Thursday, 30 September 2010

Just To Show They're Still Sincere. They Sing The Red Flag Once A Year

All eyes will be on Ed Miliband today during the Labour conference singing of the Red Flag.  Tony Blair always looked uncomfortable during this bit (at times doing a passable impression of John Redwood singing the Welsh national anthem).  

The right wing tabloids will be seeing the fervour with which the ridiculously named 'Red Ed' sings the old Socialist anthem.

It all reminded me of the old song, 'The People's Flag Is Palest Pink, part of the genius of Leon Rosselson, amongst others.  The first line of that song goes:

The people's flag is palest pink
It's not as red as you might think

Probably an interesting analysis of those who think that opportunist Ed is really a reincarnation of Nye Bevan.

The most apt verse for the present state of the Labour Party is the second one though.  Union barons (note not Labour Party members or MPs) have decided that the working class are best represented by a privileged, middle class, liberal intellectual from North London.  Ed Miliband probably represents one of those middle class intellectuals derided by Tony Blair in his autobiography as not understanding ordinary working class people or working class aspiration.  He is one of those Hampstead liberals who has an idealised version of ordinary working class people, while being happy to constrain their ambition or aspiration.

As Matthew Parris says in The Times today:

"He is one of those North London Labour intellectuals who find it genuinely difficult to believe that there could exist people of sound mind and humane instincts outside the circle of light in which the intelligent Centre Left feel they are bathed."

Of course, the Labour establishment and the trade unions rejected Andy Burnham, the one candidate who does genuinely understand working class aspiration and the one candidate who could genuinely have connected and empathised with aspirant voters.

Still, as the second verse of that old song said, the liberal middle classes always think they know what is best for ordinary working class people anyhow:

The cloth cap and the woollen scarf
Are images outdated
For we're the party's avant garde
And we are educated
So raise the rolled umbrella high
The college scarf, the old school tie
And just to show that we're sincere
We'll sing The Red Flag once a year

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Cadbury's Dairy Milk and The Absurdity Of European Rules

Apparently, Cadbury's Dairy Milk will no longer be able to use the slogan "a glass and a half of milk in every bar" on its wrappers.  

EU rules apparently mean that Cadbury's will, instead, have to use the slogan, "the equivalent of 426ml of fresh liquid milk in every 227g of milk chocolate."  Not quite as catchy is it?

Isn't this just petty and nonsensical?  Is there any wonder that ordinary people across Europe are becoming increasingly detached by the unelected, meddling monolith that is the EU?

It's a shame that Cadbury's didn't decide to hold on to its heritage, rather than caving in to the bureaucratic nonsense of EU rules.

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Daylight Robbery On The East Coast Main Line

I'm a regular user of the East Coast main line.  Working in London, but spending a lot of time in my beloved North East, I find that the train remains by far the best way of heading North.

The line can be very expensive and you occasionally get the impression that East Coast are trying every trick in the book to get as much money out of you as possible (the same went for GNER and National Express).  Passengers are treated like suspected fare avoiders during heavy handed ticket checks and the mark ups for food and drink can be pretty excessive.  Penalty fares are excessive, fares are excessive and the passenger is almost always presumed wrong.

Jobsworth is often a phrase I would use for the ticket collectors on the East Coast. 

I wasn't, therefore, surprised to read this story of the man fined £155 for getting off at Darlington rather than Durham.  Such a fine is staggering, shocking and disgraceful but it is probably justified in one of the 'war and peace' sized rule books that always seem to be heavily weighted away from the passenger and towards the monopoly train company.

Professor Evans, who was the victim of the wrongdoing by the rail company, said:

“Anyone would understand that you’d be liable to pay extra if you stayed on the train too long. But if you get off early, you have not used all the product you have paid for...The whole process made me feel like a wrongdoer from the start and that disgusted me more than the money itself.”
And now it seems that East Coast is going to charge passengers to use the previously free wireless internet service.  Again, that is not on.

It's about time that the passenger is given a fair deal by East Coast. 

Monday, 27 September 2010

How All Labour MPs Voted In The Leadership Election

I have long been a fan of transparency in public life and you have to take your hat off to Labour for publishing the voting preferences of each of their MPs and MEPs in the leadership election.

All of the information is below:

It is intriguing that Labour make this kind of information public.  Maybe the level of transparency ensures that MPs are far less likely to switch horses mid race (as happened in the Conservative election a few years ago).

Sunday, 26 September 2010

Time For Sunderland To Take The Next Step

It was a great point for Sunderland against Liverpool.  Indeed, given without absurd refereeing decision we probably would have won.  This comes hot on the heels of a richly deserved draw against Arsenal last week (nothing is quite as relieving as a 95th minute equaliser).

Good to see Darren Bent remaining in devastating form after his ridiculous omission from the England squad for the World Cup that Fabio Capello will long live to regret.

The big point is, though, that we are getting points out of games from which we were expecting none.  What we need to be doing is getting three points from the games we are expecting to win.  Last season, we got some great results against some big names, only to come to a juddering halt against some of the lesser lights of the Premiership.  We cannot afford to do the same this year.

Sunderland have the talent, the management and the regular goalscoring flair to make the next step and hit the top 10 of the Premiership this year.  If we continue to play as we did yesterday, then that is where we will end up.

Thursday, 23 September 2010

There Is Only One Thing That Is Bennite About Ed Miliband

The right wing popular press have already christened Ed Miliband as 'Red Ed'.

Bagehot takes up the point here:

According to the newspaper narrative, Ed Miliband, the younger brother and former cabinet minister in charge of climate change, is significantly to the left of David Miliband, the elder brother and former foreign secretary. I have seen the word Bennite bandied around, in homage to Tony Benn, the former Labour cabinet minister who really was a proper lefty in his day, advocating capital controls and the wholesale nationalisation of British industry. It is true that the pair have been sending little hints and signals since the contest became a two horse race, indicating that MiliE is to the left of MiliD (as some call them) and is more tempted than MiliD by some form of core vote strategy to woo back disaffected Labour voters and former Liberal Democrat voters who are disgruntled by the Con-Lib coalition. But Bennite? Come off it.

There isn't much Bennite about Ed Miliband.  He is still, seemingly attached to the idea of unelected European Commissioners having more power than elected politicians.  As far as I'm aware, he isn't advocating unilateral disarmament, or capital controls, or industrial democracy, or withdrawal from the EU.

There is however one thing that links Ed Miliband and Benn together.  That is the sudden transformation of their worldviews after an election defeat.  Michael Foot told the story of the Benn transformation brilliantly in his 'Loyalists and Loners':

"Tony Benn was once an up and coming, middle of the road Labour MP with an excellent chance of becoming Prime Minister... in the attitudes he adopted on questions of policy, there were not so much as a list towards left-wing demagogy.  He gave every impression of being a good administrator and was always a good defender of his Department in the House of Commons.  He was a strong supporter of Britain's entry into the Common Market.  He backed... In Place Of Strife.  He was not notable for protesting against the Wilson Government's support for the American war in Vietnam... He had never been a member of the Tribune group or the Keep Left group or the Victory for Socialism Group... he did vote for Gaitskell in the 1955 leadership election... However, during the decade of the 1970s he was transformed - the word is too weak; reincarnated might be better - into a different political animal altogether."

Such a transformation seems to have occurred to Ed Miliband over the past few months.  From Brownite minister, he has transformed himself into some kind of keeper of the Bevanite flame.  The man criticising the New Labour establishment was, after all, the man who depended on that establishment for his advance.  He did serve, without showing any open signs of disloyalty or hostility, under both Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.  He did serve as an adviser to New Labour for many years before that.  He did, after all, write the election manifesto in 2010.

I'm not of course suggesting that the younger brother's sudden volte face on a number of issues is an opportunist one.  It has, though, been almost as sudden as the Benn conversion of the 1970s.  Benn suggested that it was "his experience as a Labour Minister" that brought about his transformation.  Similarly, Miliband claimed [in today's Guardian] that he had been "liberated to say what he finally believed."

Thursday, 16 September 2010

Who Does This European Commissioner Think She Is?

This is Viviane Redding.

She is a European Commissioner.

Nobody, of course, elected her to that position.  And the people certainly cannot remove her from that position. Despite this, she has more power than most elected politicians in Europe.  That, to most people who love democracy, is a pretty unacceptable situation.

On Tuesday, this lady took it upon herself to lecture a national Government in the most remarkable terms, describe the French policy regarding the Roma as both a "disgrace" and "shocking".  She then went on to compare Sarkozy's policy with the atrocities of the 1930s.   She said, "this is a situation I would have thought Europe would not have to witness again."

The response of the French Minister for Europe was pretty damning:

"France is a big sovereign country, we're not at school."

This whole things just sums up what is wrong with the EU at present.  An unelected, all powerful Commissioner lecturing elected national politicians in the most remarkable terms.  The EU must learn to respect democracy or it will continue to drift further and further from the people of Europe.

Saturday, 11 September 2010

The AV Vote. Where Is The Yes Campaign?

There will, almost certainly, be a referendum on the shift to an AV system of voting next May.

You Gov already has the 'No' campaign leading and it looks increasingly likely that Labour might be putting politics over principle in the campaign.

The No campaign already seems to be organisationally strong.  They have appointed Matthew Elliott of the 'Taxpayers' Alliance' to head up the campaign; the GMB has promised a large donation; and @VoteNoToAV seems to be a strong Twitter presence.

On the flip side, the Yes campaign, which as LabourList suggested yesterday may be battling against the odds, is virtually silent.  According to Next Left, they have a steering group (with weak Labour links and not a single Tory).  They have a very basic, very beta web site here:

Vote for a Stepping Stone, eagle eye

But, other than that, the Yes campaign seems content to let the anti reform people make the running and set the agenda.  That is, to say the least, a high risk strategy.  A Yes campaign needs to be set up decisively and early, if it is to avoid the teething troubles that affect the early stages of most campaigns.

It needs to start attempting to close down arguments against and win the early battle for the public psyche. It needs to consider early polling and where to focus its message.  It needs to make extensive, ambitious and innovative use of social media.  As far as I am aware, the 'Yes' campaign is doing none of those things.

Campaigns may not be won nine months out from polling day but they can easily be lost through lack of organisation nine months out.  The Yes campaign needs to get organised, and quickly, if it is to stand a fighting chance next year.

Will The Triple Crown Ever Be Won Again?

Once a year, the American public and media turn their attention to horse racing (and, yes, I know I'm ignoring the brilliant but ESPN based Breeders' Cup).  Every spring, even the New York Times takes to asking, 'will we get a triple crown winners this year?'  Once the first leg of the triple-crown, the Kentucky Derby has been run, all attention is turned to the second leg, the Preakness Stakes.  If the Kentucky Derby winner, wins the Preakness, then all attention turns to the Belmont Stakes.  If the Kentucky Derby winner fails to win the Preakness, then media interest in horse racing returns to a polite whisper for another year.

Of course, there used to be a triple crown that meant just as much in this country.  The third leg of the triple crown, the 1m 6f St Leger, is being run this afternoon at Doncaster.  The winners of the other two legs, the 2000 Guineas and the Derby will not be running in the race.  Indeed, they haven't run in the St Leger for many years.  

Nijinsky in 1970 was the last horse to win the triple crown.  Reference Point in 1987 was the last horse to win both the Derby and the St Leger.  These days, Derby winners don't even think about going for the Leger.  The Champion Stakes, Prix De L'Arc De Triomphe or the Breeders' Cup are seen as better end of season targets.  The extended distance of the St Leger is regarded as damaging a champion's stud value, in an age where bloodstock is dominated by speed, rather than stamina (although some of the best sires of recent years are stamina laden).

That is all a massive shame.  Flat racing all too often resembles, to paraphrase Churchill, a pudding without a theme.  There is nothing to hold public interest, in a way that Cheltenham does for jumps racing.  While 'Racing For Change' tinkers at the edges, it hasn't really proposed anything to make flat racing more mainstream and more popular.  Restoring the importance of the triple crown (with something resembling the Betfair bonus in national hunt racing) might go some way to keeping mainstream media interest on flat racing.

Who knows if the triple crown will ever be won again.  But we should hope that it is restored to its former pinnacle, in the eyes of trainers, the media and, more importantly, the public.

Friday, 10 September 2010

Dennis Skinner and David Miliband. The 'Laughing Halibut Pact'?

There were gasps of surprise and astonishment when it emerged earlier on today that the bastion of the 'hard left', Dennis Skinner had backed David Milband for the Labour leadership.

It probably shouldn't have come as too much of a surprise.

Although probably opposed to Miliband on every policy issue, from the EU to Trident, Skinner is keenly aware of what it takes to do well in the House of Commons and has opted for the man he thinks is most likely to trouble the coalition.

Anybody who has read Tony Blair's memoirs shouldn't be so surprised.  This is what Blair said about 'the Beast of Bolsover':

"In later years, Dennis was one of my best (if somewhat closet) supporters.  He didn't agree with any of my policies, but he liked someone who whacked the Tories... In particular, he used to give me brilliant PMQs advice... feeding me one-liners and explaining what would rouse the troops behind me."

So, where was the unlikely Miliband-Skinner axis formed?  

Pure, tongue in cheek speculation, but Mr Skinner is a bit of a regular at 'The Laughing Halibut' in Strutton Ground.  And, last week, when asked what his favourite London discovery was by the Evening Standard, David Miliband replied, "the Laughing Halibut on Strutton Ground."

Maybe the Granita accord has now been replaced by the Laughing Halibut agreement!

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

More Like It From England As Darren Bent Proves A Point

That was more like it from England last night.

After the insipid performance in the World Cup, it is good to see a much improved standard of performance over the qualifying matches.

And wasn't it brilliant to see Darren Bent scoring.  As I made the case at the time, Bent should have been selected for the World Cup finals.  That a woefully out of form Heskey was picked instead remains a real disgrace. Let's face it, he would have buried that chance that Heskey had against the USA and the rest of the tournament might have panned out very differently.

Let's hope that Bent is treated fairly from now on.

Total Politics Blog Poll - Thank You

The Total Politics blog awards, the Oscars for political bloggers, has been announcing its results over the past week.

Congratulations to Iain Dale, who has won the best Tory blog; Labour List, who have won the best Labour blog; and Lib Dem Voice, who have polled as the top Lib Dem blog.

This blog came in 32nd in the Conservative blog list, which I'm pretty chuffed about - particularly as it has only been running for a few months.

So, thank you to everybody who cast their vote for this blog and thanks to everybody for reading.  I've got little doubt that the next twelve months will give plenty to blog about as well.

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

The 'Eurobarometer' Shows How Out Of Touch the EU Is

Every year, the EU spend more of our money in a survey of European public opinion called the 'Eurobarometer'.   It shows quite how out of touch and distant European elites have grown from ordinary people.  Of course, we didn't need an expensive piece of taxpayer funded market research to tell us that.  The casually ignored French, Irish and Dutch referenda all made that quite clear.  Nevertheless, there is plenty in the Eurobarometer report to have the bureaucrats of Brussels sobbing into their beer.  Here are the 'highlights':

A minority of Europeans now believe that EU membership is a 'good thing'

Despite the fact that we are always told that Euroscepticism is a 'little Englander' idea, it also seems to have a fairly strong following throughout the EU.  Only 49% of people regard EU membership as a 'good thing'.  The % of people who regard it as a 'bad thing' is at a record high.  Public opinion has turned against the EU in all but four member states.

More Europeans do not trust the EU than trust it.  Only 20% of people in Britain trust the EU

47% of people surveyed do not trust the EU.  Only 42% say that they trust it.

And in the UK, trust in the EU stands at a miserly 20% (hats off to my fellow countrymen).  Check out the chart below, which has a country by country breakdown (hat tip EU Referendum blog):

The only surprising thing is that 20% seems a bit high!.

British people associate the EU with 'bureaucracy' and 'waste of money'.  The Greeks associate it with unemployment.

The pollsters gave a series of nice, benign words like 'peace' and 'prosperity' for people to choose from when answering the question, 'what do you most associate with the EU'.  To this, 28% of Brits said 'waste of money' and 26% said bureaucracy.  27% of Greeks associate the EU primarily with unemployment, 28% of Portugese and 46% of Cypriots associate it primarily with unemployment (not massively surprising given the EU sponsored deflation happening in Greece and Portugal).

This annual report is useful to highlight quite how out of touch the EU is with the citizens of Europe.  They will, of course, continue to ignore the people and continue to impose top down political integration on a hostile citizenry.

Monday, 6 September 2010

The Cancellation Of The Blair Book Signing - A Triumph For A Violent, Anti Democratic Mob

Tony Blair's book signing in London on Wednesday has been cancelled, with security concerns being cited as the main reason.  A book signing on Saturday in Dublin was marked by protests from anti war protesters.

Regardless of what you thought about the war or what you think about Blair's policies, who the hell do these protesters think they are?

They shout their nonsensical language of war criminal (ridiculous) and liar (untrue, unless you think the entire international intelligence community was lying at the same time - see Chris Mullin via John Rentoul here).  You would think that Blair was some kind of dictator figure who forced us into war.  The truth is that, after months of anguished debate, soul searching and record breaking marches, the House of Commons voted in favour of taking the country to war, after a tremendous speech by Blair.

Ironically, these protesters seem pretty detached from the democratic processes in this country.  Indeed, many of them seem more attached to a handful of tinpot dictators around the world.

You may disagree with Blair on almost every major issue but the violence of potential violence of protesters should not stop citizens from meeting their PM of a decade.  Tony Blair won three elections with landslide majorities.  One of these elections was two years after the decision to go to war. A recent poll of academics marked him down as the third most successful PM since the war.  His autobiography has been one of the best selling of all time.

It is only reasonable that people would want to attend his book signings.  It is rather a shame that the protests of a handful of activists has prevented those book signings from taking place.  The protesters will probably regard the cancellation as a triumph.

What it really represents is a defeat for pluralism and free speech.  It represents the triumph of an anti democratic mob.
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