Saturday, 31 August 2013

NOW! That's What I Call A Tune! 78

It's been a while - and the character of this blog has changed - but I'm determined to finish my series featuring one track from each NOW! That's What I Call Music! album. 

The premise is that this will normally be the track that, on browsing the contents, I'd be inclined to play first: for novelty value, because it brings back particular memories or because it's a favourite. 

This week I've gone for the comic video genius that sees Peter Kay as Geraldine McQueen as Elaine Paige and Susan Boyle as Barbara Dickson. Filmed for Comic Relief in 2011, this is their take on the original video. Keep watching for the little comic details - and the big "reveal" as to whom the song is about:

And here, as a bonus, is that original video with the real Barbara Dickson and Elaine Paige:


Friday, 30 August 2013

Some thoughts on... Syria

I've been mulling over doing a piece on Syria for a few days but intended posting this (or something similar) last night but a combination of being out and being tired put paid to that.
Anyway, for what it's worth, here are a few thoughts. I daresay none of them are terribly original but if nothing else, it will help with my own thought processes on the subject.
Syria is not Iraq...

It's become a cliche to say this - but it's true. But whilst the situation in Syria is not analogous to that in Syria, Iraq is the prism through which this debate must be seen.
Labour have been shameless...
On Wednesday Labour managed to go from reportedly whipping an abstention, to being against an unpublished Government motion, to being hailed as having forced the Government into backing down and publishing a motion which would have required a further debate and vote in the commons once UN inspectors had reported and prior to UK involvement in any action.
Regardless of having obtained this concession, if such it was, Labour still proceeded to oppose the government and propose their own motion. In the end, both motions were, of course, defeated and Cameron - to his credit - has said he will abide by the result of parliamentary rejection of the Government's motion.
Miliband has played politics and won a short-term victory in Westminster, a longer term electoral gain (with former Labour voters disaffected after Iraq) but in the process he has diminished Britain's hand in the UN and in bilateral relations with our allies.
...and Lib Dem rhetoric on Iraq (almost) came home to roost
I wasn't a member of the party at the time of the Iraq war but I was very much opposed to it. For various reasons, though, I have always been uneasy about the use of the term "illegal" to describe it (and, by extension, the description of Blair as a war criminal). One of these it that the people who use the term are rarely schooled in international law but a more important one is that it precludes ever taking action not sanctioned by the UN.
If we had proceeded with Syrian action with the US and France but without (for whatever reasons) a UN resolution this would have been thrown back in our face no matter how deep the humanitarian crisis got or how justifiable the action.
The UN is NOT the be all and end all
Insisting that there should be a UN resolution before Britain is ever committed to military action seems to me to be deeply flawed given the structure of the UN Security Council and the intransigence and vested interests of the Permanent Members, not least China and Russia.
It strikes me that we must retain the discretion to use force outside of UN Security Council resolutions; both in the interests of UK national security and where humanitarian need dictates. I believed that this could have been - ultimately - required in Iraq and I believe it still. The UN should be respected, resolutions should be pursued, diplomatic and other approaches should be exhausted - but the Security Council should not be relied upon as the ultimate authority. 
Conflicted is probably the right place to be...
One word seems to have been most apt to describe the attitude of LibDems I follow across various social media: Conflicted. Torn between witnessing ongoing and escalating atrocities and a reluctance to get involved; after all, Syria is not Libya.
Like many, this is where I was prior to the vote yesterday - and still am. On balance, I'm not in favour of intervention but think that some form of limited action was beginning to become appropriate. Now, though, we will be spectators as the US and France decide what action is appropriate.
...and a knee-jerk anti-action stance is almost as bad as a knee-jerk pro-action stance
I am, by nature, a pacifist - but a blind belief that military action and intervention can never be justified seems so unrealistic and idealistic as to be unthinking. The world is not how we wish it to be, it is as it is: deeply flawed and containing many people doing bad things. Sometimes there will be no moving forward if we just sit on the sidelines.
We need to be pragmatic and realistic when faced with situations such as Syria: hard situations call for hard choices - not easy, idealistic opt-outs.
We can all do something
The politics of this pales into insignificance when you consider the real impact on the lives of millions of Syrians. You can read about the Disasters Emergency Committee appeal and donate here.

Saturday, 24 August 2013

Let's Do The Time Warp Again...

On Thursday, I donned Basque, Suspenders and Heels and ventured out to Bristol Hippodrome to see the Rocky Horror Show on it's 40th Anniversary Tour.

Aside from the people behind who talked through much of the second half, it was a fantastic evening. Most of the audience had made an effort with the costumes too: including a lovely older couple dressed as RiffRaff and Magenta from the end of the show when their true identities are revealed...

It had been 10 years since I had seen a full scale production of the show... it won't be so long next time!

Here is The Time Warp filmed in Bristol at the start of this year's tour back in January...

And here's Oliver Thornton as Dr Frank N Furter (A Scientist) with Sweet Transvestite:


Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Too Little, Too Late as Clegg comments on Miranda case

Nick Clegg's office has released a statement regarding the recent detention of David Miranda, which you can find on Lib Dem Voice. Whatever, this post was pre-planned and the statement doesn't go anyway near far enough as to cover the point I planned to make. I have changed the title though, so here is the piece as conceived:
It Doesn't Matter
  • It doesn't matter that the Terrorism Act 2000 was introduced by Labour (the clue is in the year).
  • It doesn't matter that Liberal Democrats did not support the bill, opposed it being pushed through parliament at speed and supported a number of amendments to temper its power (Hansard, 15 March 2000).
  • It doesn't matter that use of the power has reduced in recent years (see page 48 of this document).
  • It doesn't matter that the power is already being reformed.
It doesn't matter because, as Mark Pack and Jonathan Calder have pointed out, the high level Lib Dem response has been deafening in its silence. So it doesn't matter that there is outrage amongst the rank and file, when sanctimonious Labour activists start kicking us we have no response.
Nick, Jeremy Browne, and other prominent figures should have been vocal from the start. Even if their statements would have had to be more nuanced than a pure Liberal may have liked, at least we could have had something to hang our response on. As it is, we have nothing.
I'm disinclined to take lessons on Civil Liberties from Labour activists. But if I'm going into the breach, I need to be armed. And that starts at the top. I can't trumpet the Lib Dem position if there is no apparent Lib Dem position.
But, I fear the problem goes wider than this one case.
A Fairer Society means a free society where individuals aren't subject to harassment. It means the rule of law - and a law that is proportionate. It means treating suspected terrorists broadly as we would other criminals.
And if Liberal Democrats in government aren't - and/or aren't being seen to be - fighting for these things, then who the heck will?
It is issues like this that severely test my support for the coalition. After Secret Courts and Racist Vans (to name but two examples where the leadership have let the party down), it appears the leadership still haven't got it: we're LIBERAL Democrats and we should be fighting the ground on Civil Liberties. Even if you think there's limited electoral advantage in taking that territory, you can ill-afford to alienate the people who are out in the field campaigning for Liberal Democrats in local, regional, national and supranational elections.
I hope lessons will be learned for the next such test of our approach to Civil Liberties. I'm not holding my breath.

Friday, 16 August 2013

Why a Large Retail Levy is not right for Bristol

Councillors on the Bristol's Overview and Scrutiny Management Board met yesterday to follow up a motion passed at Full Council in June that called for the council to explore the possibility of seeking the powers for an additional Business Rate Levy on large retail units.

The proposal was rejected by all of the committee bar the Green Councillor, and the report back to full council will be, it seems, a brief affair. No matter, here a few comments by way of history and analysis.

The original motion, which was proposed by Greens, was as follows:
Bristol City Council notes the campaign being run by 'Local Works' entitled 'Save our communities from large supermarkets'.
The campaign specifically asks councils to submit the following proposal under the Sustainable Communities Act:
'That government gives local authorities the power to levy a new local rate of 8.5% on large retail outlets in their area with a rateable value not less than £500,000 and the power to use the revenue collected to improve local economic activity, local services and facilities, social and community wellbeing and environmental protection.'
Council notes that - within Bristol - such a levy could raise up to in the region of £1.6 million pa.
Bristol City Council welcomes this proposal and fully supports it and therefore calls on the Mayor also to support it, and to submit the proposal to government.
Prior to the meeting, however, this had been reworked to obtain cross-party support, so that the motion as passed read:
Bristol City Council notes the campaign being run by ‘Local Works’ entitled ‘Save our communities from large supermarkets’. The campaign specifically asks councils to submit the following proposal under the Sustainable Communities Act:
‘That Government gives local authorities the power to levy a new local rate of 8.5% on large retail outlets in their area with a rateable value not less than £500,000 and the power to use the revenue collected to improve local economic activity, local services and facilities, social and community wellbeing and environmental protection.’
Council notes that within Bristol such a levy could raise up to £1.6 million from the city’s largest supermarkets alone and potentially a much larger figure from ‘all the large retail outlets’ referred to by the campaign (Council notes that supermarkets cannot legally be singled out for the purposes of the levy).
Council believes that the idea of seeking powers for a levy on retail outlets should be explored and requests that the Overview and Scrutiny Management Committee delegate this inquiry to the relevant scrutiny commission and report back to Council in September.
Although there was a hope amongst some that any money raised could, potentially, be used to persuade Supermarkets into areas crying out for such provision, some of the problems with the proposal were already obvious: not least that, although being touted as anti-supermarket, the proposal actually targeted all large retailers.

The issues became even clearer on perusal of the report prepared for today's meeting - and the notion of persuing such a policy became nuch less attractive. In particular, the following points jumped out at me:
  1. Despite originally being proposed by the Greens as being anti-Supermarket (and still marketed as such), only 32% of the affected businesses are Supermarkets.
  2. 44% of the businesses are in areas deemed to be in the 10% of most deprived areas in England - should we really be considering increasing costs on these?
  3. Although not broken down in the report, I reckon 20% or so of the affected businesses are in Business Improvement Districts - as such, should these not be treated as anchor tenants whose presence should (in theory) attract rather than repel other retailers?
Given that we had mooted using funds to support Supermarkets moving into those areas in desperate need of them - but this would potentially increase the inbalance highlighted above in terms of numbers of affected businesses in poorer areas. 

Six of the affected properties - all non-supermarket - are in the Broadmead "Business Improvement District" area, which is due for a renewal. Implementing such a plan could jeopardise the continuation of BID status if those businesses were to vote against on the basis of potential additional charges from the Levy.

There is also an "after-the-stable door" element to this: the supermarkets have, by and large, got out of the routine of opening large stores, and moved to the local/metro/central/express/M formats instead. This motion does nothing on that front. And whilst the big companies may suck up any charge that is imposed - in the short term a least - it's not hard to imagine that future decisions on where to locate could be affected on the basis other places outside the city bounds but within the city's sphere of spending would not impose such a charge...

Although it could be possible to look at setting a higher threshold - e.g. charging a levy only those 14 businesses with Rateable Values in excess of £1m (which would make it more Supermarket focused) - and/or implementing a system (if legally possible) of rebates on the levy for businesses in the most deprived communities, I think the committee is right in recommending that this is not proceeded with.


Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Anthology 43: Invictus

Much as I've enjoyed getting back to regular blogging, I realise that recent posts have been mostly political and I've not been leavening things with other styles of post. I know, also, that some of my readers really appreciate the poetry or music posts - and although they are few in number, architecture related posts are also popular.

So, if you're been waiting on a Poem, or Music, or other such entertainment, thank you for your patience: this one is for you.

Invictus by William Ernest Henley

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

To my shame, I've only recently become acquainted with this recently following me finally seeing the film of the same name. In that, Nelson Mandela - who was inspired by the poem during his time on Robben Island - in turn uses it to inspire Francois Pineaar to lead South Africa to Rugby World Cup Glory... Sadly, it appears that this latter part is poetic licence and a speech by Theodore Roosevelt was Mandela's chosen text instead.


F17 - Let's be Positive about Porn

Conference is drawing nearer and of all the motions on the agenda, F17: Protecting Children from Online Pornography (here, page 34) seems to be provoking the biggest debate, at least for now.

The motion is, I believe, deeply flawed. After the opening clauses, which comment on the power and importance of the internet, free speech and the rights of adults, it proposes that Liberal Democrats should support those in Government who wish to see the introduction of an "opt-in" system applied by Internet Service Providers for those who want to have access to porn.

This, of course, is a campaign that has in large part been led by The Daily Mail. Not normally fans of state intervention in people's lives, in this case they are fans of both the Nanny State and the Nanny ISP. 

There are perfectly legitimate concerns about the level - and type - of exposure that kids can have to porn. But is the answer to that to impose a blanket opt-in? Is the answer to effectively subcontract children's online safety and security to a third party? 

Should not the answer rather be to educate and inform parents on how to manage their children's online presence? Is the answer not that adolescents be taught about the role pornography can have in consensual relationships or in individual lives - but also that the context of porn is different from reality: that depictions of power relationships in porn can often differ from what is appropriate is personal experiences.

Surely if our children are to be well rounded adults, they need to be able to explore these issues in managed ways - not wrapped up in cotton wool and sheltered from the world as it is. If the concern is that some parents won't or can't manage this process - then surely we should work on ways of enabling them to do so.

So, lots to oppose. But what to do? I'm sure you can imagine the headlines if the motion is voted down point blank - no matter how reasoned the debate is and how reasonable the arguments against a general block on online porn.

I have, though, a bigger problem than potential headlines with just opposing the motion. Lib Dem conference (still) makes party policy. If the motion is voted down without anything in its place then the debate will have been a waste of an hour of conference time. 

There is an amendment which makes some changes to the text and omits the call for the introduction of an "opt-in" but this sounds insubstantial. To me, it makes sense to take the opportunity (given the motion is in the agenda at all) to augment and enhance the party's approach to issues of sexuality and pornography and to put a positively Liberal stamp on this debate. 

To that end I'm supporting the amendment that has been worked on by Alisdair Calder McGregor and James Shaddock (amongst others) and if you're a Voting Conference Rep I urge you to do the same.


P.S. I've written before on this subject - when Labour got behind the Daily Mail's campaign - and I will again, especially as I'm marshaling thoughts for a contribution to the debate itself which I will share here in their final form irrespective of whether I'm called to speak on the motion!

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Friday, 9 August 2013

Are you a #PotentiallyPregnantPanda ?

Indications that you could be include:
  • Being off your Food
  • Being moody
  • Exhibiting "nesting" behaviour
  • Restlessness
  • Bleating
The Land (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

This has been a public service announcement courtesy of Edinburgh Zoo. More details can be found here.


Monday, 5 August 2013

Summer Reading Recommendations

I was recently invited to take part in Lord Bonkers' blogpost recommending good summer reads. This gave me the impetus I needed to get on and finish Iain Banks' the Quarry as well as to re-read a childhood favourite, When The Wind Blows by Raymond Briggs.
You can read my reviews here and the whole series here. If you don't already follow Liberal England, I do recommend you have a good browse whilst you're there.

Friday, 2 August 2013

Join the Fight for the Future of the Lib Dems

Liberal Democrats beware! War is afoot - a war for the very essence and soul of our party.
If we don't fight, the Orange Bookers/Liberal Leftests* will gain control and turn us into imitations of the Tories/Labour*. Some of them want to go further, they would sell us out to the Blues/Reds* wholesale.
They must be stopped! Conference in Glasgow marks the last stand. It's time for us all to make a stand and not abandon the party to the Libertarians/Social Democrats*.
Fail to act, and the result can only be the fragmenting of this once great party. I and many more like me will be driven out. Out into the political wilderness, forced to abandon our membership - and to see if we'd feel more at home in the Labour/Conservative Party*. I'll be sad to leave the party I love, but leave it I shall if we do not win this war.
* Delete as Appropriate
A parody, perhaps, but we have seen many such posts in recent weeks. As the fabulous Jennie Rigg pointed out yesterday, both sides are on a hiding to nothing - our priority should be building a Liberal case for the electorate not rehearsing the tired arguments of the left and right.
All parties are coalitions and the balance of power ebbs and flows. There are, of course, legitimate policy and political debates to be had. But at our core we must be Liberal: not beholden to the ideologies of the left and right; rather true to the principles outlined in the preamble to OUR constitution.
So, rather than waste time on inter-nicene warfare, why not grab a copy of this and work out ways of relating things to our values and communicating them with your electorate. I'd humbly submit this as one approach...

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