Friday, June 30, 2006

Tragedy of those who have to wait for therapy

The Guardian has explained Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) in a very comprehensive article. I am glad someone has! It is worth reading.

As I outlined in a previous post, one million people in this country are on incapacity benefit because of mental illness - more than the number unemployed. That is a major economic issue.

The fact that thousands of people have to wait up to 18 months for therapy on the NHS has two impacts. Firstly, it means that there are thousands of personal tragedies where people are tortured by depression for months on end because they cannot get access to therapy. Secondly, it is an economic waste as these people are usually signed off work, receiving incapacity benefit and, ludicrously, being prescribed drugs.

What is absolutely crazy is that in many cases, quick access to therapy would mean that many of these people would not need drugs and would be back to work in weeks.

The Guardian article rightly points out that CBT is not a cure-all and that it doesn't necessarily help all cases. However, it is clear that it will help a major chunk of those one million people on incapacity benefit.

I have some personal experience of this area. I have seen, at first hand, the remarkable effect which CBT can have, taking someone from lying on a bed unable to move to full health through a dozen one-hour sessions of therapy, unaccompanied by any drugs whatsoever (not even an aspirin). In the case I witnessed, the person was fortunate enough to have ready access to therapy through a company scheme.

When you have seen that sort of remarkable recovery, it is galling to think that many people are having to wait months for therapy. Months where they are unnecessarily ill and often resorting to drugs prescribed by their GP. It is a human tragedy acted out on thousands of lives. But it is also a major economic waste.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

4 jobs for Bob and 2 blows for Labour

...are the results. Laptop perched on knee in bathroom watching News 24 via wireless...a new pemutation of my early morning election result watching. BBC describe Bromley as "extremely close":

Bromley: Tories: 11,621; LibDems 10,988, 633 majority. Well done Team!!!

Labour 4th in Bromley and C.

Bob 'personally disappointed' and refused to thank all candidates: 'vicious...unpleasant...under-handed...cynical...personal abuse'...not bitter then!

"You smell" is personal abuse. "You've got three jobs and want a fourth", isn't.

US Supreme Court says Guantanemo tribunals are illegal

At long last the US Supreme Court has ruled, as reported by the BBC, that the trial of Guantanemo detainees by military tribunal is illegal. George Bush had said that, in his "judgement", tribunals should be used and some had started.

This ruling is cause for great celebration in my view. However, I am not greatly surprised. The whole Gauntanemo/tribunal idea was a stupid idea from a stupid President. That's being charitable. Most people would describe the idea as "fascist".

But we have spent three years getting to this point while the detainees have been disgustingly mistreated and, in a few cases, died. The episode leaves a dark stain on the reputation of the United States.

Please see my previous posts on this subject:

"Guantanemo - Tinky Winky to decide?"
"Guantanemo - Pass the sickbag, Alice"

Battle of the Somme - Lest we forget

I once looked up a few facts about the Battle of the Somme when replying to a letter in the press.

The 90th anniversary of the battle is coming up on Saturday.

The first thing, of which my fact-checking reminded me, is how long the battle was. Many people think it took just a day or a few days.

In fact it went on for four and a half months.

It is difficult to visualise 1.2 million people.

It helps to imagine the present day populations of Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen put together. Living in those cities today there are a little over 1.2 million people.

That's how many people were killed at the Battle of the Somme.

Then you have to remember the additional hundreds of thousands maimed, injured or traumatised for life. And the hundreds of thousands who saw their friends killed and often lived with their bodies alongside them for quite a while.

The sheer horror of day-to-day life in the trenches can only be imagined.

And yet, all this, together with the equally horrifying rest of the First World War, was sparked off due to a car taking a wrong turn in Sarejevo and a set of alliances which set cousin against cousin (in the case of George V versus Kaiser Bill).

The whole thing was utter madness. Life in the trenches was hell on earth.

I am pleased to see that British schol children often visit the site of the First World war battles nowadays. This is vital. Anyone who has learned about even a thousandth of the horror of the First World War is unlikely to want to support a war in a hurry.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Has Cameron done a Hague?

Who gives a proverbial what vintage of sour grapes Charles Clarke is pouring out? I can hardly contain myself at the vitriol being tossed over David Cameron's Bill of Rights "idea". I am starting to lose count of the vast spectrum of notables who have slammed it: Lord Tebbit, Mike Mansfield QC, Lord Carlile QC, Sir Menzies Campbell QC, Shami Chakrabarti, Ken amazing selection of critics from all points of the political compass. But Mrs Dale says that Helena Kennedy warmed to the idea, so that's alright then.

With William Hague I think we got about a month, when he became Tory leader, in which he was trying to cuddle up to the liberal centre. Then he started going off on a familiar right-wing populist tangent, supporting the "bash a burglar" campaign and any other passing bandwaggons. IDS tried the soft liberal approach for five minutes and Michael Howard managed a few weeks. With David Cameron, admittedly, it has lasted about six months. Quite some time, then.

DC has even set up his own "I am a liberal conservative...I like LibDems - especially if they are stupid enough to fall for my PR rubbish...I ate muesli once...I have been known to read the Guardian...I wore sandals at least once when my shoe chauffeur's car's big end went" web site.

Nice try, Dave.

But now he seems to be having his "Hague/IDS/Howard right-wing pigeons finally coming home to defecate on the old liberal credentials" moment.

Dave Chameleon's Bill of Rights idea seems to be geared to a tabloid agenda and oh....what a surprise...I am dumbstruck...guess who gave it 110%+VAT approval this morning? Three guesses? Oh you guessed it, how disappointing. Indeed, it was The Currant Bun. Got it in one, Sun.

Steve Bell's cartoon in the Guardian captured it. This is David Cameron chasing the tabloid populist right-wing agenda ... the same agenda that Hague chased with all his populist nonsense which turned out to be unpopular.

I left out one name from the queue of people wanting to criticise the Cameron idea. Dominic Lawson. He has something of a Tory pedigree, to put it mildly. Yet, in the Independent today he took the knife to the Cameroonian idea with forensic skill. I particularly liked his line:

"In what sense could a "British" right to free speech, property or a private life be defined in a way which smelt unmistakeably of Big Ben, county cricket and the last night of the Proms?"

(Reminiscent of 'old maids cycling to Holy Communion', in fact - but let's not raise too many Tory ghosts at once)

As with many of the critics, Lawson focusses on Cameron's wish to define "responsibilities" as well as rights: "There is only one responsibility" he says,"which is to obey the law." Of which there are many, he reminds us.

While we can at last rejoice that Cameron has got "off our turf", we should be cautious. He does have the support of Rebekka Wade (but, then, little Willy Hague also had the Sun's editor's support much of the time, especially when he was bashing burglars). Also, the Guardian leader rightly cautions that Cameron has been very careful not to propose reneging on the European Charter of Human Rights, only scrapping the Human Rights Act.

Presumably, an accolyte reminded Dave the Rave that the ECHR was Churchill's idea (and that Churchill was known to be occasionally Conservative) as DC hastily scrawled this latest 'policy' on the back of the envelope containing his apology to Lady Thatcher for appearing on "Friday Night with Jonathan Woss".

Monday, June 26, 2006

Meet Britain's other black farmer

First, the Guardian diary, picked up on the fact that Tory PPC Wilfred Emmanuel-Jones is not the only black farmer in the country, as claimed. Now, G2 has actually visited the other black farmer in England. He is David Mwanaka. In today's supplement there is a wonderful photograph of him with his family, plus a detailed interview and article by Laura Smith.

Joy all round! And to think all this started with a simple Google search!

"Complete nonsense" - Mike Mansfield QC on Cameron's "Bill of Rights" idea

I think I will start a little file collecting together lawyers' comments about Cameron's "Bill of Rights" idea (calling it a 'plan' or a 'proposal' is somewhat over-egging it).

If we put aside the thunderous criticism from Lords Falconer, Goldsmith and Carlile plus Sir Menzies Campbell, due to their current or past party affiliations, we are still left with some pretty strong condemnation from veteran Human Rights lawyer, Mike Mansfield QC, who described the idea as "complete nonsense" and said:

"How is it (the HRA) hindering the investigation and prosecution of crime? No examples whatsoever. It certainly isn't doing that in relation to terrorism or terrorist cases...I'm afraid it's totally misconceived and it's tabloid driven."

You can see the relevant BBC News article here.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Tories call for Jonathan Ross to be sacked after Cameron interview

The Mail on Saunday reports that senior Conservatives have called for Jonathan Ross to be sacked after his interview with David Cameron. Particular offence was taken by Ross' references to certain....ahem...boyish practices in connection with Lady Thatcher.

Norman Tebbitt said: 'If I had been on the show I would have told Ross that he was a slob. It is a pity that Mr Cameron didn't tell him so and leave the show.' (One wonders what strange set of circumstances would need to be in place for Norman Tebbitt to be offered and to accept an invitation to appear on "Friday night with Jonathan Ross".)

The Mail on Sunday leads with this story today, giving it the full splash headline: "OBSCENE".

As usual, this appearance was no doubt calculated by Cameron and his advisers to give him some great publicity, particularly amongst the under 30s. (It is a shame that "Dick and Dom in da Bungalow" isn't still going because I am sure that DC would enjoy playing "Pro-celebrity Bogies".)

But I do enjoy imagining the likes of Tebbitt and retired Colonel-types across the home counties spitting out their G&Ts at the sight of their leader laughing uproariously when asked:

'Did you or did you not have a **** thinking "Margaret Thatcher"?'

You can see the Mail on Sunday story here and all about Dick and Dom here.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Belinda Oaten: Why I am letting Mark back into the family home

I had a pretty hair-raising experience this morning, while queuing to pay for diesel.

I spotted the Daily Mail headline: "Belinda Oaten: Why I am letting Mark back into the family home - see pages 8,9,10 & 11."

I am afraid I couldn't resist. I already had the Guardian in my hand, but I scooped up a copy of the Daily Mail and waited there with both papers. Then I thought:

"What am I doing? I haven't bought a copy of the Daily Mail for 20 years. Am I mad?"

Fortunately, as I waited, I was able to scan-read pages 8,9,10 and 11 in thirty seconds (amazing how you can do that with age isn't it? I think it has something to do with having seen it all - or at least most of it - before) and there was a pile of Newbury Weekly Newses by the counter which acted as an emergency escape route. I put the Mail down on top of the Newbury Weekly Newses just before my turn came, causing a misfiling within the shop for which I felt quite guilty - but not entirely guilty as it was the Daily Mail, after all. Let's not get too carried away.

Anyway, the emergency was averted.

I have now read the Mail story in depth via a free copy at Victoria Park café in Newbury.

Obviously, I feel enormous sympathy for Belinda Oaten. The Mail story was very much a human, wife's story. Fine.

I can't help but think that this whole Oaten affair has dragged on quite unnecessarily . One always thinks that the last shoe has dropped and then another one comes dropping along.

The Daily Mail has a circulation of 2 million copies. So, although we bloggers might be absorbed by Three Jobs Bob, Cameron's U turn on Iraq, Brown on Trident etc etc, for multitudes in this country their biggest awareness of the Liberal Democrats this week will come from reading about Belinda Oaten's "eggy bread" in the Daily Mail today.

It is strange, all this. I make no criticism of Belinda Oaten. Indeed, she deserves a medal. She is a very striking and courageous woman. But, thinking back, I don't remember a single word in public coming from Jeremy Thorpe's wife after the Bunnygate business (or whatever it was called). And that also involved lurid details coming out like the "Bunnies" nickname and pillow biting.

Ah well, times change. All people are different.

You can read the Daily mail story on Belinda Oaten here.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Cameron U-turn on Iraq

Just four months ago David Cameron said:

"Issues that once divided Conservatives from Liberal Democrats are now issues where we both agree. Our attitude to devolution and the localisation of power. Iraq."

Now on Jonathan Ross' couch he is reported thus in a BBC article headed Cameron backs Blair on Iraq war :

"Conservative leader David Cameron has said he still believes going to war with Iraq was the right thing to do. In an interview for BBC's Friday Night with Jonathan Ross, he said the war had been "very unpopular" and some bad decisions had been made since it began. But Mr Cameron said "those of us who supported" the military action should "see it through". "

David Cameron is a complete joke. How can he expect to be trusted when he flip-flops on so many things? (see my earlier post here).

Earliest memory - Queen Victoria being crowned

Well, you work it out.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Charlie on Question Time

I thought Charlie-boy did very well on Question Time last night. The audience certainly responded to him very warmly.

He was particularly effective on Iraq, especially when he was correcting Germaine Greer, a LibDem supporter, who was bizarrely under the impression that we did not oppose the Iraq invasion strongly. He replied:

"I stood up and opposed the war in front of one million people in Hyde Park - isn't that strong enough?"

That got a big round of applause. Excellent stuff.

By the way, Alan Johnson did extremely well. He is very articulate, as well as having the Prescott-like qudos of having come up the hard way through the unions. Definitely future deputy leader or leader material.

A couple parts of the show were like 1-on-1 interviews of Charlie by David Dimbleby, which was a change from the well-established the Question Time format. I do think DD was embarrassingly intrusive with his question "Are you teetotal?" What business is it of him or us? Charlie answered it very well, saying that he was "in good health and it's up to me to keep it that way". In other words, "mind your own business". Quite right.

But he is not "over it", is he? By "it", I mean the leadership change. He referred to Ming as "my successor" only, without naming him, and talked about him (his "successor") still finding his feet.

Come on, Charles. This isn't the kindergarten. You made the right decision at the time and every one respects you for it. So stop brooding...take a deep breath and just practise the words:

"My extremely talented fellow Scot, Ming, is doing a superb job as leader in readying the party for the forthcoming elections."

There, that wasn't too difficult was it? If you have to wash your mouth out with soap and water in private afterwards, fine, but just say it.

Anne Atkins: Sentence for Dobrowski murderers was 'prompted by political correctness'

Thank you for all your comments on Anne Atkins' little talk on Radio Four's 'Thought for the Day' yesterday. Please keep them coming.

Below, I have attempted to rebut some of her points. The text of Ms Atkins’ speech is in italics, with my comments in bold. The BBC report of the result of the trial of the murderers of Jody Dobrowski is here.

Hate crime is as hateful as the name suggests. Jody Dobrowski was murdered, not for his wallet nor because he happened upon the wrong place at the wrong time, but because he was gay. A crime of chance or greed is undiscriminating, and anyone might have died in his place. But Mr. Dobrowski's death was personal: attacked for his identity, assaulted for who he was, murdered for his very nature. Shockingly, if he had been different he would still be alive.

So under the Criminal Justice Act 2003, those guilty have been jailed for twenty eight years - and not a day too many... though twice as long as they would have received if their reason had been different: crimes prompted by race, religion, disability or sexuality now attract far heavier sentences. An understandable reaction, I realised when I heard of a man in America being dragged behind his car for a mile because he was black.

So far, so good.

Suppose, though, his torturers had objected to his hair colour? Or name, or make of car? Would his death have been any less dreadful? Does motive make a murder so much more wicked?

I am not aware that there is a vast prevalence of hair hate crimes in this country. There is, however, an intolerably high level of homophobic crime. Surveys suggest around 40% of the gay and lesbian community have experienced homophobic incidents within a year of being questioned.

The Crown Prosecution service says that sentences should reflect the need to encourage people to come forward to report such crimes: “Research studies suggest that victims of, or witnesses to, such incidents have very little confidence in the criminal justice system or those agencies that are part of it. Consequently, incidents of this nature have gone largely unreported because the victim or witness often believes either that they may become the subject of a police investigation themselves or that they will be treated disrespectfully because of their sexual orientation or gender.”

There is only one legal type of murder in this country. So, murder is murder. It is the same offence. However, the sentence required to adequately respond to particular murders does necessarily vary.

Hitler killed for reasons of race, religion, disability and sexuality, and his crimes still - and rightly - revolt us. But he also hated those who helped his targeted victims. Was it worse to kill a Jew than someone who - voluntarily and bravely - helped a Jew escape?

A lawyer in Mr. Dobrowski's case is quoted as saying that "we are moving towards a saner society in which everyone's human dignity and personality, whatever his lifestyle, is fully recognised" - a surprising observation when, as one commentator has pointed out, if Mr. Dobrowski had been heterosexual, his life would seem to have been valued as only half as precious.

No, the murder would still have been “murder” and there have been some pretty hefty sentences for murders unmotivated by the victims' sexuality. For example, two teenagers were jailed for a minimum of 22 and 18 years respectively for the murder of a six-former on a beach in Wales. That was only last week – you can see a news report of the trial here.

So we no longer have a set punishment for a certain crime then, but a system that seems subjective in response to circumstances.

Different sentences for murder have been around for an awful long time – certainly from way before the 2003 Criminal Justice Act. A 'mercy killing' receives a lesser sentence than a case in which someone is tortured to death, for example.

Of course, the sentencing of a judge is “subjective” but what does Ms Atkins suggest instead? Is she seriously suggesting that there should be, for example, an invariable 20 year sentence for murder? If so, does she really believe that a man who murders his terminally ill spouse by helping her to die should receive a 20 year sentence in the same way as a drunken skinhead who bludgeons to death a complete stranger because he is gay? Should a wife who murders her husband as he attempts to physically abuse her, after years of abuse, and shows remorse for her crime, receive the same 20 years as a man who tortures to death for gratification a complete stranger, and shows no remorse?

It was recently the 20th anniversary of a case that caused outcry for similar reasons, when the perpetrators of the violent and terrifying Ealing vicarage rape were given lenient sentences because, the judge said, the victim's trauma "had not been so great". This was retribution based on reaction rather than reason: now we have a penalty apparently prompted by political correctness.
Following the Ealing rape controversy, under Sections 35 and 36 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988, the law was changed to allow the Attorney General to refer sentences he or she regards as unduly lenient to the Court of Appeal. This facility is now used on a routine basis.

It is a long established feature of British justice that the judge, taking into consideration the relevant legislation and circumstances, sets the sentence, which is subject to appeal. That is not political correctness (whatever that vague Daily Telegraph rallying cry means). It is a long accepted principle of justice in this country. The deterrent effect and the risk of re-offending are taken into account, for example. I believe most people think this is reasonable although, obviously, sentencing is a controversial area.

Of course, judges vary in their sentencing. It is an imperfect system, as is any system which involves humans. But the facility now exists for the appeal of unduly lax sentences, which is a very important safeguard.

It's a far cry from the statue of justice on top the Old Bailey, blindfolded because she shows no partiality towards persons.

That is not actually true. The statue of ‘Justice” by F.W Pomeroy on the top of the Old Bailey is not blindfolded. For evidence of this, please see a couple of art sites, which describe the statue here and here.

Very different too from the origin of judgement itself, the justice of God. Whose ruling is so objective that it is the same for sinner and saint equally; who despite His particular love for some yet treats all alike; and who is so scrupulously fair that good and bad - of any race, religion, disability or sexuality - will face the same Judgement... and are offered the same escape from it.

I agree with the last paragraph. But, my goodness, it was an arduous and tortuous trek getting there. There was quite a lot of hopping, skipping and jumping involved. ‘Thought for the Day’ on Radio Four is described as “A moment of quiet reflection amongst the turmoil of politics.” The turmoil of Ms Atkins’ alarming reasoning is hardly conducive to “quiet reflection”.

Why not play a recording of a pneumatic drill for two minutes? It would be more relaxing.

Don't the BBC expect basic journalistic standards from their contributors? So, for example, if someone is going to describe the statue of 'Justice' at the Old Bailey, might it not be a good idea that they check whether or not it has a blindfold before incorrectly stating that it has?

Of course, the good old BBC has a variety of contributors to "Thought for the Day". So, for every contributor who winds up certain sections of the audience there is another contributor who charms that same audience section.

It all leads me to conclude that if Anne Atkins was contagious, the antidote would be Lionel Blue.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Anne Atkins on the Dobrowski murder: Can you help me?

I am grateful to the 3Ps for alerting me to Anne Atkins' "Thought for the Day" on BBC Radio Four this morning.

I oscillate between Our Tel and Moylesy in the mornings, so I avoid "Thought for the Day". Although I cannot think of many things more wonderful than listening to the Rabbi Lionel Blue, the thought of actually having to listen to the voice of Anne Atkins, dentist-drill like, at 7.50am is one that reduces me to an imitation of one of Munch's Screams (see here if you want to relive one of them).

Fortunately, we have Auntie Beeb to thank. They provide a transcript of each day's "Thought for the Day". Joyous news! We have at our desktop the ability to print out and textually analyse the words of Ms Atkins without having to hear her voice and without having to press stop/play/reverse on the mediaplayer.

So here is the full text of Anne Atkins' "Thought for the Day" on BBC Radio Four this morning.

It's a corker. 'Pick the bones out of that', as they say. She seems perfectly fair and logical for the first two paragraphs but then seems to do cart-wheels and backward flips with her logic.

I have to say that, having read it, I am too confused to actually argue with it, without the benefit of several nights' sleep and a few fingers of Glenfarclas 105 (a top-notch Speyside Single Malt Whisky - for the uninitiated).

We have, reading LibDem blogs, a veritable diaspora of talented logical thinkers and legal minds. I would be grateful for some help in piecing together a liberal response to Anne Atkins' piece. I think one is needed.

Guardian diary picks up on "Britain's only black farmer"

I see that the Guardian Diary has picked up on my googling about the incorrect "claim" of Mr Emmanuel-Jones to be "Britain's only black farmer". Totally unprompted by me, of course. Here is a link to my original posting on this.

So, farewell then, Top of the Pops

Oh dear. It's finally happened. Auntie Beeb has pulled the plug of Top of the Pops after 42 years as reported by Guardian media. I suppose that something which was based around the "Hit Parade" and Jimmy Saville breathlessly explaining who was up and who was down in a chart which involved millions of record sales was bound to gasp its last breath in an era when singles sales are a fraction of that.

But what a great run it's had. Part of growing up in the UK. I still remember when Strawberry Fields reached the Number One spot and was announced as such on TOTP. I was eight at the time.

There are some wonderful photographs of TOTP in its heyday on the BBC website here.

Click on the arrow below to see The Rolling Stones performing "Last Time" on Top of the Pops in 1965.

Tony Blair's jets

The BBC reports that Tony Blair is to get not one but two jets for his use and that of Her Majesty (and others).

"They are expected to cost around £12.3m a year - about £2.7m more than the current arrangement (of chartering)." Staggering. This is totally unnecessary in my view. It is emblematic of our President Blair's extravagant self-importance.

Apart from anything else the current cost of Prime Ministerial travel over the last few years has been inflated by TB wanting to be his own Foreign Secretary. So they're comparing the jets' cost with a skewed baseline. During the run-up to the Iraq misadventure, Blair was zooming all over the place, prompting jokes about "Prime Minister visits Britain" headlines (previously heard about Churchill) on his return.

TB only has another year as PM. I despair at the thought we are going to have to put up with another excessively high-flying Prime Minister after that.

Welcome report on the effectiveness of therapy in treating depression

I recently noticed that a GP of my acquantaince was down to give a talk on depression to a local church group. When I saw her next I asked her if she was a specialist in depression. Her reply was telling:

"I am a GP. Every GP is a specialist in depression".

...i.e. the problem is one which GPs face with grim frequency. The figures bear this out. One person in six could be diagnosed at some time with chronic anxiety or depression. One million people are on incapacity benefit because of mental illness - more than the number unemployed.

That bears repeating. More than the number unemployed.

However, a report from a team led by Professor Richard Layard says that most GPs can only offer medication and perhaps a little counselling.

Perhaps that is why, as reported in the Observer in 2004, traces of Prozac have been found in our drinking water.

My GP acquaintance bore this out. Therapy is a treatment not readily available on the NHS. The Layard report recommends that the government massively increases the number of therapists. It demonstrates that this would be easily cost-effective when you consider the savings on drugs and days off work etc etc.

Depression is generally misunderstood. The Observer leader put it very well yesterday: There is a "widespread failure to distinguish between depression as a dangerous illness and the more commonplace use of the word to describe a sombre mood that is unpleasant, but not pathological." Depression can often mean that the patient physically can't move. They just cannot raise a leg to get out of bed. Compare that with examples of people often saying they are "depressed" because they have lost their car keys or whatever!

Therapy also has a bit of a bad name. It is often seen as something which involves deep searching questions about your childhood, sexual relations etc etc. As Professor Layard points out in the Observer, Cognitive behavioural therapy is very successful. To the patient, it is a gentle and healing process of going through what has happened and piecing together ways of moving forward. There are not normally questions such as "did your mother beat you?".

So, in summary, depression is a serious illness which is extremely prevalent. People can't just "snap out of it". The NHS is issuing so much Prozac that it's in the water supply. However, therapy is often the best, most cost-effective way of treating it, but the NHS is not providing that course of treatment to most of the people who need it. The Layard report confirms what many of us have known for a long time, but it is nonetheless very welcome.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Woman presiding bishop - life goes on

The Guardian reports today on the appointment of a woman as presiding bishop of the US Episcopal Church. As usual, this has prompted furious statements from around the world and a very carefully worded pronouncement from Lambeth Palace.

I usually find that life goes on throughout these furores. People still go to church and the conversation rarely turns to these sorts of developments. That does allow us some spiritual calm to pray for those who are upset in any way by this.

On a lighter note, it is interesting to hear that Bishop Gene Robinson is relieved that the spotlight has moved off him, the first gay bishop. "I'm so yesterday", he says.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

US honours: Blair's Neo-Conservative sympathies demonstrated

It is remarkable that it has taken the passage of three years and a parliamentary question from Norman Baker for us to find out that many US citizens involved in the Iraq war were given honours by the Queen as far back as 2003. Amongst these was a CBE given to Riley Bechtel, who the Observer describes as the "billionaire boss of the US-based Bechtel Corporation, which has won big...contracts in Britain and made a fortune from the Iraq war".

Margaret Beckett says "Honorary awards to citizens where Her Majesty the Queen is not head of state are not formally announced".


"Sir" Bob Geldolf. "Sir" Terry Wogan. "Sir" Stormin' Norman.

We knew about all these, with accompanying blanket media coverage, the moment they were awarded.

Yet, the CBE given "Sir" Riley Bechtel was not publicised at all, and the dear fellow has been hiding his CBE under a bushel for three years.

Funny how these CBEs to non-British nationals are well advertised for popular figures but not advertised at all for US businessmen who have "made a fortune" from the Iraq war.

(In passing this also begs the question, what is the point of an honour if people don't find out about it, but we'll put that to one side).

As Norman Baker points out in the Observer, the award of these honours shows that "what matters in Tony Blair's Britain is those with power, money and a US accent".

It shows us a thing which often pops up with Tony Blair. For an earnest reader of "Das Kapital", he shows sympathy with the most surprising people sometimes. George Bush, for example. On Parliament TV, I saw Blair nodding energetically when , just before we invaded Iraq, Sir Peter Tapsell said it would damage our national reputation if we pulled out then. It is the same Blair who said when reminded that Harold Wilson's sons became a large school headteacher and a University lecturer that he hoped 'my children do better than that'.

I am not saying Blair is a neo-Conservative. At least his government has been recently, and rather tardily, been critical of Guantanemo camp. But there are many aspects of Tony Blair, son of former Tory Leo Blair, that show him to be a high Tory by instinct in many areas. Indeed, these honours awarded to rich US businessmen, presumably for enriching themselves in Iraq, are testament to a degree of Neo-Conservative sympathies within Blair.

It is all rather disturbing and no surprise that two-thirds of Labour members want Blair to stand down next year. They have finally realised what really makes him tick.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Priceless photo of David Cameron

I have now set up a separate blog for my ward reports on as well as my well-established web site on . This will allow me to use this blog for my more wayward postings, unconnected with my councillor role.

My first unashamed use of this enjoyable freedom is to highlight this utterly priceless photo of David Cameron. It is a classic!

Like that photo of Andrew Neil in a singlet which Private Eye prints at the drop of a hat, this one of the chameleon should be equally well distributed.

73 billion last laughs for the 11 biggest geeks of all time

By wedging the financial pages in the middle of its paper, the Guardian has subtly inveigled me, and I suspect many others, to read some of the financial news. I certainly never bothered when it was at the end of the paper.

Today's finance pages offered a real treat. A photo from 1978 of those 11 Microsoft founders who are now worth $73 billion, together with details of what they are doing (or in one case, unfortunately, not doing) now.

What a photo! Geeks or what?! But they have the last laugh now - or several last laughs - in fact, 73 billion of them.

Gobsmacking power of George Bush

I was gobsmacked by Martin Kettle's article in the Guardian today, titled "America's problem is again a usurping king called George".

In essence, when an American President signs a law, he then quietly signs a document, called a "signing statement" saying how he interprets the law. With this particular President, the mind boggles.

For example, after signing the much-heralded bill outlawing torture of detainees, he signed a statement saying that the bill might be, effectively, ignored sometimes.

This is staggering! Kettle's article is a must-read for anyone who is even slightly concerned about the way the USA is going - which ought to be everyone.

A-listers selected

Conservative Home lists the four A-listers that have now been selected as PPCs for the Conservatives. Fascinatingly, all of them have been selected in new seats created by the Boundary Commissioners, according to Wikipedia: Central Devon, Mid-Derbyshire, Chippenham and Northamptonshire South.

This leads me to wonder if there is something about the selection structures used for new constituencies which make them more amenable to choosing A-listers. One waits with bated breath for the first established constituency to choose a "mincing metro-sexual" or indeed any of the A listers.

John Terry - National Hero

I remained utterly staggered by the sheer brilliance of John Terry's save off the line just a few minutes before the half-time whistle in the England v Trinidad and Tobago game. You can see it by clicking on the arrow above.

The speed at which it happened is breathtaking. The way in which he kicked the ball away was, it seems, based on pure instinct. It is almost a reflex action. It is just unbelievable. From the camera angle originally broadcast it looked at though the ball may have gone over the line - it was that close to going into the goal.

An ITV commentator called it a "match saver". I agree. If the ball had gone in we would have gone into half-time one-nil down and who knows what would have happened in the second half. A goal like that can change the whole outcome of a match.

Defenders don't get many mentions in dispatches. Theirs is not the glamorous end of the game. They never (or very rarely) get to do a robot or put their shirt over their heads when they score. But John Terry shows how defending should be done and, indeed, he has been called the "King of Defenders".

He certainly deserves the "man of the match" award for the England v T&T game, and should be feted as a hero on his return.

In my humble - extremely humble - opinion, his save deserves mentioning in the same conversation as Gordon Banks' save against Pele in Mexico. It had the same reflex nature about it.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Not Britain's only black farmer

Wilfred Emmanuel-Jones has just been selected to lose for the Tories in a deeply unwinnable seat (for them) in Wiltshire. He is a "farmer" and produces sausages in Devon. Congratulatons to him.

However, on the web site of Diverse productions, producers of a television programme featuring Mr Emmanuel-Jones, its says that he "claims to be the UK’s only black farmer".

Indeed, this claim has been given the seal of approval of none other than Mrs Dale's Diary. Madame Dale treats it as "gospel" and writes, while obviously hyperventilating in a shocking fashion: "Wilfred Emmanuel-Jones, Britain's only black farmer". In fairness to old Thrice Daley, he may have been taken in by the Times' description along those lines. Or perhaps the Independent's similar declaration - in a headline no less! It just goes to show how quickly a myth can catch on.

Despite his many obvious qualities and achievements, Wilfred Emmanuel-Jones is not Britain's only black farmer, assuming he is a farmer.

I seem to be the only person bothered or able to do a quick googly on this. I came up with at least one other black British farmer, namely David Wilfred Mwanaka (What is it about Wilfreds and farming in England?), who grows maize on a farm near Thurrock in Essex. He came up as result number four on Google under "black farmer" for goodness sake, so we're not talking megatog-anorak deep cyber-diving here!

So let's get this "only" business behind us and celebrate the fact that there are at least two black farmers prospering in Britain (assuming Mr Emmanuel-Jones description of himself as a farmer), and who knows, perhaps there are even more - you tell me.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Guantanamo - Tinky Winky to decide?

George Bush has been saying for a long while that he would like to close Guantanamo camp. But, for the first time, yesterday he was more specific about what is stopping him doing this (he is, after all, the most powerful man in the world and getting 460 people put on planes to Florida from Cuba shouldn't be beyond his capabilities on a good day).

It's all the Supreme Court's fault apparently. He is waiting for them to decide. Silly Billies. What is keeping them?

What they have to decide, it seems, is how people are tried in the United States of America.

Tricky one, then!

They are only judges after all.

George says that in his judgement he thinks the detainees should be tried in a military court. This is like saying that in the judgement of Tinky Winky, world hunger would be solved by more people eating Teletubby Toast.

Come to think of it, has George Bush appointed Tinky Winky to the Supreme Court yet? If not, why not?

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Mark Oaten on Question Time tonight

Mark Oaten is on Question Time tonight.

Make sure you hold a mirror in front of you. If you go white or green you are holding your breath for too long. An emergency influx of oxygen may be necessary.


Another blow for Cameron: Rickitt rejected

Adam Rickitt has failed to make the "long list" of 20 hopefuls to be Tory PPC and Folkestone and Hythe. He has also stirred things up by writing in the Daily Telegraph that:

" I fear that our younger voters, who already feel so disconnected from our party and the system of government itself, will only have had their doubts confirmed by recent comments."

Those "comments" may have included ones made by Jonathan Holborow, Chairman of Folkestone and Hythe constituency Conservative association, on June 1st, nine days before the announcement of Rickitt's failure, when he said:

"I think it is unlikely that Mr Rickett will advance much further in the selection process in Folkestone & Hythe, which is a very traditional Conservative seat."

Just think, Mr Holborrow was (presumably) about to preside over a supposedly fair selection process but was already writing off one of the applicants! This is hardly in the spirit of David Cameron's new Conservative party is it?

And, for that matter, if you couple the failure of Adam Rickitt to get onto the "long list" at Folkestone with the ditching of his fellow A-listers at Bromley and Chiselhurst in favour of Bob "Three Jobs" Neil (firmly white Anglo-Saxon middle aged male), then you have to conclude that Cameron's A list initiative is a dismal failure. After all, what Conservative hopeful seat isn't "very traditional"? There are very few I can think of. Brighton perhaps? The Tories were nine percent (Pavilion) or seven percent (Kempton) behind Labour there at the last election. Not exactly a shoe-in then. Any other ideas?

I fear that Cameron has been hoist by his own petard. He was the one who wrote the most right wing manifesto in recent election history in 2005, creating a stack of Tory hopeful seats in very "traditional" areas. In more broad-minded districts like Brighton, where you might expect the A listers, such as Rickitt, to have a vague chance of being selected by the Tory faithful, the Tories caught a cold at the last election. That means that they have a very shaky electoral footing in the very places where Cameron's A listers would be able to get selected. I expect a further string of crusty old chairmen insisting that their constituency is "very traditional".

Lib Dems end climate talks with Tories

The BBC says:

"The Lib Dems are pulling out of a deal to work jointly with the Conservatives on the issue of climate change. Sir Menzies Campbell said co-operation required "urgent agreement on specific measures" but claimed the Tories were not able to provide that agreement."

This comes as no surprise and is absolutely the right move. Cameron's whole green issue thing is, so far, a complete sham. His "shoe chauffeur" driving behind his bike and his grossly carbon positive trip to Norway are emblems of that sham. But there is more concrete evidence.

As I highlighted at the time, when asked to state his carbon emission reduction targets he said they would take time to set and then hypocritically attacked others for not having targets! Breathtaking hypocrisy. The Conservatives have had 14 years since Rio to come up with targets.

When he wrote the last Tory election manifesto, just a year ago, he had ample opportunity to state targets and policy objectives in all the green areas. But his manifesto was more notable for its focus on immigration. Now, he is, all of a sudden, "green Dave".

On television, Cameron was banging on about micro-generation and sticking a windmill on top of his house. Meanwhile, Conservative MPs talked out a bill which would have made specific progress on that issue. And, ITV revealed that Cameron's house was so badly insulated it was giving off heat into the atmosphere like a radiator.

Over an extended period, Conservative MPs have attacked the Liberal Democrats for advocating higher taxes on 4x4s. Now, the Liberal Democrats have proposed effective taxes on top of the range cars. But the Conservatives are nowhere with proposals on this.

The only time, since Cameron became leader, that the Conservatives have produced any policy specifics was when their economic competitiveness group came up with ten transport proposals.

One of these was to allow vehicles to turn left at traffic lights on red. Experts say that this would endanger cyclists and pedestrians, the very people Cameron pretends to encourage! One of the other proposals was to set up cycle lanes on pavements. That is another backward step which, in many cases, would discourage both cyclists and pedestrians.

I am sure there are more examples of Tory hypocrisy on the environment - can you think of any?

The Conservatives have often attacked Labour for being "all spin and no substance". That is an amazingly hypocritical thing to say, given that we now have the "King of Spin", ex-Public relations man for Carlton TV, David Cameron, doing the most almighty con trick on all issues, not least on the environment.

So, thank goodness for common sense and well done Ming for pulling out of these talks.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Going Live to an umbrella

Private Eye runs a little feature called "Going Live" which captures rather unnecessary live outside broadcasts in the new 24 rolling news environment.

There was a classic just a moment ago on BBC 1's Breakfast. They went live to an umbrella. Well, the umbrella took about 50% of the screen. 20% was Rita Chakrabarti, a further 20% was grass and 10% could be identified by architectural cogniscenti as the side of the House of Parliament.

Nice to know that our licence fee is being well spent.

It was a lovely umbrella though.

Tory London mayor: The Coronation of Golden Balls?

Looking at the rules for the Conservative party London mayoral contest, I see that the campaign spending limit is £100,000. ...Well within the grasp of ordinary Londoners...not. But I see an opportunity. Young Goldenballs (if I might be so bold as to assume the bequest of that title to Zac Goldsmith, son of the original Goldenballs) can grasp this one. He has been keeping his powder dry up until now. He has vast amounts of dosh at his disposal. He is on the A list. He has good looks. It's made for him. An ordinary Londoner to represent ordinary Londoners.

Graphic "steep decline" of Cameron's approval ratings

We already know that Ming's ratings have taken a downturn recently. Less well known is Cameron's fall southwards. Andrew Rawnsley yesterday wrote that David Cameron's "personal approval ratings are in steep decline". Here (below) in graphic form are his net approval ratings over the last six months according to You Gov and Ipsos. These numbers are reported at UK Polling report.

The new Tory logo

Apparently the torch is being snuffed out. Any suggestions for a replacement? The biking chameleon has already been suggested.

Great! - The chance to pay the Conservative party to help them choose their candidate!

This is a brilliant opportunity. All Londoners will have the chance to make a donation to the Conservative party for the privilege of helping them to choose their candidate for the mayoral election! What a fantastic opportunity!

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Guantanamo - Pass the sickbag, Alice

The US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State has described the suicides of the three detainees at Guantanamo as a "a good PR move to draw attention".

This begs the question: What use is good PR to you when you are dead?

The Camp commander has described the suicides as "an act of war" against the US. Is he crazy or what? Perhaps he should be the one locked up. How can a suicide be an "act of war" for goodness sake? Bush has already terminally diluted the meaning of the word "war" when he declared war on terror - a bit like declaring war on blancmange. Now we have suicide being described as "an act of war". Attacking Pearl Harbour. Invading Poland. Those are "acts of war". But, committing suicide after three years of detention without trial with no end in sight? It may be something that happens during a war (a state which does not exist in this instance, anyway). But it is hardly an "act of war". It's a ludicrous abuse of the English language before you even consider the sang-froid of treating death in custody in such a cavalier way. Even the word "suicide" seems inappropriate in these cases.

I despair of the US detentions at Guantanamo. At least Bush said he was taking the suicides "very seriously". But in a typical display of US double-dealing, he now has underlings taking the Michael.

Will Ms Rice, the boss of the deputy assistant, care to repeat the "good PR move" comment or endorse it? Will she 'eck as like. She's just leaving her dirty work to a skivvy.

And will George Bush endorse the Camp Commander's description of the suicides as "an act of war". No.

According to the BBC, "On Friday, Mr Bush said he would "like to end Guantanamo", adding he believed the inmates "ought to be tried in courts here in the United States"." (I seem to recall he said this, or something like it, months ago as well.) But his underling, the Deputy Assistant Secretary lady says it is a "complicated process" to end the camp.

Come off it. Bush is the most powerful man in the world. If he wants to end the camp all he needs to do is get the prisoners on a plane for Miami and it's done.

As the late John Junor used to write: "Pass the sickbag, Alice".

Great British Grand Prix

The British Grand Prix at Silverstone was its usual well organised triumph. Alonso again drove a perfect race and there were lots of jubilant Spaniards wandering around afterwards. Schumacher showed how brilliant team work can win a race. His crucial pit stop was 3-4 seconds shorter than Raikkonen's at the same time, and as a result, he overtook the Finn.

Poor old Jenson Button! His engine started emitting flames right in front of our grandstand. But he got a huge cheer as he walked back to the pits. My photo below shows his car being craned away.

I found it a very exciting race. For once, the cars were quite tightly packed for quite a while. There was one moment of superb driving from Schumacher and Raikonnen as they locked tyres (without touching) for a few seconds.

My photo below shows me next to Trulli's race car, in the pits a few minutes before the race started. I wanted to have this photo just in case I am ever accused of being "anti-car" again!

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Bromley: A great start!

...Photographic evidence that I was in Bromley today and delivered the first of this weekend's tabloid, "IT'S 'THREE JOBS' BOB", at 8 o'clock this morning in Mottingham.

As pointed out by Duncan Brack in this week's Liberal Democrat News, the constituency is far from the Tory detached house heaven which the media would have us believe. I live in West Berkshire - and I remember Christchurch, where the pavements seem to be polished. Bromley is nowhere near either of them in terms of 'poshness'. There is a lot of our natural territory in places like Mottingham.

I am pleased to say that an excellent HQ has been established. As my photos show, it is slap bang next to Bromley South train station and we have a poster up outside the HQ in Bromley High Street. When I returned from my four gut-busting rounds, the HQ was full of busy volunteers, only a few of which were watching England win on the telly.

I was extremely impressed with this weekend's tabloid. The front-page headline is "IT'S 'THREE JOBS' BOB - and now he wants number 4!", complete with a photo of an insane rictus grin from Bob himself. Classic Rennard. If not from the easel of The Master himself, then certainly by "School of Rennard", that's for sure.

Friday, June 9, 2006

Revealed: Cameron's hypocrisy on Radio One

Liberal Review recently did a brilliant deconstruction of David Cameron and his hypocrisy on many issues.

Well, now there is evidence that our Dave is even two-faced when it comes to the simple matter of music.

Yesterday he was in the press for slamming Radio One, in particular DJ Tim Westwood, for encouraging violence by playing hip-hop songs.

Close analysis of lyrics sung by two of David Cameron's favourite artistes, named on Radio Four's Desert Island Discs, show that their lyrics also feature violence. Morissey and Bob Dylan have recorded lyrics which include references to: bludgeoning, smashing teeth, a guillotine and shooting a girlfriend.

A bit of a theme is developing here....

Thursday, June 8, 2006

Stone, paper, scissors to settle legal dispute

This is a classic.

According to the Guardian:

Fed up with listening to two lawyers bicker for weeks over where to interview a witness in a civil lawsuit, US district judge Gregory Presnell decided to set a precedent by ordering the pair to settle the matter with a game of scissors, paper, stone.

The laugh of the day award goes to the spokesman of the USA Rock Scissors League who said:

"We will make sure that rock, paper scissors is not made a mockery of by the legal system"

Vodafone's Mike Caldwell

I was very sad to hear of the death of Mike Caldwell, Vodafone's erstwhile communications director. I spent a year in the late nineties accumulating two cardboard boxes' worth of paperwork campaigning about the proposed (now built) HQ at Shaw.

Throughout this time I came into contact with Mike quite a lot. Though I was on the opposite end of the debate to him, he was thoroughly decent and a very highly skilled communicator. On one occasion, in order to staunch the flow of correspondence between me and Vodafone's MD, he invited me to come into his office to discuss the subject. He was very affable.

I think he showed that you can get a point across while still being polite and decent.

Vodafone owe him a great deal. I offer my sincere sympathies to his family and friends.

Great headline - wrong paper?

"Liberal Democrats rejoice in a sudden attack of sanity"

The best headline for us this morning - brilliant. It's as if Saint Chris himself paid them to write it. at the paper it's in....the Torygraph....aaah..does that tell us something?

Ditch the glasses and the reading, Ming!

While I stand by my earlier praise of Ming's speech today, I have some harsh words for his mode of delivery. I have just seen him on BBC TV news. He should ditch the glasses for speeches. They are an impediment to communication. There are a wonderful range of contact lenses available, including "omnivision" systems for those of us past 45 years of age. There is no excuse for not using them for major speeches. Also, I noticed that, at the last conference, Ming read his speech from a typed script in front of him. While I let him off that as he was still starting as leader, it is quite ridiculous that he is still doing it. There are many auto-cues available. Paddy was a past-master at using these devices. It just looks stupid, these days, for him to be reading speeches from a paper script. Come on, Ming. People criticise you for being too old, but you are doing yourself no favours. Ditch the glasses and the reading, for pity's sake.

Ming's speech: A great start

Ming's speech this afternoon is a great start to his leadership. It is a very solid, coherent speech covering the main policy areas. As one would expect, he demonstrates his much-reported gravitas, his liberal heart and leadership skill. The fact that Tony Blair has come out with vituperative crticism of Ming, even before the speech is delivered, is a sign that the speech is bang on target. I am delighted about the headline-grabbing 2p reduction in the basic rate of income tax plus taking three million of the lower paid and pensioners out of income tax payment altogether. I am particularly cock-a-hoop that this is being deftly done by, at long last, delivering on our policy to tax polluters. I am very proud of our team for producing this top level tax strategy.

Wednesday, June 7, 2006

Belfast basks in sun and satire

It was wonderful to see Belfast in the sun yesterday. Many people were sun-bathing on the grass in front of the grand City Hall. There were hordes sitting outside pubs enjoying the sun. Having visited the Crown last time, I added McHugh’s to my pub passport. It is in the oldest building in Belfast. I sat with my pint of Pilgrim’s Ale admiring the striking trick fountains in front of the Albert Memorial Clock.

After all the "Troubles" it is good to see the people of Northern Ireland making a go of it. Belfast is a fine city with some superb restaurants and attractions springing up.

In the evening I had a rare televisual treat. I was able to watch a brilliant satirical programme which is only aired on the BBC in Northern Ireland. It’s called "Folks on the Hill". It started on BBC Radio Ulster about four years ago. In its TV form, it features computer animation and the versatile voices of Sean Crummey. As one might imagine it is about the politicians on the "hill" – Stormount. It is extremely funny, very wry and the animation is superb. Tuesday night’s episode started with Ian Paisley sitting at his desk saying:

"No…….No……….No………ah…….No…………No way……………No……….No……………On yer bike sunshine……………..No"

He is approached his son Ian Paisley Junior who asks him:

"What are you doing, Dad?"

to which Dr Paisley replies:

"Just rehearsing my latest speech son"

I liked it.

Sandwiched in a boy band

Through a freak of airline ticketting, on the flight to Belfast on Tuesday I sat sandwiched inside a boy band, namely G4.

There was Ben to the right of me, and Matt, Mike and Jon to the left of me. Fresh from their appearance at the Royal Albert Hall, these triple-platinum album sellers were on their way to play the Waterfront in Belfast on Tuesday night and the Olympia, Dublin last night. It was exhilirating to be in their testosterone-soaked company.

The event was made all the more interesting because I didn't fully know who they were, and could therefore be rather detached. I vaguely recognised the blonde one, Jon, as he walked down the aisle. But I thought no more of it. Then someone asked them for their autograph and only four of them signed it, and I thought they were G6, dimly remembering them from The X-Factor. So I thought it couldn't be them, there are six of them, not four. So I thought they must be some other band. They mentioned the Waterfront. So I had to actually walk two miles to the Waterfront in Belfast to look at their poster to confirm who they were.

It was amusing to observe them from a detached viewpoint. They seemed fixated with a game they called "Lookalikies" where they went through the inflight magazine and shouted out page numbers and photos and who they looked like. Laugh? They nearly.... I can't say their enthusiasm for this game rubbed off on me, but I wish them great success.

Hard shoulder abuse

According to the government:

"The hard shoulder should only be used for breakdowns and emergencies. It is not a place to stop to check maps, make phone calls (except in an emergency), have a rest, drop off passengers or pick anyone up, except in an emergency."

So, if it is sunny and you have a convertible with its roof down and it starts to slightly "spot" with rain, and you decide you want to put your roof up, is that an emergency?

Is it ‘eck as like. There were several drivers on the M4 this evening doing just that. (I wouldn't have minded if it was a terrential downpour, but it was just spotting with rain!). If you put your roof down you should expect to get the occasional soaking in this country. That doesn’t mean you should endanger lives to do avoid it.

Monday, June 5, 2006

Alice and the Holy Grail in Taxland

"Tories will not promise tax cuts"....."LibDems to cut income tax by 2p"...I did feel a bit like Alice slipping down the rabbit hole when I heard that couplet of headlines. Cameron is becoming a LibDem to get elected, while we're becoming Tories to not get elected.

I jest.

But I was very gratified at the evidence of some radical thinking on tax. From all the reading (not much) I have done on global warming it is emphasised again and again what great damage plane travel does to the environment. (I speak rather shamefacedly as someone about to jump on a plane to Belfast but at least I did spend some time looking at the alternative - 18 hours by ferry and car.) So I am delighted that we are proposing a tax on air flights (the flight - not the passenger) although Tony Ferguson is right to urge caution on this one. The Tories are bound to go to town on us for ruining people's holidays (isn't it about time we laid into them on tax in some way?). I am also delighted at the tax on the very high carbon emitting cars. At last we are seriously talking about taxing enironmentally damaging behaviour (unlike Cameron) while, for once, letting up on income tax.


But Quaequam Blog has a good point. The local income tax did do us serious damage in places like Newbury and Guildford at the last election. I agree with it. But, I think we have never really managed to get the message of its advantages across to pensioners. While we failed to get that message across, the Tories certainly got the message across in places like Newbury and Guildford that 20 and 30-somethings would get shafted by our local income tax. I had several non-political people repeating that line back to me. So we should remember the south and the areas where we fight the Tories.

I will look forward to seeing what happens to our Holy Grail of the local income tax in the final tax proposals from our team. From what I have heard so far, I expect they will come up with something devilishly clever. I have a lot of confidence in the likes of Vince Cable and Ed Davey. Oh my hat, does that make me "Orange Book"? Goodness knows. Someone will have to tell me. I have not read it and I haven't really a clue about this Orange book v non-Orange book debate. All I know is that I like what I have heard so far.

Saturday, June 3, 2006

Most agreeable surgery and Thai curry by the canal

Just to add a bit of clour to this posting, I have included a couple of photos I took today of flowers in our garden.

I started the morning at 7am with a trip to Andover to view the market's canopies there. This is part of some research I have been asked to do into the subject of awnings and canopies in markets.

It doesn't seem just a few days ago that I was doing up my anorak against the cold in Paris. An old friend and I joke about the word "agreeable". When I see him going off in his sports jacket and flannels to Lords to watch the cricket on a sweltering day, we agree that it is "most agreeable".

Well today is "most agreeable" too.

Due to a freak of rota-swopping, I was on duty on the Town Hall steps this morning for the second week in a row. I was gratified that a couple of people at last got my joke about having "local anaesthetic available" at the surgery - I have now modified it to include John Prescott's mallet being secreted behind the door for the purpose. I knew this was a joke whose time would come.

It was particularly agreeable to be doing the surgery with Conservative Adrian Edwards, who is our deputy mayor this year. Very entertaining as usual.

Items raised at the surgery were:
  • Problems of traffic noise and vision caused by West Berkshire Council (I presume) cutting down a couple of trees by Sandleford link.
  • Unfinished tarmacking and a dangerous kerb at a bus stop in Glendale Avenue.
  • A loose manhole going "bumpf" every time a car goes over it in Greenham Road
  • A query about hanging baskets this year - where are they?
  • What happened to the bench outside Camp Hopsons in Northbrook Street - will it come back when the refurbishment is complete?

As usual I will follow these up and reply to the residents. Once again the market was full and busy.

After the surgery, my wife and I enjoyed an excellent Thai curry at the canal bar in the Waggon and Horses. This, Adrian Edwards had informed me earlier, is the oldest pub in Newbury. It was our first experience of the Thai cooking at this bar and it was utterly superb. Coupled with the wonderful view from the canalside, it was all....well....most agreeable.

I bumped into a freind there who was celebrating his grand-daughter's graduation. He asked me what I was celebrating with my wife to which I replied: "Being without our daughter for three hours".

A wonderful day all round, to be very thankful for.

Thursday, June 1, 2006

End of the line

I'm a bit of a slow coach and I've been in catch-up mode this evening. Via the BBC's wonderful broadband service I just watched the last episode of "Line of Beauty". It was worth persevering to the end. The last episode was very satisfying. The series has been elegant and entertaining. Not for the sex or the politics though. The relationship between Nick and Kat. The immense sadness of those touched by Aids, which was underscored throughout. The appalling treatment at the end of Nick by the Fedden family. These were the meaty parts of the series. The political dénouement of the MP was most Oaten-like. The acting was superb. The music was, for once, tastefully understated. Nick Guest played by Dan Stevens pulled the whole thing together and reminded me, in a funny sort of way, of David Stockwell in ITV's Heartbeat. The bewildered look. The looking away and then back again. The partial and hesitant mouthing of unspoken responses. It was all there except for the clutching of the old cap. That is meant as a compliment, strangely enough.

All in all, well done BBC.

Mark Oaten's Newsnight opus - available to view

Mark Oaten's film on Newsnight from 23rd May is available on to review here.

I have just had the chance to watch it at leisure. I was very glad to see an extremely relaxed and cheerful Mark on this film. Noone would wish what he and his family have been through on anyone. It is good that he is obviously "bouncing back" and I wish him well. I hope he can now get coverage for doing things for Winchester rather than for his somewhat tangential forays into Celebrity Fit Club (or whatever it was) and this Newsnight film on "why politicians press the self-destruct button".

A few things in the film struck me though.

He had a sort of embryonic moustache. At first, I thought it was the contrast or the resolution on my PC. After fiddling with it, it became clear that it was indeed a form of moustache which he had grown. I also noticed that he had about two days' growth of beard. Interesting. The sort of style you would get from an advertising executive or a media type. But not from the MP for Winchester appearing on national television. Call me old-fashioned, if you will.

I was also very struck by how he spoke in the past tense about Westminster:

"I fell out of love with Westminster"...."I lost my identity"...."There wasn't a day went by when I didn't say 'actually I don't want to do this' " Really? Alan Clark in his diaries used to write quite the opposite, about his daily compulsion to be in politics, a compulsion which many politicians, presumably, share. But I am surprised that someone who, it is presumed (rightly or wrongly), wants to remain in politics, is telling us that he told himself everyday that he didn't want to do it.
Julia Langdon, seasoned journalist, put it well when she was asked whether she, a journalist, "played God" with politicians' lives. The response was positively Nannyesque: "The person in question has just been not to have been straight-forward". Ah! A blinding shaft of light in an otherwise foggy film.

But Mark was very honest. He said "We are the authors of our misfortune...the one person to blame is me...I am at a crossroads...people don't expect me to hide away...they want me to just get on with it."

You can't knock his honesty. Is this an embryonic Portillo we see? I don't know. The beginning of the film was like an enthusiastic and rather naïve six-former having a stab at broadcasting. It got better. You can't go wrong with Phillip Hodson, the psychiatrist, who gave his view. I enjoyed the discussions with Michael Brown and Oona King.

I am not sure where this leaves us. I do wonder if there is a sort of Max Clifford figure behind all this. I wish Mark all the best and I can assure him that life is wonderful outside of politics.

Closing the stable door? - US troops to get ethics lessons

The BBC reports:

"US-led troops in Iraq are to undergo ethical training in the wake of the alleged murder of civilians in Haditha. For the next 30 days, they will receive lessons in "core warrior values", a military statement said."

I am not normally one for Bible-bashing, but perhaps a good, simple start for these ethics lessons would be Exodus 20, verse 13:

"You shall not murder."