An Open Message From The People Of Naxos, Greece, To Scottish Justice Minister Kenny MacAskill Regarding His Crackdown On Happy Hour Drinks Promotions
31 July 2008
For the past 15 years, government has pursued a drug policy that has been more about reducing the harms associated with illegal drug use than about reducing the scale of the problem itself.
That is where we are going wrong.
Yes, policy must focus on treatments that enable addicts to become drug free, but also on hard-hitting prevention with robust enforcement.
Policing the problem means tackling street-level drug dealing directly. It must also mean tougher action against those who profit from the trade. We need to ensure that our police are protecting our communities. This will not be done through intermittent, high-profile campaigns, but sustained action.
Now I know nothing about drugs (other than the usual Al K and Nick O'). When I was a student, I didn't move in those kind of circles and, subsequently, I've never felt the need (nor had the opportunity).
But, do the phrases 'flogging a dead horse' and 'pissing into the wind' come to mind? Is more of the same really going to deliver? Did a police crackdown ever solve anything? Even a 'sustained' police crackdown, even if it were possible? How often over the years have you heard of special police task forces set up to deal with the drugs problem? Is more of them going to do the business? Let's face it, the present policy of prohibition, combined with modest support for addicts, has utterly failed.
I suppose that it is a sign. A relatively anodyne, even platitudinous, article by in The Guardian by Mr Miliband has triggered the firestorm. And it is not just the media; 'friends' of Mr Brown and Mr Miliband are briefing and counterbriefing. The leadership of the Labour Party is clearly in play, despite the organisational obstacles to replacement. From now on, anything said by any member of the cabinet will be interpreted and analysed in terms of the leadership question.
Meanwhile the mini-me Scottish version of the leadership question wends its weary way from the starting gate down the first furlong. None of the nags looks impressive. Does it really matter who wins? The most significant development in the press today is the report that in last year's Scottish campaigns the SNP outspent Labour by more than two to one. How the mighty have fallen.
Is there a way back for Scottish Labour? Of course, but it will take time and a lot of hard work to re-build the party structure. And I am not sure that the party leadership has the capacity, the understanding or the will to do it. I hope I'm wrong ...
29 July 2008
For most of the next two years, it can be confidently predicted, the story of the Labour Government will be about coups and plots and Cabinet rivals warring for succession. One day we will be told that the armies of Hattie Harperson are mustering in the wings; the next day the media will be talking up the claims of Geoff Hoon - "Who Hoon?", as Lenin so pungently put it.
One day a female columnist will announce that Miliband has the magnetic good looks to see off Cameron; and the next day a rival female columnist will proclaim that, on the contrary, James Purnell is the man, what with his sideburns and his interesting views on welfare reform.
On and on it will go, day after day, and at no stage will the plotters come within a million miles of actually jugulating Gordon Brown. For all their bluster, for all their off-the-record briefings, they know that the practical difficulties are immense.
Probably right - in any event, a period of calm in the UK labour party would be welcome.
28 July 2008
The race to find a new Scottish Labour Party leader is under way after former minister Iain Gray announced he was standing in the contest.
The move came after party officials met to set out the timetable.
There will also be a deputy leadership election after Cathy Jamieson quit the job after more than seven years.
Ms Jamieson, along with Andy Kerr, are thought to be the leadership front-runners. Mr Gray was the first to officially announce he was standing.
The new leadership team will be unveiled on 13 September and MSPs have until 1 August to secure the support of five colleagues to go forward to the next stage.
I appreciate that speed has to be balanced against democracy, but a seven week process seems excessive. But the Labour Party seems to be enmeshed in bureaucracy, even as its infrastructure decays.
If you are bored of columns about language it's possible you will be disinterested in this one. But if reading that sentence made you livid and you feel like breaking off to send me a Mrs Weasley-style Howler message, take a deep breath and read on.
You can be tired of something, or sick of it; you can be bored with, or by it, but you oughtn't, strictly speaking, to be bored of it. And, while we're on the subject of sustaining an interest, being uninterested is not the same as being disinterested. Of course the two are not mutually exclusive, you might be uninterested (couldn't care less) and disinterested (impartial) at the same time, but the two ideas don't usually keep company.
Me, I love it. I'm not disinterested at all.
Now, if I can only restore some respect for the apostrophe, I would be a happy man.
27 July 2008
There is a dynastic quality to Martin’s Scottish political empire. Since 1979 he has been MP for Glasgow North East (formerly Springburn); his son, Paul, was elected to the equivalent seat in the same constituency in the Scottish parliament, despite having shown little dynamism while he served on Glasgow council. At election times, the pair of them appear together on the streets in identical suits and shirts. “We call them the Martin mafia,” laughs an SNP activist.
But this is not just a father-and-son political operation. For several years after Martin became Speaker, his wife, Mary, was also on his constituency payroll, earning £25,000 a year for unspecified duties, even though she was living in London with her husband.
Then we have the former MP, Mr Marshall:
Power has rotted what Labour thinks it stands for in Scotland and now the public smell it. The expenses scandal looming over David Marshall, who stood down from the seat on the grounds of ill-health, was not used by the SNP in the campaign. But people queuing for their rolls and sausage on the Gallowgate talked about it all the same. Marshall is said to have claimed more than half a million pounds to run an office from home, though the rumours are as yet unconfirmed.
Would it be unreasonable to suggest that these people have been in office for too long? And do not believe that they are the only ones.
Obama met Brown's children and his brother-in-law during a relaxed visit, during which the Browns presented Obama with books on Churchill and silver photo frames for his daughters.
The Tories had their own meeting between Obama and David Cameron, at which the senator was overheard congratulating Cameron on 'all your success'. The two spent 20 minutes chatting about juggling fatherhood and politics and discussing Afghanistan and the economy. Cameron gave him a box of CDs including albums by the Smiths, Radiohead and Lily Allen.
Why would the Senator want books on Churchill? And his daughters are not really going to be excited by photo frames. As for CDs, Mr Obama seems more likely to be of the i-pod generation. I will leave others to criticise the choice of music - but the Smiths?
25 July 2008
It's uncomfortable - I'm not a star blogger. I just do my thing for those and such as those. I don't want to be an eminent pundit. People might start paying attention.
So leave me alone to my decent obscurity.
We are called to a young woman in her thirties. Our computer screen sends it to us as a possible broken arm.
As we arrive at the house we are met by the rather excitable husband. He is all sweetness and light, thanking us for turning up so quickly, saying how worried he is and smiling at us a lot.
His wife is in bed, hidden under the duvet, she's fully clothed so we remove the cover to speak to her. She's not very communicative and every time she says something she looks at her husband for approval.
Please read the post and think about it.
But he committed himself. He may be a smug bastard, but he is a leader. And he has got a result.
24 July 2008
The Arctic holds as much as 90bn barrels of undiscovered oil and has as much undiscovered gas as all the reserves known to exist in Russia, US government scientists have said in the first governmental assessment of the region’s resources.
The report is likely to add impetus to the race among polar nations, such as Russia, the US, Denmark, Norway and Canada, for control of the region.
The US Geological Survey believes the Arctic holds 13 per cent of the world’s undiscovered oil, while 1,669,000bn cubic feet of natural gas is equivalent to 30 per cent of the world’s undiscovered gas reserves.
If it's undiscovered, how do they know it's there and how much of it is there?
The USGS report used a probabilistic methodology and included only undiscovered resources that could be exploited using today’s technology.
I think this means that they're guessing ...
Perhaps they were not the most astute candidates ever chosen to run in a by-election; perhaps they were not even the first choice of their respective parties. But I can only admire the sheer effort that the candidates of the four main parties have put in. To them, it matters - and they have shown it matters. And even if you do not believe the tales of the thousands of party activists thrown into the battle, it would be difficult to deny that their parties have fully supported them. It is almost enough to restore my faith in politics.
The saddest part of it is that they will be lucky if more than a third of the electorate bothers to vote.
23 July 2008
Alex processed (there is no other word) along the pavement. Music blared out of the centre. By chance it was the Pretenders. “'Cause I gonna make you see, there's nobody else here, no one like me,” they sang. “I'm special, so special! I gotta have some of your attention. Give it to me!”
And how he got it. His minders moved us over so photographers could get a clear shot. “My God, it's like Princess Diana!” gasped one chap, as he gazed at the wall of snappers.
Well, not quite, but, on a grey day in Glasgow East, it felt a bit celeb-crazed. The shoppers loved him. He hugged. He slapped backs. He squeezed arms. He chortled. Talk about acting. He put the others to shame. Do they give Oscars for Best Performance at a By-Election?
It's worth reading the whole thing.
22 July 2008
"The Nationalists may be nice - or not so nice - civil servants and bank managers, but their vision of modern Scotland is at heart poisonously regressive. They are without intellectual content and their powerful presence in Scottish political life in recent years has done nothing to improve the lives of Scotland's poor. They don't wish to build on the past and be protective of what has been good for Scotland - i.e. the Union - but would sooner drag Scotland back to the mythical glory of a past that never existed."
Overdoing it a bit, I would have thought, but then this is a commentator who thinks that Glasgow East and Govan are neighbouring constituencies (see earlier in the article).
21 July 2008
The paper seeks to end the legacy of benefit dependency and deprivation that can damage communities across Britain.
Our proposals provide a once in a generation opportunity to transform the welfare state. They build upon our principles for reform; rights and responsibilities providing the individual with the support they need to transform their own life-chances, and those of their family.
They include detailed proposals for:
- reforming incapacity benefits;
- a £360 million roll out of Pathways to Work across the country by 2008
- extending support to lone parents and older workers;
Sounds familiar? That's because every two years or so the government announces its intention to reform incapacity benefit. And today's the day, just as it was in January 2006. Incapacity benefit will be replaced (or at least re-named) and reformed. Somehow, however, that ol' man river, he just keeps rollin' along ...
20 July 2008
On the basis that Scottish brewers should be encouraged, I recently bought a bottle of their Punk IPA in my local Tesco's (not quite so obviously provocative then). Quite nice but a bit more expensive than my habitual diet of Deuchar's and Caley 80/-.
Will I try their Tokyo at 12%? Not a chance. Even the Speedball at 8% is too strong for me.
But the guys from Fraserburgh have an interesting website and an amusing line in marketing.
18 July 2008
Then Nicola e-mailed Kezia (according to Kezia) demanding the removal of the post, a request which - naturally enough - was refused.
I have no idea who is in the right here. But I draw some lessons:
1. Bloggers are playing a part in this by-election. For the first time in Scotland?
2. Politicians engage with bloggers at their peril. What might have been a minor contretemps has been given weight and prominence by Nicola's reaction.
3. Bullying bloggers is not really a good idea.
4. The BBC has been awfully quiet about the incident.
More tomorrow, no doubt.
I find it rather more intriguing that the BBC is webcasting its coverage here. Are all or most major sporting events to be available in future on the net? What does this mean for traditional tv? And if the BBC can do this for sport (and increasingly for political events such as PMQs), why not for other programmes?
Meanwhile, the i-player goes from strength to strength, even if it is not totally reliable in terms of which programmes can be re-played. But it is seriously altering my tv habits.
All of this is rather disruptive to someone who was brought up on a diet of binary choice (BBC or ITV) black and white telly. But I think I like it ...
17 July 2008
At home, where he’s unpopular in the polls but less so around the dinner table, Sarkozy has circumvented the 35-hour week by slashing taxes on overtime, freed up universities, downsized the state functionary community (and mentality), spurred small businesses, cut public spending and set in motion a radical reform aimed at creating a 21st-century army.
By comparison, Gordon Brown in Britain, he of Heathcliffian moodiness, and Angela Merkel in Germany, she of grand coalition paralysis, look second-tier.
If its correspondents look a little more carefully, the NYT may find that those 'achievements' are more aspirational than actually delivered.
Perhaps, they were over-excited by the hamburgers ...
16 July 2008
David Cameron called for United States-style bankruptcy protection laws for businesses yesterday as part of a Conservative rescue plan for the economy. Speaking at the CBI, the Conservative leader said that thousands of jobs could be lost unless companies were given breathing space to try to raise new finance. The US bankruptcy rules, under the Chapter 11 system, give firms court protection as they try to agree a deal with their creditors.
A Chapter 11-style regime would give businesses in trouble the chance to raise new money by offering rescue financiers priority over other creditors. Rescue proposals would need only the backing of the court and a majority of shareholders - meaning that they could not be blocked by creditors.
Just who are those creditors? Well, some of them will be other businesses who supply the company concerned; other creditors will be banks and financial institutions who have lent money to the company. A Chapter 11 regime would inevitably mean that lenders and suppliers would become more careful about their relationships with companies - which in turn means that the cost of borrowing would increase and credit would be more difficult to secure. In the current dismal economic climate, is that really what Mr Cameron wants?
15 July 2008
Rising food and fuel costs pushed UK inflation up to an 11-year high of 3.8% in June from 3.3% in May, figures show.
The RPI inflation measure - often used as a benchmark in pay negotiations - rose to 4.6% in June from 4.3% in May.
Commenting on the figures, Chancellor Alistair Darling called for wage restraint in order to help rein in price growth.
"We saw what happened in the past when inflation got out of control and people found that every penny they got in a wage increase was swallowed up by food and fuel prices going up," said Mr Darling.
Hey Darling, inflation measures the growth in prices. Why do you never call for price restraint?
14 July 2008
Scottish ministers have moved to head off accusations of political vindictiveness after an administrative blunder was blamed for the reneging on cash pledges to community organisations.
More than 20 groups across Scotland were told on Friday afternoon they had been successful in their applications for funding from the Scottish Government's equality unit only to be told hours later that a decision had "not actually been made" by the Communities Minister Stewart Maxwell and that "all the letters which were sent out were done so prematurely".
Civil servants claimed they had simply been preparing drafts so they could move quickly once a decision had been reached and that those who had been wrongly told could discuss the matter.
However, following allegations by one recipient, Mike Dailly, of the Govan Law Centre, that the U-turn was politically motivated and that he would pursue legal action if the promised £250,000 did not materialise the government pledged yesterday that all those who received the first letter would get the funding.
So the civil servants sent out grant award letters, then withdrew them, then confirmed that the original awards would be honoured. A simple mistake?
In the good old days of the civil service, draft letters would be distinguished from final version by being prepared in double spacing, with DRAFT written at the top of every page. But in these days of e-mail communication, perhaps that is no longer standard practice. Even so, it is still difficult to believe that grant awards could be issued before final Ministerial approval had been obtained.
I don't suppose that we will ever learn the whole story.
13 July 2008
The London consensus persistently overlooks the extent to which Scotland is a small, closed society, a bit like North Korea only less democratic. It has its own media and its own political culture.
I might say the same about the London consensus ...
11 July 2008
2. She is nothing like Carla - she has not made a musical album about her sex life with her husband. And who wants a dolly bird as the PM's wife?
3. She is nothing like Cherie - it is utterly impossible to imagine Sarah running round an Australian supermarket filling up a trolley with free produce.
Discreet, modest, free from any criticism, the secret weapon that might just win Gordon the general election.
10 July 2008
Curran or Curran? Or perhaps your fancy tends to Mason? Or has Rankin caught your eye? I try to follow the twists and turns of the candidates on Newsnicht (usually on the i-player the next morning), but I find it hard to maintain an engagement. A bit like most of the potential electors in the constituency, then.
Perhaps it is the absence of serious political issues. There has been a little desultory and inconclusive speculation about Ms Curran's (Margaret this time) attitude to an independence referendum but I have yet to see any serious interventions from any of the candidates on matters such as local income tax, the Calman Commission, the Scottish Futures Trust. All we have really had so far is whether Two Jobs Salmond is more reprehensible than a putative Two Jobs Curran (Margaret again). That and Ms Margaret's confusion over her address.
Predictably, Labour is indulging in the game of lowering expectations, so that a narrow win might be greeted as a stunning victory. Equally predictably, the SNP - rather unwisely, imho - is anticipating 'a political earthquake'.
Then there is the significance of the result. If Labour loses - whch it might - then Mr Brown's premiership may be at risk. But both Holyrood and Westminster will be in recess; Ministers, MPs, MSPs and the political commentators will all go off on holiday. Nothing will happen until September when everyone will have cooled down - maybe.
Meanwhile, the boys and girls of the Scottish blogosphere have come out to play. By clicking on any of the links to the right, you can follow the action.
Forgive the world-weary cynicism, but for now I really can't be bothered.
Snigger if you like. Tell me she's kitsch. Tell me those breasts, that wig, those rhinestones, that log-cabin stuff are irrelevant to musical quality. Tell me that no life could be the homespun fairytale she sells us. But what a voice! And still I believe that there's something real about Dolly Parton, something good at the centre of what she seems to represent.Get real, Matthew! Gay icons are so last year.
09 July 2008
The director general, Mark Thompson, and nine other corporation bosses earned £4.96m in 2007-08, a rise of 17 per cent on the previous year. Most BBC employees received pay increases of 4 per cent over the same period, broadly in line with inflation. Mr Thompson's salary rose from £788,000 last year to £816,000, while that of Mark Byford, his deputy, rose from £437,000 to £513,000.
Jana Bennett, the director of BBC Vision, saw her salary rise by £103,000, to £536,000. She was criticised for her role in the "Crowngate" affair, after a trailer for a documentary wrongly suggested that the Queen had stormed out of a photoshoot at Buckingham Palace. An independent report into "Crowngate" criticised Ms Bennett for "showing a lack of curiosity" after being told of the blunder. Her bonus was reduced by several thousand pounds to reflect the damage caused by the phone-in scandals involving Comic Relief, Children In Need and Saturday Kitchen. Mr Thompson said that Ms Bennett's bonus, which was reduced to £23,000, represented "a significant discount to reflect what had happened".
Jenny Abramsky, the outgoing director of audio and radio, who is leaving the BBC with a pension of £4m – thought to be a record for the British public sector – was paid £419,000, a 27 per cent increase from £329,000. Her bonus was £19,000.
Ashley Highfield, who has since left his post as future media executive director, saw his overall pay rise by £107,000 to £466,000. This came after the corporation went £36m over budget on its website.
... In October, Mr Thompson announced that the BBC would lose up to 1,800 jobs, after receiving a smaller than expected licence fee settlement from the Government.
That figure has since risen to 2,500.
I am sure that the lowlier BBC staff will be sympathetic to the financial needs of the boss class. Or perhaps not. As a licence-payer, I'm definitely not sympathetic.
But they are not always so successful. In the case of The Herald's blogs, it is rather obvious that some editorial bigwig has decreed that its political commentators should have blogs. Douglas Fraser does reasonably well in terms of content, but having a once a week splurge is not really the way to attract a consistent readership. Robbie Dinwoodie appears to have lost interest, not having posted since mid-June. And what can one say about Michael Settle? Only three posts in total and nothing since 3 June.
I say, chaps, if you're going to do this blogging thing, perhaps you might want to take it a little more seriously ...
07 July 2008
But now Gordon is on my case. The BBC reports:
Britons must stop wasting food in an effort to help combat rising living costs, Gordon Brown has said as he travelled to the G8 summit in Japan.
The PM said "unnecessary" purchases were contributing to price rises, and urged people to plan meals in advance and store food properly.
A government study found the UK wastes 4m tonnes of food every year, adding £420 to a family's shopping bills.
I am tempted to ask what's it got to do with him? But I suppose that I should just slink away, trying to put more effort into emptying the fridge before filling it up again. That damn avocado (half price at Tesco's on Saturday) has been sitting on the larder shelf for too long.
05 July 2008
The writ for the by-election is moved immediately, setting the date for 24 July, as early as possible, even although this is in the middle of the Glasgow Fair holiday. This is presumably to avoid allowing the SNP to build up their bandwagon. But it means that postal votes have to be applied for by next Wednesday (9 July).
The expected Labour candidate fails to turn up to the selection meeting which is then postponed until Monday 7 July. It remains (at the time of writing) unknown if he will attend the meeting on Monday.
What is going on?
04 July 2008
Gordon Brown was "disappointed" by the decision of MPs – including his two parliamentary aides and 33 of his ministers - to throw out a series of proposed reforms to their expenses, the prime minister's spokesman said today.
Yet, in the same article:
Although Brown was said to support the proposed changes, he did not attend the Commons to vote and his two parliamentary private secretaries, Austin and Basildon MP Angela Smith, both voted against the reforms.Mr Brown obviously thinks that we are idiots.
Government whips were then seen nodding Labour MPs through the aye lobby when they voted on a backbench amendment, tabled by former minister Don Touhig, to preserve their expenses.
03 July 2008
Gordon Brown has said the delayed 2p rise in fuel duty is something that will be looked at "very, very carefully" over the next few weeks.Well, big deal! As oil has risen to $146 a barrel, the increases in the price of petrol already in the pipeline [sorry about that] will dwarf 2p per litre.
Look, I know it's hard but we have to face the fact that the cost of fuel has undergone a step increase. Economic and social life will change in ways which are uncharted. This kind of thing is only the beginning.
The Ministry of Defence has signed contracts worth £3.2bn to build the UK's biggest ever aircraft carriers.
The 280-metre-long HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales will be capable of carrying up to 40 aircraft.
The contracts will create or secure 3,000 jobs at Govan, in Glasgow, 1,600 at Rosyth, in Fife, 1,200 in Portsmouth and 400 in Barrow in Furness.
It's not just the fact that the Navy won't have enough surface ships to protect the carriers or that traditional military aeroplanes will have been rendered redundant by pilotless drones, or even that the extremely expensive new strike fighters will not be available on time so that Harriers (yes, the vertical take-off aircraft that don't need massive new carriers) will be used instead.
Meanwhile, ageing and dangerous Nimrods will be kept in the air, while troops are shuttled out in ancient RAF Tristars to Afghanistan where there is a desperate shortage of helicopters needed to avoid the troops having to rely on lightly-armoured landrovers for transport. (See here.)
But, hey, as long as spending money on carriers keeps the shipyards going and Labour MPs in a job , then it must be for the best in this best of all possible worlds.
02 July 2008
Jonas Björkman, of Sweden, a Wimbledon veteran, even began collecting the rain.
"I just got to thinking that the rain is so much a part of the fabric and romance of the place, why not start collecting it?" he said.
"I go out and scoop off what I want with a polystyrene cup and decant it into an ice-cream tub to take back to the locker-room. I've got an entire puddle taken from near the Fred Perry statue after an unforecast downpour on the second Tuesday of the 1996 championships that I'm particularly proud of.
"I've got some drain-overflow that Goran Ivanisevic walked through on his way off court during his famous 2001 semi-final against Tim Henman, which is obviously a bit of a collector's item. And I've also got nearly two gallons of water which pooled in the covers during the violent electrical storm which interrupted my first-round match against Mark Petchey in 1994 – which is obviously very personal to me. At the moment, the collection is carefully labelled in plastic vats in my garage in Monaco, but eventually I'm hoping to be able to display it all properly in a cabinet in the sitting-room. It'll be something to show the grandchildren."
There are some strange people in this world.
01 July 2008
In order to ensure that I was not talking rubbish, I have checked the committee membership of those 'English' bills going through the Commons during the current parliamentary session, although the exclusively English nature of some of these might be questioned. Anyway, the committees considering the following bills had no Scottish MPs as members:
Children and Young Persons Bill
Education and Skills Bill
Health and Social Care Bill
Housing and Regeneration Bill
Local Transport Bill
Special Educational Needs Bill
The Crossrail Bill had two Scottish MPs - Tom Harris (as Minister) and Gordon Banks. The Planning Bill had on Scottish MP - Jim Sheridan. And the committee on the Sale of Student Loans Bill was chaired by Ann Begg ( which means that she is not usually allowed to vote).
In the circumstances, it would seem difficult to argue that Scottish MPs have a significant influence on the committee stage of English bills. Their formal exclusion, as proposed by the Tories, would be unlikely to have a significant effect.