Showing posts from September, 2011

Into the Fire

The former head of the IMF Dominique Strauss-Kahn (62) is back in France - but as far as his predatory sexual behaviour is concerned - DSK has just jumped from the frying pan and into the fire. A young French woman - Tristane Banon - has acccused DSK of attempted rape in an incident which took place several years ago - and French police are now investigating her claims. DSK is said to admit making "an advance" on Ms Banon - whatever that means - but denies any violence. As regular readers will know this old French 'charmer' also admits to a sexual encounter with a hotel chambermaid in New York - but denies that the woman (Nafissatou Diallo) was the victim of a sexual attack. Tristane Banon (32) said:  "I want him in front of me so he can look into my eyes and say to my face that I imagined it." Ms Banon alleges she had to fight off Mr Strauss-Kahn, 62, "with kicks and punches" when he tried to rip off her clothes during an interview at

Censorship in Syria

The British Ambassador to Syria - Simon Collis - is breaking new ground with his very own blog site - which is well worth a read. I imagine if he keeps this up - he'll get thrown out of the country by President Assad. But if so it will be a sing of weakness on the part of the Syrian regime - and their allies in Iran - who fear freedom of speech and the free exchange of ideas - more than they fear anything else.  The address of Simon's blog site is at the foot of the page - why not send him an encouraging word or two - if you've got the time? The truth is what big brother says it is I’ve been British Ambassador in Syria for the last four years. Last weekend I decided to start this blog after Syria passed a terrible milestone. The Syrians have now endured six months of unrest and violent suppression of mostly peaceful protests. As they now look towards the next six months with a mixture of uncertainty, fear and hope, I wanted to share some personal impressions abou

Coulda Beena Contender

Alan Johnson - the former Home Secretary and Shadow Chancellor under Ed Miliband - is a Labour man down to his boots. But he's also one of the least tribal politicians you're ever likely to meet - engaging and human - thoughtfull and reflective. And Alan Johnson is a rare thing in   the Labour party these days - a former trade union general secretary (Post Office workers union) - but one who isn't impressed by all the propaganda and windy rhetoric. So he's worth listening to and here's what he had to say to the Independent newspaper - the other day. The Independent The man who could have been prime minister seems to have come to terms with the quieter life. He says, "Never say never," when asked if he could return to the Shadow Cabinet. "But I'm doing other things now." Alan Johnson is writing a book. "It's about my first 18 years – up to the rock'n'roll years," he says. About his mother, who died when he wa

'I Am Not Spartacus'

The Times ran an excellent editorial yesterday on a small but significant event at the Labour party conference - the booing of Tony Blair. The delegates responsible for this foolish and bullying behaviour - could only be what they turned out to be - a) Mainly men and b) Mainly union delegates - 'led' by Unite's general secretary, Len McCluskey. Now Len McCluskey and his chums would never have dared to be so bold with Tony Blair at the rostrum - because Blair would have responded to their boorish behaviour by telling them all - a few home truths. Now dealing with hecklers is a godsend for most platform speakers - an opportunity to shoot from the hip - and speak with real passion.. Remember Neil Kinnock's famous put-down of  - 'a Labour council - a Labour council - scuttling around Liverpool serving redundancy notices on its own workers.' Ah yes - them were the days. But sadly Ed Miliband missed his chance - and all we got to know is that the new Labou

Old Wotsisname

Labour leader - Ed Miliband - has been getting it in the neck for the past twenty-four hours - for forgetting the name of one of his Scottish MSPs - Ken Macintosh. Now normally this wouldn't matter - a trifling matter in the scheme of things - but then again these aren't ordinary times. Because the charge against the Scottish Labour party is that its biggest hitters - are all choosing to stay out of the contest. Alistair Darling, John Reid and Jim Murphy all have better things to do with their time - apparently - than to lead Labour's fightback against the SNP and Alex Salmond - and the SNP government's planned referendum on independence in 2014. Instead the biggest challenge in Labour's history - north of the border at least - is being left to three relative unknowns - Tom Harris, Johann Lamont and the aforementioned Ken Macintosh. So the real significance of Ed Miliband fumbling the ball when asked to name all three candidates by an astute BBC Scotland i

Rory Jackanory

Trust the tabloid press to hunt down a story - here's what The Mail newspaper has uncovered about 16-year old Rory Weal - Labour's answer to William Hague. "At just 16, Rory Weal was being feted yesterday as the ‘hero’ of the Labour conference for an impassioned speech telling how the welfare state saved his family from ruin. The schoolboy tugged at delegates’ heartstrings with a tale of his home being repossessed and the family having ‘nothing, no money, no savings’, and only the benefits system to fall back on. But Labour leader Ed Miliband may be surprised to know he was not so hard-up after all. For it turns out he is the privileged son of a millionaire property developer who sent Rory to a private school until his business went bust. Even now he goes to a selective grammar school, which Labour policy opposes. Rory’s father Jonathan Weal, 53, owned homes worth an estimated £2.25million in some of the most sought-after addresses in the land. He had a luxur

Mum Knows Best

Daniel Finkelstein wrote an amusing and thoughtful article for The Times yesterday - here's an extract of what he had to say. "What do you think of Ed Miliband's speech? Do you think the emphasis on the squeezed middle will work? How much of a blow is it that Ed Miliband can't get his conference voting plan through? I feel almost embarrassed at my own contribution, because it's ridiculously unsophisticated and it is pretty much immune to alteration by any of the things that are happening here. It consists of two points. First, most people don't think Ed is up to being prime minister. And second, he's too left-wing. And there's not a lot Labour can do about either of those things. That's the signal, the rest is just noise. In 2001, standing as a candidate in a marginal seat and with days to go until the contest was over, I was ringing up undecided voters to see if I could give them a final push our way. I'm not going to vote for you&quo

Democracy and Bananas

I heard a delegate to the Labour party conference on TV the other day - trying manfully to explain that there wasn't really a trade union 'block vote' any more.  The chap insisted that every trade union delegates had an individual vote - and that the bad old days had gone - because union bosses no longer cast one single 'block vote' on behalf of the whole delegation. Which is true - but misses the essential point. Which is that before any votes are cast - the union delegation as a whole decides what or whom to support - and all delegates are expected to abide by that collective decision.   So - in reality - it amounts to the same thing in the end - since 100% of the union votes  always end up being cast  the same way. Not a big deal when it involves some obscure motion that no one cares about - but it is a big deal when it comes to elections and issue of principle like rule changes. Here's what I wrote last month before the 2011 Labour conference got

Off With His 'Ed

The Labour party has been making a big hullabaloo over the beefed-up role of its next Scottish leader - an historic step in some ways. Because it means that for the first time the leader of the UK party - Ed Miliband - will not be the head of Labour in Scotland. So - the theory goes - the next Labour leader will be on equal terms with the party's biggest rival - the SNP and Alex Salmond. King of the Midden - to put things another way. But how true can this be when the real powerbrokers within the party - the trade unions - remain  unreconstructed organisations which are still run and controlled from London. The trade unions provide over 90% of Labour's funding these days - they also control 50% of the votes at party conference - so without the agreement of Britain's union bosses (the Bubs) -  major changes can take place. As Ed Miliband has found to his cost this week - when the Bubs vetoed his plans to 'refound' Labour and its bizarre system for electin

Gizza Job

Tom Gordon writing in today's Herald highlights the case of a Labour MSP - Hanzala Malik - who insists on holding on to his second job and second pay - as a councillor with Glasgow City Council. At a time when some Glaswegians can't get one job - never mind two - this does seem more than a bit ridiculous. No doubt the SNP are keen to exploit the situation for their own advantage - but that's a poor reason for the Labour party to avoid a by-election. Since a by-election would give the voters in Hillhead - a local councillor who can represent their interests properly - a role which Hanzala Malik can't fulfill if he's also full-time MSP at Holyrood. Labour MSP under fire for double job "A double jobbing Labour MSP has been accused of treating voters “with contempt” for not standing down as a councillor despite a by-election taking place in his ward. Hanzala Malik, who became a Glasgow list MSP in May, is refusing to quit his £16,234-a-year post as a co

Hand-Up v Hand-Out

Listening to the proceedings at the 2011 Labour party conference convinces me of one thing - people attending these events hear only what they want to hear - and all too often leave their brains at the door. Take the 'darling' of the conference so far - young Rory Weal - who made a good, if somewhat deluded, speech about the importance of the welfare state. Young Rory has now been 'cursed' - by being tagged as Labour's answer to William Hague - another precocious 16-year old conference virgin from the days of Margaret Thatcher. Rory's back story was that the welfare state is a good thing - which it clearly is - and vital in the case of his own family - who were down on their luck for a while, but are now back on their feet. Good for Rory - and his mum and sister - but if he doesn't mind me puncturing his balloon too much - that's hardly the point. The real point is that too many people have been on welfare benefits for far too long - not the ma

Double Standards

A new visitor to the blog site has been in touch - about the lack of support and poor advice from her trade union - over equal pay. Join the queue - because there's thousands of people out there in exactly the same position. The reader's complaint is that her own trade union knew fine well that she - and all her work colleagues - had perfectly valid equal pay claims. Because of the big pay differences between traditional male and female jobs - which were well known to the trade unions - but not ordinary members. Yet the reader's union allowed people to fend for themselves - instead of taking the initiative and actively lodging a claim on their members' behalf. The reader goes on to highlight the unfairness of it all - and the inconsistency in her trade  union's behaviour. For example, when the trade union calls a strike ballot - she gets her own ballot paper and individual advice - and a pre-paid envelope to return her voting slip. In other words she g

Democracy and Bubs

I've listened to quite a bit of this year's Labour party conference - sad I know - but it's mildly entertaining and a good excuse for putting off all those household chores.  What's struck me is that just about every trade union delegate - that I've heard anyway - is trying to turn the last general election on its head.  By saying that no one speaks for the people - except the trade unions of course - and the Labour party sometimes - at least when it does the unions' bidding and agrees not to meddle in 'their' affairs. But the truth is that Britain's union bosses (the Bubs) the trade unions don't even speak for a majority their members - on many issues - never mind the great British public. Here's a post I wrote for the blog site back in June 2010 - at which point Labour's 3-way electoral college had not been used since 2007. Trade Union Democracy The last time Labour's 'electoral college' was wheeled out was in 20

'You're no Jack Kennedy'

While I was writing the previous post about Ed Miliband, Unplugged - a thought jumped into my head towards the end. Which was of a TV debate between two American politicians - Lloyd Bentsen and Dan Quayle. Dan Quayle went on to become famous for two things - (1) being unable to spell the word 'potato' - and (2) becoming the just about worst Vice President of the USA ever - under George Bush senior. Lloyd Bentsen had to be satisfied with his famous - 'Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy' - put down of Dan Quayle during their live TV debate in 1986.  But I know which I'd prefer - if I had the choice. Here's the YouTube video link.

Ed Miliband, Unplugged

Ed Miliband's speech to the Labour party conference yesterday - was a rather odd affair. The whole thing started off with Ed trying to show that he's not really a 'goofball' - and that he's very much in touch with his feminine side. And the Labour leader was happy to share the evidence with his audience - since the last Labour conference he has got married to his significant other - Justine - and attended the birth of his second child. Whereas the year before Ed was unamarried - and hadn't bothered to put his name on his first child's birth certificate. So far so good - and it just goes to show that a week is a long time in politics. Anyway, shortly after that things started to go downhill. Ed told delegates that he was not Tony Blair - Labour's most successful leader ever - and the winner of three general elections on the trot. Unsurprisingly this revelation drew boos from some parts of the hall and the Unite union boss - Len McCluskey - c

Star Trek - The Movie

To round off my little trilogy of posts on the laws of physics and Star Trekkin' - I thought it would be a bit of fun to re-cast the main characters - as members of the Labour party 'family'. So here goes me: Captain James T. Kirk - Ed Miliband "We come in peace - shoot to kill" Dr Spock - David Miliband "It's life Jim - but not as we know it" Lieutenant Ohura - Harriet Harman "There's Klingons in the starboard bow" Dr McCoy - Tony Blair "It's worse than that - he's dead Jim" Mr Scott - Alistair Darling "Ye cannae change the laws of physics" Now if I were the Labour high command I'd re-make the Star Trekkin' video for 'Ed Nose Day - which might give the party a much-needed boost in the polls.

Star Trekkin'

Call me crazy if you like - but this is one of my favourite videos of all time - Star Trekkin'. Isn't the Internet wonderful? In an instant you can find information - that was previously unattainable and out of your reach. No wonder repressive governments and organisations - round the world - hate the Internet, modern communications and freedom of information. Because together they are the living embodiment of what it really means - to have freedom of speech.

Laws of Physics

As I was writing the 'Eat My Shorts' post the other day - about the laws of physics - a strange memory jumped into my head. Someone said - ' Ye cannae change the laws of physics!' Only later did I rememeber that this famous line comes from a wonderful song - 'Star Trekkin' - and that the stressed-out character speaking the words was Mr Scott - the much put-upon engineer from the Star Ship Enterprise. Mr Scott was the token Scot in the first series from the 1960s - who would rail against his captain (James T Kirk) for taking liberties with his beloved engines - as if they were hand bult on the Clyde. Anyway - here are the words to the song - enjoy!   Star Trekkin' Stra Trekkin' across the universe, On the Starship Enterprise under Captain Kirk. Star Trekkin' across the universe, Boldly going forward 'cause we can't find reverse. Lt. Uhura, report. There's Klingons on the starboard bow, starboard bow, starboard bow; the

More Equal Than Others

Here's a post from 26 September 2010 - which explains why Labour's electoral college is so undemocratic - and in such desperate need of reform. Unfortunately this won't be happening - anytime soon it seems. Because Ed Miliband's cunning plan for reform has been shot down in flames - by Britain's union bosses (the Bubs). The Bubs like it just fine that some Labour voters/members are more equal than others - when it comes to deciding the big issues of the day. But that doesn't make it right - especially in a 'people's party' that keeps banging on about the need for equality - in other walks of life. 6% = 70% = 90% The Labour party's electoral college makes about as much sense - as one of the Mad Hatter's tea parties. But to be fair it has done what it was designed to do - which is to give union leaders undue influence over key party decisions - by galvanising a small handful of union activists to vote in a particular way or, as in

Ed Blinks First

What an anti-climax. After much anticipation and tough talking about 're-founding' the Labour party - Ed Miliband - has backed down in his power struggle with Britain's union bosses (the Bubs).  Ed has had previously signalled his determination to dilute the power of the Bubs - by creating a new role for registered party supporters in leadership elections. The idea - modelled loosely on open primary elections in America - was to have a new, fourth category of Labour voter who could take part in exciting events like electing the party leader - but without having to become a full-blown member. See post dated 22 September 2011 - The Fourth Dimension. The aim was to place these new voters in the trade union section of the electoral college - where penny numbers of people vote - i.e. trade union members who pay the political levy - but without any requirement to be a Labour party member. So far so boring and unremarkable - far from 're-founding the party' I t

South Lanarkshire

Here's another 'reader's letter' which has been sent to me - about the ongoing fight for equal pay in South Lanarkshire. The person who is speaking up for low-paid women workers is quite right - equal pay and the introduction of a 'living wage' are two completely different things. A 'living wage' of £7.15 an hour does not bring about equal pay with traditional male jobs - that are earning £10.00 and £11.00 an hour. Nor does it compensate women workers for all the years - when the big pay gap between male and female jobs has been allowed to continue - with the blessing of the employers and the trade unions - of course. EQUAL PAY GETS MY SUPPORT "I'm writing in relation to the ongoing equal pay saga by employees of South Lanarkshire Council. As an outsider reading about the case , I can appreciate where low-paid female staff are coming from and the struggle they must have had with the council and their trade union. In last week's

'Gibbering Rage'

Dominic Lawson in today's Independent writes powerfully about the 'gibbering rage' - that infects a vocal minority of our fellow citizens - when it comes to former Labour Prime Minister - Tony Blair. I watched last night's Channel 4 documentary - presented by Peter Oborne - a right-wing libertarian and regular contributor to the Mail and Telegraph newspapers - a 'man of substance'  from an exclusive private-school background of course. I wondered why an intelligent person would go out of his way to portray Tony Blair as the person somehow to blame - for the plight of a poor Palestinian woman whose olive grove had been burned down by Jewish settlers. A 'gibbering rage' is the best explanation I've heard - so far. What's wrong with a former PM trying to make money? "It isn't necessary for people to believe that Blair is a mass-murderer in order for them to suffer from what's been called 'Blair Derangement Syndrome'

Eat My Shorts

Reports at the weekend suggested that scientists in Switzerland may have overturned the laws of physics - or Einstein's theory of special relativity - as I am fond of saying over the breakfast table occasionally. But in a very unboffin-like response - Jim Al-Khalili - professor of physics at the University of Surrey - has said he will 'eat his shorts' - or 'eat my shorts' to be strictly accurate - if this turns out to be true. Now apparently the boffins in Switzerland are shooting neutrinos down to Italy - in some kind of wacky scientific pea-shooter  - only to find that these pesky neutrinos are arriving there earlier than they should. Which - if true - means that they are travelling at faster than the speed of light. Which is impossible according to Albert Einstein's theory of special relativity - which says that nothing can travel faster than light - which speeds along at 186,282 miles per second.  Which is even faster than Labour's famous polic