Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Old news

I said yesterday that a daily visit to the Portadown News archives would be worthwhile. Here's a story from the first one I picked today, at random from back in 2002:

Councillor completes studies
by our education correspondent, Una O'Level

Local Sinn Fein councillor Derek O'Hallion has graduated from the Open University. Councillor O'Hallion studied politics, history and electronics: his final paper was on 'The Modern Conservative Party'.

Receiving his diploma yesterday, Councillor O'Hallion thanked party colleagues for their support. "Sinn Fein has always believed in improving our intelligence," said the councillor, "although it would be wrong to suggest that we intend to use it."

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

A political wanker-magnet

This is lovely. Really lovely.

In the mid-1990s, anyone who was looking would have noticed the Labour Party filling up with lots of ambitious young things, prepared to say almost anything, to get noticed. They were both a curse and a postive weathervane. I used to think "if these wankers are sniffing round, we really are going to win the next election."

I wonder if the Tories will be able to hang on to their wankers over the coming months. And - if they do - will it do them any good?

All will be revealed, I expect.

Oh, and here's Hitch, going for it in a big way.

And here's the excellent Newton Emerson writing in New Humanist. He's upbeat. And when Newt is upbeat, we should all be happy.

For those who don't know, Newton was responsible for the best satire site I've ever seen.

Really. Bookmark it. Go back everyday and read one edition from the archives.

Time very well spent.

(Via Slugger)

Finally, I'm printing this off to read on the bus home. I think you will find it worthwhile as well.

(Via S&M)

Monday, July 23, 2007


I'd agree with Tom on this - a tax based upon alcohol volume in drinks.

Aside from his principled arguments, I just like weakish beer. Most of the decent bitters are around 4% ABV, and this should be encouraged.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Beating the ban


Via Bryan Appleyard who also gives The Spectacularlyboring a good slap for it's poxy endorsement of Boris for Mayor.

Shame he ruins the article with an archetypal blogger final sentence.

Politicise Whitehall! (part 1)

Apologies for the light posting here .

I’ve walked myself into an obligation to write a post advocating a politicisation of the civil service, so here it is. As Gordon Brown is responding to the conclusion of the cash-for-honours enquiry hinting at political funding reform, now is probably a good time for this anyway.

Before I start, for clarification, I’d only support a politicisation of senior elements of the civil service – the higher end of the ‘policy’ food-chain. I’m not sure there’d be any sense in sacking all of the teachers whenever there’s a change in government (though I suppose it would be a bit of a laugh).

So here goes. To make it digestible, it will probably have to be written over a number of episodes. Here’s the first.

‘Depoliticisation’is a significant (though clearly not the only) factor explaining political centralisation in the UK. When we say 'depoliticised', what we really mean is that we tolerate a small amount of properly-funded political input into government that can be largely monopolised by the Prime Minister's office. Currently, individual ministers owe their positions - almost entirely - to the patronage of the Prime Minister.

Few PMs are entirely unchallenged, of course (see Blair / Brown / Cook, the 1960s triangle of Wilson / Brown / Callaghan, or Thatcher / Lawson / Heseltine in the 1980s for examples), but for the most part, a minister arrives at their department almost unarmed. They have little scope for appointing people around them, and one of their earliest meetings is with their permanent staff.

Much of what has passed for a depoliticised civil service in recent years has – in fact – been a strong highly politicised PM’s office commanding a string of ministers who only have a small personal team around them and few real resources of their own to call upon. And what personal team they do have is often more responsive to No10 than it will ever be to the minister concerned.

Certainly, after 1997, the wise minister appointed reliably Blairite special advisers. And this is – I would argue – the forgotten element in the decline of Cabinet government. An open-minded PM with a Cabinet full of under-resourced minister may, objectively, be more unconsultative than a real ballbreaker of a PM in other circumstances.

In summary, I’m arguing that individual ministers should be able to bring in a fairly largish team, rather than arriving with one or two confidantes (both of whom know that long careers are based upon hedged bets, and all bets are laid-off with the PM).

So, what would this look like?

Firstly, political parties currently raise a lot of money privately and spend it all on campaigning. What policies they do develop are done so on-the-hoof and largely to serve short-term electoral ends. It cheapens public life and diminshes trust in politics. I’ve argued, in the past, that high-spend campaigning is increasingly a fools errand, and with a public who have a smaller appetite for individual donations, the pressure to constantly raise money is needlessly undermining trust and creating problems.

I believe that political parties can survive as campaigning outfits on smallish personal donations. The problem comes with the policy-formation role. This is where I’d argue for state funding.

It is time that these roles were uncoupled. A state-funded policy directorate within political parties could be configured as a number of competing ‘campuses’ loosely grouped around differing political positions and itinerant senior players. These campuses exist already in a much less consistent form. They would probably never have a formal location, and they are likely to be fairly porous (in the great venn-diagram of wonkery, there are meeting points between all of the main parties, never mind within them). This is a solution that would not involve much reconfiguration of political culture in this country.

Crucially, these campuses would – if managed properly - have funding and purpose. MPs would be able to fund them from increased allowances (the point at which state funding should be applied). They would draw in more ambitious participants, the Chinese wall between academics and political wonks could start to disappear, and you would have a more politically aware set of researchers.

Ones who understand that a conversational engagement with the public is an important part of the policy-formation process.

I’m conscious that I’ve not yet given enough reasons to scrap the existing settlement, but I will return to this in due course. I will argue that a politicised civil service will not only be more efficient, but also it will have the unique appeal of allowing British voters - perhaps for the first time - to choose who should run the country (as opposed to who should be given a ringside seat to watch the country being run).

Friday, July 20, 2007

An introduction for some

Because some readers of this blog aren't regular readers of Irish newspapers, there is a chance that you have never enjoyed the mercurial Kevin Myers. Every time I recommend him to someone, he writes a column that... er .... reflects poorly on anyone who recommends him.

But still, he's always worth a look.

Anyway, it's safe to recommend him today. There's no better introduction to his style than "Don't mind me, I'm stupid and know nothing about anything."

Via Slugger Mick.

Worth a listen

BBC Radio 4's 'Now Show' is usually a bit of a mixed bag, but tonight's edition (repeated tomorrow - Saturday at 12.30am I think?) had a monologue by Marcus Brigstocke that was very very good.

Will particularly appeal to secularists everywhere.

You can get it on Listen Again for about a week.

Hurry hurry.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Wearing the uniform

In the absence of anything else today....

From 1980: The Chords

... and a bit earlier, Dr Feelgood.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Behold the majesty

Since no-one can answer my question, I don't have anything to say.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I like Kate Bush very much.

Why not watch these and be humbled?

Monday, July 09, 2007


I've been planning to write a post about politicisation of the civil service for a while now, but I've been waiting for someone to write a coherent post that is opposed so I can give it some context.

There is a really strong argument in favour of a depoliticised civil service. There must be.

It's just that I've never heard it.

I'm waiting.


Terry Eagleton:

99% of literary lefties give the rest of us a bad name*.

It’s not me marching out of step Mam, it’s them other buggers.

(*Quip adapted from Dave’s Part some time ago)

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Summer book recommendation

I don't usually do book recommendations here, but summer's coming, and it's time to tune into racy pacy detective novels and the kind of stuff that you're more likely to read on beach.

This summer, I'd urge you to have a look at Cathi Unsworth's 'The Singer.'

I'd normally be reluctant to read a novel set in a recognisable milieu. There's usually something very annoying about the way some writers insist on hanging their tent on the pegs of public personae. I recently put a Neal Stephenson novel down only a few pages in because the protagonist had managed to rub shoulders with both Issac Newton and Benjamin Franklin (as children) in the early chapters.

But Cathi Unsworth has picked one good exception: The aftermath of London's punk scene.

I say this because punk was one of those things that almost everyone in this city who is now in their mid-40s seems to have had some sort of inside track on. I often meet people in pubs who played bit-parts bands that I've actually heard of.

And The Singer gives you the best of both worlds. For most of it, you think you're reading a well-written story that showcases the fucked-up later lives of ex-bandmembers. The jealousies, hangups and little secrets are worth reading in themselves.

But by the end of it, you realise that you've been nosing though something that Patricia Highsmith would have probably been very pleased with.

I won't say any more, because I'll spoil the ending.

A worthy cause

John Smeaton has had more than a thousand pints bought for him already, but there's no need to stop there.

Watch the videos.
"They can try to come to Britain, and they can try to disrupt us any way they want, but the British people have been under a lot more things than this, and they will always stand proud. And you come to Glasgow, Glasgow doesn't accept this, do you know what I mean? This is Glasgow. We'll set about you."
Churchillian is the word that comes to mind. I wish that I could have bought Churchill a pint (apparently, it wouldn't have lasted very long....).

(Via Hak)

Pól Ó hÉimhín says.....

Find out what your name is in Irish.

There is no website that tells you how to pronounce your name, once you've found out what it is though.

(Ta Enda)

(update: My mother speaks Irish, but even she didn't know what Irish for Evans was until I showed her this. Now she's seen it written, she says that it's pronounced O'Haven)

Good Councillor blog

Here’s a good example of a Councillor blog – Councillor Andrew Burns’ Really Bad Blog.

Light, informative, conversational and campaigning. Here’s a good short post on how electoral systems effect the local link between Councillors and local residents. This is a good example of how all politicians should present themselves.

It’s been nominated for this years’ New Statesman New Media Awards, and it’s easily the best entry in the ‘Elected Representative’ award. It shows that you don’t need a site set up by your researchers (getting other people to do it for you diminishes it) and that all you need to do is offer people a rounded view of your personality.

Tragically, they haven't asked me to be a judge this year, so I can't swing it for him, but I hope he wins anyway.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007


On the new PM's 'constitutional' package - from the BBC:

Shadow justice secretary Nick Herbert said "citizens' juries" - where people give views on local issues - were not the answer.

"There's no point in giving people a voice if they don't really have a say over public services. There's no point in giving people a voice if the government is going to be deaf."

So what is Mr Herbert saying? That people should be consulted and involved in deliberating on policy issues, and then they should be allowed to frame legislation over the heads of those who've been voted to do so?

There was a time when the Tories only redeeming grace was that they understood representative democracy. Even that has gone now.

Monday, July 02, 2007


Nothing here for you today.

Go and read post of the week (so far, anyway).