Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Prescott gives up Dorneywood too late

Many of us would have given our back teeth to have been a fly on the wall at 10 Downing Street on 5th May 2006 during Tony Blair's cabinet reshuffle. Simon Hoggart commented that John Prescott was in there for ages:

What had he done in there for over three hours? Does Blair say, "Look, John, the bad news is I have to sack you. The good news is that Cherie has made some of her delicious brownies, and we hope you'll stay!"

There was even speculation in the Daily Mirror that John Prescott was about to throw himself at Tony Blair's mercy mentioning that "wife Pauline is threatening to leave him if she loses her Dorneywood 'haven' "

Whatever conversations went on in 10 Downing Street on that fateful day, the agreement that Prescott would stay at Dorneywood soon melted like the ice-cubes in the Pimms at JP's rudely snooped-upon croquet party.

Bloodied body, Mr Bean...a normal Parisian day

Pictured: Rowan Atkinson as "Mr Bean" at Gare du Nord station, Paris, at 4.30pm today

It may have been fluke, but, judging from our visit, Paris has more than its fair share of major film crews milling around.

As we glided along the Seine on a boat, we noticed a bloodied body lying on the bank, attended by police. After a while, I noticed that the lights were probably a bit strange for the police in the middle of the day and there was a camera....and a mobile canteen....oh, a film set.

Then as we waited at Gare du Nord station, Mr Bean came round within three feet of us with his camcorder held aloft and his tongue sticking out in that normal, strange Mr-Bean-sort-of-way. Apparently, this was Rowan Atkinson filming "Bean II" or "French Bean" (as it has been dubbed), in which the unique character travels to the South of France on holiday.

This impromptu entertainment made a wonderful end to our holiday. We spent a long time watching the film crew and seeing Rowan Atkinson wondering around. But we couldn't believe it when we found ourselves a few feet away from him in full "Mr Bean" flow and drawn into reacting to his strange antics with his camcorder. Apparently, the camcorder plays a central role in the film (see various links above). According to "Working Title", Mr Bean's "voyage from London to the Riviera soon transcends into one of mischief and mayhem as he inadvertently creates havoc wherever he goes culminating in an unscheduled and riotous screening of his own video diary at the Cannes Film Festival."

Can't wait to watch it to see if we are in it.....not (probably).

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Haditha: sickeningly familiar

Watched a BBC World report on the emerging details of the Haditha massacre. It made me ashamed to be human. Though on a different scale, it is sickeningly reminiscent of Vitenam and Mai Lai, even to the extent that there appears to have been a cover-up, as there was at Mai Lai.

It is shameful that this is coming to light not because of a prompt military inquiry, not because of a US or UK media investigation, but because an Iraqui student journalist happened to be on hand with a camcorder.

George Bush said the other day that Abu Gharib was the USA's biggest mistake in Iraq. Well, it looks like Haditha will make Abu Gharib look like a chimpanzee's tea party.

After this, the question with George Bush's approval rating will be "How low can you go?"

Monday, May 29, 2006

Taking road-naming for granted

We tend to take road-naming for granted. Trying to find our hotel here in Paris, we were confronted with Rue de Clihy, Boulevard de Clichy, Avenue de Clichy and Place de Clichy (pictured) all next to each other. It was all a bit clichéd. I feel for the posties.

Can "The Office" become "Le Bureau"?

They've already done a version in the States. Now they're doing "The Office" here in France. "David Brent" is a bit older but the dodgy humour is the same. The BBC tried out an episode on some office workers. One scene, where "Brent" pretended to sack his secretary for a laugh, didn't raise even a smirk. "Stone-faced" would well describe the reaction. Another winner then.

Here's some snaps taken in Paris:

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Prescott: Playing with the Kenneth Clarke Croquet set

As I was queuing at the superb Victoria park cafe yesterday, I took advantage of a copy of the "Mail on Sunday" which they had available for customers. I wouldn't otherwise buy such an organ. I read the story about John Prescott's game of croquet. I suppose its significance is emblematic more than anything else. Of course, it is ludicrous that Prescott is getting paid so much money to chair the odd cabinet meeting and make the odd trip to Finland.

But if you think it through, the croquet game is not that shocking. He was with members of his office staff. I have played games on lawns with office colleagues before during "woods meetings" or "training meetings".

Think about it. If you were feeling stressed out and couldn't be arsed to go into work for a day, what would you do? I suspect you would do the odd email on your laptop every so often, interspersed by watching the telly, having a lie-down and maybe having a sit or lie-down in the garden.

I doubt that you would invite over a few office colleagues for a game of croquet.

By the way, it should be mentioned that he was using the Kenneth Clarke croquet kit.

Cameron - skating on thin ice

Part of "Songs of Praise" this evening featured a clip of David Cameron at a conference on climate change. He was asked what the Conservative party's goals for reduction of carbon emissions are. He said they haven't got any yet because they have to work them out (even though it is 14 years since the Rio conference - so they've had long enough). Then, extraordinarily, he launched into a diatribe against the Americans for not having goals - when he had just admitted he doesn't have any goals either! If he goes on spouting inane claptrap like that, Cameron will deserve Delboy's accolade of "42 carot plonker"

Winner shuns 'toilet-cleaner OBE'

"Film director Michael Winner has said he turned down an OBE in the Queen's 80th birthday honours' list. He told the Sunday Times newspaper, for which he is a columnist: "An OBE is what you get if you clean the toilets well at King's Cross station." "
You've got to hand it to Michael Winner. He certainly adds to the jollity of nations with these sorts of comments. People normally turn down honours because it might compromise their values or professionalism (eg French and Saunders - allegedly) but this is the first time I have heard of someone turning down an honour because it wasn't grand enough for them! Hilarious!
"But when you look at the rubbish who are getting these awards and the absolute non-service they have given to the nation... you say, 'What company am I in?' "
Calm down dear...

Bug in found parish hall

"Villagers have been left baffled by the discovery of a bugging device hidden in their parish hall. The electronic transmitter was found in a wall socket during a safety inspection at Malham village hall in the Yorkshire Dales. Speculation is rife in the village that someone has been listening in to parish council proceedings."
An insomniac perhaps?

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Doing a John Leech

Although he doesn't know it, I have recently appointed John Leech as patron of the new Liberal Democrat Association of Tradesmen's Bell pressers. After his (to us) surprise election as MP for Manchester Withington last year, his wife was quoted as saying how, for many months, he got up at 7am to deliver leaflets. I thought: "Ah! A fellow tradesmen's bell presser!". It was very heartening to know that a fellow LibDem had got elected largely due to playing the game with tradesmen's bells (well I hope that was what he was doing, otherwise this whole posting is farcical). That is, get up at 6.30am and start pressing the tradesmen's bells at around 7am to get into blocks of flats. Otherwise you can never get into the flats to deliver leaflets unless you buzz someone in each section, which they don't really like.

There are obviously a lot of flats in Manchester Withington. You wouldn't expect the same here in leafy West Berkshire but I can tell you different. My ward of Victoria is effectively the centre of Newbury. In the last ten years there has been a major outbreak of flats here, and I have grown to love the "John Leech shuffle" at 7am. I did one this morning for 15 blocks of flats...that's 15 individual tradesmen's bells.....this is getting a bit anorakky.

Anyway, well done John Leech MP. Even though you might not know it, you are an inspiration to many Liberal Democrat Tradesmen's Bell pressers!

Bishop attacks multi-faith policy

I am always very cautious about jumping to conclusions on "Bishop says" or "Bishop attacks" stories. Having read part of David Jenkins' (former Bishop of Durham - yes, that one) autobiography, I am aware that he is a very thoughtful and dedicated Christian, a mile away from the caricature of the "mad bishop" presented in the tabloids.

The latest "Bishop says" story is summarised thus by the BBC:

"A senior Anglican bishop has condemned what he says is the sacrificing of the UK's Christian character as the idea of a multi-faith society is enforced.
Bishop of Rochester Michael Nazir-Ali said Christianity's unique message was being lost as policymakers became fully committed to the multi-faith concept. He also criticised the conversion of hospital and prison chapels for "undifferentiated use" by all faiths."

I tried to find the longer article without success. It is in the Church of England newspaper which doesn't publish its longer articles on line. However, their web site does carry this extra quote:

"For a long time the Church of England has used its position not to exclude other churches and latterly, other faiths, but to make sure they are included. This, however, is no longer good enough. There are now pressing demands that dedicated and sometimes consecrated, Christian chapels in prisons, hospitals and elsewhere be turned into multi-faith centres, often known as "the multi-faith", for undifferentiated use by people of all faiths."

In itself, that seems a fair comment (consecration of sites is important to all faiths - if that term can be used for all faiths). In fact, a quite specific point about concecrated sites which sadly will be generalised to mean "Bishop attacks multi-faith society", which he is not doing.

I think that we can learn a lot from other religions. Recently on holiday I was touched by the devotion of the muslims (as well as the Coptic Christians) and their devoted praying.

Once again I am left thinking that if all those people who write "C of E" against "religion" on the census form actually occasionally went to church and said the odd prayer or at least opened the Bible once every Blue moon, we would have a much stronger Christian community in this country. Daily Mail scare-stories about the "encroachment" of other faiths are somewhat beside the point.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Desmond Dekker - Reggae pioneer in the UK

Desmond Dekker, who has died, was very much a pioneer of reggae music in this country. With the Aces, he got to number one with the "Israelites" in March 1969. Up until then, it is hard to think of any other reggae music in the charts here. The Equals with Eddy Grant and "Baby Come Back" (Number one in 1968) couldn't really be described as reggae. I'm struggling to think of any other reggae song which hit the charts before Desmond Dekker and the Aces. Perhaps someone can remind me. The Maytals didn't have their first hit in the UK until 1970. Bob Marley, John Holt, Dennis Brown, Rupie Edwards et al hit the charts in the few years after the "Israelites".And reggae was quite a new genre to the UK in 1969. So, Desmond Dekker's achievement of breaking through shouldn't be underestimated. It is sad that he has died at the relatively young age, these days, of 64.You can see him singing the "Israelites" here ... the BBC report of his death is here and an obituary is here.

Cameron is Benny Hill fan

While I suppose we shouldn't be surprised. David Cameron is a Benny Hill fan and knows all the words to "Ernie (The fastest milkman in the west)". Crikey. I can remember a few of the words (Strange things happened on their wedding night...Ghostly goldtops...they won't forget Ernie) but not all of them. But then I know the words to a few other songs (if you can call "Ernie" a "song") and David Cameron apparently only knows the words to "Ernie". Poor lad.

Like the hero of Evelyn Waugh's "A Handful of Dust", one can imagine David Cameron ending up, through a conspiracy of events, in the Amazonian jungle forced to recite "Ernie" to a cannibalistic tribe for the rest of his life. It would serve him right.

I remember when the innocuous Gay Byrne, on Irish TV, beguiled the Tory Northern Ireland secretary Peter Brooke into signing "Clementine" on his show. It was flesh-crawlingly embarrassing and, even now, Peter Brooke has probably not lived it down. The clip still gets played now and then on the box.

Well, now there is a marvellous opportunity waiting for David Cameron to be asked to recite all the words from "Ernie" just to prove he really can remember all 600 words. That'll be one for the clip shows.

Public health statement: This posting may have set off serious Benny Hill cravings amongst more sensitive readers. If you are affected, please immediately click here for an emergency infusion of "Ernie".

Bush: American Pie turns Humble

I was genuinely impressed by the humility shown by George Bush when talking with Blair on television today. He said how he thought his language such as "wanted dead or alive" had been a mistake at the start of the "war on turer". He said that the biggest mistake of the US in Iraq was Abu Gharib (although his pronunciation of that prison was rather unfamiliar to me).I did not know Bush was capable of such humility as he showed with his manner when he made those confessions. He was very humble.Then again, with the lowest approval ratings of any mid-term President in the history of the United States, he has (to modify a phrase from Churchill) a lot to be humble about.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

"If you're not married you can't live here" - Missouri council

This is straying into "you couldn't make it up" territory. The town (which calls itself a "city" for some reason) of Black Jack, Missouri, USA has a law, recently confirmed by the local council, which bans unmarried couples with more than one child from occupying homes there. One such couple is facing fines of £270 a day for continuing to live in such a situation.

I can feel one of my headaches coming on. I suppose this item falls into the same bracket as the confederate flag only just recently ceasing to fly over the South Carolina capitol, and Japanese soldiers, gun in hand, emerging blinking into the sunlight from the jungle thirty years after the war. The worrying side to the situation is that the relevant law, it is said, was originally intended for housing purposes. It is reportedly to prevent overcrowding and, for example, prevent student lodgings houses springing up in some districts. It is now being used to enforce a moral code. This seems absurd. It is as if the local council are trying to hold back the hands on the clock to stop time moving on. That is ultimately a futile venture. Your arms ache in the end and the hands of time still move on.

It is amazing that such a furore can emanate from a town of just shy of 7,000 inhabitants where the relevant vote on the council was carried by a 5-3 majority. Apparently, the law is in place in 80 other towns in the area but it is generally not enforced.

It demeans the sanctity of marriage to turn it into a qualification for residence.

The elected council have a right to keep in place an ordnance. One does wonder whether such an ordnance would stand up to scrutiny in the Supreme Court, but perhaps, these days, it would (reportedly it was upheld back in the early 70s). I also have great sympathy with the councillors and people of Black Jack who want this law to be upheld due to, one assumes, deeply-held beliefs. However, I think they are misguided in trying to stamp their moral code on others in such an authoritarian way. Are they really going to fine an ordinary family £270 a day simply for existing in a house they bought? They would have to be mad to do so. It works out at £8,100 a month or £98,550 a year. No family, except for the Bushes or the Rockafellers, could afford that. So, the imposition of such a fine would effectively evict a family from their home. I hope the council are wearing their WWJD ("What would Jesus do?) bands.

You can see a video report on this story from local TV News Channel 5 here.

Tories attack BBC - part of a pattern?

I can see a bit of a pattern emerging. On Monday the European Media Forum (EMF - led ultimately by Graham Mather, former Conservative MEP) attacked the BBC for having far too much money for their own good, causing a "badly bruised" commercial radio sector. Then on Tuesday, George Osbourne follows his boss David Cameron in attacking the BBC, saying they are "stifling the growth of innovative new companies that simply can't compete with the BBC". Blimey! Strong stuff. And a remarkably harmonious attack in concert with the EMF. The words are almost identical.

Of course, Cameron used to work for Carlton Television, so this is a specialist area for him. His former boss, Michael Green walked away with a golden handshake of £15 million. So there seems to be quite a lot of money sloshing around in a sector which is allegedly "badly bruised" and "stifled" by the BBC.

When one actually considers the huge success of ITV and BSkyB and the fact that local commercial radio stations have a 32.2% audience compared with Radio 1 and 2's 25%, it is difficult to work out what the Tories and the EMF are on about.

There are things that could be done to create a more level playing field in broadcasting. For example, there could at last be a couple of national commercial popular music channels on FM. And I am sure that the BBC could be leaner and fitter. But, please forgive me if I don't get my handkerchief out to join in the weeping at the terrible plight of the "bruised" and "stifled" commercial broadcasting sector which the Tories and their friends would have us believe exists.

Farewell Lloyd Bentsen

There are not often politicians who you can assess as thoroughly dignified and decent, just by looking at them and hearing them speak a few words. Lloyd Bentsen, who has died aged 85, was part of that small group. Just looking at him, he looked like he was perhaps carved out of the granite from Mount Rushmore. The Democrats called on him as a Vice-Presidential candidate, to give their ticket some gravitas and southern cerdibility, just as they did with his fellow Texan, Lyndon Johnson.

But of course, we all remember Lloyd Bentsen for just one thing. "Senator" he rumbled at the oleaginous Dan Quayle in their Vice Presidential debate, "I served with Jack Kennedy. I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy." And we all hugely enjoyed Dan Quayle's look of humiliation at this superb, folksy-old American put-down which you can relive here.

However, perhaps Dan Quayle had the last laugh. After all, he did become Vice-President and enjoyed some excellent rounds of golf and a few odd (very odd) spelling lessons as a result.

Bully Reid's smokescreen

I have hugely enjoyed reading John Reid laying into the Home Office. Remarkable. One could get carried away with this tough Scot talking about the immigration department as "averse to a culture of personal responsibility" and "led by officials that are incapable of producing facts or figures that remain accurate for even a short period of time". All great fun. A sort of blood sport, in fact. Those of us who watched Sir Humphrey repeatedly coming out victorious and smug in "Yes Minister", intuitively cheer when they read the Sir Humphries finally getting their come-uppance from a real bruiser like Reid. Metaphorically, one found oneself offering to hold Mr Reid's donkey jacket as he gave those sniveling Sir Humphries a damn good pasting

However, a moment's thought away from the fun of the punch-up is needed.

One has to strain one's grey cells to remember all the Labour Home Secretaries. Fortunately, the legend that is Steve Bell gives us a helpful pictoral reminder in the Guardian today. Straw, Blunkett and Clarke all preceeded Reid over a nine year period.

During that time, it is not as if immigration and issues such as foreign prisoners have been secreted in the long grass of the public agenda. Blair, since he became Labour leader, in 1994, has made a priority of this area as part of his bid to win over middle England. He has been very tough on immigration etc. He has focussed his Home Secretaries to bring forward legislation and initaitives so that Labour look tough on illegal immigrants, and the worst venom of the Dailies Mail and Express is abated.

At the same time, there has been little Willie Hague and Dracula Howard (plus that bald bloke in charge between them) breathing fire about these issues when they were leading the Conservatives.

So, the Labour government have had nine years to sort out the Home Office in this area which they themselves have made a top priority. And yet, Reid is saying that they have failed terribly. The Labour government has failed to sort out "the scope...information technology, leadership, management, systems and processes" in the Home Office. That is actually John Reid's assessment and his words. That list of problems doesn't leave much else in the department except the flower arrangement on the reception desk. Presumably Reid approves of that.

It is very easy for John Reid, in the worst tradition of playground bullies, to pick on civil servants who cannot talk back publicly at him. But this is the most enormous smokescreen. What on earth have Labour been doing for nine years if they have failed so catastrophically to sort out an essential and (their) top priority Home Office department?

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Mark Oaten on Newsnight tonight

First, Mark Oaten is on some reality fitness TV show, now he is on Newsnight tonight and is reported to have said he had "fallen out of love" with Westminster life before the story (of his rentboy affair) broke. He says: "There wasn't a day that went by when I didn't think 'actually, I don't want to do this' but I wasn't brave enough to give up, but because of what happened to me, that decision's been taken from me."

....I see....

Monday, May 22, 2006

Hands off Auntie's jewels!

The European Media Forum (EMF) has said that the BBC should sell of Radios 1 and 2. I cannot think of anything more ridiculous. I am sure that the move would raise lots of money for the licence-fee payer, but EMF seem to have missed the main point about the BBC. It is a public service. As well as being the "jewels in the crown" of the BBC, for many people, Radios 1 and 2 are the front-shop of the BBC. It is how they get introduced to the great institution. Selling them off would rip the heart out of dear old Auntie Beeb. The radio stations themselves would lose their essential nature by selling them off and making them, presumably, commercial-carrying. If Radio 1 had been a commercial station since its inception, they would have got rid of John Peel in about 1969 - or perhaps never hired him. They would have never let him play Ivor Cutler, that's for sure! Similarly, I doubt whether a privatised Radio 2 would air "The Organist entertains" of "Listen to the Band".

The EMF report says that commercial radio has been "baldy bruised" by what it infers is unfair competition from the BBC, with its large funds and cross-media fertisliation. Surely, the answer to that is to set up, at long last, a couple of national commercial popular music radio stations with their own national FM wavebands? We ought to remind ourselves that, at the moment, the only national commercial radio station on FM is Classic FM - a niche player. It is feintly ludicrous that there are no mainstream FM national commercial stations - that is where the unfair competition really comes in. Even when there are "national" popular music programmes on commercial radio, like the Top Forty on Sundays, if you are driving along a motorway you have to jiggle with the tuning to listen to it continually. That is ridiculous.

By the way, for a "badly bruised" commecrial sector, they aren't doing too badly out of it. Radio One and Two have a combined audience of 25%. If you compare that with commercial local radio stations, perhaps a fair comparison because they are mainly centred around popular music, those stations have a 32.2% share of the audience (the national commercial stations have a further 10.5% share). "Badly bruised"? My foot.

Fascinatingly, the European Media Forum is part of the European Policy Forum, whose President is one Graham Mather, Conservative Member of the European Parliament from 1994 to 1999.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Cameron's wants to put "joy in hearts"

In his continuing search to stay in the headlines without doing anything as drastic as announcing the odd policy or twain, David Cameron is now grasping the "happiness agenda". As well as avoiding announcing hard policies in traditional political areas, he now wants to also avoid policies in non-traditional areas such as making people happier. I was fascinated to watch an interview he gave with the BBC on this subject. Realising taht he was on territory where he would not be pressed for anything as obcene as a vague policy detail, he was waxing lyricial. Talking of the electorate, he reached a state of high excitement as he said: "We should be thinking not just what is good for putting money in people's pockets but what is good for putting joy in people's hearts". One can only conclude that this is an early bid to take on the dog collar of the Rev. A.R.P. Blair B.A. (Oxon) at St. Albions. I wouldn't be surprised if the next Tory party conference is held at Holy Trinity Brompton climaxing with the hymn: "Shine voters shine, fill those seats up with Tory members".

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Tribute to Freddie Garrity

I was very sad to hear of the death of Freddie Garrity. Those of a certain age may remember him as the lead singer of "Freddie and the Dreamers" with hits like "You were made for me" and "I'm telling you now". His trademark was that he used to swing his legs around like mad during the instrumental break of the songs. While he was signing he and his group did a sort of backward out-swing with their legs. I wouldn't be surprised if Monty Python based their "Silly Walks" on the way he used to swing his legs. It was unique and was dubbed "The Freddie", as celebrated in a song of the same name. Together with his (also) trademark glasses, he was a zany but much-loved and highly entertaining figure. His cheerful and boyish persona made a refreshing change from the somewhat grumpy prima-donnas amongst Sixties popstars. He had a tea-time series on the BBC called "Little Big Time" which we used to watch. That was an example of how he managed skilfully to "crossover" from pop music into more mainstream entertainment. Despite his self-effacing personality, Freddie and the Dreamers were serious stars of the day. They had a number one in the US with "I'm telling you now". Robbie Williams would no doubt give several of his back teeth for such an achievement.

Another little chunk of the sixties goes heavenward!

You can see Freddie's unique dance here as he and the group sing "I'm telling you now". And here they are with some imitators on the US TV show Hullabaloo. What a classic clip!

Here they are singing "I understand".

There was an excellent obituary of Freddie by Adam Clayson in the Guardian here.

The BBC's news story of Freddie's death is here and their biography is here.

Why do we watch Eurovision?

Any ideas why many of us sit through three hours of the Eurovision Song contest, including the best part of an hour of voting from 37 countries? Beats me. It was obvious early on that Finland would win. "Roy Wood and the boys", as Terry Wogan called them. The French singer was flat and some justice was served by France only getting a few points (rather like the UK's nul points when we sang out of key a few years back). I was amused by the statement from the Ukraine announcer: "We couldn't help but give 12 points to Russia". To which the reply is: "Of course you couldn't - they'd turn your gas off if you didn't."

Keep HP British sauce British!

There is uproar in Brimingham at the suggestion that Heinz may move production of that most British of sauces, HP, to Holland. What an outrageous suggestion! This is a British icon we are talking about. It has a drawing of the House of Parliament on the label. (If they move it to Holland will they put a picture of the Tweede Kamer on the label?!) Our 'Arold was so fond of it they called it "Wilson's gravy".

I suspect we may have here another clever ploy. Threaten to stop or move production of something. Vast publicity. Dignified climb-down followed by hugely increased sales due to the publicity. Heinz themselves did it with their salad cream.

Mudcat to the rescue

I mentioned yesterday my modest wager on Mark Warner as a potential Presidential election winner. At least he has broken through in rural areas for the Democrats in Virginia. The Telegraph today highlights Mudcat, the Democrats' latest weapon in the southern states. Mudcat is a "gun-loving, stock-car-racing-made country boy" who has been advising top Democrats on how to win the Southern states. I am glad they asked him. We must never forget that if Gore and Clinton had won their own southern states of Tennessee and Arkansas in 2000, the pregnant chads of Florida would have been an irrelevance and the world would never have been subjected to George W Bush. A sobering thought.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Ming fights back

It is great to see Ming fighting back against that bijou outbreak of verbal incontinence last weekend. I hope Simon tops up his supply of pads to prevent any further spillages.

I didn't give first preference for Ming (or Simon for that matter). But I have tremendous respect for Ming. He has been around for a long time in the Liberals/LibDems. Many is the conference I have seen him bestriding. He is a sound liberal. I respect his athletic past and his fight against cancer. To many floating voters, he is an attractive figure. Indeed, many soft Tories, who are put off by the ridiculous D.Cameron, feel reassured by Ming.

Bring back the A Team

Justin Lee Collins deserves great praise for his programme "Bring back the A Team" on Channel 4 last night. This hysterical Bristolian has such a "in yer face" style that he would make paint drying seem enthralling. He would be a natural for the voice-over on the Tango ads, if he isn't already doing them.

It was fascinating to see and listen to the cast of the A Team (including George Peppard via a rather bemused Hollywood clairvoyant). After much work, he even managed to capture an interview Mr T or "BA".

A great piece of television from someone who deserves to go far.

Happy 80th Brithday Peggy!

Peggy Anderson has been a stalwart and endlessly cheerful volunteer for the Newbury "Liberals" (as she calls them) since puss was a kitten. She has been particularly effective as leader of the powerful "Granny Gang" who bundle, fold and stuff fueled by endless tea and laughter.

Many people associate Peggy’s smile with Newbury Liberal Democrats, especially as she has fronted many of our campaign offices and ushered in constituents to the MP’s surgery for many years. This week she celebrates her 80th Birthday. Many of the "Granny Gang" joined her for a celebration lunch today at the Chequers Hotel in Newbury. Many of us have been inspired by the extraordinarily cheerful way in which Peggy has fought cancer for nigh on 30 years. Her smiles are a tonic and she is a superb example to us all!

Al Gore Mark Two

The Guardian runs a blog today suggesting Al Gore might run for President. Gone is the stuffed-shirt who ran in 2000. Now we see a fired-up, porked-out, hip-shooting Al who is promoting his new film on climate change.

The whole point is that, if Gore ran for President, he would revert to stuffed-shirt Al. He would have to because that is the sort of strait-jacket that Presidential-candidates have to don to get elected.

The reason he is now so relaxed and natural is because he isn't running for President.

McCain still seems favourite to succeed Bush II at the moment, even with Hillary likely to run. She'll wow the Democrats but she will have to display a great deal of the old Clinton magic (a la Bill) to win over the centre-right in their droves.

I like to place modest wagers on these elections - but not on the obvious candidates. Mark Warner is one to watch because he is from a southern state and knows how to connect with rural voters.

On the Republican side I have put a crown on Mike Huckebee. He was born in Hope, Arkansas and is currently that state's governor. Hello! Wasn't he a democrat the first time I saw this movie?

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Line of Beauty

After all the hype, I wanted to watch BBC2's "Line of Beauty" yesterday, if only to see if our licence fee is being used properly. Well, that's my excuse. It was generally entertaining but not rivetting. There was a lack of any "cliff hanger" at the end, save that Nick was dumped by Leo. Big deal.

However, the acting was superb. I am great fan of Tim McInnerny, ever since his hilarious apperances on "Blackadder". My wife and I are great fans of "55 Degrees North" and Don Gilet did a great job. Dan Stevens was superb as the lead. Floella Benjamin was hilarious as Leo's Christian mother.

But I was left feeling that the high spot of the piece was Catherine the self-harmer and her close relationship with the gay Nick, heightened by his administering some emergency first aid while the rest of the family were in France. Somehow I think the BBC wanted me to be impressed by other features of the drama (e.g sex in the bushes and frolics at High Tory parties), but I wasn't.

Unexpected BBC laughs

Two things in the last two weeks have made me laugh more than I have done for years. Both times this was caused by programmes not known as comedies on the BBC.

First was Top Gear and their hilarious creation of a convertible 4x4 (put together with only slightly more élan than a Blue Peter sticky-backed plastic and binder twine jobbie). They proceeded to put this abortion through a series of tests. At 50mph the thing started to disintegrate. At 90 mph the team nominally inside the thing resembled hurricane-survivors. Then came the climax. They put the creation through a £1million high-tech car wash. The car completely disintegrated and Jezza and the team evacuated in mid-wash only to look round to see smoke coming out of the washing equipment and, eventually, plumes of flames. At this, Jezza commanded "RUN!" and they all scarpered like naughty school kids. My stomach hurt with the laughter. I presume that Top Gear has a very insurance department.

Then came the classic comedy moment of the year on the BBC. BBC News 24 and the appearance of Guy Goma, a data cleansing expert, interviewed by mistake instead of Guy Kewney, iPOD and IT journalist. I must admit that my vast laughter at the video of this incident was mostly enjoyed while I was still under the impression that Guy Goma was a cabbie (as my faithful Guardian had told me). This man, Guy Goma, should be a national hero. Gamely attempting to answer questions about a High Court case. And his face when he realised the mistake (see link in title above). Priceless. The man is a star.

LibDems propose £2000 road tax

I instinctively cringe a little when I see these sorts of headlines. However, on reading the detail I support this. It covers high-end cars only. An example is the Porsche Cayenne. One of my petrolhead mates once told me how much these Cayennes cost. New, it’s anything up to £82,000. If cars are churning out more than 225 gpk in CO2 then I think the owners deserve and can afford this sort of levy. The £215/210 levy from the government makes absolutely no difference, as was amply demonstrated by interviews with drivers of such vehicles after the budget. They just shrugged their shoulders. There has been a lot of hot air about saving the planet recently. Thank goodness the LibDems are proposing some serious action on the matter.

Christian Aid Week

A recent visit to Africa reminded me that many of us in the UK are stupendously wealthy in comparison to most people in Africa. I gave a £5 tip to three teenagers who gave us camel rides. The boy I gave it to looked astonished. I later found out that I had given him a week’s wages! It brought hom to me how profoundly blessed many of us are here. So please take some time this week to give a small amount to Christian Aid Week if you can. A small amount to you is a fortune to multitudes in the world.

Sunday, May 7, 2006

Local election results May 2006

The Conservatives…

Their national share of the vote was only two percentage points more than that achieved when Michael Howard led the party in 2004, which was followed one year later by the Conservatives losing the general election with 158 seats less than Labour.T

he BBC’s Nick Robinson, himself a former Conservative, has said that there is no truth in the assumption that the Conservative party have demonstrated a broadening of their appeal.

He explains that they have merely consolidated in their heartlands in the South, with no reaching out to broader areas of voters. Robinson says that ‘Traditional Conservative voters are simply no longer embarrassed to vote for their party.’

Robinson’s interpretation is borne out by the BBC’s estimate that the Conservatives had a swing of 4% to them across the South, but they remained static in terms of votes cast across the north of England.

This lack of even the beginnings of a breakthrough is further supported by the fact that there is still not a single Conservative councillor in Manchester, Liverpool or Newcastle.

The Conservatives made no gains in Sheffield where they have only two councillors. The Liberal Democrats have 36 councillors on Sheffield City Council, as well as 38 in Manchester, 47 in Newcastle and 59 in Liverpool.

The Conservatives have only 2 councillors in Hull, where the Liberal Democrats have 22.

It is remarkable that there were no Conservative councillors elected in Liverpool, bearing mind that David Cameron took his whole shadow cabinet there shortly before the elections, amidst much publicity.

Likewise, the Tories held their Spring Conference in Manchester, with an identical flat-lining amongst their public support there.

There are also no Conservative councillors in Oxford.The Conservatives lost their last councillor on Cambridge City Council, so that there are now no Conservative councillors in our two great University cities.

In London, most of the Conservative gains were in West London, traditional Conservative territory - not in the East of the capital, where the Liberal Democrats did very well.

The Liberal Democrats…

Beat Labour in the national vote with a 27% share.

This is a 22% (or 5 percentage point) improvement on their share of the vote at the general election in 2005. This is only the second time that the Liberal Democrats have been ahead of Labour on that measure. A remarkable achievement for a party written off just a month ago.

The Liberal Democrats gained Richmond council from the Tories’ winning a staggering 17 seats from them. The Liberal Democrats now have twice as many councillors as the Conservatives who used to run the council before the election!

The Liberal Democrats gained control of St Albans with 31 seats against the Tories’ 18.

The Liberal Democrats gained control of South Lakeland gaining 9 councillors while the Conservatives lost 2. The Liberal Democrats now have 31 councillors against the Tories’ 18.

The Liberal Democrats gained four seats in Waltham Forest, overtaking the Conservatives to become the second party on the council, which remains under no overall control. The Conservatives lost 3 seats in this London Borough.

The Conservatives still do not have a single seat in Gateshead, while the Liberal Democrats won a seat off Labour to consolidate their position as the second largest party on the council.

The Conservatives still do not have a single seat in Knowsley, where the Liberal Democrats gained a seat off Labour.Lib Dem gains in Brent were very impressive, Lib Dems taking 13 from Labour and 3 from the Conservatives to become the council's largest party there.

Liberal Democrat gains from Conservatives resulted in the Conservatives losing control of Harrogate and West Lindsey (Lincolnshire).

And the Conservatives lost their last seat on Cambridge Council, with the city joining Liverpool, Manchester, Sheffield, Oxford and others as Tory-free zones.

Lib Dem Chris Maines moves the party up to second place in the Lewisham Mayoral contest, beating the Conservative candidate.

Four Lib Dem gains in Gosport took away the Conservatives' majority there.

The Liberal Democrats held Sutton against a strong Conservative challenge.

The Lib Dems won 3 seats on Woking to become the largest party on the council, while the Conservatives are only in second place.

The Lib Dems gained three seats off the Conservatives in Worthing.

The Lib Dems remain the largest party in Bristol, where they gained a seat. The Lib Dems have more than two and a half times as many councillors as the Conservatives in Bristol.

The Lib Dems gained two seats in North East Lincolnshire, overtaking the Tories to become the largest party.

The Liberal Democrats outpolled Labour in Haringey in terms of votes cast, although narrowly (30-27) fail to take control of the council from Labour. There were 11 gains for Lib Dems from Labour.

The Conservatives still do not have a single councillor in Haringey.Lib Dems made 10 gains in Lewisham, south London, depriving Labour of overall control of the council. The Conservatives only have a measly three seats here.

Three Lib Dem gains from Labour in Oldham remove Labour's majority. The BNP fail to win a seat on the council, which they had targeted. The Conservatives lost a seat so that they only have one remaining seat in the town where Winston Churchill was the MP.

The Lib Dems also won half the seats in Rochdale, narrowly missing out on overall control. The Lib Dems now have three times as many seats as the Conservatives in Rochdale.

In Salford, the Lib Dems gained two seats. The Conservatives failed to gain a single seat and have lost their straight second place on the council.

The Lib Dems gained a seat in Solihull where the Conservatives failed to gain a single seat.

The Lib Dems gained a seat in St Helens where they now have more than three times as many seats as the Conservatives.

The Conservatives failed to win a single seat in Stockport where the Lib Dems remain in control with more than three times as many seats as the Conservatives.

Despite David Cameron holding up Trafford as a shining Conservative success, the Tories actually lost a seat to the Lib Dems on this council.

The Conservatives came a cropper in Walsall where they lost two seats to Labour.

Despite David Cameron holding up Wigan as an example of Conservative greatness, they are only narrowly the second party there with only one more seat than the Liberal Democrats.

The Conservatives made no gains in the Wirral, while the Liberal Democrats gained a seat.

In Camden there were 13 gains for the Lib Dems, making them the largest party with 20 councillors to Labour's 18.

The Tories are a distant third.Kingston-upon-Thames was held by the Lib Dems, restoring the three council 'band of gold' in south and south-west London with Sutton and Richmond.

The Lib Dems retained control of Islington on the mayor’s casting vote.

The Liberal Democrats retained control of Cambridge, Eastleigh, Liverpool, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Pendle, Stockport, Sutton, Three Rivers and Watford

The Lib Dems still have nearly twice as many councillors in Liverpool as Labour, in this, Labour’s former traditional heartland.

Dorothy Thornhill retains the mayoralty in Watford. Dorothy became the first Lib Dem directly elected mayor four years ago, and this time gained more than half of all votes cast to retain the post.

Good news for Lib Dems from two university cities. The party hold Cambridge and overtake Labour to become the largest party in Oxford, for the first time ever.

There were 2 Lib Dem gains in Jack Straw's Blackburn council which would have removed Labour's overall majority but for the recent defection of an independent councillor to Labour.

There were four Lib Dem gains in Warrington which deprived Labour of control of the council.

Lib Dems have held Stockport and gained St Albans. The latter was previously run on the chairman's casting vote - now Lib Dems have a majority of four.

Lib Dems have increased their majority on Newcastle-upon-Tyne Council to 18 seats.

Lib Dems have also increased their majority in Three Rivers Council in Hertfordshire, as well as holding neighbouring Watford.

Four gains for the Lib Dems in Derby deprive Labour of their majority on the council. The Lib Dems have a third more seats than the Tories here.

Lib Dems have held Pendle Council in Lancashire, retaining a majority of 11.

Also in the north west, Lib Dems have gained three seats on Rochdale, giving the party exactly half the councillors on the authority.

The Lib Dems are now the largest party on John Prescott's local council, Hull, having made four gains to overtake Labour.

The Lib Dems won a seat in the heart of Labour territory in Reading.

The Lib Dems won a seat on North Tyneside council.