The Snow In The Summer or So-So

09/13/2004 - 09/19/2004

Tue 14 Sep 2004

Envy! Envy! Ee-ee-envy!

Yesterday, Michael Howaerd set out his concerns for the environment. He wants to improving the energy efficiency of every coffin household in the country, and wants to do something to encourage technologies such as wave and tidal power.

Howaerd married his environmental credentials to his neck tax-cutting instincts, proposing reducing the stamp duty on house sales for energy-efficient premises. This will save the average Tory voter £8000 when they move house, typically a grand a year. He accused Mr Tony Blair of lecturing people while presiding over rising emissions and failing to have a coherent plan for achieving his "ambitious long term targets for carbon dioxide emissions".

The opposition leader gave lip-service to wind farms on the land, rather than out to sea - his party has opposed almost every application for the farms, while praising them in theory. The theory seems to be not in our voters' back yards. He did make the very valid point that the government had consistently failed to support other renewable energy sources. The Department of Trade and Industry consistently failed to supported wind, wave and biomass technologies beyond the invention stage. Whether a slimmed-down "Department of Deregulation" under Vulcan Redwood would support such technologies is a moot point.

Howaerd's speech drew support from unusual quarters. The Green Alliance's Guy Thompson was glad that Mr Howard had mentioned climate change. "We need strong opposition on the environment to hold the government to account," he said. "In view of declining party allegiances, the Conservatives should be going after the votes of the 5 million members of green NGOs at the next election." One such NGO is Friends of the Earth, for whom Tony Juniper spoke: "[The speech has] set a high bar for the prime minister to jump over. We will be looking for some action at last from Mr Blair."

Greenpeace's Jim Footner said: "This was a good speech with some good ideas, and Michael Howard is right when he says Bush should sign the Kyoto Protocol, but on the ground his party is a serious impediment in the fight against global warming. Conservative politicians have tried to scupper wind energy projects across the country, while Mr Howard himself has shared a platform with prominent anti-wind campaigners like David Bellamy, who denies global warming is even real."

That was day one. This is day two.

Tony Blair urged the PDRUP to commit itself to tougher action to combat global warming and promised a list of green policies in Labour's general election manifesto. The Indytab reckoned this was all a bit of a cynical ploy to woo back those who were alienated by Blair's support for the illegal Iraq war, but then they would.

Blair repeated his call for the PDRUP to sign and abide by the Kyoto treaty, correctly pointing out that climate change is one of the the greatest challenges facing the planet - look at New Orleans next Friday.

Labour's manifesto is likely to include a firm pledge to boost renewable energy and build more wind farms. If Mr B acknowledged the elephant in the room - the refusal of some selfish nations to abide by Kyoto - he neglected to notice two steaming piles of dung. He remained silent on the great nuclear question, refusing to confirm or deny the vocal claims of those who would plug a short-term energy gap with a long-term pollution problem. And he refused to speak on the threat posed by the increasing numbers of flights, perhaps the easiest cut in greenhouse gases.

The most vocal critic we could find at short notice was Caroline Lucas, Green MEP, in the Indytab: "I'd like to see the same commitment, resources and energy that was used in Iraq used in the fight against climate change. Since Labour came to power in 1997, emissions from aircraft alone have risen by up to 23 per cent. Every time there's a fuel crisis the Government backs down, instead of using their vast majority to passing necessary but contentious legislation. If Mr Blair says nuclear power is a viable alternative, it would show a complete ignorance of the issues. The incremental measures Mr Blair is likely to propose aren't sufficient."

In the interests of full disclosure, we must mention our full membership of Friends of the Earth, and our policy of donating twice the taxes from each flight we take to environmental charities.

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posted 14 Sep 2004, 20.14 +0100

Politics
Let the chicken run ... begin!

By 1993, two things had become clear. One, the next general election would be fought under new constituency boundaries. Two, the Conservatives were going to lose many seats that they had held for a very long time indeed. The result was that quite a few Tory MPs looked for new constituencies quite some distance from their existing seats. Perhaps the most famous example was former finance minister Norma Lamont, who fled from Kingston-upon-Thames (which went LD at the 97 election) to Harrogate (which, er, went LD at the 97 election.)

In 2001, the first confirmation that Labour was on course for a landslide, and that the Lib Dems hadn't made their expected breakthrough in urban areas, came shortly after midnight, when Labour held on to Birmingham Yardley.

Fast forward to 2004, and two things have become clear. One, the next general election will be fought under new constituency boundaries in Scotland, and the existing ones in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland. Two, Labour are going to lose many seats they've held for a very long time indeed. One such seat currently has the following DAVID record:

047 Birmingham Yardley           Estelle Morris                    * LD GAIN* 5.69%

Not any more, though. Estelle Morris has announced she will be standing down from the Commons at the next election. This removes the personal vote she had built up since taking the seat from the Conservatives in 1992, and surely makes the Lib Dems the favourite there. It also suggests that she would rather continue her career from the safety of the Lords, where no-one has to face election (yet); it does raise the possibility that she's planning an extended version of The Chicken Run, leaving a marginal seat in this parliament to stand for a safe one in the 2009-11 election. If she does, I'll surely pull out this post as proof of my foresight; if she doesn't, I'll quietly forget it ever existed.

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posted 14 Sep 2004, 20.59 +0100

Politics

Wed 15 Sep 2004

No need to run, no need to hide

Yes, I do review my logs most days, and I've been wondering why my site load has been about 20% higher than normal over the past few days. Turns out that my Wanted fansite has been - well, not so much slashdotted or metafiltered, but Digitallyspied in a thread about the greatest game show of 1996.

To rattle through some of the points on the forum discussion (it's my site, I get to do this :)

- Series 1, 8:30 Wednesday evenings October - December 1996, Richard Littlejohn hosting. Series 2, 6:30 Sunday teatime May and June 1997, Ray Cokes. Yep, straight after The Monkees - and can you imagine C4 showing The Monkees now?

- Yes, the late lamented UK HORIZONS showed Wanted on and off from December 2000 until July 2003. No, they've not showed it on UK PIBBLE. No, we don't know why, other than that they've not got the budget.

- Ahead of its time? No doubt. Wanted pushed television technology to its limits; since then, the videophone enables anyone to broadcast from anywhere, albeit not in particularly high quality. There have been attempts to revive the format - apparently the BBC came within a whisker of resurrecting the format for Children In Need a couple of years ago.

- Possible to-day? Certainly, though given recent cuts in the service, not using phone boxes. These people could be standing on a street corner near you... any street corner, anywhere.

- Reality tv? Wanted still defines the term. Big Brother is a bunch of people playing up for the cameras, and has been since at least 2002.

- S4C. Ah, regional variations. The Wednesday shows aired at 2100, on a 30 minute delay. The Sunday shows went out at 1930, too late for viewers in Wales to play along, allowing the completely incompetent Charlotte and Victoria to win the grand non-total of nothing. Cardiff was just on the edge of the HTV West transmitter.

Incidentally, if any of the contestants, or the trackers, or anyone connected with Wanted get to read this, do drop us a line. We can't offer a £1000 reward, but we can offer your memories preserved for a discerning fan audience.

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posted 15 Sep 2004, 21.06 +0100

Entertainment
Champions' Trophy update

On Monday, Australia overpowered the PDRUP to top Group A. The Yanks were skittled out for 93, and the Aussies passed their target before the fielding restrictions were lifted.

On Tuesday, Zimbabwe held Sri Lanka close, but not close enough to prevent the '96 champions from winning. The Sri Lankans are second in group D.

To-day, the West Indies beat Bangladesh by a distance; thanks to a superlative South African performance, the Windies are behind in Group B. Pakistan beat Kenya by a country mile, knocking off their required runs in the 19th over, and topping Group C from India.

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posted 15 Sep 2004, 21.13 +0100

Sport
A disgraceful exhibition that will go down in the annals of Parliament

We don't normally provide play-by-play coverage of events in the Commons - that's the perogative of They Work For You and others. However, to-day's display was so shocking and so poor that we have to make an exception. Michael Martin is in the chair, the clock is ticking up to twelve noon. Let the challenge ... begin!

It all began quietly enough, with a backbencher in a marginal seat (Cardiff North, currently projected as LAB HOLD 01%) asking a clearly-planted question enabling Tony Blair to guff about what his party has done for the elderly. Recent research we've completely made up shows that many old people are watching parliamentary coverage, preferring it to Eggheads. Sensible people.

Things went downhill quickly. Opposition leader Michael Howaerd showed off his new sunblock by asking a tricky question about his favourite subject, the cleanliness of hospitals. If the hospital is unclean, so his thinking goes, then any blood he drinks will be badly contaminated by all sorts of muck, like socialism. Tony got so wrapped up in his own political points scoring that he committed the cardinal sin. The PM forgot the question he was facing, and had to ask the audience. The Labour side voted for C, "How much have you increased spending on the NHS?", the Tories went for B, "When are you going to resign?" In the chair, speaker Martin rolled his eyes, waved about his staff, and adjudicated. "Howmi, you collected one gold question, put the gold ring on your staff. Blato, the question was about hospital cleanliness. As I have had to help you, the rules are clear; you must lose a life. "

Chas Cheese wastes his shots on citizenship for Gurkha soldiers, and loses another life. He now has three lives and four gold rings, a life behind Blato. Then we move on to green matters, and David Heathcoat-Amery (Wells, CON HOLD 05%) criticises wind turbines and extols the virtues of nuclear power. Never knew Somerset was in Cloudcuckooland.

The next question comes from Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight, CON HOLD 04%) asking about food miles. This phenomenon allows supermarkets to bring their chilled, mass-produced pap many thousands of miles, and sell it for less than tasty, seasonal home-grown produce. It's one of the biggest symptoms of what's wrong with the food chain at the moment, of how globalisation has distorted markets to the point of breaking, and addressing - or at least acknowledging - the matter would be an early test of any serious environmental policy. Blato's response is printed here in full.

"I don't know - I'm sure we are doing something,"

This is a clear non-answer, showing the vacuum at the environmental heart of the Blair government, and giving the lie to all the kind words that he spoke on the subject yesterday. Speaker Martin encourages Blato to take the Leap of Faith, without attaching the bungee cord.

Oh, during the afternoon's debate on fox-hunting, some protesters ran into the chamber and began to argue with the ministers proposing the measure. Not nice, but one has to wonder if Blato gave them something of a free pass, if only to ensure that his woeful performance at PMQs would be wiped from the collective memory. Not here, tush.

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posted 15 Sep 2004, 21.37 +0100

Politics

Thu 16 Sep 2004

Denis McShane writes

Some interesting thoughts from the Europe minister's column in Het Graunida, presented without further comment.

I listen to distinguished professors in the beautiful Knights Room of the Dutch parliament in the Hague talking about Europe. I ask them to boil down their elegant ideas and postulates in favour of Europe to 15 or 30 seconds - the maximum time one is allowed on television news bulletins to get a point over. None manages. It was a cheap shot on my part perhaps and it is true that Europe is about complexity, cooperation and consensus - none of which lend themselves easily to tabloid headlines and intros. But those of us who reject isolationism and believe that being in the EU is good for Britain have to find words that connect better.

Checking out the websites of the Democratic and Republican party conventions I see that no speaker either Boston or New York mentioned the EU in their speeches. Contrast this with the almost obsessive focus of politicians, journalists, and intellectuals in Europe on the US. Is it not time to cultivate our own garden - and start working out how to make Europe more dynamic and more able to promote its values around the world?

In a Commons debate on the new constitutional treaty, several Conservatives call for the treaty to be sent to every citizen. There are about 30 million households in Britain. To send the new EU's new rule-book - about a small paperback in length - would be very expensive. But at least it would put the treaty into everyone's hands and allow people to check the reality of its contents compared to the myths spread by anti-Europeans. In my wind-up speech I ask across the dispatch box if the Conservatives would support spending a serious chunk of taxpayers' money on sending out the text. They all nod in agreement. Every day the anti-European crowd spends container-loads of money on anti-EU propaganda. Finding the means to put the facts about Europe in front of people is now a priority.

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posted 16 Sep 2004, 19.29 +0100

Intellectual
A brief history

March 2003: Rent-a-ghost's chief legal adviser Wotsisface Goldsmith delivers advice to chief spook Harold Meaker, who claims it backs his friend Dobbin's proposed war against the Perkinses. In spite of cries from everyone in the Meaker organisation, he refuses to publish the advice in full. "The spell you're proposing to cast is justified, because back in 1990, the United Ghouls ordered Mrs Perkins to stop developing her singing voice of mass destruction, and she's still speaking." "Tiny" Timothy Claypole resigns in protest, saying that Mrs Perkins hasn't even threatened to break any glass in twelve years. Meaker joins the rest of the Painting stores in the invasion.

September 2004: UG chief spook Coffi Ananbanan says the invasion of the Perkins house was completely illegal.

September 2004: Meaker says that he's made his legal case for invasion perfectly clear. Opposition leader Hazel the McWitch points out that he's never actually published it. Bernie St John makes Meaker vanish in a puff of logic. Or smoke.

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posted 16 Sep 2004, 21.05 +0100

News

Sat 18 Sep 2004

The Iraq Survey Group reports

This article contains a Chris Morris joke from 1991.

According to a leaked report in to-day's Grauniad, Iraq had no chemical, biological, or nuclear threat. There were no nuclear weapons, and the only biochem programme was a small quantity of poison, possibly for use in assassinations, possibly for analysis to prevent assassinations.

A draft of the Iraq Survey Group's final report circulating in Washington found no sign of the alleged illegal stockpiles that the US and Britain presented as the justification for going to war, nor did it find any evidence of efforts to reconstitute Iraq's nuclear weapons programme.

It also appears to play down an interim report which suggested there was evidence that Iraq was developing "test amounts" of ricin for use in weapons. Instead, the ISG report says in its conclusion that there was evidence to suggest the Iraqi regime planned to restart its illegal weapons programmes if UN sanctions were lifted.

The worst weapon of destruction found on the ISG's inspection was a saucepan of boiling water left unattended on a gas hob. According to the inspectors, this water could have boiled over and extinguished the pilot light, or led to a build-up of gas causing a nasty smell.

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posted 18 Sep 2004, 12.05 +0100

News
Hunt the reasons

Is it possible for a political columnist not to have a view on a subject? Evidently so - witness the almost complete absence of comment on the hunting bill, other than the proposed use of the Parliament Act to drive it through. (On that subject, my thanks to the correspondent who suggested that the age of consent law flowed directly from the incorporation of the European Convention on Human Right into law. The Lords had not objected to the ECHR legislation, so were being very inconsistent within themselves by blocking the age of consent law.)

Having a ban for fox hunting with hounds has been an article of faith amongst the left for many years. I've never quite worked out why. Back in the early 90s, my sixth-form was subjected to "animal rights" lectures, starting with those for and against hunting with hounds. I was distinctly unimpressed by the arguments of both sides, which ran roughly like this.

We should ban because: it's cruel, and it's cruel, and only rich people do it, and it's cruel.

We shouldn't ban it because: there's no compelling evidence that it's cruel, and it'll put people out of work, and, er, that's it.

Behind this entire debate is the fundamental question of "animal rights" - is it right to impose structures of human morality on other species? To the best of my knowledge, no-one has addressed this hefty theological / moral matter at any time. Neither has anyone addressed the scientific evidence put forward a few years ago - if the science were valid or invalid, surely one side would be using it by now?

Instead, the discussion has been limited to class war by proxy. On the one side, those who wish to wage war from the lower classes come up with gems like this:

I will say that if you diss "See It In A Boy's Eyes" then I think you're supporting the hunt lobby by default, because they're really motivated as much by anger at "their own children" (aw diddums) becoming "nigger-lovers" (and they DO still use that term) as by anything else [..] But right now I don't feel like listening to anything bar Public Enemy, Jadakiss and Shyne, and working and thinking FUCKING HARD. Get up, get into it, get involved. Try breaking into country estates and mansions if you can, making your presence felt. Go into your local Historic Market Town and choose some prime targets; drive round and round near the homes of known hunt supporters pumping Westwood out this weekend, really rub it in. When the new areas become, effectively, common land again on Sunday - restoring freedoms taken from the majority of the British people by the protesters' ancestors many generations ago, in an act which caused immense harm and social dislocation - do all the usual chants, show your placards, do all that shit until the last horn has sounded.

On the other side, we have people who are preparing to ignore the law - not because it has been passed in an unconstitutional manner, not because it's hasty legislation, but because it's populist, carried through by the working class for the working class, and what the working class likes and does is automatically wrong.

Even the usually-sober Indytab has gone mental on us - Friday's edition carried no less than seven pages of comment, speculation, and profiling of the people who invaded the Commons on Wednesday. The headline brought to mind founder Andreas Whittam-Smith's maxim that the royals were trivia, and the Indescribablyboring doesn't cover trivia. Royal links of the Commons invaders Oh.

Do I think fox hunting should be banned? The science suggests that it may be cruel, and my personal ethics say that hunting is an unreasonable interference with the pattern of nature.
Do I think this is the most pressing issue before us? No. There are people suffering from our own actions. Why not talk about them for once.
Do I think this class war is unsightly? Well, duh!

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posted 18 Sep 2004, 13.28 +0100

Politics
This week's by-election watch

Seven by-elections involving two of the big three this week. Generally, there's a swing from the Tories to the Lib Dems, and a smaller swing from the Tories to Labour. This latter swing is rather atypical, and could be down to intervention by minor parties in most of the seats.

Using the eight-week rolling average in DAVID, we get Labour 30 seats adrift of an overall majority, having ceded two seats to the Tories and one to the Lib Dems this week. The benchmark seats: Estelle Morris in Birmingham Yardley is out by 6.4%; Stephen Twigg in Enfield Southgate loses by 2.2%, and the internicine feud in Reading East is to no avail, the seat's going Tory by 0.5%. John "Jack" Straw's majority over the Conservatives is down to 6.8%, and think how huge a scalp that would be.

My gut feeling is still that we're looking for a thin but workable Labour majority, perhaps in the region of 15, around 330 seats.

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posted 18 Sep 2004, 18.34 +0100

Politics

Sun 19 Sep 2004

Sports update

Cricket, and the semi-final lineup for the Champions' Trophy is known. Australia beat New Zealand at a canter, they'll face England, who beat Sri Lanka by some distance. The other semi pitches India, who breezed past Pakistan, and the West Indies, whose victory against South Africa was the closest of the four quarter finals.

The Ryder Cup got off to a good start for the Europeans on Friday, winning the opening fourballs 3½ : ½, with home favourites Mickleson and Woods falling to Montgomerie and Harrington. The afternoon foursomes went 3:1 to Europe, allowing the visitors to take a 6½ : 1½ overnight lead. Saturday's fourballs split 1½ : 2½ to the home team, the foursomes were split 2:2. At 11:5, Europe only needed three and a half to win the title again. Even though to-day's singles matches started with a roll to the US, the winning points were earned in the sixth match by Colin Montgomerie. Monty has had a roller-coaster year, had to come into the team as a captain's pick, and in any other year would be a lock for Sports Personality.

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posted 19 Sep 2004, 21.43 +0100

Sport
Weather in week 38

Autumn has arrived, of that there can be no doubt. Periods of rain from Monday evening to Tuesday lunchtime, and on Friday and early Saturday. Wednesday and Thursday, in particular, were sunny, but there wasn't the real warmth we've come to expect over the past few months. Top temperatures were between 16 and 18 each day, with nightly lows anywhere between 7 and 14. We've still had 184 degree cooling days this summer.

Next week: rain and wind spreads in to-morrow, and remains for most of the week.

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posted 19 Sep 2004, 21.44 +0100

News

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