Friday, July 31, 2009

My Second 21st Birthday

Today has been my second 21st birthday. We're spreading the celebrations over several days because I just don't have the energy to do them all at once, but today has been good. A leisurely lie-in reading lovely messages from friends on Twitter and Facebook, and a book about Michael Schumacher. It was particularly fabulous to see that Bob and Anna had stayed up until midnight to specially write on my Facebook wall.

I eventually got up and opened my pressies - some books and the Torchwood Children of Earth DVD, but the best one was the voucher for unlimited hugs and the cards which Bob and Anna had spent ages decorating. Here's Anna's:

My sister and her four children came round for lunch, bringing it and a cake with them. I feel so sorry for poor Laura who, at 16, has just come down with Glandular Fever and has a horrid dose of Tonsilitis as well. She's so brave with it even though she feels awful and is in horrendous pain. It's been a traumatic Summer holiday for the family - her brother had his appendix out the last week of school.

Uncomfortable (but in a funny way) moment of the day came when my sister's ex husband came to pick up two of her children for their holiday with him. He was telling us about his new house and was standing in our kitchen, which, to be honest, had seen tidier days, talking about how dirty the house was when he'd moved into it. I kind of felt like my kitchen was under the scrutiny of Kim and Aggie and wanted the floor to swallow me up.

By the time they left, I was pretty exhausted so I lay on the sofa for a while and we decided that we'd have the special meal we'd planned tomorrow or Sunday. We've just eaten and I am having the first glass of red wine I've had in 6 months. And very nice it is too. All hail Tony Laithwaite. By the way, if you ever want to buy some cases of wine by mail order, this is the company to go with. Their call centre is the friendliest ever. I grant you, they do have a nice job, it's not like they're the tax people, but they cannot do enough for you. I hope we haven't dented their profits too much as we haven't really been buying wine this year cos I've been too ill to drink it.

Thinking all the way back to my first 21st birthday, that was spent similarly surrounded by family and friends. We went out to Kavio's, a brash but friendly Italian in Leith. Then, I had no idea that 26 days later, I'd be married, but that's another story.

Michael Schumacher courts controversy over test request

He's barely been back in the game 48 hours but already Michael Schumacher has caused controversy in the Formula One World. To be fair, there's not much sign of it in the actual Formula One World, but there's been a huge amount of debate on Twitter today.

The reason is that Ferrari, having given Schumacher a run in a 2007 Ferrari, have asked the FIA, with the backing of FOTA, the teams' organisation, to let him have a day's testing in this year's car. This would be an exception to the rules which prohibit in season testing.

I'm pretty relaxed about Ferrari's request and, in an acid test, I would feel the same way if one of my least favourite teams, McLaren and Williams, were asking the same thing.

Much has been said in the Twitterverse about Schumacher having rules bent for him that weren't broken for 19 year old rookie Jaime Alguersueri for his F1 debut last weekend. For a start, Toro Rosso is part of FOTA, who have agreed to the Schumacher test. Secondly, we don't know whether their team prinicpal Franz Tost asked for a day's testing for Jaime. Frankly, if I had been him, I would have done. I would have wanted to make sure that my new driver was comfortable with the car and could actually turn a corner in it. Mind you, if I had been him, I wouldn't have sacked Sebastien Bourdais the race before upgrading the car in the first place, but that's another story.

All the teams are in agreement that the rules on in season testing are daft, anyway, so I expect they wouldn't see much harm to Ferrari's request.

There's also an argument to allow it on the ground of fairness to the driver. All the drivers who started the season were all able to test this year's model of the car before they raced in Australia. Surely anybody new who comes on to the grid should be given the same opportunity.

I would certainly say that the car Schumacher tests should be identical to the one they raced at the Hungaroring last week, with no new added bits to give the team an unfair advantage, but I think Ferrari may been helpful in setting a useful precedent that will help new drivers in the future.

I thought it was terrible and potentially unsafe to force Jaime Alguesuari out to do his first ever run in the car he was supposed to be racing on Sunday 48 hours beforehand in front of the world's motorsport press. If Toro Rosso didn't request testing for him, then it's a scandal. Michael Schumacher is no rookie, but by the same token, he should be able to drive a fair distance in the car just to get his body used to the g-forces a race puts you under. You can't blame Ferrari for being more ahead of the game and I think they've made a smart move.

UPDATE: James Allen, who is undeniably better placed to know these things, says that that other teams aren't unanimous in giving their agreement to this so the actual test won't happen. He gives some good insights into what it will be like for Schumacher has he gets up to speed with an F1 car again.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Explosions hit Mallorcan holiday resort

This is the first year for a long time that we haven't spent at least a fortnight in Mallorca. We have loved the island since we first went there together some 16 years ago and have made friends there that we look forward to seeing every year. We learn something new about the island every single year and I have missed our holiday there very much. We hope to go back as soon as we can.

So, you can imagine that I'm quite shocked to see that a car bomb has exploded yards from a hotel where we have stayed twice and where we usually pop in to visit at least once when we're over. In fact I suspect that some of the footage in the BBC report was shot from its sun terrace. Unfortunately two Guardia Civil officers have been killed in the explosion.

We've noticed each year that the island has not seemed quite so busy as firstly the Germans and then we British have expanded our horizons and headed out of the Eurozone to places like Croatia. It's not insignificant that entertainments director at the main hotel we stay in has been sent to a new aquisition in Croatia for this season. So there was a decliine anyway. Every time we went over we noticed that certain shops, or restaurants or hotels were no longer open.

This has been going on for some time, as I say, but this year, Spain in general is expecting a 10% drop in visitor numbers which includes 16.6% less from Britain.

This is the background in which some murderous and cynical apologies for human beings decide to try to make things even worse for the island's struggling economy. They choose a Thursday lunchtime, just as the weekend rush is starting, knowing that they are going to completely disrupt flights throughout the whole of one of the busiest weekends of the year, just as the English school holidays are getting underway. Thursdays to Sundays are absolutely manically busy at the airport, with the peak number of flights arriving between Friday night to Saturday night. We tend to avoid the airport at all costs on a Saturday.

The authorities have sealed off all the ports and airports to try to ensure that those responsible for this horrible attack can't get off the island. It's the right thing to do in the circumstances, but the inevitable consequences are going to be days of chaos.

None of the stranded holidaymakers will be suffering as much as the families of the Police Officers who were killed, though.

It may be that this is a cruel attempt by Basque Separatists ETA to remind us that they still exist, 50 years on. There have been various, fruitless attempts to find a peaceful solution, but in the last couple of years, after a ceasefire was broken, ETA activity is starting to increase again.

Let's hope that the new European Parliament puts its mind to trying to find a solution that everyone can live with so that we don't have to see any further violence.

Caron's Corkers

Not so much time for blogging at the moment as still feeling rubbish. At least doctor has found a reason for it so let's hope the new drugs do the trick.

Won't be around much today as we are looking after my sister's four lovely children while she's on a work course. Can you all please keep your fingers crossed for:

a) no fighting
b) no accidents
c) me not to catch Tonsilitis from Laura. I promise I didn't give her the Glandular Fever she also has, poor thing. I remember 14 years ago looking after her when she had Chicken Pox as an almost 3 year old - she gave me that! I feel so sorry for her cos Glandular Fever is bad enough by itself without anything else on top.

Anyway, a few links to some fabulous blog postings I've found over the last few days:

Wasn't sure whether to include the strategy to get STV on the voting reform ballot paper (are you listening, Nick Clegg?) or this brilliant expose of tabloid hypocrisy from the quill of Mr Quist, but I'm in a generous mood, so you can have both.

A heartbreaking article from the Sunday Times from one father with a racing driver son about another whose son, Henry Surtees, was killed in a terrible accident a couple of weeks ago.

There are times I could curse Tom Harris, and this is one of them. I don't like agreeing with him, it brings me out in hives, especially when he quotes Tony Blair, but he's right on this one. Sure, they can always do better and we need wholesale reform of the system, but MPs are, pretty much, a good bunch.

I'm not religious, but I found something to learn in Kelvin's sermon about how his Church is dealing with the issues of minimising the risk of spreading Swine Flu during Communion.

Doctorvee, moonlighting on Scottish Unionist showing he understands federalism, possibly better than many Liberal Democrats. One of the blog postings of the year for me.

Finally, some Ferrari freebies on offer if you sign up for the Brits on Pole newsletter. a site dedicated to following the fortunes of British drivers. It's worth reading, even without the bribe.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Michael Schumacher in surprise Ferrari return.

Ok, I want to know who Stephen's mole in Ferrari is, but it turns out he called it right. Michael Schumacher is indeed going to replace the injured Felipe Massa at the European Grand Prix in Valencia. In a way I'm annoyed at them for announcing it so far in advance - I'm not sure I can bear to wait 23 days to see him in action!

One of the first posts I made on this blog was the day Schumi retired. He's such a special talent that even if the car isn't up to much, it'll be so exciting to watch him drive.

I did wonder what was going on when Willi Weber, Michael's manager, denied the speculation so quickly. I seem to remember him doing the same when there were rumours that Michael would move from Benetton to Ferrari for the 1996 season - and a few days later, the announcement being made.

I am genuinely torn about who to support in Valencia. Schumacher was part of that special team at Ferrari that included Ross Brawn and Rubens Barrichello so my heart has been with the Brawn team all season. Ross looked so miserable at the end of the Hungarian Grand Prix on Sunday so my instinct is to want Rubens to win, Michael to come second and Jenson third. Mind you, I guess Brawn would be happy with two of the first three places, so maybe it would be fabulous to see that Schumi jump on the podium. Much as I like Sebastian Vettel, his victory leap just isn't the same.

It'll also be interesting to see Michael come back without Ross in his ear giving him the killer strategy at a circuit he's not driven at. I expect that whatever the result, he'll be thrilling and exciting. I can't wait.

UPDATE: Yousuf has done an absolutely brilliant Schumi retropsective. If you do nothing else today, read it......

UPDATE 2: Excellent article from Duncan on Schumi's return. Not for the first time, I think that a job offer for this man in motorsport journalism is long overdue. His knowledge, going back to days before he was born, is awesome.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Desperate Labour attacks David Kerr for filming with guns

Are there no depths to which Labour will not sink in their attempts to drag down SNP candidate in the Glasgow North East SNP candidate David Kerr.

I've only just really caught up with the Sunday papers and found this report in the Sunday Herald where Labour candidate calls for Kerr to apologise to the people of Glasgow for an item he filmed in a Tesco car park in Springburn. Particularly pathetic was their insistence that "the incident could have alarmed others and questioned Kerr's judgment". Now, I've been lucky enough never to come across a random gunman in a Tesco car park, but if I ever did, I doubt he'd be dressed in a suit and surrounded by a film crew. I think it would have been pretty obvious that nobody was in any danger.

The idiocy of this sort of approach is that they miss the reasons to tell people of the many and varied reasons there are not to vote SNP. They've failed on class sizes, teacher numbers, their Scottish Futures Trust is a joke. They've had to back down on stupid ideas like banning under 21s from buying alcohol in off licenses and privatising Scotland's forests. I hope they are forced to climb down on their appalling, centralising plans for the Police Force too. It would be ridiculous for decisions about policing in Orkney or Caithness to be made in Edinburgh.

And I haven't even got round to mentioning their lauding it round the international stage pushing the cause of independence at our expense. Oh, wait...

On many important issues, the SNP just gets it wrong.

David Kerr got it wrong on G-Cal and deserves everything he gets for that, but the attempts of the Labour portray to wrongly portray him as some sort of gun toting religious maniac are at best tasteless. It just shows how little they have to say for themselves.

I guess we're going to get more heat than light from Labour and the SNP for the next 4 months until the by-election. Oh joy!

Government Soldiers' Compensation Shame

I never fail to be horrified at how horrendously badly this Government (and others before it to be fair) treats those who work for it. We see repressive and toxic management cultures in many Government Departments which stifle innovation and create environments where bullying flourishes.

The Armed Forces, though, seem to come off particularly badly. Successive Governments abuse the willingness of men and women to make huge sacrifices for our country by failing to look after them properly. They send people to serve in war zones without the proper equipment, knowing that their families are struggling in substandard military housing. They even try to do them out of leave days by counting the time they spend travelling back from places like Iraq and Afghanistan as leave, giving them less time to spend with their families. When I was in the Civil Service, if I spent an hour and a half travelling to Birmingham for a course, then I got that time back and I can't imagine it's changed for the office based staff now.

So, that's bad enough. But today we have plain wicked. How dare the Government spend our taxes appealing the relatively modest increases in compensation awards for two injured servicemen. This is every bit as bad as denying the Gurkhas the right to live here.

Basically what the Government is saying that if you are injured in the line of duty, you only get compensated for the injury and not any other complications that injury caused. That makes no sense whatsoever. I presume that means that if you, say, break your hip and for some reason that leads to a blood clot which causes permanent brain damage, then you'd only be compensated for the original fracture, even if you needed lifelong care.

Isn't it time the Government focused its energies on improving conditions for the forces instead of screwing our brave men and women out of every last penny they can? I object to my taxes, probably far in excess of the increased awards, being paid to treat people in this way.

Bob Ainsworth, the defence minister, a supposed champion of the forces, should hang his head in shame. He could stop this, but I'm not holding my breath.

Monday, July 27, 2009

The race to succeed John Barrett

Now that a decent interval has passed since John Barrett announced that he was standing down as MP for Edinburgh West, there will be no doubt be speculation as to who might succeed him as the Liberal Democrat candidate.

Ian Swanson had a couple of guesses in the Evening News, but they were both men. Why would he put two two senior male Lib Dem councillors (who, by the way I think are fabulous) in the frame and not suggest that Jenny Dawe or Marilyne McLaren might put herself forward? Another strong contender would be Siobhan Mathers, who stood for Edinburgh Central in 2007. I have absolutely no idea whether any of them would be interested, but they surely warrant a mention. Other good and credible potential women candidates in Edinburgh include Amy Rodger and Gillian Cole-Hamilton.

I have to say that the Scottish Liberal Democrats' record on gender balance is pretty shocking - only two out of 16 MSPs and one out of 12 MPs are women. It's a record that I'm not even going to attempt to defend. I would like to see that change and for Edinburgh West to select a woman from the strong field available.

Send your message of support to Felipe Massa

It's great that there's been some encouraging news on the condition of F1 driver Felipe Massa. It's great to know that he's now awake and communicating and that the doctors think that he could make a complete recovery from the injuries he sustained in that awful crash on Saturday.

This is better news than we'd heard earlier in the day when it had been suggested that his eye had been damaged to the extent that it might end his career. In fact, the truth is that they simply don't know yet. I'm really fed up with some of the exaggerated and inaccurate speculation that has come out over the last few days - at best it's journalists being sloppy and at worst ghoulishly sensationalist. At the moment the blogosphere and Twitter are kicking the mainstream media into a cocked hat. Rubens Barrichello again updated his Twitter today. It's actually better to have these reports from him because I doubt he would say anything that the Massa family didn't want us to hear.

Fellow Brazilian driver and all round good guy Nelson Piquet Jr, who, as I said before, has earned the admiration of at least the corner of the F1 Twitterverse I inhabit, has got together with some friends of his to organise messages of support via Twitter. If you are not on Twitter, you can send your message, or picture or e-card to forzafelipemassaATgmailDOTcom.

It's a nice idea and I'm sure it'll cheer him up to know that many people across the world took time out of their day to send him their get well wishes.

Blogging and the Lib Dems

That nice Mr Tall set we Lib Dem bloggers some homework over the weekend. I hope Sir won't mind me handing mine in a bit late. I could plead illness - which would be true, but if he will hand out assignments at short notice on a Formula 1 weekend, then he's just going to have to bloody well wait. So there!

Here are the questions that he wants us to answer:

What are the greatest successes of the Lib Dem blogosphere?

Firstly, I think its accessibility - any party member can get listed on Lib Dem Blogs without having to go through ideoligical purity tests. I think it's vital that the aggregator stays in its current form. Having said that, like James, I tend to look more to Twitter for interesting blog posts and to expand my horizons, although I do try to look at the aggregator at least once every couple of days. I think it's particularly encouraging that the number of individual blogs has increased so much and is continuing to do so. There's some good quality stuff out there.

It also works as a one stop shop to other blogs so the would-be or new blogger can have a wee look around and see how it all works and get ideas about the sort of things they might like to do with their template. Training at conference is a good thing, but not always accessible to everyone. I wonder if, and this is a random idea I've just had this second, so it might be nonsense, there could be a list of bloggers who were willing to give advice and support to any new people setting up. I know I wouldn't be where I am today without Stephen. I mean, there would be words on the page, but I wouldn't have the first clue how to do links or put up photos or stuff like that. Could we have a virtual bloggers' surgery, like the old ALDC Focus surgeries?

Secondly, Lib Dem Voice, which is run so well by a very hard working small team, all of whom have other jobs. No evil Derek Draper clones for us. From the geekery genius of Mark Pack, to the prescience and relevance of Alix Mortimer and the creativity and humour of Helen Duffett, the plain speaking incisiveness of Mr Tall and the honesty and able analysis of Alex Foster, there's something there to tick every box. It provides a forum for reporting news within the party, promoting party campaigns, inspiring debate and occasionally lighting the pantene 123 touchpaper and retiring.

What's good about them as well is that you don't have to be the great and the good, or their acolytes to write for them - anyone can submit an article. Heavens, they even let me write for them once - although it was a Sunday afternoon and they probably had space to fill, in fairness....

I like the fact that they don't shrink away when there's controversy or bad press or when we muck it up. It's not a vehicle for spin and bollocks.

They also do what they can to encourage the rest of us - their relatively new 2 x 2 feature gives prominence to 12 Lib Dem blogs a week, as does their Golden Dozen. Some of the blogs which have now become required daily reading for me, the likes of Mark and Darrell, for example.

Finally, there's been the obvious and deserved catapult of Mark to blogosphere superstardom after his analysis of MP's Expenses was picked up by Polly Toynbee.

What are we, collectively as bloggers, failing to achieve?

I'm not sure that we as bloggers should collectively be trying to achieve anything. That sounds a bit New Labour and therefore very scary to me. I think the strengths of the blogosphere is that we're all individuals and we all have our own style and we all appeal to different people.

I don't think that what I write on my blog, or even anything we could all write on our blogs simultaneously, is going to win elections. That's not to say they aren't a good medium for getting liberal ideas across to lots of different people, of course.

Maybe we are a bit too insular, though. We interact with other political types and don't necessarily engage with new people. Having said that, I've had people randomly find my blog and stick with it becaue they've liked some of the ideas in it.

I don't view my blog as some sort of extension of the party machinery. Certainly, I'm happy to promote what the party is doing and what its key figures are saying, but I'm equally happy to give the leadership a good kick up the arse if I think it needs it. I don't think there's any advantage in us all becoming like cyber-linked Stepford bloggers, even if such a thing were possible. I see myself as a Liberal Democrat who has a blog, rather than as a Liberal Democrat Blogger (TM). I don't just write about politics - I just go wherever takes my fancy.

How does the Lib Dem blogosphere compare with those of the Labour, Tories and other parties’?

To be honest, I don't know enough about this to give it a decent answer. I don't really read enough of the "opposition" blogs to give a view. I have examples I like from each party but I tend not to delve too much into their collective blogospheres. There just aren't enough hours in the day.

I like how the Scottish blogosphere interacts, though - I have "met" if not in person, through t'interwebby, good people from all persuasions and there's quite a community feel to it. There are times when we can be kicking seven bells out of each other on policy and then five minutes later being on Twitter or Facebook chatting about some trashy tv programme or the Formula One. In fact, I think I remember one occasion when someone left a comment slagging off a posting of mine and then saying in the last paragraph something along the lines of "wasn't it horrendous that so and so was kicked off Strictly?" Of course there's some tribal name calling, but we do tend to get on and there have been a few meet ups. In fact, one Labour blogger even ended up going to the bloggers' breakfast at the SNP conference and not only lived to tell the tale but I think actually enjoyed the experience. Now, there are times when Labour and the SNP can be really mean to each other on the street. I've witnessed some nasty scenes at counts in my time and some robust debates on blogs, but never really any major, catastrophic bust ups.

I don't get the sense that it's quite the same south of the border. Does anyone want to disabuse me of that notion?

How helpful is blogging as a campaigning tool (are there examples of it making a real impact)?

I think that Focus type local blogs are a great part of an election campaign - but only a part. The blogopshere is accessible but also very crowded. As Costigan pretty much said this morning, campaigns can not live by blog/Facebook/internet/Twitter alone.

I think that the Lib Dem blogosphere can become a useful part of the air war, too. We saw a bit of that in the Euro campaign. I think the role of Lib Dem Voice, and to a lesser extent Lib Dem Blogs, will be really important during the coming General Election in promoting the ideas that the party is trying to promote and that we all come up with.

We maybe also need to be looking at ways to be more in touch with our readers and find out what they want from us and what makes them tick. All of us will have readers who are not involved in politics even if they are only our families and friends.

We need as well to look at other ways of promoting our blogs - candidates should have their blog addresses on their leaflets, but what about those of us who aren't standing? I use Twitter a lot, but I also talk to people about my blog and tell them how to find it - usually putting my name into Google works.

What do you think the next year holds in store for the Lib Dem blogosphere?

It'll be all about the election, I guess. And then, the aftermath.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Forza Felipe, Siamo con te

Strength, Felipe, we are with you. The poignant message on the sign held up by Felipe Massa's Ferrari colleagues as the cars assembled on the grid this afternoon.

The news on his condition is about as good as it could be. He's had another brain scan, which was clear, and he had an incident free night. He was awake for a while this morning but he'll be kept in a medically induced coma for the next 48 hours.

I have had a very limited experience of being around an ICU with a friend with a brain injury and this makes a lot of sense to me. To be honest, I wouldn't be alarmed if they kept him under for a few days longer. It just makes it so much easier for his brain to recover if it doesn't have to work at things like making the body move or breathe or respond to pain. It's a really good sign that he woke up when they wanted him too, though. Although my friend recovered, too, she didn't wake up when they stopped the sedatives, and that was scary.

The thing that really shocked me about ICU was how quiet it was. In hospital dramas, you always hear the bleep of the machines, but it wasn't like that at all. The nurses were fantastic. They don't really get to have a relationship with the patients, but they were brilliant at explaining everything to friends and family.

So far, so good. I'm not chuffed with either the pictures of the injured Massa that are circulating or the sensationalist way in which the papers, and not just the tabloids, Scotland on Sunday, are reporting this. He is not fighting for his life, ok? Massa's doctors expect him to make a complete recovery and I think they probably no more than your average sports journalist.

My thoughts, and I'm sure the thoughts of everyone in F1 are with Massa. Like the sign said, Forza Felipe, siamo con te.

UPDATE: Have just blown a gasket about Sky's sensationalist speculation about Felipe's condition. My advice is to ignore them and get your information from a credible source such as James Allen who's putting updates on both is blog and Twitter feed.

I think it's also amazing that Rubens Barrichello, Massa's friend and fellow Brazilian, is also posting updates on Twitter. I know that all the F1 fans on Twitter are incredibly grateful to him for doing that. He's a good bloke.

MPs' Recess - our right to know?

Imagine getting a letter like this from your boss:

Dear Employee,

Please be transparent about how you're planning to spend your time away from work this summer by filling in this survey.

I hope you'll be using the break to focus on other parts of your job. I am concerned though that some people may use the time to take excessively long holidays and work on extremely well paid second jobs.

Please fill in this survey to reassure me.

I'm asking you to complete the survey because I think we have a right to know what you are doing in your private life. Please let me know if you disagree and explain your reasons why.

Thank you,

The Boss

How would you feel? Aggrieved, I would think. An unacceptable invasion of privacy? In the words of Big from Sex and the City, absof******lutely.

The above is an only slightly adapted version of an e-mail that a new organisation called 38 Degrees wants us all to send to our MPs. Heaven knows I have very little time for Jim Devine, my MP, but I adapted it slightly - I told him that I didn't think I had the right to know what he was doing for the entire Summer, and that I was horrified by the campaign. I also pointed out the huge irony of the website - the way it's set up, I couldn't actually find a way to access the survey I was supposed to be sending him to fill in. That's right - a campaign which is supposed to be demanding openness and transparency from MPs isn't open enough and transparent enough to do me the courtesy of letting me see what I'm sending mine. I hope at least it makes him or his staff laugh when he reads it.

While I doubt Mr Devine will be any more use to me during the Summer recess than he is for the rest of the year - how do you think I feel about having an MP who voted to deny the Gurkhas the right to live here? - I guess that even if he spent from now until October 12th drinking cocktails on a beach and reading trashy novels, he still wouldn't have got back the time he'd worked over and above most people's normal working week.

Most MPs I know will be spending the Summer, this year the same as every year, taking the chance to meet as many people as they possibly can in the constituency, getting to go to events that they don't get the chance to during the Parliamentary "term". Many of them have Summer tours, where they visit every nook and cranny of their constituency. All of them will spend lots of time knocking on doors. They'll also work on casework and make plans for the next few months when they do go back to Parliament. It's a chance for them to catch up on stuff that they don't have time to do when the Commons is sitting. In fact, getting your average livewire Lib Dem MP to slow down at all is no mean feat. Thank heavens that most of them have partners who force them to take a couple of weeks off, otherwise some might not take holidays at all.

What might change is that sometimes they'll only work from 9-5. They might actually get to go home and put their feet up.

I think it's fair enough for people to know what their MPs are doing in the constituency over the recess. To be honest, most of them will happily tell them. What I don't think is on is for people, whether they be constituents or journalists, to think they have the right to know where their MP is going on holiday, for how long and when. Everyone has the right to a private life.

I'm really angry to see from this report in the Telegraph that people are being urged to send in photos of holidaying MPs. Sorry, but that's harassment. The thing about that is that the more well known MPs, whose constituents recognise them because they do work hard, are going to be the ones who are more vulnerable to this sort of carry on.

Frankly, I hope that all MPs boycott this sort of grossly intrusive, and mildly threatening sort of campaign. They should all just get out there on the ground and work hard. Ultimately, I want them to go back to Parliament refreshed, relaxed and ready for the challenges of holding the Government to account, so it's important that they do get a meaningful holiday in there too.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Update: Felipe Massa recovering from successful surgery in intensive care

It's reassuring to hear that Ferrari F1 driver Felipe Massa is recovering following successful surgery after his accident. He's in intensive care in hospital in Budapest. I have to say that I have no medical knowledge to back this up, but it seems to me that short is good when it comes to any sort of surgery on the head and it seemed that he was in theatre for not much more than an hour, if that. I hope he's in ICU purely as a precaution and so they can monitor all the bits they need to monitor to make sure all is as it should be.

I hope all goes well for him.

I really feel for his family, particularly his wife, who's 5 months' pregnant, and also poor Rubens Barrichello who must be going through all sorts even though this is just such a freak accident that I can't see how it could have been prevented. He's called for F1 to be made safer. It certainly wasn't Rubens' fault.

The accident must be thoroughly investigated to try to understand what happened, but on the evidence available, my resident health and safety adviser basically said that the probability of the sequence of events involving a part falling of a car and then travelling to hit someone on the head was so low that even he can't think of a way to prevent such an occurrence.

I can imagine that everyone who worked on Rubens' car will be shaken up tonight and I'm sure that the Brawn team will be its usual supportive bubble and look after them all and focus them all for the work they need to do for the race tomorrow.

UPDATE 2 22:55 Sky News have just reported that he's in a serious but stable condition after successful surgery for a life threatening condition - a double skull fracture. There have been reports on Twitter that he's in a medically induced coma which to me with my limited knowledge of neurosurgery would seem to be normal for the circumstances. They'll start to bring him out of it when his brain has had time to recover from the trauma. It seems that things are going as well as can be expected, to use that old cliche.

He's one of my favourite drivers and I don't think I'll really be at peace until he's out of ICU and on the road to recovery. I know that he has the good wishes and positive energy of F1 fans everywhere.

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John Barrett MP to stand down at Election

I am really sad today because John Barrett, Liberal Democrat MP for Edinburgh West, has announced that he is standing down at the next election.

I've always got on very well with John. He has been a very good constituency MP, but I also shared an interest with him on various issues. It was John who spoke at the anti Trident march in Edinburgh in November 2007 and who addressed the protest rally against the Israeli action in Gaza in January of this year.

I've also heard him talk several times about his trips to various parts of the world as he became more and more interested in international development issues. I wonder if he might turn his attention to that in his future career.

He's given a great deal to his constituents both as MP and Councillor and to the Party over the last quarter of a century or so. He also strongly supported the West Lothian party in as many ways as he could. He had been the candidate in Linlithgow in 1999 and subsequently always supported the local effort. During the Livingston by-election in 2005, he was an invaluable support.

The House of Commons will be poorer without him and I wish him well for whatever he chooses to do in the future.

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Nightmare accident for Felipe Massa

I can't remember a time when I didn't care what the outcome of a Formula 1 qualifying session was going to be. My devotion to the Brawn team knows no bounds, but their fate was nothing compared to that of Felipe Massa.

It's pretty sickening to see a Formula One car immobile in a wall of tyres. Accidents and spin offs are reasonably common, but usually when a car hits a wall of tyres, a few minutes later you see the driver jump out and walk off and you silently thank all those people whose hard work made Formula 1 so much safer. This didn't happen today when we saw Felipe Massa's Ferrari in that condition. Massa did not jump out and was soon surrounded by marshals and then the medical car. I think everyone watching must have been holding their breath. You could feel the air of uncertainty in the pit lane where the BBC were filming. You could see people running here, there and everywhere and for quite a few minute, which seemed to go on for ages.

Then came the somewhat chilling reports that Massa had been hit on the head by debris. In the wake of the awful accident which killed 18 year old Henry Surtees last weekend, everyone watched on with an air of horrified incredulity that two such freak events could take place on consecutive weekends. Then we heard that Massa hadn't been on the radio. Was that because it wasn't working or for a worse reason?

There seemed to be no apparent reason for the crash. How did he suddenly go off at a reasonably easy part of the track. Why did he hit with such an impact? Had his brakes failed?

Just before all this happened, the Official Hiding Behind Pillow was in place as it looked like Rubens Barrichello was not going to make it into Q3 - the first time that any of the Brawns had failed to make the final stage.

It soon transpired that there was a reason for Barrichello's failure to complete his last lap - something had fallen off his car. This "something", a part of the suspension, was what hit Massa. The footage the BBC showed showed that it had given him quite a whack. He started to brake but must have lost consciousness.

Then we cut to some live footage of marshals seemingly scouring the track, presumably to check that there weren't any other Brawn bits flying around the place.

After what seemed like an age but can't have been more than about 20 minutes, word came from Eddie Jordan, of all people, via "one of his spies" whom he wouldn't name, who had told him that Massa was going to be fine.

It's a cruel irony that it was a part of Rubens' car, who is a really good friend of Massa's, which caused the problem. Rubens legged it to the medical centre to see Massa and reported that he was ok, in pain, but talking and not in any danger.

As we all started to breathe again, qualifying resumed in the final 10 minute shoot out. It's usually dramatic, but today it was confusing as the live time feeds disappeared, so the commentators and we at home had no idea what on earth was happening. Neither, it appeared, did the drivers. In chaotic scenes which sharply contrasted with the earlier tension, the drivers parked up afterwards and were comparing their times with each other. They all seemed to know their own times, but had no idea how they all fitted together. As one of the commentators said, it was like a high stakes game of Top Trumps with the winner getting to start at the front of the grid. Martin Brundle had to issue a hasty apology when Jenson Button used some extreme Anglo Saxon to Alonso.

The BBC actually ended its transmission before the result was confirmed - why, oh why, could they not have delayed going to the athletics for a few minutes? If it was football, or Wimbledon, they would have done, why not for F1?

A few minutes later, the FIA confirmed that Alonso had made pole, with the Red Bulls snapping at his heels followed by Hamilton, Rosberg and Kovaleinen.

What was clear was that Jenson wasn't going to figure anywhere near the front of the grid. The Brawn team had put responsibility before everything else and kept him in the garage until they could be sure his suspension was safe. This meant he had time to do one flying lap on his race fuel - it was never going to be enough.

As far as the race is concerned, it was Ross Brawn who developed the strategy in 1998which turned a losing situation into a remarkable victory. He relied on Michael Schumacher basically breaking the laws of physics to do it, so we'll see tomorrow if he and Jenson can come up with enough to at least keep the Red Bulls at bay.

A win for Alonso would actually not be too bad a result for the Brawns, and much better than a Red Bull 1-2. Alonso is in no position to challenge for the championship. In fact, if Lewis Hamilton uses his KERS button to advantage, he may be able to get past one or both of the Red Bulls - he very nearly took the lead from Webber in Germany. Again, he can't challenge from the championship, but he could narrow the gap between the Red Bulls and Brawns. Last year's championship came down to just one point on the last corner of the last race, so every single point is vital.

Anyway, Massa is probably very sore at the moment but if the reports are right, there will be no permanent injury. Let's hope that's the case and that the rest of this weekend passes without incident.

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Who will be the Hungarian Heroes?

After a truly horrible week (more of which later), I'm feeling human enough to write a little bit. I'm all excited about the Hungarian Grand Prix this weekend. My beloved Brawn boys have had some fairly ugly modifications to their car, but, frankly it's not a beauty contest - all I really care about is that it makes it go faster.

What's done for the Brawns, and allowed those pesky Red Bulls to get their claws into the championship, has been a combination of cold weather and circuits which don't require huge amounts of braking. Consequently, they couldn't get enough heat into their tyres which gave them less grip.

It has been lovely to hear tales of 38 degree heat from the Hungaroring - just what Dr Brawn ordered. However, BBC best anchor man in whole entire universe Jake Humphrey told us on Twitter this morning that it's gone all cold and blustery. When he says cold, though, it's still 6 degrees hotter than Silverstone at its warmest and that was only 9 am. Also, Red Bull might have been doing rain dances, but they'd have found it difficult to straighten out the track. There's loads of slow corners and it absolutely is not going to rain, so our boys will be fine.

I'm also not going to dwell on the fact that it was the McLarens and the Williams which did best out of the practice sessions yesterday. The Brawns finished midfield, but they often do on a Friday and they would have been carrying race fuel, so I'm not worried. I'm sure one of them, and I actually do hope it'll be Rubens, will deliver that killer lap in the dying stages of Q3. I really want to see Rubens win this weekend, although obviously I won't complain if Jenson does.

In the worst kept secret ever, Toro Rosso fired Sebastien Bourdais after the last Grand Prix and replaced him with 19 year old Spaniard Jaime Alguersuari. I think that they were utterly mean to do so the race before they brought in upgrades to the car. Ok, so he hadn't won any points this season, but, let's face it, his team mate had won a whole 2. I wonder if this is also a bit of succession planning for the Spanish market, whose F1 fans are all about Alonso, to give them someone else to back when Fernando retires.

While I think Toro Rosso were well out of order in the way they treated Bourdais, none of this is Alguersuari's fault, have you got that, Felipe Massa who shares management with Bourdais? You can call Franz Tost, team principal of Toro Rosso anything you want, and I have, but leave Jaime alone.

Jaime himself had never driven an F1 car in anything other than a straight line until he went out in practice yesterday. Of course he came 20th out of 20 in both sessions and it must have been hard for him with the added pressure of all the expectation on him. Most people on their first day in a new job are finding out where the toilets are and where to put their coffee mug. This teenager had to drive a car he'd never driven before at 200 mph in front of the world's press. The media have given him quite a build up - let's hope they give him some time to settle in before they rip him to shreds.

I am kind of looking forward to finding out how the BBC boys, and EJ in particular, will cope with what looks like an unpronouncable name but is in fact quite easy. Repeat after me Ch(as in Scottish loch)imey Alg-wer-swari, making sure you roll your r's nicely. The 5 Live lot made a bit of a balls of it yesterday before deciding just to call him Jamie, as he had given them permision to do. Jaime, you are being too nice to them. It will not kill them to do you the courtesy of saying your name right.

Now that Bourdais has gone, there has been intense speculation about the future of Nelson Piquet Jr at Renault. There have been mutterings about his failure to perform and by the sounds of it there was a bit of a stushie between Nelson's dad and manager, the former 3 times world champion, and Flavio Briatore. That must have been quite an explosive sight. Young Nelson has been utterly brilliant in the way he's interacted with fans and come across on television. He seems like a well balanced, very pleasant guy and he does not deserve to be crapped on by Flav. He got some backing yesterday from commentator Maurice Hamilton in response to a question submitted via Twitter by Yours Truly who thought it would be better if he stayed at Renault. At least he should have the advantage of having an equivalent car to Alonso and he's shone at the Hungaroring earlier in his career.

We also welcome two new BBC F1 twitterers this weekend. Sarah Holt has been the best so far with lots of useful information while Andrew Benson who won me over with his analogy that a Todt FIA presidency with Max Boo Hiss Mosley in the Senate would be like the Medvedev Putin situation in Russia.

Anyway, am off to get ready for the final practice session and to look out the Official Hiding Behind pillow for Qualifying later.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Formula Company Rapped for "Misleading" Ads

I suppose I should be pleased that infant formula manufacturer Nutricia, whose brands include Cow and Gate and Milupa, has been told off by the Advertising Standards Authority for claiming that their products could support babies' natural immune system, claims for which they could not produce credible evidence.

But I'm not pleased. I'm fizzing mad. It's taken two years since Baby Milk Action asked the ASA to investigate, two years in which parents have been misled by these reprehensible advertisements, for this ruling to be made.

And what sanctions are to be levied on this company? None. It gets a slap on the wrist. There is no penalty on them, and they are free to keep all the profits they earned while wrongly telling parents that their product could help protect their babies from illness and that their product was better than any other formula.

When are Governments going to take this sort of stuff seriously? These companies effectively have licence to do what they like. It's time, as a minimum, that they subjected follow on milks to the International Code on the Marketing of Breast Milk Substitutes which would completely restrict their advertising to start with.

Then they need to think about prosecuting companies, and fining them significant amounts of money - enough so that it's a real deterrent - if they make misleading claims about their products or advertise them inappropriately.

I liked what Rosie Dodds of the NCT had to say on the subject:

"It is another example of how commercially-motivated formula milk manufacturers are tempted to misuse research to persuade parents to use their brand.

"They have overstepped the mark with this advertisement."

Will any Government ever have enough of a backbone to take these companies on to force them to act responsibly?

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Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Labour Deny Glasgow NE voters choice

There's one thing not to move the writ for a by-election, quite another to actively block someone else trying to do it.

The SNP tried to move the writ for the Glasgow North East by-election a wee while ago in the House of Commons. As far as I could tell, all the opposition parties, even the Tories, supported them, but Labour lodged a counter motion moving next business.

In the end, Labour managed to defeat the opposition by 111 votes, but Paul Waugh, the Evening Standard reporter, tweeted that if the SNP had tipped off the Tories and Lib Dems, the result might have been different.

"The SNP ambush fails by 111 votes. If they had got their act together and tipped off Tories and LDems, they might have forced Aug byelectn.
2 minutes ago from web"

Maybe the SNP MPs should watch this episode of the West Wing before they try anything like that again.

It was a good idea, though, credit where it's due, and ultimately win win because we can all now say that Labour, not just through inertia, but actively went out of their way to keep the people of Glasgow North East without an MP for at least another 3.5 months.

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Toddlers expected to take Tamiflu Capsules

I was quite shocked today to discover that children as young as 14 months old are being prescribed Tamiflu capsules because there isn't enough of it in liquid form. Apparently that's only being given to babies under a year old.

How many babies and toddlers do you think could manage to swallow these?

However, I do have it on very reliable information that they work very well broken open and mixed with Nutella. Lucky, that, then.

Too late for this time, but maybe this is something to learn for the future.......

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Swine Flu vaccine row shows need for Holyrood reform

Heaven knows I'm not often one for finding sympathy with Nicola Sturgeon, but might she have a point when she says that if Scots are to be vaccinated against Swine Flu, then the money will either have to come from Westminster, or from existing budgets which have already been allocated for this year?

The reason I ask is because the Scottish Government is limited in its options - it can't borrow to get extra money to buy the vaccine, it would be ridiculous to put the money aside every year just in case, leaving essential services bereft needlessly so we'd have flexibility in the event of a contingency.

It seems to me that in a pandemic situation, especially under current arrangements, there is an argument for Westminster to give Scotland the extra funds it needs but doesn't have the capacity to raise itself.

It's things like Swine Flu that highlight the imperfections with the current system.

The Sunday Times reported last week that David Cameron is prepared to leave it until 2015 before he would do anything to give more powers to the Scottish Parliament. I don't think that we can afford to wait that long. Another good reason, if there aren't enough already (remember the '80s anyone) not to vote Tory.

If Nicola Sturgeon had said that we wouldn't get the swine flu vaccine unless Westminster paid, then she would be playing politics with our lives. However, she has raised a legitimate question about how a UK wide crisis should be dealt with and funded. It's something we do need to think about and learn from.

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SNP's David Kerr slams Glasgow universities

One of the things about being a by-election candidate is that everything you have ever said in public comes under scrutiny and, in some cases, reappears to bite you on the bum.

We know that the SNP's selection process for Glasgow North East has been a bit of a living hell for them to go through and a complete farce for the rest of us to watch. We now discover that new, bright and shiny candidate David Kerr's cupboard is not devoid of skeletons with their feet in their mouths.

Apparently, a couple of years ago, he told a seminar in St Andrews that universities such as Glasgow Caledonian "did not have a reputation to tarnish."

This is just the worst sort of unfounded academic snobbery and to be honest I'm more angry about these comments than I ever was about the former SNP candidate's problems. To have slated quality institutions, which provide excellent research and learning facilities, is unforgivable. I know students and academics alike at G-Cal who rightly feel insulted at having their institution trashed like this.

It's really important that local politicians do what they can to support the local universities their constituents might attend or work at. How can places like G-Cal and Paisley feel that they will ever have anything other than lip service from David Kerr?

Kerr himself has tried to defend his comments by saying that they were meant to be light hearted. Why would you make such a joke if you didn't mean the sentiments behind it, though?

Lib Dem MP Willie Rennie, who is himself a proud graduate of Paisley University, had this to say on the subject.

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Monday, July 20, 2009

Dull look for new Doctor Who

I'm not quite sure what I expected Matt Smith's incarnation of the Doctor to look like, but I certainly expected something a bit quirkier and edgier than this.

I can't really see the Grand Moff making the Doctor in any way boring, but I am not enamoured with the colour scheme or the general approach of making a good looking young man look like an aging professor. It doesn't give him gravitas - it just looks odd. And that hairstyle is just wrong.

However, I'm sure the scripts will be marvellous and it'll all be fine - and if necessary, Karen Gillan can find something a bit funkier in the back of the Tardis for him to wear.

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Labour doesn't get it and the fox shouldn't

Now, I know I'm feverish and delirious, but I know when you're having me on. I can't believe Labour have lost the plot this much... a leaflet that has supposedly gone out in their name in Norwich North. Surely they couldn't be that crass or that stupid?

This must be a hoax, a plot to discredit them, mustn't it?

That was my first thought, but Charlotte said that as far as she knew it was a genuine Labour leaflet and I trust her.

Then I looked a bit further afield, and apparently it's not the first time they've used this phrase in a by-election according to their animal welfare society

Then I found a Labour supporting blog that seemed to think the leaflet was a good idea.

So, it's either genuine or a very elaborate hoax.

I've just shown my 10 year old daughter the leaflet and at first she was horrified. She thought it was quite sick. She said "Who would say that?"

However, she did come up with rather a good slogan: "Vote Liberal Democrat - the fox doesn't get it, but Labour does, and we don't have to have the Tories." Seems like a result to me!

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Sunday, July 19, 2009

Tories call the Kerr-tle black

There seems to be a bit of a fuss about SNP candidate for Glasgow North East David Kerr's membership of Opus Dei.

Now, I'd find it very difficult to vote for anyone who was pro life and anti gay rights, whatever religion (or none) they followed. Let's not turn the by-election into a Dan Brown movie.

Opus Dei with its secrecy and flagellation is just the sort of thing to give the tabloids a feeding frenzy as they did when Ruth Kelly another Opus Dei associate, was appointed to the Cabinet. However, followers of all sorts of religions and denominations within Christianity hold the same views on abortion and homosexuality. Should these people be ruled out from being MPs? Of course not - as long as the voters arw aware how they will vote on these issues up front.

And, oh, the irony, that Murdo Fraser is having a go at Kerr for membership of a "secretive and hardline" organisation. This from the party which gave us Section 28, for goodness sake and which now wants to enforce a cooling off period on couples who want to divorce. For a party that believes in small government, their insistence on intervening in areas which should be up to people themselves to determine is hypocritical to say the least.

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Saturday, July 18, 2009

Things that have made me smile....

Apologies for light blogging - I know my default state has been sick for the last while but I have had a particularly bad week. I seem to have picked up another bug which has pretty much wiped me out.

However, my family as ever have been valiantly cheering me up. They went out to the shops yesterday and as I lay in bed after a long sleep yesterday evening, I heard Anna say "Oh, Mummy updated Facebook from her blackberry 3 minutes ago" and came running up the stairs and coyly sat on the bed with her hands behind her back in that cute way that children do before presenting me with some really hardcore chocolate - 85% Green and Black's. It's not for the faint hearted, and even a chocoholic like me can't manage more than a few squares at a time. It's a wonderfully, bitterly, intense slice of chocolate heaven, though.

On the chocolate theme, by the way, thanks to Subrosa for this. I'm not yet convinced it's going to taste any good, but am happy to volunteer to try it.

When I did eventually manage to drag myself downstairs, I found that they had bought me some lovely flowers as well - orange carnations and lilies which looked lovely in our kitchen.

They went out this afternoon as well, to Beecraigs Country Park near Linlithgow, and then to Cairnpapple Hill. As the latter was Bob's choice of activity, there was also a financial reward in it for Anna. The smart girl also managed to negotiate extra for the fact that they went in the rain and to allow Bob to listen to his music in the car. If it was the CD I bought him (at his request) for his birthday, then no sum of money could be adequate compensation. When she phoned to tell me this as they were going into the supermarket, I also reminded her she was due even more for helping with the shopping.

Mind you, they wouldn't have had to go at all if the Tesco website had only been working yesterday. Three times I filled my basket and went to check out and three times it told me that there was nothing in my basket. I was none too chuffed, to say the least. Anyway, at least they like shopping. I loathe it with a passion unrivalled in its intensity, unless, of course, it's for books or DVDs.

Twitter and Facebook have been making me laugh as well, particularly now that I can get to them from my nice shiny new blackberry. I'm glad that F1 world championship leader Jenson Button has succumbed to the hive mind. He might end up being the new Phillip Schofield, too given that within 25 tweets he was saying "Darn, this is addictive." Most people can't stand Twitter at first and think it's completely pointless before being sucked in a few weeks later. Mind you, I can't see @Schofe doing a 90km cycle ride in the Monaco heat as Jenson did today. I also had a reply from Renault F1 driver Nelson Piquet Jr, meaning that Tom Harris is no longer my most famous Twitter correspondent, thankfully:-).

After Rubens Barrichello's outburst last week after the German Grand Prix, someone was bound to take the piss on You Tube - and here it is:

And finally, it's good to be back in touch through Facebook with someone from my primary school days whom I haven't seen for 30 years.

Anyway, I'm going to go back and lie down again. I hope I'll be back to blogging about more serious stuff soon.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

That Total Politics Best Blog Poll

Total Politics are running their annual Best Blog Poll. I am very grateful to those of you who voted for me last year. The whole thing really passed me by and I was totally surprised to appear in the lists at all.

I absolutely love blogging and I really enjoy the new people I've met, some online and some in real life as a result of it. Even if I'm cast into the blogging wilderness and don't appear on any of the rankings at all, I'll still carry on just because I enjoy it, once I've recovered from the abject humiliation of the rejection, of course.

Having said that, I'd really appreciate it if you'd vote and include me in your top ten. I'd really like your number one slot, but I know there's some seriously good quality stuff out there. If you are wondering what to do with your other votes, my blogroll, on the left has some suggestions.

All you need to do is follow these simple rules:

1. You must vote for your ten favourite blogs and ranks them from 1 (your favourite) to 10 (your tenth favourite).
2. Your votes must be ranked from 1 to 10. Any votes which do not have rankings will not be counted.
3. You MUST include ten blogs. If you include fewer than ten your vote will not count.
4. Email your vote to
5. Only vote once.
6. Only blogs based in the UK, run by UK residents are eligible or based on UK politics are eligible.
7. Anonymous votes left in the comments will not count. You must give a name
8. All votes must be received by midnight on 31 July 2009. Any votes received after that date will not count.

Honourable mention must go to Costigan for pointing out the original list's numbers were all wonky.

I quite like this way of doing it because it gives you as the voter the maximum power - you can pick any blogs you want. Iain Dale did ask a few weeks ago for advice on whether to continue to do it that way or for him and his mates to pick a shortlist. I did comment and say it should stay this way to give the real power to the voter and not Iain Dale. At the time it was a genuine and instinctive response and was not intended to be used as a shameless grab for your vote!

So, in the two thousand horse race for the best blog, choose someone who has a record of action and will promise you more; a worker, a winner, who's there all year round and not just at election time:-)

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Malc and Audrey's Marathon Madness

My fellow Scottish blogger Malc has wanted to run a marathon since he was a little boy. My ambitions in that direction are confined to watching the London Marathon every year and in my current condition I doubt I could actually run to the end of my speech.

Anyway, there are many easier ways to see Loch Ness, but he and his friend Audrey have chosen to run 26 miles and 385 yards round it in 12 weeks' time. They are hoping to raise lots of money for the Multiple Sclerosis Society Scotland. If you have a few pounds to spare, please donate to their cause. I know from speaking to people who have undertaken these painful challenges before that the donations really spur them on both in the many, many hours of preparation beforehand and during the race itself.

I should also mention their co-trainer for the next few weeks - another stalwart of the Scottish blogosphere, our own Stephen. As an athlete himself, he knows all about preparation and build up for these events.

So good luck to Malc and Audrey as they undertake 12 weeks of hell - it will soon pass, though, and I'll look forward to seeing them cross the finish line and raise lots of money in October.

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Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Caron's Corkers

Time for another quick round up of what I think is brilliant on the internet.

First up, and don't run away cos it's Formula One cos there's more to it than that, is Jake Humphrey's blog from the German Grand Prix. It's fascinating because he plays us a good chunk of what the production crew are saying to him as he's presenting. While he's conducting interviews, they are talking in the background, changing the running order with seconds to go, leaving Jake to think on his feet. I don't know how on earth he manages to make it all look so seamless with that rabble going on in his head, but I'm not surprised that he almost got run down by a Toyota the other week. I've never understood until now why he hadn't noticed it coming. This is must-read for anyone who's even remotely interested in working in television.

Next up, the Guardian took a trip to Twitter Towers in San Francisco.

The BBC reports on a research project that states the bleeding obvious - that cats have a special purr which makes us respond to their needs. I just thought it was funny that nobody suggested that cats should be left to "purr it out" like certain childcare gurus think being left to cry is good for babies.

This has been around for a while, but I've only just discovered it - a short film from Liberty about what they've achived over their 75 years and why they're still important.

Finally, Sara saw this rather perplexing sight in a book shop.

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Should we pay for Alex Salmond's stupidity?

Mr MacNumpty has attacked Lord Foulkes for reporting Alex Salmond to the Standards Commissioner for claiming a proportion of the £14100 paid by a group of MPs for legal advice on whether to attempt to impeaach Tony Blair over the Iraq war out of his office expenses. He argues that Lord Foulkes has asked loads of what he regards as stupid questions of the Scottish Government which have cost far more.

This isn't an issue of relative costs. I think there is a case for MPs being assisted with the costs of holding the government to account and they should have the right to ask whatever questions they like. If their constituents feel that their money is being wasted, then they can contact them and say so, and vote against them if they feel strongly enough.

I also think that there's a case for allowing MPs to claim costs for legal advice as part of the process of holding the Government to account. It's certainly worth looking at.

Now, I was totally opposed to the Iraq war - I think that the damage we have done to our country's international standing is going to take decades to sort out. It cost many, many lives of our soldiers and innocent Iraqi civilians. I think it was illegal and immoral and should not have happened, end of story. I find it a quite bizarre irony that Tony Blair, on leaving office, was promptly sent as a peade envoy to the Middle East.

I was so against this war that I took my then 3 year old daughter to Glasgow Green on a freezing cold day in February to protest against the war, along with many thousands of like minded people.

I did, however, think the nationalists' attempts to impeach Tony Blair was a bit of a waste of time. Not because I thought Blair's actions were justifiable. A quick glance as to what is needed to carry out an impeachment makes it pretty obvious that it never had a hope in hell of succeeding. It requires a majority in the House of Commons to get past first base. Now, who has the majority in the House of Commons? This process was doomed to failure from the start. There was no way that Labour MPs were going to go along with a nationalist publicity stunt.

So there, I can see that, and I found that out for free. I didn't have to go and spend the equivalent of some people's annual salaries to work that out. For that reason, I seriously doubt that the taxpayer should have to fund the cost of Alex Salmond's stupidity.

His move to impeach Blair was never going to be anything other than a publicity stunt and he could have done that for a cost of zero to the taxpayer.

There is one way, though, that we could stop injustices like the Iraq War happening again. If the 2001 Parliament had been elected by a fairer system, the Government would not have had such a big majority and the likelihood is that it would have either have lost a vote in Parliament, or would not even have got as far as putting it to a vote in the first place because it would be clear that Parliament, which would have much greater legitimacy, would not back it. If anyone should know what PR can do for a Parliament's powers, it's Alex Salmond, given how many of his Government's dafter ideas have been binned or modified by the Holyrood Parliament.

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Tuesday, July 14, 2009

New Gadget Excitement

Maybe I'm more of a geek than I'd like to admit - well, I'm the sort that likes gadgets but without the knowledge to always make them work - because I am uncommonly excited with my new Blackberry which arrived today.

I was due for an upgrade and decided that I really needed to be able to connect myself to the hive mind at all times, and if I could get on Facebook and Twitter without using the laptop, then that would probably make my family quite happy!

It ended up not being that much more expensive. I was surprised that I was able to get it set up so easy as I'm used to seeing people's statuses saying things like "this blackberry is going out the window" a few days before they fall in love with it and say it's the best thing they've ever had in their lives.

I suspect that I'll have those sorts of moment with it as I'm having real trouble getting Twitterberry to work. It shows my updates ok, and my replies, but says it can't get my friends' lists or updates. What am I doing wrong?

Also, neither my sistr nor I can find each other on Blackberry Messenger.

If anyone can help sort me out with either of these things, you will have my undying gratitude.

Apart from that it's fab to be able to get and send e-mail on the move and I like the fact that the text messages are conveniently laid out so you can see conversations. I'm sure I'll have many frustrations getting the hang of it but equally sure it'll be worth it in the end.

And it's one of my five a day, too.

Oh, wait......

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Atheists sign up to fight Irish Blasphemy Law

After the passing of the controversial Irish blasphemy law, which potentially could put severe restrictions on freedom of speech, Atheist Ireland held a particularly well timed AGM on Saturday which was reported in the Irish Times. I thnk it's quite impressive for them to have got 150 people out on a Saturday afternoon in the middle of Summer.

They had a message of support from Richard Dawkins - no surprises there, really and were addressed by a Labour Senator Ivana Bacik who said that she reckoned she was the only "out" atheist in the entire Parliament.

Their next step is to provocatively release a statement which is still being drawn up and being carefully worded to offend every single religion. I think they might have missed a trick here - it might have been a better idea to have some sort of competition to devise it which would really get people discussing the issues surrounding it. The rather top down approach of presumably getting a committee to do it misses out an opportunity to reach out to more people to persuade them how completely ridiculous the new law is.

Anyway, as soon as this lawbreaking masterpiece is unveiled I will post it here.

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Politics and being 17

I've been tagged by Mr Quist in the meme about what you had done politically by 17. I managed to have my 17th birthday in Thatcher's not Orwell's 1984.

I already hear you sigh, saying "Oh god, she's going to tell you the detention story again". It's ok, I'm not, but I can't pretend it didn't happen. If you are one of the few who have no idea what I'm talking about it, look here.

I'd also written a huge amount of envelopes for election addresses in the days before you could print labels. Of course, once we had the technology, we missed these long, laborious but great fun, chatty days writing envelopes so we had to bring them back in the late 90s. The blue was so much nicer than the business like brown ones with Election Communication in the corner, so much more personal.

I made canvass cards by cutting up the electoral register and gluing in onto cardboard. It seems almost primitive now when we can print off an entire constituency at the touch of a button.

I'd delivered lots of leaflets - the first one, ever, was, unwittingly to a Tory activist who barely drew breath as she took it from me and threw it on her bonfire.

I'd spoken at a public meeting with Alan Beith, Russell Johnston and Charles Kennedy during the 1984 Euro campaign. Again, I won't bore you with the details cos I've already told them here.

During that same election, I got into even more trouble than usual with my parents. We'd put out a flier for Highlands and Islands MEP candidate Russell Johnston which had a poster in the back. Obviously with my parents being Tories, there was no way that was ever going to go up. I did, however, completely by accident rest it on my windowsill which looked out onto the road at the front of the house. It must have been there, oh, a week, before anybody noticed. I got hell, but it was worth it at the time.

I'd spoken in school debates taking positions that I believed at the time but make me cringe now, being pro nuclear weapons and the monarchy.

Political life in the Highlands was much more gentle than elsewhere. I got quite a shock when I went to uni in Aberdeen and discovered, at the hands of the legendary Sheila Ritchie and Allan Knox
that not only could you deliver leaflets outside election times, but it was also desirable. We didn't do that much outside elections in those days, although, of course, Bob was working his socks off as MP.

I'd also learned that politics was a nasty business. Not in our party, of course, where everyone had been so lovely and welcoming to me. I made lifelong friends amongst both SDP and Liberals in Caithness and Sutherland. I think they found having a young person there, particularly one who wasn't too keen on nuclear power just down the road from an, er, nuclear power plant on which the local economy depended, quite amusing. The 1983 election saw Bob Maclennan standing for the SDP, having left the Labour Party two years earlier. Those who had stayed in the Labour Party were very bitter and I found their hostile attitude quite scary. Their antics were relatively mild compared to those of the Chesterfield Labour Party I'd face later, but unsettling all the same.

I also had the distinction of being, at the time, the most northern member of Scottish Young Social Democrats. I think I was a bit of a novelty to them as I hadn't really, shall we say, travelled extensively and when I finally met them all, including Debra Storr, at the YSD AGM in Edinburgh, it was my first ever visit to the city.

It's hard to believe that all this was a quarter of a century ago. By coincidence, my husband uploaded a picture of himself at 17 or 18 to Facebook last night, which was taken four decades ago. It doesn't feel like that long to either of us and we both still feel that we've kept a lot of our youthful outlook, although maybe we haven't retained the energy to keep up with it!

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Monday, July 13, 2009

Caron's Corkers

I honestly was going to start doing a round up of good blog postings, news stories or just things that took my fancy on the internet before Jennie started her brilliant "The Blood is the Life" feature. I know you're not going to believe me but, well, meh!

I don't know how often I'll do it, and it'll all be very relaxed, but I realised I had to start today with these two posts that tugged at my heartstrings.

Firstly, the lovely peat worrier points out what an illiberal lot we Scots can be.

Secondly, Vagina Dentata reminds us about the double standards around swearing. There is no greater example of this than my own lovely husband. He worked down the pit, for heaven's sake, for the best part of a quarter of a century. This is not an environment where the epithets will be combined to "oh bother" or "heavens to betsy". However, should I emit even the mildest swear word, he will raise an eyebrow. You would think he would have learned after all this time that that wasn't going to work. My language is not always the best in the world and sometimes I'm not conscious of it. It was when my young baby daughter came out with "it's pissing down with rain" one day (she learned to talk very young - can't imagine where she got that from) that I thought I would have to moderate my language round her.

This is what I was worried about with this feature - I could easily have made a post out of that itself. Will have to learn brevity.

Anyway, elsewhere on the lovely interwebby:

Kelvin has been featured in several newspapers, and quite right too. I like the angle he has on equal marriage as being a devolution one.

I will do some sort of pennance later for linking to bloody Tom Harris again especially as he brought out the worst in me the other night when he reminded us on Twitter that the Katie Price interview with Piers Morgan was on. I know I shouldn't have, but I did switch over. The shame..... Anyway, to add to the other health issues I've been having, I had an ear infection a couple of months ago. It was really sore and no amount of pain relief, or swearing for that matter, helped. The thought of a wee boy going through that sort of pain is horrid. Tom's wife Carolyn, who is lovely, is looking for tips on how to prevent ear infections in young kids and of alternative treatments to antibiotics. I haven't a clue really, but I know that some of you reading this will have some useful suggestions, so please help out if you can.

And to make you smile, Mark, the man who showed us that MPs in safer seats were more likely to play fast and loose with their expenses, shows us that he has a future in satirical sketch writing.

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#askClegg live now

I'm watching Nick Clegg taking questions live from people on Twitter here right now.

He's there until 2, I think. It's a great way for anyone, whether they're at home, school or work to question the leader of a political party.

So far he's taken questions on climate change, cultural identity, faith schools, science funding, and Afghanistan.

He has also said how much he loves getting out and meeting people and listening to what they have to say, whether it's online or in person and how valuable the experience is for him to be outside the Westminster bubble.

You can ask a question on Twitter just by including #askclegg in your tweet.

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Sunday, July 12, 2009

SNP lose another Glasgow North East hopeful

The protracted SNP game of musical candidates continues in Glasgow North East. First the expected and obvious candidate Grant Thoms doesn't even stand. Then Newsnight producer David Kerr resigns from his job to stand and gets beaten by the SNP Opposition Leader on Glasgow City Council, James Dornan by 5 votes. Given the Council's unpopular school closures across the city, also opposed by the Liberal Democrats, this might have been a smart move.

Now Cllr Dornan has stood down after Sunday Herald revelations that he may have broken the law by being a partner director of a charitable trust, Culture and Sport Glasgow while under a protected trust deed which is an alternative to bankruptcy.

I think it's a shame he's been put in this position by the SNP. They should have checked all this out thoroughly before they allowed him to go for selection by the members. They shouldn't have been checking if there was a potential problem when a newspaper points it out to them.

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Ross Brawn gives masterclass in management

Ross Brawn must have some faults, but I have to say he keeps them very well hidden. Not only does he design brilliant cars and generally have a genius for picking the right race strategy at the right time (remember Hungary 1998, anyone?) but he's very, very good at the people stuff. He's always keen to honour the contribution of the team and the drivers to success and to make sure that everyone gets the chance to share in the success. He makes sure that different people get to go on the podium at the end of races they've won after being fed up when it was always Flavio at Benetton who kept the glory moments for himself. It's no wonder he was recently honoured for his outstanding achievements to the sport.

Today we saw one of the reasons why Brawn GP like Ferrari and Benetton before them have enjoyed huge success.

First of all, let's look at the race through the eyes of Rubens Barrichello. As far as he was concerned, he did what he had to do to win the race. He passed pole sitter Mark Webber at the first corner, narrowly avoiding ending up as a casualty when Webber got too close. So, he was there, in the lead, so all he needed to do was rely on the team to deliver the strategy to keep him there and he'd have his first win for Brawn. I think in his head he actually drove 60 laps on that first one and was already climbing the middle stop of the podium.

Instead, even after the man he passed was given a penalty for the incident at the start which should have ruined his chances, Rubens finished in sixth behind, for hevaven's sake, his team mate.

You can see why he was fizzing mad and got out of the car physically exhausted, dehydrated, aching and mentally crushed. If he'd won, the aches wouldn't matter, but he was a man who'd delivered for his team and felt in that moment that they'd let him down. Put a microphone in front of him and he was just going to let rip. And he did.. He pretty much called the team for everything: "It was a good show from the team in how to lose a race......They made me lose it." And those were the nice bits. He said that he wanted to go and get the first plane home and not go to the team debrief and listen to what he termed "blah blah blah".

I did feel sorry for him and thought he needed a cuddle and some hot chocolate to calm him down. I understand why he lashed out, but I suspect once he's calmed down he'll see things differently. For a start, if he'd managed to get past Massa he wouldn't have lost 2 seconds a lap to Webber after his first pit stop. Secondly, the second and third places in qualifying were always a fragile projection for the race given the cars' light fuel loads. Also, it wasn't the team's fault that there was a problem with the fuel rig. The Brawns were just not in the running this weekend, something that'll change when they start racing in sunnier climes.

Eddie Jordan on the BBC tore Rubens to shreds for his outburt and said that some would give him the sack for such treacherous comments against his team. Frank Williams wasn't much better, suggesting that a red card would be appropriate and anyone doing that in his team would get a severe dressing down. He slated what he called superstar drivers. I don't really rate the interpersonal skills of someone who shoves someone out the door when they deliver him a world championship so I've never forgiven him for the way he treated Damon Hill. Or David Coulthard for that matter. If it had been Flav, he'd have absolutely gone mad.

That's not the Ross Brawn way, though. He was the soul of calmness and discretion when the BBC went scurrying round to find out what he thought of Rubens' outburst. I didn't expect any different from him, but it was a bit of a masterclass in management. Ted Kravitz did his best to try to wind him up but he must have known he was on a hiding to nothing. He basically said that Rubens was right - the reason they hadn't won was because they weren't quick enough, and he understood what it must have looked like to Rubens cos his radio hadn't been working properly and he may not have realised everything that was going on. Ross also went out of his way to publicly praise Rubens for his contribution to the team. That's very much deserved because they have benefitted from his experience.

I was reminded of the 2006 Monaco GP when Michael Schumacher misjudged the last corner right at the end of the qualifying session. Alonso, who was on a flying lap at the time which was aborted and allowed Schumacher to keep his pole position, was none too chuffed. The stewards came down on Michael like a tonne of bricks and relegated him to the back of the grid. Ross's view was that Ferrari were a family and sometimes things happened that you didn't like, and your kids did things that sometimes you'd rather they didn't but you just deal with it.

Ross also knows that things are going to get more fraught between the drivers. We're half way through the series and Jenson's lead in the world championship has been cut by 5 points in the last two races. The gap in the Constructors' Championship is down to less than 20 points, when it was 43.5 not that long ago. Jenson will expect the team to get behind him to make sure he wins the championship and there were signs of that today when we overheard him radioing his engineer asking him to basically get Rubens out of his way. He will start kicking off if he doesn't start winning again.

On the other hand, Rubens wants, and deserves, a proper victory, won with the team behind him on his own merit. He thinks he's been done over twice this year, in Barcelona and Germany today when he could have won. He doesn't want to have to take a victory slung his way out of pity when Jenson has won the championship as happened at Ferrari when it was all about Michael. His position is getting weaker though given the fact that he's now 24 points behind. He will see it as only being 3 points behind Vettel, and 1.5 behind Webber, though, with him still being very much in contention.

At Red Bull, in some ways the situation is better, in others it's worse. Better because the gap between the drivers is so small that they have no choice but to let them race each other - but then worse because which of them is seriously going to be able to challenge Jenson. There may well be a febrile atmosphere there for a while until either Webber or Vettel starts to get the best results.

So there's challenging times for both teams as the season gets serious. Both Ross and Christian have to keep their drivers performing as well as possible for as long as possible and have to make the right calls on the championship. I'm looking forward to seeing how they deal with the task ahead.


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