Friday, July 29, 2005
A few sideways glances to see what it was. Cor! She's reading 'Wuthering Heights'. Or 'The Rainbow'. It was always a bit of disappointment if it turned out to be an airport novel.
Now I'm older, all of that has had to stop. I'm a married man. Kids of my own.
Old habits should die hard, but I've learnt to keep my eyes on my shoes. When I don't, I regret it.
The last three or four times I've looked in Pepysian expectation... always at a presentable 30 / 40-something women I might add ......is it 'Jane Eyre'? Or 'Crime and Punishment'? 'Madame Bovary' perhaps?
No. It's Harry f***ing Potter. And all of a sudden, you feel a bit of a Nonce. Or at least I do....
The least convincing aspect of this - and every other Republican step - is the choreography that has to accompany it. A little flatfooted 'Seige of Ennis' that's so familiar that it breeds a little more contempt every day.
First off, Bertie Ahern has to make an announcement in advance that he will be supping with a shorter spoon next time he meets Gerry if you-know-what can just be achieved.
Blair has to gush about how wonderful it would be if this great step can be taken. And then after the event, lots of deliverables become due. And then it's hard to imagine that judicial grounds took precedence over political ones when carefully timed prison releases happen.
Then a few hours of 'will they / won't they?', more trailing than even New Labour used in their late-90s pomp, and then.... the news we've all been hoping for!
A staged press conference. A backdrop with a Mandelsonian slogan (and a smaller one probably with the word 'agus' somewhere in it). A grateful nation rejoices.
Then the watchtowers come down and we are assured of a wholesale arms dumping.
Peter Hain has e-mailed me today (OK, he also e-mailed every single Labour Party member that they know the e-mail address of...) saying "today the IRA have taken a big step forward and Northern Ireland is closer than ever to a future of lasting peace and security."
It all reminds me of marketing campaigns that are negotiated in advance. A load of cosmetic quid-pro-quos. People used to fall for that stuff. They don't any more.
I'm no Republican. But if I were, I'd offer some advice: If you want people to believe you, stop talking and just do it. Don't trail it. Don't get compromised politicians to make staged statements before and after you tie your shoelaces. Don't sweat the small stuff (and a Shankill Bomber in prison is small stuff in the great scheme of things). Make an appointment to deliver a lorryload of disabled armalites to suitable smelting plant. Don't attach conditions or turn it into a circus.
Then say sorry to all of the people whose lives you've destroyed.
Just do it. And tell people you've done it without much fanfare. Discuss the problems of policing and community defence frankly and put the ball back in your opponents court.
But then, those of us who aren't Republicans should draw comfort from all of this. Sinn Fein will continue to be seen to be the cynical shower that we all know they are. And for this reason, they will never really succeed in anything that they do. If you don't beleive me, check out Slugger's comment boxes.
In a few weeks time, we will all know what anyone who has read the statement and thought about it knows already. It offers nothing that hasn't been promised a dozen times before.
Blogger spellchecker update:
- Mandelsonian = Mindlessness
- Ahern = Harem
Wednesday, July 27, 2005
Now he's doing it - FOR CHARIDEE!! Beneficiary; the relief fund for London bombing victims.
Geoff is a bit of a hero. Last year, he got complete strangers to send him 50p so that he could buy an i-Pod. Wish I'd thought of that. His blog links to the (slightly tasteless) Deathlist site and he also has a theory about Car Parking that everyone should be forced to read at school.
That and Burke's Speech to the Electors of Bristol, obviously...
The moral of the story should be that we all need to relax a bit more. But if you’re working in a business that relies on new customers (I do), being told that ‘all things come to he who waits’ is about the most stress-inducing parable that I’ve ever heard.
Tuesday, July 26, 2005
Here's Jag's intro:
From London: By a British, European, 2nd-Generation Indian. Probably confused - but proud to be them all! Half of my journey to and from work is a 20-30 minute bus ride: London Bus Route 79 - between Alperton in West London and Kingsbury in North West London. I very frequently get pissed-off and frustrated waiting around in the DARK, WET and COLD - waiting for the 79 to turn up. But I have to be eternally grateful for the quality thinking time I get to myself.
(From Rockmother's blogroll. Thanks RM).
Saturday, July 23, 2005
Are pressure groups and charities an essential part of a modern democracy?
Probably. But they are also partly a job creation scheme for the kind of people who are unable to dirty their hands with a proper job.
Poor Emily appears to have the career-equivalent of the ‘Not In My Name!’ personal crisis. At least she will be able to strike a blow against Mammon by desk-skiving until she gets the job she deserves.
(Apologies to regular visitors. I know I’ve gone on about this a fair bit already)
Thursday, July 21, 2005
I'm told that the British Communist Party in the 1970s provided men with beards and beerguts the chance to leap on some perfectly presentable young women who would have been out of their league normally.
Also, being a smoker in Ireland is a good way of getting your bike parked. Apparently a social revolution has taken place since the ban. Smokers have to keep nipping outside thoughout the evening. So, as they get steadily drunk, they are thrown into a new social situation with a handful of other addicts who join them on the doorstep.
They break the habit of a lifetime and start talking to strangers. People that they have something in common with anyway. People who don't mind the taste of ashtray. And - as night follows day - they couple.
Dwell on that image for a moment. Then snap out of it. Realise this:
It's a kind of unnatural selection.
'Stoppers' (see Harry's comment boxes for examples) and smokers are procreating. As sure as latex splits, we're in for a very self-righteous new generation in about 15-20 years time.
Wednesday, July 20, 2005
Summarising Alan's questions, he is asking 'why the blogosphere is raising the questions that politicians aren't?'
I'd suggest that these are all the symptoms of a decline in representative democracy. (This is a hobby horse of mine).
Politicians lack confidence these days. The press and pressure groups are better resourced than ever before. They are more prone to being targeted for their views on specific subjects than ever before. This website has been built specifically to target MPs for their views on everything.
Our democracy is becoming more 'direct'.
Even when they win elections, politicians have to inherit our amateur civil service with their silly rules and 'Permanent Secretaries'. Politicians now have invincible rivals. In this country, only the PM can count upon a large number of colleagues and institutions to leap to his defence whenever he goes all 'bold' on us.
No wonder so few of them make grand speeches any more.
When Alan says that bloggers and activists are 'doing all the heavy lifting', I'd like to see us doing some of it in support of those MPs that we agree with (like Alan). When politicians say almost anything these days, their opponents can hear about it more easily, deride them more loudly and target them more effectively.
Newspapers can misrepresent them more flagrantly with more impunity and the broadcast media can advance their ambition to supplant politicians as the tribunes of the people - and be applauded for it by the public.
Politicians didn't get where they are today by being effective on-line communicators. Labour MPs got where they are by establishing reputations in workplaces, gladhanding Unions, chivvying activists and being all things to all people. They need help.
I'd like to see a concerted effort by bloggers and activists to support and embolden MPs. When they say something worthwhile, we should amplify it. When they are attacked, we should defend them. We need to highlight the opportunism of pressure groups more.
We need to subject the no-marks who pass for commentators to the kind of scrutiny and criticism that they dish out. Politicians are hounded for any assistance they receive in their work - usually by pressure groups and media outlets that have a first-rate PR department.
Perhaps the more effective bloggers (i.e. people who are better at it than me) should be 'adopting' MPs?
Otherwise, we will become yet another rival. We probably are rivals already without meaning to be.
One other point: Countries have to display democratic credentials to be allowed to join the EU. I would argue that progressive improvement should be a condition of continued membership. The failure of the EU (and the UN) is it's inability to identify virtues and promote them with confidence. How Italy can remain a member of the EU continues to baffle me.
Pushing this issue would be another useful role for Alan's Democracy Foundation.
Still here? OK. I saw this on Will Davies blog.
Will may be unhappy, but personally, I'm absolutely delighted that this decision was made. I've been saying for what the panel have said for years. For the record, they said....
"Some of the elected representatives have made massive efforts in creating an interesting online presence. But it was recognised that they have done so with little official help, and mostly by being in a fortunate enough position to draw upon the technical and communication skills required. The result is a postcode lottery for citizens who wish to discover and communicate with their elected representatives online.
There have been some efforts to redress this balance: ReadMyDay and Councillor.info are just two examples. But there is still more that needs to be done. The judges believe that elected representatives need more support, training and advice to help them use this media more effectively. In doing so there is a real opportunity for the UK to lead the way in communication between the representative and the represented."
Mary Reid has commented on this on her blog. For some reason, her 'permalink' isn't working (I think it’s the way they applied her domain-name), but have a look at the 6th July 2005 entry on http://www.maryreid.org.uk/
She says (in summary) that having sites provided to politicians by governmental bodies is problematic because of the way that political rules restrict what politicians can say in such circumstances.
I would argue that this is a red herring. More to the point, I would suggest that this view undermines the very reasonable demands that many Councillors are making for more autonomy and less bureaucratic interference.
Firstly, there ARE rules on how politicians use publicly-funded resources. You can't behave in an overtly political manner. But you CAN say pretty-well anything you want to - as long as you don't couch it in overtly political terms.
So, for example, if I were a Lib-Dem Councillor who was opposed to a parking scheme that was planned by my (Tory controlled) Council, I would be breaking the rules if I were to say: "My Lib-Dem colleagues and I are opposed to this Tory scheme to create a controlled parking zone on Any Street." I wouldn't be breaking the rules if I said: "The Council is planning to create a Controlled Parking Zone on Any Street. In a recent consultation on this, I opposed this scheme on the following grounds...."
Having said that, I still think that the rules are - in principle - wrong. We are still a representative democracy in this country. Elected representatives are already rivaled by unaccountable pressure groups and dishonest journalists. It's a shame that there is also a network of petty regulations that are designed to remove most of the residual power that Councillors do have. I'm broadly in favour of a scrapping (or watering down) of the rules on political expression (though I've pointed out elsewhere that there are hidden benefits to the way these rules work).
Hidden benefits or no hidden benefits though, principle is principle. The rules should go. And, IMHO, the Standards Board should be scrapped while we're at it. (This issue has been covered in The Guardian a few months ago, and I blogged it here and here).
But I think that Mary is missing the most important point of all. I've already argued in previous posts that the goal of encouraging Councillors to become more interactive is a very important one.
There are only a fraction of the 22,000 Councillors in England and Wales who are active users of website technology.
There are lots of ways that this technology can be used to help them to interact with the public (blogs, discussion forums, individual web-pages), but very few have the confidence to do so. Personally, I think that blogs are not as useful as they appear to be at first. They are 'linear' and only show recent postings on the index page. A website that allows Councillors to create a guide to their work is a lot more useful.
That is why I think that the ‘personal website’ is the least problematic way in to cyberspace for reluctant Councillors. And if blogging IS the way forward, as Mary suggests, then why aren’t they all doing it already? Anyone can use Blogger completely free of charge and without any need for technical skills.
Many of the Councillors I've spoken to have found that the experience of managing a basic website was very instructive. They would have only done this if they were provided with facilities, help and support from their Council.It is vital that every Councillor in the country is given the tools to start managing their own sites as soon as possible.
They should also be given lots of help, advice, reassurance and good examples to work from. Their sites should be vigorously publicised by their Local Authority. They should be given feedback on how many visitors they've had and how many visitors other Councillors are getting. They should be encouraged to adopt best practice in this area.If Councillors are encouraged to make themselves the public face of their Local Authority, this will improve the quality and reputation of local democracy. It will help to humanise the face of local government.
I've heard the argument (notably from some local government Chief Execs) that some Councillors are not necessarily capable spokespersons for local government (I've toned down their actual words massively here!). It is this attitude that is the biggest brake on democratic renewal.
It needs to be challenged – and I’m glad that the New Statesman’s panel has said so.
Tuesday, July 19, 2005
A few weeks ago, two Hitchenses appear to be talking to each other again. Briefly.
They are both keen on arguing. They were on the radio and one of them (can't remember which) complained about the view that conflict 'generates more heat than light' by saying that "heat is the only source of light in my experience." (You can shut a whole table up for at least 30 seconds if you introduce that one next time you are in the pub).
Elsewhere, Christopher H explains why he needs to call his opponents creeps, and I've had cause to wonder whether the blanket term 'tosser' for non-voters is entirely fair. Elsewhere, the comments box at Harry's generate a lot of heat. Norm ruminates on the way people flame these sites and reflects that people sometimes address each other on a blog in a way they wouldn't in an academic seminar, letter to a paper or magazine article.
My experience has been the reverse. In person, I'm a bit of a liability. People don't bother asking me along if they want a civilised discussion. By contrast, this blog is a model of moderation. I've not thrown the term 'appeaser' around anything like as often as I did when people I knew opposed NATO action in Kosovo and I didn't manage a blog.
Composing posts has the same effect as counting to ten. I know that what I say here may be used in evidence against me in years to come. This is not true of what I say in The Compton Arms.
Either way, a lot of people I agree with adopt a less emolient tone the more revisionist they are being.
(From here via Norm. Norm blogs so much, sometimes his readers have to just blog his highlights. Doesn't he have any proper work to be getting on with?)
Monday, July 18, 2005
Apparently, according to someone called Larry Siedentop (who Kaletsky reviews here), Europe's greatest strength is the diversity of democratic models on offer. His proprietor at the Times would agree with this: Ask any Murdoch-watcher around and they will confirm that the best way to build a profitable business in that market is to beat regulators more effectively than your rivals. So here's to an incoherent EU!
But the way that the review portrays Larry Siedentop's views is also interesting. Apparently, ...
"On one side there are French-style “concentric” countries, respectful of order and authority, rigorously rational and politically centralised. On the other side are British-style “eccentric” countries, characterised by liberal individualism, pragmatism, grassroots democracy and disdain for authority.
The differences go as far as linguistic structure: the open vocabulary and unstructured grammar of English contrasts with French linguistic rigour, as supervised by the Académie Française."
I wouldn't agree with either of these characterisations. It's a lot more simple. European countries are strong in areas where there policy is dominated by representative democracy. They are weak where they are dominated by direct democracy. Where there are strong pressure groups and rival internal powers, governments are bad at acting in the wider public interest.
So, French public policy is generally better than ours. Their system of governance includes strong cabinet ministers who don't owe their place to Prime Ministerial patronage. Their trains run on time, their working hours are more comfortable, their hospitals gleam and are uncluttered by waiting lists, their economic strategy isn't one that's been directly dictated to by business interests for the last 25 years. French people are generally better governed and more prosperous in any real terms than we are in the UK.
But on agriculture, French governments of all complexions have been defeated by direct action. They are unable to advance the public (and global) interests because they are dominated by farmers.
In the UK, however, we have a much more direct democracy. Pressure groups are stronger. The media has it's own agenda that if advances shamelessly. Elected representatives are largely mandated by over-powerful political parties. They are hamstrung by our amateurish Civil Service and most of the policy thinking seems to go in in Think Tanks funded by commercial sponsorship. We have a winner-takes-all electoral system that favours adversarial negotiation of policy.
Tellingly, French policy is dominated (according to Siedentop) by a need to be 'rational'. I've spent long enough around the Labour Party to know that (like all other parties) a policy is settled upon because it has the greatest weight of powerful supporters. In the UK, political pragmatism determines the value of any proposal. If anything, the official opposition in the UK uses a lack of rational coherence as it's main weapon.
The same is true of the US. They aren't refusing to budge on climate change (just) because Bush is a bad man. Clinton would be no more likely to bend on this if he were still in charge.
Bush can't change his view on things like this because the US is even more of a direct democracy than we are. Political parties and campaigns are actually bought by lobby groups and special interests. Pressure groups are fantastically well organised and individual elected representatives are ruthlessly targetted for slighting single-issue campaigns.
On issues like this, Congress simply knows that it has been mandated to follow a particular line - regardless of the arguments involved.
One last thing (off topic). Blogger's spell check offers 'Mortice' as a correction for Murdoch. My old WordStar4 spellchecker (circa 1993) used to offer 'Repeat Murder' for 'Rupert Murdoch'.
And the use of the word 'Europe's' prompts Blogger's spellchecker to offer 'Orpheus'! How US-centric is that?!?
Sunday, July 17, 2005
Portadown News (in a Northern Ireland context) offers a great explanation of the difference between a warning and a threat (“only one needs to be accompanied by a recognised codeword”).
Putting his recent pieces together, he seems to be suggesting that criticism of Islam – and an assertion of secular values – is a provocation in itself.
Last year, he criticised Will Hutton for a very prescient article advocating an active engagement with Islam and at a number of points recently, he has confused criticism of Islam with ‘Islamophobia’. He criticised the Muslim Council of Britain for “appealing to Britain's Muslims to remember their duties vis-a-vis "terrorism"…. it is likely to fan the flames it seeks to extinguish.”
Elsewhere, in the same piece (one of those to-and-fro dialogues that the Guardian likes so much), he refers to “specific criticism of [the Muslim Council of Britain’s] advice on terrorism, which - worryingly - seems to be based entirely on the government's unproven claims of an increased threat to the mainland.” (my bold text).
Humility in the face of events? Not a bit of it! Now, in the wake of the London bombings, “it should not be forgotten that the bloody trail of blame leads straight to 10 Downing Street.” (the rest is here). He also implied (before the identity of the bombers was known) that it was all a plot cooked up by dark forces simply to defame Islam.
It is not racist or Islamophobic to suggest that British Muslims need to examine their own community’s attitudes. Muslims I’ve spoken to have explained to me that they have a duty to try and convert me to their faith. Fair enough. And I have a duty to try and covert them to mine – atheism. Does this make me an Islamophobe?
The last Muslim evangelist I spoke to explained to me that his religion had been widely defamed by associating it with attacks like 9-11. He explained that “it wasn’t Muslims who did it at all – it was the Jews. No Jews went to work in the World Trade Center that day…”
Thursday, July 14, 2005
Tuesday, July 12, 2005
But I wish the wider left could emulate the right-wing diaspora in the way they rally their nebulous support.
I've been slowly composing this post for weeks. It's time for it to be aired. If nothing else, a change of subject would be worthwhile.
Do say: We take global warming seriously
Don't say: We support road charging / an increase in fuel duties / public investment in transport / anything that suggests that you take global warming seriously
Deniable allies: Petrolheads, fuel protesters, school-run-mums, 4x4 drivers, 'ordinary working people who just want to get to work', right-libertarians
Related issues: speed cameras (stealth tax, nannying), speed bumps and traffic calming, Europe (any rule that has been discussed in Brussels makes it a useful target), 'political correctness', congestion charges (damages business / civil liberties)
Key words: Nannying, social engineering, 'peepul power', stealth taxes, freedom to drive
Do say: We want to re-negotiate our membership terms / we only agreed to join a trading club (which part of 'ever closer Union' didn't you understand in 1974?) / I want a referendum
Don't say: "Our allies in this re-negotiation will be ....." / "we are being swamped by American culture" Mrs Thatcher signed the Single European Act, I called for a referendum on Maastricht
Deniable allies: Europe's most distrusted and dishonest print media, Media owners, the film industry, Microsoft, people who hate foreigners, right-wing Americans, the 'anti-globalisation' (see France) movement, 'grumpy old men', anyone who objects to any regulation
Related issues: The War, the smell of garlic, straight bananas, any rules that are unpopular but probably necessary (see British Housewives League for inspiration), immigration, The British Way of Life / 1000 years of history, decimalisation, German sense of humour
Key words: Brussels, asylum seekers, 'red-tape'
Do say: It isn't racist to impose limits on immigration
Don't say: You can smell their cooking all down the street / there are too many white Zimbabwean farmers coming into this country
Deniable allies: Europe's most distrusted and dishonest print media, the working class (a version thereof), Norman Tebbit, that other stupid woman and her jokes, second generation immigrants, other assorted racists
Related issues: Europe, political correctness, race, benefit fraud, cream teas.
Key words: Bogus Asylum Seekers, Gypsies
Do say: People used to think we were the nasty party
Don't say: anything really
Deniable allies: The Institute of Directors, the Confederation of British Industry, the Federation of Small Business, Europe's most distrusted and dishonest print media,
Related issues: Europe, 'political correctness', race, benefit fraud, 'nannying', 'social engineering', unfair taxation, single mothers. 'red tape'
Note: this posting is not intended as a dig at the Tories. It should be read as grudging admiration. When Labour can get so many people singing from such a self-contradictory songsheet without pause, we will be getting somewhere.
Saturday, July 09, 2005
I've changed my mind. But first, my reasons for originally deciding not to post were:
1. We knew something like this would happen eventually. It's horrible. And it's happening every day somewhere in the world (more than once a day in Iraq usually). Just because I live in London, if I hold all human life dear, a disproportionate outrage about bloodshed in London is a bit out of place. It may sound a bit cold, but it's an attempt at rationality. Don't get me wrong - I'm as angry about it as anyone. It's just that I've nothing to add to what others have said about it. Especially Hitchens' view .
2. Lot's of blogs that only get one update a week have had a dozen since Thursday morning. I think that the way Londoners have partly shrugged the whole thing off and got on with things has been a fantastic gesture. I want to do the same. The perps are scumbags and I hope that London doesn't allow itself to be disfigured by this. I suppose I partly think that making a big deal about this attack is to do the bombers work for them.
3. Were a city of millions. I didn't recognise any of the names or pics in the papers today. We're such a big city that it's tempting to think that this isn't much more directly relevant to me than any other outrage. I had my day buggered up for me on Thursday, but then - hey! What's new?
But then one of my neighbours told me that the bloke a few doors down is still waiting to hear about his wife. She went into town on Thursday morning and no-one's seen her since. There've been a few official-looking visitors. I hope the next one will bring news from a hospital rather than any of the alternatives.
I don't pray, but if I did.....
Thursday, July 07, 2005
I understand what Paul , Norm and Harry /Searchlight are saying about how Londoners should respond to today's bombings. I know it's almost unbearable to any of us who thinks of ourselves as left-wing to find objective allies of fascism in our midst.
But in an odd way, us Londoners (I've been here long enough to say that now...) will just pick up and get on with things. We need to show unity and resolve, not phlegmatic displays of righteousness.
If anyone organises a 'march against terrorism', it had better be one that seeks to draw a line under divisions rather than to highlight them. If anyone's going to march, be careful about what you put on your banner. We've had official confirmation this week that London's diversity is one of it's greatest assets.
I don't fancy watching London polarise in the way the Netherlands has recently. It is a time for cultural ingenuity. It's a time to value leadership. We may even get some from Ken as well!
Sometimes, when your point is made for you by events, it is sensible to welcome converts - not insist on a retraction.
Monday, July 04, 2005
This is a sin that cries to heaven for vengence. As part of the UK Presidency of the EU, I'd like Mr Blair to work towards a consensus that any newspapers that lie all of the time should have this exemption rescinded for 12 months.
I was going to suggest that they should be first convicted by a jury of their peers, but, on reflection, it would be cruel and unusual to make anyone go before a jury of journalists.