Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Where are the street parties ?

I had expected the entire country to get out the trestle tables and bunting and hold street parties to celebrate the departure of Tony Blair, but they haven't. Perhaps people realise that the rest of the ministers and Labour MPs who voted for war in Iraq and ever more restrictions on civil liberties are still in office.

Meanwhile I have sent this to the BBC:

"Please stop covering Blair's departure as if it was a royal wedding: "Here's the car leaving Downing ST", "Here's the car arriving at Buckingham Palace" etc. Just rejoice that he's going and give us some real news."

Monday, June 25, 2007

Europe - fat free !

The government's presentation of the summit negotiations for a European treaty mirrors the behaviour of food manufacturers who label food "fat free" when it never contained fat in the first place. See Paul Reynolds' article on the BBC website about European Foreign Policy. Incidentally Eurobarometer shows 50% of Brits want a European Foreign Policy and 34% don't.

Shock, horror ! Blogging threatens authority !

How entertaining to hear two journalists on the Today programme lamenting the influence of the internet. This was a producer perspective par excellence. They didn't seem to like the idea that anyone can post on the net. Clearly they thought that sort of broadcasting power should be confined to the elite of professional writers like themselves. I was reminded of T S Eliot's idea of a clerisy, a class of intellectuals who would take over the role of the clergy. Of course it was the Roman Catholic church in particular that disliked the spread of literacy at the end of the Middle Ages. After all, what would happen if everyone could read or, worse still, write. It would undermine the authority of the church.

Harriet Harperson

How refreshing to hear the Labour Party's new deputy leader saying that she was elected because she has always tried to be a champion for women. This must be a great comfort to the single mothers whose benefit she cut in 1997. For this miserly act, a gathering of Liberals in a London wine bar gave her the coveted Sh*t of the Year award. Two gentlemen in the bar applauded wildly when the award was announced. It transpired that one of them was her former Press Officer - sacked for not being on message. A few weeks later my son (then 8) met Paddy Ashdown and told him, "I've seen you on television. You were telling the Prime Minister off - about the mothers".

Saturday, June 23, 2007

The heart of Europe

I have recently been approved as a potential candidate for the European Parliament. Surprisingly I enjoyed the process. The party's assessment process can never be objective but the way assessors judge seems fair, thorough and transparent. By comparison, I was rejected in the 1970s without clear reasons by an ad hoc panel which included a woman who disliked me (and young people in general) and someone who had just joined the party whereas I was approved in the 1980s by another ad hoc panel made up of friends who shared a drink with me in the bar of the National Liberal Club.

By contrast, the Brussels summit which has just finished was longish but not thorough and spun to the opacity of grandma's stockings. The government's line is that the new draft treaty is just an amending treaty not a constitutional one. This is of course a distinction without a difference, as Eurosceptics will no doubt point out. The EU has always had a constitution as has the UK. In both cases the constitution is not embodied in one document (as in the USA for example). Instead the constitution is the combination of many treaties and conventions. I might prefer a simpler comprehensive single document but why are people so threatened by the word "constitution" ? There is a lot more to say about the undesirability of referendums for ratifying treaties, but for the moment I'll confine myself to one point. This government and any possible British government will never satisfy public concern about the EU until it spurns spin and engages with the real argument and starts to make the positive case for European Union.

So much more to say, but breakfast calls.

A moving story

I've been involved in, indeed preoccupied by, selling my house and buying a flat. Both sale and purchase are now agreed and the deals are now in the hands of the lawyers, so of course nothing is certain. They manage these things differently in other countries.

My house is not particularly expensive but although the estate agents promoted it as suitable for a first-time buyer, most young families would not be able to afford it. However, a businesswoman wanted to buy it to convert it into a hostel into which she would pack at least five people at £90 a week. No doubt she had in mind our local migrant workers from Portugal. Fortunately the council required so many changes to allow multiple occupancy that she made no bid. The actual prospective purchasers are in their twenties.

In my view, housing has become the pre-eminent problem for politicians to solve. The cost of the average house is now ten times average income. Don't blame the immigrants. The underlying cause is excessive demand arising from divorce and young people leaving home as soon as they can. There are no clever solutions, only a simple one - increase supply, build more houses.

To blog or not to blog

Once again, I have been off the air for a few weeks. To paraphrase the late great John Ebdon, if you have been, thanks for looking. And sorry there was nothing to look at. I've been busy.