Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Pride and the President

Sometimes I look at President Obama and have to remember that I'm not watching an episode of the West Wing. The good stuff he's doing is actually real. I suppose it's only fair after spending 8 years fearing what Bush was going to do next - I mean, we had it all - torture, illegal wars, the terrible inaction after Hurricane Katrina.

And what's this, a Pride event in the White House? And it's not just a Big Block of Cheese day event with the equivalent of Josh, Toby or CJ, it's with the President himself. Fantastic stuff - but it's not just words. If you read the speech, he is quietly rearranging things to make a huge difference to people's lives - making sure that employment benefits go to LGBT partners, for example.

An encouraging start.

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Labour council enlists Big Brother's help in Glasgow.

Glasgow's Labour Council has been closing schools in the city, much to the concern of local parents.

One group of parents decided to occupy a school earmarked for demolition over the weekend.

The reaction of the City council? It turned the CCTV cameras away from the estate they were supposed to protect to film the demonstrators, which they had no right to do during a peaceful protest. If you were cynical, you might think that the Council was trying to stir up trouble which they would then film.

Shows you where Labour's gut instinct is, though, and it's not a pretty sight. Glasgow Liberal Democrat MSP Robert Brown has complained about this completely unnecessary move. It's ridiculous that people engaged in legitimate and peaceful protest find their civil liberties breached like this.

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Lib Dems highlight huge increase in self harm amongst women prisoners

Liberal Democrat justice spokespeople north and south of the border have been investigating the growing instances of self harm amongst women prisoners.

In both England and Scotland, these incidents have pretty much doubled over five and four years respectively.

What sort of justice system is it that takes women, who desperately need treatment and support for mental health conditions, away from their homes for offences as trivial as stealing food to feed their kids or not paying their tv licences? Where they have commmitted serious offences, where's the rehabilitation and support to help them turn their lives around so that they don't re-offend? And is it surprising that the self harm rate is so high when the Chief Inspector of Prisons in Scotland finds that conditions are "bleak" at Cornton Vale.

What good does it do to take these vulnerable women often huge distances away from their children and support network?

Kenny Macaskill needs to get off his backside and do something about this. By putting an end to sending women to prison for trivial offences, often for which men would just get a wee slap on the wrist, we would self evidently have more money to spend on giving specialist support and decent living conditions for those who need it.

I'm proud that my party is at the forefront of investigating and raising these issues.

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Key day for Irish Blasphemy Law

A couple of months ago I wrote about the very scary proposed new Irish blasphemy law which could mean the likes of me being fined 100,000 euros for, well, uttering anything that could cause outrage amongst followers of any religion.

While I see this law as an attack on freedom of expression, there's nothing that I, as a Scot, can do about it. Happily, though, in the last couple of months, a vigorous campaign
has been mounted against it. It's on Facebook, and Twitter. They've also done the old fashioned thing of going round talking to people and holding meetings the length and breadth of the country.

Tomorrow, the Justice Committee of the Irish Parliament discusses the law and could if it wanted choose to kill it off. If you are Irish and have a view on this, you might like to contact its members. There e-mail addresses are printed below:


There was an excellent article in the Sunday Times the other day which suggested that there were quite a number of groups representing a huge chunk of the Irish population which might like to change quite a lot of the Irish constitution, a document which, with its mention of god and family does not reflect modern Ireland. There's a certain irony in the fact that Irish people are to be asked again to ratify the Lisbon Treaty (because they didn't get the answer right first time), yet the Government steadfastly refuses to offer referenda on changing the constitution on the same day.

Let's hope that common sense prevails and that Ireland doesn't regress to the middle ages by passing such a ridiculous law and that the Justice Committee puts this measure out of its misery tomorrow.

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Monday, June 29, 2009

Fantasy Liberal Cabinet

Those nice people at Lib Dem Voice have given us the task of forming a Fantasy Liberal Cabinet, which can include politicians past and present. The Hon Lady Mark has taken this a step further and allocated me the job of Secretary of State for Scotland in a Lib Dem bloggers' cabinet. I am of course honoured to accept and look forward to working with First Minister Bernard to introduce STV for Holyrood elections. Inverness will get its bypass, we'll have a new Forth crossing in no time, we'll get working on getting more powers for the Parliament based on what people actually want, we'll use the ones we've already got to maximum effect and everything in Scotland will be sunny and rosy.

Anyway to be serious (kind of), here's my list:

Nick Clegg– Prime Minister cos he's personable, a good leader and will get the best out of his team

Vince Cable – Chancellor of the Exchequer - altogether now "noooo - body does it better, Ba-aby you're the best"

Shirley Williams – Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs - she has such a passion for liberalism and human rights and we could trust her to be ethical

Baronness Ros Scott - Leader in the Lords. She will have to wear the silly hat when they elect a new speaker.

Alistair Carmichael – Home Secretary - in this job you need someone whose liberal instincts you can trust at all times.

Jo Swinson – Justice. I think she'd be great at bringing in a truly rehabilitative justice system.

Steve Webb – Work & Pensions - nobody knows it better.

Sandra Gidley – Health - her professional background will help here

Diana Maddock – Education. As a former councillor, she'll have the experience to deal with this

Tim Farron – Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Willie Rennie – Energy and Climate Change. Will be practical and knowledgeable and is against nuclear power

Susan Kramer– Transport again another expert in the field

Elspeth Attwooll – Defence. She won't buy us any more nuclear weapons!

William Beveridge – International Development - he formed the welfare state, now he can sort out world poverty

Paul Holmes– Communities and Local Government - nobody knows housing better and we need someone in that job who can deliver for the sakes of the millions of homeless and inadequately housed people

David Penhaligon – Constitutional Affairs. Can you just imagine how he would make the case for the sweeping reform we need. Still miss him all these years on.

Clement Freud – Culture, Media and Sport. Think he'd raise the game a bit!

Julia Goldsworthy – Chief Secretary to the Treasury I can see her being effective at slicing up the pie to each department

Ming Campbell - Leader of the Commons - he knows Parliament and how to reform it

Paddy Ashdown - Secretary of State for Northern Ireland to knock heads together when necessary

Russell Johnston - Europe - does anybody know more than Russell about Europe?

Ray Michie - Secretary of State for Scotland - the Queen of Home Rule would know what it's all about

Lynne Featherstone - Business Secretary (or whatever it's called these days)

I think it's quite important that these people don't develop that Amnesia that ministers sometimes fall prey to - you know, how they forget that they have some accountable directly to people, or that they are actually a member of a political party whose members expect them to do things like stick to party policy and stuff like that. SO, I'm going to nominate some special advisers who will keep them on their toes. I won't give them departments, cos they'll be able to sort that out for themselves.

So, in charge of keeping these people real and giving them a kick up the arse when they deserve it are, in no particular order, James Graham, Jennie Rigg, Charlotte Gore (but it's probably best if we keep her away from public spending decisions so as not to scare lefties like me), Costigan Quist, Helen Duffett, Stephen Tall, Dr Pack (just in case any of them start slacking) and Cllr the Hon Lady Mark. I'm sure these esteemed advisers won't let anybody away with any nonsense.

And just as a thought - this is most definitely not party policy, but I think what we should appoint a new Archbishop of Canterbury just before we disestablish the Church!

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Being Fat - my life as an outcast.

So, my life as a social pariah is now confirmed.

It's been coming for a while, with little digs here and there in the Daily Mail about the obesity crisis and how much of a healthcare time bomb we larger people are.

Today the Metro has finally gone out there and basically said that fat people, and specifically celebrities who are overweight, are bad role models. And who, exactly, is saying this? Someone called Professor Michael McMahon. A Professsor. So, he must be important then. He must know what he's talking about. Mustn't he? Especially when he's talking about all those fatties who've had to have special help from the emergency services to get them out of their homes.

Frankly, you expect this kind of shoddy, scaremongering reporting from the Daily Fail stable, but I would have thought better of the BBC. At least from them we find out more about Professor Michael McMahon. He's a weight loss surgeon who has a reasonably long standing direct financial interest in inciting enough self loathing and despair amongst fat people to make them take do something about it - perhaps booking a nice appointment at the company whose hospital he has used for his operations in the past. While the BBC directly mentions his current involvement with Nuffield, the Metro article does mention Nuffield but doesn't say McMahon is working for them. The Metro article implies that the journalist has actually looked at evidence from two different sources, McMahon and Nuffield when in fact that's not the case. In both cases, what he says goes unchallenged and the message that a certain group of people should effectively be pilloried by society is allowed to seep insidiously into the nation's consciousness.

If you take what he says to his logical conclusion, what does he want us to do as a society? Do we somehow punish those whose BMI is above the recommended 25? Do we ban Eamonn Holmes from tv, stop James Corden's scripts from being published (although on the evidence of Lesbian Vampire Killers, some of them should never see the light of day anyway), rip up Beth Ditto's recording contract?

How dare this man make weight the defining point of a person? Who does he think he is to effectively say that it doesn't matter how kind, decent, honourable, innovative, creative or otherwise exceptionally talented someone is, that it all counts for nothing if they don't meet his standards.

I've struggled with my weight for most of my life. Yes, I know I should eat less and exercise more. I'm not stupid. And do you know what? The times when I've been most successful at dealing with it are when I don't struggle, when I feel confident about myself as I am and when I'm not beating myself up about it, or, to be blunt, when nobody else is beating me up about it.

There's a huge link between self esteem and successful weight loss. Making overweight people feel bad about themselves just sets them on a destructive spiral which makes the problem worse.

Maybe that's what McMahon's game is. He's had the nerve to single out 4 people in the public eye and say that they shouldn't be accepted because of their weight. Well, if they aren't accepted, then maybe neither I should be. Maybe I should be so ashamed of myself that I'll come knocking at his door and beg him for a gastric band. At a cost of several thousand pounds, of course.

Or maybe his words will encourage well meaning families to put more well meaning pressure on their overweight mums, dads or relatives to lose weight.

What if some people use his words to put not so well meaning pressure on overweight people? What if it leads to bullying, intimidation and worse? Why should fat people be turned into scapegoats in the name of improving the Nuffield's cash flow?

When a new piece of research comes out undermining breastfeeding, my first question is which formula manufacturer sponsored this - and in virtually every case, I'm right, although you often have to delve quite deeply into the small print to find thsi out. This irresponsible, scaremongering stuff from Nuffield is just as bad as that.

So, Professor Michael McMahon, you can take a running jump. Yes, I'm fat. So what? I'm also worthwhile. There is no way I would go within a million miles of you if you can't see that. If the only way you can drum up trade is to attack people for being who they are, then it's a business that doesn't deserve to exist.

Update: Mr Quist is on McMahon's case as well so I'm in very good company.

Another Update: James turns his tactical nuclear array on the "diet" industry

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Sunday, June 28, 2009

Rev Kelvin Holdsworth's speech to Edinburgh Pride

Have a look at Scottish Episcopalian Priest Kelvin Holdsworth's speech, from an open topped bus, to the Edinburgh Pride march yesterday, along with his reflections on the day.

Kelvin has also been a Liberal Democrat candidate in the past, standing in Stirling where he upped our vote by over 9%.

He's now the Provost of St Mary's Cathedral in Glasgow and hosted Bishop Gene Robinson last year to show him that Scotland welcomed him even if the Bishop's Conference at Lambeth last year didn't.

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Summer Holiday Fun

It's a day of celebration in our house - it's Bob's birthday and 22 years since the day we met when he came to Braemar Youth Hostel aiming to stay for a night and leaving a week and a half later with more than he bargained for.

This is the first time in years he's actually spent his birthday at home - we are usually in Mallorca but my being ill has completely mucked up our holiday plans. Maybe we'll get away later in the year - I want to make as much use of getting away when Anna's a child as possible - in two years' time we'll have to pay full adult price for her.

Bob wasn't the only one getting presents today. As the school holidays have now started, he presented Anna with a box full of cards which he has literally spent days researching and designing himself. The cards are divided into two piles - helping cards (some of which have a monetary reward) and activity cards. Included in the helping cards are activities which she will not want to undertake, such as a visit to a record shop in Glasgow - but there's a fiver up for grabs if she goes with him. I think personally that he should have made it a tenner if she didn't moan about it, but he'll notch that one up to experience, I guess. She also has to find their way from here to a nearby ancient burial site and take a picture of her daddy in the underground chamber. That's also worth a fiver to her. I did insist that some of these cards had no monetary value as I think it's quite important that she realises that you just have to muck in sometimes.

The activity cards are a whole load of suggestions for days out, from the beach, to play centres, to swimming, the park and shows at the festival, of either her's or Daddy's choice. You guessed it, if he chooses, he coughs up!

She also has a few blank cards for her to suggest her own activities, some "mystery" cards and some jokers so she can re-use cards. It all looks great. I should really try and get her to keep some sort of record of what we do.

The stage is set for a good Summer holiday - let's just hope the heatwave materialises!

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Why shouldn't women wear the veil? A rant about religious expression.

Regular readers of this blog will know that I don't have much time for organised religion, nor can I get my head round the idea that there's a god. I used to, but I don't any more. My view of religion is that it's a means of exercising social control. End of. I think we're more than capable of controlling ourselves without the outside interference of a vengeful deity.

However, I do appreciate and respect that others, from all faiths, have a different view. I know people who receive great peace and comfort from their religion and that's fine by me. The world is big enough for us all to live together in tolerance and harmony.

A few hundred years ago, anyone with my heretical beliefs would have been taken and burnt at the stake or drowned - my sister-in-law used to say that she felt that my fear of water in this life was because I was no stranger to the ducking stool in a previous life. She felt that my task for this life was to be more conventional. Hmmm. I've been a fairly spectacular failure there, then.

I really appreciate my liberty to express views that may at times be on the fringe of what is considered socially acceptable. How can I then deprive others of that similar right of expression of themselves?

Right now my blood is curdling as I watch The Big Questions on BBC1. Any programme that has Peter Hitchens on it is going to make me angry on principle. There is a woman, Um Hamza, who is wearing a full veil, and arguing her case quite well. She did stumble a bit when confronted with the inequality of the cultural traditions on this one - a question which it was quite legitimate to ask. However, I was shocked as this woman was shouted at in an intimidating and aggressive manner by members of the audience. How on earth is her choice harming them? And, worse, there was a Labour PPC on there basically saying that this woman was a traitor to womanhood and her subjugation flew in the face of feminism and undermined all the hard earned rights we've won in terms of employment law, maternity leave and contraception. Why is it always women that get it? From "witches" who in the end of the day were just women whose beliefs strayed from the "norm", to women who wear Islamic dress, we are considered fair game in a way that men aren't. Why is it ok that Jack Straw and Nicolas Sarkozy should be able to tell women how to dress? Why can't they just make up their own minds?

I find it hard to reconcile a world where women who choose to wear a veil are subjugated and women who come under pressure to be thin, cellulite free, perfectly groomed and available for sex at all times aren't. Just look at any magazine marketed to women and you'll see what I mean. Yes, progress has been made, but the world, all of it, is still very much run for men by men.

And then you have this story about doctors wanting an assurance that health workers will be free from action if they offer to pray for patients. I think it's pretty ridiculous that people have been suspended for what was most likely a thoughtful gesture on their part. Yes, if I was vulnerable and in pain the last thing I'd want is someone throwing religion down my neck or suggesting that I might go to hell because of my life choices. That would be inappropriate. However, if someone offered to pray for me, from whatever religion, I'd probably say thanks.

Part of the problem is that we are such fearties - and I have to publicly thank Doctorvee for reminding me that the word feartie existed in a post that is nothing to do with this - about discussing politics, religion and sex. Why? I think debate is much healthier than suppression, yet the mention of god in a conversation can chill the spine - actually, at times mine included. Why are we not secure enough in our own skins to say "Actually, I disagree with you because....." and have a reasoned debate without it all getting heated and out of control?

All of us have something to learn from different points of view and we shouldn't feel threatened by opposing arguments. One of my favourite blogs in the whole world is written by not just a religious person, but a representative of organised religion itself! Kelvin is one of the most tolerant people I know and what he says is always worth reading, whether you agree with it or not.

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Saturday, June 27, 2009

Saturday Fun - Barack Obama Saves the Day Jibjab video

See, there is a point to reading Jonathan Ross's tweets. He's just commented on this brilliant new JibJab animation. Enjoy:

Try JibJab Sendables® eCards today!

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Friday, June 26, 2009

Michael Jackson and Elvis Presley - the deaths of two icons

I'm sure I wasn't alone in fearing that the life of Michael Jackson would come to an end sooner rather than later. He never seemed to have any inner peace, despite his brilliantly innovative music and dance style.

His passing marks one of those rare moments in history where you'll never forget where you were when it happened. In my lifetime, there's been things like Diana's death and 9/11, but in my life the first such monumental occasion came when Elvis died when I was 10 years and a few days old. In a weird bit of symmetry, my daughter is 10 years and a few days old at Jackson's death.

Yes we have saturation coverage on 24 hour news channels, the internet and social networking sites now, but in 1977, every media outlet we had at that time was full of Elvis stuff for what seemed to me like ages after his death. I remember the news being extended and every paper being full of story, tribute and speculation. I found it all quite confusing at the time because the whole world seemed to be in mourning and I wasn't really sure why because I didn't really know who Elvis was. A few hours' study of the papers gave me all the facts but I didn't have that emotional reaction that older friends and family had. I think the thing that upset me most was that his daughter, who wasn't far off my age, had lost her daddy. More than 3 decades on, I can still remember clearly what Elvis and Priscilla's wedding photo looked like and I'll never forget the reports of the crowds at his home at Graceland.

Technology, by throwing powerful imagery into our house 24/7 makes the experience more immediate and more intense, but there seems to be this feeling that we invented hysterical grieving when Diana died. I don't think so from what I remember from Elvis' death.

While the 10 year old me was amazed that a whole newspaper could be about Elvis, with all other news being snuck into a small corner on page 48, my daughter's realisation that this was quite a big thing came from glancing over my shoulder at my Tweetdeck. I had to laugh as she was amazed that all the Lib Dems and Formula One people (they have a column each) were filled with Michael Jackson talk and tributes, like they should only talk about the things I know them for. I think I have some explaining to do on how you shouldn't label people!

Like me with Lisa Marie, she was very concerned for Michael Jackson's children. Like me, she doesn't really know who he is - her musical tastes are still very much rooted in the world of Disney, High School Musical and Hannah Montana.

I've tried to explain to her how much of a huge star he was when I was a teenager. I didn't much like his music at first, but it grew on me as I grew older and the likes of Billie Jean, Thriller and Bad provided a huge part of the soundtrack to my most formative years. I hope it's music that she will grow up to appreciate - and I suspect she will get plenty of chance as my husband is looking out his Michael Jackson collection. Two of my personal favourites, The way you make me feel and The Man in the Mirror came out the year I got married. Billie Jean and Thriller took me through my O grades and Highers.

In the deaths of these two legends - and I guess I could add that sudden murder of John Lennon as a third - I don't actually see that much difference in the reaction of fans and in the reporting, other than the amount. Then, as now, every available technology is being packed to the gunnels. Then as now grief stricken fans gather at their homes. The big difference is in how the news is brought to us - there was nobody outside Graceland with a mobile phone to film the ambulance taking Elvis Presley away. Then if there were live satellite interviews they could have quite wonky pictures and long time delays - most often reporters seemed to phone in. Now, we almost get live transmission from the field of battle.

So, that is the story of how two ten year old girls, 32 years apart, experienced the death of a major icon of their age.

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Mosley threatens to scupper F1 Deal

Well, I said the other day that I wouldn't believe that Max Mosley was actually leaving the FIA until I saw him walking along the Place de la Concorde with his belongings in a red and white spotted hankie. An unnamed team principal has apparently told the press that he would believe it only "when I see the stake through his heart".

It's reported that the deal is now in jeopardy because Max has taken exception to some of the things that FOTA members have said to the press. They are supposed to have implied that he is stepping down immediately and not in October and that he was dictatorial. He got himself in such a tizz that he was moved to write to FOTA asking for an apology and hinting that he would "keep his options open" if they didn't give him one.

I have no idea where he's getting this from. If you look at the full transcript of FOTA's press conference yesterday, they're actually more generous about him than he deserves. They clearly accept that he's in place until October and they acknowledge that they have no say in the appointment of a successor, but would prefer someone independent of the teams. If anyone had any right to be upset about these comments,surely it would be potential candidates Jean Todt and Ron Dennis.

I guess the only thing Mosley can do to upset the applecart is to say that he's not going after all. Now that the rules have been agreed for next year along the lines FOTA wanted, by the World Motorsport Council he can't really go chopping and changing them at will. He also makes the assumption that if he decides to stay, he will be re-elected, but a strong campaign from a credible challenger could put paid to that ambition. Former rally world champion and MEP Ari Vatanen's name has been put in the frame

It seems to me that Mosley's latest ramblings are more to do with separation anxiety at the prospect of losing the almost absolute power that he's enjoyed for 16 years rather than having any basis in fact. You have to question the motives of someone who says that he's prepared to take on FOTA "even if this leads to difficulties in the sport". A clear case of misplaced ego being put above the interests of the sport.

It might actually have been better if he had stood down immediately rather than have this 4 month period of limbo where he can attempt to disrupt the newly formed peace on a whim.

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Scottish Liberal Democrats now on Twitter

If you do nothing else today, get on to Twitter and follow @scotlibdems, who have finally made it into the world of microblogging. They are at the Royal Highland Show (one of the events of the year up here) in the lifestye (?) section and will be tweeting from there as well as providing us with bite sized chunks of haggis, neeps and liberalism in the future.

I was lucky enough to get an e-mail from somebody who will remain anonymous asking me to publicise this new account and suggesting wording for a #followfriday Twitter post which included the words "I urge you". Forgive me from deviating from that particular script!

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Costigan and Charlotte reach new heights of brilliance...

Mr Quist is not always right but can be relied upon to be pertinent and occasionally outrageous and provocative.

I'm not at all jealous that he seems to have found the literary equivalent of the fountain of eternal youth at the moment and has come up with another brilliant post. Go read it. Now. And while you're at it, read Charlotte's original. She was complaining about writers' block recently. If this is what she produces in that situation...........

Those two have the Golden Dozen between them this week, I can see it.

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Sad Times: RIP Farrah Fawcett and Michael Jackson

Losing a childhood heroine was quite enough for one day, thank you very much. When I was 10, I loved Charlie's Angels. I had all the dolls, and ironically for the peace loving hippy I eventually became, spent huge amounts of time hiding behind corners with pretend guns as my friends and I made up new adventures for Sabrina, Jill and Kelly around the streets of Inverness. In subsequent years I watched as she tackled challenging roles, particularly in the terrifying and chilling Extremities where she played a victim of rape who ultimately overpowered her attacker and Small Sacrifices where she played a mother who shot her children.

I hadn't felt at all well yesterday and had been in bed until around 8pm. I got up and spent some time with Anna and was just about to go back to bed when I noticed on Twitter that there were rumours going round that Michael Jackson had been taken to hospital after reportedly suffering a cardiac arrest. I remember one of the Lib Dem Voice people, I think it was Rob Fenwick, making a comment about how ridiculous it was that Sky News were making a fuss about a report on one website. I wish he'd been right.

Rather than sensibly go to bed, I sat up until midnight until the news of Jackson's death had been confirmed, chatting away with people on Facebook and Twitter like you do these days. I'm going to write more about all of this later, but whatever the controversies and the flaws, his music was revolutionary, innovative, and fantastic, combined with the most amazing and brilliant dance moves. Who's ever going to top the Moonwalk? In the end of the day, as Paul Gambaccini said on BBC Breakfast, it's all about the music. In years to come everything else will be a side story and it'll be the music that people will remember first.

A childhood heroine and the musical icon of my teenage years and beyond. In one day. Sad times.

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Thursday, June 25, 2009

Steve Webb secures Government u-turn on MPs' pensions

I've often said that what Steve Webb, Lib Dem MP for Northavon, doesn't know about pensions isn't worth knoowing. It was Steve who spotted that some women may have lost out because the Government didn't inform those who hadn't paid NI contributions for several years at the end of the 90s/beginning of this decade and was able to ensure that they wouldn't be penalised.

Anyway, this isn't my story to tell, so I'll link to his account of how he ensured that taxpayers' contribution to MPs' pensions has been frozen.

He recognises that this is an interim measure as the MPs' pensions are going to have to be much more intensively reviewed and reformed.

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Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Teams triumph as peace breaks out in Formula One

I've waited a while before blogging because I wanted to make sure that it wasn't all Max Mosley spin, but it seems that peace has broken out in Formula One.

It looks like both sides are trying to claim victory but the detail in the FIA statement bears a remarkable resemblance to what the teams wanted. Ferrari seem happy with the outcome and have received the assurances they wanted about future governance of the sport. I particularly liked the phrase "to avoid continuous change being decided by one person alone." Can't think who they might have meant!

On the face of it, with talk of cost reductions being phased in over two years, and next year being run on this year's regulations, it looks very much as if FOTA has triumphed. As an added bonus, it also appears that Max Mosley is going to stand down, which is fabulous news for the sport. I won't believe it until I see him walking down the Place de la Concorde (Paris HQ of the FIA) with his belongings in a cardboard box and someone else actually in the role of President, though. He's changed his mind on this so many times that it's not so much a u-turn but a spin that young Nelson Piquet Jr would be proud of.

I'm glad that all the major players are now committed to the sport for at least another 3 years. A FOTA breakaway could have worked, but it's better that things are resolved. Mind you, the FOTA draft timetable leaked the other day had favourite circuits like Adelaide, Suzuka and Imola on it, as well as taking Monaco off F1 and having a race in Helsinki. Whether this was someone's wish list on the back of an envelope or a serious timetable we'll never know, but maybe Bernie should have a look at it in more detail.

Let's hope that the only ferocious fights we have for the next wee while are on the track as the focus shifts back to what's important - the racing.

Classy Clegg shows Cameron how it's done

For weeks PMQs has been stuck in a quagmire. On one hand, you get an onslaught of planted questions about Tory spending cuts from the Labour benches. Then you get Cameron slagging of the Government's spending predictions. And so on. It's all been rather meaningless and there is very little concrete discussion on future policy.

Nick Clegg made a more relevant contribution to this debate in a few short seconds than Tom Brown and Jerry Cameron had made in weeks. He got the obligatory soundbite about the Government going nowhere (this Government only has reverse gear left) in first. Then, in his supplementary question, he pointed out that both Cameron and Brown are ignoring the fact that tough decisions have to be made in the future - the Lib Dems have already come up with ideas like not replacing Trident, taking tax credits away from high earning families and abolishing baby bonds to reduce the deficit and he asked what were the Government going to do about it? Brown tried to swat him down with a partisan retort - which completely missed the point of what Nick was saying. Nick, and the wonderful Vince, have been totally supportive of spending our way out of recession. Sure, they've had a bit to say about the Government's cack handed way of doing it, but, yes, they've said all along we need investment now.

It's a complete no brainer that we'll have to take a long hard look at public spending in the future - and Nick injected some light into a debate that's been so far fuelled with bile and hot air from the others.

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Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Sarah and the Brawn GP Boys

I've mentioned Sarah, one of the stars of the F1 Twitterverse before. She's the one who designed the Save F1 - Max Out avatar that many of us have used and adapted. It was quite fun to get messages from friends who don't follow F1 on Friday, when the breakaway series was announced, saying that now they realised what it was all about!

Anyway, she was lucky enough to spend Sunday, British Grand Prix day, at a party at Brawn GP HQ and got to meet Ross Brawn and Rubens Barrichello later. She's written up her experience here which also has a link to her many photos of stars, trophies and the famous car (or at least a model of it)!

I will confess to a certain amount of sheer jealousy, but also gratitude that she was good enough to share her insights with the rest of us.

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Dragging the Commons into the 21st Century

It was great to see Liberal Democrat MP Sandra Gidley drag (or more accurately gently push)new Speaker John Bercow to the Chair. This tradition is a relic of the time where Speakers ran interference between the Monarch and Parliament and were liable to end up either in jail or minus vital body parts. Given the lengths to which the Tories hate his guts, several hundred years ago, they would probably all have voted for Bercow in the hope that he would meet some unsavoury end. As an aside, let's hope that the Tories can be grown up and give the guy a chance in his new role. No, I don't think so either!

I found the actual process of installing Mr Bercow as Speaker quite fascinating and made my daughter watch it with me. It was quite low key - we had silly costumes but no trumpets but a fascinating lesson in how old fashioned our way of doing things is. It's not enough for the House to just elect a Speaker. Like everything else that goes on in the place, it has to be approved by the Queen. Now, of course, she's not going to say no, but the principle just completely sticks in my throat.

Clearly there was no way Her Maj was going to give up watching Today at Wimbledon, Holby City and Big Brother (I had thought EastEnders, but Andrew put me very firmly in my place on that one by tweeting to me: "Silly girl. Her Majesty has been watching WImbledon, then Holby and now getting ready for Big Brother - obviously") to traipse a mile down the Mall at 10pm to give her permission in person. To get round this a Royal Commission, comprising the leaders of the groupings in the Lords, chaired by Lord Chancellor Jack Straw, ironically. Even 20 years ago, shock waves would have reverberated round Westminster if an MP had been given a job that required him to sit in the Lords. Gordon Brown did it - but, unfortunately, this is as cutting edge and radical as he's been so far.

So it's quite strange that Jack Straw gets to sit in both houses of Parliament in the same day - but only in the House of Lords did he have to wear a very silly costume that looked like it wouldn't have been out of place in a Gilbert and Sullivan opera - a gold robe with a tri-corn hat which he and his fellow Commissioners had to keep taking off at irregular intervals. I wonder if they rehearsed it all.

The Official Hansard record of the ceremony is here so if you like that sort of thing you can enjoy the old fashioned language. the Commons part of the proceedings is here. It struck me as being as out of date as a woman promising to obey her husband at her wedding. Does anyone do that anymore?

The Official Record doesn't quite capture the whole occasion. Black Rod, on his first official outing since his appointment, was sent from the Lords - not with any frills and lace, though, because it wasn't a State occasion (another weird tradition) - to summon the Commons. Like at the State opening of Parliament, the door was slammed on his face. He banged on it with great vigger (his real name is Freddie Viggers, sorry, couldn't resist). In a sign that the Commons has perhaps moved on from mediaeval times, it has adopted one new tradition in the last 30 years or so - the dog's abuse given to Black Rod every time Black Rod goes in there by Dennis Skinner, the Member of Parliament for Bolsover, who pointed out that "it's a new one". What on earth are they going to do when he's no longer there? The Government of the day will have to appoint someone to fulfil that role!

MPs then duly all trooped through to hear Jack Straw (or the Lord Chancellor as we must call him when he's in that room) proclaim the Queen's approval.

John Bercow then accepted his Commission with the traditional words that I don't know if he'd managed to learn, or whether he had them written on his shirt sleeve:

"My Lords, I submit myself with all humility and gratitude to Her Majesty’s royal will and pleasure. I pray that if, in the discharge of my duties and in the maintenance of the rights and privileges of the Commons House of Parliament, I should inadvertently fall into error, it may be imputed to me alone and not to Her Majesty’s faithful Commons."

I'm not entirely sure, but I think that means that if he screws up, the Queen should only chop his head off and not the MPs'!

Bercow is going to have his work cut out for him. It's not whether the place should be reformed, it's where to start. There's the travesty that it has a shooting gallery and not a creche. There are faintly ridiculous traditions which are quite intimidating for most MPs because they are just ridiculed if they get them wrong. Personally, I'd rather an MP's mind was on what they were saying and how they were voting than whether they were standing in the right place or using the right form of anachronistic language.

Look at this exchange from last week's PMQs:

(David Cameron) Will everyone not conclude that if you cannot be straight with people, you are simply not worthy to be our Prime Minister?

Mr. Speaker: Order. Even though it is my last day, the Leader of the Opposition knows that the term “you” is not something that I approve of, and I think that the candidates at all these hustings will be saying that they do not approve of it either.

So, it's quite possible to be completely insulting and disrespectful to someone, but Cameron's mistake was to use the word "you" rather than the Prime Minister.

What worried me was Martin's comment that the new Speaker would most probably continue in the same vein. I doubt it would invoke a thunderbolt from on high if people were referred to by their names, or as you, rather than "the honourable member for (wherever)". Just like we learned that the earth wasn't flat, maybe it's time to learn that these rules make Parliament look very remote from ordinary people. No wonder they think what goes on in there has no relevance to me.

For the traditionalists, what I'm saying suggests civilisation falling around our hears. I'm suggesting you speak to each other as adults and use each other's names, not that you rap your way through your speeches while riding a unicycle.

Jo Swinson was talking about this kind of thing on Woman's Hour today and her contribution is worth a listen.

There are traditions that are part of the history of the country and a bit of ceremonial has its place, after all, we all love an occasion - but the Speaker's challenge is to get Parliament and the people closer together. Getting rid of everything that impedes that process is his first priority.

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Monday, June 22, 2009

Bercow wins!

So John Bercow is the new Speaker after winning by 322 votes to 271 for Sir George Young, a healthy margin, much more so than the 5 that Tom Harris had tweeted a few minutes before and I immediately re-tweeted to everyone. I'm not going to slag him, though - it was good of him to share, in good faith, information that he could have kept to himself.

Anyway, as you know I was none to impressed with Bercow's effort earlier this afternoon, but I found myself warming to him when he was dragged to the Speaker's Chair by, among others, our very own Sandra Gidley. His speech was genuine, quite emotional in his reference to his family and he seemed to understand both the public anger and the feelings of MPs which is a good start if you are going to start on a process of change.

And what's with the PM? Gordon Brown was in excellent form this evening - he even cracked jokes that were funny - reminding Bercow of a previous Speaker who was acceptable to the House but not the Monarch, and teasing him about his political views - that he's abandoned them many years before. He was almost sparkling!

So, let's hope that the Tories, who have until now hated his guts, knuckle under and behave themselves and that Bercow will live up to his promise and be a genuinely reforming Speaker. I think there is cause for cautioius optimism as they say.

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Speaker election - MPs, what are you thinking?

Bloody hell, MPs. Parmjit Dhanda as I said earlier wasn't perfect, but he gave a fantastic speech - talking of taking Parliament round the country, being modern and inclusive and giving power away. Surely to goodness he deserved more than 26 votes. I can't believe it. Actually I can. Bunch of middle aged reactionaries! He should not have been ousted so early on. This is such a good argument for STV and preferential voting as I think he'd have picked up a lot of second preferences.

James Graham has just done a fabulous tweet saying:The MPs could be in the pub by now if only they could figure out how to write numbers on ballot papers instead of putting an X. Fucktards." Quite!

Anyway, it looks as if it's going to be Bercow v Young. Given that choice, I'd go for Young. Bercow's speech just didn't do it for me and he seemed a bit Blairesque.

Voting was as follows:

Bercow 179
Young 112
Beckett 74
Haslehurst 66
Beith 55
Widdicombe 44

Lord, Dhanda, Cormack and Shepherd were eliminated.

Their total vote was 63. It will be interesting to see where that goes. Dhanda's should by rights go to Beith if people want a real reformer, and so should Shepherd's. We'll see.

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Speaker Election - how did they perform?

Beckett - deeply uninspiring and already so many reasons not to vote for her. No way.

Beith - My first choice - real reformer, means what he says, one of only two to bother about mentioning diversity.

Widdecombe - assured, confident, but very very scary. I know house needs shaking up, but if she's going to deliver a short sharp shock and then disappear at election, then I'm not keen. I mean, I was struck by the thought that the Tory approach to youth justice, ie lock em up and teach them a lesson, just increases reoffending.

Dhanda - What a star! Mentioned how chamber should reflect modern Britain, Twitter, giving power away. Am a bit worried that he's been a Minister. In fact, have just checked his voting record. I don't care whether he was a minister or not, being very strongly against an enquiry into Iraq and moderately against a transparent Parliament is not a good sign. By their deeds shall ye know them and all that. Was briefly seduced but now not so sure.

Lord/Haslehurst - no, no and thrice no. As Deputy Speakers they are responsible for the current failings. There were more of them than there were of Michael Martin. They could have done more to refocus power in Parliament and not with the Government. Also Tom Watson likes both and Tom Harris like Haslehurst. That in itself good reason to avoid.

Cormack - I didn't connect with him at all. You have to give him respect as a senior MP but he just seem so much like one of "them".

Shepherd - I liked him and could live with him as Speaker - he's clearly trod his own path as an FOI campaigner and whistleblower champion. Not my first choice but he'd be better than most. Thought it a bit weird that he said he'd fight contested General Election, though. Surely not as a Tory, and under Speaker's colours? However the fact that Tom Watson wasn't impressed is an added bonus.

Bercow - I was disappointed with him, particularly as he played the clown for so much of his speech. There was a nice touch when he said that he would like to be a Speaker and a listener. There's also the fact that we'd have the head of the Government trying to dodge the Labour knives being thrown at his back and the Speaker trying to dodge the Tory ones aimed at his front if he won.

Young - liked him and could live with him. He seemed sincere and had a grasp of what needed to be done and where the power needed to b?

So, after all that, if it were an STV election, how would I vote?

Cormack/Lord/Haslehurst blending into one
Widdecombe (on the basis that we'd only have to put up with her for 11 months
Beckett (know there's no point but it's one of these last place out of spite votes)

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Beware the Tories' new best friends

The Tories have kept one Euro election promise - they have managed to form a new group in the European Parliament with the rag, tag and bobtail of social reactionaries across the continent.

The thing that binds these parties together is an ideological, dogmatic approach to Europe. They would rather member states preserved isolation at all costs rather than work together on the issues where it is both practical and sensible to do so - in financial regulation, crime and climate change being examples that spring to mind.

For all that David Cameron tries to make out that the Tories are born again fluffy, cuddly and tolerant, their new best friends have very different approaches.

Take, for example, the rampantly homophobic Polish Law and Justice Party, whose leader thinks that gay people shouldn't be allowed to be teachers and that "The affirmation of homosexuality will lead to the downfall of civilization. We can't agree to it".

And that's just the icing on the cake. The Independent on Saturday contained this article which outlined a few of the rather bizarre policies of members of the new group - from thinking that women shouldn't stand for Parliament to some horribly racist campaigns particularly against Islam.

It's relevant as well that Cameron's move has taken him out of step with people like Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy, who he will have to negotiate with if he were ever to become PM. I wonder what they think of him taking off and playing house with that bunch of xenophobic bigots. I can't imagine for a minute his actions will do much for his credibility and again the UK will find itself as the laughing stock of Europe.

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If you read nothing else today.....

the wonderful Mr Quist has got it spot on with this post about how people expect so much from their MPs but don't want to pay for it.

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Beckett the Unspeakerable

The very fact that Labour whips are rumoured to be in favour of Margaret Beckett winning the speakership is reason enough to hope against hope that she does not get in this afternoon.

It's barely two weeks since she left ministerial office - her mindset is bound to be that of defending the government, rather than defending the rights of Parliament to scrutinise the Government effectively.

It would not surprise me if there were collusion between reactionary Labour and Tory forces to ensure that the person who is elected is not going to carry out the reforms that are necessary. It's not so much a new broom that's needed, but an industrial deep steam clean and there's still a battle to be had between the reactionary old forces who want to keep going on as before and those who really want to transform our democracy into one fitting for the 21st century.

I have to say that I thought Nick Clegg was awesome on the Andrew Marr show yesterday. The full transcript of the interview is here on the AM website. The bit that stood out for me was his vision of what a Speaker should do -

"I want to see a Speaker who transforms the role of Speaker from the traditional role - which is a defender of the status quo, almost a shop steward of the rights and privileges of MPs - into a people's Speaker, into a Speaker who opens up parliament, turns from this 19th century institution into a modern, transparent, open, publicly accessible 21st century parliament. And whichever of the candidates persuades me that they really mean that tomorrow, I will vote for them."

Electing the establishment's finest in Mrs Beckett would be the turkeys voting for Christmas option in terms of Parliament exercising its rights over the Government - so don't do it, ok?

I'm looking forward to watching it all unfold this afternoon. I shall watch the speeches and then, when it all gets boring in between the rounds of voting, there's always Wimbledon to keep me amused. Happy days!

You can find more information on how they are going to elect the Speaker here and if you're out and about you can follow the proceedings on Twitter here

UPDATE: Funnily enough, I'm not alone in my antipathy to Mrs Beckett being installed in the Speaker's Chair. So are Alex, Mark, Stephen, Bernard, Wit and Wisdom, that fabulous elephant and adorable Andrew who in fairness doesn't decry Beckett but does have a go at the political shenanigans of the Government whips.

Now I'm going to get some Earl Grey and go and watch the proceedings unfold.

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Sunday, June 21, 2009

Stephen puts Iain Dale in his place

Almost as exciting as Shumi being on Top Gear was the selection of local businesswoman April Pond as Liberal Democrat candidate for the Norwich North by-election.

It was clear from the start that April would be a fantastic MP given her strong record of campaigning in the area, helping small businesses and to working to save the local hospital, however it's always an added bonus if the opposition is wound up.

Tory blogger Iain Dale had a bit of a go at April on his site within hours of her being selected. I've tried to link to the exact story but for some reason Blogger is playing up so I can't, but you'll find it in the general direction of here.

Dale was swiftly put in his place by the indomitable Stephen who exposed its hypocrisy given the actions of Tory candidates in Scotland.

Dale should be ashamed at himself for using some really nasty sexist language in his piece and owes April a huge apology for effectively calling her a whore.

Nice work, Mr Glenn!

UPDATE 22 June: I commented to the effect of the above, and also pointing out that there's a fair chunk of Norwich North in the soon to be constituency of Broadlands, on Iain Dale's blog last night:

"I can almost get you wanting to make trouble, even if you don't have a case, given that as I understand it the sson to be formed Broadlands constituency and the Norwich North one share some territory.

However, to do so using such misogynistic, sexist terminology is appalling and if you do nothing else, you should withdraw that and apologise to April."

And look at the firestorm that followed from Iain:

"Get over yourself. There's nothing worse in politics than holier than thou, sanctimonious LibDems on the rampage. What else would you call it then?".

The comments, I would suggest, of a man who has seriously screwed up and he knows it.

In the end of the day, this is about Iain Dale calling a female political opponent a whore. Not a term, I suggest, that he would use about a man. I still think he owes April an apology for that. I backed him up when the odious Derek Draper called him racist but he has well overstepped the mark here.

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Be still my beating heart....and a slap in the face with a wet fish for Rob Fenwick

How much excitement can a girl take in one day?

The last British Grand Prix at Silverstone - although it might not be so I didn't actually cry.

The Stig on Top Gear being revealed to be Michael Schumacher. Well, obviously it's not, but it was a nice ruse to start the series with. Great footage of him driving his Ferrari FXX. I always wondered why Ferrari missed the last 2 x's of the name of that car. I mean, who the fxxx is going to hand over a cool £1.3 million for a car that Ferrari don't even let you take home.

Anyway, it was so fabulous to see Schumi. I think he's always been a fairly normal, warm human being in real life, but those are not characteristics that are normally associated with him. He did well to cope with Jeremy's teasing about cheating and even cracked a joke or two. He looked like he was enjoying himself and did get a pretty rapturous reception from the audience. Null points for the above mentioned Mr Fenwick, though, for the following tweet: "The Stig's helmet has come off, and he looks like Lembit Opik"

Interspersed with all of this were reports from the Brawn GP party, of meeting Jenson Button, Rubens Barrichello and lovely genius Ross. This is not my story to tell but you can guarantee that when the person concerned does tell it, I'll link to it.

Think I need a cup of hot milk and a lie down to recover from all of that...

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Peter Cushing, Whitstable, the awesome Jennie Rigg, a plea for a geek, and a meme

The brilliant Ms Rigg has started novel way of doing a blog round up feature. Jennie is one of my favourite bloggers - I recently described her as "brimming with imagination, irreverence, the right amount of darkness and a tiny little sprinkling of evil in its purest form." I wonder if she'll consider that a quote

Part of her new "The Blood is the Life" feature incorporates a meme, with a self-tagging mechanism which I will repeat here. If you wish to take part, comment to this, include the words "Peter Cushing lives in Whitstable" in your comment and I will then ask you five questions which you must answer truthfully and then make a similar offer on your own blog. I was actually going to change the words, but when I understood where she'd got the phrase from, Ithought I'd keep it and share with you. It's very funny.

Anyway, here are the questions she asked me and their answers:

1, What made you get into Formula 1?

Hot, red, sexy Ferraris, especially driven by Jean Alesi who was so passionate and aggressive on the track. But generally, the scream of the engine, the skill of the drivers, who earn every single penny of their exorbitant salaries, the genius of watching the teams work together to find n extra tenth of a second. It's sexy and dramatic and amazing and I could go on about it forever but I won't.

I think what completely held my interest was the symbiotic relationship between lovely genius Ross and maybe not so lovely but absolutely compellingly brilliant Michael Schumacher. One built fabulous cars, the other took them to within a thousandth of a millimetre of destruction to achieve unprecedented success.

Oh, and if any geek has any idea why I can't get on to the Brawn GP website on my laptop, please help me. The creaky old wind up computer upstairs can get on it but it takes forever to crank up and I'd love to be able access it from here. It's very strange.

2, Describe your oldest cuddly toy.

It's a Yorkshire Terrier puppy that I saw in a shop in Waverly Market in Edinburgh in 1991 when we were in Scotland for 3 weeks looking after my teenage sister (who was going through one of her obnoxious phases) while my parents were off on a Caribbean Cruise to celebrate their Silver Wedding. I managed to resist it once, but when we were back in town the next week, I had to have it. It loved on my bed for years and now Anna has requisitioned it in the way children do. She's never been one for dolls - but we will soon have to get a bigger house to accommodate all her stuffed animals. Her daddy took her to the school fete a few weeks ago and I thought he might have shown some restraint - but he came back with five more. Honestly!

I adore Yorkies. Some evil people call them horrid names, like rats on strings, but these dogs may be small but they are full of personality. Our family's first one was called Lucy and she completely ruled the roost. She arrived in her house, the size of tuppence, after a very long journey back to Caithness and sat in front of my dad's chair and let out this very insistent, but tiny bark. From that moment, he was smittten with her.

Several years later, my folks were, shall we say, less than impressed when I jacked in university to go and live with a divorced man twice my age. Eventually, they agreed to meet him. Almost the minute we arrived in the house, Lucy came and sat on his knee which led to his acceptance into the family. Given that he might no longer be twice my age, but we've now been together for one week short of 22 years, I'd say the dog showed immaculate judgment.

A year after Lucy, Jamie came along - he was a very gentle dog in all matters apart from his libido, which was legendary. My sister used to dress him in her doll's clothes and push him around in her pram and he just let her. He spent his days being bullied mercilessly by Lucy, but he was a great big soppy loving bundle of fur.

3, What is your favourite radio show?

I thought this would be easy to answer - but when it came to it, there were a few nominations. Special mention has to be given to the BBC's F1 coverage on 5 Live. I love Anthony Davidson's informed and easy to listen to commentary. He describes things in a way that's easy to understand if, like me, you haven't got a degree in aerodynamics and engineering. In fact, I don't even have a Primary school understanding of these things. Then there's Women's Hour -I found out about Harry Potter on that programme, when they interviewed JK Rowling in the very early days. I've gone through phases of the Archers, too but I'm off them at the moment. Then if I'm feeling bloodthirsty, I can listen to Mr H take people apart on the Today programme, although in the mornings I will most often opt for the television, and the bee-keeping sex god that is Bill Turnbull on BBC Breakfast.

Any Questions is sometimes even better than Question Time and Jonathan is definitely less annoying than his brother.

I think it would have to be Just a Minute that takes it, though - it's so funny and a real test of humour and mental agility. It has never failed to make me laugh out loud. I'm listening to last week's on the iPlayer as I type this - it's one with Clement Freud, Peter Jones, Derek Nimmo and Paul Merton which I actually remember from laughing at it at the time and it's still hilarious. If you want to listen to it on iPlayer do so before the end of today.

4, What is your favourite sweet and why?

Does anyone remember the Bubbly? I wasn't allowed bubble gum, but my lovely Granny bought it for me anyway. We used to call into Freddie's on the corner of Innes Street in Inverness on the way home from town and she'd buy me one which I'd savour and make last as long as I could.

5, Why did you join the Lib Dems?

Watching Roots when I was 8 or 9 filled me with a huge sense of anger that human beings could so brutally enslave other human beings so my passion for equality started there. I might have been taken in by Mrs Thatcher in 1979, but it didn't take me long to realise that the Tories were (and still are, don't be fooled) only bothered about protecting the interests of the rich. I abhorred the Labour collectivist approach. This party is an ideal home for someone with a social conscience who respects that people are individuals and celebrates difference and diversity.

I'd like to be able to say that all that was my motivation for getting involved in the SDP in 1983 when I was 15. I'd been impressed with the fact that the Alliance wasn't either Labour or the Tories and went in to their Wick office to ask for a copy of their manifesto. I left with a bundle of leaflets and the rest is history.

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Saturday, June 20, 2009

The picture Max Mosley doesn't want you to see

Yes, I know it's the same one as posted earlier, courtesy of Nickie, but since then I've seen a tweet from someone who said he'd overheard a conversation at the British Grand Prix at Silverstone to the effect that broadcasters had been politely requested by the powers that be not to show Max Out banners.

If that's true, then it's pathetic. It's also very stupid, because it only draws attention to the whole thing.

If you've been to Silverstone with any sort of anti FIA/Max material, take a photo and send it to me at caronsmusingsatgooglemaildotcom and I will happily put it up here! I'm not scared of Max!

The Max Mosley and Bernie Ecclestone School of Charm - Lesson 1

Twitter has been buzzing today with reports from people at the British Grand Prix at Silverstone, including Nickie. She posted this fabulous picture which shows off their very professional looking banner and t-shirts supporting the breakaway teams (FOTA) and politely calling for the removal of the FIA President and the commercial rights holder. They were standing near the pit lane exit.

It's not difficult to sympathise with Nickie and many other fans when you read what the said Max and Bernie have been up to in the last day or so.

Imagine there's a crisis in your world, you've seriously pissed off some key players -in fact, most of the people you work with. They've had enough of your antics and are going to leave you high and dry because you have been such a thrawn, glaikit numpty. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the Scots vernacular, that means a stubborn, ignorant twit. Not only that, but virtually the entire world is pointing the finger at you and blaming you for what's happened. So what do you do?

You would think that you'd try to find some way of making amends, bringing people together, trying to move forward. But then if you were that sensible, chances are this crisis wouldn't have happened in the first place.

No, instead, you try to find a fig leaf of legal protection to hide behind and then give a long interview to the media in which you dismiss the people who are going to walk away from you as "loonies".

That is exactly how FIA President Max Mosley described some people within FOTA to the BBC. You can see the interview here. The BBC's fabulous anchor man gives the impression of handing him just enough rope. The best bits are between about 10 and 13 minutes in.

It's appalling that he could be so dismissive of people who have decades of experience in the sport and whose talents and expertise have built it up to be the worldwide phenomenon that it is now. The whole interview has the tone of a stern parent whose children have run away from home saying "Och, they'll come home when they're hungry." How patronising can you get?

To add insult to injury, you then have the commercial rights holder Bernie Ecclestone, in a live tv interview on the BBC saying, when confronted with the fact that the drivers have so far agreed with FOTA, that "drivers don't think". It was quite funny that he said this in front of David Coulthard, who has had a long and successful driving career and is still the Red Bull test driver.

Thee comments just show the lack of respect Max and Bernie have for the other key players in Formula One. They clearly think that they alone are responsible for its success. It's no wonder the sport's in crisis. I'm surprised the teams have put up with this sort of treatment for so long!

In other F1 news today, the Guardian reports on how the BBC is hopeful of getting out of its contract to show F1 if FOTA breakaway. Ha ha!

Times F1 journalist Ed Gorman tells us why Max Mosley should go.

And lovely Ross tells us F1 belongs to the people

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Three Questions for Eric Joyce MP on his expenses

It wasn't surprising to find that the UK's most expensive MP came from Scotland - I mean if you look at places as far flung as Orkney and Shetland, the Western Isles and the vast highland constituencies, travelling between London and there was going to be expensive enough - and then you have to add on the costs of getting round the place.

But the highest expenses come not from Alistair Carmichael from Orkney and Shetland, but from Eric Joyce who represents Falkirk West, just up the road from me in the central belt. It's a fairly compact constituency, as I remember from campaignng there during the by-election in 2000.

Now that the expenses have been published, even in the heavily "redacted" (isn't redacto a Harry Potter spell?) form that we've been horrified at in the last few days, we find that Mr Joyce made a few claims that at the very least warrant further scrutiny.

Firstly, I'd like to know a wee bit more about the exact consultancy services provided by Ross Martin, who is a close friend of Joyce's and the exact nature of the contractual arrangement between them for that and for the rent or services in property where Mr Joyce has his constituency office in Falkirk.

Secondly, I'm aware that Mr Joyce has, in the last few years, sold a property in Croydon and a flat in Falkirk. He was, to say the very least, evasive, on Newsnight Scotland the other night when asked whether he had paid capital gains tax on either property and particularly on the second home which he'd claimed £120,000 in second home allowance for. He refused to answer on the basis that this might involve someone else's tax affairs and I think it would be helpful to have more information about the exact circumstances. I'd like to know, for all the time he's been an MP, which property has been his second home, has it ever changed and if so, why?

Thirdly, the taxpayers of Falkirk West have become the proud owners of 3 oil paintings, worth a total of £180. When asked about these an unrepentant Mr Joyce said these "looked nice". As he's on Twitter
perhaps he could upload his pictures to Twitpic so we can all see them?

UPDATE: Here is most of that Newsnight interview which a kind person uploaded to You Tube so you can judge for yourself.

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Why Labour really introduced Devolution

The Labour Party was committed to decentralised government across the UK and that was why one of its first major changes was to enable the Scottish Parliament to be set up - it wanted to put power back to the people because it was right to do so.

Aye, right!

I can't stay up late enough to watch "This Week" on Thursdays so I watched it courtesy of the infernal wickedness of Sky Plus last night. They had this segment on Scottish politics with the Proclaimers. This is no great surprise if you think about it, but I was amused to see Diane Abbott saying that English Labour MPs didn't pay too much attention to the legislation because their Scottish colleagues, a powerful block in the Parliamentary Labour Party, had told them that they needed to back it to stuff the SNP!

It certainly was inconsistent for a party which is so centralising and controlling in nature to give power away without some sort of political advantage. They blithely assumed that even with PR they would be able to build another monolithic fiefdom in Edinburgh. If they'd gone into it with a more genuine attitude, then maybe they wouldn't be in the mess they're in now.

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Friday, June 19, 2009

Devine fails to show at constituency surgery

I'm just watching Reporting Scotland and have been horrified to see that Jim Devine failed to show at a constiteuncy surgery in Livingston this afternoon. Devine has been in the news a lot this week after being deselected as MP for Livingston over his expenses claims.

If he's going to stay on as an MP, he can't hide away from local people. If someone goes to see their MP, chances are they are desperate and need urgent help. The least he could have done would have been to send along a local councillor or a member of his staff to at least find out what their problems were so they weren't left over the weekend.

If he can't fulfil his basic obligations as an MP, shouldn't he just resign now?

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F1 - Teams outwit Mosley with new race series

Although I knew the F1 rebels (who actually comprise 80% of the current teams) were meeting last night, I reckoned that nothing much would happen after I went to bed at half past ten. How wrong could I be? After midnight, the Formula One Teams Association announced that Max Mosley, who has been trashing them all week rather than trying to bridge the gap between them, could basically go forth and multiply because they were going to form their own race series. Fed up at Mosley's dictatorial governance of the sport, they have decided to walk away and form their own championship. It may or may not be significant that Lola, who were in prime position to take one of the five places of the teams which had been given conditional entries for next year, withdrew its entry the other day. Whether that is because they wanted to join the FOTA series, or whether they'd just had enough of Max Mosley is yet to be seen.

The extent of Max Mosley's failures in his governance of Formula One cannot be over-emphasised. It's quite some achievement to get all of these teams working together. Only 2 months ago, they were at each others' throats over the issue of Brawn's, Red Bull's and Toyota's double diffuser which the others all wished they had invented. Now, they are together enough to jump ship as one. I can't think of a better analysis of the background to all of this than that provided here and here in the last few days by Doctorvee and would recommend that you read what he has to say.

I think the main reason I'm as passionately behind the FOTA cause as I am is because Ross Brawn is with them. The Lib Dems have St Vincent of Cable, F1 has St Ross of Brawn, it really is that simple! Ross has decades of experience in F1, both in huge organisations (Ferrari), as an employee in an independent team (Williams) and now as owner of his own team, so his perspective is unique. His office is hardly Hissy Fit Central, he's a master strategist and he will have reached his conclusion in a calm, rational and informed manner. As far as I'm concerned, his judgement is trustworthy and credible. I have a soft spot for Brawn as the architect behind the Schumacher success both literally in building him fabulous cars and in making the race day judgemnet calls on strategy. When Rubens Barrichello, who I liked at Ferrari (and for that matter, Jordan before, went to BAR Honda, a bit of my affection went with him and when Honda signed Ross Brawn a few years later, a huge chunk of the rest of it followed.

Five of the breakaway teams are taking a significant risk. For two of them, Brawn and McLaren, racing is their raison d'etre and the jobs of hundreds of people depend on them competing in a championship. They could have just crossed their fingers behind their backs, muttered under their breath and signed up for Mosley's championship but they didn't. You have to assume that they had good reason for not doing so.

I am annoyed that the BBC, whose F1 coverage has until now been perfect, have been portraying the dispute today. They have implied that it's only the FIA and Mosley that want to control costs. The teams have in fact put forward comprehensive proposals for cost reduction and Mosley has simply refused to listen or to compromise in any way.

The biggest sign that Mosley was never interested in finding a solution is his refusal to FOTA's request to move the deadline for unconditional entry from today until 1 July. The teams were bound to stick together as they are reported to have signed a bond at the beginnign of June for $50 million that they would not break ranks within 30 days. Mosley therefore knew that filing unconditional entries now, unless they all agreed, would be financially crippling for any team.

Sara and Charlotte, neither of whom are particularly F1 fans, have made worthwhile contributions on this today. I'm so caught up in it all that it's useful to have a different persective on it.

I'm actually glad, in a week where we have seen a series of destructive statements from the FIA and a sniffy we're not getting involved in this statement and counter statement lark from FOTA, that the teams have taken the initiative and done something positive. While I'd much rather see all the teams compete in F1 next year, I'm glad that FOTA walked away to hopefully form something better before Mosley publicly assassinated Formula 1 by throwing its stars out. It looks like FOTA, far from being 10 middle aged men in a room whinging, have actually managed to secure a coalition of drivers and sponsors to back them up.

It well may be that the FIA has the equivalent of men in grey suits who will talk sense into Mosley and a compromise will be reached, but at the moment, it looks like all the best teams are leaving to form their own series and F1 as we have known it up until now will be left with a couple of also rans and the equivalent of a few people pulled in off the street to make up the numbers. I had a horrible thought at one point that it was like when the SDP split, with the majority merging with the Liberal and the rest forming the continuing SDP. Whatever my political differences with David Owen, though, it would be far too harsh on him to compare him to Mosley.

It's not been lost on me either that the only mention the fans have had in all of this has been from the FOTA side. Ferrari mentioned fans on their website the other day and the FOTA statement specifically talked about lower priced tickets for their series. In the only real test of opinion, an internet poll on a fansite with over 2000 votes, FOTA's lead, at 83% to 7% was almost embarrassing.

No doubt there will be lots of drama to come. It's a pity that this will all overshadow the last Grand Prix at Silverstone - although, of course, it will surely have a slot on its calendar for the new series, so it may be au revoir rather than adieu on Sunday.

It'll be interesting to see what will happen with the tv rights - I can't imagine for a minute that broadcasting companies across the globe paid exorbitant sums to watch teams nobody had ever heard of while the likes of Ferrari and McLaren and all the famous drivers were elsewhere. I just hope it's all going to be available on easily accessible television. I already pay the infernal wickedness of Sky more than enough money for my basic package, thank you very much.

It's just being reported by the BBC that the FIA are going to resort to the courts, accusing FOTA in general and Ferrari in particular of breaking, amongst other things, competition law. We'll see how that pans out, but it's not what you'd call a constructive move. It's entirely predictable that the FIA react like this - Mosley is a bully and FOTA are well rid of his poisonous and dictatorial leadership.

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Thursday, June 18, 2009

Heat Magazine TV editor praises Simon Hughes on Twitter

Much as I love Simon Hughes, I can't quite see him featuring in Heat magazine at any point in the future, not even as Torso of the Week. Barack Obama is, I think, the only politician to have been given that honour!

We all know how hard Simon works on behalf of his constituents so it was good to see this praise on Twitter from Heat magazine tv and reviews editor Boyd Hilton:

"MP Simon Hughes on the bus now chatting to his constituents. Officially a Good Bloke. He gets my vote
about 2 hours ago from Tweetie"

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Obama writes note to excuse child from school

Two Obama stories in one day, and this one came to my attention via my friend Jamie, but I couldn't resist this one. While meeting health care workers the other day as part of his plan to reform healthcare, Obama offered to write a note to excuse the 10 year old daughter of one of the audience from school.

What a moment for that wee girl, who is the same age as my daughter! It took me a while to come round to Obama, but I'm there now! Not only does he have ideas and values I can relate to, but he's really good at the people stuff. It's such a relief to have an incumbent of the White House that doesn't make you cringe.

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PETA attack Obama for swatting fly

Well, I suppose it's one way of getting publicity - sending the most powerful man in the world a humane bug killer after he was filmed swatting a fly on tv. Trouble is, most people who read the story will laugh at PETA so when it does come up with something sensible, the credibility of its message will be somewhat diminished.

Flies are disease ridden pests. I wouldn't want one flying around my head. PETA really should get over it.

This brings to mind a rather expletive filled posting from the charming Mr Eugenides earlier this year. When my daughter's teacher advised us to continue to expose her to a wide range of reading materials, I doubt his blog is what she had in mind, but Anna did read that posting about PETA asking the Pet Shop Boys to change their name to the Rescue Shelter Boys to aid animal welfare. Anna is the most fervent animal rights loving child you could ever find, but even she saw the humour in Mr E's posting. We did, however, have a chat about how there was never any chance that the Pet Shop Boys would ever change their name, but how PETA had managed to get the cause of animal shelters lots of free publicity.

And before you dismiss me as completely heartless and uncaring about our animal friends, bear in mind that I'm typing this with a cute baby bunny sitting on my chest!

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Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Is Brawn GP the classiest Formula One team ever?

I'm trying not to think about all the political trauma off the track in F1. In less than 48 hours, the sport I've loved all my life could be effectively destroyed by Max Mosley, the guy who makes the rules and whose hostile, dogmatic and draconian approach has got the sport looking oblivion in the face.

I needed a bit of fun to distract me and this did the trick nicely.

Brawn GP have come from the arse end of nowhere to unprecedented success for a new Formula One team, with Jenson Button winning 6 out of the first 7 races. It would be fantastic if he could pull off a record breaking victory at the last Silverstone race on Sunday.

I've been quite amused by the growing list of commercial "partnerships" they have been announcing in recent weeks. Today it was the classy suits from posh Savile Row tailors. A few weeks ago it was posh organic Italian wine from this rather nice looking Tuscan agroturismo venture. I wonder if this has anything to do with a certain member of their senior management who might have spent, say, a decade living in Italy.

One area where they've been slow off the mark, though - we've yet to see the Brawn GP fishing tackle, in honour of Ross Brawn's passion for fishing which took him on a year long odyssey in 2007 from Russia, to Mexico to Argentina.

Wherever Brawn end up racing next season, it's clear that they like to surround themselves with quality stuff!

Will Home Office offer hope for Chernobyl Children?

In the bear pit that is Prime Minister's Questions, there was a brief moment of respite from the usual mutual slanging and pantomime atmosphere today when Dunfermlne and West Fife MP Willie Rennie asked for a meeting with Gordon Brown to discuss the problems in obtaining visas for children from the north of Ukraine to come to Britain for recuperative holidays. The full exchange is printed below:

"Willie Rennie (Dunfermline and West Fife) (LD): Will the Prime Minister join me in commending the work of the Chernobyl children’s charities, which bring thousands of children over from Belarus every year for recuperative holidays? Will he also explain why the Home Office has decided not to give free visas to the Chernobyl children from the north of Ukraine, who are suffering worse conditions than those from Belarus, and will he meet me and a delegation of the charities to discuss this important issue?

The Prime Minister: I know that the hon. Gentleman has raised this matter on many occasions and has taken a deep interest in it. I also know that he has held an Adjournment debate on it. He is asking about the Home Office and what it can do to help. I suggest that he ask for a meeting with the Home Secretary, and I am sure the Home Secretary will be happy to meet his delegation."

Willie has done a great deal of work on this issue and it's something very close to his heart. He knows the benefits of these holidays, in clean, fresh air, can have for the children. It was good to see the Prime Minister acknowledge the contribution he has made. I hope that the Home Office can be persuaded to lift the visa fee, which runs to several hundred pounds per child for a visit for a few weeks. It should be emphasised that this is not just for enjoyment - but so that these children can spend some time in the clean, fresh air that you and I take for granted.

It was heartening to see a glimpse of humanity and seriousness on both sides today - something that we should really see more often in the House. Politics, and public confidence in politicans, would be a lot better for it.

You can find more information about these holidays here

"Devastated" Devine threatens to force second by-election in Livingston

The BBC is reporting, as I have speculated here on several occasions in the last few days, that Jim Devine, recently deselected MP for Livingston, is threatening to stand down immediately and force the second by-election of this Parliament in Livingston. He's apparently feeling devastated by his treatment by the authorities, but, to be honest, he hasn't yet offered a plausible and consistent explanation of his claims for public money.

I wonder if the NEC sub-Committee will have to think again if the Police investigation Devine invited on his claims leads to nothing - there is always that option, although I think it's unlikely because Labour are not judging on whether the law has been broken.

It isn't clear whether Devine would stand in this by-election because he has also said that he is considering holding out to the General election and standing as an independent.

It would be interesting to see whether the local party, with whom he has had a long association, first as Robin Cook's agent and most recently as MP, would back him or the candidate forced upon them by London Labour high heed yins.

Jeff has speculated that there might be an all women shortlist here which would be interesting given that Devine won in an all male contest in 2005. I remember being completely shocked at the time that they didn't put any effort into ensuring that they had a balanced shortlist, but then I've often found Labour's commitment to equality and diversity to be either dogmatic or patchy. If there is an all woman shortlist, that may not please Bristow Muldoon, the former MSP, who may be interested in standing for Westminster.

Whether it's a by-election now or the general in less than a year, I would be very surprised if Labour holds on to this seat, with or without the intervention of Devine. Their vote has been leeching away and they no longer control the Council. While Devine may have a long association with Livingston Labour, I don't sense any particular affection for him amongst local people - in fact, for those of my friends who have been to see him, it's quite the reverse.

Although the SNP runs the Council in coalition with the hospital campaigners, there is still dissatisfaction with health service provision locally, though, and the SNP Government is not achieving much at Holyrood. They have failed on Police and teacher numbers, their Scottish Futures Trust is a joke and they are being completely thrawn about increasing the powers of the Holyrood parliament. It annoys me that they just go on about independence and nothing else and have not been constructive about the Calman process. There's no huge appetite for independene, but there is for further devolution of power and it's ironic that the biggest barriers to progress and consensus in that regard are not the Tories, for once, but the SNP.

So, whenever it comes, we could see some surprises the next time Livingston goes to the polls.

However, let's leave the last laugh to the BBC's Brian Taylor. I guess someone had to do it...

UPDATE: My good friend Stephen has been doing the shelf joke thing too

UPDATE 2: Mr MacNumpty has been ruminating along similar lines - well not similar to my last main paragraph, of course, but a good read nonetheless.

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