspiracy theorist's knowledge of political philosophy) or that he was born outside the US (utter nonsense but the birther movement as it has become known has the support of over 40% of people who self identify themselves as Republican.)

Another conspiracy theory reared its ugly head recently when the GOP new media director tweeted this:


This is a particularly pernicious conspiracy theory.  It is worth remembering the words of Colin Powell when endorsing Obama in 2008 (via Mehdi Hassan at the New Statesman blog):

I'm also troubled by, not what Senator McCain says, but what members of the party say. And it is permitted to [say] such things as, "Well, you know that Mr. Obama is a Muslim." Well, the correct answer is, he is not a Muslim, he's a Christian. He's always been a Christian. But the really right answer is, what if he is? Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country? The answer's no, that's not America. Is there something wrong with some seven-year-old Muslim-American kid believing that he or she could be president? Yet, I have heard senior members of my own party drop the suggestion, "He's a Muslim and he might be associated with terrorists." This is not the way we should be doing it in America.
I feel strongly about this particular point because of a picture I saw in a magazine. It was a photo essay about troops who are serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. And one picture at the tail end of this photo essay was of a mother in Arlington Cemetery, and she had her head on the headstone of her son's grave. And as the picture focused in, you could see the writing on the headstone. And it gave his awards -- Purple Heart, Bronze Star -- showed that he died in Iraq, gave his date of birth, date of death. He was 20 years old. And then, at the very top of the headstone, it didn't have a Christian cross, it didn't have the Star of David, it had crescent and a star of the Islamic faith.
And his name was Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan, and he was an American. He was born in New Jersey. He was 14 years old at the time of 9/11, and he waited until he can go serve his country, and he gave his life. Now, we have got to stop polarising ourselves in this way. And John McCain is as non-discriminatory as anyone I know. But I'm troubled about the fact that, within the party, we have these kinds of expressions.

This is one of the best of many good reasons why the Republican Party should distance itself from these absurd conspiracy theories.

Monday, 23 August 2010

Sky Sports News Get Sunderland and Benfica Mixed Up

Sky Sports News have been running images of the potential host stadia for the 2018 World Cup.  This was the screenshot they showed for the Stadium of Light (via the excellent SAFC fan forum

There is a bit of a problem with this one though. Look t their image for the Stadium Of Light in Sunderland. This is the Stadium Of Light in Sunderland, where I am a regular attendee:

And this is the  Estadia de Luz (roughly translated as Stadium of Light) in Benfica:

You would have hoped that somebody at Sky Sports News would have been able to tell the difference!

Joey Barton's Latest Outburst Of Idiocy

Joey Barton has tried to defend himself for making this gesture in Newcastle's match against Aston Villa yesterday:

What the hell was he thinking about?

Even as a rather cack handed attempt at humour it was dire.  Surely he realises how offensive that salute is.

Talented footballer that he is - it is becoming increasingly clear that he never learns from past mistakes!

Saturday, 21 August 2010

Test Match Special and 'Boycott Bingo'

It will come as surprise whatsoever to readers of this blog that I'm a massive fan of Test Match Special.  If ever a radio programme could be described as a national treasure, then TMS is it.

One of the joys of the existing line up of TMS is the musings of that Yorkshire great Geoffrey Boycott (who is, apparently, also a hero of Labour leadership contender, Ed Miliband.)

We all know that Boycs has his fair share of sayings and a keen eared TMS listener has devised Boycott bingo (a relation no doubt to the more profane version of bingo that people who have had to sit through tedious business meetings will be familiar with.)

Check out the TMS version of Boycott Bingo here:

It contains such gems as:

"You could book in for a bed and breakfast on this wicket."

"I could have hit that with a stick of celery."

"That's buffet bowling that is."

It seems that a version of 'Blofeld Bingo' is in the works for the Lords test.

Prepare for pigeons, buses and cakes...

Thursday, 19 August 2010

100 Radical Days

It was never going to be easy.  The coalition Government has faced a set of challenges largely without parallel in post war history.

In May the Government was faced with a record deficit; an economy gradually getting back to its knees following the deepest recession since records began; plummeting faith in the political system; widening inequality; stalling social mobility; and seemingly intractable social problems.

100 days is always a slightly arbitrary time to judge a Government’s record.  However, it is actually crucial – the political capital of any Government is at its highest at the beginning.  It marks the perfect time to get things done.

  On May 9th, I called for a ‘coalition of the progressive centre.’ I argued that:
“With the support of the Liberal Democrats, a Conservative-Liberal coalition of the progressive centre can deliver the radical economic, political and social reform the country needs.”

I believe that the coalition has, so far, lived up to those lofty expectations.  It has governed in a progressive and radical manner.  Already, in 100 breathless days, the coalition has:
  • Dealt with one of the biggest fiscal catastrophes the country has faced since the war.  Faced with a choice of setting out a credible plan to pay down a record budget deficit or letting our domestic policies be placed at the whim of global financiers (as Greece, Spain and Portugal have found), we wisely opted for the former;
  • Laid the framework for renewed growth and renewed job creation;
  • Placed as a priority delivering social justice and enhancing social mobility;
  • Created a bonfire of restrictions on civil liberties.  Even after 100 days, this Government has claim to be the most civil libertarian since the war – a welcome change after New Labour’s social authoritarianism;
  • Set out the biggest programme of constitutional change for decades.  House of Lords reform is, after a century and more of dithering, set to be achieved.  Governmental transparency looks set to improve both visibility and performance of Government.  Ideas of recall and referenda (albeit slightly too limited at this early stage – as Douglas Carswell argues) have at last been injected into the body politic.  Indeed, the cooperation across party lines in itself is something that most people outside of the political class have welcomed;
  • Already decentralised power to local people to an unprecedented extent.  Hopefully more decentralisation will follow;
  • Instituted a Great Repeal Bill – with the aim of repealing unnecessary legislation that impinges on freedom;
  • Unveiled an evidence based policy on prisons that has more in common with traditional Conservative views than the authoritarianism of recent years.
After thirteen years of small ‘c’ conservative Government, it comes as a breath of fresh air to have a Government prepared to make the brave and radical decisions that are in the national interest.  Despite the heckling from nay sayers, it is the coalition that has made this possible.
The Economist has described the Government as a “radical force.”  I am confident that 100 radical, progressive days will become five radical, progressive years.

This blog was originally posted at

Is Zoe Williams Gunning For The Jan Moir Award For Idiotic Journalism

On Comment Is Free last night, Zoe Williams has come up with the most ignorant piece of tripe since Jan Moir told us her spectacularly ill informed views about the sad death of Stephen Gately.

According to Williams, "If sex with HIV is a crime, so is swimming with verrucas."

Her article is referring to the trial Nadja Benaissa, of the German pop group No Angels.  Banaissa is on trial for manslaughter after having unprotected  sex with a man and not telling him that she was HIV positive.  She claims that such trials are about sexual morality.  She is speaking idiocy of the worst order.

This is spectacular, utter, grotesque nonsense.  There is still no cure to HIV.  Two million people died from AIDS in 2008.

If somebody knows that he or she has HIV and has sex without informing their sexual partner of their HIV status they are knowingly putting the life of the other person in danger. That is malicious. That is manslaughter.  It is not the same as swimming with veruccas.  Any such comparison is offensive and wrong.  Risking passing on a verucca is in no way comparable to recklessly endangering the life of others.

Monday, 16 August 2010

Improving Social Mobility Must Come Before Tribal Point Scoring

I have already posted both here and on Platform 10 that the appointment of Alan Milburn as social mobility 'czar' is one to be welcomed.  Improving social mobility is one of the biggest challenges facing British society today and it is a good thing that somebody as talented and passionate about the subject as Milburn feels ready to  continue to contribute to the subject.

As Peter Bingle said in his excellent blog earlier on today:

"Politics was the loser when Alan Milburn stood down from the House of Commons at the last election. One of the few genuine stars of the New Labour Project, Alan was the most radical Health Secretary since Aneurin Bevan. 
A former member of the hard left, Alan had all the conviction and passion of a convert. He embraced the market in a way that no other Labour Cabinet Minister dared to do. In the end he was thwarted by the then Chancellor Gordon Brown and left the government ...
In the dying days of the last government, Alan Milburn was asked to chair a commission into social mobility. It is an issue about which he cares passionately. From a poor background himself he believes (and has said so publicly) that nowadays it would be almost impossible to achieve the social mobility which he has achieved himself.... The commission's recommendations were largely ignored by Gordon Brown to the intense irritation of its chairman ... I was therefore not surprised to learn that Alan had accepted an invitation from the PM to become the Social Mobility Czar. I suspect that his political instincts are much closer to those of this PM than the last one.
Alan is the latest in a long line of senior Labour figures to accept a role advising the coalition. They all deserve our thanks and support for putting country before party."

Like Alan Milburn, I come from a North Eastern working class background and share his passion about the importance improving life chances for people from low income backgrounds.

What followed the announcement was a number of Labour figures abusing Alan Milburn in very personal terms.  This was John Prescott's 'tweet' on the matter: "So after Field & Hutton, Milburn becomes the 3rd collaborator.  They collaborated to get Brown OUT.  Now collaborating to keep Cameron IN."

Now I'm a fan of John Prescott.  One of the reasons that I like John Prescott is that he came from a very humble background to be a great success in politics.  Maybe before throwing the word collaborator about, Lord Prescott should consider that what Alan Milburn is doing is channelling his passion to help more kids from humble beginnings realise their dreams and aspirations.

Andy Burnham also attacked Alan Milburn for his decision.

Maybe people on the left attacking Milburn should consider what is more important - the kind of tribal politics that turns so many people off or ensuring that the life chances of people from lower income backgrounds are improved.  Milburn clearly believes the latter.  Throwing insults about a man who is channelling his talents to helping improve social mobility seems pretty unedifying to me.

And then there was Iain Dale on the right.  He had a blog paraphrasing Martin Niemoller's remarkable poem 'First They Came' and suggesting that the job should have gone to a Tory.  First off, I reckon there are some pieces of poetry that shouldn't be used for partisan slagging and this is certainly one of them.  Secondly, Milburn is a highly talented individual, hugely respected and an expert in the field.  He understands the issues regarding social mobility and cares passionately about them.  He would be, for most people on both sides of the divide, one of the first names that come to mind when you ask who should head up this kind of work on social mobility.

This is simply too important an issue to be reduced to tribal posturing and party political point scoring.  The snipers may think that tribal purity is more important than helping improve social mobility.  They are wrong.  Thank goodness that Milburn has decided to put country and improving life chances of lower income people ahead of tribalism.

The US PGA and The Psychology Of Winning

It was quite a night of golf yesterday for the final round of the US PGA.  I have written before about the massive importance of psychological factors in politics, business and, massively importantly, sport.

This couldn't be seen much more clearly than in the enthralling final day yesterday.  Going into the final round, Nick Watney went into the final round with a three shot lead after a superb third day.

You would have thought, of course, that all he had to do was turn up and he would win.  But that takes away the psychological pressures when sport gets to the 'business end' - when it really starts to matter.  The pressure got to Watney straight away and he tumbled down the leaderboard as the day went on

Towards the end of the round it looked like Dustin Johnson virtually had his hands on the trophy.  He stood on the final tee with a one shot lead and the tournament at his mercy.

Johnson was the man who led at three shot lead in this year's US Open disappear.  And on the final tee, when he needed a straight drive, the pressure got to him and he hit a wild drive way to the right.  An altercation with what might or might not have been a bunker followed and he (following a run in with the rules of golf) didn't even make the play off that followed.

What mattered wasn't just the grounding of the club in the bunker it was the losing of the cool on the final tee.

Yesterday's US PGA showed the importance of the 'pscychology of winning'.  Some players are capable of withstanding the pressure of that big occasion.   Some even revel in it. Think Woods in his pomp, or Taylor in darts, or Federer a few years ago.  They have a winning mentality and a winning psychology.

Others, without this mentality, are adept at plucking defeat from the jaws of victory.  Most weeks on the PGA  or European Tour, at least one player proves himself unable of handling the final day pressure.

Yesterday's US PGA was a wonderful example of players lacking that winning mentality and the psychological steel needed for the big occasion.

Social Mobility Matters And Alan Milburn's Appointment Should Be Welcomed

In the short term, the Government will be judged by successfully dealing with the catastrophic financial situation left behind by its predecessor.  In the long term, the Government will be judged on making Britain a more socially mobile and open society.

Social mobility matters.

It matters that so many people are not fulfilling their potential or aspirations.

It matters that life chances are more likely to be decided at birth than at any time since the 1920s.

It matters that, although only 7% of children go to private school, such schools account for almost 80% of judges, 70% of finance directors and barristers; 55% of Tory MPs; and over 50% of top journalists.

That is why the appointment of Alan Milburn as social mobility ‘czar’ is to be welcomed.  At the moment, after 13 years of a Government that promised so much but delivered so little, Britain one of the least socially mobile countries in the world and less mobile than at any time since the war.

The report of the cross party commission (which I praised at the time) headed up by Alan Milburn for the last Government was a devastating indictment of the previous Government’s failure to act on the issue.  It said that, “access to the professions is becoming the preserve of a smaller and smaller part of the social spectrum.”  

This is something that a highly talented man such as Alan Milburn feels strongly about and it is only to be applauded that he will be avoiding the tribal taunts of members of the opposition about the fact he wants to do all that he can to help improve the life chances of the poorest.

Social mobility is also something I care deeply about.  I went to a North Eastern comprehensive school (probably of the kind that Tony Blair would have derided as ‘bog standard’).  I saw so many exceptional people who were let down by the system and didn’t always achieve their potential.

There are some people who suggest that an attachment to enhancing social mobility is ‘un-Conservative’.  They couldn’t be more wrong.  It wasn’t un-Conservative when Churchill talked of creating a floor below which none could fall and a sky through which all could rise.

What is more Conservative than ensuring that each and every human being is able to fulfil their potential.    What can be more Conservative than raising people’s aspirations? A modern economy needs highly skilled people to prosper.  What can be more wasteful than seeing so many people not fulfilling their potential?

Friday, 13 August 2010

Congratulations To the Evening Standard On Their Campaign To Raise Awareness Of Poverty In London

The Evening Standard in London has been running a great campaign over the past few weeks in which it has been raising the issue of poverty in London.  In only 18 days, it has raised £1,000,000 to go to charities helping the poor in London.

The campaign has highlighted what it calls "the dispossessed" - the low wage workers struggling to make ends meet as the cost of living has outstripped the growth in wages.  It has highlighted the 650,000 children in London living in poverty and the pockets of deprivation in the shadow of London's centres of wealth.

Such a campaign is a very good thing and the cause is a noble one and one that deserves more attention.  Hopefully the national press and regional newspapers nationwide will highlight the issues of poverty and extreme inequality that exist nationwide.  Hopefully, the Evening Standard will be able to continue raising money to go towards this cause.

However, it shouldn't be forgotten that policy makers, as well as charities and philanthropists, have a crucial role to play in tackling poverty and alienation.  Government needs to deliver high quality education to provide opportunity for all.  It needs to continue lifting the poor out of tax altogether and continue considering the merits of a Living Wage.

You can find out more about the campaign at:

Day One Of The Football Season - Hope Springs Eternal

Here we go again.  It seem like only yesterday that the Spanish were lifting the World Cup and tomorrow the domestic stuff starts all over again.

The first day of the season is the only day of the season when every football fan is equal.  The Blackpool fan can be as optimistic as the Man Utd fan.  There is no league table to tell fans the cruel truth.  Experiences on the pitch haven't deflated hopes and expectations.

It is the one day of the season when every football fan can think that this season just might be their season.  It might be the season when everything clicks into place, when all the luck goes your team's way.

As a Sunderland fan, I know that nothing is ever predictable but I would like to think that we would make a top 10 finish this year.  Of course, the first day of the season optimist in me is still thinking that the top 6 isn't totally unrealistic.

The first day of the season is, after all, the only day of the season when ungrounded optimism is expected.

Thursday, 12 August 2010

We Shouldn't Let Sentimentality Get In The Way Of The Beckham Decision

So David Beckham's career in competitive internationals seems to be over.  Fabio Capello made that quite clear last night..

We shouldn't get lost in sentimentality about this decision. There should be no room for sentimentality in the cut throat world of international football.

It has been clear for a while that Beckham's international career is in the 'swansong' phase.  His club form and recent form at international level hasn't really justified international inclusion (although that doesn't always make a difference as the preposterous Heskey selection shows).  The only reasons for selecting him in future would be sentimental rather than footballing ones.

Beckham will probably go down in the second tier of England internationals.  Not quite up there with the likes of Bobby Charlton and Bobby Moore (or some members of the 1990 squad) but somebody who would easily make the top 40 all time England players and has served his country with distinction over the years.

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

On O'Neill's Resignation - Boardroom Interference In Football Matters Never Ends Well

It looks like Martin O'Neill has walked away from Aston Villa after taking one too many humiliations over the sale of James Milner to Man City and the inability to gain extra money to strengthen Villa's squad.  We are also told this morning by The Sun that O'Neill was being forced to endure a further clear out of top players.

It is a big loss to Villa.  I'm a massive Martin O'Neill fan - he's an astute tactician and a great man manager.  He is very much a manager in the Brian Clough mould.  He was my choice as England manager when the FA lost their collective marbles and appointed Steve Maclaren as manager a few years ago.

O' Neill's resignation just goes to show that boardroom interference in the footballing side of the club is almost always counter productive.  It is quite clear that Milner is being sold against the wishes of the Manager.  It is also clear that O'Neill wasn't getting the financial support he thought the team needed to go to the next level.

This saga illustrates the gap between the top four in the Premiership and the rest.  It illustrates that the concept of loyalty amongst most top players is an endangered species.  Above all, it proves that fundamental point that boardroom interference in footballing matters almost always ends with declining performance on the pitch and a managerial departure.

Monday, 9 August 2010

Quite A Recovery For Eminem

I have just picked up Eminem's latest album, 'Recovery'.  After his last two efforts, I wasn't expecting much but, I'm pleased to say, it is a real return to form.

The Slim Shady LP and the Marshall Mathers LP were brilliant, his 'Renegade' duet with Jay Z on Blueprint was witty and awesome and Lose Yourself was a genuine anthem.  But since then the creativity seemed to dry up.  It might have been the eventful private life, the drug problems or the fame.  Whatever it was, the magic seemed to disappear.  The cleverness in the lyrics was replaced by retreads and machismo.

He admits as much on 'Recovery', saying on Talking To Myself:

"Them last two albums don't count
... I got something to prove to fans 'cause I feel like I let em down"

For a hip hop album, Recovery feels staggeringly vulnerable.  It presents the artist as being human and having human frailties.  Once again, the lyrics have rediscovered their bite.  Eminem sounds like he has rediscovered his hunger.  The album is well worth a listen (even to see how he has sampled Haddaway of all people!)

Sunday, 8 August 2010

The Observer Sets Out The Decline In Test Match Crowds

I have blogged a few times over the past few weeks on declining crowds at this summer's test matches.  This morning's Observer has a report on the matter.  As Paul Weaver's article says:

The redevelopment work at Edgbaston has cut the capacity to 15,000, but just 10,020 pitched up for the first day and the match is expected to be completed tomorrow, the third day of the match... The situation at Nottingham was no better, with a poor attendance on the opening day, while the ground was also mostly empty when England won the match on the Sunday.

The Oval are also, apparently, "struggling for day one."

Building work at Edgbaston has reduced its current capacity to 15,000

Weaver put forward a number of very valid reasons for the decline in crowds.  Too much international cricket, the poor form of Pakistan and the baffling decision to hold back to back tests in the Midlands, followed by back to back tests in London are mentioned.  The fact that cricketing authorities have totally ignored the North for this series is, of course, unforgivable.

However, Weaver doesn't mention two very important potential factors on declining crowds.  Firstly, there is a sense that the series is somehow hidden away on Sky.  Secondly, and crucially, the pricing policy for test matches puts test match cricket out of the reach of too many people.  Most tickets for the Oval test match are between £70 and £80.  That isn't really a working man's price - particularly for a series that is (surprisingly) beginning to look like a mismatch and for a match that starts after the football season has started.  

Hopefully, the cricketing authorities will review their pricing policy before next season so that new fans and supporters on a budget are not excluded on the basis of price.

Saturday, 7 August 2010

Tony Judt RIP

I'm very sorry to hear that, according to the New Statesman and a number of other sources, the historian and essayist, Tony Judt, has died.  He will be a big loss.

His magnus opus, which probably has the pride of place in plenty of bookshelves around the country, is his massive, scholarly and utterly readable 'Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945'.  He has also been responsible for some great studies and reappraisals of the French left.

Along with the likes of David Marquand and John Gray, he has played a role in making the intellectual case for the state and civil society against a market driven hegemony.  Alongside Marquand's majestic 'Progressive Dilemma' and John Gray's prophetic 'False Dawn' (I remember trying to persuade so-called 'Socialists' of the ultimate insecurity of unregulated global financial markets - as predicted by Gray- at the same time as they tried to sell me deregulation in the late 90s), Judt's 'Ill Fares The Land' has to be regarded as a guiding text for those of us who believe that the market should serve society and not vice versa.  Judt argued that society (and the parties of the so-called left) has become so infatuated with the market that it has forgotten how much can be achieved when we work together and Government is used for noble aims.

He didn't believe that liberty was enough without a belief in equality of opportunity.  He believed in freedom to, not just freedom from.  He said in the London Review of Books (via Guardian on line):

I think what we need is a return to a belief not in liberty, because that is easily converted into something else… but in equality. Equality, which is not the same as sameness. Equality of access to information, equality of access to knowledge, equality of access to education, equality of access to power and to politics. We should be more concerned than we are about inequalities of opportunity, whether between young and old or between those with different skills or from different regions of a country. It is another way of talking about injustice. We need to rediscover a language of dissent.

In 'Ill Fares The Land' , he says that:

"Something is profoundly wrong with the way we live today. For thirty years we have made a virtue out of the pursuit of material self-interest: indeed, this very pursuit now constitutes whatever remains of our sense of collective purpose. We know what things cost but have no idea what they are worth. We no longer ask of a judicial ruling or a legislative act: Is it good? Is it fair? Is it just? Is it right? Will it help bring about a better society or a better world? Those used to be the political questions, even if they invited no easy answers. We must learn once again to pose them."

What really marks out Judt in my eyes is his ability to show both ambition and a belief in the power of ideas (and, in an age where such an ambition can be limited, the power of politics and Government to change things for the better), but also his scepticism when other scholars seemed swept aside by big ideas.

Take his Grand Illusion essay on the Common Market and its successors.  He acknowledged the benefits that the Common Market had brought to the Benelux countries since the war and to relations between France and Germany in particular.  But he displayed caution as 'progressive'voices around him suggested that the then  embryonic European Union suggested the best way forward.  He pointed out that achieving homogeneity in an utterly disparate continent (the point that Tony Benn made very well when pointing out the EU's many flaws) was  virtually impossible.  He pointed out the lack of democracy inherent and obvious in the European project, comparing it to some of the "enlightened despotisms" of 18th Century Europe.

Judt always understood that radical principles should include and be governed by the sovereignty of the people and democratic representation.

In an age in which politics is too often driven by people who 're-tweet' the latest spewing of 'facts' by Labour, Liberal or Tory HQ, Tony Judt represents the embodiment of what we should be seeking. The politics that is that of thought and independence rather than subservience.  The social media that represents open argument and debate, rather than the views of political parties.  Hopefully politics will rediscover the inquiring, intellectual spirit; the spirit of  Tyler and Lilburne; that Judt stood for.

Tony Judt RIP

Friday, 6 August 2010

Progressive Postings - The Best Of The Blogosphere, Friday 6th August

Today's must reads inlude:

Huffington Post have a remarkable interview with Christopher Hitchens:

Anthony Wells discusses 'Why Labour Lost'

Platform 10 on how British Toryism reinvented itself:

Diane Abbott names her Desert Island Discs

Harry Pearson on the origins of boxing

Please Support The 'Mad Hatters' and the Run For Congo

Some mates of mine have been doing some extraordinary (or crazy depending on your view) over the past few months.  Dom Goggins, a good mate of mine, and an assorted cast have been doing marathons, triathlons, ultra marathons, iron man triathlons and goodness knows what else for the very good cause of leukemia research.  They are doing this under the apt sobriquet of the 'Mad Hatters Challenge' and looking to raise £10,000 over the next few months.  I would encourage anybody to donate via the following link:

Next week, Dom and his mate, Chris Jackson are heading to the Congo, a country decimated by  War in the past decade.  It is an extraordinary thing to do.  The Congo is still, as they are more than aware, a hugely dangerous place.  6 million people were killed in the horrendous Congo War.  Although the war officially ended in 2003, it is still a highly dangerous, violent place (45,000 deaths a month), with the worst example of human tragedy that war brings with it.   Almost four million refugees were created by the terrible war.  Sexual violence against women is at a horrific scale.  Poverty is amongst the worst in the world.

The continuing tragedy in the Congo is one of the reasons that what Dom and Chris is doing is so important.  They are raising awareness of a tragedy that the near amnesiac 24 hour news media has all but forgotten about.  Raising awareness of the people whose lives have been utterly devastated by the terrible conflict.  What they are doing is immensely impressive.  I know that what some of what they see is going to be pretty haunting but, I'm sure Dom would be the first to remind me, not as haunting as what the people of Congo - having lived through a terrible war for more than a decade have had to face.  

There is more about the 'Run For Congo' at this blog:

Do support them, do spread the word and do donate to a very worthwhile cause.

Another Test Match - More Empty Seats. We Should Make Test Matches Affordable For All

Another test match. Some more great cricket for England and yet more empty seats at what should be a big ticket test match.

It has been a fantastic day for England's cricketers, who are looking in really sharp form ahead of the Ashes series.

But, as Jonathan Agnew pointed out on TMS today, there are plenty of empty seats around the ground.  I made the same point about the first test last week.  There is very little reason for that to be the case.  The football season hasn't yet started.  The national team is in great form.  The opponents are a top flight team who beat Australia a few months ago.  Even the English summer weather is, by and large, playing ball.

Sadly, cricketing authorities seem to have been overcome by a bout of rapaciousness following two home Ashes victories.  Test match tickets have shot up in price.  Tickets for Lords are as high as £90 and they go up to £60 for this series.  That means a father to take his kids along to the Test will cost hundreds.

Test match authorities are turning what used to be an affordable day out into something that is out of the reach of many people in economically straitened times.  The more prices go up, the more test matches will be attended by the corporate crowd and not the great social mix that makes test match cricket so special.

The authorities should look beyond the short term bottom line and think about what is going to attract a new generation of fans to the game and to the unique pleasure of a day at a test match.  Cricket has chosen to hit the jackpot in the past few years by selling TV rights to Sky and minimising its audience at TV level.  The very least they could do with this TV rights jackpot would be to make test match cricket affordable for all.

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Progressive Postings - Best Of The Blogosphere, Wednesday 4th August 2010

The best of the web today:

NME on 'why we love the Clash'

The Australian on the upcoming Aussie election:

Luke Tryl on gay rights and the Tory right:

The Daily Beast on Palin's social media strategy:

Both Dan Hannan and Tom Harris campaign for a memorial to Ian Gow:

Raise Your Glasses For The Great British Beer Festival

I was at the Great British Beer Festival yesterday.  The event has become a real national institution, showcasing quality British beers and the brewers, large and small, who help quench the nation's thirst.

The event brings together a massive range of beers and ciders, including some extremely unique flavours (I tried, amongst other fine ales, some of the award winning Chocolate Orange flavoured stout from Amber breweries, which I highly recommend.)

Chocolate Orange Stout

I was delighted to find out that my region, the North East, is top of the pops when it comes to real ale, with 74% of people having tried real ale, compared to only 45% in Yorkshire. You should toast this fact by trying some of the great North Eastern ales.

As well as being a massive event in it's own right, the Beer Festival is also a reminder of the importance beer to our culture and the importance of pubs to our communities.  The beer industry is a massive employer and the pub acts as the beating heart of the community.  It is vital that we preserve the pub at the core of community life - as there are still far too many pubs and working man's clubs closing.

If you are in the London area, I would highly recommend that you popped along to the Beer Festival, for a top quality evening out.

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Progressive Postings - Best Of The Blogosphere, Tuesday 3rd August 2010

Today's must reads:

Jon Rentoul on a Tony Blair lecture about the job of Prime Minister:

John Hayes argues that the education of offenders should be at the core of the 'rehabilitation revolution':

Andrew Gilligan On Ken Livingstone's deja vu Mayoral campaign:

Next Left on political philosophy and the left:

Dylan Loewe at the Huffington Post asks whether the Republicans have lost the White House for a generation:

And Working Class Tory isn't too keen on my blog about the left of the Tory Party:

Monday, 2 August 2010

The Undemocratic Threat Of Judicial Activism

Political sovereignty in Britain should lie with the Commons.  It should lie with people we elect and can remove.  The rise of both the quangocracy and judicial activism (not to mention the EU) makes that less the case than it should be.

Dan Hannan has a very good blog today in which he points to the case of the budget being challenged in the courts by the Fawcett Society.  As he queries, how can a budget possibly be a legal rather than a political question.

A budget should be entirely the prerogative of the elected chamber and elected politicians.  That was the clear result of the crisis around the People's Budget that culminated in the 1911 Parliament Act. The Commons, in which the sovereignty of the people resides, should not see its budget decisions overturned by unelected judges.

Judges are not only unelected.  They are thoroughly unrepresentative, representing a small section of British society.  They are not only unelected and unrepresentative - they wield increasing power and they cannot be removed.  Shifting power to the judiciary and the quangocracy only shifts power further away from the people

As Daniel Hannan says in his blog:

"It is worth remembering that we came through a civil war to establish the principle that revenues should be levied and disbursed by the House of Commons. If the Fawcett Society wants a different budget, its members should put themselves up for election and argue their case."

Judicial activism represents a real threat to the democratic tradition.  Change should be achieved through the ballot box, not at the whim of unelected judges or unelected quangos.

Sunday, 1 August 2010

Progressive Postings - The Best Of The Blogosphere, Sunday 1st August

Today's must read blogs include:

NME's Jamie Fullerton on The Libertines:

Next Left on whether any of the Labour Leadership campaigns have an 'August surprise' up their sleeve:

Mark Wallace on the righting of a Thatcherite wrong:

Liberal Conspiracy report that the GMB will be campaigning against AV:

Charlie Crist, exiled by the far right Tea Party movement from the GOP looks well placed to win in November as an independent:

Sahil Kapur at Comment Is Free  on how the USA learned to love healthcare reform:

The Cycle Hire Scheme - A Capital Idea That Should Be Replicated Nationwide

Bikes have sprung up all over London.  At the corner of most streets a bike hire area has been established.  People can pay a couple of quid, hire a bike for a short time and then drop off the bike at any other rental station.

Cycle Hire by Charence

This is, beyond any shadow of a doubt, a great idea.

It is good for public health, good for the environment and good for community spirits.  It is even sponsored by a bank, so they can give a little back for the hell they have put us all through over the past few years.

I don't see any reason why this kind of scheme shouldn't be introduced in other cities around the UK.  It would be great to pick up a hire bike and ride down the quayside, or through the Durham or Tyne Valley countryside on a good, sunny day.

Hopefully other local authorities will be looking to follow Boris' lead.
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