Sunday, March 25, 2007

Blair Backs Miliband

The Blairites seem desperate for Miliband to stand against Brown. This morning's Observer's lead story is that Blair "has been discussing the possibility of a Miliband challenge with his closest allies" and thinks (hopes) that Miliband "will win" if he really goes for it. This comes shortly after the former Cabinet Secretary Arnold Turnbull attacked Brown's "Stalinist style" of management. Risibly, Turnbull - clearly an experienced Whitehall operator - claims he believed he was speaking off-the-record (the gullible Nick Robinson swallowed this line). Meanwhile Jack Straw has announced he is to run Brown's leadership campaign. It will be interesting to see if Blair continues to act to undermine Blair via leaks from his "closest allies" or if - closer to a contest - he come out publicly in favour of a challenger. Also: who exactly are these "closest allies"? There is an obvious list of "usual suspects" but it would be interesting to know which of them have trusted by Blair with this particular errand.

P.S. Mandelson on Marr arguing that Brown must demonstrate that he is sufficiently "New Labour" and hinting, in his disingenuous serpentine and oleaginous way, that a younger leader is needed. Later, when Mandelson says he won't be taking sides in a leadership contest, Jack Straw is highly amused.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Sins of the flesh

Politaholic is going to take up-line dancing. ASAP. Why? Well, listen to the Rev. Ian Paisley quoted in the Guardian on Thursday: "Line dancing is as sinful as any other type of sexual gestures and touchings. It is excitement to lust". I do hope so.

Brown's Last Budget

Gordon Brown’s last budget moves a lot of furniture around to little effect. It is clearly a political budget designed to wrong-foot the Conservatives and ensure the succession. It seems to have been successful from that point of view. There is a lot of talk of Brown having “shot Cameron’s fox” by cutting the basic rate of income tax by 2p. Other fairly Conservative measures include raising the 40% top-rate of income tax from £38,000 to £43,000. However, he has also raised the ceiling on National Insurance contributions – but not by much - from £33,540 to £43,000 (aligning the ceiling with the top-rate of income tax). He has cut corporation tax (from 30p to 28p) and raised the threshold for inheritance tax to £350,000.
The 2p cut is offset by the abolition of the 10p tax band. This, on the face of it, is a regressive measure, which, although it affects all tax-payers, hits the low-paid hardest (the rate of tax on most of their taxable income is effectively doubled). But Brown is claiming low-earners will not be adversely affected because this will be off-set by increases to working tax credit and child credit (if you a low-paid and childless tough shit), although as I understand it the details of these increases are not yet available. (Politaholic is not an economist and this is probably a silly question: but what is the point of taxing low earners then giving it back to them in tax credits? Why not tax them less in the first place? Would that not also save on the administrative costs?). The Taxpayers Alliance is quoted in the Guardian as commenting: “Brown has basically delivered George Osborne’s first budget”. That seems to be the size of it.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Blue Peter Vandal Confesses

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who has been in custody since he was captured in March 2003 and appears to have been a victim of "water-boarding" and god knows what else, has confessed to being the "mastermind" of the attack on the twin towers, the 1993 bombings of the same target, the bombings in Bali and Kenya in 2002, the "shoe bomb" plot, and plots to attack Canary Wharf, Big Ben, the Panama Canal, and the Empire State Building. He also plotted to kill the Pope and Bill Clinton. In addition, he confessed to being Jack the Ripper and - after his head had been pushed under the water a few more times - to vandalising the Blue Peter garden. One shouldn't joke about so serious a matter, I suppose, and this guy probably is a fairly nasty piece of work, but we all know that a person who is torturered will confess to anything (in all fairness, the BBC is flagging this up in its reports, referring to Mohammed's "boastful nature" - enhanced, no doubt, by a few lungfulls of water). It all looks like Inspector Knacker (or the Guantanamo equivilant) trying to improve his "clear-up" rate.

Sunday, March 11, 2007


Politaholic is one year old. My first blog was on March 10 2006 (Ok I am one year and one day old). I have posted 193 times, an average of nearly 2 a day, although posting is more frequent at week-ends and during holidays. I shall have a birthday beer, or two...

A deal in "Northern Ireland"?

The Assembly elections in "Northern Ireland" have seen the further decline of the SDLP and the Ulster Unionist Party. The Democratic Unionist Party got 30% of first preference votes and 36 members of the Assembly; Sinn Fein 26.2% and 28; the Ulster Unionist Party 14.9% and 18; the Social Democratic and Labour Party 15.2% and 16; the Alliance Party 5.2% and 7; and 3 others were elected.
The Government has set a deadline of March 26 for forming an administration, otherwise Peter Hain (the orange-skinned Viceroy - sorry, Secretary of State for "Northern Ireland") threatens to dissolve the Assembly. Actually, the prospects of a deal between Sinn Fein and the SDLP - despite the rhetoric - looks pretty good, although whether they will manage it by March 26 is another matter (it will scarcely be the first time a deadline has been breached). Jeffrey Donaldson (a UUP defector to the DUP) is not short of anti-Republican rhetoric, but we can still hear him say that "we are ready for government" and "this can happen quickly" ("within weeks"); although he perversely blames Sinn Fein for lack of progress. It might seem incredible, but Sinn Fein and the DUP do quietly co-operate in town halls across the six counties. However, there are many DUP rejectionists who just cannot tolerate sharing power with Sinn Fein; and there is a lot of speculation that the DUP may fragment. The big issue in the election was water rates, set to rise spectacularly unless a financial package can be agreed, but the price of that is that the DUP agree to enter government (without which, as Gerry Adams has pointed out, they will not get a "brass farthing"). My money is on an agreeent, if not by March 26, certainly before Blair leaves office, allowing him something to put in the trophy cabinet labelled "legacy".

Levy: victim of anti-semitism?

Lord Levi's latest line of defence is that he is a victim of anti-semitism. The Jewish Chronicle is pushing this line. On Wednesday David Rowan - editor of the JC - was on Radio 4 describing Levi as a "convenient scapegoat" and complaining of "anti-semitic rhetoric". I seem to recall a similar line of defence being employed on behalf of Keth Vaz when he was in a spot of bother not so long ago: in his case he was allegedly a victim of Islamophobia. Rowan claimed "we hear nothing about Ruth Turner's religious affliations". Not so. We are constantly being reminded that her father is a Professor of Divinity. (And Tony Blair's Anglo-Catholicism and possible conversion to Roman Catholicism after he leaves office is a frequent topic of speculation). The whole thing is ludicrous; either Levy was trading honours or not; his religion has bugger all to do with it. Then again, is it so ludicrous? We are hearing an awful lot about how much "stress" poor Levy is suffering. Private Eye has suggested he may be preparing for an Ernest Saunders-type defence, should one be needed. They may be on to something.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Green? My arse.

Last year Politaholic took his bicycle to Norway by ferry. The year before it was France/Germany along the Mosel; I travelled by coach with the European Bike Express (a trailer carries the bikes). The photo shows Politaholic de luxe accommodation plus bicycle somewhere in Norway. This year I thought I would travel by rail to Basel, then cycle in the Black Forest and along the Danube (unfortunately the Bike Express goes nowhere near Basel).
What a fool I am. So far as I can gather it is impossible to get on the Eurostar with an intact bicycle, or on the French TGV. To do it, it is necessary to buy a bike bag (costing anything between £50 and £250), then disassemble the bike (removing the wheels, the mudguards, and the pedals, and sometimes also the handlebars). Then the bike has to be stuffed into the bag (essentially a suitcase) and re-assembled at the other end. And then there is another problem: what to do with the bloody bike bag? It is needed for the return trip but I don't want to cycle round Germany with it.
Of course, it is easy to take your bike to the Continent; all you have to do is attach it to the roof rack on your car and drive there.
Yes, yes...we are all "green" now. All the politicians are as green as shamrock. They shout it from the rooftops. But anything so simple and so obvious as travelling by rail with your bike (in one piece)? Forget it. Jeremy Clarkson rules. Eat shit cyclist.

Lords Reform

The House of Commons voted for all all-elected second chamber by 337 to 224 on Wednesday. The 80%-elected option was also supported by a narrower majority of 305-267. All the other options on offer were rejected: 60%-elected was defeated by 214 votes, 50%-elected (favoured by the Government) by 263 votes, and 40% and 20%-elected without a formal vote. The all-appointed option was rejected by 179 votes. MP’s also voted by a majority of 280 to remove the 92 remaining hereditary peers. It seems some MP’s who voted against the 80%-elected option then went on to vote for the 100-elected option on the calculation that this will be rejected by the Lords.
The votes were “indicative”. It remains for the Government to draft a Bill, and it is being suggested that it might in fact opt for the 80-elected option (Gordon Brown voted for this). The proposals published by Jack Straw last year envisaged a smaller House of Lords (540 instead of 746 members) and a maximum time in office of 15 years. Disappointingly, the “spiritual lords” are apparently to remain. Straw also envisaged reform as a lengthy process, taking as long as 15 years to complete.
When the Bill is finally drafted it will, presumably, pass through the Commons. If the Lords then rejects it the Government has the option of using the Parliament Act (Straw has hinted that he is prepared to do this). However, in Friday’s Guardian Tony Benn argued for “an alternative that would be more decisive: a referendum…” Faced with a “Yes” vote in a referendum the Lords would probably acquiesce.
The principal argument against an all-elected chamber is that if elected the Lords would acquire democratic legitimacy and could become a rival to the Commons. This is why a “mixed” chamber is preferred by many who favour reform; others prefer an all-appointed chamber. However, it seems to Politaholic that if the powers of the Lords are put on a clear statutory basis (better still, set out plainly in a written constitution) this problem need not arise. Although elected the Lords would have been elected to a revising chamber with strictly limited powers; to exceed those powers would be unconstitutional. The Lords could be wholly elected and the priority of the Commons retained.
Another problem concerns the manner of their election. In Wednesday’s Guardian Simon Jenkins argued that “…MP’s are being asked to choose between scheme A, whereby the political establishment chooses lords as now, and scheme B, whereby the political establishment continues to choose lords by deciding who gets on the party list for ‘election’”. If the regional list system is used the result will “not be an elected upper-house but a party-selected upper house which is why most MP’s will vote for it”. (Billy Bragg’s “secondary mandate” has the same flaw: it too uses party lists). In these circumstances, Jenkins argues appointment is better than election so long as patronage is removed from Downing Street. Jenkins has a point but this is not really an argument against the principle of election; it is an argument against the use of the regional list system. There are alternatives: lords could be elected using STV.
And why do they have to be called lords? What about “Member of the Revising Chamber” (MRC), just to make it plain what their job is and is not?

Monday, March 05, 2007

Obama: the sins of the fathers...

Am "amatuer geneological researcher" has unearthed the truth about Barack Obama. It seems that the filthy swine, who is the son of a black man from Kenya and a white woman from Kansas, is descended on his mother's side from a slaveowner. His great-great-great-great-grandfather owned two slaves in Kentucky: a 15-year-old girl and a 25-year-old man. So now we know. What a bastard. My own geneological researches reveal that my great great great great great great great grandfather used to slaughter infants and drink their blood, mixed with a little oatmeal. My great great great great great grandfather was one of Genghis Khan's henchmen whose passion for rapine knew no equal, and my great great great grandfather was a fiendishly skilled torturer in the employ of Torquemeda. (Oh yes, my family got around). Worse of all my grandfather voted Tory. That is the cruelest cut of all. I carry this tainted blood in my veins. Oh, the shame. (Seriously, I kid you not: his "great-great-great-great grandfather!!! Which of us is innocent?).

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Olympic Gigantomania

Simon Jenkins in yesterday's Guardian takes aim at Olympic Gigantomania: the cost of the Olympics, he says, could soon be £1 billion a day; a level of spending which makes the money flushed down the toilet on the Dome look like "petty cash". By comparison, the Royal Opera House cost £214 million, Tate Modern £134 million, and Wembley Stadium £798 million. The cost of the Olympics has risen by 40% since July 2005, and the extra cost is to come from London council tax payers and lottery funds. Six temporary stadiums are to be built for 16 days of sport: "...the kind of gesture once confined to Persian monarchs and African dictators".