Sunday, December 23, 2007

Blair's Final Betrayal

So Blair has done what most people expected and converted to Catholicism. As to the conversion itself and anyone's personal beliefs I really don't care. I do, as a Catholic myself, feel deeply betrayed by this conversion and the timing of it.

This was not a decision made lightly or even in the few months since he left office. His wife is Catholic as are his children. He has attended Catholic mass for years. The conversion was really always on the cards. And again - a personal decision for him to make and act on himself.

But why in his years as Prime Minister, particularly the final year and a half when we all knew he was stepping down soon, did he never speak out against the institutionalised anti-Catholic legislation in Britain? Why did he never say that the Act of Succession which prevents a future monarch marrying a Catholic is wrong? Why didn't he say that the rule which prevents a Catholic being First Lord of the Treasury is an insult to the millions of Catholics in the country? Catholicism is the only religion that these rules apply to. Blair knew he was going to become a Catholic, why did he not speak out in defence of the religion he respects so much?

As usual with Blair it was a case of making sure his power trip came above everything else. He knew that by following his beliefs he would never have been PM, and that position mattered more to him than anything else. He's a hypocrite.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Tory Survey Benefits Cancer Charity - Yuck.....

The political blogs are in a bit of a tizz over the Caroline Nokes cancer survey. Conservative PPC Caroline Nokes branded one of her surveys (with permission, perhaps erronously given but given none the less) with the logo of Breast Cancer Care prominently branded and a promise to the electorate of a donation to charity for every survey returned. It wasn't a survey about health and it was made clear that it was a political survey from a political candidate.

The Guardian and Channel 4 both gleeful reported the story as a huge scandal. Conservative Home claims it's a non-story. The soon to be defunct Recess Monkey is terribly self-righteous about it all.

I don't think it's either a scam or a non-story. It's a sign of the growing cult of morality that politicians from all parties like to build up around themselves. It's twee, it's sickening, it's cloying. If I want to give money to a cancer charity I will. I don't want some candidate to tell me they're doing it on my behalf.

Giving money to charity used to be something that we did privately. Now politicians love to tell us about their donations, their marathon running, their arctic treks, and whatever else they do. It is demanded of MPs that they take part in sleepouts for homeless charities or give up their Christmas days to help in a hospital. If this is something that a particular politician feels strongly about then that's well and good. But leave the digital camera at home eh?

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Why Not Tell People Not To Be Criminals?

I've become increasingly wound up in the past few days by the amount of crime-prevention warnings around. On a bus stop poster near my office are about three or four threats of your house being burgled if you don't lock up, hide your presents, throw empty boxes away immediately, buy Christmas presents. We're told not to talk on our mobile phones in the street, listen to MP3 players or drink more than a small sherry for fear of being mugged. Catholic churches are even moving midnight mass for fear of them being upset by drunks.

I'm all for protecting yourself and your property and it's right that people should be reminded of their responsibilities. But why don't these posters say things like "If you break into someone's house you'll be jailed you little shit" or "A short skirt doesn't mean you can be all rapey" or "Get a job and buy your own MP3 player"?

A huge amount of money is spent on these crime prevention advertising campaigns.

Here's another way to use the money - more police and longer prison sentences.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Desperately Seeking Susan to Close

There are some things that you can see coming a mile off.

When will theatre producers realise we want to see either new and original musicals like Avenue Q or the classics, not just rehashed nonsense based on films/pop music. I blame Mamma Mia and We Will Rock You, their success has led every faded pop star to believe that the audiences want to hear their songs in a "new" way. We don't - now bugger off and leave us singing about Porn.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

A Pointless Rule - But Your Rule

I've never been a fan of PPERA (the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act). You know the one that made the simple process of elections and donations to political parties a whole lot more complicated. And doesn't know the correct word is actually referenda. And established that idiotically useless body The Electoral Commission.

I never saw a reason to have to report donations to parties. The vast majority of which have always been open, honest and done with no intention other than helping parties out. But the Labour Party in their infinite wisdom brought in PPERA and established the Electoral Commission. So despite me not really seeing a reason to it all I obeyed the law on reporting donations. And it was generally really simple to understand and comply with.

Which makes the Labour Party's knowing acceptance of donations via a third party from David Abrahams incomprehensible. There is no room for doubt in the law. No wiggle room.

The Act states that a donation is (among many other thing):

"any reference to anything being given or transferred to a party or any person is a reference to its being so given or transferred either directly or indirectly through any third person;"

OK - a bit wordy, but you get the gist.

When Peter Watt says he didn't know he couldn't take a donation through a third party he is either lying or so utterly incompetent he should never have been in his position. Either way he was quite right to resign.

The Labour Party has to realise that when it brings in these annoying and pointless laws they don't just apply to the evil Tories (who they were doubtless introduced to trip up) but to themselves too.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Oxford Union Debate

This story about BNP leader Nick Griffin and Holocaust denier David Irving speaking at the Oxford Union has troubled me. It gets to the very heart of the limitations of free speech. Just because people's views are abhorrent - and blatantly wrong - does this mean they shouldn't be allowed to express them?

Generally I would say I come down on the side of freedom of speech, but I have real mixed emotions with this one. Partly because while I think anyone should be able to express an opinion I think there has to be limitations on being able to insult other people. Holocaust denial, for example, is not a matter of opinion. The Holocaust happened and to deny it is not simply to challenge historical wisdom but is a form of particularly nasty anti-semitism. We shouldn't stand by and allow people to be blatantly racist or offensive.

Of course, freedom of speech and allowing someone to be able to voice their opinions is not the same as inviting them to do so or engaging in debate with them. Nick Griffin and David Irving do have the right of freedom of speech but I have the right not to listen to them or take part in debate with them. This is the right the silly little boys of the Oxford Union should have exercised when considering who to invite to speak at their debate. To invite one Holocaust denier to your debate is bordering on distasteful, to invite two is opening yourself up to queries about the reasons behind your invitations.

Oxford Union should be ashamed of themselves today - as should everyone who legitimises the opinions of these men by taking part in debate with them.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

A Silver Lining

The financial data fiasco is a nightmare for everyone involved. We assume, even if we don't like the politics of a particular governing party, that we can trust the "Government" to keep our information safe.

If there is one silver lining to a very dark cloud it will hopefully be that the suggestion of having a National ID card system will be closed off for good.

ID Cards are un-necessary, expensive and an attack on our basic civil liberties. We don't need to put all of our data on a piece of plastic just so that some jumped up oik can demand to know who I am.

So - who still thinks the Government holding all our personal data is ok?

Friday, November 16, 2007

Does The Spectator Know Anything About Scottish Politics?

First of all let me say I am a huge fan of the Spectator. When I was a student and got a cheap subscription I would love it hitting the floor on Friday mornings. And I also think that Alex Salmond did a top-notch job at winning the Scottish elections this year. A brilliant campaign led by a charismatic figure which really changed the face of British, not just Scottish, politics.

Having said that I am at a loss as to why Alex Salmond won Parliamentarian of the Year. And my confusion comes with the comments of the editor of the Spectator. He said:

"Whatever your view on that great question, the judges felt it was right to salute the man whose brilliant tactics in the Scottish Parliament laid the foundations for an extraordinary victory."

Now the first half of the statement, right up until tactics I have no problem with. But I do wonder if Matthew d'Ancona, the editor of the premier political magazine in the country knows that until May Alex Salmond wasn't a member of the Scottish Parliament. His tactics were great, they did lay the foundations of victory, but they weren't laid in Parliament. So is this a snub to Nicola Sturgeon who was brilliant as leader of the opposition in the Scottish Parliament, another snub to Scotland by the English establishment who just don't care enough to know the basics, or (much more likely)shoe-horning recognition of Salmond into some category, no matter what one it was?

Anyway - well done. A richly deserved victory if a little bizarre.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Rehabilition Is A Good Thing - Unless Of Course You're A Tory

I've been a bit knocked back by the response to the news that Iain Duncan Smith has asked Jonathan Aitken to head a working group looking at prison reform. It's as though the sky has fallen in with suggestions that this is the start of his political comeback and that the Tories are looking back to the days of sleaze. Particularly smug and insulting is Tom Watson's take on the issue.

Jonathan Aitken committed a serious crime and it was right that he went to prison - although I'd like to see a breakdown of non Conservative Party members jailed for 18 months for perjury.

Surely the point of prison isn't just to punish, although it is an important part of the process - the most important but. But there is also a huge rehabilitation role to be played. Just because you're rich, or come from a Conservative background doesn't mean you are exempt from being rehabilitated. It seems to me that Jonathan Aitken is actually an ideal person to help with this. He has been in the prison system but because his background is one of privilege he hasn't had to rely on it for his future after jail, therefore he can look at it both from an involved and detached perspective.

Just because someone commits a crime shouldn't mean they are stigmatised for the rest of their lives. If they, like Jonathan Aitken, have served the sentence that they have been given and can make a valuable contribution to society this should be allowed.

Tom Watson and other sneering lefties should remember that when they attack Jonathan Aitken for having a life after jail they're attacking every single former prisoner attempting to move on. Unless of course this only applies to Conservatives.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Ugly Betty Trailer

I'm sure it makes me the most shallow person alive that this makes me quite as happy as it does.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Don't Live Like The Broons

Following my rant last week about chocolate bars comes the news that Maw Broon's cookbook might not be the most nutritionally balanced.

On top of that the Broon's carbon footprint must be massive with all those weans, the chance of passive smoking from Paw and Grandpaw's pipes in that wee tenement must be shocking, the amount of animals killed testing the lipstick that Maggie wears will be enormous and it's really not responsible for one couple to have so many children. On the positive side, the bairn has been wearing the same dress for 80 yeard and it won't have come from Gap so child labour isn't an issue.

Aye, the Broons. May every family in Scotland live just like them.

What Politicians Can Learn From Kate Garraway

Image from Strictly Come Dancing website

I am a huge fan of Strictly Come Dancing. The costumes and camp make me very happy - and the judges... Well, I just adore my ickle Bruno and Craig is very tough and manly in a camp sort of way. I gives me fuzzy feelings to watch it, and I'm loving the fact it is now on twice at weekends. It's just a nice way to spend the weekend.

Imagine though the horror at last night's results show. Penny and Gabby in the bottom two. Penny and Gabby? Possibly two of the best dancers in the show. Not the rubbish dancers like Kate Garraway or Kenny Logan or even John Barnes. Frantic text messages went flying about saying little more than "No" "God" and "Are you watching this?" Then after poor Gabby flipped her last flip the vitriol started - Kate Garraway was evil personified. How dare she still be in the show? All thanks to muppet GMTV viewers who blindly voted for her despite the fact that she dances like a rhino on heat. But without the grace and elegance.

Then I started thinking about it and actually Kate is playing a blinder and the exact campaign that politicians should.

Have a simple message - Kate's message for her GMTV viewers is really simple - "I really want to stay in and achieve my potential. There's so much more I can do."

Repeat your message ad nauseum - I watch at most 15 minutes of GMTV in the morning while flicking between SKY, BBC and Everybody Loves Raymond and I've heard Strictly Come Dancing mentioned every day

Third Party Endorsements - not only does she get the message across on a regular basis, but her co-presenters do too. Ben Shepherd is a little star at this.

Know your audience - I could be wrong but Kate hasn't trawled round other shows to sell her message. She has her audience and she is targeting them ruthlessly.

Ability isn't everything - We've all watched election results and thought "But they're useless, how did they win?" Voters don't always care about ability, especially if you minimise how important it is in comparison with trying hard and being likable.

Be nice - There's no point being the best at something if you come across as arrogant, and that was Gabby's downfall. In the end Kate is just more likable.

Be aspirational - Kate focuses on how much can still be achieved. So much better than - oh I did this wrong.

So it might not be fair that Kate is still in and Gabby isn't but that's what happens when democracy is allowed to run riot. An inferior candidate with a good campaign will beat a good candidate with a rubbish campaign. Look and learn politicians - just don't wear the sequinned tops...

Friday, October 26, 2007

Thank God for Aviemore

It's perhaps not been the best few days for Alex Salmond. I would say for the first time since May, even counting the defeats in Parliament, he's had a bad week. And unfortunately for him it's been on good policy issues.

First the nuclear story. It was a sound move to write to countries signed up to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty to highlight Scotland's opposition to nuclear weapons and to ask for support in Scotland receiving observer status. It continued well the policy of pushing forward Scotland's position as a nation seperate to England. But for God's sake, check who you're writing to when you send letters. Don't just accept that whatever Excel spits out at you is a good thing. Remove the nasty people like Iran, Burma and Zimbabwe from your database. I can just see it now "Dear Mahmoud, Please, please support us and we'll ignore your views on the Holocaust and women and stuff, yours aye, Eck."

There's some people you just don't do business with. First because you don't want to make a stand at any costs, second - well it's just embarrassing to allow Nicol Stephen to score points off your actions and third - the good policy has been lost.

And the 1000 extra/additional/equivalent police officers. The dangers of making promises in opposition that you can't keep in government bit him in the bum this week. It must have been a right red-neck for both Wendy Alexander and Nicol Stephen to make direct hits in the one week.

Still, it's conference this weekend. And he'll perform brilliantly, the SNP members will love it and there will be a bounce. Which will hopefully allow the focus to start to go back onto the good policies.

But the opposition parties will start to have a glimmer of hope - he can be damaged. He isn't invincible after all. There may even be a light...

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Fat? Stop Eating So Much Then

***rant alert***rant alert***rant alert***rant alert***rant alert***rant alert***

It seems to be a week for the Nanny State annoying me. First it was drinking, now there is the report that says that Obesity isn't the fault of the individual and that the Government has to do "something".

Bollocks. Bollocks. Bollocks.

I'm overweight, I'm technically obese. Despite most things in this country being the fault of the Labour Government this isn't one of them. I know why I'm overweight - it's because I eat too much rubbish and don't exercise enough. I made a decision earlier this year to lose weight. I lost over 2 stone through sensible eating and exercise. I stopped the sensible eating and exercise and have put on a little bit of weight again.

I'm overweight because Krispy Kremes are tastier than vegetables as a snack. I don't hate myself, I don't have a childhood trauma that I'm hiding away from, I don't use food as a substitute for love. I like the taste of chocolate - it's a pleasant thing in life.

Stop bloody telling me that the decisions I make in life should be taken out of my hands and put into the hands of the goverment. I don't want some supercilious leftie telling me what I can do with my life.

I'm going to have a newly re-released Wispa for lunch just to rebel.

Leave Me and My Bottle of Wine Alone

So its not only the neds who down 20 Snakebites a night who are being targeted for government anti-drinking initiatives but the "middle class" drinkers whose bottle of Chardonnay a night habit who are being nannyed now.

First things first before I get accused of not caring about people with drink problems. Alcoholism is a disease and people who suffer need help not abuse, laughed at or most importantly - lectured about their habits. And it can hit all sections of society. When I was a student I worked in the cigarette/spirits kiosk of Safeway in a very working class area. The woman who came in from the suburbs every day for her litre bottle of Smirnoff was just as much an alcoholic as the old men who came in for their magnum of British sherry. She was just cleaner, better dressed and didn't drink sitting outside the shop. Apart from that there was little to distinguish them. And I felt sorry for them all, but kept selling them their booze because it really wasn't my business to interfere in their lives.

I think it is fine that there are suggested safe limits and that these are publicised. I think it's fine that alcohol bottle labels show how many units each bottle/glass contains. I think it is absolutely right and responsible that shop assistants/bar staff refuse to sell alcohol to people who are clearly hammered - and a little more of this would go a long way. But I am sick and tired of being told what I can and can't drink and how much I'm allowed to drink in a day.

I don't want the government to tell me how much I can drink and if I drink more than that it makes me at high risk or a dangerous drinker and I most certainly don't want the drinks companies to tell me (when advertising their overpriced products) to "drink responsibly". Please - if everyone drank responsibly the profits would plummet - don't be politically correct hypocrites and tell me that you don't want me to buy as much of your product as possible.

The government really has to learn to let us make our own choices and if those are the wrong choices then we have to pay the consequences but don't try to insist that government targets are the best way of running the lifes of individuals. They never are.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Monday, October 15, 2007

Protection of minorities or destruction of freedoms?

I've been meaning to blog for a few days about the proposed bill banning incitement of homophobic hatred in England and Patrick Harvie MSP's campaign to extend race hate laws to encompass discrimination against LGBT and Disabled people.

I'm torn on this. I truly believe that there is no place in any civilised society for the kind of abuse these laws are designed to stop. But will it just be abuse that is stopped or will it be used to stop genuine debate or expression of religious and moral beliefs? I have my suspicions that the laws will be interpreted in the narrowest possible manner which will crack down on genuine debate and not do anything to stop the spread of homophobia, racism etc.

There is a real conversation needed on whether or not gay couples should be allowed to adopt. My opinion is absolutely yes, but I respect the right of someone who says the opposite to say that in a measured way. Just because someone's religious or moral beliefs are totally opposite to my own or I find their views unpalatable doesn't mean they shouldn't be allowed to express those views. When we stop one side of an argument from speaking out we only encourage the extremists. The stifling of the debate on immigration is a perfect example. By accusing anyone who mentioned immigration in a negative manner of racism only the BNP was left speaking from one point of view. We've seen a Church of England vicar visited by the Police for expressing an opinion about Muslim women wearing the veil - I'm sure that this wasn't the kind of comment that the race hate laws were designed for, but that's what they are being used for.

I want to see an end to homophobic comments, I'd be quite happy to see certain rappers in jail for their song lyrics but I don't want someone visited by the police because they say in a reasonable manner that they don't approve of gay relationships. I think I'll reserve judgement on these laws until we see how they work in practice....

Friday, October 05, 2007

Full Of Babies

I am getting so sick of Formula 1 drivers and their whining. Apparently Vettel bashed Webber because Hamilton ran wide. Really? If you can't drive a fast car round a track without smashing into someone else because of another driver's actions then go banger racing or trolley pushing or something.

We're all used to Ralph Schumacher's whining but we live with it because he's in the shadow of a much more talented and successful big brother but this year seems to be a procession of moaning and weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Grow up guys. You live in the lap of luxury travelling to exotic locations (and for the most part) getting damn well paid for it. Stop whining because someone split your nails or made a bitchy comment about your latest hairstyle, it's getting dull.

November Election?

It does seem to be the only topic of consideration on the lips (and keyboards) of anyone interested or involved in politics.

The Conservatives are playing "come and have a go if you think you're hard enough" and Brown isn't yet replying.

I've always been in the camp that said there won't be an election this year. I still believe that (although I've gone from 99% sure to about 75%). I just don't see why Brown would do it. Having spent 10 years plotting to become PM and making his desire plain the chance of risking it after only 100 days seems foolish. And while the claims that he has no legitimacy as he wasn't elected make a good playground taunt they actually mean nothing. We don't elect prime ministers, we elect parties and the Party Leader is PM. John Major didn't go in 1990 and there is no reason for Gordon Brown to go to the Palace now.

He's also missed the boat. A week is (as the old cliche goes) a long time in politics. If he had made an announcement this time last week it would have gone well, but the Conservatives have had a good week. Some good, sensible policies have been announced, a stunning show of unity was on display and by all accounts Cameron played a blinder. The polls are already showing an upturn for the Conservatives which, if the doubters can keep their opinions in check for just a bit longer, will probably continue.

The trip to Iraq didn't go as well for Brown as he had hoped. People saw it as the shabby headline grabbing trick it clearly was.

And then there's just the practical reasons. It's hard enough to get people to go out to vote on a warm spring evening in May - it will be damn near impossible in November. Particularly in Scotland and Wales where election fatique will still be in place.

If there's a postal strike it will screw up postal votes and the delivery of election communications - a death knell for many of the smaller candidates.

And of course the register is 11 months old. Even with the rolling registration now in force about 10% of the population wiill still be losing their votes.

Of course the cynics among us may think this plays well with Brown, I'm not sure. A determined Get Out The Vote operation could kill some of his marginal seats. And as for Scotland? The SNP are doing well, despite some defeats in the chamber they are still in their honeymoon period. This could take out some MPs where Brown can least afford to lose them - if he can't keep his backyard happy can he keep the rest of the country?

An election now would be a massive waste of time and money. I don't think Brown will go. Having said that - I did make sure to post my electoral registration form just in case....

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Too Much To Say

Since coming back from holiday things have been just a little busy and I've neglected the blog appallingly. I know that all 2 of my regular readers must be heart-broken....

And it's not as if I don't have things I want to speak about. Darfur, early election, crackdown on trafficking women, and abusive(?) Celtic fans are all on my mind this morning alone.

I'll try to talk about some of this stuff over the next couple of days. I know you can't wait.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Worrying News from Burma

A recent news release from Burma Campaign UK. This is hugely concerning. David Milliband speaks to the Labour conference today at 12.30 - I look forward to hearing his comments.

Burma Campaign UK sources in Rangoon have reported that soldiers have been ordered to shave their heads, in possible preparation for infiltrating peaceful demonstrations. They would start rioting or attacking police, providing the regime with a pretext for a brutal crackdown on protestors.

Sources indicate that soldiers from Light Battalion 77 in Rangoon have been given the order. Sources also report that the regime has ordered 3,000 monks’ robes from a factory in Rangoon.

It is a tactic the regime has used in the past, including at the Depayin massacre in 2003, during which Aung San Suu Kyi was arrested. Regime militia dressed as monks were involved in the ambush which left up to 100 democracy activists dead. State television today reported that action would be taken against protestors.

“We know from experience that the regime is capable of opening fire on civilians,” said Mark Farmaner, acting Director of Burma Campaign UK. “The regime came to power on the back of a massacre in 1988 that left at least 3,000 civilians dead. They have also been accused by the UN of breaking the Geneva Convention for their deliberate targeting of civilians in attacks on ethnic minorities.”

Despite the widespread expectations that the regime will use violence to suppress protest, the international community has been remarkably silent, with the French government being the only one to make a strong statement warning of consequences if the regime responds with violence. ASEAN has also expressed concern.

“The regime has been held in check by the peoples’ respect for the monks and the fact that the world is watching, but the scale of protests means they will be looking for options that allow them to justify a crackdown,”said Mark Farmaner. “The UN Secretary General and other world leaders must speak out and make it clear that a violent response in unacceptable. At the moment the international community seems to be willing to watch from the sidelines as the regime moves closer to a massacre. If the regime does attack protestors, this will have been one of the most widely predicted massacres in recent history, and makes a mockery any government’s claim to be committed to human rights.”

Friday, August 31, 2007

A better day for wildlife - and wildlife photographers

You might remember a few weeks ago I wrote about the Yangtze River Dolphin potentially becoming extinct. Turns out that this might not be the case after all...

As was pointed out in the comments by Darren - who has used this as the starting post for his new blog on life as a wildlife photographer. Please take some time to visit his blog and follow our journey as Darren adds more stories and photos. It's going to be quite exciting.

And coincidentally it's just 200 hours now until we go to Kenya.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Theatre Review - Absurdia

So I decided to be clever and move my theatrical visits on from the musicals. And I took my friends along to expand their minds too. A non-musical play. That's what we needed.

So on the whim of an attractive looking e-flyer from the London Theatre Newsletter I picked Absurdia. A play about absurdities in life. Starring Peter Capaldi. And you got a free toy elephant when you booked. What could go wrong?

Well, the script for a start. Maybe I'm not clever or middle class enough but it was rubbish. Mr and Mrs Paradocks (or whatever they were called) were unhappy that the elephant they had delivered was too big. And where were the gum boots? And could Mr P please form a government. And on and on with the inane ramblings. Other people laughed. They seemed to get it. We were the only ones who appeared to be lost. It was bad, bad, bad.

The first member of our group walked out after 50 minutes. The next two found the tea-cosy on the man's head after witterings about why was the wallpaper pushed up against the wall the final straw. The pub down the road from the theatre provided an enjoyable place to spend the night. I've never walked out of the theatre before and felt really bad about doing so but on the other hand - life's too short.

If you like French absurdist comedy, or you're just a bit poncy, then this might be the play for you. For us it was a waste of hard earned cash. I'm going back to see Avenue Q - it's the only thing to scour the experience out of my head.

Also - I never got my elephant.

Remembering Raphael Lemkin

Today is the 48th anniversary of the death of Raphael Lemkin - the man who created the concept and word "genocide".

Lemkin was a Polish-Jewish lawyer who became interested in the as yet unnamed crime of mass murder and extermination of specific groups. His interest was first raised by the events in Armenia and the experience of Assyrian Christians in Iraq.

Lemkin first presented his theory of a crime of barbarity as a crime against international law to the League of Nations in 1933. The same year Hitler came to power in Germany.

Following the Holocaust which decimated Lemkin's family he continued with his fight to have genocide - the word he created in 1943 - recognised as an international crime.

He died at the age of 59, having seen the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide come into force in 1951. Only 7 people attended his funeral.

Today we should all remember Raphael Lemkin - he gave a name and a definition to a crime which have previously not been defined. We honour Raphael Lemkin by recognising where genocide is taking place and working to stop it.

Protect Darfur
Massacre of Assyrian Christians
Genocide Watch

Friday, August 24, 2007

Call to Action - Urgent

This from Harry's Place, c/o Iain Dale.

"Pegah Emambakhsh is an Iranian national who sought asylum in the UK in 2005. Her claim was rejected and she was arrested in Sheffield on Monday 13th August 2007. She is scheduled for deportation to Iran on 27 August 2007.

If returned to Iran, she faces certain imprisonment, likely severe lashings and possibly even stoning to death. Her crime in Iran is her sexual orientation - she was in a same-sex relationship.

Ms Emambakhsh escaped from Iran, claiming asylum, after her lover was arrested, tortured and subsequently sentenced to death by stoning. Her father was also arrested and interrogated about her whereabouts. He was eventually released but not before he had been tortured himself.

Ms Emambakhsh has a more than well founded fear of persecution if she is returned to Iran. She belongs to a group of people - gays and lesbians - who, it is well known, are severely persecuted in Iran.

According to Iranian human rights campaigners, many lesbians and gay men have been executed since the Ayatollahs came to power in 1979.

In 2006 a German court ruled that an Iranian lesbian could not be deported as she risked death because of her sexuality.

The UK Border and Immigration Agency (BIA) have chosen not to believe that she is in danger if returned to Iran, even though the UK government are well aware of the dangerous situation that gay people face there.

The BIA will be committing a serious miscarriage of justice and a gross human rights violation if they insist on Ms Emambakhsh's deportation.

The Asylum Seeker Support Initiative in Sheffield are now getting Pegah new solicitors in order to make a fresh claim for asylum based on new evidence and expert testimonies. A stay of deportation is needed to give Pegah time to prepare and submit this fresh claim.

Pegah's MP, Richard Caborn, has already won one stay of deportation and is working secure another postponement of deportation on 27 August.

You can help. Please write or email asap the British Home Secretary Jacqui Smith and to Pegah's British constituency MP, Richard Caborn (see details below).

Pegah Emambakhsh's Home Office reference number is: B1191057. This number must be quoted in any letter, so the Home Office can identify
and access her case.

Letters need to be sent TODAY by first class post to arrive tomorrow, Friday 24 August, at the latest. If you can't send a letter, a fax is a good alternative, and an email is certainly better than nothing. Mark all correspondence "For the personal attention of..."

Please write to:

Rt Hon Jacqui Smith MP, Home Secretary,
2, Marsham St,
London SW1P 4DF

Fax no: + 44 (0) 207 035 3262 or +44 (0) 207 035 2362

Rt Hon Richard Caborn MP,
Sheffield Constituency Office
2nd Floor, Barkers Pool House
Burgess Street
Sheffield S1 2HF

Fax: + 44 (0) 114 275 3944

Please don't let Pegah be quietly deported to face torture or death. Our letters can make all the difference."

As I have only found the story it is too late for a letter but please do consider sending an email or a fax - no matter how basic it is. The Labour Party has a good record on LGBT rights - don't let something like this shame the Government or the country.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

You'll Win On Health - Just Get It Right

There are three subjects that the electorate care about - health, crime, education. Get those three right and no matter what else is happening you'll win the election. Other issues will have an impact but if you don't get these three core issues right then you're dead in the water. William Hague knows that - about 90% of the country backed the Save the Pound campaign in 2001, people queued up to sign the petition but in the end it didn't change their vote. People care about the environment but will choose who to vote for based on who'll get the yobs off their streets, not who'll save the polar bears. And try being in the line of fire when parents don't get their first choice schools - county councils change hands over these issues.

David Cameron is absolutely right to take Brown on over the Health Service. It's in a shocking state and people care and will choose who to vote for based on who they trust on health. Telling people that despite the spin local hospitals and services are under threat and pledging to protect them is a winning strategy. As long as people have faith you will act on it. Nicola Sturgeon can vouch for that one.

But for god's sake get it right. You had a great start to the week - I bet members loved the thought of a bare-knuckle fight on such a key issue, then it all went wrong. Turns out the research wasn't good enough, local MPs weren't fully on board and then an idiot researcher (probably the same one who bollocksed up in the first place) got bullied into apologising. Things like this detract from the strong central message.

A couple of tips - get your research right from the start and double check the work of 17 year old Emily and Tarquin, make sure the local MPs/PPCs know what's going on in their area and are fully behind it, know that the vested interests (the Trust managers) will come back at you and be ready to take them on too, never apologise to them and for god's sake keep going. Use Andrew Lansley more - he's attractive and appealing to the general public. Oh and yes - keep banging on about health.

Health, crime, education. Might never be the causes de jour - but will always be the things the swing voters care about.

Assault with a cocktail sausage

The "you couldn't make it up" brigade is having a little paddy at the moment. Some little cretin has been charged with assault for throwing a sausage roll or a cocktail sausage or some finger buffet food at a man.

All very innocent apparently and how dare the evil police take this poor delicate little angel into custody? Wasting tax-payers money and making a mockery of our courts?

Here's how:

1 - The man was in his 70s and had been subject to intimidation from gangs of feral little brats. He thought he had been hit by a stone and reported it to the police.

2 - The innocent little hero of our story was charged because he had already faced three reprimands for his behaviour. Not quite the little saint mumsy would have us believe apparently.

3 - The weapon of choice doesn't actually matter. What does matter is that people are scared to go out of their houses because of the behaviour of children aged 11 and 12. Big brick or cocktail sausage the intent behind the abuse is the same - to bully, to intimidate and to stake out areas as uninhabitable for anyone except the gangs.

I'm only sorry the little thug didn't get sent down for 6 months. One less of the little bastards on the street.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Women - Beware This Man

This is Colin Read. Colin is 25, soon to be divorced and earning £90,000 per year. Colin isn't that bad looking. But women, do take care not to get involved with Colin. He's a violent, wife-abusing thug.

Colin's wife committed the vile offence of not making his sandwiches. Colin slashed her feet while she slept. When a few days later his wife tried to speak to him about it he beat her up again. Stupidly she hadn't learned her lesson and didn't iron his shirt for a work function. He branded her on the back with an iron.

His wife had to be summonsed to be court to give evidence against him. He was found guilty of ABH. The sentencing recommendation was for a community service order.

Colin was handed a £2,000 fine. As he and his abused wife are getting a divorce "the circumstances of the marriage" which led to the attacks no longer exist so a prison sentence would "help no-one". Because Colin has a job with long hours the Recorder didn't think he could fit a community based punishment into his busy schedule.

So girls, if you see this man in a pub or a club and you think he looks nice, protect yourself against him. The courts will do nothing to protect you.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Classic FM - Broadening The Mind

I've taken to listening to Classic FM while reading in bed. It's all fairly standard, "famous" classical music - nothing experimental here, just right for winding down while reading.

The other night though I learned two new things:

1. The soundtrack to the film Trading Places is mostly based on Mozart's "The Marriage of Figaro"

2. Billy Joel's This Night is based on Beethoven's sonata Pathetique.

Of course Classic FM didn't tell me that - I had to get up at 11.30 and google it when I heard the Beethoven and was lying in bed saying, "but it's Billy Joel, what's going on, it's Billy Joel".

Classic FM - educating philistines the world over.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Time to close Chessington Zoo

The foot and mouth outbreak in Surrey has led to part of Chessington World of Adventure's "petting zoo" being closed and included in the exclusion zone.

Let's take this opportunity to close what to me appears to be an entirely cruel animal hell-hole. I've visited Chessington Zoo once and I was brought to tears at the sight of the animals in their enclosures. A "family" of lions was in a pretty small area, not much bigger than the office I work in, and since when is a natural family unit of lions a male lion, one lioness and two cubs? Visitors are also subjected to the patronising spin on their signs telling us that the pacing and excessive grooming is natural behaviour. No it's not - it's abnormal and it's caused by their imprisonment.

I'm dubious about the role of zoos at all but Chessington is the worst I have ever seen, the animals in this zoo are nothing more than features in a theme park, kept behind glass to keep the visitors happy while they queue for the more exciting rides. I can see no conservation or education value whatsoever. In my opinion it's time to close it down.

Visit the Born Free Foundation website for more information on Zoos in the UK.

Good on you hen

One of the things that really annoys me is lottery winners being all smug and sanctimonous and "It won't change my life, all I want is a little second hand Ford KA, I'll stay in my job" etc, etc. Bugger that.

I play the lottery to change my life. If I won £5million quid I would get a new house, I'd get that Jaguar XKR or Aston Martin DB9 that I keep being told that I couldn't drive because it's too big for me, I'd have the holiday home in Barbados and much as I love my job it would be Adios King's Cross.

So I was really pleased to hear that a woman who has just won £30something million on the Euromillions Draw has quit her job and is looking for a villa in Italy.

Well done on your win and have a fabulous life with no more money worries.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Why Are The Unionist Parties Scared to Talk?

I was really quite annoyed to see the three unionist parties in Scotland come out in opposition to the Independence White Paper. Of course they don't agree with the White Paper, they are unionists, they don't want to see independence but I don't see what the problem is with a White Paper or with the "national conversation" that Alex Salmond has suggested.

My views on independence are mixed. In the past couple of years I have moved towards thinking it's a good idea. I've joined the SNP but not just out of a desire for independence but also because on issues like civil liberties the SNP view is closest to my own. And there's the family connections too. If I lived and voted in Scotland I would be exactly the kind of person the conversation would be aimed at. I would have voted SNP this year, I was delighted to see the SNP become the largest party in both Holyrood and Local Government but ask me if how I'd vote in an independence referendum and I'd really struggle.

I get so angry when people say that Scotland COULDN'T be a successful independent country. Of course it could. It's a country of intelligence, talent and a solid base of natural resources. When I hear the English argument of "we fund them Scotch they should be grateful" I get so wound up and feel like singing Corries songs until the cows come home.

There are questions that need to be answered on both sides. A couple of quick examples off the top of my head:

What would happen about the Royal Family? I'm not a commited Unionist these days but having a Republic of Scotland would be a crunch for me.

Why are the SNP so keen to leave one Union but will happily sign up to deeper union in Europe? It seems a contridiction to me.

Why are the Conservatives happy to support a referendum on Britain in Europe but not Scotland in Britain?

I think both sides of the debate have persuasive arguments. Neither has anything to fear - although the Unionist knee-jerk, debate-stifling reaction would imply that they are scared. Putting their fingers in their ears and shouting la-la-la won't stop the White Paper being published and it won't stop people thinking about it.

Politics should be about great debates - this could be one of the greatest ever. It would be a shame if only one side was talking.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Not a Good Day for wildlife

So if you're a wildlife lover yesterday pretty much sucked.

First the news about the Yangtze River Dolphin. Another species extinct and let's be blunt, more are on the danger list including tigers, pandas, polar bears and many more that aren't quite so famous or popular.

Then the horrendous story from the Democratic Republic of Congo about the shooting dead of four mountain gorillas. Not for their meat, or their skin, or anything else that might drive desperate people to poach animals, but just because a human had a gun and could shoot them.

Man may be the most advanced animal on the planet, but sometimes when you see what we're doing to our fellow creatures it just doesn't seem like it.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

The things you learn....

...when you're surfing the internet instead of working.

Anson Williams who played Potsie in Happy Days is the second cousin of Dr Henry Heimlich, of Heimlich Maneouvre fame.

There you go...

Friday, August 03, 2007

My Annual Problem

As part of my job I have to write resources for people to use and I'm very lucky that I have some colleagues who can offer support and informed advice which always makes what I write better. But every year the same problem comes - how do I incorporate everyone's excellent comments and suggestions and simultaneously keep the word count down?

If anyone knows how to square this circle I'd love to hear it.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Scotland loses an MEP - World Keeps Turning

So the Electoral Commission (spit, spit, curses upon them) have recommended that Scotland - along with most other UK regions - should lose an MEP.

I should care. My newly-found Nationalism should be rearing up in several respects. Scotland isn't just a region of the UK it's a country. While the number of MEPs Scotland has is proportionate to other UK "regions" it isn't to other countries in the EU. Slovakia and Finland have roughly comparable population to Scotland and both have 14 MEPs - double Scotland's current quota. This is clearly another case of Scotland being done down by being in the Union. I really should care.

I don't. The number of politicians a country has doesn't interest me in the slightest. Add Europe to the equation and I start to rock back and forth in boredom. Yes it's appalling that Scotland is under-represented, yes the European institutions control 99.99999999% of our laws, yes it's all very important. But really - I couldn't care less.

Do any of us get a good deal from our MEPs? Are the seven current Scottish MEPs earning their whack as it is? Okay, I live in Surrey so can't really speak with great authority on the coverage of Scottish MEPs in the local press and TV but the only one I've seen getting any sort of coverage is Struan Stevenson and his excellent animal fur campaign. The rest all seem to be a bit anonymous.

So yes, I'm sure it's all very important, but wake me up when there's an interesting politics story in the headlines.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Designer Babies

I'm concerned about the potential for "saviour siblings" and the relaxation of the rules which MPs are apparently calling for. "Saviour siblings" is a highly biased way of describing these babies, it makes it sound all very cuddly, innocent and positive. Of course "designer babies" is equally as biased and has less positive connotations. The idea sounds positive enough, allow embryoes to be developed which will help to cure illness in children. But what is the cut-off? What will happen if the babies born turn out not to be as helpful as had hoped? What is the extent of their usefulness? Blood transfusions? Gene therapy? Organ harvesting?

To me this is a dangerous precendent to set and there are many, many more questions to be answered before such a move could be allowed.

Babies are not a commodity be it in monetary or genetic terms.

Friday, July 27, 2007

In defence of David Cameron

Since I left the Conservative Party two years ago (at roughly the same time as David Cameron became leader but not because of that) I have undergone a real change in attitude towards it. When in the past people told me that the nasty element so often seen was the face of the party I argued against that, but I came to realise that they were right. Not that every member is nasty, in fact some are fantastic and there are some elected representatives who are fantastic and who I would vote for, and even work to see elected again. But the truth is that the real face of the Conservative Party is too often the smug, sneering, nasty, frothing-mouthed, Daily Mail reader that we're all used to.

And boy has is reared itself up over David Cameron and his trip to Rwanda. The howls from the loony wing of the Party have been deafening. How dare he go to Africa and find out what's happening around the world? Why do we care what happens to the colonials? The Rwandans don't vote - why bother? Why wasn't he in the country looking at the flood?

Well, let's take the last point - yes, for some people the flooding this week has been devastating. But really - do they want some politician to fly over them in a helicopter tutting and rolling his eyes? If he didn't have a bucket and a mop to help clear up then he wouldn't be of any use to anyone. But on the other hand, he had already visited flooded areas in his own constituency before he went to Rwanda. A Prime Minister must be able to concentrate on several urgent issues at once, running the country and fulfilling international duties cannot stop because of a crisis. Instead our leaders must be able to juggle lots of balls in the air.

And it was a good thing going to Rwanda. If we want to stop genocide happening in the future we have to understand what happened and why. We must learn to read the signs. No genocide ever starts as a genocide - it starts with name-calling, it starts with exclusionary policies and it starts with labelling people as different. If we can recognise the first stages then maybe we can help stop the second, third stages taking place. And if we can stop genocide occuring, if we can help people to be safe in their own countries, maybe we can stop so many coming to the UK (shameless nod to right-wing sensibilities).

13 years ago the world stood by and allowed a genocide to take place in Rwanda. And the genocide is still taking place there - women and children are still dying of AIDS; people are still dying from their wounds and killings are continuing. I'm delighted that David Cameron went to see for himself what is happening in Rwanda. It can only make him a better politician and perhaps even a better Prime Minister.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Daily Mash Gets It Right Again

First a dislaimer - I am a huge Harry Potter fan, I was queuing at 1am outside a bookshop in Zurich to make sure I got my book, I was upset at a couple of the deaths but people do need to get over themselves.

Thankfully the Daily Mash puts it all into perspective for us.


CHILDLINE, the charity for abused children, will tell distraught Harry Potter fans, upset at the ending of the final book, to 'fuck right off'.

The charity is predicting a deluge of pathetic, over-indulged youngsters when the final installment of the fantasy series is published this weekend.

A Childline spokesman said: "Children have become so detatched from reality that they will gladly waste our time crying down the phone because of an entirely fictional trauma.

"It's very easy to blame people like Esther Rantzen and Lorraine Kelly for this relentlessly sentimental and immature approach to life, so let's just do that."

As fears grow of mass suicide among seven to 39 year-olds, Harry Potter publisher Bloomsbury has been installing nets and crash mats around tall buildings .

And the owners of large Gothic buildings are bracing themselves for millions of bouquets being left at the gates, because it bears a faint resemblance to Hogwarts school.

Child psychologist Dr Wayne Hayes, said: "Are you fucking kidding?

"There are children trying to get through while they're being beaten up, but by all means give Childline a call because you don't like the ending of a book, you spoiled little shit."

Friday, July 20, 2007

Where's the Taliban when you need them?

Frankly, I can't imagine anyone who could rouse me into a homicidal rage more than Jude Law. But if he can sort out peace in Afghanistan then fair play to him.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Organ Donations - Consent or Presumed Consent?

This story about the Chief Medical Officer for England suggesting that we move from consent driven organ donation to presumed consent concerns me.

I carry (I think) an organ donor card. I have since I was very young and first understood what organ donation was and what it meant. I have always felt very strongly that should anything happen to me I very much want my organs to be donated. I have also warned my family that should this not happen I will haunt them - and not in a good way.

This has always been my choice. I know that not everyone in my family feels the same way and I know that others just don't know how they feel about it. That's fine. If (and I pray I'm never) in the situation where I have to make such a decision I hope that I will always respect the feelings of my family members.

I am really concerned about the idea of presumed consent and how this could develop. Presumed consent takes the decision away from the individual and their family about their body. I accept that as suggested there is an opt-out option, but how likely are people to actually find out how to opt-out and do so? People never think that dreadful things will happen to them and won't therefore prepare. Hence the lack of people with donor cards despite the estimated 70% of the population who would be willing to donate organs.

And if consent is presumed does this mean that organ harvest will become a consideration in treatment? Will families be rail-roaded into making decisions about turning off life support as the state already has a call on the body parts?

Surely there are better ways to increase proactive organ donation? A first step would be to ensure that inclusion on the register was binding. As far as I know it currently isn't. Increase awareness of need for organ donation, make it easier to sign up to be a donor - have cards in every library and every supermarket in the country.

Let's make sure that a rise in proactive consent negates the need for the government to take away yet another of our civil liberties - the right to control our own bodies.

If you haven't already registered and do want to - sign up here.

Friday, July 13, 2007

And in more breaking scientific news

Old people are humourless grumpy so and so's.

Anyone who has shared a Glasgow bus with the muppets on that or have been subject to a long queue in a Post Office can confirm this one.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

People really are quite nice

Sometimes, just sometimes something happens which reminds you that on the whole humans really are quite nice animals.

This is one of those times.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Make Pompous Celebrities History

From today's Third Sector news:

Levels of understanding about poverty in Africa are lower now than they were before Make Poverty History, according to the latest research.

Public Perceptions of Poverty, a report compiled by Comic Relief, is based on responses from 2,000 people to questions asked at regular intervals from December 2004 until January this year.

The proportion of respondents who were "very concerned about poverty in poor countries" fell from 30 per cent in 2004 to 22 per cent.

In the latest round of research, 57 per cent said they knew nothing about trade justice, and only 26 per cent said they strongly believed that the debts of the world's poorest countries should be cancelled in full. This figure was down from 33 per cent in 2004.

Andrew Darnton, an independent researcher who coordinated the results for Comic Relief, said the findings were "broadly depressing".

He added: "People are more aware that the causes of poverty can be political. However, MPH didn't open up the issues of debt, trade and aid to the public, and there are massive gaps in their knowledge, which nobody in the sector has done anything to address."

Hopefully this will encourage all the sanctimonous climate change bandwaggoneers to stop their preaching

Monday, July 09, 2007

Well Done Roger

Well done to Roger Federer on his amazing five in a row. The match was one of the best Wimbledon finals I have seen in years - both played brilliantly and it was a delight to watch. Roll on next year - can we see a six in a row? And will it take another 25 years for someone else to match it?

Friday, June 29, 2007

The definition of Irony...

An English actor playing Ian Hamilton, ringleader of the gang of students who stole/repatriated the Stone of Scone, in a new film.

Not all Americans are dumb....

Friday, June 22, 2007

Glasgow SNP councillors - possibly the best council group anywhere ever

Lots of members of the Glasgow SNP council group sponsored me in my Walk for Life - despite the fact that I actually don't know most of them, so big thanks to:

Cllr John McLaughlin (well he had to really!)
Cllr Grant Thoms
Cllr Alison Thewliss
Cllr Alex Dingwall
Cllr Billy McAllister
Cllr Craig MacKay
Cllr Kenny McLean
Cllr Iris Gibson (although her son hasn't paid up yet!)
Cllr David Ritchie
Cllr Alison Hunter
Cllr Phil Green
Cllr Jahangir Hanif
Cllr George Roberts

Sorry if I've missed anyone out and a massive thanks to everyone else who sponsored me too.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Celeb-Spotting - The Return

After an extended absence Celeb-Spotting returns.

Today I spotted Noel Fielding of The Mighty Boosh at Kentish Town Tube. Skinny bloke, needs to put on some weight - particularly on his little girl legs.

Could this be the start of a flurry of rubbish celebs? We can only hope.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Craig Was Robbed!

I have become utterly addicted to Britain's Got Talent. Partly because - as it turns out - Britain really doesn't have very much talent.

The semi-finals are now on, and tonight the baton-twirling Craig was knocked out. In favour of a bloody sqwaking child who people voted for because the country is too damn sentimental to tell children that they're really just a little bit rubbish. I enjoyed Craig's baton twirling show and found it much more entertaining than the precocious nonsense that got through.

Of course, having defended Craig, the winner really does have to be Paul Potts.

I swear if a brattish child beats this guy I will have a hissy fit.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Born Free

Having seen the news about the CITES agreement on the Ivory Trade and wanting to blog on it I immediately turned to the Born Free Foundation website. And wow - what a transformation. Soooo much more attractive and responsive than their old website.

I will be back with more on the Ivory Trade agreement and my thoughts on that - but in the mean time do pop into Born Free and find out more about their work. Also have a look at the Chief Exec's Blog.

Fantastic people, fantastic job.

Dropping the Debt Monster

As I said yesterday I am delighted that the new SNP Executive has abolished tuition fees for Scottish students in Scottish universities (and none of your nonsense about endowments - it was a tuition fee). As someone who would never have gone to university without my fees being paid the thought of University becoming some sort of exclusive preserve for those who could afford it horrified me.

There aren't many things that government/taxpayers should provide for the public but education is one of those things. A country needs teachers, lawyers, doctors, etc etc and it should pay for their education. That's not to say that unlimited years should be covered with a whole load of perpetual students being funded forever though and I'm also not so convinced by the need for grants though, there is only so much money in the public purse and life isn't perfect.

When I worked for the Conservative Party pre-2005 I was delighted that the policy was to abolish student fees and in the constituency I worked in we worked quite a lot on this policy because we knew it was the right thing to do. I was horribly disappointed when David Cameron reversed this policy - it was just one more example of a very rich man assuming that the rest of the population could afford the lifestyle he can.

This was a good statement yesterday and the £15/£20 million cost is one well worth paying - in fact at approximately £3.63 per person it's a downright bloody bargain.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

The SNP Whirlwind

Well, people who think politics is boring obviously haven't been paying attention to the last month in Scottish politics. From the final declaration of the results, to the threatened legal challenges, the discussions on coalition and deals to Alex Salmond's election as FM and Tony Blair's refusal to even speak to him it's all been really very exciting.

And amongst all this the new Executive has been making some really quite substantial policy announcements - the reversal of the decision to close A&E Units, cross-party co-operation on sex offenders, the NHS Staff pay deal, plans for a new Skills strategy, the investigation into rendition flights, discussions with GPs on opening hours and today's exceptional announcement that education will once again be free in Scotland. (more on that later)

In a world where politics can be depressingly homogenous the SNP are proving that there are significant differences between the Parties and that voting a new government in will change things. Of course, not everything will be plain sailing - all of these excellent policies will have to be paid for, and that may mean a tax hit. So more interesting times ahead.

New Links

I've added a few more blogs to the sidebar and a new category of "Makes Me Laugh". Pop in and see these sites - your day will be that little bit better for it.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

F1 Whining

For a sport full of men leading rich, glamorous lifestyles F1 really does harbour some whiners. Latest complaint comes from reigning World Champion and number 2 in the race Fernando Alonso who is complaining that McLaren favour Lewis Hamilton.

Is he kidding? Does he not remember Monaco?

Face facts Fernando - Lewis is coping much better with the pressure this year than you are. Suck it up and beat him, or be pleased for your successful team-mate. But don't be a whiny brat.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Walk for Life - The Finish Line

Walk for Life

The Walk for Life for Crusaid was on Sunday and I walked 10k around some of London's best spots. I am really pleased to have raised over £350 - makes the sore thighs all worthwhile. Thanks to everyone who sponsored me and if you haven't yet you can at my fundraising page.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

How not to balance the books

So the NHS not only turned about its deficit last year but had a £500m surplus.

This is not a good thing when waiting lists are on the increase, operations cancelled, junior doctors cannot find work, hospitals are unclean and patients and staff are just generally fed up.

The NHS is not a profit making organisation - a £500m surplus is as bad as a £500m deficit as it implies that more emphasis has been placed on cost-cutting than on patient care. Still, I'm sure that there have been plenty of clip boards purchased.

The NHS is in a real mess at the moment and the government are doing nothing about it other than claiming everything is better than under the Tories (a decade ago).

Monday, June 04, 2007

2012 Logo

They say:

"When people see the new brand, we want them to be inspired to make a positive change in their life.
Tony Blair

"This is a truly innovative brand logo that graphically captures the essence of the London 2012 Olympic Games - namely to inspire young people around the world through sport and the Olympic values"
IOC President Jacques Rogge

"This is not just a marketing logo, but a symbol that will become familiar, instantly recognisable and associated with our Games in so many ways during the next five years."
Tessa Jowell

I say

"Bloody ugly mess"

Friday, June 01, 2007

You Lost Jack - Get Over It

Stayed up late last night to watch the First First Minister's Questions with the First SNP First Minister. All the reviews I had read (ok so Brian Taylor's and Indy Gal's) had highlighted both how good Salmond was and how amusing Annabel Goldie always is so it seemed like one to watch.

What struck me wasn't how good Salmond was - and he was, or how funny Annabel was - and she was but how angry Jack McConnell was. He sarcastically stressed the words "First Minister" as if he still can't believe that he was beaten, his face was either grey or white with bitterness and he banged on about how the new Executive should do exactly as he would do.

It's hard to lose elections - I know this from bitter experience, I was a Conservative Party member from 1994-2005 but you don't get anywhere by sulking about the result a month later and throwing your toys out of the pram.

Opposition is an important job, Governments have to be held to account for their actions. Jack McConnell demeans himself, his position, the First Minister and Executive and most of all the Scottish electorate by behaving like a petulant, spoilt brat.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

The best of bears

I bought myself A Bear Called Paddington the other day and read it on the tube yesterday. It really is as good as I remember from my childhood. Paddington truly is the best of all the literary bears.

I still have a warm glow inside.

(picture from Paddington's official website)

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Things have to get worse before they get better

New Scottish Deputy First Minister and Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon will be announcing this week a strategy for tackling waiting lists. All politicians like to sound tough on waiting lists - waiting lists must come down they all agree but no-one actually knows how to do it and instead they set arbitrary targets which clinicians spend their time struggling to meet.

We now have the situation where there are waiting lists to get onto the reportable waiting lists - the figures look good but people are still waiting to be seen. My suggestion to Nicola Sturgeon is to strip away the previously set targets and take some time to properly assess the situation without taking into account hidden lists.

There will be a short-term hit and bad publicity as the times appear to go up massively, but if a government is serious about tackling problems it must first know exactly what these problems are and have the guts to put in place a strategy which will achieve long-term results, even at the expense of short-term bad headlines.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

The missing phone call

Both on Sunday AM (on Sunday) and the Jeremy Vine show yesterday Scotland's SNP First Minister Alex Salmond highlighted that the had yet to hear from Tony Blair. This is just unforgivable discourtesy.

I accept that Blair will not be happy with the result in Scotland and that Alex Salmond probably wasn't who he wanted to see occupy Bute House, however he should have phoned by now to congratulate (even through gritted teeth) the democratically elected First Minister of a constituent nation of the United Kingdom. Not doing so is just an example of the petulance that I have come to expect of our soon to be departed PM.

The PMOS said yesterday that:

"as he was aware, phones were two-way communication devices. He was not sure whether we had received an approach from Mr Salmond's office either."

So he's going for the mature approach then. He has also said in the past week that the "Prime Minister had been to Washington and Iraq, and therefore had been rather busy" and they weren't interested in "gesture politics". Here's a couple of points - I'm sure in this day and age the PM's plane has an airphone. Even on the rainbow tour he can make a thirty second call. And some gestures are actually just good manners - John Major left him a bottle of champagne and a note in number 10 in May 1997 as nothing more than a gesture and to wish him luck.

Blair is always happy to talk about the respect agenda but until he learns some himself he has no right to lecture me on it.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Well Done Mars

I was dismayed a few days ago to find out that Mars were planning on changing their production methods to include using animal products and therefore make their products unsuitable for vegetarians.

I'm not a vegetarian and as anyone who knows me can tell you I have a healthy, some may even say unhealthy, dislike and distrust of the nut cutlet-munching, hemp sandal-wearing smug gits BUT I do think that wherever possible we should be moving away from using animal products and certainly not swapping perfectly acceptable non-animal products for animal products. I was very disappointed with the decision and filled out a form on the Masterfood website to say so.

I was very pleased to hear of the reversal of the decision and even more pleased to receive the email below today.

Well done to Mars. We all make mistakes - it's a wise company which acknowledges their customers' anger and speedily rectifies their mistake. I look forward to a summer of Snickers Ice Cream.

Mars Email

"Thank you for taking the time to contact us in connection with the change of ingredients in our chocolate confectionery and ice cream range.

Please note that after recently changing the source of some of the whey that is used in some of our chocolate products we have received lots of feedback that this decision has made it difficult for some of you, especially those of you who are vegetarians, to continue to enjoy our products. We realise that we made a mistake and we apologise. We have committed that we at Mars UK will ensure that a selection of favourite brands including Mars bars, Snickers bars, Galaxy and Maltesers will be suitable for vegetarians in the near future.

Meanwhile we are currently experiencing unusually high volumes of contacts from our consumers and therefore we hope that you understand that, rather than answer your question individually, we are attaching a list of questions and answers we believe would be useful and help answer your enquiry.

Alternatively you can visit our web site ( for this, and other useful information.

Once again thank you for taking the time to contact us. Please do get back in touch, at the dedicated email address below, if your specific query has not been answered and we will do our best to get a speedy response to you.

Yours faithfully

On Behalf of Fiona Dawson
Mars UK

Q1.What are you announcing?

A1.We have recently changed the source of some of the whey which is used in our chocolate products made in the UK from a vegetarian friendly variety to one which contains traces of traditional rennet from animal sources. We have received lots of feedback from consumers and reversed this decision.

Q2.Are you reverting to vegetarian recipes for all of those products that were subject to the ingredient change?

A2.Yes, this announcement means that favourite products - Mars bars, Snickers bars, Galaxy, and Maltesers will once again be suitable for vegetarians.

Q3.You make lots of other brands - what about the suitability of them?

A3.Other products will also be suitable for vegetarians including Minstrels, Revels, and Ripple. However, Twix, Bounty and Celebrations will continue not to be suitable for vegetarians.

Q4.I'm a vegetarian - which products can I eat / should I avoid?

A4.Currently we cannot guarantee that our products contain vegetarian rennet. However, we are starting to change our manufacturing process with immediate effect. We want to get our vegetarian products on the shelves as soon as possible. During this process of changing the recipes we will provide updates on this consumer care website, on a regular basis. If you are not sure about the suitability of our products please call us on 0845 0450042.

Q5.Why did you decide to change the ingredients in the first place?

A5.We made the change to broaden our supply base in order to ensure we could continue to provide our consumers with products of consistent quality in the future.

Q6.Will you now consult with consumers on any future changes to products?

A6.Yes. This change was a mistake and we are sorry that we may have prevented consumers from enjoying the products they've always enjoyed."

Too true to be funny

The Daily Mash reports on the Scottish election fiasco

I may have found a new favourite website.

Monday, May 21, 2007

(Techni) Colour me unimpressed

Has Andrew Lloyd Webber lost his mind?

How could he kick out Daniel -granted I want Lee to win and have since the audition stages but to choose Lewis over Daniel was just stupid, particularly as in the sing-off Daniel totally sold "Bring HIm Home" - one of the hardest songs in the musicals - while Lewis really struggled.

It's like that useless bird from Maria all over again. Andrew gets his favourites and dumps the good ones to keep them in. Unfair.

Still - I would say that Lee's only serious competition has now gone so that's a good thing.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

The Rainbow Tour Continues...

So Blair is spending his last 6 weeks touring the world being glamorous and saying cheerio to all his pals. I've always thought he was Evita-like in his pronouncements.

Better not meet any Italian former Admirals...

Friday, May 18, 2007

And the prize for no self-awareness goes to....

...Margo MacDonald MSP.

She has advised someone to "go and find a darkened room and have a quiet lie down" - exactly the words I used about her today.

Margo doll - we all love you, but you've made a roaring arse of yourself in the past week. First standing against Alex Fergusson when he was obviously the right person for the job and getting soundly whipped in the process. And then not voting for Alex Salmond as First Minister just because you were in a wee tuppenny bit with him.

You give good advice Margo, maybe it's time to take some yourself.

Ban on Gay Men Giving Blood

A few weeks ago I signed yet another petition on the 10 Downing Street website. This one was calling for the ban on gay men donating blood to be over-turned. On the day after International Day Against Homophobia to receive the following reply just summed up why the day is needed and why we can't claim that the UK is quite there with equal rights:

"The Government has a duty to ensure that any rules applied to blood donation by the National Blood Service (NBS) achieve a balance between risk reduction and security of supply. The self exclusion criterion concerning gay men has been reached through a close analysis of the epidemiology of confirmed HIV and Hepatitis B positive tests among blood samples from people donating blood at United Kingdom Blood Service sessions.

The Government has been advised that every year from the analysis of nearly three million donations collected by the United Kingdom and Irish Blood Services, about 40 donations are confirmed to be positive for HIV. Of these, a third to a half are given by men who, following further enquiries by the NBS, reveal that they are gay men. Some are donating for the first time but some have given at least once in the previous two years and tested negative on the previous occasion. These figures indicate that some gay men are still giving blood in spite of the current rules.

Although safer sex campaigns have had an impact, it is still considered that the risk of gay men being infected with HIV remains sufficiently high to include the criterion that they should not donate blood. Unfortunately, this means there will be healthy gay men who would be suitable for giving blood but who are excluded by the rule.

However, it is not practical to expect donor session staff to be able to differentiate between gay men with lower or with higher risk lifestyles, so all gay men have to be excluded."

So - because 0.006% (or 0.0006 - it's 6.666667e-4 for you maths geeks) of blood transfusions are affected approximately 7-10% of the population are stopped from giving blood. And who are the other two-thirds to half of the donors whose blood is contaminated?

This is institutionalised homophobia dealing in ridiculous stereotypes of the worst kind. And its shameful coming from a government which claims to be commited to equality


Al Pacino and Robert De Niro are pairing up to star in a new film. To fans of either or both actors this is a good thing. I may even make sure I see it myself.

Co-producer Avi Lerner has apparently said that it is an "event in world history". Really? A bit of exaggeration don't you think?

Peace in Northern Ireland (when it happens) is an event in world history
Genocide in Darfur is an event in world history
Even a Nationalist Government in Scotland is a small event in world history

Two actors being paid to act is not an event in world history, it is a film to look out for.

The cats fight back

For those of you upset by the vicious tortoise the other day the cats strike back

Thursday, May 17, 2007

International Day Against Homophobia

Today is International Day Against Homophobia

There are still 80 countries in the world where it is illegal to be gay and many more where homophobic attacks are common place and not taken seriously by the authorities.

If we want to live in a civilised world Homophobia - and all other forms of discrimination - have to be eliminated.

Happy Birthday Alan

Alan Johnston banner

Today is Alan Johnston's 45th birthday - he was kidnapped 66 days ago in Gaza. We don't know if by terrorists or common criminals (if indeed there is a difference), but the Palestinian government knows who has him. And they probably know where.

If the Palestinians want to be taken seriously as a legitimate government in a volatile world they have to work towards the release of Alan Johnston and the three Israeli soldiers Gilad Shilat, Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev.

There may be legitimate reasons for protest against Israeli or Western nations by the people in Gaza - kidnapping is no a legitimate protest. Hamas have it in their power to bring these four men home - they should do so immediately.

Happy birthday Alan - hope you are at home with your family soon.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Eurovision - Taking It All A Wee Bit Seriously

Apparently some vacuous Lib Dem MP has tabled an Early Day Motion calling for a review of the Eurovision voting. Far be it for me to accuse anyone else of taking Eurovision too seriously, after all my shrine to Terry in pride of place in our living room, but honestly....

Is this the best the Lib Dems can come up with? It's hardly a matter of parliamentary importance that the Eastern European nations are ganging up on the poor hard done by nations of the West. Don't let him hear Terry's class suggestion that we should build a wall between east and west, he'll be out there in a flash.

The killer tortoise

Go tortoise. But I thought you guys were supposed to be slow?

Monday, May 14, 2007

Campaign Launch - Scooch for Number One.

My countdown to Eurovision was rudely interrupted by the 40 minute broadband update turning into a 48 hour down-time. So didn't get to finish with a couple more classic clips and my own prediction. Which is just as well because it was a Ukrainian win with Scooch coming a respectable mid table. How wrong I was.

"KD Langovich" (my friend Davy's description not mine) winning with a bland nothingness of a song and poor Scooch being humiliated. And let's be honest not deserving to at all. For the first time in over a decade I am going to buy a single - Scooch have to become number one in the charts. We need to show our support for them. Genuinely this was one of the best British entries in years - it was camp, it had great outfits, a dance even drunken people could do (and trust me by the time Scooch came on we were all drunk!) and the best carry-on-a-like lyrics ever.

So come on, buy Scooch's single and take them to number one.