Friday, December 15, 2006

Justice for Gurkhas

As I was walking past Parliament yesterday I happened upon a large contingent of Gurkhas along with a few of my Lib Dem firends from Folkestone.

They are campaigning for the Government to honour a promise made two years ago to give equal rights to Gurkhas when they retire.

They have launched a petition to the Prime Minister on the whizzy new Downing Street petitions website.

I've signed it and would urge you to do so to.

Find out more about the issues here.

Friday, December 01, 2006

More h-tunes

Just listening to the latest h concert downlaoded from his nifty 'h-tunes' website.

This gig was recorded in Liverpool's Cavern Club on 1st March this year.

Just h and his piano singing a mix of his solo and marillion songs as well as a large selection of covers including beautiful vesrions of Wichita Lineman (his Dad's favourite song), Famous Blue Raincoat, Too Late and The Whole of the Moon.

h is clearly enjoying himself and sounds delighted to be performing at the home of The Beatles. He also covers Beatles numbers Help, Yesterday and Eleanor Rigby.

I never cease to be impressed by h's vocal ability. I can't wait for the London gig to be available. I had a front row seat at that one.

The other thing with these gigs is that all the between song chats are included - including one or two lengthy stories and bits of his life story.

Great stuff.

Common sense on Trident

I am delighted to see this very sensible policy being put forward by Ming Campbell and the Trident Policy Working Group.

Their proposal - to maintain Trident for the time being but cut the number of warheads - is a balanced approach to the current system and far more sensible than the Government's plan for an expensive replacement.

The lib Dem position sends out exactly the right signal to the rest of the world - that we are prepared to reduce our nuclear arsenal in line with international non-proliferation policy as we ask others to do the same.

The Government's attitude risks the UK (along with the US) telling the rest of the world - specifically Iran and North Korea - to do one thing while doing the opposite ourselves.

Teeside Tin Tin

I have rarely laughed as much as when I found these.

I don't know who did the voice but he doesn't half sound like my brother after a few ales.

WARNING: Contains lots of very bad language.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

And the biggest tossers of all are ...

So just days after suggesting that young people in debt are all 'tossers' the Tory Party turn out to be the biggest tossers of all.

According to the latest figures from the Electoral Commission the Tories owe a total of £35.3 million pounds.

Of this £3.6 million is owed to 'Lanners Services Limited', a company registered in the British Virgin Islands, £3.5 million to Lord Laidlaw and £2.5 million to 'Morain Investments UK Ltd'.

Around half is owed to the Allied Irish Bank.

The total includes large loans to local Conservative Associations including Harrogate & Knaresborough, Kingston & Surbiton and St Ives. I assume some of those are related to property, but clearly some local associations overstretched themselves printing all those leaflets claiming that the Lib Dems don't know how to manage money properly.

There is a serious issue here. The Conservatives spent money like there was no tomorrow with the aim of unseating Lib Dem and Labour MPs at the last election. It is now clear that they were spending money they didn't have. Would voters in those Tory target seats have been so keen to switch had they known that the Tory campaign was being paid for on the never never?

Labour are clearly deep in the s**t too.

Clearly they should have had Gordon in charge of the pennies rather than Tony.

Labour owe more than £10 million to the Co-operative Bank and more than £4 million to the Unity Trust Bank, a vehicle through which the Unions lend money to the Labour Party.

Much of the rest is owed to wealthy individuals, many of whom were coincidently put forward for peerages by Blair.

Labour's big problem appears be that their income from donations is drying up. This is due to their over-reliance on big donors, many of whom seem to have become somewhat shy of late. (And who can blame them)

This raises the same issue as it did with the Tories. Labour spent millions during the last week of the campaign last time in an attempt to squeeze down the Lib Dem votes. If they had spent within their means they wouldn't have been able to.

Would they have won seats like Islington South, Oxford East and Watford if they hadn't borrowed all that money?

While the Lib Dems do have some debts there are two key differences with the other main parties:

1 The Lib Dems have consistently reported their loans to the Electoral Commission in line with the advice they sought several years ago.

2 The overall level of indebtedness is much lower, compared to regular income, than the other parties.

That is why the Lib Dems are continuing to expand their professional campaign organisation and support on the ground.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Muse - bombtastic mate!

Sometimes, just sometimes, you get to see a band when they really are on top of their game.

Queen on the Magic tour in '86, Guns 'n' Roses on the Use Your Illusion Tour, Metallica on the Black Album tour.

If you are a fan of live music you will know what I mean.

Last night I saw Muse at Wembley, and boy do they rock.

They do bombast, they do stadium anthems, they do it loudly and proudly. They are hitting heights they they can only have dreamt of when they got going in Teignbridge only a few years ago and they clearly know it and love it.

They wear their influences on their sleeve, coming on to U2's Vertigo and with pretty obvious nods to Queen and others along the way.

And with their new single 'Knights of Cydonia' about to be released they can even claim to be bringing prog rock to the masses.

Enjoy...

Friday, November 17, 2006

Spot on

The new Lib Dem video - which you can see on the right - has got the message spot on.

Unlike the spin and imagery of the other parties the Lib Dems stick to the issues, and rightly so.

At the end of the day what really matters in politics is getting the judgement right.

On Iraq Brown and Cameron followed Blair into the lobbies to vote for the invasion.

Ming Campbell and the Lib Dems voted against.

On the environment we have had hot air and gimmicks from Brown and Cameron.

Only the Lib Dems have come up with solid, workable policies.

On the NHS Brown and cameron have continually supported the ideological push towards privatisation and endless reform.

Ming Campbell and the Lib Dems have taken a far more sensible approach.


At the next election the public will have a simple choice: Brown/Cameron spin or Lib Dem substance.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Victory for Webb, Fawcett goes down fighting

Barring something very odd happening in the recount Democrat challenger Jim Webb has taken Virginia by a small margin.

I soent the early hours of this morning in the company of Ken the Militant Moderate and various assorted Oxford students round at Richard Huzzey's gaff.

As well as watching the utterly bizarre Jim Pinkerton (who, I assume, is what Democratc bloggers mean when they call someone a 'wingnut') on Sky we were glued to the Virginia State elections site which added up the votes as the precincts reported. It was nailbit9ing stuff with Webb trailing by anywhere beteen 38 and 20,000 votes as the morning progressed.

I left Oxford at 4.30 ish and listened to the much more sensible Radio 4 coverage on my way home and arrived to put CNN on who were then showing a small Webb lead.

Having had a few hours kip I found Webb's victory speech which is very good and also a good demonstration of some of the differences between us and them. [It doesn't work in Firefox for me but does in Explorer]. Claiming victory at the earliest opportunity is always sensible in these situations as it immediately makes your opponent look like a sore loser if there is a rerun.


Sadly my namesake, and by far and away the better candidate, didn't make it in CO-05. although he did record a very respectable 13% swing from 2004.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

In praise of Ruth Archer

At least The Archers provided brief respite from the mounting election excitement.

And, indeed, a respite from mounting altogether.

I was pretty sure Ruth would end up doing the decent thing. I mean, Radio 4 were never likely to, you know, have people, like, 'doing it', were they?

I've been listening to The Archers for as long as I can remember. It was staple listening when, as a child, I used to go with my Dad down to his allotment and he would have it on his radio. I still listen to it regularly now, and it always makes me feel nostalgic, in a good way.

Is the US really in a position to lecture anyone about democracy?

There has been much discussion about the US elections - and just now it does look like we are going to be in for an interesting night. (I will be heading for Richard Huzzey's shortly to watch the results with him).

Reading the blogs today - particularly the various threads on Daily Kos - I have been astounded at how the richest country in the world, the only remaining superpower, the country that wants to export democracy to the rest of the world - can't even organise for its own citizens to vote.

There are widespread reports of people having to wait hours to vote, of inadequate staffing, of various types of electronic voting machines that don't work, of election staff who don't know the rules about ID and more.

And that's without the robo-calling, the intimidation of latino and black voters, the deliberate misinformation and the Republicans distributing leaflets claiming that they are democrats in Democrat areas.

Maybe they should restore confidence in theor own system before lecturing the rest of the world?

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Fawcett for Congress

Obviously it is always sensible to vote Fawcett.

But as this debate shows it is even more obvious if you live in Colarado 5th Congressional District.

(It gets really interesting about 25 minutes in.)



Or you can visit Jay Fawcett's website.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

"the wrong signal"

According to Margaret Beckett having an inquiry into the Government's decision to invade Iraq will send 'the wrong signal'.

What a pathetic argument from a pathetic Government.

The signal it would send is that our Parliament realises that mistakes were made and that they want to find out how and why.

To me this is a pretty good message to send to our troops who know full well that they were sent for the worng reasons and are probably quite keen to see their political masters held to account.

And given our Government's stated aim of helping to establish a stable democracy in Iraq, what better way to help do so than demonstrate how accountability works in a mature democracy?

If that is the best argument the Government can come up with they deserve to be taken to pieces.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Are Labour playing party politics with hospital closures?

The London Times had a story the other day about how the Government's hospital closure programme (only 24 hours to save the NHS etc...) is targeting hospitals in Tory or Lib Dem held seats.

I'm not convinced that there is a conspiracy in the way The Times suggests, most Community Hospitals tend to be in rural areas which tend to have Tory or Lib Dem MPs.

The bigger issue for me is whether the policy of closing or cutting community hospitals, and reducing the services available at district hospitals, is actually what people want.

I am sure this policy makes sense to NHS management - it much be easier to manage a smaller number of large units and enable economies of scale in equipment etc.

I can understand that many doctors will argue that it is better clinically because it enable a higher level of specialisation in centres of excellence.

What the policy misses out on though is the voice of the public.

Because while the above arguments may be strong ones, it may also be the case that a large proportion of the public actual put a greater value on local access to health services.

Yes the John Radcliffe in Oxford may have better facilities in its Maternity wards for that small minority of mothers who have serious problems during labour. BUT the vast majority may prefer to give birth in a local maternity unit in Wallingford (where my younger two were born) or Wantage, in a small, friendly unit with staff they can get to know.

Yes the John Radcliffe might be needed for the major operation or to deal with a serious illness, but once the elderly patient is recovering from that treatment they may well want to be looked after in Abingdon where they live, and where their elderly friends can visit them without having to get two buses to the JR.

Or maybe the majority will disagree.

The point is that the voice of the patients and public should be heard in this debate. It should be up to local people in each area (Oxfordshire in my case) to decide what it is they value when it comes to health care.

Labour were elected to 'save the NHS'.

Nine years on we are facing the loss of local community hospitals, the loss of services at district general hospitals and, in Oxfordshire's case, hundreds of job losses.

It's a shame Labour don't seem to believe that the public should have a voice.

The thin end of the veil

I have refrained from commenting on the 'debate' about whether Muslim women should wear the veil or not as a) many others have done and b) I have genuinely mixed feelings on the issue.

Having now heard from Phil Woolarse and honest Tony on the issue my initial reaction that Straw's comments had a rather insidious whiff about them has been confirmed.

There is a genuine issue about whether the wearing of the full veil is helpful or appropriate, but of much greater concern is the tone of Blair and his various Minister's comments about the Muslim community.

Woolarse's comments are simply despicable. He must have known better than to comment in such a way while a tribunal is ongoing. It is quite unacceptable that a Minister should intervene in this way.

What I find distasteful about Blair's comments is the suggestion that it is the responsibility of the Muslim or other minority communities to strike the right balance in terms of their integration into 'our' society, whilst failing to mention the responsibility those of us in the majority community have to help integration and to be tolerant of differences.

I object to the idea that ordinary Muslims should be harangued about dealing with extremists in their midst as if they ought to have some magic solution to the problem. It was wrong when all Irish people were treated with suspicion when the IRA were active and it is equally wrong to label all Muslims in the same way.

And now University staff are apparently being asked to keep a particular eye on Muslim students in case there are signs of them being radicalised. That's really going to encourage young Muslim students to feel fully integrated into University life, isn't it.

The obvious results of all of this are that more Muslims will feel that they are being discriminated against by the Government and their reaction is likely to be that they will highlight their 'separateness' even more, sympathy for the extremists is likely to grow rather than lessen, and those inclined to go round pulling veils of Muslim women's faces or other racist activity will feel encouraged.

One final point, if a Muslim woman came to my surgery wearing a veil I would consider it extremely rude to ask her to remove it.

Special Relationship my a**e

I continue to be astounded by our Government's failure to secure the release of British residents still being held at Guantanamo Bay.

Large numbers of people, including some brits, have already been released. Most were incarcerated for years and ultimately let go with no charges being made against them or, as far as I can tell, any actual evidence that they ever did anything wrong.

If Iran or Syria were to kidnap hundreds of people of other nationalities, lock them up without charge, restrict their access to lawyers, torture them and propose to try them outside their normal legal system the US and UK governments would be expressing outrage and probably send in the armed forces.

But because it is the US doing it the best honest Tony can come up with is to describe the torture camp as an anomaly.

The US Government appear to want rid of the British residents. They have offered to send them back in return for a promise that they will be kept under 24 hour surveillance.

Our Government apparently believes that this would be too expensive, or illegal, or something.

Personally I would have thought that the opportunity to win the release of 10 people against whom there is quite obviously no evidence (or else the US would want to try them) might be just a tad more important than the cost of surveillance.

Or even that a PM with any balls at all would agree the US Government's terms and then allow the courts to rule the surveillance illegal on their return.

On this issue, as on so many others, Tony Blair has shown himself to be a spineless lackey of George Bush. They have a Special Relationship alright, but not one that is in the interests of Britain.

Where's the evidence?

I see that gentle John and honest Tony have been berating the opposition parties for their opposition to Labour's authoritarian proposals on terror suspects.

The point they still haven't answered is why, if there is hard evidence that the individuals concerened have been involved in terrorist activity, they haven't been charged with any offence?

Either there is evidence that these people are terrorists, in which case they should be charged, or there is no evidence, in which case they should be free.

If it is the case that sufficient evidence does exist for their freedom to be restricted, gentle John and honest Tony should be explaining to us why they are not pushing for them to be prosecuted.

Pulling up the ladder

Neil Woollcott has written about the opportunity to go to University he was given by the grants system and the wider opportunity this has given him in life.

Like him I was lucky to benefit from the grants system. From memory I received about 75% of the full grant with my parents topping up the rest.

I was the first person in my family to go to University, and only able to do so because of the grants system and the change in attitudes that happened as a result of the expansion of the Universities post-war.

Both my parents were intelligent enough to have gone, as was my Grandad, but the option simply wasn't open to them.

The result of this expansion, and the change of attitude that went with it, was that University became something that anyone could aspire to, and, if they could get the grades, could afford to go to. Previously it had been the preserve of the upper and upper middle classes.

The knock on effect (along with other social reforms) has been a successful British economy which has expanded steadily since the war, and the creation of a generally wealthier and better educated society.

Indeed the Government's own figures suggest that graduates, on average, earn significantly more than average during their subsequent careers, and, as a consequence, pay far more extra income tax than their education cost.

It is therefore shameful, stupid and unfair that the Labour Government, having promised not to, has embarked on a programme of massively increasing student debt to fund further expansion, rather than seeing it as a public investment in the country's future.

It is shameful because the majority of the Labour MPs who walked into the lobbies in support of the policy would not have had the opportunities they have had in life had it not been for the opportunities afforded to them by a free university education.

It is stupid because it will skew the University intake against those who are put off by debt rather than being based on merit. It will also have massive knock on effects due to ever rising graduate debt, bankruptcies and the rest.

It is unfair because those people who end up earning less, perhaps because they become a teacher or social worker, will end up paying more in actual terms and significantly more as a proportion of their income.

If the policy is not changed very soon Britain will be paying the price for this short-termism for decades to come.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

In at number one

Regular readers will remember my recent comments about the Daily Mail's attack on the popular heavy rock genre 'EMO'.

I was delighted to hear that popular beat combo My Chemical Romance had entered the chart at number one today.

In case you missed it (and not for those of you who remember when songs had nice tunes and proper words etc. etc.) here it is again:



So that's round one to the EMO kids then ;-)

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Is our children learning?

Obviously we should trust this guy to make the right call on when to bomb North Korea.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Comprehensive failure

If any more evidence were needed the Government's own new watchdog has come along to show that the Blair/Brown Government has comprehensively failed to run the NHS well.

As NHS trusts up and down the country cut services, sack staff, close beds and shut hospitals this latest report shows that 200 NHS trusts are failing to run themselves properly.

The report also highlights, by implication, the failure of Labour's approach to running services via top down targets.

At a time of record spending on the NHS - which the vast majority of people support, it is an utter disgrace that they have managed to waste so much money, mismanage the service and demoralise the staff.

They won the election in 1997 on the basis that there were 'only 24 hours to save the NHS'. Would they have won many of those votes if people had known the mess they were going to make of our treasured NHS?

The Bat is Back

Yes that human mountain of a rock singer Meatloaf is back with Bat Out of Hell III - The Monster is Loose.

The original Bat Out of Hell was one of the first albums I bought and was a great favourite of my mates as a teenager. Arriving at the height of punk it was derided by the music press at the time but it went on to sell 30 million copies worldwide (3rd biggest selling album ever - fact fans) and stayed on the UK album chart for most of a decade.

It graced the front of the recent 'Guilty Pleasures' edition of Q magazine, although why anyone should feel the slightest guilt at owning such a fantastic record is beyond me. Jim Steinman's song-writing is simply epic, the musicianship top notch (most of the musicians were from Springsteen's E-Street Band) and the production (by Todd Rundgren) is perfect.

Title track Bat Out of Hell is simply one of the most epic rock tracks ever, Paradise by the Dashboard Light a hilarious take on teenage lust while Heaven Can Wait and Two Out of Three Aint Bad are beautiful love songs (or in the case of the latter a non-love song).



And even more importantly there was no better record for jumping around and miming to at teenage parties.

Meat and Steinman had a falling out after Bat Out of Hell with Meatloaf going on to do a series of albums while Jim Steinman recorded what was intended as the follow up as a solo album 'Bad For Good'. (He's not a bad singer but not a patch on the Meaty one!). The album also featured many of the same musicians as Bat Out of Hell.

16 years later Meatloaf recorded Bat Out of Hell II - Back Into Hell. This featured several tracks from Steinman's Bad for Good album - with full on Meat effect - and also spawned a massive international hit with I'd Do Anything For Love (But I Won't Do That) with it's Beauty and the Beast video. A bit of a slacker unit wise - it only clocked up a mere 15 million sales.



Well now - 13 years further on - the Loaf is back with the third album in the trilogy. Using up the remaining decent tracks on Bad for Good and also songs by Nikki Sixx (Motley Crue) and John 5 (Marylin Manson) and produced by the rocktastic Desmond Child - it even features Queen's Brian May on guitar.

He is doing a one off show at the Royal Albert Hall which sadly sold out in seconds.

Will it sell as much as Bats I & II? Probably not.

Will it be derided by the NME and other trendy music journalists? Almost certainly.

But will it ROCK?

Of course!

18 Doughty Street

I watched most of this evening's output from the new internet politics show 18 Doughty Street.

This is the brainchild of top Tory bloggers Iain Dale and Tim Montgomerie and friends and is, in their words, an attempt to cover politics for adults.

With that aim in mind I thought it was very good and it made sitting here artworking Focus leaflets that bit more enjoyable.

I hope they can maintain a reasonably objective approach and they certainly seem to be inviting a fair range of guests on.

Hope it works.

The Doctor sings even more

A while ago I posted a link to a site which has Tom Baker - the greatest Doctor Who of all time - singing various well known songs.

I see that more have been added to the site including an excellent House of the Rising Sun, and interesting Baggy Trousers and a doesn't quite work as well Bo Rap.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

h-tunes

My other listening pleasure at the moment arrives via the innovative h-tunes website.

h - or Steve Hogarth - is the lead singer of Marillion and has spent a chunk of this year out on the road doing a solo tour.

I saw him play at the Bush Hall in London earlier in the year and on Sunday at Riffs Bar in Swindon as part of the Oxjam festival.

He plays solo, with only his piano to accompany him, and played sets which combined a number of his own songs, some Marillion songs and quite a few covers. He has a unique take on the songs and the simplicity of the concerts really highlighted what a great voice he has.

He also did a lot of talking - telling parts of his life story and how this fed into his songwriting. At the London gig he recounted a great story about watching the ITV Wrestling on World of Sport with his Gran. He also read from his various tour diaries.

The covers included songs such as Wichita Lineman, Presley's in The Ghetto, The Waterboys' Whole of the Moon, Kate Bush's Cloudbusting, Leonard Cohen's Famous Blue Raincoat, Bowie's life on Mars and various Beatles classics.

Anyhow, this is the clever bit... He recorded most of the gigs on his solo tour and has set up this nifty website where you can download them. And it only costs a mere 11 euros per concert. You can even catch a glimpse for nowt here.

I, Davros

I'm currently listening to the first part of the new I, Davros mini series from Big Finish who produce Doctor Who audio adventures and much more besides.

This series tells the back story of Davros - the creator of the mighty Daleks - and is a sort of prequel to my favourite Who story of all time - Genesis of the Daleks. (That's the one where Tom Baker's Doctor has to decide whether it is morally right for him to kill off the Daleks at birth)

Terry Molloy makesa fantastic return as Davros and on the basis of this first part it is going to be an excellent series.

Big Finish's other Who releases this month are an interesting duo of stories about the Cybermen, picking up the storyline of the recent TV episodes, which were themselves based on a previous Big Finish story.

The Reaping features Colin Baker's doctor (consistenetly better in these audio adventures than he ever was on TV) with Peri. It fills in some of the backstory of how the Doctor met Peri and the impact this subsequently had on her family. This theme, along with the Cybermen storyline, continues in The Gathering. This time the fifth doctor, played by Peter Davison, meets up with long lost companion Tegan (remember her, the gobbie aussie air hostess?).

In true Doctor Who style this means the fifth doctor has to deal with the aftermath caused by the intervention of his later self. Confused - you will be.

As with the emphasis on Rose and Sarah Jane in the recent TV series, these stories are very much about the impact the Doctor has on his companions. Both stories are good, and nicely done. A good starting point for any Doctor Who fan who hasn't yet tried Big Finish.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

More Government irony

This week they outlawed Age Discrimination.

Whilst announcing more Age Discrimination.

Go figure.

What did you do in the war Daddy?

The number of Lib Dem Local Parties taking part in the Green Tax Switch Action Week is growing fast.

If your Local Party hasn't joined in yet please get them to do so.

Then when your children ask you 'What did you do to try and stop Climate Change Daddy?' you'll have a convincing answer.

Porcupine Tree

My ears are still ringing from attending an excellent gig by prog rockers Porcupine Tree at the Astoria last night.

The first half of the set was new material which they plan to record as part of their new album at the end of the year, the second half being better known material - mostly from the two most recent albums.

Porcupine Tree are one of a batch of bands producing a modern take on prog rock and remind me a lot of classic bands like Pink Floyd as well as being influenced by more recent bands such as Marillion and Dream Theater.

If you like Floyd or prog rock visit the site and listen to the clips from their most recent album Deadwing.

The biography of the band also makes interesting reading.

The keyboard player in the band is Richard Barbieri who was one of the founders of the art pop group Japan.

Cameron fails the substance test

Britain's leading anti-Cameron daily gleefully reports that Labour have caught back up in the latest YouGov poll.

More worryingly for the Tory leader are some of the detailed findings of the poll which show that his lack of substance is starting to show. 60% agree with the statement 'David Cameron talks a good line but it is hard to know whether there is any substance behind the words'.

I'm not surprised by this, as, having met David a few times myself, I thought it would become obvious to people at some point that, while he is a genuinly nice bloke, there isn't much political depth there at all.

What I am surprised by is just how quickly the general public have twigged him.

And that is a real problem for the Tories.

Their stratgey is clearly to change the public perception of them, soften the image, make them appear united, modern, non-extreme.

However if they instead start to look shallow, all spin no substance etc. they will fail to re-estabish the trust they are seeking.

Whether or not this poll will be repeated, or their own conference gives them a bounce back, is yet to be seen. but to an extent it is irrelevant. What matters is the view that the general public have of Cameron. And that means he is now in trouble.

Daily Mail v Kerrang!

Britain's biggest selling music magazine - KERRANG! - has joined the noble fight against the force oif darkness that is The Daily Mail.

The cause of this battle was a ridiculous article in the Mail recently which warned parents of 'the cult of EMO'.

Emo - for those of you that don't already know - is a genre of heavy rock/metal music which emphasises 'emotional' content in its lyrics.

My main criticism of it is that, like many musical trends, there is often more style than substance.

But the Mail's take on it far more sinister. Sarah Sands, the author, suggests that EMO encourages self-harm reporting (without any evidence):

Emos exchange competitive messages on their teenage websites about the scars on their wrists and how best to display them. Girls' secondary schools have for some time been concerned about the increase in self harm.

Even more amusingly she quotes lyrices for the song EMO kid to justify her argument.

Isn't it obvious, even to a Mail journalist, that this is a spoof?

This whole thing reminds me of those ridiculous lawsuits that were brought against Ozzy Osbourne and Judas Priest in the US which claimed that listening to their records had cause kids to kill themselves. (OK - so Ozzy isn't the greatest singer in the worls - but he's not THAT bad!!)

Anyway KERRANG! dedicated a whole article to its readers' responses to the Mail this week and the letters and emails featured made a lot more sense than anything you'd read in the Mail. In particualr they focussed on the serious issue of self-harm and how the bands they like are a positive influence on their lives.

If anyone is still wondering what 'EMO' is take a look at the video for the excellent new single from My Chemical Romance The Black Parade.

You will either like it, or you'll hate it, but we can probably all agree that it's not part of a great gobla conspiracy to destroy teenage life!


Thursday, September 28, 2006

extremist bullies

In an article in the Independent titled:

"We won't bow to extremist bullies, says Reid"

John Reid is quoted as saying:

"We will go wherever we please, we will discuss what we like and we will never be brow beaten by bullies. That's what it means to be British."

And I bet he doesn't see the irony.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Last Lost

Tonight sees the final two episdoes of the second series of the excellent Lost.

I've followed this series from the beginning, and due being able to watch the following episdoe on E4 have only missed one or two episodes.

(The life of a Campaigns Officers generally makes it hard to follow a weekly series)

I love the general Prisoner like spookiness and the various plot twists and developments.

I think tonights episodes are going to be good, and we will probably find out a lot about the 'others'. But I bet there will be an almighty cliffhanger to lead into series 3!

Muppets bullied here

Little did I realise when I added the Top Five Links box - see below right - that it would have such amusement value!

Queen Top 50

As a tribute to Freddie Mercury, who would have been 60 this month, those nice people at Classic Rock Magazine have asked a batch of rock starts to nominate their favourite Queen tracks.

The 50 are not listed in order, but form an excellent cross section of the bands output - a total of 14 studio albums between 1973 and 1995.

The mid seventies - when the band were breaking through - provide the largest number of tracks. The classic Night At The Opera album contributes 8 of the 50, with Sheer Heart Attack providing 6 and News of the World 5. Jazz and The Game which followed 4 each. The Works, which was the foundation for the second flourish of their career in the eighties provided 4 tracks and Kind of Magic 3. There last proper album, the underrated Innuendo also provides 3.

The duffers (in terms of this list at least) are Made In Heaven, which was put together and realeased after the mercurial one's death. Hot Space, their much derided 'disco' period album, and The Miracle, which is one I rarely listen to myself.

What struck me about the comments is just how many major rock stars were into Queen. From aging rockers like Rob Halford of Judas Priest (whose iPod only contains his own work and Queen's entire catalogue), Maiden's Bruce Dicinson who crys when he hears Who Wants To Live Forever, and dave Hill of Slade, through prog rockers like Chris Squire of Yes, Geoff tate of Queensryche and Mike Portnoy of Dream Theater, through to young metalheads like Matt Heafy of Trivium, Zacky Vengeance of Avenged Sevenfold and Mikael Akerfeldt of Opeth, it seems everyone loves the band.

Most of my favourites are there. My top 50 would also include Spread Your Wings from News of the World and Sail Away Sweet Sister from The Game.

Disney overdose

I'm at home today because little Emma is unwell.

She woke us up in the middle of last night with a temperature and spent the rest of the night wriggling around in our bed.

With the help of a few doses of Nurofen for Children (Stawberry Flavour) she is enjoying a subdued day on the sofa.

I have now seen enough Disney videos to last me a month!

Monday, September 25, 2006

Chucking NHS cash down the drain

I gave a brief mention earlier to this morning's Times story about private treatment centres and their effect on our cash-strapped NHS.

For me this issue demonstrates just how dogmatic the Blair/Brown Government can be.

If you think back to the 1997 election campaign you will remember that Labour were elected because there was 'only 24 hours to save the NHS'. This was based on Labour's stark warning that the Tories intended to privatise the NHS.

Nine years later and that same Labour Party is forcing Primary Care Trusts (PCTs) to sign up to contracts with private firms to deliver operations. If any PCT dares disagree the local members will be bullied into either agreeing or will be forced out.

There is, however, a small snag.

Within the NHS PCTs pay a fee for each operation that is done to the NHS hospital that does it. Therefore if the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford performs 100 cataract operations for South Oxfordshire PCT the PCT pays for 100 cataract operations.

However these Private Treatment Centre contracts work on a different basis. The PCT has to pay an agreed fee to the private company regardless of how many operations are actually done.

On average these private centres are running at 59% of their targets. That means that if a private company performs 59 cataract operations for South Oxon PCT the PCT still has to pay the cost of 100 operations.

The result is that money which could have been used to pay for 41 further operations is simply handed over to a private company.

This is what Labour politicians describe as 'modernisation' or 'reform' or whatever buzzwords are in this week.

It is what I call a barmy way to run a public service.

Gosh there are a lot of you

Last week, following a brief chat with Lib Dem Blogger of the Year, Oxford City Council Finance Champion and PoliticalBetting.com pin up Cllr Stephen Tall, I installed a clever widget from those nice people at StatCounter I am now finding out how many people visit this blog.

Having thought that my blog was only really read by a few Lib Dem mates, a couple of friends from Uni days and some slightly bemused members of my close family I have been very surprised at the number of visitors this blog gets.

The vast majority come through the excellent Lib Dem Blogs site and the rest through a variety of interesting searches (a number of whom must end up very disappointed when they get here!) A fair proportion seem to come back too.

Anyway, thank you for visiting. I hope you find my ramblings at least vaguely interesting. Do feel free to comment - I don't get enough of those - and most of the ones I do get seem to come from various furry animals.

And they accuse us ...

And these muppets claim our sums don't add up!

Read the article and click on the link top right to see a news report.

And don't forget to hold your local Labour MP to account for it!

OK, so now I KNOW they're not reading them carefully!

On the positive side, I can't complain that they're not swift ...

*From:* "Terry Deere" Terry.Deere@dft.gsi.gov.uk
*To:* <neilfawcett>

Neil Fawcett

The website does cover your case - there is an exemption allowing achild over 3 to use a rear seat adult belt where having two other childseats means there is not room for a third.

ABfor Terry Deere
Dept for Transport
Road User Safety Branch 2
zone 2/11
Great Minster House
76 Marsham Street
London
SW1P 4DR.

... and my response ...

Dear AB for Terry Deere,

This is getting frustrating.

As I have said, the problem is not that there is not enough room for a third booster seat, it is that if we put two booster seats in there is then not enough room for the third child, with or without a booster seat.

Please can you advise me what to do in these circumstances.

Thank you.

Neil Fawcett.

I suspect they're not reading it very carefully

A further development in the child car safety saga.

An email has arrived from the mysterious 'TJN for Terry Deere':

*From:* "Terry Deere" <Terry.Deere@dft.gsi.gov.uk>
*To:* <neilfawcett>

Neil Fawcett

Thanks for this.

Our FAQs explain that there is an exception thatapplies for a child aged 3 years above travelling in the back who mayuse an adult seat belt (ie no need to use a child seat/booster) when twooccupied child seats/boosters prevent the use of a third.

For when the car is not full, there is nothing to prevent a child up to135 cms in height travelling in the front seat (save one using arear-facing baby seat against an active air-bag) provided it uses thecorrect child seat/booster.

But please consult the car handbook (eachcar will differ) regarding children and air-bags (if fitted). We strongly recommend that you follow that advice - air-bags are powerfuland deserve respect.

TJN for Terry Deere
Dept for Transport
Road User Safety Branch 2
zone 2/11
Great Minster House
76 Marsham Street
London
SW1P 4DR.

Which, as those of you following the saga will know, fails to answer the original question.

I have replied thus:

Dear TJN for Terry Deere,

Yes. I read that.

The situation I am trying to get across is that if we put two booster seats into the back of the car then there isn't enough room for the third child, or my wife, to fit in the back seat.

I would like your advice about what to do in OUR situation, not the various situations on your website, none of which apply.

Neil Fawcett.

Meanwhile the children remain in imminent danger.

(Well, other than for the fact that I haven't taken them anywhere in the car yet.)

When is a commercial loan not a commercial loan?

Page 4o of the Labour Party NEC's Annual Report includes this little gem in the Treasurer's Report:

A further commercial loan of £2.0 million was received from Richard Caring in March 2006 on terms similar to those already disclosed, bringing the entire amount of the supporter loans from £11.95 million to £13.95 million (excluding accrued interest). In two cases it has been indicated that the loans are to be repaid when the term comes to an end, and we have made budgetary provision for this repayment. Also, others have already agreed to reschedule their loans to future periods. At all times this position is kept under review to ensure we meet our financial and budgetary targets.

This seems to be a very interesting definition of a 'commercial' loan.

Page 45 sets out that the Labour Party had a deficit of £14,500,000 in 2005, basically funded by the above loans.

The figures also suggest that their ongoing income is barely enough to pay for their ongoing income, let alone have anything left to pay the loans off. If they really are 'commercial' loans then they presumably face an interest bill of around a million too.

It is quite difficult to see how a Party with this level of debts can survive without significantly reducing its running costs.

hat tip: Iain Dale

Robbing the NHS to pay Paul

More evidence that the Blair/Brown government is throwing money down the drain while other parts of the NHS make massive cuts.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Whiter than white

Remember the 1997 General Election? One of the key planks of the Labour campaign was their attacks on Tory sleaze.

Well wads of cash in brown envelopes seems small beer now compared to Labour's loans scandal.

Setting aside the possible link to peerages, it is now clear that the Labour Party, or, to be fair, a small group of individuals in senior positions in the Labour Party, had a deliberate strategy of arranging soft loans in order to get round the transparancy imposed by the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 (PPEERA) that they themselves had introduced in response to Tory sleaze.

Reading the articles in todays Independent here and here - based on evidence from a senior Labour Party source - it is clear that Labour could not have afforded most of the campaign they ran in 2005.

That means that Labour MPs in marginal seats such as Andrew Smith MP in Oxford East, Emily Thornberry MP in Islington South & Finsbury, Claire Ward MP in Watford and even Charles Clarke MP in Norwich South may well have lost their seats, had it not been for the cash raised from secret loans.

They certainly would not have had the billboards, mailshots and newspaper ads that were used to squeeze the lib Dem vote in the last week of the campaign to back up their local efforts.

I hope that Lib Dem campaigners in these and other marginal seats will be pointing this out over the coming months.

Labour got in by attacking the Tories for being sleazy. But now we know that they are not only a bunch of sleazebags themselves, but a hypocritcal bunch of sleazebags at that.

Tooth Fairy latest

Those of you who had a sleepless night worrying about whether the Tooth Fairy would turn up can rest easy tonight.

I was woken at some ungodly hour this morning by Jimmy proudly clutching a nice shiny one pound coin.

Thank You Tooth Fairy, wherever you are ;-)

Couldn't happen to a nicer bunch of crooks

They really are in the s**t now.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Calling the tooth fairy

My son Jimmy, 8, found a long lost tooth two days ago and, being a fast-thinking young thing, put it straight under his pillow.

Sadly, in an uncharacteristic fit of shabbiness, the Tooth Fairy has not turned up.

Jimmy has therefore asked me to put a post on here so that if the Tooth Fairy reads my blog she will see this and come and replace his tooth with a shiny one pound coin.

So before he went to bed I promised him I would put up a post asking the Tooth fairy to pop round.

Now that he's told me about the tooth I feel sure she will turn up tonight ;-)

Now featuring videos

OK - so I'm not quite at the vidcasting stage just yet.

But I have managed to add a clever bit of code from Martin Tod's site which means that you can watch and listen to people far more interesting than me while reading my blog.

You can find the code here.

You can watch Lib Dem Blogger of the Year and Oxford City Finance Chief Cllr Stephen Tall's latest video here.

They even let him out into the community this time!

What a load of Balls

So Gordon Brown thinks the solution to to the problems in the NHS might be ... more reorganisation!

According to Brown fanboy Ed Balls this is because:

"The track record so far has been about devolution in important areas of policy - on monetary policy, on financial services policy, on local government and regional policy too," he told the BBC.

Well call me old fashioned but I prefer to judge people on the basis of what they have actually done, rather than what they say they might do in the future.

The Brown/Blair Government could have devolved power in the NHS at any point in the last 9 and a half years. They could have done this within the current structure, or any one of the many structures that have existed during that 9 and a half years.

They could have done this at national level, by letting the existing national bodies get on with the job, or they could have genuinly develoved power to the Primary Care Trusts (PCTs) when they set them up.

Instead what we have seen is Government dictac at every stage and at every level.

In this area we have seen PCTs forced to sign contracts with private companies that have resulted in NHS money being poured down the drain. When some of the few genuinly independent minded local members of PCT boards try and take decisions that they believe are in the best interests of their communiities they are bullied into making the right decision or hounded out.

Does this strike you as being the work of someone with 'track record so far has been about devolution in important areas of policy'? Thought not.

In local government it means that local authorities are encouraged to draw up mission statements, Local Area Plans etc. But if they include things that the Government (or more usually the civil servant inhabiting their regional office) doesn't like they are told to change them.

The sad thing is that I think many Labour Ministers honestly believe that they have devolved power.

What a load of Balls.

V for Very Good Indeed

I didn't get to see V for Vendetta when it was in the cinemas but read a few reviews that made it sound like the kind of film i would like.

Seeing it while shopping for dinner yesterday I picked it up on DVD yesterday and we watched it last night.

It is absolutely excellent.

Based on a brilliant graphic novel by the mighty Alan Moore illustrated by David Lloyd and brought to the screen by the people that did The Matrix, the film combines action thriller with politics set in a 1984 like future UK. As the synopsis says:

Set against the futuristic landscape of totalitarian Britain, V For Vendetta tells the story of a mild-mannered young woman named Evey (NATALIE PORTMAN) who is rescued from a life-and-death situation by a masked man (HUGO WEAVING) known only as “V.” Incomparably charismatic and ferociously skilled in the art of combat and deception, V ignites a revolution when he urges his fellow citizens to rise up against tyranny and oppression. As Evey uncovers the truth about V’s mysterious background, she also discovers the truth about herself – and emerges as his unlikely ally in the culmination of his plan to bring freedom and justice back to a society fraught with cruelty and corruption.

There are several parts of the film that could easily be taken as a warning against Blairism, if in an exagerated form.

The look of the whole thing is amazing. It reminded me of the darkness of the first Batman movie (also based on a graphic novel) with touches of Frank Miller's Sin City thrown in. There are also occasional Matrix like effects.

The plot steadily unravels as the film goes on, leading to a quite spectacular finale when the lead characters have to decide which side they are on.

If you haven't seen it, and you like a bit of politics mixed with a bit of action, watch it today!

The Emporer Has No Clothes

Therer's little I like more than seeing people point out that The Emporer Has No Clothes.

Congratulations then to Harriet Yeo for doing nothing more than pointing out the truth to Mr Blair.

It is difficult to bring up children, particularly teenagers, and wise politicians will bear this in mind before pronouncing on the subject.

Labour Minister John Hutton was also mouthing off recently about single parents.

The gist of his comments were that, on average, children living with two parents are lijkely to do better than those brought up by one. In particular they are a lot less likely to live in relative poverty.

Well durr...

Does we really need a politician to tell us that households with two adults in them are likely to have a higher income, on average, than those with one?

Or that single parents might find it harder to hold down a full time job than two parent households?

Seems pretty obvious to me that that would be the case.

What Hutton then went on to say was that there is not actually that much the Government can do about it.

Which makes me question why there is any value in raising the issue in the first place.

Surely it wasn't because he was chasing headlines in the right wing press like this?

Battles in Time

Son Jimmy, 8, has been suffering with a rather nasty insect bite which got infected.

As a result he has been on anti-biotics all week and I had to take him to the doctors yesterday to have it lanced. (Imagine his disapointment when this didn't involve a man on a horse charging at him!).

I was therefore obliged to buy him a copy of the first edition on the latest Doctor Who merchandise - Battle in Time - for being such a brave little soldier.

This is a series of trading cards which arrive each fortnight with a magazine. (Trading cards are a bit like Top Trumps but there are more of them and they run at a level of sophistication that only 8-12 years olds will ever understand.) The magazine also included an excellent poster with daleks on it and a list of all the cards so that you can tick them off when you get them.

The next two issues come with a Tardis shaped box to keep them in and if you opt for the 4-issues-at-a-time subscripiton offer you get a whole pile of freebies as well.

Doctor Who merchandising was never this exciting when I was 8!

Friday, September 22, 2006

Guildford Tories' Smear Campaign

Tim Ireland's other site is dedicated to holding the Tory MP for Guildford, Anne Milton, to account.

He has also been busy documenting a particularly nasty smear campaign orchestrated by two prominent Guildford Tories against a Lib Dem activist in the town.

I won't dignify the smears by going into the detail myself but suffice to say it is pretty horrible stuff.

In brief the two Tories concerned set up some bogus websites, put up some smears against the Lib Dem concerned, and then added comments pretending to be him.

You can read all about the detail - and Tim Ireland's efforts to hold the Tories concerned to account here.

Unfortunately I can't find any trace of either Anne Milton MP or Guildford Conservatives taking any action over this appalling activity. In fact Dennis Paul appears to still be a Conservative Candidate.

Very amusing vid

A link to the new vid from Tim Ireland has just appeared, just over there on the right, below the Lib Dem Blogs box.

Gets the point over nicely I think.

If you would like to see some even harder hitting vids go to Tim's Backing Blair site and click on the links down the right hand column. I find them very amusing but effective at the same time. (Not for the faint hearted.)

Is the Green Tax Switch campaign taking off?

Looking at the Green Tax Switch campaign website there are clear signs that the campaign is starting to take off.

Two weeks ago only a handful of Local Parties had set up their action days.

Now, as word of mouth and conference have spread the word, there is almost a mapful. (Press the green action week button on the riught and it takes you to Martin Tod's very clever flocktogether website).

You can also download a rather nifty campaign pack produced by those nice people in the Campaigns Department and a PDF of good advice on how to run a successful street stall.

If your Local Party hasn't sorted out your local action day yet - then step to it!

Labour hold on in Oxford

Labour held on to their seat in Lye Valley ward in Oxford last night. If the feedback I heard is correct then this was in large part down to the Labour candidate being very popular in his local patch and his track record in the community.

Congratulations Bob!

I managed to miss an article on Antonia's Blog about a leaflet we put out during the last by-election in Oxford which was in Hinksey Park Ward in July. (I was off on my hols by the time Antonia posted it.)

Now she is entitled to her view and clearly felt very strongly that it is wrong for a party to raise national or international issues during a local by-election campaign. (Not that it ever stopped Labour when it was winning them votes!)

What I do find surprising is that she thinks that this leaflet is worthy of such criticism while the substantive issues - Blair's mishandling or Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon and the Middle East in general - barely rates a mention.

I can remember a time when Labour activists attacked the Lib Dems because we only ever fought on local issues and didn't have anything clear to say on national issues.

I always used to take great delight when various Tory County Councillors waved my leaflets around in the Council chamber before going on to lose Oxford West & Abingdon in 1997. I am delighted to see Antonia joining in and hope it bodes equally well for our success in Oxford East next time.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Get thee to Oxford

Unlike a certain Mr Coats (*shock horror!) I was out delivering Good Mornings in Oxford this morning.

If you are in the vicinity at any point before 10pm this evening do drop in.

The Committee Room is here.

32 Marsh Lane, Cowley, Oxford OX4 2HH. Tel 01865 716756.





*PS - don't worry Jock - it happens to us all!

Unhelpful answer on car seats

Regular readers (of whom , according to my new fangled stat counter there seem to be about a dozen) will remember that I emailed the Department for Transport asking for some advice on how to fit myself, the missus and three children into a car once car seats have to be fitted.

Anyway - this reply arrived from a Terry Deere at the DfT while I was at conference:

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Thank you for your enquiry. Please see Q 11 of our FAQs at the link below whhich may help you.

http://www.thinkroadsafety.gov.uk/campaigns/childcarseats/childcarseats.htm

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Were it not for the fact that it was reading those very same FAQs that prompted me to send the email in the first place it might have been helpful.

So I have now sent this:

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Dear Terry Deere,

I had already read through the FAQs on the website and no it doesn't help me.
We have a normal car.

If two child booster seats are put in the back seat there is not enough room for the third child to sit comfortably with or without a booster seat.

If I put the third child in the front seat then there is not enough room for my wife in the back seat.

Please advise what I should do in these circumstances.

Thank you,

Neil Fawcett.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Meanwhile my children remain in imminent danger!

I will report back on any further developments.

Fairer, greener and ... stronger

Media reports of the final day of party conference, and comment on Ming's speech in particular, suggest an element of surprise that:

a The mood at conference is bouyant
b There has been no popular 'bring back Charles' uprising
c The leadership are doing quite well actually

I guess this reflects the underestimation of the Lib Dems that meant they were taken aback at our ability to win in Dunfermline and come so close in Bromley.

Apart from reconfirming to me why I joined the Liberals nearly 20 years ago - a belief that our society needed to be fairer and greener - it has also confirmed my belief that the Lib Dems are a pretty robust bunch. It takes a bit more than a few months without a leader and the odd personal scandal or two to stop Focus leaflets going out, doors being knocked on and councils being improved.

It also confirms that Lib Dem conference goers, like much of the public, are a lot more interested in substance than spin. That's why there was such a positive reaction to the Green Tax Switch Rally and to the speeches by Nick Clegg and my former boss Chris Huhne.

But it doesn't stop at the end of conference. Lib Dem activists will now be going back to their constituencies to deliver Green Tax Switch Focuses, set up campaign stalls and events, and spread the message that in an era of Tory and Labour spin there is one party with real policies that deal with real issues.

Tall the Tart

There's no stopping Lib Dem Blogger of the Year and Oxford City Council Finance boss Stephen Tall.

After a week of media coverage I'm now listening to him on the World at One, giving us his response to Ming's speech.

Not only that but he was on first before Party President Simon Hughes!

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Behind the scenes at Brighton

Being one of the party's backroom folk I am spending most of my time at Brighton round the corner at the so-called 'Quality' Hotel.

Most of my week is spent running training sessions (I was the lucky one this year and have been lead training on the exciting topic of 'Basic Election Law'!) and having meetings with colleagues and teams from various constituencies.

I am always struck by how different the mood at our conferences is from the reports in the mainstream media.

Generally people are very positive. Our campaign teams in the ever growing number of key seats are bouyant, attending lots of training and getting the election planning underway.

There is a lot of enthusiasm fo the Green Tax Switch campaign with hundreds of Local Parties already planning their local campaigns. The rally on Sunday was well attended.

Nick Clegg's speech yesterday proposing a Great Repeal Act went down very well and I have just heard the very positive response to Chris Huhne this morning.

I am sure that Charles will get a very warm response to his speech and, no, it won't mean anything for Ming's leadership, just a party saying thank you to our most recent, well-liked leader.

The biggest debate is clearly going to be on the 50p income tax amendment which is being put forward by my long-standing colleague Evan Harris. It's not my place to state a view either way on the proposal but what I will say is that the important thing is the package overall which gives the Lib Dems a positive and distinctive platform to campaign from.

Well done Stephen

I was delighted to attend the first ever Lib Dem Bloggers Reception on Sunday and to see Stephen Tall win the first Lib Dem Blog of the Year contest.

Stephen happens to be sitting next to me blogging away (or perhaps doing hard sums on behalf of the City Council) as I write this.

I am very glad I nominated him and his victory is well-deserved.

It was nice to meet so many other LD bloggers at the reception and to hear the very interesting contributions from Lynne, Mark, Alex and Rob.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Freedom of Speech is ebbing away

For some reason my newsagent decided to deliver a copy of The Sunday Telegraph to me last Sunday instead of the usual Independent on Sunday. (I used to get The Observer but switched after they backed the invasion of Iraq - but that's another story.)

It took me a few seconds to decide that my newsagent probably had better things to do than listen to my complaints, so, happy in the knowledge that one of my Tory neighbours was having to stomach the IoS, I decided to read the thing anyway.

The story that grabbed my attention was this one.

Now this guy is an idiot. His views are loopy, he should get a life and stop pretending that if there was a God he would have any time at all for small minded losers like him.

But the important point is that the guy has a right to be an idiot and to put forward his idiotic views if he wants to. He has the right to hand his stupid leaflets to people like me who disagree with him and to listen to the tirade that would be directed in his direction if he did.

Yet he was arrested!

As far as I am aware there is no suggestion that he was behaving aggressively, forcing his silly leaflet on people, or being in any way abusive.

But on the grounds that one or two people were offended by his views he has been arrested, charged and dragged into a courtroom.

This is a frightening state of affairs.

Now I chose this particular case not because I agree in any way with this loony, but because I think those arguing for freedom of speech make their case stronger by defending the rights of those they strongly disagree with.

There are also a number of other recent incidents which also demonstrate the frightening state of affairs we are in where I have more sympathy with those affected:

Families of war dead not allowed to protest at the Labour Party Conference.

Man not allowed to take Craig Murray's memoir of his incident-strewn stint as British ambassador to Uzbekistan on a flight.

Woman prosecuted for reading the names of those killed in Iraq at the Cenotaph. (Kind of misses the point about what the Cenotaph is as well!)

And, of course, there's good old Walter - surely a serious threat if ever there was one.

One common thread running through all of these examples is that each of them points to a Government that believes so fully that it is absolutely right about absolutely everything that the rest of us need to be protected from viewpoints that point another way.

A second common thread is that this approach is ultimately self-destructive.

It simply helps to increase the intensity of feeling against this Government, pushes freedom up the agenda of both main opposition parties, and will contribute to this Government being remembered, and deservedly so, as a failure.

New entry at number one

Congratulations to Lib Dem Voice for topping Iain Dale's list of the 100 top ten Lib Dem blogs.

As the discussions that have already started show there is huge potential for the site to become a real gathering point for Lib Dem debate.

The opportunity to have an accessible online private forum is also long overdue.

Along with Lib Dem Blogs Aggregated we've got a pretty good web prescence to build from.

A Liberal Dose is 64 in the list, which, given my infrequent blogging, I'll take as a compliment!

Thursday, September 14, 2006

How do you fit five elephants in a Mini?*

Have just read the new regulations about children in cars and they prompted me to send this email.

I will report back if/when I get a reply.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Dear Department for Transport,

In my family there are two adults and three children, all over the age of three.

It is already a bit of a squash in our (fairly normal) family saloon.

If we install booster seats as per my reading of your new regulations we won’t all be able to fit.

Can you advise on the best cause of action please?

TVM,

Neil Fawcett.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

* I'm not suggesting that members of my family are overweight BTW - it was just the first headline that came into my head

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Mercury still shines brightly

As far as I'm concerned Freddie Mercury (or Sir Frederick of Mercury as Smash Hits used to call him) is the greatest rock star of all time.

Not necessarily the best singer, or the best writer, but definitely the best combination of singing, showmanship and generally 'have a good time, all the time' (as Spinal Tap would say) ever to have graced the planet.

Had he lived it would have been his 60th birthday today.

If you would like to join the stars in celebrating Freddie's life you can do so by sponsoring a star in one of two virtual constellations here. All money raised goes to the Mercury Phoenix Trust which helps fund the fight against AIDS worldwide.

And if you're really keen you can also visit the house he grew up in in Zanzibar which, when I visited it a few years ago at least, is a rather nice Goan restaurant called 'Camlurs'.

Best avoid the local Muslim politicians though.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Best blogger

Gosh how exciting. Lib Dem bloggers are going to have their own equivalent of the the Oscars.

I struggle to find the time to post as often as I would like and usually find that someone else has said what I was going to say before I get round to it.

I admire those that do blog regularly and enjoy reading other people's thoughts. It's also nice to keep up with people I know like Iain Sharpe and Alex Wilcock and reassuring to know that I am not the only Doctor Who fanboy in the party;-)

I have nominated Stephen Tall's blog. Of all the blogs I enjoy reading, and there are a lot, it is the one that makes me think about why I believe what I believe and how to argue my case. Strikes me that that is exactly what a liberal blog should do. (He's also both witty and honest too).

Saturday, July 29, 2006

The West Wing - RIP

(warning - spoilers follow)

There aren't many TV programmes that I treat as 'must see'. For starters my job makes it quite difficult to guarantee being in on the same night each week. the modern trend for new shows to be repeated a couple of times in the followign week are a godsend as far as I'm concerned.

The West Wing has been one programme that I have done my best to follow. It has combined brilliant writing and strong characterisation with inteligent story arcs, real drama and, of course, politics.

I'm sure that part of my reason for liking it so much is because it is about the triumph of liberal idealism over the republican right - but basically it is just solidly good drama.

Despite the sense of winding down in the last few episodes the storylines remained strong with the issue of whether or not Bartlet should pardon Toby Zeigler not being concluded until the final touching scenes.

There were some touching moments in the last few episodes. As James Graham points out Bartlet's gift of a copy of the Constitution to Charlie, that his father had given him, brought a tear to the eye. I though the final scene of Bartlet unwrapping the framed copy of the napkin he had once given to Leo MCGarry was also very sweet.

For me the real test of a good film or TV programme is how much it sucks me in. By the end of the West Wing I was left wondering what Bartlet would do next, how would Santos solve the crisis in asia, would CJ make a go of her relationship and how well would Josh and Sam run the new administration.

I was hooked by this show and will really miss it.

(The really surreal moment of the evening for me was turning on the West Wing challenge beforehand to see David Tennant's happy smiling face as he answered question after question with the zeal that is usually reserved for Dr Who fanboys - only to see the camera then pan over to our own Mark Oaten who didn't do too badly himself!)

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

He doesn't speak for me

There probably isn't much I can add to the debate about the Middle East situation and our Prime Minister's latest folly.

I would just like to state for the record that he does not speak for me.





(And I've added those nice Lib Dem buttons to the site. Thank you Dr Pack.)

Monday, July 03, 2006

Bromley and beyond

It was very enjoyable to spend a few days in Bromley.

We had a very strong candidate in Ben Abbotts and an exceptional Agent in Shaun Roberts who led a fantastic by-election team.

There has been a lot of talk by the sore losers of the campaign - the Tories (Yes - I know that, technically, they won - but it is clear to everyone that they were the losers on the night) - about a 'nasty' and 'vicious' Lib Dem campaign.

What rot! The Lib Dem campaign simply pointed out two undisputed facts: that Bob Neill lived in Towers Hamlets and that he was already a member of the GLA and would not give up that seat if elected MP.

Nothing 'nasty' or 'vicious' about that.

'Nasty and vicious' was the Conservative campaign in Cheadle where, amongst other things, they tried to link Lib Dem candidate Mark Hunter to a rape case.

The electorate are not stupid. They rightly reacted against the tories in Cheadle as a result of their silly campaign. They went with Ben Abbotts in Bromley because his campaign got it right, and because he was clearly a strong candidate.

The deficiencies of the Tory candidate were ably demonstrated in his awful losing speech on the night.

What does this say about politics? Well let's not be starry eyed, it doesn't mean that the Lib Dems can expect to win hundreds of Tory seats next time on a similar swing against the Tories.

It does however demonstrate that the 'Cameron effect', if it exists at all, is only skin deep.

If there was any real support for Cameron, or any real sense out there that people want a Tory Government, the Lib Dems would not have been able to get this sort of swing in a seat where they started third.

The Lib Dems will emerge from this by-election (and Dunfermline) more confident than ever that they know how to win elections against both the other main parties, and that three (or four in the other nations) party politics is here to stay.

Bring The Boys Back Home

After popping down to Sutton for an election debrief I headed to Hyde Park on Saturday to watch Roger Waters perform a set which included The Dark Side of The Moon in its entirity.

(Note to younger viewers - this is a classic Pink Floyd album from the early 70s - Roger Waters was the main songwriter, joint vocalist and bass player)

At one point in the set he launched into the song 'Vera' from 'The Wall' - an unusual choice for a live set. All became clear though when the chorus kicked in: 'Bring the Boys Back Home' - and for anyone who didn't get the point these words were displayed across the back of the stage in VERY LARGE red letters.

Roger also spoke very movingly about his personal experience of the hospitality of arab families when he was travelling in the middle east as a teenager and performed one new song based on those experiences aimed firmly at 'George and Tony'.

I'm sure they won't listen to him, but he made the point very well.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Charles Clarke gets more ridiculous by the second

New Labour has produced some ludicrous figures in its time - Mandelson and Blunkett to name but two. But can anyone claim to be quite as ridiculous as Charles Clarke?

The Labour Party is going down the pan due to 'Honest' T Blair's decision to accept secret loans to fund a bankrupt election campaign and who does Clarke decide to attack? The one bloke who appears to hold the only remaining shred of decency in the party.

Liberal Democrats - get thee to Norwich!

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Happy Harrogate

Lovely weekend here in Harrogate. Snow on Friday, bright sunshine today.

Harrogate is my favorite conference venue. It is a lovely town with a warm northern welcome.

I came to my first conference her in 1987 - the last Liberal Assembly -when I camped in atent and lived on fringe meeting food.

I did my first conference speech here - opposing a woolly arts motion and being savaged by Bob MacLennan as a result. (Well - okay - perhaps 'savaged' is a bit strong)

I also well remember coming up to stay with Phil Willis many years ago to help produce his first constituency newspaper. He was very impressive. Wonder what happened to him ;-)

This weekend has been very positive. Those that were involved in the leadership contests have been able to relax, there is a very positive sense that we are now moving forward. With Ming as Leader, Chris Huhne's profile high and a talented top team we are set to do very well against Cameron's phoney liberalism.

Everyone is now focussed on the local elections in May with campaigners reporting a positive response on the doorstep across the country.

And it was nice to see so many other Lib Dem bloggers here too!

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Going Underground

Add together two unhappy london doctors, Tim Ireland's hilarious use of Flash and a bit of Jam and you get this witty ditty about the joys of london transport.

Be warned - it does use rather uncouth language.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Well done Willie

Congratulations to Willie Rennie - newest Lib Dem MP and all round good bloke.

Cheers also to Peter Barrett and thanks for looking after me at the weekend.

And wel done to Chris, Paul, Mark, Ed and the whole by-election team and everyone who delivered leaflets, canvassed and put up stakes.

A personal thanks to the teams round the country that helped with the blue envelope writing!

Monday, February 06, 2006

Guantanamo prisoners still exist

This report by Amnesty reminds us that several hundred people are still in unlawful detention in Guantanamo Bay.

While the US Government continue to use human rights abuses as their justification for invading or threatening various middle eastern countries they continue to deprive these detainees of their human rights.

Surely by now they have either amassed evidence against each of these people or they have not.

If they have they should take them to court.

If not they should release them.

And our Prime Minister doesn't even appear interested in the 9 British residents that are there. He should hang his head in shame.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Go North

There is a very important by-election in Scotland next Thursday.

The Lib Dem candidate is the excellent Willie Rennie who I knew well when he was our Campaigns Officer in Devon & Cornwall. I also enjoyed a few days training with him in Lithuania two years ago.

Willie will make a great MP for the constituency.

I will be going up to help over the weekend and look forward to seeing Lib Dems from acroos the UK there.

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

7 things to do before I die

I knew someone would make me do this ...

7 things to do before I die:


1. Learn to play guitar properly
2. Record an album
3. Work on a US Presidential campaign
4. Visit Iceland
5. Organise a big party for all my friends
6. Do a rock gig as lead singer of a band with a set made up of the best of 70s & 80s rock classics
7. See my children grow up and lead fulfilling lives

7 things I cannot do:

1. Play guitar very well
2. Speak a foreign language
3. Run
4. Avoid being distracted
5. Suffer fools
6. Anything that involves blood or needles
7. Watch Desperate Housewives

7 things that attract me to Abingdon:

1. The Dil Raj
2. The River Thames
3. Bun Throwing
4. Abbey Meadows
5. Old Anchor Inn
6. Near a lot of beautiful countryside
7. London is far enough away to be distant but near enough to be accessible

7 things I often say:

1. “Maybe just a quick half then”
2. “In a minute!”
3. “With the greatest of respect...”
4. “I shouldn't be back too late”
5. “Well where did you last have it?”
6. “Maybe we'll get it for you for your birthday.”
7. “How ya doin'?”

7 books that I love:

1. Lord of the Rings - JRR Tolkien
2. Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams
3. The Dark Tower series - Stephen King
4. Killigrew RN - Jonathan Lunn (my mate from Uni)
5. Husbands – Adele Parks (another mate from Uni)
6. Mort – Terry Pratchett
7. Executive Orders - Tom Clancy

7 movies I watch over and over again

1. This is Spinal Tap
2. The Blues Brothers
3. Lord of the Rings trilogy
4. The Usual Suspects
5. The Italian Job
6. Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence
7. Se7en

7 people I want to join in too:

Most of the people whose blogs I read have already done this, so I'll do this instead:

7 favorite albums:

1. A Night at the Opera - Queen
2. The Black Album - Metallica
3. Appetite for Destruction - Guns 'n' Roses
4. Afraid of Sunlight - Marillion
5. Dark Side of the Moon - Pink Floyd
6. Born to Run - Bruce Springsteen
7. Earth vs. The Wildhearts - The Wildhearts

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Thank You Charles

Whatever the rights and wrongs of the latter part of his leadership I feel very sad that Charles Kennedy has ended up having to stand down as party leader.

I can't claim to know Charles hugely well, but I have met him on many occasions, mainly through work, and I have always been impressed by his personality and politics. He must be going through a difficult time at present and I wish both him and Sarah all the best at what is undoubtedly a very difficult time for them.

At the present time it is easy to forget just how well the party has done while he has been leader. I well remember the period when Paddy finished, and all the questions about whether 1997 would prove to be the party's highpoint. Yet Charles went on to lead us into two further successful General Election campaigns, gaining seats and votes each time. Several of my friends are now MPs as a result.

In my view his impact on the party's ability to take on Labour in its former heartlands - not least by making the right call on Iraq, tuition fees and a host of other issues - is an equally important achievement. Again we should not forget that if, six years ago, you had told political journalists that we would hold parliamentary seats in Brent, Birmingham, Cardiff, Bristol, Manchester and Leeds six years hence, they would simply have laughed.

I also believe that Charles did a good job because he tried to keep the party together politically. His comments today about the direction of the party rang very true with me. He is right to say that
there is a genuine debate going on within this party - somewhat crudely caricatured at times as being in rather redundant terms as between left and right; in rather simplistic terms as between social liberals and economic liberals; in rather misleading terms as between traditionalists and modernisers.

I, and I think the majority of members, do not see myself as either a 'social' liberal or an 'economic' liberal - rather I see myself as a liberal, trying to balance the maximum freedom for the individual, socially and economically, with the need to ensure that the weak and disadvantaged are not left behind.

Also Charles is spot on to argue that It should be a debate driven by ourselves. It must not be allowed to become dictated by others who do not share our long-term hopes and goals. We must stand and argue - politically independent and intellectually self-confident.

We have always done best when we draw up policies based on our liberal principles as applied to today's circumstances and not driven by whatever position either of out main opponents have chosen to adopt this week.

As far as the leadership is concerned I have to be somewhat circumspect because I am a member of party staff. However I will make these general points:

1 We should not fear a leadership contest if there is genuines support within the party for more than one serious candidate. The recent leadership contests in our party, and the even more frequent ones in the Tory party, have not, in themselves, caused problems. They have often been beneficial.

2 Neither, if there is clear and solid support in the parliamentary party for one serious candidate, should we fear an unopposed contest.

3 One way or another we have to move the political debate forward, and preferably not as a battle between two 'wings'. A genuine debate about how to apply our principles to the Britain of today is essential, with or without a contested leadership election.

4 We have to get back to solid, integrated campaigning on the ground, and we have to continue to expand our organisation to enable us to sustain it.

Most importantly of all we have to work together as a united liberal party.