Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Mary Queen of Scots had her head chopped off....

I'm intrigued by Christine Grahame's call for the remains of Mary, Queen of Scots to be repatriated to Scotland from their current resting place of Westminster Abbey.

I can understand this opinion - after all Mary was Queen of Scots, she was murdered in England and it seems tactless to keep her remains in England. However Mary requested in her will that she be buried in France and her son asked for her to be buried at Westminster Abbey. So who gets to decide her fate now?

I would always say that a person's last wishes should be respected so really if she is to be moved it should be to France, however family wishes are also important. So if we take her son's wishes into account then she should stay where she is.

I can see the flip side though - after all these years and with a figure of national and religious importance there are more important considerations than personal wishes.

I'm not convinced. Someone's resting place is quite a sacred consideration - I'm not sure that it should be changed for political purposes. But I am open to be persuaded otherwise.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Why does Brown's disability matter?

I'm not a fan of Gordon Brown. While I think he is generally a good man with good intentions I don't think he has the ability to run the country well. Having said that there's few if any on the Labour benches who do have that ability. There are also rumours about his mental suitability for the job and if the rumours are based on fact rather than vitriol then that would be of real concern.

I found this article in today's Telegraph distasteful in the extreme - snarkily pointing out that his physical disability is getting worse and that assistance such as large fonts in printed and email texts is now needed. The implication - though never said - is that if he is becoming increasingly blind he can't do the job. Nonsense. He can't do the job because he's a leftie who doesn't have the right policies. Frankly whether he receives emails in size 12 or size 36 font is completely irrelevant to his ability to do the job.

If he is becoming more blind as the years go on then it's only right that changes are made to assist him with his work - I would expect it in mine. A blind Prime Minister doesn't bother me in the slightest. A media which heaps scorn on someone because of their disability does.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Stop pandering to the lowest common denominator

The news today that nine universities in England are looking at offering interviews to "disadvantaged" youngsters even if their grades don't merit it annoys me immensely. Why should people who don't achieve the necessary results be offered interviews? It patronises them and it insults the students who have achieved the grades needed.

It also, much more damagingly, helps to perpetuate the system we have at the moment where failing schools (and for that read bad teachers) are allowed to thrive happy in the knowledge that somewhere further up the system someone will bail them out. I went to school in a deprived area and as far as I know only two students in my year went to university. That's not to say that everyone at my school was stupid but we had no encouragement and no support from 90% of the teaching staff. It was a fairly common thing to be told "No-one from this area will amount to anything" or "You'll never achieve anything". When we had our discussion - with the school librarian - about university she gave the same answer to everyone. Do an English degree. So when I asked about medicine her answer was "Do an English degree."

Pupils from disadvantaged areas don't need patronising, they don't need false methods of entry into university. They need good schools and strong teachers. They need teachers who tell them they won't amount to anything to be sacked. They need the first step to be the right one, not the final step to be a muddle.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Musings from the journey from hell

Have just endured a rubbish hour on a South West Trains journey from Waterloo home and as I was standing and couldn't nod off so I had to think.   Always a dangerous thing to do.

Why does a fatality at Surbiton so badly affect trains which go nowhere near Surbiton?

Why, on a busy train, is it always the men sitting and the women standing?  I don't expect men to give up their seats for me, but nor do I expect to be sent spinning as men rush past me for the free seats.  

Do people understand the concept of the Olympics? A couple were speaking about the opening ceremony (which I've still to see) and complained that each Olympic host city was trying to outdo the previous city?  Apparently the Olympics isn't about competition.

In the event of everything going so wrong on the trains (ie train leaving an hour late with 100 people standing per carriage) does the guard really have to keep to his idiotic script?  "On behalf of South West Trains I would like to wish you a pleasant journey".  Oh piss off.

Rant over - I feel much better now.  But if anyone has the answers to the above questions please let me know.

Foolish and Inappropriate? Only the Decision!

So Councillor Jahangir Hanif has been suspended from the SNP for firing a gun two and half years ago in Pakistan. According to some nameless, presumably unelected, spokesman his behaviour was "foolish and inappropriate".

Oh do bugger off with your puritanical, holier than thou stupidity. As far as you know the man broke no laws, has been charged with no offence, presents no danger to the public and has never fired a gun in Scotland. So why has he been suspended? Because you're spineless cowards afraid of the bad publicity of an ethnic minority councillor being seen with a gun. Grow up.

And as for foolish and inappropriate? Getting drunk and being thrown into a police cell to cool off for a few hours is a pretty bloody stupid thing to do. But was Kenny MacAskill suspended from the SNP? Hell no - he's now telling us how much we're allowed to drink, when we're allowed to drink it and how much we have to pay for our booze.

This whole incident is nothing more than a gutless show of spin being more important than any sort of reasoned consideration.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Hooray for the Olympics

I love the Olympics. I'm not a huge sports fan - I like to watch Wimbledon, but don't watch other tennis tournaments very often. I like cricket but again don't watch it too often. I love Celtic and want them to win every match they play but don't care if I never see them. I really love the Olympics. I watch the Olympics religiously, sports I would normally mock I get caught up in drama of - synchronised swimming, speed walking, beach volleyball, you name it I love watching them.

I also love the idea of the Olympics. The training for so long to have the honour of competing for your nation, the glory of standing on the top step and being awarded the gold medal. As for "athletes of the world unite" - I cry. I believe in the Olympic ideal, I believe that if you strip away the craziness and the drugs cheats and the over-commercialisation there is still a very pure message about hard work, dedication and honest competition. Maybe I'm just a schmuck but for me the next few weeks will be pure bliss and probably lots of tears too.

There is a lot to say about the wisdom of awarding the Olympics to a nation with such a poor human rights record as China, one which is complicit in an on-going genocide and which doesn't allow its own citizens freedom of religion, thought or speech. I'm not sure this is the weekend to do it.

Good luck to all the competitors, especially Team GB (and for their cracking stand on Darfur Team USA). I'll be watching and loving every minute of it.

Go Team USA

While I will of course be supporting Team GB in the Olympics my respect for Team USA has just gone up 100-fold. Despite athletes being begged not to make political statements, Team USA have made a powerful, meaningful and best of all peaceful statement about China's support for the Sudanese government by appointing a former Darfuri refugee, Lopez Lomong as their flag-bearer tomorrow.

Well done Team USA for highlighting China's appalling position on the genocide in Darfur. I hope that if Britain doesn't come top of the medal table you do.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Why No Front Page For Michael Causer?

It seems like every day there's another murdered teenager on the front page of the newspapers. Young boys stabbed to death by other young boys have dominated the news for weeks now. We're told that "something must be done!" about it.

On Saturday an 18 year old boy, Michael Causer, died in hospital a week after receiving serious head injuries in what police are describing as a homophobic attack, yet a glance through the newspapers this morning has no sign of it. Is it because he wasn't stabbed to death, therefore it isn't a fashionable crime or is it because Michael came from Liverpool and well, we expect that kind of behaviour up there?

Or maybe it's because Michael was a young gay man and homophobic crimes are really quite acceptable. If a young black man had been beaten to death it would have been front page news, and rightly so. But not for Michael. All crime is an act of hatred but we also have crimes motivated by nothing but hatred of the victim because of their race, religion, sexuality or disability. It isn't enough just to fight crime, we have to recognise where hate crime is taking place and face it head on. Admit that it is going on and work on ways to educate people about our differences and challenge them to accept the differences as a good thing rather than as an excuse to attack others.

Please don't let Michael Causer's death go unreported and unknown. He and every other victim of homophobic hate crime (and every other victim of hate crime) deserve better than to be ignored in favour of more "newsworthy" crimes.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Tory MPs Reading List

I'm slightly bemused by the story in today's Sunday Telegraph about Tory MPs being given a reading list designed to make them better MPs.  A more pretentious bunch of claptrap I've never come across.  First of all, who has the right to tell their sub-ordinates what they have to do on holiday?  If my boss gave me a list of 38 work-related books to read on my fortnight on the beach I think I'd tell her to get stuffed.  

And the books on the list aren't exactly fun frolics.  Muqtada al-Sadr and the fall of Iraq, or 1948: The First Arab Israeli War don't quite lend themselves to a poolside and a pina colada.  Why do we insist that MPs must always be serious?  Why can't they get away from work for a couple of weeks when they are on holiday?  Would my MP be less good at his job if he read the latest John Grisham or Jilly Cooper or Alexander McCall Smith on holiday rather than the historical reading list they've been given?  Of course not.  Nor will he become a better constituency MP by reading about Lloyd George's women.  Of course, if these are the books that individuals want to read then by all means of course they should.

And we're always told that the long recesses aren't all holiday, that MPs work just as hard in their constituencies during recess as they do in Parliament during session.  So are they expected to read these 38 books in their two/three week holiday?  I'm a pretty voracious reader but even on the laziest of holidays I only average one book a day.  So what will they be losing to read this list?  Precious and deserved time with their families or time with their constituents?  I'd rather they had both.

I also want a governing party that respects the rights of individuals to choose their own leisure activities and how to lead their own lives.  If David Cameron makes it clear he can't trust his own MPs then what hope have the rest of us got?

Friday, July 25, 2008

So - What Next?

As the dust begins to settle (and it is settling already) the parties all have to look at their next moves. Immediate concerns for the SNP will be getting John Mason working hard as an MP - difficult to do when the House has shut down for the summer. It will take at least until after recess before he has any help whatsoever in terms of money (after all he's not technically a Member of Parliament until he has been sworn in, so no allowances) but not hitting the ground running is not an option.

And there's the Baillieston by-election to think about too with John Mason having resigned already. Is there a candidate in place? Is there a suitable candidate in place? The SNP will need to select someone who can fill John's shoes as a first-rate councillor. And then get campaigning immediately. No rest for the winners here.

As I said in my post yesterday they also need to get a good answer to the question of what the policy is in the event of a failed referendum campaign.

As for Labour - well, they've got to select their Parliamentary candidate pretty sharpish. Theoretically they should take this seat back, even if they lose the General Election but they won't win it by just assuming it will come back to them. If the rumours about their lack of canvass data is true - and the fact they couldn't get their vote out would imply they were - they need to be spending the next couple of years knocking on every door in the constituency. Twice. And I'm sure MPs in other "safe seats" will be wanting to know if they need to do the same, the answer's yes.

They also need to treat the council by-election with a lot of respect. They could win it, although I'm not convinced. This is one election where I think that candidate selection will matter a lot. As will an early start.

As for the others, well the Lib Dems need to sort themselves out a leader and rethink their by-election strategy. This was a pretty shocking performance from them. The Tories - more of the same from them would be good. They were gutsy, spirited and put up a good show in the face of public antipathy and a major squeeze operation. Solidarity and the SSP need to ask if they still have a place in Scottish politics. Between them they were less popular than the Conservative candidate. In the East End of Glasgow. The writing's on the wall.

So an interesting night, but the story didn't end at 2am. There's still a lot more fights to be had in the East End over the next few weeks. Stay tuned.

Predictions, predictions, predictions

Well apart from the turnout, winning party and majority my predictions were totally spot on. I'm giving up the prediction lark.

Until the next time that is.....

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Election Day Campaign Review

So it's finally election day and early accounts indicate that its a slow one. Time for a totally unscientific campaign review and a bold, but probably flawed prediction. Living in Surrey I've not been on the ground in the campaign so am relying on blogs, news coverage, snatched bits of gossip and my own opinions to make these judgments.


Started brilliantly and captured the Big Mo early on. Picked a good, local, popular candidate - then did their level-best to stop him speaking in case he was a bit off-message. It was easy for Labour to attack the campaign as another Salmond ego-trip as he spoke more than the candidate. Ultimately though that won't make a huge difference as people like to hear from the party leaders and many people in the area know John Mason anyway.

The Party needs to get a better answer to the question about what they'll do if the referendum on independence goes against them.

A good, solid campaign. 8/10


Dear God - how bad was the start of this campaign? They failed to abide by the first rule of elections - if you don't have a candidate don't call an election. The crucial first weekend was a disaster which has tainted the rest of the campaign by allowing the SNP to grab the momentum then run with it. When they selected their fourth/fifth/nineteenth choice candidate it was a good one and that helped to steady the ship. There have been a few gaffes and bad news stories since but nothing that will matter to people outside politics.

Before Mags Curran 0/10
After Mags Curran 6.5/10

Lib Dems

Have been anonymous, bland and focussed only on the fire station, admittedly a damn good local issue. Don't rate their campaign or their chances of keeping third spot.

Dull dull dull 4/10


A good show in a seat they will never even have a sniff of winning. A good candidate and a well liked Scottish leader have given the Tories more airtime and control of the agenda than is really their right. Will still get a kicking, but a respectable one and could possibly overtake the Lib Dems into third.

Punching above their East End weight 7/10

The others

Well, not being in the constituency there's not much to see or say. Looks like the SSP and Solidarity may finally wipe each other out of any sort of relevance. Expect the Greens to come fifth.


Low poll of about 31% with Labour just holding on by about 1000. Conservatives to come third and everyone below them to lose their deposit. I expect everyone to be back in Baillieston in about 8 months time as Margaret steps down and Steven Purcell goes for his place in Holyrood, lining up a leadership bid as the next hapless Labour leader falls by the wayside.

There has been no number-crunching, no inside information, nothing but gut feeling so expect this prediction to be utterly wrong. :-)

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Nailing the Lie

How often have we heard the assertion "If you're innocent you've got nothing to fear"? Reassuring us that ID cards, biometric tracking, CCTV everywhere and 42 days dentention won't affect anyone who isn't guilty of some evil plot against the state. We're being lulled into a false sense of security, safe in the knowledge that its only other people who will lose their civil liberties and not us.

Hopefully this story will cause just a few more people to ask questions about the use of legislation in a frightening and dangerous manner. Because a woman had a mixed race child she was accused of trafficking him. Then because she stood up for herself she was detained under the Terrorism Act - you know the one that only the guilty will be affected by. The officer in question has been removed from the particular duty and Kent Police have paid compensation - both good - but the fact remains that this family were targeted because the legislation and the power to curb the rights of the British public exists for police officers and authority figures to use as they damn well like.

But don't worry folks - if you've got nothing to hide then you've got nothing to worry about.

Why Shouldn't MPs Holiday Abroad?

I've been meaning to blog about this for a few days but an entry on Tom Harris MP's fab blog and an article by Mayor Bo-Jo in the Telegraph brought it back to mind.

In all of the great witch-hunt of MPs over expenses one casualty seems to be their right to choose a family holiday abroad. The UK party leaders are falling over themselves to show their green/caring/committed to UK/thrifty credentials by holidaying in the UK and I'm sure the snippy comments will come in soon about fat cat Cabinet Ministers sunning themselves while catastrophe X happens.

But really, it's none of our business where anyone goes on holiday. I don't expect my boss to get snippy about my holiday destination or anyone who uses the services of my workplace to complain that I'm not holidaying in the UK, so why should we care where our MPs go with their families on holiday? Every family is entitled to go away and relax together and it is up to them where they go. Why should they have to justify it to their purient constituents - or worse a purient newspaper? The vast majority of MPs (from all parties) actually work very hard and face a lot of unneccessary criticism for the actions of some who are playing the system in an underhand manner. Let's not drive good people out of an important job just because they're not prepared to play our cynical games.

MPs have a tough job - let them enjoy their holidays.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Mamma Mia - The Review

Just come back from Mamma Mia - the movie not the stage show.  

It was stupid, camp, with ropey singing - really Pierce Brosnan can sing nane and Colin Firth isnae much better.  I loved it.  Loved it.  Loved it.  The campness was delicious, the action was fantastically fun, the scenery was gorgeous (I have to go to Greece!), the acting was much better than the singing and it was just fantastic.

The dodgy singing is totally forgivable as its all done with great humour.  You should go see it.  As soon as possible.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Do they never learn?

Following the failed £120 bribe at the time of the Crewe and Nantwich by-election, the government is at it again.

A postponement of the 2p fuel duty increase has been announced. Yet again in the middle of a tricky by-election. Do Gordon Bown and Alistair Darling think we are mugs? Taxes are surely set for a reason - the economic well being of the country. If it's ok to change them every time the government looks like losing a seat in the House of Commons it means it wasn't necessary. If the revenue was needed then how is going to be replaced?

The government should stop trying to bribe the electors and treating us like fools. Hopefully it will backfire in Glasgow East in an even more spectacular fashion than in Crewe and Nantwich.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Speak up - or shut up

I've been trying to steer clear (mostly) of the Glasgow East by-election. My dad is a councillor in the constituency and I regard Davena Rankin as an old mate so I don't want to say anything that would annoy either of them. But I'm intrigued by the news of Dorothy-Grace Elder having a pop at SNP candidate John Mason. Unfortunately I don't have a link to the article but Kezia Dugdale's blog has reproduced it. Naturally Kezia and labour people love it. Nats aren't so keen. Even Lib Dems have stepped in.

If (and I'm relying on Kezia reproducing the article faithfully) Dorothy-Grace did say "Facing a feisty woman will be the last thing this man wants. He has failed to accept a woman in politics in the past" this is an allegation which should be taken seriously. Sexism and bullying can't be tolerated in any sphere of public life and if she has evidence of this then she should bring it forward and let people judge it.

If, as I suspect, this is a case of two people not liking each other then she should admit it, accept that it happens and say that her comments are based on personal antipathy rather than any sort of concern about John Mason's ability to do the job properly.

Dorothy-Grace Elder shouldn't hide behind her newspaper column. If she has evidence she has to present it, otherwise she has to shut up and stop dealing in mean gossip and innuendo.

Friday, July 11, 2008

The Cold Wet Nose Show

Darren and I - along with some friends - will be attending the Cold Wet Nose Show tomorrow where thousands of people will be bringing their dogs. Darren will be taking action shots of the dogs and I'll be printing and selling them on site for the bargain price of £10 each - buy 2 get the 3rd free.

We'll also be offering gift items such as mugs, mousemats, t-shirts, key-rings and coasters.

The show promises to be a great day out - do pop along and see us if you're attending.

Monday, July 07, 2008

I WILL Stop Wasting Food - Maybe

I'm intrigued by Gordon Brown's latest proclamation that we should all stop wasting food. I agree with him - food wastage is a big problem and I'm as guilty as the next person. If not more so. It's not that I throw away perfectly good food. It's that I allow food to go off and then throw it out. I try to plan my menus and buy my food in advance. Store it properly. All that carry on. It all goes wrong when I get home from work at night. Sometimes, in fact a lot of the time, I get home and the last thing I can be bothered doing is peeling and chopping and making something sensible with the nice fresh food I've bought.

I don't think I'm alone in this one. I think in many households time in the evening is scarce and unless cooking is a particularly pleasurable activity it's something that doesn't become a priority. Relaxing, catching up with your partner's day, doing other housework all take precedence. And as a consequence we don't make that nice risotto we had bought fresh veggies for. We grab a snack or a takeaway.

The average British worker has a 45 minute commute and we work longer hours, have fewer holidays and a lower standard of living than our European neighbours. Is it any wonder we're knackered and can't be bothered cooking?

I get that it's wrong to waste food. I understand that we are putting pressure on our bank accounts and the environment by buying food we don't use, but frankly I don't want to be patronised by a man who has a stay-at-home wife, an army of staff, official dinners prepared for him and the ability to eat out every night at taxpayers' expenses without producing a receipt telling me where I'm going wrong in life. Yet another example of Government interference at its most insidious.

Monday, June 30, 2008

A Tricky By-Election

The news that there will soon be a by-election in Glasgow East has sent many of my political friends into a frenzy of excitement.

On the face of it this is a rock-solid Labour seat. The last majority was 13,507 and the SNP need a 22% swing to capture it. Normally a swing of that magnitude would be just that little bit impossible at a General Election - but by-elections are something different. The expectation, given Labour's woes, will surely be that the SNP will pull off a stunning victory.

But it won't be that easy - rumours are swirling that the candidate will be Elaine C. Smith. Where does that leave the already selected candidate Lachie MacNeill. And if Lachie MacNeill is the candidate - does he have the experience, knowledge and abilities for such a high-profile campaign? I don't know Lachie so wouldn't like to say but it tends to be that the best candidate to put up a good fight in an unwinnable seat is not always be the best person to take it on to win it in the spotlight of a media frenzy. Will Elaine C. Smith - a woman whose own "Chairities and Politics" page on her website doesn't mention independence go down well with the local members?

As for Labour - they really are in trouble. Anything except a win for them will be a disaster. Everyone knows that, but do they have the stomach for such a battle? Or will the campaign for a new Scottish leader overshadow everything else?

And the Conservatives? Well everyone knows they won't win Glasgow East. In 2005 their share of the vote was 6.9%. The campaign team from Crewe and Henley won't be troubling themselves on the doors of the East End. But the last story that David Cameron wants is the wheels coming off the election machine which is doing so well. A squeezed vote and lost deposit (likely outcome surely?) will mean that one story to come out of the by-election is that the Conservatives are still unwelcome in Scotland, that the Crewe vote wasn't a sign of making genuine and sustainable progress in Labour's heartlands - it was nothing more than a protest vote. If Labour lose they will want to deflect some of the pain, and this will be the easiest (and cheapest) way to do it. So the Conservatives will be looking to hold their share of the vote - or even increase it - and probably overtake the Lib Dems for third place. And the Lib Dems? Well they will want to stop the rot of Crewe and Henley so I imagine there will be an interesting - if irrelevant - scrap for third place.

If Labour win, even by the tiniest majority, it will be touted as a major success and defeat for the SNP. If the SNP win it will undoubtedly be a great victory but will it come at cost of upset members? The Conservatives could see a grinding halt to their relentless march to the next general election and the Lib Dems could just slide further into obscurity.

Its a tricky by-election for every party which of course should make for great viewing for those of us not involved.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Carbon Credits - The Worst Idea Ever

The Environmental Audit Committee's recent suggestion that we can all improve our carbon footprint by having our own carbon credit limit is one of the most idiotic suggestions I have ever heard.

I'm not a climate change sceptic - I think the planet is facing problems and I think there are some simple steps we can all take. I now recycle when I can, remember (sometimes) to take used plastic bags shopping with me. I put on a jumper when I'm cold rather than turning up the heater, I walk to the train station most days rather than drive, when a large group of us flew to Kenya we decided to offset our carbon emissions - not by giving money to a profit making organisation but by donating to a local wildlife charity. Everything I have done however has been my own choice. And it might not be enough to save the planet but it is my choice and my attempt to make things a little better.

I object strongly to a group of MPs telling me that I should have a limit on how much carbon I use - but if I want to I can sell it to the rich for a cash bonus. Have they really thought this through? I'm ok now, public transport from my home to my office is good but it hasn't always been - how does the committee suggest that people who have to drive to work cope? Refuse to go on holiday so they can make sure they have enough credits to work? What about people who have to attend hospital to visit sick relatives - or get treatment themselves? Will there be a bonus credit for the ill? How about international aid charities who send assistance to disaster zones such as those in Burma and China - will they have to limit their ability to do so? Or will they have to use some of their precious finances to buy additional credits?

And how about travelling MPs? Who will pay for (for example) Tim Yeo's credits.

From November 2006 - November 2007 Mr Yeo - the man whose committee came up with this plan - had a busy time. He visited California, Cuba (trip paid for by a mining and energy company), Lebanon & Syria, Washington DC and Bucharest. And this doesn't include his family holiday - I hope he had one.

And he did a lot of driving - in 2006/07 he claimed £5,226 in mileage - roughly 13,000 miles or the equivalent of driving 156 times from Westminster to his constituency office. This environmental champion by comparison claimed only £636 in rail fares.

I'm not questioning the honesty of the expenses or the necessity of the trips abroad. What I do have a problem with is a man with a carbon footprint which I'm sure is considerably higher than mine having the audacity to tell me that I have to limit my output just so that I can sell him the credits he so desperately needs.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Wildlife Photographer

Just because I've been ignoring this blog doesn't mean I've been resting on my laurels. I've written a piece for Darren's blog about some of fantastic things I've learned since he started his photography business. Pop over to his blog to read about my new cheetah, lion and mayfly knowledge. And see the great photos.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Riled into posting again...

Despite having a lot of issues recently which have interested me - Wendy's conversion to the idea of a referendum and missed opportunity to cause some real problems for the SNP, the despicable behaviour of Rangers fans in Manchester and the idiocy of letting people drink all day in confined spaces, the election of Mayor BoJo, Celtic's stunning last minute victory and yesterday's Crewe and Nantwich by-election - I've just not been inspired to post. Presumably just a bit of blogger fatigue. That's all changed though with one phone call.

It's that time of year again - car insurance renewal time and when the notice came through from Diamond it seemed like a decent deal so decided to phone and give the ok to renew. One thing I did want to ensure though was that my credit card details weren't being kept on file. I don't want any company to have the right to take money from my bank or credit card without my explicit permission and when you give companies your details you can't control when they go in and take money. We've learned this the hard way in the past when it has been a struggle to get our money back.

I was a bit taken aback to find that Diamond refused to remove my credit card details from their records. Apparently this was in case there were any amendments to the policy which required payment. When I pointed out that if there were any further payments needed I would decide at the time how best to pay it it didn't seem to matter. Now that Diamond had my credit card details they were holding on to them.

I cancelled my policy and found another - slightly more expensive - quote.

This isn't just Diamond's policy. We've dealt with several companies who insist on this and I really object to it. I wouldn't post my credit card details here, nor would I email them to anyone, so why should I give a company unlimited rights to keep my financial information? Its not as if companies have been entirely successful at protecting customers' privacy and even if they had it's still my right (and duty) to protect my own financial details. Just because something like this is a company's policy and their own method of protecting their incomes doesn't mean that we as customers have to put up with this nonsense.

Its yet another example of corporations controlling the public through their control of databases. We should make sure we know our rights and stand up to these information gathering bullies.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Aaron Meijers

Today is Yom HaShoah, the Day of Rememberance for the 6 million Jews murdered in the Holocaust. When I get home this evening I will be lighting a candle for Aaron Meijers.

Aaron was born in Brummen in the Netherlands on 22 April 1917 and died in the Buchenwald concentration camp on 26 February 1945. He was 27 and single. Other than this and the names of his parents there is nothing else I know about Aaron. Yet tonight I will remember him and will do so each Yom HaShoah.

Genocide isn't just about the murder of individuals - its about the attempt to remove all trace that those individuals lived and that their communities existed. By remembering the individuals we make our own small stand against genocide.

You can become the Guardian of the Memory of a Holocaust victim by contacting Yad Vashem UK. There is no cost involved (but donations are welcome) and you do not have to be Jewish - I'm not. All that you need to do is commit to remembering one person once a year.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Stop the Shipment

I've just signed an on-line petition regarding the shipment of arms currently trying to get to Zimbabwe.

This ship carrying arms, including 3 million rounds of ammunition, bound for Zimbabwe is currently trying to find a way of delivering its deadly cargo. It is highly likely that these weapons will be used to fuel violence, killings and intimidation in Zimbabwe’s growing political crisis.

The Chinese ship, carrying 77 tonnes of arms and ammunition has been forced to leave the South African port of Durban after dockers refused to unload the shipment and a judge ruled that the weapons could not be transported across South Africa.

The ship is now trying to find another dock in order to unload its weapons and transport them to landlocked Zimbabwe. These 6 containers of arms must be offloaded from this ship and immediately impounded to stop them being sent to Zimbabwe. There is only a matter of days to stop this arms shipment. Please help stop this shipment.

Click here to sign the online petition to help stop the Zimbabwe arms shipment. The International Action Network on Small Arms will deliver the petition to the chairperson of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the governments of countries in the region with a port, including Angola, DR Congo, Mozambique, Namibia and Tanzania.

This shipment should never have been authorised in the first place. All governments must take action to strengthen controls on the international arms trade to prevent irresponsible arms deals such as this one fuelling conflicts, poverty and human rights abuses around the world.

Will I or Won't I Vote?

There's a question I never thought I would ask myself. With the elections only a week and a bit away I don't yet know whether or not I will be voting. I know that I won't be voting for a specific candidate - the Conservative Party have put two leaflets through my door since last year's election, both this week and one which was missing its second side. I just can't bring myself to vote Lib Dem even though the candidate is a good guy. I just wouldn't even consider voting for UKIP. So I have no candidate to vote for.

The question now is do I walk to the polling station and spoil my ballot paper? Part of me says absolutely I have to do this - voting isn't only a right, it's a duty and if we don't vote as individuals we have no cause for complaint. The other part of me isn't so sure. If I feel that the political system doesn't care for me, offer me a candidate I want to vote for or does anything to inspire my action why should I offer the victors legitimacy?

If I spoil my ballot paper (carefully, these people know how to claim a spoiled ballot paper as a legitimate vote) I have taken part in the election, increased the turnout yet my protest is not registered. If I don't show up then the turnout reflects my lack of support for any of the candidates. Although I will be classed as lazy and uncaring. I am neither, I wrote to my councillors this year about an issue which I felt strongly about. One replied saying she agreed completely with me but nothing else, one sent me a copy of the council's press release on the issue and the third didn't bother to reply. I copied this letter to the leader of the council, I didn't get a reply. Who is lazy and uncaring? Me or them?

Still, the thought of not using my vote is alien to me and now I'm left with a really difficult choice. Will I or Won't I vote this year?

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Over-commercialisation, surly service, annoying neds - Welcome to Scotland

Like most people I don't pay attention to the tourist attractions near where I live and work. I walk along the Embankment at 5.30 every night and get grumpy with the tourists stopping to look at the big building across the river. Why are so many people interested in the Houses of Parliament? It was the same when I lived in Glasgow. A view of the Campsies from the living room window? Unimpressive. Less than an hour to Loch Lomond? Dull. When I was home for a few days last week we decided to be a bit touristy and go for a day out to Loch Lomond and Luss.

And we were faced with somewhere we wouldn't want to go back to. We got to Balloch and were faced by a hideous over-commercialisation of one of the most beautiful sites in Scotland. Noisy buskers, fairground rides, hot dog stands, a "petting zoo" (why show your children the nature in front of them when an animal in a cage will do?) and buildings along the shore spoiling the bloody view. We endured the spectacle of a sheepdog chasing a group of ducks around squealing children and a forest of mirrors.

The loch itself had rubbish floating in it and there were no walks signposted around the shore. I accept that there has to be some degree of commercialisation with gift shops/tea shops etc but it seems that the Loch has become the backdrop to a funfair rather than the main focus of the area.

So from a disappointing Balloch we moved onto Luss. Which was much nicer. Kind of. We went into the only pub in the village for lunch. Messy tables, scowling waitress, being told they couldn't make a cappuccino for us yet the people at the next table getting theirs and a half hour wait for a sandwich all made this a less than welcoming establishment. Although the food was really nice.

Then to a little walk along the pier, where a gang of neds were throwing each other around, drinking cheap lager, swearing loudly and slagging off the area. They weren't being aggressive to other pier users but their presence did make others feel uncomfortable and several people turned on their heels and left the pier. Couple this with the abuse that (another) gang of neds were shouting at a group of young asians Luss wasn't really that appealing either.

The tourism industry should be alive and vibrant in Scotland, but from what I saw our natural resources just aren't being cared for and developed properly. I hope that the powers that be aren't just relying on a good reputation. It won't last long.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Commemorating Rwanda

Today is the 14th anniversary of the first day of the genocide in Rwanda. In just 100 days nearly 1 million people were murdered. The victims were mostly Tutsis, but there were many Hutus who stood up against the genocide murdered as well.

In 1994 the international community, despite the pleas of UN commander on the ground Romeo Dallaire, stood by and did nothing to stop the frenzy of violence.

The genocide is not over though. Approximately 21,000 survivors are still without shelter, women and girls raped are being denied justice and are dying of AIDS, and doubts exist over the role of the gacaca (local courts)and their ability to deliver justice.

We must remember the victims of the genocide in Rwanda, and use these memories to push our government about tackling genocide in Darfur and Burma.

Useful Links

Survivors' Fund
Hope Survivors Foundation
Romeo Dallaire Speech

Sunday, April 06, 2008

The Olympic Torch

I have very mixed views on the protests surrounding the Olympic torch relay through London today.

China is undoubtedly guilty of mass human rights abuses, some of which - including the silencing of protests on Tibet and the treatment of construction workers - have been exacerbated rather than eased by the Olympics being awarded to Beijing.

It's quite obvious that the IOC should never have awarded the Olympics to China in the first place.

Having said that - I feel very uneasy about the protests that are taking place today. I believe firmly that the Olympic ideal can and does exist. I always cry at the opening ceremony especially when all the athletes come in and the torch is lit. There are thousands of competitors from across the world who have been working for years to achieve their goals, and more importantly there are thousands of young people who want to look ahead to London 2012. By attacking the torch and trying to douse it no damage is being done to China - only to the participants and viewers of the Olympics. By refusing to attend the opening ceremony Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy are showing a huge lack of respect for those representing their own nations.

I'm also quite concerned about the police presence for what was - in essence - a publicity stunt for a foreign nation and sponsors of the Olympics. I would love to see that many police on the street catching muggers. Miraculously all the paperwork that normally keeps the cops busy was missing today and they were free to rugby tackle demonstrators. Always a good show.

Like I say - I'm a huge fan of the Olympics so to see it brought into disrepute the way it has been today is a sad event. I hope that Tessa Jowell and Gordon Brown took the opportunity to strongly condemn his it government's behaviour to the Chinese Ambassadoe - but I very much doubt.

For a great piece defending the protests go to today's Sunday Times.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Clashing Calculators

I'm wondering how long it will take the SNP to realise that you can't continue to cut taxes, freeze taxes, cut charges and not face the bitten arse of cutting services too.

As regular readers and friends will know I'm in a constant state of flux on my opinions on independence - I think Scotland could be a successful independent country, but I'm yet to be convinced of the need.

I've been really impressed by some of the work of the new Scottish Government and I think Alex Salmond is genuinely the best person for the job of First Minister, but over the past few days doubts have started to creep in. While I'm generally against prescription charges I'm unsure about the wisdom of gradually abolishing them. If 92% of prescriptions are free anyway is it such a big thing? Would the return of free eye tests not be a more useful first move?

I'm also quite disturbed to find that the Scottish Government is abolishing the ring-fenced funding for CVS and Volunteer Centres and passiing the buck to local authorities instead. Local councils are forced into a council tax freeze - the last thing they need is more fiscal responsibility passed onto them.

And the reporting of John Swinney's meeting with Yvette Cooper is concerning. Taking aside the fact that Alistair Darling, not Yvette Copper, is John Swinney's counterpart if this BBC report is true it just reinforces the belief that the SNP want to do a load of cool things in Scotland, but won't take responsibility for the payment of it.

The SNP have some great policies, and I strongly support their principle of social justice and equality, but these policies have to be paid for. By Scotland. Until the SNP government takes the tough decisions rather than just the popular ones it will appear less like a government and more like an Opposition party getting one (or several) over the actual government.


As pointed out by Jeff in the comments, eye tests are already free in Scotland. So apologies for getting that one wrong. My point remains the same - just with a different viewpoint. It's probably more important to ensure that the 30.1% of children not currently registered with an NHS dentist are given the opportunity than to abolish a charge with less than 10% of users pay. Will try to get my facts straight next time.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Smoking Facists

I am so sick and tired of people who don't like something telling me that I can't do it, want to do it or watch someone else doing it on the screen.

The latest bat-shit crazy idea to hit the headlines is that any film with a character smoking in it should be given an 18 certificate.

I don't smoke, I don't like smoking and despite my reservations about the smoking ban I like going into pubs where no-one is smoking. But come on. Banning smoking on screen? Don't be bloody stupid. I accept that perhaps smoking in a Disney film shouldn't be encouraged, I don't think the sight of Shrek lighting up would be in any way responsible. But really - how many films have smoking scenes? I've not noticed any in the films I've been to see recently - genocide in Burma, bank robberies, many people having their throats cut, but not smoking. Doesn't mean there hasn't been smoking in them, just I've not noticed it.

One film with lots of smoking was Good Night and Good Luck - set in a time and place when smoking was the norm. Do we excise all references to historical accuracy to satisfy these morons? What about Casablanca? Do we re-classify our classics? Of course not.

If you're worried about your kids smoking and want to stop them seeing films with smoking in them then don't let them go to the cinema. People have to start taking responsibility for themselves and their families rather than creating more rules for us all to follow.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Community needs

The story of Shannon Matthews has brought up some questions for me. Taking aside the issues of stranger vs family danger I was perplexed by the public meeting yesterday for members of the "community".

It seemed that some members of the community are unhappy at the Police's handling of the case and are demanding to know when Shannon will be home. I heard one dreadful woman saying she won't be satisfied until she sees Shannon on the doorstep and there is a party.

I don't know what has been happening to the little girl in the past three weeks and wouldn't even begin to speculate but how dare these people demand to see her and say that they won't be happy until their demands are met? Who says that it would be in the best interests of the child to be paraded in front of a bunch of assorted neighbours and press? Frankly if the mother is reassured that her daughter is safe no-one else's opinion matters in the slightest.

Since the death of Princess Diana there has been a creeping sense of public grief and hysteria at every news story. How many of these community members who demanded to know the truth in Dewsbury knew the family? And cared about them before Shannon went missing? We lay thousands of bunches of flowers at the roadside for people we never knew who were stupid enough to run out in front of a car, we hold 2/3/5 minutes silence for victims of different disasters or acts of terrorism, we leave messages on internet forums and set up facebook groups calling for whatever the missing child this week is to be returned home or saying RIP to the latest murder victim that we never knew. Whenever a kid at a school dies there are trained counsellers available for the 1100 kids at the school - 1075 of whom had no idea who the dead child was.

And in our grief do we do anything useful? Do we tell the police that we know who shot the 11 year-old at the bottom of our street or does the wreath assuage our guilt. And when we're holding 5 minutes silences do we think about the thousands dying of malaria every day? Do we donate to charities?

I don't want to see a return to the days of the stiff upper-lip when no-one showed emotion however I'm sceptical that the situation we have at the moment is anything other than sheer self-indulgence.

Friday, March 14, 2008

George Galloway - Human Rights Champion

If anyone thought George Galloway was a defender of Human Rights or some sort of harmless kook then all you need to do is read this story from the Pink News where he claims that gay men in Iran are not executed for being gay.

I would say exactly what I thought of George Galloway but I'm sure that saying that I consider him a scumbag of the highest order would lead to me being sued. So I'll just keep quiet.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Swearing Allegiance

Part of the Government's review of citizenship is to suggest that teenagers swear allegiance to the Queen. Mmm, this is a tricky one for me. I am an absolute monarchist, I believe the Queen has been a wonderful head of state and abhor the idea of a republic. Yet this makes me feel slightly uncomfortable.

I can't help feeling its a cheap stunt. Teenagers who feel alienated and at odds with the community won't all of a sudden change their minds just because they've been forced to attend a special assembly at school and recite some meaningless words. And presumably that's how they'll view them - the same way I viewed having to participate in Catholic masses at school. And is it a quick jump from swearing allegiance to the Queen (something I would have no problem doing) to swearing an allegiance to Her Majesty's Government?

And what about Republicans? I don't agree with the view, but to many people it is a passionately held opinion. Can it be fair to demand that they swear allegiance to the Queen? To some Catholics in Northern Ireland and the West of Scotland the monarchy represents repression of their faith.

Also, it seems ridiculous that we're asking young people to consider their rights and responsibilities as citizens at the age of 16. By then its far too late. And why only teenagers? Why not everyone?

There's nothing wrong with swearing allegiance to the Monarch, but I fear this is a poor way of encouraging good citizenship and loyalty to the country.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Westminster Council Are Idiots

Was parking up in Pall Mall last night before yet another trip to see Avenue Q. Normally we manage to park free or pay at the machine. Not last night. Westminster Council have come up with a new scheme where you pay by phone. Taking aside the fact that not everyone has a mobile phone it was the most idiotic scheme I've ever come across.

Despite the fact that we're all, women in particular, warned about the dangers of using mobile phones in public there I was flashing both my new expense mobile phone and credtit card at a post with no lighting. I felt very exposed and vulnerable.

On top of that the electronic answering system is as frustrating as every other bloody idiotic electronic answering system and as my fourth attempt to enter my card number ended with me seemingly cut off before I could confirm my details.

We gave up and drove to a parking bay with a pay and display machine.

It's time for a rethink on such moronic plans.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

So long, farewell Fidel

I'm sure that Comrade Fidel's announcement in the middle of the night that he's stepping down as Cuban President will leave many idealistic lefties traumatised. Boo-hoo to them.

Castro standing down is the best thing that's happened to Cuba in over half a century. The revolution that promised so much delivered so little. The Baptista regime was corrupt - I don't think that's in any way doubted but the Castro regime was cruel, damaging and dangerous.

I'm in no way an expert on Cuba, I have visited it but only for two weeks. But two weeks can tell you a lot about a place. Our tour guide was very well versed in the regime's successes. Free education, most kids go to university, free healthcare. Blah blah communist manifesto blah.

A little digging however paints a different picture - doctors are leaving the health system in huge numbers for better paid jobs such as taxi drivers, individuals can set up private businesses such as in hairdressing or dressmaking - but if they start to make a success of their small business and turnover even the slightest profit they are closed down and their assests seized. Families live in squalor as they are afraid to decorate their homes for fear of being regarded as rich and being robbed/having their assests seized. Children in education are encouraged to inform on any anti-government activities in which their parents may participate.

A bloody paradise that sounds to me.

Castro's gone, hopefully he won't be followed by his brother who may make the right noises but has been number 2 all along.

Good luck to the people of Cuba.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Film Trailer

OK, I am now officially excited

The Moral Imperative - Where and When?

Foreign Secretary David Miliband said the other day that the UK has a moral imperative to intervene to spread democracy.

"My plea is not to let divisions over those conflicts obscure our national interest, never mind our moral impulse, in supporting movements for democracy."

And generally I tend to agree. I would have supported the Iraq war if Blair had said it was intended to remove Hussein from office as Britain could no longer stand by while dictators perpetrate genocide on their own citizens. I would have welcomed it rather than opposing it, and asked if he'd be taking out Mugabe next.

So with Miliband saying that we have a moral duty can I direct him to one country in particular?

The country where an illiterate woman faces beheading for being a witch after hearings she and her representatives were unable to attend.

The country where flower and gift shops were raided this week to remove roses, wrapping paper and teddy bears in an attempt to stop the un-Islamic sin of celebrating (St) Valentine's Day.

The country where two gay men were recently sentenced to 7,000 lashes each for sodomy.

The country where rape victims are sentenced to lashings for adultery, and then further punished for speaking out.

Or does Saudi Arabia, a country with some of the most shocking human rights violations in the world, not count?

Hat-tip to Mr Eugenides for the Valentine story

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

One Minute For Darfur

Unlike many other campaigns this really is only a one minute job. Reading the details takes longer.

In August 2003 the International Criminal Court's Chief prosecutor that Ahmad Harun, a Sudanese Government Minister, and Ali Kushayb a leader of the Janjaweed, organised the destruction of Bindisi - a town in Darfur. The ICC prosecutor states that their followers murdered over 100 civilians from the Fur tribe, raped women and girls, destroyed the mosque and food stores, and forced 34,000 people to flee.

Since the warrants for their arrest were issued by the International Criminal Court neither man has been handed over to the ICC or prosecuted by Sudanese courts. Instead, Ali Kushayb has been freed from prison while Harun has remained in his post as State Minister for Humanitarian Affairs and was appointed to co-chair a committee charged with investigating human rights complaints, including those committed in Darfur. As Minister he is responsible for those displaced by the violence in Darfur, and is also charged with liaising with the UNAMID peacekeeping force currently being deployed to protect those same people. Thus one of the chief suspects in an investigation into mass murder is now responsible for the fate of the victims.

Due to China's veto the United Nations Security Council did not even issue a Presidential Statement about Sudan's refusal to hand over the suspects - it will soon be almost one year since the arrest warrants were issued.

Please express your deepest concern at Sudan's defiance of international law and call for the United Nations Security Council to:
- visit Khartoum in May 2008 to ask for the Sudanese government to hand over the two suspects
- impose targeted sanctions (asset freezes) on the Sudanese Government ministers protecting these two men.

Please visit Wanted for War Crimes to send an email to all fifteen members of the UN Security Council - this should only take ten seconds.

For more information on Darfur please visit the wonderful Aegis Trust.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Who'd have thought it? A tax-cutting government at last.

The removal of tolls from the Forth and Tay road bridges today has ensured one thing that I never thought would happen. The SNP has become the first tax-cutting government in Britain for well over a decade. All around us stealth taxes are biting into how many money individuals get to keep to make their own choices. An 80p (per journey) tax cut may not sound huge - but the principle is. People get to keep their own money. Not everyone we do has to be taxed.

Well done Alex Salmond and John Swinney. Keep it up.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Time For MPs to Follow the Same Rules As Me & You

It's not been a good few days for the reputation of parliament or parliamentarians. First the brouhaha over the publishing of MPs' expenses and in the past couple of days the whole Derek Conway debacle.

Immediately the calls have come in for expenses to be slashed and for MPs to be barred from employing family members. As usual the reaction is an over-reaction. There is no need to bring in draconian measures, just treat MPs the same as the rest of us.

When I claim expenses from work I'm expected to hand in receipts. So don't slash MPs' expenses, just make them hand in receipts. Seems reasonable.

And there's no need to stop MPs employing family members, it's actually understandable wanting to have staff that you know you can trust 100%, but perhaps there should be less variation in the salary scales and an independent review and appraisal process in Parliament.

As with most things there's little need for new rules, just a little better enforcement of current ones.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Is 2 Years 2 Years Too Long?

I'm really heartened by the announcement that the Conservative Party will take a tough line on getting people to move from welfare into work. There are plenty of people who know that claiming benefits is a much easier ride than getting up at 7 every day and working for 8 hours. Anything that can be done to get as many people back into the workplace is a good thing. And pointing out that state benefits are not a right is a great place to start.

I've been properly unemployed once in my life and it was a horrible time. It took about 6/7 weeks to get an appointment at the Job Centre and when I finally did make it I was astonished by what I saw. I was sitting at a communal table, happily filling out my little forms, listening to one ned say to his pal "Just tell them if they don't give you money today you'll rob someone - that's what I do". When I handed my completed booklet to the advisor (and I do use that word under caution) it was clearly the first time in a long time anyone had done so.

Change really does have to come from the bottom up from ensuring that threats from thugs aren't taken as an excuse to ensuring that the advisors act as such.

But the one thing I did learn is how easy it is to become depressed and fall into a rut. Weeks of looking through newspapers and finding nothing you like the look of, failing to even get a job at the local supermarket all take their toll very quickly. It's far too easy (and understandable) to become unwilling to get out of bed for yet another day of being disappointed and depressed by your situation. That's why I think 2 years before instigating some form of community work is too long. After 2 years people have lost key skills and the energy for returning to work. A programme of community and voluntary work beginning after 6 months would be a much more suitable option. Perhaps with some sort of "bonus" scheme added and of course part-time to allow job-hunting to continue. Of course the 2 year limit should remain so that this doesn't become a substitute for work.

Monday, January 07, 2008