Friday, June 20, 2003

British Media is triumphant..

While British blogs are resolutely the underfed scrawny cousins of their bloated and self important American cousins (jealous? me, of a hit rate in the tens of thousands? pah, the idea), the same cannot be said for our news-media.

Harry links to a survey carried out by online journalism review, mainly to have a poke at Andrew Sullivan (couldn't agree more- any fundamentalist free-marketeer who supports his own lifestyle by holding out the begging bowl online really needs to conider his value system). It's a chart of prominent bloggers saying who they think the most influential bloggers are. Apart from one solitary mention of prolix buffoon Steven Den Beste, I can't find much to complain about in that, but of course, it's a very US-centric list.

But the most linked to media list isn't. The BBC, The Guardian and The Independent all make the top 15, as well as IT hotspot The Register.

I suspect this is driven by the howls of outrage each of the first three regularly elicit from right wing US bloggers, but still, it gave me a little surge of pride.

Mind you, I couldn't help but wonder how outraged those bloggers would get if they spoke French or German.

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Department of not going on about politics all the time

A while back I wrote a parody of Homer which I thought was jolly good and nobody else paid the slightest attention too. Now I know how it feels to be a Liberal Democrat policy officer. However, some good came out of all this waste of passion in an expanse of blog, as Lance, over at Davos Newbies, took the opportunity to recommend Cristopher Logue's War Music.

I've now just finished reading it, and it is stupefyingly good. Go buy it. Also, if possible, listen to Time the Revelator by Gillian Welch at the same time. Worked for me. Also, the combination of the two will make you charming, charismatic and irresistible to the opposite sex.*


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Thursday, June 19, 2003

New Labour – What’s gone wrong?

Today’s newspapers contain an avalanche of opinion pieces asking where New Labour has gone wrong. (No, I’m not going to link to them. If you’re reading this site and you don’t know what I’m talking about, move along, there’s nothing for you here).

Aside from my irresistible desire to link this with the wonderful old George Best anecdote* one has to ask in which alternate reality this debate is taking place.

In the world in which I live, New Labour has been ahead in the polls for ten years, is still ahead in the polls, has a parliamentary majority of more than 150 and controls the devolved administrations in Scotland and Wales. Some failure.

Now I yield to no-one in my dismay at a botched reshuffle (see posts passim on the topic) and my belief that some apparatchiks head should be on the block for it, but to claim this represents some kind of collapse for New Labour is ludicrous nonsense of the first order. It is fashionable piffle.

Aha, I hear you cry, but you’re talking about inside politics. What about policy? Surely it’s true that Labour has run out of policy making steam, that public services are not improving fast enough, that crime is rising, we’re being swamped by immigrants and so on.

This is tosh. Crime is falling. educational standards are rising, new schools are being built, new hospitals are being built, the economy is sound, the UK is only major western state that is increasing spending on public services, Asylum applications are falling, Exports are about to expand because of the decline of the pound, Unemployment is low, Interest rates are low.

Now, there are bound to be bumps on the road. It’s pretty clear that whoever was doing the budget planning for schools made a mistake last year about the cost of teachers. Fine. A mistake, but not an awful one. Put this against the fact our investment in schools is rising 6% ahead of inflation every year and that the biggest school building programme for two generations is in place. Which is more important?

Then again, some of the policy stories are just ludicrous. Take health. The Tory claim is that “No more people are being treated by the NHS”. Think about that. No more people are being treated. How awful.

Now, does this mean that the NHS has not improved?

It does not.In fact, a look at these performance indicators show that to suggest the NHS is not improving is complete bollocks.

Some statstics taken at random from the 2002 indicators compared to the year before. 27,000 more cataract operations, 40,000 more joint replacements, 4,600 more heart operations. Fewer deaths after operations.

Forget that, though. Even if the claim were true it is a pointless, stupid one. The standard of care could be rising, the success of operations could be soaring, the facilities available to staff could be vastly improved and yet this would not make a jot of difference to the Tory claim. Amazingly enough, that's happening too... Don’t believe that? Well take a look at this report.

It is said that New Labour has run out of ideas or steam. Well whoop-di-do. I Guess an English Baccalaureate, Independent Judiciary, Democratic regional government, City academies, Foundation hospitals are just tired old ideas.

But really, it’s more simple than that. Those who are attacking New Labour today have to answer this question: What is it about prosperity and better public services you don’t like?

Yes, more change is needed. Yes, Freeing hospitals from central control is a good idea. Yes, we need more police. But I can tell you the kind of change we don’t need.

Change that takes tax cuts for the richest and calls it NHS reform.
Change that returns us to the failed tactic of starving public services of funds in the hope that those who can will pay and those who can’t won’t complain and calls it leaving no child behind.
Change that means death by a thousand cuts to programmes like Sure Start, Pension credits and the minimum wage and calls it rolling back
the state.

In other words, we don't need Tory change.

This government has delivered consistent prosperity and improved employment, consistent increases in investment in public services, consistent improvement in public services and a more settled, more comfortable society. Could you ever say the same for the Tories?

If this is failure can we have some more?

*in which Mr Best, spending the night in a hotel room with Miss World and the winnings of a nights gambling, calls for room service. The waiter arrives, discovering Mr Best, the champagne, the cavorting Miss World and the huge amount pile of money both on the bed surveys the room and asks mournfully… “Where did it all go wrong, George?”

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Wednesday, June 18, 2003

Ladies who tattoo....

Yes, you can now get a tattoo at Selfridges. Yippee. As the Times says..

"WHEN a middle-aged mother from Surrey walked into Selfridges to have her hip tattooed with the label of her favourite French wine, it confirmed a trend: tattooing has become socially acceptable"

Alternatively, it confirms that tattoos are passe (You knew this day would come, woman with sunburst design in the small of your back and dolphin on your shoulder) and middle-aged mothers from Surrey are completely loopy.

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Tuesday, June 17, 2003

A Tory to praise..

It's not often this site get to praise a Tory, and a mackem Tory at that, but kudos goes to Tory Councillor Tony Morrissey, who is off to the Gulf for 6 months as a TA soldier. Iain Murray should be proud!

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The Great Euroblogrule controversy

(Not sure what I'm on about? Catch the brouhaha here and here)

My position is simple. I demand the right to write factually incorrect, distorted articles which smear, abuse and damage others repoutations without providing any opportunity of redress or coherent debate.

Further, I demand the right to be incoherent without vile irony attending, incomprehensible without contemptuous clarification and obnoxious without satirical reproof.

I demand my right to display my ignorance without fear of correction. This is the very essence of the internet. It is where I stand. I can do no other.

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A lie can be half way round the world…

Occasionally, (just occasionally mind) I fulminate against the incompetence and dishonesty of our media.

So today’s editorials on regional Government did not come as a complete surprise. I am not an ultra for Regional Government- On balance I think it’s a good thing, but I want evidence that assemblies like this really can make a difference to the communities they hope to serve. That isn’t merely a question of powers, it’s a question of effectiveness.

Today’s Editorials in the Times and Telegraph on the same subject are some piece of work. They are dishonest, misleading, factually incorrect, selective with data and paranoid. Still, they give the papers concerned a chance to bash the government, so what price accuracy?

First, The Times

What may cost the taxpayer dearly is appointing a new group of politicians to eminent posts with poorly defined functions. It is almost inevitable that local taxation will be higher in regions that have assemblies than they are now, with little to show in the way of extra local amenities.

Appointing? Appointing? No, Dear Times Leader writer, Appointing is what we do now. Appointing is what happens at the Regional Development Agencies and the Local regeneration funds, Appointing is what happens at learning and Skills Councils, Transport bodies.

What democratic Regional Government does is elect those people. I wonder why the Times leader writer finds it vital to elide this. As for poorly defined, if they mean sloppiliy defined, they could not be more wrong. Every power is clearly set out. It is impossible not to know what the powers are, if one bothers to read the white paper.

All too often, regions simply define areas within which communities battle with each other. The announcement last year of a possible North West assembly had to be held in an hotel in Daresbury in Cheshire in order to be roughly equidistant between Liverpool and Manchester and avoid offending the residents of either.

Definetely a leading edge indicator of failure, that. One thinks of the examples of Canberra and Washington, chosen because their location gave pre-eminience to none. They might not be fun town, but the fact they exist is no argument against the United states and Australia.

and now our friends at the Telegraph...

This is an idea that has long commanded support from the European Union, as it represents a progressive weakening of the nation state. The Government has been quite open in its view that the assemblies would fit into a model E U superstate..

Ah, there’s a surprise, It’s all a plot from Brussels. Those fiends in human form.

The German Länder have, as it were, an organic claim to authority, and have represented their local communities for much longer. The English regions are, by comparison, ahistorical, nebulously conceived, arbitrarily imposed. The South-West region, for example, has little to hold it together. Cornishmen have a distinct history and even language from those in Somerset, of which this government legislation takes no account.

Which is why, if the South-West doesn’t want a referendum, they don’t have to have one. It's stunningly simple.

Nor does the Government's claim that these regional assemblies will round off the process of devolution bear water. Those in the North- East, who have so far been the most vocal supporters of regionalisation, will be dismayed to discover that the proposed authorities will not gain even the limited substantive powers that the existing assemblies enjoy.

Somehow ignoring the London Assembly, which has virtually the same powers as the proposed regional assemblies (I hesitate to suggest that London is somehow diferent for London based writers).

The assemblies will, however, entirely change the face of local government - giving far greater opportunity for the salariat to flourish. Rather than leaching power downwards from central government, they will usurp the existing powers of local government.

A flat lie. I defy anyone to read the relevant white paper and point to an area where power will flow upwards. In fact, the Regional assemblies will democratise an existing later of government and take other powers from central government (the ability to allocate Housing funds, for example).

Of course, what it does do, is create single tier local government. As we already have in Scotland, Wales, London and Northern Ireland and virtually every major conurbation in the UK. Why? Because it works. Go on, tell me why it’s a good idea to have one local council to deal with street sweeping, and a more distant one to deal with road repair. That’s what we have now.

I also love the idea of the loathesome Salariat. I presume the Telegraph leader writers are paid in barter.

The Government's own research in the three regions suggests that opinion - inasmuch as any opinion is held - is 5:1 against these assemblies.

Umm.. no it doesn’t. Check an opinion poll. Every poll held in the North-East says that opinion is roughly 60-40 in favour. That’s not overwhelming, and I think the campaign will be tough, but It’s not the 5-1 figure the Telegraph clings to.

Anyway, to end, since we are talking about devolution, here’s the editorial of my local paper on the topic. Perhaps a mite more important than the opinion of the national Media.

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Monday, June 16, 2003

Bill and Hillary? That’s like, soooo 1998,

I’ve had enough. I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it any more.

If I see one more op-ed or commentary piece about the Clinton’s in a British newspaper I’m going to go round to someone’s house and graffiti THE CLINTON PRESIDENCY IS OVER on their lawn with weedkiller.

This means you, Pollard, and you, Sullivan and you, Donegan.

(Sullivan’s work in particular got to me- hundreds of words of personal vitriol about the Clinton’s private life, followed by a pious concern for the standards of American public debate if Mrs Clinton should run for the presidency because of the vitriol she generates.

This is the campaigning journalist's equivalent of going up to someone, pointing to a lurking friend with a baseball bat and explaining to them how terrible it would be if legs were broken because they failed to pay protection money, but I digress. )

Bill Clinton left office in 2000.

In his place we have a American President who has invaded a foreign country, presided over a tax cut of billions of dollars while raising spending dramatically (Don’t take my word for it, ask a conservative ideologue),

Bush (the first CEO president) manages an economy which has shed millions of jobs while federal deficits soar. He seems completely disinterested in the fact that for the first time in a generation we teeter on the edge of deflation.

Maybe Bush’s policies are right. Maybe they’re wrong. Surely they matter more than whether Hillary was upset with Bill three years ago.

Get over it, guys.

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