Tuesday, July 31, 2007

A spinner's lot

In my youth I ran in and trundled away at the finest military medium pace, pitching the ball up with a hint of outswing. I hardly ever got collared, and I usually picked up wickets - mostly through frustration. But I never felt like a medium pacer - I was mainly a batsman who could bowl a bit. When I went to Zambia in 2003 I started playing for a team (Lusaka South) awash with right arm medium pacers but without a regular spinner. Add to that a pitch showing the signs of a three month dry spell and I was sold on the idea of filling the gap. The first time I bowled a ball that turned appreciably off the straight, I was hooked. I love spin bowling.

There are a lot more pitfalls for the spinner than for the trundler. Batsmen's eyes light up like slot machines. Meaty bats and chunky forearms conspire to send good balls into the stratosphere. I was once hit over a spotlight. But there is nothing to match the satisfaction of out-thinking a batsman - holding one back for the caught and bowled; bowling a drifter to the batsman looking for turn; really putting a rip on one for the batsman looking to leave: it's much more strategic than pace bowling.

Since the level of physical exertion involved in bowling slow is significantly less than when bowling quick, more subtelty can be introduced into the action. Look at three examples of Robert Croft bowling to a left handed batsman.

By varying how wide on the crease he bowls, Croft alters the angle of the delivery and thereby the amount of turn he'll get. The idea might be to bowl tight to the stumps, with the spin taking it past the stumps, trying to encourage the batsman to leave the ball, and then go wide on the crease hoping the angle will take it onto the stumps. This sort of tactical bowling doesn't require the fancy doosras or top-spinners that most offies won't have in the locker.

To be honest, the spinner is now so rare in English cricket that simply coming in off a short run will have a lot of batsman fidgeting in the crease uncertain whether to stick or twist. because there isn't the pace on the ball, the safe deflection shots aren't available - to get runs the batsman has to put the pace on himself. Bowl full and just outside off stump and the only safe attacking shot is the straight drive - easily defended. To get runs the batsman has to take risks - and that's always a good time to be bowling.

But it's not as if spin bowling is easy - have a look at the three best English left arm spinners of the last 20 years, Phil Edmonds, Phil Tufnell and Monty Panesar:

Not exactly effortless...


Entirely wrong

Alternatively: The ruin of the floods underlines the urgency of maintaining globalised trading routes. The logic of this article: a large proportion of our crops have been destroyed by an exceptional weather event. Therefore we should not be in a situation where we import crops. Oookaay.


Imperialism and India

Easing myself into this recess gradually, I can comment on an article in the Guardian that is a combination of politics and history. What with the 60th anniversary of the independence of India coming up, we can expect a rash of similar articles in the Guardian, decrying the iniquities of the Raj and claiming that modern views are unacceptably forgiving. If they're all as ropy as this on matters of historical fact and interpretation then we're going to have a pretty thin time of it.
The struggle reflected a diverse milieu. There were Swarajists, Gandhians, socialists, Hindu and Muslim religious nationalists, communists, militant revolutionaries (branded "terrorists") and the Indian National Army.
Perhaps less diverse than Gopal thinks, given that Swarajists were a party that derived from the book Hind Swaraj (Home rule for India) that was written by Gandhi and summed up his political philosophy. To claim that the Indian National Army were much of anything other than a repository for prisoners of war and deserters is a bit of a stretch as well.
Even this brief display of handbills, tracts, advertisements, banners, cartoons, petitions, speeches and popular songs puts paid to the canard that "liberty" is a mainly western value.
I'm not sure I've seen this belief written anywhere since about 1930.
Many of the materials on show at the British Library were banned at the time. Despite the fond notion that the empire spread liberty (a myth US neocons have reworked), protest was heavily policed through anti-sedition and press-control legislation.
Well, there was certainly more liberty in the British Empire than outside it, and liberty was gradually extended as progress towards independence was made. That liberty was not absolute, and was indeed restricted is not to say that it was non-existent.
Though commentators frequently argue that the British tried nobly to unite an "uneducated and excitable" people, separatism was intrinsic to colonial rule and continues to inflect British politics.
It's preferable, when quoting people, to reference who they are and where they said it. Otherwise the suspicion grows that the quotation is being fabricated to fit the argument. If Gopal can find a contemporary commentator who argues (frequently presumably) that colonial rule in India was an attempt to unite an uneducated and excitable people then he should at least tell us who.
As we commemorate six decades of independence, we need to reflect, in Britain and the subcontinent, on how historical legacies shape thinking today. We need to stop believing that culture, community, religion and nation are the same entities.
This is an interesting and apposite point. The lesson that should be learned from British colonialism is not about racism, nor brutal capitalism nor liberty. What is fascinating is the way in which the British sought to understand alien cultures and societies and tried to use existing hierarchies to maintain British rule with a minimal British presence. This took many forms, relying on the Indian monarchies, the African tribal chiefs, and the religious systems throughout the Empire.
Terence Ranger, who in most respects is a thorough-going son-of-a-bachelor, wrote an important book called The Invention of Tradition in which he claimed that much of the 'tribal hierarchies' used by the British in Africa were essentially invented by the British. The inference is not that this was deliberate but that, in trying to understand alien societies, the British crystallised formerly fluid systems into rigid hierarchies. The same process has been analysed in the British assessment of the Hindu caste system.
To what extent this line of argument is entirely correct is debatable - the caste system particularly has antecedents well before British involvement - but it has interesting lessons for contemporary government, particularly in light of the current governmental trend for listening exclusively to 'community leaders' when the bulk of their leadership seems to derive from the fact that they are listened to by government.

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Summer Recess

Since nothing of any political importance ever happens in August, I thought I'd write some fairly random posts about subjects I actually know about, rather than politics where, as should be perfectly obvious, I know nothing whatsoever. Consider the Muralitharan post as the first in an occasional series.


Polite request

Look, just let it rest can't you?

To journalists, reporters, columnists, MPs and so on. Please stop using the phrase "ball-crushingly tight." It's not big, nor hard, nor clever. Funny once (ish), but it gets very irritating very quickly.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Britblog #128

This week's Britblog is over at Liberal England's. Go take a look, and thanks to whoever nominated me for a post...

A question of degree?

Muttiah Muralitharan, who has just passed 700 Test wickets to draw close to Shane Warne's world record haul, is doomed to be pursued by the allegation that he doesn't play fair: that, in short, he is a chucker. As the photo to the left demonstrates, it is quite easy to see why people think so. Watching with the naked eye it seems absolutely blatant, bent elbow, fizzy action, ludicrous turn: QED.
I certainly thought so. I bowl off spin myself, albeit at a less elevated level and have always thought it impossible to get as much turn as he does from mere finger spin. But Murali's tweak comes from the wrist action - as can be seen from the photo. Monty Panesar, on the other hand, bowls with a classic finger spinner's action, gaining turn from the revolutions he puts on the ball - helped by massive hands and long fingers. I saw Murali bowl in a full arm cast - designed to prevent any straightening of the arm at all, and it still looked as if he were throwing it, evidence surely that he isn't.
So what is he doing, and how does he get so much god-damned turn? The answer, I believe, is that he has a bent arm. This doesn't mean he throw it, which would require him to straighten the arm, but it still gives him a definite advantage. This is because you can put your wrist through a greater degree of twist with a bent elbow than with a straight elbow. Combined with his double-jointed wrist, Murali can put as much work on a ball as could Warne with his wrist spin.
With a traditional off-spinner like Robert Croft (left), the wrist can only turn about 90 degrees as the fingers rip across the seam. Murali, with hyper-extended elbow and double-jointed wrist, can put his wrist through more than twice that, at speed, imparting far more revolutions onto the ball, making it turn more and dip through the air. So Murali does have an unfair advantage - it's just not an illegal one. It doesn't hurt that he plays so much against Bangladesh and Zimbabwe either, but that's another story.


Early election...

So, the Labour Party are basking in massive opinion poll leads; the main press stories are either about how wonderful Brown is or how desperate the Tories are; there are mutterings among the lemming tendency of the Conservative Party; and serious people are talking up the chances of an early General Election - maybe as early as October. The received wisdom goes as follows:
The honeymoon granted a new leader is never very long. John Major, Anthony Eden and Harold Macmillan managed to call, and win, an election quickly enough to catch the wave; James Callaghan did not, and lost. Sir Alec Douglas-Home who might seem to be the counter to this, in that he called an election soon after ascending to the Premiership but lost it, is actually further evidence in favour in that he did far better than predicted and only just lost to Wilson. Brown, therefore, should go ahead and call an election as soon as possible while the electoral climate is as favourable as possible.
I'm not convinced that it will happen, though it certainly looks more likely than it did a month ago. The Labour Party, lets not forget, are broke: they're deeply in debt, attracting donations at a sixth of the rate of the Tories, have embarrassing outstanding loans to donors like Sir Christopher Evans that must be paid back, and are in no financial position to fight a General Election. Further, the Labour Party machine is much diminished in large areas of the country - in the local elections they were unable even to contest a large nuber of seats. With neither funds nor councillors, Labour does not look able to move fast enough to fight an autumn election.
Quite apart from the practicalities, one of the main reasons for Brown's sustained bounce has been the saturation coverage, much of it apporaching the hagiographic, from the media. In election time this one-sided coverage will diminish. It has been noted before that the Tories and Cameron's ratings improve whenever they receive prolonged coverage - regardless of whether that coverage is positive or negative. Once the oxygen of publicity flows through to the Tories, expect the polls to recover.
Lastly, the redistricting is expected to give the Tories some 20 extra seats on an identical result. This, plus any sort of recovery from the Tories, will be enough to deprive Brown of his majority even if it leaves him as leader of the largest party. Brown spent enough time watching a Goverment with a vanishingly small majority tear itself apart to want to put that moment off for as long as possible. Remember those by-elections? The Labour Party lost 8-10% of its vote, while the Tories held steady and the Lib Dems moved up. Brown may well find it preferable to head a Government with a majority of 66 and three years to run, rather than a minority administration.

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I think I can feel justly proud that this blog is the first Google result for "Simon Heffer idiot", although quite why someone found this blog by typing in "Why vote for the Conservatives when you’ve got a party that is reflecting in its philosophy everything that Mrs Thatcher did? I mean it’s as straightforward as th" is rather beyond me. Hey ho.

UPDATE: Alarmingly, "Simon Heffer nazi" also comes here, which I think is a bit strong.


Friday, July 27, 2007

Brown's strategy

Blair's technique, when still leader of the opposition and when first elected Prime Minister, was to try and be all things to all men: to make New Labour, as he put it, 'the political arm of the people of Great Britain'. His tactics were, essentially, to reassure the worried middle classes that Labour was on their side while throwing enough in the way of spending increases and social policy to keep the left of the party less than actually mutinous. Blair's mission, in other words was to make Labour the natural party of government, and his technique was to make Labour synonymous with the middles ground.
Brown has the same mission, but his technique, so far, has been slightly different. he's aiming at making Labour the only party of government by demolishing the Tories. Almost every policy so far announced has been designed solely to stuff the Tories. Policies that might give the Tories a chance to attack from the right, like the decision that City Academies should be run by LEAs, destroying their purpose, have been enacted under suffocating silence. As Chancellor, Brown was adept at hiding proposals and policies in small print and supplementary leaflets. As Prime Minister he has continued the trend.
I said that Brown has been aiming to destroy the Tories; I think it's more personal than that, it's an attempt to destroy David Cameron. Look at the high-profile announcements: casinos 'reviewed', cannabis 'reviewed', detention to be 'reviewed': all three social policies designed solely to cause Cameron troubles on the right of his party. Incidentally, Brown seems to have more reviews than Victorian theatres. But is this how to run a Government?
Ultimately politics is more than a contest between Labour and the Tories: there is a country to run here after all. Seeking, above all other considerations, for party political advantage carries a lot of dangers. Look at the recent Labour announcement that a border police force, an idea espoused by the Conservatives for years now, and routinely derided by the Labour Party, should now be adopted. The problem is that the envisaged force is little more than Customs officials given a different uniform and a shiny badge. There will be very little substantive change to border control, but the Tories will have lost a talking point. It's very clever I suppose, but it looks ultimately empty. Politics is more than mere party politics. It's a point Blair came to appreciate only too well - it's why his sparring with Cameron always seemed a little half-hearted - but for Brown it looks like the only show in town.

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Po-faced puritanism

The atmosphere of bansturbation thickens. There appears now, for many people, to be no middle ground between "I dislike X" and "X should be banned". Whether X is fox-hunting, smoking, drinking, trading with Israel or online pornography is irrelevant. The apotheosis of this attitude comes in this article on Comment is Free.
He starts by looking at Second Life the online freeform virtual world that has been used as a media shorthand for the entire Web 2.0 idea. The point about Second Life is that there are very few rules of engagement - it's a freeform world and its inhabitants can look after themselves. The only time administrators step in is to repair glitches and faults, whether accidental or deliberately started. This freedom has had inevitable results: Second Life is rather like a Jilly Cooper novel - a very large part is devoted to shopping and fucking. Peter Singer has picked up on the most morally dubious aspect of this:
Depending on your preferences, you can have sex with someone who is older or younger than you - perhaps much older or younger. In fact, if your virtual character is an adult, you can have sex with a virtual character who is a child.
Provided, of course that the virtual character agrees this is true - but we're getting very woolly here - the one are where Linden Labs do make efforts to control the environment is that there is an age control that controls where avatars can go. So what we're talking about is online roleplay. Now, this isn't illegal in 'real life' - take a look in the window of Anne Summers - and it's hard to see why it should be illegal online. Singer rather weakens his case on this:
If you get aroused by having your adult partner dress up as a schoolchild before you have sex, and he or she is happy to enter into that fantasy, your
behaviour may be abhorrent to most people, but as long as it is done in private, few would think that it makes you a criminal.
I may be going out on a limb here, but I reckon that school fantasies aren't abhorrent to most people. The peculiar success of all those school disco parties suggests that a lot of people find the area a sexy one - hardly surprising as school was, after all, the place most of us became aware of sex for the first time. (School discos, on the other hand, baffle me - what was sexy about standing on opposite sides of the gym, waiting to get publicly rejected? Maybe it's just wish-fulfillment - 'this time it'll work, I'm not spotty any more, and I drive a sports car').
But looking at the question in this way raises another, and perhaps more significant, issue about virtual activities: video game violence.
Here we bloody go. More drivel has been written about this than can be believed. Playing Doom, or Resistance, Fall of Man, does not make me a killer any more than playing Virtua Tennis makes me win Wimbledon, or Tomb Raider makes me grow breasts and explore Mayan ruins.
The manufacturers fall back on the simplistic assertion that there is no scientific proof that violent video games lead to violent acts. But sometimes we cannot wait for proof. This seems to be one of those cases: the risks are great, and outweigh whatever benefits violent video games may have. The evidence may not be conclusive, but it is too strong to be ignored any longer.
Dear God. There's no proof, but we should introduce censorship anyway just in case? Reading Guardian articles raises blood pressure to dangerous levels. People who have recently suffered strokes are known to have read the Guardian. The editors fall back on the simplistic assertion that there is no scientific proof that reading the Guardian leads to brain haemmorhage. But sometimes we cannot wait for proof. This seems to be one of those cases: the risks are great and outweigh whatever benefits the Guardian may have. The evidence may not be conclusive, but it is too strong to be ignored any longer.
UPDATE: Kudos go to the commenter who said I used to play Super Mario Bros and now I'm an Italian plumber.
UPDATE2: DK points out in the comments that the writer is a professor of bio-ethics at Princeton. Words rather fail me.


Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Do the right thing

I have to add my name to this extremely worthy campaign.

Have a look here for what to do, and then write a letter (preferably a bit less pompous than mine) to your local MP.

Dear Karen

As a constituent I am writing to you regarding your attitude towards the fate of the many thousands of Iraqi civilians who have supported, and who continue to support the efforts of the British Army in Southern Iraq, and specifically whether you support their rights to indefinite leave to remain within the United Kingdom. I would certainly aver that they do have such a right: they have put their lives in very great danger in the service both of their own country and, by extension, ours. Should they be unable to leave Iraq in the aftermath of a British withdrawal that looks now only to be a matter of time there is an obvious threat to their lives. In on recent incident in Basra 17 Iraqi translators were found murdered.

There is a clear moral imperative for Britain to protect those who have risked their lives for us, and no overwhelming practical reason why she should not. Denmark, for example, has recently granted asylum to all Iraqis who worked with Danish forces in Iraq. The British Army is an institution that relies heavily on the principles of duty and honour; to abandon friends and colleagues to danger and death would as dishonourable an act as can be imagined. As important is the message that such a betrayal would send: that the British are only fair-weather friends. This is surely not what we would like our international reputation to be; it would certainly not help in Afghanistan or in future conflicts.

This is not by any means an attack on the politics of the war in Iraq. Whether you, or I, supported the war or not is not the issue. This is a question of acting, as quickly as possible, to avoid the avoidable tragedy of witnessing the deaths of civilians whose ‘crime’ was to have risked their lives for the Coalition in Iraq. I would very much appreciate your opinions on this matter.

Yours sincerely

Tim J


Tuesday, July 24, 2007


I wonder if the staid columns of Hansard have ever seen language quite like this before?
Richard Desmond is a substantial benefactor to the Labour party. Did the treasurer of the Labour party ask Richard Desmond from which part of his considerable wealth he was donating handsomely to new Labour’s coffers? Did the treasurer of the Labour party—I apologise to the right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman) for the language that I am about to use—ask if Mr. Desmond was giving from the profits of “Spunk-Loving Sluts”, “Asian Babes”, XXX pornographic television, or the profits of the Daily Star?
Galloway eh? Tsk tsk. A later quotation just about sums up his political method.
I warn the hon. Gentleman [Andrew Robathan] that just because there is a lot of him and not many of me, he need not think I am outnumbered.

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Advice for David Cameron

There is in existence an enormously significant and influential piece of political theory, wider in scope than Alastair Campbell's diaries, could have particular significance for David Cameron, and I certainly recommend that Andy Coulson gives it a squiz over the next few weeks.
The book in question is called Commentariolum Petitionis, and is purportedly the work of the lesser known Quintus Tullius Cicero, the elder brother of Marcus Tullius Cicero. How relevant can an electioneering manual from Republican Rome be to the leader of today's Conservative Party? Well Boris is always very keen on the relevance of the classics to modern life, so lets give him the benefit of the doubt.
Consider what the state is : what it is you seek: who you are that seek it. Almost every day as you go down to the forum you should say to yourself, "I am a new man," "I am a candidate for the consulship," "This is Rome."
Re-iteration of goals and aims, as well as a focus on newness. Very focus group.
It also seems possible that a "new man" may be much assisted by the fact that he has the good wishes of men of high rank...It is a point in your favour that you should be thought worthy of this position and rank by the very men to whose position and rank you are wishing to attain. All these men must be canvassed with care, agents must be sent to them, and they must be convinced that we have always been at one with the Optimates in our political sentiments, that we have never been demagogues in the very least : that if we seem ever to have said anything in the spirit of that party, we did so with the view of attracting Pompeius, that we might have the man of the greatest influence either actively on our side in our canvass, or at least not opposed to us.
In other words, keeping support among senior politicians of your own side is crucial - though it should not be fatal to your chances if you seem to have agreed with the opposition in the past - provided there was a political gain to be made thereby.

Well, quite.
In a word, you must secure friends of every class : for show--men conspicuous for their office or name, who, even if they do not give any actual assistance in canvassing, yet add some dignity to the candidate.
Ministry of all the Talents then? Bob Geldof on the aid commission?
Finally, the hearty zeal of the young in canvassing for votes, appearing at various places, bringing intelligence, and being in attendance on you in public are surprisingly important as well as creditable.
Hurrah for Conservative Future!
I must now speak on another department of a candidate's task, which is concerned with the conciliation of the people. This demands a knack of remembering names, insinuating manners, constant attendance, liberality, the power of setting a report afloat and creating a hopeful feeling in the state.
Is there anywhere a more apposite description of the nature of politics? This could come from the introduction to Jeremy Paxman's The Political Animal.
There remains the third, "This is Rome," a city made up of a combination of nations, in which many snares, much deception, many vices enter into every department of life: in which you have to put up with the arrogant pretensions, the wrong-headedness, the ill-will, the hauteur, the disagreeable temper and offensive manners of many. I well understand that it requires great prudence and skill for a man, living among social vices of every sort, so many and so serious, to avoid giving offence, causing scandal, or falling into traps, and in his single person to adapt himself to such a vast variety of character, speech, and feeling.
Sounds like London.
Lastly, take care that your whole candidature is full of éclat, brilliant, splendid, suited to the popular taste, presenting a spectacle of the utmost dignity and magnificence. See also, if possible, that some new scandal is started against your competitors for crime or looseness of life or corruption, such as is in harmony with their characters.
And there we have it! Come on Mr Coulson, muck-raking is sanctioned by the brother of the greatest orator in history! I can see Gordon Brown as a Catalinus, stained by the murder (politically at any rate) of his co-conspirator. And people say the Classics have no resonance for modern life...

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Guess what?

The importance of a narrative part the umpteenth. Since Brown took over as Prime Minister he has been absolutely focused on directing the story - on determining the narrative. This explains the constant reference to 'change' fom the man who has directed domestic policy for a decade. The narrative has been that he is the renewal candidate; that he has eschewed spin for a substantial administration; that he has looked widely to gather his cabinet; and that David Cameron represents the media-driven wishy-washy politics that Blair headed, and to which Brown is the antithesis.
Lo and behold, by virtue of constant repetition, the media have embraced this picture. Now, whatever the reality of the situation, the presentation will be adapted to fit the picture. Look at what, as Prime Minister, Brown has done. He has announced reviews on drug policy, on casinos, on licensing hours, on taxation and on a myriad of things. These announcements have been greeted as proof of his serious grown up politics, and as an end to Blair's knee-jerk policy making. But all they are aare announcements that, at some point, there may or may not be changes to existing policies. There's no action, and no substance. If Cameron, or indeed Blair, had announced them they would have been hailed as further evidence of the desire to control the hedalines over-riding the desire to achieve anything substantial.
Lets look at how Brown's presentational skills are being treated. When Iain Duncan Smith was leader of the Tories his uselessness at the Despatch Box was held up as the prime reason he had to go - he wasn't a serious Parliamentarian. Now Brown is flopping weekly at PMQs, the reaction is that, because he can't match the control that Blair had, and indeed sounds shaky and uncertain off his brief, this somehow proves that he must be a more substantial figure than Cameron, who has had the measure of him.
There is an analogy here with the more enthusiastic proponents of Global Warming: hot, dry summers? Global Warming. Cool, wet summers? Global Warming. Rising temperatures? Global Warmning. Falling temperatures? Global Warming. Once the message has been absorbed, the brain will actively try and make facts fit the patterns. Brown has been excellent at directing where interpretations will go. The question is how long journalists can carry on bending reality to fit perception. After all who are you going to believe - Brown, or your lying eyes?

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Billy Rautenbach

One of the quirks of the tracker software that lets me sticky beak about where you chaps come from, is that there is consistent traffic from people interested in one Billy Rautenbach. I mentioned him, ages ago, in conjunction with Phil Edmonds, the former Middlesex and England slow left arm bowler who has become deeply involved in a variety of African mineral projects in such tourist destinations as the Democratic Republic of Congo and Southern Sudan.
As this article makes clear, Edmonds' companies, Camec in Congo and White Nile in Sudan, have both run into problems. Rautenbach has been deported from the Congo accused of fraud, theft, corruption and violating commercial law, which you would have thought merely make him qualified to run a business in Central Africa, but apparently make you Entrée nonauthorisée in the one of the most corrupt state in the world.
Shed no tears for Mr Rautenbach, as nasty a piece of work as ever donated money to Robert Mugabe, but his rapid fall from grace may have an interesting impact on the boss of Camac, Phil Edmonds. Rautenbach is the acknowledged kingpin in the Southern African mining world - a lifetime's experience of double dealing and two-timing having stood him in great stead. His ejection from Camac is a blow, and if, as it might, it presages a more aggressive Governmental attitude towards Camac it may herald serious problems.
Sudan looks even less promising. After a wonderfully Buchanesque moment, when Edmonds managed to persuade the Government of Southern Sudan to grant White Nile with the extraction rights, things have rather gone to pot. First Total, the French oil company/slush fund for African dictators claimed that the Khartoum Government had granted it exclusive rights over the area. Now, even more worryingly, the Southern Government has asked White Nile to leave the area - the peace treaty between Khartoum and the Southern rebels expressly allows that existing oil contracts retain their validity. Ex Africa Semper Aliquid Novi rings as true today as it did for Virgil: there may be very stormy times indeed ahead.


Should Cameron be in Rwanda?

David Cameron (along with Iain Dale among others) is in Rwanda at the moment, on a trip the purpose of which I'm not entirely sure anyone could sum up in a few words. He's learning about stuff, and seeing it for himself. That sort of thing. He's receiving a fair bit of stick for this, such as on the front page of the Daily Mail, for being off on an overseas trip at the time of the worst floods in England in living memory. The implication is that he really ought to be in his constituency and not in Central Africa.
Interestingly, the people saying this are the same ones that decry Cameron for 'style over substance', 'all media presentation' and the like. So what do they think Cameron should be doing in Witney about the floods? I rate Cameron's capabilities quite highly, but turning back the flood waters is probably beyond him. So basically, the demand is that Cameron should come back to Witney and be photographed looking concerned. Damned if you do, damned if you don't.

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Monday, July 23, 2007

Islamic Rage Boy

The cheerful chap above, now know around the world as Islamic Rage Boy, is apparently less than happy about the treatment he's been receiving.
From his home in Fateh Kadal, Malik Angan, he says: "I am not happy with people joking about me or making me into a cartoon, but I have more important things to think about. My protests are for those Muslims who cannot go out onto the streets to cry out against injustice. This is my duty and I believe Allah has decided this for me."
The prime source for the ridicule being so deservedly heaped on IRB is the nose on your face blog, but I think the Guardian might just have been taken in here:
Buckley F Williams, from the "conservative leaning" satirical news blog The Nose On Your Face, says: "We're anti-Muslim-extremism, the loudest voice of the Muslim world right now, which would lead one to believe it is the dominant voice of the Muslim faith.

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View from the boundary

Cricket is a game that lends itself very easily to metaphor and analogy. Yesterday, while gently toasting myself in the top tier of the Compton Stand, a number of, admittedly slighty tenuous, analogies between cricketers and politicians sprang alcoholically to mind. Bearing in mind that these always sound better at 5.30 after a long hot day here goes:
1. Andrew Strauss/David Cameron
After a meteoric start to his career, the young public-school educated opener has fallen on leaner times. Accused by some of lacklustre footwork and an infuriating habit of looking good without going on to deliver big scores, he is still one of England's classiest players and should be able to reverse his recent setbacks.
2. Steve Waugh/Gordon Brown
Universally believed to have a weakness against hostile and targeted bowling, but gritty, tenacious and, undeniably, consistently successful against both quality and second-rate opposition. The sort of player who can look ugly and unsettled at the crease, until you look up and see he has scored 35 not out in no time at all. Took over the best team in the world, and improved it...
3. Sourav Ganguly/Tony Blair
Aristocratic and imperious, the former Indian captain sometimes chafed at having to deal with mere mortals. Despite a reputation for arrogance he forged a winning team out of a side that had been famous for internal squabbling and wasted talent. Left the team rather under a cloud, but has since returned...
4. Graeme Hick/Michael Portillo
Oh the frustration! Blessed with a great degree of natural talent, and looking set for great things, Hick somehow never possessed sufficient mental toughness to succeed at the highest level. Eminently capable of better things, and successful by normal standards, Hick will sadly always be remembered as someone who never lived up to his potential.

5. Chris Cowdrey/Iain Duncan Smith
A good, solid cricketer elevated wildly beyond his capabilities, Cowdrey was raised to captain the struggling England side against a rampant West Indies. Barely worth his place as a batsman, let alone as a captain, Cowdrey was soon dropped and never again played at the top level.

6. Alistair Cook/David Miliband
Tall, dark and absurdly young, Cook has made a stellar start to his career. People are talking of him as a Future England Captain, even before he has had prolonged experience of life at the top. Potentially very good, but how well will he react to the inevitable challenges ahead?

In the spirit of evenhandedness, I suppose I ought to mention some Lib Dems...

7. David Boon/Charlie Kennedy
Australia's combative number three and short-leg specialist will be remembered in the annals of cricket history for two things: a moustache that threatened at times to escape into the wild, and an epic journey from Australia to England for the Ashes campaign of 1985. Determined to break the existing record (held by Rodney Marsh) for the largest number of beers consumed on the flight, Boony shattered Marsh's record (a measly 35) and, by the time the plane taxied across the runway was blowing the froth of his 52nd. Boon was carried through customs on a motorised buggy, and Australia lost the Ashes.
8. An MCC Member/Sir Menzies Campbell
In his youth, he was a pretty useful player but now he sits and dreams, jealously guarding his seat in the pavilion. Younger members refer to it as 'Death Row'. Mmm...Ranjitsinghji...Tich Freeman...problem with uncovered pitches...high elbow...mmm.

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The image above is proof that Simon Heffer is an idiot. It comes from political betting, and it goes to what I have been saying about Ealing and Sedgefield. Heffer said
Frankly, if you can't even come second in by-elections halfway through the third term of another party's time in power, things aren't just wrong. They are catastrophically wrong.
Well, these by-elections came shortly after Black Wednesday, just as the Conservatives were heading towards their nadir of unpopularity. Major was looking ineffectual, the Labour Party, even before Blair, were looking like a plausible alternative government and the tide was with them. 2.0% and 2.7% of the vote. Pathetic isn't it? These clowns thought they could challenge at the next election? Morons. The obvious thing to do would be to return to the sort of core vote strategy that worked so well for Michael Foot.
The Conservatives aren't good at fighting by-elections. Labour's core vote aren't abandoning them and running to the Conservatives, and the Liberal Democrats look like a more leftist protest vote. Just as during the 1990s the Tories lost to the Liberal Democrats because they looked like a more centrist protest vote. The striking thing about the results of the by-elections last week was that all three parties held their vote - none collapsed. In by-elections where there is a shock, one party usually collapses. In Bromley the Labour Party collapsed to such an extent that they actually finished fourth - behind UKIP - with 6.6% of the vote. In Blaenau Gwent the Tories, Liberal Democrats and Plaid Cymru attracted between 3.7 and 6.5% support. At Ealing and Sedgefield the Liberal Democrats and Tories each got between 20-30% of the vote.
So what was the problem then? Ealing in particular was, as I have recognised, a bad night for the party. And the problem was ridiculously poor management of expectations. To suggest that the Tories might win Ealing was crazy. It made any other result look poor, and made the definition of 'disaster' finishing in third place, where the Tories were at the General Election, against the Liberal Democrats who specialise in by-elections. It was deeply unprofessional. But the result itself was not a disaster.

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Saturday, July 21, 2007

Total and complete tosser

Simon Heffer is, now that John Prescott has blissfully vanished from the scene, the most effortlessly irritating person in public life. His column today is a classic of the type, containing all the lip-smacking relish at the setbacks endured by the Tories at Ealing.

Frankly, if you can't even come second in by-elections halfway through the third term of another party's time in power, things aren't t just wrong. They are catastrophically wrong.

Which is hyperbolic bullshit. And Heffer even acknowledges why:

Let us start with Thursday's other big losers, the Liberal Democrats. Dear old Ming, shaking his stick from his bathchair yesterday, claimed their second places were a triumph.

Well, admittedly they were better than the official Opposition could do: but for a party that often seems to exist only to win by-elections, they were a disaster. At any other time, either Sedgefield or Ealing would have been the Lib Dems' for the taking, but they were never in with a shout.

So it was a disaster for the Tories because they couldn't outpoll the Liberal Democrats and finish second, and a disaster for the Liberal Democrats because they couldn't finish first. What the hell was Heffer expecting? The reason the Lib Dems were unable to take Ealing was that the Tory vote held up. This has been far from inevitable in the last few years. It wasn't a spectacularly good result by any means, but it wasn't a disaster.

None of this debacle will come as any surprise to any of us, for we have all seen it coming. The whole "heir to Blair" rubbish was proof Dave was fighting the last war. Bless him, he still thinks it is the mid-1990s.

Unlike Heffer, who is thinks it's the mid-1890s.

One remark I found especially nauseating was that of Tony McNulty, one of Ms Smith's underlings, who said that, if one was at university in the late 1970s or early 1980s, it was hard to avoid smoking pot.

Oddly enough, I was at university at exactly that time, and had no difficulty avoiding it. I also know a number of my contemporaries who managed to get through those three arduous years without breaking the law.

I also recall that the people who liked to take drugs tended to be absurd Leftists with infantile opinions who broke off from their devout studies of Marx to light up, or worse. Could it be that the young McNulty was one of these undesirables? And, if so, how did he come to be running the country?

What a tool. Of all the breathtakingly pompous and idiotic things to say this takes the biscuit. There is really very little point in reading anything Heffer writes these days. His parvenu attempts to become a choleric squire have resulted in perpetual repetition of tediously predictable nonsense.

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Friday, July 20, 2007

Pagans eh?

Tell me it's co-incidence - go on, just tell me.

Wish for rain to wash away Homer
Pagans have pledged to perform "rain magic" to wash away a cartoon character painted next to their famous fertility symbol - the Cerne Abbas giant.

Torrential rain sweeps across UK
Torrential rain is sweeping across the UK, with flash floods leaving some homes waterlogged and schools closed.

Someone should tell Richard Dawkins.



Anyone got about 350 cubits of gopherwood?



Where do we stand this morning then? Well, I'm not sure that there's all that much that can be read into it. Obviously, it was a better night for Labour than for either of the other parties, though a reduction in vote share of nearly 8% in Ealing, and 14% in Sedgefield isn't quite as rosy as it might have been. The Tories will be very disappointed indeed not to have made any headway in either seat - though their vote share remained steady. The Lib Dems did well but not spectacularly.
Any wider trends? The Conservatives still haven't won an opposition by-election since 1982, the Labour Party have managed to stop losing them on vast swings to the Liberal Democrats, and the Liberal Democrats have, um, stopped winning them in vast swings from the Government. So no real change then? If you're a Conservative there might be a tiny crumb of comfort in that the Tory vote wasn't annihilated. When the Liberal Democrats won in Brent East and in Dumfermline the key point was that the alternative opposition vote collapsed to nothing. When they ran the Tories very close in Bromley the Labour vote was reduced to embarassing levels. In both races yesterday the Tory vote held solid. That's not great news - it really should have been increasing - but it might just suggest a more solid base.
And Ming's safe, surely. Two solid, if unspectacular results should enable him to retain his position - which will be probably the only bright spot on David Cameron's agenda this morning. Nil desperandum, however. The Tories weren't considered very good at by-elections yesterday, and they still aren't. That Cameron failed to win two rock solid Labour seats is hardly, on the face of it surprising. Labour won Sedgefield with 58% of the vote in 2005; Ealing Southall with 49%. These weren't exactly marginals. The news isn't good for the Conservatives, but neither is it entirely awful.
UPDATE: Could still use a hug though...

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Thursday, July 19, 2007

Drug policy

I suppose this is quite a clever move by Gordon Brown. Line up a whole string of cabinet ministers to admit that they dallied, in their youth, with cannabis in the hopes that the media will try and reawaken the Cameron question. It does seem a little odd though that, given the proposed reversal of the class C classification, Messrs Smith, Darling, Kelly, and the rest would all have been liable to imprisonment.
Quite frankly I couldn't give a damn, but there we are.

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Ealing Southall

So, polling day. While the bye election at Sedgefield has rather passed under the radar (with a Labour majority of 18,000 there's not much excitement at the possibility of a shock) the same definitely cannot be said about Ealing Southall. The results will be fascinating for what they say about the elctoral prospects of all three parties, and a further twist has been added by the, presumably unwitting, breach of electoral law by Jonathon Isaby for the Telegraph (where he revealed, via a Tory source, the estimated breakdown of the postal vote shares).
The Tories have, other than this, run an aggressive campaign marked by a good choice of local candidate Tony Lit. There has been a lot of play made of two factors: that Lit is a recent convert to the Conservative Party, and that a matter of weeks ago he was a 'Labour Party donor'. The first is irrelevant really: Lit's a member now and, as Matthew Parris once argued, a long history of affiliation to the Tory Party really ought to act as a barrier to becoming an MP. The second is more interesting: photos of Lit next to a grinning Tony Blair looked pretty bad. Yet again there's less to this than meets the eye. The event was not only a fundraiser but a high-profile local event. Tony Lit didn't give the money personally, but the radio station he was at the time a director of did.
Tom Watson, the bruising Labour MP who has been given the running of the Labour campaign, has focused on Lit's perceived flaws as the centre of his strategy. His blog has highlighted such earth-shattering information as the fact that 'Tony' isn't Mr Lit's real name, that some of his directorships use variations on his real name, and that, um, a Conservative club is looking a bit tatty. In the last election Watson ran, Birmingham Hodge Hill, he followed a similar tactic:
At Birmingham Hodge Hill in July 2004 he sought to destroy the Lib Dem challenger by making Labour single election idea the fact the their opponent worked for a mobile phone company which was then involved in controversial issues over the location of masts.
The result that time?
In the very low turnout election at Hodge Hill Labour’s vote dropped by 27.4% and the Lib Dems went up by 26.1%. This is one of the biggest LAB>LD swings on record.
If Watson manages to stuff up Southall, on conventional wisdom a safe Labour seat, he might find Brown a little less smily that he was after Watson organised that little copu d'etat in the autumn of last year.
As for the Lib Dems, they've run the sort of campaign that they always do ('Only Lib Dems can win here...') but don't seem to have caught fire this time round. It's never sensible to write them off (remember Dunfermline?) but it seems that they might just have missed the bus on this one.
So what will it mean? For Labour anything other than an easy hold will be a bad result. The 'Brown bounce' should mean that they win bye elections easily, especially in safe seats. A close victory will make Brown think more defensively about an early General Election, even though this is the best chance he has of winning. For the Conservatives a strong showing would be very welcome indeed. It would bolster Cameron, rattle Brown and restore the momentum behind the Tories. The only negative would be the effect it had on the Lib Dems. If they finish third, it might be the end of the line for Ming Campbell. He looks tired, old and out of touch. This is probably unfair, but once that perception takes hold it can be very difficult to shift. Third place in Southall could mean defenstration. If that means Nick Clegg then Brown can have something to smile about, even if Labour loses.

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Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Gotta be Rudy

George Bush's speechwriter lays out more reasons why Giuliani should be the next President of the United States.

He is perhaps the most publicly secular major candidate of either party -- his conflicts with Roman Catholic teaching make him more reticent on religion than either Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama. But as a prosecutor and mayor of New York, he won conservative respect for making all the right enemies: the ACLU, advocates of blasphemous art, purveyors of racial politics, Islamist mass murderers, mob bosses and the New York Times editorial page.

Giuliani is not only pro-choice. He has supported embryonic stem cell research and public funding for abortion. He supports the death penalty. He supports "waterboarding" of terror suspects and seems convinced that the conduct of the war on terrorism has been too constrained.

And the clincher?

No one inspired by the social priorities of Pope John Paul II can be encouraged by the political views of Rudy Giuliani.

It's just gotta be Rudy.

UPDATE: It occurs to me that Michael Gerson might possibly have meant this article as a reason NOT to support Giuliani, but that seems a little far-fetched


Tuesday, July 17, 2007

About that big tent...

So, Gordon Brown displayed his brilliance in wrong-footing the Conservatives when he picked a 'ministry of all the talents' did he? Lets have a quick recap three weeks on. Sir Mark Malloch-Brown has, as predicted, made a big tit of himself for calling for a radical re-positioning of the Labour Party vis-a-vis the United States. This has necessitated some rapid fire-fighting from both David Milliband the Foreign Secretary and Brown himself. The appointment of Malloch Brown was presumably meant as a dog-whistle to the anti-Americans in the Labour Party - look we've got a UN chap onside who really hates the US Government. Unfortunately, the British reception to his appointment has been rather coloured by the fact that no-one has the faintest idea of who he is, while the dog whistle has been heard all too clearly in Washington.
The other great success was the appointment of Sir Digby Jones as a Minister of state for trade promotion and investment. Very broad church this: Jones has been anything but a cheerleader for Brown. I'm not convinced, however, that Brown intended it to be quite as broad church as this.
Asked by Labour's Lindsay Hoyle to "join the club, be a team member and pay your dues like the rest of us", the minister came up with his unusual, possibly unique answer.
"I have chosen to take a particular route and my party politics is my affair."

Challenged over alleged comments he had previously made, stating he had voted Conservative, voted Liberal but would never vote Labour, he challenged the MP to provide the evidence.

"When did I say I never voted Labour.? How I voted in all my elections since I was 18 years old is actually a matter for me and no one else but I think all of you here would be absolutely surprised how I voted. But I would suggest that remains what I always thought was democracy in this country, which is secret."
Is Jones the first minister not only not to be a member of the Governmental party, but also never to have voted for it either?

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Just what is it?

Further to my post of a few days ago, and Mr Eugenides' observation here, here's a comment, in its entirety, from a Comment is Free thread about whether Boris Johnson or Ken Livingstone should be mayor of London.
Aside from George Galloway who is soon to retire Livingstone and Jenny Tonge is the only politician in the UK not in league with and propped up by the zionists (tellingly both he and Galloway work outside the 3 main parties).

To lose him to another zionist such as Boris Johnston would be the deathknell of a vibrant diverse democracry.
It's the combination of illiteracy, ignorance and spiteful racism that make it so identifiably a CiF comment. When I tried to register as a commenter I was rejected on the grounds that my chosen moniker (which I think was either partyreptile or Timj) was likely to inflame hatred. Words rather fail me.

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Boris on Polly; Polly on Boris

So, Polly attempts character assassination in the grand manner this morning in the Guardian. Splashed as a trail on the front cover is the strapline Boris the jester, toff, serial liar and sociopath for mayor. The rest of the piece rather follows this lead. It's intensely personal and, as you would expect from Polly, misleading, ill-informed and disingenuous.
Polly: London is the nation's powerhouse, and a city of daunting complexity. Tories running top City firms and Conservative boroughs won't find the Boris Johnson candidacy charmingly funny.
FT: Business welcomed the decision by Mr Johnson to stand for the Tory candidacy to fight Ken Livingstone in next May's elections..."We want a credible competition, with a serious discussion of the issues, to test out the merits of Ken's position," Miles Templeman, director general, Institute of Directors, said.
Polly: But everything foppish, buffoonish and essentially unserious about his raffish progress through London will mirror exactly what people already think about Cameron and Osborne's Etonocracy.
George Osborne, of course, did not go to Eton.
Polly: But it's truly alarming that he who has never run anything except his own image could be in charge of this mighty financial centre - and some of the poorest, neediest boroughs in the country.
Apart from the highest-selling British political weekly? Under Boris the Spectator flourished, growing rapidly and mainitaining profitability. It also didn't entirely implode under the welter of scandals and gossip pieces - good practice for political office.
Polly: Johnson's best asset is the devoted support of London's only proper newspaper. The Evening Standard - same stable as the Daily Mail - detests Livingstone: no surprise they gave Johnson front-page and leader-column coverage, with an article by himself (all about himself, not much policy) and lavish praise from the rightwing columnist Andrew Gilligan.
Right-wing? Gilligan? Maybe from Planet Polly.
Polly: Underneath the whimsy and the Greyfriars pastiche prep school banter, he is a deeper and more passionately romantic believer in 19th-century Conservativism than most of his frontbench companions.
I think Polly probably means 19th century Liberalism - Boris as a figure is far more redolent of high Whiggism than he is of Peelite Conservatism. You can certainly picture him in Lord Palmerston's cabinet.
Polly: As a rabid Europhobe, how would that play with the Olympics or the Tour de France?
Eh? Is the this the most barrel-scraped argument ever? What the hell does it have to do with anything?
Polly: What about Boris the sociopath? Apart from being caught often lying to all and sundry - he was fired from the Times for making up a quote.
For Polly Toynbee to criticise anybody for lacking journalistic integrity is chutzpah to the highest degree - she's a one-woman misinformation campaign. The whole article is bizarre - it's as though there is a personal animus against Boris. Why could this be? Tim thinks he has the answer...
PS: great credit goes to Boris's dad for the ultimate line in relation to Boris against Livingstone when the latter uses the 'seriousness' line: I'd rather have a serious man pretending to be a buffoon, than a buffoon pretending to be a serious man.

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Monday, July 16, 2007


Andrew Rawnsley writing in the Observer about the intensely antagonistic relationshiop between Cameron and Brown gives another little insight into the depths of Brown's psyche - not a view most of us would relish.
See the reciprocating contempt which is radiated by Brown when he is facing Cameron. An Eton-educated, southern English Tory is everything that Gordon Brown most despises. Says one of the Prime Minister's friends: 'Gordon could only be more contemptuous of him if Cameron were a lawyer.'
Hmmm. Apart from noticing with a frisson of satisfaction that I personify everything the Prime Minister most despises (except I went to a better school obviously) the description of, as the personification of Brown's most loathed person, a public-school English lawyer fits rather neatly with, um, Tony Blair. Those ten years as his junior must have flown by.

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This is simply excellent. At last London will have a chance at a mayor more fitting to its dignity - a fact which says more about Livingstone, the Gussy Finknottle of politics, than it does about Bertie, I mean Boris.


Friday, July 13, 2007

Conrad Black - Guilty?

Verdicts are in, and Conrad Black has been found guilty of three counts of fraud - so the BBC announce. But has he? Sorta kinda. Mark Steyn has been covering the entire trial, and has been pretty unimpressed at the Government's cases - there were thirteen charges including racketeering, the sort of thing Al Capone did. As Steyn says the verdict is that:

Conrad Black was found NOT GUILTY on racketeering, NOT GUILTY on tax fraud, NOT GUILTY on the CanWest scheme, NOT GUILTY on Bora Bora, the Park Avenue apartment and Barbara's birthday party, NOT GUILTY on the individual non-competes on US newspaper sales.He has been found GUILTY in just two narrow areas - "obstruction of justice" re the security camera footage of him removing boxes from 10 Toronto Street, and three "mail fraud" counts relating to the APC non-compete agreement.

The obstruction of justice conviction looks ripe for appeal, and that leaves us with those three counts of fraud. The BBC describe it thus:

Media tycoon Conrad Black has been convicted of three charges of fraud and one of obstructing justice by a jury in Chicago. But Black was found not guilty of separate charges of racketeering, wire fraud and tax evasion.

Which is odd really. Why specify that Black was not guilty on wire fraud if you are going to describe him as guilty of fraud? Because Black was found guilty of mail fraud, a concept alien to English law and really rather odd. Essentially, it means that Black (and associates) used the Federal Mail to further a fraudulent piece of business. Whether that stacks up is another matter: Steyn thinks it the easiest of the charges to stick on Black.

However, given that Black was facing cumultaive jail time of well over 100 years, a five year stretch for abusing the Federal Post Office doesn't seem too bad. If he can't get off the obstruction charge though, Black will still be looking at 35 years behind bars. Given that his crimes amount to taking boxes of pre-disclosed documents out of his office, that seems a trifle excessive. Oh well, at least we'll all sleep safer in our beds eh?

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In the loop

Gossip reported on the Coffee House reports that there is soon to be a Cameroon Tory blog (working title 'Platform 10) which has the explicit aim of acting as a counterbalance to the slightly more unreconstructed elements of ConHome. Now, being about as far from being an insider as it's possible to be, it is with some surprise that I realise that I was in on this almost a month ago. The point is that it isn't good for either the Tories or for Cameron for him to be portrayed as being alone on the left of the party. An outlet for the soggier wing of the party (among whose ranks I probably stand) would have the benefit of making it look like less of a fight between Cameron and the 'true believers'.
However, like all such things, it will live or die on its content - so people had better be prepared to put the hours in...


Questions, questions

Is Tintin in the Congo racist? Yes, undoubtedly. It is, after all, a book written in 1931, by a Belgian, about the Belgian Congo. In a period of history notable for unpleasant politics of all types, the record of the Belgians in the Congo is unusually despicable.
Should it therefore be banned? No, unquestionably. Banning books because they do not meet modern standards is absurd: there are references to slavery in the Bible, homosexuals are tortured in Dante's Inferno, the Koran endorsees the subjugation of women. All are reflections of the period in which they are writted and should be read with that in mind.
There is another book of course, set in the same country as Tintin in the Congo, which regards Africans as unenlightened savages, has as a focal character a man who delights in the murder of Africans for no reason other than terror, who was praised for his anthropological work that 'proved' that Africans were inferior. In terms of its dealings with Africa and Africans it is far more offensive, not to mention far more influential that Tintin ever was. Does the CRE want to ban Heart of Darkness as well?

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Studies in courage

So, Gordon Brown writes (or rather somebody else writes) a book on political courage, hymning such luminaries as Martin Luther King, Bobby Kennedy and Nelson Mandela to the skies for their courage, personal and political. And how does Brown stack up?

The tax credit system is such a shambles that Gordon never answered one question on it, ever, in the Commons.

Now that's courage!


Thursday, July 12, 2007


So, tax cuts are back on the agenda. The risk for David Cameron has always been that on taxes Gordon Brown has the ball. Whatever Cameron says, the Government has the power to make real changes to the system. So it's interesting that the Lib Dems have jumped into the area with both sandals. The minutiae of the proposals are not really the point - it looks like a broadly neutral policy, though these usually seem to end up raising taxes rather than the opposite. The shift in emphasis from taxing income to taxing behaviour is a predictable continuation of a trend that has been evident for a considerable time.

The two questions are how will Brown respond, and how will Cameron respond? Brown must surely realise that he has the perfect opportunity to give Cameron a good thumping from the right - all he has to do is announce a real tax cut shortly before the next election. That would really put the cat among the pigeons - anything Cameron did in response would look like either panic, out-of-touchness, or opportunistic me-tooism. It would be the right strategic move from Brown - who has always been excellent at long-term strategy. Can he do it though? Everything he has done so far has been redolent of an attempt to address perceived character flaws. The problem is that the reason they are o widely perceived is that there is so much evidence of them. Brown is trying to re-invent his character at 58 - no easy task. He is bound to revert to type sooner or later. Cutting taxes might be one step too far.

As for Cameron? He should stress that this is a minor shuffling of the tax burden, and that the moving of the burden from direct to indirect taxation will hurt the poor more than the reduction in their income tax will help them. He should also point out that he still believes in a lowering of the overall burden of taxes and that the proposed re-introduction of locally-set business rates show how anti-business the Lib Dems are. Ultimately, however, the man with the capacity to make taxation a frontline issue is still Brown.

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Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Still odd

When I started blogging last year, I was keen to talk about stuff that really interested me: the possible resurgence of the Conservatives; the true role of the state in modern society; cricket and so on. That was what I read mostly after all. A year on and while I still write about all these things I have become more and more baffled by what seems to be the most prominent topic on the blogosphere: Israel and the Jews.
Look at Comment is Free for example: an article about Israel will attract hundred of comments. Not only is the interest level bizarre but the weird vituperation it attracts leaves me astonished. Israel is tiny, about five million people and small with it, in the middle of the vast and much more heavily populous Middle East. Zambia has about twice as many inhabitants, closer historical links to Britain, and an internal political scene that is roughly as interesting as Israel’s. Why is there approximately 1,000 times more coverage of Israel? If the argument is that there’s a low-intensity war in Israel/Palestine, then where the hell was all the coverage of the Congo?
Where on earth does all the passion come from? I started out blogging with the sense that obviously Israel had the right to exist; that it was the only democracy in the region and that, ultimately, I didn’t care enough to have massively strong opinions on it. What’s your opinion on the border dispute between Mozambique and Zimbabwe? That, essentially, is still my position: broadly pro-Israeli, basically not bothered. As for ‘Jews’ – why on earth should I have an opinion? I don’t have one about Buddhists or Zoroastrians or Baptists. I really cannot understand why everyone seems to care so very, very deeply about the issue.

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Regardless of the rights and wrongs of Iain Duncan Smith’s plans to re-order society and to encourage marriage, something about this Polly Toynbee article irritates me beyond measure. While we could never expect Toynbee to be onside with Tory policy (and her opposition should always encourage us that Cameron has got something right) it’s the tone of her objections. On the proposed restoration of the Married Couples’ Tax Allowance, Toynbee writes:

A transferable marriage allowance (basic rate only) for married couples with children under six would give a non-working wife £1,000 a year, costing £1bn for existing couples.

As I understand the transferable allowance, it lets married couples where one member does not earn pool their non-taxable allowance. In other words, it is an effective tax reduction. It isn’t a benefit, not the Government ‘giving’ money to married couples, it is the Government taking less money away. It may not sound an important point, but the implication behind calling it a benefit is that we are only allowed to keep the money we earn on the Government’s sufferance. There’s also the following piece of logic:

More money for married families means less for children of single parents who are much the poorest.
Does it? Why? Does more money for the NHS automatically mean less for schools? Is the entire business of Government spending a zero-sum game? Part of the intention behind the initiative is to remove the absurd situation whereby there is a financial incentive for couples not to marry or even to live together. Encouraging marriage does not have to mean punishing the unmarried – giving £10 to Peter is not the same as taking it away from Paul. Still less is allowing Peter to keep £10 more of his own money.

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Unusual self-awareness

Michelle Hanson displays an unusual (and possibly unintentional degree of self-awareness today.
I always find it rather galling that researchers earn money for this sort of slop, when I could have told them for free.
I can only assume she forewent her pay cheque for the article then. Michelle Hanson, purveyor of free slop.
Incidentally, the article is almost post-modern, in that it is intended, I think, to be an indictment of tedious men who drone on and on about nothing, yet is itself so undescribably boring that by the end you'd rather stab yourself in the head with a fork than sit next to the writer at dinner. Reading that article has left my soul feeling tarnished - and I'm a lawyer.


Matthew Parris

Consider me a joined-up member of the fan club. Alastair Campbell refers in his diaries to the great man as the little shit Parris. Parris's response?
"I'd rather be a little shit than a big cunt," says Parris, 57, now, technically, a colleague of Campbell, who writes for the sports pages of the Times. "I'd better say no more than than that."
Matthew Parris, soon to be seen as a contributor to the Devil's Kitchen.


Monday, July 09, 2007

Going too far!

Zoe Williams evidently dislikes Alastair Campbell a good deal. So bad is her detestation that she employs the ultimate weapon against him:

It's the lazy, unaccountable, screw-you, public schoolboy, supercilious, lip-curling alpha-ness.
Has anyone ever looked at Alastair Campbell (alma mater City of Leicester Boys School) and thought to themselves, ‘God I hate that public-schoolboy dickhead’? Or is it just a short-cut for ‘people I don’t like’?


Friday, July 06, 2007


Fresh from Danny Finkelstein of the Times, the news that there is to a musical of life and times of our recent primeminister - entitled "Tony, the Blair Musical"

Surely, this then is The Blair Kitsch Project.

I thank you.


Well played Mr and Mrs Fawkes!

Facing up to facts

or Orange book my arse

A fellow called BGPrior gladdened my heart by leaving a comment on my post damning the Fool Clegg and all his works.

Whilst it is super to know that someone else reads these things, I fear that I don't agree with 50% of his comment - but it raises such an excellent point that I wanted to post on it specifically.

BGPrior states that I shouldn't use Clegg's ghastliness "...as a reason to tarnish all of the Orange Bookers, though. I think some of them (e.g. David Laws) are genuine, intellectually-rigorous liberals in the old sense of the word."

I used to think along similar lines, but now I say flim flam and poppycock. The intellectual, moral, ideological and personal tenets of the modern day lib-dems should be anathema to any 'genuine, intellectually-rigorous liberal in the old sense of the word.

The lib-dums are anti-free enterprise; socially regressive; confirmed nanny-staters; ethically deficient (vide any bi-election they play in); big state anti-individualist proto-socialists.

No-one who was really a genuine, intellectually-rigorous liberal in the old sense of the word could ever sit with that.

Is it worth it...

So Boris is weighing up his options, or as one commentator put it "finding it hard to resist a popularity contest".

Conventional wisdom would be that Boris should nix the idea - he has a safe seat and good prospects, now is not the time to throw the cards in the air. Also, the unspoken implication goes, shadow higher education secretary and MP is higher office than London's mayor.

The tragedy is that at the moment that is right. But this needn't be the case.

In America, the Mayorality of a great city is a recognised stepping stone - and the parties hunt for convincing executives (mayors / governors) to be their presidential candidates.

In London, the fact that our Mayor is Ken Livingstone means that the position can hold little real power. No-0ne really trusts (or likes) the man, and he runs the place in a manner more akin to a student union than anything else. He postures with terrorists, play-acts with revolutionaries and shakes the blood-stained hands of some of the worst men in the world. At the end of the day, no-one really cares - because everyone knows Ken doesn't really matter.

But if a real, grown-up, politician were to win, and then have their party come to power - what change might be wrought, and suddenly how full of opportunity the role of Chief Executive of the Greatest City in the world would become...

It is worth serious thought, Boris.


Thursday, July 05, 2007

Shocking electoral fraud!

It would appear that someone has been electioneering without being propoerly on the electoral roll. A certain 'Tony Blair' has been advertised as having stood for election in Sedgefield, even though close examination of the electoral roll reveals no Tonys of that surname. Tom Watson should be told...

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Cometh the hour? Part II

Ready to take one for the team?
If it really is true, as Nick Robinson reports here, that the Tories have been trying desperately to draft in Boris Johnson as the Conservative candidate for Mayor of London then it goes some way towards explaining why he was passed over in the recent reshuffle. It's also an entirely understandable move: Boris remains virtually the Conservatives only well-known face outside the Shadow Cabinet, and a good deal better known than most of them. He possesses both lightness of touch and capacity for thought, though admittedly the latter quality is often obscured by his self-conscious buffoonery.
Will he go for it though? He is apparently unsure of the merits of leaving his beautiful and safely Tory Henley seat, for the uncertain rewards of a campaign against Labour's dirtiest street fighter Ken Livingstone, a street fighter, moreover, with all the benefits of incumbency in a post that he has flagrantly personalised. If I were Boris, I'd be very hesitant before going along with this: it would mean the end of all Parliamentary ambition, it would mean a deeply unpleasat campaign, and, very probably, would end in defeat to the grotty little newt-fancier. Nice idea though.


PMQs and other pitfalls

Well, by all accounts Brown was unimpressive in PMQs today. He stuttered and stammered, blaming the fact Hizb-ut Tahir are still not banned two years after such a move was recommended on the fact that he'd 'only been in the job for five days'. Firstly, isn't it seven? You'd think he'd know. Secondly, and more importantly, he's been in Government, effectively in control of domestic policy, for ten years: this is not a man who can realistically claim indulgence as a newcomer.
On the wider point, people were predicting that Brown's experience and weight would sweep aside Cameron's brittle public school charm. This 'Clunking Fist' school of thought has rather been debunked. It isn't hard to determine why either. Brown has become good, or at least better, at debates and interviews where he is in control. As Chancellor this was all he really had to do. Budgets are a 'dead ball' situation and whenever Treasury Questions looked like getting nasty 'Red' Dawn Primarolo was shoved on. People have noted the Macavity syndrome ad nauseam, but have usually looked at it from the point of view of what it said about Brown's courage. It has also denied him any experience of rapid response in debate or thinking on his feet.
PMQs, more than any other forum now, is where quick thinking comes at a premium. It is possible to predict the basic tenor of the questions, but there is always one that comes out of left field. Blair was very good at these, but remember his being floored over what was his underpinning philosophy? When Brown is taken off his brief he stammers and sounds desperately unconvincing. William Hague's brilliance at PMQs was always undermined by the fact that he sounded like a little squit. Cameron does not, and Brown, gloomy and stumbling, will come off worse on television coverage as well as transcript.
Brown may improve - Thatcher did - but first impressions stick, and the impression left today was of Labour MPs looking suddenly concerned, and Tories mightily relieved. Lets face it, a Labour PM being outdone at PMQs by Ming Campbell? It would never have happened under Tony now would it?

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