November 28, 2014
by Paul

Republicans consider not inviting President Obama to give the state of the union speech

This is a laugh. Because they control congress, the US Republicans actually invite the President to give the state of the union address. That’s the keynote speech of the President each year.

But, in a remarkable act of anally retentive insanity, the Republicans are actually seriously considering not inviting President Obama to give the speech this year.

As Taegan Goddard wryly observes:

Perhaps Republicans could have Mitt Romney give the speech and pretend Barack Obama isn’t even president.

November 24, 2014
by Paul

“Daniel” by Elton John – #2/3 of classic songs one takes for granted

….but which are worth listening to with new ears.

Desmond Carrington on Radio Two. Bless him. His voice, with a bit of modification, is similar to that of Sir Alec Guiness. On his weekly show called “The Music goes round” he plays some interesting tunes and relates some interesting tunes.

“Daniel” by Elton John gets played a lot on the radio all over the world. Mainly because of the instrumentation and Elton’s young voice in the original recording, it sounds like a rather saccharine love song. Last week, Old Dezzo related the story behind the song, which I hadn’t heard before. It’s a fictional tale about a blind Vietnam veteran who goes back home to Texas, but can’t cope with all the hero worship he is getting, so escapes to Spain (a place randomly chosen, it seems, mainly because it rhymes with “plane”).

The meaning of the song has been rather lost because the lyric writer, Bernie Taupin, in consulation with Elton John, the tunesmith, cut the last verse because it made the song too long. And, surprise surprise, it was the last verse that actually explained the song. So as a result of that cut, the meaning of the song has become rather wrapped in mystery.

So now you know the story behind the song. I will now listen to this offering with new ears when I hear it in future.

The following version is from 2005. I think Elton john’s interpretation of the song is actually better here than in the studio original. That’s the mark of a real star. As they get older they can make their songs sound better.

November 24, 2014
by Paul

New bill risks destroying any of Israel’s remaining democratic credibility

Apparently Binyamin Netanyahu (who I remember when he was in short trousers as the Israeli spokesman) is facing a challenge to his leadership in the Likud primaries. Likud is his political party.

So that explains why he pledged to bulldoze the houses of the Jerusalem attackers. What an OTT, ridiculous and pernicious move that was!

It also explains this latest development. The Israeli cabinet has approved a bill which would basically reduce anyone but Jews in Israel to second-class citizens.

Basically this would be Israel machine gunning itself in the foot and then cutting its nose off and poking itself in both eyes.

All through the recent troubles, one of the few defences (in debates) which Israel has had, has been that it is a democratic state with a reasonable number of non-Jewish citizens, many of whom are active in society, such as members of the Knesset, the Israeli parliament. If they get rid of that Unique Selling Point, then they will really be destroying any remaining piece of credibility they have.

I am pleased to say that the Israeli cabinet was split on the matter. The vote was 14-7 and there was, it has been reported, very “rancourous” debate before the vote. Crucially, both the Justice Minister, Tzipi Livni, and the Attorney General, Yehuda Weinstein, are said to be opposed to the bill. Trust the legal beagles to spot the fatal flaw in this one!

One can only hope that the Knesset sees sense and rejects this bill.

November 22, 2014
by Paul

Reagan and George W Bush signed far more executive orders than Obama

We hear the US Republicans squealing about Obama acting like a monarch with his executive order signings. But notable Republican presidents such as Ronald Reagan and George W Bush issued far more executive orders than Obama has done. Here are the numbers from Wikipedia.

President/total EOs
Ronald Reagan 381
George W Bush 291
Richard Nixon 346
Dwight Eisenhower 484
Barack Obama 194

Ah but Barack Obama has still got a while left in office, I hear you cry. Well, FiveThirtyEight have done an executive orders per year rate graphic which is equally stark:

President/EOs per year
Reagan 47.6
W Bush 36.4
Nixon 62.3
Eisenhower 60.5
Obama 33.6

Republicans are kicking up a fuss about Obama’s proposed executive orders to grant amnesties to illegal immigrants. But Ronald Reagan and George HW Bush did, more or less, the same thing. The then opposition, the Democrats, didn’t kick up anything like as much of a stink as the Republicans are now doing.

November 22, 2014
by Paul

Classic songs one takes for granted, but which are worth listening to with new ears #1/3

Jo Whiley. Just hearing her name drives me mad for some reason. Hearing her breathless voice is like finger nails down a blackboard for me. Excruciating. I don’t know why. I’m sure she’s a very nice and talented woman.

But last night on Radio Two she span a disk, or clicked an MP3, which she has probably played a thousand times before. It is probably playing somewhere in the world at all times. “Midnight train to Georgia” by Gladys Knight and the Pips.

But it just happened to hit Chez Burbles at the opportune moment, as we were disembarking from the car. And we just felt moved to do the full performance with the backing vocals and the “whoo whoo”s and hands pulling the engineer’s cord and everything. The full works. It really was a magic moment.

Enjoy this. She has the most kickarse voice. And note the boys and their moves! Temptations! Four Tops! Eat your heart out!

This is a very high energy live version.

Oh, and very well done to Jo Whiley for spinning/clicking on this one!

November 16, 2014
by Paul

I thought I would need a stout brown paper bag to watch the Sainsburys advert….and I was right

Oh puuuhlease! The trench warfare of the first world war was one of the most disgusting, heinous, awful situations humanity has ever inflicted on itself.

To depict this in a beautiful, crafted, sickly advert to make us spend more money at a supermarket is beneath contempt.

I will not be touching Sainsburys with a barge pole this Christmas. This advert is disgusting. It is completely out of context. The truce football happened in December 1914 just after the war started and before the real horrors started. Yes, it really happened. But Hitler was really nice to (non-Jewish) children. So why not show an advert showing Hitler being nice to children without mentioning the Holocaust? That’s how ridiculous and distasteful it is. The British Legion thing is not only a fig leaf, they are seeking to burnish their image by being involved with the British Legion while drawing people in to spend more money. The whole thing is utterly disgusting.

November 16, 2014
by Paul

Putin sends his warships to Australia’s Gold Coast

A bizarre story. To coincide with the G20 meeting in Australia, Putin sent three of his warships to hover in international waters nearby.

But what I found amusing is that Australia sent out three naval ships to meet the Russians. One of them, HMAS Paramatta (pictured above) contacted the biggest Russian cruiser, Varyag, to conduct a communications exercise, called a “COMMEX”, which involves testing mutual radio communications, signal flags and semaphore lights. This was apparently carried out in a friendly spirit. “The Russians have responded happily to the exercise,” a government source said.

It seems to be the international naval equivalent of saying “Hello, how are you?” or, sort of, dancing round the handbags.

Very amusing.

As a little bonus for all naval fans, here is an Australian TV report from onboard the HMAS Paramatta when it returned home to Sydney from service in the Middle East:

November 16, 2014
by Paul

In pictures: the 1964 general election

Following on from my previous post, here are some wonderful images from the 1964 General Election. Just scroll down to view them, then hover over each photo to see the caption.

November 14, 2014
by Paul
1 Comment

Stunning 1964 General Election programme on BBC Parliament

I didn’t think I’d ever say this, but I have had great fun this week watching the 1964 General Election results programmeon BBC Parliament.

It was a real nail-biter. In the end it came down to two seats, or a majority of four for Labour. In fact, just an hour into the programme, with only a few seats declared, a huge caption came right across the screen saying “LIKELY MAJ LAB 40″. Such a prediction was completely out of whack with the swings being announced at the time. But no comment was made and the programme sailed on. Weird. Random, indeed.

Richard Dimbleby, anchoring the whole show, came across as rather bumbling and pompous. At one point, David Butler and Ian Trethowen were most excited about a recount at Hornsey but Dimbleby told them (who he called “Mr Butler” and “Mr Trethowen”) to calm down and no mention was ever made again about of the recount at Hornsey as far as I heard.

The whole thing was hideously male-dominated. In the first two hours of the programme only one woman spoke and that was when an interviewer said: “And what about a lady verdict?”. But there were hordes of women running round in the background doing chores for the men!

There was loads of smoking – cigars for Tories and pipes for Labour men.

It was extraordinary to see so many men who were either big names at the time or went on to be big BBC names involved in the programme: Bob McKenzie, Robin Day, Raymond Baxter, Geoffrey Wheeler, Alan Whicker, Michael Barratt, Magnus Magnusson, John Tidmarsh, Kenneth Allsop.

One of the bizarre sights was seeing Peter Crampton (of whom I have memories from BBC Spotlight South-West) interviewing Mark Bonham-Carter hanging out of a window in Torrington. It was interesting that David Owen was the Labour candidate in that battle, which was won by the local Tory, Peter Mills.

Smethwick was an appalling result, caused by a disgracefully racist campaign by the Tory involved. The name “Smethwick” is, I think, still synonymous, for some people, with that campaign. Harold Wilson defied the result and appointed Patrick Gordon-Walker (the Labour man who was defeated by the Tory at Smethwick) as Foreign Secretary. However, Gordon-Walker then lost a by-election a few months later and stood down from office. He won another seat later and returned to government.

Jo Grimond appeared quite a lot on the programme from Liberal HQ. Interestingly, he mentioned that Liberal party policy at the time was to have AV in rural areas and PR in urban seats.

It was great to see Barbara Castle and various other Labour figures appearing. James Callaghan seemed so cheerful. Tony Benn was very Tony Benn. And George Brown! My goodness! Stand by your beds! Talk about an attack dog!

Sir Tufton Beamish won Lewes for the Tories. I hadn’t heard his name before, but he was obviously the inspiration for “Sir Tufton Bufton” in Private Eye.

I noticed that the cameras at the counts focused in on the ballot papers quite closely, and on the supervisors carrying round ballots etc, while the commentators discussed exactly what the bundles were and where they were going. I don’t think that would be allowed these days.

Ted Dexter was the Conservative candidate in Cardiff South East (Defeated by Jim Callaghan). Yes, Ted Dexter the cricketer, who took time off from a test match to do it.

Peter Tapsell lost!

Bill Deedes was elected in Ashford. (Shurely shome mishtake?-Ed)

Jimmy Edwards, the comedian, stood for the Tories in London Paddington and lost.

A young John Juno, the sometime/long time Express editor appeared quite reasonable when interviewed. Anthony Howard was obviously a rising star as a commentator.

But the over-riding impression I had was of how lovely Harold Wilson was. As an example, you hear politicians perfunctionarily thanking the returning officer at counts. But Harold Wilson made a long and effusive speech singing the praises of the returning officer and his staff. It really was quite something.

November 9, 2014
by Paul
1 Comment

Remembrance Day and the importance of Federica Mogherini

imageWhat a crazy headline! – I hear my non-reader cry.

Bear with me.

The Remembrance service today at St Nicolas Church, Newbury was very moving and a great tribute to the fallen. Curate Rev John Aldis delivered an excellent sermon which included reference to Michael Williams in Henry V.

As John enumereated the millions killed in wars over the last two centuries, my thoughts wondered on to what we can do to stop the horrors of war.

One of the key crises which threatens world (in)stability at the moment is that in Ukraine.

One of the key ways we can influence that situation is through the EU. In this, the role of the EU’s High Representative is key. Catherine Ashton, who was in that role until last week, pulled off a remarkable coup by leading the deal with Iran. So one asks who in the new Commission could fill her shoes. Well, the new High Representative for EU, as of November 1st, is Federica Mogherini (Pictured above).

We can only hope and pray that Ms Mogherini does a good job in helping to resolve the Ukranian crisis. She has a lot of responsibility riding on her shoulders. Mikhail Gorbachev’s warning yesterday, that we could be on the brink of a new Cold War, are chillingly realistic.

Photo by European External Action Service – EEAS

November 6, 2014
by Paul

Dan Rogerson impresses in conversation with Judith Bunting at Elm Farm Organic Research Centre this evening

imageA bit of a Libby Demmy treat for me tonight. I went along to enjoy Dan Rogerson MP in conversation with Judith Bunting at Elm Farm Organic Research Centre, at Hamstead Marshall. This was open to “all comers” rather than just Lib Dems, and it was very good to see a very good crowd from across West Berkshire.

Dan is MP for my parents and three of my brothers and their families down in North Cornwall. About a year ago he visited my parents’ house in Widemouth Bay while doing residents’ surveys. They haven’t stopped talking about it since. I was very pleased to meet Dan at our Glasgow conference when he joined in the singing of “Trelawny” (the “Cornish National Anthem”) at the Glee.

But this was my first opportunity to hear Dan speak at length. I was very impressed indeed. He comes across as a humble, genuinely friendly and self-effacing fellow, but he is extremely intelligent and articulate, and very “on top of his” brief as a minister at DEFRA.

Judith started by interviewing Dan, mainly taxing him on the issue of the poor deal which rural areas get in the local government finance settlement.

Questions followed. There was none of the usual pause for hands to go up, as we launched straight into flooding in Compton and cracked sewers in the Lamborn Valley. We then covered rights of way and the operation of the water industry.

One very refreshing thing was to hear Dan, once he had temporarily taken off his minister’s hat and his Lib Dem MP’s hat, say unequivocally that we need to build more council houses. This received warm applause. The remark was in response to a question about how we retain families and local people within rural communities.

I should also say that it was a delight to see Elm Farm Organic Research Centre, which is a remarkable place. The hall we were in is a refurbished 1756 barn which has its own bat attic!

October 29, 2014
by Paul

Much ado about Botswana

The three chiefs and justice Gaberone by BoHeMIo
It’s been happening for many years. Decades. The Lib Dems, and the Liberal party before it, are part of Liberal International. Ideas and help are shared, by invitation, with fellow liberal parties around the world.

Recently some liberals went to help our sister party, BMD, in the Botswanan elections.

So far, so earnest.

Liberal Democrat Voice often carries articles about liberals helping overseas as part of Liberal International.

Normally such articles excite very little interest. Such an article appeared about Botswana and it all went smoothly.

…Until someone suggested (and I’m blithely paraphrasing so please do read the full enchilada here) that such help was a type of harking back to colonialism.

Oh dear. Liberal International is organised regionally and there is no template of policies pushed on other countries. All help given is strictly by invite, in this case by the Africa Liberal Network.

And then someone (not, I believe, a Lib Dem party member) threw in a bit of a hand grenade. A racist remark. This was made at 11pm and was taken down at 8am after a complaint. Please mark and inwardly digest that sentence. The racist remark was taken off the internet after only a handful of people had seen it overnight. The early hours of the morning are not exactly peak hours for people reading relatively old posts about Liberal International shenanighans.

A couple of people had, by that time, replied to the remark with impassioned reasoning. Bearing that in mind, a proposal to reinstate the remark, with the replies and with a clear statement condemning the remark, was made and accepted by interested people in Ethnic Minority Liberal Democrats.

So the remark was reinstated with replies and editorial condemnation.

Then someone who I greatly respect resigned from the party.

It’s all a bit bizarre. A bit like the annual Fuchsia show turning into World War Three.

I currently don’t know what to make of it all, but time, as usual, will put everything into perspective.

We must respect differing perspectives but, if appropriate, we must also challenge them without rancour or dismissiveness.

Photo of the Justice statue in Gaborone, Botswana by BoHemIo

October 27, 2014
by Paul

In praise of the Care Act 2014 and AgeUK

old care photo
I’m at that certain age. You spend your whole life not even thinking about pensions, or paying for Universities or nursing homes. And then you get to the age when you think about little else. I am there.

We’ve been through that very confusing shock when a 100% able-bodied and independent relative becomes, overnight, 100% dependent on care. Wading through the bewildering and worrying facts and figures about going into care homes, and facing the sudden possibility of needing Lasting Power of Attornies, a house clearance/sale and £1000 bills per week is utterly petrifying.

Thank God for AgeUK, who have been able to put our minds at rest and help us through the thicket of complexities. Their advisors know all the details and are marvellous at calming nervous minds.

In amongst all the complexities I discovered the Care Act 2014.

There is a strange rule (not universal) in politics. The stuff that really matters is hardly noticed and nobody thanks the politicians who do it. That is the fate of the Care Act 2014. At last, it introduces a cap at which the state takes over the payment of care. At last it will mean that children will not be faced with cashing all their parents’ assets to pay a seemingly endless bill for care. I suspect that most people that will benefit from this Act do not realise that it’s been passed at the moment. By the time they are affected by it, I suspect they will take it for granted. But it is an extraordinary act of parliament which will really improve lives (from April 2016).

October 20, 2014
by Paul

Sorry about Linda, but delighted to support @daisy4change

I am personally very sad that Linda Jack did not get the required number of nomination signatures in time to stand as President of the Liberal Democrats. Linda would have been a fantastic keeper of the Liberal Democrat flame.

I am now supporting Daisy Cooper to be party President. It is quite clear to me that she is the best candidate of the three nominees. She is the real “new broom” which we need. I am particularly impressed with her reflections on internal democracy for the party. But, most of all, she has the sort of young, dynamic personality which we need to lead the party forward.