Sunday, December 31, 2006

The Blair's Latest Freebie

What is it about the Blairs?

I mean really, honestly.

Cliff Richard?
Robin Gibb?

Do they have no taste?

Where next?

Chris de Burgh's castle in Ireland?

I am reminded of the old joke about Margaret Thatcher. In 1980 she visited the Reagan's and stayed at their ranch. She was accompanied by Lord (Peter) Carrington. After their return Carrington was asked how Thatcher had got on with the Reagans. "Oh, they loved her", he (allegedly) said. Adding, after a heartbeat: "They're so vulgar".

Politaholic Got It Wrong

Politaholic is not yet a one year old. I have been bloggin since March 2006. In that short time I have made some pretty big errors:

  • I thought - in April - that Blair would be gone before the end of the year (If the alleged Brownite "coup" had worked I might have been right). Now it seems obvious that Blair will clock-up his ten years.
  • I thought that someone from "within the tent" might strike the fatal blow against Blair (I should have known better).
  • I thought Prescott would resign: in some ways it is still surprising that he has not; but the political reason for his survival (to shield Blair) is obvious.
  • I thought there would be a Labour Leadership challenge (after the failed "coup" extorted from Blair a promise to go before next September a challenge probably seemed superfluous, and potential challengers were deterred by the damage it might do to the party (which press reaction to the "coup" seemed to underline).

Doubtless there were other mistakes. These are the perils of blogging. No editors, no proof readers. You press the button and "hey, presto" there it goes into the blogosphere and afterwards you can't say "I didn't say that" because there's the proof. I like it.

I still think that Brown is by far the most likely successor to Blair, but I do think there will be a serious leadership challenge, probably by John Reid.

I still think the "Cameron question" is open: he is still vulnerable to the charge of being "all image and no substance" and the Tory opinion poll lead is not large enough for a Tory overall majority (or comparable with the lead Blair had at a similar stage in the electoral cycle); but there is no question that he has re-invigorated the Conservatives.

I am a little worried by the parties of the far right (BNP) and not quite so far right but still alarmingly right (UKIP): if Cameron's Tories become tree-hugging and gay-friendly where are all the traditional Tories going to go?

I am still convinced the war in Iraq was a disaster. I don't particularly want to link arms with Islamists in opposition to the war, but the "liberal imperialism" of the Euston group does not attract me either. Odd - isn't it - to recall that all those years ago the "tankies" were the Stalinist wing of the old CPGB; now the "tankies" are an assorted group of ex (?)-Trots, Blairites, and neo-cons. How the wheel turns.

Saturday, December 30, 2006


175 MP's, taking part in a survey by Sky Movies, have voted Casablanca their all-time favourite movie. Which just goes to show that MP's don't get it wrong all the time. Some Like It Hot was third, and One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest was fourth: both good choices. But Star Wars in second place is an appalling choice: it is a dreadful movie, a key step in the infantilisation of cinema which has occurred over the last few decades. Perhaps most interesting is that Tory MP's put Carry On UP the Kyber in third place. Dear God. (They could be joking, I suppose, but I suspect they really are that idiotic). Politaholic would have CHINATOWN near the top of his list.

One of my favourite bits of dialogue in Casablanca:

Captain Renault wonders why Rick came to Casablanca: "Did you abscond with the church funds? Run off with a Senators wife? I like to think you killed a man. It's the romantic in me".
Rick: "It was a combination of all three".

Oh, and another chance to look at the beautiful Ingrid Bergman.

War Criminal Still at Large

This morning Saddam Hussein was hanged. Politaholic does not want to rejoice in anyone's death, but it is hard to feel much sympathy for someone who has clearly committed such monstrous crimes. Yet the trial was a farce and if the Americans - the idea that the Iraq puppet regime is acting independently is ludicrous - believe this will turn things around for them then they are crazy. It says everything that the hangmen - and not Saddam - wore masks.

Meanwhile, in the real world...

Some weeks ago Pinochet died peacefully in his bed, much lamented by his friend Thatcher.

Henry Kissinger is still at large.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Buses in Manchester

Politaholic's attention is grabbed by an article in The Times on Boxing Day about buses in Manchester. Last month a bus crashed into the basket of a cherry picker vehicle killing a signwritter - Martin Pilling - who was only 27. Politholic saw the aftermath of this as he was cycling to work (it happened outside the Tesco on Oxford Road, just before curry mile, if one is heading out of the city). The Times reports that one problem is that many of the drivers employed by the bus companies are Polish, and do not speak English well-enough to understand road signs (although how that would have helped in this case is not clear). Politaholic is not xenophobic but it does seem reasonable that bus drivers should be expected to read road signs. On the other hand, if one reads beyond the Times headline, it seem that other problems may be just as significant. Three days after Mr. Pillings death inspectors from the Vehicle and Operation Services Agency together with police visited the bus company base (UK North and GM Buses Ltd): "They inspected 28 buses and issued 16 prohibition notices for defects including faulty brakes, steering and suspension". In other words 57% of the buses inspected were not roadworthy. The Times also reports that: "Deregulaton has led to sometimes chaotic scenes on Manchester's roads as rival bus companies vie for custom on the most lucrative routes. On some roads bumper-to-bumper buses have brought traffic to a standstill". Politaholic can testify to the truth of that. While on other, less profitable, routes it is almost impossible to get a bus, and bus timetables are mere fiction, on a busy route such as Oxford Road-Wimslow Road buses are indeed often bumper-to-bumper. For a cyclist it is extremely dangerous, since buses and cycles share the same lane. I have had a bus pull-in in front of me - inches away - at traffic lights (close to where Mr. Pillington was killed), the bus stuck out at a forty-five degree angle into the road, its nose blocking my access. Other common hazards are when the bus is at the bus stop. There is no signal that it is intending to pull out. So one overtakes. Two hazards arise: cars behind will try to run you over (you're on the road when you should be in the cycle lane) even though they can see you must pull out to overtake the bus; or the bus suddenly pulls out and now you are jammed between the bus on the left and traffic on the right, in both cases inches away. The solution, of course, is segregated cycle lanes, but don't hold your breath. The green paint down the side of the road is better than nothing but not very effective (I have seen motorists drive in the cycle lane, sometimes so that they can overtake on the inside). For all the talk about "green" politics we have privatised bus companies putting buses on the road with drivers who can't read road signs, faulty brakes and faulty steering. We have bumper-to-bumper buses in one part of town and buses as rare as solar eclipses in other parts of town. We do not have adequate - or joined-up - cycle lanes. And King Car is supreme. I know, I know...I must learn to live in the real world (where have I heard that before?). Mind you, given how psychopathic most motorists are, I may not have much longer in this world. If Politaholic goes suddenly silent, you'll know why.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Dawkins and Benn

Watching Richard Dawkins with Tony Benn on TV this morning was a bit depressing. Dawkin's made the reasonable point that people like Benn "cherry pick" the Bible looking for the "good bits" (e.g. the Golden Rule) while disregarding the "bad" bits (e.g. stoning people to death for adultery or for gathering sticks on Sunday). The point he was trying to make was that, in "cherry picking" in this way, a criterion of selection is used (a moral code, perhaps) and that, therefore the Bible was not giving moral guidance, rather the "moral code" instructed the "reading" of the Bible. Benn does not, Dawkins argued, get his moral compass from the Bible instead he imposes it upon the Bible. If the "moral code" in question is a "good" one then why not go "directly for it" by-passing religion? Benn - and Andrew Rawnsley - seemed not to comprehend what Dawkin's was saying much less have any sort of rational response. Later some fruit-cake called (I think) Ann Atkins attacked Dawkins as "aggressive" although he seemed courteous and restrained to me (it is his views she doesn't like). Benn's loquacious self-indulgence is grating (the "I met Gandhi mother taught me..." etc routine). Dawkins put up with it rather well, and managed to get Benn to more or less admit that he does not believe in God (he is, he says, a "Christian agnostic"). So far as I can see the only reason why Dawkin's is constantly accused of being "aggressive" is that these religious believers can't stand their dogma being criticised and have no adequate - reasoned - response.

Levy and Blair

Listening to radio 5 this morning Politaholic gathers that Lord Levy and Tony Blair are not on speaking terms; and Levy (and the donors) question the account Blair retailed (presumably under very deferential questioning) to the police. On the Andrew Marr show Greg Dyke and Marr seemed to agree that Blair must have known - and agreed - to what was going on. The question raised was: "Will anyone take the bullet for him?". Will anyone agree to be the patsy? I don't think Levy will sacifice himself. Politaholic still thinks it unlikely there will be prosecutions; if only because it is hard to see how a prosecution could avoid ensnaring Blair, and in the British system that is just unthinkable. If Levy makes it clear that if he goes down he'll take Blair with him he should be home and dry, and the same goes for all the other players in this drama.

One way of looking at all this is to adopt a worldly-wise phlegmatic attitude: peerages have always been sold, its hardly as if New Labour invented the practice. True enough. But that corruption has always been tolerated is no reason to go on tolerating it. (I wonder how the "everyone does it" defence would play for someone accused of benefit fraud. "Oh, OK then, that's all right"). The Blair Government promised to be "whiter than white", introduced new legislation regarding donations, and then circumvented its own legislation by deviously soliciting loans. The "pretty straight sort of guy" is as bent as a nine-bob note.

Bliar: more evidence

The evidence that Carne Ross (a former First Secretary at the UK Mission to the UN) gave to the Foreign Affairs Select Committee is now in the public domain. According to yesterday's Guardian, he claims that the British Government's private assessment was that Iraq "possessed no significant quantities of weapons of mass destruction". He also argues that UN security council resolution 1441 was lobbied for by the UK "explicitly on the grounds that it did not represent authorisation for war". Further, he claims that when the US raised the subject of "regime change" that "we would frequently argue...(that) was inadvisable, primarily on the grounds that Iraq would collapse into chaos".

There is nothing here that is not already known. It is simply an additional piece of evidence showing the duplicity with which the decision to go to war was taken. It suggests that Iraq was invaded not because it had WMD's, but because it did not have them, and was powerless to prevent invasion.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Nazi salutes at Pinochet's funeral

The Guardian reports on Pinochet's funeral: "The government agreed to a military funeral, a concession which failed to appease the general's supporters. More than 50,000 streamed into the Bernardo O'Higgins military school to view and caress the coffin, with some youths giving a stiff-arm Nazi salute". And: "The military school displayed its best pomp yesterday: flags at half-mast, a brass band, cadets in gleaming uniforms standing behind rows of seated guests, an A-list of the upper middle-class which formed the core of Pinochet's support". As so often, Steve Bell gets it just right.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Famous for five minutes

There was a wonderful moment on University Challenge last night. Paxman asked "Which Prime Minister had both Peter Carrington and Francis Pym as Foreign Secretaries?". And the answer offered? Pitt the Younger.

"...The lone and level sands stretched far away".

Still, they got the more important question about Ray Davies of the Kinks correct.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Torturer and murderer, friend of Thatcher, dies.

Pinochet, the torturer and murderer and friend of Thatcher, and, it seems, thief (with millions squirreled away in foreign bank accounts) has died. In 1998 he was arrested in London at the request of the Spanish authorities (some of his victims were Spanish citizens) and faced the prospect of deportation to face trial. He was held for fourteen months under house arrest until a grotesque little charade was enacted, presumably contrived by the British authorities, whereby he was certified unfit to face trial and safely dispatched back to Chile. During his short and comfortable stay in London he enjoyed the support of Norman Lamont and Magaret Thatcher among others. Thatcher continues to praise Pinochet. She says "he brought democracy to Chile". Her idea of democracy presumably embraces such charming idiosyncracies as "disappearing" trade unionists and attaching electrodes to the genitalia of political opponents. Well, that's Thatcher for you. Here she is with her friend and hero in 1998. Two peas in a pod.

The Indescribablyboring

Politaholic only made it to the newsagent around 6 p.m. yesterday. There was no Observer left so I had to settle for an Independent. God, was that a mistake. Page 3 was about the fashion industry. Page 4 and 5 were about Princess Di. Page 13 was about Alex James of Blur. Page 21 had Janet Street Porter's gossip column, mostly, so far as I could tell at a quick glance, about Posh Spice. Pages 24 and 25 were about Madonna. Page 26 was about some celebrity chef. Pages 42 and 43 were about Audrey Hepburn. There were news stories about Pete Doherty (page 34), Wesley Snipes (page 51) and Mel Gibson (page 51). Pages 54-55 were about Elton John. Page 58 was about a surrogate mother and page 59 had an article entitled "How to buy a present for a man". Pages 60 and 61 had Peter York talking about television adverts. Worse of all - unless part of the paper was missing (which sometimes happens) - so far as I could see there were no book reviews. And there were pages and pages and more pages of advertisements. Pity poor Politaholic standing at the bar of his local pub, forlornly turning the pages desperately looking for something to read and finding very little: Alan Watkins going through the motions, John Rentoul, an article on institutional racism in schools, but little else. I thought the Independent was supposed to be a serious newspaper? Instead what I find is a dreary rag obsessed with what Peter Hennessy calls "the celebocracy". I would probably have been better off with the Telegraph. Only trouble is I wasn't wearing my rubber gloves.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Clarke criticises Blair's romance with Berlusconi

In an interview with the Guardian Charles Clarke claims that Tony Blair "really damaged" Britain's relations with Europe by forging such close links with Berlusconi and Aznar. He says Blair's "personal relationships with Berlusconi and Aznar, going to weddings and holidaying in houses, has really damaged relations with the successors of Berlusconi and Aznar - Prodi and Zapatero". Perhaps it is dawning on Clarke that under the Brown dispensation it is unlikely he will be restored to high office (recently Clarke has questioned the need to waste zillions on Trident, whereas Brown is gung-ho on this, and not so long ago Clarke was musing that Brown had "psychological isues" and is a "control freak". Brown is not, I think, a very forgiving man). Clarke is right about Trident, has a point vis-a-vis Brown, and is spot-on vis-a-vis Blair and Berlusconi. I suspect many Labour Ministers, and many more MP's, held their heads in despair at the shameful spectacle of Blair consorting with Berlusconi. And God knows what Prodi must have thought.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Iranian President in Sex Scandal

It seems President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran is in a spot of bother. He saw some women dancing. Under the Iran's Islamic legal code women are not allowed to dance before a male audience. But at the Asian Games in Qatar Ahmadinejad was in the stadium during the opening ceremony which featured Indian and Egyptian dancers and - according to the Guardian - "many were not wearing veils" (the shameless hussies). Ahmadinejad at first denied he was there but video evidence showed that he was. So now the fundamentalist Baztan web-site argues, in Kafkaesque style, that "those who created the conditions for his presence" should be "investigated" (er, that would be Ahmadinejad himself, wouldn't it?). As Private Eye often says, you couldn't make it up.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

£800: the price of a cyclists life

The latest edition of Cycle magazine reports that a driver has been fined £800 for killing a cyclist. The 20-year old driver of a large tractor and trailer overtook the cyclist (Mrs Kerry) leaving a gap of just 50cm between his 6-feet high tractor wheels and the side of the road. This caused the cycle to wobble, the trailer hooked her handlebars, and she was thrown into the road sustaining injuries to her face. The driver was charged with "careless driving". Unless I am mistaken the maximum penalty available under this charge is a fine of £2500 but the judge obviously decided a cyclists life is not worth that much. It is also unclear why the driver was not charged with "causing death by dangerous driving" which could carry a 10-year prison sentence, which strikes Politaholic as more appropriate. But then many motorists have a hatred for cyclists which knows no bounds; and Tory-voting rednecks are pretty much above the law (as their casual disregard for the Hunting Act shows).