Friday, March 12, 2004

How to end Ferrrari dominance of Formula One

If there is one thing that is universally acknowledged in sport it is that Formula 1 drivers have the best names. When I was a child, I was convinced that you could not be a formula one driver without an exotic name.

Fittipaldi, Fangio, Senna. These are great names for sportsmen. Even amongst the journeyman drivers we find names like Mika Salo, Jos Verstappen and the wonderful Zsolt Baumgartner. On the other hand footballers have no use for fancy names, as all footballers are only capable of using a one syllable nickname with the suffix "–ey".

Sadly, some of today’s drivers don't cut the patronymic mustard. This cannot be allowed to continue. I hereby propose selecting Formula One drivers on the basis of their names. If a current driver doesn’t have a good enough name, he should be replaced by a footballer who does.

Here then is my proposed starting grid for the top six teams for the Malaysian Grand Prix. Suggestions are welcomed to fill up Jordan, Jaguar, Minardi and Toyota with names fit to sit alongside Zsolt Baumgartner on the back row of the grid.

Zinadine Zidane and Rubens Barichello
If there was ever a name that cried out for Formula one recognition it is that of Zinadine Zidane. A commentator's joy and a marketer's dream. How can this man not be a worthy successor to Fangio?

Juan Pablo Montoya and Antti Niemi
While Williams are doing well, where’s no doubt that they lack a flying Finn in the team. Southampton's second choice goalkeeper will fill that gap admirably.

Kimi Raikkonen and Lomana Lua Lua
David Coulthard is an accountant's name. Lomana Lua Lua will provide the flair McLaren so badly need. Also, he does summersaults.

Fernando Alonso and Kaka' Ricardo Izecson Santos Leite
The young Milan striker's name assures him a place in an up and coming Renault line up and deserves consideration as a replacement for the ageing Zidane.

Takuma Sato and Robert Savage
If Renault must have an Englishman in the squad, Robbie Savage has a name for all seasons.

Fisichella and Massa- no change.
Boring team but good names. Kudos to the Swiss Ferrari-alikes..

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Thursday, March 11, 2004

A British 527?

For those of you who are ignorant of American politics, a 527 is a group able to raise money to spend on advertising and campaigning in a US election. Examples include, and America Coming Together. They use this money to pay for advertising campaigns, grassroots voter mobilisation efforts and so on. They are doing so extremely successfully. My favourite grassroots example is, which raises money from Dean supporters to place pro-Dean adverts in media markets even though Dean has withdrawn from the presidential race. It's a grassroots one man band (mixed metaphor alert) which helped win Howard Dean the Vermont primary.

So why isn't there anything equivalent being planned in the UK? The legislation is clear enough, third party organisations are able to spend up just under a million pounds in the year before a general election to oppose or support specific candidates. That could make one hell of a difference in the top 40 marginal seats.

It wouldn't even be that hard to set up. All you'd need is a website, a campaigner, a bank account, a registration with the electoral commission and once a media buyer. Of course, you'd need some seed-corn money, but 50k would be quite enough for that, and the possible rewards would be huge.

So why hasn't anyone set one up? More importantly, why isn't anyone even thinking about the impact this could have on the next general election? Anyone want to start one with me?

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What if... Blair and Brown both left?

Inspired by newspaper reports saying Gordon Brown might be off to join the IMF, Jason from Andstuff seizes on his one-time role as commissioning editor (he won a competition, ages back) to ask for some well chosen and apposite words on what would happen to TGMOOO (this great movement of ours) if the number 12 bus took a fatal wrong turn into No's 10 and 11 Downing street.

I love this kind of speculation. (Thanks Jason), but to make it work, you need to make assumptions about circumstances. Let's assume that Labour win the next general election with a working majority. A year or so into the new government Blair resigns. Gordon Brown has made it clear that the Presidency of the World Bank or MD of the IMF is what he wants (or has already gone), so a leaderships election takes place without the two titans of new Labour.

Which candidates would emerge? Here is a brief summary- for all candidates, reduce their probability of success by 90% if Brown chooses to stand.

Tiresias the Authoritarian.
David Blunkett

Blunkett is the leading Labour figure next to the Big Two. However, his relentless authoritarianism as Home secretary has led him to be distrusted by many in the party. On the other hand, he has the most inspiring life story of any Labour politician, strong roots in the party and despite his unpopular brief, has maintained decent relationships with many in the PLP.

The Mollifying candidacy of? Jack Straw
Will win if the Labour party is in danger of descending into civil war. No chance otherwise.

The Blairite continuity faction
Alan Milburn or David Miliband

The shock troops of New Labour will face a setback under this scenario. Their best and brightest will have either left the cabinet or have only just arrived. Milburn would be seen as Blair II, and would likely suffer from the comparison (if he even ran) and the support of some of the New Labour Gang would be a hindrance rather than a help.

Miliband, presumably in his first cabinet job and aged around 38, would be seen as too young and too green. Would he have the guts to stake a claim for the leadership of the party? I've often argued that Miliband needs a political fixer with union and party connections to get him up the greasy pole. Paging Fraser Kemp, paging Fraser Kemp?.

The champion of the soft left and the permatan- Peter Hain
He might annoy Old Queen Street, but he warms the cockles of the Guardian's heart. Popular amongst activists, disliked by the machine, He's ambitious enough, but he's never run a big delivery department, isn't that big a public name, and who knows what the unions make of him. Would likely run as a semi-insurgent, cloaking himself in the famed "mantel of Nye", which is the traditional path to? the deputy leadership.

The real rebel - Robin Cook

There's no doubt his stock in the party has never been higher. Cook on the backbenches is proving more popular than Cook in office. But would he really look a credible candidate? His election would represent a total repudiation of the party leadership and I suspect that the party might shy away from this. Also, Cook has real enemies. If he's up against Gordon, that's not a problem, but against anyone else, his candidacy loses some of its force. Personally, I think Cook might prefer to manage another candidate (Hain again?) and secure his future that way. After all, it worked for one T. Blair.

Heavy Hitting Kinnockites-
Charles Clarke/John Reid
The bruisers of the party. If Labour are behind in the polls and think they need someone tough to bring them through the next election, Clarke and reid might appeal. Of course, their chances depend on their success in their departments, which means reid's NHS is in slightly better shape than Clarke's education (the funding going into the NHS over the next few years will be phenomenal) If Reid can stick around in a single job for more than a month. However, a more likely route would be for them to secure their role as the foremost Barons in the Labour court.

Token Women
Tessa Jowell/Patricia Hewitt
Will be running more for the honour of their gender and a senior cabinet job. A couple of years later and Kelly, Cooper and Blears might join the list.

My tips

Well under those circumstances, Blunkett wins with the establishment support, after a strong challenge that leaves Hain (backed by Cook) Deputy leader with a guarantee of either Foreign Secretary's job or control over the party machine.

Blunkett's campaign manager, perhaps John Reid, becomes Chancellor. Cook returns to the Cabinet in a senior role and returns to Carlton Gardens in triumph. Miliband becomes the heir apparent and takes a top job, perhaps Home secretary.

That was fun to write - any other people got articles they'd like to see? Let me know and I'll try and oblige.

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Wednesday, March 10, 2004

Free Money for the rich- Tory Policy update.

I mentioned a couple of days ago that the Tory "Schools and Patients Passports" represent a huge gift of money to the wealthy, giving those who currently pay for private care and education 60% of their money back. Which is nice.

This little present for the base would be paid for by freezing the budget for police, defence, overseas aid, and oh, everything else the government does.

Now the Tories seem to have realised that this might be notso hotso. First Oliver Letwin said a passport could be used to pay for private schools, as long as you didn't use the voucher to pay for Eton.

Imagine the scene:

Upwardly Mobile Middle Class Father: "Hello, I'd like to use my voucher to pay for a private education."

Faceless Voucher Bureaucrat: "and which school would that be?"

UMMCF: "Eton, of course, I've always dreamed of sending little Giles to Eton"

FVB: "Sorry Sir, you can only use your voucher to funnel money to crap private schools, Expensive High Quality Private schools must remain the perogative of the wealthy".

Then Tim Yeo intervened yesterday to say that even crap public schools were off limits. Sort of.

Except there's about a million ways round any ban on using a voucher to pay for an expensive school. Say school E wants to charge £10,000 a year for an education. The voucher is worth £3,000. However it cannot be used for "part-payment", and is otherwise entirely useless to the proud parent (let's call him IDS and assume he has 4 children, ahem). The solution? School E lowers educational charges to £3,000 (handily, the exact sum on one voucher) and charges the proud parent £7,000 for ancillary costs (like school trips and so on). Et voila, everyone wins, except for the rest of us, who now pay the bill.

Laughably, the Tory response to these questions was along the lines of "We don't think schools would do that sort of thing" (no link available, but trust me). These would be the same schools accused of price fixing then?

The fact is, not extending vouchers to private schools makes them unworkable and people will find a way round it. If you do extend them to the independent sector, they are the perfect solution to the perennial problem of how to bias education even more to the wealthy.

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So I'm at work, looking at the newspaper...

And I'm staring at a headline, trying to make sense of it. This takes about a minute. Suddenly I realise it doesn't actually say "sex change footballers to face accusers".

Somehow i think the world would be a better place if it did.

The ideal Blog for a book deal.

Diary of a Baghdad call girl.

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Tuesday, March 09, 2004

Some Political Formulas

The Comparison in Kind

If opposing popular proposal Y, identify X, where X is more popular than Y.

Y should then be referred to in terms of X.

"4 Aircraft carriers? That would pay for ten thousand Doctors."

The Associated negative outcome

If supporting unpopular proposal A, identify unpopular outcome B.

B should then be referred to as an immediate causal consequence to not A.

"I know these tax increases are painful, but those who oppose them would be allowing small children to starve on the street"

"If we don't re-elect President Bush, Al Qaeda will be strengthened"

The Disguised Opposition

If opposing a popular proposal W, identify possible theoretical consequence Q.

W should then be opposed until the chance of Q happening is proved to be nil.

"It would be irresponsible to build more affordable houses for the poor until we know there is not about to be a housing crash"

"We should not enter the Euro until we can prove there will be no negative impact on jobs"

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Twelve Law Lords a leaping, or in this case staying put.

What do I make of the Lords sending the Supreme Court Bill to a select committee rather than a grand committee? thereby possibly delaying consideration for a year?

Not much.

I'm one of those who find constitutional politics unbearably tedious, despite knowing (with my policy wonk hat on) that it can be utterly crucial. It's of huge importance whether the Judicial system is separate to or intertwined with the legislative and executive systems.

Incidentally, I don't like the term "branch" when talking about Government functions in the UK, as the metaphor is entirely inappropriate and the vision of a tree made up of such intertwined branches is not a pretty one.

In theory I think the Judiciary should be separate from the legislature. At the same time, my test for legislation is what's the opportunity cost of introducing this law. In this case, it's legislation on something else and a cost of £50 million or so that could be spent on extending Nursery places or employing more nurses (That's always the default alternative spending plan, but hey, who am I to challenge a tried and tested rehetorical device?). It's not immediately obvious this bill passes that test, althoughy I support it in principle. So my reaction to the vote in the lords is.. relaxed.

In a government made up of lawyers too much attention is given to the constitution because they naturally think these things matter. If we had a government of accountants, accountancy reform would be causing a similar furore. So it goes.

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Who am I similar to?

Inspired by a fellow blogger whose name escapes me (who? who? look it was yesterday and short term memory ain't my thing kids) , I found this "similar webpages" gizmo at google. Being the curious soul I am, I searched to find who my website was similar to. The results are here.

I seem to be most like Matt Yglesias, which surely means a huge wodge of cash awaits me as a freelancer for various newspapers, publications and e-zines. did I mention that one day I'd like to enjoy the strange and terrifying frission of professional writing. Actually, I just want some extra money. All serious offers considered. No topic to small, No job refused etc, etc.

I'm also, like the mysterious blogger I entirely forgot about, similar to Belle De Jour, the London call girl who rightly won the best writing part of the Guradian Web Awards and whose first novel is surely in commission somewhere (Come on, who could resist slutty-chick-lit? Not I. Just think, if "The Sexual life of a French Librarian" can shift 50,000 units, need I spell out the business potential of a top class call girl with a sense of humour and an eye for detail? Publishers, sort it. Hey, it worked for Tracy Quan.

On a related note, I'm not google-similar to, but would like to be Socialism in an age of waiting, who I keep meaning to tell people to read (and subsequently keep forgetting to tell people to read). So go read. Also, admire the brilliance of the parent url. Bet the SWP are furious they didn't get that one.

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Monday, March 08, 2004

George HW Bush was a friend to Hitler- Republican congressman.

This occured to me after reading this piece by Gene at Harry's Place

"What do you think Hitler would have thought if Roosevelt would've lost the election in 1944? He would have thought American resolve was" (weakening), Cole said, according to a spokeswoman

"Dear Mum and Dad... ...The election has come and gone and we now face 4 more years of FDR. There was hardly any talk of it on the 7th, probably cause most have felt that Dewey didn't have much of a chance. I know how discouraged you must be about it, and I feel the same way. " George HW Bush, Nov. 9th 1944. (From "All the best", the Letters of GHW Bush)

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The Tories will freeze Defence spending to give the rich free money

Michael Howard promises tax cuts. I continue to sink into gloom whenever I contemplate the dishonesty of Tory NHS policy. Repeat after me. If you provide huge tax breaks for private care, even if you call it a "patients passport", you are giving free money to those who have private care already, a massive and unrecoverable deadweight cost.

Of course, no journalist talks about this because it would require them to explain what is actually meant by a "patients passport". Think about it this way, The "Patients Passport" and "Schools passport" will mean giving approximately £1 billion in tax breaks to the richest 10% of the population, those who already have private education and private healthcare. That deadweight cost, (plus administration costs or "more red tape") is what causes the increase in spending that the Tories associate with these policies.

What is really happening is that the Tories will freeze spending on Overseas aid, defence and every other area of life to find this money to fund these schemes to give the wealthy free money. They will freeze defence spending, immediately, to fund a tax cut for the top ten per cent of society. It's just that they call it "increasing spending on health and education".

I guess they have learnt something from George W Bush.

Meanwhile, the front pages of newspapers are filled with innuendo peddled by a convicted conman.

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