Saturday, September 30, 2006

Did they applaud Blair or not?

Jonathan Freedland, writing in the Guardian said that:

So when Blair said that a withdrawal from Iraq or Afghanistan would be "a craven act of surrender", he said it to silence

Various bloggers (those are just two examples out of many) have taken issue with this such as here and here, and provide a link to the speech to show that there was applause (its about 37-38 mins in).

And yet The Economist's Bagehot column also says:

A passage in Mr Blair's speech that put Iraq in the context of what he called “the global struggle against terrorism without mercy or limit” was heard in near-silence.

So who is right? Freedland might be lying, yet it is strange then that the Bagehot columnist said the same thing (unless Freedland writes the Bagehot column or the columnist lazily took that from Freedland's article). Or it coud be that the hall did seem perceptibly more silent during that part of the speech. Certainly hearing it on TV can be misleading (as it depends on the microphones and the sound level). As could hearing it in the hall, I suppose. Has anyone else who was there commented?

Update: In the comments Peter Briffa points out The Guardian has issued a correction, noting that on their 'clapometer' it recorded sustained applause. Furthermore on CiF Freedland said this: Seasiderock and others have pointed out an error in this piece. I was right to note that Tony Blair received no applause when he said terrorism was "not the consequence of foreign policy" - but wrong to say that he received the same treatment when he declared that a withdrawal from Iraq or Afghanistan would be "a craven act of surrender." My mistake was to inadvertently transpose a note I had made -- "no applause" -- while following an advance text of the speech, from one page of that text to another. That is emphatically not an excuse, but rather an explanation for a mistake which, I agree, should be corrected. I hope the Reader's Editor will run a correction in the paper shortly. Thus the Bagehot remark is now the one that needs explaining.

More John Reid

Jamie reminds us that John Reid had an unfortunate incident with this expenses, and then some.

A few months before his Ulster posting, he was the first senior cabinet member ever to be severely censured by the parliamentary commissioner for standards, Elizabeth Filkin.

I mentioned below that Reid had a bad Bosnian war. The Mail on Sunday in 2003 noted:

Reid forged an unlikely friendship with Karadzic's chief lieutenant. 'John got on very well with Biljana Plavsic, Karadzic's deputy. John affectionately used to refer to her as "Billy-Anna". On the face of it, she was quite a nice old lady, but she's just confessed to crimes against humanity in the war crimes court.'

Brendan Simms, who I believe is a member of the H'S'JS, said: 'John Reid seemed very keen to stress the moral equivalence of the two sides but we now know this was a war of ethnic cleansing by the Serbs.'

A leadership campaign would inevitably mean these incidents (and presumably there are more) from Reid's career would be scrutinised much more closely, and I don't really see how he could survive.

Update: There's a little bit more detail here. I think it's a genuinely worrying prospect he is being considered, but as I said above I think there's too much (terrible) history there.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Consistency is the hallmark of fools?

Stephen Pollard, May 6, 2006 on "Morally Bankrupt" Tony Blair and the need for the Chancellor to take over soon

The Prime Minister is not merely a lame duck, he is terminally crippled...
...The electorate knows that Tony Blair now stands for little bar the lame and morally bankrupt occupation of office...
...If Labour is to pull itself round, the Chancellor needs to take over soon....

Stephen Pollard, September 26th, on how Labour are idiots to get rid of Tony Blair and how they're going to lose if Gordon Brown takes over

What a load of hypocritical tossers (pardon my language but it's what they are) those Labour members are. They've spent the past decade bitching about Blair, and now that he's off into the sunset they cheer him to the rafters. Well live with it, you idiots. You're the ones who wanted rid of him, forced him to announce his departure, and rendered him impotent. Ha-bloody-ha: now you're going to have to live with the consequence:

John Reid

After his conference speech it appears John Reid has become the new favourite of the Stop Brown brigade. This will be a particularly strange candidate for the Euston Group. Reid as Labour Defence spokesman had a very bad Bosnian war, was mates with Radovan Karadzic, and muttered away about the Serbs 'genuine grievances' and his concern over the 'Islamic influences' on the Bosnian side* (the one perhaps constant here). In his desire for intervention he made Douglas Hurd & Malcom Rifkind seem like General MacArthur's gung-ho cousins.

* Source: Ed Vulliamy, The Guardian, July 15th, 1995

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Aaro vs Appleyard


But then, this is what passes for analysis on the intelligent Left, as the Fellow of St John’s asserts that Mr Blair has wanted to “overthrow the welfare state” but hasn’t been able to do it because of the good sense of the British people. This, however, has so frustrated the “Americanising members of the Government” that it has “thrown them ever more enthusiastically into the arms of American foreign policy”. Yes, Mr Blair invaded Iraq because of the frustrations of introducing foundation hospitals.*


Having made his crucial mistake - not sacking Brown - ten years ago, Blair has effectively been unable to do anything domestically. Brown has blocked or wrecked every initiative. Meanwhile, New Labour's management ineptitude has produced one financial catastrope after another - the NHS computer, tax credits and so on. This has driven Blair to undertake foreign adventures...

In the Daily Mail

I'm bored so lots of good stuff in today's Mail

1) Apparently Sky News is now considered too biased towards Labour, in the wake of Boulton's marriage to Anji Hunter. That should keep Natalie Solent up a few more hours.
2)Is Martin Amis turning into his father? Irascible. Hugely talented. Gloriously arrogant.* And both haunted by wives and children they abandoned.

Is the 'think piece'. Jamie has been here before [Thanks - Jamie] and in my attempts to find it I found out that Islamist has 'amis' in it, and Jamie is not a stranger to the word. In fact Islamist is an anagram of Slit Amis, spooky, eh, perhaps it was Marty not Salman they wanted all along?). I think he noted that their faces were beginning to converge. Here's the "proof":

There's something there (the Mail has found a much better likeness). Now it's not uncommon among father and son, but I suspect Amis jnr hope that his mother would get him out of that one.

* Gloriously arrogant? What's that mean?

Well done Nick!

If anything is going to keep Nick Barlow pushing on during his mammoth across Britain walk, the news that he has been appointed one of the baddies in a new season of Dr Who will.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

I don't care if it's factually correct; does it annoy the left?

For a while now it's been clear that Nick Cohen, whilst not just yet prepared to adopt wholesale the Melanie Phillips' view of the world is adopting a kind-of "everything the left does is to be oppose in the name of left" world-view. This is useful in annoying people at Islington dinner parties, apparently, but it also leaves one open to the risk of adopting a view without really thinking it through. And to no-one's surprise he's been caught out over the IMF. I won't bore you with the article and the prevoius letters as you can get the essentials from this letter to the Independent by James Levine.

Then Nick Cohen today claims it was "hurtful" for Johann Hari to call him "startlingly dishonest" after Cohen claimed Hillary Benn was with-holding £50m from the World Bank because its new head, Paul Wolfowitz, is "too tough on corruption." Yet Hari was absolutely right. Benn is withholding the money because of the privatisation conditionalities, not corruption. Cohen conspicuously failed to tell his readers about this, and clearly implied that Benn was motivated by anxieties about Wolfowitz’s corruption charges. For Cohen to shed crocodile tears now he has been called on this is a bit much.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

David Horowitz emails!

Dave's launching a new service called "Jihad Watch". Take it away David:

Muslims the world over are engaged in an openly declared Holy War or Jihad against the West.
This Jihad is a grave danger to our nation and to all of Western civilization.
The Jihad challenges every facet of American life. Its agenda includes the purposeful and systematic dismantling of all aspects of our culture. It hopes ultimately to impose Sharia law on the U.S., replacing our law with provisions such as the stoning of adulterous women and cutting off thieves' hands.
The extent of the threat is not being effectively and truthfully communicated to the American public.

He's aiming high:

We need to raise $180,000 for the first stage of Jihad Watch . I hope that you will help us with a gift of $25, $50, $100 or more. Click here to give.
For your gift of $50 or more I'll send you a copy of Robert Spencer's Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam. If your gift is $100 or more, I'll also send you his newest book, The Truth About Mohammed.

Pollard lashes out again

It doesn't quite compare for absurdity (what could?) to his infamous outburst:

The mainstream Left has demonstrated clearly which side of the battle to preserve Western civilisation and freedom it is on. The Left, in any recognisable form, is now the enemy.

but Stephen Pollard's post today is eerily reminiscent of the Thatcherites in the last days of her Premiership - the hysterical tone, the sense of betrayal, the apparent belief that it can never be right for party members to say to a leader 'it's time to step down', the disconnect from reality (he wasn't gong to stand again, anyway), and the hope that the party without the Leader gets destroyed.

What a load of hypocritical tossers (pardon my language but it's what they are) those Labour members are. They've spent the past decade bitching about Blair, and now that he's off into the sunset they cheer him to the rafters. Well live with it, you idiots. You're the ones who wanted rid of him, forced him to announce his departure, and rendered him impotent. Ha-bloody-ha: now you're going to have to live with the consequence:

The difference, of course, is the Thatcherites had nowhere else to go, whereas Pollard has already jumped ship to David Cameron.

Update: Oliver implies (I think that's the point of the uncannily and weirdly) that Stephen Pollard was merely quoting something he had said to him. I think this reinforces my point. When you hear Stephen Pollard say to the Labour party "ha ha, you're now going to live with the consequences", whereby consequences he means the party's electoral defeat, you can dismiss it as the remarks of man who belives the left is on the other side in the battle for western civilisation and freedom. When Oliver Kamm is saying that too, you can easily see the Blairite's sense of betrayal could destroy the government.



16 US intelligence agencies say Iraq war has increased risk of terrorism.


John Negroponte's 'personal assesment' is that it didn't.

I suppose he does have some experience in this sort of thing, but still.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Heinz means Beanz

When did Heinz Baked Beans become Baked Beanz? The adverts have said that for a long time, but I am pretty sure the tin hasn't.

Aha! Wikipedia says it changed in 2004. Well would you believe it. Something must be done.

Stephen Pollard's reality

It doesn't quite compare to his infamous outburst:

The mainstream Left has demonstrated clearly which side of the battle to preserve Western civilisation and freedom it is on. The Left, in any recognisable form, is now the enemy.

(from his "Maida Vale Manifesto, still stuck on 3 or 5 signatures, depending on how you measure it)

but we get to learn a few more of his political views - he now declares that kids wearing hooded-tops are all bad, public sector workers do not deserve respect, private enterprise has all the answers to public-sector reform and globalisation never create losers.

Unsurprisingly it means he isn't very keen on the man who has been saying the opposite of these things, David Cameron.

As far as I'm concerned, that's a check list of what's wrong with the Cameron Conservative Party. Every single one of those sentiments is the exact opposite of reality

Yet only three months ago, to no-one's surprise, he was saying that Blairites should vote for Cameron.

So we have to turn instead to the only other possible champion: David Cameron. Call him the centre, call him the radical centre, call him right of centre; call him whatever you want. All that matters is that we must have a government both committed to and capable of implementing reforms.

How do we square the circle? It's the British public's fault!

[T]the electoral need for Cameron to mouth them is the perfect demonstration of what's wrong - and getting worse - about Britain.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Charles Clarke apologises for outburst

Is sanity returning?

Ivy League universities

Stunning article in The Economist about the admissions practices of top US universities.

Who would believe it?

In today's Sunday Telegraph Patrick Hennessy conducts an interesting interview/piece with the Chancellor in New York. Naturally the subject of the Chancellor's views on America is raised, and Hennessy has this amazing nugget of information:

While Mr Brown has some form as an Atlanticist - he is close to some of Mr Clinton's aides, such as Bob Shrum, and has holidayed on Cape Cod

This month's other mentions:

Alex Brummer, Daily Mail, 18th September ("just a question of holidaying in Cape Cod and recruiting big American")
Gideon Rachman, FT, 11th September ("preferred holiday destination is Cape Cod and he likes nothing better")
Unsigned profile, Irish Times, 9th September ("and history and has holidayed at Cape Cod for many years. He supported")
Guardian Quiz (Thanks to Chris).

Alan Johnson stakes his claim

The Sunday Times writes that Alan Johnson is now going for the Labour leadership, not Deputy Leadership. He has a ready-made excuse, as they also say John Prescott doesn't intend to stand down.

Last Sunday Johnson told the Observer of his hatred of selection in education. There's no reason to believe this isn't sincere, but one can't help wondering whether he decided it was important to tell of it to the Observer in order to lose Nick Cohen's backing, who of course is all in favour of it.

Telegraph and tax

Confusing stuff in today's Telegraph. It reports and IFS study that shows that Brown's tax changes have meant an increase in tax paid for the average household of £750 a year. Yet two years ago they said that the average tax burden on a higher rate taxpayer had risen by half, from 35% of income to 50% of income, an extra £8,789 a year. And that the average on a basic rate taxpayer had risen from 33% to 38%. The two sets of figures are not easily comparable, but it looks to me like the Telegraph is implying there has been a huge decrease in the tax burden over the last year.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Strange goings-on for Alistair Cooke

This is an odd story from the Washington Post. Apparently former BBC man Alistair Cooke's body was misused after his death for parts, though I don't quite understand what the allegations are.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

"Public Transport, eh?"

I forgot to blog about this little incident I witnessed a few months ago. Basically the buses around Notting Hill had been diverted from their normal route (which is to go down Westbourne Park Road) to Westbourne Grove. This is a much narrower road, and so car parking had been banned on one side of the street. You can see both roads on this map, one at the top and one at the bottom. The junction of Westbourne Grove and Ledbury Road is where this story takes place.

So what happened was one car ignored the parking ban. This car, in fact.

Essentially then the buses couldn't get past each other. Worse, because the junction was where bus routes crossed, they got stuck. In fact total gridlock ensued. These two pictures give you a flavour of how many buses were stuck - I think I could see at least 40 at one point in all four directions:

I don't know how the situation was resolved. I think there was a plan to get a tow-truck to remove the offending car (whose owner could not be found), but it couldn't get into the area to do that. At least an hour later the situation was just getting worse. Then as I was about to leave (yes, I had stood there watching for that length of time. Traffic lights changing can be quite interesting) a person walked past talking to his friend, beckoned to the line of buses and said in a derogatory tone, "public transport, eh".

Open House Weekend

Open House Weekend in London is when 500 or so buildings that do not normally allow public access do so free of charge. Diamond Geezer has a report of where he went here. I went to two on Belgrave Square, Seaford House, now used by the Royal College of Defence Studies, and the Argentinian Ambassador's Residence, which also had an art exhibition. The highlight of the first was its onyx staircase, which this cameraphone picture doesn't really do justice.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Nick Cohen and CND

In the Evening Standard (younger readers, note that is an evening newspaper in Britain that in theory one buys, but in practice no-one does):

He ought to know Labour is an immensely soppy party. Only an institution drenched by lashings of sentimentality could have embraced unilateral nuclear disarmament not once but twice in its history.

Nick Cohen used to be a supporter of CND, of course. Is it possible that he literally doesn't remember any of his pre-2003 political views?

Deputy Leader

As the number of candidates rises past the million mark, I am confused. Has John Prescott actually said he plans to step down? Does he have to if Blair goes?

"From the grounds of a cemetery"

This story has the lot - hysterical parents, embattled headmaster, probably unpleasant children.

More here, including this choice quote:

Sam, of Monkwood Road, Rawmarsh, said: "This is all down to that Jamie Oliver. Well I don't like him or what he stands for - he is forcing our kids to be more picky about their food."


There's a few blog posts about nuclear weapons around at the moment. Oliver criticises this publication, and in particular this argument:

IF HITLER HAD HAD THE BOMB, HE WOULD HAVE USED IT ON US - Yes, he would have. This proves that nuclear deterrence does not work.

The argument doen't really work. I'm not sure the premise is right for a start - Hitler had large stocks of chemical weapons and didn't use those. Maybe he was deterred by Allied reaction. On the other hand the US did use nuclear weapons, so maybe Hitler would have. On the second part of the argument, even if we accept the first part, it still isn't right - what they mean is 'it proves it does not work in ALL cases'. There may be a debate to be had over whether those cases are growing in number and the cases where it does work are falling - more Saddams and less Soviets.

In any case I think they might be better off making the more simple argument that the only use for nuclear weapons is the mass murder of civilians - innocent civilians - and Christians cannot justify that.

My own view has changed of late. I used to think that replacing Trident with a few free-fall bombs would be the best solution (or even land-launched missiles). Any offensive capability against us was going to be small (ie not the Soviet Union) and unable to destroy all of our weapons, even if they were land-based. This would be much cheaper as well.

I've changed my mind. First, I am now of the view that the defence budget is more or less the same whether we have Trident or not, and spending more on subs that glide unnoticed and unused around the world means spending less on weapons that might actually be used in disastrous projects such as Iraq. Indeed I wonder whether given the nature of these things a Trident replacement would mean at least one of the two carriers was never built (I think these two agree with me implicitly as they are arguing for £11bn more funding, which I don't think they'll get - polls show the British want nukes unless they cost money).

Furthermore, there is the other interesting article about nuclear weapons which is over at Jamie's site. Here he links to an article that suggests there is a possibility of Pakistan's government being Al Qaedaised. This might in turn explain Iran's position, and that we really might need Trident II. So Gordon, place that order!

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Voting for a hung parliament

There's been some discussion about Clare Short's advice that voters should vote for a 'Hung Parliament' - namely how do you do that in a constituency system.

It is indeed not possible to guarantee that your vote helps to achieve a hung parliament, but would not a rule such as 'If your MP is in the party ahead in the polls on polling day vote for the second placed party, and if you are in a constituency where that party was in second place or a near third place vote for the sitting MP. Otherwise vote Lib Dem' [Ok it's not that simple, but you would think newspaper columnists could follow it] raise the possibility?

Queen Elizabeth and Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother

For some reason I've been reading a lot of Royal biographies recently. I quite like them for a number of reasons. I tend to find biographies rather dull until the subject becomes famous, although I know the childhood bits are meant to be the important ones. With Royalty however, and particularly the current Queen, fame comes very early on. Also I find tales of Court life, in all its ludicrousness, endlessly fascinating. Elizabeth, by Sarah Bradford, was OK, and I see she's repeating a lot of in the Daily Mail in a serialisation of her new book on Diana. Bradford wasn't afraid to be critical at times, whilst retaining the standard creeping tone (I particulary enjoy examples of Royal 'humour', which in anyone else would be called rudeness). That's not something you could say about Hugo Vickers, whose criticism of the Queen Mother in his new biography is hard to detect even where it seems clearly justified. Otherwise it covers the long life reasonably well. The Amazon reviewers are right though - he is overly fascinated with minutiae of Royal hangers-on. The final biography, one of the Queen written in 1992, was terrible. It denied in quite vehement terms that there was any major problem in the Wales' marriage. I can't remember the name, but it might have been this one. Next stop - Ben Pimott's biography.

Inheritance Tax Again

There's a solution to this inheritance tax 'problem', which is that the alive sister can use an equity-release programme to fund the bill. As it's 40% of 50%, it's only 20% of the value of the house(s) she will have just inherited. In fact it's a lot less than that, as only the amount over 300k is taxed. In this case apparently it is on 437.5k, so the inheritance tax bill will only be about about 60k, less than 1/13th of the value of the property. I can't see how the suriving sister will lose any of her property.

Nevertheless one of the sisters describes this situation and the Government's response as 'just like Nazi Germany' (source: Daily Mail, yesterday). You don't need to be Eve Garrard to believe that is a ludicrous and unpleasant comparison.

Concert news

Almost a year to the day when I rather embarassed myself at a Artic Monkeys concert, I decided to risk humiliation again and went to see the Dirty Pretty Things, who, for people who don't keep up with this, is the new(ish) band of the other one in the Libertines, Carl Barrat. The good news is a) I didn't go to leave after the support band had finished under the impression they were the main act and b) I thought they were very good, in fact one of the best concerts I'd been to. Slightly strangely Russell Brand, who apparently is a comedian, turned up and did a raffle, followed by an encore where Paul Weller played the Jam classic, 'In the City', which was fun. To top all of that I went to Elephant and Castle and wasn't murdered, so I am revisiting that assumption too.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Transformation in the Middle East

Maybe this will be a turning point in Iraq's fortunes?

Tube fares

Having taken the tube for the first time in weeks this morning I read with interest Diamond Geezer's defence (or half-defence) of the new tube pricing. Basically it seems to be a way to stick it to foreigners, and even then only foreigners who cannot justify buying an Oyster card. Nevertheless £4 for a single does seem slightly excessive...

I'm sure the Evening Standard has already worked this out, but as Covent Garden to Leicester Square is 1/6th of a mile, that works out at £24 a mile, and expensive way of travelling (though this comparison is rather misleading). While we're playing the 'what annoys me' game, what annoys me is if you get two buses, one say half a mile and the other half a mile, you get charged twice. I think there should be some element of use within a certain time.

Happy people

According to this Sky News poll (and assuming a population of 50m) between 322,000 and 867,000 Britons believe there is a War on Terror, but they want the other side to win. By comparision 11m Britons believe the other side are winning, compared with just 3.5m who believe we are winning. Meanwhile 38.5m believe Blair's policies have increased the risk of the terror.

Monday, September 11, 2006

What is the point in going on?

I think Roy Hattersley speaks a lot of sense today - Blair has always couched his use to the party in electoral terms and the man is now an electoral liability. Hattersley is particularly good on Charles Clarke, whose behaviour in all of this has been even more strange than that when he was at the Home Office, though one of the Sunday papers suggested it may have been a rather late-night intervention.

Anyone with a modicum of intelligence - and the slightest concern for Labour's future - should benefit from an examination off Charles Clarke's conduct last week. He gave a master class on how not to behave. While the would-be assassins paid tributes to Blair's achievements, Clarke abused Brown. What did he imagine would follow from such a display, except his comments being used by the Tories to discredit the man who, almost certainly, will be Labour's next prime minister? By complaining about Brown's smile, Clarke made himself absurd.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Wider still and wider

James Rogers and James Hope update this children's classic:

Update: "In short, the government must adopt a Second Power Standard and maintain permanently the Royal Navy’s position as the world’s second strongest fleet." This seems to me rather a brave financial commitment - we'd certainly be in a bit of bother if the Chinese and Japanese got into a naval building war.

Update II: From the latest editorial. "Whatever the armed forces request, the government must grant. Firstly, instead of pressuring the British military to find £40 million worth of savings, the defence budget as a percentage of Gross National Income should be raised from just over two percent to three percent immediately, regardless of the Treasury’s need to find new money before the fiscal year ends." [My italics]. That's £11bn!

Perle speaks!

It's hard to describe how bad this article is by Richard Perle, so I'll just let you read it.

I think however something is being forgotten about Mrs Thatcher's departure. There is an argument that the party would have had a better 15 years from 1990 - Dave C, if it had not suffered the convulsions caused by her departure, chiefly the sense of betrayal caused by her enforced departure among Thatcherites (a similar argument is made now about Blairites). However the argument tends to contain the implicit assumption that she would have been so badly defeated at the 1992 election that she would have then resigned, thus making her departure voluntary and hence less divisive. This is not a model for Blairites, at least the ones that care about the party's future.

Blair's attempt for a positive legacy - 265 days to go*

This is a new series chronicling Tony Blair's desperate attempt to leave behind a positive legacy.

Today - "Downing Street says Mr Blair will try to get a dialogue going in the Middle East"

* Assuming a May 31 departure - it could of course be earlier, forced, or - as he has some option value here - of his own choosing.

Boris Johnson and the Spectator

This incredibly salacious piece is not packed full of revelations but it does neatly pull together the goings-on at The Spectator under Boris Johnson's Editorship.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Nick Cohen bigging up Alan Johnson!

In this week's Evening Standard, which presumably no-one read as there were papers better and free of charge available:

AS THE Standard's poll on the cataclysmic drop in Labour support suggests, the Government could pay a heavy price for not realising that London is as much a Labour heartland as the Welsh valleys or South Yorkshire. It needs its champion in the movement, and one is lurking in the Cabinet in the beguiling form of Alan Johnson.

He's sharp, witty, devious and has the brass neck to sell the Tower to a tourist. Outsiders may find these qualities reprehensible, but we like them here, and Labour would do well to put him in charge of its battle to regain votes in London.

So it rules out 'Nick Cohen's mate' as a replacement for 'Not the Minister' if 'Not the Minister' was to become a Minister.

Incidentally the piece also gives us another example of just how right-wing he has become. In another boiler-plate piece on grammar schools he argues:

But nothing will really change until politicians are prepared to allow the state system to compete with the private schools by breaking the taboo on selection by ability and giving the brightest children from all backgrounds the elite education they deserve.

Elite? He's not pulling his punches, is he? Of course the best research available shows what anyone who thinks about it for a second realises - Cohen would have been more accurate to have said:

by breaking the taboo on selection by ability and giving the vast majority of children from poorer backgrounds a worse education in secondary moderns.

It's also important to note that this idea that comprehensive schools mean 'selection by house price' and a secondary modern system doesn't is complete nonsense. For a start the thesis has not really been proven, if you think about it it requires a huge degree of housing mobility and segregation that doesn't fit in with the reality. But also of course it would be worse under the secondary moderns. For in this system 80% attend secondary moderns, which would have catchment areas identical to the schools they replaced, and so there would be no difference. But the 20% who attend the grammar school we know are drawn overwhelmingly from the middle-classes, who presumably have expensive houses.

None of these arguments, note, mean grammar schools are a bad idea - the research found that total education achievement was slightly higher, although the distributions were much more skewed (towards the wealthy). And you could argue for instance that middle-class families pay more income tax and thus deserve the best education possible, and their children should not get fewer As to help others. But it means Cohen's argument is rot, and I suspect he knows it - that this issue is being used as a marker in his slow conversion to Phillipism.

Doing the Chancellor's work

I couldn't say I was Gordon Brown's biggest fan, and I doubt his government will be much better than Tony Blair's is now, the best that could be said is we just don't know, and it is hard to see how it would be worse. Nevertheless I think a lot of the criticism is misplaced such as that in this article and this.

Charles Clarke's argument is that Brown could have ended the plotting with 'the click of his fingers'. This is risible - much like pretending the only disquiet with Mrs Thatcher was through Geoffrey Howe. It also plays into Brown's hands as an all powerful politician in total control of the Labour Party, which he is not. Also wasn't there a corpulent and useless former Home Secretary going around TV studios attacking Blair's government only a few days ago? I doubt he was following Brown's every command.

Finkelstein's argument seems to me to be the Blairite version of Thatcherite whinges - he/she must go on forever and no-one is allowed to say otherwise. This also extends to calls that Blair should have sacked Brown, which I think fail to realise that the 'staff' of a government, ie the Ministers, are not chosen as you would the staff of a cake shop. Blair didn't sack Brown out of the goodness of his Angelic heart, but because he couldn't, save perhaps immediately after his 2001 election victory. This is not a Presidential system, and the governance of the country is not his to decide alone.

Since 2003 Blair's Premiership has been pretty terrible, even if the government has been reasonably competent. Getting rid of a Prime Minister that a majority in the country, a majority of the Labour Party, and I suspect a majority of the Cabinet, want out, is long overdue. The most squalid thing is that the man is so desperate to cling to power he hasn't realised this and gone already.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Cape Bloody Cod

This post by Oliver mentions briefly Gordon Brown's perceived liking for Americans (in a political sense). What is remarkable however is that unlike every single other thing written on this subject it doesn't say, and it is all the better for not doing so, that Brown "holidays in Cape Cod".

I've never understood what this bit of political information, which no-one cannot know by now, is meant to tell us about a future Brown Premiership. Loads of right-wing Conservatives holiday in France and yet they despise the country's political leaders.

Fancy that!

Patience Wheatcroft's Sunday Telegraph a few week's back:

Inflation is 10pc for middle class
The "real" rate of inflation hitting middle-class households is as high as 10 per cent - more than four times the Government's official rate, it is claimed

Study by PwC in the Guardian

John Hawksworth, the chief economist at PricewaterhouseCoopers, shows that the rise in general inflation caused by oil prices has primarily affected the poorest third of the population because they spend a greater proportion of their income on energy than the better off..."The tendency for the lowest income deciles to have higher CPI inflation rates has become more marked, with the poorest 20% of households facing an average inflation rate of around 2.8%, compared to the national average of 2.4% and the estimated rate of 2.1% for the richest 30% of households," says Mr Hawksworth.

The Youth of today

A 2:2 in sociology? Decline in standards, no proper courses, etc.

Then again he is 89, so congratulations to Mr Cooper. Reading the story made me wonder why news organisations always need to tell us that people of advanced age are 'great-grandparents' - surely by the time you get to 89 there's a fair chance, and it's being 89 that's impressive, not that your children's children have had children.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

When will an important Minister resign?

So far one junior Minister and six parliamentary private secretaries (PPSs) have gone.

Tom Watson was not a completely unimportant Minister, but I think it's fair to say he's not top-rank. By that I suppose I mean Cabinet Ministers and Ministers of State, though I'm not sure what the technical terms. So when will one of them go, and which will it be?

Wikipedia's lamest edit wars

Enjoyable stuff. Reminds one of the Harry's Place comment boxes before they got taken over by loons. (Via Diamond Geezer)

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Latest score in the Blair War

It's very murky, but at the moment I make it:


Have asked him to go soon - 17 MPs of the 2001 vintage including 4 in the government and 1 Minister (Tom Watson!)
Are happy for him to go in a year - 49 MPs who have signed a petition
Want him to fulfil his election promise - 0 MPs
Gordon Brown - 1 MP


Also want him to go soon - some MPs who were elected in 2005 who have written to tell him

Not heard from

352 - 17 - 49 - 1 - some MPs elected in 2005 = about 250-275?

Blair's survived setbacks before, but when this sort of thing starts happening, recent history (though perhaps importantly not in the Labour Party) suggests things move faster than you might expect.

Update: Two junior members of the government have now resigned (inc one minister, Tom Watson)

Military deaths

Jamie links to the sad story that World War II has apparently seen another death. Total deaths during that War (or at least between 1939 and 1945) are estimate at around 63m, this is around 875,000 a month, or nearly 30,000 a day (I'd have thought compared with about 60,000 or so natural deaths a day at the time). Wikipedia lists the deaths by country - the worst hit was the Soviet Union, at 23.2m, but the worst as a % of its population was Poland, which lost 16.1% (though I am not sure whether this is adjusted for population movements).The worst hit as a % for civilian deaths (excluding Jewish Holocaust victims,) was Portuguese Timor, at 11%, followed by Lithuania and Latvia, on 8% and 7%. Including Jewish victims puts Poland first, followed by Lithuania. In terms of military deaths Germany on 8% and the Soviet Union, on 6%, are easily the worst.

What Wikipedia doesn't have, and which would be quite interesting, is how the 62m deaths were distributed over the six years.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Military experience in military leaders

Oliver complains about the lack of military experience amongst ministers and officials in the Ministry of Defence, which got me thinking about the narrower point of who was the last Defence Minister to have direct military experience. Wikipedia's list suggests it was John Nott, who to be honest was not a great success in the role, but it might have been someone like Tom King with military service. Unless I've missed someone obvious.

The last Prime Minister was presumably Jim Callaghan. Somewhat related to this point, for all those interested in the history of the Conservative Party, there is a good resource under development here. I am eagerly awaiting the entries for Stanley Baldwin and Neville Chamberlain so I can learn to tell them apart.

Update: In terms of relevant experience it is nothing new to have none. Apparently when Selwyn Lloyd was appointed second in charge at the Foreign Office, Lloyd objected that 'I've never been to any foreign country, I don't speak any foreign languages, I don't like foreigners,' to which Churchill replied: 'Young man, these all seem to me to be positive advantages' (from the LBR)

World War II spies

This news story about Basil Liddell Hart running around London telling all that he knew the plans for D-Day made me wonder whether he had anything do with the famous Daily Telegraph cross-word puzzles which revealed details of the codewords used in the landings.

Aside from it being about D-Day, there's not much else to back up that thought. However also revealed today was that Lady Howard of Effingham was suspected of being a German spy. And the crosswords were compiled by a headmaster from a school in Tulse Hill, South London, that had been moved to Effingham for the duration of the war. I must be on to something.

Inheritance tax

I know I was warned about the perils of reading Janet Daley's column, but I forgot, and so unfortunately you can share my misery.

Today she is going on and on about inheritance tax, which as we know is a more Evil tax than income tax or VAT or any of the others. She hasn't bothered to understand it - the following paragraph is factually incorrect (as the slightest of checks would have told her, and indeed given she mentions the allowance later one can only assume it was for the purposes of making her argument seem stronger).

But the children who have presumably been at the centre of their shared lives – for whom they have worked, saved and aspired together – will be hit, on the death of the second, by a 40 per cent tax on whatever is left to them.

Furthermore her main complaint is the advantages given to those who are married (or in civil partnerships) compared with those who aren't. Yet this is the same Janet Daley who has been a forceful advocate for the restoration of the Married Couple's Allowance for at least ten years.

Oi John, NO!

Oh my Lord.

Sir Elton John is planning to record a hip-hop album, and hopes to collaborate with stars including Dr Dre, Snoop Dogg and Kanye West..."It may be a disaster, it could be fantastic, but you don't know until you try," he said.

But we do know, don't we?

Friday, September 01, 2006

I'm on holiday

Sorry, I forgot to tell you. Back Sunday.