Thursday, September 27, 2007

The worse time of year for civil servants

Whilst all attention is focused on Labour's pre-election rally in Bournemouth this week spare a thought to the faceless masses left behind in Whitehall.

Whilst their political masters enjoy a week drinking and carousing by the seaside they huddle around their workstations, trying to get their News24 feed to work so they can watch, quaking with fear, Gordon make his big conference speech. What bright ideas have Number 10 dreamed up this year? whose carefully constructed budget is about to be blown apart by the latest ham-fisted attempt to shoot a Tory fox (MOD's it seems).

Although the PM's speech is the most nervy moment, nobody can sleep soundly until Friday. Even the most house-trained minister can go off-piste when left unsupervised for a week. They talk to backbench MPs, councillors, and even members of the public. After three glasses of warm white wine they assure them that they will look into their pet gripe as a matter of urgency, or that they are sure they can root around the back of the Treasury sofa and find a couple of million to pay for Mrs Miggins' new roof. Weeks later officials are forced to come up with ever more novel ways to placate the now irate backbencher who wants to know why nothing has been done about the copper pipe regulations of 1977. Without, of course, being seen to imply that the minister was pissed and just wanted to get rid of them so he could retire to his room to shag his researcher clear his red box.

Of course this year there has been added fun of election speculation. Will they, or won't they?

Bill teams who have spent a year working night and day, 7 days a week, to steer the vital Spatchcock Uprating (amendment) Bill past the Lords Spiritualand Temporal (House of Commons you say? well who gives a damn about that rabble, they can just do what they are told) contemplate it falling weeks away from royal assent. The goblins deep within the bowels of CLG mutter dark words about the sky falling if an election gets in the way of publishing the Local Government Finance settlement on time. And the gnomes in Treasury wonder if they will ever get to publish the Comprehensive Spending Review.

All in all about as much fun as being on the end of a negative NAO report.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Collateral Damage (The Years Between - Orange Tree Theatre, Richmond)

After feeling decidedly old the other week at Chatroom/Citizenship I reasserted my youth yesterday with a trip to the Orange Tree to see their revival of The Years Between. I think I counted 5 people in the audience under the age of 60 (and not a single non-white face). It would have caused the diversity people at the Arts Council to have a fit.

Anyway don't let that put you off, as after a slow start Daphne du Maurier's prescient 1943 play is worth catching. Michael Wentworth a (Tory) MP and writer returns home after spending three years on the continent working with the resistance to find Diana his wife believing him to be dead has taken his seat and now has a life of her own. At heart this is a simple melodrama, the wife forced to choose between her ambitions and emotions, and her duty as a wife; but it also touches on the great social upheavals wrought by the war. Michael is an old school Tory who only wishes things to go back to how they were before the war whilst his wife has become caught up in the progressive wave sweeping the country and is determined to build a better fairer future.

The performances are generally serviceable with Mark Tandy standing out as the burnt out soldier who has spent three years dreaming of a home that no longer exists whilst Timothy Carlton is pitch perfect as the Tory grandee who become Diana's mentor.

Even I'm not that much of a geek

I know that we are in a world of long tails and niche media, but a radio station devoted solely to the 2008 presidential election? well whatever floats your boat I suppose. I'm sure the weekly talk show on polls and polling is going to be appointment radio.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Simple question...

Too tired to think about this properly at the moment but with reporting Labour on 44% and the Lib Dems on 13% as the resident of a Labour-Lib Dem marginal am I allowed to panic yet?

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Now if one were of a cynical bent...

... one might think that Nick Clegg's seemingly unprovoked admission to a youthful indiscretion looks suspiciously like pre-empting the kind of scrutiny that would come with a leadership campaign. Of course I'm sure nothing is further from his mind.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

We are all cliches (Chatroom/Citizenship - National Theatre)

On a whim I had took myself off to the National's revival of Chatroom and Citizenship, two of the plays from 2006's connections series, this evening.

They are aimed at teenagers (both to perform and to watch) so maybe I shouldn't be too critical. But I found them at heart rather light morality plays, eerily reminiscent (if much better acted) of the skits we were made to act out for assembly back in my school days.

In neither play did I really think I was actually listening to real teenagers, in Chatroom for a bunch of depressed adolescents they were remarkable loquacious, in Citizenship several characters felt like parodies that Sacha Baron Cohen would be proud of. The charecters were merely ways of addressing the issues, bullying and depression for Chatroom, and teenage sexuality for Citizenship .

But they are both laugh out loud funny, both plays passing the Kermode test (a comedy must make you laugh out loud 5 times to qualify as such) with ease, and kept the group of teenagers I was sat next too engaged throughout. So all in all not bad.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Ed Balls is telling porkies

According to Ed Balls in today's Observer 'the government has no policy to increase the number' of faith schools. What, since when? One of the driving forces behind Labour's schools policy in the last couple of years has been to increase the number and diversity of faith schools in order to increase parental choice (assuming the parents aren't humanists of course). If they don't want to increase the number of them, why, for instance, did they spend many thousands of tax payer pounds publishing a 24 page promotional booklet for faith schools just last week?

What confuses me is why take such a patently false line? It is not as if increasing the number of faith schools is unpopular except for with a small number of militant secularists like myself, who as a group are hardly catered for by the other parties anyway (true the Lib Dems are nominally committed to disestablishment, but I doubt if push came to shove we would actually do it). Yes the article he was responding to was pointing out that faith school's have a lower proportion of poorer and ethnic minority pupils than you would expect given their locations. But that's a bear shits in the woods story. The fact that C of E and Catholic schools use their admission procedures as a means of keeping the harder to teach out is one of the reasons many middle class parents like them.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Well at least one team is keeping the St George Cross flying high

Having personally witnessed England's humiliation at the hands of South Africa last night (believe me it didn't look any better in the stadium)it was good to see a side actually deserving to wear the St Georges Cross this evening. Ireland were very, very, lucky to survive Georgia's onslaught in the last 20mins with the Georgian pack looking out on its feet whenever the ball went dead but throwing wave after wave of white shirts at the Irish line and tackling anything that moved when it was live.

Pity the English boys couldn't show as much passion and composure last night.

Monday, September 10, 2007

So was I a Christian Child?

Today's publication from the Government and numerous religious groups on faith schools boldly states that in 2001 there were 5,098,930 "christian children" in England's schools. That's a very precise figure for quite an amorphous concept. It got me wondering, in the eyes of DCFS was I a "christian child"?

Now from the rest of the document it is clear that when they talk about christian children they really mean the children of christians (and giving its census figures they are using the children of people who ticked the christian box on the census form rather than the much smaller subset of people who could actually be rationally described as christians). Dawkins would of course label such methods as child abuse. As the son of the marriage of an atheist and a churchgoer it just leaves me a statistical anomaly. Did I count as half a christian, or was my brother a christian in the eyes of the state and myself not?

How about on other measures? Well I was baptised as a child (C of E since you ask) but never confirmed. Born again at 11 (hence, ironically, for tortuous reasons the lack of confirmation) I saw the error of my ways at 16 and have been a committed atheist ever since.

So what did I count as DCFS? Which pigeon-hole would you have forced my developing mind into?

All in the name of 'providing a safe and harmonious environment for all in our society' of course. After all how can communities fight each other if they never meet and their schools are segregated? What better way to teach the values of religious diversity and tolerance than allowing schools to hound members of staff for what they do in the privacy of their own homes, or pay those who don't profess to the one true faith less?

Sunday, September 09, 2007

30 man dance off

One for the Girl (who likes a bit of haka)

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Virgin Media are bloody useless

Virgin Media are crap.

Their website is nigh on impossible to navigate.

They don't deliver on their promises ("we'll get back to you in 48hours", I spend the next two weeks trying to call them).

When they can be arsed to answer the phone, their customer support staff are rude, unhelpful, incompetent and appear never to have come across a northern accent before (and mine isn't particularly strong after eight years away from Lancashire).

Plus their systems are shambolic. Delivery dates switched without notice. Orders lost or not processed. Customers bounced around call centres in the vain hope somebody will know their arse from their elbow, and engineers sent on wild goose chases because somebody back at base forgot to flip a switch.

And their head man still has stupid facial hair!

For the sake of your sanity, I beseech you to never go near this disaster area of company.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Bloody hell... Mother would be proud

It appears that my humble blog has been nominated in the best newcomer category in the "prestigious" Lib Dem blog of the year awards. Thanks to whoever nominated me. Its nice to know that at least some of you aren't here just to find out whether David Strettle is gay (not as far as I know).

It is slightly strange, and not just because as Chris K has pointed out there are plenty of other more deserving blogs out there (including his own). Until I saw the advert from the student loans company that raised my ire so much I had to blow off some steam, I had pretty much
decided to let this wither on the vine. Partially because I had got out of the habit after a period without the internet, but mostly because politics (and english rugby) depresses me at the moment and I can't afford the outlay in tickets to turn this into a pure theatre blog (and
anyway these guys do it much better).

We shall see. In the meantime, as I won't be at conference due to a prior engagement over the channel watching England get pummelled, congratulations to whoever beats me.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

No more muderous catholics!! (Reverence - Southwark Playhouse)

My flatmate, a nervous beast at the best of times, has had a hard time of it the last couple of days. First dark goings on amongst the religious in Silent Witness, and then I drag her to Reverence at the Southwark Playhouse. Staged as promenade performance underneath the railway arches that form the playhouse's temporary home, Reverence is Goat and Monkey's take on the story of Abelard and Heloise, a classic tale of forbidden love, incestuous lust and genital mutilation.

The designers have nullified the oft noted problem of in the round and promenade performances of the audience interjecting into the performance by co-opting them. Dressed in full length black cowls and addressed as novice monks the dark masses moving through the vaults and surrounding the performers only add to the atmosphere rather than distracting from it.

This is a staging that is high on atmosphere and physicality but sometimes lacking in emotion. Some of the pivotal scenes may have benefited from more time to breathe, but I suspect that this may have merely served to highlight the weakness of the (I suspect devised) script. Also I did not find myself caring much about Leandra Ashton's Heloise nor Pieter Lawman's Abelard, a near fatal weakness in what is at heart a love story.

What saves Reverence are a couple of excellent performances by Michael Cox as Thomas Abelard's snivelling, treacherous assistant, and Jason Cheater as Sir William Abelard's nemesis, a design that is unrelentingly dark, threatening and slowly gets under your skin, and a series of violent set pieces that are shocking but fully justified by the rest of the play.

All in all worth seeing, if only for the able to dress up and chant in latin.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Labour break another promise to students

As a 16 year old I was promised by the Labour candidate (now MP) in my parents constituency that it would be a 'cold day in hell' before the Labour party introduced tuition fees for higher education.

I paid £1000 a year for my BA.

As a student protesting against the possibility of Top-Up fees the local Labour students insisted that there 2001 election manifesto meant they wouldn't happen.

I graduated from my MA on the day of the second reading of the Higher Education Bill that introduced them. (my supervisor offered to join me in a sit-in on the stage as I got my degree certificate off him, unfortunately I bottled it).

When I took out my Student Loans I was assured that I would only pay interest at the rate of inflation. On Saturday the interest rate doubled to 4.8%. I can't find any commonly used measure of inflation that is anywhere close to 4.8% at the moment. RPI is 2.7% a year and CPI is 1.9%. Yet another broken promise from Labour.