Thursday, February 28, 2008

Stroke City

I've been back from Northern Ireland for about a week now, but I've only just got around to moving some photos from my camera onto the laptop.

And my first (daylight) visit to (London)Derry (or Stroke City as I was advised to call it in order to avoid offending anyone) was one that I was looking forward to. If you grew up in the 1970s, in an Irish family, Derry was something of a enigma.

In the early 1970s, catholic charities used to arrange for kids from Derry to come over to ex-pat families like ours to get away from the troubles there. I knew all of the words to The Town I Love So Well in my early teens.

Yet though I must have made over 50 trips to Ireland and travelled everywhere else, we avoided the north. So driving into town for my first decent look around, it was hard not to turn over the phrases that are associated with the town in your head: The Battle of the Bogside / Apprentice Boys March / Bloody Sunday / Free Derry, and so on.

And nothing has changed much. The damned barbed wire grows higher and higher. This photo - taken as I stepped out of the main Derry City Council offices (where I had business to do among the barricades) - shows the scene of urban devastation that greeted me - a scene from a city that is at war with itself.

And this one (below) is particularly evocative. In a war-torn city, rent apart by sectarian strife, here is a brave example of the way that two antagonistic communities have tried to live together. Look closely at the boat in the foreground (click on the pic), and consider the pathos. Some peace people have bridged the divide and agreed a name for their yacht - no doubt as part of an uneasy truce.

One day, perhaps all of this shattered community will be able to live together in peace.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Consumerism and Exitism

As the latest installment of a long line of them, there is a really, really excellent post over at Freemania about (among other things) the way that consumerism has altered public expectations about how politics is conducted, and 'exitism' - the mirror image of the 'entryism' that dominated Labour politics a quarter of a century ago. It is - I would add - quite a long post, but I'm in no position to criticise him for that, am I?

It's very good indeed, and it has some good quotes in it as well. His conclusion is well worth thinking about - and extending:
"We have to ... be reasonable in making political demands. It would help, too, if politicians, pressure groups, business and the media would show more maturity and humility."
There is something else that they could show as well. In the case of politicians and the media, anyway, it would help if they could show some leadership. Not necessarily leadership in the sense of forcing their own conclusions through, but a leadership in which they acknowledge the collective position that they are all in instead of an opportunistic pretence that they can use these circumstances to steal a march on their rivals (in the case of politicians, their rivals are their opponents. In the case of journalists, the rivals are the politicians).

That they need to understand at what points they should be meeting new expectations placed upon them (and politicians in particular really do need to put more effort into understanding how they can improve the quality of dialogue that they have with the public.

In the past, neither the public meeting or the doorstep have been very good places for politicians to address people's concerns. The internet, however, has changed all of that substantially. It is possible to have a sensible and moderated discussion online, but it requires a bit of planning. Being conversational is something of a learned skill - and many of the MPs that I've met when I used to work in that sphere didn't get where they are today by mastering this offline, and show no interest in using new technologies to overcome their old flaws.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Socialist or Democrat?

A few days ago, Norm had a post up, asking "why the left has a bad record and a bad reputation with regard to its attachment to democracy".

Norm's regulars won't be surprised by any of the reasons that he advances, and I'd I'm among those who would generally agree with him on things like this. But I think that there is one possible explanation that is missing here. I say 'possible' because I've never really tried it out properly. So here goes:

Is it possible that the biggest problem that the entire left has is that it doesn't understand the central role that liberal democracy plays in advancing its aims?

Could it be the case that, when presented with a choice between supporting...
  1. a political programme that was long on generic socialism (Union rights, common ownership, secular republicanism, internationalism, anti-racism, etc), but short on ambition to improve the general quality of standard liberal democratic practice, or....
  2. a political programme that is broadly indifferent, or even mildly hostile to the general demands of socialists, but that places a high priority on improving the institutions of liberal democracy
... that most socialists would choose the former?

I would suggest (and at this stage, it's only a suggestion) that leftists would generally achieve their aims more effectively, and in a more sustainable way by supporting the latter. I would qualify this, of course, by insisting that only a representative democracy (no plebiscites, strong parliamentarians, unconcentrated media ownership, bicameralism, etc) can be treated as genuine 'liberal democracy' for the purposes of this argument. So Switzerland or the US can't really be used to contradict me here.

And I'd argue this because I can't think of an example of any state achieving lasting progress of the kind that socialists would like to see without it also placing a premium upon the values of liberal democracy. Labour - in the 1960s - can put it's greatest achievements down to liberalising reforms rather than any red-blooded socialist policies.

I can also think of examples of states that have had a political leadership that is indifferent - or even hostile - to many of the totemic socialistic demands, but that have nevertheless become much more acceptable societies from a left-wing point of view. Almost every EU state would fit this description over the past 50 years. And states where the quality of democracy hasn't improved (or has even deteriorated) - see Italy for details - have also resulted in a lack of social progress.

On the other hand, there are numerous examples of states failing to effect lasting change (indeed, becoming objectively less progressive) despite the protestations of their supposedly left-wing leaderships.

Is the problem with the left that it is too busy striking postures to see what is under its very nose? That liberal democracy has achieved more socialistic progress than active socialism even has? Is it time to park socialistic demands and instead to focus upon democratic renewal?

Now where did I put that hard hat?

Monday, February 25, 2008

Judicial representation – a good thing?

Further to yesterday’s post, I’m going to argue here that the way that parliamentarians respond to attacks from the men in white suits over the coming months and years could result in a move towards a more judicial representation in place of our current ‘parliamentary prerogative’ arrangements.

And if it does happen I’m not sure it’s going to be a good thing.

Here’s how I see things playing out: I suspect that the revealed preference of the country at the moment is for a more formalised and agreed role for elected representatives. One where MPs conduct themselves, in some ways, like judges or jurors.

Here’s what I mean by this: Where the management of MPs personal offices and finances are subject to a higher level of scrutiny and a significant burden of compliance and monitoring by civil servants, it would follow that – sooner or later – MPs will find that their transactions can be put through an official body, or that their offices will be run with all of the transparency (ho ho) of a PLC. It will save them time and minimise the risk of misinterpretation or hostile scrutiny.

Where MPs may have an office management board that is above reproach (chaired by a member of the clergy perhaps?) that scrutinises salary and rental arrangements to ensure that nepotism and self-serving arrangements don’t take place. Think of equal opportunities recruitment procedures, arms length financial management, audited and published accounts etc.

In short, MPs will become formal state employees in all but name. The processes by which they are paid and monitored will start to mirror semi-state bodies (particularly semi-state agencies).

Similarly, the diaries of MPs and their minions may be expected to be public documents? How far has an MP been influenced by pressure groups or special interests?

Will it be OK for them to spend time in the company of anyone with a personal or business interest? It has been a matter of some comment Gordon Brown went on the same aeroplane as Richard Branson before he turned down Virgin’s bid for Northern Rock. And John Prescott plumbed the depths of depravity in snaffling a Cowboy Outfit before spiking some Casino bid or other a few years ago.

How far will MPs be able to continue to champion specific projects? Already, since 1997, I’ve found that both civil servants and politicians have worked to create a buffer-zone between ministers and anyone working in the field that the minister influences. It has never been harder to meet a minister than it is today – and particularly to meet them in the absence of a civil servant.

The net result of this, it should be noted, has been to increase the influence of civil servants and management consultants in the interests of avoiding bad press. Again, MPs will act within a framework that is set down by the state. More dispassionate and subject to appeal. Under more pressure to be visibly beyond reproach. Like – perhaps – a judge? Or a jury? Or something in between?

And by creating a more legalised policy-making process, it has brought forward our movement towards the American situation – where political lobbyists are no longer people with a background in politics - people who can talk brass tacks and do a deal.

Instead, they are lawyers.

Now, there is a certain logic to say that MPs – as holders of a dignified office – could call upon the state to assist them in professionalising their status. Instead of the sons and daughters of political chums staffing their offices, MPs could have a pooled diary secretariat, a pooled group of professional researchers that can provide a Freedom Of Information-style response to any enquiry on a politician’s stance.

Indeed, this may be the trajectory that the current debate about state funding for politics will follow.

Also, there is the way that MPs go about their constituency business. At the moment, MPs do a number of things that aren’t in their job description, but that are intended to ingratiate themselves with the public. But a judicial representative wouldn’t hold surgeries, for instance, where the public are encouraged to think that an MP will take up their case, or fight their corner.

In order to do their work in the way idealised by Burke in his great speech, they would only need to create a circumstance that allows them to eavesdrop upon the concerns of the public and discern the public interest. Serving the interests of the nation as a whole, MPs must surely only gather evidence to help them redraft legislation? Cosy little deals with locals can't be tolerated in this shiny new settlement, can they?

If they end up with a secretariat that ensures that all work funded out of the public purse is conducted in a scrupulous way, then they will need to have a separately funded political secretariat that will handle that side of life for them. One that is funded from money that they – or their parties – have raised. A strict demarcation between politics and public administration.


That’s how I think things could go. And is this all a good thing?Are we to have a situation where MPs are asked to show their working on all decisions that they participate in? And if so, would this still make us a good representative democracy?

I don’t think that anyone would argue that this is progress in the right direction (apart from lawyers, and interest groups with a large legal budget, obviously).

And would it really result in more open conversational government? After all, FOI requests result in very fulsome and open responses, don’t they? In reality, nothing would drive thoughtfulness out of politics more than this.

And would this level of scrutiny bring politicians and the public closer together? I don’t think so. Surgeries – where MPs bother with them – would soon stop. ‘Meet and greet’ would be a thing of the past, and the real connection would happen – even more than it does already - though focus grouping, polling and voter-sampling.

This is not a circumstance that will promote anything other than the lifelong professional professional. A plague of Millibands.

This would also deepen the influence of the Electoral Commission – the big brother of the ugly Standards Board of England (and its regional twin sisters).

It would result in more instances of politicians having to clear what they say with civil servants. It would result in a more anodyne standard of public debate where every politician has a kitemark applied to every statement.

We can have a more constrained politics if we want. We – as a public - seem to be saying so at the moment. Every policy decision will be arrived at in a transparent way. It will tick the required boxes in the interests of ‘joined up government’. There will be no aspect of that policy’s anatomy that can be called into question. Lots of valuable evidence that could have informed that policy will go unconsidered because it is ‘inadmissible’. It will be a much more centralised and depoliticised form of government.

If it weren’t already true that ‘it doesn’t matter who you vote for, the government always gets in’, then this judicial policymaking would ensure that it were the case.

And – as I observed in the previous post here - Dirty Bertie Ahern wouldn’t prosper in such a climate. And Machiavelli would spin in his grave as well. Fewer will bother voting.

Our politics would be cleaner – sure. But sometimes, problems call for fixers doing dinner-deals.

If you are arguing for a more transparent House of Commons, it’s important to understand what you are arguing for. Martin Bell – the self-styled ‘man in the white suit’ isn’t just arguing against something. He’s implicitly arguing for more lawyer-lobbyists and fewer pragmatic politicians.

Update: Here's Freemania on Martin Bell

Politicians who conspire with civil servants to ensure that even the most banal enquiry will receive an opaque ‘official’ reply. He’s arguing for more policymaking by focus-group, opinion-poll and so on. More ‘evidence based policy’ in the worst sense of the term.
And who is arguing the corner of intelligent pragmatic politics?

Almost no-one apart from parliamentarians who are planning to retire, as far as I can see. Yet the arguments are as well known and widely accepted among those that have considered good democratic practice as they are hard to argue for in our current shrill climate.

No-one would now publicly make Machiavelli’s case that a Prince (OK, times have moved on) should embody the characteristics of a fox and a lion. Instead, we have to pander to the fiction that some kind of neutered pussycat is what is needed to ‘regain voters’ trust’.

A civil servant friend of mine told me about the advice that he was given as a young policymaker:
“Never forsake the rock of expediency for the shifting sands of principle.”
When expediency goes out of the window, and every policy has been reached by a process that can be scrutinised and passed by pedants, we will all be a lot poorer and a lot more bored as a result.

OK, I know. Like many of the obsessions on this blog, I’ve said a lot of this before in different ways.

But I think that this pedantic obsession with playing the ball and not the man – the politics of personal conduct – is a genuine long-term threat to democracy and prosperity. As we have seen with the final years of Bill Clinton’s presidency, a well-resourced political enemy can effectively neuter an opponent by dwelling on person misconduct.

And it is antithetical to the principles of representative democracy, and it has gone far enough. It is also antithetical to the view that public policy should largely be about ideas. Yet this demand for a more judicial polity will succeed, I suspect, because generating it will provide easy copy for stupid lazy worthless journalists – the most nepotistic and opaque of professions by the way.

It will make media owners, civil servants and well-heeled interest groups more powerful. And it humiliates the people that we elect to govern on our behalf.

Pedantic politics

The latest ‘scandal’ – this time, focusing on the Speaker of the House of Commons will not be the last of its kind with the country in its current mood. Or with the press in their current mood, anyway. One annoying side effect is that - while I think that all sensible politicians recognise that this can't be really doing anyone any good, they also find it hard not to try and get their retaliation in first. Where is even a tentative defence of parliamentary privilege going to come from first, do you think? (And don't hold your breath)

I’ve just spent a bit more than a week in Northern Ireland (punctuated by a weekend in the Republic, visiting friends), and the trip involved more than a bit of driving. With the radio on for talkshows, and talking to people, I was confirmed in my prejudice that I prefer the way that politics is conducted in the south to the shrill, intransigent and pedantic politics of the north. The solemn attention to detail on everything from people who have – as Seamus Heaney put it – “open minds as open as a trap.”

This is, I think, what I was trying to get at in the slightly flustered posts that I wrote a few weeks ago about Protestantism and the way that it impacts upon democracy and politics (with feedback here).

Do we each want to be able to reach our own conclusions and then have an equal voice in legislation (those previous posts were about the parallels in the way that Catholics and Protestants interface with scripture and the political / philosophical legacy thereof), or do we want to elect people who will cut a few corners on our behalf?

I’m in the latter camp in case you’re in any doubt. Nobody likes MPs taking the piss, and individual cases are, obviously, often hard to stomach. But I reckon that I’d fit in with the public mood in the Irish republic if my sampling is anything to go by. The increasing consensus in the south is that – while Bertie Ahern may have played a bit fast and loose at times, and he may have been a bit sloppy in filing his paperwork properly, he has presided over an absolutely fantastic level of economic growth and prosperity – growth that is historically almost unparalleled – and growth that is built upon the foundations laid by Captain Backhander himself, the late Charlie Haughey. It’s a growth and a rising tide that has – for all of its flaws – lifted all boats in the republic.

The conclusion would appear to be a growing public request to the Irish Times and the opposition parties to lay off a bit and not to threaten a winning formula with stupid questions about planning, property and money that – Fr Ted-like – was only resting in certain bank accounts. It's a request that Machiavelli would have endorsed wholeheartedly. And anyone with an interest in good governance who chooses to contradict the great Florentine on matters like this is either a fool or a knave.

In recent weeks, we’ve seen Bertie Ahern’s continuing battle with corruption charges sits alongside Ian Paisley Jnr’s forced resignation on – as yet – unproven charges. And where Dirty Bertie can survive almost any allegation, Junior – and the brand of politics that he has helped to promote – has ensured that the North is a different place altogether.

Sooner or later, politicians will come together to put a stop to these stories by accepting new restrictions upon their conduct. And I’m not sure that it’s all going to work out in the public interest.

I also don't think that there's much of a genuine appetite for this stuff either. It's low hanging fruit for journalists, so there will be more. Because even with my (admittedly fading) level of political contacts, I could still give any journalist at least one junior minister a fright if I wanted to, on the grounds that s/he manages their office finances in ways that could be interpreted uncharitably. There are plenty of people who were in the Labour Party in the 1990s who are more disgruntled than I am now, and I'm sure they are filling up Grub Street's pipeline as I write this) - and that determines the agenda at least as much as genuine public engagement in a particular issue.

I also don’t think anyone really wants political discourse to be dominated by these stories. Sure, each new revelation is entertaining enough. But aside from the fact that it drowns out the real political divisions - the ones we need to argue about - I think that this continued focus will result in a different kind of politics if we’re not careful. One that we will like even less than our current settlement.

More on this shortly here, if you’re interested.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Postage in lieu

Back connected but too busy to post owt at the moment.

Saw this over at Counago & Spaves though:

And this - from the same place.

Sunday, February 17, 2008


Away. Offline. Busy. Unconnected.

Here's a YouTube that I stumbled on that I forgot about that you might like in the meantime:

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Concerted campaign to undermine

A few years ago, I installed a really good spam filter on my work e-mail inbox. This is important because my address had been listed on a number of websites since 1999, so I'm now getting 150-200 spam messages a day.

However, we've been mucking around with our system and my spam filter is temporarily disabled, so I'm seeing about a dozen messages every hour that normally never crossed my desktop.

One important thing seems to have changed since I last looked. The subject line of these messages (about 30%+ are for penis enlargements and a fair few others are for various knob-straightening pills) are taunts designed to somehow make the sobbing inadequate male open the e-mail and order that op.

And I have one of those widgets that makes the subject line of all email that hits my inbox flash up on my screen. In the last couple of hours, I've had the following messages:
  • A Real Man should have a Real cock
  • Never be laughed at again - prove them wrong
  • Regain the confidence you have lost
  • Your girlfriend can't wait for night to fall once you have this
  • Small size is not your verdict!
  • Your instrument will bring great joy to ladies
  • Those who doubted you before will marvel at you now
  • Your tool deserves some sharpening
  • No longer want to be shy about your item?
  • You and your partner will have many magical moments with this
  • You must be The Real Man with huge dignity
Now, even though I have (ahem) absolutely no problems in this department, these messages are not doing my self-image any good. It's like some sort of horrible neural programming project designed to turn me into a self-loathing wreck. What Pootergeek would call Brentian Man.

I may shortly turn into a bloggertarian if I'm not careful.....

(I don't suppose this post will do my visitor numbers any harm in the long run...)

Historical parallel

I was always been a bit wary of Class War - especially after they orchestrated a fracas that nearly got me killed by Dibble. But I've just stumbled across Ian Bone's blog.

His comment on British athletes being discouraged from saying what they think while they're in China is worth a look.

England Footballers - 1938.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Making points

Not the greatest video, but possibly Mr Scott-Heron's finest vinyl moment?

Or - if you're not too nitpicky on the details, and want to be swept along by hip arguments, put beautifully, here's Gil on Nixon's pardon (again, not really a video):

Words are here.


Sublime: A good word. Here's what it was invented to illustrate (and DO watch the whole thing):

Quackery update

New word: Counterknowledge. And the site linked to there has some useful links as well.

And - changing the subject - here's The Chicago School, and how Scorcese would direct a film about them.

Lastly, I don't know what to think about this Archbishop to impose Sharia Law business. Perhaps it's more a case of not being bothered to think about it at all.

I was at least hoping that Spiked could come up with something supporting him (but not in that woozy-minded 'actually, if you read what he actually said, actually, you'll find that he didn't actually say that people should actually have their hands chopped off for not paying their parking fines, actually' sort of way).

But there's nothing there yet. We can only live in hope.

Election by quizzing

I just completed a quiz that has told me who I'm supporting in the US Presidential Election: As most of the candidates have dropped out anyway, I've probably done this a bit late. But I appear to be favouring someone I've never heard of .

79% Dennis Kucinich
77% Barack Obama
76% John Edwards
75% Hillary Clinton
75% Bill Richardson
74% Mike Gravel
73% Chris Dodd
73% Joe Biden
43% Rudy Giuliani
36% John McCain
30% Mitt Romney
28% Mike Huckabee
19% Fred Thompson
16% Ron Paul
14% Tom Tancredo

2008 Presidential Candidate Matching Quiz

The questions are a bit rigid as well. I wouldn't come out as being against 'free trade' the way that I'm asked to, but I suspect that my answer would be interpreted by placing me a good deal further to the right on this issue that I am. There's 'free trade' and 'free trade as negotiated by powerful lobbyists' - two different things.

But mostly, the point I want to make on these quizzes is that I really don't want to vote for someone who shares my stupid, ill-informed opinions. I want to vote for someone who strike all of the right balances and govern well.

Someone who has an intelligent approach to involving more people - in an appropriate way - in policymaking. Someone who is invulnerable to pressure-groups. Someone who has enough authority to be able to tell their own party bureaucrats to get stuffed. Someone who knows how to stand up to newspapers (and someone who has a workable plan to neuter the fuckers). Someone who knows where the holy grail of policymaking can be found: The book entitled "How To Stop Civil Servants and Management Consultants From Running the Country In Their Own Interests."

I want to vote for someone who can demonstrate that they understand what society's problems are, and that they wish to be judged on how they tackle those problems in the long-term. But most of all, I want to be able to vote for someone who is likely to run for election in the country that I live in, as opposed to a country that I've seen too much of on TV, but have never visited.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Wednesday, February 06, 2008


If you read Peter Riddell (in an otherwise reasonable piece) saying...
"... MPs should fully account, with receipts, for all the money they get (as journalists have to do for all items they charge)."
... did you ruin perfectly good leg-wear with a laughter-induced bladderful?

I know a great many journalists, and let me tell you now what they all know: Fiddling of expenses is a complex artform at which these reptiles excel. Most MPs that I know (and I also know a few), manage complex expenses in a way that will not bankrupt them - while not obviously dropping them in the shit either. It is also a complex artform that involves striking a balance between not having to spend the rest of your life detailing your tedious finances, and getting your operational bills paid.

If you are possessed of low cunning, a willingness to do as you're told, an imperviousness to low-level ridicule and a willingness to listen to endless cant squared, then you will make a good MP. But most MPs that I know would turn those attributes into a much larger salary elsewhere than the one they get in Westminster.

Yet MPs get written about in newspapers and weblogs. They get dissected. Their costs get examined in great detail. Yet they exercise very little other than formal power. A modern variation of Bagehot's dignified constitutional players.

On the other hand, newspapers influence public policy in a huge way. They invest less, influence more, and offer a lower quality of service than ever before. They generate a level of scrutiny that they never turn on themselves. And - outside of the PR industry - the reptiles concerned would struggle to earn a crust.

Pressure groups do the same - with even less integrity, if that were possible. And Think Tanks are a relatively new phenomenon, but they enjoy many of the benefits that hacks and lobbyists enjoy. Moral highground. No responsibilities. The joys of negativism. Full of bright ideas that everyone likes, but that no-one would implement if they had to be judged on the results.

And they get little by the way of scrutiny. Still, great oak trees from little acorns grow.

One of those viral emails

Just clearing up after a hard day's work installing new bollards and slabs and that.

Imagine the language when they realise....

(Ta Amanda)

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

The archipelago illustrated

Here. (via Slugger)

When I come to power in these islands, the Irish Republic will invite the rest of the archipelago back into The Union on new revised terms.

As you were.

My Dark Places

Plan your day-trips to Tyttenhanger, Herbert's Hole, Minges and Claggy Cott here

(Thanks for the tip, Van).

And Norm's favourite writers poll result is up.

You can do these kinds of polls - if you have Norm's traffic. But I wonder if he's choosing the right subjects for them.

His method is:
"You are allowed ten choices..... I ask you to submit a top three amongst them, with another seven for good measure. If you rank your top three, as you may but do not have to, they will be awarded 4, 3 and 2 points; and if you don't rank them, they will be awarded 3 points each. Your other seven choices will get 1 point each."
You need to know that my hasty entry (note: English language novellists only) was as follows:

1 - Brian Moore
2 - Graham Greene
3 - John McGahern

... and then, Evelyn Waugh, Flann O'Brien, Alan Silitoe, James Ellroy, Elmore Leonard, Brendan Behan and Douglas Coupland.

A non-English language list would look a bit different though. A few of my real top-ten are novellists published in translation.

This method doesn't allow most contributors to show off about how marvelous their tastes are. And this element of it would surely make it better for running a 'guilty secrets' poll?

Morrissey once said that he could despise someone for something that he found in their record collection, and I can go along with that. But there are one or two discs that only get played behind closed doors in our house. On headphones.

If I had Norm's traffic, I'd do a poll like this, asking:

List the top five bands that no-one admits to liking, but that you secretly have a bit of a passion for.
And you'd all be able to e-mail me - in confidence (!) - about how you actually don't mind David Gray, Crowded House and ELO.... erm .... or other dreadful acts that I can't stand....


Saturday, February 02, 2008

Fisks - not writs

I'll join Tim Ireland's campaign to keep lawyers out of the blog-spats. I'll not get into the details here because I suspect I'd come to regret it if I did.

But Guido / Paul says here (in the comments, under a second pseudonym)
"The thing about us libertarians is that we believe strongly in the rule of law. This time I will not let your lies stand."
Even the stoutest defender of the 'rule of law' is embarrassed by the appalling state of libel laws in this country. The legal winner of any libel contest is rarely a genuinely injured plaintiff or a righteous justified critic.

Keep the arguments in the comments boxes, eh? I suspect that you'll establish who is telling the truth there a good deal more effectively there than you will using lawyers. I'd go further: In a situation such as this, it would often be the case that anyone who wants to get the argument out of a comments thread and into the more opaque and expensive hands of lawyers may be wishing to rig the game somewhat.

M'learned friends will confirm that - from the above para - it would not be correct to read any inference here that Mr Staines is trying to do that in this case, but ... well ... tongues will wag...

Hat tip: Bob

Friday, February 01, 2008