Friday, February 13, 2004

A message from God*

* This message from God assumes that God is spending some time on earth in the persona of a british commuter whose misanthropic tendencies are fuelled by a slowly building resentment for those who share his personal space.

It is a little known fact that I, like Richard Nixon, have an enemies list. There are some amongst us who I will not tolerate. Their evilness stinks and seeps into the very crevices of my Godliness. Imagine a really bad oil stain. Even after a boil wash. That's what it's like. Except stinky too.

However, I am a just god. Some say I am only just a god or a blind watchmaker, but we know what list they're going on, don't we? I have decided in my justness to let you know how to avoid ending up on my enemies list.

Not being on my enemies list is very desirable, by the way. I can't specifically say that people on my enemies list will end up suffering the Dantean fate of being frozen in a block of ice, impotent, ignorant and hated for eternity (though David Blaine has tried very hard, bless him), but lets just say that the rhyming wop was in the right general area.

So here it is. The official strategy guide to not being loathed by me**.

Taking an unreasonable amount of time at the cash-point, especially when this involves repeatedly putting your card into the ATM and taking it out again. Look, I may be immortal, but why take aeons to press a maximum of 8 buttons?

Bringing your child into the smoking carriage on the train. Not only do you poison your child, more importantly, you make me feel bad about lighting up. That train journey is three hours for chris-sakes. Just for doing that you deserve whatever cancerous growth you're going to get. (What do you mean, you're shocked I smoke? Do you seriously think I'm going to get cancer? Right. Well, who looks stupid now?)

Talking throughout a movie- and especially asking your partner for plot explanations. If you can?t understand the plot, then go see an explosion and guns based film where I won't be able to hear you ask your girlfriend who the leading mans best friend is for the twelfth time. Funny thing is, the film has your complete concentration when even the hint of a nipple is on display. So you get done for lust too.

Trying that "I'll sit on the outside one of these two seats" trick to give yourself a double seat trick.
Ha, thought I'd be too polite to sit there, did you? Well tough luck, sunshine. If you want a double seat you're going to have to rock backwards and forwards and mutter to yourself at the very least. Not only am I going to sit there I'm going to:

Listen to very loud music on a walkman in public. An old favourite and most effective with music that majors on being played loud with repetitive high notes and thudding base. In fact, I sometimes wonder if house music was designed solely to annoy people on public transport. Judging from those who listen to it for that purpose, it seems eminently possible.

Be young, loaded and posh. I'm just jealous. What do you expect? My son gets a donkey and some bread while you get to swan around going to parties and doing coke with pop stars. Sounds like a good reason for an inheritance tax to me. Yup, render unto caeser, Paris. Or I get ol' Luci-baby to rend you.

Kissing in public. With tongues. And groping. Look. I know the whole abstinence thing isn't doing too well, but what what are you trying to do, taunt me?** Of course, this offence is magnified if you are unattractive. 18 stone hippopotami with spots playing tongue hockey in front of me on the train means instant enemy status.

So there you go. Steer clear of these errors and other unenumurated infractions that may or may not be revealed at a later date (possible by a dubiously anointed representative who I can disown at any time and blame you for believing) and you'll be just fine.

**I was going to call it the ten commandments, but I could only think of seven, and the commandments are so last millennia.

***I'm so glad I'm anonymous. Here is a fine example of journalistic hypocrisy, and you can never know that this is a sin I am guilty of. I got clean away hehehehehehe. Oh, you know now. Well, it worked in principle...

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Thursday, February 12, 2004

You can call me Tiresias

"if I were a secretary of state in a major Spending department, I'd be working like buggery to come up with a major investment plan that satisfies Treasury and Number 10 and is popular, damned popular with the Labour Party.

Keep it simple though. Something like re-building twenty schools a month from now to the election"

Me, Monday, discussing what the Government should do to re-establish its fortunes.

"When the challenge is greatest the reform must be boldest and academies embody this principle.

"This will be the greatest school renewal programme in British history, reversing a generation of under-investment in our schools."

The Prime Minister, today, unveiling a £2.2bn Building Schools for the Future programme that will begin work on a pledge to rebuild or refurbish every school in Britain.

You may bow down to my powers of fore-telling. Tremble, earthlings, at powers you cannot hope to understand.

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What is A L Kennedy on about?

I have read three of A L Kennedy's books. Her writing is sparse, moving, powerful and at times unnervingly erotic. She's probably one of the greatest writers of the English language alive today.

So why are her current affairs commentaries in the Guardian such tired, cliched rubbish? I'm sure they're intended as venomous polemic, but they're terrible. Embarrassingly so. Sixth former raging at the unfairness of life bad.

Take yesterday's column. The author has been having dental surgery, and therefore has spent sometime musing on the media whilst stuck at home watching cable television.

"So now I finally have a proper grasp of what's important in modern life. And mainly it's tits - big tits, cheap tits, posh tits, Germans pan-frying tits with their consent, plastic tits, real tits, squint tits, famous tits and the unfortunate tits of strangers. If I'd known how fascinating tits were I'd have spent quality time with mine much more often. But if tits don't do it for you, I've seen more arses in these last weeks than I would have if I worked on an arse farm. "

The rhetorical art of repetition working its magic there, ladies and gentlemen.

Our fearless correspondent has been watching the adverts too.

"....because many important people's money is slightly theoretical and much of the profit Operation Iraq Rip-off was to make hasn't quite materialised, it's important for you little people to support the economy by paying to borrow more money than you can manage. And if your loans are out of control, take out more loans to cover your loans. Above all, don't save - and don't wonder why you'd only get 0.04% interest and a free tea towel if you did save, when you pay out 25% for borrowing."

Personally, I'm just not quite sure how the war in Iraq is related to sub-prime lending, but never mind, it's the crisis of capitalism.

Is this merely a one off? I'm afraid not. Lets go to the Iraq war for this next example. The conceit of the article is that Ms Kennedy is trying to calculate exactly how much blood Tony Blair has on his hands. Pint by pint.

"British deaths, with which we are, of course, most concerned, amount to 50 at the time of writing - let's chalk up 350 pints from them. Numbers of wounded are open to debate, but seem set at four. So we'll top up with another 12 UK pints for luck.

Excluding Dr Kelly's contribution, this brings us to a minimum Total Blood Spilled of 92,811 pints - or a touch over 11,600 gallons of human blood on Blair's hands, the hands of the man who still runs our country, blood that I just can't help imagining - a dark, congealing lake of misery and waste and our leader there in it, sinking. "

It's clever, no? You go through the casualty lists of a war, do a little multiplication and you have your savage indictment of the war leader.

Of course, if given a voice in this article, Mr Tony might venture to suggest that Saddam might not be entirely blood free, hands wise, what with the million dead and everything. That indeed Saddam might have so much spare he could afford to let some drip on the hands of sensitive western writers who rage against the evils of our petty domestic tyrants while blinking away at the disturbing shadows of the real ones.

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In praise of another backbencher

I said earlier this week that Labour MP Jim Sheridan and Tory MP Mark Simmons deserved praise and credit for their work on the Gangmasters licensing bill, which has achieved recognition only after the tragedy in Morecombe. Now local MP Geraldine Smith has shown that she is a diligent constituency MP. It's only sad that the combined efforts of these three MP's did not alert anyone either in the media or in government to the dangers of unlicensed, unregulated, unsafe seasonal agricultural labour.

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Wednesday, February 11, 2004

The realities of a caucus...

Lance Knobel, over at Davos Newbies, has a wonderful post on the UK Democrats abroad caucus. It's a revealing insight into the realities of candidate selection under such a system. Kerry won fair and square, but two things stood out. This contect has clearly generated real passion and commitment - Evidenced by a huge turnout for a preliminary caucus for a race that seems all but over. Second, the fact that the rules seem to be.. ah fluid. Edwards was declared non-viable, then viable again after a protest that sees to have been neitherp provable nor refutable. Imagine if the Presidential race turned on such things!

Personally, It makes me ever more grateful for polling booths, pencil stubs and ballot boxes.

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Tuesday, February 10, 2004

A crisis of New Labour confidence?

We've been so accustomed for so long to swaggering self confidence from the apostles of New Labour that it is something of a shock to hear people saying that for Blair, the sky is, if not falling in, at least in need of serious structural support.

Yet looking at the polls today, one is tempted to ask 'what crisis?'. The worst polls have Labour behind the Tories by 4 points, the best have them ahead by five points. Compared to the Tory mid term blues of yore, this is no great shakes.

And yet, there is a tone of real nervousness about many sympathetic commentators and politicians. They seem to have lost their conviction of success, while their opponents are full of passionate intensity about the overthrow of the New Labour leadership. John Denham wrote an intelligent piece about it this week, Peter Mandelson has been saying that a third term cannot be assured and Martin Kettle has an smart piece in the Guardian today on the same topic. Kettle, who appears to be channelling Phillip Gould (no-one else in New Labour talks like that) says:

"One of the party's advisers recently put it to me in a striking manner. As an election approaches, public opinion coheres around a big proposition.... What will that next decisive popular summation be? The adviser does not know. Labour wants it to be something like: "They're making a difference and they deserve more time."

But you would have to be quite an optimist to think that is very likely. Judging by the temper of the times, particularly as promoted in the press, the summation is currently closer to: "We don't trust them and they haven't been very good."

There are two main elements to Labour's crisis of confidence.

One, undeniably, has been the war. Look at the Times poll today. The Tories are where they've been polling for years. Labour is significantly down. The Liberal Democrats are at 25%. I think if I were a Lib Dem I'd be delighted by this result.. Lib-Dems are generally obscured between elections, then do better during the campaign, when the media have to cover them- if this popularity is maintained, their success could be the story in the June elections.

There's no doubt that this support has come from the middle class Labour vote. The Guardian classes have gone for a bit of Charlie. (One caveat: Is this really who the Lib-Dems need to vote for them in order to win seats?)

Second, there is doubt amongst some New Labour footsoldiers that they are marching in the right direction. This is as much strategic as philosophical. The big issues of the last six months have been where the Government has tried very hard to get complex and difficult policies through a parliamentary party that was suspicious and a media culture that was baffled.

Foundation hospitals, Tuition fees and the war. None of them have the simple appeal of spending more on the NHS, cracking down on crime or spending more on schools.

As a result, Labour MP's are desperate something popular- or as important- explicable. Some Labour strategists are fond of talking about "narrative", the story behind all the stories. Despite this lovely idea, we are pursuing policies few people understand, so it is no surprise that those who are certain in their distaste are listened to.

That's not to say the policies are wrong; just that the reason for pursuing them is unclear. Why Foundation Hospitals and Tuition Fees are the keystones of Labour's policy is a mystery to most voters, as they are technical management issues that don't seem to address the real issues.

At the same time, the government is caught in a squeeze- the three year spending programme means that the government cannot pull popular spending or tax cuts out of their hat (a very good policy programme, but tough politics) Instead, they seem to adopt the position of crossing their fingers and hoping that the money makes a difference. Of course, when you're not constantly announcing new initiatives, even if new services are coming on-line, people don't notice.

So, where might such a set of proposals come from? What policies, consistent with Labour values, yet with real impact on peoples lives could the government come up with? There's not much room for eye catching initiatives when the moneys committed, but if I were a secretary of state in a major Spending department, I'd be working like buggery to come up with a major investment plan that satisfies Treasury and Number 10 and is popular, damned popular with the Labour Party.

Keep it simple though. Something like re-building twenty schools a month from now to the election pr giving nursery education to every three year old.

So why not help 'em out- what would you do?

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Monday, February 09, 2004

Michael Howard and the Mystifying Rhetoric

Does he have something against dwarves? WHy the obsession with size?

From his "I have a (british) dream" speech today:

"People who start businesses are big people, every single one of them."

"For many of the best people in Britain, their dream is to become a doctor, a nurse or a teacher and dedicate themselves to healing the sick and educating the young. Every day, they go beyond the call of duty to perform extraordinary feats, far beyond what any politician could ever achieve. But many of them feel small."

And what is Howard's British Dream? Why his last sentence sums it up perfectly. "The opportunity for every one to live bigger lives."

No worries about obesity then. I'm off to McDonalds to live the British dream.

Oh,... and on a serious note, what could Howard possibly mean by this little sentence tucked away in his pean of praise to choice in healthcare?

"We will begin to implement the system necessary to make this work from the moment we come into office."

What system is this? Surely we should be told.....

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Forseeing the Morecambe bay tragedy- and acting to prevent it.

One of the saddest parts of the Morecambe Bay tragedy is that the poor Chinese migrant labourers were somehow invisible. Think about the idea of 30 Chinese labourers working the sands of Morecombe Bay, searching for cockles. Yet somehow no-one could see that this was an illegal operation- or if they did see, they took no action..

One of the problems was that these labourers were working in a part of the grey economy that is free of those often decried regulations.
Anyone can cockle in Morecambe bay, the economy is cash in hand and transient and there is no need for National Insurance, to pay taxes or to pay attention to pettifogging health and saftey regulations.

The field of recruiting seasonal agricultural labour and putting them to work is unlicensed and unregulated. As bad money drives out good, Criminal gangmasters, recruiting illegal immigrants, trafficking and underpaying have lower costs than their legitimate competitors.

So a salute to Jim Sheridan MP who has proposed the Gangmasters (licensing) Bill after winnning the Private Members bill ballot. This is no knee-jerk response to a tragedy; he has been campaigning on this topic for a long time. Neither is it a cross party issue, Mark Simmons, the Tory MP for Boston and Skegness, proposed a similar bill last year.

I am sometimes dismissive about the power and influence of backbench MP's. The efforts of these two MP's, working for little publicity or glory on an issue that few cared about until the tragedy last week, is a salutory lesson. They may have the right soloution, or they may be wrong, but they cared enough to do something about it.

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