30 April 2006

The Warren Beatty of Scottish politics

Mungo's diary in Scotland on Sunday (here) verges on the surreal:
More grumbles among our MSPs about the Lib Dems - everyone expects Nicol Stephen to quit the coalition soon, so most of us want Jack to get in first by booting them out. Jack's not having any of it, though. "I leave politics to the politicians," he said. "I see myself more as a higher authority - a kind of statesman, philosopher and teen idol wrapped into one. Like Warren Beatty."
Wonderful day watching Blair's government collapse down south. Andy Kerr has videoed Patricia Hewitt getting booed off at the Royal College of Nursing. "It's pride of place in my collection, above Ally McCoist's 100 greatest goals and my Jane Fonda exercise tapes," he said.
Didn't think it could get any better until we saw Charles Clarke getting kebabbed over the deportation scandal. I rang up Fred Tough, his special adviser. "Hi Fred. Listen, sorry about your troubles. Just to say that if you need any help...don't ask us! Dawn raids ya bass!" It seemed funny at the time, then I remembered there's a joint Home Office/Justice Department meeting next month. He's a big guy is Fred.
Jack was on the ball immediately: "We need to tell Brown that now is the time to strike. Tell him that I, the undistilled spirit of Scotland, am behind him," he declared, sweeping from the room."

Just as well the spirit was undistilled. What would he have said if it had been distilled?

Scottish stereotypes

According to Scotland on Sunday (here), the Scottish Executive does not approve of 'Hamish Macbeth' or 'Monarch of the Glen':
"THE BBC has been attacked by the Scottish Executive for presenting "simplistic" and "outdated stereotypes" of Scotland.
In a thinly veiled attack against the country's "heather and Highlands" portrayal on TV, ministers claim that Scottish viewers have been "disadvantaged" because too many programmes are commissioned from London.
In a submission to the BBC's charter review, the Scottish Executive says the BBC needs to do more to show "authentic" images of modern Scotland, as opposed to hackneyed cliches of the country."

Apparently, no mention of the pitiful 'Reporting Scotland', full of earnest young men wearing suit jackets with all three buttons duly buttoned, young women waggling their hands about and so-called investigative reporters noted only for their incredible pomposity. Nobody would watch it but for Heather the Weather. Whereas Holyrood Live makes a fairly good job of reporting the Scottish Parliament (although it could profitably devote more attention to the committees).

And is the Executive in any position to point the finger? They seem content to call on kilts and shortbread when it suits them...

Who carries the can?

For reasons which escape me, it is somehow not quite the done thing to criticise senior civil servants. Surprising (if gratifying), therefore, to see (here) The Independent putting the boot into the previous permanent secretary at the Home Office:
"Even if you say it quickly, £26,527,108,436,994 is a lot of money. It equates to 1.3 times the GDP of the entire planet, more than 100 times the US budget deficit and 2,000 times the annual budget of the Home Office. It is also the amount the National Audit Office (NAO) came up with when it totted up all the debits and credits recorded by the Home Office in the financial year 2004-05 on its whiz-bang new accounting system.
No wonder the department had to make gross adjustments totalling more than £1bn to its accounts after they were filed. It seems that offenders from overseas are not the only things the Home Office is unable to keep track of.
All this would be shocking in a normal context. But what happened to the permanent secretary, Sir John Gieve, after a thousand prisoners and a billion quid was misplaced is the interesting thing. He was tipped to become permanent secretary at the Treasury - but lost out to Nicholas Macpherson. So, as a consolation prize, he was made deputy governor of the Bank of England.
Sir John, as we point out elsewhere, was appointed deputy governor in October and took up the job in January. By the Home Office's own admission, it was fully aware of the fact that it had lost track of more than 1,000 prisoners from foreign countries by July. Charles Clarke, the Home Secretary, told the Prime Minister before Christmas. The audit of the Home Office accounts during which it emerged that the figures were wrong by a factor of 2,000 was completed in November."

It is easy to blame politicians. But it is worth remembering the well-paid (by any standards) senior civil servants who do a Macavity act when the flak starts flying.

29 April 2006

Not the real thing

The Scotsman reports:
"The GMTV presenter Andrew Castle finally completed the London Marathon yesterday - five days after the former British tennis No 1 collapsed a mile from the finishing line."

No. Sorry. Doesn't count.

Away wi' the fairies

Once in a blue moon, the Scottish media decide to invalidate our earlier preconceptions. Here, for example, is The Scotsman sending up Mr Trump's pretensions and hinting at his raving egotism:
"Accompanied by the skirl of the pipes, Mr Trump descended from the steps of his black Boeing which, with his name emblazoned in ten-feet-tall gold letters on the fuselage, was the largest private number plate ever parked at Aberdeen airport.
A red carpet had been prepared for the occasion, as well as an honour guard of local dignitaries, while, behind a wire-mesh fence, gathered a collection of plane-spotters.
Mr Trump said to the assembled media: "I could kiss the ground."
He and his management team, flanked by architects and the designer of the new course, Tom Fazio II, then marched into a press conference, where Mr Trump began by explaining that his late mother, Mary Macleod, from Stornoway, was the inspiration behind the project. "I am building this maybe to a larger extent than I know, in honour of my mother," he said."

Who could have thought that The Scotsman would be so subversive?

28 April 2006

Spinning wheels

And they wonder why the public is cynical. The Guardian tells the story:
"Vote blue, go green. That is the motto of Conservative leader David Cameron. And he has gone to various lengths to prove it. There was sledging with huskies in Norway; he has also extolled the virtues of a £10,000 wind-powered generator he wants to add to the roof of his home in Notting Hill, London; and he has promoted the obvious benefits of electric cars even though - and this is his green trump card - he cycles to work. So, practically no carbon emissions.
Well, so long as there isn't a chaffeur-driven Lexus arriving shortly after the Tory leader's two-wheeled departure to collect his clean shirt, paperwork and freshly polished shoes. It was revealed last night that, as Mr Cameron champions the need for better parks, more recycling and heading to the Arctic to examine climate change, his briefcase and other personal effects have their own personal courier.
"David is well-known for cycling to parliament," one source told the Daily Mirror yesterday. "But they always send his car home as well to pick up the morning papers and any personal items he'll need for the day. He leaves a pile of things inside the front door."

It's a tough life...

The superb deal?

So Setanta will pay a bit more to cover Scottish footie. The Scotsman reports:
"MONDAY night football could become a regular fixture of the Bank of Scotland Premierleague next season as a result of the new £54.5 million television deal with Setanta Sports announced yesterday.
In the biggest TV contract ever secured by the SPL, Setanta will screen live coverage of 22 matches featuring non-Old Firm clubs in addition to the 38 live games a season it currently shows on a Sunday afternoon. It has yet to be decided when the extra matches will be scheduled but the preferred option is a Monday evening.
The existing £33 million agreement with the satellite broadcaster, struck in the summer of 2004, still had two more seasons to run but has been renegotiated to the end of the 2009-10 campaign.
It is now worth £13.625 million a year to the SPL's 12 member clubs, an increase of over £5 million a year on the initial contract...
Lex Gold, the executive chairman of the SPL, welcomed the new deal yesterday which will also lend considerable support to the league's search for a new title sponsor to replace the Bank of Scotland, which is pulling out when its contract expires at the end of next season.
"We are absolutely delighted to agree an extension to our agreement with Setanta," said Gold. "It is a superb deal for our clubs financially and allows them to plan for the future with increased confidence."

Is it such a superb deal? Do the sums. The SPL is at present getting £8.625 million a year for 38 matches, or £227,000 per match; under the new arrangements, it is getting £13.625 million for 60 matches, again £227,000 per match. Perhaps that is a good deal - how many people, for example, would want to watch Inverness Caley Thistle play Dunfermline on a Monday night? But it is not self-evidently the case, especially if the cost involves the SPL selling its soul (as well as having to listen more frequently to the inarticulate commentary from Mark Hateley).

27 April 2006

Car parking

If you have a few minutes, here is a nice little story by a parking attendant.

At least some of them are trying...

This blog has often been critical of the Scottish Parliament. But, just occasionally, it is encouraging to see that the Parliament is raising its game. This week, the committee system has twice demonstrated that it is becoming a force to be reckoned with.

First, on Tuesday, the Enterprise and Culture Committee put the Scottish Enterprise chiefs through the wringer; my impression is that SE will think twice before they next seek to bounce the Executive into financing decisions. And both Scottish Enterprise and the Executive will have realised, perhaps for the first time, that there is a third party looking over their backs. The report in Wednesday's Scotsman is here.

Then yesterday the Justice 1 Committee began its investigation into the McKie affair and immediately pulled out information that the Executive would have no doubt preferred to remain hidden. The Scotsman notes:
"THE majority of experts at Scotland's largest fingerprint bureau still believe a fingerprint left at a murder scene belonged to former detective Shirley McKie, MSPs were told yesterday.
Ms McKie has always denied the print was hers and has conducted a nine-year battle to clear her name, winning a perjury case brought against her and securing £750,000 in compensation earlier this year after the Executive admitted an "honest mistake" had been made.
But yesterday Ewan Innes, the head of the Scottish Fingerprint Service, said that a majority of the staff in the service's Glasgow office - the largest in the country - still disputed Ms McKie's claims.
Mr Innes was appearing before the Justice 1 Committee's parliamentary inquiry into the McKie case which also heard that there was a culture at the fingerprint service of not admitting to mistakes."

No-one is saying that the Committee system is perfect - there are some MSPs who are obvious passengers and there are others pursuing political agenda. But it is just possible that at least some of the individual committees amount to something greater than the sum of their members. At the very least, the Holyrood committee system is far superior to the Westminster-based Scottish Affairs Committee, even before it became moribund with the advent of devolution.

Doing the right thing?

For once, the First Minister appears to be paying appropriate care and attention to stopping the MSPs' gravy train. The Herald reports:
"Jack McConnell has ordered a review of one of the most lucrative of MSP allowances amid concerns that people are cashing in on the capital's property boom. The first minister yesterday asked the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body to review the controversial Edinburgh Accommodation Allowance, which allows MSPs who live more than 90 minutes from Edinburgh to claim up to £10,600 a year for a mortgage on a second home. Around 50 MSPs are thought to have taken advantage of the scheme since devolution, and some are believed to have sold on their homes for large profits."
Would it be unduly cynical to note that the overwhelming majority of Labour MSPs live within 90 minutes from Edinburgh? And that those who benefit from this Allowance are those MSPs from the Highlands and Islands, the North-East and the South-West, few of whom tend to be of the Labour persuasion?

Tomb raider

What does an ambitious chancellor of the exchequer do when his cabinet chums are in trouble? The Guardian diary explains what Mr Brown was up to yesterday:
"With all those cabinet ministers making their bizarre ways into the news yesterday, the Diary feels a bit like the satirist Tom Lehrer did when Henry Kissinger was awarded the Nobel peace prize: "Who needs satire?" But at least one member of the cabinet had a cheerful day. Gordon Brown had a telephone link-up with Angelina Jolie in her UN high commissioner for refugees role to discuss the Global Campaign for Education. The media were invited to listen in and one reporter asked Ms Jolie if she thought Mr Brown would make a good prime minister. "I don't want to get involved in UK politics," she said diplomatically. "I do feel from what I know and learned of his leadership that the things he has done, like this step forward in education, that I like him more and more very much. I hope that he can do many more things. So, yes, personally, I would like to see it." That's a better sort of day than explaining the opening of prison doors or the closing of hospitals, isn't it?"

An endorsement from Ms Jolie must be better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick. And I am sure that Messrs Clarke and Prescott, together with Ms Hewitt, will fully understand...

26 April 2006

More on released prisoners

Holyrood Live on BBC has just revealed that the Scottish Executive and the Scottish Prison Service have been unable to find out if any of the 1,023 released foreign prisoners referred to by the Home Office in yesterday's and today's statements were released from Scottish gaols.


With reference to the two big sex stories in today's newspapers:

first, I'd really rather not think about John Prescott's sex life; and

secondly, why does everyone refer to the celebrity in the golf course hotel as having committed a solo sex act? Masturbation is not, as far as I am aware, a dirty word in itself. And, if four syllables takes up too much space, there are plenty of demotic alternatives.

Does taking personal responsibility mean anything?

Much has been and will be written about the fiasco of the release of foreign prisoners. But The Independent puts its finger on the vulnerability of Mr Clarke (here):
"The fiasco - which only came to light after repeated questions from a Tory MP - plunged Mr Clarke into the worst crisis of his 16-month spell in charge of the department and dismayed Labour chiefs hoping to highlight the party's law and order credentials in next week's local elections. The pressure on him intensified last night when it emerged that 288 of the prisoners were freed after August 2005 when MPs first alerted the Home Office to the problem."

So, even although Home Office Ministers were alerted to the problem last August, the authorities continued to let foreign prisoners leave prison with any consideration of deportation; and, apparently, the practice continued up until March of this year. It is difficult to blame Mr Clarke and his team for failings which predated his appointment or of which Ministers were simply uninformed. But it seems entirely justified to hold the current set of Ministers personally responsible for the 288 most recently released.

Clean living

The Guardian provides an excuse for an old joke (here):
"It's a simple recipe, but it could add 11 years to your life, possibly more. A study by Cambridge University on behalf of the Department of Health has calculated the formula for longevity. Giving up smoking means an extra five years, moderate exercise three more. Add to that another three by eating five portions of fruit and veg a day. For couch potatoes, a pear a day could make a difference too."

It's not really true - you don't actually live longer, it just feels like it.

Stuff happens...

As ever, Steve Bell in The Guardian sums it up (here).

No doubt, we will learn later today whether the Scottish Prison Service has anything to confess.

25 April 2006

The future of air travel

Remember the parlour game of sardines? The aircraft manufacturers do. The New York Times explains:
"The airlines have come up with a new answer to an old question: How many passengers can be squeezed into economy class?
A lot more, it turns out, especially if an idea still in the early stage should catch on: standing-room-only "seats."
Airbus has been quietly pitching the standing-room-only option to Asian carriers, though none have agreed to it yet. Passengers in the standing section would be propped against a padded backboard, held in place with a harness, according to experts who have seen a proposal.
But even short of that option, carriers have been slipping another row or two of seats into coach by exploiting stronger, lighter materials developed by seat manufacturers that allow for slimmer seatbacks. The thinner seats theoretically could be used to give passengers more legroom but, in practice, the airlines have been keeping the amount of space between rows the same, to accommodate additional rows."

They'll be strapping us on to the wings next.

24 April 2006

It hurts, you know

The Guardian newsblog gets a bit sniffy (here) about Jade Goody's performance in yesterday's marathon:
"The look from TV chef Gordon Ramsay said it all. When Jade Goody, interviewed before she started yesterday's London marathon, said she'd done little training and hadn't swapped her curries for carbo-fuelled bowls of pasta, you didn't need to be a genius to know what Ramsay was thinking - it's going to hurt and it's going to hurt bad, writes London marathon veteran Liz Ford.
In the end it did a little more than that. Goody, the Big Brother "star" who has made a subsequent living from appearances in Heat magazine and, ironically, releasing fitness videos, collapsed in
18 miles into the course."

The girl did 18 miles - give her a little credit.

But congratulations to all those who are, for 26.2 miles of reasons, walking backwards downstairs today.

Sailing close to the wind

The Scotsman reports on the downside of the First Minister's continuing admiration for celebrity and money:

"JACK McConnell was on the defensive yesterday over allegations that he broke the ministerial code of conduct by backing a luxury golf resort planned by Donald Trump.
Councillors in Aberdeenshire and environmentalists are concerned that the First Minister's meetings with the American billionaire developer could prejudice the planning process for the development. They are concerned that local homes will be lost and a pristine area of coastline ruined.

Mr McConnell was also alleged to have met Robert Morris weeks before the furniture tycoon received a massive pay-out from the taxpayer to relocate his factory. Mr McConnell's aides have described both accusations as "ridiculous"."

I sometimes wonder if the First Minister actually understands the need to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest. In order to breach the Ministerial code, he does not actually need to assure Mr Trump that he will call in any planning application and approve it; he merely has to put himself in a position where people might think that he might have done so. And assertions of innocence in the fact do not dispel criticisms of the appearance.

Finally, of all the tourist attractions which Scotland might require to enhance its repertoire, do we really need yet another golf course?

The Treasury is not a piggy bank

By waxing lyrically about the iniquities of Treasury control, The Herald rather misses the point:
"GORDON Brown's department has frozen £1.5bn of Scottish Executive funds and told Holyrood ministers they must justify their spending plans before the money will be released. The Treasury has broken the fragile funding pact between London and Edinburgh by imposing conditions on the return of money from the savings account which the department holds for the executive. The unprecedented challenge to Holyrood's autonomy is causing growing alarm among Scottish ministers.
The money being withheld is a result of the Executive's failing to spend its annual grant within the year allocated. By last August, the total was £1,531,892,000."

If it were not for the fact that the Executive had failed to spend the funds which it was allocated in previous years, the question of Treasury controls would not arise. The real scandal is the accumulated underspend by the Scottish Executive of £1.5 billion. This is money which they were allocated but did not spend. It may not be enormous by comparison with the Executive's annual spend of £22 to £27 billion but it still represents significant incompetence on the part of the Executive.

22 April 2006

Birthday presents

What do you give someone who already has everything? The cabinet is obviously as clueless as everyone else. The Times reports:
"The Queen’s 80th birthday present from Tony Blair’s Cabinet was a china tea set made by Spode pottery in Staffordshire, and believed to cost about £1,000.
The 25 Cabinet members are thought to have chipped in a minimum of about £30 each for the set in the Stafford Flowers design — described as “one of the great Spode patterns” with 22-carat gilding."
Not very imaginative, lads. One would have thought that Her Maj already possessed more than enough china tea sets.

On boredom

Rab McNeil in The Scotsman opines:
"BOREDOM is a much underrated state of mind. If more people would just embrace being bored, there would by logical extension be less excitement. Less excitement means more stability: no one waves swords about or starts shouting the odds, and the planet spins on more peaceable paths.
But boredom is not easy. It is something that has to be cultivated. There exists, however, no formal training in the art. Our technical colleges and breeze-block universities offer no courses in boredom. There is not even a SCOTVEC qualification in the subject.
Schoolteachers, though, are starting to see the value of boredom and have recognised that there is a need for pupils to accept that it is a necessary part of life."

Mr McNeil has it all wrong. Teachers have always been experts in generating boredom. If O-grade latin and higher mathematics do not constitute qualifications in boredom, what does? And studying for an arts degree is a necessary pre-requisite for years of boredom sitting in an office, or a court, or a parliament.

No, boredom is easy; it does not require cultivation, it comes naturally. It is excitement that's difficult.

21 April 2006

Malawi again

The Scotsman has reported on the cost of the First Minister's visit to Malawi:
"THE First Minister's trip to Malawi last year cost the taxpayer £26,223, according to documents released under the Freedom of Information Act yesterday.
Of that total, £20,000 went on flights for Jack McConnell and his entourage of advisers and civil servants.
A total of £816 was spent on immunisations and healthcare preparations, including malaria tablets, and £290 went on gifts for Malawian dignitaries, including a bottle of whisky for president Bingu wa Mutharika."

The actual costs are revealed on the Executive website here. The costs are not particularly interesting, especially in comparison to Cherie Blair's hairdressing bill during last year's election campaign (here):
"CHERIE Blair chalked up a £7,700 hairdressing bill during last year's general election campaign, paid for by the Labour Party.
Her personal hairdresser kept her immaculately groomed during her husband's successful bid to lead the party to a historic third term at a cost of £275 a day for a month."

For me, the interesting point is why the First Minister needed to take six officials with him. A private secretary and a press officer, OK - particularly as there were 12 journalists (yes 12) on the trip (paid for by their parent organisations). But what were the other four officials there for?

And is it true that there were a lot more than six officials on the First Minister's recent trip to Melbourne?

20 April 2006

So help me God, indeed

Yesterday, Ms Mauren Watt, one of our newest MSPs, took her parliamentary oath in what I can only describe as pretend doric. The Herald transcribed it as follows:
"I, Maureen Watt, depone aat I wull be leal and bear ae full alleadgance tae her majesty Queen Elizabeth, her airs an ony fa come aifter her anent the law. Sae help me God."
This is shaming. Peculiar spelling and elements of cod latin do not constitute any form of the Scots language.

That Scots is a neglected language is in no doubt. But it will not gain the respect it is due by hamming it up.

For those who wish to see the real thing, I would offer the following text which is the first stanza of 'The Flyting of Dunbar and Kennedie' by the great William Dunbar:

Schir Johine the Ros, ane thing thair is compild
In general be Kennedy and Quinting,
Quhilk hes thame self aboif the sternis styld;
Bot has thay maid of mannace ony mynting
In speciall, sic stryfe sould rys but stynting;
Howbeit with bost thair breistis wer als bendit
As Lucifer that fra the hevin descendit,
Hell sould nocht hyd thair harnis fra harmis hynting.
(And they don't make rhyme schemes like that any more!)

Some confusion, surely?

The Scotsman records:
"THE legend that the Calcutta Cup was created by a group of Englishmen exiled in India, for the benefit of rugby in England, was challenged at Murrayfield yesterday by an ancestor of one of the cup's originators.
Stanley Rothney, an 82-year-old rugby supporter from Peterculter near Aberdeen, is an ancestor of James Rothney, who was secretary of the Calcutta Football Club. The club of rugby exiles in India closed in 1877 and when it was being wound up, Rothney encouraged members to spend the club's remaining funds - the equivalent of £60 - in crafting the Calcutta Cup. It was first contested between Scotland and England in 1879 and was won by Scotland at Murrayfield in February."

Presumably, they mean descendant?

19 April 2006

The significance of two wee dots

A minor treat: you don't get to read about the umlaut every day, least of all in The Scotsman. Nevertheless, here it is:
"KITCHEN company Moben, based on a trading estate in Manchester, was yesterday given the go-ahead to use German-style spelling on its name in TV advertisements.
It is still banned from doing the same on print ads following a ruling five years ago which said it was misleading the public into thinking it was German.
Moben used an umlaut - two dots above the letter 'o' - on its website, printed literature and, recently, in TV ads for its fitted kitchens.
The umlaut had been deemed to give the impression the company was based in a German-speaking country."

I am not entirely convinced that the great British public would recognise an umlaut as indicating German origin. Whereas there is no doubt about the Teutonic provenance of Bauknecht.

Although it should probably be regarded as an example of diaeresis rather than of the umlaut, what is one to make of Häagen-Dazs? I find it difficult to believe that ice-cream wishes to carry the same cachet of German engineering efficiency, but perhaps "Vorspring durch Technik" has an application to the marketing of a 99 of which I remain unaware. Or am I being naïve?

18 April 2006

Pilots of the airways...

So now we know. This time, it's in The Guardian (here):
"Wogan's Radio 2 programme is consistently the most popular breakfast show in the land, with 8 million listeners, on the UK's most popular station. His annual salary of £800,000 equates to 10p a listener, or £25.64 for each minute he is on air.
Chris Evans's return to the BBC has been lucrative for him, the leak reveals. The former Radio 1 DJ is earning £540,000 a year for the weekday drive time show he took over from Johnnie Walker, an unpopular appointment with some of the station's avid fans.
Steve Wright makes £440,000 a year for his afternoon show, Mark Radcliffe earns £197,000 for presenting his evening show and Ken Bruce makes £194,000 on the morning shift.
Michael Parkinson supplements his television chat-show salary with a £115,000 pay packet for his Radio 2 Sunday Supplement programme.
Last week it, was revealed that the Radio 1 breakfast DJ Chris Moyles earned £630,000, while the mid-morning host Jo Whiley is cited as earning £250,000, compared with Sara Cox's £200,000 for two weekend shows a week."

Seems a lot of licence-payers' money for playing a few records...

Dealing with pests

The Telegraph explains how to kill Australian cane toads:
"Opinion is divided as to how best to kill them. While some advocate the use of a cricket bat or golf club, the Australian RSPCA suggests that hunters anaesthetise them by smearing them with haemorrhoid cream before putting them in the freezer and waiting until they are dead."

This is not likely to be of utility in Scotland, but you never know. Best keep the haemorrhoid cream handy.

17 April 2006

Don't go back to basics, please

Doing sums. The Herald reports:
"A back-to-basics reform of Scotland's school maths exams is being prepared following widespread concern too many pupils lack problem solving skills.
The Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) is considering introducing more practical maths into a range of qualifications to address fears that young people are ill-equipped for university or work. As pupils prepare for their exams next month, the SQA has commissioned independent research to find out why candidates do not perform as well as they could in algebraic questions
in their Highers...
The moves follow a report by school inspectors last October, highlighting concerns over the teaching of maths and calling for more to be done to ensure all pupils reached appropriate levels of numeracy. Inspectors found that, all too often, pupils did not see the relevance of the maths they were being taught or the connection with everyday skills."

As one who suffered higher maths in the 1960s, I would urge the SQA not to go there. I mean, what was relevant or meaningful about trigonometry? And did anyone, ever, understand what calculus was all about? And did the ability to solve differential equations represent a significant addition to one's everyday skills?

And I passed (OK barely, but in those days a pass was a pass).

16 April 2006

At the risk of putting ideas into his head...

The Independent reports:

"Tony Blair is to announce within weeks that he has overruled Gordon Brown and will push ahead with the purchase of a £30m long-haul business jet...
The field of candidates for the jet - which will inevitably be dubbed Blair Force One - has been narrowed to two potential planes, an Airbus A320 and a Boeing 737...
Whichever wins, the new corporate jet will be fitted to carry around 40 passengers in luxurious comfort. Standard VIP layouts include at least one bedroom, an entertainment suite and a full-sized conference table."

If Mr Blair has his jet, then why not the First Minister? Air McConnell has a certain ring to it. And after all, the First Minister does a lot of travelling - New York, China, Australia, Malawi, Arran.

Now if only he hadn't blown that £30 million on bailing out Scottish Enterprise...

15 April 2006

Fat cats again!

The last post on fat cats, I promise. The New York Times considers the rewards accruing to the Exxon chief:
"Under Lee R. Raymond, the market value of Exxon Mobil increased fourfold to $375 billion, overtaking BP as the largest oil company. Under Mr. Raymond, the company's market value increased fourfold to $375 billion, overtaking BP as the largest oil company and General Electric as the largest American corporation. Net income soared from $4.8 billion in 1992 to last year's record-setting $36.13 billion.
Shareholders benefited handsomely on Mr. Raymond's watch. The price of Exxon's shares rose an average of 13 percent a year. The company, now known as Exxon Mobil, paid $67 billion in total dividends.
For his efforts, Mr. Raymond, who retired in December, was compensated more than $686 million from 1993 to 2005, according to an analysis done for The New York Times by Brian Foley, an independent compensation consultant. That is $144,573 for each day he spent leading Exxon's "God pod," as the executive suite at the company's headquarters in Irving, Tex., is known."
I wonder if he is happy. In any event, it rather puts Beckham, Rooney and Moyles into the shade...

For the umpteenth time, we're all doomed

I can remember when Dave King was just a comedian. The Guardian reports:
"Global temperatures will rise by an average of 3C due to climate change and cause catastrophic damage around the world unless governments take urgent action, according to the UK government's chief scientist.
In a stark warning issued yesterday Sir David King said that a rise of this magnitude would cause famine and drought and threaten millions of lives.
It would also cause a worldwide drop in cereal crops of between 20 and 400m tonnes, put 400 million more people at risk of hunger, and put up to 3 billion people at risk of flooding and without access to fresh water supplies.
Few ecosystems could adapt to such a temperature change, equivalent to a level of carbon dioxide of 550 parts per million in the atmosphere, which would result in the destruction of half the world's nature reserves and a fifth of coastal wetlands."

Happy Easter, btw.

14 April 2006

Ownership and nationality

The Washington Post reports on the Enron trial:
"Defense lawyer Dan Petrocelli is making former Enron chief executive Jeffrey Skilling tick off his income, his assets, everything he has that's worth money, as a way of showing that he was, at one point, a wealthy man who did not need to pump up the Enron stock to make more money.
About his vehicles, Skilling said he has a "nice car, a 2000 Mercedes, top of the line, I bought in 2000; a 1999 Toyota Four-Runner my son has at college, and 1995 and 1996 Land Rovers. They're English cars, so they don't work."
Much laughter in the courtroom and the Overflow Press Room (OPR)."

Actually, Land Rover is part of the Ford Group, so strictly speaking they are American cars...

General revenge

The New York Times reports:
"WASHINGTON, April 13 — The widening circle of retired generals who have stepped forward to call for Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld's resignation is shaping up as an unusual outcry that could pose a significant challenge to Mr. Rumsfeld's leadership, current and former generals said on Thursday.
Maj. Gen. Charles H. Swannack Jr., who led troops on the ground in Iraq as recently as 2004 as the commander of the Army's 82nd Airborne Division, on Thursday became the fifth retired senior general in recent days to call publicly for Mr. Rumsfeld's ouster. Also Thursday, another retired Army general, Maj. Gen. John Riggs, joined in the fray."

I guess they don't like him very much.

Something has gone seriously wrong...

Earlier this week, we were informed of the salaries of football players. Now it is the turn of DJs. The Independent reveals:
"BBC salaries
Director General Mark Thompson £459,000
Chairman of Governors Michael Grade £96,000
Radio 1 DJ Chris Moyles £630,000
Radio 1 DJ Jo Whiley £250,000
Radio 1 DJ Sara Cox... £200,000"

I dread to think what the more successful Mr Wogan must be earning...

Billy boys

The Herald quotes article 5 of the UEFA disciplinary regulations:
"Member associations, clubs, as well as their players, officials and members, shall conduct themselves according to the principles of loyalty, integrity and sportsmanship. For example, a breach of these principles is incurred by anyone . . . whose conduct is racist, discriminatory, politically extremist, insulting or of any other such nature as to violate the basic rules of conduct."

Somehow, according to UEFA, singing about being up to the knees in Fenian blood and chanting "F... the Pope" do not contravene this regulation.

13 April 2006

Air rage

The Scotsman (here) and The Herald (here) carry reports of the Ryan air jet diverted to Prestwick. What remains unclear is why Prestwick? The flight was travelling from Paris to Dublin. Is Prestwick the automatic "go-to" for flights getting into trouble in British airspace?

There may well be good security reasons for Prestwick being chosen for such a purpose, despite all the inconvenience for regular passengers. But is this Government policy on the part of the Department of Transport? We don't know and I don't suppose we'll find out...


The Independent has the answer (confirming the comment):
"Four years ago Prestwick was designated as the airport in the north of the country to deal with suspected hijackings and other terrorist threats in the wake of the attacks of 11 September 2001. The only other British airport geared up to deal with hijacked airliners is Stansted. It is understood the pair were chosen because they deal with less air traffic and are positioned away from major built-up areas. "
Now why did the Scottish press not tell us?

Just to get away from football...

The Guardian reflects on the French gender wars:
"The jaunty-sounding French feminist group, Les Chiennes de Garde (which translates as Guard Dogs or, if you prefer, which I'm sure you don't, Guard Bitches), this week launched a petition for "mademoiselle" to be banned from administrative use because - gee, you think? - it "perpetuates the submission to macho values". Women are thereby sexistly compelled to reveal their marital status while men are required to reveal only their gender. The petition says: "The madame/mademoiselle option means that a woman has to give an indication of her availability, in particular her sexual availability. A letterbox is not meant to be a dating agency." Not even in France, where, as Joni Mitchell noted, they kiss on main street. The petition is to be presented to MPs and Catherine Vautrin, minister for social cohesion. You can sign it if you go to www.chiennesdegarde.org.
French journalist Judith Perrignon, though, contends that mademoiselle should be retained because it suggests coquetry and girlishness, while "madame" codifies the funlessness of monogamy. Perhaps, then, "madame" is the real problem, enshrining as it does the phallocentric power of what Cixous called "the Anti-Other in papaperson" (damn him)! If so, what is the correct way to address a Frenchwoman? Sensible answers on a postcard please."

This is only one of the etiquette problems of dealing with French women. When I used to visit France regularly, my difficulty was understanding at what stage in one's relationship with a Frenchwoman one moved from shaking hands to cheek-kissing (two cheeks of course). Then the move from 'deux bises' to 'trois bises' was equally incomprehensible. But French women seem to have an instinctive understanding of these things.

Roy Keane shock horror!

Nicky Campbell in The Guardian reveals an unexpected titbit:
"It is a crushing disappointment when you find out that someone in the public eye doesn't live up to your expectations. I have a friend who has moved to London and is in the process of renting out her smart Glasgow flat.
A couple of weeks back the celeb in question came round for a viewing with his representative. He was not only fully house trained but gentle, modest, mannerly and charming. I am worried about Roy."

What next? Beckham studying for a philosophy degree? Rooney attends church every Sunday?

12 April 2006

More footie

The Herald reports:
"UEFA are set to fine Rangers about £25,000 but may resist forcing the temporary closure of parts of Ibrox when European football's governing body meets today to censure the club over inappropriate conduct by supporters, including sectarian chanting. UEFA have compiled a body of evidence against Rangers, including TV footage of fans' prejudiced singing during two recent Champions League matches against Villarreal in Glasgow and Spain and will almost certainly find the club guilty when their Control and Disciplinary Body meets in Nyon near Geneva this afternoon."

In 2005, Rangers made a profit of over £12 million on a turnover of over £50 million. A fine of £25,000 is not material in financial terms.

11 April 2006

I chose the wrong career...

Not that I would necessarily have succeeded, but still... The Guardian reveals why Mr Rooney isn't excessively worried about his gambling debts of £700,000.
"The average Premiership footballer earns a basic salary of £676,000, according to a survey published today.
The survey, conducted by The Independent in conjunction with players' union PFA, puts the average top flight player on £13,000 a week - but that figure rises by anything between 60 and 100% when bonuses are factored in."

It is now clear why the English premiership is stuffed with foreign mercenaries.

What's it called?

The BBC website reports:
"Work has begun on a £40m shopping centre in Cumbernauld which civic leaders hope will help it shed its image as Scotland's most dismal town.
The Antonine Centre will create 600 jobs, house 42 stores including Next and TKMaxx, and have 3,000 parking spaces. It will open in May 2007."

Is this not repeating the original error of building a dirty great shopping centre in the middle of town?

A vision from hell

The New York Times reports on the future of outsourcing:
"SANTA MARIA, Calif. — Like many American teenagers, Julissa Vargas, 17, has a minimum-wage job in the fast-food industry — but hers has an unusual geographic reach.
Carmen Sanchez, Julissa Vargas and Elizabeth Gonzalez... work at a call center in California that fields orders from as far away as Hawaii. They must be polite while urging customers to buy more food.
"Would you like your Coke and orange juice medium or large?" Ms. Vargas said into her headset to an unseen woman who was ordering breakfast from a drive-through line. She did not neglect the small details —"You Must Ask for Condiments," a sign next to her computer terminal instructs — and wished the woman a wonderful day.
What made the $12.08 transaction remarkable was that the customer was not just outside Ms. Vargas's workplace here on California's central coast. She was at a McDonald's in Honolulu. And within a two-minute span Ms. Vargas had also taken orders from drive-through windows in Gulfport, Miss., and Gillette, Wyo.
Ms. Vargas works not in a restaurant but in a busy call center in this town, 150 miles from Los Angeles. She and as many as 35 others take orders remotely from 40 McDonald's outlets around the country. The orders are then sent back to the restaurants by Internet, to be filled a few yards from where they were placed."

Ms Vargas' conditions of service are even more depressing:
"Ms. Vargas seems unfazed by her job, even though it involves being subjected to constant electronic scrutiny. Software tracks her productivity and speed, and every so often a red box pops up on her screen to test whether she is paying attention. She is expected to click on it within 1.75 seconds. In the break room, a computer screen lets employees know just how many minutes have elapsed since they left their workstations.
The pay may be the same, but this is a long way from flipping burgers."

To my surprise, the NYT is not even mildly critical. Remembering what happens in California today will happen in Kirkcaldy tomorrow, I'm glad that I am no longer in the labour market.

09 April 2006

Headless chickens

Don't panic. That's why The Sunday Herald leads with this article:
"SCOTLAND has less than half the quantity of antiviral drugs it would require in the event of a human flu pandemic. A total of 615,000 doses of Tamiflu have so far been stockpiled to help treat victims in the event of a deadly new strain of flu emerging, and reduce the chances of the disease being spread.
That is less than half of the recommended amount needed to treat the one in four of the population who would be expected to fall victim to the virus.
The Scottish Executive has stated it is on course to acquire the necessary stocks, a total of 1.3 million doses, by September. But the World Health Organisation (WHO) has warned a pandemic could spread rapidly around the world in a matter of months.
Last week, the deadly avian flu strain known as H5N1 was detected in Britain for the first time, in a dead swan found in the coastal village of Cellardyke in Fife.
While the virus has not yet mutated into a form which can spread easily between humans, many scientists believe it will. Experts say that a flu pandemic is now overdue, with the last one occurring nearly 40 years ago. Nobody can predict exactly when or how it will happen."

We're all doomed. We don't have enough anti-viral drugs. (Never mind that an effective vaccine for the mutated form of flu cannot by definition be available before the flu virus has mutated.) Even though the virus has not yet mutated, scientists believe it will.

Let's paint as black a picture as we can. It might sell more newspapers.

08 April 2006

We could be watching tennis, or rugby, or even a 50 year old western movie...

BBC2 Scotland is devoting much of its afternoon to the SNP spring conference in Inverness (or maybe Stirling or Aviemore, wherever). Do you suppose that anybody is watching?

It is good of the BBC to do its duty, but what is the point if no-one watches?

This is not a jibe against the SNP; the same point applies to the conferences of the other parties.

Bonking again

Why dwell upon it? Well why not? It is always fun to see senior politicians caught with their pants around their ankles. The Independent dresses up its report on the serial bonker with a superfluity of social and historical observations:
"The trouble with posh totty scorned is that the revenge tends to be posh too, as the nation's favourite buffoon Boris Johnson found out to his cost this week. His sometime squeeze, Petronella Wyatt, was riled by reports in the News of the World - who had staked out the Tory member for Henley engaging in a series of trysts with another attractive young woman, also not his wife. Ms Wyatt accused the bumbling MP of having "satyriasis".
Crikey. Let's hope Boris hasn't got anything that bad. Still, there are things you can do about the problem. As well as courses like Dr Birchard's there are numerous self-help groups with names like Sex Addicts Anonymous, where presumably people stand up and begin their testimony by saying things like: "I'm Boris and I'm a bonker ..." Which may be humiliating, but better than the solution offered by one website: "a much more drastic option is castration". Yikes!
Boris may protest that this is all a bit OTT. After all, he might proffer, just because a chap has parked his bike in the wrong shed, again, doesn't mean he's a fully horned satyr. And certainly he doesn't look like one in the video that the News of the Screws have put out on the internet; as he leaves his new ladyfriend's flat in Chelsea, he is wearing a pointy beanie hat which makes him look more like a gnome than a creature of lustier myth."

You might wish to read the whole article because it's well written, informative and witty. But basically it's about bonking...


It's getting to be a habit. The Scotsman anticipates yet another climbdown:
"THE Executive is set to defy Westminster by agreeing a deal with trade unions over pensions, which could avert the new wave of strike action across the public sector in Scotland.
Pat Watters, the president of the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA), the councils' umbrella body, yesterday revealed that Scotland is preparing to go it alone with a proposal to meet demands for retirement benefits to be preserved...
The Scottish Executive and the UK government, which is responsible for local government pensions in England and Wales, have maintained that the rule contravenes European anti-age discrimination regulations.
Until now, ministers north and south of the Border maintained a united front, but Mr Watters yesterday revealed there was now the prospect of a Scotland-only solution."

It was only yesterday that the same paper reported:
"TOM McCabe, the finance minister, yesterday signalled a retreat from a decision to publish radical reform plans for the public sector in Scotland."
And, of course, last week we had the climbdown over Scottish Enterprise (see here).

Something of a pattern emerging? Is there a grand old duke of York in the house?

07 April 2006

More low finance

Should private companies be screwing the maximum profit from facilities at NHS Hospitals? The Evening News reports:
"A BID to cut £10-a-day parking charges at the ERI has been stalled in the wake of a legal wrangle between the NHS and the private firm which built the hospital.
Consort Healthcare agreed more than a year ago to review the charges after a public outcry over the fees.
Parking at the ERI costs £1.20 for an hour but rises steeply to £6.50 for up to six hours and £10 for between six and 24 hours."

Of course not. But if the NHS uses the private finance initiative to provide hospitals, then one way or another the private sector has to get its pound of flesh.

What The Evening News does not tell you is that Consort Healthcare is a private consortium of Balfour Beatty plc, The Royal Bank of Scotland plc and Morrison Construction. These companies care about their public image and, if those concerned about car park charges really want to change matters, then they should address themselves to the organ grinders rather than the monkey.


Bruce Anderson in The Times reflects upon the Grand National:
"You cannot force an unwilling horse to race. Especially in a contest as demanding as the National, the horse has to want to do what it is doing. The horses that run in the Grand National are lords of the animal kingdom. If they earn such a high destiny, what does it matter if there are a few casualties?
That is why I am always disappointed to read about the regular efforts to make the Grand National safer by reducing the threat from the fences. Without the threat, the race would be diminished. We do not want a pasteurised Grand National.
In order for the race to retain its glory and its terror, it is important that a horse should be killed most years and a jockey every ten years or so. The rest of us should not deplore the loss. We should salute the bravery."

Read that last paragraph again. He actually states that it is important that a jockey dies every ten years or so.

Perhaps Mr Anderson would like to bring back gladiators, so that he could salute their bravery.

06 April 2006

Nicola is missing Jack?

The BBC website reports:
"The Scottish National Party has called on the first minister to return from the US to handle the government's response to the bird flu outbreak.
Jack McConnell is in America for Tartan Week celebrations and is not due back until Sunday, while his deputy Nicol Stephen is on holiday.
In the meantime, Rural Affairs Minister Ross Finnie said he was in charge.
However, the SNP's deputy leader Nicola Sturgeon said the situation needed a top level response.
"I think the first minister should come back from the United States immediately," she said.
"I understand the civil contingency committee will meet this afternoon and I think it would be appropriate in those circumstances for him to get back."

I am tempted to agree, if only to prevent the First Minister from making more embarrassing speeches in the US, such as this one reported in The Scotsman:
"JACK McConnell will today compare the post-devolution era to the Scottish Enlightenment in his Tartan Day address to mark the 686th anniversary of the Declaration of Arbroath.
The First Minister will tell an audience of academics and students at Princeton University in New Jersey that Scotland is enjoying a "democratic renaissance" which mirrors the 18th-century explosion of new ideas and values.
He will claim that Scotland's re-invigorated scientific industries and higher education could be the "tipping point" for a new period of advances in research."

As Freedom and Whisky has pointed out, the First Minister has lost the plot. He clearly knows little about the Scottish Enlightenment. To suggest that we are enjoying a democratic renaissance is daft enough but, even if we were, how would that mirror the Scottish Enlightenment? And the guys at Princeton might actually know about the Enlightenment...

In all the circumstances, perhaps he better hotfoot it back to Scotland and supervise Captain Mainwaring's dealings with dead swans.

What the newspapers don't tell you...

OK, it may be good for me, even though I'm not pregnant. And if it is good for some of us, then I'll not stand in the way. But The Telegraph, like the other papers, does not tell the whole story:
"Folic acid may be added to bread and flour to reduce the number of babies born with birth defects if advice from experts at the Government's food watchdog is taken up.
A three-month consultation involving consumers, industry representatives and health groups is expected to be launched today.
This could lead to ministers approving the move."

Exactly what is folic acid?

The modern merchants of Venice

It's official! The banks have been illegally ripping us off. The Guardian reports:
"Charges for late payments on credit cards, typically £20-£25, were yesterday declared illegal by the Office of Fair Trading, which ordered banks to slash fees to a maximum of £12 - and cut charges for bounced cheques and unauthorised overdrafts to similar levels. The ruling sent shockwaves through the banking industry, which earns £2bn in revenue from penalty charges, and wiped millions off the value of shares in Britain's high street banks.
The OFT said the charges amounted to an unfair penalty on millions of Britons who forgot to pay on time or mistakenly went overdrawn. It said the penalties were illegal as they breached unfair contract laws, and that in future, banks would only be able to charge customers the true underlying administration costs, such as postage and stationery. If banks fail to comply - they have until May 31 to respond - the OFT says it will begin legal proceedings to enforce the £12 cap."
Now, if only the OFT would address some of the other banking rip-offs, such as the time taken to process cheques and other bank transfers or the extortionate exchange rates for buying and selling foreign currency.

05 April 2006


The Scotsman is back on the foodie trail (here):
"HAGGIS and deep-fried Mars bars have been voted some of Britain's most-hated food.
Tripe, made from the inside of a cow's stomach and commonly served with onions, topped the poll carried out for the food magazine, Olive.
The traditional London East End favourite, jellied eels, came second on the culinary black-list, followed by deep-fried Mars bars in third place.
Brawn - meat from the head of a pig - came fourth, followed by black pudding. Haggis was named the 12th most-disliked food."

Ridiculous. What's not to like about a deep fried mars bar?

Black pudding may be an acquired taste but I defy anyone not to admire - nay revere - Stornoway black pudding, available here by mail order.

04 April 2006

Silly doggy

The Edinburgh Evening News reports on a novel way of dealing with dirty dogs:
"DNA tests would be used to catch out dog owners who let their pets repeatedly foul parks and streets under plans being drawn up by the city council.
Environmental wardens would take swabs from dog mess and use them to identify offending animals, then hit their owners with £40 fines.
The scheme would work by the council building up a database of previous offenders, in the same way as the police DNA database. Once someone has been fined, the council would keep a DNA profile taken from the dog's mess.
Then wardens could test samples taken from dirt left in problem areas to see if the same dogs are responsible.
Fines could then be sent out to the owner in the post."

Slight problem here. How much would it cost to have a dog mess swab analysed for DNA and then compared to the dog DNA database? Add in the cost of maintaining the database in the first place. Then link dog DNA to dog owner. Then review past history of DNA deposits. Cross- refer to fine database. It's all going to cost a bit more than £40 per case. Ok, clearing up dog mess should not necessarily be financially neutral but even so...

A high tech solution in search of a problem.

A new literary giant

In scouring the NY Times for a mention of Tartan Week (to no avail, I am afraid), I came across this surprisingly sympathetic profile of Craig Ferguson (here) who is about to have a novel published:
"It is a sprawling, often allegorical tale that ranges from Mr. Ferguson's native Scotland to Los Angeles, where he lives now, and includes a rambunctious, sometimes violent road trip through the American South. Its main characters include two old friends from Scotland, one of them a television evangelist whose program is derailed by a sex scandal; a femme fatale who has killed off six husbands; and a pair of half brothers sired by Frank Sinatra and Peter Lawford in their Rat Pack days. ("Ring-a-ding-ding," Mr. Ferguson writes, appropriating one of Sinatra's signature lines.)
Among the other figures who make cameos, as Mr. Ferguson sends up Las Vegas and Hollywood, to say nothing of Christianity, Scientology, television news and the escort industry, are Carl Jung (wearing a Cossack's uniform in one dream sequence), Larry King and Socrates.
The book, which tops off at 329 pages, is filled with many surprises. Chief among them is probably this: unlike other television stars who have moonlighted as authors, including Jay Leno (the children's book "If Roast Beef Could Fly" in 2004) and Drew Carey ("Dirty Jokes and Beer: Stories of the Unrefined," in 1997) Mr. Ferguson has written a work of literary fiction, one that periodically tips its cap to Mikhail Bulgakov, Kurt Vonnegut, Joseph Campbell, Jung, Mark Twain and Herman Melville, among many others."

Well done, Mr Ferguson.

Battles in the playground

The Telegraph comments on the latest bout of TB-GBs:
"The feud between Mr Blair and Mr Brown is one of Westminster's longest-running soap operas. But even those used to their regular fallings-out have been surprised by the ferocity of the latest dispute - with Peter Hain, the Northern Ireland Secretary, admitting there was "tension" between the two most senior figures in the Government.
The air has been thick with talk of "plots", with supporters of Mr Blair and Mr Brown accusing each other of trying to do down the other. There is now a determined effort to patch up their differences for tomorrow's launch of Labour's local elections campaign.
A poll by broadband provider Wanadoo yesterday suggested that one in three voters is sick and tired of the feud. According to the poll of 2,000 adults, they were even more fed up with the Blair-Brown spat than the bad blood between the actors Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston."

If it is worse than the Pitt- Aniston feud, at least in the eyes of the public, then it must be bad...

03 April 2006

Selective reporting

Slightly surprised that neither the BBC website, nor The Guardian, nor The Independent, nor The Telegraph is prepared to mention the troubles of Boris, while The Times limits itself to a brief two paragraph reference. Are we living in France or what?

Tartan week

Plenty of coverage in the Scottish press - here in The Herald and here in The Scotsman. But in The New York Times today? Nothing, zilch, zip...

Could the Executive press office not have bought some coverage?

Queen Camilla?

The media is being seduced (in the nicest possible sense) by the Duchess of Rothesay (here in The Times):
"Camilla would probably talk more to the press on a casual basis but Clarence House officials guard against it. After visiting the graves of two soldiers whom her father had seen die at El Alamein, she came over to talk, albeit briefly, about how moving the experience had been. It may not have been a Panorama interview, but in the weird world of covering the royals it was notable.
If Camilla can help to improve relations between the Prince and the press it will be a major achievement. She has already transformed his life. The Prince of Wales seems to be a happier man and his contentment in his home life is beginning to show in public. The Duchess showed on the tour that she verges on the normal, and as such is crucial to the battle-scarred Prince.
She is sensible, warm, likes to laugh and gives him the support he craves and has often lacked in his life. Let’s hear it for Camilla. She could be the making of him."

A clever woman.

02 April 2006

The beginning of the endgame

Let us speculate for a moment. What if Gordon Brown were to resign today?
This would immediately place his cabinet colleagues under the pressure of choosing between their short or long term futures. For Darling and Des Browne, there is probably little choice: too closely associated with Brown in the past, they wouldn't be trusted in a new regime. Harriet Harman has already blotted her copybook with the Blairistas. On the other hand, Reid, Clarke, Falconer and Jowell would - for lack of any other option - stick with Blair. Prescott would no doubt regard it as his duty to try and keep the Blair show on the road, but one senses that his influence and perhaps his motivation have diminished in recent months.
The interesting choices would be faced by Ministers such as Straw, Kelly, Hewitt, Hain, Hutton and Johnson. Do they stick with Blair and run the serious risk of being sidelined when Brown - in due course - takes over? And is there a positive incentive to staying with the Blair regime, given its inherent instability and its increasingly arbitrary and irrational policy preferences, even before Brown had departed?
As for Hoon - well who cares...
But if Brown, Darling, Browne and various Brownite junior ministers were to return to the back benches, supplemented by one or two of those mentioned above, the effect on the Labour Party in the Commons and on the NEC might be electric.
But, hey it will never happen, will it?

Why bicycling can lead you to the wrong side of the road

Amazing. Politicians seem unable to refrain from temptation. Guido tells the story:
The News of the Screws has caught Boris getting on and off his bike around at Anna Fazackerley's place. They even have him energetically visiting Petronella again on the same day as visiting Anna.

How do they find the time?

See sports journalists...

Martin Hannan in Scotland on Sunday rather misses the point (here):
"And once again McConnell's hogging of the sporting stage last week begged a question - just exactly what is sports minister Cathy Jamieson for?"

Well, the good Cathy is not actually sports minister - that title belongs to Patricia Ferguson MSP. But I suppose it's still a good question. And I suppose that it reflects on all concerned that Scottish sports journalists don't know who the sports minister is.

And again one asks, where was the sub-editor?

01 April 2006

Condi in Blackburn

The US press are somewhat bemused by Lancashire. The NY Times says:
"Blackburn is a dreary-looking town in England's industrial northwest. The weather, typically British, was wet and chilly, much like her reception among many there."

"Dreary"? How dare they?

But The Washington Post, painting a rather more lyrical picture, comments:

"Rice is making an unusual diplomatic foray to this land of green hills, simple homes and many sheep in an effort to learn about countries beyond their capitals. She was the guest of Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, who represents the Blackburn area in Parliament."

Ah, the (dreary) green hills, simple homes and many sheep of the Blackburn area.


The Guardian reports:
"Lord Sainsbury, the Labour party's biggest donor and a government minister, apologised last night for "unintentionally" misleading the public by wrongly claiming to have declared a £2m loan he made to the party. The science minister said he had made a mistake by confusing his loan to Labour last year with a donation, also for £2m, made a month earlier."

I can sympathise. It's easy to forget about the extra £2 million. You only get a bank statement once a month and, hey, whether it's £2m up or £2m down, who's to notice? It happens to me all the time.