Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Shooting fish in a barrel

I know criticising one of Simon Heffer's articles is the intellectual equivalent of shooting fish in a barrel but today's effort in the Torygraph did make me chuckle.

After all it is not often you read the words "I am a committed libertarian" followed by an argument for much stricter Government regulation of gambling (but only for the "lower- and middle- income people" mind). Can one of Simon's friends (he must have some) please get him a dictionary for Christmas please.

And while they are at it, let him know that despite what he may think, Casinos have been legal in the UK for decades (merely tightly regulated) and so is prostitution. Oh and the reason why the US authorities have been locking up the bosses of online gambling companies, is more to do with protecting the profits of bricks and mortar casinos and the state monopolies on online betting on the horses than any concern for the morality of the average American.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Is it time to start laying John McCain?

Most of the attention focussed on the 2008 US Presidential race this side of the pond has been focused on the battle for the Democratic nomination, the rise of Obama nicely counterpointing the return of Hillary Clinton to centre stage.

But the race for the Republican nomination could turn out to be just as wide open. As Toby Harnden points out the momentum behind McCain's bid seems to be failing. Alongside fears that as chief cheerleader for the surge strategy now adopted by the Bush Whitehouse McCain is tying himself to the fate of the Toxic Texan (toxic in electoral terms certainly), questions are being raised about his health and fitness for the job. As someone who is bidding to become the oldest man to be elected to the Whitehouse (in 2008 he will be two years older than Regan was when he won the 1980 election) letting himself be caught nodding off in the middle of the State of the Union was not the best idea. Throw in the fact that many Republican's don't trust him because of his (undeserved IMO) reputation as a moderate, and you can understand why Harden thinks that he is now no longer the front runner for the GOP's nomination. As alternatives Harden citing the popular appeal of Rudi Giuliani and the organisation of former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney.

So is there value in laying John McCain given that he is still the strong bookmakers favourite? Probably not in the long-term.

First off his opponents aren't as strong as they look. Harden points out some of Romney's flaws, his Mormonism, and the fact that he has flip-flopped on social issues taking liberal positions when campaigning in Massachusetts but now casting himself as a Conservative. Throw in the fact that in the past he has given money to Democrats (hat tip to Political Wire) and he is steadily shaping up to be an attack ad writers dream. Given the fact that he is deliberately targeting the conservative core despite being a former Governor of one of the most liberal states in the Union makes him particularly vulnerable to charges of being a sheep in wolf's clothing.

As for Giuliani well he may be leading in some polls of Republicans at the moment but as Stuart Rothernberg argues he is far too socially liberal win the Republican nomination, it would be the equivalent of the Lib Dems electing Ann Widdecombe as their next leader. Once the campaign proper starts and the Republican base hears about his views on abortion, guns and gays, plus his three marriages (again and again and again) I think he will fade away.

Secondly history shows that frontrunners almost always win the GOP nod. Ford in 1976 despite being tied to his pardon of Nixon, Bob Dole in 1996 despite obviously not being up to the job by the time the election got going, Bush in 2000 despite McCain's win in New Hampshire. Having spent the last 6 years preparing for 2008 McCain is way ahead of his rivals in terms of money, organisation and endorsements .

If you are looking for value on the Republican side of the race you probably can't go far wrong in putting a little on Sam Brownback (currently at 28/1 with Blue Square). He's an authentic Conservative unlike Romney who although he doesn't have the organisation or the money of the latter, can tap into the republican activist base amongst the religious right (hat tip The Fix). Remember how Howard Dean was able to use his ability to fire up the Democratic base to surge briefly into the favourite's slot for his party's nomination in 2004. I'm not sure Brownback can do that, but in the retail politics of Iowa and New Hampshire he may be able to make some waves especially if one of the big three stumble, thereby allowing smart punters to lay him off at a profit.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

More MMR muppetry

This article in today's Sunday Times about a Muslim doctor who has called on the faithful to shun the MMR vaccine because it is not halal raised my blood pressure. First because it is yet another example of the religious putting the purity of their adherence to a group of medieval rules ahead of the lives of others just because their imaginary friend told them to. Catholic Church and condoms anyone?

Now I know that just as many Catholics ignore the church's teaching on contraceptives, that most Muslims will put the health of their child before strict adherence to their religion. But I also know that somewhere a few parents aren't going to get their children vaccinated because of this (religious objections have been holding up the eradication of the last pockets of polio in Nigeria for instance). So there is a chance that an innocent child will die in agony because of this idiot and those like him.

The other reason it annoyed me was because it reminded me of the storm over MMR and the false links to autism several years ago. Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary some people (Julie Kirkbride you know who you are) continued to whip up a storm about it because it suited their political and monetary agendas.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Is Karma catching up with John Reid?

I've been feeling a little bit sorry for John Reid this week (not a phrase I'm ever likely to need again).

The Home Office is, as normal, blundering from one cock up to another. The most serious being the string of stories about paedophiles being allowed to stay out in the community to rape and pillage because the prisons are full to overflowing (again). As Richard points out, this crunch has been predicted for several years. This is a problem driven by years of ever more draconian sentencing coupled by the failure of the Treasury to invest in more prison places in the 2004 spending review. Very little of it is Dr Reid's fault; but he is the one taking the flack for other's mistakes.

However in a certain way, those who believe in such drivel may just see this as karma catching up with him.

John Reid has in many ways been the success story of the Blair years. In 1997 he was a virtual unknown outside of Labour circles. He has subsequently climbed the slippery slope. Becoming Blair's go to guy when he needs a safe pair of hands to take over a struggling department. First Northern Ireland following Mandy's second resignation, then Health, then MOD to clean up after Geoff Hoon, and finally the Home Office after the foreign prisoners fiasco. Throughout this time he has, up until now, managed to avoid being pinned down for a policy failure.

However, this has been more through luck than judgement. Even though he hasn't taken the blame for them Reid has been responsible for some of this Labour Government's biggest policy disasters. It was during his time at Health that the new NHS Consultant and GP contracts were signed, resulting in the pissing away of most of the massive amounts of new investment that the Gordon Brown has pumped into the health service on new Jags for already well off doctors. Patricia Hewitt has been left to clean up that mess. It was Dr Reid who sent British forces into southern Afghanistan woefully undermanned and equipped for the war they were going to fight, but the casualties have occurred on Des Browne's watch.

So maybe I shouldn't have felt sorry for Dr Reid at all.

Friday, January 26, 2007

One way to increase your book sales

I received this email from the Richard Dawkins foundation today. Its certainly a novel way to try and increase your book sales.

January 25, 2007

Dear Readers,

A pledge has been organized by J Christie to send copies of The God Delusion to all MPs. Please see below.

Josh Timonen.


Reposted from:,565,Send-The-God-Delusion-to-your-MP,J-Christie-PledgeBankcom


"I will Arrange my MP to receive a copy of Richard Dawkins' book "The God Delusion" but only if 645 other people (one per UK constituency) will do the same for other MPs."

— J Christie

Deadline to sign up by: 31st March 2007

Country: United Kingdom

More details
The head of the UK Catholic Church has today (23 January 2007) has asked the UK parliament to exempt Catholic adoption agencies from being forced to consider equally, applications from homosexual couples.

I do not believe the church should be given special status. Catholics, like everyone else in the country, should play by the rules. Faith should not exempt one from being guilty of discrimination.

Richard Dawkins, as Professor for the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University, is best placed to make this argument, and his book "The God Delusion" (costing 11 pounds online) does it convincingly.

I will buy a copy, and have it delivered to my own MP. Should this pledge gain momentum, I additionally undertake to maintain a simple online list of MP's (and their addresses) for whom pledges have been received, to eliminate duplication of effort.

Sign up at:

The adoption row - the scores on the door

I've been restraining myself from commenting on the row over the forthcoming Sexual Orientation Regulations for most of this week. The arguments for and against have been done to death across the blogosphere and the comment pages of the press (the best of the millions of pixels spilt over this have probably been by Alex over at love and liberty).

In some ways more interesting than the arguments themselves (at least to this political animal) have been how the various players have played their hand. So who were the winners and losers?


The LGB Community - Obviously

Alan Johnson - Although his fellow contenders for the deputy leadership jumped on the bandwagon later it is the Education Secretary who has been leading the fight within Whitehall for many months against the watering down of the regulations. I doubt this will have gone unnoticed within the PLP. Also having been slapped around by the Catholic Church over faith schools a few months ago revenge must taste sweet.

Archbishop Nichols - The Archbishop of Birmingham has allegedly been leading the charge with the Catholic Church to take a hard line over the issue. Although he lost this battle, being seen as such a staunch defender of traditional Catholic values/prejudices will probably not have done his chances of succeeding Cormac Murphy-O'Conner at Westminster any harm given the current incumbent of the Vatican.

Cabinet Government (the concept) - for the first time since 1997 (publicly at least) Tony Blair has been forced to back down in the face of a Cabinet revolt. Collective responsibility still does mean something then.


Cabinet Government (the practice) - The draft regulations never even made it to Cabinet Committee let alone full Cabinet. According to the book policy disagreements between ministers should be thrashed out in private in Committee, before the final fudge (sorry policy) is rubber stamped at Cabinet with everybody around the table able to go out and support it in public without the plebs ever knowing that there was a disagreement. I think we can safely say that in this case the practice hasn't lived up to the ideal.

Tony Blair - Not only did he lose the battle, but any last vestiges of authority he had around Whitehall in terms of influencing policy has now slipped away. Pleasing Number 11 is now the only game in town.

Ruth Kelly - Its hard not to feel sorry for the Member for Bolton West. Like her predecessor John Prescott, Kelly has now got to the stage that whatever she does she will get vilified in the press. Managed to do some short term damage control by the end of the week by successfully shifting most of the blame onto Tony and Cherie, but reinforcing her reputation as being tied to Tony's apron strings can't be helpful for her medium term future.

The Catholic Church - until this week seemingly playing a blinder. Had the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State in their pocket and in picking the issue of adoption to fight on (which plays on the prejudices in minds of many straights about the links between gay men and paedophilia) they seemed to be fighting on firmer ground than the opponents of the Northern Ireland regulations who choose to stand up for the rights of guest house owners everywhere. However, they badly misjudged their hand. Raising the issue of child protection turned out (predictably) to be a double edged sword, leaving themselves open to cheap shots about Priests seeming predilection for choir boys especially given Murphy-O'Conner's history of covering up such a scandal. More importantly they overreached themselves by threatening to close down their adoption agencies. Such a blatant piece of blackmail only served to put the backs up of many of the more bloody minded on the Labour benches.

Dodged a Bullet

David Cameron - The Tories are much more deeply split on this issue than Labour are, as the vote in the Lords on the Northern Ireland regulations demonstrated. If the row had rumbled on Dave would have come under increasing pressure to take sides. It would have been an interesting test of how deep the modernisers makeover has gone as to how loudly the Tombstone group would have screamed if as one suspects he took the liberal option (supporting the Church would have been manna from Heaven for those who argue his reforms are only skin deep). Now when the regulations come up for vote nobody will notice the Conservatives splitting down the middle on a free vote.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Nice work if you can get it

Dave Cameron is 'pondering' guaranteeing all nurseing students that they will have a job to go into when they graduate as currently many are unable to find jobs(BBC story).

What ever happened to the Conservative belief in the free market? Surely lots of nursing graduates being unable to find jobs as nurses is a clear signal that either we are training too many nurses, or the training is deficient so nobody is willing to empl0y them. The answer to either problem is not creating unneeded jobs at the taxpayers expense, and thereby depriving the NHS of money for soing useful things like actually treating patients.

Of course the key word here is 'pondering'. Dave is able to appear all nice and cuddly to nurses and other public sector workers bolstering his I'm a nice guy really image at a time when Labour is increasing at loggerheads with the public sector unions, without actually commiting to do anything for them. Quite clever really, especially when the BBC keep falling for it.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Has Hell frozen over?

A peace deal being struck between the RFU and the premiership clubs after 10 years of open warfare? (Telegraph story)

Munster losing at Thomond Park in a European cup game?

Andy Farrell is playing effectively at number 12?

Quins winning five in a row and playing exciting clinical running rugby (well in patches) matched with a stonewall defence?

Surely hell has frozen over and pigs have begun taking to the sky?

Well no. The French are throwing a strop and half the posters on CAW are predicting the apocalypse because although we put 4 tries past Connacht and dominated the game for long stretches we didn't totally annihilate them.

Do all clubs have such whiners, who would find fault even if their team played the perfect match? With Quins you can tell how well the team is doing purely on how many people are complaining about the bars or the food. I'm sure if we won the European Cup some people would complain about the way in which the captain lifted it.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

A lack of experience

Paul's post on the US election got me thinking about the experience of the candidates.

Of the six leading candidates (Clinton, Obama and Edwards in the blue corner, and McCain, Romney, and Guliani in the red) only two have any executive political experience. Romney as one term Governor of Massachusetts and Guliana's two terms as Mayor of New York, New York.

The Democrats look particularly weak Clinton and Edwards have a single term in the Senate each, and Obama only two years. Only Edwards has fought a really competitive election as a candidate. None has managed anything bigger than the proverbial whelk stall. Even if the presidential election is primarily a beauty contest. Executive experience does count. JFK was the last successful candidate who hadn't either been Vice President or a Governor (and of the two former vice-presidents LBJ had been President for a year by the 1964 election and George H Bush had been director of the CIA).

Now Bill Richardson may be riding to Democrats rescue, with well sourced reports that he will announce on Sunday. Richardson has just been re-elected as Governor as New Mexico (and produced one of the best political ads of the cycle in doing so). As a Governor he has the executive experience the others don't. Add to that his renowned charisma, and the fact that he probably secures New Mexico and would give the Dems a strong shot at Nevada and Colorado (which if they all went into the the blue column should give the Democrats the keys to the White House) and you have a pretty strong candidate. However the fix and others have always had concerns about whether he would be fully committed to the primary process and if he would be able to build an organisation match Clinton's or Obama's.

So at the moment I would think he, assuming he gets knocked out of the nomination race early, alongside Mark Warner (popular former Governor of Virginia) are probably my betting favourites for the VP nod at the moment.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Time to get rid of headteachers?

The Government has today published a report that suggest that the schools should consider alternative forms of leadership arrangements apart from the traditional headteacher promoted from the ranks of the teaching staff (BBC report here). Basically schools could be led by a chief executive type figure (in effect a professional manager), with operational control of teaching and the curriculum remaining in the hands of a professionally qualified teacher. Of course the Lib Dems have taken their traditional approach of teachers good, reform bad, and dismissed the idea out of hand.

In my opinion its not a bad idea. We ask headteachers to do an awful lot for which they are neither qualified nor experienced in doing, financial management, relationship management with stakeholders, project management, providing strategic leadership and vision. All these skills are vital for a successful head, especially in these days of greater financial freedom, PFI and extended schools that will be delivering many more services than just teaching kids between 9 & 3.30. These extra responsibilities are often cited as the reason many teachers do not want to become heads. Fair enough lets allow professional teachers to teach and professional managers to manage.

This isn't to say that there aren't teachers who can't make the jump to being effective managers, there are hundreds of dedicated heads up and down the country running brilliant schools proving it is possible. And of course any school chief execs would have to have a strong understanding of and commitment to education, but I don't think that means being a qualified teacher (you can understand something without being able to do it).

So, in conclusion, we shouldn't dismiss the idea out of hand. It might not work everywhere, there may not be many professional managers lining up to run schools, and getting the relationship right between chief exec and teaching staff would be difficult at first; but surely it is worth looking at.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

What Tim Ireland got wrong about 'Guido'....

.... his worst crime is that he doesn't know what he is talking about.

Tim Ireland's attack on Paul Staines appears to have has set a few hearts a fluttering amongst the incestuous village of the UK blogosphere. Personally I stopped reading Guido regularly a while back, it felt like the record had got stuck and the self promotion was become ever more grating.

Anyway interest pricked by Tim's attack (like many people the best way to get me to push the big red button is to put a do not touch sign on it) I wandered over there at lunch time. At the time the lead item was this story (lifted wholesale from The Sun) about John Prescott's former mistress Tracy Temple returning to work in his office, with the punchline line "So now she and Prezza are both paid to do nothing in the DPM's office."

Except of course she isn't. As The Sun story makes clear Ms Temple is in fact working at the Department of Communities and Local Government (the department that was formed out of the old ODPM) not the DPM's Office. They are completely separate organisations. Anybody with any knowledge of Whitehall should know that, let alone somebody who professes to be a Westminster insider. And even if you didn't anybody with the average reading age of a Sun reader should have been able to have worked it out from reading the article from which you were taking the story from.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Tory's come out in favour of redistribution....

... from poor charities to rich ones.

A stumbled across this piece on charity funding on Conservative Home this morning, reporting on a speech by Cheryl Gillan (I know I had to Google her too) floating ideas on how the funding given to charities could be improved. The basic premise is that a certain amount of the money the Government currently gives to charities should be allocated not by Whitehall but instead through vouchers given to volunteers. Basically if a charity recruits a volunteer it will receive a payment from this pot for every hour that they put in.

Now superficially this has some attractions. It would create a quasi market with money flowing to "successful" charities who can recruit and retain volunteers, reducing the state's role. If we accept that increasing volunteering is an important policy objective in and of itself (which I do to certain extent, then providing incentives for charities to recruit more volunteers is no bad thing.

However, as one might expect, there are in my opinion serious flaws in this policy. A large proportion of the money Government (and especially Local Government) gives to the third sector (charities, social enterprises and community groups) is for service delivery. Often targeted at minority, excluded or vulnerable groups for whom it is difficult for mainstream (public) services to reach. These charities and social enterprises need state support to deliver these services because often the people they are dealing with don't look good on a mailshot t supporters. But their work is vital in stopping people falling through the cracks. The Tory's policy would take money away from supporting these people and funnel it towards middle class causes like the National Trust and saving donkeys who really don't need the help (and thats speaking as an ex National Trust volunteer and employee).

Also the scheme sounds horrendously bureaucratic and unstable as a source of funding. The two things the third sector always bang on about to the Government is reducing red tape and increasing the stability of their funding sources so they can plan ahead. This scheme would require shed loads of paperwork as volunteers have to log their hours, the charity then has to put in a return to the Government every month to claim their money, and then be audited to ensure that they aren't making people up and they are doing the hours they are claiming for. This is a extremely large burden for many community groups and small charities who are often run part time by volunteers, but are exactly the kind of groups who because they are locally based provide the social bonds that the Tories (and everybody else) sees as vital to turning round our communities.

So yet another well meaning fluffy sounding idea from the Tories turns out to be another way of subsidising the interests of their core voters and screwing the people they say they are seeking to help.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Can Obama win? Yes - but would we want him to...

There was an interesting thread on politicalbetting yesterday debating whether Barack Obama can win the US Presidency. The consensus seemed to be no, but I think they are wrong. Obama can win, the interesting question for me is would I want him to?

First things first, can he win? I think so. It increasingly looks like the Democratic nomination will come down to a fight between Hillary Clinton, John Edwards and Obama. Although personally I think that Edwards might sneak it (he has the experience of a national campaign, is massively charismatic and the early caucus in Nevada and primary in South Carolina favour him) the way that Obama has quickly achieved rock star status amongst the democratic activist base, his well documented ability to deliver barnstorming speeches (the second part of his speech to the DNC in 2004 is here and still makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up) plus the desire by many liberals to make history and select an african-american means that he has a excellent chance on making it through the primaries, assuming no skeletons come out of the closet.

In the General, unless the current political mood changes massively, whoever is the Democratic candidate probably starts with a following wind. Many on this side of the pond see John McCain unbeatable, and he may turn out to be. However, given the dislike he stirs up within the Republican base, and the increasingly strong challenge he faces from Mitt Romney and possible right-wing insurgencies from Newt Gingrich and Senator Sam Brownback, he is likely to have tack right to win the nomination potentially alienating his support amongst independents and blue dog democrats. Also as a strong and vocal supporter of the surge approach being taken by President Bush to Iraq, his chances of even making the starting line in 2008 potentially hinge on Bush's gamble paying off.

You also have to play in Obama's positives. As well as those noted above, the chance to vote for an african american is likely to drive up black turnout (assuming Obama can continue to avoid being seen as an Oreo), key for winning states like Ohio. The Republicans will struggle to paint him as a godless liberal out of touch with the values of the heartland. Obama wears his faith on his sleave (note this article that makes great play of his reading the Bible whilst overseeing debates in the Senate). An approach that almost paid off for Harold Ford (another young african-american democrat) in the 2006 senate race in Tennessee, the first time that a Democrat has been competitive in a senate race in the state for many a long year; and Obama does not need to win Tennessee to win the election.

So why might I not want him to win? Well obviously he would be preferable to a Republican. Even Giuliani with his liberal (for the GOP) positions on guns and gays would still be appointing Republican judges (and to get the nomination would probably have had to sell his soul to the Christian right at some point). However, I suppose, as a European liberal, I am squeamish about anybody who wears their religion on their sleeve, especially in such a calculated way. The author of the Washington Times article linked to above was obviously briefed on Obama's reading matter (down to the book of the Bible he was reading, Luke, New Testament & nice and fluffy). Plus although he talks a good game it is unclear what Obama actually stands for accept for "Hope". The little record he does have is patchy to say the best, for example sponsoring subsidies for liquefied coal an oil substitute that according to who you believe is dirtier than the oil it replaces.

So while I disagree with the good folks of politicalbetting that Barack can win, I'm not ready to be swept up in Obamamania just yet.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Bad news for Britain as Sarkozy fails to convince his own party

Now I'm no expert in French politics but the news that Nicolas Sarkozy only won 69% of the vote in the UMP (centre right) primary for President, despite being unopposed, probably doesn't bode well for his chances in the general election. It is well known that Jaques Chiraq and Dominique de Villepin are not fans, but the fact that the splits in the party go so much deeper surprise me.

Given the fact that the Socialists, after flirting with disappearing up their own backsides, have chosen the telegenic populist Segolene Royal this means that Sarkozy has a real fight on his hands if he is to succeed Chiraq. Sarkozy has, as I understand it, limited cross over appeal to the centre left. If he can't rally the centre right behind him, and prevent too many votes leaking to the far right, he is sunk.

This is bad news for Britain. Although not usually a fan of the centre right, nor the populism on immigration that Sarkozy has made the hallmark of his time as interior minister, in this case I think he is the better candidate in terms of the UK's interest. France has long been one of the biggest bocks within Europe to the liberalisation of markets, both within the EU and without. It is in the UK's interests for mainland Europe to move towards the liberalised markets we have in services and utilities as it will allow British companies to compete on a level playing field with their European competitors. In terms of social justice France has been the largest road block in the path of reforming the Common Agricultural Policy and its market distorting subsidies that prevent farmers in the developing world gaining fair access to Europe's consumers. I think in these areas a France under Sarkozy, although undoubtedly still a laggard in these areas, would be preferable to one led by Royale. She, although probably more liberal than some of the dinosaurs in her party, is hardly a prophet of free markets. She has for instance criticised the rules that restrict French employees to working for only 35hrs a week as being too liberal.

The end of elite rugby in England?

According to the Sunday Times the RFU in their eternal wisdom are to announce a new blueprint for how elite club rugby should be organised in England. On the face of it the plans look like a very elaborate suicide note for elite rugby in England.

Not surprisingly, according to the Times, they are looking to move towards a franchise system from 2009, similar to that operated by the other home unions, whereby the clubs in the elite tier will be owned by the RFU and there will be no promotion or relegation. According to its supporters this system will strengthen the national team. The elite players will be under the control of the RFU and therefore will be able to concentrate on peaking for England games rather than slogging their guts out for their clubs every weekend. Meanwhile the franchises will become nurseries for English talent as, freed from the fear of relegation, they will be willing to risk youngsters rather than bringing in experienced foreigners. These arguments have been kicked round for many years, and frankly whether we like it or not franchising is probably going to happen at some point or other.

What has sent a chill down the spines of club rugby fans up and down the country is the list of potential franchise locations. According to the Times they will be "Newcastle, Leeds, Manchester, Coventry, Worcester, Bedford, Saracens, Richmond, Bristol and Plymouth." Missing from this list are the clubs with probably the biggest (and most rabid) fan bases in Leicester, Northampton, Bath, and Gloucester, the current champions in Sale, as well as famous names such as Wasps and my own Harlequins.

Personally I cannot take this seriously. The game in England would rip itself apart if the RFU ever pushed this as an option. The clubs left out would be unlikely to go quietly into the night playing semi-pro rugby in an emasculated Division 1. Although in time the lure of european and international rugby would mean the players would gravitate towards the RFU I can't see the average club fan deserting their traditional club to travel 30miles down the road to watch a created franchise. Given their precarious financial state at the moment I can't see how the RFU could afford to support 10 teams without significant fan bases, the SRU are struggling massively to do it with three!

If the report is true this must be an attempt to rattle the premiership clubs cages. The fact that the four premiership clubs who would get a franchise are the most doveish cannot be a coincidence. But even as a negotiating position this doesn't make much sense, it just has no credibility. The only outcome will be to antagonise the big clubs even more, just when we (the long suffering fan of both club and England rugby) need them to sort out their difference before the England team implodes and the English clubs slip further down the european pecking order.

Therefore one must conclude that this is just a journalist getting the wrong end of the stick over a boozy lunch. The alternatives just don't bear thinking about.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Book at Bedtime for Bush

According to CNN President Bush's current choice of reading matter is "A Savage War of Peace," Alister Horne's account of France's colonial wars in Algeria.

Personally I was shocked. A book about a failed colonial war that left a muslim country wracked with bloody civil strife for several decades, surely Bush should be reading something more relevant to the challenges facing America today.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Creationism - an Inconvenient Myth

News from Washington State (via RCP) that a school district has ruled that Al Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth" is too controversial to be shown to school children following complaints from a parent.

Surprisingly this isn't the work of those dastardly climate change deniers at Enron or other raving Neo-Cons, but the latest example of the political power of creationists over the other side of the pond. Apparently a parent complained that Gore's lecture contradicted his belief (based on the Bible) that the Earth is only 14,000 years old, and the School Board in Federal Way responded by declaring a moratorium of showings in schools in the area.

So yet another example of scientific fact being suppressed by religious myth in the land of the free.

Of course anybody who has been touched by his noodly appendage knows that global warming was really caused by the disappearance of pirates from the high seas since the 1800s.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

In defense of 'wasteful civil servants'

The Tories are claiming that the fact that Government Departments spent around £3.8million ontaxiss last year is yet another example of Whitehall waste.

What irritated me was not the Torys trying to make a story out of this, holding Government to account for its spending is part of the Oppositions job, but the way the Sindy reported it so uncritically. Their article reads like they have just cut and pasted the Tory press release. There isabsolutelyy no attempt to put the figure into context. For instance how does this compare to the private sector. Given the fact that there are over 500,000 civil servants £3.8m a year does not sound an outrageously large figure to me, it may be that in fact that Whitehall spends proportionally less than large business.

Nor do they give any hint that actually most of this expenditure is probably completely acceptable in anybody's book. Do the Tories really expect that officials who have had to work until after the last tube has gone (it happens more often than you would think) should have to walk home? I know no private business would expect that of their staff.

Labour's Guantanamo Shame

The most shocking thing about this article in today's Indy is not how the US torture inmates at Guantanamo Bay, but that the British Government actively collaborated in sending British residents there.

Even worse despite both Governments now effectively accepting that they have made a mistake they are still rotting in Cuba. Why because the British Government is refusing to take responsibility for its own actions. The Foreign Office may be correct that they have no legal responsibility to help these men because, unlike their families they don't hold British passports. But, when you have actively colluded in the illegal imprisonment and torture of innocent men for five years one might conclude that you have a moral duty to at least let them come home and see their families.

For those of you similarly outraged there will be an Amnesty demo in a city near you on Thursday marking five years of Guantanamo.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Quins almost throw it away (Harlequins 9 Bath 3)

Despite dominating the forward battle throughout the entire game Quins almost managed to conspired to lose in a rain drenched encounter. In the end they needed a pair of magnificent lineout steals in their own 22 by man of the match Olly Kohn to preserve their lead.

The game started in heavy rain and by the end of the 1st quarter it had got so hard I was starting to struggle to see the other side of the pitch. Luckily it eased up in the 2nd half or else I think Simon Keogh (all 5' 9'' of him) might have had to start treading water. As it was the game was littered with knocks and slips, with mauling and driving around the fringe being the only way either team could advance with ball in hand.

As always there was a number of positives and negatives. On the plus side:

1) We won a close one, after choking against Sarries and Irish it was good to see us close out a game, even if there were some hairy moments.

2) The scrum, apart from one scrum lost against the head (at the far corner of the ground so I don't know what why) we had their scrum in trouble all game. Given that this has traditionally been a weakness the performance in the last couple of games when we have had the upper hand has been heartening. I'm not sure whether it is due to opposition weakness, the new scrum laws that allegedly tilt the balance back towards the technically able rather than the big lump or the introduction of Aston Croal.

3) The lineout. After a couple of dodgy ones to start we seemed to gain some more control, thanks in part to a couple of short ones to Croal. Bath never got theirs going, highlighted by the two late Quins steals.


1) Kicking from hand. I will give AJ the benefit of the doubt on the place kicking giving the conditions under foot, but some of our kicking from hand today was woeful. Two or three box kicks from Danny Care went straight out, Mike Brown missed the touchline on a penalty by about 15 yards and how many times did AJs little grubbers through bounce off a defender.

2) Scrum Half. Bad box kicking aside Danny did not have a good game. His passing was erratic, regularly stopping the three quarters in their tracks. He was hesitant around the breakdown a couple of times, including letting Bath steal the ball three yards from their own line. (Although to be fair the guy came from an offside position). That having been said given the conditions I'm probably being a bit harsh on him.

The Attack of Totalitarian atheists!

I wondered long and hard whether to link to this article on comment is free attacking "the rise of the new secularist totalitarianism"; as the Guardian has obviously only put it on to try attract attention. It is so badly written and misses the point so spectacularly that surely they cannot have published it meaning it as a serious contribution to the wider debate.

The people in the comments are ripping it apart with such ease that one feels that to add further criticism here would be pointless. But I do wish that rather than giving space to such tendatious toss the Guardian would try and find somebody who can right a reasoned response to Dawkins et al. At least then the debate might generate some light than heat.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Freedom to Discriminate

So the CU at Exeter Uni has gone through with their threat to sue their Student Guild after they were suspended for breaching the Guilds equal opportunities policy. In effect they are seeking to argue that the Human Rights Act gives them the right to discriminate on grounds of religion and sexual orientation because of their beliefs.

This of course is only one in a string of cases were UCCF sponsored Christian Unions have been thrown out of Student Unions. Generally this has been as a result of campaigns by LGB(T) societies responding to UCCF's notorious and active homophobia. However it has been their arrogance, their belief that the rules don't apply to them, not their homophobia that has been many CUs undoing. At Exeter they have got into trouble because they insisted that only those who passed a religious test could join, despite the Guild's rule that societies who wish to be affiliated to it (and take its money) must be open to all students.

Exeter CU have gone to court to argue that this insistence on equal opportunities by the Guild infringes their religious freedom. That not allowing them to discriminate against non-evangelical Christians and queers is an attack on their Human Rights. The scary thing is that because of S13 of the Human Rights Act that in effect states that religious freedom trumps all others they actually may have an arguable case. I will be following this one closely.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Cameron's Corn Laws

Whilst Michael Grove seems to be using the Levellers as inspiration for Tory housing policy, Dave has gone for a more traditional inspiration for his food policies; that symbol of early 19th century High Toryism the Corn Laws.

As anybody with A-level history knows the Corn Laws were introduced in the early 19th century to protect British (Tory) landowners from competition from foreign imports. The result being to drive up food prices for the rapidly expanding urban poor, leading to the formation of the anti-corn law league and the birth of the Liberal Party (kind of).

Now the boy David wouldn't be so crude as to call openly for a subsidy for (tory voting) farmers, but in his call for the Government to "Buy British" that is in effect what he is doing. The clear implication is that Dave believes that the Government should pay over the market rate for food as long as it is British, and that the mostly urban (and non-tory voting) taxpayers should pick up the tab. Oh and of course, as Tim Worstal has repeatedly pointed out, buying British is often worse for the environment. So much for the green credentials.

As a good liberal I abhor the idea of subsidising failing businesses, particularly with my taxes (and especially as the occasionally user of government canteens if it will make my lunch even more overpriced).

For that is what farms are at the end of the day, businesses. Its obviously a deep personal tragedy for a farming family to see their business go to the wall, but so it is for any small businessman whose company can't survive in the globalized marketplace, and I don't see the Tories queuing up to demand the Government source only British paperclips.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Two steps forward (Harlequins 44 - Newcastle Falcons 15)

So Quins win two in a row, and put in perhaps their best performance of the year. We controlled the game for 60 mins and for once put our chances away. Multitude of positives, including:

1) Stuart Abbott finally starting to justify the money we are paying him.

2) Ball retention, for the first time this season we seemed comfortable moving through the phases, helped by;

3) The forwards having the falcons pack on toast. There was a definite edge at the scrum, I don't think we lost a lineout all afternoon and nicked a couple of theirs, and beasted them at ruck and maul time.

4) The defense. We blanked them in the 2nd half, nuff said.

Negatives, given the amount of possession and territory we had we should have been further in front than 10 points after 20mins. We switched off in the second quarter trying to play champagne rugby before we had the game won, which led to us gifting them a try.

All in all though not a bad way to start 2007.

Anglican Land Grab

According to this mornings Times the Anglican Church, not content with being encouraged to set up new schools whether they are wanted or not, has decided to exploit the Government's craven attitude towards "Faith" Schools to mount a hostile takeover of one of Liverpool's leading state schools the Bluecoat School.

Currently the Bluecoat is a non-denominational selective state school who's intake is broadly representative of Liverpool. According to the current Headmaster the school has been non-denomintational for at least the 41 years he has been teaching there with no contact from the Church. However the CofE has, on the basis of the school's founding charter that states that the school was created to amongst other things teach "in accordance with the doctrines of the Church of England", applied to the Government to have the school designated as a CofE school under its control. DfES has indicated that it it is minded to do so.

The Church has decided to exploit provisions in the School Standards and Framework Act 1998 that state that a school "cannot gain, lose or change its religious character". They are arguing that as the Bluecoat was originally established as a CofE school in 1708 the fact that it has since become non-denominational to all extents and purposes and the Church has had no relationship with it for at least half a century is immaterial it is theirs.

In a city like Liverpool who's education system is already heavily segregated reflecting its history of deep secterian divides the last thing it needs is one of its best schools closing its doors to over 75% of its population. Even worse is the arrogance of the CofE in wanting to waltz in and take over the school (and its land and other assets) for their own purposes and hang the local community. And the Government, well they wil be happy as in a few years time they will be able to point to yet another "faith" school that is outperforming its neighbourhours and put it down to the magic of its "faith" ethos.