The Snow In The Summer or So-So

07/19/2004 - 07/25/2004

Tue 20 Jul 2004

Live in Strasbourg

Josep Borrell is confirmed as the European Parliament's new president. The 57-year-old Spanish Socialist will lead the European Parliament for the next two-and-a-half years. A total of 388 of the parliament's 732 members voted for the candidate, who was selected as part of a power-sharing deal between the two biggest parties in parliament.

The European People's Party and European Democrats (EPP-ED, includes the UK's Conservatives) and the Party of European Socialists (PES, includes Labour) agreed that after two-a-half years, the midway point of the current legislative period, Borrell would be replaced by a member of EPP-ED -- most likely the party's current leader, Germany's Hans-Gert Pöttering.

The Liberal (includes Lib Dems) and Green (includes, er, Greens) parties criticized the deal. "It is idiotic," said Daniel Cohn-Bendit, leader of the Greens group in parliament. "The only use in it is to ensure that Hans-Gert Pöttering becomes president in 2.5 years."

Criticism also came from within Pöttering's own grouping over the apparent horse trading. Borrell's only close competition came from Bonislaw Geremek, a liberal Polish member of parliament and co-founder of the labor movement Solidarity. He received 208 votes, including those from some in the socialist and conservative camps.

Among the new faces present in the new parliament was an increasing number of eurosceptical parties or even parties that would like to see the dismantling of the EU and its institutions, like the League of Polish Families or the UK Independence Party. In a true spirit of pan-European solidarity, these parties have so far failed to band together into a faction, ensuring that their influence in the parliament's activities will be strictly limited.

"We will do everything we can ... to obstruct and delay legislation," Robert Kilroy-Shaft told reporters. "A politically united Europe, this is for me a nightmare." The Unitedkingdom Independence Party has managed to draw a seat on the gender equality committee, to which it has sent the man who wants to abolish maternity pay. Did 20% of the electorate really support this sort of reactionary politics?

The leading voice in parliament will remain the EPP-ED, with their 268 seats, followed by the PES, with 200 seats, the Liberals with 88 and the Greens with 42.

On Thursday, the European Parliament will convene again to confirm the new president of the European Commission, the most influential position in the Union. Only one candidate is currently seeking the post: Portuguese Prime Minister José Manuel Durao Barroso. His approval is also expected to be the result of a pact between the socialists and conservatives.

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posted 20 Jul 2004, 20.34 +0100

Those Merc Nominees In Full

Franz Ferdinand - Franz Ferdinand
The Streets - A Grand Don't Come For Free*
Keane - Hopes and Fears
Snow Patrol - Final Straw
Amy Winehouse - Frank*
Basement Jaxx - Kish Kash
Jamelia - Thank You*
Joss Stone - The Soul Sessions
Belle & Sebastian - Dear Catastrophe Waitress
Ty - Upwards
Robert Wyatt - Cuckooland
The Zutons - Who Killed ... The Zutons

Entries marked with a * are only available on corrupt disk. As this is not the Official CIN chart, they are eligible for the prize, but can't be bought on Genuine CD.

Glasgow art-rock is well represented: Franz Ferdinand is flavour of the year, Snow Patrol are perhaps showing signs of becoming the new del Amitri (and we've only just got rid of the last one), while Belle & Sebastian are hoping to add this award to their Best British Newcomer at the 2000 BPI awards. More indie-ish noodlings from Keane, the commercial success of the year; and from the Zutons.

Urban sounds are represented by the Streets - Mike Skinner should have won for Original Pirate Material in 2002, but didn't; knowing this panel, he shouldn't win this year, but will. Jamelia and Amy Winehouse do nothing for me, Basement Jaxx have a lot of good moments, and I've not heard Ty's work. Joss Stone is another commercial success, and I think her best work is yet to come. The only non-commercial sound on the list is Robert Wyatt, whose brand of blues seems to have been almost popular since the dawn of time.

Het Graun picks up the bizarre absence of Morrissey, who is going to be the critical pick from the first half of the year, and of Jamie Cullum and Katie Melua. Neither is there space for perpetually-overlooked Ash, or for any representatives of the teen act - surely McFly or Busted or the Sugababes deserve some recognition.

This list is probably the most accurate reflection of the British music scene since the mid-90s. It's decent, but thoroughly lacklustre. With the possible exception of Franz Ferdinand's work, it would be somewhat surprising if any of this year's albums were still seen as vibrant and interesting in two years' time. Similarly, the best music coming out at the moment is either in the thick of the mainstream - I defy anyone not to sing along to McFly - or so far off the mainstream it flies over the radar of mass-appeal radio.

Don't take this as a "pop is dead" rant - I said something very similar when the Merc was inaugrated twelve years ago, but then the panel managed to pull out half a dozen great albums that had slipped through the critical cracks. This year, they seem to have played commercially safe, with only Ty and Wyatt yet to have at least moderate success. No, pop isn't dead, it's just resting...

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posted 20 Jul 2004, 21.11 +0100

Reviews of the day

1) Transport. Headline grabber: proposals to phase out road tax and petrol duty in favour of a pay-as-you-go system - in about 15 years. Oh, and no petrol duty rise in the autumn.
The Vision Thing: Crossrail gets government backing, but someone's got to put up the 10 milliard quid it'll cost to build.
Short Term Pain: Tram systems in Manchester, Southampton, and Leeds are thrown onto the scrap-heap, because the government insists each council builds its schemes separately, rather than combining their efforts and building the schemes one after the other.

2) Council Tax Headline grabber: "Reformed but retained" - and avoid significant changes to individual's bills.
The Vision Thing: There's "a strong argument to shift the balance towards more local funding." That'll mean local business rates.
Short Term Pain: Nothing's going to change before 2007 at the earliest, so we'll still be paying based on the estimated values of houses sixteen years earlier.

3) Crime and Punishment (OK, this was Monday) Headline grabber: a "sea change" in attitudes to crime is at the centre of David Plunkett's Five Year Plan.
The Vision Thing: People will be able to dictate police priorities by community vote. A recipe for setting neighbour against neighbour.
Short Term Pain: Plunkett and Blair pretending that the erosion of societal values has nothing to do with them, and is all the fault of the previous administration.

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posted 20 Jul 2004, 21.21 +0100


Wed 21 Jul 2004

Some shorts

Post Office Closures to go to court. The new Con-Lib Birmingham Council will go to the high court in an attempt to stop the closure of 25 post offices. John Hemming (C) said that the post office closures were based on a four-year-old No10 policy document entitled Counter Revolution, and that document is financially flawed. "I am challenging it and this is a step on the way to the High Court", he said.

Now and then: Rev A R P Blair on Tuesday: "Rejoice that Iraq can have such a future."
Mrs Margaret Thatcher, after the capture of South Georgia during the Falklands war: "Just rejoice... rejoice"

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posted 21 Jul 2004, 20.02 +0100

It's a cheap shot...

...but I'm not going to let that stop me.

The UIP's member on the Gender Equality committee of the European Parliament made some comment about how "women don't clean behind the fridge enough." He should have continued, but didn't:

"I was stuck there for almost twenty years, without so much as a gin and tonic, sahib."

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posted 21 Jul 2004, 21.57 +0100


Thu 22 Jul 2004

Parliament watch

In Strasbourg, the European Parliament has confirmed Jose Barroso as the next president of the European Commission. This surprises no-one, to be honest. Britain's representative on the EC will be announced to-morrow.

Politicking continues, though. The UIP's nominee for the Gender Equality committee has been relegated to the substitute's bench, after having what a UIP spokesmoron described as "ding-dong" with Italian MEP Allesandra Mussolini on the floor of the parliament. The Indytab reports:

Ms Mussolini (EDD, Italia) objected to Mr Bloom's proposed appointment on the grounds that she was sure he was not capable of cleaning behind the fridge or cooking...

Glenys Kinnock (PES, Wales) expressed some pleasure that Mr Robert Kilroy-Shaft (EDD, East Midlands) would have had his "nose put out of joint" by the attention directed at Mr Bloom, and that a "turn the clock back" mentality lay beneath the MEP's comments. [And those of all the UIP, presumably - Weaver]

"He's entitled to join the committee, though I wouldn't hold out much hope he'll enjoy it or get an easy ride. In the last parliament, they [Ukip] went to the minimum number of committee sessions to qualify for allowances, and that is all you saw of them."

Emma Nicholson (Lib, South West), a former member of the women's committee, said it hoped to discuss an extension of paternity rights - currently at two weeks paid leave in the UK - in its next session. She credits the EU for "100% of the UK's current maternity allowance", and added: "Maternity leave is one of the most important provisions that the EU has brought in. In an equal opportunities society, both men and women have a right to exercise talents and earn money."

Domestically, the Commons rose for its summer break this afternoon. The final debate saw every member of the Kidderminster Health Concern Party attend, plus about one Labour minister, and a deputy speaker. They'll be back on September 6, I believe.

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posted 22 Jul 2004, 21.03 +0100

New research shows...

...the value of actually doing research. Scientific proof that file sharing increases sales has, as expected, been pooh-poohed by the recording industry megacorps, who are still shit-scared of losing their grip on the market, just as they've lost their grip on quality music.

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posted 22 Jul 2004, 21.16 +0100


Fri 23 Jul 2004

Hoist by their own petard

If this post had an icon, it would be one of those be-horned ones...

Last Monday, the interior minister David Plunkett, with the support of Rev A R P Blair, committed himself to a 15% reduction in crime over the next three years. Presumably, if they doesn't bring this off, both gentlemen will resign their offices.

Now, in my inbox from time to time, there's the odd scam. There are viruses, there are 419 thingies, lottery rubbishes, and so on. Most of them are illegal. Why not, suggested one reader of Chris Lightfoot's blog, report the worst crimes? If all computer users reported the worst 1% of the crimes they see, the crime figures would shoot through the roof, police would stamp down on the crimes, and Plunkett and Blair would have to go. It's a win-win-win situation.

But why stop at computer crime? Why not report every little parking infraction, every person who drives one mile an hour over the limit, or breaks any of the other petty laws of the land? Crime figures up, good deed done, Blair and Plunkett out.

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posted 23 Jul 2004, 20.06 +0100

Mandelson resigns. Again.

To the surprise of almost no-one, Rev A R P Blair named Peter "Mandelson" Meddlesome as his new puppet on the European Commission. He'll replace Chris Patten and someone else we can't remember as the UK's nominee when the new grouping begins work in the autumn.

Peter Meddlesome's career has been one step forward, two back. He piloted Labour to at the 1992 election, when the party snatched defeat from the jaws of victory once more. Meddlesome was the key advisor to the eventual leader Blair, and was rewarded by a sinecure job as Cabinet Office Minister after the 1997 election. He moved to Trade and Industry the following year, but was forced to resign before 1998 was out, after being caught lying on a loan application. Meddlesome returned to the cabinet in 2000, holding the Northern Ireland portfolio, but was forced out early the following year after being caught lying about his involvement in some businesspeople's passport application.

Now the Rik Waller of the political world is to resign again, as European Commissioners can't be members of their national parliament. Let's just hope he can see this one to the end!

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posted 23 Jul 2004, 20.27 +0100


Sat 24 Jul 2004

How panicked are the Republicans to-day?

Linda Ronstat (a singer) was in Las Vegas, and while performing, briefly mentioned how much she had enjoyed Freiheit 11/9 (a collection of photographic images.) A few drinks were spilled, and Ms Ronstat's engagement with the venue was terminated. According to Republican party propaganda, this counts as a near-riot, and gets used by the opposition as ammunition for their argument of a gulf between entertainers and the rest of us.

The little grey box in the corner perked up at this news, flickered into life, and quickly showed how panicked the Republicans are to-day.

Orange. It's not Ms Ronstat, it's those pictures that are making them poop their pants.

Thankfully, the machine only measures how panicked the Republicans are. More from the machine in due course.

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posted 24 Jul 2004, 12.15 +0100

So, Toy Bair was in town, eh?

Prior to the Labour Party's Manifesto meeting chance to hear what Tony's putting in next year's manifesto, he stayed the night at the swish hotel at the Mailbox in central Birmingham. Evidently the Westwood Halls of Residence at the University of Warwick were too up-market for him.

The BBC in Birmingham is also based at the Mailbox, and one of the newsteam there went downstairs to have a quick conversation with our dear leader. It went something like this...

BBC: Prime Minister, BBC WM, do you have anything to say about Peter Mandelson's appointment?
BBC: PM, can I ask you about Peter Mandelson?
BBC: PM, do you have anything to say to the people of the West Midlands?

Now, it would have been polite to say something like, "Sorry, I've really got to be going." To blank the reporter - look straight past her as though she's not there - seems to be desperately rude and a rather unfortunate snub.

Made great radio, though.

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posted 24 Jul 2004, 17.08 +0100


Sun 25 Jul 2004

The computer industry press this week

Two pages dotted through IT Week on how Internet Deplorer really is a crock of shit, and how you'd be far, far better going to and downloading Firefox. You'll never look back, and you'll be joining an increasing trend. One research company claims the number of people using Deplorer has fallen for the first time since the invention of the wheel. My website stats bear this out - in June 2003, ID accounted for 93% of browser hits; last month, the figure had fallen to 90%. The mag also says that Firefox 1.0 will be released September 14.

Computer Weekly has two points on the looming ID cards fiasco: the passport service will replace its current system with a modular system that can handle the despised documents; and the office of national statistics has put out a pre-tender document to assess the feasibility of matching records already held by government documents. If the latter trial works, then it reduces the government's claimed benefits from the ID card scheme. The mag also reports that the French Ministry of Equipment has jumped to Linux to reduce support costs, and an opinion article has the oh-so-intelligible headline UK's e-gov initiatives put SOAs to the test. Let's just be glad that there's not an aberrant apostrophe in there.

And finally... the World Hyptertext Application Technology Working Group has the wrong name, claims IT Week. "It should have been a Task Force."

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posted 25 Jul 2004, 10.40 +0100

Can you tell it's summer yet?

The writers on the Sindie reckon it is, as they've come up with not one but two laugh-out-loud moments in to-day's report about Peter Meddlesome's appointment to the European Commission.

On Wednesday afternoon, Mr Blair had a one-to-one chat with Gordon Brown. Rumour has it that when the Chancellor was told he might be seeing Mr Mandelson again at the Cabinet table, he emitted a response that was more concise than it was polite.


The last chance to move a writ for a by-election before the summer had also slipped by, leaving the Government's business managers to ponder whether they could get the Speaker to do it for them while MPs were on holiday. This is permitted under certain conditions, laid down by law.

If Mr Mandelson had died, been declared bankrupt or taken a seat in the House of Lords, then a summer by-election would have been a possibility - but none of these options appealed to the future commissioner.

By my calculations, the by-election writ will be moved when the Commons resumes on September 6, indicating a poll on the 23rd (week of the Lib Dem conference) or 30th (week of the Labour conference.) Would Tony want to risk having his party's jamboree punctured by the loss of a safe seat, or does he see the seat as safe enough to have Chas Cheese speak on polling day?

Make no mistake, this is a crucial by-election. If the Lib Dems can come from behind to win, it'll show that they're the party of choice in inner London, in the provincial cities, and in the towns of Northern England. We'll have to start talking seriously of the Lib Dems becoming - well, if not the government, possibly the official opposition, and certainly holding a very substantial block of seats. This scenario could derail Tony's plans to hold the next general election in May - possibly only by a month, possibly force him to run for spring 06.

On the other hand, if the Tories can emerge as the serious challengers, they'll interpret that as a shot in the arm, and no doubt fall badly on their sword in a May election next year. Perhaps this scenario will encourage our Tone to delay the election to October 7, the week of the Conservative conference, as an indication that he wants to give the Conservatives a slight boost.

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posted 25 Jul 2004, 11.56 +0100

Weather in week 30

A very strange week's weather this week. Monday was sunny and cool, Tuesday cloudy and warm. Wednesday saw drizzle clear to sun, Thursday was cloudy, humid, and cold. Friday and Saturday were sunny, while to-day was cloudy and chilly. Temperatures ranged from 24 on Tuesday to 19 to-day and Thursday. We had a total of 9 degree cooling days this week, the summer's total is 72. This compares to a scorching 83 in this week last year.

The outlook is uncertain. We know a high pressure area will slowly track to the south and east, but we don't know how close it'll come vis-a-vis the fronts it's pushing towards the Atlantic. We also don't know whether the remnant will be sun or cloud. Forecasters expect settled, sunny weather, at least until Thursday. We shall see.

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posted 25 Jul 2004, 21.25 +0100


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