Thursday, March 29, 2007


The Blo****ere

"Guido's" appearance on Newsnight last night was both entertaining and educational. Paxo telling him that he was talking "complete bollocks" was a personal highlight for me.

See Guido Fawkes 2.0 for analysis of the aftermath.

Nick Robinson's acceptance of "Guido's" apology contains an archived version if you missed it.

As Nick is busy (and possibly even gracious), he doesn't seem to feel the need to stick the knife in. Ah well...

Here's a transcript of the relevant section of "Guido's" interview. Sir Michael asks him to give examples of stories he's broken.
"Guido": The whole question of the second email system. The lobby was following me on that for two days...

Sir Michael: It isn't true.

"Guido": Well, it turned out it wasn't an email system. There was a second system for doing documents with Lotus Notes. We've established that.

Sir Michael: I don't think we have actually. That illustrates the difficulty. I think you got that wrong.

"Guido": Well, my source for that was Nick Robinson so maybe.
He shoots. He scores.

Shame it was the wrong net.

And "Guido's" apology:
Incidentally - want to clarify something immediately re Nick Robinson - that last line about Nick being the source, did not mean he was the source for the original much contested Guido "email" second system story. Nick has never been a source. We had a discussion re the Ruth Turner document after doing his interview. That was what the reference was to, pretty sure that came over all wrong, and genuinely apologise for any embarrassment caused to Nick.
"Guido" 0 - 2 "Guido"

Getting confused on the telly and making yourself look like a gormless twit is one thing but making two simple but entirely contradictory statements in the space of a couple of hours is something else entirely.

So, what's the truth? Is it:
a) Well, my source for that was Nick Robinson.
b) Nick has never been a source.
c) "Guido" carries a small fire extinguisher on his person at all times in order to douse the frequent pant fires which plague him so.
I guess we'll never know...

The sad part is, I do agree with some of the stuff in "Guido's" piece (you have have noticed that I've taken to calling Michael White "Sir Michael"). The lobby does have a problem with having to cosy up to politicians in order to secure access and politicians do try to manipulate that to their advantage. It is undoubtedly an issue. Shame "Guido" ended up making it look like conspiralunacy.

Anyway, Newsnight viewers who had been considering whether there was anything worth checking out in this with blogging lark will not exactly have been won round by last night's bumbling performance. Let's hope "Guido" does us all a favour and keeps his self-promoting silhouette off the telly from now on.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Who Invented the Internet?

Apologies for the lack of activity here recently. There are a number of real world reasons for this which I won't bore you with. Normal service will resume shortly.

In the meantime, here's a little something for you. I started writing this last weekend before the offline world so rudely interrupted. This is a reworked version.

The question which has been on my mind recently is, can there ever be objective reality in political debate? (For a deeper discussion as to whether there even is such a thing as objective reality, you'll need to go to a philosopher. For the purposes of this, it is enough to accept that a tree in the woods has either fallen down or it hasn't. It's status can be checked and an objective reality can be agreed.)

Politics is all about differences of opinion of course but it seems to me that more and more time is spent arguing over the facts rather than the policies which address the facts. This is, I believe, one of the reasons why so many people are disillusioned with politics. The economy is booming/on the verge of collapse, crime is rising/falling, we're winning/losing the war and so on. It's not an edifying sight so see politicians squabbling over the facts in this way. Who wants to live in a world where nothing is real and everything is a matter of opinion?

Here's an example. Rather than tackling a big issue, I thought I'd start with an inconsequential one. The opportunity arose when Dizzy wrote a response to Tim's post on Dizzy. I felt no need to leap to Tim's defence, he's a big boy and can certainly look after himself, but I did decide to try to make a wider point.

Dizzy had written this:
Where [sic] Gore invented teh Interweb (All Praise the Gore!), he invented the blogosphere.
The "Gore claimed he invented the internet" meme is pretty widespread, it has to be said, but is it actually true?

On the face of it, it appears unlikely. Why on earth would a politician make such an extraordinary claim, one which was certain to be subject to endless ridicule?

Objectively, we can say that Gore never said the words "I invented the internet", What he actually said is recorded here.
During my service in the United States Congress, I took the initiative in creating the Internet.
And, as Snopes points out, what Gore meant was that "he was responsible, in an economic and legislative sense, for fostering the development the technology that we now know as the Internet". In context, this is obvious; he just said it very clumsily. Indeed.

As to whether that claim was valid, here's what two of the "founding fathers" of the internet had to say about Gore and the claim:
Al Gore was the first political leader to recognize the importance of the Internet and to promote and support its development.

No one person or even small group of persons exclusively "invented" the Internet. It is the result of many years of ongoing collaboration among people in government and the university community. But as the two people who designed the basic architecture and the core protocols that make the Internet work, we would like to acknowledge VP Gore's contributions as a Congressman, Senator and as Vice President. No other elected official, to our knowledge, has made a greater contribution over a longer period of time.
And he won an award for it too.

So, although it may be a matter of opinion as to the extent of Gore's contribution, his claim certainly wasn't entirely baseless. Essentially what we have here is a politician bigging himself up clumsily but with some amount of justification for the part he played in promoting the internet.

Objectively, we can say that Al Gore never claimed to have invented the internet in the way that was claimed by Republicans.

I decided to see whether Dizzy would agree so I submitted this comment:
"Where Gore invented teh Interweb..."

Urban myths are neither clever nor funny.

There is, I think, a difference between being politically partisan and being a truth distorting propagandist.
That was a bit rough but it's my understanding that Dizzy's a big boy too. Dizzy's response:
Curious Hamster, urban myth are funny if their intended target audience is Adam from Cross Pond who is, of course, simple great.
I have to admit to not understanding fully what he's saying here (and I've not had the time to find out about Adam and what he has to do with this) butDizzy does at least seem to accept that the Gore claim is an urban myth. Fair enough.

Not everyone was convinced though. Since PragueTory also appeared in the comments to that post, I also had a go at asking him the question that he's gone through hoops to avoid answering recently. Slightly cheeky perhaps but I couldn't resist:
Apologies for going off-topic but since PT is here, I would like to ask he ever got round to looking at the evidence of Guido's "beyond the pale" activities? (I won't "spam" the relevant link. PT knows what I mean.)

I only ask because people may be starting to think he's a coward who runs away when he's not got any answers and I'm sure none of us wants that.

Anyway. Must dash, Got stuff to do this afternoon. I'll check back to see if any answer is forthcoming later.
And, when I came back later, PT had responded. Of sort:
Stop giggling at the back. He only said he created the internet. Oh forget it. Let's all laugh and point.
Oh, how I laughed.

The effortless way he avoided the question is evidence of a real master at work. I did reply but, alas, although my comment was submitted well before Dizzy shut the thread down (due to a discussion between him and Tim, it seems), it never appeared. It has, I'm afraid, disappeared into the interweb ether.

In any event, attempts to get PragueTory to answer a straightforward question are probably doomed to failure from the very start. Perhaps that's why my comment didn't get through; maybe Dizzy realised that I was wasting my time with him. And what chance do you think I'd have had of getting PT to accept that Gore never actually claimed to have created the internet if the thread had remained open?

No, me neither. For PT, reality can go whistle. It's certainly not nearly as important as the opportunity to take cheap shots against political opponents. And there are more and more bloggers who do this. The accepted granddaddy of this sort of thing, "Guido Fawkes", likes to claim that Tim Ireland's exposés of his behaviour are somehow part of a Brownite plot orchestrated by Tom Watson. Anyone who's read Bloggerheads for any length of time will know that that's utter bilge of course but repeated often enough, some will start to believe it. And with that, objective reality in politics becomes just that little bit further away.

George Orwell famously wrote that "politics itself is a mass of lies, evasions, folly, hatred and schizophrenia". Sadly, the political blo****ere now looks to be going the same way.

It could be argued that this invasion of partisan spin and bull onto the interwebs is an unstoppable and inevitable result of modern politics and human behaviour. Perhaps it is but we'll never know for sure if we don't at least make the effort to stop it. And that's one of the reasons why I'm on the blogroll here (not the bogroll) and why I think you should be too.

(By the way, in the interests of transparency I should also say that I think Al Gore is a bit of a git. But not because he claimed he invented the internet. He didn't.)

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Still no responses to the question I asked in the previous post from Iain or anyone else from the "yes" lobby.

Iain has posted again on Trident though (with a post which has a hint of the "Moving on..." about it) so, obsessive nutter that I am, I've tried again too.

Will anyone answer? Place your bets now...

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Good grief! (via)

It really has come to something when a congressional bill which merely reaffirms the provisions of the U.S. constitution is considered controversial.

The only reason that this was even necessary was because the Bush administration has made it clear that they do not believe they need congressional approval before taking military action against Iran. Wonder is this decision has caused them to think again?

Well done Democrats.

*slow hand claps*

The International Commitment Buffet

Here's a wee follow up to yesterday's post on weapons of mass destruction.

It looks increasingly likely that Tony will need Tory support to get the vote on Trident through the Commons. As such, I was particularly interested to see what Tory blogger Iain Dale had to say about the issue. All the boxes were ticked.
Always nice to see Labour MPs reverting to type and playing fast and loose with the defence of the nation, isn't it? Predictably they are likely to be joined in the No lobby by the LibDems who can't quite make up their minds as to whether Britain should even have its own nuclear deterrent.
Fast and loose indeed. That'll be that radical, dangerously naive, irresponsible minority of crazies...

Then, Iain demonstrated perfectly the point I made yesterday about what renewal at this time really means.
They say that in this post cold war era it is not as relevant and therefore could be scrapped. The truth is that we don't know who our enemies are likely to be in ten, twenty or thirty years time. It may indeed be ragtag terror groups like Al Qaeda, but it may also be nation states with nuclear capabilities. The precautionary principle ought at least to come into play here.
So, when would Iain agree to fulfil our commitment to work towards disarmament? I tried asking:
The truth is that we don't know who our enemies are likely to be in ten, twenty or thirty years time...

I'm curious to know how this fits in with our commitment under the NNPT to "pursue negotiations in good faith on... a Treaty on general and complete disarmament" (Article VI).

If you base this decision on the precautionary principle, it seems unlikely that you could ever commit to complete disarmament. In that case, you would certainly be in breach of the disarmament pillar of the NNPT. How then could you expect to have the moral authority to insist that other countries abide by the non-proliferation pillar?

Is it Tory policy to withdraw from the NNPT or would they, like Tony, just ignore the international obligations they don't fancy adopting?
And do you know what? Not one single person replied or even acknowledged that comment.

As you can imagine, my surprise at encountering this turn of events was entirely non-existent. It's the radioactive elephant in the debating room.

A few principled souls, probably from the left of the Labour Party it has to be said, will undoubtedly raise the issue in the debate tomorrow. All they'll get for their trouble is a barrage of ridicule and scorn.

Because the idea that we should abide by our international commitments rather than picking and choosing to suit ourselves is patently absurd...

Monday, March 12, 2007

Selective "Outrage"

For those not aware of it, Tim posted about the hypocrisy of one PragueTory on Friday and there's a follow up here. Dear oh dear.

So, when is beyond the pale not beyond the pale? Personally, I'd say that unjustifiably smearing someone as a paedophile actually is beyond the pale in all cases. PT appears to think differently. I've been waiting all weekend for an explanation as to why this is but no answer was forthcoming.

So, here's a short post dedicated to PT (and one of his commenters).
Another Rightie Goes Beyond the Pale

The Right definitely dominate when the blogosphere comes to posting things that are completely beyond the pale. And it seems like the material is coming thicker (pun intended) and faster than ever.

"Guido Fawkes" (who has boasted of his use of illegal tax evasion strategies) wrote that Mark Oaten was "a slaphead who most mothers would feel uneasy seeing near a playground". This comment was made last year.

Remarkably "Guido" is allowing his comment to stand.

There can be no doubt that the left occupy the erudite, blogging high-ground while the right prefer the low swamp of attack and innuendo

No, obviously not. Because, you see, I realise that although "the right" has it's fair share of tossers, hypocrites and bastards just like any other group of human beings, it would be unfair on the many decent people of the right to extrapolate that sort of behaviour in this stupid generic way in an attempt to gain partisan political advantage. It would be misleading, dishonest and well, just not very nice.

That obviously isn't a concern shared by everyone though.


This week, the House of Commons will vote on whether the UK will commit to spending billions of pounds of our money over many years on a new nuclear weapons delivery system.

The government's argument is essentially that we need to maintain our own weapons of mass destruction to protect us against unknown unknowns. That's is a genuine argument but, as you may be aware, I don't believe that the debate we're having, if it can even be described as a debate, has made any attempt to seriously consider the implications of such an approach.

Taking the decision to retain nuclear weapons as a protection against potential future threats is very different from maintaining a deterrent against a specific existing threat as was the case during the Cold War. To do this now, almost twenty years after the end of the Cold War, would be to make a very public admission that the UK does not believe that nuclear disarmament is a realistic goal.

Maybe that's true. But if it is, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, with it's very clear commitment to work towards complete disarmament - the carrot given to the non-nuclear weapons states by the nuclear weapons one's - is a busted flush. Even now, before a decision on renewal, it is hard to argue that the UK is abiding by its obligation under Article VI of the treaty to "pursue negotiations in good faith on... a Treaty on general and complete disarmament". To take the decision to renew now would be to confirm categorically that the UK has no intention of disarming for decades to come.

That, ultimately, is the message which renewal of the UK's nuclear weapons systems at this time would send to the rest of the world. And that should be a major part of the debate. Instead, Des "I can't believe he's our Defence Secretary" Browne and the rest of the government have attempted to stifle that discussion at every opportunity.

In the name of protecting our freedoms, of course.

According to the BBC, many Labour MPs are opposed to taking this decision. I hope they've got their smear defences up and running because questions will almost certainly be asked of their mental health.One of the strangest things about the debate over the UK's nuclear weapons is that those who argue that the UK should no longer have nuclear weapons are somehow considered to be a radical, dangerously naive, irresponsible minority.

Here for the record is the list of current non-nuclear weapons states:
# Afghanistan
# Albania
# Algeria
# American Samoa
# Andorra
# Angola
# Anguilla
# Antarctica
# Antigua and Barbuda
# Arctic Ocean
# Argentina
# Armenia
# Aruba
# Ashmore and Cartier Islands
# Atlantic Ocean
# Australia
# Austria
# Azerbaijan

# Bahamas, The
# Bahrain
# Baker Island
# Bangladesh
# Barbados
# Bassas da India
# Belarus
# Belgium
# Belize
# Benin
# Bermuda
# Bhutan
# Bolivia
# Bosnia and Herzegovina
# Botswana
# Bouvet Island
# Brazil
# British Indian Ocean Territory
# British Virgin Islands
# Brunei
# Bulgaria
# Burkina Faso
# Burma (Myanmar)
# Burundi

# Cambodia
# Cameroon
# Canada
# Cape Verde
# Cayman Islands
# Central African Republic
# Chad
# Chile
# Christmas Island
# Clipperton Island
# Cocos (Keeling) Islands
# Colombia
# Comoros
# Congo, Democratic Republic of the
# Congo, Republic of the
# Cook Islands
# Coral Sea Islands
# Costa Rica
# Cote d'Ivoire
# Croatia
# Cuba
# Cyprus
# Czechia (Czech Republic)

# Denmark
# Djibouti
# Dominica
# Dominican Republic

# East Timor
# Ecuador
# Egypt
# El Salvador
# Equatorial Guinea
# Eritrea
# Estonia
# Ethiopia
# Europa Island

# Falkland Islands (Islas Malvinas)
# Faroe Islands
# Fiji
# Finland
# French Guiana
# French Polynesia
# French Southern and Antarctic Lands

# Gabon
# Gambia, The
# Gaza Strip
# Georgia
# Germany
# Ghana
# Gibraltar
# Glorioso Islands
# Greece
# Greenland
# Grenada
# Guadeloupe
# Guam
# Guatemala
# Guernsey
# Guinea-Bissau
# Guinea
# Guyana

# Haiti
# Heard Island and McDonald Islands
# Holy See (Vatican City)
# Honduras
# Hong Kong
# Howland Island
# Hungary

# Iceland
# Indian Ocean
# Indonesia
# Iraq
# Ireland
# Italy

# Jamaica
# Jan Mayen
# Japan
# Jarvis Island
# Jersey
# Johnston Atoll
# Jordan
# Juan de Nova Island

# Kazakhstan
# Kenya
# Kingman Reef
# Kiribati
# Korea, South
# Kuwait
# Kyrgyzstan

# Laos
# Latvia
# Lebanon
# Lesotho
# Liberia
# Libya
# Liechtenstein
# Lithuania
# Luxembourg

# Macau
# Macedonia, The Former Yugoslav Republic of
# Madagascar
# Malawi
# Malaysia
# Maldives
# Mali
# Malta
# Man, Isle of
# Marshall Islands
# Martinique
# Mauritania
# Mauritius
# Mayotte
# Mexico
# Micronesia, Federated States of
# Midway Islands
# Moldova
# Monaco
# Mongolia
# Montserrat
# Morocco
# Mozambique
# Myanmar (Burma

# Namibia
# Nauru
# Navassa Island
# Nepal
# Netherlands Antilles
# Netherlands
# New Caledonia
# New Zealand
# Nicaragua
# Niger
# Nigeria
# Niue
# Norfolk Island
# Northern Mariana Islands
# Norway

# Oman

# Pacific Ocean
# Palau
# Palmyra Atoll
# Panama
# Papua New Guinea
# Paracel Islands
# Paraguay
# Peru
# Philippines
# Pitcairn Islands
# Poland
# Portugal
# Puerto Rico

# Qatar

# Reunion
# Romania
# Rwanda

# Saint Helena
# Saint Kitts and Nevis
# Saint Lucia
# Saint Pierre and Miquelon
# Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
# Samoa
# San Marino
# Sao Tome and Principe
# Saudi Arabia
# Senegal
# Seychelles
# Sierra Leone
# Singapore
# Slovakia
# Slovenia
# Solomon Islands
# Somalia
# South Africa
# South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands
# Southern Ocean
# Spain
# Spratly Islands
# Sri Lanka
# Sudan
# Suriname
# Svalbard
# Swaziland
# Sweden
# Switzerland
# Syria

# Taiwan
# Tajikistan
# Tanzania
# Thailand
# Togo
# Tokelau
# Tonga
# Trinidad and Tobago
# Tromelin Island
# Tunisia
# Turkey
# Turkmenistan
# Turks and Caicos Islands
# Tuvalu

# Uganda
# Ukraine
# United Arab Emirates
# Uruguay
# Uzbekistan

# Vanuatu
# Venezuela
# Vietnam
# Virgin Islands

# Wake Island
# Wallis and Futuna
# West Bank
# Western Sahara

# Yemen
# Yugoslavia

# Zambia
# Zimbabwe

Here's the list of what I'll call potentials:
# Iran
# Korea, North
And here's the list of nuclear weapons states:
# China
# France
# India
# Israel
# Pakistan
# Russia
# United Kingdom
# United States
So there you are. The radical, dangerously naive, irresponsible minority is maybe just a little bit bigger than those leading the debate in the UK would have us believe. And, at the risk of sounding overly dramatic, I firmly believe that the decisions we make today will have a significant impact on similar lists drawn up by our children in decades to come.

That's the debate we should be having and the one the government seems desperate to avoid. Instead, we've got Browne and Blair trying to frighten us into submission with bogeymen who don't even exist yet.

And there's an irony here. Foreign policy blowback is now a well recognised phenomenon. It is not a stretch to suggest that the government's actions today might actually create the conditions which could give rise to these future bogeymen. And, as recent experiences have already shown us, a self-fulfilling prophet will still claim that he was right.

You don't need to be a prophet to know that that won't be part of the debate.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

PR, Not Principles

Dear oh dear. I wasn't going to blog this but Alan Duncan's waffle on Question Time has spurred me on.

Here's the original interview with Patrick Mercer in the Times. It doesn't seem to me that his comments have been reported out of context. Bear in mind also that the interview was specifically concerned with the formation of a new anti-racism trade union being set up by servicemen from former colonial countries, an idea Mercer described as "complete and utter rot".

With that in mind, Mercer has only himself to blame. The main problem, it seems to me, is that he demonstrated a far too relaxed attitude towards racist abuse in the army.

On the one hand, the situation which he describes is probably an accurate reflection of life in the British army. On the other hand, he doesn't appear to be in any way concerned about that situation. His attitude does, in fact, come very close to condoning it as part and parcel of army life.

Racist abuse is unacceptable. End of. Mercer appears to have a rather more ambivalent attitude towards it when it comes to the army. It may very well be the way it is but that doesn't mean that it's the way it should be. And yes, the army is a tough place but that doesn't mean that gratuitous racial abuse is acceptable there any more than it is in any other walk of life.

His second controversial statement, that he "came across a lot of ethnic minority soldiers who were idle and useless, but who used racism as cover for their misdemeanours" may well have some degree of truth to it. Although Mercer's claim that he'd seen "a lot" of this is highly questionable, I'm sure that it does happen on occasion. If you want to claim that a particular ethnic group doesn't have it's fair share of chancers, layabouts and scroungers, you're probably not quite connected to reality (white Europeans included of course). But the way Mercer expressed that was clumsy in the extreme.

What really interests me is the way that Tory HQ handled this and that's where Alan Duncan started to stray into the realms of fantasy. Duncan seemed to think that the BBC was somehow to blame for the initial lacklustre reaction of the Tory party. He suggested that BBC Online had phoned Tory HQ and put a partial quote to the spokesman and that that was the source of the initial minimal "it's a private matter" response (it's about 7:30 mins in to QT if you want to check).

Here's the quotation from the original Times Online article:
The Conservative Party, in which Mr Mercer serves as a frontbench spokesman with responsibility for homeland security and anti-terrorism issues, said that his comments were a personal matter and refused to discuss them.

"These are the personal views of a highly decorated former commanding officer talking about his real life experiences in the British Army," a party spokesman said.
Nothing to do with the BBC then and if the Tory spokesman didn't get the full picture before supplying that reaction then they should be sacked too.

It was only after the bad publicity generated by the remarks that Dave decided to take bold action and announce that Mercer's comments were "completely unacceptable". It was nothing more than an empty exercise in damage limitation after Dave realised that to do nothing would be to damage his shiny new Conservative brand.

He's so like Blair, it's almost become parody.
pol·i·tics (pŏl'ĭ-tĭks)

1. The art or science of vacuous marketing goons attempting to sell their worthless wares to the gullible.
2. The activities or affairs needed to fool just enough of the people for just enough time.
Someone wake me up if we ever actually get politics for adults in this country.

On a positive note, I see that the Gurkhas are finally going to treated fairly for risking their lives to protect us. I wonder if Mercer thinks that that's "complete and utter rot" too?

In the Public Interest

How much police and court time and public money went into convicting the cannabis granny? I don't know the answer but it obviously wasn't cheap.

Hands up who thinks that this was a wise use of what we're constantly told are limited resources? Nobody?

Hands up who thinks that the police and the CPS would have served the public interest more usefully if they'd spent that time and money going after the organised criminals who make huge amounts of cash importing crack and heroin into this country? Everybody?

But, of course, the cannabis granny was an easy target. She may not have been any threat to the public interest but a stress free arrest and conviction were in the bag from the start. Crack dealers on the other hand are difficult to catch and dangerous too.

This story might be amusing on one level but it also shows that there's something fundamentally wrong here.

On yesterday's news coverage of the trial, an expert warned that long term use of cannabis can cause serious mental health problems. This is undeniably true and it is right that the fact should be publicised. As an argument for maintaining possession of cannabis for personal use as a criminal offence however, it just doesn't stand up. Heavy, regular, long term consumption of Red Bull would undoubtedly also cause serious mental health problems. (Anyone who doubts this hasn't drunk enough of it over a long weekend.)

There's a report out today on illegal drug use. I've not read it yet but intend to do so later this afternoon and then hopefully update this post with some further thoughts.

In the meantime, here's something to think about. George Best drank himself to death; thousands of less well known alcoholics do the same thing all the time. Where are the politicians calling for possession of alcoholic beverages to be criminalised?

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

That's not the way to do it

I've just been watching this week's PMQs and the thing now seems to have descended completely into farce. What ever happened to shiny PR man's vow to avoid Punch and Judy politics? He's going through the same stages as Blair only more quickly.

Actually, there was a point in Blair's career where many people genuinely and optimistically did believe that he could lead us all to the promised land. Cameron seems to have missed out that stage altogether. All things considered, this is probably not a bad thing.

And what's with the speaker allowing Blair to go on and on about Conservative policy? OK, credit where it's due for managing to find anything to say about Tory policies given their scarcity but that isn't what PMQs is supposed to be about.

But then, what would be the point in asking quacker Blair about policy? You might as well ask a man standing on a gallows with a noose round his neck what he wants for breakfast tomorrow.

And when Sir Menzies did actually ask a serious question about the unsustainable role of the Attorney General, an area in which public confidence is eroding by the day, Blair simply gave him the brush off:
The position of the Attorney General, and the role that he carries out, has been there for hundreds of years, in our constitution, and I believe it to be the right role.
This from Blair, the archetype of the pathological moderniser. This may very well be the first and only time in Blair's career that he's decided he doesn't know better than hundreds of years of history and tradition. How unsurprising that it's in an area which really does need reform but where the maintenance of the status quo is of benefit to the ruling party.

By all accounts, we're going to have to put up with a few more weeks of this before Blair finally goes. Most pundits now seem to agree that Blair will announce his departure after the local elections in May. In one sense, this unprecedented long goodbye is sort of fascinating. Like a car crash is fascinating.

And remember that memo?
He needs to go with the crowd wanting more,
He should be the star who won't even play that last encore.
And he's planning to leave after the local election results have come in.

You've got to wonder whether he even realises that his departure will be marked by a chorus of boos as he and his entourage struggle to avoid the hail of rotting vegetables.


Here we go. Do your own booing.
Apologies for the lack of posting over the last week or so; I've not been well. Astonishingly, the world seems to have managed to soldier on without my words of wisdom.

Should be back up to full speed shortly.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Golden Years

I see no hope for the future of our people if they are dependent on frivolous youth of today, for certainly all youth are reckless beyond words... When I was young, we were taught to be discreet and respectful of elders, but the present youth are exceedingly disrespectful and impatient of restraint.
- Hesoid, circa 700BC (possibly)
Not much has changed over the last 2,700 years.

Obviously, the previous sentence is complete crap. Lots of things have changed. But nostalgia for a non-existent utopian past is definitely still with us.

Philip Cowley, reader in parliamentary government at the University of Nottingham, has written a couple of articles on Comment is Free about how this nostalgia affects our view of the House of Commons. His latest is well worth taking the time to read.

Much as I loathe Blair, I have to say that I think he's got a point. There seems to be an awful lot of harking back to "the good old days" going on at the moment but those good old days never did exist. Blair has undoubtedly attempted to sideline parliament and his instincts are clearly undemocratic but the notion that parliament was the very model of representative democracy B.B. (before Blair) just doesn't stand up.

In fairness, the dissatisfaction many people feel towards today's MPs is about more than just nostalgia. For me, and I'm sure for many others too, parliament's failure to hold Blair to account for Iraq was an unforgivable abdication of responsibility. On a matter of the utmost importance, too many Labour MPs put their loyalty to Blair and the party above their responsibility to the nation and too many Conservative MPs were more concerned with political positioning than with doing the right thing.

More widely, in the information age with the Commons televised, 24 hour news channels, TheyWorkForYou and the rest, the public has the opportunity to be much better informed about the workings of parliament than was possible in the past. This means that the weaknesses and failings of the House of Commons are more visible than ever before. This, of course, adds unwarranted credibility to feelings of nostalgia but it really wasn't a whole lot better back then.

On the positive side, this new information age presents a genuine opportunity for real change too. As Cowley says, there is much that is wrong with the current system and much that can and should be improved. Stage one in the process should be to make sure we're not looking back at the golden years through rose tinted spectacles.