Saturday, December 29, 2007

Bringing it home

I'm currently traveling around South Africa with the Girl (hence the even lighter than normal blogging schedule), but the thing that struck me today was just how bad things have become in Zimbabwe. Picking up my complimentary copy of the Saturday Star in Joburg Airport this morning what jumped off the page was not that Zuma the heir apparent to the SA Presidency had been charged with corruption offenses (rant about corruption in South Africa will follow when I can find a better connection) but the cost of the paper in Zimbabwe. z$600,000. That isn't a typo, inflation is so bad in Zimbabwe that a paper that costs R4.80 (about 30-40p) in Joburg is worth six hundred thousand Zimbabwean dollars today (and probably nearer a million in the new year). Certainly shocked me.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Tony Blair does the Vatican Rag

You can tell that it is a slow news day when the BBC news website is leading with the 'news' that Tony Blair has converted to Catholicism. Not sure when man does something that it has been well known he was going to do for years actually became news, nor why the BBC thinks that former prime minister decides to believe in slightly different version of fairy story is more important than say ... (well actually anything really). However it is a great excuse to post this.

Dealers Choice - Trafalger Studios

A couple of evenings heavy drinking have wiped from my mind all the clever things I was going to say about Sam West's revival of Dealers Choice which has won a deserved west end transfer from the Menier. Suffice to say I really enjoyed Marber's study of the losers who congregate in the basement of a restaurant to fritter away their earnings at the poker table. For a more considered view see Domenic Cavendish's rave in the Telegraph and Lynn Gardner didn't think it was bad either.

Monday, December 17, 2007

The Four Horsemen of the Apocalpyse sit around and drink cocktails

One for the converted perhaps, but if you have a couple of hours to spare the new video from the Richard Dawkins Foundation the grandly titled "The Four Horsemen" is worth a look (you can download it here). The title is rather misleading. This has the feeling of a self-help group for atheist intellectuals rather than the full bore attack on the godly you may expect, as four of the more high profile advocates of what has been dubbed the New Atheism (Christopher Hitchens, Daniel Dennet, Sam Harris, and Dawkins himself) moan about how they have been misrepresented and swap stories about the madness of those who attack them. The interest derives from the tensions this exposes between their various approaches. Whilst Dawkins is the gentle enemy of unreason and wishes it to be driven from the land, Hitchens has a much more political project of tackling extremism and wouldn't want religion to disappear completely as who would he argue with (George Galloway?). Harris meanwhile makes an unexpected, although not unwelcome plea for naturalists to claim the transcendent and the 'spiritual' for themselves.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Dear Mr Evans...

Great news from Caribbean, the West Indies have formed a unified rugby team to compete in international rugby competitions.

So if Mark Evans is looking for somewhere to take Quins on a pre-season tour next year I can think of worse places. Who knows we may even win a few games...

Hat Tip: Scrumbag

Saturday, December 08, 2007

All those blisters were worth it.!

Most of my none Lib Dem friends can't understand why I'm willing to give up chunks of my spare time and leave allowance to putting focus leaflets through people's letter boxes. Why waste my time (and increasingly money) supporting a party that has no hope of wielding power, especially when my job prevents me from doing a lot of the more interesting stuff like going to conference or standing for election.

Well partially for days like today, and the news that Jamil el-Banna is coming home from Guantanamo. There is no doubt that without the tireless campaigning of his local MP Sarah Teather to force the British Government to accept Jamil back into the country that the el-Banna children would have been separated from their father for many more years.

Would have a Labour MP have campaigned so tirelessly against their own Government? With a few honourable exceptions I sincerely doubt it. It makes all those hours trawling around the South Kilburn Estate feel worth it.

Friday, December 07, 2007

A positive negative add (How to do video campaigning #5)

With the Iowa Caucuses less than a month away I've started to tune back into the Presidential race. After a year of rhetoric, bluster and frantic money raising it could potentially all be over on the Democratic side a week tomorrow when the people of New Hampshire vote in their primary. If Clinton comes into the 8th with a win in the Iowa caucuses I suspect that a win in the Granite state would give her an unbeatable momentum, even though Obama has the money in the bank to keep going until the first round of big states vote on 5 February.

Therefore its not surprising that Obama has been stoking up the rhetoric in his attacks on Clinton in the last few weeks (with some effect, especially in Iowa). Part of this barrage is this new TV spot.

On the surface it merely plays up Obama's core theme, that as a relative newcomer to Washington he can act as a change agent, and plays on his campaigns main strength, the charisma of its candidate. But, although her name is never mentioned this a clear attack on one Hilary Rodham Clinton, who both Obama and John Edwards have been at pains to paint as the business as usual candidate. I particularly love how the negative lines in the speech, are counterpointed by the positive statements in the visuals. Although you hear Obama's voice making the negative statements, you are also attaching it to the positive statements on screen.

Hat Tip: The Fix

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

More More (Doubt - Tricycle)

With my long legs it is not often that I leave a theatre wishing a play had gone on for longer, but Doubt at the Tricycle left wanting more (and not in a good way). The playwright John Shanley has been quoted as saying that he has deliberately left the second act for the audiences imagination, which is all well and good, but maybe he could have been so kind as to fill in some of the gaps in the first.

This may sound harsh but I was frustrated by a play that was just starting to find its feet before coming to an abrupt end. Set in 1963 at a New York Catholic middle school Doubt tells the story of young liberal priest Father Flynn and the conservative school Principal Sister Aloysius who is determined to destroy him after she becomes convinced he is a threat to the young boys in his care. All so bog standard but Shanley decides to muddy the waters by introducing the questions of race and parental responsibility. The alledged victim is the first black kid to attend the school and his mother (a criminally under used Nikki Amuka-Bird) is willing to turn a blind eye to the possibility of Flynn abusing her boy for the sake of protecting his place in the school.

Having thrown these potential explosive ingredients into the mix, Shanley decides to do nothing with them. Instead reverting back to a simple power struggle between the main protagonists.
Its a shame because what there is of this play is well written and well acted. I don't demand resolutions in my theatre I do however want my playwrights to finish what they started.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

With the leadership election all over where next?

All the signs point to the fact that the lib dem leadership election is effectively over, thank goodness. For those Huhnistas still in denial lets look at the facts:

1) That yougov poll, putting Nick 12 points ahead with probably around 2/3rds of those who are going to vote having voted (if I recall turnout last time was around the 70% mark?). Yes with such a small sample it has a large margin of error, but that means its is just as likely that Nick is really significantly further in the lead than it actually being close.

2) The betting markets have seen Chris' price drift significantly in the last couple of days, now out to around 5 to 1 on betfair, very long odds for a two horse race. True the betting markets have got these things wrong before, they massively overestimated Chris' chances for much of the 2006 campaign for instance. But I would have thought that if they were at all confident Chris' people would have been piling on at those odds, it is not as if lib dem activists are backward in coming forward when it comes to betting.

3) Nick's campaign is hardly acting like one that thinks its in trouble. Whilst Chris has spent the last week trolling around the studios trying to get coverage, Nick seems to have been content to simply plant a story saying he is comfortably ahead. Now I don't find coasting to the finishing line a particularly attractive trait in a campaign (but then again neither is wasting police time, let the electoral commission do their job), but I can't help thinking that Nick's campaign team are such muppets that if it was close they would be taking such a laid back attitude.

But really the key question is not who's won but where do we go from here?

Well firstly at a time when we are still staring down the barrel of a gun electorally I think we collectively need to pull our head of our navels and actually start talking to the world again rather than each other. Vince has done a great favour in getting the party some positive press coverage what feels like for the first time in ages, but we need to be doing more than just making cheap jibes about the PMs metamorphosis into Mr Bean. We need to start setting out a vision for how Lib Dems in Government would make ordinary people's lives better, and more importantly we need to start to sell that vision.

That means talking to people in a language they understand, about issues that chime with them. That means talking less about the environment and more about how we will tackle the fear of crime; less about devolution of power to local government and more about how we are going to make it easier for them to get the help they need to look after Granny; less (actually lets take a vow of silence) about Trident and more about how we make sure our troops have better boots and body armour. It means standing up against ID cards not because we are the defenders of "civil liberties" but because they will be expensive and introduce needless hassle into people's everyday lives. In other words I think we need to talk less about systems and more about people.

Its obvious that unless, and perhaps even if, Labour manages to pull itself out of its current nose dive that the next election is going to be "time for a change". Now I'm pretty certain that the Great British public aren't sold on David Cameron as Prime Minister material just yet, and they sure as hell don't know what his vision is as I doubt he does, but unless they are given an alternative they will turn to him, and all that lurks in the shadows behind him. We need to be that alternative. We need to put forward an alternative vision that chimes with people outside of the party, and we probably need to be able to do it in ten words or less. Not much to ask for is it?

Sunday, December 02, 2007

I'm going to hell...

... but in the view of the ongoing diplomatic incident over a teddy bear (a teddy bear for heavens sake) and his death on live TV last night (Marcus what were you thinking?) I think these these are particularly appropriate...