Vir Cantium

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Monthly Archives: April 2010

Auntie Beeb Gets Huffy

I have always promised – and now I’m making it public – that wherever my political career (ha ha!) takes me, I will never use the phrase “do you know who I am?”. Admittedly, it’s not a difficult pledge to make when most of the time the response would be “no, who are you and why should I care?”, but it is the comic staple when portraying the stereotype of someone who has become too big for their boots.

Another response would be “who do you think you are?” and it would seem apt to ask such a question of the BBC this morning, as they do seem to be trying to throw their tax-funded blubber around and getting sniffy about ITV’s decision to schedule Coronation Street against the TV debate, this week being hosted by the Beeb.

Of course it would be good to have the debates widely viewed but, frankly, if someone is more interested in Corrie than watching the final round of the debates then that’s up to them, just as it’s up to any individual not to vote. It is the irony of democracy that the freedom to vote should include the freedom not to vote or take such a full part as political anoraks like yours truly.

However, what really exposes the BBC’s outdated sense of superiority is their hypocrisy. Last week, they had the opportunity to take the live feed of the debate from Sky, which was offered for free, on BBC1 or 2, but they refused. Instead they scheduled Watchdog, Have I Got News for You and Outnumbered*. OK, so ITV didn’t show it either but next time the Beeb bangs on about its public service remit to defend its anachronistic method of funding, perhaps Parliament will question just who they think they are.

* actually one of the BBC’s finer efforts, but that’s not the point.

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Socialism for Dummies Part 94

Socialism is the sort of simplistic political philosophy that a child could have come up with; set in an innocent naive world where those in authority know best and should be obeyed so that every need can be fulfilled.

So it’s appropriate that some of the most effective lessons in Socialism And Why It Will Never Work come in the form of fairly simple stories – parables, if you will – and not all are as long as Animal Farm. I related one a while go here. Now, via Fausty, here’s another good one:

An economics professor at a local college said that he had never failed a single student before, but had recently failed an entire class.

That class had insisted that Obama’s socialism worked and that no one would be poor and no one would be rich – a great equaliser.
To counter this, the professor said, “OK, we will have an experiment in this class on Obama’s plan”.

All grades would be averaged and everyone would receive the same grade so no one would fail and no one would receive an A.

After the first test, the grades were averaged and everyone got a B.

The students who studied hard were upset and the students who studied little were happy.

As the second test rolled around, the students who studied little, studied even less and those who had previously studied hard, decided they wanted a free ride. So they too studied little.

The second test average was a D!

No one was happy.

When the 3rd test rolled around, the average was an F.

The scores never increased as bickering, blame and name-calling all resulted in hard feelings and no one would study for the benefit of anyone else.

All failed, to their great surprise, and the professor told them that socialism would also ultimately fail because when the reward is great, the effort to succeed is great but when government takes all the reward away, no one will try or want to succeed.

It does seem that the story is apocryphal, but that hardly matters; the moral holds true.

Coalition and PR: The Sunlight That Kills The Lib Dem Vampire?

Two weeks to go and everyone seems convinced we’re heading for a hung parliament with some polls showing the Lib Dems in the lead … and then up pops ComRes with Conservatives on a 9 point lead.

Anyway, for ‘just a bit of fun’ let us look into the near future and the possibility of a coalition government. We’ll make a safe bet and assume that it’ll be a Lib/Lab pact of some description, either as a proper coalition or by way of practical support for a minority Labour government.

One certain condition of Clegg’s will, of course, be electoral reform. It’s been mooted before both here and elsewhere that Brown’s sudden conversion to reform was a move to hedge his bets in future coalition conversations. But for the Lib Dems there will be a number of problems.

First, is the timing of a referendum on electoral reform. Coalition governments rarely end well (forget the wartime coalition – we are nowhere near that situation). No-one can be sure when the cracks will begin to show, but none of the proponents of reform are going to want even a moribund coalition colouring the public perception of life under PR, with the resulting series of more coalition governments that invariably result.

So, why not hold the referendum quickly? The trouble there is that, once PR is in place, what of Brown’s government? The Lib Dems may think that they can then walk away at any time and get a better deal from the electorate for the next session of horse-trading behind closed doors.

The fly in the Lib Dem ointment will be the fact that they will have been seriously tainted – nay wounded? – by their involvement in a coalition government, or even simply shoring up a minority Labour government that will undoubtedly fail to live up to expectations. That would then combine with the next problem, and it’s a biggie.

Let’s be clear: PR may well kill the Lib Dems. It will give many minor parties a boost, and the Lib Dems could end up being just another minnow, yet unlike UKIP, Greens or BNP, they will have no ‘unique selling point’ – after all, what do they really stand for, apart from not being Conservative or (quite) Labour?

Vampire Clegg was having a bad morning

The combined effects of PR and the contamination of coalition could prove to be the sunlight that kills the Lib Dem vampire.

(For the real geeks out there, I appreciate that there is another issue in all this: what form will the change in the voting system take? Lib Dems prefer ‘proper’ PR, whereas we could see a Single Transferable Vote (STV) system put in place. As we have seen from the London Mayoral elections, the benefits to the parties in third place or lower are limited under STV. However, let us assume for now that it would still result in more Lib Dem seats in Parliament, though that might not necessarily be the net result.)

From the Political Wind Tunnel To Lib Dem Lemons

Just as most car manufacturers make use of wind tunnel testing in the design of their products, so political parties use their equivalent – the focus group – in formulating either their policies, presentation, or both. So we shouldn’t be surprised that these days the average voter sees less and less difference between the parties.

Then along come the Lib Dems. Actually, that’s not strictly true, as those of us who have been fighting the Lib Dems for years know, we have been operating in a three party system for three decades now, and are probably a little pleased that CCHQ is now joining us in our world.

Anyway, the Lib Dems, it may seem to the ordinary punter, might represent something different; like the Fiat 500 has stormed the small car market as something new, stylish and trendy.

Yet just like the Fiat, the Lib Dems are not all that new. The 500 traces its ancestry back to the little runabout of the same name from the Fifties. The Lib Dems, two faced as ever, are happy when it suits them to boast of their Gladstonian history.

More like a Lada


However, the Lib Dems are not a Fiat 500. Old fashioned reds under the skin, they are more akin to a lemon – perhaps a clapped out Lada with a dodgy respray that’s not intended to last beyond the next polling day corner. Ask anyone who has tried to keep one for a whole term – sorry, few thousand miles – and they’ll tell you to steer well clear and buy something that may be more mundane but is safe and reliable.

Nurse! Gordon’s Trying To Do Something Again!

Sometimes it is best for government to heed Ronald Reagan’s advice to politicians: “Don’t just do something … stand there!”

First it was screwing up the supply of grit during the snow. Now, in response to another natural occurrence which has created a lot of disruption, Gordon Brown has again decided to act. Oh dear. The ‘Don’t Panic committee’ COBRA has met.

So what is the government’s response to the situation where so many British voters citizens are ‘stranded’ abroad? Gordon will send in the Navy, of course. With the continent cut-off, the Ark Royal will be sent to the Channel. Well, after all, there’s no other way to get across the Channel except by way of an expensive aircraft carrier, is there?

Quite what will be done for the poor souls suffering the unbearable trauma of being stuck in places like California, Florida or Australia is unclear.

Now, what would Nick Clegg do?

Update 20/4: So, what of Gordon’s grand rescue plan? The Ark Royal wasn’t in the Channel, the coaches weren’t in Madrid, if you were in Madrid already you had to make your way to the Channel because the coaches were for people flying into Europe only. The HMS Albion ran out of space and had to turn people away. Nice one Gordon. I’ll bet another Nokia bit the dust today.

Leaders’ Debate: And The Winner Is … None Of The Above

So there’s much apparent (faux?) surprise that Nick Thingy did well at the Leaders’ Debate last night. Cameron had the highest expectations to live up to – and so even last night’s competent performance meant that his “score” would never be astounding. Brown had the lowest expectations and his typically clunky, uncomfortable, box ticking progress through the debate didn’t disappoint.

Clegg’s result personalises the usual bounce that the Lib Dems always get at the General Election, when they get increased public exposure. Few people vote for the Lib Dems, rather they vote against the incumbent – in effect, the Lib Dems act as a proxy for the phantom “none of the above” box. Add to that the fact that last night would have been the first time that many voters would even have seen or realised who Nick Clegg actually was, and the scores from the instant polling are hardly surprising.

Yet the Lib Dems have a problem. With the inevitable increase in chatter about a hung parliament, their policies will come under scrutiny. I have long held the view that the best way to scare people off voting Lib Dem isn’t just the “vote Lib Dem get Labour” mantra, but simply putting the Lib Dem manifesto through every voters’ door. That’ll soon do the trick, especially if there is a feeling – real or imagined – that the manifesto will include the red lines for their participation in a Lib/Lab coalition; and a Lib/Lab tie-up is the only sort which their left-of-Labour activist base will accept and, for that matter, many in the Labour party (didn’t the phrase “I agree with Nick” come more often from Brown’s lips than Cameron’s?).

The Licence Fee Is Such Good Value

Guido tells us that the BBC are sending sixty staff to cover the first leaders’ debate on ITV tonight.

As Clarkson would put it: “No, really.”

I wonder if the BBC could ever envisage sending less than a dozen staff to cover, say, the opening of an envelope?

I Can Do Journalism, Me

Well, maybe not quite, but it is one of those alternative careers that in a parallel universe I might have found myself in. I was of the generation where the ‘fad’ subject was computer studies, shortly before environmental science became all the rage. Nowadays it seems to be media studies. I do remember some advice that was given to an aspiring hack that if one is looking at a serious career path in journalism, then it’s not Media Studies that one should take as a degree subject but English.

All that was before the dawn of Freedom of Information Act requests (‘FOIs’). This does seems to be the lazy journalist’s best friend, as it appears to eliminate the tedious job of actually following up enquiries. I happen to know that my own local council receives over 500 FOI requests per year now, with a significant proportion from the media. The only annoying aspect of this, from the receiving end, is that the majority of demands would be happily answered in reply to a polite request, rather than the bureaucratic and bolshie “I know my rights” approach of an FOI.

The last year or so has seen a spate of FOIs regarding pay and expenses (unsurprisingly) but one of the first requests received, just after the act was introduced, was about the amount spent on tea and biscuits – I kid you not – from one of the local ‘papers. Cutting edge investigative journalism was clearly not dead.

It may be though, that this is another means of sorting the serious journalists from the media studies kiddies, since the best stories – MP’s expenses being an obvious example – require a long pursuit of the FOI rights through the various appeal processes following refusal by the enquired, thus testing the professional doggedness of the determined hack.

FOIs are clearly no use for working on breaking stories, as there is a four week response period. However, less time sensitive issues can be investigated using the device. When I say “investigated” it sometimes seems more like ‘enter the information you get back into a spreadsheet, work out a few averages, identify the outliers and slot the numbers, together with a suitably outraged comment from an appropriate pressure group, into the draft article you wrote four weeks ago’. Job done, Editor happy, lunch awaits. Cynical? Me? As if.

Every now and again, though, an FOI does the rounds which flags up what could turn into the top of one day’s news agenda. Some are obviously shots in the dark, but who knows? Perhaps this recent one, might turn up something amusing (though not, I would d*mn well hope, from my council):

From: DataNews [mailto:newsdesk@datanews.co.uk]
Sent: 31 March 2010 14:03
To: DataNews
Subject: FREEDOM OF INFORMATION ACT REQUEST
FREEDOM OF INFORMATION ACT REQUEST
In the period 1.4.06 to 31.12.09 please state on how many occasions your
council has paid a Feng Shui consultant or paid for a staff member to
attend a Feng Shui course?
For each of these occasions state when the payment was made, who the
payment was made to and provide documentation you hold which explains
either the advice that was provided or the nature of the course that was
attended. Also provide me with a cost of the advice or the course.
Yours sincerely,
Matthew Davis

Matthew Davis’ DataNews agency works largely via FOI requests and he has pursued some worthy lines of enquiry in the past, but Feng Shui? The 20 working day deadline on this one expires on 30th April … just in time for the local elections, or in good time for a nice silly season story.