Tuesday, May 30, 2006

'Croquet'

Stan Collymore - another 'croquet' enthusiast?

I'm not sure exactly what 'croquet' is, but I expect it's a euphemism for some disgusting practice or other. Perhaps it's a new type of 'dogging'?

Either way, John Prescott appears to have taken it up. So to speak.

The dirty bastard.

Understandably, everyone wants him to resign because of this. Now, I know that one of the more annoying features of this blog is that I use events to prove how right I was in previous posts, but I'm going to do it again:

A quick quiz for you: Which of the following activities should be followed by instant resignation?
  1. 'Croquet'
  2. Tupping your diary secretary
  3. The revelation that the large department you run has only 59% of it's staff understanding how their work contributes to the department's goals - and only 20% believing that it has effective leadership?
Let me know how your deliberations are going?

Calderwood

Discuss.

Disgusted.


"..he... doesn't stand a chance. Six months and [he] will resign. There won't even be time for a sacking cos [he] will walk. Again."
But, on the bright side, a Northampton fan says...

"Calderwood is a good manager and one who is still learning. I firmly believe he will finish in the Premiership, maybe even the top job in Scotland but these things take time. Your support needs to give him that time and if you do you will be rewarded. If you expect promotion by Christmas, you're likely to be disappointed." (hat tip NFFC)

Say that again: "Your support needs to give him that time and if you do you will be rewarded."
Fat chance

Monday, May 29, 2006

Flar Key'ole 2: Pogue theory

On the subject of booze and the muse, I spent a while with an old friend the other week. We talked a lot about The Pogues while driving around the west of Ireland with The Boys from the County Hell banging out of the stereo.

I saw The Pogues almost as often as some of their roadies during their first couple of years. When a near-perfect band appeared aimed firmly at the second-generation-Irish-Behan-obsessive, I almost started believing in god again.

It was too good to be true at the time.

But my passenger in Mayo knew more about them than I do. You'd almost say that she could ...er... write a book on the subject. So I tried out a few theories, and I've remembered a few more since. I'm writing them down so I can remember them.

The first is on the over-emphasis on Shane MacGowan's drinking. If the hard stuff was the midwife to Brendan Behan's work, I always thought that Shane MacGowan's drinking often eclipsed his talent as far as the public were concerned.

It did so in two ways. Firstly, the quality of his songwriting was under-reported. OK, The 'Fairytale of New York' is widely feted, but some of his best songs are largely ignored. And others - like 'Rainy Night in Soho' - that critics point to as evidence of his talent - aren't that good. All of the evidence points to the fact that few critics have actually listened to Shane's songs enough to have recognised just how good they are. 'Rainy Night...' has the veneer of a classy song. But there are too many cliches and 'moon-spoon-june' rhymes in there. On the other hand, that 'Lullaby of London', or 'Dark Streets of London' or 'London You're a Lady' (there's a theme emerging here) have not put him in contention for an Ivor Novello award is proof positive of this.

I've always found the acknowledgement that he has had to be slightly patronising. He's always been treated as a bit of an idiot-savant, or as a puckish sideshow at best. And this was because of the highly publicised (er...OK, the impossible to ignore) excesses. Shane wasn't taken as seriously as he deserved because the press - and the larger part of his audience - took more interest in his self-destruction than in this work.

The second way that it effected his work was that it must have effected his judgement on practical issues. He allowed decisions to be made about himself and the direction of the band that no other 'breadwinner' would have accepted. If, say, Elvis Costello had been bossed into endless touring (at the expense of his health) and had large parts of the artistic direction of The Attractions taken out of his hands, he'd have been looking for a new band in very short order.

Shane should have left The Pogues after the release of their third LP.

(Sorry - there's more of this on the way. Like it or lump it.)

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Bleeding obvious

Pope Benedict. He shits in the woods, y'know.

In a similar vein:

"....military intervention is required to stop the killing in Sudan. It seems not to have occurred to the advocates of costless moral action (or costful inaction, e.g the negativist fuckwits with their absurd priorities and barely masked motivations and impulses) that in the case of Darfur and everywhere else, that genocide typically occurs in the context of war, and it takes a war-like application of force to end a war. Genocide is not a disagreement between competing factions - it cannot be mediated away - it is one-sided mass murder.

It's time for us to stop saying "never again," and start saying, "not this time fuckers" and put it into practice."

Any questions?

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Flar Key'ole 1: To die of drink

I’ll start this series off with a brief anecdote about the late Brian Behan – brother of Brendan and Dominic.

I met Brian in the mid-1980s when he was teaching at the London College of Printing. He let me interview him for a student literary magazine, and I was very pleased to do so. I’m a bit hard-wired for Behan writing – by the time I left school, I’d read everything I could find by (or about) any of them, and I’m a bit embarrassed to say that Brendan remains my favourite author, despite the more worth rivals that I encountered during a literature degree course.

Brian was a bit taken aback by how he needed to provide little by way of 'backstory' to most of his anecdotes. And he had a life story to beat most. He’d met Mao and Stalin (and had avoided the sentimentalism of his comrades about them).

One comment he made stayed with me. He claimed that literary Dublin was dominated by people who had a positive ambition to die from drinking. It wasn’t a by-product, or a consequence of the literary lifestyle. It wasn’t – as I suggested to Brian – that Brendan had a Faustian pact with the bottle. That he feared that the muse would leave him during periods of sobriety.

Brian had quite convinced himself that Brendan – along with Brian O’Nolan and Patrick Kavanagh – were primarily motivated by a need to have the phrase ‘died of the drink’ in the first line of their obituaries.

Flar Key’ole

I’ve got a longish post that rambles all over the place in mind, but my market research shows me that you don’t read them when I write them.

You idle gits.

You want short pieces with jokes in them. And a picture.

They will cover Irish literature, folk music, and literary ex-Pats. And they will have the title ‘Flar Key’ole’ which you will either get, or not get.

I was once told that Irish foreplay consisted of Pat telling his wife "brace yourself Briget."

Well, brace yourselves....

The big day

Today sees the formal launch of the Euston Manifesto.

The most common criticism that I've heard is that the project is a 'broadside against a strawman'. Norman Geras - in the most powerful defence of the Manifesto that I've read so far - puts this one to rest here.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Why state funding for political parties is a good idea

Mancur Olsen (RIP): No thoughts on when Tony should go. So why should anyone give a toss about his views on anything?

*****

Most of the people I know on the political left believe in some form of intervention or other - as opposed to the option of being governed largely by the hidden hands of the market.

Yet I rarely - if ever - hear a serious discussion about the best way that things get done.

There are no shortage of debates about how it should be done - in a way that will square the most left-ish circles (Unions, and other ideological groupings). The PFI debate is almost entirely ideological in my experience.

But is there ever a debate about, for instance, the organisational psychology of government departments, local government, quangos, business structures, etc?

Er... no. There are, it seems, bigger fish to fry.

And, surely, if we believe in regulation, we should pay attention to how regulation can be made to work? How it can be implemented with - rather than against - the grain?


*****

Yet, in the past couple of weeks, Labour has seen it's reputation for competence deservedly trashed. The people that become MPs are often puzzled spectators on the whole question of public administration. They often seem to lack the basic grounding in good governance, and are prepared to be bullied by their whips into a spiral of short-termism. They have no idea about how to get government departments to do what they are supposed to.

They didn't get selected for their grasp of public administration, after all.

And when a headline keeps them awake, they arrive at work the next morning ready to add yet another ropey patch to bad legislation. Instead of fewer, better, bills, before Parliament, we get more and more worthless legislation that is often being replaced on the floor of the House of Commons before it even reaches the statute books.

And the constant spiral of regulation is resented even by those of us who rather like regulated markets: Speaking for myself, almost every regulation that I come across these days is noticeable only for it's sheer stupidity.


*****

It's time that the public debate shifted away from politics and towards policy. I can't understand how so many people find so much time to waste, transfixed by the tedious soap opera that is 'court politics.'

And, I'd disagree with almost everyone that I know in saying this. We need a more politicised Civil Service. Thankfully, Simon Jenkins thinks the opposite.

By politicised, I don't mean the way it is politicised at the moment. Currently, 'politicisation' means special advisers with no understanding of their department's role. It means surrogate enforcers for Downing St. It means a media-determinist who is constantly at the ministers elbow, banishing thought and judgment in favour of headline-phobia.

Instead, I'd like political parties to show their expertise at administration. I'd like to see powerful ministers with the kind of technocrats behind them that can help them resist the short-termism that flows from the centre. When elections are won, departments should change hands.

And this is what 'state funding' of political parties could - and should - pay for. Not special advisers. Not campaigning. Not advertising, leaflets, or any of the bullshit that parties use to snaffle MPs allowances for their own purposes.

But you can't argue for this when the entire political class is transfixed by a soap opera.

And - while we're at it - we need political parties that are prepared to educate their MPs to be something other than obedient.

For a couple of million quid a year, each of the main parties could share a public administration course with one of the Universities. That would be a good use of taxpayers money IMHO.

*****
Apropos of this, there's a good post over at Stumbling and Mumbling* in which Chris Dillow urges us (among other things) to remember Fundamental Attribution Error when we're tempted to blame the Civil Servants concerned for the current Home Office mess.

*I should really just have a standard post every other day saying this

Where's the rebuttal?

Why can't anyone get up and defend Nottingham properly? If anyone were to even make a little joke about Merseyside crime levels with visitors to John Lennon Airport ("Imagine no possessions!"*), they'd be hauled up to scouseland and forced to apologise - and sharpish.

Anyway, while I have no researchers or statisticians to help out (and a day-job to do), there appears to be a glaring hole in the 'Nottingham is the crime capital' argument.

I could probably find a better representation of this if I looked, but if you go here and try find Nottingham (it isn’t easy), you'll see that - as far as local government statistics go, it is a tiny geographical area - much smaller than the area most people call 'Nottingham'.

Of course, this is the problem. Nottingham is a big-ish place. But Nottingham City - the local government area is quite small. So when they talk about Nottingham, they mean something quite different to most people's understanding of the place.

A lot of the people who regard themselves as being 'from Nottingham' - will tell you that they come from either the Rushcliffe, Gedling, Broxtowe or Erewash local government areas. All of them a bit lower in the crime league tables that Nottingham. All of them included in most people's concept of Nottingham. But not included in the crime figures.

The Local Government area covered by Nottingham does include St Anns, Hyson Green, Radford, The Meadows, Clifton, Bulwell and Basford, among others.

Beeston and West Bridgford, on the other hand are not included. And if you know the area reasonably well, you will see how this totally skews the figures. Have a look at what areas fall into the boundary. It's almost as though some of the lower-crime areas have been granted independence from the city.

As an example, it would be fair to say that the whole of Rushcliffe (which starts a short walk away from the city centre) is a lower crime area than, say Clifton estate (which is a bit further away, but inside the City of Nottingham boundaries) .

Many of the areas that you would expect to have higher-than average rates of crime miraculously fall into the City boundaries - while some of the more quiet places that most people regard as part of the conurbation don't.

Compare this to Leeds - look at their boundaries:

Lots of nice leafy quiet parts of town make up the wider city. And they help average out the crime figures for the livelier parts.

The only conclusion that you can draw from it is that the placement of local government boundaries make any comparison like this completely meaningless. And Nottingham is tailor-made for a combination of shoddy statistics and opportunistic PR.

And shit journalism (of which there is a total fucking shortage in this country at the moment).

It strikes me that Nottingham needs to think properly about how it defends itself. This story is rubbish. Yet has done enormous needless damage to the place. Bloggers have done a bit of defending here, but it's not enough. As Neil Kinnock once said, "Lies are half way around the world before the truth has got it's boots on." And he should know.

The way that Liverpool is divided up means that it doesn't achieve it's rightful position on the crime league table. But god help anyone who does mention crime and Liverpool in the same sentance. Leeds has boundaries that mean that it doesn’t need to, even though it has a much higher crime rate. But poor old Nottingham gets done over once again, because it lets it happen.

The Council in Nottingham need to get their fingers out a bit. Other cities would have absolutely destroyed the half-arsed Think Tank that published this research. They should have...

  • a comprehensive rebuttal
  • a concerted demand for a full withdrawal, apology and damages
  • a picture of the Think Tank MD and the researchers involved (update: which can be found here, along with their e-mail addresses!)
  • a planned humilliation for the journalist that decides to run with the story
... ready next time this story comes out. OK, they had something up on their website, but it's hardly enough.

Instead, all you get is a bit of bluster from the leader of the Council about 'damned lies and statistics' - a bit lame really. Journalists are such wankers, they will always pick on the outfit that can't defend themselves, not the ones who deserve a going over. That would be too much like hard work for them.

And, in this respect, Nottingham is the playground wimp. Time to toughen up. There are a few lads in St Anns who might be able to help them here, if that's not a bit off-message?

*Ann told me this gag, but it belongs to her mate Gary. Credit where credit’s due. And I won’t mention his surname – he’s a scouser himself.

World Cup tipping

I went to school with someone called Scanny.

Which is probably why he moved to Australia. I bet he speaks with that really annoying upward 'interogative' inflection now.

Anyway, he wants you to visit his World Cup Tipping site. It's written in compliant code so it may not all work properly with Microsoft IE. It's still worth a look though.

That's all. Carry on with your work.

Marvel

If anyone still doubts that the Internet is a fantastic invention, then end that quandry like this:
  1. Go here.
  2. Type your name in the box (you don't need to understand the lingo of the site).
And marvel.

Misanthropic? Never!

In the editorial launching the new look 'Spiked', editor Mick Hume says:

"We remain dedicated to waging a culture war of words against misanthropy, priggishness, prejudice, luddism, illiberalism and irrationalism in all their ancient and modern forms."


So there's a bit of news for you - from the mouth of the horse.

Spiked is opposed to misanthropy. Who'd have thought it?

Eurovision update

(Legal note: Nothing in this post may be construed as any form of approval for Terry Wogan)

In a rare lapse of judgement, Norm thinks that this viewpoint makes him a reactionary. He says that he prefers the old Eurovision 'jury' system to the current phone-poll idiocy.

This is NOT a reactionary view. It is the opposite.

That said, the best way to do it would be for viewers to elect some celebrities to be the judges. Jade and Wayne would get my vote every time.

And while we're on the subject of 'people power', a while ago, Shuggy* had the timerity to question my judgement in the comments. He argued that Simon Jenkins is fairly liberal as Tories go.

I'd suggest that the most effective way to campaign in favour of reactionary policies is to present yourself as a moderate, but to argue for more referendums. Think James Goldsmith here.

So, by this logic, Norm's preference for juries over phone votes makes him positively progressive. Well done Norm!

(*usually one of our brighter bloggers)

Monday, May 22, 2006

One of us / Co-op comments


John Stuart Mill celebrated his 200th birthday the day-before-yesterday.

Chris Dillow at Stumbling and Mumbling has a timely reminder of Mill's liking for worker co-operatives: He says

"Mill's vision ... is not that of state-owned enterprises. Government management, he said, is "proverbially jobbing, careless, and ineffective.". Instead, it's a vision of worker co-ops. And what's more, of co-ops that compete against each other:"

He quotes Mill saying...


"While I agree and sympathize with Socialists in [the] practical portion of their aims, I utterly dissent from the most conspicuous and vehement part of their teaching, their declamations against competition...They forget that wherever competition is not, monopoly is; and that monopoly, in all its forms, is the taxation of the industrious for the support of indolence, if not of plunder. They forget, too, that with the exception of competition among labourers, all other competition is for the benefit of the labourers, by cheapening the articles they consume."
I'd suggest that there is a common model of worker co-operative that privileges indolence at the expense of the industrious. This was one of the problems that I heard discussed a few times at the annual Co-operative Congress in Manchester at the weekend.

And one of the most important challenges that the left can address itself to, is how can industrial democracy demonstrate it's potential to be the most effective way to provide services and organise production.

*****

Prejudice alert

I'm not a journalist - I suspect that I could find answers to some of these questions in annual reports if I had time. But I've tried this line of reasoning out with a number of people who are paid to defend the Co-Operative Group's corporate position, and I've never had anything like a decent reply. So here goes.


I'd also raise a few questions about consumer co-operatives as well (while I'm on the subject of the congress). Here's a little exercise for you to try.
  1. Find your nearest Co-Op shop
  2. Ask for details of membership. Ask "how can I join?"
  3. Keep asking until you find a member of staff that has the first idea of what you are talking about. This will involve speaking to a completely baffled store manager in many cases.
If you can't find anyone who knows what you are talking about, (and this is the case with my local Co-Op shop) you can conclude that this retail chain is likely to provide a poorer service - even - than shops that are owned by normal groups of shareholders.

In the case of my local Co-op, they are slightly more expensive, the staff don't ever last long and the standard of staff training is clearly below that of other supermarkets.

The product range is fairly shoddy (my local corner shop often offers more choice - and someone I can talk to about what I'd like the shop to do). They just survive because they don't have to fork over dividends to shareholders - like, say Tesco. They can pay this cash (if there are any profits) to their managers instead.

These co-ops aren't even having to provide any noticeable value to anyone apart from the senior managers who are largely unaccountable. They do the reputation of co-operatives more harm than good.

I wonder if anyone has ever compared the quality of management in the major retail co-ops with the other large chains? I'd like to see that report.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Gaze

Friday. A time to gaze on gorgeous websites. This is worth a long visit (via i-Pope)

I linked to this about a year ago, but it's so nice, I'll do it again.

Gunners!

Never mind. You got your original red shirts from Forest a long time ago. And you don't need to worry about a lack of livery on them. We can stand in for you again.

As Brian (pbuh) said about Alex Ferguson...
"For all his horses, knighthoods and championships, he hasn't got two of what I've got. And I don't mean balls."

(thanks for the reminder Col)

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Hitch: Nutshelling.

Christ, how did I miss this one?

"Even the obvious has now become revolutionary."

Getting old

This may make me sound a bit like your Dad, but, well, here goes....

Some of the people I work with listen to house music on their headphones. Occassionally, we even have it on in the office.

Now here is my question. And it is one that I've asked my colleagues.

If you like this tedious charmless repetitive crap, is it perhaps possible that you no longer even have the fucking brains that you were born with?

My obituary


From this weeks Local Government Chronicle (not online)



"Decision by petition: Neighbourhoods could win powers to force councils to increase expenditure on local services under new reforms being considered by ministers."
From the Highbury and Islington Bugle and Argus (not online either)

"A large explosion was heard this morning in a Highbury newsagent. Police found a large-nosed corpse and a few gallons of half-digested Guinness spread over a 150 square yards. A singed bundle of newspapers was also recovered. Fortean Times has been notified."



*Regular visitors will understand this post. The rest of you? Carry on with what you were doing.


Update: Just seen this via Cloud: Local election decided by pencil test.

Spread the word

On the 'viral marketting doesn't work - pass it on!' theme, my lib-dem matey, Mat, tried to sow a meme a few months ago, based on Dr Who's method for knackering politicians:

Spread the word: "Doesn't s/he look tired?"

"Doesn't Tony look tired" Mat asked. Again and again and again.

What goes around comes around Mat.


Ming: Looking tired.

Heh heh heh.



Tuesday, May 16, 2006

The end of an era



Norman Balon will be ending his tenure at Soho's Coach & Horses next week (22nd May) according to Wikipedia.

This is a shame, but times change. And Norman's retirement won't even come as a releif to any of the legion of Londoners that he has barred from the establishment. I know, because I've been barred twice myself, without ever having a problem getting served within a few days of the fracas in question.

My offence on one of the occasions was to arrive with a head wound, but no permit for it. There was a Poll Tax riot on at the time, so I think he should have made an exception.

But Norman was, it seems, in favour of the Poll Tax (apparently it was fairly kind to dyspeptic pub landlords).

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

All gone quiet over here II

Who is taking the elitism out of art? Charles Saatchi of all people.

This is worth a look. Go on. Get your crayons out. Let's explore the definition of elitist a bit more. (hat tip: Staggers)

******

I'm away for a few liver-crippling days exploring the Peace That Passeth All Understanding now, so keep your....
  • nose clean
  • powder dry
  • pecker up
  • hand on your ha'penny
Don't let the bastards grind you down, and remember kids, Never Trust a Hippy.


Embarrassment: New definition

This is the daily diet of the modern journalist:

In the Afghan Parliament, a woman MP - Malalai Joya (pictured) stands up to other MPs who are former warlords and Islamic extremists. A violent scuffle breaks out.

"Moderate MPs had to form a protective ring around Mrs Joya as she was hurried from the chamber. “My supporters heard one MP tell someone to wait by the door and knife me as I walked out,” she said. [...]

Mrs Joya told The Times yesterday: “There are two problems for these people: firstly, that I am a woman and, secondly, that I believe in democracy. They don’t believe in democracy. They don’t believe in women’s rights.”

She went on: “I have lots of threats. I have had people call me to threaten me, and in Kabul have to stay in a different house every night. I don’t feel safe. I’m never scared because I tell the truth and I believe in the truth and in democracy. They can kill me but they cannot kill my voice.”

The episode was another embarrassment for the Western nations who invaded Afghanistan to overthrow the Taleban regime and install democracy." (my emphasis).

Move over Ghandi, Che and Malcolm X. If I can find anyone with good Photoshop skills and a bit of time on their hands, I'd love to get that quote turned into a T-shirt:
"I am never scared.... they can kill me but they cannot kill my voice."
The journalist concerned is Tim Albone. Tim. You are a wanker. It's the only word that really fits the bill. (Unless it was your sub-editors who added that last sentance)

(via Mick Hartley)

Apologise

A very readable post from Chris Dillow on 'Should the people of Bristol apologise for the slave trade?'

*****

I suppose an apology from the people of Bradford is out of the question?

Thought for the day.

On BBC Radio Four's 'Thought for the Day' slot, a man from the Iona Community was talking about how songs have been used to influence people.

"Some opiates" he concluded "could be aural, as well as oral."

Too right.

Emetics can be aural as well.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

You know where you are with a Pit Bull Terrier

As a veteran dog-hater, I've always preferred Pit Bull Terriers to Alsatians. You know that Pit Bulls are lethal and unreasonable. Alsatians, on the other hand, are like time-bombs.

At least you know where you are with a Pit Bull.

On the same grounds, I'd argue that Simon Jenkins is a much nastier contributor to public life than, say Richard Littlejohn, Bruce Anderson or Melanie Phillips. Whereas the latter three are objectionable in every way, Jenkins cloaks a terrifically reactionary agenda in honeyed tones that fail to even excite the bulk of the lumpen-intelligencia that read him regularly in The Guardian.

Take your eye off him for a minute and he's quietly introducing demands for a form of populism that elevates journalists to a level of power that no political actors have ever enjoyed before - and dressing it up as 'real democracy'.

Therefore, I'd agree with everything that Bob from Brockley says here, apart from where he calls Simon Jenkins a 'liberal twat' (go and read it all though).

Jenkins is not a liberal by any stretch of the imagination. I'd argue (indeed, I have done) that he is the most right-wing columnist writing in the mainstream media.

It worries me that no-one else recognises this.

Have I Lost My Damn Mind?

Monday, May 08, 2006

Litmus test

I'll shortly write a terrific blog-post illustrating how insightful Camus' observation that...

"Everything I ever learned about morality and obligations I learned from football."
... is. (You can get this on a t-shirt here)

In the meantime, I'd suggest that success as a CEO at a football club is a better measure of managerial abilities than most. Jeff Moore - CEO of East Midlands Development Agency is taking over the reins at Meadow Lane.

Good luck Jeff. We'll know more about public sector management when you've finished than we know now.

And, finishing fourth-bottom in the Fourth Division, the only way is up.

It's the Motown that matters

This 'Long After Tonight is All Over' feature in the paper last week on Northern Soul took me back a bit. And the weekend's football results have banished me to contemplate 'Tears of a Clown'. by the incomparable Smokey Robinson (pictured).

Whenever I see documentaries about 1970s pop, there are the usual selectorate of celebs reminiscing about how hip they were back then. If everyone who says that they had bought the early Clash or Buzzcocks singles had done so, the hit parade would have looked very different to the way it did.

There is a similar observation about the strange cult that is Northern Soul. If everyone who claimed to have gone to the Wigan Casino in the mid-70s had actually done so, each event would have eclipsed Live Aid's attendance figures. I've never tried to really make sense out of Mark E Smith's lyrics, but I guess that Lie Dream of a Casino Soul (the title only) was about this widespread tendency of men of a certain age to reinvent their youth.

The exclusivity of Northern Soul is one of the things it is most remembered for. That, and the price of the 45s. But I'd like to offer an explanation for the unusual fascination that Northern still holds for a lot of people.

All of these documentaries featuring celebs fabricating their reminiscences overlook one important point: Records were - and still are - expensive. I'm now, incomewise, a pillock of the middle class, but I still don't buy 99% of the CDs or records that I want to, because I can't afford them.

And I could afford even fewer when I was 15 years old. The same was true of almost everyone who ever truanted an East Midlands comprehensive school.

So you had to fall back on the handful of sides you could afford, whatever the radio would play, and - most importantly - the vinyl that you had access to, but didn't own. The nearest available borrowable source was the collections of older siblings.

And while I didn't have older brothers, my mates did. And they weren't Casino fantasists for the most part either (though one or two of them actually did go to Northern Soul events in Wigan, Stoke and Blackpool), older siblings' real contribution was mainstream Motown. Almost everyone I went around with at school had access to about a dozen decent soul compilations, and a few standout LPs - Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye or the Stylistics for example.

I also knew a smaller group - one or two kids - who did have a bit more of a disposable income. I expect a lot of schools had this sub-group. Not only did they have a few more readies, they were usually a bit more alpha-male (hard and good-looking), they had clothes that they had chosen themselves (one of them had tweed Oxford Bags - cor!).

These were the boys who peer-pressured people like me into smoking. And they could point to a box of 45s that they carried like a trophy. "I've got ninety Northern singles in there!" (For some reason, it was always ninety). They wouldn't play them for you either. "If you think I'm going to wear out £25 worth of plastic for you...."

School discos played a handful of standards as well. 'Love On A Mountain', Frankie Valli's 'You Ready Now', Mistura's 'The Flasher' and one called 'Like Adam and Eve.' And most of the alpha-male's hanger ons (the sub-group I joined) tried some of the moves if there was any space on the dancefloor. I still have a slightly mis-aligned jaw following a bloody swallowdive-related accident.

But, for all that, I could only name about five Northern Soul tracks at the time. And I didn't know that 'Hold Back the Night' (for example) was Northern Soul. I really knew nothing about the actual music. Neither did I fully get the essence of those Northern Soul moves.

Too flat of foot, only a sketchy idea of what the steps were.

So, here is my theory: Large numbers of men who were born in the early 1960s, in the Midlands or North of England have a subliminal love of ordinary mainstream Soul. One that they don't actually recall acquiring.

It is also at the back of their mind that the coolest people they knew back then were into Northern Soul – an insider equivalent of plain old Motown*. They, therefore, wish that they had been Northern specialists. And some of them even think that they have little choice but to pretend that they were.

In the early 1990s, the various Goldmine compilations started coming out and Northern Soul became affordable to mere mortals for the first time. So I started picking them up out of curiosity. It turned out that I knew a large number of the songs quite well. I just never knew that they were Northern Soul at the time.

The irony is that I could have been a lot hipper all along, and I never knew it. Stuff like 'Feel the Need in Me' by the Detroit Emeralds, 'Everything's Going to Be Alright' by PP Arnold or 'Oh No, Not My Baby' by Maxine Brown.

And the reason that I knew them all was that I used to listen to the late show on Radio Trent in the mid '70s (because I always had to be in bed by 10pm in those days). And they didn't ever call it Northern Soul. But they played loads of it. Of course, I never mentioned listening to this show to anyone, because they would have said "Your mum makes you go to bed at ten o'clock?"

Yet, for all of this, there was some real rubbish on those CDs as well. The instrumentals (like The Flasher or Bok to Bach) are the real low-points. And nothing in the Northern pool will ever come close to the diamonds that can be found everywhere - on the cheapest petrol station CD compilations of mainstream soul.

Don’t get me wrong – Northern Soul compilations are worth having. But I still find it hard to keep my composure if I turn on the radio and hear the fabulous Smokey Robinson's 'Tracks of My Tears' or the Martha and the Vandellas 'Nowhere to Run'.

Give me a decent cheap Motown compilation any day.

*Douglas Rushkoff's 'Coercion' makes a strong case that product can be really sold effectively if you can convince people that they are outsiders, and they can become insiders with a simple purchase.

All gone quiet over here

Another year in the Third Division.

*silence*

... apart from....

Friday, May 05, 2006

Rumbled

Memo to Euston Manifesto signatories:

The Council Elections are over now. Our subterfuge was successful and Tony's job has been saved. Time to quietly fade back into the background.

And the quicker the better. A chap called Brendan in Crooked Timber's comment boxes has rumbled us.

"The timing is interesting too. As long as the EMers can persuade people that the major issue of our day is Islamic terrorism and not (as a quick look at the British papers would lead you to believe) the impending disintegration of the Labour party at the council elections, then obviously this helps Blair."

Shitting bricks

It's the big one tomorrow. Col is on his third pair of y-fronts already today.

McGaribaldi doesn't have the guts to put this on his blog. He e-mailed it to me, and I'm not going to treat it in confidence:

"Prediction time:

- Forest to beat Bradford 2-0
- Walsall to hold Barnsley to a draw
- Swansea to win at Chesterfield

- Forest beat Brentford in Semi
- Swansea beat Huddersfield in Semi

- Forest absolutely batter Swansea 4-0 at the Millenium Stadium, the Taffs go home crying like babies."


Crying like a baby? About football? My son (aged 7) doesn't take losing very well. Whenever a game goes badly, he breaks into floods of tears. The other day, I had to take him aside and explain...
"Big boys don't cry about football"

Ms NTaH, overheard this. Her comment?
"HA!"

She has a nasty streak sometimes. When I weep, I have to do it privately.

Two from Slugger, one from Shane

The best of Best and No Mopery!

And Shane MacGowan on immigration:

"People are talking about immigration, emigration and the rest of the f***ing thing. It’s all f***ing crap. We’re all human beings, we’re all mammals, we’re all rocks, plants, rivers. F***ing borders are just such a pain in the f***ing arse. "

Just plain Andrew Brown now

The people have spoken - the bastards! Andrew Brown has lost his seat in Lewisham.

Leaving my partisan preference for Labour aside, this is still a shame. Andrew has - I think - used the internet more effectively than any other elected representative in explaining his role and seeking to connect with the people that he represents.

For the last couple of years, I've told anyone who will listen to go and look at his weblog to find out what is possible to those prepared to try.

He has usually avoided overt political sniping and has always attempted to explain the issues that he works on and to attract constructive comment. As a Councillor, Andrew hasn't courted controversy or been tempted by any populist instincts. Had he done so, maybe he could have bucked the national swing that surely defeated him yesterday.

Instead, he has provided a patient and detailed explanation of what local democracy and local government is. And he has chided me in the past for eulogising the elected representative. He has explained to me in the past that the reality is somewhat different from the ideal I have that it should simply be moulded by a quiet but articluate majority of decent local politicians.

But I've met him three or four times now. He has always shown an awareness of the debt that he owes to his political party and he has rejected gesture politics. He has always been solicitous of the needs of his local residents - and he's taken ample steps to find out who they are, what they want, and to listen to the evidence that they have provided.

He has also demonstrated a lively intellect on his blog. In short, Andrew is Exhibit A when I argue about the value of representative democracy.

I wish that there were more Councillors like Andrew. Any chance of a recount?

PS: Andrew has posted a farewell notice on his blog. Go read it.

PPS: Silver lining: Sister Bance is now Councillor Bance. So mind your manners in future.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Council elections

Today's the day. The newspapers, and the party leaders may be telling you that this is a referendum on national issues.

But it should be (and, in my view, it is) about local Councillors. It's about them as people. Their qualities. The way they represent people, the way that their conciences temper the decisions they make and the work they do.

Brother Bob and Andrew are just a few examples of the real engine room of local democracy. I've highlighted Labour Councillors, but that's they way I am. The other parties have their honourable equivalents.

And you can find out all about them from their Blogs. Even their political opponents are wishing them luck in a personal capacity (and a qualified way, obviously) because they have taken the trouble to tell people more about themselves and their work.

By being thoughtful and engaging, they (and the dozens of other Councillors who blog as well) have started to improve local democracy in a small but vital way.

Personally, I'd struggle to be a Councillor. I don't think that I have the guts or the dedication that they have. I'd struggle to find the time, given the job I do. I'm not even sure that I've got the moral courage you need to strike a political bargain in the way that Councillors often have to.
Whenever I hear commentators being hoity-toity about the supposed moral failings of politicians, I always want the opportunity to ask "but what would you do...?" just to see how long their ability to be realistic lasts.

It's a real shame that electoral turnouts are low for Council elections. I wish they were higher than in General Elections.


Vote today. And if you can, vote for the candidates - not their party.
Update - 5.5.06: Cllr Andrew Brown lost his seat in Lewisham. Brother Bob kept his, though his silvery lining is darkened by four new BNP Councillors in Sandwell.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

e-Democracy 2.0.

This is the text of a talk that I gave tonight at the WeMedia conference fringe.

Excuse the dodgy grammar. I’ve written it the way that I speak. And it’s not word-for-word what I will actually say. The actual transcript will probably be even more of a gibbering mess.

Here goes….

Intro:

My name is Paul Evans. I blog at ‘Never Trust a Hippy’ – I work for a company called Poptel Technology Ltd – we’re a social enterprise and a worker co-op. We build websites.

I also manage a project called Councillor.info – http://www.councillor.info/ and it’s designed to get local Councillors to be more active managers of their own websites.

I think that the value of blogging is that you often get people saying things that businesspeople, civil servants, journalists, pressure groups, academics and all of the various hired spokespeople would never say. We’re not always right. But we are a bit different.

And my brief interruption this evening is intended in that spirit.

E-Democracy?

There are numerous so-called ‘e-democracy’ projects around in the UK at the moment – many with public funding

The e-democracy national project - £4m spent so far and another £1m rumoured.

‘Campaign Creator’ built by Bristol City Council with public money. It has had £395,000 so far.

The large majority of these projects have been focussed upon….

•e-petitioning
•e-campaigning
•e-consultation

And the intended beneficiaries are primarily…

•Community activists
•Local campaigners

And the projects have usually been scoped and managed by…

•Civil Servants
•Council officers

These project are intended to....

•Improve ‘e-Empowerment’
•Involve more people in policy and decision-making

They often create a direct channel between the public and The Executive - the government

They often, these initiatives have sought to by-pass elected representatives

It may not be the stated intention, but these projects are, in my view, advancing a ‘direct democracy’ agenda.

•The UK is not, currently, a direct democracy
•We haven’t decided to become one.

If we had the debate, I suspect that we’d realise that it leads to..

•More powerful journalists
•More powerful pressure groups
•More centralisation of power
•More populism
•‘Sub-optimal policy outcomes’ (trans: bad government)

We should instead be promoting representative democracy – it's better than the other options

What the blogosphere says about this…

•I’ve tried to provoke a debate about this with my blog, and had little feedback.

This could be...

•A bad thing: Complacency: If we don’t want something to happen, and it does so by stealth, it can’t be a good thing, can it?

•A good thing: We are not turning into a direct democracy even though lots of public money is being spent trying to turn us into one.

Comments I have had:

•“In a direct democracy, great thinkers are made to drink hemlock, at the whim of the masses” (thanks Mat)
•“A direct democracy is worse that a fascist dictatorship: At least with the Nazis, you knew who was in charge” (thanks Bill)

So what’s the alternative?

•In it’s unimaginative stage, e-democracy tends towards more ‘direct democracy’ related projects
•BUT, internet users could fix some of representative democracy’s shortcomings.
•So, ask me, “give us some Representative Democracy-enhancing ideas then? Suggest some projects that will reverse some of the decline in representative democracy…”

I have three suggestions

1. Support Councillors
•Many of you will vote tomorrow in the local elections: More of you may not.

How many of you have a clue about the identity, character, or abilities of your local Councillors?

•I’ve worked for three years now on a project designed to get Councillors to be active managers of websites
•We’ve got 20 Councils working with us so far.
•We know how to do it – what the barriers are,
•How it can be done well, and badly,
•We have the software. We have training materials.
•We even have a course designed for Councillors.

•The average age of Councillors is 57. Often not internet users – often not aware of the possibilities
•A significant majority of them older white males.

Bill Thompson had an idea; (offline - he's never blogged it as far as I know)

•Bill said “lets get loads of politics / journalism / communications students to mentor Councillors in online communications for a while?”
•This could strengthen local elected politicians against their rivals – local media, political parties, pressure groups and Council officers.
•It could also expose those who aren’t up to the job – and make local elections meaningful:

So that’s suggestion no.1. Get students to mentor local Councillors and improve local representative democracy. Maybe next election, you’ll be able to vote for a person – not a party?


Suggestion no.2.
Representative democracy is a process that has an ideal expression. In the same way that a Court of Law has an impartial jury, a judge, barristers, expert witnesses, and so on, a good democracy needs….

•Elected representatives
•A high quality of policy formation
•An effective public conversation for the representatives to eavesdrop upon.

So, we will need….

•… to get the despicable guttersnipes that make up the bulk of popular journalism out of the way.
•We will also need to cultivate a sensible culture within the blogosphere.
Guido may focus on the misdemeanours of The Westminster Village.
Tim may focus on the campaigning possibilities

But we also need a network of bloggers who publish the whole context of public policy. The work of academics and think-tanks need to be more widely discussed by lay-commentators.

If there is a reason why bloggers must supplant sections of the MSM, it is because we have the potential to do this.

We need to make grown-up policy discussions more accessible. We need to find a way to motivate people to discuss policy and not court-politics. I have an idea of how this can be done, and I’d be happy to discuss it with anyone who will listen.

That is the second suggestion I have for you tonight.

And the third thing….
… lets make the Freedom of Information Act really work.

•The Freedom of Information legislation has backfired to a certain extent
•The only thing we get are oblique answers from bureaucrats…
•…unless we are well-resourced journalists or pressure groups. In which case, we get sensational and embarrassing scoops.
•The way FOI works, it actually makes us more of a direct democracy. The public is not more enlightened by FOI. Only pressure groups are.
•We need a constructive and well-managed explanation of how departments work and what the issues are – in their full context

So…..

Ban Civil Servants from managing websites

•Instead, Government department websites should to be managed by a public-interest external body with privileged access. A mix, perhaps, between the Open University and the BBC.
•Think of the work that the BBC do explaining current affairs and complex issues – often using special features on their site.
•I’d let Slugger O’Toole manage the Northern Ireland Office website, for instance. It is a responsible group-blog that discusses policy issues seriously.
•It would give the public an alternative source of information to politicians and journalists(perhaps the two least trusted groups around)

You wouldn’t ask Michael Crick to run it. Or Guido. But you would consider letting Slugger do so.

Decent citizen journalists are more likely to be trustworthy in this respect. Let us start using them in a joined-up way to improve democracy.

(ends)

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

The politics of illusion

Henry Patterson, author of 'The Politics of Illusion: A political history of the IRA' has signed the Euston Manifesto:

He says why:

"Those of us in Ireland who have experienced more than thirty years of left-wing apologetics for the 'anti-imperialist' atrocities committed by the IRA find it unsurprising that some of those who lionised Gerry Adams when the IRA was blowing up shoppers in London are now cosying up to reactionary fundamentalism."

'The Politics of Illusion...' is, IMHO, the most comprehensive and sound portrait of Irish republicanism in print.

I'd read it if I were you.

Ironic

A good post on Actually Existing - but I have a query.
"The most fundamental question: are people good or bad? In other words, if left to themselves would people destroy social order or create a new and better society? For this part of the scale I'll borrow from Church history.

An Augustinian believes that, ultimately, people are sinful; politics is, or should be, concerned with establishing laws and institutions which enable sinful people to coexist without tearing one another apart.

A Pelagian believes that, ultimately, people are good; politics is, or should be, concerned with enabling people to work together, play together and generally enjoy life in ways which have hitherto not been possible."
What if you believe that people are good individually, but that they cease to be good once they become an unmediated group? I have a postcard pinned up above my desk that says "Never underestimate the power of very stupid people in large groups."

Personally, I'd redraft it slightly to say "Never underestimate the ability of a large group of nice people to behave stupidly when they get together."

When I find the answer to this question, I’ll be able to use Phil’s metric to find out what sort of person I am. But, rather exasperatingly, there appears to be a chance that I’m a f**king hippy.

That would be the person who had his flamethrower confiscated at Glastonbury one year. Wouldn't that be a good deal more ironic than any of the things that Alanis Morissette thinks are ironic in that dozy song of hers?

If Phil's answer to my question is what I think it is, I'm a Pelagian. Or wrapping the whole thing up, I'm a PDRW - a hippy reformer.

He asks if anyone can come up with a better term than hippy? I'd like to amplify this request.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Arise you starvelings from your slumber

I did my bit to mark May Day today.

This morning, there were three large palattes of bricks sitting on the road outside my house, and they needed to be moved into the yard.

So, I started off by explaining child labour to my kids (seven year-old twins). The long exhausting days. The tiny wage-packets. The heavy lifting. The back-breaking loads. The way that - if something isn't done properly - that you don't get paid for it.

By nightfall, the bricks were neatly piled in my yard, the kids had a real sense of solidarity with their brothers and sisters in China.

And I was 40p poorer.

Pledge to help Barnet FC

I hearby appeal to football supporters everywhere for your help.

Where I live (London Borough of Barnet) the local (Tory) Council are refusing to support any of the plans that Barnet FC is putting forward, and the result will be that the club will have to move miles away - and thereby lose a lot of the regular lifeblood support from locals.

So. I want you to rack your brains for anyone you know who lives in The London Borough of Barnet (anyone with an address in Barnet, Brunswick Park, Burnt Oak, Colindale, Edgware, Finchley, Golders Green, Hampstead Garden Suburb, Hendon, Mill Hill or Oakleigh Park).

And then send them an e-mail.

If you click on the link below, you will be able to find out which ward they live in and which party they should (tactically) vote for on Thursday.

http://www.pledgebank.com/Keepbarnetalive

And (very important), tell Pledgebank that you are doing this.

If you have a blog, a link to this post would also be gratefully received.

Food aid for Darfur

Food aid to Darfur is being cut.

Your MP may be prepared to raise this with the Foreign Office. More importantly, your MP may be prepared to support calls for contributions from other EU countries - and, in particular, from Sudan's neighbouring oil producers - all of whom who have enjoyed windfall profits recently, and almost all of them have failed to contribute even a fig so far.

And you will never know if they are prepared to support such a call - until you write to them and ask.

No laughing matter

On reflection, it may be in slightly poor taste to spend a whole weekend laughing about Keef Richards falling out of a tree.

I don't suppose anyone has a video of this?

(from the 'Entertainment' section of the Beeb site. Entertainment? Too right!)

Ask Eric. Or Edmund.

International law and the UN: responding to Will Hutton on the Euston Manifesto, Eric (and at least the first two of his comments at least) is worth a look.
"...even if one agrees that the war was illegal, it does not follow that such illegality undermines attempts to build a democracy."

And...
"the UN is not a democratic world government working for the citizens of the world. It is an arena in which the nations of the world fight for their interests, much as they fought for their interests before it was formed. This is not to suggest that there is no such thing as international law, but even on that point the UN is a failure when it comes to enforcement, or even basic recognition of trangressions. Darfur, and Rwanda before it, are examples; the interests of nations prevent action."

Read it all. Or ask Edmund, "What's wrong with the UN?"