Friday, December 31, 2004
(from Tom Tiddler’s Ground, ed. Walter de la Mare)
Here we bring new water from the well so clear
For to worship God with, this happy New Year.
Sing levy dew, sing levy dew, the water and the wine;
The seven bright gold wires and the bugles that do shine.
Sing reign of Fair Maid, with gold upon her toe,
Open you the West Door, and turn the Old Year go.
Sing levy dew, sing levy dew, etc.
Sing reign of Fair Maid, with gold upon her chin,
Open you the East Door, and let the New Year in.
Sing levy dew, sing levy dew, etc.
What does it mean? Click here.
Friday, December 24, 2004
Wednesday, December 22, 2004
Chav is almost certainly from the Romany word for a child, chavi, recorded from the middle of the nineteenth century. We know it was being used as a term of address to an adult man a little later in the century, but it hasn’t often been recorded in print since and its derivative chav is quite new to most people.
Tuesday, December 21, 2004
Monday, December 20, 2004
It has become customary for some pupils of Chipping Sodbury school in Gloucestershire to wear tinsel around their necks at a "mufti" party which they are allowed to attend out of uniform.
To the bemusement of parents and children, the school banned pupils from wearing tinsel this Christmas, citing "health and safety reasons".
Friday, December 17, 2004
Her Majesty's Ogre
There's only one question worth asking about work and pensions: "Chancellor, why in your first budget did you decide to take £8bn from pension funds every year?"
But Gordon Brown does not attend this question time. Let's avoid the cliché of saying that made Monday's session was Hamlet without the prince and call it Shrek without the ogre - not least because, as chief secretary to the treasury, that makes Paul Boateng the donkey.
In the green one's absence, we were offered a strange form of micro politics. We weren't just given the figures for individual constituencies that seem mandatory these days. (Coventry South 840 people have participated in the new deal for lone parents. And in Nottingham North there were 745 unemployed young people as at October 2004.)
No, we heard about individual people. So it was hello to Clare Robertson from Bulwell who, thanks to a variety of government schemes and subsidies, now has a job in administration. And hello to an unnamed lone parent who has gone through her work-focused interview, gained qualifications in literacy and numeracy, and found work as a receptionist.
Well done to both of them, but there is something odd going on. The last 25 years have seen the death of the idea that governments can manage the economy. Political parties used to solemnly debate whether they should aim for three or four or five per cent growth. Today, everyone agrees that Her Majesty's Ogre - sorry, that Gordon Brown's best act as chancellor has been to give up the power to set interest rates.
Yet there are no signs of government retreating from the world of work. In fact, it is entering it in more and more intimate ways. Unemployed people are now the subject of a vast therapeutic apparatus. One of the unknown receptionist's problems, said the minister Jane Kennedy, was that she lacked self-confidence, so the state moved in to cure her.
Listening to Labour ministers it's a wonder that anyone ever succeeded in getting a job before 1997. Where would the Industrial Revolution have been with their attitude? "I like this new 'steam engine' of yours, Mr Watt, but I doubt that any of our people will have the self-confidence to use it. Better stick to ploughing."
Thursday, December 16, 2004
Wednesday, December 15, 2004
- In 1966 Bobby Moore was voted BBC Sports Personality of the Year and Geoff Hurst finished third. Second place was occupied by a speedway rider.
- Remember how popular show jumping was on television in the 1960s and 1970s? You rarely see it now.
- Thirty years ago the British heavyweight boxing champion was just about the biggest name in sport - think of Henry Cooper. Can you name the current holder of the title without using Google? I can't.
The case against this decision is well made by John Grogan, the Labour MP for Selby, in the Guardian:
"I think it's disastrous for English cricket," said Mr Grogan. "Cricket doesn't enjoy such strong support as football, and there is a real danger that it will disappear from half the public's consciousness and youngsters will take up other sports.
"It is tragic that this should happen at a time when the England cricket team is performing so well. The England cricket board has ignored the advice of numerous former England players and captains.
"They have done this for short term gain, but what they gain in TV money they may stand to lose in sponsorship in the long term."
The article also quotes the Liberal Democrats' own Sue Doughty, who:
said it was "absolutely essential" that the government looked once again at the issue of listed events.
"This affects people who value sport on TV most," she said. "I am thinking of older people who have been cricket supporters all their lives, and who can ill-afford the extra cost of Sky. If you have a pension then you don't want to be spending a large chunk of it on Sky."
Yes, there is a case for saving the cricket authorities from the consequences of their own stupidity, but it would be far better if they were not so stupid in the first place.
Market mechanisms are fine when the outcome does not matter. If everyone stops drinking Coca Cola and drinks Pepsi instead then no one need worry. But you would expect the cricket authorities at least to be concerned at the prospect of people giving up cricket and taking up other sports instead. So they have to have some concern for the long-term health of the game as well as for short-term income.
They should also remember that show jumping lost its popularity when people stopped calling horses things like Penwood Forge Mill and started calling them Sanyo Music Centre instead.
Money isn't everything, as the cricket authorities may soon be reminded.
Nevertheless, I cannot pretend to be sorry that he has resigned. His presence as home secretary was central to a discreditable Labour campaign strategy that involves a populist attack on civil liberties. This attack is largely designed to lure the Liberal Democrats into opposing it in the belief (mistaken, I argued yesterday) that this will cost us votes.
All that can be said in Blunkett's defence is that unlike many of his colleagues he is not cynical. With his background in South Yorkshire Labour politics he really believes in curbing people's liberties.
Tuesday, December 14, 2004
The newsgroup poster "hotelier" writes:
It may well be that those holding liberal views on crime and civil liberties are in a minority in Britain. But it is a sizeable minority and it includes many people who did not vote Liberal Democrat at the last election. If Labour wants to push them towards us we should thank our good fortune.
I think Peter Hain is correct to be worried about natural Labour supporters voting Lib Dem. I may be one myself. But it seems to me that Labour are going about enticing us back in exactly the wrong way. They portray the Lib Dems as soft on crime in that civil liberties are important to them.
The trouble is we know that and agree with that analysis. That's why we're considering voting for them.
It does reinforce the impression that the Lib Dems are remarkably fortunate in the tactics their opponents are using. Not only are the Conservatives obsessed with Ukip and happy to ignore the voters they are losing to us, they have now gifted us the status of being the only party which is opposed to compulsory identity cards.
At the next election this will be a high-profile and easily understood issue. It may be a minority concern but, as "hotelier" argues, it is an issue that will appeal to precisely those people - disillusioned liberal Blair supporters - whose votes we are trying to attract.
Monday, December 13, 2004
UKIP is to oppose the notoriously anti-EU Tory MP Bill Cash at the next general election. Their deputy leader Mike Nattrass, a West Midlands MEP, has been chosen to fight Mr Cash's Stone seat.
Nattrass says of the Staffordshire MP:
So far, Mr Cash has been posing as a eurosceptic. Does he believe in the sovereignty of Parliament and the self-determination of the British electorate in all matters or does he believe that powers should be ceded to the EU?
If he believes in the former he should sign a UKIP membership application form immediately and fight the seat as a UKIP candidate.
Trivial fact: William Cash's political career has been aided by the family nametape fortune.
Peter also reports that Leighton Andrews is setting up his own blog. I wonder if it will have a comments section?
An astonishing behind-the-scenes row between the National Assembly's Presiding Officer and a prominent Labour AM culminated in an incident where the AM is said to have told the Presiding Officer to "**** off" in a Cardiff restaurant.
Relations between Plaid Cymru peer Lord Elis-Thomas and Rhondda AM Leighton Andrews have been under severe strain since the Assembly's Queen's Speech plenary debate on December 1.
Sunday, December 12, 2004
The Curious Incident of the WMD in Iraq
Profile Books, 2004, £5.99
During their first brush with fame in the 1960s John Bird and John Fortune would entertain audiences at Peter Cook’s Establishment Club by simply reading out official documents. As their present-day collaborator Rory Bremner says, such publications are often funnier than anything a scriptwriter can produce.
Rowan Candappa also appreciates the comic possibilities of a deadpan account of real events. He describes Tony Blair’s career, emphasising the run up to the conflict in Iraq. His model is Mark Haddon’s bestseller The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, which is narrated by a 15-year-old autistic boy. The clever thing about Haddon’s book is that its style, which reflects the hero’s difficulty understanding human emotion, is nevertheless extremely moving.
Candappa is no Haddon, and his Anthony Algernon St Michael Blair owes much to Adrian Mole and the secret diary of John Major that Private Eye used to run. I am sure it was their Major who first owned a Letts Prime Minister’s Diary. But The Curious Incident of the WMD in Iraq is consistently amusing and the product of thorough research.
We first meet Blair at Fettes College, which was “Just like Harry Potter. Except that back then I couldn’t do magic”. A profound thinker – he stresses his belief in “The People’s God” – he gravitated to politics. He recalls that as an aspiring Labour candidate “it was very important to wear the right badges. My best badge was a CND badge. I used to wear it all the time.”
Once at Westminster the young Blair set about reforming the party with his friends Peter and Gordon. (“This was not the 1960s singing duo Peter and Gordon as I first thought.”) He soon became leader, changing its name to “New Labour” after toying with “I Can’t Believe We’re Not Tories”.
As prime minister he preferred to leave domestic affairs to Gordon. Abroad, it was easier to know “The Right Thing To Do”. So after 9/11 he was happy to help George W. Bush defeat the “Dangerous and Uncontrollable Rogue State of Afghanistan and its Evil Taliban masters by doing Bombing Back To The Middle Ages”.
They then turned to Iraq, but “George must have been really busy at this point because he didn’t have time to ring me and get me involved in any of this planning and decision making”. The invasion took place even so and we are still living with the consequences.
Mark Haddon’s narrator concludes by announcing his ambition to take a first class honours degree and become a scientist. Anthony Algernon St Michael Blair’s career may not end so happily.
In politics things are often the opposite of what they appear. Take Monday, when the Labour MP John Robertson asked Estelle Morris what she was doing to promote music among young people.
You would naturally have assumed he wanted them to have more of it. That was certainly what Morris thought he meant. So she boasted of the government’s music manifesto and its aim of providing every young person with access to musical experiences.
But that was not what Robertson had in mind. For he then asked if Morris agreed we should be educating young people about the value of the creativity involved in making music. It’s not clear that those words mean anything, but she did agree.
It turned out that Robertson wanted the government to endorse the music industry’s "Respect the Value of Music" campaign. This is intended to discourage young people from downloading music from the internet.
So what Robertson really wanted was for young to have less access to music. And Morris obliged: “We must make sure that everybody uses and accesses music in a way that protects the copyright of those who write it.”
Yes, the music industry is in a state of flux, busy seeking a business model that will enable it to exploit the net. But every technological advance produces winners and losers. Some exisiting companies thrive, others are elbowed aside and eventually a new order settles down.
And every technological advance is treated as a threat to performing artists. (Music companies only care about artists, of course; they never think of their profits.) Once, home taping was supposed to be killing music. In reality, it encouraged people to listen to music and they ended up buying more records. Then the film companies tried to have home video recorders banned. Fortunately for them they failed, and cinemas have been booming ever since. It is hard to see why, in the long run, the availability of music over the net should be any different.
By endorsing the "Respect the Value of Music" campaign Estelle Morris is siding with the industry’s losers. Government certainly has a role in the arts, but it’s hard to see why protecting unsuccessful multinational companies by limiting the access that young people have to music should form part of it.
Thursday, December 09, 2004
It's a sign of the times that the use of CS gas by the police in such circumstances is now treated as commonplace.
Fun runners dressed as Father Christmas were involved in a drunken brawl after the end of Newtown's famous charity run, police revealed today.
Officers had to draw batons and use CS gas to quell the behaviour of a crowd of yobs in the town centre on Sunday night. Some were still wearing their Santa costumes.
Still a big hello to the appropriately named PC Slaymaker, who is quoted in the article.
Tuesday, December 07, 2004
I thought I was pretty much alone in this view, but I recently came across a passage from the late great Christopher Lasch saying much the same thing. I shall post it to Serendib in a day or two.
Anyway, given my view of the greens, I was delighted to see this piece in the Guardian. It is written by one of the most prominent Greens, George Monbiot, and positively revels in the richness and strangeness of the natural world:
I want to live in a land in which wolves might prowl. A land in which, as I have done in eastern Poland, I can follow a bend in a forest path and come face to face with a bison. In which, as I have done in the Pyrenees, I can stumble across a pair of wild boar sleeping under a bush. I am prepared to exchange a small risk to my life for the thrill of encountering that which lies beyond it. This is a romantic proposition, I admit. But is it not also a rational one?Gratuitous plug: There are more nice quotations about nature in this article of mine from Openmind.
Sunday, December 05, 2004
As I have commented before, the Liberal Democrat influence on the Scottish Executive has not had the effect of curbing Labour's authoritarian tendencies. That is a pity.
Parents who fail in their responsibilities are to be forced to attend counselling sessions and could face prison.
The education minister said a parenting order pilot scheme will get under way in Scotland next April.
To the simple-minded politics is an easy business: you agree a programme for government, you put it to the people in the form of a manifesto, you are elected and you implement that programme. This is the view of politics that Tony Benn and his far-left supporters held in the 1980s. It is the view that the Conservatives, with their promises of doing 101 impossible things on their first day in office, hold today.
Meanwhile in the real world, government is about precisely that - governing. Politicians frequently come to power relatively unencumbered with specific policy proposals. Mrs Thatcher did in 1979: Tony Blair did in 1997. It may even be that not having too many policies is one of the defining factors of a successful political party.
And however many or few policy commitment they have, governments soon find their plans overtaken by events. They have to react to developments that neither they nor the electorate has foreseen. No manifesto will tell them how those developments should be tackled.
So what matters most in office is the character and judgement of ministers. Given that, it seems to me entirely reasonable for us to take David Blunkett's conduct of his private life into account when we are arguing about whether he should be home secretary or not.
We may disagree about the rights and wrongs of what deserves to be called Nannygate. And we certainly do not know everything that has gone on or if both sides are being entirely truthful. But it seems to me that only those who take a willfully naive view of politics can argue that it is none of our business.
Parents claim victory against controversial school scheme that takes money - and influence - from private sector.
Yet early in the article there was a quotation from "Linda Taaffe, the deputy secretary of Waltham Forest NUT, who helped mastermind the campaign," which makes it legitimate to ask whether this campaign was being fought in the interests of parents and children or of teachers. There is a tendency among many Labour and Liberal Democrat activists to assume that whatever is good for teachers - and the teachers' unions in particular - must be good for everyone else involved in education. Unfortunately the world is not such a simple place as that.
The same people often give the impression that they believe secondary education reached its perfect form some time in the 1970s and that any failings today result from the unaccountable wickedness of governments in failing to give enough money to comprehensive schools. The result is that they are endlessly negative. The National Union of Teachers have opposed every proposed education reform - good, bad or lunatic - for 30 years.
The result is that no one takes any notice of the teachers' unions any more, and the many government plans that do need to be opposed go through more easily.
Friday, December 03, 2004
The Guardian reports:
The report by Martin Wainwright goes on say that the grotto at St Elli's shopping centre has been "modernised on Neighbourhood Watch lines to give visitors a clear view of the inside". It also says that "Children will find Santa on a double bench with a space beside him which he will tap to steer them away from his lap."
Father Christmas has been given a new companion in his grotto at a Welsh shopping centre: as well as his elves, an unobtrusive webcam will monitor the jollifications of the next four weeks.
And children queuing for presents in Llanelli will be discouraged from the traditional, brief perch on Santa's lap while they whisper to him what it is they want in their stockings.
Will all this make parents feel less concerned about their children? Of course it won't: it will just confirm their darkest fears. If you pander to concerns that are not well founded you do not dispel them, you reinforce them.
I am sorry to plug Frank Furedi again, but his discussion of the breakdown of what he calls "adult solidarity" in Paranoid Parenting is the best explanation, or at least characterisation, of what is going on here. Other adults used to be seen as allies in raising our children: today they are seen as a threat.
Which explains events like those in Yeovil yesterday where, The Times reports (you may need to register):
Personally, I would be pleased to see boys that age doing something as old-fashioned as playing with toy guns, but the police is full of sententious comment from the police about taking such matters seriously. Surely the problem here lies with the motorist, who is apparently unable to distinguish between children playing and desperate criminals? This police response to her complaint is not going to encourage her to form more sensible views.
Police have been accused of heavy handedness after arresting two young boys who were playing with toy guns. One of the boys was held in a cell for five hours.
Liam Spencer, 11, and his friend, Luke Johnson, 13, were singing the James Bond theme tune as they rolled around on the floor at a youth club “shooting” at each other in a mock fight.
Liam, who is 4ft 8in, was dressed as Santa Claus and Luke was wearing a Frankenstein’s Monster mask.
But as the pair walked home, a motorist who saw them carrying their silver-coloured plastic guns called the police.
This just in: The Poundland store in Yeovil has banned the sale of toy guns. The manager Kevin Withers said he would now "err on the side of caution".
Meanwhile, there was a particularly good article in the Guardian yesterday by Timothy Garton Ash which looked at the ingenious reasons Western liberals have found for not supporting a liberal revolution in Kiev.
Sometimes when I am paying for something by Switch and the confirmation takes a while to come through, I get the image of a dour Scotsman running his finger down the column of my spending and tutting. I now know who he is. He is Gordon Brown.
Because under him, the Treasury has colonised whole chunks of our national life. Pensions, health, education and transport have all fallen to it. Even affluent families find themselves caught in the net of his tax credits. You sense Brown would like the Treasury to have the final say on every spending decision – every holiday abroad or new pair of school shoes.
He has come a long way from the young firebrand who edited the Red Paper on Scotland in 1975. Then he wrote that “Eroding the power of the market is the forging ground for socialist progress” and went on to call for the nationalisation of just about every industry without compensation. He was particularly exercised by the plight of linoleum workers in Kirkcaldy, but the fact that their problem was that no one wanted to buy linoleum any more passed him by.
Yet in many ways the striking thing about Gordon Brown is how little he has changed. Through everything, his seriousness and belief in his own importance– what Andrew Roth has called his “mixture of Presbyterian doom and self-satisfied righteousness” – have remained undiminished.
So too has his wish to be prime minister. We know that Tony Blair is not keen on the idea, but none of the alternative candidates looks likely to last the pace. David Blunkett, by a particularly pleasing irony, has problems with nannies and every day reveals more of the unbearable lightness of Alan Milburn.
So if Labour does win the next general election it is overwhelmingly likely that we shall see Gordon Brown as prime minister. To some. a more overtly Labour administration is an appealing prospect, just as many Liberals started to see the virtues of old-fashioned, aristocratic Toryism after years of Mrs Thatcher.
But beware. Brown is a puritan, and when he talks about favouring “hard-working families” he means it. There is an essential cheerlessness about him – and about old Labour in general – that should remind us all why we joined the Liberal Democrats in the first place.
Thursday, December 02, 2004
1. Patrick Mercer
2. Nigel Evans
3. Stephen Hepburn
4. Julie Morgan
5. Kevin Barron
6. Kevan Jones
7. Sir Paul Beresford
8. Michael Weir
9. Marsha Singh
10. Gerald Howarth
Sandra Gidley reports that Andrew Stunell is the highest placed Liberal Democrat at 11. He topped the ballot last year.
This is not an incident we would normally take much notice of, except to remark that those who told us that devolution would lead to a new style of politics appear to be wrong. On this evidence, Cardiff is just as stuffy as Westminster.
But one thing here is remarkable: the identity of the AM who shopped Wood to the presiding officer Dafyd Elis-Thomas. Or, as I had better call him (he appears to be touchy about such things), Lord Elis-Thomas.
That AM was Leighton Andrews, Labour member for the Rhondda. In a useful post, our own AM Peter Black quotes him as saying:
I regret having to raise the issue but, during the course of the previous debate, Leanne Wood referred to the Queen as ‘Mrs Windsor’. Will you take advice as to whether this is in order? I am sure that in a week when the Queen has been in Cardiff to open the Wales Millennium Centre, my constituents, and others, will consider the remark to be childish and offensive.I suspect the people of the Rhondda may have more important things to worry about, but Andrews' career is worth a little comment.
He was a prominent Liberal activist for many years. Indeed, he spoke at the first national Liberal event I ever attended - the Union of Liberal Students annual conference at Leeds in (I think) 1979. As a Liberal member of the NUS Executive - a very rare breed in those days - he was accorded an almost godlike status. In 1987 he was an energetic Liberal Alliance candidate in Gillingham.
Andrews eventually resurfaced in the Labour Party, winning Rhondda back from Plaid Cymru last year. Michael Meadowcroft described him as moving "from Liberal thinker to cheerleader for Blair's authoritarians". (There is a news report about Michael's comments here, and you can find a .pdf file of the relevant issue of Liberator here.) Having observed the way Andrews dobbed Leanne Wood in, you can see what he was getting at.
I would not go so far as those who claim to have known Andrews before he was Welsh, but it is fair to say that his Celtic heritage was not the most obvious thing about him in his Gillingham days. Peter Black once observed that "Leighton used to write columns in Liberal News extolling the virtues of Gillingham Town. He now claims to be an avid Cardiff City fan."
Someone on the uk.politics.censorship newsgroup has sighted the first one of the year:
Outraged opponents always call such moves "political correctness gone mad" - they know what is expected of them. The person quoted here is SNP councillor Margaret McGregor.
Parents in West Dunbartonshire could be banned from photographing and videoing their own children at school nativity plays this Christmas.
The council last week imposed the policy in a bid to prevent pictures falling into the hands of paedophiles.
But outraged opponents have described the move as "political correctness gone mad".
She is right, of course. There may well be a case for banning photography at these plays because people taking pictures get in the way of other audience members and do not enjoy the event properly themselves because they are too busy looking through a lens. But the reason given is dangerous nonsense because it plays to tabloid fears of a universal paedophile conspiracy.
It also underlines the paradox that years of public concern about child pornography has had the effect of making us see any image of a child as sexualised. As Frank Furedi says in Culture of Fear, Western art has traditionally seen images of naked children as symbolic of beauty and innocence. Today, not only are these images beyond the pale: we believe that pictures of children taking part in sports days or swathed in dressing gowns and tea towels in nativity plays are too sexual to be allowed to exist.
Worth noting in the original report is the fact that the Labour councillor who is quoted as defending the ban appeals to "data protection" in support of her case. This concept may soon come to rival "health and safety" as an all-purpose reason for stopping other people doing things.
Wednesday, December 01, 2004
We're the Surveillance Camera Players, a group formed in New York City in November 1996. We protest against the use of surveillance cameras in public places because the cameras violate our constitutionally protected right to privacy. We manifest our opposition by performing specially adapted plays directly in front of these cameras. We use our visibility - our public appearances, our interviews with the media and our website - to explode the cynical myth that only those who are "guilty of something" are opposed to being surveilled by unknown eyes.