Wednesday, 27 February 2013

NOW! That's What I Call A Tune! 73

Yazoo, Eurythmics, Pet Shop Boys, Hurts, Soft Cell, Erasure... There is something about Synthpop that seems to generate great duos.

This week's NOW! Tune! is from another: La Roux, with In For The Kill: 


Monday, 25 February 2013

Some Thoughts On... the Lord Rennard allegations

It's quite some time to be a Lib Dem: the ongoing Huhne/Pryce court case, the resultant Eastleigh by-election and, now, the allegations against Lord Rennard and the party*.
Last Friday, I was delighted to be able to get out delivering for Mike Thornton in Eastleigh: as a new(ish) activist it was my first taste of by-election campaigning - I only wish I had been in a position to go for longer. It has been a campaign that seems to have really galvanised the activists within the party. Record numbers have, reportedly, been flocking to Eastleigh to campaign and record donations made and the enthusiasm seems to have been matched by a high quality, efficient campaign organisation.
Morale has been high in defiance - as we so often are - of the prevailing media mood music and, in this case, the reason for the poll. Lib Dems are nothing if not stoical, independently minded and damned if they're going to dance to someone else's tune. Yes, we may be engaged in a pas de deux with the Tories - but we know that they are not picking all the music themselves.
On Thursday night, though, Channel 4 News broke a story which has great potential to not only damage morale but seriously damage the party - both centrally and throughout the country. Lord Rennard, it is alleged, sexually harassed a number of woman and, when concerns were raised sought to cover them up. Lord Rennard subsequently resigned as Chief Executive on health grounds.
Much has been said and written and many of these points will have been made elsewhere. Here, though, are some of my thoughts on the matter.
1. Nothing has been proved
As with any occasion in which one is dealing with allegations, and where they are being denied, we should remember that central tenet of our legal system: innocent until proven guilty. Even where the matter is extra-judicial, we shouldn't jump to conclusions...
2. Nothing has been disproved
...which is not to say that should dismiss the claims now being made. Sexual harassment - and unwanted bodily contact - cannot be condoned. Repeated harassment cannot be excused.
3. "We are not dealing with Savile here"
Despite the number of sexual scandals competing for media attention, this is not a game of Top Trumps. Suggesting as much belittles the complainants, trivialises their complaints and gives succour to those who think that this is about "just touching a woman's knee" as if that were acceptable behaviour.
Note: I have not, at time of writing heard the World at One interview with Jasper Gerrard. If his comments are as reported, I would hope he is de-selected as a PPC.
4. I detest this being used as a political football...
The fact that our opponents can seek to make political capital out of the issue - as many are seeking to do - is symptomatic of a society that struggles to take these issues seriously. There are those who would do well to remember that "there but for the grace of God, go I [or my party]...". When they do, we should seek to rise above the game that some now wish to play.
Perhaps I'm being naïve.
5. We should not question the timing of the allegations - and certainly not in public
Some have suggested that the report has been timed to disrupt our campaigning in the Eastleigh by election - other's that this is part of an elaborate campaign to unseat Clegg.
Whatever, even if you do believe there is an ulterior motive, what is gained from airing it publicly? Suggesting that the complainants are players - or pawns - in a wider political game is cheap, and belittling; and plays into the hands of our opponants.
Besides, there would never be a "good" time for such allegations; suggesting that the timing is fishy is playing politics with peoples’ lives. Which brings me on to my next point...
6. Not everything should be seen through the prism of politics...
The more involved in politics you are, the more refracted your world view becomes. Seeking the most favourable angle and best spin in everything becomes second nature. When something like this happens, those at the top need to step out of that mindset and take a fresh look. Not at how to present this for the best in the short-term but how best to deal with it for the long-term.
If the allegations of a cover-up are true, this should have been done a long time ago. It certainly needs done now. Those involved - on both sides - deserve for natural justice to be openly served.
7. ...there are belated signs of the party getting this
Last night's statement by Nick Clegg was strong. Whilst I agree it did raise additional questions - specifically what is meant by "indirect and non-specific concerns" and how such concerns were deemed serious enough to be put to (then) Chris Rennard but don't appear to have been followed up further - it goes some way to recognising that real action is needed rather than the somewhat anaemic statement originally made. That statement should been made on Thursday.
Humans fail. Institutions fail. But they can also learn from failure - we must make sure that the party does. What matters now is that we get to a) the bottom of the specific allegations made - both of harassment and of inaction/cover-up and b) policies are fully revised to ensure that there is a recognised procedure for reporting any future abuse of power, position through sexual (or any form) of harassment and abuse.
8. An independent inquiry is required
I understand that the inquiry chair is to be Alistair Webster whom I understand is a former chair of the Lib Dem Lawyers association. Taken at face value, one could question his independence, but without further knowledge I'm going to reserve judgement.
9. We can get through this
It's going to be stormy and it's going to be unpleasant.
But the party needs to face it's failings and effect real change.
It owes Lord Rennard and the various complainants a fair hearing.
It owes any other woman with grievances a chance to air them.
It owes the public the knowledge that the Liberal Democrats have the courage to examine ourselves and ensure our own house is in order when we're pronouncing on issues of equality, discrimination, harassment and abuse.
And it owes it to all those who have worked for the party as activists, supported the party in deliveries or financially and voted for the party in elections. In Eastleigh, we have a cause worth fighting for, morale is high and enthusiasm levels are through the roof. Hundreds and thousands of volunteers and activists fighting for their party, proud to be Liberal Democrats, happy to represent the party at Westminster, the party as an institution. Happy for that party to represent them.
If the party fails to satisfactorily address the recent allegations, it will have failed these people - as well as those directly concerned.
*I've tried to use the phrase "the party" to refer to the party organisation and leadership, and "we" and "us" where I intend a wider meaning in terms of the membership.

Sunday, 24 February 2013

Sunday Sounds 67 - Empire State of Mind (Part II) Broken Down

Following Alicia Keys appearance in this slot last week, I came across this video whilst preparing a future entry in my NOW! That's What I Call A Tune! series. I've previously lamented being unable to find this version online, so was delighted to find it. 



Saturday, 23 February 2013

Saturday Six 27

Welcome to my latest collection of random blogposts that I've liked over the past week. Before we kick off, though, a quick reminder that inclusion does not, necessarily, mean complete agreement.

First up, a report on how one woman took on Archbishop Vincent Nichols and his latest pronouncements on Equal Marriage.

This article by the Centre for Policy Studies dates from January and has been reasonably widely shared over the past couple of weeks since Ed Milliband proposed bringing back the 10p tax band. It does deserve further sharing though as it demonstrates the inherent progressive nature of the Lib Dem policy of raising the personal allowance in preference to spending the same money on a 10% starting rate.

Graeme Littlejohn discusses how to deal with the ongoing practice of caning in Uganda's schools.

Meanwhile, back in the UK, Boris has been to Eastleigh...

In the New Statesman, Martin Robbins discusses the role of the state and society in policing the private fantasies of consenting adults. 

My mum described the Jury in the collapsed trial of Vicky Pryce as a bunch of duffers. Whilst I'm not sure I'd go that far - and think it's reasonable for a Jury to seek clarification if unsure of points of law - I did think some of their questions were particularly simple. One theory I've heard is that the foreman and others may have got frustrated at discussions in the jury room and used the list to send a message to the judge that it wasn't going well. Whatever, The Commentator skewers them royally.


Friday, 22 February 2013

Guest Blogger No. 3 - Joanna Brown - On Creativity

Further to her first guest post, here's the second from my sister, Joanna:

On Creativity

The only (I’m going to admit it) Salmon Rushdie book I’ve read is a children’s book called ‘Haroun and the Sea of Stories’. That said, this book is of crucial value due to its allegory on the importance of free speech. The title character’s father Rashid, a storyteller to trade, looses the ability to tell stories; his story stream is literally turned off. The man responsible for this is the ruler Khattam-Shud who is described as ‘the arch-enemy of all stories, even of Language itself’. Thus follows a fantastical adventure in which Haroun battles to save his father’s stories.

It’s got me thinking about my own story stream, my own ideas tap. My ideas don’t come to me emblazoned in neon lights. They come whimpering along and, if I’m not quick, disappear before I’ve caught them.

Despite knowing that ideas aren’t everything I am profoundly jealous of those people who seem to have a million ideas. (Don’t think I’m exaggerating, those people exist. Their ideas come from inspiration thunder bolts. They really do.)

But rather than wasting time grumbling I’d do well to face up to the facts.

I do have a tap although admittedly it drips more than it gushes. It’s not really in my brain so much as in my pen, or perhaps less romantically, in my laptop keyboard. Yet despite knowing that my ideas only really start fermenting when I write them down I’m really bad at sitting down to write.

It’s due to a mixture of things- a lack of time perhaps, a lack of confidence, laziness and perhaps a bit of self- censorship. Often I knock ideas down when they’re just starting to crawl. And to continue the baby metaphor, I forget to nurture them and wait for them to grow. If they’re not there ready packaged (not that I suggest we package up our babies) I’m not interested.

I feel like I’m waiting for the big idea: the one which will come fully formed screaming at me down the street, the one which will be perfect and won’t need any hard graft.

It’s not going to happen, is it?


Because writing is work, painting is work. Any kind of creative act needs time and effort. An architect can have the idea for a house but a client won’t be happy until the house is built. An artist is the architect, the builder and all else in between. Ideas are great but they don’t really exist, do they?

There’s a lot of pressure on the arts at the moment. The effect of the arts cuts are making themselves known and the now scrapped EBacc proposals has no arts or culture on the curriculum at all. We have our own Khattam-Shud's who would like to silence us. So let’s not make their jobs any easier. Let’s get working. After all, we don’t want to be the ones to mess it up.

Thursday, 21 February 2013

NOW! That's What I Call A Tune! 72

The Killers have featured on these pages before - including when they featured for an appearance on NOW! 60. But, on the basis that you can't have too much of a good thing, here they are again with Human:

I wasn't sure about this track when I first heard it - but it's definitely a Choon!


Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Guest Blogger No. 3 - Joanna Brown - A Road Trip for the Mind

You know what it's like:- you wait forever for a guest blog post, and then two come along at once. Further to contributions from Stephen and from my sister Lois, here is the first of two from my other sister Joanna.
A Road Trip for the Mind
I have a soft spot for the American beat generation. It started when my friend Naomi posted a copy of ‘On the Road’ to me with the instruction to read and dream. I read and I did, indeed, dream. It’s a cliché, of course, to dream of the open road but the idea of getting away from it all has a far reaching appeal.
Whether it’s Kerouac’s jazz clubs of New Orleans you want or a solitary exploration such as that taken by Christopher McCandless into Alaska, as described in the book ’Into the Wild’ by Jon Krakauer, the idea is fundamentally the same - that one will get away and have nothing to worry about other than what’s straight ahead. I see it as a type of control, a way of keeping life at bay, an ‘I will come towards you life, and I will seek you out on my own terms.’
While I still want to do my American Road trip - at the moment I am living vicariously through those who have gone before – I’m currently more interested in whether there is a way of bringing the sense of freedom, whether real or imagined, which comes from travelling into everyday 20th century life.
I’m in my bedroom trying to do some work; there are jobs to be applied for, emails to be read. All around me are objects wanting my attention: books, DVDs, a half knitted jersey for my nephew, my guitar. I work full time, make theatre and write so it’s safe to say I feel a little bit overwhelmed at times.
Of course, I’m not saying anything that’s not already been said by the thousands of people struggling to find space for life in life itself. And short of running away and living as a hermit – which, of course, will include its own pressures – there is nothing we can do but face up to the fact that there is a lot to do and not a lot of time to do it in.
Moan over, let’s get to the point and put things in perspective. I’m in the privileged position of being able to make choices and these choices are, on the whole, positive. We live in a world of opportunities; with opportunity comes choice and with choice comes an opportunity cost. Maybe we just need to accept that we can’t do everything and be grateful for what we can do.
I’m working on it. And writing this is a start. In the time it’s taken I’ve not had a chance to panic about how much I’ve got to do and what I’m not doing. I’ve had my own little journey through the world of words and come out the other end better for it.
So let’s try to accept our limitations graciously. We can only do what we can do. And if it all gets too much sometimes, as it no doubt will, just remember that the road trip is only a dream away.

Sunday, 17 February 2013

Sunday Sounds 66 - Girl On Fire

This is just such a Top. Tune. From the incomparable Alicia Keys. On. Fire.

First, though, turn up the volume. A bit more. Right - you're ready. Play.


Saturday, 16 February 2013

Saturday Six 26

Good Morning, this week's Saturday Six is on schedule and under budget...

This article is one of the best things I've read about the current Horse meat scandal engulfing the processed meat industry - and the implied demonisation of those who buy Value Ready Meals.

The Daily Mail reports that 4 million adults have never worked. Stephen Tall unpicks the figures a bit....

Mark Thompson is a regular on these pages, this week he's arguing that the Pope's decision to stand down injects some humanity into debates on Popes and Monarchs having a vacation for life.

Vince Cable has picked up on Bristol West MP Stephen Williams' idea of distributing the state's shareholding in RBS to the population at large. The M&G Bond Vigilantes propose a variation on the idea...

The Eastleigh by-election is in full swing - and Liberal Youth are doing a sterling job in support of Mike Thornton.

Finally, news on a project which has seen several internationally renowned architects including Zaha Hadid and Frank Gehry design rugs to be made by Afghan woman and sold through a not-for-profit charity.


Friday, 15 February 2013


When I wake, one of the first things I do is browse Twitter. So it was, yesterday, that I discovered the awful news about Oscar Pistorius and Reeva Steenkamp. Whatever the explanation - and Twitter was abuzz with speculation about him mistaking her for a burgler, with the odd dark hints about temper problems - the story was tragic.

With Pistorius' status as an international sportsman, an ambassador for Paralympians and as a role model for millions, he was, inevitably, going to be the focus. Ultimately, though, a young woman is dead and she should not be forgotten beneath our own grief at an idol brought low.

As the day went on focus seemed to switch from the suggestion of some sort of mistaken identity to official police reports of previous incidents at his home. People delved into his Twitter history to find reports of his prowess with guns and hints of temper problems. And Reeva Steenkamp became almost footnote - Oscar Pistorius' girlfriend, 29 (or 30, depending on what report you read).

A lot of what I've outlined so far is entirely to be expected: Pistorius was the one in the public eye and his arrest for murder is therefore a significant news story in it's own right. Indeed, sad to say, but it's the only reason that the tragic killing of Reeva Steenkamp is news at all in this country. But in the reporting of the story some of the press has lost sight of the fact that she was a person in her own right, with an identity that went beyond being Pistorius' girlfriend.

And now The Sun and The Star have published their front pages online... and, well, I'll let this brief Storify take up the story from here; it's a snapshot selection of some tweets which have used the hashtag #HerNameWasReevaSteenkamp:

Needless to say, both The Sun and The Star front pages have appalled me - I cannot for the life of me see how the objectification of a woman whose life has been so tragically ended can be justified. It's crass, it's insensitive, it's inhumane and it's beyond the pale. It's as if Leveson never happened. Andrew

Thursday, 14 February 2013

Letter to the Leader - A Response

Recently I wrote this letter to Nick Clegg with regard to the Security and Justice Bill. Today I have received a reponse.
Here it is, in full, with no comment (for now...) The only edit I've made is to omit the name of the staffer who sent it.
Dear Mr Brown,
Thank you for your email to Nick Clegg. I am replying on his behalf.
We fully understand that our members instinctively have concerns about the implications of the Justice & Security Bill for civil liberties and I hope to address these concerns in this email.
As you know, we are part of a coalition with the Conservatives, which naturally requires compromise. Where compromise has been necessary, the Parliamentary Party has strived to ensure that all proposals put forward by Coalition Government are as fair and sustainable as possible and I would like to assure you that Liberal Democrats in Government, as they are in local government, are working to secure the best possible deal for the British public, while building a stronger economy in a fairer society.
Under the current system, the only method available to protect very sensitive material such as the identity of informants from disclosure in open court is through Public Interest Immunity (PII). A successful PII application results in the complete exclusion of that material from the proceedings. Therefore, any judgment reached at the end of the case is not informed by that material, no matter how central or relevant it is to the proceedings. This system works well, but problems may arise when a case is so saturated in sensitive material that the PII procedure removes the evidence which one side requires if they are to make their case.
In these very limited circumstances, the Justice and Security Bill would allow sensitive national security evidence to be heard in closed material proceedings (CMP). CMPs are already used in other areas of law, including Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Orders (TPIMs), the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC), and sensitive employment tribunals. This will ensure that civil cases which are currently not heard will be heard, and that allegations made against the Government are fully investigated and scrutinised by the courts. It also means that the Government would no longer be forced to settle cases which it believes have no merit.
Concerns have been raised about Part II of the Bill, which covers the disclosure of sensitive material and allows a court to make a declaration that a CMP may be used in certain civil cases. Indeed, as you are aware, Liberal Democrat conference voted in support of the removal of Part II. The deep concern expressed by conference has informed a tough approach to internal negations - while it has not been possible to secure the removal of Part II, we have secured a dramatic package of improvements which we feel meet the majority of the concerns. These include restricting the scope of the Bill to national security cases only, removing inquests from the scope of the Bill entirely, and ensuring that it is an application to a judge and not a decision by a Minister that triggers a CMP.
In November 2012, Liberal Democrats secured improvements to the Bill in the House of Lords by supporting a series of amendments proposed by the Joint Committee on Human Rights. There are now further safeguards to make absolutely certain that every other avenue for dealing with sensitive material can be explored before a CMP can be used, and the amendments put beyond doubt the fact that CMPs cannot be extended to inquests, or in Scotland, Fatal Accident Inquiries. In addition, recent Government amendments make sure that the judge has the power to revoke the CMP if they deem that the procedure is not fair, even after it has already begun. This will ensure that if any material arises which is just embarrassing, but not sensitive, the judge can call a halt to proceedings.
I would like to clarify that the Government amendments do not remove the test of last resort for CMPs. The wording ensures that the judge has full discretion on whether or not to allow a CMP, preserving the balancing test as the judge will weigh the application against the interests of a fair trial for all involved.
All parties to the proceedings will be able to apply for a CMP rather than just the Government. While claimants won't be in a position to make the same kind of application as someone who holds national security material themselves, the Government's amendments allow claimants to ask the court to order a CMP of its own motion. If a party wants a CMP for information they do not hold themselves, they are unlikely to be in a position to fulfil the requirements of the application for a CMP that are set out in the Bill. They won't be able to provide detailed assessments of how relevant the material is to determining the issues in the case, or what the damage to the interests of national security would be if the material were to be disclosed. It would therefore clearly be wrong to require claimants to go through the same procedural steps that they would never be able to satisfy.
Finally, it is important to note that the Bill will not move cases that are currently heard in the open into closed proceedings. The proposals extend civil justice so that cases which are currently not heard by the courts can be. A judge will decide which pieces of evidence should be heard in open court and which in closed. Only evidence which, if disclosed, would be damaging to national security will ever be heard in closed session - material that is currently not heard in open court at all and is excluded from proceedings altogether. In practice no evidence that's given in open court at the moment is going to be given in secret under the Government’s proposals. What we're talking about is evidence that might be given by spies about their sources, their technologies, what they know - none of which is ever given in open court in any country in the world, including Britain.
Thanks again for taking the time to share your concerns on this important issue. I hope this information assures you that with the changes Liberal Democrats have secured to the Bill, CMPs will only ever be used as a last resort in a limited number of cases of national security where secret evidence is so sensitive that under the current system of Public Interest Immunity the case could not otherwise be heard.
Best wishes,
Office of Nick Clegg MP

For My Valentine... (That's You, That Is)

Dear Reader, you know I love you. And for the past couple of years I've tried to give you something for Valentines day - in 2011 it was these lovely romantic pictures whilst last year it was a beautiful love song.

So, this year, I felt I needed to keep with tradition and I knew just the thing... it's more del Amitri (although in the guise of Justin Currie with just his guitar) and it is every bit as soppy as you've (hopefully) come to expect from me...



Wednesday, 13 February 2013

End This EU Insanity!

A worker earning the median gross salary of £26,500 p.a. will contribute

to the EU in 2012/13.

Surely it's time to end this madness...


Sources: ONS and HMRC App

NOW! That's What I Call I Tune! 71

There were some fantastic options for this week's NOW! That's What I Call A Tune! but there was one really standout track. Not necessarily for it's musical brilliance, but more for it's sheer comedy value. Written by Gary Barlow and borrowing heavily from winner's songs on various reality shows past and present, it was the winning artiste from Britain's got the Pop Factor... and Possibly a New Celebrity Jesus Christ Soapstar Superstar Strictly on Ice, 

Ladies and Gentlemen, it's Ireland's answer to Enya, Geraldine McQueen:

And as a bonus, here's the saintly Cat Deeley "losing it" on "live" TV:


A Different Sort of Pupil Premium

Over on Lib Dem Voice, Nick Clegg has been writing about his visit to Mozambique with Lynne Featherstone, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State in the Department for International Development (DFID).

He talks of his pride in delivering on the Liberal Democrat's manifesto commitment to meet our international commitments to fund Overseas Development to the tune of 0.7% of Gross National Income (GNI). He mentions how it is political controversial (amongst some at least; particularly when there is so much austerity at home), but believes it is right.

And he is to do so.

All three major parties committed to the target at the last general election, with Labour and the Lib Dems committing to additional spending in connection with Climate Change issues - the Tories merely saying they would make their aid "Climate Smart".

I'm not going to contend that had the Tories been in Government themselves that they would have reneged on this _ I don't think they would have, although progress may have been slower - but they would certainly have come under pressure from a vocal wing of their party to do so. And the overall budget for DFID has decreased as the economy remains week.

But, for all our own problems, we have retained our commitment and will, reportedly, be the first G8 country to meet the UN target.

And we should be proud of that.

International Aid - properly targeted - can bring huge benefits. Not just to the individuals and communities that benefit but to us too. Such aid should be seen as a long-term investment which will reap rewards in improved governance within the developing world, improved relations between the West and the "Rest", improved security through the reduction of political instability and opportunities for both business investment and trade.

The results may not always be tangible but they are none the less real for that. And, of course, by leading the way amongst the G8 country we can further enhance our reputation in the developing world and increase our chances of benefiting in more direct ways as aid leads, hopefully, to trade over the longer term.

But aid has to be targeted, and funded projects must have definable aims and strategies. And this is something that struck me about Nick's piece: he cites a specific example of a project that aims to get girls into education in Mozambique and Ethiopia.

There is a vast reservoir of untapped talent in the developing world: woman of all ages. Because women's priorities tend to be different from men - and more focused on the family - education and empowerment of woman can lead to huge improvements in conditions for families and communities. Of course, this is difficult to achieve in cultures and circumstances where woman end up at home and their talents go unseen and un-utilised.

Breaking this pattern is difficult (but not impossible) in adulthood but easier - where appropriate funding can be achieved - in childhood. So projects tackling the under-education of girls are exactly the sorts of project that should achieve longer term results and develop more sustainable communities. We Liberal Democrats are justly proud of the Pupil Premium in the UK: we should be equally proud of our Pupil Premium in Africa.

Yes, spending is tight - but we must always remember we are citizens of the world. Insularity in times of economic strain is tempting but folly. 

But what about the cost, you say? 

Well, someone earning the median wage (£26,500) with a standard tax code is contributing just £59.45 p.a. towards DFID. (Sources: ONS and HMRC App)


Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Anthology 41: Ode on Solitude

Yesterday's post was about one Pope (Benedict XVI), today's is by another (Alexander).

I speculated in yesterday's peace that a potential consideration that Benedict had in deciding to stand down was that of the media circus that attends a frail or dying Pope in his last days. Far better to escape such a furore and seek the company of other retirees, monks or even of oneself.

This week's poem is a reflection on solitude, which may well be part of the Pope's plans. Those that know me may not be entirely unsurprised that it is last verse in particular that appeals to me about this poem. It may not reflect me now but I very much have been in the place that it describes a various points in the past*.

Ode on Solitude by Alexander Pope

Happy the man, whose wish and care
A few paternal acres bound,
Content to breathe his native air
In his own ground.

Whose herds with milk, whose fields with bread,
Whose flocks supply him with attire,
Whose trees in summer yield him shade,
In winter fire.

Blest! who can unconcern'dly find
Hours, days, and years slide soft away,
In health of body, peace of mind,
Quiet by day,

Sound sleep by night; study and ease
Together mixt; sweet recreation:
And innocence, which most does please,
With meditation.

Thus let me live, unseen, unknown,
Thus unlamented let me die,
Steal from the world, and not a stone
Tell where I lie.


*Note to self: there's been far too much of this confessional style of comment lately!

Monday, 11 February 2013

Some Thoughts on Benedict XVI. And Two Hat Puns.

It's been an eventful week - Chris Huhne resigned, MPs debated and passed the Marriage (Same Sex Couples Act)' the writ for the Eastleigh by-election was moved, Lib Dems launched a new Party Political Broadcast and there was a National Action Day which coincided with the first weekend of the Eastleigh Campaign...

...somehow in all that I've not quite managed to marshal my thoughts and compose a proper blogpost on any of the above subjects. And this one isn't either - instead it is some thoughts on the Papal Vacancy. Don't worry, I'm not throwing my galero in the ring...

Thought 1: News Coverage

I was working so my experience of the news coverage was limited but... I had picked up the Twitter rumour of Benedict XVI's resignation during a toilet break. Pretty much by the time I got back to my desk, there was a banner headline on every page on the BBC News website. Yep; every page - and a dedicated live text update page running video from BBC 24.

Now, I understand it was a genuine piece of news, and of huge interest not just to Roman Catholics but, did it really belong on the Business pages or, say, the Technology pages? I'm not having a moan about it being the lead news item (at least for a while) but it did seem a bit OTT - especially when it would soon enough appear on those pages in the "Most Popular" section listing currently popular articles.

Thought 2: Seven Years is Longer than 5 Minutes

I was surprised to discover he had been in post since 2005 - it doesn't seem 5 minutes since the last time the world was watching for a puff of white (or is it black?) smoke from the Vatican.

Thought 3: Respect where it is Due

Mitres off to a man who can turn round and say "I'm not up to this any more" - that takes a fair amount of guts for most people, and must even more of an intense decision when you're expected to stay in your post until you pop your clogs...

Thought 4: A Dignified Retirement Must be Preferable to Media Death

Talking of popping clogs; who knows what he factored into his decision but perhaps he has memories of the indecent media coverage of the last days of Pope John Paul II. Having the world's media camped outside your palace for days on end whilst you gradually waste away doesn't strike me as the most dignified way to go. Retreating to the seclusion of a Monastery somewhere semi-remote away from the public eye may seem somewhat more appealing.

Thought 5: I Am Now Officially Pope-Neutral

A friend, knowing I have a religious background, asked me if I was Pro- or Anti- Pope. At one time, I may have considered myself anti-Pope but the answer now is that I'm Pope-Neutral. By which I mean that I am neutral with regards my thoughts on the office of the Pope - not necessarily on it's incumbents and their pronouncements. 

Aside from all the obvious issues - Catholic teaching on Birth Control (and particularly Condoms), their attitude to Abortion, the intemperate language used in connection with Homosexuality to name but three - I also have problems with the treatment of the Pope as a Head of State as well as the Head of a Church* and the undue power I believe the Vatican wields as a result. 

The organisation of the Catholic Church may be archaic and arcane but that, in itself, is not a reason to criticise. But hypocrisy, intemperate language, teaching which institutionalises poverty or discourages the spread of HIV/AIDS, and the covering up of Child Abuse very much are.


*It's not just the Pope that falls into this category - but my Pro-Disestablishment, Anti-Monarchy views are well known...

Sunday, 10 February 2013

Saturday Six 25

Good Afternoon, welcome to my 900th published blogpost (on this blog, at least). Although I had some thoughts about doing something specific to celebrate, I've opted to go ahead with the day late edition of Saturday Six which wasn't published yesterday due to a combination of an unexpected but welcome houseguest and the fairer tax action day.

First up, two posts on Chris Huhne's demise as MP for Eastleigh: Mark Reckons discusses the tragedy of a confidence built of hubris whilst Richard Morris argues on the New Statesman Staggers blog that, whilst the particular turn of events last week may have been surprising, Lib Dems had mentally got over the loss of a Cabinet Minister and up for the By-Election battle.

This past week also saw the Second Reading of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill - which passed by a margin of 400 to 175. My friend Glyn was in the public gallery for the debate as it is something he feels strongly about, something which had led to a disturbing incident related on his own blog.

There has been ongoing speculation about imminent appointments to the House of Lords - something that has led Nick Barlow to come up with an interesting proposition - especially for a parliamentary party which is "too male, too pale."

This test (with a h/t to Alex Wilcock) seeks to define political philosophy based on a series of statements rather than (as with some tests) policies. Don't be alarmed (as I was) with it being on the OK Cupid site - and at the end there is an option for getting the results without signing up. This is how I came out - I have a bit of an issue with the "S" word...

Finally, a couple of ideas for Shrove Tuesday - although I must confess I'm a cook-and-eat-whilst-at-the-stove kinda guy, traditionally taking it in turns with my housemate.


Wednesday, 6 February 2013

NOW! That's What I Call A Tune! 70

Well, well, well, we've reached 70! I feel like I'm finally on the home stretch of what has been a bit of an epic undertaking. If you want to review progress in getting this far, click here - after today there's just 14 weeks to go and we'll be bang up to date! Wednesday's will never be the same again...

Anyway - all that aside - this week's tune is a bit of a one-hit-wonder from Sam Sparro. This peaked at No. 2 - his only other charting hit reached 44...


Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Tuesday Tune - A(nother) Equal Marriage Special

If it's too late at night for you for Shakespeare (see my last post) - here's Sinatra instead:

As the man says, Love and Marriage: it's an institute you can't disparage.


Anthology 40 - An Equal Marriage Special

Ugggh! Love Poetry... pass the boke bucket, puh-leeese...


What's that you say? Parliament's voted for what? Equal Marriage? OK, the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill? Oh, why didn't you say? I know the perfect poem to mark the occasion... 

Sonnet 116 by William Shakespeare

Let me not to the marriage of true minds 
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O, no, it is an ever-fixed mark,
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth's unknown, although his height be taken.
Love's not Time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle's compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
       If this be error and upon me proved,
       I never writ, nor no man ever loved.


Monday, 4 February 2013

Letter to the Leader

Every week, I get an e-mail from Nick Clegg giving his persepctive on some of the Liberal Democrat achievements in Government and an insight into what goes on behind the scenes. Encouraged by Caron Lindsay and also Jo Shaw from "Liberal Democrats against Secret Courts", this week's "Letter from the Leader" received the following reply from me.

Dear Nick,

First, can I say that I (mostly) enjoy these weekly e-mails especially when they give an insight into the way the coalition works behind the scenes, as this week's does.

Secondly, I'd like to say that I was, and remain, a supporter of the coalition.

That said, however, there is one current issue which I am deeply disturbed about: the Justice and Security Bill. Two things concern me: the bill itself and your failure to engage with the party on the issue.

I appreciate that your time is limited (if you even see this e-mail) so I will not rehearse the arguments regarding Closed Material Procedures here. These can be found in more detail on the website of Liberal Democrats against Secret Courts
and on this open letter to you I wrote in January.

What I would like to know is how this bill was approved by you and Danny within the Quad, without the opposition of the party being anticipated and factored in - and why when the opposition became obvious you failed to engage and either seek to delay or amend the bill or to, alternatively, allay the very real fears we have.

This is all the more baffling, following the experience with the (Draft) Data Communication Bill - but with that you did spend some political capital in getting it published in draft and examined in detail: a move which effectively killed it in the anticipated form. Surely a similar procedure could have been adopted with the Justice and Security Bill.

In your Letter from the Leader of the 15 December 2012, on the subject of the Draft Data Communication Bill, you said:

"It is no use standing up for civil liberties in opposition if you then forget all about them in power."

"Liberalism for me is about protecting people from overmighty institutions while enabling people to get on in life. That’s not easy and we must always ensure that we ask ourselves tough questions, but I’m confident we are playing our part in getting the balance right. If you want to help the Liberal Democrats as we campaign for civil liberties you can support us here."

Coalition has given us lots of opportunities to implement some of our policies, moderate the extremes of the Tories and to put a Liberal stamp on the Government of Britain. This Saturday I will, along with many others including, I understand, yourself, be taking part in an Action Day trumpeting our achievements.

Sadly, this coalition government is in danger of putting a fundimental illiberal measure on the statute book: with little evidence of opposition from within the Quad or the Parliamentary party, no evidence of it being part of a deal for some other reform, little engagement with those outside and in more-or-less direct contradiction with the Coalition Agreement document.

It appears that you've boxed yourself into a corner - and there is little way out without a great deal of humilation and spending a huge splurge of political capital. Without it, though, I fear that you will have fundamentally damaged your reputation within the party and undermined our Liberal principles, as well as the principles which underpin our understanding of open justice and the rule of law.

Yours Sincerely,

Andrew Brown

Membership Number:

Update (14 February 2013): I've had a response.

Saturday, 2 February 2013

Saturday Six 24

Another tardy edition of Saturday Six, so let's jump straight in!

I'm not normally a fan of lists of "Influential Gays" or even "Influential gay people" but I quite liked this series of portraits from The Guardian. The link is to one of Omar Sharif Jr (whom I had never heard of) but I like most of the pictures in the series.

Last Sunday saw Andy Murray take on Novak Djokovic in the final of the Australian Open. Sadly my prediction that he would lose in four was right. Two days previously, he had taken on Federer in the Semis - Pseudo Fed Blog has the inside story on some of their exchanges...

You may well have read of the HMV employee who tweeted as the administrators made redundancies in the marketing department during the week. Liberal Conspiracy has more details on the woman behind those tweets - in her own words.

On the issue of Cats v. Dogs, I'm very much on the side of the former. If you are unsure of how to pet a cat (especially if you are more used to dogs) then this handy petting guide will help you avoid some of the pitfalls. Do not assume that because your dog likes being petted all over that a cat will...

Apparently 817 (count 'em) entire Acts of Parliament were repealed on Thursday when the Statute Law (Repeals) Bill received Royal Ascent. These included the Female Orphan Asylum Act of 1800 (and related legislation), the Extradition Act 1873 and the Assam Railways and Trading Company's Acts of 1897 and 1910. 

And finally, my friend Will does Burns' proud with his reading of A Man's A Man For A' That.

And there we have it, another six for your Saturday... Now, if you'll excuse me, I've got a Rugby match to go and watch!